I love London. I realize that’s a bold statement to make five days into this adventure, but this is a remarkable, walkable, and lovable city. I say walkable because I can tell I’ve been walking, with a Capital W. This always happens when we venture out of our house and over the pond to Europe. Perhaps I should remove the word we, because Bruce walks every day. But me, well, that’s another story. I don’t know how the U.S. evolved the way it has, where we literally drive everywhere. I walked a lot as a kid, heading uptown, or to Kim’s, or just along the railroad tracks, arms out, balancing like a gymnast on a balance beam. So here I am, out of shape, again, and wanting to see it all. When you’re a quarter to a half mile from the nearest form of public transportation, mostly metros, mind you, with lots and lots of steps, and you are sans vehicle, you are Going to be Walking. It’s a shock to the legs, the feet, the shins, the calves, and even to the spirit. It’s a forced march of sorts, but it feels good.
I had images in my mind of London, naturally, which included the Queen and her entourage and her corgis, with all the palaces and grandeur, Big Ben, Parliament, the Tower Bridge, etc., etc. Mixed into that though was something from my childhood imagination and the 60’s. Something with the Beatles and mod and grunge, and perhaps a craziness that I would need to brace myself for. Certainly, these things exist in this huge city, and I may very well encounter some of it in the next several days, but to me, this city has been warm and inviting, and, well, very British. I was more shocked on my first visit to Edinburgh, Scotland, than I am here. Scotland’s mythical spirit is everywhere, in every castle, on every street, including the Royal Mile. Kids in goth with piercings and witches garb, and a bit of darkness that I’ve not seen elsewhere with the exception of New Orleans. Don’t get me wrong, I love Scotland, probably more than anywhere I’ve been, but there’s an energy there that grabs you and doesn’t let go.
We’ve landed in a garden apartment in Chelsea, a city borough which was at various times a haven to artists, musicians, poets, and writers. King Street saw the birth of mini skirts, go-go boots, and all things mod. Now, Chelsea is gentrified and monied. We’ve taken evening walks along the Thames, and Cheyne street, which, according to Wikipedia, that bastion of modern knowledge, was home to Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Oscar Wilde, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, and most glorious of all, to Ralph Vaughan Williams, where he composed The Lark Ascending. When I die, there’s no need for speeches, rosaries, epithets or fanfare. Simply play The Lark Ascending, in its entirety, and then toss some rose petals about the place and be done with it.
This is a great little apartment, which has green space, including a giant sycamore tree that looms above our little conservatory and enclosed garden patio. The wind whips up from the river, and keeps the branches and leaves in constant motion. It’s a thing of beauty.
The owners of this apartment have artwork throughout, and have recently re-decorated in Chinese decor. When I booked, there was more of an English feel to the furnishings, but we are accepting of our red lacquer boxes, and Chinese warriors. There is one painting in particular that we have studied and studied. It’s evolved from a man painting a woman, to three women, one being a nun with giant black wings, involved in some sort of checkers game. That’s our latest iteration, but who knows because this painting changes every single day.
Elizabeth von Arnim wrote, “The mind slips sideways in a place like this.” I can see how that’s possible, as I write this, with a little rain on my window, and a little wind in my sycamore.
Lorie McMillin, Chelsea, London, August 2013