You know what’s funny? Explaining Thanksgiving to tens of curious non-Americans. I alternate between describing the various cornucopias on the table at the very first Thanksgiving and recounting how we, as a nation, proceeded to decimate an entire civilization. Lately, I’ve abandoned all pretenses and just begun to inaccurately fold the two versions of my Thanksgiving in on one another. Something like:
At the first Thanksgiving, the pilgrims and their Native American comrades sat at a beautifully set table of togetherness, understanding, and friendship. The table was itself a representation of overcome hardship and intercultural alliance. In its center rest a cornucopia overflowing with gourds, corn, and other grain products. Stuffed between friendship gourds, however, were live ammunition, diseased blankets, and a general desire for conquest. Merriment abound, Squanto laughingly reached for the gravy, but in his haste he knocked over the cornucopia of hope. Slowly, it spilled its secrets. An unaware Squanto bent to collect the contents of the cornucopia, and realized all too late the true nature of his dinner companions. With a bang, a mortally wounded Squanto fell to the ground. In the ensuing chaos, the Thanksgiving table, and all of its promise, was upturned. As Squanto lay dying, a trail of tears running down his cheek, a single phrase came to his mind: “screw hospitality.”
I have mixed feelings on the subject. I have mixed feelings on most subjects. This is a good segue into my next point: I swear my life is a mixture of both trial and triumph. I realized when writing this post that most of my stories are accounts of particularly sticky moments that most often result in angst. In the spirit of the availability bias, it would seem that my life is just one long angst-filled bus ride of horror. I could include the days that pleasantly pass without event, but they just don’t make for such good stories.
Last weekend, a friend and I booked tickets to tour Stonehenge and Bath. Super cultured, I know. The tour left from London’s Victoria Station at 8 AM on Saturday, so we traveled to the capital the night before to avoid any urges to commit murder and/or suicide due to lack of sleep. Now, a lot happened on this trip, and I don’t want to recount it in a storyline because I think I would include tangents that no one particularly wants to read, and I don’t particularly want to write. Also, I don’t feel like dealing with transitions right now. So here is London in six parts:
Because we are college students and because we are in Britain, we have no spare poundage. Therefore, we stayed in a hostel. This was my first time staying in a hostel, and I was pleasantly surprised. Contrary to what I had been told, no one tried to rob me while I slept, there were no rodents to be seen, and I was not sold into white slavery at any point. There was even a bar in the basement.
There was, however, one minor issue that almost led to my incarceration: Clarissa’s deviated septum. See, there is one thing on earth for which I have absolutely no tolerance: snoring. If I was Clark Kent, snoring would be my kryptonite. Snoring and televised golf matches.
Let me explain. My mother snores. Sorry mom, you do. When I was seventeen, my mom, sister (Caroline), and I traveled to Chicago for some reason that I now forget. We stayed in a suite that had a kitchenette, living room, and snazzy bedroom. Because I am older and therefore more coercive, I managed to secure a spot on the bed with my mom, leaving my sister to sleep on the couch.
I should have just accepted the couch. My sister has a particular method for dealing with my mom’s snoring: she kicks her until she wakes up. Now, this may seem cruel. Probably because it is mildly cruel. It seems even crueler if you witness it in person because in addition to snoring, my mother is jumpy. Every time Caroline kicks her, she gasps as if she has just looked Death in the face. It’s a very stressful sleeping environment.
Anyway, I have trouble executing this method of dealing with her snoring. I don’t enjoy kicking her, and I am also jumpy. Extremely jumpy. When I kick her, I understand that I am the cause of the gasp, but it still terrifies me. I have no explanation. On that particular night, I woke at 3 AM to that hellish noise. Long story short, I slept on the kitchen floor using a sweater as a blanket.
I’ve slept in my fair share of bathtubs on family vacations. Earplugs are a necessity before any major overnight venture. In short, I have methods in place to deal with snoring. But Clarissa was not my mother, so I could not kick her into submission. And I couldn’t sleep in a bathtub because there were no bathtubs. It was my own personal hell.
In the night, other women seemed to gather strength from Clarissa. At one point, there was a horrible symphony of snoring, and each woman seemed to be competing for center stage. At 5:34 AM, the race was in dead heat between Clarissa and a woman in the left corner, but after an overwhelmingly deep inhale, the woman in the corner had to raggedly regain her breath. Clarissa came away victorious.
I never met Clarissa. She remains a faceless horror. I made a point of checking the name on her luggage before leaving so I would know what to name my least favorite child. In my mind, she looks something like the monster in Pan’s Labyrinth.
It’s for reasons like this that I did not go to overnight camp as a child.
II. The Honeymooners
Stonehenge is about an hour outside of London, and Bath is another two hours outside of Stonehenge. Round trip, that’s approximately six hours of travel time. Now, this is not an issue for me. I love bus rides. It does, however, become an issue when two honeymooners are sitting in my immediate line of vision. For six hours, I watched PDA like I have never seen PDA before. The husband sucked on his wife’s fingers. They fed each other. At one point, she tried to take a nap, but he wouldn’t let her sleep. He kept petting her face. I mean, let her rest. So, that was easily the most uncomfortable six hours of my life.
III. The Rocks
Stonehenge is a collection of importantly positioned stones. I cannot actually write more on this subject because I abandoned the audio tour after the narrator’s third unwarranted use of the word penetrate immediately after equating Stonehenge to “an anthropological volcano erupting with importance, and forever melting the hearts of its visitors.” I’m happy with my decision, but consequently the first sentence of this paragraph is everything I know about Stonehenge.
IV. Water is Best
Bath is a pretty cool place – I recommend visiting if you ever have the opportunity. It’s nestled in the crook of three hills, so from the center of town you can see up into the rest of the city. Bath is known for its rejuvenating waters that are said to cure all sorts of ailments. Because we are college students living abroad, we couldn’t afford to tour the actual bathhouses, so I can’t rule on the rejuvenating effect of the water. However, the water they served us at lunch had lemons in it and was particularly refreshing.
V. My Candidacy for Survivor
In Bath, I ate a mealworm offered to me by a salesman. He was selling mealworms and crickets, so it’s not as if I accepted an insect he kept in his pocket. I felt like a brave adventurer. Then I realized that this was the closest thing to meat that I’ve eaten in over eight years.
We spent Saturday night traipsing around London. Our favorite site was Trafalgar Square which is awesome in its own right, but that night had carolers, a snow globe the size of my house back home, and approximately fifteen street performers. Most importantly, Trafalgar Square is home to the M&M store. As a twenty-one year old, I could hardly handle the store’s sensory stimulation, so I cannot understand how parents would even consider bringing their children within a five mile radius of the place.
That being said, I spent £12 on chocolate in this store. 12 pounds. That’s roughly 22 U.S. dollars. I am convinced that this is a result of my failing self-control and the store’s failing principles. See, you fill a bag with as much candy as you please, but the store charges by every 150 grams. However, there is no scale in sight, so you have no idea how much you are purchasing.
Okay, someone with a good sense of weight would succeed here, but I am not that person. Hence the 12 pounds spent on .0025 pounds of chocolate.
We sprinted through the London experience – tag teaming with a few historical sites along the way. I’ve never been particularly gifted at short distances. Or long distances. The best parts of my trip were the moments when we stopped to catch our breath: pizza at a bonafide Italian restaurant, Bailey’s at the hostel’s bar, chocolate and people watching in Trafalgar square, more chocolate at Buckingham Palace, a stroll along the river, and the sound of silence in the night.
I kept up with the fast pace of traveling in true Lance Armstrong fashion: under the influence of a drug.
Before you start researching twelve step programs in my area, hear me out. The way I see it, traveling is itself a drug. It cures ailments: boredom, restlessness, and ignorance. It is expensive. Trips can be exhilarating, terrifying, or (more than likely) both. It has a recovery process known as reverse culture shock. It can take over your life. And, like drugs, traveling changes your brain chemistry. But unlike drugs, it does so in a uniquely and unbelievably positive way.
And you know what? I think I’m addicted.