Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Wilder European Trip: London, Part 2 (or) Happy Birthday, Mama!

My mother’s birthday in London was absolutely perfect. After sleeping in (because we were jet-lagged and tired from the theatre the night before) we went down to breakfast and met Clelia, her friend Hugh (whom I hope is now my friend, too!), and his delightful grandmother. Sloane Club breakfasts are the funniest morning meals I’ve ever attended. This is what happens: pair after pair of old British couples stroll in, wearing all sorts of rumbled suits and strange hairpieces and looking, nevertheless, more put together than I could ever hope to be. They order their smoked fish and boiled eggs and generally say very little to each other. The dining room felt more like a library than a place of eating; this atmosphere ensured that when the alarm on my phone went off twice during the meal I felt, more than ever, like a big dumb American (more after the jump).

After breakfast (during which I was reprimanded, gently, by the waitress for ordering "oatmeal" instead of "porridge"--it was a successful meal for me) we set off for 10 Cheney Walk, the house in which George Elliot died. My mother researched the book she wrote about her eleven years ago, when we were in Venice together. Seeing Elliot’s--or Mary Ann Evans, her real name and the one by which my mother came to know her--house on my mother's birthday made me think of one of my dear friends, who says, “it all comes full circle.”

Isn't she adorable?

After Cheney Walk we went to the Victoria and Albert Museum where my mother brimmed with joy as we looked at renaissance bronzes, like the sexy satyrs above, and a tiny wax model for a sculpture by Michelangelo. I geeked out over one of da Vinci’s notebooks...

...and then we both died over Donatello’s carvings (it was a big Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle day). Clelia and Hugh left us there, and once we’d had our fill we took a long walk to the National Gallery.

When we arrived, after making a brief stop at Top Shop to buy some socks (that store is awesome, by the way; I now totally get the British obsession), we stumbled upon a concert of Indian popular music. There was an Indian rapper, a drummer all mic-ed up, and a dancer. We also saw a bagpiper. It was kind of amazing to go from great art, old and well-protected in a museum, to the vitality of the modern scene outside.

The National Gallery produced the same effect on my mother as the V&A: total and utter rapture. The first time she went there was with her parents when she was eight years old, and it was as if they were there with us as we ogled the Michelangelos, the Raphaels, the Pontormos, the Ruebenses, etc.

I loved the museum as well; I find the vivid colors and the sensual shapes of Renaissance paintings deeply satisfying. We saw Titian's Diana and Callisto, an illustration of one of Ovid's stories about one of Diana's handmaidens who gets raped and pregnant by Jupiter, only to be cast out by Diana. The first time I saw Titian's paintings in person was on our Venice trip, so seeing his work in London, with my mother, was another "full circle" moment. I love going to see art with my mom; she majored in art history and has written extensively about art for The New York Times, so it's like going with my own talking, funny, and deeply nuanced encyclopedia. I learned so much and was constantly blown away by just how much she knows.

However, by the time we'd gotten through much of the museum, it was about 3:30 and my blood sugar was plummeting; had I still been a child I would have had a major meltdown. I’m very proud to say that I kept it together, and we made our way to a cab and back to Sloane Square for a nice lunch of smoked salmon and salad.

And what kind of fashion-crazed women would we be if we hadn’t stopped at the...


...Anya Hindmarch...

...and Brunello Cuccinelli (above), Maje, and Loro Piana stores after lunch? Bad ones. Never wanting to risk our reputation, we stopped at all of them, but being good, we only bought two awesome t-shirts at Maje.

After a quick shower and getting all dressed up, it was off to drinks with Clelia, Hugh, his sister, and his grandmother. We had a lovely time, toasted my mother’s birthday, discussed single-sex education (always fascinating when you have a large enough contingent present that has suffered through attended all-girls or all-boys schools), and then took a cab to The Goring Hotel for dinner (which is where Kate Middleton spent the night before her wedding (um, could you die?)). It was the second most British experience of my life, after the Sloane Club breakfasts; a somewhat empty dining room, Beef Wellington, mashed peas with mint…heaven. We tumbled into bed that night completely exhausted, totally happy, and unable to wait for the morning, when we’d head off to Paris.

1 comment:

  1. How fun! Celebrating a birthday in a place like London has to be wonderful!

    p.s. LOVE those sandals.



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