July 14, 2017

London Blog

Just back from a fortnight in London, mildly jet-lagged, and more than usually disenchanted (was I ever enchanted?) with the Southern Maryland climate...

Highlights of the trip included an array of things urban and ex-urban:

Various London museums: the Victoria & Albert (an old favorite; still love the clothing through time exhibit, the whole array of Arts & Crafts/Aesthetic items, various shiny pretty things from various cultures, the Medieval collections); the Tate Britain (got my Pre-Raphaelite fix); the British Museum (pretty much ALL OF THE THINGS)...

Stonehenge and Avebury: I don't care how many times one has been, these arrangements of big, old stones are still amazing and interesting. There's just something compelling about them, looming there against the sky on the Salisbury plain, or dotted throughout a village that grew up amongst them in the case of Avebury. Ancient, mysterious, imposing, with as many moods as the weather moving over them...

Music: Vivaldi and Bach on period instruments in the church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields...SO beautiful. And sung mass at Westminster Abbey was glorious. I've no more religion than a cat, but hearing beautiful music sung by a remarkable choir in a gorgeous old stone church is pretty much my version of a religious experience.

Shopping: My daughter, who, unlike me, can navigate cities and public transit, took me shopping one day. We avoided the clusterfuck that is Harrod's at high season in favor of smaller shops as we encountered them, like the jewelry boutique at the V&A; good old Marks & Spencer (don't knock it---they have lovely and affordable silk underthings); Fortnum & Mason for a couple of pounds of tea (because their tea salon is just so nice and their tea dependably excellent); some menswear shopping for the birthday boy (for the record, I LIKE being addressed as "Madam" when I'm shopping; makes a nice change from sullen 20-somethings in khaki pants whose sole transactional grace-note seems to be "no problem"); antiques stalls at the Covent Garden market (I've a weakness for Edwardian silver flatware with bone or pearl handles, and they cost about the same there as stainless steel from Ye Olde Pottery Barne here)...

Tea: Jeni and I decided to treat ourselves to a nice tea for just the two of us, and selected the Wolsley tearoom based on a recommendation from her cousin. Very happy that we went with that; everything was delicious and generous, and service was faultless. The space is very pretty too, all black and gold, and feels serene despite their having put too many tables into the space. The service manager is the nicest fellow you could run across, and, as it turns out, an enthusiastic and serious practitioner of yoga in his spare time.

Food and Wine: Long gone is the time when British cuisine was a figure of fun... These days, they eat exceedingly well and drink well also. Excellent, clean---often local, organic and free-range as applicable---delicious, and very affordable produce, dairy products, and meats/eggs were widely available in shops and featured on menus. We had some outstanding meals---Post-Vivaldi late supper at an Italian place near St. Martin's, amazing Indian food at Dishoom (the cocktails are good there, too!), very presentable pub food, delicious Turkish mezze...so much wonderful food. And the wine...I was reduced to stammering greed before the selection of wine in the local Sainsbury's (an ordinary chain grocery), especially when I saw the very reasonable pricing. WE HATES THEM, MY PRECIOUS. THEY HAS ALL THE WINESES.

The English Countryside: It really is as beautiful as you think. More so, actually. The villages, with their inevitable yet unique combinations of stone, brick, old timber, thatch and tile, the rolling hills and fields, grass-grown barrows, swathes of gracious trees, the wildflowers (we have poison ivy; they have butterfly bush. FML), the hedgerows full of birds and other small creatures, grazing sheep, stone walls, narrow lanes with pleached trees making a green tunnel to travel through, the great blue bowl of sky and fleecy clouds over-arching on sunny days, and the soft grey serenity of rainy days... I bought a copy of "Country Life", as I always do, to torment myself with an impossible dream of residence there later by perusing the estate agents' listings. While driving back to London one evening, we got a teensy bit lost, just for a moment, correcting which led us down a perfect country road complete with corn-crakes and a pheasant in the street and at one point, a peacock (!) standing at the entrance to a long drive with a listing sign at its end. I'm pretty sure that was a sign from above that it was meant to be purchased by us.

The People: Much, much more often than not, they are kind, courteous, and helpful. We were happy to see the rainbow flag flying at many businesses and public buildings, including government buildings, during London Pride... It is a very diverse city, which IMHO is a great source of strength and vibrancy for modern London. There is friction, of course; our Greek emigrant cab driver seemed to feel that there were too many of other kinds of emigrants, par example. But overall, the city felt more cohesive than many places at home I've been to lately, sadly including our home county and the Capital... There is also a certain characteristic English stoicism, both observed by outsiders and cherished by themselves, which I find rather endearing...It can be taken to a degree which is slightly mad; the British have a deep talent for ignoring (or at least refusing to acknowledge) discomfort or anything unpleasant, leading them historically to write comically terse dispatches saying things like "India can be quite warm at times", or "there is some slight native disaffection with our colonial government". (I assume it is this refusal to acknowledge discomfort that keeps them from visibly wilting or moaning in the un-air-conditioned swelter of summer on the Tube or buses... My own not-so-stiff upper lip was trembling in sweaty misery.) But it is the same underlying character which gave rise to the "Keep calm and carry on" slogan/sentiment during the war, and the same that allows London to rise above terror attacks and Brexit shenanigans today, with charm and solidarity and a sense of welcome.



5 comments:

  1. How lucky you are! This all sounds so very wonderful <3

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  2. very lucky---i love the place so much. it always feels like coming home...

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  3. I was just in Salisbury for the first time a couple weeks ago—though unfortunately we arrived too late in the day to make it to Stonehenge the city, cathedral, and countryside were beautiful finds! 🙏🔮

    www.patientexplorers.com

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    1. wiltshire is just beautiful, all around.

      your photography is very lovely!

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  4. Oh how I love this! But I retract all my claims of being a google ninja. I'm shamefully slow in getting here and discovering your delightful space.
    My dreams (I mean my actual in-bed-asleep-dreams) are often in the English countryside. The beautiful ache of some bone-remembered ancestral home.
    xxx

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