1. Do be a tourist. You may not think you want to see Buckingham Palace, but, believe me, you do. One minute you are walking across Green Park, the next you are stunned by the palace. (You didn’t consult the guidebook before gettiing off the tube.) It is old! It is glamorous! It is historic! There are lots of tourists! And, besides, the characters in “Parks and Recreation” came here in the London episode. I love D.C., but the White House is just a mansion.
2. Don’t agree to take anyone’s picture. Am I the last person on earth without a phone? Everyone wanted me to take his or her picture. After boldly pushing the wrong button, I laughed and gave up. My camera is a camera. I can’t imagine doing everything with a phone. I felt like my mom. I have wandered into a different culture.
3. Do go to the Waterstones on Picadilly. Much fuss is made about Foyles, but the flagship Waterstones has more small-press books, more Loebs, a bigger fiction section, and a more fabulous travel section. Maybe I just got lucky. It’s a great store.
4. Don’t buy hardcover books. I sadly put back a copy of Robert Harris’s Dictator, the third novel in his Cicero trilogy, because I must leave half my luggage behind to make room for paperbacks as is.
5. Do go to the British Library. You will never be sorry you saw that manuscript of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre or Angela Carter’s The Passion of New Eve. And it is a very cool building.
6. Don’t wear your cat sweatshirt. All tourists wear black. It doesn’t show the dirt, and you will fit in. (I wonder if anyone ever wears colors except Americans.)
7. Do go to the National Portrait Gallery. Seeing Branwell Bronte”s portrait of Anne, Charlotte, and Emily was the most stunning experience of the trip. And then there was the thrill of seeing the Tudor portraits. Anne Boleyn! I was looking for a sixth finger, but perhaps that was someone else. And did you know there are portraits of Aubrey Beardsley and A. S. Byatt? Oddly, I thought there was one of Mary Beard–I swear she blogged about it– but it occurs to me it is at another gallery.
8. Don’t go crazy for ticketed events. All right, you may think you want to see Robert Icke’s “Oresteia,” or D. J. Taylor chatting at a TLS Literary Weekend event. The truth is you’re so jet-lagged you will do none of those things. You will drink coffee, or eat a sandwich at Trafalgar Square. Honestly, who are you? Not Lady Ottoline Morrell!
9. Do go to all the bookstores in Bloomsbury. Oxfam, London Review Bookshop, Skoob, Persephone, Judd Books. As I said, I had to leave my cat sweatshirt behind to fit books in my luggage. And I’m sure I missed some bookstores!
10. Don’t spend all your time in museums. It’s nice just to have an ice cream in the park. There are swans, deck chairs, Mrs. Dalloway walks, and pelicans. But I miss Kansas. (Not literally Kansas.) I’m like Dorothy in Oz. I can’t wait to get home! I do wish I’d brought my computef. It’s hard tapping everything out on a tablet.