I am chomping on a raspberry meringue that we purchased in an Italian deli, on the same street as several other delis, a collection of small restaurants, and many boutiques with stylish clothes and shoes. We feel very international even as we continue to be stunned by the price of real estate. The 600 square foot flat (apartment) we are renting would likely sell for at least one million pounds (add half again to figure U.S. dollars). We cannot imagine how all the young faces around us manage to live in the neighborhood.
I reflect on our visit to Kew Gardens, where we walked through time with my cousin Karen and her husband. As with so many large tracts of land, the history of Kew is all wrapped up with the British royals, who owned much of the prime real estate in centuries past. The gardens began to take shape in the 1700s with successive royals adding to its size and splendor. We stroll through grove after grove of trees, each so thoughtfully planted and carefully tended. Peacocks, large wood pigeons, colorful ducks and other birds wander around with an air of ownership. We see the occasional swan in ponds laden with water lilies. The most amazing feature of the gardens are the large, very spectacular “glass houses,” ornate greenhouses filled with the more exotic plants in the collection. They are old to us, being built at least 150 years ago, but in Britain, the word old takes on a rather different meaning. Here, old goes back 1,000 years and ancient is even older! I see the trees as a cast of thousands, creating a frame for the main characters – the remarkable glass houses. Together with the water features, a small palace and other structures, they tell a wordless but eloquent story of the loving labors of many generations.
One aspect of our trip involves discovering our family history, which has gaps we hope to fill during our travels here. This is the first time I’ve met my cousin and as we walk under the great trees, we try to share a lifetime of hopes, joys and disappointments. In such a rooted place, I feel my lineage stretch away into the distance.
Later we visit a pub in Richmond-upon-Thames, the White Cross, which sits on the edge of the Thames. I am astounded to learn that the lower patio and entry way floods every day with the tides on the river. Patrons take it all in stride, arriving before or after the tide. I am both amused and fascinated that the pub posts the tide times on a sandwich board outside. Inside we meet a regular and his dog, Louis the First, who is very deft at cadging morsels from my cousin’s plate, using his brown Schnauzer eyes to best advantage.
It has been a day full of family photos, reminiscing and exploring. As we hug goodbye, my cousin and I agree that much is left to be said and done.