LONDON CALLING – Wednesday, 13 February 2019

It turns out the four bedrooms in Flat Number Three at Number Six Broad Court contain four beds that each possess a ‘wrong side’. No one is devoid of grumpiness. Not even two cups of coffee can soothe the savage communal breast of La Famille Hansmann. And, hey, the cardamom buns suck. Nevertheless, we rally and head towards Buckingham Palace with the faint hope of seeing the guard change. Change is Good.

We traverse the muddy paths of St. James Park (or perhaps its companion, Green Park) as faintly audible martial music intimates that The Change is taking place. The closer we get the more obvious it becomes that they are indeed playing the Theme from the Magnificent Seven. I am assuming they’re trying to have fun with their job. The black and gold palace gates are several hundred yards farther off, yet the towering black fur headgears of The Guard bob above the bare heads of the hoi polloi. Suddenly a cohort breaks rank, escapes the palace gates, and heads down the Mall passing obstacle-free right in front of us. It’s like being given a photo opportunity without having to be Ace Reporter.

Sated now, we move laterally toward the Queen’s Gallery where I expect the Royal Art Collection to be. Nope. A small but opulent show about Russian Royalty beckons. Memorable are a most restrained and beautiful Fabergé egg, a full-length portrait of some bored-looking noble dude boasting a startlingly robust endowment, and a string quartet from the London School of Music sawing away. The Gift Shop features all the Buckingham Palace swag you could ever imagine an Anglophile tourist might possibly want, for instance, a tube labeled ‘Handbag Shortbread for Emergencies’ and a corgi-emblazoned sleep mask. God Save the Queen!

Gotta get lunch. There’s peakedness all around. The Laughing Halibut Fish and Chips is a ten-minute walk. Formica tables! Malt vinegar! Mushy peas! Four kinds of fish!

Our customary sightseeing routine consists of a morning thing, then lunch, then an afternoon thing, then nap. It’s after lunch and we’re sort of far afield, so I ask my GPS app to find us a nearby taxi stand. It does and we follow the erratic blue dot, picking up a cab to Handel-and-Hendrix-in-London, two adjoining buildings inhabited by two musical giants two hundred years apart. Handel owned 25 Brook Street, while, for a year in the late 60s, Jimi rented a flat at the top of Number 23. The juxtaposition is delicious. Each dwelling has been restored to its time. I am over the moon. The walls in the Handel house have been painted Historically Accurate Gray. The floors creak and nothing is original, yet in the clear light the place has a certain resonance. Jimi’s flat was decorated, then redecorated for this restoration, by his then-girlfriend. A fringe-y shawl canopy protects a mattress on the floor. A full ashtray sits by the bed. A three-foot tall knitted stuffed animal called Dog Bear lies in a heap next to a bowl of fruit. A stereo and several stacks of LPs line the wall. 

Handel’s operas, oratorios, and instrumental music are some of my dependable playlist favorites and, despite two tabs of Orange Sunshine, my memory of attending Jimi’s Band of Gypsys concert at the Fillmore East on New Year’s Eve 1970 will never fade,.

This nutty, exhilarating experience buoys us and we’re all game to track down the Faraday Museum housed at the Royal Institution on Albemarle Street. It’s an easy walk along Bond Street, the Fifth Avenue of London. We pass some remarkably decked-out Londoners, carrying off high fashion with crisp brio. The Royal Institution, despite its vague name, is Britain’s premier scientific laboratory. Countless scientific discoveries have been made there and over a dozen Nobel laureates have worked there since its founding in 1799. In the basement, Michael Faraday’s magnetic lab remains as it was in the 1850s. Faraday is a true rock star of science. His fundamental work on electromagnetism provided the basis for the practical application of electricity, the foundation for the modern life we take for granted.

Dinner and theater tonight. I booked us into a fancy restaurant in Somerset House called Spring, and, yes, the meal is lovely. The chef has an eye for ingredients and a light touch. The theater, not so much. Out of pop curiosity I had purchased tickets for the West End rendition of Sam Shepherd’s True West, starring Kit Harrington (Jon Snow). It’s not a good play, here rendered even more turgid by the hard-working actors’ struggle with two hours of combative and self-indulgent American dialogue. 

Note to self – following Google Maps at night is infuriating. Don’t do it.

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