Atwood recalls the early 60s, the mood of the day, the clothes and hairdos, that set the scene for her first adventure abroad.
The truth is that I didn't have much idea of what I was really doing. Certainly, I had almost no idea at all of where I was really going, and how much it had changed since I'd last checked in via the pages of Charles Dickens. Everything was so much smaller and shabbier than I had imagined. I was like the sort of Englishman who arrives in Canada expecting to find a grizzly bear on every street corner. "Why are there so many trucks?" I thought. There were no trucks in Dickens. There weren't even any in TS Eliot. "I did not know Death had undone so many", I murmured hopefully, as I made my way across Trafalgar Square. But the people there somehow refused to be as hollow-cheeked and plangent as I'd expected. They appeared to be mostly tourists, like myself, and were busy taking pictures of one another with pigeons on their heads.
I'm reminded of the first time I travelled to "Europe," at the age of 19. London was not the destination of choice, but it was the one to which I could afford a plane ticket. There was little money left over for lodging or food. I spent my days looking for a place that would serve me tea with lemon. (I did find such a place — a Polish-run diner where I could also get a salad.)
Like Atwood, I wondered
Had my soul been improved? Possibly, but not in the ways I'd anticipated. What I took back with me was not so much the churches and museums and the postcards of them I'd collected, but various conversations, in buses, on trains, and with the pickup men at the museums.