London – Day 2 “More Common Pursuits”

Still basking in our glorious triumph over the other two million losers who were in the London streets vying for a glimpse of the Royals, Ma and I hurried back to the hotel to recoup and make plans for the rest of the day. The weather was absolutely perfect and was too good to be missed and I was in no mood to waste a second. Do you realize how much this trip is costing me? So, we came up with our schedule as I devoured a cheese and onion pasty. It was easily one of the best things I have ever eaten in my life and I will be making them when I get home.

Mother was still delirious with afterglow as she walked around the hotel room telling me random things that I was only vaguely listening to. I was more interested in getting my pictures up of Facebook so that I could show off. I distinctly remembering hearing this from the bathroom as she was washing her face, “I wouldn’t be opposed to William shaking my hand, saying ‘Thanks for coming here from America.’ I’d say, ‘I don’t mind. Anything for you, Wills.’” I coughed a little on my own spit and tried not to laugh too hard at her.

There were so many things that still needed to be done. I had a lengthy list of places I needed to see, objects I needed to buy, nibbles I wanted to munch on, and so on. We decided to head off to Pierre Hermé first which was next to Harrod’s. This was perfect as Ma wanted to eat lunch at the rotisserie in the food halls.

We made our way easily to Sloane Street and I was immediately charmed by the area. I love people with money and stores who demand you buy their overpriced status symbols. That is just genius to me. The first thing to come into view was Harvey Nichols. I immediately felt like I was on my way to meet Patsy and Eddie for lunch on the fifth floor. We didn’t have enough time to go in, but it was neat to see the place.

The entire street was lined with famous designers and I had a fantastic time having Ma try and say the names of the shops and absolutely butcher them. Balenciaga, Bulgari, Yves Saint Laurent, and of course, Chanel. (She knew that one.) The window of Chanel was beautiful. The mannequins were dressed up in simple dresses that looked like they were from the 1940s (an era that will always be chic) and were having a champagne lunch surrounded by oversized flowers. Sadly, Uncle Karl (what we fashion people call Karl Lagerfeld) was not in, and so we kept walking down to where the Pierre Hermé boutique was located.

As we rounded the corner, it came into view and I approved immediately. Simple, chic block lettering for the sign and non-assuming doors. The shop was stark and simple, but very dark. It was not at all my design style, I like bright whites and pastels, but it fit the surroundings and really made the chocolates and macarons the stars of the shop. The assistants were very helpful and soon I had a very expensive (£14) box of seven macarons. I had to try not to think about that. I justified by reasoning that it was my duty to try the wares of competitors to my business. Besides, I had to know if I was still the best macaron baker in the world.

We were given a sample of jellied fruit puree. It was different–kind of like a fruit snack, and not that great. Strawberry, basil, and lime. Not offensive, but nothing you’d want again.

My macarons were packed up into a beautiful box and put into a beautiful bag and we were off.

We made our way back up the street and I saw this. Just wait for it.

This is not a mirage nor a hallucination. There really are palm trees growing in London and thriving. (I’ve seen so many more since.) This felt like a slap in the face while I was simultaneously shanked with a rusty shiv. Nothing is better than palm trees and I have longed and dreamed for some miraculous hybrid that will grow in Iowa. I know that the day will come eventually, but I am awfully impatient. The park where the tree was located was absolutely beautiful with flowering trees and a variety of gorgeous plants. And more palm trees. I can’t take it! It’s just unjust, London is higher north than Iowa and it still snows here. There is no reason they should be alive! I know there is a gulf stream and such, but I refuse to understand out of jealousy.

While we walked back up to the Tube along the park, we reasoned that there must be something in this city that I am allergic to. I have never had an allergic reaction to nature in my entire life (my lips once swelled up after I tried escargot, but that is the only thing in my memory that I have had a reaction to), I also never believed in allergies. I thought people were just being whiny babies. I suppose I will have to change that opinion now. My eyes itched and my nose ran and I kept sneezing. It was horrible! We decided to go to Harrods for dinner instead and so made our way to the British Museum, which I absolutely adore.

I took Ma there via the Russel Square tube stop where I stayed by myself in London. The hotel I chose was crap, but the area was absolutely charming. In fact, I have decided that if I were ever to live in London for some reason it will be in the Bloomsbury district. It’s beautiful, charming, moderately quiet, has perfect little parks and the British Museum, of course! We walked through Russell Square Park, which is one of my favorite places in London. They have black tulips! I just realize that we did this twice, yesterday and today. Oh well. It was nice both times.

We soon made our way to the museum and Ma wanted to buy a crepe from one of the food trucks parked inside. I wanted to get an espresso, so we both got what we wanted. When I was handed the espresso, I knew that something was wrong. Espresso should not be so heavy! When I opened up the cup, I realized that the very charming man did not know what he was doing. He didn’t stop the flow of water through the coffee and so I had a regular cup of coffee, not a delicious and wonderfully intense shot of espresso. He tried, though. He looked petrified as he made Ma’s crepe, very carefully checking the edges and folding it just so. I wondered if he had just begun his job or if he was just a nervous person. The crepe was excellent, though, Ma declared.

My excitement was killing me and I simply had to have some of the macarons. I was much more impressed with this sampling than I was with the batch from Ladureé. The cookie itself was firmer, yet still soft. It didn’t want to collapse like the others did with the jam fillings. Pierre Hermé’s macarons were all filled with some kind of cream, with the exception of the lemon. It was a light lemon curd and was the most underwhelming of the bunch. It was just typical. Nothing exceptional. The chocolate macaron tasted exactly like mine, which I was pleased with. I had two others that were made with olive oil. I thought this would be odd, but it was insanely good. The first was vanilla and olive oil. I loved it. The second was mandarin orange and olive oil. I loved it even more! The mint was too mild for my tastes, but good. And the last one I had was a pistachio blended with another flavor I can’t remember. I don’t usually care for pistachio as I find the flavor overpowering, but it was used sparingly and was perfectly delicious. In the end, I was very happy with Pierre Hermé’s offerings and will definitely be trying more in his shops next week when I am in Paris. Since I can make them just as well at home, I won’t be going too often, but it is nice that I know they are famous with reason, unlike Ladureé, who seem to be more well known for an experience.

The British Museum is beautiful, and well, I’m not going to be humble, I am too, so I of course had to do an impromptu photo shoot. Karl, Anna, Tyra, and André, not to mention the J’s would be ashamed and disappointed if I didn’t do it. I wasn’t feeling the setting much once I got started–I lost my inspiration, so I didn’t take many, but I think they are lovely. You can see my Royal Wedding outfit, too!

I did not have a long time in the British Museum as Ma is not a fan, so I hurried to see the things that I had to see. The first was a statue from Easter Island. I had never seen one before and they are absolutely stunning and wonderfully mysterious.

 

I got sidetracked in the Egyptian halls. I always do this. I deeply love ancient Egypt and everything to do with it. I love looking at ancient hieroglyphic scrolls and deciphering the letters. I can read a few of them, the only problem being I don’t speak ancient Egyptian and therefore have no idea what I am reading. There were mummy after mummy, each needing hours of inspection, ushabti figurines, scrolls, paintings taken from within royal tombs. I had to rush and dart around, but this particular painting stood out to me.

It is highly unusual and rather rare to find ancient Egyptian art where the figure is not in profile, I have never seen anything like this before and was entranced. The art was so different that it didn’t even look familiar. I was very impressed with this piece.

I liked this skull, too.

We walked through the rooms quickly and I saw a beautifully hand crafted ax made with jade that was from the Bronze Age, it looks as if it were made yesterday. I saw the Lindow Man, and so many other things. I was captivated by the Flood Tablet.

This is an amazing piece of history. It is written in the ancient Mesopotamian language and I am baffled that there are people who are able to read this. I find it difficult to decipher one character from another. It’s tiny, intricate, and looks to me as if chickens were pecking in wet clay. This tablet is very famous as it details the story of a great flood and a god giving a warning that he was about to flood the earth and destroy it all. The receiver of this message was to build a boat and take a collection of animals with him. Sound familiar? This tablet was written centuries, maybe millennia before the Jewish Torah was put together or the Bible was even conceived. This is one of the strongest pieces of evidence for the theory that most of the Old Testament is just a kind of recording of collective human conscious. It caused quite a ruckus when it was first translated a hundred or so years ago.

As we were walking out, I saw the most beautiful room.

It was the King’s library (I forgot which one, it was a George, I believe, maybe the third?) It was built to hold the collection of books and art that he donated to the museum and was one of the first wings to be built onto the museum. It was such a stunning room–I hope someday I will be able to emulate it in my own home, on a smaller scale of course (or not, I”m not into downsizing), but I find so many little details in this image that would be gorgeous even in small rooms. Ma asked me why all the statues had the penises knocked off. She scoffed at my explanation that over time religious groups found the nudity of the sculptures of the ancient Greeks and Romans to be vulgar so they knocked them off (why they left the testicles I do not know). In the Vatican, almost all of the nude male statuary has a plaster fig leaf placed over that area. We both agreed that such a defilement of the artwork only worked to draw attention to the chipped off genitalia. I also found it amusing when the penises were reattached on several of the statues. Of course, religious reasons aren’t the only reasons certain extremities fall off statues. Necks and arms and penises are areas of weakness on sculptures, as they do not have as much mass as the rest of the statue and are easily snapped off.

As we walked around Bloomsbury back to the Tube station I became obsessed with the tiling that was on the steps of all the townhouses. Black and white checkered and patterns of black and white. I was drooling over it and I intend to redo the front steps when I get home from Paris this summer. I have been so inspired by the things I have seen on this little trip. I need a bigger budget, though, I think! Paint and a shovel can only get you so far.

We went to Harrod’s for dinner, but the food hall said they were closed–early, too. Ma was pissed, pissed, pissed, and I sympathized. Few things are more frustrating than heading to a closed shop.

[An advertisement in the Tube station that I found adorable. It is about a product that you plug in your wall to keep your cat happy and stop it from spraying on everything. It even looked cute with that nasty activity animated!]

So we took the Tube back to our hotel and we looked at a menu of a pub near us called The Prince of Teck. Ma looked nervous, so I convinced her to go in. I am so happy we did, it was a great place. Very traditional with simply refined food and the building itself was well decorated. We went upstairs where it was quieter and where we could have a better view of the street. I ordered a lentil and spinach burger and Ma had fish and chips. It was very good. I had never heard of anything like that and enjoyed it very much.

Our waitress was very friendly and when we inquired what a rocket was (we had seen that word on several different menus over town) she brought one out for me. I took a nibble and found that it was arugula. Mystery solved. She said that the Swedish word for rocket was something like “Aruka” so, it makes sense to be both arugula and rocket. I also noticed that eggplants are aubergines in the UK. I had an espresso and Ma and I listened on in disgust at the American tourists across the room.

They were basically screaming, “Oh, you know, the entire world is in Pittsburgh! Pittsburgh has everything and our airport is so modern. Yours [Heathrow] was kind of dirty and well, nothing like Pittsburgh.” “Oh! God! Driving on the left is horrible! Horrible!” It went on and on and the waitress listened on and pretended like she cared and agreed. I was annoyed. I always hate coming across Americans when I’m in Europe because they can be so obnoxious and only make me look bad.

Back in the room I tasted another macaron I had bought from a chain of bakeries called Paul. I was delighted by the bakery itself as it was affordable and had a nice variety of very well-made pastries. The macaron, though, was mediocre. It was like a hamburger, literally, and the almonds needed to be ground much finer. It was decent tasting, but altogether uninspiring.

Well tomorrow is our last full day in London, so I had better get some sleep. So much still to do!

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