Londinium Reverse Streams

A Journal Fragment Traveling East

London - Wednesday, June 21, 2000 04:30:00

Dawn has arrived and the air is filled with a cool grey-blue mist. Praed Street is dead quiet. Neither cars, nor cabs whiz by Notting Hill’s trendy streets. Two creatures stare across the road as I slow my step to watch. They behave like rodents, but hint perversely of both a canine and feline inbreed; miniature somethings with sandy colored coats, pointed snouts, sniffing street grub–rodent-like tails drape toward the ground. I’m at a loss. I want to approach them but their cautious calculated maneuvers in this mutually covert sojourn at this quite un-Londonish hour tell me to keep stride. Crestfallen, slowly subsiding intoxicated amusement carries on.

I trust that my instincts are leading me to my designated guest bed at 34-36 Sussex Gardens. One Princess Square is still vibrating through my body. It’s the Pavilion Hotel—a newly renovated 27-room hospitable haven that supposedly attracts odd sorts from the music and fashion industries. At least that’s what their advertising tags claim. The rooms are indeed funky and uniquely designed, but a bathroom seems to be an incidental addition. A shower is a challenge. It features one of those massage heads that happens to be hanging a mere three inches from my head. Flip it on and the cold water soon reaches an unchangeable burning pulse. The trick: try to grab a splash of the boiling water to wash away the soap. Did I mention that there isn’t a soap dish or a ledge to hold the shampoo bottle? This involves clever improvisation, much like the featured artists at this evening’s earlier gig.

The Evening Before: Swinging with Earthworks
Soho’s Pizza Express Jazz Club hosted a week-long stint for Bill Bruford and his Earthworks. Part of the planning for this trip revolved around this particular concert. After all, what could be better than seeing one (or more) of your favourite (as in the Haircut 100 tune) artists while enjoying a great vacation? This gig was special because the American guitarist, Larry Coryell, had been “on loan” as Bill Bruford remarked, to the Earthworks ensemble for a few shows in London as well as select future performances in Italy and Spain. My new London friends, Chris Davies and Kim Jones, hailing from Teddington, were excited to see the show as well. After a pleasant dinner at a French restaurant on Dean Street (Kim joined toward the end), we ambled downstairs and were seated in the jazz café just as the show was about to start. Already a bit buzzed from a the wine at the restaurant, as well as a good ol’ pint at a pub on the corner of Dean, we made our way through two more bottles of red as Bruford and company played away for well over two and a half hours. One bandmate, Patric Clahar, is a runaway standout on tenor sax. We greeted the band afterwards exchanging the requisite niceties. Exiting the jazz club proved to be an eye opener as the grape tannins danced in our happy heads.

Still Earlier That Same Day
The London subway system, known as the Underground, aka, the Tube, is remarkably convenient and well thought out. Except for the lack of air conditioning (which is the norm throughout the country), the trains are much more modern and user-friendly than New York’s equivalent. Wow, is that really a surprise? But, what you quickly discover, is that the steps or ramps (marked with a circle and horizontal line across the middle) do not always lead you directly to a train platform. There are maps with lots of entrance/exit numbers, most of them leading back up to street level, and then one magic entrance which actually takes you towards a train station. Once you’re on that right path, you may find yourself traveling on escalators that plummet deep into (a journey to) the center of the earth! What I really appreciated were the signs that urged people to stand to the right, in effect creating an escalator express lane. One of the single most annoying tediums of New York City commuting is the constant frustration of having to dance, prance, maneuver, or get trapped behind some wide, slow moving, unwavering, indecisive piece of human furniture.

In London, I often used the Central Line at Marble Arch. That station was just a ten minute walk from the hotel down past the middle Eastern cafés on Edgeware Road. Each day and night I walked by what was virtually a separate country of Lebanese, Turkish, and Iranian immigrants. Outside these cafés, many of this lot would be enjoying a smoke on a hookah, a magnificent centerpiece that might put an ordinary bong to shame. Bedecked with precious metals and emeralds, these table-high smoke machines seemed fit for an opium den revival. This Tuesday took me to the Westminster station off the Jubilee Line which plopped me straight into touristville. There was Big Ben and the Parliament buildings in all their architectural splendor. I headed for Westminster Abbey, home to the kings and queens dating back to the thirteenth century, and a site of fine workmanship.

Having filled the quota of things old world, an old bridge into Southbank, where I had been the previous day with Peter and Cecilia, looked welcoming. It was a longer trek than I had thought heading east along the Thames, finally reaching the spanking new Tate Modern. “Opened May 11, 2000 by her Majesty the Queen,” the inscription read. There was a fantastic French photography exhibit as well as many of the standard modern painters like Dali, Miro, and Picasso.

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