London Town #3
We woke up on Saturday morning with the Temple still closed, packed our bags, and got a ride from another kind person down to the train station. Our hotel turned out to be very nice, within walking distance of everything and right next to a private cricket field called Vincent Square. The coffee-maker was hidden away in a little cherry-wood cupboard on the wall, with drawers underneath for coffee, tea, sugar, and cream. Raj had a great time disassembling it.
After unloading our baggage at the hotel, we had lunch in front of a funky monument to Henry Purcell and the “flowering” of the English Baroque (he had a towering cubist flower headdress and a slightly inane smile).
We decided we just had to go somewhere really royal, and settled on Apsley House, the mansion of the Duke of Wellington. It was suitably grand, with a beautiful collection of art and lots of impressive dishes. The basement also had an amusing collection of cartoons about the Duke. As I visited the house, I understood the full story behind the quote I had read as a teenager when I used to spend hours curled up with Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations: “Waterloo was a battle of the first degree won by a general of the second.” He seems to have been obsessed with Napoleon. There is even a huge nude statue of Napoleon by the grand staircase (which Napoleon reputedly considered to be “too athletic”). The Duke also owned a large set of Egyptian dessert dishes, which had been a rejected divorce present from Napoleon to Josephine.
After the mansion, we climbed the arch, from which Wellington’s statue was removed sometime after his death (during his lifetime they tried to remove it, but he threatened to resign as Prime Minister unless it stayed up) and replaced with a sculpture of winged Peace alighting on the chariot of War.
Next we decided to walk down to the Thames and see Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and the Houses of Parliment on the way. All three of those venerable edifices surpass their reputations in life. I wanted to see the Palace from across the river, just like in Monet’s famous series of paintings. It was every bit as beautiful. The sun was just setting, painting the clouds in the sky and in the river, and turning all the gothic spires golden.
Elated by the sight, we pressed on, in search of London Bridge. Unfortunately, we got lost over and over again. By the time we finally made it to the bridge, it would have needed to be made of carbuncle and diamonds to make it worth the walk. It wasn’t, but oh well. We’ve been to London Bridge.
The next day was Sunday. The people at the Temple had given us the address for the Church, and it didn’t look too far, so we ate our muesli and set off walking a half hour early. It turned out to be a little bit farther than it looked like on the map. By the time we thought of taking a taxi, we were already late and almost there. Luckily, Church is three hours long, so we hadn’t missed too much of it.
The ward was huge compared to our little branch in Cuneo. It was fun to understand everything that was being said. We noticed that over half the people commenting in class had American accents. There’s nothing quite like meeting another expat when you’ve been living in a foreign country for a while. We realized we have really missed that dimension of overseas living. Our little town here in Italy doesn’t have many other expats. In fact, I’ve only met one. I bump into her every once in a while buying fruit. Her name is Annie, and she’s also from San Diego. She’s married to an Italian from here.
While at the ward in London, Tony talked to a man with a young family living there. He commented that once while they were traveling in Italy, they took their children to a park, and he felt very under-dressed. Unless you’ve been an American in Italy, it’s hard to appreciate what it feels like to hear someone say that. We love our Italian friends, but we’d really like to end up living somewhere we could have some expat friends too.
After Church we walked a block to Hyde Park and sat down with our picnic of tandoori pitas, fruit, blue stilton, and Wensleydale. Mmmmmm, Wensleydale. Britain may be lacking somewhat in the food department, but they’re right up there with their cheese.
They also seem to be gaining momentum in the Slow Food Movement. We were almost beside ourselves with delight after peeling the label off the yoghurt we used to make our morning muesli to read about the company. Yeo Valley Organic is a little organic dairy farm doing its best to change the world. It reminded me of a magazine I picked up in the laundry at the Temple. It had a story about a couple in England who won the lottery. They bought a farm and a herd of heirloom sheep, and now they spend their time making and selling artisan cheese. Another woman moved to a little town in Wales to get away from her fast-paced life as a CPA. Now she runs a business baking gourmet bread out of her home.
That’s what we want to do and be. We want a little farm where we can make a living making cheese, yoghurt, soap, and whatever else you can create out of milk from a herd of Nigerian Dwarf goats. This trip to London helped us to step back a little and see what we really want.
We walked all the way back through Hyde Park and packed at our hotel. Then it was time for our cultural event for the trip — a free Sunday evening organ recital in Westminster Abbey. We arrived a half hour early and were among the first to enter after they opened the gate, so we ended up in the first row, right in front of Isaac Newton’s casket. The concert was beautiful, and our children both stayed blissfully asleep almost through the entire thing.
After the concert we walked out of the Abbey and into a war protest in the square across from Parliment. We briefly considered joining it, but decided against it, and instead walked back over the bridge for another look at the beautiful view. We walked home along the Thames, imagining what it would be like to fall in love with London and stay forever.