Sunday, March 28, 2010

London with the G-Man from Argentina

When I returned to London after my weekend in Derby, the place that was on the top of my list to go to was Buckingham Palace - if for no other reason but to stand outside and get my photo taken. (The inside of the palace is open for tours, but only in July and August when the Queen is not there.) The rest of the day was up for grabs; I really hadn't decided what I wanted to do.

I had a companion for this day. I had met Gustavo at the pub the night before - the place had been packed and he had asked to sit with my friends and I. Gustavo, a math teacher in Argentina, had just begun his doctorate program to get his PhD in Math and had just arrived in London the day before. He was planning on staying for several days before going to Spain for a four-month study project. Despite the difficulties in communicating - he is more comfortable reading English than speaking it, and my Spanish is practically nonexistent, despite having 2 semesters of it in college - we hit it off and decided to meet the next morning at the Tube to go to Buckingham Palace.

I had my doubts that he would show up. This was vacation, after all, and because we hadn't traded phone numbers at the point, it would have been easy for him to blow it off and not show up. It kind of goes with the territory when you're on vacation. Besides, the language barrier was monumental and it wasn't going to be easy to converse.

But, to my astonishment, he showed up at the Tube station. We jumped on the Tube and took off. It was roughly 9 in the morning.

To get to Buckingham Palace on the Tube, you get off at either the Green Park or Hyde Park Corner stops. Either stop is not really that close to the palace - you still have to walk quite a ways to get to your destination. And there are no signs once you get out of the station, so you need to get your bearings. At that point I didn't have what I wished I had - my London A-Z book (kind of like a Thompson Guide) and I didn't have a clue as to which way to go - right or left? I was impressed by Gustavo's ease at asking people for directions. I speak English and I have to really muster up courage to ask anyone for directions and here he was, walking up to first person he saw and getting the information without any trouble.

Once we got our directions straight, we headed through St. James Park.

Once you get closer to the palace, there are several intersections you need to navigate through. There are also mobs of people. Still, it was turning out to be a gorgeous day, as you can see here.

Once at the palace, we had our picture taken. Funny - it doesn't matter what language you speak, "Will you take our picture" is a universal question that everyone understands immediately.

After checking out the palace - it takes you about two minutes to do this when you can't go inside, we found out that the Changing of the Guard was going to occur at 11:30 - roughly an hour and a half later. We hung around for a while, checking out the ubiquitous statues, like this one of Queen Victoria.

As the time drew nearer for the Changing of the Guard, the crowds were getting to be substantial and because we still had quite a bit of time to wait, we decided to bail on the Changing of the Guard and head towards Big Ben and Parliament.

On the way, we walked by a courtyard and found a contingent (is that the right word) of guards going through their paces. It wasn't until we had been there for a few minutes that we realized that these weren't the Palace Guards that everyone thinks of - these were all young boys. Perhaps some kind of military school - we never did find out the story. Still, their drills were quite impressive, even though their hats seemed to engulf them.

We walked through the park again, and it was glorious as you can see from just this one photo.

As we walked through the park, G-Man (only a pulp fiction enthusiast would resort to calling him that) and I talked and got to know each other. At least we tried. But it was getting easier, because his English was getting better by the minute.

Still, we had some frustrating moments. One of them turned out to be pretty funny. As we walked, I asked G what kind of math he specialized in. (Not that I would really know the difference between them all, but I thought it was a legit question). It all had something to do with math and physics and linear thingies. Even if his English had been perfect, I don't think I would have been able to understand the concept. At one point, he said that he was studying cows.

"Cows?" I stood and looked him. "Cows?"

"Cows." Yes. He was dead serious.

"What do you mean, cows?" How could it be that a mathematician be studying cows? Was this some kind of gaucho/Argentinian thing?

"Cows." I even put my two index fingers up on my forehead to illustrate. We were standing at a busy intersection, pretending that I had cow horns.

"Cows? No, no, no."

"Then what?"

"I spell it for you." Slowly he spelled it out.


At this point we were pretty hungry, and not quite sure where to go. We walked over the bridge towards the London Aquarium, looking for somewhere to eat. Believe it not, when you are right at Big Ben, if there are any restaurants, they aren't that visible. We had to ask a vendor, who sent us over the bridge to the cafe at the London Aquarium.

At this point we decided to go to the British Museum for the afternoon.

Of course, the first required stop for everyone is the Rosetta Stone.

We then went to the Egyptian exhibit. By this time it was late afternoon and the light in the room were starting to get quite dramatic. So I didn't pay too much attention to the descriptions for the exhibits; I was way too much into taking pictures.

But hands down, our favorite room was the Clock and Watch Collection.

By the time we left the museum, it was dusk.

We had to separate at that point - Gustavo had to go to a gathering for dinner. Even though it took an hour to say what it normally would take two English-speaking people to say in 15 minutes, I have to say that it was one of the best days of the trip.


G-man had to leave the next day for Spain. I never expected to hear from him after that - again, that kind of goes with the vacation territory. But we are still in touch via Skype. His courses in Spain (Seville) started out to be very difficult for him, because the courses were taught in English. There are students there from all over the world, so I guess the universal language - even though its the HARDEST one to learn - is the one they use. But it's getting easier for him.

We still use the sign for cows (two fingers on the forehead) when the subject of Chaos comes up.


Cap'n Bob Napier said...

I think I saw this movie. Very nice photos. CHAOS is the sinister organization bent on world domination if I remember correctly. This is a job for agents 99 and 86.

Evan Lewis said...

Daisy Bacon would have snapped this tale up in a heartbeat. P.S. Great pics!

Chap O'Keefe said...

A fine report. Restores one's faith that sane, normal people do still exist, and that international fellowship should be much easier than we see at a political level.

Laurie Powers said...

Bob, I think that CHAOS was spelled KAOS? No? Anytime I can be compared to the lovely Barbara Feldon, Agent 99, I'm happy. Do you know she's 77 now?

Dave, yes, you picked up on something that would make a great story.

I agree Keith. I found everyone in London with very few exceptions to be extraordinarily friendly and helpful.

JerThom said...

I agree with Chap. I discovered in my trips abroad that a sincere smile in any language means "friend." --- But I emphasize the word... sincere.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I always found the British Museum worrisome. So many of the things in there were stolen during the 1800s when England thought the world was their oyster. Or the pearl inside it. Yet much of it would be lost perhaps had they not grabbed it.