We just returned from an evening at Stonehenge– four and a half hours on a bus in order to spend a fantastic long hour with a guide and two security guards walking among the ancient stones. The rain cleared just before we arrived and as we approached a rainbow appeared over the standing stones. It’s hard to describe the energy of the place: powerful, ancient, awesome in the true sense of that word. My wrists are still tingling from holding my hands several inches from the magnificent stones.
We have to be up early tomorrow to catch the plane to Lisbon, so we’ll only get a few hours of sleep tonight. If this year is like last year, by the time we get to the south of Europe and its predicted 35 degree daytime temperatures, London will feel far away. Before this wonderful week fades, I want to take a moment to remember this city and our time here.
Monday’s Big Bus Tour whisked us all around the city, dropping us at various points of interest, picking us up when we were ready for more. My small group topped off our day with a trip upriver from the Tower of London to Westminster Bridge. The Thames is wide and choppy under a sky that often sees high scudding clouds and weather patterns chasing each other on and off stage. We noted, on our day of gazing at London, that there is always a lone plane in the sky overhead. Perhaps that sounds like a silly observation, and I’m sure there is a simple, reasonable explanation having to do with the timing of the flights in and out of Heathrow, but if I were an artist, I would have to paint a lone plane in the London sky over the choppy Thames, a skyline of solid grey buildings with their many peaks and towers, people leaning into their strides, red buses, cars and cabs leaning into their corners. I would have to paint movement, because that’s what strikes me most about London–the city is solid and staid, but it moves! In spite of high heels and business suits, streets crammed with pedestrians, the necessity of queues and courtesies, London moves fast and it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement all that movement generates.
Tuesday a small group went on an excursion to Windsor Castle, Wednesday we ambled through the National Gallery, Thursday evening we went to the Globe Theatre to see a production, and this morning we visited the British museum. There has been plenty of time for shopping and eating at familiar places (who knew that Macdonald’s, Burger King and Starbucks offered comfort food?) or from the endless strings of quaint little eateries that offer “English” food: cooked breakfasts, sausages, mushy peas, and, of course, fish and chips.
Our visit to the Globe deserves special note. The English classes saw Henry IV, Part One last evening and we stood through the entire performance as groundlings after which, despite the hours of standing (or maybe because of it), we marched our way home across the Thames over the Millenium footbridge through the late night streets in search of a restorative snack and then bedtime. The play was terrific. It would seem that a history play that deals with serious matters of state and the succession of kings might not be funny. But Falstaff made us laugh and we groundings were kept on our toes by various actor-soldiers running through the crowd and fighting battles in our faces as we leaned on the stage.
Last, but not at all least, I must mention that the classes are progressing very well. We’ve had more than 24 hours of in-class time in this past week and plenty of additional tutoring and enrichment assignments outside of class. The math students couldn’t find a play about logarithms so they stayed home last night to study for today’s unit test. The students are working diligently and it is remarkable how much they are learning, how much they can accomplish in a day and how the excitement of this city energizes all of us. As an English teacher, it’s impossible not to love a place whose buildings bear plaques noting that Charles Dickens lived in a house on this site while he wrote his greatest works, or that T.S. Eliot worked here, or that Shakespeare ate there. We are truly in good company and the spirit of this place, like the standing stones and this city itself, makes my fingers itch to write to you to tell you about it.