06 May 2008

The Three States of America

Her Majesty's swan takes you to my latest Flickr set.

I'm back in Paris from a weekend in Reading, which happened to coincide with the May Day bank holiday.

Friday evening I arrive at the beautiful St Pancras International, where I am greeted by a smiling friend whom I haven't seen for more than two years. There's something nerve-racking and wonderful about searching for a familiar face in a crowd. Especially when that face is the French version of Clive Owen or Paul Rudd.

From Paddington, my friend and I take the First Great Western to Reading. Though having chosen the Quiet Carriage, we sit behind a group of kids drinkin' beers and naming celebrities from A to Z. They're on J or R, I'm not sure. My guess is J.

"Julia Roberts!"

When they are stuck, Big Guy One shouts, "Drink while you think!" The dark-haired girl comes up with "Drink till you think!" Which they all love. From time to time, the girls pause to point their thin silver cameras at themselves. All their photos will look the same. Later, Big Guy Two gathers the girls round. You wonder which one he likes.

"Smiles all around!"

That night begins a faithful routine of—more or less—apéritifs (pastis), saucisson, wine (red, French), cheese (Reblochon and Époisses de Bourgogne), bread (sourdough), and digestifs (whiskey). And in the morning, coffee and crumpets.

Saturday we go to London. A stroll through Hyde Park, a nap on the grass. By the time we've crossed the Millennium Bridge and arrive at the Tate Modern, the sky has changed from blue to gray. Hungry and a bit tired, we have a bite at the Tate Café 2—egg mayonnaise and watercress on sourdough bread for me and ham, rocket and fontina cheese focaccia for my friend.

Sunday we go to Oxford, which, for a Harry Potter/Gossip Girl fan, is a treat. Rosy-cheeked Nate Archibald types biking with lacrosse gear. Chuck Bass types at historic The Turf Tavern. Half expect to see Gwyneth Paltrow as Sylvia Plath biking by (except it was at Cambridge where Sylvia Plath met Ted Hughes).

Monday, my first bank holiday, is spent at The Hobgoblin (2 Broad Street, Reading, Berkshire, RG1 2BH) trying different ales and, as my departure looms, hoping for time to stand still.

But reality sets in. Back at St Pancras, at the Eurostar terminal, I say hello to a black man at the x-ray machine.

"Konichiwa," he replies.

"I'm not Japanese."

He thinks for a second. "Ni hao."

"Yes, that's right. But I'm American, so I speak English."

"You come from America? California? New York?" As if America is made up of these two states.


"Oh wow, Texas."


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