Monday, April 11, 2011

Déjeuner dans l'herbe

It is truly a pleasure to be in London when it is hot and sunny out.  Suddenly, the overworked, suit-wearing crowd of the City of London break away from their desks and run out of their sleek, glass buildings to enjoy the sun.  During the longer lunch breaks, one can see countless bodies lying on every square inch of grass in London's centre, covering benched areas, church courtyards, and parks.  They are no longer the grim, tight-lipped worker speed walking and weaving their way through the crowd; the sun has made them walk a little slower, smile a little longer and bare a little more leg.  People are more likely to engage in conversation and they just can't help themselves to keep bursting out with: "It's such a lovely day, isn't it?"

On Friday, I had the lucky fortune to have a day off and what a treat it was!  Blazing sun, 23 degrees and let me remind you that I live in the UK, not in Spain or Italy.  After dusting off my sunglasses and packing some water, fruit and books in my bag, I was off on my bicycle to enjoy this glorious day. 

I pedalled into Hyde Park, already happily sweating from the short bike ride, and saw countless people picknicking on the grass, lounging, smoking and just really chilling out.  The English are not the best at being able to relax on a regular basis; they like to binge.  In the City of London, you see people working around the clock, their eyes locked in a workaholic daze on their computer screens, and then on weekends, they are so plastered that they vomit on policemen's shoes (a truly sad anecdote brought to you by Robert's law classmate).

I cycle across Hyde Park and I pass the Rose Gardens where bodies are strewn over the grass in various positions of utter relaxation.  It looks like some people just passed out and fell down on the grass; you can almost see the steam of the long hours of work rise off of them.  
It was around this area that I decided to lock up my bicycle and walk around.  I come across a sign that says "Princess Diana Memorial Fountain" and think that it will be probably be some lame fountain with ageing coins in it.  I walk around the gate and see this great mini-water park and realize that this is indeed Princess Diana's Memorial!  This wonderful, circular fountain, where young children are shrieking and splashing around in the water, is child friendly and perfect on a hot day.

After splashing around in this fountain for a bit, I made my way to Kensington Gardens, where I found my own spot of grass where my head could be in the shade and the rest of me in sun.  I took off my sandals and nestled my feet into the lush grass and couldn't get over as to how good and relaxing this felt.  I am certainly not new to rural life, as that is where I have mainly lived, but I am new to a warm ground in April, as well as beautiful green grass.  The one advantage in living in a damp area is that the colours of the grass, flowers and bushes are outstandingly bright and inviting.  I have never seen blossoms so soft and curly and felt grass so silky and soft. 

I thought of the last time that I had been barefoot and I remembered my time in Northern Quebec last year, where I lived a 15 minute walk from a sandy beach on the river.  Because we were up North, the beach was a skating rink for several months, but because of an unusually warm May (temperatures creeping above 30 in mid-May), this made the water warm enough to swim in very quickly.  When I could find time for myself, generally during the day, in the middle of week when all of the participants were working, I would escape to the river.  I remember digging my feet into the sand and feeling the same kind of relief.  Perhaps that relief was also intertwined with the fact that I was escaping my Project Leader duties just for a moment...

I read for hours in the part shade/part sunshine (and moving every half hour or so when the shade moved) and greatly enjoyed every minute of it.  Having extensive, beautiful parks in a large city makes a world of a difference.  It has made me understand the hype of the English Garden.  Robert has always gone on and on about the loveliness of English gardens and parks, and I never quite understood it because, although gardens can be beautiful, it doesn't beat true wilderness and the refreshing feeling of a crystal clear lake surrounded by a forest.  However, gardens and parks in the middle of a massive, metropolitan city, where you don't have an option of wilderness anyway, change the feeling of the city and gives it a constant hint of freshness.  If only our cities in Canada could improve on their parks, London wouldn't need to feel so smug.