Ah, to be abroad, where the brand names are different. Somewhat. I mean, we're in a Radisson, and there are two Starbucks down the road. There's a McDonald's on the corner, as I've noted. It has been a great disappointment to us. Daughter doesn't like it because it has touchscreen ordering, as opposed to human beings - she doesn't like her imminent robot future. I don't like it because the last thing I want to do before picking up my food with my hands is touching something everyone else has jabbed. What a great way to spread plague, now that I think of it.
New brand: We're at Caffe Nero, which has become our Morning Spot for writing over coffee and pastries. Wife fits in better in Europe than any of us.
There are only 5 Caffe Neros in the US; it's a European chain, although it seems that the founder is an American. A website says "Paladin Partners established Caffè Nero in 1997 in South Kensington, with five branches. At the time most people drank coffee from instant coffee bought in the supermarket. Now the company has around 570 establishments in the UK. " Well, they've truly done God's work, if that's the case. The decor of the place is eclectic - mismatched chairs and tables, as everything here was once in the elegant house of a rich person with refined taste who fell on hard times and had his possessions distributed to satisfy creditors.
So I like it. But there's also the aforementioned McDonald's problem. We went there last night b/c daughter had a hankering for a McFlurry, and no one had had dessert for a week. Called up the menu. All the soft-serve options were unavailable. The machine was broken. Because of course the machine was broken.
"Let's go to Tesco for a Cornetto," I said.
"What's that. No." Because Tesco. She got their number straight away.
I wanted to say I don't know, but I think it's a three-layer frozen confection, like a Drumstick, and I know that because of Simon Pegg movies? We had a Magnum bar instead. She described how she'd seen an bus ad for the peanut butter version, and how it was oddly feral and sensuous. For a peanut-butter ice cream bar. I'd seen it too; it featured a face that was half-woman, half jungle cat. For a peanut-butter ice cream bar. It was daring you to indulge, or unleash your passion, or something. Ridiculous, but I remembered it.
The Cornettos in the cooler looked rather pathetic. Nothing like a Drumstick. Set them side by side and ask "which is American" and no one would get it wrong.
One of the familiar brands, of course, would be Heinz, and I had one of their fine and famous products for breakfast yesterday. We had a few hours left of the hop-on-hop-off bus, so we took it to Buckingham Palace. Started to rain on the way. Windy. Also, there was a 10K downtown, and no traffic moved. The bus went nowhere for a long, long time, and eventually we prevailed upon the driver to release us. Wandered around looking for lunch; found a corner take-away place that had two tables and charged you 40p for the pleasure of sitting there. They had English Breakfast with sausage, bacon, hash browns, toast, eggs and BEANS IN WATERY KETCHUP! Hurrah. Of course that's what I ordered. Sat eating my morning beans looking through the window at the rainy street outside, thinking, this is practically an application for citizenship.
Then to Buckingham Palace. Behold some statuary, stern and grey.
SORRY I can't stop with the drama. Here:
Better? The horses arrived and the pageantry began, with large dollops of offal left on the pavement. Guys - could you hold it, just for a while? This is royal duty, and you're dropping hay pies all over.
The next stop was supposed to be Harrod's, so we could make it to St. Paul's Cathedral, but once we got into Hyde Park we had to go see Speaker's Corner. Futile, that; anyone who'd be on a soapbox yelling would have switched to Blogspot a long time ago. Since we were up in that corner - which is now the farthest point from Harrod's so far - Wife decided to go to the other corner, which would be the farthest possible point from Harrod's yet attained today. Fine; I'm not here to argue or point to the clock. The secret to happiness on these trips is to follow most of the time, and give her the reins. The downside is cutting things close and doing too gott-dammed much, but the upside is seeing things we wouldn't have otherwise seen. Like the Monument to Pavilions Whose Original Purpose has been mostly forgotten:
And the Italian fountains, which were lovely. Like all the parks we've seen, it's a simulacrum of Wild Nature shaped slightly by the hand of man. Not rigorous and linear. Dogs, swans, tall grasses, parakeets - a lovely ramble, with the temperature going from broiling hot to clammy cold depending on the mood of the clouds. Then to the Albert and Victoria's Museum, which was another astonishing structure filled with object d'art:
This building was probably hated for a while by all the right people - stuff, fussy, historical. A Monstrosity! What the rational future needs is clean surfaces untroubled by precedent.
Okay; that works, sometimes. But even if this building was ugly - which it isn't - it's more engaging than a blank concrete bunker or a shiny glass tower. I've seen some basic glass office towers in London that I like. The Shard's good. The Gherkin is interesting. The rest of the big famous buildings, eh. It's buildings like these that you remember. Architecture is moment in time, frozen, immune. These buildings are time travelers.
Off then to Harrod's, which is wincingly posh, and I couldn't care less about any of it. Perfume, cosmetics, Vera Wang, Chanel, whatev - Holy Crow, the Food Court. Room after room of theatrical spaces, painted and gilded, endless banks of refrigerated cases with the most astonishing things to eat. The White House, in Jelly. For some reason.
Got some sandwiches and sat outside the building by a plaque commemorating an IRA bombing, dodging the rain. (The weather, I understand, was typically English; hot, cold, wet, dry, all in the space of an hour.) Having victualed up, it was down into the tube to shoot across down to see this little church named for St. Paul.
The winner of the 2016 European Vacation "Best Church" award from me. Baroque without a hint of Rococo. That grave ageless Roman majesty - which of course was almost something of an issue, given that it was Protestant church. We split up to explore what we liked; Wife took the stairs to the roof, and I took the stairs to the Crypt. She saw the sky, and I saw the grave of J. M. W. Turner. I'd show you some things . .
. . . but photography's not allowed. Always surprising when you encounter that. What, I can't walk around snapping pictures of your holy place for my Facebook page? What makes you so special? The monuments and cenotaphs in the church were mostly Great Men who were Gloriously Terminated, as the carvings said, in service to God and King / Queen in various lands, often against the French. Odd to see a church with so many secular memorials - soldiers instead of saints. Gave the place a national character as much as a religious one; all these names and distant battles all over the globe.
In the crypt I made a pilgrammage to the tombs of the painters, then went up to stand under the cupola.
Stood directly under the oculus, perfectly positioned. Everything lined up. Circles within circles.
At the very center of the uppermost point . . . a blue light winked on and off.
Wha? Looked around, stared at blank spaces to see if it was my eyes. It wasn't. Looked back up and kept looking until my neck hurt.
I told wife and daughter that I'd seen a light, blinking on and off just once, like a signal, never to be repeated. They didn't believe me.
That's enough for a day, eh? HAH. HAH. We still had a few minutes between scheduled events, so we went to . . . THE BRITISH MUSEUM, with 25 minutes before closing. Just enough time to see . . .