HomeDecember 2011Mind the Gap

Mind the Gap

Ten minutes after the end of the Jewish New Year and ten minutes before the secular one starts, I hereby make a confession: I don’t travel well.  I get nervous about any travel that entails showing a passport.  I manage all right on a bicycle, inner-city bus and by foot, but the minute I know I have to leave Israel, I start to imagine all sorts of calamities that might possibly befall either my family or nation if I am unreachable for the length of time it takes to fly from one country to the next.
Thus stated, when my husband booked seats on a no-frills flight to London to celebrate the Bat Mitzvah of his oldest granddaughter, I smiled warmly, purchased the requisite gifts for children and hosts and went on line to check out the available tours and weather conditions.  That’s when the panic hit.  Not only would I be going far away; I’d have to be on my best behavior for eight days in a row while meeting previously unmet family members and trying not to give a bad name to Israelis, Americans, New Yorkers, Jews, single mothers, Libras, writers, step-grandmothers and/or terminal dieters.  The responsibility was daunting.
On the family front, I learned that people are people and children are children, even those who speak with British accents.  They get overtired and smear chocolate on freshly pressed white shirts.  In short order it became clearer than ever that I married into a wonderful family and that there was absolutely nothing to worry about.  Hugs, laughter and sincerity translate into an international language, and before one could say, “What time is high tea?” all differences were bridged.
This isn’t to say that everything on the cultural front went as smoothly.  I live in a
country where there are approximately two cell phones for every citizen and no one believes that there is anything too personal to scream aloud while riding the bus or standing on line in the bank.  Examples of some of the more delicate conversations I’ve heard include: “The dermatologist said what??? Have it lanced and drained already!!!”
“So I told her that you have to mash the chick peas by hand.  The food processor is just not good for that!” and “I don’t know how to tell him that it’s not going to work out.  I think he’s already looking at rings.”  As I’ve mentioned, these tête-à-têtes are not whispered; they are hollered for everyone to enjoy.
Not so in England.  Public transportation is just that; transport.  There was a quiet, near-eerie camaraderie as we traversed the highly efficient London underground, bopping between Piccadilly Circus (no merry-go-round; I looked), St. Pancras Station (which I maturely referred to as St. Pancreas), Leicester (pronounced “Lester”) Square and Chalk Farm (wouldn’t allow my imagination to go further).  Silence.  Lots of reading and avoiding eye contact.  Great boots on women and men and an impressive amount of hair gel.  A sporadic throaty chuckle but no guffawing.  Whenever the doors opened, I occasionally heard a melodic “pardon me” or two but no ear-splitting “Nu?  Move!  I’m getting out!”  Upon arriving at the respective stations, a refined recording reminded all who embarked and detrained to “mind the gap,” referring to a two inch space between the platform and the door.
Horn-honking?  No joke, my husband heard one blast of the horn during the eight days we were there.  One.  He guessed that the driver was an immigrant.  People patiently waited in queues and politely showed us the direction of whatever tourist site we wanted to explore.
This brings me to the “history” and “civilization” report.  We went to the theatre and saw a magnificent, standing-ovation performance of Les Miserables.  The visit to Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum was thoroughly delightful.  And we warily observed and eventually admired a few speakers in Hyde Park.  But let me warn my fellow Anglophiles; there is a huge “gore” culture in England that fills tourism coffers and is a little strange, me-thinks.  A prime example is the Tower of London, a colossal monument to the art of torture.  The smell of blood in the assorted chambers is still evident!  Our cheery Beefeater guide explained that on a good day, men would close their shops and, with the family in tow, spend the afternoon watching a lively beheading.  (Without a doubt, the Missus packed a nutritious picnic lunch.)  After a while, it was hard to discern the subtle styling differences in various guillotines, garrotes and spine-tearing racks.  Pillory, thumbscrew or Iron-Maiden, the options began to blur by the time I exited between the Blood and Traitor Gates.  Upstairs, downstairs, ducking into dungeons and climbing into dimly lit garrets, the tour ended with our group sitting in a magnificent centuries-old church and hearing the guide list the bodies that were buried beneath the pews.  A truly upbeat finale to a one-note day.
Two features, however, added a positive spin to an otherwise creepy and spine-tingling visit; we sauntered through an absolutely gasp-worthy display of the Crown Jewels, some still set in the original headpieces and others arranged on velvet behind thick-paned glass.  While I have (not well) mixed feelings about the monarchy, it was a wonderful exhibit.
No less spectacular, however, were the prominently displayed certificates in the London Tower rest rooms, attesting that I was enjoying quality time in the “Loo of the Year.”  Apparently the site is a hands-down favorite of international toilet mavens, and the 15 or more framed diplomas assured me that the competition is fierce.
A quick sail around the River Thames revealed more sites where pirates reveled in prurient debauchery and hung or drowned (sometimes both) a misbehaving tavern owner.
Sadly, the Queen was unable to see me this time around, but I’m not discounting a future meeting.  I suspect that some sort of family tension was brewing between Camilla and Kate and had to be sorted out just at the time I was planning to pop in.
Sending her an e-mail before boarding my flight back home, I told the Queen (I call her Liz) that I’m happy she felt close enough to be honest with me.  And that we’ll catch up next time.  While I still haven’t gotten a reply, it doesn’t matter.  After all, if anyone understands the importance of putting family first, it’s me.

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