Across the Pond 23: Sappho and a helluva guy on the Tube

Concrete staircase

I took a boat back to London for my return flight after three weeks on the continent. I had accrued an outrageous amount of luggage:

  • The largest suitcase of anyone in my class (we flew in together, so yes, I’m sure)
  • A 30 pound laptop in a shoulder bag
  • A backpack full of research materials
  • A recently acquired overnight bag full of the books I’d bought

The cabbie who drove me to my hotel asked if I’d like to be picked up in the morning for my trip to Heathrow. I didn’t think twice.

“Nope, I’ve got this,” I said. “I love the Tube.”

Have I mentioned my fascination with the Tube?

The Tube didn’t just have advertisements posted in the trains, it also had poetry, including Sappho. I promptly bought up fragments of Sappho’s poetry on enormous posters to take back to MSU. I did so at the Underground Museum gift shop where I also picked up a wall clock with a map of the Tube on its face. It adorns the wall of our family room 26 years later and still brings me joy.

I learned that Londoners had taken refuge from WWII bombing in the Tube and this fascinated me. I learned that the Tube began during Queen Victoria’s reign. That struck me as a most extraordinarily forward-thinking move. It was only much later that I learned the original trains were, naturally, coal-powered: filthy and overpowering.

And I was not going to miss my last opportunity to use the Tube. Besides, I was young! Healthy! Downright strapping!

The next morning, as I made my way down the sidewalk to the Tube stop, it occurred to me that perhaps I had been optimistic about my abilities.

I had barely noticed, until that day, that many Tube stops had no elevators or escalators. Just stairs. Before I got through even the first leg of my trip, I was sweating and my arms were straining. I had a wheelie suitcase behind me, a backpack, and shoulder straps with heavy loads on each arm. It hurt to breathe.

One of my most memorable moments in London happened in the Tube that day.

I had stopped at the bottom of yet another long staircase, catching my breath. I was on a mission. I had no one to rely on but myself. On the other end of my trip were my mother and grandparents who would mercifully pick me up at the airport and whisk me back to campus where classes began in just a couple of days. But first: this staircase. I stood, mentally preparing myself.

A man came up behind me. Said nothing. Picked up my enormous suitcase stuffed to bursting with clothes and mementos and personal journals and fragments of Tube poetry, and carried it to the top of the staircase. Set it down. Moved on. Not a word was exchanged. But that act of kindness lives on in my impressions of Europe. Of Great Britain. Of London. And of the Underground.

It was the perfect emotional exclamation point at the end of a magical adventure.

In my next and last post about Katherine Philips, I summarize my studies and my take on her influence on my life.

Published by Sonya Schryer Norris

Librarian :: Instructional Designer :: Blogger

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