Tuesday, January 18, 2011

London 27.12.2010: Bus-top Views and Droll Children

And what I forgot to say about yesterday: there was a tube strike, so we could get only as far as Hyde Park Corner on the tube, and then had to switch to the bus.  Outside the Earls Court tube station was a transit employee who told us how to get into the city using the buses.

And so we had the unexpected treat of being able to ride the bus, sitting in the top, from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square, inching along Piccadilly Street, which was very congested with Boxing Day shoppers, both in cars and by foot.

And today: I’ve been working up to a cold, which has finally hit with full force, with a nasty, nagging—and increasingly painful—cough.  So we’re going slowly, with frequent stops for rest and hot liquids: right now at a Pâtisserie Valerie in Piccadilly Street, where Steve’s having scones with clotted cream and tea, and I’m enjoying a cup of cappuccino. 

We spent the morning at the National Gallery, enjoying the wonderful collection of Impressionists, the small but precious Turner collection, the Vermeers and Brueghel the Elder.  I was surprised, and very happy, to find a wonderful Judith Leyster portrait of a boy and a girl with a cat and an eel, the two children both with amusing droll expressions on their faces, slightly preening, and very believable.  She is a masterful student of human expressions, and I don’t know anyone, except perhaps Mary Cassatt, who paints such believable children.  I remember how impressed I was when I discovered Leyster at the National Gallery in D.C. on our last trip there.

Also, a wonderful painting by Joseph Wright of Derby, of a family watching a scientific experiment with a bird in a vacuum jar, their faces illuminated by lamp or candlelight.  An ominous subject, with the poor bird asphyxiating, but a beautiful painting.

We then went to the National Gallery café and had a bowl of soup described as chicken noodle, with turned out to be chicken and vegetable instead, with a nice pinch of cayenne that was very welcome on my sore throat.  And we struck up a fascinating conversation with a couple from Zurich at the next table, talking for an hour about global warming, Schweizerdeutsch, Zurich, Zwingli and the Anabaptists, dealing with difference and otherness, the response of European nations to Islamic citizens, the growing problems of water shortage in the middle East, and American politics.  Exchanged cards at the end, and promised to be in touch.

And then on to Piccadilly Street to see if there were any Boxing Day sales of interest.  We stopped at a Whittard’s and bought a small jar of Christmas marmalade to bring back to M., and then on to Hatchards bookshop beside Fortnum and Mason, where I’m afraid we added to the already alarming number of books we’re bringing back.

After that, a quick sweep through Fortnum and Mason’s food hall, where we bought ginger biscuits for M., who adores anything with ginger in it.  Both Fortnum and Mason and Hatchards intolerably stuffy, in that way designed to communicate that boorish Americans are out of their league and place here.  Many of the other shoppers had that air, and the manners and couture, of a class of English folks with whom you seldom rub shoulders in most other places in London.

Steve says that the man who rang up his purchase at Fortnum and Mason was impossibly haughty, looking through and beyond him and saying nothing in return when Steve said good afternoon to him.  Though, curiously, he was perfectly able to see and count the pound notes with which the shopper beneath his notice paid.

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