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Travelogue I7

June 29, 2016

Following the early morning departure the day before, my body woke with the dawn and dragged consciousness with it. As the first up and about in our would-be passenger hold, I slid my legs out of my berth, pulled on shirt and jeans, cardigan and coat and left my sleeping area in a semblance of order. The hostel offered a light breakfast of toast, to be paired with a choice of spreads. A slight apprehension seized me at the thought of eating after others and led me to seek those containers which seemed most recently opened or least offensive to the nose. In due time, I settled on a mix of red fruits as the safest bet.

By taking note of my heading and early stops, an outside observer might have managed to map out my day’s path as a scattered plot of points beginning in Bloomsbury and slowly bending their way southwest through Mayfair and so recognize it for what it was. Yet no such observer exists to tell the tale, so it falls to me to sketch my way from garden squares to art collections. Indeed, my first stops invariably matched one and the same pattern, namely circling and scanning a garden square for unusual features. From time to time, my eyes locked onto the occasional oddity.

Among their number I counted the narrow covered balcony building at 22 Bedford Square, alike in every way to that at 11 Bedford Place from the day before. Or that at Soho Square where, from behind gate and bars, I looked on a striking, half-timbered hut at the square’s center. From the lower story sprouted a jutting upper story, far greater in diameter, and supported by a circle of eight wooden beams. From the outside, the gardener’s hut gave off an impression of ungainliness and seemed but a push from falling over on itself, a spider unsteady on its timber legs.

Though the hut and its Tudor-style octagonal market cross were my last sight that day, had I crossed from the square’s north side to the south, I might have come across a site of no little personal curiosity. At number 1 Soho Square had the antiquarian book dealer Wilfrid Voynich set up shop in 1902 following his failed revolutionary projects and subsequent escape through Russia, Siberia and China back to Western Europe. Presumably, the Voynich manuscript and its elaborate script and unknown plants had also passed through those doors.

Though only middle-aged at the time, Voynich would undoubtedly have appeared for me an elderly gentleman, slumped over arcane works in a nook and his body caved in on itself from years of harrowing flight and a manuscript which promised some semblance of knowledge but gave nothing of its contents away.

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