As my time in London winds down, I am keeping it low key, trying to see whatever friends are here (and constantly discovering via facebook that there are more people I know living or visiting here than I thought possible), and relaxing into whatever comes. Last night we were invited to dinner at Guillaume’s house, and it was lovely. Guillaume is an excellent cook, and everything from the tarte aux tomates to the terrine de poulet to the clafoutis was scrumptious. Add to that a few bottles of nice red wine, and it was quite a lovely evening. Today I saw my friend Jai who is in town for his brother’s wedding, and walked around a little in the gloomy london overcast. Hard to believe that in less than two days’ time I will finally be back in New York. It seems like such a long time ago that I left (and in fact, it was).
Today I took a very nice walk from Arnaud’s place in Clerkenwell over to The Design Museum near Tower Bridge just south of the Thames. There I met my friend Bridget and her partner Richard for a brief lunch, and then made my way back via St Paul’s Cathedral (where I didn’t go in because they charge an exorbitant $25 entry! And for what I consider to be a cathedral of only middling interest.) and then past the one of the oldest churches in london, St Bartholomew (where at only $7, I did go in) before finally arriving back at Arnaud’s.
– The 9 year old boy in me can’t stop snickering when hearing words like “Cockfosters”
– There is an odd trend I have noticed a bunch while here. Men in overly modish running gear with backpacks on, running through crowds on their way somewhere. They are not running all that fast, and seem to be more about displaying themselves than any actual exercise or getting anywhere. I have spotted at least 8 of them while here over the past week.
– London is so spread out that it makes socializing somewhat less likely inter-area. It is always a lot more effort and time to get from one side of the city to another. In New York, it is relatively easy to get from one area to another in short time and thus makes it more likely that people from various neighborhoods will mix.
– Reinforcing the separateness noted above, how can a city as large and cosmopolitan as London stop running the tube so damn early? This makes it rather a pain to get home from wherever one is out and about.
– On the other hand, they seem to be investing a lot in their stations and infrastructure (and technology associated with it) while New York stagnates in this area.
– I believe the measure known as the pint is in large measure responsible for the incredible amount of drinking that goes on here. redefining it to 2/3 of the existing size (I propose “New Pint”) would result in much less public drunkenness, vomiting, and general puffy redfacedness.
Yesterday I went on a rather fascinating tour of the housing and arts complex known as The Barbican. It is an impressive, much maligned and praised work of urban planning that was years in the development and construction. It was the redevelopment of an area that had been heavily bombed in WWII, and is quite a reflection of urban planning and architectural trends of the time.
– Although there is a ton of pork and other meat, there seems to be very little beef for sale in these places, could it be due to the Mad Cow scare a few years ago?
– The British (and some other Euros) seem baffled by properly working plumbing, mixing of hot and cold water, etc. And I am baffled by them being baffled.
– Is there really a need for plugs to be so big here?
– Public transport is far too pricey here.
– Why can’t American yogurt be as good as British (and French, and Italian) yogurt?
– Why can the British have such reasonable debates on radio and television, while the Americans can’t seem to raise the level of discourse beyond sound bites and willful ignorance?
– When the weather is hot here (admittedly, somewhat rare), it is hellish on the underground.
– The British Museum is fantastic
The last couple of days have been filled with various walking around, meeting with friends, and helping Arnaud with his new apartment. Monday I met up with George again, and we wandered around a bit, went to the British Museum, had a drink in Soho, and met Arnaud for dinner. It was very hot and humid out, and George had a couple of bags with him (as he was planning to change accommodation to another friend that night and leave for Amsterdam in the morning), so it made for a rather awkward stroll. It was really nice seeing George, but something a little sad for me about it as well, as he didn’t seem at ease in his skin. The awkwardness of the bags and heat and moving around seemed to hold up a mirror to his inner (or perceived by me, anyway) state. And the entire day was filled with little troubles for him, mostly due to a lack of planning for his big trip. So, for example his ticket to Amsterdam was more expensive than it needed to be because it wasn’t done in advance, his card was canceled by his bank because he didn’t call to tell them he would be out of the country, and we spent a fair part of our time together with him dealing with these various things and getting a bit frustrated. The evening ended on a better note as we ate outside in a nice Italian restaurant in Soho.
Yesterday, it was another sweaty mess out. I walked around a bit and took a few photos before meeting Arnaud in the evening for a trip to Ikea. Arnaud, as I have mentioned, just moved into a new flat and I have been trying to help out with various things like decalcifying taps, receiving workmen while Arnaud is at work, helping him pick tiles and fittings, taking measurements, etc. I feel like it is the least I can do as a good guest since I am staying so many days in his apartment, and besides he is my friend and I want to help in any way I can. With his kitchen, what started as a simple idea to replace the countertop has morphed into a possible full scale kitchen remodel, and so we thought it a good idea to go to Ikea yesterday to look at cabinets. There is no Ikea in central London however, and it was a rather bleak trip out to the place in Edmonton, with a wrong train and lots of walking past sub-urban wasteland. When we got there, Arnaud became a bit flummoxed by the possibilities and it seemed to really stress him out. We walked around and looked at the various options and tried to match it to the existing space, but not being sure of what one wants sort of gets in the way of making choices. I have to admit that I myself can only stand Ikea in doses and by the time we left I felt exhausted, despite the fact that we had made no decisions about anything. I could feel the exasperation coming from Arnaud as we left and I felt really bad about it, but there was nothing I could really say or do at that point to make him feel better alas.
This trip has been great for viewing London from a variety of angles. Yesterday in the morning, Arnaud and I met up with Sonia and daughter Aimie for a lovely little walk down Brick Lane, through the flower market to Shoreditch, and over to Hoxton Square for a lite bite before saying our farewells. After that, we made our way to Greenwich (which I had strangely never been to before) for a bbq filled with very nice people and very nice food. Along the way we picked up friends Simon and Guillaume, and all got rather sloshed at the bbq due to a few too many glasses of wine. Several hours later and a bit giddy, we headed back to the center, but took a route through the park and over to the famous Greenwich observatory and meridian line for a bit of geeky pleasure and a fantastic view over london in the early evening sunset.