Let’s see, it’s … Day Five? I really am losing track.
Yesterday was my favourite day of the trip so far. It was a fairly laid-back day with one main objective (seeing The Lion King) and only one trip on transit — the train from Bexley to Charing Cross. We didn’t have to contend with the Tube yesterday, which was good because it was another day of record-breaking heat, up above 36C, so I’m told.
The Lion King was great. I love musicals, and have seen most of the big-name ones on big-city stages — Phantom, Les Mis, Cats — as well as excellent local productions of almost every musical you can think of at home in St. John’s. So I am speaking as a well-informed consumer when I say that the London production of The Lion King is, hands down, the best musical I have ever seen.
Since I’m not a very visual peson, if I see a musical I’m more likely to go away raving about the music or the acting rather than the sets and costumes. But in The Lion King, the sets and costumes really are front and centre. The way in which the animal characters are created, using beautiful and innovative masks and puppetry, without trying to hide the puppetteers or actors behind the masks but rather incorporating them into the characters, is breathtaking, and the sets are simple but gorgeous. I love the story of the The Lion King anyway — it’s your classic coming-of-age story, retold a thousand times but never old if it’s well-done. And the music is my favourite of any of the Disney musicals; in the stage version it’s all there plus it’s supplemented by a lot more beautiful African-inspired music and dancing. Wow. The kids were riveted throughout the whole thing and Jason and I loved it too.
We emerged from the relative cool of the theatre into the heat of the London afternoon and decided to walk the short distance to Trafalgar Square. The fountains were lined off with tourists and locals dangling their feet and sometimes wading around a bit in the water (the wading is officially discouraged, as we and several other tourists discovered when Chris and Emma started splashing around as the other children were doing!). It was a lovely cooling way to visit one of the Landmarks of London. Today’s pictures are all fountain pictures.
It’s hard not to draw comparisons between this trip and my other two visits to England — one all by myself in 86, right after I graduated from college, and one with Jason in 96, a year after we were married. The trip in 86 was supposed to be my scaled-down version of the Grand Tour of Europe where I could wander around England finding myself. I went for three weeks and my father is fond of quoting my statement at the time, that I found myself in the first few days and then had another two weeks to kill.
Me being sarcastic as usual, of course, but there’s some truth in it. There’s a limit to how much self-discovery I can really do in solitude: after awhile, I start to bore myself. The other day I finished reading one of my trip books, Alison Pick’s The Sweet Edge (yes I will be posting a review when I get home and can update the book reviews). At the core of this novel is the story of a young man who goes on a punishing and potentially fatal canoe trip alone in the Canadian North — to “find himself,” essentially, though he doesn’t use that phrase. Lots of people buy into this idea of a long journey alone as a vehicle for self-discovery, and I’ve tried it myself on occasion, though nothing as ambitious as canoeing alone in the North!
But I think if you really want to go on a trip to “find yourself,” you should take your spouse/partner and two small children to another country in the middle of a heat wave, on a limited budget. You won’t have endless hours for contemplating the meaning of existence and writing about it in your journal, that’s for sure. But you will find essential parts of yourself you might not have noticed before. You will find incredible resources of patience, energy, creativity, humour, and resilience. You will learn your capacity for self-denial as you walk past appealing ethnic restaurants in search of a Burger King at which your child will eat. You won’t catch a lot of late-night theatre on a trip like this, but you’ll learn more about your own limits and strengths than you’d ever imagined. (Conversely, I suppose, you could learn that you entirely lack these qualities, and could abandon your screaming children on an Underground platform while you make a break for freedom. But then, you’d have learned something about yourself in that case too, wouldn’t you? Only you might not write about it in your blog).
Similarly, if you want to really get to know your partner, I can suggest something much better than a long camping trip or a romantic second honeymoon together. Put your partner on a train at the end of a long, hot day with a small boy who wants to assemble the Lego toy he’s just bought, then arrange for several key pieces to be missing from the Lego toy. Watch as the Man of Your Dreams simultaneously calms the threatened storm of tears and frustration, and scavenges for appropriate replacement Legos in the backpack to cobble together an acceptable substitute. You will stare open-mouthed in awe and think, “He is more than human!” as the tears change to a smile of admiration on the face of the child (who somehow goes on believing that he assembled the Lego toy all by himself).
Travel is certainly a learning experience. Travel with the kids is a life-changing experience. So far, all the changes are for the better. We’ll keep you posted.