Reminders of Robin Hood

I’ve been thinking a lot about Nottingham, randomly remembering the curve of our street between the park and the cemetery, picturing myself suddenly there at random moments throughout the day.  I miss it.  I miss the Left Lion at the courthouse, my nondescript little room in our flat, the tea places tucked into every spare shopfront, the wide sidewalks around the university, the way the castle was just suddenly there when you turned certain corners.

This could be partly because the neighborhoods around here are full of streets named after various British Things – Robinhood Road, and Guinevere Lane, and Sherwood Forest Elementary School.  Then there are the fairytale names, like Fernhaven and Friendship Circle (not joking), which somehow don’t seem too saccharine because of the stately mansions lining both sides of these streets.  With every turn onto another Yorkshire or Greenbrier Farm, you think Yes, that makes sense here.

In Notts, I never knew where I was going to spot another beautiful, astoundingly ancient building.  Our flat was in a boring block of similar brick buildings, but it only took a short walk to reach the historic part of town.  The castle, of course, was the most obvious, stumbling into the old moat where the Robin Hood statue stands, which made me feel like a villager living in the shadow of Castle Rock way back when.  But there were also the pretty neighborhoods where our architecture tutors took us walking, the twists and turns (our new town isn’t laid out like a grid either, and I can’t quite make sense of it yet).

Here, in North Carolina, our house is in an early-aughts subdivision sandwiched between two parkways.  It’s pretty enough, especially compared to our old apartments, but a few minutes’ drive from us is a castle-like hotel with sweeping grounds, a mews, a stable, and guesthouses that look like mansions in their own right.  When we were house-hunting, when we got tired of the depressing reality of homes within our budget, we would get lost in the Robinhood Road neighborhoods, oohing and aahing over the columns and wraparound porches.

So once again, I’m living on the edges of grandeur.

I’m happy that this new place in which I know no one reminds me of another place in which I knew no one that turned out to be one of the most wonderful places I’ve been.

(No matter how long I live in the South, however, I will never be able to pronounce it Notting-HAM.)

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Elephant & Castle: How Fond I Am of Trains in Other Cities

When I was in London, I bought myself a day pass for the Underground and rode it all over the city. Underneath the confusing, not remotely grid-like streets, skimming along through the compact tunnels, I felt like I had unlocked a secret warren of passages. I was proud of myself when I stood in a jam-packed car without falling over, my grip resting only lightly on one of the poles, or my arm looped casually around it. Time didn’t seem to matter down there; I would get to my destination whenever I got there, and if I went a stop too far, why, I’d simply turn around and find my stop again. I fancied myself one of Those People, the well-traveled ones who snatch up a map of the local public transportation upon arrival and use the privilege for all it’s worth.

I felt the same way nearly four years ago when my father took me to Boston to look at a college. After a kind stranger showed us how to purchase the correct day passes and positioned us directly in front of where the doors to the car would be, I picked up the workings of the T like that. My dad helped me navigate, of course (he wasn’t about to let a Teenage Girl Wander the City Alone) but I began figuring out the geography of the city and how the T could bring us closest to where we needed to be. I could picture myself there, heading into the city for the day from campus, studying on my way back, my highlighter barely shaking with the motion of the tram.

When I went back to Boston with my mother, I was the one showing her how to use the T. She knew how to read public transportation maps, of course, but I remembered a good deal of the system from my first trip. She didn’t always trust me on which line we should take, but I knew. I was confident.

Confidence was a big deal for me then. It still is. It baffles me that the girl who only rides certain bus routes in this small university town for fear of ending up lost could step onto trams and trains in strange cities and feel perfectly at ease.

I don’t know why I love train travel. Maybe it’s just nice to feel so in control, to look at those multicolored webs and know exactly where I’m going. College is a lovely time of life, but I’m not always certain as to where I’ll end up. When I heard the robotic voice say, “Tower Green,” on the other hand, I knew I’d found my stop.