Tag Archives: london

Misconceptions, part II: No way a southern Yank will fit in

If I’ve had a concern about this trip, it was the anticipation that I would feel like a Neanderthal walking into a village of Homo Sapiens for the first time.

I’ve traveled a bit within the U.S. and don’t always feel comfortable in parts of my own country. I once worked for a company that was headquartered in Oregon and on each visit, a “y’all” would slip and I’d immediately be surrounded by a small group of folks asking me to “say something else.” Just give me an organ grinder why don’t you.

How in the world would I handle a land where people drive on the opposite side of the road and don’t pronounce the letter “R”? The media tells me everyone hates Americans. What’s the best way to hold my luggage if I need use it for self-defense?

The answer is that Londoners really, really don’t care. Diversity is the rule here. With so many cultures and accents, everyone is doing his or her best to understand one other and get through the day. At no time have I been received with anything but a desire to help, no matter how obviously clueless I am. Even when I’m abusing the Wi-Fi at McDonald’s to write this blog!

And I have to say–addressing another misconception–I’ve been graced with a lot of beautiful, genuine smiles this trip.

@weather: it’s what makes London timeless

Daffodils

I mentioned in a couple of previous posts all the pretty flowers in bloom here in England. They are indeed beautiful because, along with these old stately buildings, they’re part of the permafrost. Things that are frozen don’t rot, after all.

{Note to Chris F.: That global warming thing you keep talking about? Ain’t happening, darlin’… Or could be it’s already peaked and has now transitioned into the next ice age?}

I’m kidding, of course. But the 40°F temp plus 20 mph wind gusts that rob your breath is a far cry from home where it’s 89 degrees with 98 percent humidity, which just smothers you all the time. In Louisiana, the weather overwhelms the senses. Anyone ever smelled New Orleans?.

I’ve been walking. A lot. Little wonder that folks are so fit here. Walking lets you see the small things you normally wouldn’t from the Big Red Tour Bus. And London is so pedestrian friendly, it’s quite enjoyable. What I don’t enjoy is having to duck into shops every 15 minutes to let the icicles on my beard melt. This I’m NOT kidding about.

I’ve got to give the store owners credit (and have, quite a lot actually)–they leave their doors open so the blast of heat compels passersby into their lairs. And I always feel guilty when I walk into a store and don’t buy something, so I’m the ideal sucker. Or it could just be that they’re trying to help global warming along? I don’t blame them a bit.

One thing I’m seeing a lot of that’s shocking and hilarious to me is all the kids–babies even–dressed in knickers and eating ice cream. I hope the American social workers never have a convention here. I have a vision of them running around the streets of London, “rescuing” the wealthy children of Kensington Borough.

Right now, I wish someone would rescue me before I either max out my credit card or freeze into a permanent statue in Hyde Park.

Visiting Trafalgar Square & The Impromptu Review: “That Hamilton Woman”

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I’m not a war buff, but I’ve always had a fascination with the story of Horatio Nelson and the events surrounding the Battle of Trafalgar. There are so few heroes left to history, and Nelson is one legend that persists beyond his highly public personal affairs. This trip to Trafalgar Square was a bit of an homage to that legacy.

I mention That Hamilton Woman in this video. Featuring Laurence Oliver as Nelson and Vivien Leigh as Emma Lady Hamilton, it’s an old favorite of mine. It was a favorite of Winston Churchill too, who reportedly saw it over 100 times.

The story centers on Emma Hamilton, a woman of unfortunate upbringing who uses her beauty and charm to marry into high society. Along the way, she and Nelson fall in love and maintain their relationship against great odds (like being married to other people!) to become England’s most famous couple.

Vivien Leigh filmed this role three years after her turn as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind. She is noticeably less convincing in this role, which spans Lady Hamilton’s time as a fresh young beauty just entering society to an impoverished middle-age drunkard, dying of liver failure. Then again, every work in her long-running career was doomed to mope in the shadows cast by her Oscar-winning bookend roles of Scarlett and Blanche DuBois.

Olivier approaches the role with his usual magnificence. He rides the line between heroic dignity and desperate self-effacement in his relationship with Hamilton. At the time, Olivier and Leigh were mirroring these roles in real life as a couple who had a famous affair and divorced others to be together.

In both realms, these were people who knew what they wanted and transparently pursued it. Maybe it’s the autobiographical element that is so compelling.

The story itself was made for Hollywood, but perhaps a bit too ambitious for a standard cinema feature. Too many lives, years, and tragedies whiz by for adequate treatment or comprehension. One wonders how differently the story would be portrayed in the hands of someone like David O. Selznick.

Still, for someone who likes classic film and skilled acting, That Hamilton Woman is well worth adding to your movie queue.

The Impromptu Review: Best Camera Cafe’ EVER …

The Camera Cafe

Okay, so maybe it’s the only one. A fit of inspiration hit me and I was desperate to blog, so it was actually the WI-FI INTERNET sign that drew me in. Camera Cafe’ is on Museum Street, which is located across from the British Museum entrance. On entering, the first thing you see are scores of old film (gasp!) SLR cameras–along with two or three “regulars” around a glass counter. Camera equipment occupies every little nook and cranny of the tiny shop. It almost reminds me of the old Star Trek episode with the Tribbles.

Moving toward the back is the equally tiny Cafe’ area, along with two or three “regulars” around a formica counter. Whether the people there were really regulars or not, I don’t know. Its atmosphere is so relaxed that after five minutes, I was deep into a conversation with two guys at the table next to me. Considering the size of the room and the tables, we were practically sitting together anyway.

There were three main courses on the menu: chicken chow mein, vegan chow mein and special chow mein. The curiosity was just too much. I had to see what was so “special.” It turned out to be special indeed. Basically, the chow mein noodles were mixed with fresh spinach, chicken and seafood. The dish was presented beautifully, and boy was there a lot of it. I topped it off with carrot cake and a Diet Coke, which was provided with a frozen mug. All this in a camera shop? Amazing.

This is one of the few places in London that doesn’t take a credit card, so be prepared to hand over a few pounds and then gain some back–around your midsection.

And if you go, see if my travel power adapter is still plugged into the wall between the lens shelf and the first table!

NA-deee-NAA!

After calling Nadina and subsequently dropping off my bag at her flat, I decided to wander a bit (with my map, of course!) until she got off work. Instead of the hoped-for bookstore, the path led to the fashion district. Fish out of water indeed. The phone rings. It’s Nadina. She asks where I am.

“Walking past Hugo Boss toward Sloane Park.”

“DON’T MOVE. I be there in five minutes!”

So there I stood. The short, fat American in front of 20 ft. window posters of European male models in bikini briefs. I made it three minutes on the busy sidewalk and then eased on over to an empty bench in Sloane Park.

“JCheff!” I finally hear, as she bounds over and practically leaps into my arms. I had visions of Tigger and Pooh.  Just like old times. We hug for about a minute before she takes my arm and starts dragging me down the street, peppering me with questions about ElizaBeth, Kaleigh and gossip about Natchitoches. My, my do we really have three years to catch up on? When she left Natchitoches, EBeth was about 7 months pregnant. So much has happened since then.

Before long, we see a beautiful older couple walking toward us. Nadina gestures wildly. “This is what I will look like when I get old,” she says. “We should all be so lucky,” I said.

The couple turns out to be her parents, who arrived in London from Argentina about a half-day earlier than me. They are the kind of folks you meet and instantly know they are good, loving people. We know where Nadina gets it now.

Back to the flat now, the ladies are making a spaghetti supper while Mr. Reussman and I–two men with accents AND auditory perception disorders–have been trying to converse. Luckily, Nadina’s friend Rob has been here. He’s a conservator here in England and knows a little Spanish. It’s a fun evening.

Stepping into a new reality

After finally tracking down a ticket agent and getting my oyster card, it was off to the tube, Picadilly Line to Knightsbridge. The ride is about 45 minutes, with stovepipes and roofs flashing by. Emerging from the station at Knightsbridge is like walking into a Harry Potter movie. The energy really is magical for someone who rarely explores big cities. Adding to this is the fact that Herrod’s is right next to the station gate and boy is it massive. Tons of people from every nationality. Wherever I look, EVERYTHING is impressive and obviously very old.

For some reason, the trip made me ravenous. Stepping out of Knightsbridge, what should I see, but a McDonald’s sign. A very sensible British license plate version of it, mind you, but a McDonald’s sign nonetheless. Yes, my first meal in London is at McDonald’s (they have free WiFi, even). What an American I am!

Now that my cholesterol about four points higher, I’m about to take the advice of Norman Weiss (hmm, N.W. should start a conservation blog with that title). There’s a Carphone store across the street, so my plan is to buy the cheapest phone they have and get it “topped up” with however many minutes 15 pounds gets you. I need to call ElizaBeth to tell her I made it, and Nadina to find out where they heck her flat is.

Taking off for London

At the Houston airport, waiting to board the flight to Heathrow. With the monthlong saga of the board report and meeting over, I am finally allowing myself to feel some excitement about the trip. One track mind, that’s me.

Traffic here and in Shreveport is as light as I’ve seen in a long time. On the flight from Shreveport, it was me and about ten other guys. We all had to sit in the back because there was not enough luggage to balance the plane’s weight. The FEMALE captain joked they probably wouldn’t have had that problem if 11 women had been on the flight instead.

No travel problems at all. Just that peaceful, easy feeling.

I just bought two travel guides: First was Frommer’s guide to London because it had a fold-out map. Then I ran across Rick Steve’s London 2008. I’ve been a Ricknik since my early twenties, when I’d watch his show and dream about being a world traveler. His guides are for folks who want to immerse themselves in the culture. Unfortunately, I don’t have much time here, so the purchase was largely symbolic.

Already overwhelmed, but looking forward to the new experiences.