I have an 8-hour layover here at Heathrow's International Terminal 4. Since my favorite thing to do in the world is sit and watch people, it's not actually so bad. I have my quote scrolls kit with me, so I can just sit with my hands busy, speculating about people's stories to my heart's content.
Most of you know that I'm a little nervous plunging into new cultures. If this were a Joseph Campbell-style hero's journey, this giant, expensive mall would be the threshhold, like the Cantina on Mose Eisley. I'm feeling OK, though. I'm writing a lot of observations, which is always a good sign. I'll share as many of them with you as I can before my time runs out.
I started by making a slow trudge around the circuit of the stores to get a sense for the landscape. I stopped in the first bookstore I came across because my friend Doug (the only person I know anywhere near London) said that although I'm one of the few people that he'd be willing to make the hour and a half drive in to the airport to have lunch with me, friends of his were getting married out in the sticks today. He said that I should look for his book, Owen Noone and the Marauder in the bookstores, though and if it wasn't there, make a big stink with the kid behind the counter, asking why not. I don't think I'm quite willing to make a stink, but I did look for his book. His last name is Cowie and I thought for a moment we had hit jackpot as my eyes found the C-Os, but alas, it was Douglas Copeland. However, there was a book-sized space exactly where his book would be if they were carrying it, so there is still a glimmer of hope.
Speaking of making a big stink, by this time I was letting loose a couple of really big, clapping farts, so I went to find a bathroom. Also, the music store across the hall from the bookstore played Creedence Clearwater Revival, followed by Procol Harum and the American classic rock was feeling just a little surreal. As I entered the gleaming white stall, I saw that the dispenser for the toilet paper had fallen open on the hinge located at the bottom, pushing me to the left as I sat. In the dispenser I saw pre-cut slices of toilet paper of the perfect size for one good swipe. Nothing stingy about it. The stall door was so big that there was no frame to indicate any sort of room-like atmosphere. Instead, it felt like entering a short hallway with an odd toilet at the end of it.
Leaving the bathrooms, a restaurant was piping Peter Gabriel's Strawberry Hill, a song that a boyfriend of mine called "ubiquitous" and so I've never been able to hear it (and you hear it a lot) without calling it The Ubiquitous Strawberry Hill in my head.
Interestingly, the duty free shops employ lovely young women to wear costume to sell perfume. In one shop, two light-skinned Indian women wore white beach clothes with white flowers over one ear and in another stores, two Pacific Asian women wore elaborate Hawiian costumes with grass skirts and ornamental belts. It reminds me of Jackie in That 70s Show, who wears the sexy Bavarian costume with a straight face while working for the Cheese Hut. To me, costumed sales girls reflects a time in American history in which kitsch and camp were not considered kitsch and camp but rather creative and clever. Or should I say, creative and klever?
There is a preponderance of novels in the bookstores that are unashamedly sordid tales of incest. They have titles like When Daddy Comes Home, Abandoned, and Don't Tell Mummy. I have seen at least 8 different books and they all have the same cover design: mostly white background with a large picture of a blond child's head and shoulders above the fold. The title is written out, as if in the child's own hand. I'm not sure what to think about this or what it's disturbing correlation is in American culture (I'm sure there is one). It's got me wigged out, though.
I sampled Pimm's, which I've heard about before on NPR but haven't gotten a chance to try since it's only available in the UK. One could get very drunk on samples of Pimm's in this mall since there are at least three stores offering very nearly full shots of it.
The cigarette packages don't pull any punches around here. They have warning that say in very big letters, "SMOKING KILLS" and "SMOKING IS ADDICITIVE AND VERY DIFFICULT TO QUIT." Amazing - the human desire to destroy itself.
I like watching strangers ask each other questions and get kind responses. My experience is usually with informational self-sufficiency: both my own and the people around me. We can look everything up on the internet ahead of time. It's interesting to see people creating even small community because they have needs.
Finally, I like my traveling companions so far. Three of them were on the flight with me from Chicago and none of the suggested that we hang out during the layover, nor did they linger upon being ejected from security. They went their own direction without a backwards look. They know we'll be spending plenty of time together over the next two weeks, so they're taking their last moments of privacy now.
My kind of people.
This might not be so bad after all. :-)
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