Yesterday, I dropped an armful of postcards in the mail. Today, I video-chatted my mother, during the narrowed window when we share daylight.
"Good morning, my beautiful girl," she said, smiling bright. We hadn't spoken in 3 days after I lost my phone on the Stansted Express, somewhere between an airport on London's peripheral and Liverpool Street's tube station.
"Good afternoon, Mommy. I'm phoning from Europe," as I always say, as we always laugh.
She laughed, replying sweetly, "Isn't this surreal?"
My parents are still in shock that I'm overseas. I don't think I'll ever escape the tyranny of the "My Pond across the pond," pun from my mother. Her nickname for me became "Pond" around 2011, after I insisted my childhood moniker of shortening Miranda to Andy was less The Goonies (1985) and humiliatingly boyish, or so the boys at school teased. (As a women's college scholar, I've since lost interest in schoolboy judgement and embraced just about any sobriquet short of obscenity). As I was a 'scene kid' that believed she shared little with her parents beyond a love of Doctor Who, a re-branding from Eleventh Doctor's (Matt Smith) new companion, Amelia Pond (Karen Gillian) was one that stuck.
My folks have officially taken to signing emails with BBC America's "Mind the Gap" slogan. In true anglophile fashion, they'll sometimes plead for the 'British-isms' they haven't heard. (Though unsatisfied by 'boot' [trunk], 'tube' [subway], and 'chips' [fries], they've delighted over 'wrinklies', 'Chatham House Rule', and 'thinking woman's crumpet.')
Though only a few weeks into the program and barely past the gates, I've collected quite a few ingredients in roaming between Cambridge and London. Far less silly and far more wow, I'll confess the dish is rich and sweet. (With the rest of the UK and a day trip to Paris still unexplored in the yet-to-be itinerary, I'm quite content to serve the local delicacies--- even if they're only appetizers for what's to come.)
From experienced (novice) hands, and the special ingredient of wisdom (pure dumbstruck wonder), I've composed instructions for a guaranteed surreal, out-of-body experience in Cambridgeshire, the London metropolis, and some theatre-loving mischief just beyond the River Thames:
Absorbing every vibrant, perfect color of sorbet-sky sunsets over the King's College courtyard.
Floating through a crowd of explosively joyous, heartily-chanting football fans after England wins moments of the World Cup.
Fumbling with handfuls of pences and pounds before a polite barista, shooed out of private streets, explaining cross-cultural confusion (the outlet adapters! the SIM cards! the meaning of "a neighborhood full of gentlemen's clubs"!), making a cringe-worthy mistake in discussing the Prime Minster, caught-in-brutal-correction after making assumptions about anything from zebra crossings to Northern versus Republic of Ireland to BrExit, and just about every other scary-invigorating humbled by the learning curve.
Architecture. Everywhere, everywhere.
Street performers, from unicycle jugglers to fire-breathing saxophone players to trashcan guitarists to full-amp-and-speakers singers and bands that rival Passenger, Ed Sheeran, and Mumford and Sons.Reading and studying where Stephen Hawking researched.
Living where The Theory of Everything was filmed.
Visiting the Globe and sitting in those wooden, less-flammable but otherwise authentically reconstructed seats while a director talks professional actors through pre-rehearsal yoga.
Living across the street from a massive, monolith-of-a-museum (Fitzwilliam) full of Matisses and Egyptian mummies. Realizing Fitzwilliam's magnitude is still a baby compared to the British Museum, where I stood before the Rosetta Stone and the flood tablet and Easter Island heads and stolen Native Canadian totems and protesters demanding keystones of Greek art to be returned to Athens. (Imagine walking through the conquest locker of the most far-reaching colonialist exploits in history. Amazing and problematic and confusing and awe-striking.)
Spending a casual weekend trip seeing plays at the West End.Proudly figuring out the London Tube system.
Walking down cobblestone streets and listening to my beloved garbage (Shawn Mendes, Elton John, Macklemore) in a pair of converse while a pair of fully-gowned researches rush past in a passionate conversation on US-UK foreign relations.
Hearing Italian, French, Portuguese, Chinese, Spanish, and a million other languages in the city centre every day.
Punting while a new friend sleeps at the foot of the boat, listening to the River Cam flow while young parents pass in their own vessel, gently singing to their baby in their home languages. Don't forget the little happy, bubbly sounds of joy merging with the dance of the river, and tiny leg kicks matching the rock of rushing water.
Handling books older than my historic home university, with gifted originals under gentle lights in glass display cases.
Visiting pubs older than my home country, with elaborate photo-markers alongside written signs - leftover from older days of primarily illiterate patrons.
The trance-like dream feeling of merging with my favorite childhood movie. (Okay, maybe my favorite all-time movie.)
The garnish? The strut that can only reveal itself when walking towards a door that revolutionized storytelling, from literature to television.
The tea? being unexpectedly grilled on US politics. Being relieved to hear I changed a stereotype of the "uninformed" to at least one person.
The chaser? Learning and roaming as wildly as Alice, who "sometimes... believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.", every single day.
Finally, the sauce: re-defining "learning" for a lifetime.