a unique perspective on this crazy world

Posts tagged ‘london’

solo adventures

I am not averse to travelling with companions but, once you reach a certain age, it can be tough to get people to commit due to their various entanglements with other people so I started travelling solo.  It was also a personal challenge since genetically I am painfully shy but have been training myself for so long now to be bolder and not let my natural personality curtail the opportunities life might present me that people laugh in my face when I suggest that I am an introvert, let alone painfully shy.  I’ve learned to just smile and wear it as a badge of honour.  On a good night, I can even “work a room” now, which still continues to amaze me.  I just feel grateful that I learned at a young age that it was NECESSARY to learn how to talk to strangers, even if it made me want to throw up from nerves when I first began the experiment.

gritty east london

exploring shoreditch

I would highly recommend getting comfortable with talking to strangers.  You will get plenty of opportunity if you stay at the Hoxton and hang out at the bar. It was a while ago so I can’t remember everyone I met but do remember it as a friendly place.  I had a couple of memorable encounters.  One night I met an Iranian immigrant on his way to Australia.  He was somewhat besotted with me despite an age difference that was ridiculous and he was dragged off by his friends to another venue.  I think part of the attraction may have been that I knew a bit about Iran and told him one of my best friends is married to a Persian.  I also have lived in Australia so bonding was easy.

More bizarre was my Sunday night adventure.  I didn’t expect much to be happening on Sunday night but, when you are a tourist travelling alone, your room is a bit boring so was sitting in the lobby area working on the blog when some locals spotted me.  It’s always nice to meet people from the actual ‘hood in which you are temporarily domiciled and these ladies were real EastEnders, born in the neighborhood before the more recent gentrification.

Apparently the Hoxton offers membership and discounts to locals to encourage them to hang out, especially on days when tourists may be sparse.  While you may not meet many people on Sunday night, it is also likely the people there will bond more easily.  With very little effort, my blog prep efforts were abandoned and I became part of an intriguing quasi safari observing human behaviour rather than animal 🙂

The women were old friends and very chatty.  At first, everything was pretty normal.  Where things got interesting was when it changed from chit chat about how the neighborhood had changed to being a participant in a cougar safari adventure.  I can’t remember now how the young guys got involved but they seemed happy to buy everyone drinks and flirt. One of the lads was handsome and exceptionally charming.  The other two women lapped up the attention.  It was like watching soap opera live.  After a while, the young men took off and I figured the entertainment was over but then one of the women also left.  The other lady was pretty drunk by then and very determined that I needed to stay with her.

I’ve had some interesting encounters with drunken strangers over the years 🙂  This one ended up the most bizarre of all.  An older businessman joined us in the bar.  He was staying in the hotel and they hit it off.  He seemed like a nice guy.  The very inebriated lady seemed determined to stay in my room, which would have been weird but, in the end, she decided she could stay in the gentleman’s room.  I had to walk with her there.  As soon as we arrived, the safari got a little too much like a nature documentary so I shielded my eyes as I backed out of the room as fast as possible!

If bizarre encounters with strangers aren’t your thing, there are other less adventurous things you can do in Shoreditch.  One of my favourite discoveries this trip was the Spitalfields Market.  Lots of choices at better prices than you normally find in London.

You can opt for a traditional English pub or go more locavore in a pretentious cocktail bar.  We tried to get into nightjar but you really need to make a reservation.  We did get into Happiness Forgets and the cocktails were excellent but it was uncomfortably hot.  Perhaps it’s a heritage building and you can’t install air conditioning…

You can also stay in Shoreditch and explore other parts of London.  As already noted, British cuisine has come a long way since I first encountered it.  What is funny is that London is the advance team in cultural affairs in almost all respects but, when it comes to food, it is tipping its hat to the Pacific Northwest.  I think it’s a combination of the hippie past, the affinity for nature and the lush local produce but the idea of getting creative with local ingredients has been part of the Pacific Northwest for a few decades.

Ironically the restaurant we went to in Fitzrovia is called Portland.  I don’t think the Brits realize they are eating Pacific Northwest style cuisine but it’s the formula I’ve known and loved most of my adult life – in season local produce identified by supplier, clever and creative combinations and great flavours.  I normally order European wine in Europe but they had a bottle of D2 from Washington state, which was delicious and seemed to match the menu 🙂

A more English experience, I also went to have a cocktail at the Connaught as it had been recommended by a London bartender.  It is an experience and certainly worth doing.  Just know that there will be no question you ARE in London when the bill comes so be ready for the sticker shock!  The most expensive drink of my life – now surpassing deciding to drink champagne (without first asking the price) at the legendary Victoria Falls Hotel while looking at the falls. Also worth it 🙂

While the British Empire might not have been a good idea, it does mean that London is

somerset house design biennale

incredible creativity and colour

agog in cultural treasures from all over the world.  In a 21st century acknowledgement that the world has changed, Somerset House initiated a biennale to celebrate global design and I just happened to be in London.  It was amazing and the next one isn’t until 2018 so there is plenty of time to plan for it.

My final stranger encounter this trip was one of my favourites.  I stayed in Earl’s Court when I got back from Riga as it’s on the tube line to Heathrow so made my exit faster.  Stayed at the Rockwell Hotel, a small hotel only a short walk from the station.  It’s very well priced for London.  It was Sunday night and nothing looked too interesting on the street so decided to have a mojito at the hotel bar and head to bed.  I wouldn’t recommend having a cocktail at the hotel as the bar is not really properly equipped to make them but it did lead to an interesting chat with my charming server.

posh west london

rockwell hotel ‘hood

She was from Vilnius!  I don’t think she gets too many customers who have just been there.  I expect many are not sure where Lithuania is so we had a lively chat about proper cocktails, life in London as a foreigner and the rise of the Baltics.  Yet more proof of the rewards of talking to strangers 😉

London is a multifaceted place and you can live all sorts of lives there from super posh to super gritty.  I like to mix it up and keep things fresh 😉

 

calling all hipsters, wannabes and fans…

Or just people looking to check out new neighborhoods in London 😉  I grew up fairly poor by western standards in the 1980s.  That decade became associated with Donald Trump, jerks on Wall Street and conspicuous consumption – and there was some of that.  In many places, though, it was a decade of recession, runaway interest rates and social strife.  That was the decade I lived in.  It was a time when there were thrift stores instead of vintage boutiques and if your jeans had holes, it was because they were old and you couldn’t afford a new pair…

It was an interesting time and possibly one of the best decades in history in which to be young.  I was fortunate to meet and date a lot of people who had a phenomenal impact on my life (many still part of it) and, without them, I would likely not even be IN London, let alone so much like a local that I was searching for new neighborhoods to keep the experience fresh.

I began the decade about as far from cool as one could be but, by happy accident and forcing myself to acquire better social skills, I inched a little further in that direction during a summer spent in Calgary.  Calgary is hardly a major international center of chic but it was the biggest city I had ever lived in at the time and it was exciting.  Toronto was even more exciting.  My father was very well read so I knew about Bay Street but the idea that I was now WORKING on Bay Street.  OMG!  It was a childhood dream come true.

What was even better was that I had an amazing boyfriend who had grown up in the city and was a fan of indie rock back in the day when you whispered the names of bands like insider secrets.  I still remember the party where someone said, “you need to listen to The Smiths.  They are amazing”…

There was a lot of music to love in the 1980s but the most radical part that changed my life is that indie rock bands were poor so they played in scruffy venues rather than glossy stadiums.  Long before the word gentrification was even coined, I was hanging out in the neighborhoods that would fall prey to it.

It’s made the new century very interesting for me.  I will never be any part of the hipster universe but I hang out with them a lot because I love exploring cities and know that the east side (almost always…) is the more interesting place to be.  I like character and action, living in the real future rather than the fake past.

If you are coming to London for the first time, the best place to hang out is the West End if you can afford the tariff.  If you are looking for something cheaper but super comfortable, Earl’s Court is a popular option.  If you are OK with a little edge – or have a tiny budget – head east to the London of Jack the Ripper and the working class.

beautiful graffiti

At minimum, stop by for dinner.  That was my initial foray into Shoreditch.  London is very old place.  Shoreditch has been through several centuries of history and its star has risen and fallen.  These days it is definitely on the rise.  London is one of the great cities of the world.  I have lost count of the number of times I have visited but it is so vast in both geographic size and scope of things to see and do that there are still plenty of things I have not yet done.

The first time I set foot in the city of London was 28 years ago.  I got my first passport to visit my boyfriend who was travelling through Europe on an extended trip I couldn’t afford but I discovered the airfare to London wasn’t too bad so I could buy a backpack and make a short visit since we could sleep on the sofa at his Australian friends’ flat in Earl’s Court.  Back then, it was best to just stick to an English cooked breakfast and fish and chips.  Pretty much everything else was cooked to death and tasted a little like cardboard.

Luckily, I have found lots of reasons to continue to return to England’s capital so saw the rise of British cuisine first hand.  For a long time now, I have been fortunate to have at least one friend living in London and it makes me an especially privileged tourist.  We’ve been going to Shoreditch for dinner for a few years now so I decided it was time to see if I could STAY in Shoreditch and expand my knowledge of the city.

There are a few options.  I decided to stay at the Hoxton.  I would highly recommend it if you are comfortable with hipsters 😉  It’s very lively.  They have done a

hangin at the hoxton

good job of being part of the neighborhood while catering to tourists and it’s packed on the weekend.  I spent some time with my friends but was also at the hotel alone at points so could go into observation mode.

exploring the ‘hood

It was quite hilarious.  In my normal life, I don’t spend a lot of time with hipsters so had not appreciated how little individuality there was.  Practically everyone looked the same, especially the men.  For sure, curated facial hair, often a man-bun.  Expensive sneakers with little personality.  Untucked shirt, invariably white but possibly black.  Skinny jeans.  It was a little creepy, like looking at a version of youth programmed as Stepford Wives.

While the concept of individuality may have gotten a little lost, there was a lot to like once you indulged in conversation.  It’s a great bolthole from which to experience Shoreditch and environs.

We’ll continue the Shoreditch adventures… and eventually I will write more about London… but to get you started I am going to defer to TimeOut.   I can vouch for Lyle’s and Andina.  I have been using TimeOut guides for most of my adult life.  I can’t remember if I discovered it in London or in New York City.  Like so many things, it has gone from cool entrepreneurial quirk to ubiquitous corporate presence but it’s still one of the best resources for travellers who like the path less travelled…

 

 

 

not that I would wear any of it ;)

I have been on the road almost constantly since my last post so have lots of new travel tales but haven’t had any time to commit them to paper.  My summer project… thought I would start with some exhibitions that are current in case anyone is inspired to check them out…

I was one of those children who made clothes for my dolls.  I didn’t have access to Vogue.  I’d never seen a designer dress.  I didn’t even know the concept.  My fashion inspiration came from the Simplicity and Butterick pattern books my grandmother brought home from the dry goods department where she worked when the new ones arrived.  I learned that I could put in a request and I could have my very own collection.  I poured over all the shapes and styles, noting the subtle changes that transformed the base pattern.  It was an early education in tailoring – and perhaps the reason I lean toward Armani rather than Galliano.

Most of the photos of me as a child show me dressed in embarrassing outfits.  I have no idea why they want to bring the 70’s back.  Those were some scary moments in fashion…

But it was a time of high drama, especially in western countries.  The 60’s ushered in the concept of social change but most of it happened in the 70’s.  I was too young to appreciate most of it, especially as I lived in a remote rural community where not that much was changing.  One thing I did know about was David Bowie.  Before the internet, information was hard to come by.  I didn’t even know the Talking Heads existed in 1977, let alone that I should be buying that album.

My first fledgling teenage romance was with a drummer.  It was a headbanger rock kind of town so most of his favourite songs just sounded like noise to me.  But then he played “Changes”.  We had common ground – and I liked him a little more…  It became part of the soundtrack of my life.

I am not particularly interested in famous people and think most of them would likely prove to be quite boring in person – but Bowie is an exception.  He was my first decent musical choice so I know quite a lot about him but never really thought much about his social impact.  Being a big Bowie fan, I was intrigued when I emerged at Gare du Nord last month and saw intriguing posters of him all over the station.  Luckily, I had dinner the next night with friends from Vancouver who informed me there was an exhibit at the Philharmonie de Paris.

philharmonie de paris

philharmonie de paris

I was worried that – in the age of the internet – my lack of research and preparation for Paris – would render me ticketless but the Philharmonie is new and in an area of Paris I have not yet explored so worth the trip even if I couldn’t get into the exhibition.  It appears there are still some tickets reserved for people willing to make a journey to the ticket office in person.  You need some patience but eventually you get in…

It was definitely worth the wait.  The exhibition originated at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  It’s called “David Bowie is”.  It’s hard to describe, as mercurial and enigmatic as Bowie himself.  You walk through a series of objects, videos, photos and costumes depicting Bowie’s biography.  You have headphones and the music changes as you roam to put the right soundtrack to the particular part of the exhibit in which you find yourself.  It includes the expected key points in his biography and the musical history but what makes it really resonate is the analysis of Bowie’s influences, collaborators and social impact.

http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/t/touring-exhibition-david-bowie-is/

I am one of those people who have spent a lot of time searching for the meaning to life.  For me, it’s been a combination of art, culture and relationships.  So it was fascinating to see how Bowie was influenced by books, music, travel and the people in his life – and how his achievements were generally part of a collective of talented, intelligent, interesting people.  He was just the most famous name in the group.

Anyway, go check it out for yourself.  It closed on May 31, 2015 at the Philharmonie de Paris but it’s touring internationally so see if it’s coming to a location near you…

The Victoria and Albert Museum featured heavily in my May sojourn in Europe.  They have also put together a killer exhibit on Alexander McQueen called Savage Beauty.  It’s on until August 2, 2015. I would recommend booking in advance.  I’m not sure if I just got lucky, or if my friend Monica’s E&Y connections scored us tickets, but they are definitely in high demand.  Seeing the exhibit I could understand why.  While there are very few items of clothing or accessories I would have any interest in actually wearing, it is fascinating to be inside Alexander McQueen’s head as he dreams this stuff up.

http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/exhibitions/exhibition-alexander-mcqueen-savage-beauty/

The V&A has made it very atmospheric so it doesn’t feel like a museum but rather a strange trip into a dark, gothic Romanian forest where you are wary that Dracula might jump out from behind a mannequin and bite you on the neck.  The coolest part is a room staged like a cabinet of curiosities.  On the walls, items are placed in boxes like a giant Renaissance cabinet of curiosities.  In the center, there is a 21st century bank of monitors playing video from multiple McQueen shows on a continuous loop.  It’s a perfect embodiment of his sensibility – strange old-fashioned exceptionally English clothes modified for the 21st century.

If you also made clothes for your dolls – or just are really interested in fashion…

There are two more stops for you in Paris.  The Fondation Pierre Bergé Yves Saint Laurent is hosting an exhibit “Yves Saint Laurent 1971 – the Scandal Collection” until July 19, 2015.  It’s for fashionphiles.   It’s basically a chance to look into the archives at a couture house.  You can see the entire design process for one of the finished garments and see sketches and mannequins displaying some of the pieces from the collection as well as watch some very old-fashioned fashion videos.

http://www.fondation-pb-ysl.net/en/Exhibitions-196.html

The 1971 collection was heavily critiqued because many felt Saint Laurent was glamorizing the Nazis and the

marvels of paris museum route

marvels of paris museum route

war was still fresh in the memories of the people who could afford couture.  Like Bowie, he was pushing boundaries and making people feel uncomfortable.

My final foray into European fashion was at the Palais Galleria Museé du Mode, a new addition to the wonders of Paris.  Until August 23, 2015 they are hosting an exhibit on Jeanne Lanvin.  I know the name but that was about it until I went to the exhibit.  The clothes are stunning – the antithesis of H&M.  She started as a milliner so there are lots of hats.  The clothes are sumptuous, full of embroidery, topstitching, cut-outs and other couturière virtuosity.  Nothing I would ever wear but easy to appreciate the craftsmanship.

http://www.palaisgalliera.paris.fr/en/exhibitions/jeanne-lanvin

What was most fascinating though was her business acumen.  She was a 19th century titan of commerce, a self-made woman in a world in which women couldn’t even legally vote in most places.  Apparently she was very customer-focused.  She was a real estate tycoon.  Jeanne started the whole craziness of dressing toddlers in mini-me designer clothing 🙂  She branched out into lingerie, menswear, interior design.  She created her own fragrance.  She opened shops to sell her wares to the public.  She had a distinctive logo.  Jeanne Lanvin knew how to brand herself before the concept was even a concept 🙂  An inspiring lady.

There is much to be inspired about right now so start making your travel plans…

 

p.s. if you are a fashion junkie, there is also a Jean Paul Gauthier exhibit at the Grand Palais – but I discovered it is closed on Tuesdays – but the walk to the other museums was worth it.

http://www.grandpalais.fr/en/event/jean-paul-gaultier

 

the playthings of superpowers…

london on a glorious day

london on a glorious day

I’m not sure I would want to live in London as it is so crowded and expensive but it is a fantastic place to spend a few days imagining other lives and wandering through history.  I’ve been to the city enough times now that I feel like a local and I have to remember to pay attention.

One of the ways I have found to make familiar places interesting is to change up my accommodation.  ME London put me in a new location from previous visits.

I’ve been to London so many times it often feels like I am just a local in an alternate location.  Regular life amped up a bit.  Lots of walking.  Power shopping.  Dinner with friends.

I normally don’t spend the big bucks required to stay in a location that doesn’t involve flashing an Oyster card.  But my sexy cave was walking distance to Bond Street – and the cashmere luxuries of the Burlington Arcade.

I had brought the sun with me from Oslo so a long walk seemed an ideal way to start the day.  Since I was the official photographer for my mom’s inaugural tour of London I have more tourist photos of the city than I have of Paris but there are definite holes in the collection.

So I stopped to read the plaques 😉  Having just come from Norway and its history as a bargaining chip, passing from Denmark to Sweden and struggling to establish an identity independent of the bigger powers, some of the plaques and statues spoke to me a little more loudly.

Reading between the lines in Westminster, you see the sacrifices made by Canadians and Australians at the hands of a condescending Great Britain.  They don’t teach it in school but apparently at one point Queen Victoria wanted to trade Canada for Barbados – at the time, sugar was a lot more compelling than beavers…

It’s surprising Canada hasn’t turned republican 😉  Lots of Australians have.  They have been mishandled by the Crown in a more flagrant way.

On Sunday I wandered the Thames – and some of the most important historical buildings in London – with an Irishman.  This visit really illuminated the elusive nature of history.

wandering the thames...

wandering the thames…

So many countries are the playthings of superpowers.  Superpowers are the bullies of the global schoolyard.  What travel teaches us, though, is that often the individual citizens of superpowers are lovely and charming.  One has to keep an open mind and not hold someone’s flag against them.

Strangely it’s likely easier to be a tourist when you come from a plaything country.  The expectations on you are pretty low.  You don’t have to defend yourself from generalizations about your culture that might not reflect your own point of view.

Visit the superpowers.  Learn about history.  A lot of it won’t be pretty.  But, despite their roles as the playthings of superpowers, Norway, Australia and Canada emerged fairly unscathed.  And all worth your tourist dollars!  All tough places to make a go of it in the 19th century – but the kind of places where you innovate to stay alive.  And the landscape is rugged enough to discourage newcomers.  The world without man is an incredible place…  and there aren’t a lot of places on the planet where you can experience it in the 21st century.

But 21st century London is pretty benign.  And while it’s hard to get behind some of the historical choices, you just don’t see that kind of architecture unless you go to a superpower with a questionable past 😉

 

a hotel for narcissists ;)

I didn’t realize when I booked it that it was actually pronounced “ME”!  It’s the latest spot for urban trendsetters.  ME London – a new outpost of the über-stylish arm of the Melia chain.  I read about it on a recent airplane and was intrigued.

http://www.melia.com/en/hotels/united-kingdom/london/me-london/index.html

Five years ago I stayed at the first ME in Madrid.  How I met Javier and got a tour of Madrid with a local guide and one of my all-time greatest travel stories 😉  The rooftop bar at the ME in Madrid is more exciting than the rooftop bar at the ME London but I mostly stayed there so that I didn’t have to get past the velvet rope.

http://www.melia.com/en/hotels/spain/madrid/me-madrid-reina-victoria/index.html

my room in the sexy cave

my room in the sexy cave

It worked!  And ME hotels apparently inspire memorable travel experiences.  There is an impressive view over the Thames from the top of the hotel.  I can’t show you a photo though because, as I was discretely trying to sneak a tourist snap, a very attractive gentleman in a suit caught me.

“Don’t do it.  You’ll spoil it.  Just drink it in so you can remember it.”

I put my phone in my purse and looked at him.  “Fair enough.”  I was intrigued…

a snap before I met Patrick...

a snap before I met Patrick…

It’s hard to resist an Irish accent 😉  So I let Patrick call the shots for the rest of the evening.  I learned about the real current state of the economy of Ireland and what it was like to grow up in Belfast.  Belfast is already on the list – and he just convinced me it likely needs to move up!

To date, I’ve only been to Dublin – and never with a really fun-loving companion.  So I have this sense of it as a place where a love of music and a talent for words combines with an irresistible accent in utero, such that the Irish really give the Latinos some serious competition 🙂

Perhaps it is the Irish in me that reveres music so much.  When someone introduces himself as a musician who dabbles in the law as a sideline, I need to know more.  And am happy to engage in a debate as to whether music is the most important art form.

I think it likely is.  It has always been my substitute for therapy.  And you can engage in the music of a foreign culture without understanding the language.  It’s a true lingua franca.

I live in a beautiful city – but it’s full of jocks.  If you want to debate the best mountain bike, the best run at Whistler or whether yoga is better than Pilates, no problem finding tons of candidates.  But a philosophical discussion with an intelligent man sporting a sexy accent…

Why do you think I run to Europe every chance I get? 😉  Patrick and I spent hours in fascinating conversation but the most memorable concept was the important discussion everyone should be having in the 21st century.  Am I paying attention?  Am I experiencing the moment?  Is it more important to me to experience the moment than to capture it on an Instagram filter?

I love technology and have been an early adopter of all the stages.  I see how it can enhance our lives.  But I have also seen how it can disengage us from any proper version of life.

“the Patrick moment” was a great 21st century life lesson for me.  Will I choose to engage in conversation with the gorgeous Irishman – or will I blow him off so I can get a great shot of the Thames on my smartphone?

I made the right choice 😉

When you are in the senior’s home, you will remember listening to “One” (U2) on a balcony in East London with a boy from Belfast drinking Jamaican beer.  After you’ve already sampled Leonard Cohen and Neil Young.  Hey, I know One Direction has a lot of fans.  But I still get a lump in my throat when I hear “Biko” – or “Sunday, Bloody Sunday”.  Like when you meet a boy and spot books about poetry and philosophy on his nightstand…

There is no guarantee you will end up in a fascinating conversation with a charming Irishman (wearing green might help – it worked for me 😉  It’s also good to look up and make eye contact with strangers 😉

Even if the hotel doesn’t provide any unexpected benefits, it is in a great location.  You will be able to wander

the sexy cave :)

the sexy cave 🙂

through English history on foot.  There is an Italian restaurant and a steakhouse in addition to the rooftop bar.  The rooms are gigantic by London standards.

And wandering the halls will make you feel like you have wandered onto a movie set.  Bring heels or a good suit and soak up the atmosphere of the sexy Spanish cave you have meandered into 😉

 

what turns you on? ;)

You will either be relieved – or disappointed – but this is a G-rated post.  We are finally back in London.  At the rate I’m going I will be hitting Frankfurt airport again before I have dispensed with London… but I try to squeeze in some thoughts when I can…

So… the header relates to the small epiphany I had while I was roaming the cobblestones in East London, frequently lost or disorientated, but enjoying even those moments.

I live in a city where sport rules.  People are fit.  People do sport.  People watch sport.  People talk sport.  I’m not anti-sport – and fitter than the average North American – but I always feel like a freak in my hometown.

Cause sport just doesn’t turn me on the way art does.  I do enjoy the endorphin high from a good run – or the wonder of the landscape when you hike here in nature’s wonderland – but I am equally thrilled by a great building or awed by a visually and intellectually challenging piece of art.

So, without question, London turns me on 😉 Architecture, art, theatre, music – and some of the greatest intellectual achievements of mankind.  Each trip is different – but I always come away knowing a little more – and having my worldview challenged – and reshaped.

There were a number of intellectual experiences on this trip to London but this post will be about the Tate Modern.

http://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern

I’m not always sure what to make of modern art.  There was a time when it seemed to be following the “Fifty Shades of Grey” route… it just needed to be shocking, not necessarily great art.  I saw quite a few head scratching exhibits and came away convinced there was no way the general public was going to walk away enlightened and I just decided it was stupid art…

As this blog demonstrates, I am not afraid of having an opinion 🙂 And I am a huge fan of making the world a smarter place, but elitist bullshit designed for a clique that excludes most of the population… you will not be getting a “like” from me on facebook.

And art straddles that complex space.  It is meant to be more than just pretty pictures.  So, I will always be enamoured of the Impressionists… and they were shocking in their time.  But I also love the idea of art as a vehicle to ask questions about – and hopefully change – society.

So I try to understand modern art.  And definitely toss myself into its wake to see what happens…

And at the Unilever Series at the Tate stuff does happen!  Sadly, this is the last year of it.  And I just realized it was happening.  I went to see some exhibits in the Tanks… hey, it sounded intriguing 🙂  They were OK – but what was more interesting was the history of the Unilever Series at the Tate.

A number of years ago now I went down a slide at the Tate.  Not exactly what you usually do at a museum!  And I tried to avoid it! 🙂  Because it wasn’t a slide made by an engineer… it was a slide made by an artist… so it looked like my cashmere sweater was not going to make it out alive…

But I had met these cool English guys at Whistler.  One was an artist and the other an art aficionado so that was how I ended up at the Unilever Series.  And they graciously offered to hold my sweater so I could go down the slide…

At the time I didn’t realize I was part of art history – and the Unilever Series!  But it was one of the puzzle pieces in helping me understand modern art, the idea of conceptual art… The slide was meant to have people participate in the art… and you did… it was rough and not terribly slidey… German engineers would have designed it so that you went from the fourth floor to the ground in a couple of seconds!  But then it wouldn’t have felt like an experience… worrying you might get stuck in the tube – and having to push yourself through at points – made it an experience… both for you and for the spectators watching you…

While I might have entered the slide reluctantly, this time I was trying to find the Unilever art… it’s meant to be conceptual and maybe not so obvious…

I had noticed on the way in there was a lot of movement in the Turbine Room… and some of it looked choreographed… but not in an obvious way… but after I’d spent my time in the Tanks, I stood and watched for a little while…

Obviously that was the “art” for 2012… random groups of dancers who looked like art students but then would spontaneously combust in a modern dance piece that had them moving fluidly amongst the crowd… being disconcerting but never actually touching someone.

I was thinking about trying to photograph it so was standing still for a while… when some older gentleman approached me…

Strangers talk to me all the time so I was suspicious right away… it was more like an actor’s monologue than a conversation.  Apparently he and his wife had just moved into this “ready-made community” and they wanted them to join the local council.  He went on for quite a while and it was strange – but entertaining.  I wondered if I was being filmed 🙂

Finally he asked what I thought about “ready-made communities”.  I think I might have made his day 🙂 I live in a city where planning is an important foundation of the metropolis so first we discussed that.  The concept of zoning and approving development to “create a community” a concept I am very familiar with – and have seen work well.

But the most interesting part of the conversation was when I talked about the sense of community I experienced as a child growing up in a small town.  It’s a genuine community.  And, if you don’t want people to know your business – or expect you to participate in the community – a bad choice.  But it also means the community keeps tabs and knows what is going on in a way that is really difficult in a large city like London.

So… in the end… he thanked me for the conversation… I walked away having not only SEEN the art – but having BEEN part of the art… and – most importantly – we agreed, if you want to be a badass criminal, you better move to the city… in proper communities, you will be sanctioned by your peers to behave better… kind of like how you can’t steal from your own grandmother… food for thought… what all great art should be…

has everyone been watching jamie oliver?

Or Nigella?  My personal girl crush 🙂

This is definitely a way to prolong your vacation 😉  But I had some fun experiences in London so will attempt to share them… maybe a little late, but most things not of the moment…

I am hoping this post does not just represent some strange adventure in a parallel universe but an experience that could be repeated…

As noted earlier, I first arrived in the UK in 1989.  My memories of the food mostly involved trying to avoid the grease.  There was a lot of deep-frying – and not all that fat was fresh.  Accompanied by mushy peas and vegetables cooked to the point of torture (I think after that long in a pot you can be accused of crushing a carrot’s soul), it looked like a dream destination for a Weight Watchers commercial.

If, of course, you had a palate… and just said “no”.  On the very first trip, I did that a lot.  Of course, I got enough calories from shortbread and clotted cream I couldn’t exactly become a Weight Watchers spokesperson.  But I did develop an allergy to the stuff the English liked to trot out and suggest was food.

I wasn’t the only one!  And somewhere over the decades, gastropubs emerged, Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson and Gordon Ramsay became so famous that even someone who doesn’t know how to turn on a stove has likely heard of at least one of them.

I wouldn’t necessarily thank any of them personally because they are just famous and I am sure it was lots of people we have never heard of that actually changed British cuisine.  What came first – the chefs stepping away from the fryer – or the palates of the customers expanding and asking for more – or less in the case of recycled fatty acids.

I was just an observer.  I have been going to London regularly for over 20 years and I have started to enjoy eating there once in a while.  It has always seemed obscenely expensive though.  I live in this rarefied universe that combines a climate favorable to produce, a bevy of talented chefs at every price point and an adventurous gang of local customers anxious to eat out and spoiled for choice.

To impress me, you have to be great!  And I will care about the value.  So great will not be enough.

Because my city allows me to be such a spoiled brat I am tough on the rest of the world.  So, if I am impressed, it is something to be reckoned with.

And, this trip blew me away.  I’m not sure whether it’s London, me, or the global economy.  My guess would be a little of all three.  London cuisine has definitely improved over the years.  And the multicultural stew that London has become has provided the ingredients for better stew 😉 I am getting more adventurous in my wanderings and less prone to wander into a tourist trap.  And London is feeling the world’s pain given that so much of it involves financing the world’s ventures.  So a menu promising good value, rather than good champagne, is likely a much bigger sell than in the go-go days of the City’s early century heyday.

Poor investment bankers work for me 😉 I was astonished in that every meal that I had in London was above average.  That has never happened before.  And – even more impressive – none was wildly expensive.  I hung out mostly in the East.  Next trip that will be my stomping ground.  But I stayed at the Rockwell Hotel en route to and from Stockholm because it’s right on the Piccadilly Line so it was fantastically easy to get to and from Heathrow.  And the restaurant?  It was astonishing.  A fresh salad full of yummy veggies and fruits.  A salad in the UK?  How the world has changed.  I love it.  And the best fish and chips I have ever had!

http://www.therockwell.com/

Gordon Ramsay would be jealous 🙂  Of course, Gordon’s food isn’t all his reputation suggests.  I think he spends too much time these days mugging for the camera… but that’s a story for another time…

Just in case anyone is headed for London, here are the recent adventures in dining I would recommend checking out…

Pizarro/José

http://www.josepizarro.com/

Zucca

http://www.zuccalondon.com/

The Botanist

http://www.thebotanistonsloanesquare.com/

Anchor and Hope

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