Photo Courtesy of Travel Channel Blog, The Traveling Type
The country that I have always felt the most at home in has always been England. This statement does not mean the same as “England is ‘better’ than the United States,” “England has been right about everything always throughout history,” or even “Long live the Queen.” I have spent an extensive amount of time in England over the years with my family, and we have many friends who either live, have lived, or frequently travel to England as often as they can. England is, contrary to public albeit American opinion, the most laid back and relaxed country that I have ever spent time in. I have never felt more welcomed, cared for, and intellectually stimulated than I do in England, with the possible exception of different regions in Italy. England, for me, has the perfect mix of old and new, vintage and vibrant, understated and overwhelming, all with incredible pomp and pageantry that seems fitting for a nation that has exceeded a millennium in age. Having just returned from London, I have very recently been reminded of the capital’s myriad free museums, all of which take days to really do well, and the streets upon streets of vibrant window boxes and top notch global cuisine. The countryside of hazy heathers and sages and grays dappled with thatched roof houses and Medieval villages lulls one into a state of pure peace and profound contemplation. England is also the most politically conscious country (though certainly not the most politically correct) that I have had the good fortune to spend time in. Their morning shows and news programs provide more heated and raw debate than any American presidential race that I have ever seen. Global issues are reported on with equal, if not more importance than the issues going on right down the street, suggesting a level of curiosity about the world that exists outside of themselves that the US media has yet to fully articulate. Of course, the country of England is not perfect, and no one is vaguely suggesting that it is free of corruption, injustice, and social unrest. Perhaps they are better at talking about it than the United States? Perhaps their words are more wisely chosen? Perhaps they don’t judge the content of politicians’ characters by whether they would be good to have a beer with? Maybe the Brits just have better beer?
Of course, this perspective is coming from an American anglophile’s. As an American, I have the luxury of being excused from the despicable class system and I can move about the British sphere in the liminal position of a tourist forever and ever. Not bad. This position also excuses me from being a subject of the British monarchy. This is a cozy little spot, for it allows me to stay as far away from the tsuris of the creme de la creme of the class system, but it also allows me to watch their pageantry from across the pond, through my computer screen, and tilt my head at the glistening wonder of it all. For example, the morning of THE royal wedding between patron saint of all things wonderful, Kate Middleton, and the delightful Prince William, I arose incredibly early and rushed downstairs in my pajamas to watch the festivities with a few close friends in the living room of my college dorm. We analyzed everything from the fascinators to the fanfare, the trees brought into Westminster Abbey to the jumbotron outside the abbey for everyone to watch on, the Queen’s choice of butter yellow frock to Kate’s splendor in Sarah Burton’s lace gown. We gasped at Pippa Middleton’s 1930s-style Sarah Burton off-white gown, we swooned when William whispered “You look beautiful” to his new bride when she arrived at the altar, and we cried during their recessional. We could sit in our comfy clothes, drink our commemorative Kate and William English Breakfast tea, and be enlightened and politically conscious women enjoying what could be the beginning of a whole new monarchy.
Enough has been published, portrayed on screen, and poured out about the British royal family over the years, especially concerning the life and trials of Princess Diana. Her death was a big, “You can’t do this anymore!” to the royal family. You can’t force two people to marry because they are both aristocracy and the woman is a virgin. You can’t expect these two people to be happy in a relationship for them dictated by a false and harmful duty to an abstract ancestry. You can’t expect the desires, decisions, and priorities of a modern woman to conform to a staunch traditionalism that is inherently damaging to everyone around them. You can’t ignore the AIDS crisis as it is happening. You can’t ignore the education and health of children in developing countries. You can’t ignore the world around you. The identity of being a “peoples’ princess” is going to not only gain admiration and adoration for Diana from British subjects, but it is going to make the existing monarchy in contrast to her look cruel, backward, out-of-date, and obsolete. The British monarchy has no real political power and instead they exist as a figurehead for the countries they represent, which is obviously immensely problematic (imperialism, anyone?), but nonetheless true. If the figurehead of one of the most important empires in world history looks like it is stuck in a time warp, how can we take it seriously alongside the rest of the world? This is why I am immensely grateful to Kate and William.
A man and a woman meet in college. They are part of the same group of friends, are interested in the same things, and just so happen go to the same early morning breakfast slot . She is a natural born leader, very active in athletics and fundraisers, and is majoring in art history. He is called laid back, relaxed, and “social” by his pals while he majors in geography… and he just so happens to be a prince. Their relationship is platonic and friendly until they start hanging out together alone while taking walks or playing golf, that is until a fateful Don’t Walk charity fashion show where Kate, often considered very conservative with her dress choices, struts out in a see-through green number that drops Will’s jaw. They date while in college, then upon graduation they go their separate ways but remain very good friends and continue to be quite active in each others’ lives. He makes a concerted effort to try to keep the paparazzi as far away from her as possible after she files numerous suits against magazines that were publishing photos of her without permission. The relationship seems on-again-off-again to the public, but it remains quite clear to this day that the couple is and was very private, they enjoy spending quality time together out of the public eye minus various royal obligations, and they prefer to live their lives much more simply than the media or their families would like. The announcement of their engagement in 2010 allowed for us, and I assume for them, to breathe a sigh of relief. William, unlike his father and mother, could marry the partner he loves without any restricting cruelty from the palace. William, who is royalty, could marry a “commoner” which until then was unprecedented without at least a little bit of controversy. The public could have a royal wedding, a spectacle of immense proportions (at the expense of the British taxpayers, so not quite a sigh of relief there) that will undoubtedly commemorate the occasion of their marriage with jollity and abundance. And they could try to do this whole royalty thing seemingly on their own terms, by their own rules.
Kate and William, after their spectacular wedding, did not honeymoon immediately. William went back to work for the Royal Air Force as a Search and Rescue pilot and Kate was seen grocery shopping a few days after. They tried to keep their eventual honeymoon locations a secret so that they could have some privacy. They currently live in apartment 1A in Kensington Palace, and have opted to have no live-in servants in favor of more professional help such as private secretaries. They also opted out of their annual ski trip to the Swiss Alps in 2011 during the major economic recession in Britain in solidarity with those affected by the recession. They do, however, live the lifestyle of royalty with other extravagant vacations, expensive sports, and weekly blow-outs for Kate to keep her hair looking like that of a goddess. The thing is… if you were constantly in the public eye with every minute movement being scrutinized, analyzed, photographed, and most likely ripped apart, wouldn’t you need an extra couple vacations a year just to stay sane about it all? Everyone has their little quirks, something that they must have perfect or they cannot function. For some it is their nails, or the cleanliness of their home, or their morning routine, or the health of their car. For Kate, it’s her hair. Let her have that. She is human. Will is also human. He is balding and not quite as princely as he looked ten years ago. He is deeply committed to his wife and his family in a way that is not obsessive, damaging, or frankly out of the ordinary, given how many of us feel obligated to our families. He just so happens to be royal. What the media, critics, and others sometimes fail to realize is that these people are human beings who are going through the major events of life just as many regular people do, but on a public stage with a much larger budget. That doesn’t automatically make them cruel, unkind people. These are not conniving, scheming Wall Street bankers who have no sense of public duty unless they can deduct it from their taxes or have their names put on it. Will, Kate, and even the Queen consider themselves to be public servants. Of course, this is pretty darn laughable when we see the extravagance of their daily lives, but that doesn’t mean that the young couple who is actively seeking to change the face of a very troubled monarchy cannot truly fulfill that role. I think they just need to be given the chance. It is a monumental weight on their shoulders, but for what it’s worth, I do believe in them. But what really matters is that the citizens of Britain do too. The Guardian recently reported that the most recent ICM poll shows that vast majority of British citizens would prefer to live under the current state of the monarchy than under a republic.
This weekend marked what has been referred to as “Baby Watch” by various news sources and websites. Kate Middleton on Monday morning went into labor with the third in line to the British throne, the future king of England. This is a major moment in the history of the world, and yes it has absolutely nothing to do with the United States. And that’s okay. Many people were posting snarky statuses and memes across Facebook on Monday with pictures of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson reading “We fought for independence so we wouldn’t have to give a fuck about the royal baby.” It pains me to see brilliant people, many of whom I love deeply, coming across as pig-headed and overly-nationalist on a day that, regardless of political leaning, is a monumental and historical day. If you truly didn’t “give a fuck about the royal baby,” then why post about it? If this act truly does not concern you in any way, then why in the world does this bother you so much? Because these people are rich? Because they are “royalty”? Because the country that they represent has a very tortured and disturbing past? Because they are happy? People despise the United States for many of the same reasons. It is not fair, in my opinion, to disrespect a historical moment that could potentially be very revolutionary with cynicism and closed-mindedness. Why force hate on people who, as you so clearly state, have no effect on you whatsoever? And let us, who happen to be interested, be interested. The news did not halt for the little prince. We still got to hear the important and inspiring news of Anthony Weiner’s sexting and infidelity in the wake of a royal family’s happiness, to the delight of many. We got to hear Obama speak about the broken economy on Wednesday. And hell, Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem welcomed a baby girl on the same day as the royal birth, and we still heard about it. I’m not even saying you have to “care” that it is happening. The world does not stop for this baby, but the minute that child was born, the future of England changed. That is an extraordinary fact. But then you can just let it go.
However, for us who are admittedly interested and fascinated by the royal family, this was a very big and fun story to follow. My mother and I were on our annual girls getaway to Hyannis on Cape Cod where we followed the story from its beginning. We shared our mutual disappointment that it wasn’t a girl, who could legally kick primogeniture’s saggy bottom with the new rule that allows any first born, regardless of sex, to inherit the throne. We checked our phones between spa treatments to find the first picture of the glowing Kate and Will leaving the hospital with their new son. We both raised eyebrows at the name “George Alexander Louis” and both immediately thought of both Jason Alexander and George Louis Costanza. It was a lot of fun, and capped off what was a fabulous getaway regardless of royal news. My favorite moment of the entire story, however, was this one:
Here we see emotions and expressions that cannot be forced, that cannot be constructed by lights, smoke, mirrors, makeup, or costume. Here is a couple with their first child, who could be anybody on the planet, stepping out of a hospital to introduce their child to the world. We see the love of two people, the warmth of their companionship, and their shared excitement to teach and adore the new life that begins their family. The question through all of this that keeps circulating is, “Why should we care?” We don’t know these people, and odds are they don’t know us, so why should we give a hoot that they have child, just like anyone else in the world could? My response is, why not just for that reason? What is so scary about a happy couple bringing a child into the world? What is so scary or damaging about people being happy for people they don’t know? It takes nothing out of me as a human being to care that another couple somewhere far away is happy, the way it does not make my life worse to keep myself informed about what is going on in my world. I wish this new family all of the happiness in the world, and I am eager to see how this historically relevant and fascinating family will change with the times and become more one with the world.
**** Just for kicks, here is a picture of Pete and I as Will and Kate for Halloween last year. Notice the Diana ring… which is made out of paper and magic marker****