A Brush With Royalty

After climbing a hilly sidewalk to get to Casa Loma, we stumbled upon soldiers in uniform.

They were lined up facing the mansion, and a small crowd had begun to gather. I saw a woman in black walk solemnly into the house. Was it a funeral? An arrest? We later learned they were celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, Canada’s oldest infantry regiment. Another gawker told us a princess was about to exit.

Twenty-five minutes of much of the same, and 30 pictures with different angles of much of the same, the colonel-inchief finally appeared.

Princess Alexandra, the cousin of Queen Elizabeth II and 33rd in line of succession to the British throne, emerged from the mansion in a white suit and blue scarf. The men welcomed her. She approached them, briefly speaking with each and apologizing for keeping them waiting. She addressed them casually, at least as casual as royalty could be, as if no one was watching.

I’d gotten a great spot away from the crowd and just a few feet from the guards. As soon as the princess approached the men, however, the official photographers blocked my view. My height impediment (and the fact that I’d run out of memory) restricted me from taking too many photos, so I just watched and absorbed the moment.

After addressing the men, she spoke to a spectator. She talked to the girl as if she’d seen her before, though I’m sure she was just a stranger in the crowd.

Then, with a wave, the princess was whisked away.

Minutes before the princess’s grand exit.

Cameras galore.

In height order.

Perfectly still.

Switching places.

Falling in line.

“I’m sorry to have kept you waiting.”

Fancy photographer in the distance.

Everyone but the princess.

Princess Alexandra.

Final salute.

Update: This post made it to WordPress’s “Freshly Pressed” list today, which the site describes as “The best of 300,828 bloggers, 278,358 new posts, 336,321 comments, & 63,502,639 words today on WordPress.com.”

So awesome. Thanks, WordPress editors!

Central Park, un-blossomed

I leave for Toronto in a day and a half.

I haven’t packed. I don’t know where I’m staying (Well, my friends do, but I’ve neglected to ask. We’re also flying in on different days). Don’t ask me why I’m leaving New York’s somewhat chilly weather for Toronto’s somewhat chilly weather. But here and there, warm weather creeps in (At times it oddly feels like summer).

It never lasts.

Good news is, the warmth has dragged people out from their caves. Weekends are filling up. Work is picking up. Things are happening. Everyone is nicer, in a way New Yorkers are not supposed to be (For the record, I haven’t encountered a particularly mean New Yorker, born and bred or otherwise). They hold doors, let you sit on the train and even sing a jingle or two while skipping to the subway. Or maybe that’s just me.

I haven’t laid out an itinerary for Toronto, but I’ll be sure to document it here. For now, here’s Central Park, un-blossomed.

I did manage to take pictures of non-cherry blossom things that day.

I focused on color.

And people.

There was something funny about a Zamboni on an extremely warm day.

And a guy smirking while a strange girl took his picture.

Crowds gathered around the mystery bagpiper under the bridge.

There were buckets on heads.

Some peace and quiet, too.

People openly loved.

Finally, notice the sign. Notice the legs behind the sign.

Wanderlust, explained

I was at a book reading the other day (and when I say the other day, I should probably say other dayS). I’d gone there alone, as I often do anywhere in the city, not realizing what a social event book readings actually are. There was a lot of “Wow, it’s so great to finally meet you,” friends reuniting, and, the true sign of a social event, wine*.

As everyone talked, I was looking at books, which suddenly seemed like the odd thing to do despite it being a bookstore. It was a really neat bookstore actually, dedicated to travel. Everything was arranged according to destination. Soon there were dozens of people crammed in this tiny bookstore, and when I got tired of staring at people’s chests (a major plight of the vertically challenged. I’m seriously writing my Congressman about this), I sat on a bench by the window and read.

About 30 to 45 minutes after the scheduled start time, the room quieted long enough for an informal introduction and, of course, the reading. I’m a reader — I’d rather read the news than listen to it or watch it, for instance – so listening to people read felt unnatural. Maybe it’s because reading is such a personal thing. It’s why people get so angry when their favorite books are made into movies. Characters and situations rarely appear in movies as they do in our heads. I wanted to imagine the authors in these places they spoke of, but it was impossible with the distractions. For one thing, someone’s camera kept making that irritating fake clicking sound, and I could see everyone’s reactions and random movements since I sat off to the side.

One essay eventually got my attention, however. In it, Elisabeth Eaves talks about her inability to stay in one place. Wanderlust, she says, is not about what’s being left. It’s about the person who’s leaving:

“A hallmark of the wanderlust-plagued is that we favor experience over inherited knowledge, however sensible the latter might be. The best kind of travel – the kind I wanted to experience – involves a particular state of mind in which one is not merely open to the occurrence of the unexpected, but to deep involvement in the unexpected, indeed, open to the possibility of having one’s life changed forever by a chance encounter.”

And everything clicked.

She articulated something I’ve always felt but never could explain. I don’t know if it’s because I spent chunks of my life in different places (the Philippines, the Bronx, Virginia), or maybe it’s because I grew up in a relatively strict, authoritarian household that quelled my adventurous side. Whatever it was, I always pushed my limits and refused to fall into submission. When all things failed, I read, wrote and dreamed. I dreamed of summer camps and boarding school. Of leaving for college and seeing the world. And when I got the chance, I did.

It’s why I interned in small towns in the summer when I was in college. It’s what I relished most about my quirky newspaper assignments – the opportunity to go somewhere I wouldn’t have gone otherwise, to talk to people I wouldn’t normally have encountered. It’s why I studied abroad in a country where I knew no one, and it’s why I want to conquer New York, not just pass through it.

There’s just something about discovering things on your own, being incredibly uncomfortable yet surviving, and in some cases thriving. Though it gets lonely, the solitude frees me up for introspection; my flaws reveal themselves. Like my tendency to think too much before I speak or to be overly critical of everyone, including myself. Instead of hiding behind the safety of the familiar, I’m left to face everything head on. Don’t get me wrong — I have amazing people to turn to for support. It’s just that I like having the freedom to be by myself, too.

After the reading, I bought the book and finished Eaves’ essay on the train ride home. Her words strengthened my own wanderlust. I knew I was where I needed to be.


*Unfortunately I couldn’t enjoy it because I’d taken Tylenol (hi, acetaminophen, ruiner of livers) an hour or two beforehand. I’d tried to defy my own body for working against me. “Ha!” I scoffed. “I’m going to this book reading whether or not you, er, I hurt!”

Of course, in defying myself I’d ended up hurting, well, myself.

(Photo: Under the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, 2007)