One theme. One poet. One memoirist.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What I Would Have You Be

I do not know precisely when I realized that I am being inexplicably pulled toward England. I do not know why, in recent years, the thought of going there persists. I’ve not gone to England for several reasons. Money is one; school was an obstacle and now work is. A plane will be involved in my travel, and that is daunting.

But perhaps there’s another reason. The England I will encounter can in no possible way live up to the England of my imagination—the England that melds fact and fiction. I am quite certain that upon arrival I will meet talking beasts and hobbits. In this perfect world, precise gardens of hedgerows and rose bushes create charming utopias where private parties gather to gossip and while away the hours. Stately women—myself included, of course—wander the grounds in Victorian dress. Elegant men in topper and tails bring me glasses of champagne and offer me their arms for a turn around the garden. We shimmer in the beauty of an English country evening.

Time is not a limitation in this wonderland. And so it is that Elizabeth I mingles with Eliot, he charming her with love songs and quartets. Tolkien finds another world in Bloomsbury. Shakespeare and Holmes study each other warily. Lewis, Austin, and the Brontes banter most civilly about women in literature; their bone-china teacups clatter gently against saucers in the silences of a proper English stoicism. The Stones and the Who occasionally grace us with their presence with a concert on the lawn.

On a whim I’ll leave this idyllic setting and take a train to London to investigate teahouses and bookshops, boutiques and museums. Here, fog, like a cat, curls about the buildings, adding mystery and softness to the old streets. The city is overwhelmingly large and surprisingly quaint. Helen Mirren and I have a lovely chat while King Arthur passes us on horseback. Elizabeth II invites me to her castle for tea, and Jeanette Winterson autographs my books.

It is, as I’ve said, quite impossible.

One day I will go there, and although I’ll not find Narnia or Lothlorien, Austin or Holmes, I’ll find an England that is charming simply because it exists. And perhaps that’s the point of travel: we build it up so that we are reminded that places are real, that we are real.


  1. Dear God, there is no end to how much I love this piece. It's funny, self-deprecating, smart, and subtle.

    READING THIS is like TALKING TO YOU. Your voice is stronger here than it's been in a long, long time.

  2. Hans ChristoffersenJune 23, 2010 at 1:51 PM

    Although it will be "different" than what you have idealized it to be, I bet you'd find quite a bit of it almost as imagined. You always have to leave some cherries uneaten. It's called eschatoloigical humility.

  3. I am nearing a year since we left for our adventure in the UK.
    I still think of our time over there everyday. Perhaps an earlier soul mingled with those mentioned here.
    And I will point you in the direction of places that will live up to the England you've imagined.
    Or maybe I'll be there and show you myself.
    Hampstead and the Heath -- both good starting points.

  4. I was in England ten years ago this past spring (for two months)and, well, there's not enough space on the internet to begin to articulate its magical possibilities. That said, great writing here, Lauren, and I wouldn't rule out anything. If and when you do make it across the pond, I think it would be wonderful if you revisited this piece and perhaps expanded it into a little travel guide meets travel narrative!?