That’s what the Brits say, and I can see the truth in it. Our weekend has been a blur of amazement with these highlights:
Notting Hill—There were no Hugh Grant spottings, but the quaint charm of the area, the fabulous shopping and the food equal @110 Woodstocks packed into about the same geographical area. There are tons of open air market-type shops selling antiques, china, rare books (yes, right on the street!), silver, jewelry, umbrellas, scarves. It’s flat-out overwhelming in magnitude. There are permanent shops there too, and on the weekend they all sort of spill out onto the street. And that’s not even mentioning the food of astounding variety, with all
ethnicities represented. Megan and I had freshly grilled fish with vegetables and a killer sauce, wrapped in pita bread along with a cooked-on-the-spot cream-filled doughnut. This was inhaled while sitting on the steps of someone’s flat since every other square inch is occupied by someone selling their wares. We also bought a lemon tart which we were too full to eat, so guess what’s for dinner tonight? Of course we found bookstores, two amazing ones in fact. Lutyens & Rubinstein is a couple years younger than FoxTale, opened by two literary agents who allegedly cut deals downstairs behind a pair of sliding bookshelves. We had great conversation with Caroline that day, and she is sending a friend (fellow Brit, new to Atlanta) to FoxTale for some southern hospitality.
Books for Cooks is Ana Raquel’s kind of place with 8000 “cookery books” and a test kitchen where you can buy lunch or take cooking classes.
Jack the Ripper Walking Tour—Megan has inherited her weird tendencies towards the bizarre from me, so we were super stoked about walking in the footsteps of London’s notorious serial killer on the seedier side of London and not disappointed in the least. Our guide, Jamey, with a jaunty little Sherlock Holmes hat, had the necessary flair for drama and a gadget where he projected images onto the wall, showing all the gory details. “You may want to look away if you have a weak stomach, but then again, you most likely wouldn’t be on a Jack the Ripper tour if you do.” We walked along “the most dangerous street in London” where even the police wouldn’t intervene during Jack’s reign. More disturbing to me than the murders were the poverty and desperation and degradation of women during the late 1800s. Prostitutes, called “unfortunates,” lived in “doss houses” for pennies a night (when they had them) under the most deplorable conditions and were truly doing what they had to do to survive (sometimes even sent out by their husbands to market the only commodity left to sell.) Disease was widespread, and at least one of JTR’s victims was already close to death from tuberculosis when her life ended. The tour was an historical eye-opener to a time we hope never to revisit and a grisly, spunky way to spend an evening. Afterwards, we walked up Brick Lane, home to dozens of Bangladeshi-owned curry houses, in search of the perfect meal. The area is famous for its touts, which in British English, describes people who solicit business or employment in a persistent and annoying manner. The touts were in full force, offering free drinks, appetizers, discounts. “Lady, look here! Ladies, come in here, you have to eat food!” We stopped at Aladdin, recommended by our guide Jamey, and feasted on curried lamb and coconut chicken and vegetables and jasmine rice. This part of London is being threatened by gentrification, and Megan has vowed to support each and every curry house with her pounds (or does she mean pounds?)
High Tea at The Wolseley—To be honest, they don’t have anything over Tea Leaves & Thyme in terms of menu, but we had to experience high tea London-style for atmosphere. Finger sandwiches, fruit scones (served with clotted cream and strawberry jam, but none of Kim Jordy’s delicious lemon curd!) and a host of small desserts. Very filling, in fact we took our desserts with us in a cute box with the Wolseley imprint on it. So very posh (and expensive,) dahling!
A Comedy of Errors at The Globe—OMG. We actually saw Shakespeare performed in The Globe! This may have been the highlight of the weekend, though it was all wonderful. Megan and I were too wussy to opt for the “groundling” tickets where you stand for the whole
performance, rain or shine, so we were seated on the benches that form leveled seating in the shape of a horseshoe around the stage. What can I even say about the performance? It was authentic, funny, magical, delivered with lovely, hard-to-decipher British accents (oh yeah, they don’t have accents; we do!) Food props were thrown into the audience and thrown right back onto the stage. Actors addressed, sometimes even heckled, the audience, remarking on one man’s bald pate for several minutes. As in the days of yore, the audience brought in food and ate during the show, so we pulled out our little box of Wolseley sweets and tried to look common. Overhead was the night sky, a clear night, but breezy. During Shakespeare’s time, performances were only held during the day, but lighting makes it possible to see evening performances now. Still, no amplification for the actors, and if it rains, the show goes on!
Still in awe, we crossed back over the Thames, taking in London, St. Paul’s Cathedral straight ahead, the Tower Bridge to our right, Megan calling out the familiar landmarks: The Gherkin (looks like a pickle,) The Shard (looks like a shard.) Over there Picadilly and Covent Gardens and Chinatown and . . . that way, Westminster and Buckingham Palace, there the Royal Opera House. “They say ‘if you’re tired of London, you’re tired of life.’ I don’t know if a year will be enough to do all I want to do,” she said. “I don’t know if a month is enough for me,” I answered. Megan was wrapped in a heavy scarf turned shawl, and I reached under it to tuck my arm into hers, seeking her warmth, her certainty.
Flat-footed, sure-footed, she is taller than me now.