“Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped, but with others, drink the whole bottle.”
― Paulo Coelho, Brida
Hello, all! Long time no travel and no post. I hope the resumption of Feminist Footprints finds you well.
As for me, you will be reading this on, or around the time, I complete my graduate studies and earn my Master of Art in English As A Second Language (ESL) & Reading. Determined to complete my degree in 14 months instead of the standard 24, I was too busy and exhausted to keep up the blog and take 2 classes at a time.
At the ripe age of 51, I crossed off one of my Top 3 bucket list to do’s when I completed my master’s. It puts me in mind of another of my Top 3: live abroad, specifically take an apartment in Paris. If you have followed my blog, you know that I achieved this one, too, crossing it off the list in 2010. After saving for 3 years, I quit my job and took an apartment in Paris for a month before traveling the country and then on to Italy. On the 10-year anniversary of this epic trip, I had begun sharing some of my favorite moments when I took a break for school. I am resuming my tales aptly with a digression I took between France and Italy. Below, you will read about my semi-triumphant returned to London after a 16-year absence. I hope I’m not too rusty after such a long time away. Let me know what you think!
The goal was a literary hunt under a Cambridge blue sky. 11 years on, I can’t remember if I was searching for Shakespeare or Thomas Hardy, but either way when I set out, it was raining worse than the shower that drenches Jane in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I have a terrible sense of direction and I was hopelessly lost and soaked to the bone after searching for the master’s house.
Teary and frustrated, I decided to give up the hunt for one of my literary heroes and look for a place to enjoy my next favorite pastime, drinking in cool places. While in Paris, I became friendly with a hip woman who had spent time around the world, including London. She told me that I had to check out Gordon’s Wine Bar. The famed watering hole opened in 1890, and under the approving eye of luminaries such as Churchill and the Queen herself—at least in photographs--has served wine, sherry, and port to novices and wanna be sommeliers longer than any other bar in London—or so they believe.
As luck would have it, I almost missed my chance to sip a finely aged port beneath the vaulted ceilings of Gordon’s. Soggy and defeated, I had all but given up finding the bar as my search went the way of Dickens’ house. I was trudging toward the metro and my Bayswater hotel when something or someone—let’s say Dionysus the God of Wine—made me turn my head as I passed an alley. Low and behold, through the mist, I spied a wooden sign barely visible beneath rain-dappled lights. My heart swelling with relief that something was finally going my way on the three days I had allotted myself for my London side trip, I hurried through the alley, down the stone steps, and into the wine cave of my dreams.
Gordon’s was just as my globetrotting friend had described and just as I had hoped. The buttery, slightly damp stone glimmered under soft yellow bulbs. The ceilings, at once low yet beveled by hidden crossbeams, allowed a sense of airiness. History seeming to seep from the flagstones as I made my way deeper beneath London, I was drawn in by every girlish fantasy I had ever had reading Harlequin romances, Austin, and Henry James late into the night. Entering the main cave, I came face to face with barrel upon barrel of carefully aged wines, sherries, and ports. To this day, I’m not sure which warmed my chilled bones faster, the delicious Tawny port in its delicate sipper or the Gallically handsome man who served it to me. In a funny twist, my barkeep was French! I lost no time flirtatiously declaring that now I knew where he’d been hiding the entire time I was in Paris.
Divested of my soggy coat, lipstick freshly reapplied, I was in the midst of drying out, halfway through my first of serval ports, when an American accent caught my attention. I turned to find a petite, curly-haired woman a few steps away from me down the time and elbow-worn bar. We realized we were both colonists at about the same time and struck up a conversation.
It turned out she, too, was traveling alone. But unlike me, who was traveling to replenish my soul before returning home to change my life and career—Jennifer A. had already gotten herself in hand and was on the isle to celebrate completing her master’s. I know, right?!
In all honestly, it wasn’t until I was halfway through the writing of this essay, that I realized I was writing about a woman I met 11 years ago who was on a trip to celebrate the completion of grad school. Logical order and schedules have long flown out the window with my travel stories in spite of my best intentions. I could have chosen any place to resume one of my myriad travel stories about drinking and hot men, but the power of the subconscious is amazing and it lead me back to the perfect memory to commemorate this time in my life.
I fully remember at 40, just having quit my job, uncertain what my future would hold, being jealous and impressed by what this woman in her early thirties had already accomplished. Up to that point, my trip hadn’t gone as well as I had planned, casting doubt on all the other things I had so meticulously designed and the great future I had envisioned upon my return to New York and meeting Jennifer A. stung a bit. But we hit it off and I managed to drink my fear of the future away that night. We had a blast as a couple of old gents, civil service types who claimed to know the Prime Minster, chatted us up and brought us drinks. Bleary-eyed and in danger of Type 2 diabetes from all the sugar, we shut down Gordon's and made plans to meet up the next night. I watched Wicked at the Apollo Victoria in the West End (amazing) and then met up with Jennifer A. at a Cuban bar for way too many caipirinhas and great music. I had so many delicious concoctions and so much fun, I missed the cutoff for the Tube, and unable to catch a night bus due to a lack of correct change (Madness!) ended up walking back to Bayswater. I got an hour of sleep before rushing for my train through the Chunnel and back to Paris.
It would take me another 10 years and a move abroad to get my master’s and as I write this, I wonder what became of Jennifer A. from Sunset Park, Brooklyn (I know! What are the chances?!) If I’ve learned nothing else from two decades of traveling, it's that you should keep a backup itinerary, be prepared to pivot, enjoy the moment as it is and not how you thought it would be, and take that path down the alley because you never know where it will lead.
Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to come back in June when I’m off to Rome.
In the meantime, be kind to one another, keep on traveling with a feminist eye, and keep on being Feminist AF!