31 July 2007

France - Paris and the French Riviera

Hey Folks, just got back from a most satisfying holiday. Went back to one of my favorite world cities - Paris - after five years. Stayed at Hotel Des Allies - a spotless, comfortable, budget place - right near Rue Mouffetard. This pedestrianized cobbled lane which hosts a daily market and is lined by lively cafes and fantastic restaurants, has to be the best street in all of Paris. I loved just taking in the atmosphere of a city that I've grown to know pretty well. Traipsed around the various neighborhoods, browsed the shops, sat at cafes and sipped coffee and wine, walked along the Champs Elysees from the Arc de Triomphe down to the Tuileries Gardens. Paris was crowded, but the weather was as pleasant as could be. I spent a few exhausting hours at the Louvre. I'd been here once before about 15 years ago and thought I should revisit. Found it to be a disappointment. I guess its size and enormous collection makes it quite a challenge to tackle. Of course, I saw the Mona Lisa again, and the Venus de Milo, and then tried to take in as much as I could of the French collection over different periods.

My visit to the Pompidou Center's modern art collection was much more enjoyable. I relished the many works of Kandinsky, Chagall, and Matisse. This museum is open and airy and it's fun as you take the escalators up and get great views of the city.

Paris is truly a delightful city. Wish I spoke French. An amazing number of people speak English, though. I actually managed to meet people and have some conversations. Got a recommendation for a vegetarian restaurant from a woman I met at a cafe.

On Friday, July 20, I took the TGV down to Nice. Four of us were making our way to the Cote d'Azure from different places. Daryl was coming from Warwick, Glynis from Guernsey, Saffs from Bristol, and I was coming from Paris. Turned out to be the first day of heavy storms in England so their flights were all delayed. I spent a relaxing afternoon in Antibes, then checked in at the airport hotel where we'd be spending the first night. Since everyone arrived at different times, the last one, Saffs, arriving at 1:00 A.M., the airport hotel turned out to be a very convenient thing.

Our Cote d'Azure experience began on Saturday morning. We picked up a rental car and drove into the mountains behind Nice where we had our Gites. And what a pleasant surprise awaited us! The vacation rental was right at the foot of a stunning mountain with sheer cliff faces in a most charming village called St. Jeannett. The famous town of Vence where many artists lived because of 'the light' was not too far from where we were based. Our accommodation itself was a 3 bedroomed house with a huge garden. We had every convenience and comfort possible, including hammocks and outdoor furniture to enjoy the balmy evenings.

We spent our days exploring the various beach towns, swimming in the warm Med, gorging on soft, ripe cheeses, olives, and fresh juicy fruit, and driving along scenic roads. We did the Grande and Moyenne Corniches. We went into Monaco, but not to the casino in Monte Carlo - just looked at it from the outside. The weather was as magical as you would expect - azure blue, cloudless skies, and temperatures in the upper 20's. My favorite place in this region is Villefranche sur mer. This medieval village is just east of Nice along the coast. Pastel buildings cling onto steep cliffs and bright red and purple bougainvillea spill over the slopes. Yachts bob on the shimmering water and the coastline curves around making it all look quite stunning. The beaches here aren't bad either. We sat at a bar sipping wine while admiring the breathtaking views.

On one of the days we went inland to the Grand Canyon du Verdon. This is the largest canyon in Europe. It is 25 km long slicing through a limestone plateau. The canyon is 250 - 700 meters deep - carved by the Verdon River. It was lunchtime when we arrived at the beginnings of the canyon. We noticed a sign for Fromage and followed it. It took us to somebody's small farm where we bought their homemade goat cheese, then got permission to picnic on their grounds. With crusty baguette, the cheese, and cherries that we purchased en route, we had an amazing lunch.

We followed the canyon down to a large lake and stopped at the Provencal town beside it. Saffs and Glynis were curious about Provence and wanted to experience a bit of it. We strolled along the pedestrianized road and browsed at the numerous artisanal shops selling products of the region - lavender honey, pottery, table linen, wines, etc. Made the obligatory cafe stop - beside a fountain - and sampled local wine. We had ambitious hopes of stopping at a beach on the way home, but it was early evening by the time we got on the autoway, so we went straight home and ordered pizzas from a nearby pizzeria that churned out bubbling thin crusted gourmet specimens from a wood fired oven.

Every single day on the Cote d'Azure was packed with delightful experiences. There is so much to do here, and you have to realize you can't do it all, epecially if you want a holiday. For me, going to the markets and the beaches is enough to keep me happy. The markets in Nice and Antibes can keep me entertained for hours. All those acres of olives and tables of spices and the cheeses, the summer fruit, courgettes with their flowers still attached, glossy aubergines, ripe, juicy tomatoes, the olive oils, the wild mushrooms, (oh, the girolles!), fresh, pink garlic, etc., etc. What a treat for the senses. Having a selfcatering place makes it all the more fun because we can take back stuff for meals.

Our evenings were quite memorable. We took turns to prepare meals. While dinner was being prepared we lay in hammocks and had apertifs - pastis, kir royale, or white wine and sampled the local olives. We ate out on the patio, the mountains providing stunning views. The evenings were balmy, sporadic cicada chirps interrupting the peace - wow! I wish I could turn back the clock and start the holiday all over again.

16 July 2007

Warwick Weekend

It was the weekend of birthday celebrations for David Epstein who turned 70 this year. A 2 week conference is being held as part of the celebrations. Daryl has been staying with the Epsteins the last two weeks, attending talks, working with colleagues, etc. On Friday I left a very muggy London on a coach for drizzly Coventry. Spent the afternoon with Rona in Kenilworth. We did some shopping errands then went to the castle. We tramped around the gorgeous ruins and ogled the views of rolling green fields. Back home we got dressed and went to the maths institute for the birthday barbecue. It was cool and drizzly so the event had to be indoors. A huge group - around 100 mathematicians - mainly topologists and geometric group theorists from all over the world - milled around and I was amazed at how many of the people were friends of ours. A significant number had stayed at our place in Santa Barbara multiple times over the years, so it was one of those great parties where you get to talk to friends you hadn't seen in a while. Long tables were covered with a sumptuous spread of pastas, salads, roasted veggies, etc. and of course whatever was barbecued (soya patties for us vegetarians) There was lots of wine and an impressive variety of beer from micro breweries. It was indeed a fantastic party.

The next morning I opened the curtains in our room and felt thoroughly uplifted (not just because of preceding activities!). The sun was shining and the sky was pale blue. We had a view of the Epstein's delightful, quaintly Englsih garden, and beyond that lush fields dotted with many grazing sheep. Clumps of low, broad trees bordered the fields. Very picturesque and very English. Daryl dashed off for the talks and he was a bit preoccupied because he was giving his talk today after lunch.
After breakfast Rona sent me out to the garden to pick berries. I'm so jealous of the huge, green lawns that English people have. The garden is well nurtured with many pretty flower beds and lots of fruit - 3 apple trees, a pear tree, a walnut tree, rhubarb, and berries of every kind. We picked huge bowlfuls of blackcurrants and plump raspberries. Rona was planning to make a berry crumble for dessert. They were going to be entertaining a large group for dinner.

We went back to the maths institute for a special luncheon as part of the celebrations. Again there was an amazing spread. The weather on Saturday was superb. A speech was given by Christopher Zeeman, David's advisor, and a well-known mathematician. Before Zeeman started his speech Marty Scharlemann related an anecdote to me: Hamish Short was in London a few days ago, sitting on a bench perusing some math papers. A person walking by, paused beside him and asked if he was a mathematician. Hamish said yes. The guy got out a postcard of the painting of Zeeman that hangs at the institute in Warwick, and asked if Hamish knew that man. Hamish said, "Yes. Acutally I'm on my way to the place where that painting hangs." The guy then said, "I'm the person who did the painting."

After Zeeman's speech, Daryl gave his talk.
Rona, Charity Hirsh, and I walked out to the lake on the attractively landscaped campus then returned home. I browsed a book - Diaries of Albie Sachs - and enjoyed it considerably. I'll have to add it to my library. Albie Sachs is a judge in South Africa and was actively involved in the Freedom Struggle. I enjoyed his insights about the past and present situation in SA.

Daryl and I had dinner with Stefan Tollman and his wife Brangwyn - Aussie pals of ours. They are renting an absolutely charming English cottage in Kenilworth. We sat in the little garden - an old stone church and a cemetery lie just beside the garden - enjoying the summery evening. We drank Aussie wine and ate tomato goat cheese pie with a cress salad. For dessert Brangwyn made an exquisite berry cobbler. Stefan told us about the conference he attended in China. He talked about how Beijing is rapidly changing - fewer bicycles, more traffic, greater pollution, much more built up - looking increasingly western, and after the mad drive to demolish the hutongs, now a move to preserve them.
It was a long, long day for Daryl.

On Sunday the good weather disappeared. It drizzled off and on all day. We went to Brian Sanderson's place out in the countryside outside of Coventry for Sunday lunch. Christine and Brian live in a farmhouse and are surrounded by large, lush fields on which graze fat dairy cows. They grow lots of fruit and veggies. They hate supermarkets and try to get everything either from their land or from neighboring farmers. We had an enjoyable walk around their enormous garden and out into the fields. They fed us moussaka, Greek salad, quinoa salad, and an assortment of cheeses. A dry burgundy accompanied this delicious meal. For dessert we had a homemade lemon curd tart, raspberries with heavy cream, and a berry fool (berries blended in yogurt and sweetened). After this huge feast I had to catch my coach back into London.

On Wednesay I leave for Paris, and then the Cote d'Azur. Oooh, so exciting. Can't wait to get into a swimsuit and jump into the Mediterranean.

12 July 2007

A Tourist

Since I'm technically on summer vacation I gave myself permission to spend the day sightseeing in Central London. First, I went to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. The morning was grey and cool, but the weatherperson promised a pleasant afternoon. A museum is a fine way to escape drab weather. The National Gallery in my opinion is one of the best museums in the world with room after room of delightful paintings. I feasted my eyes on scenes of Venice by Canaletto and Guardi. I derive a lot of pleasure from seeing paintings of places I'd been to and adored. Then onto the English artists - Gainsborough and John Constable (can one ever tire of "The Haywain"?) -, the impressionists ( about a dozen Monets), the Van Goghs (Wheatfields among Cypresses, Sunflowers, Van Gogh's Chair), the Dutch painters, the list goes on. I love this place. I'll be here again in the very near future - that's for sure.

After the museum I walked into Soho for lunch. So many tempting places to choose from. Settled for crepes filled with asparagus, cheese, and a sauce. Perfect. Cruised Oxford Street and watched the mad shoppers, then turned into Charing Cross Road. Idled away an hour at Foyles, supposedly the most famous and largest privately owned bookstore. The sky now had large patches of blue and the temperature was pleasantly warm. I strolled into Covent Garden, watched the street performers, browsed the market stalls, then went into my favorite cafe. This cafe is in the courtyard of one of the market buildings and little groups of classical musicians entertain the crowds in 20 minute shifts. Quartets, Quintets, and duos will play popular pieces or sing opera arias and duets. It's really special. Daryl and I fell in love with opera right here in this cafe about ten years ago. Over a cup of tea - milky and piping hot - I was treated to songs from Don Giovanni and La Traviata.

Next I headed out to the South Bank where a literary festival was taking place. I wanted to look at the used books for sale on tables outside the Royal Festival Hall. I spotted a poster advertising free events at the National Theatre. At 6:00 a French quartet would be performing chansons. So I concluded my day as a tourist sitting at the bar of the National Theatre listening to a young, spirited French woman croon Edith Piaf songs. She also did one or two Billie Holliday songs. She had a fantastic voice and for a free event it was of excellent calibre. The place was crowded - evidently a popular London attraction.

As I made my way back to the bus stop I walked past crowded pubs and cafes. The sun was shining - it was a lovely summer evening. The air was alive, vibrant. What a great city this is in the summer!

11 July 2007

Loving London

This city delights every waking moment. What a joy to ramble through the neighboring areas, each with its distinct character. Spent Monday and Tuesday doing lots of reading and some writing/planning/thinking. Got quite an education about my history from C.G. Henning's THE INDENTURED INDIAN IN NATAL and Uma Dhupelia-Mesthrie's FROM CANE FIELDS TO FREEDOM. Dhepelia, btw, is Gandhi's great granddaughter. I was surprised to learn that the first boat load of laborers from Madras were escaping famine. Poor Indians were lured by lofty promises of a great life in Natal. When they arrived a British Official sent to meet the people was astonished at how upbeat and excited they were. Of course, life for these people was anything but rosy and suicide rates were significant. Interesting too, to me, how after serving their term, Indians who chose to remain in Natal, quickly prospered as growers and hawkers living frugally and working hard. I also learned that every Indian upon arrival had their name recorded and these are still available in Durban. Of course, I would have no clue what names to look up to research my own ancestry.

Monday afternoon I ambled over to Camden Town, a chaotic, crowded area teaming with markets and shops. The Regents Canal runs through and a huge market with numerous stalls and eating places is beside Camden Lock. Asian food of every type is served here, but pizza and pasta, and Middle Eastern fare is available too. It was fun to walk around and browse and take in the lively atmosphere. The weather was gorgeous, bordering on hot. I had masala tea and Bhel Puri at an Indian cafe near the lock and started JM Coetzee's YOUTH. The book surprisingly, came out in 2002. I'd imagined it was an early book. It's an autobiography covering Coetzee's early 20's. It's written in the 3rd person which I found disconcerting at first, but quickly adjusted. I found myself pulled into Coetzee's life at once. I identified so much with his dissatisfaction and need to escape from family and provincial thinking. I hated to stop reading, so I headed back to Belsize Park, went into a pub - The George - ordered a pale ale and continued reading. I was quite comfy on a leather couch by the open doors which looked out to the street.
I hadn't expected most of the book to be about Coetzee's time in London. Imagine my surprise when I started a new chapter, sitting in this bar, and it opens with Coetzee waking up at his friend's bedsit in Belsize Park! In the next chapters he talks about doing things that are completely familiar to me - walking in Hampstead Heath, browsing bookstores in Charing Cross, going to the Everyman Theatre (Angie and I are about to go there to see a French movie), going to the Tate and British Museums, etc. But most surprisingly, he is in London to express the artist he thinks he is. In Cape Town he majored in math and had no passion for the sciences. He is extemely analytical and knows that he admires poets, writers, thinkers, and aspires to be one himself. So in London he has to get a job for survival, but his main goal is to find himself as a writer. He makes several failed attempts, first dabbling in poetry, then trying to write in the style of Henry James.
I'm so thrilled to be able to own my time, doing the things that I enjoy. I'm so lucky.

Yesterday Angie took me to the Neasden Temple. This temple is famous - built in a style almost identical to some famous temple in New Delhi. Its walls - wooden and marble - have intricate carvings. Marble sculptures of Indian gods and goddesses adorn the outside walls. The place had a spacious, airy feeling with skylights and large windows. Quite a breathtaking place, with no expense spared. We then shopped at the Indian grocery store across the street. Oh, we loved that. All those unusual lentils and legumes and dried snacks. The freezer had an assortment of delights too - samosas, patha, breads, Indian veggies - wow! Then there was the snack bar to order hot, freshly made food, and sweets. We bought semolina savory bread (what's it called - dokra, maybe?), samoosas, and some burfee like sweets. Angie gives me daggers - "You keep sabotaging my diet plans!"
Next stop was Ikea - just up from the temple- to buy wine glasses for everyday use. No need to elaborate here as all Ikeas around the world are identical.

As the weather was so pleasantly summery I insisted on a walk on the Heath when we got back home. The sky was mostly bue and the air quite warm. We did our loop up Parliament Hill (where you get the best views of the city), then around the cafe and back. We had Indian food for dinner which I washed down with Old Speckled Hen beer. Daryl, stop smiling!

09 July 2007

A Londoner

A week in this great city and I'm beginning to feel like a local. The weekend's big news items were LIVE EARTH, the start of the Tour de France, and the release of Alastair Campbell's book. The Guardian had a piece dripping with sarcasm about the Live Earth concert. The article highlighted how many tons of greenhouse gases it took to get people there, private jets performers used, and Madonna's carbon dioxide production to promote her new album. Given the Guardian's obsession with carbon footprints their stinging criticism is hardly surprising. Campbell's book caused quite a stir in yesterday's papers as well. Campbell used to be Tony Blair's chief spokesperson until 4 years ago. Angie can't wait to get her hands on the book. She's eager to read it not only to get juicy inside info about the Blairs, but also because Alastair Campbell lives here in the Hampstead area and she's seen him on the heath a few times.
Yesterday, Sunday, Angie and I took a train to Kent to visit friends of hers. David and Lorna live out in the countryside within commutable distance to London. They have a charming old brick house set on beautifully landscaped grounds. The house is an old, converted farmhouse with uneven floors and thick walls and lots of little coves and beams and things. Their garden is gorgeous with a large rolling lawn and beds of English flowers like hollyhocks and lavender and lilacs and roses. They also grow vegetables and berries of various types. David, a lanky, greying guy with the friendliest of smiles, is one of those traditional type Englishmen who uses words like jolly and stroppy. Lorna is very chatty and easy to be with. Lorna brought out a pitcher of Pimms and we sat in the shade of an oak, and chatted about this and that. David and Lorna put out a huge spread of salads at their poolside table for lunch. This went down with a very dry red wine. For dessert we had a homemade cheesecake covered with homegrown raspberries. After coffee and dark mint chocolate Angie and I got back on the train to London. The ride was pleasant. I stared out at the green fields and grazing sheep with a feeling of contentment. What a civilized way to spend a Sunday.

07 July 2007


So, I've been undisciplined about daily blogging. Today, however, I wanted an excuse to write the date - triple 7 - so I'm making an entry. It's the anniversary of the tube bombing - so a solemness is present. I woke up to bright sunshine and felt very uplifted. Angie yanked me out of the flat to walk on the heath. "We have to be out all today," she said. "It's too gorgeous to be in." Hampstead Heath wasn't as quiet as during the week. People were out walking their dogs, flying kites, jogging, strolling. I hear people talking and assume they're talking a foreign language. Then I recognize English words and realize my ears are still adjusting to the English cadence.

Yesterday I walked across the heath from Hampstead to Highgate. The path was quite gorgeous with an avenue of towering trees on either side. You quickly get a feeling of being in the wilderness. About halfway into the park the scenery changes and you are in open, grassy meadows. And then I came to a series of lakes and bathing ponds. People sat on benches beside the largest of the lakes and watched the ducks. Curious about Highgate I walked up the lane outside the heath. I was astonished to see rows of expensive looking homes behind imposing gates. The houses looked new but the designs were period - Edwardian or Victorian - I need some education on recognizing architectural styles!! I knew there was a famous cemetery further up the hill, but wasn't in the mood for this. Famous people like Karl Marx and George Eliot (not her real name, of course!) are buried at Highgate Cemetery. Back on the heath I meandered a bit then found a well positioned bench among a grove of massive oaks on which to sit. In front of me was an open meadow, then further away was a forest of trees of different kinds. The weather was pleasant - comfortable temperature, no threat of rain, and a breeze. A fair number of people were around - young couples were walking their dogs, old people were strolling, and others doing whatever. It was quiet, peaceful, birdsong and the wind swishing through the trees the ony noticeable sounds. The air was sweet, clean. What a treasure this park is. After a few minutes of taking in the peace I ambled on uphill and came to a less wild area where I found a cluster of tourists fussing with their cameras. I looked around and noticed the views of London's skyline. The buildings of 'The City' London's financial district, loomed on the horizon. I could see St. Paul's Cathedral, then the London Eye. It was quite a lovely view. This area is the highest part of London and the best place for views, I learned.

I spent Friday thinking about my memoir and reading my assigned books. After assaulting my mind with a few more chapters of HOUSE OF PEACE I decided to stop punishing myself. There are too many good books out there and it's a crime to waste one's time reading crap. I then started Ronnie Govender's SONG OF THE ATMAN. Ronnie Govender is well known by the Indian community in South Africa because of his many popular plays that played at theatres all over hthe country. I was pleased to find his writing a lot stronger and more enjoyable. Setting the story at a time that isn't well known to me makes the book appealing. Govender brings in a lot of the history of Indians in SA into the story and does it in a nonintrusive way. the main character is interesting and likable. One of Govender's strengths is dialogue - capturing Indian English quite accurately. However, his style of writing does have problems. For one thing he uses the omniscient POV but does it in a rather disconcerting way. I think if he stuck with telling the story entirely from Chin's POV it would be a much stronger book. The plot, though decent, moves along sluggishly and I found myself skipping pages. So far, it hasn't yet helped me with my own writing. Good books inspire me - writers like Zadie Smith and Ian McKewan. They make me think about crafting sentences and they awaken ideas. I'm going to have to read Coetzee's BOYHOOD and YOUTH, copies of which I have with me,
for inspiration.

Saturday (07/07/07) - after the morning walk on the heath Angie and I went into central London. We got off the bus at the end of the Waterloo Bridge and went down to the National Theatre where there was a performance outside the building. A group of cyclists were dancing to a piece of classical music, using their bicycles in a ballet type dance. It was quite fascinating. We then walked along the South Bank to the Old Globe where I bought tickets for the "Merchant of Venice". Tickets cost £5 each, standing only - in the style of how it was done during the time of Shakespeare. Daryl and I will see this in mid August. We then walked across the Millenium Bridge, took in the views around us, then got a bus from St. Paul's to Soho. We went into China Town, shopped at the grocery stores for Asian noodles, veggies, and spices, then lunched at a Chinese Restaurant. I had a Singapore Stirfry - yummy. We walked along Charing Cross Road, poked into a few second hand bookstores, bought a few books, then headed out to Leicester Square. We seemed to be walking through walls of people. Blue skies prevailed and we were so thrilled at the summery weather. People were friendly, smiling. Pubs were full with people spilling out, on the pavements outside, beer in hand and animated chatter. From here we went to Oxford Street in hopes of shopping, but the city bustle was getting to us. Around 5:00 we got on a bus and returned to the sanity of Belsize Park.

05 July 2007

London Days

Spent Tuesday exploring the Hampstead area which is essentially my neighborhood. What a charming place with numerous cafes, shops, cobbled lanes, and old buildings. Most remarkably it looked too white and wealthy for London. Hamstead definitely has its own character distinct from the rest of London. But then again I'm sure every neighborhood claims this. I walked on into Finchley, which had more of the crazy, London atmosphere I know. Lots more people, cosmopolitan, noisy. On the High Street was a big indoor shopping center. I stepped inside and thought how amazingly similar it was to South African shopping malls. Then I saw a prominent NANDO'S sign and this familiar restaurant was spread out close to the entrance. A huge Sainsbury's supermarket was downstairs and I did some shopping. English supermarkets are so much more fun than American supermarkets. What a joy to consider all the interesting food in all the aisles. Crusty, whole grain breads still warm, fruity, delicate pastries, deli cases displaying Indian food to go and other exotic fare, olive bars, cheeses to die for - creamy, ripe, sharp, aged -, coffee beans, dark, glistening, fair trade. In fact, every aisle you walk through boasts fairly traded goods, organic, healthy, antioxodant rich, Omega - 3's - this country is going mad in this regard - and I love it!
Down the road from the shopping center was a Waitrose. This is a gourmet supermarket and you should enter only if you are prepared to be bankrupt. Irresistable food, absurdly priced, taunts you from every angle at this store. Fruit from all corners of the globe, vegies of every shape and color, and then there's all that prepared food - veg dips/spreads pretentiously named things like aubergine caviar and wild mushroom pate , fresh sauces, stuffed pastas, curries from all over Asia, ... you get the idea. Let's not even talk about the chococate - nothing under 70% cocoa- and yes, fairly traded - so no need to feel guilty about those poor child slaves ... So, I spent a month's salary on some chestnut mushrooms, fresh tagliatelle, bell peppers, and a mix of cress, rocket (arugula), and spinach.

I spent a relaxing afternoon with Angie, catching up on family news over a Nederburg Sauvignon Blanc. The weather was still cool and cloudy, so we stayed in.

On Wednesday, 4th of July, I awoke nicely rested at 6:00 and did the civilized thing of starting my first book that I've assigned myself to read. HOUSE OF PEACE is by Nazia Peer, a South African Indian doctor, and a young muslim woman. This book is so badly written I almost cried. Okay, so the premise or plot if we dare, isn't bad. Six brothers of immigrant parents - Iranian and Indian -and we get each brother's story. Their stories are typical of educated, monied muslim families in Johannesburg, and are worthy of being told. But Peer has a long way to go as far as delivering a story. I mean she does things I wouln't tolerate in my 4th graders! I'm not kidding. Repetition, telling, not showing, awkward language, vague descriptions, god, it's so painful. But I will read it. I am curious to see how she pulls it off.

I went to have lunch with David and Rona Epstein, old friends of ours. They were staying at their daughter, Laura's place. Laura, a doctor, lives near the ferry docks not far from Greenwich. I bought an Oyster card, supposedly a way to save on public transportation in London. I had to take the tube (I'm on the northern line), then a DLR to get to Laura's. I found myself at the ferry docklands, a part of London I hadn't seen before. Across from the row of old, brick semi detached homes on East Ferry Road, was a huge park, a "farm" which had sheep and cows and horses, and an allotment garden. It had an 'away from the city' feel - this area. The park has cycle paths and nature trails - ideal for a family with kids. Laura has a pair of daughters aged 2 1/2 and 9 month old. Ilana and Rosa are as cute as they come and most of our conversation revolved around them. We had a pasta lunch outdoors - the sun was shining and the temperature fairly comfortable.

After lunch I went into central London. Decided I had to do something cultural so went into the New Globe and picked up their schedule. I'll have to book a play for August. Then I trotted off to the Tate Gallery. Modern art is not my thing. I seriously need to take some art appreciation classes. I feel so ignorant not understanding why a crushed up car with pillows suspended above it is art. Or why broad random sweeps of color on a canvas is beautiful. I did find a room I adored, though. The Moross Gallery had works by the Surrealists and others closely related. As soon as I entered the room I immediately recognized a Miro. I love the paintings of Joan Miro and because of a guided tour of the Miro Museum in Barcelona a few years ago, I understand his work to a certain extent. It was with pure delight that I took in Woman and Bird in Moonlight, Head of Catalan Peasant, and A Star Caresses the Breast of a Negress, a painting poem. One of my favorite Piccasso's was here too - The Three Dancers - love, sex, and death embraced in ecstatic dance. What a beauty. Next to it was a fantastic Jackson Pollock - Naked Man with Knife. I loved the bold, flowing lines of this work. In this room there were 2 paintings by Rene Magritte, which I loved as well - The Reckless Sleeper and the Annunciation.
In the next room there was an enormous, eye catching sculpture by Joseph Beuys. It was called Lightining with Stag in its Glare. There was this triangular sheet of metal with a rough surface which stood from floor to ceiling. At its tip was a huge, horizontal bar (lightning) and on the floor around the triangle's base were misshapen metal clods.
I guess the Tate is famous for bold, outrageous art.

It was raining when I stepped out of the Tate. A wind was picking up as I walked along the Thames toward Trafalgar Square. London teemed with people. It felt exhausting. Around Trafalgar Square it was completely chaotic - buses, people, plus prep for the Tour de France, taking place here over the weekend. A stage area was being set up in Trafalgar Square. I longed for
the peace of Belsize Park. I got on a bus and returned home.

02 July 2007


Monday morning. Grey, blustery. Had to force myself out of bed at 9:00. Fell asleep easily around 10:00 P.M. last night, then maybe 3 or 4 hours later I awoke and couldn't fall back to sleep until the morning. Had a nice, strong cup of capuccino made by Troy, and a slice of toast and marmalade. Troy and Daryl trying to compose an anectode about Glynis when they were kids for a book Liz is creating for Glynis's birthday.

Yesterday I arrived at Heathrow in the middle of the day (1:00) after a pretty smooth flight on Virgin Atlantic. Daryl flew American Airlines and arrived 40 minutes before me. We landed at the same terminal and met up at baggage claim. The flight captain on Virgin announced that England was experiencing "autumnal" weather. It was 18 degrees when we landed. My heart sank even though we had checked the weather before leaving Santa Barbara and Iwas expecting rainy weather. It's been crappy all May and June in England. Everyone shakes their heads despondently, evidently feeling cheated out of a summer. So why would we leave sunny southern Cal for this, you may ask! Hey, I love England. I'll bore you with details of why later - maybe in another blog entry.

We drove to London after lunch. The motorway was virtually traffic free by Englsih standards, but once we got on the North Circular of London it was a different story. I have to navigate and no matter how well we map out the trip and how prepared I am, London's crazy roads freak me out. I mean they totally freak me out. How Daryl can drive in the chaos is beyond me. But he needs me to tell him when to turn, etc., and I'm so freaked I squeak out something untintellible. He shouts, gets annoyed, then tries hard to pretend to be patient. We always succeed in getting to our destination in the end. I therefore believe in miracles!

Cousin Angie's flat in Belsize Park, just up the road from Hampstead Heath will be my home for the next 2 months (except for a 10 day stint in France - more on that in another blog). On the topic of miracles, a parking space was free right in front of Angie's building. I gathered my frazzled brain together and buzzed the flat. Angie, at 63, is gorgeous. The word gorgeous always pops into my mind whenever I see her. She has big, round, clear eyes, smooth, creamy skin, and a smile that can melt glaciers. Mouthwatering aromas hung heavily in the air inside her flat. She had been hard at work preparing a multicourse meal.
Daryl and I after an hour of chatting, decided to walk around Belsize Park and into the heath. It was sunny when we stepped out. We oohed and aahed at the many Indian restaurants, an Italian deli, cafes selling cream teas, a Marks and Spencer food express, and then suddenly the sky darkened and the rain came belting down. We darted into a bookstore. I was pleased that it was a small, privately owned place with a very exciting assortment of books. Now here's one of the many things I love about this country. It isn't hard to find small bookstores even though admittedly the chains are more and more visible. And the selection of books is awesome. I love that the books that are prominently displayed are often by writers from interesting parts of the world. I found a shelf of books by writers from the continent of Africa and browsed through a book by an Indian South African. Now this is indeed a rare find.

The rain stopped and we went into the heath. Had a brisk walk, then returned to the flat. Angie served us aperitifs (I had a gin and tonic) and chilli bites. We whined about the weather, then talked about some books that Angie had just read by South African Indian writers. This is of particular interest to me of course because of the memoir I'm working on. I plan to read these books while I'm here - before France.

For dinner we had rice, aubergines (eggplants, for you Americans) in a hot sauce, mung dhal, and rice. WE had a smooth, red Portuguese wine called Dao to accompany this utterly superb meal. Angie is quite a stellar cook, understanding the use of fresh spices and the right oils. This course was followed by a cheese platter with a selection of ripe and sharp cheeses. Both Angie and Daryl are watching their cholesterol intake and don't eat much dairy normally. You should have seen the joyous looks on their faces as they gorged on this forbidden treat. I had quite a laugh.
After that it was blueberry tart from Waitrose. Yummy!
And food is another reason I love this country. Many Americans have this outdated notion that English food is awful. Sure, that may be true of traditional English food. But who in this day and age eats greasy fish and chips and boiled turnips and pigs in blankets? Walk around the streets of Cambridge and London and you see food from all over the globe. Good, wholesome, fairly traded, unadulterated ingredients in superb dishes. Great Indian food, wood fired pizzas with roasted vegetables, freshly made raviolis in rich pesto sauce, falafels, tagines, tarts, pies, one is so spoiled for choice. Vegetarians aren't just an afterthought. Practically every menu at an English restaurant, even at pubs in villages have veggie options which are well thought out and I can't remember being disappointed by a meal.

After dessert and an animated discussion about the feasibilty of the three of us running an 'orphanage' (actually more a home for kids where they'll be loved and nurtured) in South Africa Daryl and I collapsed in our bed.

I'm excited to be in London. What a great location to be based. Angie will leave for SA in a few weeks and Daryl and I will have the flat all to ourselves. I plan to write and read and write and read and also make time for some fun in this great, exciting city.