Saturday, August 10, 2013

Friends, Shopping, Kyoto Gardens, More Friends, More Shopping...

Friday, August 9, 2013

What do you do when you realize you have only two days left in your favorite city in the world? Do you complete the rest of the items on your sightseeing To-Do List? Do you spend them shopping for last-minute items? Do you panic that you will exceed baggage weight allowance and end up paying heavy charges? Do you fill it seeing friends whose contact with you makes your life more meaningful?  Well, in my case it was all of the above.
            So when I awoke at 8.00 am after a hellish night during which I stayed wide awake until 3.00 am listening to the bongs from the clock on St. Paul’s Cathedral and regretting the caffeine- laden chocolate drink I had consumed, last thing at night, from Paul’s, I skipped Mass and began to plan my day, literally hour-wise, as I had so much to pack in.
Breakfast with a Dear Friend at St. John’s Wood:
I showered and skipped breakfast and took the Tube straight to St. John’s Wood and walked briskly to Gail’s, the coffee shop at which I had plans to meet my friend Marilyn. Marilyn had been away from London for the past three weeks and had only just returned—hence the late date for our first meeting. Talking of Gail’s, have you noticed how many coffee shop chains have sprouted all over London, each better than the next? These Londoners are simply spoiled for choice—and every single one is packed so the economy had better be booming.
            Marilyn arrived ten minutes later but since we wanted someplace quieter to catch up in, we stepped next door into French Café Richoux which has the best pastries in town. Since it was breakfast time, we opted for something more sensible--she had Eggs Benedict sans smoked salmon which I was quick to gobble and I had French Toast with an Americano. It was delicious but not as delicious as our long chinwag during which we found out all the exciting things that have happened in our lives since last we met a year and half ago, also in London. Marilyn was one of the close friends I had made during my life in London and she is someone I have clung to as I have gained nothing but wisdom, comfort and entertainment from our friendship.
            But then it was time to say goodbye and to get on with other items on my agenda.   
A bus from Wellington Road took me straight to Oxford Street where I found the side entrance to Mark sand Sparks—exactly the place I was seeking. I was in and out in a jiffy as I knew exactly what I wanted: my year’s supply of cotton undies. And from the Food Hall in the basement, two bars of their scrumptious Battenburg Cake which Llew and I love. Excess Baggage or not, I am going to have the room and the weight allowance for these!

An Errand at Victoria:
From the same bus stop at which I had alighted, I jumped into the 82 bus then headed to Victoria as I had a small errand to accomplish. I have been commissioned the submission of an essay on the new Shakespeare portrait that was unearthed a few years ago in Ireland and which is now considered the only definitive portrait for which he actually posed in his lifetime—and therefore, the most authentic likeness we have of him.  
A few days ago, when passing in a bus, I had spied the use of this portrait on the sign post of The Shakespeare Pub at Victoria and since I wish to illustrate my essay with a picture to indicate that this portrait is now so widely acknowledged as Shakespeare’s own that even pubs are using it, I wished to take pictures of it.          
So with my camera carefully recording it, I composed my pictures from all sides of this corner pub and when I was satisfied with the quality of my pix, I hopped on to the Tube at Victoria and headed for my favorite part of London. I got off at Holland Park and found my way to the entrance from the North side—I usually approach it from the Kensington side.
The walk from the South side approach was lovely—flowers were in full bloom in the gardens and the shady paths that led to the center were just delightful on this particularly temperate morning in London.   

Lingering in my Favorite Spot in London:
            So knowing London as well as I do, I guess if someone had to ask me what my favorite spot in the entire city is, I would answer without a second’s hesitation. So it was somewhat inexplicable, even to me, that I had not yet found the time to linger there until my second-last day in the city. I will keep you out of suspense by disclosing that what I mean is the amazing Kyoto Garden in Holland Park. I mean where else in a city would you see masses of azaleas blooming in vivid colors in the spring? Where could you tune the rest of the world right out as you listened to the soothing sounds of a tumbling cascade accumulating foamy water in a rock pool filled with giant koi? Where could you linger as peacocks, yes peacocks, came to say Hello and rewarded you with glimpses of their stunning tail feathers? Where could you pause to appreciate the calming qualities of Zen minimalist landscaping design? I have done all of the above in the gardens that were gifted to the UK by the Government of Japan. It amazes me that this place is not mobbed—but thank goodness it isn’t. I have the happiest memories of whiling away the hours grading my students’ papers on the stone benches of this garden while glancing occasionally at herons darting into the pool. I also have happy memories of introducing Chriselle to this memorable spot—a spot she too grew to love—as we chased peacocks for pictures on the park’s lawns.
            So naturally, I stopped there to relive those happy memories at the fag end of my London stay. I nibbled on my lunch—Carluccio’s take-out offerings. Savoring them quietly, I paused to give thanks for a brilliant month that will always remain in my memory as a marvelous time for self-reflection and self-growth in a city I adore.
Reliving the Romance of a TV Show:
            Then, because I was in Holland Park, I left the Kyoto Gardens behind me and arrived in the Orangery. The Belvedere Restaurant by Marco Pierre White, one of London’s best-regarded chefs, was right beside me. Since I hadn’t clicked any pictures from the terrace on the evening I was at the party thrown by my friends the Harveys, three weeks ago, I asked permission of the receptionist to do so this time. She readily agreed and up I went to the terrace which overlooks the formal Italianate Garden in which key scenes from my favorite TV show of all time were shot: As Time Goes By. This is the scene in which a young Lionel Hardcastle (Geoffey Palmer) meets a young Jean Pargiter (Judi Dench) for the first time and asks her the way to Curzon Street. I clicked a few pictures there as well as ones of the bench on which Jean pauses during her lunch break when she encounters a breathless jogger.
Yes, yes, I know I am quite quite hopeless when it comes to ATGB so you must forgive me my idiosyncratic excesses; but coming to Holland Park is always for me, a pilgrimage of sorts in the same way that Beatles devotees go to the crosswalk on Abbey Road and pose for pic there. See the similarity? So I am not that cracked after all, right?

More Shopping:
            Using the more conventional exit by which I USUALLY leave Holland Park, I arrived at Kensington High Street. This gave me the opportunity to check out a couple of thrift stores before I crossed the street and went to Waitrose to buy my stock of Ainsley Herriot powdered soups that are a staple in the Almeida household and much loved by Llew and me. With a dozen packets in my possession, I left my favorite pantry in the world and hopped on a bus again.

Off to Buy A ‘Stick’:
I rode it all the way to Bloomsbury as the next item on my To-Do List was buying myself a good quality umbrella from James and Co. at Bloomsbury, one of the oldest ‘stick’ shops in the country. Indeed it was in business at a time when gentlemen carried walking sticks—then a most fashionable accessory. Today with walking sticks no longer de rigeur, the shop sells umbrellas and very expensive ones too with fancy carved handles, real crocodile skin embellishment and sturdy frames as only the English can make them. I was fed up of the el cheapo Japanese ones that bend at the slightest sign of a wind so procuring a good umbrella was on my list.
            Alas, I did not find one that was pretty enough for my liking. I particularly wanted one with beige tones to match my Burberry trench raincoat and not finding anything appealing enough, I sadly walked out of the store empty handed. Perhaps on my next trip to London, I shall find the right one for which I will not mind forking out 100 pounds or more!

An Errand at NYU and the Post Office:
            Well, at that point my day went downhill. I decided to stop briefly at NYU to find out how much I owed for the mailing of my printed material to the States only to find that my box was still sitting in the mail room and hadn’t been send off. This meant an unexpected trudge to the Post Office at Holborn with Mark, our porter, to get rates and when we discovered how expensive it was to ship by surface through Royal Mail, we balked and decided to use the courier service instead.
So we trudged back to Bedford Square and Mark promised me that the parcel will be couriered first thing on Monday. I can only hope all my books, notes and other research material will reach me intact and soon.

Tea with Roz:
            It was almost 5,00 pm and I was late by half an hour for my cuppa with my friend Roz on Tottenham Court Road. I had left my jacket at her home in Battersea and she had kindly brought it to work for me to pick up. We planned to have a cuppa for the last time before my departure and seeing how distressed I was over my parcel, she marched me off to Yumcha for a pot of Chelsea Chai. And sitting and chatting with her and laughing at little things as we often do, my distress became a thing of the past. It was just wonderful to sit in (yet another) coffee shop and shoot the breeze with one of my dearest friends in London—probably for a very long time to come.

Home Finally:
            I said goodbye to Roz, got on the Tube at Goodge Street and headed back to Amen Court. I had wanted a short rest before I left for my evening’s dinner appointment, but the NYU wild good chase had delayed me. So all I had time to do was freshen up and change and leave the house again for my 6. 45 pm appointment with Bande Hassan, Llew’s former colleague and now close family friend.

Dinner with a Dear Friend:
            I took the Tube to Marble Arch and met him at Portman Square as decided and we strolled the couple of block to the London Hilton Hotel where the famous Italian restaurant Locanda Locatelli is located. We were soon joined by Kiran, yet another of his invitees, and then we gave ourselves up to the fun and relaxation of a great evening in superb company with amazing cuisine. Service, as befits a great restaurant, was impeccable and my red prawn risotto with zucchini flowers were perfect. For dessert I had a chocolate fondant with a pistachio sauce center served with “milk ice-cream” while also nibbling on the selection of sorbets ordered for the table: passionfruit and apricot, strawberry, apple. Delightful! Indeed, Locanda Locatleli does not have its great reputation for nothing and we were fully satisfied.
            It was about 10.00 pm, when I bid goodbye to my host and thanked him for his generosity. He and Kiran walked me to the Tube and I was home by 10. 15 pm and in bed by 11.00 after what had been a day of purposeful agenda completion—but above all, a chance to meet my London friends without whom my stays in this city are simply not the same. I had started and ended my day with good friends and to me that was made it exceptional.
            Until tomorrow, cheerio!

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