Arrival in London reminded us that the British are much more formal than Americans, but also friendly and engaging. Their use of the language is brilliant and a reminder of why so many of us use it throughout the world.
Our early morning walk around S. Kensington where we are staying surprised us with the V&A Museum, Imperial College, and the Natural History Museum within a half-mile radius. More intriguing were the quaint mews or back streets that used to house the horses and carriages of the gentry living in Kensington. They are homes to die for. A few little shops were tucked in for a-mews-ment. Back on the main road, we enjoyed the gigantic London Plane trees that lined Cromwell Road so majestically. They reminded me of the street trees where I grew up on Grosvenor Place in Oakland’s Lakeshore District.
At mid-day, we met an old friend for lunch at the Comptoir for Lebanese food to share our missed lives together. She was, at the time we first met, a community activist working in the Fitzrovia area helping Chinese settle in London. I was doing a study of the London Chinese as part of the Branner Traveling Fellowship from UC Berkeley’s Architecture Department. She helped me to connect to Chinese living and working in Soho, or London’s Chinatown.
I only discovered in our conversation today, that, in addition to training at the London School of Economics, she studied at Cambridge University and visited China with a group of students from Cambridge for two months. She also lived in the Hong Kong New Territories teaching English during the time that I worked in Hong Kong as an architect.
We shared many stories about our early careers and how we chanced to meet each other. It was a great rediscovery of each other’s past, ones that we had barely known or understood at the time. It was so much more meaningful, now that each of us have lived (and loved) in life. A few bruises along the way gave us greater depth and understanding of the world and each other’s lives.
I encourage everyone to go and find an old acquaintance and to rediscover the time absent between yourselves. You will gain perspective and learn more about each other. Like seeing old friends, this meeting made the entire trip across the universe from San Francisco to London worth the trip alone. Life is short.
Our first full evening was devoted to opera. I was looking forward to seeing Thomas Ades’ new work, “The Exterminating Angel”, based on the movie by Luis Bunuel. Modern opera has a way to go in appealing to devoted opera goers. The music, story, singing, and staging has to pair like a fine wine with the passion and drama of opera. I admit that I am a bit of a drama queen, but that’s why I appreciate good opera. It has all the elements of the classic life stories, whether they occur today or the day they were written. This one didn’t quite make it for me, but I’ll give it a *** for effort and execution. Here’s the story: http://www.metopera.org/Discover/Synopses/Eugene-Onegin/
Bathing in Bath
Within one and a half hours’ train ride, you can get yourself to Bath. I never connected the roman orgy of bathing to Pride and Prejudice, but it’s definitely alive and well in Jane Austen country.
All exteriors of buildings must be of local limestone, so the buildings are consistent and match each other beautifully.
Our first official tourist act was indeed to go to the Bath Thermae Spa around the corner from the hotel. The words all seem redundant, but we did enjoy the minerva spa, outdoor roof pool with a view of the city, and the steam bath indeed peeled away any stress from traveling and overeating. I indulged in a facial. I convinced myself that I deserved it after passing up all the Baden in Baden-Baden.
The real purpose in coming to Bath was to visit friends here. They had abandoned the frantic London life for a kinder, gentler world. Bath was perfect, being only a stone’s throw away but real enough to feel the quality of life run between your fingers. We luxuriated in a beautiful country home, complete with an English garden and view of the city’s skyline of limestone structures tucked like sets of stellae in the rolling hills. The canals rippled just below the back of the house and offer lovely strolls to town and beyond.
Our host-catered lunch included spinach ricotta cheese in puff pastry, tibouli salad, and baked ratatouille in the shell, with hummus and homemade yoghurt on the side. Another perfect day with finest of friends, food and the fine.
More Royal Crescent