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Posts Tagged 'she’ll either kill you or kiss you'

Nice ways to spend Valentine’s Day or, things I’ll probably only ever be able to pull off once, part II

Now, just because it was now out in the open we were going to London, it did not precisely follow that the jig was entirely up. When asked where we were staying, what we were doing, so on and so forth, I just put on my best clueless expression (see photo at right for one of my many options) and said, “Hopefully whoever planned this will make it clear what we’re supposed to do by the time we make it to Heathrow.”

It’s a wonder I made it over the Atlantic alive.

The Minneapolis airport (where we had a four hour layover), by the way, is a shopping mall where planes happen to land. There is no seating anywhere where it is quiet and peaceful; all public seating is near either shopping or a loud TV screen. I assume this is because if you had a quiet place to sit, you’d be sitting quietly rather than consuming the advertising on TV or out and about spending money. Oh well. I will say that, at an airport like Minneapolis, you could arrive with absolutely no baggage and make it to your destination with everything you could possibly need having been bought once you’re through security (including a suitcase); I suppose this is a convenience.

Then there was the trash can over by where we were sitting while eating lunch; it was automated so that, if a sensor detected that somehow somebody’s garbage hadn’t been deposited well enough, it would tell you, in a very crisp, rhythmical voice: “Push the waste all the way in so that door can close.” Actually, it was more like this:

airport-trash-can1

The reason why I am able to notate it so precisely is because the mechanism had been broken, and the message was being repeated over and over and over again. This went on for several minutes until somebody mercifully decided to unplug the thing.

Anyway, it was an overnight flight to Heathrow, and we landed at 7:30am. By then, a note from the aforementioned Guido had magically shown up addressed to Megan (not, as I pointed out, in my handwriting), providing instructions about what Tube line to take, where to get off, where to walk, etc. “I want the next note to be from you,” I was told, but she went with it.

We took the Tube (“This is a Picadilly line train to… Cockfosters!” — cracks me up every time) to South Ealing, minded the gap, stood clear of the doors, walked a bit, and found ourselves in a neighborhood looking very much like the one pictured here. At 9:10am, ten feet from the prescribed door, it opened and out stepped Emily, with coffee (well, Nescafé, but I’ll talk about that later), tea, and breakfast all ready for us.

Perhaps you already know this, but if you’re able to have a familiar and friendly face greet you when you’re traveling very far from home, it makes all the difference in the world.

At this point, the charade was basically over. There were a couple of particulars I couldn’t talk about till later, but most of my plotting and planning came out over the pâté, toast, and eggs Emily had prepared for us.

It was a nice morning. Catching up with Emily was great, and much of the time I was thinking to myself, “You know, I’m glad it’s you who is pursuing this life, and not I.” I found myself to be much more envious of some of what she’s done with her doctoral dissertation than her being able to work as an international opera singer. It was also gratifying to hear that she’s working as steadily as she is and getting the response she’s getting — four years ago she fretted that she was too tall to work as a coloratura in anything other than early music repertoire. She has easily established that this is not the case, and it’s great to see that sometimes cool people get someplace.

We toddled away (as all averred) after a couple of hours to check in at our hotel. We quickly checked e-mail, peeled off the rags in which we had been traveling for close to 24 hours by this point, showered, put on fresh clothes, and felt like brand new human beings.

And it was off to Oxford for the evening, for… oh, dangit, I have someplace I have to be. I’ll have to tell you about why we went to Oxford a little later.

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Nice ways to spend Valentine’s Day or, things I’ll probably only ever be able to pull off once, part I

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.


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