Thursday, September 22, 2011


Our last full day, Tuesday. We left the flat late morning and made our way down, once again, to Trafalgar Square, where had had arranged to meet our friend—and former brother-in-law—John for lunch at his club on Northumberland Avenue. A grand place, quiet and dignified, reminiscent of earlier days in London before the noise and bustle of the twenty-first century set in. It was a welcome change from the unrelenting shoulder-to-shoulder battle on the streets and in the subways.

A pleasure, too, to reconnect with an old friend, whom we have not seen for quite a number of years. John seemed in good form—just a little older, like the rest of us. We heard about his second home in a small village in Brittany—a place where he spends time much as we do at our Laguna Beach retreat. In the finance industry for many years, he now observes the turmoil from a more comfortable distance, clearly enjoying his retirement and as glowingly proud of his grandson, Hugo, as are the rest of us.

Running out of London time, we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon at the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington...

I think I mentioned having bought a copy of Edmund de Waal’s “A Hare With Amber Eyes” after reading bout it shortly before leaving the US in the New York Times. Ellie has been reading it on the trip—along, it seems, with large numbers of the people we meet in England. It’s a family history that traces a collection of Japanese netsuke, written by a contemporary artist whose work, we had discovered, was in a special installation at the V & A.

Once at the museum, we drifted through some rooms devoted to the English aesthetic movement on our way up to the sixth floor, where the ceramic collections are on display—and were amazed at the range and depth of the collection...

... which included, to our delight, a tiny but utterly charming piece from the Chicago-based Teco pottery that we ourselves have collected over the years. Here it is, dwarfed by its neighbor:

I liked this sentiment:

And I liked the intelligence and humor of installing the new alongside the old:

The Edmund de Waal work was installed high up above the rest of the display cases, on a long, red, fully circular shelf around the base of the dome...

All shapes and sizes, the continuous row of stark white porcelain pieces was clearly intended to become an element of the architectural environment, contemporary, abstract, even minimal shapes which at the same time called to mind the figures—cherubs or gargoyles—used in earlier religious architecture to summon the spirits--angels or demons--from the world beyond. A lovely, seemingly modest installation whose presence is nonetheless a powerful and moving one.

From the V & A, we plunged underground again to join the sardine-packed, rush hour crowds on the Piccadilly and Northern lines to return to our temporary abode in Islington.

Took a few minutes to catch our breath and relax a while before heading out to the local pub to enjoy a final dinner there.

Wednesday morning was spent cleaning up a bit—the bathroom and the kitchen particularly—and packing our bags ready for a ten-thirty pick-up for the drive out to Heathrow. Immigration and security were pretty easy at the London end, and we had time to do some duty-free shopping before boarding our JFK-bound flight. Virgin Air, I have to say, was not a patch on New Zealand Air—though, to be fair, we did travel premium economy on the way over. The Virgin aircraft left a lot to be desired, including a hopeless audio-visual system so poor that I had to give up on both of the two movies that I started.

More distressing, though, was the arrival in New York. Unlike Heathrow, the lines at immigration were inexcusably long and slow; and worse, the video display units, tuned to CNN, were showing reports of an execution planned in Georgia despite world-wide protests from prominent leaders from the Pope on down; and another touting the results of a poll showing Sarah Palin trailing President Obama by only five points, despite the fact that she’s not even running. Welcome home.

A slow ride into New York City, again through rush-hour traffic, to our new temporary home, The Inn on 23rd Street. A very comfortable room, a fine shower. We tend to forget the conveniences that make our lives so easy… Is this was makes our country great? (Just kidding. A bit.) After unpacking and taking a quick shower to freshen up from the long journey, we walked the few blocks down to Eatalty, a favorite spot at the corner of 6th Avenue, and waited only a short while for a table—and an excellent meal, accompanied by a glass of Chianti Classico. How we suffer! Back in the hotel around nine o’clock (2AM English time), and kept ourselves awake a while longer watching an episode of “Foyle’s War.” Which took us right back to the UK.

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