The one with the Victorian trimmings

3 07 2010

Climbing the stairs out of the subway–here called The Tube–at Gloucester Road, I needed to find Evelyn Gardens, the complex where I would be living for the next eight weeks.  Suitcase, blanket and backpack in hand, little idea which way was which, I remembered my first time lugging a suitcase up and out of the subway–there called the T–in Harvard Square.  It was 2004, and the first thing I saw then was the First Parish of Cambridge.  There, conspicuously hung on the church’s front-facing wall, was a giant sign that read “WE SUPPORT GAY MARRIAGE”.  Harvard Square was alive, bustling, warm and, most of all, unknown to me–familiar in some ways, but wholly unfamiliar in others.  Now, six years later, I was experiencing similar feelings of excitement and disorientation here in London.

I have grown up in the US aware that my bloodline is mostly European, mostly English.  Yet, here and there, as I made an uneducated guess about which way to go–amid the daunting whole of unfamiliar surroundings, I experienced the odd sensation that I’d been here before.  There was a Burger King across the way and ubiquitous signs of American pop-culture influence, of course, but I don’t mean that sort of thing.  Rather, as I began walking, I could sense something familiar in the faces of passersby, in the architectural flourishes of the residences.  I felt like I’d been here before.

I was lost in thought, and after a few blocks, it turned out, lost in fact.  I stopped a lady of about 70 years to ask directions.  She stood close to me, and her scent reminded me of a lady who lived next door to me when I was a child, a woman of English ancestry.  She looked me in the eyes as she took time to point me in the right direction, all in her beautiful English way of speaking.  After she hurried off, I started down the street again, noticing ornamental styles akin to those of my house in South Carolina, which was built in 1907, just after the Victorian era came to an end.

I found my way to Evelyn Gardens eventually, I am glad to report, but I continued to feel unable to make sense of the familiar ensconced in the unfamiliar.

I hope my time here in London will afford me the opportunity to better understand and articulate the great influences of Victorian England on our world today.  I hope that by the end of my eight weeks here, I will shed the disorientation I first felt rising out of the Tube.  I will be able to find my way back to Evelyn Gardens, certainly.  But, more importantly, I will see and understand the influences of Victorian England not only in present-day London, but also in the world over.  Even when visiting my house in South Carolina–that is, the one with the Victorian trimmings.

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