Bound for Belgium in the morning; here’s the song that plays in my head whenever I pack up and start moving on.

A pretty quiet day. You know, relatively. I saw a guy get arrested for smoking pot at Speaker’s Corner. Camden Market is a multi-level labyrinth of bargain shopping paradise. Fortunately I am limited by both my budget and having to carry whatever I buy around on my back the rest of the trip, so I made it out with only a shirt and a necklace. A vendor said I looked German, which is my ancestry, so that felt kinda neat. I tried a cronut. Spent the early evening wandering around Hampstead Heath taking pictures and getting lost in the woods. Now my plan is to eat chicken tikka and watch British television until I pass out. My feet are in open revolt at this point.

I think I’m getting the hang of this London thing (she said, before she forgot to mind the gap and was consequently never heard from again). I made it to four museums and Borough Market today.

Sir John Soane’s museum is a lot of dark and twisty corridors in an old Victorian townhouse, and everywhere you look is crammed with art—paintings and stained glass and furniture and statues and porcelain and various weirdnesses of the building itself. I especially liked the cork models of the temples at Paestum, and Seti I’s sarcophagus in the basement. Also, the fact that they put little spiky plants on all the antique chairs so people don’t sit on them. Overall, it was fun because it was free, but I don’t think I would have paid money to get in.

The two museums I did have to pay for today were the Clink prison museum and the Old Operating Theatre. Tons of good information on being sick or imprisoned in ye olden tymes, which, if you were wondering, is not recommended. Everything sucked and then you died, possibly minus a limb or with the flesh sloughing off your bones.

Speaking of flesh! Borough Market is amazing. It’s this crazy mass of farmer’s market produce stands, artisan cheese and meat shops, and stalls and booths selling all kinds of other fancy food. Much samples. Many delicious. I had confit duck with white chocolate mashed potatoes for lunch. And a Pimm’s cup, naturally. I want to have a kitchen right around the corner from the market and just go back and forth between them forever. That sounds fulfilling, right?

Last I hit up the Tate Modern. It’s in the running for my favorite museum in London, definitely the best collection of modern art I’ve ever seen. I don’t even normally identify as a fan of modern art, and I was awed. The Dalis were gorgeous and haunting, and I found a new lady artist to adore—Dorothea Tanning. Twombly’s Bacchus is incredible. The paintings are huge, and I swear if you stand close enough you can actually feel the red emanating from the canvas.

I never understood Rothko. Now I get it a little, but I still don’t like him. Staring at his Seagram murals for any significant amount of time feels like falling forward into nothingness. There are layers and layers of careful subtlety, but they obscure so much I’m not sure there’s anything real at the core at all. Also, minimalists are terrible. They encapsulate every problem I’ve ever had with modern art. If you are going to make something that signifies nothing outside itself, and in fact actually resists attempts to interpret it, why ever show it to anyone? You’re just asking everyone to be impressed with how much better you are than them. We’re in a fight now.

Walking back to the place I’m staying tonight, I saw a fox run across the street. I’d never seen one in the wild before. It made the city feel like a forest, for a second.

Things I learned at the British Museum and the National Portrait Gallery:

-There was a tribe in Egypt called the Tentrytae who were famous for diving on the backs of crocodiles.

-Hadrian was a bear.

-In Japan in the 1800’s, they would hang paintings of ghosts during the hottest part of summer, so that the shivers of fright would cool you down.

-Citoles are violins that have been illegally doping.

-Dakini are minor goddesses from Tibet who do awesome things like dance on corpses and drink blood from the skulls of their enemies.

-Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles is the most British name ever bestowed upon a human being.

-It is apparently possible to die of a “surfeit of cherries.”

-Darwin had soulful eyes, Shakespeare kept his earrings shiny.

Late start today, so I only made it to two sites on my list: the National Gallery and Harrod’s.

I’m having strong mixed feelings about the Gallery, which not uncommon for me when I look at a lot of very old paintings. I love the celebration of beauty in art, and I love having the chance to peer into other rooms in other times and places. It’s like looking into lighted windows in other people’s houses at night if half your neighbors were satyrs and shipwreck survivors and the rest wore really fancy wigs.

Here’s what makes me angry, though. All these pictures of women who are only going to be remembered because a man thought they were worth painting. They disappear into history, and if they’re lucky their names and who they were married to get written down, but nothing about who they were or what they did or what they made that was remarkable. Every time I see woman’s name as the artist of an old painting I linger, I get attached to it, I start making up her story in my head. It doesn’t happen often enough.

The Van Gogh paintings (two of fields, one of a crab, and the famous chair) were a fairly intense experience for me. They were mostly painted around Arles, a place where Van Gogh was a patient in a mental hospital for a year. The colors are so bright, and the brushstrokes are so tiny and precise even though realism isn’t the intention. The paintings feel desperate to me, like an explosion of life and color because the only other option is silence and death.

Harrod’s is a temple of commerce. I had some reverential moments wandering through the designer clothing section. I don’t usually mind the fact that I’ll never be disgustingly uber rich, but wandering through that sea of gorgeous fabrics and sparkly details and soft furs and silhouettes I’d never seen before made me want to be the kind of person who would spend $500 on a skirt. The Louboutin shoe section was overwhelming in a similar way to the Van Goghs—color and light and artistry that demands an immediate, visceral response. Some things are just too pretty not to love.

Not London…

Getting Londonier…

Well hello there. Not London…

Getting Londonier…

Well hello there. Not London…

Getting Londonier…

Well hello there.

Not London…

Getting Londonier…

Well hello there.

I’ve been tired and adjusting to the time difference, so here are some disjointed thoughts and impressions from my first couple of days here in London.

-The weirdness started at the airport. Since most of my experience with people who look and sound British has been through media, every other Brit reminds me of some celebrity and I keep expecting the accents to veer off into either diabolical monologues or charming romantic banter. This is extremely silly.

-Drinking tea in the sunshine in a private garden in Notting Hill is the absolute best remedy for jet lag.

-Verbatim from my notebook’s 2am scribbles: “how awesome is the tube? SO AWESOME”

-The Tate Modern closes too early on weekdays but their free WiFi is excellent.

-Walking along the Thames at night and seeing Big Ben and Parliament all lit up and glowing yellow in a blue dusk is kind of magic. Everyone’s taking pictures and grinning and it feels like a carnival. The giant Ferris wheel does nothing to hinder this impression.

-It is a violation of UN human rights statues that banoffee tarts are not available literally everywhere.

-The restaurants are pricey, but the grocery stores and even some of the pubs are pretty comparable to the US in terms of cost. I was pleasantly surprised to spend about as much on groceries for a week here as I would when staying with friends in New Mexico.

-Speaking of pubs, one which is NOT reasonable at all but still amazing to visit is the Oblix on the 32nd floor of the Shard. I had one beautiful, expensive, cocktail and watched a woman in a red dress sing Sinatra while the blood moon rose behind her over the London skyline.

The Packing List

Clothes

  • 5 shirts
  • 3 skirts (2 of which are convertible wrap skirts)
  • dress
  • 2 bras (1 strapless)
  • 7 pairs of underwear
  • 5 pairs of socks (http://wrightsock.myshopify.com)
  • 4 pairs of tights
  • pair of bandelettes (http://www.bandelettes.com)
  • swimsuit
  • jacket
  • PJ pants
  • 2 hats
  • 2 belts
  • 2 scarves (1 of which can also be used as a skirt or a shawl)
  • bandana
  • towel (always know where it is)

Shoes

  • pair of boots
  • pair of comfy flats
  • pair of sandals (for shower or beach)

Toiletries Kit

  • deodorant
  • razor & blades
  • bar soap & liquid soap
  • dry shampoo & bar shampoo
  • foldable toothbrush
  • toothpaste
  • floss
  • acne wash
  • nail clippers
  • makeup
  • jewelry (in bags & tin)
  • a tiny pharmacy of pills for the several things that currently malfunction in my body, including type 1 diabetes, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and a wound that refuses to heal.

The “Etc.” Cube & Cord Bag

  • bandages, more pills, and magnesium powder
  • syringes and test strips for a month (will have the next month mailed to me when I’m there)
  • "feminine hygiene" products
  • laundry soap & braided rubber clothesline
  • portable speaker
  • combination lock
  • ear plugs
  • big ol’ foldable shopping bag
  • 2 carabiners
  • portable spices container (sea salt, curry powder, garlic powder, white pepper, & cinnamon)
  • universal plug adapter/USB charger
  • various cords & charging bricks

The Everyday Bag

  • diabetes kit
  • pack of tissues
  • water bottle
  • pens & mechanical pencils
  • journal
  • stylus
  • tinted chapstick
  • solid sunscreen
  • Tide stain remover pen
  • external backup battery for phone
  • ear buds
  • eye mask
  • foldable hairbrush
  • pashmina
  • tripod for taking phone pictures & video (http://joby.com/gorillapod)
  • iPad mini with case & wireless keyboard
  • iPhone (not pictured)
  • money belt

All the packing cubes that go inside the backpack…

…and the backpack (http://www.rei.com/product/863335/rei-vagabond-tour-40-pack), day bag, and money belt, fully loaded and ready for action.

From Three Days of Rain by Richard Greenberg. Adjust pronouns as necessary. From Three Days of Rain by Richard Greenberg. Adjust pronouns as necessary.

From Three Days of Rain by Richard Greenberg. Adjust pronouns as necessary.

Here’s what I know: standing still feels like drowning, so I have to move.

It’s been a rough winter inside my skull. Intense, directionless anger, crying over spilled sandwiches, and a numb, emotionally detached version of me emerging who has zero interest in all the things that used to make me happy. In the last month, I’ve been getting some help and things have been getting better. I’ll say one thing for horrible spirit-crushing depression, though—it really clears out the space around you, forces you to pick some reasons for existing and focus on those to the exclusion of all other noise.

One of the things I picked is travel. Whatever that proto-spark is that makes people stare at oceans and think “oh yeah, totally manageable,” and start to smile whenever they have the chance to get utterly and irredeemably lost, it lives with me. Wanderlust or shoresickness or escapism or all of the above, it means that if the only way I could get away right now was to find a road and start hitch-hiking, I’d do it. As accidents of birth and stock markets have turned out, I have other options. So I’m going to Europe.

Enough of the dark stuff. It’s important to me to say where I’m coming from, but these days I’m just unbelievably happy and excited. I’m going to Europe! For two months! I’m going to get to see so many places I’ve been dreaming about seeing for years! I’m going to have adventures and take pictures and meet people and ride trains and drink coffee and speak many languages badly and get woken up in the middle of the night by noisy hostel guests and eat strange delicious things and do laundry in sinks and go to so many art museums my feet fall off and I start hallucinating fat cherubs. I want to write everything down so I remember it later, and share it here so you can follow along if you want to. Thanks for lending me your eyeballs, friends. 

I leave in four days.