T he trip was a quick ten days spent mostly with family in London. Towards the end of our stay, my husband and I paired up with my sister and her husband on a short drive to the English countryside. We stopped at Stonehenge and then made our way to Cheddar Gorge to explore the dark cave—eerie and adorned with limestone.
All the while I was at Stonehenge, I kept thinking of V. S. Naipaul’s Enigma of Arrival set in Wiltshire, the same town where Stonehenge is located. As we travelled through the most spectacular landscapes—rolling hills covered with bright green grasses, cottages and stone fences, I realized that so much of my fantasies about the English countryside is tied to Naipaul’s deeply evocative semi-biographical work.
We were in Bath the following day to see the Roman baths when my husband and I stumbled upon Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights. An emporium—coined from the Greek word for market—is a place where a great many variety of things are sold. Mr. B’s Emporium is just such a place with a very fine collection of titles in fiction, psychology, philosophy, history, the classics and so on crammed in a small three-floor flat.
As I explored the shelves and made my way up the narrow staircases, I realized for the first time why independent book shops are cool. Stores like Waterstone and Barnes and Noble are warehouses. Indie book shops are curated collections. They source and collect books with the taste of seasoned book lovers in mind. They are driven by what Jorge Luis Borges calls “the ineffable leaps of taste,” which accounts for the daring randomness of their collections.
I made away with a few finds: Ian Sansom’s homage to the baffling world of paper titled Paper: An Elegy. I started reading it on the drive back to London and can say for certain that it is far too delightful a read to be an elegy. I bought Italo Calvino’s Why Read the Classics for myself and The Collector of Sand for a dear friend— both are collections of essays.
Enjoy the random bits of photographs that chronicle my travels. Look out for the photo of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. My husband and I attended the midnight mass in the stunningly beautiful church more as a tourist attraction than anything else. But we quickly realized that there was no way to remain indifferent in a space like that.
Despite the irreverence of our reason for attending, it soon became clear to us that St. Paul is one of those places that the German philosopher, Heidegger, describes as “solemn buildings that since time immemorial granted healing.” If you are a believer, you go there to be “cured of your suffering.” If you’re a non-believer, as we both were, you might “experience the suffering of the disappearing gods.” Either way, places like St. Paul does something to you.