Tag Archives: london

Status Update – Grow Where You’re Planted?

Mar 06, 2017

Me where I belong

Over the weekend, I had an interesting experience. I’ve been watching this amazing documentary series called Chef’s Table on Netflix, where they profile a big-time chef each episode. I was watching the one about Ivan Orkin, a gritty Jewish guy from Brooklyn…who runs a top-class ramen joint and has lived in Japan for 20 years. He talked about how the very first time he landed in Tokyo, he knew in his soul that he had come home.

Dude! That’s exactly how I felt about London! Well, I loved England when I went there in 2010, but when I spent 10 days in London last summer, I knew that London—specifically the Earl’s Court area of Kensington—was where my soul belonged. Something about it just sings to me. I feel completely comfortable there and at peace.

Now with me, I assumed it was because of the known ancestors I have who were from London. I have it in my DNA. But watching this show about Ivan Orkin…he’s Jewish. I don’t think he’s got Japanese ancestors. So to listen to him talking about how much his soul felt like it belonged in Japan really had me thinking.

This looks like a street where I should be spending more time!

What is it that makes us feel as though we belong in a place? Especially when it’s a place that is thousands of miles from where we were born and raised. Is it a DNA thing? Is it a spiritual thing or something that has to do with all of those layers and layers of stuff that I believe exists on some plane other than the physical/natural one for each of us? And have you ever felt as though you belonged in a place that was not where you were?

The other odd part of my weekend experience was that every time I told someone about how I feel about London, like at church, their initial reaction was to laugh. Yep, everyone. Not mean laughter, mind you, but the kind that suggests they think I’m joking or exaggerating. Actually, one woman, after laughing at first, then confessed to me that when she traveled to Europe for the first time, she absolutely loved it and felt as though it was incredibly special.

And that led me to wonder if this sense of displacement, of being born in the wrong place (or maybe the wrong time?) is much more universal than we think. Are we, perhaps, at least some of us, not born where we’re supposed to be? And is it then our life’s work to figure out a way to get ourselves to our true homes or to bring that essence to where we are?

I know there are some people who think exactly the opposite of the way I think. When I was living in Alabama, I had a co-worker/friend who I think was a little incredulous that I had moved down from the North in the first place. She called me out for being a Yankee all the time. And when I announced that I was moving back to Philly, she gave me a parting gift: a plaque painted with the words “Grow where you’re planted.” I found that plaque offensive, actually (though not the giving of it—that was done in good faith).

This is just one of hundreds of pics I took of the architecture of Kensington, my favorite part of London.

Because as long as I can remember, I haven’t felt as though I belonged where I was born. In fact, my love of England and the yearning to go there (and stay) isn’t new. It didn’t suddenly sprout up during that first trip in 2010. I’ve had a fascination with England as long as I can remember. I mean, tiny, tiny Merry used to dream of it. Maybe it was because my grandparents did a lot of traveling when I was young. Or maybe it’s because they had guests come to stay with them from all over the world…. Like my friend Janina, who I remember staying with my grandparents when I was about 8. I thought she was amazing then, and I still think she’s amazing now (and not just because she takes care of my cats when I go away and I take care of hers when she does the same).

Anyhow, it makes me wonder about belonging and nationality and what might be happening with us on all those unseen levels. So do you feel deep in your heart like you belong somewhere else?

Status Update – Get Outta Here!

Jan 29, 2017

So I was having a conversation with my friend and fellow writer, Laura L. Stapleton, yesterday about Canada. We’re both massive Canada-lovers, and given the choice, we’d both move to Nova Scotia in a heartbeat. The thing is, I’d move to London in a heartbeat too. Or maybe Hampshire, or France or Ireland or Australia. I haven’t been to those last three yet, but SOON! Yeah, Laura and I were saying that there should be mandatory quotas for traveling abroad. Americans gotta get outta here!

And I know, a lot of people have been ranting that they’re ready to move out of the US these days, but I can assure you that I’ve always wanted to move. I remember daydreaming about running away to England when I was a child. I think I must be part gypsy.

The funny thing is, I am also sort of starting to maybe think about buying an actual house instead of just renting. Although I don’t really like mowing or raking or shoveling or gardening or all of those things you have to do when you have a house. But the idea of having a place of my own is kinda appealing.

As long as I can spend about half of my time traveling abroad. Ha! I don’t know if I’ll ever make up my mind to definitely stay in one place or definitely travel. I think the only solution is to buy a house with an in-law apartment and hire my assistant, Julie, to live there. She says she’s totally on board with that plan, btw.

So here are some of my favorite pics of places outside of the US that I’ve been….

My first trip to England was in 2010. This is the Hampshire countryside, aka Jane Austen country! I loved it!

A couple years ago I went to the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas. I wish I’d taken more pics of things that weren’t the resort, because Nassau is fascinating place!

And yes, I’m a total nerd who drove to Halifax, Nova Scotia for a vacation in December! What you can’t tell from this pic is that it was 5 degrees. Farenheit! But beautiful!

London! London is my soul’s home. I would live there if I could. This is me and London, taken from The Eye of London. Magnificent!


Medieval Monday – London As It Was

Aug 13, 2012

The Olympics may be over, but I’m not ready to leave London.  As a Romance novelist I might never be ready to leave London.  So many novels in my genre take place, in whole or in part, in the great city of England.  Including my upcoming novel, the third in The Noble Hearts series, The Courageous Heart.  But if you’re looking for the London of the Regency world when you read The Courageous Heart you might be surprised.

So what was medieval London like? you ask.

Drawing of London in the 1550s
from Wikimedia Commons

If you were to see an aerial snapshot of London in the middle ages you would notice two things right off the bat.  First, you would notice that it was a lot smaller.  The boundaries of London were constantly growing in the middle ages, but on average it didn’t extend much further east than the Tower of London or west than the Fleet tributary of the Thames (which is now the A201, I believe).  A wall enclosed the city from the Tower north to Bishopsgate and across to Moorgate and Cripplegate (the modern A1211 which is called, surprise, surprise, London Wall at one point), and then zig-zagging down to the Fleet tributary.  This wall had first been built by the Romans around 200AD and was repaired and improved for more than a thousand years.  In other words, medieval London was more or less what is now known as The City, plus a little bit.

The other thing that you would notice is that what there was of London bore an uncanny resemblance to what’s there now.  Granted, the buildings have changed.  Well, some of them.  The Tower of London was a Norman construction, begun in 1066 right after the conquest.  The White Tower within was constructed in 1076, and while the Tower complex remained a key player in London history from that time forward, the complex as it existed in the middle ages doesn’t quite look or feel like the tourist site you can visit today.

The Tower of London today
© Stephen Finn | Dreamstime.com

You would also notice a massive church on the site of St. Paul’s Cathedral.  This church was known as … St. Paul’s Cathedral.  Old St. Paul’s Cathedral, that is.  In fact, a large church has existed on or near the site of St. Paul’s since 604.  This first St. Paul’s was destroyed by fire in 926 and rebuilt.  That structure was destroyed by fire again in 1087.  A great stone cathedral was started that year that would take 200 years to build.  Of course, that structure was partially destroyed by fire in 1136.  The St. Paul’s Cathedral that exists now was, of course, was built starting in the late 17th century after a design by Sir Christopher Wren.Another structure that you might be surprised to see already constructed in medieval London is London Bridge.  London Bridge wasn’t just any old way to cross a river.  A crossing of one sort or another had existed in more or less the same spot since Roman times.  “Old” London Bridge was begun in 1176 and finished in 1209.  It was about 26 feet wide and between 800-900 feet long, had a drawbridge in the middle and gatehouses on each side.  More impressively, it was packed with houses, businesses, and a church to honor the martyr St. Thomas Beckett.  It also contained a public latrine that hung out over the water.

Okay, so if parts of London looked fairly similar to what exists in the spot now but other bits were drastically different, what was life in medieval London actually like?

The simple answer is that it was busy.  Extremely busy.  London was founded by the Romans as a trading city.  The Thames made it perfectly situated for this duty.  It was the largest Roman city north of the Alps.  It was also abandoned by the Romans when they left, leaving the locals to struggle for centuries.  But London rose again as the fortunes of the island rose.  The seat of government might have been split between Winchester and the city of Westminster, just west of London (now completely a part of London) through the changes brought by the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Vikings, and Normans, but London continued to be a major center of trade.

View from the Tower circa 1450
from Wikimedia Commons

As a result, London became a rich and independent city.  And the merchants, traders, and craftsmen who contributed to making it one of the largest trading ports in Europe were constantly butting heads with the government and the Church.  Unlike in many other cities throughout medieval Europe, because so much of the economy of England depended on the health and strength of the city, London could almost dictate its own terms.  In 1191, Prince John, who was in charge of England while his brother, King Richard, was fiddling around with a crusade, appointed the first Mayor of London.  The position quickly became one of the most powerful and influential in the kingdom.So if you were one of the 18,000 people living in London in 1100, chances are you were prosperous, industrious, and cosmopolitan.  And if you were one of the 100,000 people living in London in 1300, not only were you crammed into one of the most important and populous cities of medieval Europe, you probably had a greater exposure to people from a variety of countries and cultures.  You were more likely to be aware of and even at the center of royal and international politics.  In fact, you were likely to be more educated and sophisticated than your country counterparts.

The same can pretty much be said about London in the Regency and Victorian eras.  So as you read Jane Austen or Charles Dickens and note the certain special something that Londoners in those works feel, just know that those feelings had been around for hundreds of years.  London, from its very beginnings, was a city with a unique character.  Medieval London pulsed with the fresh energy of being a European and world power long before England stretched its empire around the globe.