Astrogator's Logs

New Words, New Worlds
Artist, Heather Oliver             

Archive for December, 2015

The Joys of Dawdling

Monday, December 14th, 2015

Strasbourg Hidden CornerI recently returned from a short jaunt to France and the UK. My two extended sojourns were in Strasbourg and London – and for the first time, I got to ride the Eurostar and be spoiled by its attentive staff.

I had last visited Strasbourg as a teenager and I’ve been in London several times though not recently, except as a springboard for trips to Scotland. So I’ve seen all the hallmark sights: the cathedrals, big-name museums, large parks. This visit was low key, aimed primarily at meeting staunch long-distance friends. But it also gave me a rare opportunity to be “of the place” rather than surfing on it like a waterbug.

We spent an idyllic late morning/early afternoon at Strasbourg’s old town, La Petite France. The Christmas attract-tourist glitz had started (the Europeans are increasingly mimicking the US with ever earlier times for the holiday commercial mill) but it was a weekday, so it was not crowded. The weather, mild with Turner-esque clouds, was perfect for exploring hidden corners and dormant gardens; when we tired of walking, we indulged in mulled wine outside a café. One night we had tapas on a nibbles-and-wine barge swaying on the Rhine; on another evening we meandered to a nearby tiny restaurant, to discover that it offers four-star Alsatian cuisine at two-star prices.

In London I stayed at a family-run B&B recommended by a friend. I assumed the “next to the British Museum” decription was the usual PR exaggeration, but not this time. They are in fact exactly a block away from the museum yet the street is quiet, very much a lived-in place. A block away in a different direction is Oxford Street, where I acquired (for a pittance) a spiffy new handbag after the shoulder strap of my old faithful snapped. My room had a view of a kilim-sized garden; the building has a beautiful, tightly wound staircase, original woodwork intact, and canny old-fashioned window clasps (yet also granite-solid WiFi). The neighborhood is dotted with those tiny parks that act as oases in central London.

Of course, the highlight of the visit were the people. These friendship bonds were forged through ordeal; some are also professional collaborators. This was the first time I met any of them in person, although it felt like the continuation of ongoing conversations. We spent long, lazy hours in home kitchens and pubs, and the topics ranged from brain function to 9th century Wales, from space opera to the use of Celtic motifs by MacDonald and Macintosh.

One of these visits was combined with a viewing of the British Museum Celts exhibit. The organizers did a fantastic job of displaying the findings through the ages in context without overinterpretation. Some of the touches were wonderful: the videos of today’s Celtic diasporas; the gauzy dividers, evocative of the mists that shape the Celtic lands. Afterwards we repaired to the Museum café where I found meringues literally the size of cabbages.

London Hotel GardenThere was a final eldritch touch: I flew Icelandair, the only airline that would allow for an open-jaw ticket that wouldn’t bankrupt me. The cabin lights were not the usual yellowish-white but an undulating green and purple — the colors of the northern lights that were also swaying and whispering outside as I made my way home through the dreaming dark.