Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Today was All About Therapy--Retail Therapy!!!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Jetlag still has control over my life; but when it paid a 3. 15 am Wake-Up Call, it was decidedly better than the previous night's--2. 15 am. I used time creatively once again to update my blog and scour the Web for suggestions on What To Do. My trusted guides for Secret London and Key to London's Secrets were insistent about a visit to the West side of Highgate Cemetery and having Been There but Done Only The East Side, a few years ago, I was happy to comply. Accordingly, I went online, scored a ticket for the guided tour beginning at 1. 45 today and given by Friends of Highgate Cemetery (as the West side, supposedly the far more interesting one) is only open to visitors on guided tours.

Then, my young friend Jonas, all of seven years, made a 6.00 am appearance in my room, climbed into my bed and promptly suggested we watch cartoons on the giant Apple TV in my room. And thus it was that I became introduced to Scooby-Doo and his friends! All fun cam to an end when his mother walked into our room and shook her head at him disapprovingly. I am afraid I might not be asked to stay again if I deprive her son of his beauty sleep. Uh-Oh!!!

So while he showered and breakfasted, I jumped into the shower myself and at 8. a00, we were out the door, escorting him along Abbey Road to the American School London where he is in second grade. As he ran along, I took the bus to Finchley Road to the giant Waitrose there to buy my favorite year's-worth of favorite groceries (did you know Waitrose Darjeeling teabags--not available in the USA where they have never heard of Darjeeling--and it is doubtful they have heard of tea--are much cheaper than Twinnings's Darjeeling and just as good?). I bought myself an almond croissant and sipped a latte as I roamed through the aisles (please Waitrose, if you can be in Dubai, why can't you be in New York?), then took the Tube at Finchely Road back home for two stops.
When my groceries were safely deposited back home, I had my second breakfast: Waitrose's Fruit and Nut Muesli with Honey-Vanilla Yoghurt and the,n in half an hour, I was out the door myself and ready to hit the sales.

Disappointments Galore at Posh Stores:
Only I had arrived in London too late this year, you see--all so-called post-Christmas sales ended on Saturday evening, it appears. Arriving at Green Park station, I strode past the Ritz and into Fortnum's hoping to find some of its famed goodies on sale--only to find Nothing. And I mean Nada. As a 14 came sailing down Picaadilly, on I hopped thinking Harrods has never let me down. But when I inquired inside, Madam was icily informed that the sale ended two days ago! Darn and Blast! Still, I bet there was some dregs still to be had. Somewhat inspired, I asked for the Souvenir section--and as I rode the escalators past all the heads of Nefertiti smiling down on me and spying the new sculpture of Diana and Dodi and the soaring seagull in the basement, provocatively entitled "Innocent Victims" , I arrived at the third floor where my eyes alighted on Christmas Pudding--not just any pudding, mind you, but luxury ones sold in the signature Harrod's ceramic pudding bowls. Yes!!!! They were heavy as sin and would be a pain to haul across the pond, but still. It had not been a worthless journey.

Finally! On Carnaby Street:
Back on the Tube , I headed for Soho and the arching signs of Carnaby Street which I had never seen--because I had never been there! Off at Oxford Circus on a particularly chilly day, I was grateful for my layers of cashmere, when my eyes alighted on Liberty of London--another iconic store famed for its pretty cotton printed fabrics and its Tudor design. Well, although I had intentions to buy nothing, how could I resist? It was worth the thrill alone of riding in those linen-fold wooden pannelled lifts alone. So off I sped to the top floor where the last remnant items of their sale are still on display. Slim pickin's, everywhere, I thought, disappointedly.

A few minutes later, I was striding out the chocolate shop and right on to Carnaby Street and there they were--those arched signed soaring high above the street and saying Welcome to Carnaby Street. I had a wander all the while becoming increasingly aware of the weight on my shoulders for en route, I had also found a Boots pharmacy from where I cleaned out a sale on Dove Silken Glow Body Wash--perhaps the best buy ever in toiletries and the only hand soap you will ever find in our bathrooms back home. With its sophisticated French perfume you might think you had paid a small fortune each time you squirt a bit on your palm. You would be wrong. One Mission Well Accomplished!

More Disappointments in Store:
The idea was to deposit my loaded sack back home on Abbey Road and find transport to Highgate for my 1. 45 pm tour. But although the spirit was willing, the flesh succumbed to jetlag; and still cold-clogged, sleep-deprived me felt a bit light-headed as I left my flat to try to find my way there. Not being so familiar with North London and the network of Tubes and buses there, I made some terrible mistakes as I followed maps (no GPS on my internet once I step out of the house, remember?) and before I knew it, I was at Swiss Cottage trying to find a cab to get me there on time. No such luck! Not a cab was in sight as I trudged along and bus drivers are nowhere as helpful as they once used to be--they seemed never to have heard of Highgate Cemetery and certainly did not know how to point me in the next direction. I was tired and sleepy and frustrated and knew I could not get there on time. It was time for Plan B.

More Retail Therapy on Elizabeth Street:
I had stopped to fix myself a sandwich when home and it was on a Green Park bench back in the city, watched by crafty pigeons and craftier squirrels, that I ate it and gave myself a bit of a rest. Then, I was on the Tube again and headed to Sloan Square and Elizabeth Street to indulge in a treat for which I had waited a very long time--15 months to be precise: being introduced to Jo Loves, the new avatar of my favorite perfumier, Jo Malone. She opened her one and only store exactly one month after I last left  London the last time and the Number One item on my agenda was a visit to her store for an introduction to her new line.

In the able hands of Michael, I had my skin painted with brushes laden with body creme. Strips of card were sprayed with her new works of sensual art: Pomelo, Green Orange and Coriander, A Shot of Sweet Peas, Pink Vetiver (my favorite), A Shot of Thai Lime over Mango. Ceramic Tagines gave me the experience of stepping into a fragrant steaming bath--Jo calls it caviar for the bath tube. Being the expert marketer she is, she would. They went on and on. Inspired by her travels (in Thailand, in New York and by the store next-door, a florist, where she had begun her working life in retail), Michael did a competent job enticing me. I had thought, knowing "Jo" as if she were my best friend or sister, I would absolutely adore them all. But nothing of the sort happened and but for two, I was left not too enthused. Perhaps it will take my nose and my psyche a while to make the transition. We shall see. I was presented with sample strips although no real sample phials were given, and off I went down Elizabeth Street which on a less freezing day would, no doubt, offer more enticements.

Off to King's Cross:
It was time to touch base with my friend Rosemary whom I know as Roz who was meeting me at King's Cross for our evening together. The Victoria Line took me directly to the spot she suggested: the Square in front of the station near the Henry Moore sculpture (added recently). I was early, I needed the loo, I decided to wander into the  newly-refurbished Renaissance  Hotel to see the spectacular stairway that a fond long-time Londoner claimed was his favorite place in the entire city (I can't remember who). Thank you dear Sir John Betjeman for saving this gorgeous building from destruction. It has, despite all restrictions, been artfully converted into a modern hotel. Today, its corridors gleam, its Gothic windows offer views of a busy street that sees hordes spilling out by the minute and bars galore, named suitably The Gilbert Scott (the original Victorian architect) and The Betjeman Arms (after the 20th century poet who saved it) allow the passer-by to enjoy a drink and a sit-down. I used the lovely loo, as intended, before making my way to the square where, five minutes later, I had a lovely reunion with Roz just off work.

Laser Lights Festival at Canary Wharf--Not!!!
It was time for a warming cup of tea in the station concourse and before long, we were catching up at Leon over steaming paper glasses--why has London succumbed to such trashy New York ways? Where are the civilized ceramic pots of tea that you could only find in the UK when you ordered tea please? So many changes and some not quite appealing enough!

Then, we were on the Tube headed to Canary Wharf. Roz had been justifiably doubtful about the Lights Show that the Visit Britain tweet had recommended throughout the month of January. But I was the foreigner and she was indulgent. Canary Wharf was not her favorite place, but there were lights and  there was a Carluccio's, so why not, she said???

Only there really wasn't very much to impress. Trees still sport their ice-blue strings of lights but I suspect those have been left over since Christmas. That said, if there were lights were wanted, there were thousands--from the soaring skyscrapers that formed a concrete well-illuminated city. In the park nearby, whose ingeniously-designed gushing fountains sported a few floating discs of light that changed color cutely by the minute, there were some lights.  But the laser projections on the building walls and on the river that I had expected were nowhere in sight.

Dinner Time at Carluccio's:
It was time for some serious eating to compensate for our disappointment and Carluccio's never disappoints (why Mr. Carluccio, do you not leap over the Atlantic and come to America?). We chose the Primi and Secondi specials for 10.99 pounds each--the kind of deal you can never dream of finding in America. And how well we chose too! We had two starters of caponata that were served bruschetta-style over warmed goat's cheese and toast points to be laden with chicken pate and the most divine caramelized oinions. Over glasses of red wine, we had ourselves a most decadent first course and being the conscious, careful eaters we are (we talked mostly about food after we had discussed family and work doings!), we seriously wondered whether we could do justice to our mains: polenta with slow-cooked beef ragu poured all over it (delicioso!) and al dente served penne pasta with spicy Italian sausage. Predictably, we enjoyed both courses immensely but could only pick. Needless to say, we skipped on the dolci (my favorite course, always foregone, sadly) and then we were out of the maze that is the malls and the corporate offices and on the Jubilee Line headed home.

I was exhausted and 10.00 pm when I put key through door (I had hopped off at Baker Street and switched to a bus that dropped me right opposite my building instead of having to walk from the Tube station down Grove End Road), it was all I could do to greet my hosts (little Jonas was already in bed) and crash.

Retail Therapy had provided little solace but meeting my friend and catching up with her is always a pleasure and it somewhat made up for the cold, the lack of goodies to take back home and the fact of getting hopelessly lost in trying to find Highgate. The only silver lining was that the clerk at the cemetery had sympathized with my situation and, through a phone call, offered me the tour tomorrow.

     Until then, cheerio!

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