Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A walk through Regent's Park

It pains me to share photos today rather than ramble on and on about my experience in London thus far. After being here a week, I've learned a lot about myself and how I interact with new people, new places, new choices, etc. It's left a lot to think about. Sometimes more than I'd like to when there's such a beautiful city outside waiting to be explored sans daunting concerns.

Still, writing a blog has been a good outlet for the disappointments and excitements that I've felt throughout the experience. Without the chance to put fingers to keyboard, I think I'd feel a lot less content with how things have gone since I arrived at Heathrow what feels like ages ago.

I'm going to experiment with something in this blog that I've never done before. Rather than just narrate the photos with little captions, I'm going to try to write in between them about what I was thinking about on my walk through Regent's Park today. I spent about an hour and a half making my way around the perimeter of this London landmark, so I had quite a bit of time to myself to think about life. Hopefully I can illustrate that with a modicum of clarity.

The moment I walked into Regent's Park, I was met by an Indian family consisting of several children on scooters and bicycles. They were followed by hoards of squirrels and pigeons. Unwittingly, I'd assume. It wasn't like a scene out of The Birds or anything. But it was obvious to me that I would not be the only living being within the confines of Regent's Park today. And to be honest, that was fine by me. I needed the company, even if it was indirect.

I started off going in an easily traceable circle through the park, but realizing that the more interesting locales were toward the center of the map, I decided to explore in a way that might endanger my sense of direction, but ensure a more beautiful experience. Walking through these gardens of topiaries and fountains, I felt myself enjoying the experience of being alone. Though I've spent much of my time wishing I could settle into a group of friends in London as easily as I have in other educational experiences, getting to experience this place on my own terms was something unique and wonderful.

Whereas I might not pause so much with the companionship of others to take photos of the sky or the trees around me, when I'm by myself I will spend a few minutes in one location snapping photo after photo. The experience goes from uncomfortable and awkward to soothing once attention is no longer paid to the people around who eye amateur photographers like they might a papparazzo.

Eventually, it feels like I'm alone with my camera. Almost like my eyes are the camera. Have you ever tried to take a mental picture? Like when you physically stop, stare at a scene and either make the motion or think in your head that you always want to remember that exact image? Well that's what I did. Except in this scenario, I really had a camera. And I really could capture the moments.

I kept walking past couples sitting on park benches. They either lay tangled in each other's arms or touching each other's hands in some fashion. Ordinarily in these situations, I'd feel lonely and desiring of love. But instead I focused myself and my camera on the man in front of me who also walked alone. It made me feel better, and happy that even in my relationship-less existence, I am not alone.

I started to think about how London itself is like a distant lover to me. I visit with him (I guess cities are usually referred to with female pronouns, but because I am female and I like men, I will call London a boy) every year or so, remind myself why I've fallen so madly in love, then back away for months at a time only to return with my feelings renewed and hopeful. In this case, absence really does make the heart grow fonder. And even when I'm alone in London, I never really am because London is my reason for being.

Around the bend and heading north, I started my way next to this pond surrounded by cement on one side and a wooded area on the other. Birds gathered along the shoreline and sat in groups. I marveled at their camaraderie. Even geese stood happily beside pigeons squatting on the gravel. There was an aura of calm over this whole section of the park. No matter how close I got to these birds, they never flinched, never cowered. As if finally we'd found a way to commune with nature without intimidating it - man, the one species with the power to destroy all things, at last interacting with another species without the six-inch rule.

The entire experience of wandering through Regent's Park became this sort of blur of varied experiences and locales. As I moved past the water, I headed into an area with green fields and people walking their dogs. There were statues set up near soccer goals and open spaces that reminded me of college campuses, but in these places businesspeople rather than students would lie in the grass on their backs wearing suits and leather shoes. Even in the middle of a work day, time can be taken out to feel the cool solitude of a London park.

There's this belief that when you're in a romantic place - and I believe Regent's Park is a romantic place - you end up wishing you could have someone with whom to share the experience. But while I was wandering, my thoughts went to pets - how I missed my own, how I wish I could purchase a dog for the duration of my stay in London. The companionship between master and hound was evident as the dogs snooped through the grass, then anxiously ran back to their owners, free of leashes (called "leads" in the UK), but somehow tethered to their caretaker.

As much as I had wished I could find an animal to share my time with, even more I longed for the childhood days where running around a park introduced games of the imagination into my life. I still use techniques of the creative mind from my earliest days in adult life. Anyone who purports to have matured out of their childhood or adolescence, I personally believe, is lying to themselves.

Around the corner from this group of children - who are visibly dressed in suits and shirts with ties, however a few minutes later were running around the park and pushing each other to the ground - there was a playground where I endeavored to take my childish tendencies and put them to proper use. Climbing onto a swing set, though, I was soon met by odd glances from a couple who had wandered into the playground for a picnic. My self-consciousness took over, but I soon recovered.

Even without my childhood, I maintain this sense of wonderment just through the experience of walking around Regent's Park. The trees form canopies above me and the clouds move more quickly than you can imagine with strong winds pressing them forward, but all I can think of is how I feel more close to nature and more close to my city - a bond that can't be broken or altered as easily as interpersonal relationships might.

As I rounded out the experience, unaware that it was coming to an end but somehow clairvoyantly anticipating that I would soon be arriving back where I started in my journey through Regent's Park, I came upon a gazebo. It was unassuming, made of dark wood with a lone bench inside. Rickety and worn from overuse compared to its counterparts which line the gravel on the designated walkways of the park, the bench quivered when I sat down on it. It had names and letters etched into it, indications of lovers who'd stopped there or perhaps activists who felt strongly enough to put knife to wood.

I took a moment to reflect on my feelings walking through the park. After an hour and a half, my feet were not in pain. I was not aware of any troubles in my life. I had not checked my phone since I'd started my revolution. I was cut off from reality, but still sitting right in the middle of it all.

Taking my poetry journal out of my bag, I opened it to the most recently inscribed upon page only to realize that the last time I'd written in it was nearly a year ago. Celeste (what I've named my poetry journal) had gotten me through some of the roughest times of my life, but after I'd started to recover I'd neglected her. So I wrote a poem, as both an opportunity for expression and an apology.

It was only fitting that I reopened a previously well-used journal in a place where I have renewed myself and my healthy sense of wonder for the world. You never imagine that a walk in a local park will turn into a chance to reflect on your own status in the world.

But I think that's why I love London. A little walk down the street may consist of so many twists and turns, so many moments of confusion, that you can't help but think about anything and everything. In this case, for me today, anything and everything was beautiful.

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