Friday morning (this is the 1st of February we’re talking about here, people–I’m still retro-updating), I was awake by 9:30, still on my continental european schedule. While Ali slept I crept to the freezing but bright London kitchen. I ate a bowl of cornflakes with dried strawberries while gazing out the window to The Coffeecup Café and musingly watched overcoated people traveling North Pole Road, crunching.
Ali and I got out the door later in the afternoon, taking a pleasant-but-brisk walk to the bus stop to enjoy another double-decker race through the streets. Here’s some of what I saw:
(Somewhere lovely but unidentifiable to me. A little help, anyone?)
We made it to the Notting Hill/Portobello Road area (locale of my favorite memory of London) by 12:30. At Kitchen & Pantry, a cute little café in Notting Hill, we were trapped into a rather undazzling conversation with an ignorant American DJ from L.A. He impressed me less and less with every passing moment spent over my egg salad and watercress sandwich, coffee, and yogurt.
Him: “So. You guys are American? What do you think of the election? I just think no one should vote.”
Ali: “So…. you’re proposing anarchy, then?”
Him: (slow blink, stretch, shrug) “I mean, yeah. I guess I am, if that’s what we need. I mean…”
Ali: “So you think that another civil war would be best?”
Him: “Sure. Sure maybe that’s just what we need.”
(Ali and I trade raised-brow looks)
Him: “I mean, come on, American government is messed up. I mean, look at the two democratic candidates. There’s no difference between them at all. Okay, but there is, ut it isn’t much: just one’s black, and one’s a woman.”
Mmm. Reductive much?
Aside from our strange conversation at Kitchen & Pantry, the day was fantastic. As I mentioned earlier, I loved the area and enjoyed poking around up and down Portobello Road. I dragged Ali into many a shop, purchased a bangin’ly delicious chocolate muffin from a vendor on the street, and took some pretty (but dark) pictures like this.
In the evening, Ali and I stumbled upon a vendor of old print-blocks (the metal ones that went in actually printing presses). I couldn’t resist the opportunity to come home with something that really said “London” to me, so after much deliberation and comfortable banter with the sweet older man who had made type blocks his life’s work, I came away with a beautiful little Victorian one–a print of a trio of swallows in flight–and one from the 1920s, a “C” with a botanical swish through the middle–excellent keepsakes. I also scored an antique-toile-teapot-looking necklace made of red and white ceramic beads. Unfortunately, buying this piece involved interacting with a very, very creepy antique dealer with a lecherous leer and an accent that neither Ali nor I could place.
After (reluctantly) leaving Portobello Road (but not before stopping at Hummingbird where Ali purchased a delectable hunk of carrot cake and we ogled an even more delectable french cake-slinging-employee), we boarded another bus with the aim of seeing Harrod’s. And did we ever.
Harrod’s is wonderfully terrifying in its incredible expansiveness. The meat and fish hall is crazily stylized and ornate. I was so overwhelmed by decoration, in fact, that I forgot to take pictures. The tea-room is enormous and there you can purhcase every kind of biscuit and infusion a girl (or a Queen) could ask for (except for vanilla tea, that is. Which is all I wanted), and the jellies come in flavors entirely exotic to Spaniards, like red & black currant.
I was initially “in” the trip to Harrod’s just to look, but I came away with a lovely vintage Harrod’s mug, said jellies which, thanks to my expert swaddling of them in socks, my mother will be receiving for her birthday, and something amusing and edible that will remain mysterious for Greg. See, London? I contributed to your economy. But do not mistake this as an apology for the Boston tea party.
By the time we’d finished in Harrod’s, it was very much night, and with night in London comes uncomfortable, enveloping, thrustily blowing cold. We decided to call it an early night in anticipation of getting an early start the next day so headed home, picking up chicken tikka masala on the way. Two chicken dinners, one broken take-out bag and a bottle of red later, we were happily winding down for bed and listening to the Conard High School choir sing Tuungane Kanu via Ali’s laptop. Oh, memories.
Though we’d planned on getting an early start on Saturday morning we didn’t get up and out for a traditional English breakfast at Ali’s favorite café until pretty late in the morning. Breakfast consisted of a dizzying combination of eggs, bacon, beans, tomatoes, and toast and a latte that dazzled me with its sheer size and splendor in comparison with traditional Spanish coffee cups which look more like shotglasses than not.
After breakfast Ali and I split up so she could do her packing for home errands whilst I could desperately shop for shoes. I took myself to Oxford Circus via the Tube, and spent an hour and a half in Topshop, searching for footwear. You see, buffalo girls like me can’t buy shoes in Spain–nothing comes in anything larger than a 9. After 6 months of tramping Madrid streets, my shoes are getting worn through. It was time for a new pair and I knew I had to seize my moment. My moment came and brought with it a precious pair of champagne/gold flats that make me feel like a fairy princess. I am happy, and shod to boot!
After my successful kill I wandered around Oxford Circus a little while longer, being a class A tourist and gawping my own fair share. It was realy kind of nice to do it in solitude, surprisingly enough.
I met Ali later at the Tower Hill stop to go get lunch at Wagamama. While awaiting the late arrival of Ali, I took pictures of the Tower, ate a bag of caramel peanuts, and jumped around to keep warm. Looking out at splendor of this
I considered how many of Henry VIII’s wives died there, and gazing at this my thought was “Dickens, I understand.”
A delightufl added bonus of that morning/afternoon was one Courtney Bergh, a friend from Trinity who graduated Trinity a year before me and attended LSE for her Master’s degree. She’s been in London ever since, now with a sweet new political consulting job. We caught up over my bowl of chicken/cocnut milk curried ramen, and her diet coke and said goodbye after mango and lychee sorbet. She looks well and happy, which is a gratifying thing to see in an old and long-absent friend’s face.
The waning daylight afforded us a wham-bam-thank you-ma’am tour of London’s sights. Within an hour I saw Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and Saint Margaret’s Church, and the magical-looking Big Ben. Here are some (very dark) photos: The deserted looking Buckingham Palace. Oh, how I ached for the sight of a carriage and some petticoats and top hats!
“It makes me think of Peter Pan,” Ali said. Makes me think of Peter Pan, too, and all the times I watched that movie as a child. Do you believe in fairies? Clap your hands if you do!
Our day ended with baked potatoes, chocolate, and another bottle of wine and final catching up. It was wonderful to see Ali, and I’m glad I saw London. Though I nearly missed my flight the next morning because of the fatal crapitude of London’s public transportation system (never, ever, ever had I imagined I’d have occasion to ache for Spanish “efficiency,” but my God, does metro Madrid comparatively rock my socks), all went well. Surprisingly enough I found myself happy–very happy, in fact–to be back amongst Spaniards. When I boarded my flight to Madrid it was amidst a hubbub of Spanish voices, “vale”s and “tío”s. “Ah. My people,” I thought, as I settled into my seat. “What in the world did you just say?” I asked myself, but it was true: I had just preferentially identified with Spaniards instead of anglos. The little Spanish girl in the seat across the aisle from me smiled. “Hola!” she burbled.
“Hola,”I said to her, and smiled back.
My sudden new habit of 15 minutes worth of lateness to all occasions is beginning to make sense.