Was my exact reaction to discovering I'd left the passports and cash in the safe in the other room, as I said at the conclusion of yesterday's entry. For a minute I was certain I was sixteen kinds of dead man, but no, everything was fine. The Manager of Housekeeping helped me get into the old room, which wasn't occupied. They were just where I'd left them. Of course. Who could have opened that safe without my combination? Well, someone with the master key or code. Or someone with a household magnet.

I don't know why I wrote that; does anyone have a magnet laying around, and someone asks to borrow it, and you say "sure, but be forewarned, it's just household strength."

Ms. Housekeeping asked me with a Polish accent (it is London, so that made sense) if everything else was acceptable, and I said yes, sure, beautiful property! Although you know, there is the matter of the noise. This morning I got up and was convinced someone was taking the building apart, piece by piece. That's why we changed rooms. When I looked through the window I saw a lorry unloading the laundry -

She winced. "Yes," she said. "It is much worse, with the glass. I understand why you moved. Was there anything else?"

Well, there's a strange sound in the bathroom. At first I thought I was hearing housekeeping hoovering the rug (loved to say that; FINALLY) down the hall, but then I heard it at night, and realized it's some sort of fan. Or it's the ghost of a long-dead housekeeper who haunts the halls to this day.

She laughed. She made a note of it. She asked me if there was anything else.

Well - it is a beautiful property! I'm from Minneapolis, home of the Radisson, and I'm proud to see the name here in London. But the water pressure and temperature in the shower are all over.

"Is this in morning?"

"It's all the time. It's not bad - well, actually, no, it is, because it'll just go to scalding."

She made a note of it. Is there anything else?

Well . . . when did this become a Blu property? Did they do the upgrades, or what that done before?

"I am ashame to say, I don't know."

"Doesn't matter. It's the lights. They're controlled by that card, and you can't tell what's on or off. But that's nothing you can do anything about."

"Oh I know, I go into room, I press this, I press that, I don't know what and for what."

I wanted to write that down on the spot: I don't know what and for what. I assured her it was a fine hotel and the staff had been just smashing, and I would speak well of them in Minneapolis.

Because I'm not above letting them think I'm with Radisson.

Back up to the room; put the passport and money in my big bag. Wondered whether I should have noted that shower grab-bar is right by the hot-towel rack, and I had mistakenly grabbed the latter while attempting to high-step out of the deep tub. But at some point you're just an insufferable nit-picker.


Anyway, where was I? Right, right. The Hop-on-Hop-off Hoplite Bus Company. Yes, we got on the Obvious Conveyance for Unadventurous Tourists, took it to the National Gallery, and hopped right off. Free Admission. Big sign with an arrow said PAINTINGS. Brilliant. (In the British sense! I've gone native. I was just talking about aluminium to a barrister in the lift, too.) Dead simple, and quite the understatement. Oh, PAINTINGS indeed. Not only incredible paintings, but more of my old favorites than I saw at the Louvre. I realized that one of my old Art History books I lugged from dorm to dorm to college apartment to elsewhere was a tidy guide to the National, and here they were.

Right here. My God. All of them. Well, I gave Daughter a tour, and it was even better than the Louvre, because I knew more about these and had been thinking about them for a long, long time. I loved this museum more than the Louvre.

Because, you know, screw Paris.

Kidding. Somewhat. Behold the National:

Here's something that rarely gets noticed: the mosaics on the floor, demonstrating various British Virtues. This is from the "Leasures of Life" section, done between 1928 and 1933:


The artist used friends for models. Wonder who that fellow was.

Back on the bus. Some pictures of some details I saw as we trundled along:

That can't have been a fun place to work. I'm not sure what message they're trying to send. DEPAIR, OH YE SLAVES OF THE EGG

The ugliest thing in the world, the National Theater:

It's chic to like it now. I wait patiently for this madness to exhaust itself, an we can go back to agreeing that it's ugly.

Now and then you just think: Sherlock-era. So much must have looked like this:

More on the building and the company here. The area was the epicenter of Hop Factors, it seems.

By the way, most of these images that appear to be seen head-on have been corrected by your host, whose painstaking labors are done with a song in his heart

I don't know what this is, but it must have been a wonder when it was brand new (was brand neeewwww)

There's a certain kind of between-the-wars modernism that's distinctly British. I don't know if the architect was from GB or not, but if he was from the Continent or America, he either adopted the local styles or helped shape them.

That's about the most useless thing I've ever written, and that's saying something.

We hopped offfor a boat ride. I know. How touristy. But why not? Why not sit in a boat and see the town from the Thames? I didn't take any video, to my surprise, because I was too busy looking at things and enjoying the day. But here's some context, so you can see what a large operation this is:

I was also listening to the riverman's narration, delivered utterly deadpan, with lines honed by innumerable trips up and down the Thames. He asked us where London Bridge is today, and I shouted out ARIZONA. Eye rolls from daughter, because of course you knew that and of course you had to make everyone know you knew it.

She has a point.

We passed this place, which shows once again the unbearable ugliness of the 1960s faux-historical style. I suppose it's landmarked by now, so they can't tear it down.




Really, just burn it down.

I couldn't resist doing some filtering with the view. Which do you hate more - this one

Which do you hate more - this one, or the next one? I'm undecided.

At least the one on the bottom could be used to indicate some end-of-the-world supernatural apparition is imminent.

After that there was wandering. We looked for a pub for a meal, and after much meandering - really, England, it oughtn't be so hard to find a small pub with character and battered cod - we found a place that was woody and dark and perfect. The menu was better than expected, too - professional, glossy, varied. Which made me suspicious. It wasn't until the next day that my suspicions were confirmed: the pubs have the same menu. I don't mean they all have the same basic items, I mean they literally have the same menu, standardized, supplied by central provisioner. Not all pubs, but those owned by whatever ale conglomerate is at work here. I felt clever having sussed this out (look ma, I'm speaking British) and while it makes the experience seem a bit more . . . ersatz, it really isn't; all the pubs and snugs into which I stuck my head were different, looked different, had their own character.

For sunset, back to Parliament.



It's always a pleasure to arrive at a famous location and discover it's different - the context and setting isn't what you expected, and the shock of seeing something so familiar for the first time makes it seem new. We explored the Government Buildings area, and there's quite the contrast between the structures of Paris and London. The former share a style and an era, mostly thanks to Nap #3's urban renewal. London has variety.


That's just magnificent. The modern buildings have that particular British style:

Akin to their American counterparts, but they play off buildings that are as complex and ornate as they are severe, and the contrast is satisfying.

But there's only one of these, with no equal - the Palac eof Westminster.

The setting sun draped the site in honey:


And the clock struck nine.



Tomorrow: we go to Whitechapel . . . in search of a fiend. No, wait, a restaurant. But also a fiend.


blog comments powered by Disqus