The pursuit of happiness: part one

Our plane touched down in Heathrow on a Sunday morning. We were met by a car and spun through the mini-roundabouts, past the art deco tube stations, my older daughter calling out the names. O, the little terraced, stuccoed cottages, the buses and the traffic all passing 20 feet from the curtained front parlor. It has all been going on without us.

We stayed in a friend’s flat in the building where Benedict Arnold lived. Interesting that he is identified as an American patriot; a kind of backward compliment? A reminder that whatever you were is what you continue to be, regardless of what happens later?

The plaque is surrounded by scaffolding. The landlord has been ordered to tidy up the facade for the Olympics. London is under scrubby-uppy orders. So Catherine the Great, with all the scaffolding and cranes. Hopefully they will not hide away the uncute children.

We recovered from travel at the Porchester Baths. Happiness is a liter of water in the hot room and three rounds of plunge pool. Our friends had come from the American Ambassador’s Fourth party where among the guests were an English politician and a Scottish actor.

We dropped into London the way you might alight from a Routemaster bus between stops, jumping off in the direction the bus was traveling and being submerged in the indifferent crowd.

We spent the evening of the actual Fourth of July in a pub with our friends and assorted children. It is how we always celebrated the Fourth, “which was never,” said the younger daughter happily, or, more accurate, randomly. We are back in the irresponsible land of expatriatism, where you are free to interpret the customs; yours, theirs; and choose what and how you will celebrate, being neither here nor there.

I had forgotten how nice bitter is. American beer is too fizzy. Happiness is a pint and pub banter. The ease of meeting in a pub, sitting outside, the only downside being cheese & onion crisps (I never liked them.)

Later in the week, I take the girls shopping. We start at Topshop. If we lived here, we would be starting to come here together, for them more than me. They find things in petites. This was where I had bought a long, stretchy dress that I wore throughout my first pregnancy. Back then, you couldn’t buy maternity clothes from regular shops, just horrible polyester things from Dorothy Perkins, cheap tailored suits designed to conceal your bump, that had hidden zippers.

Checking out, the cashier says to the younger daughter, “I love your accent.” We chat, confirm our Americanness, that we are visiting.

“The Fourth of July, what’s that about, then?” she asks.

“It’s the day we declared independence from the UK.”

“You what?”

“We were a colony… part of the Commonwealth…”

“Really!” she exclaims. “Are you serious? We had you?”

“Oh,” my English friend and I say in unison when I tell her about it, “bless!”

“Oh, poor love,” my friend laughs. We imagine she will tell others about this interesting fact she learned from the American tourists, the American patriots who carry a treacherous love for the old country.

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