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Friday May 03, 2002, 17:12

I walked for almost three hours today.

I met Karen for lunch and then started walking with the intention of walking until I found somewhere to sit down and start writing. Well I finally succeeded in the latter part of that operation, but the getting was rough.

It should be remarkably easy to get lost in London. With winding roads that feed back into themselves and others that travel east to west until taking an abrupt turn for the north/south, it's possible to walk in what seems to be the same direction for almost an hour and end up back in the place you started. With this in mind, I set out in the approximate direction of home, hoping to get lost on the way.

It's quite tiring to do nothing all day long, especially in a new city. Were this my old life, I could go out, explore my own city, and then settle into something resembling an everyday routine. I could explore and work at the same time and still have time left over for friends. In this thing that I would like to consider my life now, I have no friends, nothing resembling work, and only what we might consider "free time" in which to pursue all of those things that one who is stuck in the tedium of a real everyday routine might consider doing were he or she not stuck doing what she or he "had to do."

But with all the time in the world, I am stuck feeling like I need to do everything, to fully take advantage of my time, but with nothing to do, that time is filled worrying about finding something to do. Which seems quite insane when you get right down to it and I wouldn't expect anyone to really understand. Truth be told, I don't think I understand myself. The problem that I run into at this point is that it suddenly strikes me that I should go out for a walk with all of my free time with the intent of finding something in which to write about all of the things that I've been doing with myself since I've been here not doing any of the things that real people have to do.

So I went to a photo gallery.

I am living a dream-life in London with no responsibility at all, and I went to a photo gallery that was featuring the photography of mostly American photographers. Which is fine, I suppose, given that art is art the world over, and content is only half of the content/context puzzle that makes up the entirety of an exhibit, but I couldn't help but feel a bit silly seeing Walker Evans prints up in the Photographers' Gallery, Walker Evans representing some of the more historical prints in American history, while having just passed by buildings that are older than the entire history of the United States. Or at least that's what I thought I was thinking. Mostly at that point I was just feeling like I had already been walking for two hours and my feet were getting tired.

Appropriately enough, the exhibit that was on display was works depicting travel, photographers away from home. "Overnight to Many Cities: Tourism and Travel at Home and Away" was the actual title.

And this was good, because I ended up in a gallery in a part of the city that I'd never seen before. I thought I was thoroughly lost and that I would be forced to ask someone for directions home. I was hoping that I might stumble upon a Tube stop, look at the map, and realize that I was so far away that I was going to have to hop on the Underground to get back to something resembling my neighborhood. Until I stepped out of the gallery and realized, that for all my attempts to walk in the precisely opposite direction from where I thought I should be going, I ended up exactly where I was yesterday and the day before. I knew exactly where I was. A brief walk showed me that I was, in fact, right near Trafalgar Square, site of the May Day protests that I'd stumbled upon just two days prior. A couple of more steps led me to Leicester Square, where I saw a movie that very evening and just a few more steps led me to the camera shop where I'd been just yesterday.

I expected that it would have been simple to get myself lost. To wander around until I was forced to stand on the street corner and sob for help. But that was not to be the case at all. The interesting thing is that I really was not quite sure where I was at any given moment up to the full recognition of my surroundings. I just hadn't thought about it too much, and nothing did, in fact, look familiar. I wonder what might have happened if I had walked the direction that I was supposed to. Would I have ended up lost as I'd hoped?

As it went, I wandered around I was all but several blocks away from home before I realized that it would be silly to go to a chain coffee shop when I could head back down the way I had come to find myself in a cafe that featured all of the trappings of a good coffee shop (some comfortable seating, the ability to sit for hours with little hassle, attractive wait staff) without having to patronize a corporate establishment. I mean, if I'm going to attempt to live the life of the pseudo-Bohemian, I might as well pretend to play the role. So I headed back and attempted to find this coffee shop by sheer will.

I failed.

Asking a bike messenger where to find Brewer Street proved about as fruitful as asking, well, a piece of fruit for the same directions.

The young man glides up to the strawberry. "Pardon me," he begins, "but I'm new to this area. I was wondering if you could point me in the direction of..."

Perhaps not so much on the strawberry angle. But to be sure, this man's directions, that seemed so precise ("go to this corner, make a right, then a left") led me to something that was not entirely unlike Brewer Street but left me still not quite where I wanted to be. A bit more wandering finally found me on the right street (which was situated, incidentally, exactly perpendicular to how I expected it should be oriented, which leads to some very interesting lessons in the geography of Soho and leaves me wondering exactly how I'm going to be able to leave this cafe, in which I am sitting right now and in which I have been been sitting for the past hour and a half and in which I have already switched tables twice in order to get a better perspective on the different seating options in cafes and in which I ordered exactly one mixed juice drink over this period) at which point I was able to quickly determine the location of the cafe simply by heading in the direction of the Swedish strip club which is across the street from the cafe.

And here I sit, sipping the last bits of my juice drink out of the bottom of my glass. Occasionally, the waitress will look over at me. Earlier, when she was sitting at the table directly across from me, I caught her looking at me. She was probably wondering when I was going to leave, but I like to think that she was checking me out.

I maintain an active fantasy life in order to stay sane.

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