Monday, April 4, 2011

Into the Country

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Karen arrived at the Gloucester Coach Station expecting to pick up her mum (whom I had joined back in London and we rode the bus together). So, when I came walking out of the bus station too, Karen burst into tears. It's not everyday that your best friend from Denver casually walks out of the Gloucester Coach Station on a sunny, Wednesday afternoon. And thus began my first, true vacation to the English "countryside." Let me explain the quotation marks: 

London is a vain and self-centered city, quite simliar to New York City. The urban sprawl of New York City reaches its fingers in every direction, from New Jersey to Conneticut. Yet in my experience (I lived in Jersey for two years), New Yorkers believe that they live in "The City" and everywhere else is just...everywhere else. By the same logic, London is The City, and everywhere else in the country of England constitutes "the country," more or less. Besides the occasional daily jaunt to Stratford Upon Avon or Bath, my family rarely venetured out of The City, preferring to vacation in other parts of Europe. And so my arrival in Gloucester felt in many ways as if I'd taken a three hour bus ride from London and ended up in a foreign country, or at the very least a Jane Austen novel.

My observations about this foreign country:
  • The English accent and vocabulary sounded much different
  • There were chain superstores, including sister-stores of Wal-mart, Target, and many other retail monstrosities I'd never heard of
  • The majority of the cars driving on the road resembled Micro Machines
  • There were round-a-bouts every quarter mile and I had to be careful to look forward so the constant turning didn't make me car sick
  • Like London, everything is made of brick. But unlike London, there are long gaps of the most exquisite green I've ever seen separating the urban neighborhoods of Gloucester and her neighboring towns!

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 I think one of the most surprising parts about my visit to Gloucester was the presence of "normal" English people. Central London is full of glamorous, sophisticated, and strange City People. And when you see children, they are wearing uniforms and straw hats and they look exactly like characters from the children's story Madeline. Of course this is a terrific stereotype, and London contains as much of the human spectrum as the next city, but the standing in Karen's local grocery store, the difference felt palpable. There were mums disciplining their crying children. There were old ladies poking at the fruits and vegetables. And the absence of London's high fashion and exotic pagaentry was noticeable. At least to me.

On Friday night I had the pleasure of meeting some of Karen's friends, many of them who grew up in or around Gloucester. Again, how laid back and normal her friends seemed, compared to some of the more intense, eccentric acquaintances I'd made during my London days. (I am wondering if this comment is going to result in offended emails from my London friends. Trust me, if you're reading this blog, I'm not talking about you). Anyway, I left the party reminded that there are wonderful and fun people everywhere, and I hope to meet them all again some day!

Gloucester Skyline photo credit
However incomplete this portrait of Karen's "country life" in Gloucester may be, I can only say how privileged I felt to be part of it all for a week. If I can't have Karen living next door, or in my basement, which is my first preference, at least I can close my eyes and feel assured that her life is full, and she has landed on her feet.

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