So, late last summer, my friend Emily Hindrichs told me she would be singing the Queen of the Night in English National Opera‘s winter production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. I checked airfares to London; they were prohibitive, to say the least.
Around the same time, I got bumped on a flight back from Seattle (to first class on a direct flight which got back to Indianapolis earlier — really tough break), and got a Northwest Airlines travel voucher in return.
In October, I became aware of the Royal Academy of Arts’ Byzantium exhibit. This plus Flute prompted me to check airfares again. They had come down quite a bit, and with the voucher, it was going to be significantly more doable. Valentine’s Day in London looked like a really nice plan. Better yet, I decided to make it a surprise. With all the unpleasantness surrounding the health of Megan’s father, it seemed like it would be fitting to do something big and crazy.
I booked the plane tickets and got opera tickets for Valentine’s Day. The snag was lodging; my friend with whom I had stayed before and who had extended a more-or-less open invitation wasn’t able to commit to being in town that weekend, and made it clear it would be better for me to make other arrangements. Inexpensive hotels in London were nowhere I particularly wanted to be and all sounded disgusting. Still, when I accepted that it was going to be more expensive than I had hoped, it got a lot easier. I found a hotel just off Trafalgar Square that wasn’t cheap, to say the least, but with a particular discount to which I had access, it was only an arm and some toes rather than the full-on leg. Next time we go, hopefully Egeria Orthodox Home Exchange will be up and running, but the Grand was within walking distance of ENO’s theatre and a Tube station, so I can’t complain too much.
Then it was just waiting to spring everything.
Last Wednesday (one week ago today, as it happens), Megan got a dozen roses delivered with a card that said, “You and Richard pack a carry-on suitcase each and be ready to leave at 9am Thursday morning. You’ll want: – Walking clothes/shoes – Smth. nice to wear – Smth. for church – Reading material & laptop – iPod – Toiletries. Be ready.” (I deliberately left off “passport” so as to give her as little information as possible.) My original plan had been to pack her suitcase suitcase myself and tell her maybe fifteen minutes before we were being picked up, but I decided at the last minute that I wasn’t brave enough to try to pack for five days for a woman. This was probably a very wise decision on my part.
Maintaining the subterfuge once the cards had been delivered was obviously highly superficial on my part, but it was very entertaining nonetheless. It was a lot of fun to watch my wife flit and fret about the house nervously saying, “Now, whoever sent those flowers didn’t say whether I’d need a parka or a bikini. Can you help at all there?” I could only smile and say, “Sorry, I’m just as in the dark as you are.” She would then groan and flit and fret some more; I quietly slipped both of our passports and UK power adapters into my shoulder bag.
At 8am the next morning, she asked, “So, what do you suppose we’re looking for at 9 o’clock, anyway?” I professed ignorance. “I really don’t know,” I said. “Could be a limousine, could be a helicopter, could be a flock of lambs.”
As it worked out, it was none of these, and our friend Laura Willms arrived at 8:50am. She helpfully said that “Guido” had told her she couldn’t tell us anything, that we just needed to get in the car. She dropped us off at the Indy airport an hour later, and told us that Guido said we were to check in at the Northwest ticket counter.
When the ticket kiosk showed “London/Heathrow” as our destination, I said, “Oh. Well, I guess it’s a good thing that I brought these,” and pulled out our passports. The look on her face was priceless.
More to come.