THE ALPHA AND OMEGA OF CULTURE
What to do on a Saturday in London? Well, when your digs are one block from Portobello Road, you must join the thousands of others strolling through Portobello Road Market. I had walked for several blocks along this road a few days earlier and it looked rather like an old woman who had seen better days. The road was lined with antique shops, tee shirt stores and second hand clothing stores, most of which were closed. The road was narrow and winding and appeared quite sleepy. On closer look, you could see where the pavement along the curb was painted and numbered with each section being about eight feet wide. Well, you sure can’t judge this book by its cover.
By early Saturday morning, each week, you cannot drive a car down this road. It is a solid wall of people. Most of those little shops opens up to become an alley way from front to back with stalls for eight or ten vendors inside each narrow store front. The road, where the painted hash marks are, has become an unbroken line of tables and booths selling the most unbelievable mix of used items you can imagine. Need a camera from the 1935? There is a vendor that specializes. Need an alligator hand bag from the 50’s. It’s there. Are you searching for a set of antique sterling silver plated fish knives? I know where they are. How about brass hotel faucets from the 1800’s? Yup. I stopped at one vendor that specialized in vintage ladies fur wraps, caplets, fox tail stoles and such. He must have had over a hundred and fifty pieces to choose from. I lifted my camera to take a photo and he jumped in front of me, waving his hands. “No photos. No photos.” Sorry.
The market is more than used items. There are several blocks of fruit and vegetable stands as well stalls selling new merchandise. There are crepe vendors. I stopped and watched as a young French girl prepared a banana and nutella crepe for me. There were many street musicians along the road as well. I stood for about twenty minutes listening to the Hightown Crows perform their own raw rock/blues on a suitcase, a bass and a pair of old guitars. Their flyer says “…we’ll play your wedding…we’ll play your wake…book us now.” I didn’t.
As I was walking back to our flat, I passed a pair of young men, maybe in their mid twenties. They had set up a table and were offering free architecture. What? How do you offer free architecture? I must have looked puzzled as one of them volunteered, “we’re not giving out free buildings, just free ideas.” I laughed and told him I was relieved as I was going to have to pack for my return to the states and wasn’t sure if I had room for a building in my luggage. They handed me their card and said to call if they could be of service. Well, have you ever had one of those moments where you are not sure how someone from another country will interpret a phrase or slang expression? I wanted to say to these young men that I thought their marketing technique was fresh and innovative. What I said as I walked away from them is, “Wow. You have a nice tool.” Was that wrong?
I returned to our flat and took a ten-minute snooze before beginning to think about dinner and the theater. We walked to a lovely restaurant, The Black & Blue, for an early dinner and a glass of wine. Then we found a cab for the ride to the theater. As previously mentioned, traffic in London is indescribable. The city is currently in the midst of replacing every water line. This means that sections are blocked off making the flow of traffic through the maze of narrow streets, mews and alleyways even more challenging. I think I read that a London cabbie must study and memorize 40,000 streets in London to pass his test for a cab drivers license. Our driver earned a nice tip based on the route he was forced to take to get us to the theater. It was worthy of James Bond trying to shake a tail.
We had tickets for a performance of War Horse at the New London Theater. The theater opened in 1973 and was home to Cats for 21 years. Our seats were fabulous. (I highly recommend that anyone traveling to London and wishing to see a play use the ticket service at Harrods). This play is based on a children’s book about a farm boy who raises a horse and then his father sells the horse to the cavalry as a war horse in the First World War. But, it is also the story of the one million horses that were taken to France from Britain with only 62,000 returning. What makes this play so unusual is that the life size horses in the production are puppets, each with three puppeteers inside. The actors actually are mounted on the puppets at times. The skill of the puppeteers is so profound that you don’t even see them; you only see a real horse.
Then back to the flat and sweet dreams of packing. Only one more day to enjoy this wonderful city.