Very much inspired by a former blogger's sharing of a Werner Herzog reading of Curious George, I thought that I might attempt writing about one experience in Hertfordshire in that very voice.
My apologies to Mr. Herzog and his followers for my wretched interpretation--I break into a wee bit of positivity here and there, but, in any case, I thought that this might be fun.
It was only after marching her through the cold of his small town and into a pub and asking her to drink a beer that forced their very sorrows to the depths of their spines, that he reminded her:
"We should return back to the flat and get ready. We do have a train to catch if we want to get to the theatre on time."
As they sat there, sitting shoulder to shoulder like phalanxed soldiers, a springer spaniel shuffled up to her, put his nose in her hand for a moment, and then went off to find his owner. She wondered if the dog's life, which was limited to inside the pub, his owner's house and the medieval town in which he lived, was somehow more satisfying than hers.
She put that thought on hold.
Earlier on their walk, she and her inimitable host had encountered a group of boys enjoying every bit of their adolescence with a snowball fight that ended in a bloody nose, but fortunately all was still well. The boys laughed and played, their coats and scarves covering their neatly pressed uniforms. They must have gone to the preparatory school in town. These lads had such wonderful manners.
Most school-aged teenagers, unfriendly and tied to their machines of madness--cell phones or video games--would not have stopped to play in the snow, nor would they have stopped to engage in conversation with a man in a tailored coat and his ill-dressed American woman guest.
Her excuse for her attire was simply this: She changed out of her relatively smart travel clothing into more comfortable exercise wear as she had always planned on taking a nap that afternoon. Her host kept thwarting her attempts to have a lie down and rest. It was all a part of his great scheme to force her into the mother country's time. And eventually, it worked.
She noticed that these friendly young men were different from the ones in America whom she so often wanted to expel to an island off the coast of Bali. These boys were boisterous without being troublesome and their joy was infectious. Indeed they brightened a day already made luminescent by all of the white on the countryside.
And then, she arrived.
Hair wrapped in a scarf and shuffling to keep from falling in the snow, an elderly woman walked up to her, the only woman in a group of happy men, the only foreigner and stranger to the town. The woman asked her what she would do to keep the boys "from playing about and doing dangerous things like allowing a boy (who by the way only weighed 8 or 9 stone) on an icy riverbed (which was only calf deep)."
At first, the younger woman was worried, not knowing that the riverbed was as shallow as it was, but then silenced that thought for others: why had this grandmotherly figure chosen to fuss at her for the apparent rowdiness of the children? First off, the boys were nothing but lovely, and secondly, what made her think that the only other woman there should have been the voice of reason, the one who brought punitive order to carnavalesque fun? Why didn't she address the adult male there? He was after all wearing a hat that marked him as some sort of responsible figure.
But no. The lecture about the irresponsibility of children and their nonsensical behavior was unleashed on the visitor who would love to see American youths as fun and polite as this lot was.
What she wanted to say was this:
"Madam, you're assuming several things here. One, that I am some sort of an authority figure in this situation. Two, that if I were to have children that I wouldn't want them to be anything like this group of really terrific lads, and three, that I fully agree with whatever disparaging thing you feel the need to express."
What the foreigner actually did was much more polite, non-confrontational and somewhat respectful of her elder by mumbling that she wasn't sure it was so bad and that she ought to get back to the gentleman in the hat.
The boys were not Curious George. They were not agents of chaos--although the woman found them to be exactly that. They were young, expending nervous energy that precedes GCSEs and exams that American students need not worry about--though perhaps it might be good if they had to.
The American rather liked these boys, or young men, or whatever they were. And hoped, that were she lucky to have a son of her own one day, that he would be much more like the ones in the medieval town and nothing like most of the ones in her own neighborhood.