London in a Wheelchair
by Albert Elias © 2004
After a whirlwind trip through Italy, Albert Elias continues his adventure in London, England with his friend, Susan.
I couldn’t wait to get to
England. It had once been my second home, having
spent two years there in the 60s and five in the 70s. I wondered how much
of a change I would find.
The weather in Italy was poor so our plane was delayed in taking off. I do believe Susan would have been happier if the plane was canceled, and we were forced to stay longer in Italy. I assured her that we would return one day, and with Tiziano’s help would get to see much more of the country. Finally, we took off for London, landing a bit before 7 p.m., two hours behind schedule. Luckily, our car was waiting for us, and just before 9:30 p.m., we arrived at the hotel my travel agent had booked. My mother had told us that “everyone” stayed there. Unfortunately, we found out that it was inaccessible because of the stairs leading up to the main entrance.
Why weren't we told?
I took one look at the place and said to Susan, "We can't stay here." She agreed and left the car to enter the hotel to see if she could use their phone and try to make other arrangements. It was late, and we needed a place to their heads for the night. Our driver couldn’t get over it, either. "Why did they book you in a place that had all these stairs?" This is the first time I've taken a passenger to their hotel just to find out they couldn't get into the place. I hope your friend is lucky and found another place."
"I hope so, too," I said.
A few minutes later, Susan returned and with good news. She was able to find us another hotel after she had spoken to the people personally. It seems she had to phone four different hotels. Luckily, Susan has good communication skills.
Soon we were off to Hampstead, a 20-minute ride. I was excited that Susan found a hotel in that area, for that was one of the places I had lived for a time back in the 1970s.
We arrived at the hotel around 10:30 p.m. It was nice being back “home,” even if it was by mistake. We said goodbye to our driver, who said he had never had a night quite like this one, and that he would never forget it or us. He also wished that the rest of our stay were less hectic. We thanked him and went up to our room and ordered room service before going to sleep.
The next morning, I called the other hotel and told them we were not coming back and that they were to inform anyone who came to ask after me about the change and where we could be found. They thanked me for the call and would honor my request and tell whoever called my new address and phone number. After that, we inquired at the front desk about local taxi services and especially about one that could give us a tour of London. They made a phone call and told us one would be at the front door of the hotel at 1030. That was a good time as it gave Susan and me just enough time for breakfast, to go back to the room, and then take a short walk around neighborhood.
The breakfast had a buffet, and Susan just loved all the fresh fruit. I had to add cereal to my fruit.
Our driver arrived, and he was very different from Tiziano. This pleased Susan, as worrying about one drunken cab driver was enough for one European trip.
Our first stop was around the corner and down the hill to show Susan where I used to live in how I managed the hill all by myself. It was now 30 years later and the place hadn't changed much.
I was sad to see, however, that they had torn down the local movie theater and erected in its place a supermarket. The shop where I rented my TV was still there, along with the pharmacy (chemist) and bakery.
The ride up Parliament Hill was quite nostalgic, and I saw that they still hadn’t fixed the pavement, so I was sure that if I were still walking, I would have fallen. When I was walking, I remember trying very hard to pick up my legs so that they wouldn't catch in the cracks and cause me to fall. If only they made their sidewalks a little more even, this wouldn't have happened so much. And, as you can guess, I fell quite often and was usually in need of medical assistance.
Still, it was good to see my old London home again and to show Susan. I was even able to show Susan the step that led down to the garbage cans. I had fallen down this step one night and broken my ankle so badly that the next day I couldn't walk or stand and had to call a friend. She was about to go away for a week, but she canceled her trip as soon as she heard of my predicament and came and got me. She took me to her doctor and then invited me to stay with her until I was able to walk again and return home. Looking up at step now, reminded me how lucky I was to have had such good friends, and how by thinking about these good times one need never be quite so lonely or upset again.
Susan was just amazed at how I managed the stairs and the hill despite the falls. Thinking back on it, I was amazed to. Susan also enjoyed the park at the top of Parliament Hill. I explained to her that I would go up there every Sunday and watch people fly their kites.
As we left, I took one last look and couldn't believe it was 30 years ago that I had lived there. Where did the time go? And had I fulfilled all of my dreams? I didn't have an answer. I hope I had not wasted my life, and that in some small way I had brought happiness to the people's lives I had touched.
We were not finished with our tour. There was still Golders Green where I became an owner-occupied or in other words, I owned my first apartment (flat).
As we drove along, I could see that Golders Green Road was still the same. I was pleased that the driver had no problem finding his way and that he also found a side street that led to the drive without any trouble. Everyone who came to visit me there had had their difficulties, but not this driver. The house at 10 B The Drive was just as I remembered it. My apartment was on the third floor of a converted house, and would you believe it, it was up for sale. I learned later that the person I sold to 30 years ago had still lived there until very recently when he died. I was also told that it was climbing the three flights of steep stairs that finally got him. Everyone still talks about how well I was able to manage those stairs, even carrying up heavy bags of groceries.
I looked at the “For Sale” sign and wished I were younger, or at least better on my feet, so I could do those stairs again.
Oh, well, at least I did do them in my youth. I guess there is a time and place for everything.
Susan enjoyed seeing the house and hearing my stories about how I sat out in the garden reading at night in how the apple trees on the property yielded the best cooking apples, which I used to bring into work and give to my secretary. She turned them into the best applesauce you have ever tasted.
I thanked the driver and told him there was still another place to see. This time the stop was in Kensington where I lived with my parents, my brother and a Newfoundland dog named Winston. It was in 1960, and I still can't get over that the building we lived in, 29 Palace Gate, did not allow dogs of any kind, but we had a Newfoundland, and thankfully, the management chose to look the other way. At heart, the English are real dog lovers.
Number 29 was very close to Kensington Gardens and the Royal Albert Hall. I remember pushing my mother in her wheelchair all around the gardens, in the museum, along the sidewalk, and up and down the curbs. I remember the time my mother got out of her wheelchair and pushed the chair herself in order to manage the curbs. We were some sight, and the memory brought a big smile to my face. I also couldn't get over the stairs leading up to number 29. They were steep. How did I ever manage them? Again, it was a feat I couldn't repeat today. Oh, well, I’m still enjoying the sights with my friend Susan.
From there, we made our way towards the theater district (Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus) where I had spent many a happy evening. But before that, we passed the famous department store, Harrods. I told Susan that the first time my parents took me to Harrods I spent the whole day there. Harrods’ environment is as frenetic as a stock market floor. Its motto, "Everything for everyone everywhere," is not far from the truth. If the driver had a place to park, I was ready to show Susan their wonderful pet department and their extravagant Food Hall with its stunning Art Nouveau tiles in the department selling meat and poultry and fish. Believe it or not, food prices were surprisingly competitive. Harrods was also the place where I purchased many a theater ticket, along with a wonderful seascape painting, which I still have hanging in my bedroom back in America.
Yes, I wanted to show at all to Susan, but there just wasn't time. Buckingham Palace was next, but we missed the Changing of the Guard. It would be happening at 11:30 and it was now only 9:45. We made our trip to the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, eventually ending up at the Tower of London. The driver said, "I can't stop here for long, and I doubt if you can get in." But Susan would have none of that and told the driver to double park while she went in and investigated. It didn't take her long to find out that the tower was open and that it was somewhat handicapped accessible, so off we went exploring for two hours.
Some say that nowhere else does London’s history come to life so vividly as it does in this mini city of melodramatic towers, stuffed to bursting with heraldry and treasure, the intimate details of the royal families, past and present, etched in the walls, along with quite a few pints at Royal blood spilled on the stones.
I had never visited the tower during my years in London, so I thanked Susan for her idea and her ability to go after what she wants, even when we were told that the odds of getting near the tower were impossible. If really felt apart of the English history. The whole ambiance sent a chill up my spine.
Susan had wanted to see the Crown Jewels ever since she heard that they had been moved here, where moving walkways hasten the flow of people. We both felt that Susan should make the tour by herself and report back, moving walkways notwithstanding, as it would be too hard to push me and look the same time. The viewing crowd was just too large for any quality time. I was all right with this arrangement. I was just happy to be there and knew I would not only get a good report back from Susan, but would be content to just "people watch.”.
From there, we made our way back to our hotel via Regent’s Park, where I showed Susan both the zoo (we didn't go in) and where I had gone to school. I spent the ninth grade at the American School in London, a most memorable year. The school has grown a lot since 1960 and is house somewhere else, but I enjoyed showing Susan the building and reliving a few fond memories .
As we drove back through Leicester Square, Susan noticed that one of the theaters were showing a play based on the music of the Beatles and asked the driver to stop so she could investigate. The English are very helpful to people with disabilities, and I was sure that Susan would be lucky and get us two seats for the seating. We hoped the sign was right. Susan returned holding two balcony tickets. "I spoke to the person in charge of handicapped seating, and I informed him that you can transfer from the wheelchair to a theater seat. He told me there is a special door we can use to get you to the balcony bypassing all those stairs. "I can't get over how nice and helpful everyone was. So we should be fine for tonight. The music of the Beatles sounds like it will be lots of fun."
Susan turned to the driver. "Would it be possible to take us back here tonight? The show starts at eight, and I found out that it lets out at 10:30. Would that work for you?"
"Yes," the driver said. "I can do that."
"Great," Susan said. “So we’re all set. Oh, Albert, this really should be wonderful."
When we returned to the hotel, it was almost five, just enough time for a watch and some supper before the theater.
Susan noticed that there was a small Italian restaurant across the way. I remembered that there was also a good Chinese restaurant across the street, too. I remembered how nice the management had been to me when I lived here.
Susan investigated both places and felt that even though the Chinese was very nice, she was still in an Italian mood. So Italian it would be.
The restaurant wasn't very fancy, but the owner was nice and helped us in with the wheelchair and also cut my deal without batting an eye. We liked the meal so much that we came back the following night with my friends John and Jennifer.
But before I tell you about the dinner with John and Jennifer, there is still the theater and the next day to talk about.
The driver was right on time, and so were we for a change.
The Queens’ Theatre was located on Shaftsbury Avenue, which also hadn’t changed very much. The songs of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, however, sure have seen their share of changes. "All you need is Love." was the name of the show and it traced their songs over the ten years that spanned the 1960s.
When we returned to the hotel, it was almost five. Just in time for a wash and some supper before the theater.
Susan noticed that there was a small Italian restaurant across the way. I remembered that there was also a good Chinese restaurant across the street, too. I remembered how nice the management had been to me when I lived there.
Susan investigated both places and felt that even though the Chinese was very nice, she was still in an Italian mood. So Italian it would be.
The restaurant wasn’t very fancy, but the owner was nice and helped us in with the wheelchair and also cut my veal without batting an eye. We liked the meal so much that we came back the following night with my friends, John and Jennifer.
But before I tell you about the dinner with John and Jennifer, there is still the theater and the next day to talk about.
The driver was right on time, and so were we for change.
That Queen’s Theater was located on Shaftsbury Avenue., which also hadn’t changed very much. The songs of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, however, sure have seen their share of changes. “All You Need is Love.” was the name of the show, and it traced their songs over the 10 years that spanned the 1960s.
Reading the program, I found the following comments: “The Sixties had it all: wars, racial conflict, sexual freedom, scientific advance. We even have a man on the Moon.” I got a kick out of the next bit. “Little wonder we went in search of a little peace, love and understanding. No wonder we discovered sex, drugs and rock-and-roll. I was back in my student days, remembering all those protest Boston University had, and, of course, listening to the Beatles.
Next, the program listed all the events that happened during those 10 years. Next to 1960 they talked about the Sharpsville Massacre where South African police killed 67 and wounded 186. The charismatic John Kennedy defeats Richard Nixon to win the U.S. Presidency. Surgeons develop the first heart pacemaker. Elvis leaves the U.S. Army as National Service ends in the UK. That is an awful lot of history, and to think I lived through it all.
I was glad to see that the producer of the show did not want to have four wannabe mop tops imitating the Beatles. In other words, they wanted the music to be something. Greater. The concert was like a video album of songs. I guess one could say it was the kind of know that traced the development of Lennon’s and McCartney’s music over the decades. I wondered if the young people of today hear the lyrics in the same way that Susan and I did those many years ago. I imagine that each generation looks and perceives the world differently. Susan and I lived through revolutionary changes, while young people of today seem more conservative. Yet the music of the Beatles speaks to all of us. The music is timeless, and having most of the numbers done in modern dance really made it a wonderful evening. I was glad that Susan had spotted the sign for the show and got us tickets.
After the show ended, we made our way back to the hotel via Camden Town, passing by Greater London House. I was able to point out to Susan by Greater London House the building I worked in when I worked as an information officer for the Norman, Craig and Kummel Advertising Agency. The building still looked the same even though the agency is long gone.
As I remembered, Camden Town was not a nice area. There were a lot of homeless men and women outside the buildings waiting for handouts. I remember one particular incident. I was coming out of the building on my way to lunch when I missed my step and fell. One of the older homeless men came over holding a cane to me in midair. At first I didn’t know what to do or think. I was raised in and around New York where I was taught to be leery of strangers. But this was London in the 70s, and, I said to myself, “There is nothing to be a afraid of.” Luckily, my hunch proved correct for just as the man came upon me, he lowered his cane and with his other hand, stretched it out so that I can easily take hold of it. He helped me get up and gave me the cane. “Here,” he said, “Take my cane. I have been living on the streets for some 30 years, and as you can see, I’m an old man. You’re young, and I think a cane would help you walk better. Here, take it.”
I thanked him, and indeed took cane. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings and was sure the National Health Service would easily give him another cane if he asked. It was nice to see a man, who even though homeless, still cared about the well being of others. Some things you never forget, and that was one of them.
I guess I should have kept the cane, but I gave it away, not because of the man who gave it to me, but because I found it threw me off balance. Thirty years later, I would have to get myself a walker.
Yes, Camden Town brought back a lot of fond memories. As we drove along, I noticed that the pub where I stopped in lunchtime to have a glass of wine and a chat with the owner was still in business. Camden Town now has craft stores and vintage clothing markets. All kinds of the shops now cluster in and around the picturesque, if sometimes over- renovated, canal-side buildings. They have filled up every available space in this frenetic mecca that now attracts the world’s youth. It is a great place to purchase boots, T-shirts, inexpensive leather jackets, ethnic crafts, antiques and recycled trendy wear.
Taking one more look as we drove along, I thought how much simpler things were those many years ago. I don’t believe that the one-to-one chance meeting that might occur would happen in today’s busy society, and that to me is a shame. There is a lot to be said when you look into another persons eyes. Perhaps, it is what isn’t said out loud that’s most important.
I know that what works with Susan and me is an understanding of each other that is usually left unsaid.
We arrived back at our hotel and arranged with the driver to be back the next day around 11 a.m. Earlier in the morning, Susan noticed in the paper, that there was a new Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, “The Beautiful Game,” which was all about football (soccer), the war in Northern Ireland and love. It sounded good to us, so Susan, called the theater and reserved two seats for the afternoon performance.
Before that, however, there were still sights to see in London, especially Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. Again, Susan had arranged for a special time for us to go. So at ten that Saturday morning we bypassed all the crowds and just waltzed our way through the front door. Again, it was the English thoughtful consideration of helping the disabled that allowed Susan to go to a special window and get two tickets without having to stand on that long line. If it weren’t for that special window, I seriously doubt we would have gotten in that morning.
Madame Tussaud’s is nothing less than the world’s premier exhibition of lifelike waxwork models of all kinds of famous people. Madame Tussaud learned her craft while making death masks of French Revolution victims, and in 1835 set up her first show of famous people of that day. Now, Susan and I were able to see today’s “superstars.” from the world of entertainment, along with the likes of William Shakespeare. But the murders still get top billing in the Chamber of Horrors where we saw people in the electric chair alongside a person sitting next to a tin tub where he dissolved several wives in quick lime. If I remember correctly, it was this chamber where my 10-year-old brother loved to take visitors when we lived there in 1960,and where I ran into an old high school friend during my time there in the 1970s. The only bad thing now was the crowd in the chamber. It was hard for Susan to push the chair up close, so I was usually unable to get a close look at the exhibits. Oh,, how I wished I could still walk. But I always appreciate Susan’s efforts, and we did get close enough to see most of the figures. I especially enjoyed the political statues, along with ones of the four Beatles.
From there, we still had time to kill, so I asked a driver if he could take us by 221B Baker Street, he home of the Sherlock Holmes Museum. In all my years in London, I had never been there, and since there was time now, why not go. I love all the stories of Sherlock Holmes adventures, and even have two deerstalker hats, along with one of his famous caps that I used to wear at Halloween. At any rate, I was interested in seeing what kind of museum they made for a man who never existed.
When we arrived at number 221B Baker Street, there was an actor outside the main entrance to greet us. He was dressed as a Victorian policeman. Just the right touch to get you in the mood. As we made our way inside, Holmes’ housekeeper showed us through a series of Victorian rooms full of Sherlock-abilia. I was good and didn’t purchase a thing. I learned, however, that the museum had its own web page, and if I wished, I could purchase items at a later date, and they would ship them anytime, anywhere, all over the world. One last thing we did find out was that the 221B address, if it ever existed, would be down the block in what are now the Abbey National Building Society’s head offices.
When Susan and I went for lunch, we were surprised to see that there were very few places open. This was a Saturday in mid-July, and one would think we would be able to have our pick, but not so. Finally, Susan spotted a Punjab restaurant.. “Indian food,” Susan said. I haven’t had a good Indian meal in years, and it’s open. Let’s investigate.”
“Sure,” I said. “I’m real hungry, and as long as there is chicken on the menu, I can eat anywhere. I just hope they don’t make their foods too spicy.”
“I’ll speak to them and make sure that your chicken isn’t spicy,” Susan said. “Oh, good, this is exciting.”
The Punjab was indeed busy, even if we were its only customers . The restaurant was established in 1951 and is the oldest Indian restaurant in the city of London.
Susan asked the waiter why on such a sunny summer day there weren’t more people out and about having lunch or seeing the sights as we were.
She got no answer. What we got instead was great service from the owner and a very un-spicy meal. I was very pleased, as was Susan. When we left the restaurant, we told the owner that we would tell people how great both the food and the service was and hope that it would help to bring in more business. He thanked us and hoped that we continued to have a pleasant stay in London.
As we left, Susan said, “I’m glad we went. It just goes to show what hard work can do.” She promised and looking at me said, “You know, Albert, the Indian students I’ve taught have all been hard workers, just like this guy. It says something when all the other restaurants in the area are closed, and he has is open. I noticed from the card he gave us that he’s open seven days a week.”
“I noticed that too,” I said. “And it’s the first time I’ve had Indian food that was not spicy.” He seemed to have really made an effort to please us.. That’s what made my trip to Asia so wonderful. The people were so very nice.”
We continued on to theater, Susan pushing me in the wheelchair through the half-empty streets of London.
We both loved, “The Beautiful Game.” It was a shame that it didn’t last very long. The play takes place in Belfast, Ireland between 1969 and 1972 and concerns a group of young men and women who have the misfortune of growing up during the beginning of a terrible time in Northern Ireland history. The drama follows their efforts to live their lives against a backdrop of increasing sectarian division. Some of the characters are drawn into the war, while others manage to avoid. At this writing, I guess I’m like the latter. Thinking about our war in Iraq, I just can’t wait to get on with my life and not hear about war anymore.
Susan and I just love stories about people. In this case, the story was about 10 people on the verge of adulthood, young people just wanting to love, to play European football and live normal lives in a city that is dominated by violence and hatred. Not the easiest thing to do.
I guess the play could have been set anywhere – Beirut, Jerusalem, Kosovo or Iran / Iraq. The message is all the same. The picture on the playbill’s cover says it all: it’s a young a couple standing in front of a brick wall. On the wall it says “Let Us Love In Peace.”
A universal sentiment and, as you can imagine, Susan and I had a lot to talk about on our way back to the hotel. Once there, we had to get ready for dinner with my dear friends, John and Jennifer Standish.
I’ve known John since 1973 when he was living with another woman. I’ve only met Jennifer once. That was in 1994. I was looking forward to the evening and hoped Susan was, too. I knew we would all get along. John is quite the intellectual and a member of Mensa where he edits their newsletter. Susan is quite gifted, too, so we should all have a lot to talk about. I went John is not being an accountant; he is acting, so theater is something we all really love. It promised to be quite an evening John had always been impressed at the way I kept my mind alive, always challenging him, and everyone else, to do their best to make a difference.
John and Jennifer were waiting for us in the hotel bar. He looked different, but we still recognized each other. The last time I had seen him, he had a full head of hair, plus a beard. To look at him today one would find a man in his mid-sixties with a shaved head and shaved face. Jennifer, on the other hand, had just gotten very gray. It was fun to see them, and they were glad to meet Susan and see me again after seven years.
Both John and Jennifer had been to the Jewish Synagogue in Florence and were interested in hearing Susan’s impressions. From there, we got into a philosophical discussion about literature. Towards the end of the meal, John laid down the rules, which were that we were to be their guests tonight. We all agreed that the restaurant was the first rate, and that they were looking forward to the next night when we would be their guests, this time for a night of Shakespeare at the New Globe.
I was looking forward to seeing the New Globe Theater after reading what one of the my countrymen, Sam Wanamaker did to try to make the setting look as authentic as possible.
As we departed, Susan’s couldn’t help but mention her book, “Queens of Comedy,” which was just published. At our next meeting, we heard that John had ordered a copy via Amazon.com.
The next morning was taken up with walking around Hampstead before we were to spend a pleasant afternoon with another longtime friend, Candy, and her husband Simon.
I had met Candy, also some 30 years ago, when we both worked at Norman, Craig and Kummel. She originally came from Chicago, and Simon from England. They met while he was teaching at the University of Chicago and then move back to London. I find it funny that their boys, two of whom are twins, were born 10 years after their oldest son. Now, that’s spacing for you.
I was curious to know if Susan had known Simon when she was a student at the University during the same time that he was teaching. They didn’t know each other then, but we all were able to communicate quite well and enjoy the afternoon together.
It was fun to see them both again. I couldn’t get over how gray they both were. I guess Susan and I age well.
After a nice tea where they told me that they almost didn’t open my e-mail announcing my trip for fear that it might contain a virus, we all laughed and promised to keep in touch with more than Christmas cards. The computer has made letter writing so easy now.
It was then back to our hotel to wait for John and Jennifer and our big night of Shakespeare. They were right on time, so we made our way to The Globe Theater.
The Globe is a celebration of the great Bard’s life and work, and actual rebirth of his great Wooden O where his plays are presented in natural light to 1,000 people seated on wooden benches, plus 500 who stand on the carpet of filbert shells, just as they did nearly six centuries ago.
There are also two boxes. I was happy that John was able to reserve one of them because I didn’t want to be exposed to the elements in case it rained. I knew that just as in Shakespeare’s day, the show would go on, rain or shine.
“Cymbeline” was interesting to see, even though it wasn’t the best of Shakespeare’s plays. The globe are called the 2001 season the Celtic season , and this was one of the Celtic plays.
The evening was enjoyable nonetheless. John took Susan aside and said that he hoped this wouldn’t be our last trip to England. He hoped she could change Albert’s mind. He went on to say that he’s known Albert close to an unbelievable 30 years, and he always admired his determination and interest in other people.
Then he told her that having a mother named Rea (Rhea being the mother of the gods), he wouldn’t be surprised at anything Albert might achieve.
Susan thanked him for his kind words and assured him that she would do her best to see it that we would return one day.
The next day was quiet, except for a visit from my friend Stan, who also worked with me during my Norman, Craig and Kummel days. Stan, too, had gotten a little grayer and his eyesight was not the best. But we still had a good time reliving those days and hearing how we both are still managing, despite the years. Stan is in his seventies and still goes to London once a week where he does artwork for a small advertising agency. He told us the next time we came to London to give him and his wife more warning, so they could save a block of time to take us around.
Again, Susan said she would make sure that that happens.
In the evening, we have a quiet dinner and took in a movie.
Our last day in London, was a busy one. My friends, the Barbours, came over to the hotel and took Susan and me out for the day. Our first stop was Kenwood House. Again, it was near where I used to live.
Kenwood House was built in 1616 and was remodeled by Robert Adam in 1764. Adam memory refaced most of the exterior. He also added a gaudy library, which, with its curved painted ceiling, rather garish colorings, and gilded detailing, is the sole highlight of the house for décor buffs. There also was a wonderful collection of paintings, which the Earl of Iveagh gave to England in 1927. Among them is a wonderful self-portrait of Rembrandt, along with Reynolds, Van Dyke, Gainsborough and Turner. We were able to walk along the lawn that slopes down to a lake that is crossed by a bridge. We had lunch there overlooking the water.
From there we made our way to the National Gallery to see an exhibit of Johannes Vermeer. I love the Dutch and their art, so I appreciated the Barbours taking us there. I really liked the way Vermeer’s observation of details, and his subtle light created an incredibly beautiful effect.
The Barbours were also kind enough to take us to the British Museum (I’ve never been there.) and taking us out to dinner before Susan and I had to leave them for the theater.
The Barbours are wonderful couple who are in their early eighties. They love people and over and over do more than their share of corporate charity. In fact, shortly after we left, Mr. Barbour was knighted by the Queen at Buckingham Palace. It’s nice when your good works get rewarded in this way.
Of course, I will never forget them for the many kindnesses to me during my years in London. They drove me everywhere.
Back to the British Museum. As I stated before, I had never gone there during my years in London. I guess living in a city, you tend to put things off saying, “I’ll go some rainy day.” And then, despite London’s rainy days, that “rainy day” never seems to come. So I was glad for the opportunity to go to the museum now.
I was very taken by the British Museum’s façade. It was a great temple that I had never entered. What lay inside, I wondered. Susan and I were about to find out.
Once inside, I was struck by the Elgin Marbles, and especially by the Rosetta stone. I have always been fascinated with the rise and fall of civilizations, and seeing the Rosetta stone, I was remembered how important Jean François’s Champollion’s discovery turned out to be. It was a key to unlocking the mysteries of the past. The Rosetta Stone was carved in 196 B.C. and was not discovered until 1799 A.D. Without it, we might have never been able to decipher the hieroglyphics needed to understand so much of the ancient world.
Next, we saw the Sutton Hoo Treasure. The treasures included swords, helmets, bowls and buckles. They were all covered with jewels and were buried at sea with Redwald, King of Angles during the 7th Century and excavated from a Suffolk field in 1938 or 1939. With all these treasures before me, it was hard to believe that the museum did not house the Ark of the Covenant.
I was amazed at the museum had 2 ½ miles of floor space that was divided into 100 galleries. I wondered how many we would be able to cover in the short time allotted. We would just have to come back. But when?
Around 5:30, we were ready to leave. The Barbours and Susan (pushing my wheelchair) had walked around for about an hour and a half and were ready for dinner. Since I was being pushed, I wasn’t hungry yet and hadn’t expected to be taken out to dinner before the theater. Susan looked surprised too, but like good guests, we accepted the invitation.
We found a restaurant in easy walking distance to the theater and it was Italian, too. The Barbours continued to be gracious up to the time Susan and I left for the theater. They even brought Susan a little gift, a remembrance our visit to Kenwood House. I hoped it would remind her of the Barbours and how nice a couple they are. You don’t find too many people willing to give up their whole day to take us around the town as they did or to be there for me when I needed them during my years in London those many years ago.
I’m glad that the British honored them. If anyone deserves the OBE, it is the Barbours. I’m glad, too, that there is an Internet and we both have e-mail addresses, for they are one couple I don’t want to lose contact with.
Susan and I made our way to the theater. The show was called “Stones in His Pockets,” a good modern-day Irish play that traces the development of the Irish movie-making industry from the early 20th Century (1916) right up to today.
The next day, we took a plane back to Milan to make our trip home. We had one last day in Italy after all. Susan really enjoyed herself walking around the city.
Will we go on another trip? No one can predict the future. Shortly after our return to America 9/11 happened and there was no traveling. Early in 2002, I had a stroke that severely affected my balance and hearing, so again travel was not possible. We’re both getting older, and it has become harder for Susan to push the wheelchair. If you have a chance to go somewhere, I recommend your taking the trip. There is no guarantee of another one.
George Gershwin put it in a song that says, “Life is short, so dance little man, dance little schoolgirl. Dance whenever you can.”
Susan and I intend to keep dancing for a long time, and if in the future the world is at peace again, both politically and health-wise, and we are both up for it, perhaps we will go back to Italy and beyond. But for now we must be grateful for having had such a fantastic trip and that two friends have just good memories about it and about each other.
Stay tuned for other kinds of adventures.
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1995-2010 "All Rights Reserved"
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Copyright © Global Access News 2006 1995-2010 "All Rights Reserved"