Saturday, 7 November 2009

The changing of the addresses in London

beautiful, bright, mild day - temps 13

Stunningly beautiful day. We'd planned to meet up with Mike and Dom and have brunch together but plans changed so we walked down to the Duke of York Barracks and had coffee at the Patisserie Valerie there...were planning to do breakfast but the waitress kept yelling at the other workers - I believe in Russian - but it was altogether too Dr Strangelove-ly - so after what was a really terrific cappuccino we moved next door for breakfast...fruit salad and toast for me...scrambled eggs for Michael.

Then we decided it was so gorgeous we'd hop on the Number 11 bus and go to St. James Park and just walk.

We got on the bus - sat up at the top of the double-decker...and got off at Trafalgar Square. Very moving. We went past Westminister and there were huge wreaths out and crowds gathering...then down a wide avenue - we think it was called Whitehall - with huge war was clearly about to be blocked off...perhaps for the Armistice Parade. Television platforms were being erected. There was Nelson's Column....and behind it the National Gallery. We hopped off the bus and decided we'd go into the national Gallery. It's a glorious building...pillars and wide sweeping steps. At the top we looked out over Trafalgar Square...the monuments, so familiar from postcards and photos and past visits...but still and always so impressive. The fountains. And then we noticed the fourth plinth. It had sat empty...for centuries. And just this past week it was filled. One last monument, one last person.

I can't remember his name, but the statue shows a man in late middle-age. Slender. Smiling. Wearing aviators outfit and putting on a glove. He was the air marshall who led the Battle of Britain. And now he's taken his place with the other heroes.

This is a terrifically and terribly moving time here in Britain, and certainly in London, as preparations are made for the November 11th Remembrance Day. Since so many British soldiers have been killed and wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. Just last week 5 more were killed in Helmand Province. Dreadful. Like most places, the Brits struggle with being so proud of the young men and women fighting the war...and so upset it is happening at all.

We went inside and saw an exhibit called The Sacred Made Real...a look at Spanish devotional art from the early 1600's...very graphic...violent really. Not my idea of the divine...I actually found it appalling, but others would almost certainly be deeply moved by it. Still, it was extremely interesting to see...and if I know one thing about art - it should move me...either to delight and safely and comfort - or to contemplation - to wonder and awe - or anger...or just revulsion. Good art is rarely neutral.

Then we hopped back on the number 11 bus and scooted for the was moving day and we had to be out by noon. We were a little late but the next people hadn't arrived. We'd already packed up so we just hailed a cab and came to the place we'd wanted to stay all along. The flat on Lennox Gardens, in Knightsbridge. It was still being cleaned, so we went off for lunch, then Michael picked up flowers and I did some grocery shopping and now we're back at the flat. It is enchanting...will describe more another time...except to say it is a black or so from Sloane Street...close to harrods...close to the Old Brompton Road. And is basically two semi-circular gracious attached buildings surrounding a huge fenced garden, with massive trees and stretches of lawn and flowers. It is a tiny private park in the very centre of this magnificent city. We over-look it.

How magical is that? We've rented this flat often and consider it almost a second, or third, home. One day we might be able to buy it. That would be such fun. I suspect our finances would never run to that...and as people keep pointing out, why buy when you can rent. And that is certainly the sensible thing...but this is a dream, a fantasy, and a rational-free zone. My own garden square, where sensible thoughts are locked out. and the sacred is made real.

Speak to you tomorrow, from London.


Jeanine said...

Louise, your post was so magical to me it made the hairs on my arms rise up. Thank you for the tour of London and the sharing of your dream about someday owning that special flat. I anxiously await your in-depth description of it. Have a wonderful day! :-)

Shelagh said...

Dear Louise, All of that before noon???? I am really impressed.

The flat sounds truly magical, and there's no harm in dreaming!

I must echo previous writers who have encouraged you to write a book describing your travels. I certainly would buy it!

Have a wonderful rest of the trip.

Hugs, Shelagh

whalewatcher said...

Dear Louise,
I tend to forget that you have a blog and write on it quite faithfully. Something today pulled me to your webpage and there I was reminded. As I visited it and read from Oct. 30th on I caught up w/what has been happening on your trip. I'd been thinking of you, but did not want to barge into your trip w/an email. Since you are checking your blog almost each day it did not seem the same kind of interruption so hope that is ok.
Please accept my condolences at the loss of your friend and pass them on to Michael. Thank you for sharing so candidly a difficult time in your lives.
What an important life action you have struggled through for the love of a friend. Bless you and his family.
Without wanting it to seem irreverent by moving on so quickly I must at least comment that your telling about the rest of the trip almost has me on a plane to England! I have passed through London, but not spent time there. I want to stay in a B & B
and have a full English breakfast in a place I love.
Tea at Harrods! die for and all your other adventures and times of being curled up w/a book and a cuppa....aaahhh.
I've finished The Brutal Telling.....where would I begin to discuss its merits?! I just might try though, but will save for an email ; -)
Well, since I am out of reading material and you have mentioned editing your latest book don't let me keep you from it.....wink, wink ha!
As the healing at the loss of your friend continues I hope the surroundings in which you are so enjoying yourselves continue to be a part of a new memory that though brings sorrow at his loss cocoons it in the comfort of the activities you're doing that make you and Michael smile.
Kathy ( not knowing how many 'Kathys' there might be out there who write you, if it helps I'm the one from the Midwest; who is your biggest fan : )

Bev Stephans said...

Dear Louise,

Your description of the Spanish devotional art from the early 1600's probably had a lot of the inquisition behind it. Even though the worst of the inquisition was over, it didn't formally disband until 1815 (I looked it up). The violence no doubt reflected the times.

Now that you are settled in your new digs, I assume you will be taking tea at a new place that you will describe to us and make us all green with envy. Ha Ha!

I look forward to the next installment.


Bobbie said...

Oh Louise, thank you for telling us these wonderful mind-pictures. Yes, in UK the Sunday before November 11th is Remembrance Sunday, and troops and veterans march in small villages and large cities, and the poppy is placed on so many sites. The poppy means so very much there, this nation lost most of its whole male generation in WWI, and they remember it strongly, along with now...though they and all of us hate war, they stand proud and salute those who served, then and now. As do we. You are in Britain at a very special time. We Remember.

Thank you for your writing ability, to 'show' us London, and small places that are overlooked, as well as the great grand things we know about. So very special.

If you have a chance, stand hand over heart, which is the civilian salute, if you see a service parade or someone laying a poppy on a site. For me. And on 11-11-11-11-11, I will do my moment of silence-as will Britain, and everywhere who wishes to remember and respect.

Enjoy your wonderful flat, the hidden places and the wonder! And thank you for sharing all this in Michael's and your sad time, with all of us.


lil Gluckstern said...

Hello Louise-
How very wonderful your posts are. I have never been to London, but I feel as though I am seeing through your wonderful writing. I have read books and watched TV and movies, but they don't reflect the personal view of what a great flat would be, or the emotions of the great memorials you describe. I also had to look up Guy Fawkes Day. It's fun to see it through your eyes. Wishing you pleasure, and peace.


Louise Penny Author said...

Dear Jeanine, Shelagh, Lil, Bev...

I am so glad you've come with us to London. We're having a you know, firewords are STILL going off. This Guy Fawkes is one, long, serious celebration. Such fun telling you about the visit. And Bev, you are quite right about the Inquisition - indeed one of the major artists in this show was an Inquisitor, who demanded the crucified Christ be depicted with four nails, not three. That three was sacrilege. Terrifying times.

Dear Bobbie,

How beautifully you put it, and I certainly will. I try to stand silent whereever I am at the 11th hour. This year seems all the more important. So many Canadians lost too...but finally there are no nationalities, only young men and women killed.

Here there are also Chelsea Pensioners. Former soldiers given a home and board in the Royal Hospital Chelsea...not actually a hospital so much as a nursing and retirement home. It's a real and rare honour to be chosen as a Chelsea Pensioner, and they wear long red coats, their medals and black tricorner hats. Very distinct, very moving.

Dear Kathy,

I remember you, my friend. Thank you for writing again...thank you for catching up and hitching a ride on this frigate. And for your lovely words of compassion. There was a time when I believe it was bad form to show emotion...there was something unstable about it. But I have long realized how very beautiful it is to tell people how I'm feeling. Not all the time. Not everything. Many things remain private...but this I wanted to talk about - and feel so much better for having done it.

How wonderful you all are. Tomorrow - more editing on book 6 in front of the fireplace, here in London. A quiet day. the afternoon taken up reading the Sunday Times.

Anonymous said...

Louise - I have been reluctant to comment as I am not even an acquaintance, but a fan. I am so sorry for the loss of your friend John and am glad you and your husband were able to say good-bye. I've enjoyed being able to glimpse, most lately, into your trip and the wonderful descriptions of London. I am going to try to get to Scottsdale for your visit next month to thank you in person for your terrific books - I have enjoyed them all and look forward to your next! Thanks you for introducing me to Three Pines.
- Daisy in Arizona

Louise Penny Author said...

Hi Daisy,

How lovely you are and it would be great to see you in Scottsdale! But just knowing you are reading the books and enjoying them is enough. I do so appreciate your words. Take care!

Kate said...

Dear Louise,

I am so very sorry to read of your friend's death. I was glad you got there in time to see & speak with him. And I am also sorry to read of your trials...wallet stolen, Michael turned away because of his attire. It has been so long since I have been in London, but you seem to have discovered much of its magic despite the difficult bits.

Do you remember a book that Helene Hanff wrote in which she describes a flat she rented in London? She was perplexed that everything was & bath included. I think in the end she found out the flat belonged to an older woman who could manage the machine to clean that, but not cleaning the regular floors and she was preserving her independence with these carpets. Now I am adding your London apartment descriptions to my mental collection of London apartments.

Are the Christmas decorations up in London yet?

London Hotels said...

Nice post! My friend rents a flat in London already a year. Next month we will visit him, I'm very excited:) It's my first time in London and I'm planning a big attractions program. I enjoyed to read, good luck!