The cleaners weren't supposed to arrive at my flat until 10 a.m., but there they were, outside my open door, at 9:45. That last 15 minutes was going to be crucial, and they had come early. I did my best to scurry everything out the door and across the courtyard as quickly as I could, but what their earliness meant was that I hadn't had time to sweep the dust from the bathroom counter, or to wipe out the tub after my shower, or to drag the chest of drawers back out of the hallway where I stashed it a year ago to make myself a dressing area. "Stop worrying about it," said the across-the-courtyard acquaintance who threw open her flat's door and made today possible for me. "Cleaning flats is their job. For what we pay in rent, no one should be complaining if we don't do everything perfectly."
The worst part of getting chased out of the flat was that I barely had time to bid farewell to the space that has sheltered me so well for nearly a year, a space which has generated stories for me that I'll be telling for years.
Like my newest one, titled "How My Underwear Escaped Me." (I'm also toying with "How I Lost My Pants," but only for the UK release.)
It goes like this.
Last night, about an hour after Wednesday's usual formal dinner, I had finally worked myself up to the point of putting everything in the suitcases. It was clearly a physically impossible task: I had more things than would fit in the two cases allotted for the job. But I was determined to try, and I went about it the way I know how: shoes first, everything else later. I stuff underwear into the toes of my shoes, in order to help them keep their shape. This is how I do things.
Only last night, when I went to get my underwear and roll it up to put it in my shoes, I found that it had disappeared--all but the six or so pairs I'd pulled out so that I'd be in clean pants until I leave next week.
What the hell?
I combed through all the piles of clothes on my bed--I'd emptied my drawers before dinner, you see--but no underwear. I checked in the chest of drawers again, but there were no drawers in there, either.
I sent an e-mail to others who have recently left this place, in the hopes that maybe one of them would at the very least get a laugh out of the contortions one can get into while trying to leave a sabbatical abroad--and might perhaps even cough up a good suggestion for relocating my less-than-sexy knickers.
Just when I was actually starting to panic--because the disappearance of panties is no laughing matter, and I was having trouble remembering whether this would qualify as some nerdy "panty raid" (I know, let's go to the institute for advanced study and steal the cotton underwear of an English professor!)--I remembered what I'd done with all those other pairs.
I'd folded them neatly and used them to pad the bottom of the extra carry-on in which I'm taking home some of my burgeoned library from this year. That's right: my underwear's doing double duty. Some of it protects me; some of it protects the books that are like a great, big, heavy, paper extension of me.
"How are you going to get your things through the airport?" my beloved Lexingtonian has asked. The only answer I can come up with sounds as though I'm trying to be a smartass, but I'm really not. Very carefully, is all I can say. I'm giving up all pretense that I'm anything like mobile on this move. I'm just not. I'll be looking for trolleys, and porters, and help of any kind at pretty much every stage of the trip.
As for tonight's title: I've moved into the other part of my college and am sojourning in a friend's flat until I leave here. It's like another world--a weird hotel version of the world in which I've been living. This building is a good thirty years younger than the building where I've been living (which is the college's original building of flats, whereas this one might be its newest). And one wretched thing about this place, compared to my previous one, is that its space is so subdivided by its various rooms that it's impossible to get any air flowing--a feature compounded by the fact that all of the windows are equipped with locks that keep them from being opened more than a couple of inches. I'm all for safety measures, and I recognize that lots of families use big flats like this one when they stay in the college. But since I am not at risk of falling out the window, I'm no fan of these locks. So, after I schlepped and schlepped and schlepped, I did what my friend and I did for his flat, back in September: I removed half of the security lock so that I can get some air into this little room before it's time for me to sleep.
Because I need some sleep, and I'm going to need it soon.
No pictures today: though I did take some time and go walking through town (at the near-insistence of the neighbor who gave my stuff shelter all day), I didn't bother to unpack either of my cameras and take them along. Tomorrow, I will re-venture--in part to see how different Cambridge will look to me now that I am not so securely and happily perched as I have been for eleven months. I'm not so much farther from the center of town now than before--no more than five or ten minutes' extra walk--but it feels like I've left my universe. Since I'm a little further west now than I was before, I suppose that that feeling might be appropriate: it's not quite a halfway house, but it's taken me one half-mile further from one place that I love and closer to another.