London Journal January 9

431Thursday, January 9

 The raspberries are from South Africa; the strawberries, Egypt. When last we had a long residency in London, I was fascinated to discover thin green beans from Kenya, which of course are easy to find in America thirty years later. The way food is distributed now is perhaps an excellent illustration of the changes since 1984, of the split personality of cuisine. Although one attraction to this country for us was that we would get local foods, especially cheese and produce, the fact was that melons from Spain were what made London swing. I remember a lunch in Bath, at a restaurant on the riverbank, with my parents visiting, of a sweet and sinful port in a delicate half, charentais, I believe – similar to cantaloupe but small.  The Common Market made London a culinary treasure trove, and it was inspiring to an American to learn about more exotic fruits. That year we also indulged in native species, such as samphire plucked by a hostess from the edge of the water near Sandringham, and cultivated venison available in Sainsbury’s freezer case (not just in Harrod’s food hall).

Yesterday I picked up a copy of a Chelsea arts tabloid and saw a recipe for a game stew with a side of fries made from beets and rutabagas. Thirty years ago I would have sent Roger to the markets to get the ingredients to replicate it in our Gledhow Gardens flat. Now I don’t care much to cook ambitiously. Though I am surrounded by adventurous cookbooks, and this small kitchen is well-equipped, I am content to serve my husband mature cheddar on a half of an avocado with toast points on the side.

 Yesterday we walked from our flat to Kensington High Street, crossing the Old Brompton Road, where we lived before, passing Earl’s Court station, and Cromwell Road, before finally reaching the gates of Holland Park. To the right lay many memories of those long ago months of one discovery after another. Barker’s department store was still open (and Selfridges was not the celebrity store it is today). The Kensington tube station was dirtier. Oxfam was more appealing, perhaps because second hand clothing stores were not so common then and one could still find special castoffs from stylish homes. I was careful with our budget, and bought “seconds” at china shops. Excellent soups could be found at museum restaurants.

It wasn’t all about consumption during that time; it was an exploration, and while having 20 months of domestic English life justified stocking up on a few quintessentially English, household things, more often I spent my days at museums, or just walking along the routes, noting the confusing architectural combinations. I came to realize how much of this environment was built looking backwards, or sideways.  (That was before Canary Wharf erupted on the London skyline.)

I do recall that, even at 45, I got tired from all the effort put into making use of every minute, and especially of searching through the vast supermarket (Sainsbury’s) and then carrying full plastic bags with stretchy handles a half mile to Gledhow Gardens and then up two steep staircases. My arms and shoulders ached. Perhaps that’s why I have back problems at age 75. I could spend many hours at the Victoria and Albert Museum, but then, on a January late afternoon like this, would walk back to the flat on wet sidewalks strewn with splayed leaves from plane trees, and wonder about the identities of people in the flats already lit with lamps. I had been told some were well-known writers.

When we left Arizona Monday night I was in pretty bad form. I can say I have triumphed over adversity in my first two days here, probably my last time to be a London resident. I was a little slow by the time we got to the computer shop yesterday, and tired enough to want to ride the bus home, but I did not hurt. I was not cold.
Tonight we are going to a play at the Finborough Theater, just around our corner. It is LOST BOY, a musical based on letters from the trenches of World War I. It is described as a sequel to PETER PAN. I have begun to read Peter Ham’s controversial essay on what led to that horrific period of human slaughter.

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