Goodbye Passport I: London, My Urban Cousin

I have to renew my passport.  I suspect the immigration authorities in Chile and Brazil, where I’m headed in December, won’t be as forgiving as our Canadian brethren if I show up with an expired passport at their borders.  The real shame behind this is that we have to turn in our old passport to renew by mail.  For those of us who love to travel, we’re losing our treasured record of all our global adventures!  For posterity’s sake, I am taking a trip down memory lane and through my passport here (in several parts), before I put it in the mail and say goodbye to all those fantastic, validating stamps forever.  (My friend Kristina used to travel so much for her work in international women’s health that she had to get extra pages inserted in her passport.  How cool is that!)

I got my first passport in December 1995, in anticipation of my study abroad to the U.K. spring semester, junior year at Brandeis.  At the Ritz Camera at the South Shore Plaza in Braintree, I was told to remove my earrings for my photos.  With my red hair, unadorned corduroy shirt look, and grim glance, I fancied myself an IRA terrorist in my photo.  (They would later take credit for several London bombings while I was overseas that spring; in hindsight, I really just look like a young and bored plain Jane.) 

My study abroad experience is relatively unremarkable, but was my first trip beyond the U.S. and Caribbean.  I had a media internship at the Electoral Reform Society of the UK & Ireland, but was too lazy in my typical late-adolescence-emphasis-on-partying ways to turn a draft journal article into something fit for publication for their quarterly journal, Representation.  Obviously, I now regret this.  I traveled around Western Europe with new friends and family: Amsterdam twice, Switzerland twice, France twice, Italy, Belgium, Austria and Monaco.  In the latter I met Hootie & the Blowfish (in town for the World Music Awards) and got to share with them my cousin Tracey’s theory that at any time in that 1995-96 period, you could find the band on a radio station in Massachusetts.  I saw the back of Diana Ross’s head, and the set up for the Grand Prix.  Later on the train in Italy, during the same leg of this post-semester travel, I cut my finger trying to open a can with my Swiss Army knife, and got some first aid treatment from a gaggle of cute, young Italian railway employees in the next available station office.  In Austria, my friend Wendy and I went on the very cheesy but satisfying Sound of Music tour.  In Switzerland my UK roommate Chrissy and I went to the International Auto Show, a tribute to my love of cars I discovered while dating my old friend Mike several years prior. 

Right before leaving the U.K. I hooked up with an obnoxious American who, when I would later run into him in 2003 at Fred’s on the Upper West Side, my then roommate described as having a certain “je ne sais asshole.� She was right on, but of course in my gift of getting men of all intimacies to tell me about their dark romantic secrets, this one too had confessed some shameful story and left me thereafter with an indelible sympathetic soft spot for his obnoxious ways.  My only other significant romantic collusion during this adventure abroad included a Nigerian employee of Nestle hitting on me in a club, because the hot pink pants I was wearing at the time accentuated my then rapidly growing ass.   (The kind described in Bridget Jones’s Diary as the kind you can park a bike in and rest a beer on, to paraphrase.)

When I got back to the U.S., a week or so ahead of my best Deis girlfriends all in Tel Aviv, I eased back into life by eating only bagels for the first few days, and was signed up for a summer bowling league by my stoner guy friends to accommodate the league’s co-ed rule.  The girls and I had kept in good touch while overseas, including a 90 minute phone call I made to Tel Aviv using my dad’s calling card.  In our basement flat across from Kensington Palace – Princess Di’s former home – my roommates and I had to perch up on the ledge of the kitchen’s sole corner window in order to get any cell phone reception.  This uncomfortable but wonderful call was so expensive and oddly routed (an American calling card originating in London connecting in Tel Aviv) that my father’s phone company called to confirm his card was not stolen.  He was less than pleased, to put it mildly, that no, this was just his daughter.  Nonetheless, our summer before our senior year was rife with tension as we got reacquainted and settled in for our last year at Deis.  Kerry Strug winning the gold, mindless temp jobs, and typical college substance abuse helped temper the difficulties of repatriation. 

Two years later I went back to London for one of those cheap long winter weekends, newly empowered as a working gal in NYC at her first post-college job.  I slept in Hyde Park for a few hours until I could check into my hostel, bought a navy trench coat at Bennetton, and partied with Leah’s younger sister, now doing her semester abroad in London.  It was eight years before I got back again, with two short trips following one another in 2004 and 2005.  I love London, other than the fact it costs twice as much as New York.  International, cosmopolitan, architecturally similar to Boston but alive like New York, London is the main city of my ancestral roots (the British Isles) and home to all shades of my favorite brown men as well as UK natives that drink and look like me.  In 2004 I defended the U.S. despite our re-electing Bush to a group of early twenty-something British gals that were as newly empowered by their own independence as I was in my last trip there.  (They were later memorialized in my short piece, Locals.)  London is the urban cousin to my Boston roots, and I hope that through my personal and professional adventures I will continue to drop in on her from time to time.


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