31 August 2007

Last week in London

I notice my last post was over a week ago! No, it’s not that I’ve been lazy. It’s actually been an amazingly busy week. But, I’m going to do my best to describe the memorable events of the past week, starting with last Friday, August 23rd.

Friday late afternoon the clouds began to thin out. We were to meet up with Jay at the Oxfam Bookstore in Marylebone. We walked across Primrose Hill Park and Regent’s Park into Marylebone. The air, pleasant, a bit muggy, had the promise of a summery evening. Jay, Daryl, and I went into a pub – Coco Momo’s on the High Street. The outside tables, alas, were all taken and the inside was beginning to rapidly fill up. The sky was now completely blue and everyone seemed happy and excited. It was the start of a 3 day weekend and there was a party like atmosphere around us. Over beer and munchies we chatted about the issues GP’s face in England. For dinner Jay said she wanted comfort food due to a hard, stressful day. “Shall we go to Drummond Street?” This is a street famous for Indian vegetarian food – there’s a string of them. So that’s where we had dinner – at a restaurant that had been there a long, long time, and was good and cheap in its heyday. The food unfortunately was quite mediocre, but, oh well, we enjoyed the experience.

On Saturday the weather was gorgeous. Warm, hot actually, and clear blue skies. We spent the afternoon doing a long, long walk. We walked along Regent’s Canal into Islington. What a charming area with an area of old buildings, pedestrianised cobbled lanes, and many, many shops selling antiques. We returned to the towpath and continued along the canal, then across town and picked up a lane along a man made river. It was a lovely walk – the area alongside the river beautifully landscaped. The river itself – quite stagnant – was covered with a thick green layer – ugh! As we approached the tube station we passed several noisy pubs and heavy police presence. We realized that Arsenal Football Stadium was nearby and a game was just finishing. We took the tube back home, then realized we were starving. It was around 7:00, warm, sunny. The pizza place beside the station had a huge patio and looked very inviting to two starving, tired souls. So we indulged in Italian wine and a great big pizza.

Delightful weather on Sunday too. We spent most of the day with the Self family on the Heath. We hauled a huge picnic lunch over, set it all out in the shade of an oak from where we had a terrific view of the London skyline. Hampstead Heath, an absolute hive of activity, looked so completely different to me on this Sunday afternoon. Down from where we were was the kiddies playground and wading pool and it was crowded. We could hear a band playing out by the café area. After lunch we walked around a bit, passing numerous clusters of picnickers. I just couldn’t believe that this Heath that I’ve come to know so well and which is usually quiet and peaceful when I walk on it, was so alive with activity.

Later in the evening with the weather still gorgeous, Daryl and I couldn’t imagine wasting it inside the flat. So we bought a large bag of fresh chips, grabbed an ale and returned to the Heath. We sat on a bench, stared out at the view of London’s skyline, and gorged on our rare treat. You can never find chips of this quality in the US. The potatoes are peeled and cut and fried at the restaurant. You can taste the freshness, and seasoned with vinegar and salt and pepper – OMG, so yummy!

On Monday evening we went to see a play at the National Theatre. We saw “Rafta Rafta” which was about an Indian family in Britain and the usual conflict between Indian immigrant parents and their British born kids. It was superbly acted and quite funny and engaging. The stage setting was really nice too. They managed to show scenes in 4 rooms of the house concurrently – kitchen and sitting room downstairs, and bedrooms upstairs. The play was mostly a comedy with tastefully funny scenes, but it dealt with a few serious issues too. In particular, the play focuses on the relationship between the father who was raised traditionally in India, and his British raised son. The play derives its conflict from their clashing interests, and the son trying to find a comfortable place as an Asian and as a Brit.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Early this morning I had to go to Budgens, the local grocery store, to get milk for breakfast. The air had a brisk chill to it, the mocking kind – “the ha ha summer is on its way out” kind. I remember when Angie and I took early morning walks on the Heath in July and often there’d be a coolness in the air. But it was different then. It was almost an apologetic coolness, a coolness that behaved like an unwelcome guest, squirmed a bit then escaped fairly quickly. Within 15 minutes of our walk, before we reached the top of Parliament Hill, we’d be shedding off our light coats and exposing our bare arms. So summer was a bit on the skimpy side this year in Britain, but heck, summer nevertheless holds promise. Who knows, we could have a sweltering weekend, which indeed, we did have one or two of those. But the last week of August holds no promise. Well, okay, maybe we’ll have an Indian summer. In other words we might not have to turn on the central heating for most of September. But you can’t escape the fact that the days are growing shorter, the evenings are losing their balminess, and the early mornings will greet you with a chill.

On Tuesday evening we were promenaders at the BBC Proms. Yes, we got in the queue around 5:15 and waited along with over a thousand others for £5 tickets. The program - an all Russian evening – Tchaikovsky (Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet) and Prokofiev - piano concerto #2 and Symphony #7 – looked very inviting, so we decided to get the true Promenading experience. And, apart from the discomfort of being on your feet for so long, it really is an awesome experience. We got to be somewhere in the middle of the arena with a pretty reasonable view of the orchestra. But the amazing part about this area is the sound quality – being so close – wow! Admittedly, we promendaders were rather crammed together – yeah, like sardines, and it got a bit stifling. But the experience, oh, we’ll remember this forever. And the music, especially the piano concerto – heavenly.

Wednesday morning I woke up to the news of the unveiling of Nelson Mandela’s statue. For some irritating reason I hadn’t computed that if I fled to Parliament Square that instant I would have been able to be there to witness the event. So, rather irritated at myself, I watched it streaming on the web. I was a bit surprised that this whole thing happened because of the efforts of Donald Woods. I then remembered from his book RAINBOW NATION REVISITED his early efforts on this ambitious project. Ken Livingston certainly ranks high in my book for the role he played in this matter. That South Africa has produced a hero deserving of a statue in Central London fills me with pride.

We were back at the Proms on Thursday night. This time we had reserved tickets because it was Beethoven’s Ninth. It was delightful to sit back and listen to this most beautiful piece of music ever composed. A grand piece of music performed in the grand Royal Albert Hall and there I was, witnessing it!

Time for us now to pack up our things and move on to the next phase of our travels. We’ll be in Toulouse, France for the first 10 days of September. Alas, another a topology conference forces us to a delightful city in France.
I'll miss London. I'll miss its energy, its diversity, its complexities, its hospitality, its pubs, parks, oh so many things to love about this city.

24 August 2007

Some Sunshine Please!

As I write this the sun is fighting its way through the clouds. What a joy to see it after 4 straight days of gloomy skies and intermittent drizzle. Each evening I watch the weather on TV and we are promised a change. “A high pressure system is sweeping through the country bringing dry, sunny weather. But there is this band of low pressure on its way out which is moving very slowly across the southeast.” Each night I prayed for that low pressure band to gtf out, and finally, oh finally …

Let’s see, so what have we been up to in the last few days? Last Thursday A level results came out. The two nieces, Zoe and Annie, did well and got acceptance at their universities. Zoe will go to the University of Manchester, and Annie goes off to Edinburgh. Our London friends, the Self family, had excellent news too. Dominic got 3 A’s and a B and will be going to Cambridge! Yea, congratulations all of you! GCSE results came out yesterday and Lili got 8 A*s and an A. Fantastico!

On Monday evening we saw another play – In the Club – at the Hampstead Theatre. The building, a 15 minute walk from us (right near the Swiss Cottage Tube Station), was a modern curved, silver structure, with very comfortable seating and excellent acoustics and stage views and stuff. The play, a political farce, was thoroughly enjoyable. It was about an MEP (Member of EU Parliament) and his political aspirations. The lines were so funny and the plot so ridiculous, the audience shrieked with laughter the whole time.

We spent most of Tuesday with the Self family at their home in Willesden Green. Dominic and his girlfriend from Birmingham, Lucy, entertained us with stories about their schools and teachers, etc. After they left we got caught up with Roger and Gil regarding the happenings of the last year – travel, family news, politics. For dinner we had Indian take away, a tradition we’ve had with these guys for many years now. Tasha was away with friends in France, and Katie, 12 now, (still wants to be a vet.), beat Daryl at Connect Four. Oops, I shouldn’t publically humiliate my hubby!

I am currently reading Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss, last year’s Booker Prize winner. I remember how disappointed I was that Zadie Smith’s On Beauty, which was also shortlisted for the prize, hadn’t won. Now, I can see why the judges made their decision. When I had finished On Beauty I remember feeling greatly satisfied. An entertaining story, beautifully written by a gifted writer with an incredible understanding of the inner workings and desires of individuals from extremely varied backgrounds. She bloody well deserved to win the Booker Prize! I felt certain that the actual winner couldn’t be as good as Zadie Smith. But I was wrong. Kiran Desai, like Zadie Smith, has an acute understanding of humans and captures this deftly in her book. I love how she gets inside the minds of Indians in various circumstances and shows us the complexities of their perceptions and attitudes toward other races/classes/nationalities. Desai’s book is not as accessible as Smith’s, which would bias high brow types. I guess being the daughter of Anita Desai, another literary giant, she has high standards to keep up to.
So, Melinda, if book club is looking for a book, this is a great choice!

It’s August Bank Holiday weekend in England. This means Monday is a holiday for most folks. The Nottinghill Carnival is on this weekend. I thought I might go, but on last night’s news they mentioned that over a million people were expected to attend. This might make it a bit too crowded for any enjoyment, so … we’ll see what happens.
At Hampstead Heath a funfair has been set up. So it looks like it’s going to be crowded and noisy everywhere the next few days. The sky has clouded over again. Where the hell is that high pressure system that is supposed to bring us sunshine?

21 August 2007

School Blues

I woke up this morning feeling incredibly grateful that I didn’t have to report back on this first teacher working day of the academic year 2007-2008. Seven weeks is simply not enough time to recover from the intensity of a teaching year. Last year’s issues and problems and challenges are still too fresh in my mind. All that time and energy spent thinking about the specific needs of each individual child. Trying my best to make each lesson interesting and accessible and stimulating to the advanced and the needy kids at the same time. Dealing with challenging behavior - rudeness, arguing - of some while acknowledging and showing appreciation for the ones who are sweet and want to please. The self inflicted pressure to teach everything I feel ten year olds should know about, the worry, the obsession every waking moment. Then the other pressures - from the administration and parents and work colleagues. Meetings, phone calls, explanations for my actions and decisions, nursing hurt feelings from people who ‘don’t get it’! The life of a public school teacher in Santa Barbara is anything but easy. Maybe a lot of it is my personality. Did I take it all too seriously? Would the kids be just as educated if I were more laid back? I found it amazing that when I came out to England I seemed to have mentally left behind the life I’d lived. Just imagine, all the worries, concerns, preoccupations – things I thought important, things that influenced my state of being – all disappeared into the recesses of my memory once I unpacked my suitcase in London. Why did it have to take geographical separation? Why could I not just shrug it all off when I drove away from campus each day? That certainly would have made my life as a teacher much happier.

I can just imagine the first day back. It always begins with an analysis of the test results. Thanks to G.W. and NCLB we teachers can never again feel like we’ve accomplished anything. All our children are supposed to become advanced/proficient in math and language arts by 2013. First of all this would be impossible in the best of circumstances simply because children aren’t like cookies coming out of the same cookie cutter. Duh! Secondly, take a look at our classroom make up in the public schools. Last year on the first day of school I was given a class list of 31 students. I had 5 GATE kids, a child certified autistic, a few kids on medication with IEP’s, a child who spoke no English, and the rest spanning the academic spectrum from Below Basic to Advanced. I was promised an aide for 10 hours a week, but it was January before we could find someone willing to work for the absurdly low salary. I asked for language services for my non English speaker but was denied this because it was her 2nd year in the country! And so I had to line up volunteers and figure out various ways to attend to the needs of my class.
Anyway, so the first day would be all about how to raise our test scores. We already know we gave it our all last year, and this year we’d have to do the same and more. How to teach better to the test and make school more dull. How to turn our kids into test takers rather than creative thinkers. Stick to the text books, they say, rather than inculcate a love for literature with complex plot structures and beautiful, imaginative writing. I found it impossible to teach any Open Court Unit with enthusiasm because they were all so bloody boring. I can’t teach what I find boring. Period. So I won’t. My students did comparatively well in the STAR tests despite this. Or was it because of it??
So you come back from summer vacation, still recovering from last year, which was only seven weeks ago, and you have to get yourself all enthusiastic about RAISING TEST SCORES. That’s it. The bottom line. A child isn’t this individual with potential waiting to be tapped, a bud awaiting the right conditions to open up and blossom into something to admire, nurture, encourage. Oh no. A child is his/her STAR score and where it puts them - FBB, BB, B, P, or A. Let’s turn our classroom into places where our kids become great test taking robots. That’s presumably what ‘our leaders’ want in the 21st Century. Robots, not thinkers.
No, I’m anything but ready to face a new set of classroom challenges. You teachers out there, I admire you greatly.

20 August 2007

Theatre Week

Last week has been theatre week for us. On Monday we saw Pieter Dirk Uys doing his latest one man play – Evita for President. We had to take the tube to Kilburn for this – not too far – 3 tube stops from us. The Kilburn Theatre is well known for promoting talent that isn’t mainstream – plays that are on the alternative, more arty side. The performance was superb. PDU is such a phenomenon, taking on the personas of different everyday as well as high profile South Africans with astonishing ease. The funniest was when he played Adriaan Vlok washing Mbeki’s feet. Not sure if the audience understood the reference, but oh well, it was hysterical. I’d known about his Evita Bezuidenhout act way back when I still lived in SA. Well, he’s still doing it – and he has managed to maintain the high level of quality with fresh satire. The audience howled through the entire performance. He did something clever which was to scroll through the last 20 years of South African history in a funny, thoughtful way. I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it.

On Tuesday we went to the Camden People’s Theatre to see an obscure Shakespeare play called Timon of Athens. Now talk about fringe theatre! The venue was this tiny room in a modest, warehouse type building. Two rows of chairs lined the four walls and the actors performed right in the middle of the room. It was amazing to be so close to them. I really enjoyed the whole thing. The actors were talented and brought to life a play I would not otherwise have known about.
Wednesday night we went to the New Globe and saw Merchant of Venice. The theatre as you guys probably know has been reconstructed to look like the original and so the performances are fashioned after how it was all done during Shakespear’s time. The common people stood out in the ‘yard’ in front of the stage and interacted with the actors – cheering them on or shouting comments/insults, or whatever. Daryl and I had ‘yard’ tickets – for the fun and experience factor. Of course, it chose to rain on Wednesday night, so there we were, standing in the pouring rain, watching the play in this wonderful setting. We stayed through the performance like brave souls!! I was really surprised at the marble columns and surfaces of the stage. Despite the rain it was a great experience. I loved the costumes of the actors. During the intermission we went into the swanky pub – The Swan – for a drink. This pub’s architecture is also representative of the Tudor period with its wooden stools and long tables – but all clean, new and immaculate. The pub has big windows with delightful views of the Thames and the buildings alongside. I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a ‘cool’ London pub.
We have a few more plays lined up before we leave this great and wonderful city.

The weather has turned yucky. What a mood changer it is to wake up to cloudy skies. Don’t have much desire to leave the flat and brave the cool, rainy weather.

On Thursday evening it cleared up a bit so we went to the farmer’s market in Covent Garden. This weekly event during the month of August is to create some summer excitement. Turned out to be a disappointment. Way too crowded, impossible to actually see the products, and the whole event seemed too contrived and touristy. Overpriced produce, lots of artisanal cheeses, olives, oils, breads, and most interestingly wild mushrooms and truffles absurdly priced. Street performers did juggling acts and a young man sang folk songs which was fun to listen to. I used to love Covent Garden when I first started coming to London, but now it seems soulless, overrun with tourists, compared to other parts I’ve discovered. We wanted to sit down and have a drink and dessert and couldn’t find anywhere with the right atmosphere. We wandered out a bit and discovered Neal’s Yard. What a pleasant surprise! This open airy space with people enjoying wine and organic food, surrounded by old buildings which are colorful and pretty brought smiles to us. It had a beatnik look to it. We learned the restaurant here is one of the oldest vegetarian restaurants in London. We sat at an outside table and had wine and a custard tart. Up on the wall above us was a blue plaque that claimed Monty Python lived there from 1976!

Troy came out from Cambridge on Friday and we had a long dinner at the flat just chatting and relaxing. We drank lots of wine, then moved on to single malt whiskey. On Saturday Troy, Daryl, and I went to see friends of ours (Laura, Simon, and their 2 little girls Rosa and Ilana) on the Isle of Dogs near the docklands. We walked into Greenwich via the tunnel that runs under the Thames. We had lunch at a café and caught up on our lives. Then everyone else left and Daryl and I explored Greenwich a bit more. We took the DLR to Canary Wharf and explored that whole area which is all cleaned up, yuppified, and full of gleaming skyscrapers. We were astonished to find endless indoor malls with marble walls and expensive shops.

After all the walking around and exploring we decided to treat ourselves to a decent restaurant meal. In our rovings around London we always make a note of restaurants that serve quality veg food. We’d found a Chinese Vegetarian place near the Archway tube station last week, so we decided to give it a try on Saturday night. Turned out to be a superb choice. First of all the restaurant itself was tastefully designed with classy finishes. The menu was quite staggering in its options. It reminded us of a Buddhist restaurant we’d gone to in Beijing a few years ago. We had sweet and sour 'ribs' for starters, Peking ‘duck’ for seconds, and lemon ‘chicken’ and stirfried veggies for mains. Everything was done superbly with perfect seasonings and excellent presentation. What a find!! We returned home satisfied and exhausted.

We have two more weeks in London. Still so much more to see and do.

12 August 2007

Walking, walking, walking

I know, I’ve been slagging. Heck, London is beginning to feel like home. I walk around the neighboring areas like a local, hardly noticing things. Daryl and I now laugh at tourists who point at the weird giant sized things stuck on the buildings on the High Street of Camden Town. The first time I saw six enormous boots on the wall of a store I gave Daryl a baffled look. WTF is that? The building next to it has this humungous white rocking chair pinned to it. A whole row of buildings with bizarre wall objects – that just about sums up this part of London.
We have done a huge amount of walking in the last couple weeks. OMG my legs are pissed at what I’ve put them through. August has decided to behave like a proper summer month indulging us in a spate of glorious, sunny days. So, of course, you can’t waste them indoors in a flat. That would be sinful. We had to get out there and make the most of it. The first weekend of August had temps in the 30’s.
Sunday morning, Aug 5, the sun was strong by 6:00. After a lazy morning of sipping lattes and reading the paper we got out into the world. We decided to have lunch in Camden Town. All of London had the same idea and invaded the numerous food stalls serving up every cuisine the world has ever seen. So after fighting our way through crowds and checking out the menus, we decided on an Afro Caribbean meal. A round faced teenage girl with a Caribbean accent handed us an exotic bowl of vegetables in a thick, spicy sauce served over a savory rice. We had a fried plantain slice and a battered something or other with that. Sitting down to eat this meal turned into quite a game. All the tables set out beside the food stalls were taken. People bearing newly acquired food stood alongside these tables glaring at the folks sitting down. We joined the glarers. As soon as a table got free there was a race for it. Well, we eventually did manage to sit down and eat our lunch without breaking any bones.
After lunch we strolled along Regent’s Canal with no specific plan. Many people had the same idea. We walked past London Zoo – saw some wild boar and a canine we couldn’t identify. The canal seemed to end and we got onto the surface street to determine the next move. We weren’t far from Hyde Park so we hopped on a bus and got off at Speaker’s Corner. A few loonies were spewing religious dribble so we marched off in the opposite direction. We found some welcome shade and rested for a while.
Then the walking continued. Through Mayfair, Carnaby Street, a stop for tea and cake at a posh place (Quotidien), onto Covent Garden, Soho, dinner at Maoz (falafels), beer at a pub, and then as we made our way to the tube station we past a bar where two transvestites were singing Abba songs. They had on blond wigs, enormous false breasts, shiny dresses, and high heeled shoes. They were hilarious to look at and they sang beautifully. Exhausted from our long day we were thrilled to find that our bus happened to be within yards from us.
On Monday evening we went to the Proms like good citizens. We felt very cultured dressing up and going to the Royal Albert Hall. No, we didn’t do the £5 standing room tickets. Oh no, we paid for decent seats so that we could fully enjoy Beethoven’s Symphony #8, Renee Fleming singing Berg’s Seven Early Songs, and Schumann’s symphony No. 2. I always feel like a miracle is at work when I sit at the great concert venues of the world. My child self would never have guessed that I would some day be ‘high society’. It was all quite special and enjoyable.
We are getting good at finding atmospheric pubs for good English ale after tramps around parks and neighborhoods. Sitting at an outside table of a noisy pub on a balmy summer evening is one of life’s better pleasures. We discovered that Regent’s Park is a do-able jaunt from our flat. Such a fun park to stroll through, especially in the early evening. Every activity imaginable seems to happen here. Cricket, rugby, football, frisby, jogging. Then in the inner gardens which are beautifully designed with big fountains and colorful flowers, people sit on benches or have picnics, or just stroll around. A big lake in the park adds to its beauty. Paddleboats are popular, and there are lots of waterfowl.
Every day we find new places to explore. What a great city to get to know in the summer.
I walk around different parts of London and think about the great people who made this city their home. My heroes – the Bloomsbury Group - Virginia and Leonard Woolf, Vanessa Bell, Bertrand Russell, Lytton Strachey, Duncan Grant. I think about their ‘at homes’ and the great intellectual discussions that took place right here in this city. Other great people who lived here – Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, Max Engels, Oscar Wilde. This city has inspired such profound thinking. And I think even today it continues to be the home of so many accomplished, talented individuals. I might walk past them on Hampstead Heath or the bookstore or at Waitrose and not know it. They have chosen London as their base to express their creativity and profundity. What is it, I wonder, that makes this city such a magnet? It is, after all, a big city, saddled with all the problems intrinsic to such a place. As I continue to make this my home I’m sure I’ll find more insights and more pleasant little surprises.

07 August 2007

Living in a Small Space

Whenever I am in the Old World I’m always impressed by how much simpler people’s homes are. The socialist in me is filled with admiration that middle income people like me are quite happy with kitchens the size of my refrigerator and bathrooms that require you to tuck your tummy in and keep your arms pinned to your body. As I crabwalk from the kitchen to the living room of one of these homes I get huge pangs of guilt about complaining about my dining room in Santa Barbara that won’t comfortably seat 20 people. “We need to extend or get a new house,” I whine after hosting a large dinner party. Daryl’s response is, “You know, we can double the size of our house if we convert our garage and build on top of it.” I give him a disgusted look, followed by a self-righteous lecture on the importance of living simply and reducing our carbon footprints. And thus ends the discussion on an expanded dining room until the next dinner party.
When I’m in England or Italy or France I’m filled with admiration at how families with teenage kids (who, as we know are twice as big as adults and take up six times more space) can happily live in homes a fraction the size of mine. My admiration for these folks has trebled since I started living in a London flat.

I find I spend a large amount of time either making things fit into small spaces, or getting things out of crammed cabinets. The refrigerator is the biggest challenge. Come back with two items from the grocery store and you will have to rearrange the entire fridge to make room for them. Then, when you need milk for a cup of tea that you think you deserve after getting all your groceries packed, you have to choreograph a series of steps to accomplish this. First, there is the matter of opening the fridge door. No, it isn’t as simple as pulling a handle. You have to close the kitchen door, push out the mop and pail standing on the floor beside the fridge, then hold your hands in readiness for things that might/will tumble out as you eagerly pull the knob. It’s important that you prepare to catch falling items in such a way that your elbows don’t touch the spatulas and ladles hanging on the adjacent wall. Next is the matter of pushing back falling items and locating the milk. It ought to be standing up on a door rack, but being “Americans”, we buy milk in large containers. These containers don’t fit on the door rack of a tiny fridge. When said milk is located you’ll have to remove all the items around the milk, etc., etc., … you get the idea. Finally, be as quick as you can with the milk before someone else notices the vacant space in the fridge.

When I sit down on the well worn couch upon which many weary bottoms have rested, and sip that cup of strong, hot, milky tea, I savor every drop. There’s something more real about living in a way where you have to think about every move you make. You feel more a part of the world and you are reminded every moment of your impact on it.

03 August 2007

Sweet summer

Daryl and I are finally together and by ourselves in London.
The weather has been fantastic. We spend our days 'working'. Daryl's got the use of an office at Imperial College in Kensington and he's thrilled to have time to do research. I've been immersing myself in books and doing some writing in between reading all those blogs raving about revealing all in the latest and last Harry Potter book. Jesus, what an appalling death count! And this is supposed to be a children's book?

The long days allow for evening walks and picnic dinners at the nearby parks. We walked out to Primrose Hill a couple days ago. Two famous pubs - The Pembroke and the Queens, at either end of the very lively High Street, were packed, with people spilling out onto the pavements. Between the pubs are an assortment of fine restaurants, also quite crowded and atmospheric. A number of famous people live in this area (eg Gwyneth Paltrow). We walked into the park - a large green expanse - and found a spot at the top of a slope to sit and take in the amazing views of the London Skyline. This park is probably the best place for city views and judging by the vast numbers of picnickers this is definitely not a secret. With a clear sky and sultry temperatures it was quite delightful to just lie down and absorb the atmosphere.

Last night we had dinner with Jay, Angie, and a family friend, Dharam, at an Indian restaurant near Wembley. The restaurant, Papaya, served many unusual dishes, specializing in South Indian and Sri Lankan cuisine. Daryl and I had Avial - vegetables in a curry sauce made with coconut milk, tamarind, and various spices - and a kokkatum (?)- don't ask - something exotic, spicy, and very tasty!!!
Jay and Angie are great company, never at a loss for conversation. Dharam, a quiet, slender South African, has been in London for 6 years now. We aren't sure if he is related to us or not. Our grandfather and his grandfather came on the same boat from India and described themselves as brothers. He is the nephew of Uncle Bob and Sashma.

We talked about the old days and our families, the place of Indians in South Africa, and then got into a debate about Mahatma Gandhi and his role in South African politics.
I enjoyed getting to know Jayshree better.