Monday, June 15, 2009

London Calling

(London, England -- June 2009)

Day 1:

I've always wanted to go to England, especially London. For some reason, I've always felt a certain kinship with the country. Maybe it's the Rock & Roll factor (most great Rock bands/artists come from the UK) or the maybe it's in the blood somehow. Whichever the reasons, I love England.

After passing through customs, I headed to an exchange booth to turn my american dollars into british pounds. The clerk lady took a look at me and said "Nice t-shirt, sir". I had to check because I'd forgotten which shirt I had on. I was pleased when I realized I was wearing a shirt that had the words 'ROCK & ROLL' on it. I was loving England already. As we waited for the train, some lady started sneezing. I was about to say 'Bless you' but I started thinking about Swine flu and didn't. Ten minutes pass by and she doesn't stop sneezing - it's a good thing I didn't say 'Bless you' for the first one.

At the train station we were told that due to a strike the trains were not operating. I ask my brother about taking a taxi, and he tells me that the first thing that happens when you enter a taxi is you start hearing porno music and before you know it your pants are off. So we walked. After checking in at the YMCA, we get the key to our room and it happened to be on the 13th floor - so first the strike, and now this. I was hoping this wasn't a sign of imminent bad luck.

Walking around the city and seeing the cars driving on the left side was very strange and I don't think I ever got used to it. Most cars also have their steering wheel on the right side instead of the left like we're used to. At one point, I saw a man sitting on the left side of the car reading a book. I nearly freaked out thinking this guy was going to crash at any moment, until I realized my mistake. It was a sunny day in London, something I've been told is extremely rare. In a shop, some english guy asks me "You like Punk Rock, mate?". I said yes. "Ok, what's the greatest Punk band ever?" I was about to say Fugazi, but my survival instinct kicked in and I said The Sex Pistols, to which my friend replied "That's bloody correct, mate!".

I saw the Big Ben and the House of Parliament. As I suspected, I was utterly blown away by this. Due to the lack of trains, we walked and walked and walked. We soon realized we were running low on cash. We needed to find a resolution to this problem, but how? We walked over to Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus, found a casino and gambled. There weren't many options at this stage in the game. Inside the casino, a fucked up cover version of The Velvet Underground's 'Waiting for the Man' was playing. I sat behind the Black Jack table and watched my brother gamble our money.

It was successful, we tripled our investment.

After that, we walked around for a while longer visiting Buckingham Palace and St. James' Park. I loved all the surroundings and some churches looked straight-up creepy. It made me think of Jack the Ripper.

Day 2:

This hotel was like the last one in the sense that the bathrooms were shared. That's not so bad, what was bad was the fact that towels were not included. So on my second day in London, I did what seemed impossible: I took a shower without a towel. I won't go into details, suffice it to say it was done.

The strike was over so we bought two all-day passes for the trains. We made our way to Camden Town to visit what was home to two of my favorite poets, Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine in 1873. On the train, I was listening to Robi Draco Rosa's "La Flor del Frio" - a song that speaks of these two poets and their time in Camden Town. Once there, I was very overwhelmed though I tried to hide it. To the unknowing eye, it was merely a plaque on a wall but to me it meant so much more. Most of the poetry that makes up Rimbaud's "A Season in Hell" was composed behind those walls.

Afterwards we went to the Camden Town market. Picture a flee market on steroids. I liked it very much, but I restrained myself from buying many things. Around the place we saw many old-school punk rockers with their tall mohawks and leather jackets from 1977. I loved it. We then proceeded to our next destination: Abbey Road Studios.

For those of you who don't know, Abbey Road Studios is where The Beatles recorded most of their albums and singles with very few exceptions. Other artists that have recorded there include Pink Floyd, Oasis, U2, Green Day, Radiohead, and Alanis Morissette among others. The famous Beatles album cover in which they're crossing the street, was taken a few feet from the studio's gates. A few people were getting pictures taken on the famous crosswalk, but few of them knew that The Beatles were actually walking away from the studio when the photo was taken. I don't mean to be a rock snob, but facts are facts. I had my picture taken crossing the street and I did so barefoot just like my man, Paul McCartney.

I visited the home of Ross McLennan, a photographer who took the picture that served as my band's album cover. I'd promised Ross I'd give him 10 copies of the album, and I honored that promise by showing up at his place and delivering said copies.

We headed to the Tower Bridge and then the Tower Castle. It's amazing to see something so old in front of you. I was enthralled walking the streets of London under it's pale grey skies. Afterwards, we took a train back to the hotel.

We wanted to hang out but we knew the trains would be out, so we took a bus. It was one of those two-story buses so we sat on top in the very first row overlooking the street. Across from us, sat an english couple arguing about something. Some memorable quotes from the drunk asshole talking to his girlfriend were 1) "I'm afraid it's the beginning of the end." 2) "C'mon you, we're better than this!". I was trying desperately not to laugh.

We found a basement bar that was playing good old school music. It was great, but it was so small... I was thinking that if a fire would break out, we'd all die. I know, not the happiest thought, but then again I'd only drank 3 beers. After 3am we tried to find another place to have a drink but the cover charges were ridiculously expensive. Something I was not ready for was the fact that the sun began to rise well before 4 am! I'm used to seeing the sun come up around 6am, so looking up and seeing the sky clearing up around 3:40am was a little startling. We got on one of the night buses, thinking we could get to the hotel easily. I fell asleep thinking my brother would know what to do. When I woke up I realized we were still on a bus trip to nowhere. I accepted defeat and volunteered to hail a taxi and pay for it.

Day 3:

On my third and last day in the lovely city of London, I took my last towel-less shower. I'd read that President Obama was in England but I didn't think much of it (I was at his inauguration). As I sat on my bed waiting to air-dry, I heard a few planes going by. Since we were on the 13th floor, we had a rather privileged view of the London skies. I saw a large jet go by with two fighter jets escorting. At first I didn't think much of it. But then I saw four fighter jets flying in line. Seconds later, I saw a very large jet with another two fighter jets at each side (I assume this was Air Force One). After that large jet, five fighter jets flew by giving out some white-colored smoke and then a combination of red and blue. These last jets confirmed that what I'd just seen was indeed President Obama's plane.

On the way to the train station I saw a very old man walking a few feet in front of his wife. He paused for a second, shook his ass to her, and continued walking. I tried with every fiber in my body not to laugh. In retrospect I think it's very charming - an old man shaking his ass to the love of his life. Even I can't make that shit up.

We decided to cancel our trip to The London Eye in order to save some money. We'd had a good look of London from our hotel room anyway. We went to the Imperial War Museum. We only had two hours before they closed, so we decided to only see the Holocaust Exhibition. The exhibition was very fascinating, but also very depressing. Afterwards, we went to Notting HIll. Most of the stores were closing, but we managed to drink a cold brew at one of the bars.

We had dinner at a chinese buffet and then went to a movie theatre to watch the film "Looking for Eric" which will probably never be released in a Puerto Rican theatre. After the film, we bought a few cheap souvenirs and headed to the hotel.

We knew we wouldn't get much sleep because we had to be at a bus station by 3am and then catch a flight around 6am. After walking a few miles, we made it onto the bus. Before I closed my eyes to try to sleep, I heard the sweet sounds of David Bowie's "Life on Mars". Sometimes I think the radio only plays music for me. After sleeping for a few minutes at the airport terminal, we boarded the plane that would take us back to Madrid, Spain. It's only a matter of hours before another plane takes me back to my homeland. At this moment, I'm reminded of a beautiful Oasis song called "Talk Tonight" in which Noel Gallagher sings 'I know I'm leaving, but I'll be back another day...'

Until that day.

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