Orchestral music at Convent Gardens filled the air and mingled with the rare sunlight shining on London during my time. A group of four musicians were playing in the courtyard, twenty or so diners looked on and twice as many looked down from the plaza above.
Convent Gardens was covered with a tall wrought iron ceiling and shop buildings ran through its spine. The building opened to a courtyard where street performers entertained the crowd. I heard ABBA blaring from one of the shops and immediately went in. The clerk was a huge ABBA fan and desired to see Mamma Mia live, but was too poor in his words.
It took all my strength not to shop and buy in the cute shops (I’m thinking of you white bag), but no room in the suitcase and the beginning of my trip means no shopping. I walked out of Covent Garden through the theater district and towards Trafalgar Square. I think the best way to describe walking through the older London districts is that it’s walking through Nooks and Crannies. There are tiny walkways that feed past restaurants and there are many little cobble stone roads to turn down.
The National Gallery
The National Gallery, one of several grand London art museums, opened up to Trafalgar square. Most London museums have free admission and I took advantage of it and sent into the grand, pillared building. Renoir, Monet, Manet, Seurat, Van Gogh, and Picasso paintings hung from the marbled walls. My favorite was not by them, but one named “The execution of Lady Jane Gray.” It shows the 17 year old blindfolded and being led down to the execution block by someone official. The executioner and the official look caring, wanting to ease her confusion as she holds her hands out because she cannot see. Her ladies in waiting are distraught on the side and haphazardly hold her dress, which she no longer wears. A patch of hay waits on the other side of the block. The painting was dark all around, except for the bright white center, the light of her dress, she was illuminated.
Trafalgar Square has a definite energy. Busses and the black cabs ring around the circle and many tourists pose by the lions at the base of the large statue. I followed the signs to Buckingham Palace, which I had to pass by Parliament Square. On the way, it was all grand buildings. There are several words to describe the government and royal areas of London – imperial, regal, opulent, grand. All seen in the gray stone buildings rising above the streets, straight up and imposing. It really did feel like this was the center of the ruling world, at least at one time.
I passed by St. James Park on my way to the palace. All the flowers were in bloom – yards and yards of tulips marked the path. The palace was at the end of a boulevard and is about 4 times the size of the White House. It looks like three city blocks long and the guards, red suits and furry hats, look very tiny. They stand and march with huge modern assault rifles contrasting their historical uniform. Everyone, including myself, took pictures through the slats on the very tall iron fence that surrounded the palace.
A Visit to Harrods
I went on the Underground and got off at Knightsbridge, which is right next door to another palace – Harrods. The department store is one block long and terra cotta in color. It has towers and crests and is opulent on the outside and then magnificent on the inside. I followed the perfume counters and signs to the food arcade. The arcade had a late 18th century style, stained class arched ceilings and dark wood fixtures. Food from all over the world was represented behind glass cases. Sushi, noodles, cheeses, and even a Spanish ham bar (I thought, I’ll be seeing you later to the ham in Spain). Room after room led into more food arcades, bakery, oyster bar, kebab bar, chocolates, and cakes. A gorgeous setting for gorgeous food.
I tried to figure out my way to Sloan Square in Chelsea where I was meeting up with Ruby and her friends for dinner and the theater. I don’t know where my sense of direction went but I got lost and ended up in Lanesborough, the opposite direction and still an obviously rich part, when I saw two chauffeured Rolls Royces parked outside a hotel.
Theater Night in Chelsea
Luckily there’s never a tube station far away, so I hoped on the tube and made my way to Chelsea. This area is rich adorable, very clean with open spaces and neat tidy expensive clothing and food shops. I waited in the park and rest my sore tootsies until meeting up with Ruby’s friends Maddoc, Kate, and Christian at the delicious Al-Dar restaurant pre-theater.
The show, The Fever, was at the Royal Court Theater and we hustled in after dinner. The stage was undecorated, it looked like all items on it were left over from another show or we were seeing a backstage. There were crates, ladders, a table, and chairs. I thought – how avant guarde, maybe too avant guarde for me to believe it was something more than laziness.
A woman came out onto stage. She was older dressed in jeans and a white button down, as casual as the set design. And then began the 90 minute one woman monologue about white guilt and her place in the classist world. It was interesting and compelling for the 100 people in the audience to be interested for that amount of time, but the content I had heard and read before. After 60 minutes, my thoughts went to my itinerary for tomorrow rather than her (the playwright’s) resolutions and self-indulgent guilt on winning the birth lottery while so many others suffered.