Just Passing Through


LondonTaxi

12 March 2013, London Heathrow to Istanbul Ataturk: Looks like we’ll run due southeast this morning, generally above Luxembourg, Stuttgart and Munich. Then we’ll cross the Alps between Innsbruck and Salzburg – the Tyrol – approaching the Balkans over Zagreb, then Belgrade, then just north of Sofia (“Bulgaristan” where we’re headed) and into Istanbul.

Before Europe was “united,” as recently as the early 90’s, only half of this route would have been over friendly territory. The line came down between Vienna and the omnious land of Marshall Tito and the Yugo (we snickered at the Yugo), beginning on 2013’s map with lovely little Slovenia. It would have become only more ominous as we’d pass over Bulgaria, known only back then for it’s relentless tractor production and it’s shot-putting female Olympians.

•••••

We’ve just left a country in the doldrums, and freezing. The state of British politics is irritable and downcast, among both rulers and ruled.

And last night perhaps hundreds of people spent the night on motorways, trapped in their cars in part of a winter-long progression of snowstorms. Cold, as low as minus eight across the south, at a point on the calendar when daffodils are expected, or at least hoped for.

You can walk around London anytime but it’s not often you can walk around London in a miserable and furious snow flurry, and so yesterday I layered up and walked along the south bank of the river, tourist traffic (like me) down but still present, even the barge traffic muted by the snow. The world closed in.

•••••

The British economy is stagnant and the same debate that wearies you here, wearies you there. Living standards are not expected to exceed pre-crash levels for ten years. Banks are themselves on the dole and still lend less than before, for lack of business demand. The number of small businesses borrowing this year is forecast to be down from 23 to 20 per cent.

And the queen is sick. At 86, a stomach bug keeps even a monarch down longer than one would like. After a week’s hiatus, her Majesty demurred on returning to the public eye yesterday, apparently judging that a church service in drafty old Westminster Abbey wasn’t in one’s best interest.

Still, get any ten million people in one place at one time and a fine time may be had, and  we had one. I have a new favorite British bookstore, besides the Waterstone’s in Oxford, home to all the world’s textbooks. This one is called Daunt Books, in the Marylebone High Street. At Daunt, books are arranged by the countries of the world.

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