Monday, February 7, 2011

Monday Reruns: City Mouse; Country Mouse

(original post-date: February 3, 2010)

In the fall of 1983, I had a once-in-a-lifetime vacation. I jetted from New York to London, where I would meet my sister, Martha, who was flying in from the D.C. area. From London, Martha and I – two 20-something sisters – would begin a ten-day experience together in England.

Because Martha had spent her junior year in Bath (and because she makes most anglophiles appear to be relatively indifferent to the U.K.), she did all the planning. Accordingly: We would spend the first two days in London. We would then take the train to Bath. After two nights there, we’d travel further into the country’s southwestern region. And after two nights in Devon, we would return to London for the final three days of our adventure.

The first 48 hours in London entailed sightseeing in a jetlag blur. We took in as much as we could. As for the train to Bath? Relaxing and easy. When we approached a particular town, I remember getting excited about the architecture and the way the old buildings lined up on series of hills.

“Look at that!” I said excitedly, directing Martha’s glance to the train’s window.

“That’s Bath,” she said, smiling.

It was fun to traipse around the university town where my sister had lived for two semesters. We did a great deal of walking, and at one point, we happened into a Chemist’s. (Note, that’s the English equivalent of a pharmacy/drug store.)

Within the Chemist’s was a little machine, designed to allow patrons to check their pulse. And for whatever spontaneous reason, I placed my hand on the gadget and positioned the tip of my index finger so as to get a reading.

The machine replied with a rather alarming, fast-paced “d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-!!!”

Oh my.

I removed my hand, and my sister took her turn.

This time, the machine was less concerned. “Du. Du. Du. Du. Du. ” (it said.)


Several days later, our Devon experience behind us, we were back in London. Walking about, we came upon a Chemist’s, and perhaps because we were needing a sundry or some postcards, we walked in.

Within a few moments, we spied one of those pulse machines. This time, my sister went first.

Her index finger primed in the correct position, the machine responded: “d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-!!!”

Oh my.

Then, I took my turn: “Du. Du. Du. Du. Du. ”

So, here’s my theory:

We seek environments that provide balance.

My sister possesses hyper energy. She is a classic extrovert, and when she is in the room, there is no denying her presence. I, on the other hand, have a rather laid-back social energy. As an introvert, I often prefer blending in with the wallpaper.

My sister’s energy needs a quiet environment. Something to meet her halfway. And for that reason, her pulse was mellow in Bath.

I also need to be met halfway. I need the excitement and fast pace of an urban environment. For that reason, my pulse was mellow in London.

City mouse and country mouse.

Our choices do not reflect absolute preferences. Frankly, a part of me (frankly, a big part of me) would love nothing more than to wake up from a good night’s sleep, step outside my back door, and say “good morning” to a cow. Similarly, I bet my sister would love to have the access I have to large art museums, a local philharmonic, and thousands of restaurants representing every cuisine imaginable.

We have chosen our locations not because we need their cows or their cuisines. We need their energy.

We need their energy in order to balance our own.

2011 postscript: Happy Birthday to the country mouse, mellow in rural Scotland...


Martha Gates-Mawson said...

I love this post and thank you for your postscript. Having a great day - Chris is taking me for a birthday drink at the pub across the street. Yes, feeling mellow...

blueviolet said...

My sister's very makeup gives me that energy balance, just as the locations you mentioned do for you!

Mel said...

I loved this memoir of travels with your sister. It took me back in time to the seventies when I knew you and Martha - you were bright-eyed and beautiful Virginia belles - and your individual brands of energy had already embraced you. Martha was theatrical, outspoken and dynamic. The stage was her world. You were witty, intellectual and quietly efficient. The world was your stage. And so it is thus today. Thanks for sharing this delightful story.

Jayne Martin said...

This makes so much sense. As a hyper city girl who moved to the country, I now feel completely in balance. When I go to the city the sensory overload is so intense, I can't stay for very long.

Anonymous said...

Lovely story Katie - I am definitely a country person these days. Not sure I was ever a town person at heart though I was brought up close to London and worked there for a few years. I am definitely more mellow these days in the Hampshire countryside! Off to the West Country next week for a short break with my two sisters and a friend.
Happy birthday, if rather belated Martha! :-)