Primrose Hill is not in Greenwich.
For those of you who playing along at home, Primrose Hill is, shockingly, in Primrose Hill -- in Regent's Park, specifically, a fair walk north of the river and on London's western end. Greenwich is east of London's East End, hugging the southern bank of the Thames.
I have no idea how I screwed up these locations so badly. But it was to Greenwich that I dragged Jen Rodvold in my pursuit to stand where Iolo "Reality Spoils A Good Tale" Morgannwg stood in 1792 and held the first Gorsedd. Fortunately, the adventure turned out to be worthwhile.
Jen is a friend of mine from high school. It seems the older I get, the more friends I have from high school. Thank you, Facebook. Thank you, maddening nature of aging. As we get older and spin further and further away, we find that we really appreciate the people who were there 15 years ago.
Anyway, 14 years and 4,032 miles from the Mall of America Hooters where I had seen her last, Jen is now living with a bloke named Dave in a closet in London's east end and earning an MBA. This past weekend I travelled out for a visit.
There is something about me and London. In past visits to the Big Smoke, the people I've stayed with have found themselves distracted from my witty banter and enjoyable company by a particularly vicious stomach bug. The first time I stayed with friends in London Jenny was hit; Chris was the victim the next time I was in town. This time, Dave was on the receiving end. He was up early and often on Saturday morning and not particularly in the mood to go tracking down the origins of historical events that mean nothing to him. So Jen and I set out on our own.
We eventually found ourselves standing on the hill that houses the Royal Observatory, looking out across London and beyond to northern hills on one of those stunningly clear late afternoons that always seem to settle the soul. Dusk started in and turned the whole thing into a sort of moving painting. Silver/blue sky sharpened the shining lines of the Docklands buildings and then to the west lit up with yellow/pink/orange/red sunset that burned to an intense all-sky red as Jen and I walked through the park a bit more.
Atop a hill we had pretty much to ourselves, Jen stopped to call Dave and I stood and looked out and felt for the second time in a month this strong strange feeling that I struggle to put a name to. Connection? A root? The last time I felt it was when the child bride and one of the Claires and I sang out into the Irish night on New Year's Day. It is a feeling of no longer yearning to be elsewhere. It is a feeling, slight and surreal, of being at home.
It punched at my heart and I thought of that scene in "The Gathering Storm" when Churchill looks out across the English countryside and becomes resolved in never giving up. The place, the land is a natural physical representation of his soul. Its spirit reaches up through his feet and connects him to every soul that ever worked or fought or loved in that place. I imagine that for him, the connection he felt ribboned across England, the posh places in particular.
What I feel isn't as strong. It is a single strand, and one that wraps a larger area. It is a feeling that doesn't make a damned bit of sense. Ireland and Wales and London -- these places can't collectively be called "home" unless you are a Victorian imperialist. It is a connection that is absolutely ridiculous. For me especially.
But there it was, kicking at me and making me think that I am finally taking tiny steps toward feeling that this place, whatever "this place" means, can be my home. That is a terrifying possibility in a way. I am here on visa. Pieces of paper can take it all away from me.
The sky had turned infinite dark cobalt, fast becoming night, and Jen and I walked down toward the shops and pubs and restaurants of Greenwich. We crossed under the laser light that marks the Prime Meridian. A tiny green line that tears out over the park and across the night. A tiny invisible strand that connects all of us and how we live our lives.
I turned to Jen, attempted to say something profound and failed completely. Much as I've done here.