“A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetimes is certain for those who are friends.” –Richard Bach
It’s been almost two years since I went to Paris. As I wasn’t working during my last few weeks in London, the subsidized trip offered by the International Student House’s Travel Club was too good to pass up: just £120 to cover round-trip Eurostar tickets, three nights’ accommodation in an actual hotel (read: not a hostel!), admission to the Eiffel Tower, the Lourve, Palace of Versailles, a three-day Metro travel card, and a €12 contribution to a group meal…glazed duck and potatoes au gratin anyone? When I tried to add it all up, I think it came to something like £400.
The only catch was having to go along as a group of about fifteen strangers (and in our case, all girls)–certainly an interesting premise for a trip. And given the fact that about two-thirds were of Asian backgrounds, you can imagine how often we stopped to take the requisite peace-sign-and-pose photos on our visit to the Eiffel Tower. But as usually happens in such situations, you end up leaving with people you can actually call good friends. For me, there was Tanja, a Slovenian who at the time was earning her Master’s, and Ermiza, a Sri Lankan law student. After we returned from Paris, Tanja and I even got together at the British Library and embarked on a literary tour of London, paying homage to William Blake’s grave and past residences of Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, and the like.
But it’s a testament to the modern age of travel and communication that on Sunday, we were able to reunite–some 21 months later–under the auspices of the 2010 Bloomsbury Festival. Tanja had managed to secure tickets to a reading for not only Ermiza and myself, but a few others as well. On a brilliantly sunny afternoon, we met up at the Art Workers Guild, an organization of architects and “makers” dating from the 1880s whose office in Queen Square reflects the talent and craftsmanship associated with the Guild.
The reading itself, an event titled “Deception,” was the best I’ve been to yet. It featured members of Future Perfect, a small group of poets, novelists and even a songwriter who have been together for about ten months and host themed joint readings across London–readings that are original, witty and entertaining. Their pieces ranged from a novel excerpt about a man who’s racked up half a million pounds on his corporate charge card and impulsively buys a £4,000 mobile phone; a short story about a psychotic lover who binds and gags her boyfriend when he packs his bags to move out; and a song called “Sweet Little Creeper”–no explanation necessary. What impressed me most of all, though, was simply the life and vibrancy each writer conveyed. These weren’t dry readings, but a true performance, engaging and insightful–something you’re not always guaranteed to find at such events.
After the reading, we moved to a nearby cafe and pulled a couple of tables together, discussing Tanja’s upcoming trip to New York for research. She’s currently working on her PhD from SOAS (the School of Oriental and African Studies) concentrating on the history of Islamic ceramic and glass art and apparently, the largest glass museum in the world is in Corning, New York. Who knew? “I have no choice but to go and take pictures,” Tonja explained. Leave it to a doctoral degree to allow such specificity.
As we sipped on coffee and hot chocolate, I marvelled at what a group we were–Tanja and her Indian friend Akhil, working on his PhD in Indian queer literature; Alena from Belarus, in her final year of doctoral studies in medieval Islamic history; Ermiza, now practising constitutional law back in Sri Lanka, and her reticent younger brother, whose name I unfortunately missed. Our conversation was fascinating to follow, from Ermiza telling us about her latest case concerning prostitution, to Tonja and Akhil’s account of their recent “ghost tour” through the South Bank area, where they visited the Cross Bones Graveyard, home to the Outcast Dead.
We didn’t linger long, however. A performance was due to take place on Lamb Conduit Lane (named for its purpose in another time, when goods were shipped down its canal to Holborn. It’s since been filled in and paved over, just another London sidestreet.) We arrived to find a community dinner in progress, organized in honor of the festival’s end. White tents and tables had been set up down the street, strings of exposed bulbs strung down the middle and colorful flags zig-zagging their way across the lights. Indian food steaming with spices was being served in another tent, curried potatoes and rice dished into brown paper boxes like presents.
In the end, the performance was rained out, but a rainbow that appeared over Bloomsbury Square pleased us all the same. We walked back to the station along damp sidewalks, golden sunlight glinting off windows. I thought about how quickly Russell Square is becoming one of my favorite areas in London, and also how much I love reconnecting with old friends–and realizing as always, the world can be as small or large as you make it.