Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Legend of England: A Link to the Past

Location: Norwich, England
Ego Status: Under Siege


November 24

Colleen and I have been caught in the whirling maelstrom of the London Tube system, or as I shall refer to it from here on out, Charybdis. We managed to get tickets up to Norwich for a reasonably cheap price (all Colleen's doing; these tickets were available only to people who have the mental capacity to plan things). However, we first have to train from Ravenscourt Park to Paddington Station, get off the Tube, and pick up our tickets before we can train to Liverpool Street, where we will actually grab our overland train out of the city. I can actually hear the trustees of London's public transit system laughing as they twist their oily mustaches and choke bunnies for fun.

However, we're off without incident, and the two hour train ride to Norwich is really quite pleasant. We devour the remains of the turkey and much of the pumpkin pie in a classic backpacker's lunch a la Americaine, and it is good. Upon arriving at the station, we are greated by the reason for our trek up to this god-forsaken corner of England: Tessa and Tonje.

These two lovelies are mutual friends from Australia, again whom I haven't seen for two years, whom leaving in the first place was cause for no small amount of tears. Seeing their little blonde heads bobbing at us over the rows of cars is a simple joy quite beyond words, and there are immediate hugs exchanged of a ferocious quality.

Tessa, who has been gracious enough to open her house to us for the weekend, is my opposite number in virtually every way that you can put on paper. Whereas I am bold, harsh, and arrogant, she is selfless, accomodating, and genial. I embody most of the international stereotypes of Americans, whereas she is quintessentially British. I, carnivorous, she, vegetarian. On the face of it, it seems that we shouldn't get along at all, but there is an intense love and friendship here that I find quite unique. She is irrepressibly full of joy and zest, which I admire about her almost as much as her unfailing loyalty and decency.

Tonje is, quite simply, the cutest human being alive. And yes, I'm including babies. She's that cute. Kittens eating candy canes kind of cute. I can't be around her for more than 10 seconds without wanting to just pick her up and spin her around. It's a ubiquitous quality, though. You have to be ready for it, or you might miss it. She is quiet in groups, which could be wrongly taken for lack of interest or something ridiculous like that, but when she does decide to pipe up, she invariably makes you smile. I have seldom met anyone so easy to get along with, who so consistently brings a contented smirk to my face.

So that's the crew for the time being. We make our way back to Tessa's house, made somewhat difficult because Tessa has to go back to work at the end of her lunch break and we have to navigate without her. Her directions are more or less good, though, and Tonje (who got here yesterday) is able to guide us on the last leg. Upon settling, the three of us decide to use our remaining daylight hours to do some sightseeing.

Sightseeing is a problem in Norwich because there really aren't many sights to see. It's a little bit out of the way as far as English towns go... in the States, we would call it a poo-hole. However, there is a cathedral of some reknown, so without any better ideas we head there, having to exercise some authority to keep Tonje off of the ice skating rink we find on the way. The cathedral is large and very English (yes, I've gotten where I can tell with reasonable certainty the nationality that created a cathedral just by looking at it... the Italians particularly have a certain flair that the British seem to have missed out on), and I wouldn't have thought much good about it except for the fact that it was yet another bit of international exploring with friends. You have to understand, this is what I do with these people. Surely, we eat and drink and joke and shmooze, but bear in mind that I have never seen any of them in the country of my birth. Everything we do is supported on a foundation of adventure that colors even the most mundane of activities. As such, we're really good at it, and I am able to enjoy the cathedral on that basis.

After that we wander on back to the Forum, a garish collection of shops and cafes clustering orphan-style around the town library. Colleen and Tonje grab drinks and snacks for a mere $19 a pop while I, having a small amount of money that has to last me as long as possible, abstain from drinking these most precious of beverages.

After a while Tessa gets off work and comes to join us. We talk and laugh and sing merry carols about fluffy bunnies for a few minutes, then it's dinner time. I, being a headstrong man surrounded by polite females, play decision maker, and off to the store it is to purchase things for a nice home-cooked curry (curry is English slang for "meal of Indian food"). There is a bit of a row as Tessa is vegetarian and I require hardcore meat to stay upright, but we eventually get the mechanics of the thing settled and have a nice time cooking together (and, in the case of the beef, separately) and generally having a good time.

After dinner it's time to crazy-go-nuts, so we walk down to a local watering hole with one of Tessa's flatmates in tow. The bar is quite neat. Most of the tables are in a small pavilion outside, and a trapeze-chain of Barbie dolls hangs above the bar in the Plastic World's most impressive daisy chain. As it turns out, a couple of our other old mates from Australia are currently living in Norwich and will also be there tonight. First, however, is the business of meeting Jamie, Tessa's boyfriend. He's a capoeira fiend and a general 'zest for life' type, and earns approval all around. Then come the old friends. Anna and Barnaby are a couple, just as they were when I knew them in Australia. Anna is really a wonderful person, sweet and full of good nature. My first real experience with her was when she was my toilet-side caretaker at my 20th birthday party. We'd only known each other for about 24 hours, but she was as good a friend already as anyone could hope for. It's good to see that she's still as chipper and fun as always. Barnaby, by contrast, is a walking testament to douchebaggery, partly because of his anarcho-nihilist hatred for all humanity (self-declared, by the way), and the fact that he treats Anna worse than I treat most stray dogs. Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I don't like it when one member of a relationship makes it their goal to make their partner feel worthless and dehumanized. It upsets me.

However, we all have just a dandy time at the bar, doing bar things, then pack it in at the wee hours of the morning. Tomorrow, we dance.

November 25

Ok, maybe dance is the wrong word. After a brief trip to the library for my morning Jen-email, we're off to Tessa's capoiera class. For those of you paying attention, yes, this is where she met her boy.

If you are among the uneducated, huddled masses, let me explain capoiera. Capoiera is a form of Brazilian martial arts, often called "dance fighting." Way back in the day, there was this whole thing with the European oppressors of Brazil (damned Portugese!) forbidding their enslaved native charges from learning how to fight. So, said natives invented a form of martial art that looked would look like dancing to their heathen masters. Thus, capoiera was born. Ever played Tekkan? Yeah, this is Eddie Gordo. It's what breakdancing was derived from. That should give you an idea.

Like the idiot that I am, I have taken Tessa up on her offer to actually participate in the beginner's class today. Colleen and Tonje, much wiser, have elected to simply watch. For about an hour I am forced to jump, jive, and wail in ways that I'm sure I was never intended to do. Tessa claims that I did very well, but the soreness in my ass and the gigantic blood blister on my left foot beg to differ. It was fun, though. I so rarely get to kick imaginary foes while jungle people chant on a nearby boombox. I'll count it a victory.

The weather is absolutely pissing down, and by the time we get out of there none of us are particularly energetic. We grab cheap sandwiches on the way home, just in time to shower and plan out a real dinner. It's spaghetti tonight, and even though I acquiesce to the vegetarianism, it's quite good.

After dinner we meet up with Jamie and make a beeline for James Bond the Most Awesomest Guy Ever in "Casino Royale." The badassery is just as badass as I could have hoped, and the gunshots are both numerous and poorly aimed, as tradition demands. Of course, it just wouldn't have been me had I not dropped a piece of chocolate on the seat and unknowingly ground it into the crotch of my jeans so it looked like I crapped myself. Great.

Norwich is really quite lovely this time of year (when it's not pissing down rain), and they're just starting to break out the Christmas decorations hardcore, so things are bordering on downright festive. It's everything you could ever want from a medium-sized, quaint British town, right down to the windy streets and market full of questionable Chinese food vendors.

Back home and it's off to bed. Tonje has to leave in the morning (some crap about "final exams" or something), so there's a bit of pre-emptive sadness, but just getting to see her has been everything I hoped, so I can't be totally broken up about it. At least now I know it's possible.

November 26

Awakening early for a final goodbye to Tonje, then a move from the air mattress of doom to the bed that she has recently vacated. More sleep. Very good.

It's a lazy morning around Norwich. About lunchtime we decide that we'd like to head over a see the sea, so we pile into Tessa's car (a gray beast named Nellie that apparently doesn't like to start all the time), pick up some lunchtime snacks from the nearby store, and head off. It's about a 45 minute drive to the town of Cromer, a tiny little town right on the North Sea. We walk around for a bit, just taking in the atmosphere. On the shore we tentatively touch the water to confirm that yes, it is cold. Colleen and I grab some chips at a local fish and chips place, reputedly the best in England, while Tessa abstains because they apparently do all their cooking in beef drippings. They are, indeed, delicious, and by the time we finish them off it's time to go home, what with it being dark and all.

Back in Norwich we pop by Jamie's place for a bit, just to say hi, and end up watching an episode of a strange British TV show that Tessa assures us is hilarious and which Jamie happens to have on DVD. It's called "The Mighty Boosh," and follows 2 zany zookeepers through their various misadventures. Excellent line: "Apes respond to all kinds of music, but mainly 70's rock."

After departing Jamie's, it's off to Anna's place for dinner. There are six of us (Tessa, Colleen, Anna, Barnaby, myself, and Anna's flatmate whose name I forget) for a delicious homemade vegetable curry and some cheap wine. The dinner is fantastic. This is exactly the kind of thing that I love about backpacking, just chilling in some random apartment in some random city with good friends and strangers alike, debating philosophy over a hot meal. God bless it all. Truly, I'm sorry to see the evening end.

It's strange to write about this sort of weekend on my travels, framed as it is by so many dynamic places and foreign adventures. When contrasted with Rome, perhaps, or Budapest, a weekend in Norwich might seem uneventful, even dull. This could not be farther from the truth. If anything, the lonely wanderings of a sightseeing backpacker throw into sharp relief how good it can be just to hang around in a house, a bar, a movie theatre, a cafe, with good friends. I have missed these girls immensely over the last couple of years, and though it is hard to summarize our time spent in a blow-by-blow narrative, it has been everything I hoped it to be.

And now, we must part ways once again.

Progress Thus Far:
Countries Visited: 10
Stupid Tourist Moments: 88
Monuments Flipped Off: 70
Free Food Ganked: 15
Free Booze Ganked: 35

circus life, under this big top world
we all need the clowns to make us smile
-Journey

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