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Last post from London? Hope so.

Thank you for following me on my journey and putting up with this relentless stream of commentary. I cannot help myself. And it continues; my trip ain’t over yet. News this morning from Air Canada: my first email said the flight might be cancelled because of a strike – I gather airline food producers are on strike in Toronto – and the second, the flight is delayed an hour and a half. I am not looking forward to today.

But the delay has given me time to do a little writing about my trip, a bit of what I noticed, liked, and didn’t.

Transit: as I’ve raved before, the metro in Paris and the tube in London – phenomenal. I know French transit is often on strike, and the London tube is in places very old and extremely noisy. But these systems go all over the city, reliably carrying millions daily. They’re well-signed and very clear, showing exactly when the next train is coming, with voice notifications regularly. The bus systems are similarly widespread and functional. There are separated bike lanes, a huge number all over Paris.

We live in a culture that has relied on cars for far too long. Insane. Someone please drag Doug Ford out of his hidey-hole and show him how the planet functions.

History and beauty: cultures that celebrate both and have so much to celebrate. It made me sad, yesterday, to read in Brunswick Square that the lovely old terraced houses around, including one once occupied by Virginia Woolf and her gang, had been torn down for a concrete monstrosity. But that happens rarely here, whereas we happily slaughter old buildings with no regard for their history. At least, we used to. Maybe there’s an awareness now of the importance of heritage, relatively recent as it may be.

Small: Much is on a smaller scale here, small cars and especially small apartments and houses. We have no concept of how much space we take for granted in Canada; we think kids need their own room and backyard. They don’t. As I wrote in a Star op-ed, kids grow up fine in apartments, especially in a city like London with scores of great parks, large and little.

We need to scale down.

Litter: Both Paris and London are astonishingly clean for vast tourist-filled cities, especially Paris. What’s wrong with us in T.O., streets littered with garbage?

Big exhibitions: The special Impressionist exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay was a zoo, so crowded it was nearly impossible to see the paintings. We had timed tickets, but they seemed to be letting everyone in simultaneously, plus tours. It was unforgivable. I assume maybe they lost so much money during the pandemic that this was an attempt to cram people in and earn some back.

The uniform: Everyone, even French fashionistas and British grannies, wears sneakers now. Comfortable footwear for all, what a great concept. And also – in England – the value of school uniforms for children.

Community gardens: in both London and Paris, local people have done their best to greenify their public spaces. We need to do more of that in Toronto.

The cancer of cellphones: shockingly pervasive though of course not surprising. Everywhere, all ages, mesmerized. Yesterday, on the train from Liverpool to London, I sat opposite a girl of about 18. The second she sat down, she began to scroll on her phone and did not look up until we arrived. Her face was blank, closed, as her thumb slid along the surface of her phone. What does it mean to produce generations who don’t look up, who are unaware of their surroundings, who know only what is fed them on the screen by their own particular algorithm? It’s terrifying.

The joy of British place names: I wrote down only a few as Penny drove: Biggleswade. Wrestlingworth. Chipping Sodbury. Pucklechurch. Sheepy Magma. Wibtoft. Hundreds more, equally delightful.

Birds: in the chaos, noise, and stink of the cities, there they are, nesting now, and singing. Perhaps many fewer then before, but they’re there. As are, in England, hedgehogs, badgers, foxes, and deer. I know because we saw dead ones by the highway.

For me, how much Britishness I feel in myself when here, through my mother Sylvia, her sisters Do and Margaret, my grandparents Marion and Percy, from visits and my own times living here, 1956-58 and 1971-72. This culture is in my bones, as are, also, the Jews of New York. A rich brew. As my geneticist dad would say, I’m blessed with hybrid vigour. So far, it has got me through.

The view from here, a drizzly grey day on the tennis courts:

That’s all for today. Please, keep your fingers crossed for me. I want to go home.

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2 Responses to “Last post from London? Hope so.”

  1. Christopher Loranger says:

    I want to be from Sheepy Magma. It sounds so volcanic. But the name is actually Sheepy Magna. It is one jurisdiction joining the two towns of Magna and Sheepy (once Great Sleepy). Some of my favourite English place names are: Shitterton, Great Snoring, Brokenwind, Brown Willy, Wetwang. Cockermouth…. I could go on and on. Good tip home, Bethy!

  2. Beth Kaplan says:

    Thanks for the correction, my friend! Imagine being from Shitterton. I’m home safely, yes, and thank the good lord.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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