Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Star Street

Near the London hotel where I stayed as a visitor in 2000 and 2003 is a wonderfully named three-block stretch of brick townhouses, Star Street. I like the visual simplicity of this street -- a row of similar doors, each with an overhead fanlight and a single window to the side. The color of the door is virtually the only variation from house to house.

Eight years ago, I took the photo above of 97 Star Street, as well as a photo of another door nearby. Since I'm doing "before and after" blog posts -- Berkeley Square and Portobello Road -- I thought I'd walk back over to Star Street and see how those same doorways look now.

Of course, only so much can be done to a single door in a brick building. Below is 97 Star Street as it looks today.

I dig the purple! Very groovy! Looks like they somehow widened their front stoop -- but they still have the same curtains.

Below is a nearby door, 99 Star Street, which is actually two doors down from 97. (For some reason, house numbers begin on one end of Star Street, run consecutively down that side, then cross over and run back up the other side. The house at 9 Star Street is opposite 99, while 98 is next door to 99, for example.) This was eight years ago:

And here's how 99 looks today:

I don't know how I got straight-on shots of these two doors in 2003, because when I visited last week, parked cars blocked my view, which is why I shot them at an angle. Maybe I just got lucky. (And maybe that's why I shot those particular doors.)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


I'm happy to report that the carnival didn't prompt any violence or looting -- at least, as far as I know. That's not surprising given the huge police presence on the streets yesterday. Of course, most people were there to have a good time, and that seems to be what they got.

The streets were awash in trash by last night, but in the middle of the night I heard bottles and cans clanking around, and looked out the window to see guys with brooms sweeping it all up. By this morning the streets were just about as clean as they began.

As for me, I enjoyed a renewed sense of freedom this morning. I took a long walk across Hyde Park to Belgravia, a neighborhood I'd never visited, and then walked across to South Kensington and back home. All told it took about three hours, but it was great to just be outside!

(Photos: I found this painting/collage outside an elementary school in Holland Park last week. Looked liked it was being thrown away, unfortunately, but at least it gets a last gasp of life through my blog.)

Monday, August 29, 2011

More Carnival

The Notting Hill Carnival is in its second day, and our walls are thumping with the bass line from music in the street below. I've come to the conclusion that the carnival isn't nearly as scary as our neighbors warned. I went out at lunchtime and wandered for about an hour, and everyone seemed to be having a lot of fun -- there were food stalls serving jerk chicken and Red Stripe beer, and lots of drums, music and dancers in elaborate feathered costumes.

I shot this video from our bedroom window, so you could get a sense of what the carnival is like. And some long-time attendees said attendance is down this year!

Dave is not at all thrilled with the noise, and wasn't interested in exploring. Now we know to get out of town in future years!

In terms of danger, of course, things could change once it gets dark. The carnival is supposed to end at 7 p.m., but I'm not sure how even the huge numbers of police on duty could clear the streets of this many people. We'll see how it goes.

Alcohol will probably play a factor. It's one thing to have some Red Stripe, but I saw some people in the street quaffing straight from bottles of Jack Daniels. There's some hard-core drinking going on out there!

One difference I noticed between the carnival and similar events in the states: Crowd control, or the lack thereof. Here, there are no barriers along the parade route, so people can leap in and out of the parade's path and get photos taken with the dancers, for example. It's fun, but it definitely slows things down. The efficiency and safety experts (and lawyers) in America wouldn't stand for it!

(Photo: All the shops board up, but at least this one, the Village Bicycle, got into the spirit of things!)

Sunday, August 28, 2011


As many of our friends back in the states find themselves housebound because of Hurricane Irene, Dave and I are trapped inside by a different phenomenon -- the Notting Hill Carnival.

The carnival is a two-day annual festival that draws thousands and thousands of people to our neighborhood. It's reportedly the largest street party in Europe, and has attracted as many as a million people in the past. The parades go down Westbourne Grove, directly below our windows.

Folks in the neighborhood treat this event like the Siege of Leningrad. We were warned to buy lots of food and just stay indoors for two days -- and if we did venture out, to leave wallets and jewelry at home. Many residents go out of town, and businesses board up their windows. (The photo above is a cafe across the street from our apartment complex.) Homeowners fence off their yards. Apparently the main carnival parade -- which is tomorrow -- has in the past attracted troublemakers, and law-enforcement authorities even considered canceling this year's events because of the prospect of more riots.

Today's parade is more for children, and man is it loud. It basically consists of big trucks hauling immense mobile sound systems, followed by packs of dancers, some done up in elaborate, feathery costumes and veils. Apparently the carnival stems from Notting Hill's history as a place where immigrants from the Caribbean set up housekeeping decades ago.

It's loud, but it's also pretty fun, and despite our neighbors' dire warnings and the concerns of the authorities, it doesn't seem at all dangerous. I went downstairs and watched the first part of the parade from the street. Here are some photos.

And here are a few pictures from our bedroom window:

I also shot a video, just to give you some sense of what it sounds like:

If tomorrow is anything like today, it will be noisy, but a perfectly happy occasion. Keeping our fingers crossed!

UPDATE: As of 5 p.m., crowds have increased exponentially:

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Berkeley Square

Today I have another time-traveling post. When I visited London in 2000, I made a special effort to visit Berkeley Square in Mayfair, where the nightingale famously sang.

Above is my photo from that visit. It was March, so the purple hyacinth bulbs were blooming and the trees weren't yet in full leaf.

Today, Dave and I walked back to Berkeley Square to see how much it had changed in the past 11 years:

As you can see, it's just about the same! The only differences I see are that one tree (far right) has been removed, along with two of the phone booths. Looks like a few new benches were installed, too. Good ol' Berkeley Square, a constant in a changing world!

Unfortunately, I didn't see a nightingale on either visit. I did see some crows today, though. Does that count?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Time Travel

I visited London twice before moving here. My first time was in March 2000, when I met up with my friend Arthur, who was in London on business. We stayed off Norfolk Square, near Paddington Station, and explored for a few days en route to our real destination -- Paris.

The second time was in July 2003, with my then-boyfriend, now-friend David. (Not to be confused with my current Dave.) We stayed in the same hotel off Norfolk Square and also made London part of a larger European trip that included Prague and Switzerland.

On my first visit with Arthur, I took very few interesting photos -- mostly just tourist spots like Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. Those places really don't change much.

But on my second trip I took some more random shots of buildings, doorways and such. Now that I live here, I thought I'd try to find a few of those places again, to see how they'd changed.

Here's one example. The photo above was taken in 2003 on Pembridge Road. At the time, David and I were walking with his sister and her boyfriend (now husband) to find the Portobello Road Market. We passed this great window, and I loved the little peace sign sticker and the groovy paint job. Portobello Road earned a reputation as a hot spot of "swinging London" in the '60s, and the window seemed to express that.

The same window today, unfortunately, looks like this:

I guess whoever owns the house now decided to go the minimalist route. I think it's a sad statement. In fact it took me a while to figure out which window it was -- the relatively unusual wrought-iron, the crack in the wall and the telltale chip in the windowsill make it a certainty.

It's always interesting to see how things change over time. In this case, it wasn't even very long -- just eight years!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Brompton Cemetery

While on my walk near Earls Court on Monday I made a fascinating discovery -- Brompton Cemetery. I was utterly unaware of this huge graveyard, where tangled tall grasses, sweet peas and wildflowers grow over and around more than 35,000 headstones. Many of the stones date from the Victorian and Edwardian periods, and feature sculptures and detailed epitaphs about the people buried there.

Many people think of cemeteries as morbid, depressing places. In the U.S. they tend to be vast, carefully tended lawns, empty of activity. But this one is more like a park -- in fact, it's operated by The Royal Parks and there were people walking dogs, sitting on benches, reading, jogging and lounging in the sun. It was interesting to see so much activity in a cemetery.

A few small animals were out and about. The big blackbirds seemed Poe-ish and a bit creepy, and I saw several squirrels lying with their bellies against the cool gravestones, like this one. I suppose it must be comfortable. (Not sure where that squirrel got his peanut -- I suspect someone fed him, but it wasn't me.)

Aside from rows and rows of headstones, there are a large chapel with twin colonnades and many mausoleums on the property, some of them quite ornate. Supposedly many well-known Londoners are buried here, but the only name I recognized was that of Blanche Roosevelt, an American author and opera singer.

It's an amazing place to wander, especially with a camera. I was already on my way home when I found it, and I wound up spending an hour there!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


There was a fascinating article in The New Yorker recently about "entomophagy," or eating bugs. It's pretty well known that people in many cultures around the world eat certain types of insects, worms and grubs. This article examined the possibility of widening the appeal of entomophagy by bringing bugs into the Western diet.

Apparently some Westerners are already pretty comfortable eating them -- the article described, for example, a young couple in Los Angeles as they cooked and ate a whip scorpion. (To their knowledge, no one had ever eaten one before. The writer, who had sampled other insect-ish dishes, called it "far too much bug for me.") A chef in L.A. was shown going to extreme measures to get a certain kind of ant's eggs from Mexico, to serve them in his restaurant. A woman made chocolate chip cookies with crickets.

I'm sorry to say I had exactly the same, tired response you'd probably expect -- BLEAH!

There is simply no way I'm eating bugs. Yes, I realize honey is excreted from bees. Yes, I realize there are undoubtedly bug parts in virtually every processed food we eat. But that's a far cry from whipping up a batch of mealworm flour or maggot grits, in my book.

I have always considered myself a fairly adventurous eater. But I realize now that's only within a relatively narrow, and largely vegetarian, parameter. I don't eat a lot of canned, frozen or otherwise prepared foods. Only since I met Dave have I started eating meat that I declined for years, like beef, pork and lamb. (I gave up my vegetarian leanings to allow him to more fully explore his culinary desires.) I still shy away from veal and lobster -- lobsters are simultaneously cute and big bugs, two qualities that kill my appetite for them.

Dave has asked me to consider eating organ meats, bone marrow, blood sausage, offal and all kinds of shellfish. So far I have mostly declined. I like scallops, but other mollusks seem pretty gross to me. And although I occasionally eat them, I'm not crazy about shrimp and crabs. It's that insect thing again -- I'm much more likely to eat a crab cake than a crab leg, for example, because it doesn't look like a crab. And I have never eaten whole softshell crab.

On the other hand, I can't think of a plant that I wouldn't try. I've happily eaten seaweed, marigolds, all manner of mushrooms, mysterious fruits and fibrous root vegetables. None of that bothers me.

I'm just naturally not a meat person. And bugs, as far as I'm concerned, are meat.

(Photo: A flower seen on my walk to Shepherd's Bush on Monday.)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


The sun was shining yesterday and the temperature was beautiful, hovering around 80 degrees, so I went for a long walk to the west of our neighborhood, through Shepherd's Bush, Hammersmith and Earls Court. I'd never been in those areas, and it was great to explore for a few hours.

One of my favorite sights was this pub, its window boxes overflowing with nasturtiums. I've long loved nasturtiums -- they're one of my favorite flowers. While living in Florida I tried several times to grow them, but never succeeded. I think the heat and sun in the South are just too intense. So, in any case, I always get a kick out of seeing nice ones, and these were spectacular.

Maybe I should give nasturtiums another try, now that we're in London? They'd provide an interesting garnish for Dave's cooking!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Albert Memorial

The other day I walked over to the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens, just opposite Royal Albert Hall. The memorial dates from 1872 and celebrates the life of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's husband, who died in 1861. I first saw the memorial when we went to Royal Albert Hall for a BBC Proms concert at the beginning of August, and I thought it looked amazing, lit for the evening in all its gilded finery. I subsequently read a criticism of the memorial as tacky compared to some of the park's other, more understated statues -- but I have to disagree. It's busy, in true Victorian style, but I think it's pretty awesome.

The main body of the memorial -- which was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, according to Wikipedia -- consists of an ornate canopy over a seated statue of Albert. It's flanked by allegorical statues of varies aspects of the British economy, such as industry and commerce, and by four statues representing the continents where Engand had an Imperial presence:




North America

I'm not sure why Australia is missing. It had been colonized by this point, though the different territories there had not yet joined into a single federation. (Maybe it was just a matter of necessity -- the memorial has four corners so someone had to miss out, and Australia, a former penal colony, was perhaps low man on the totem pole.)

Albert himself is in the center of all this, an elevated, gilded statue that apparently once used to be painted black, gazing down from his perch with a dreamy expression and a book at his side.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Dog update

As you may remember, our plan in moving to London was that we would come first and get settled, and then I would return to the states in October to retrieve our dogs, Ernie and Ruby.

England has stringent laws about importing dogs that require a a fresh rabies vaccination and blood test, followed by a 6-month waiting period before they can enter the country. I got Ernie and Ruby vaccinated in late March and then blood tested in early April -- right after we learned we'd be making this move. That means they'll be eligible to enter England on October 5.

Until then, some friends in New Jersey are taking care of them. (Saintly friends, I must add, though we've promised to repay them with tickets to London!)

As the time has grown closer for me to return to the states, however, I've been thinking about our options. I have friends who have moved pets to England through professional pet importers -- at an employer's expense. (If only!) I began wondering if it would be much more expensive for us to go that route than for me to fly home, rent a car, buy dog crates, put myself up in a hotel and run all over New Jersey doing official paperwork.

I researched pet importers and found one in New Jersey that seems very capable. It is expensive -- but probably only a few thousand dollars more than it would cost me to go home and do it all myself. And they're pros. They know what's required.

So we're arranging for this company to finalize the papers for Ernie and Ruby, provide their crates, pick them up in New Jersey and get them to the airport, take them through customs here in England and deliver them to our door in Notting Hill. I just mailed the contracts and all the vaccination certificates and blood test results last week. Early October is still our target date.

I am relieved at not having to fly back to New Jersey and risk getting entangled in official pet-exporting regulations. Sometimes it's best to just pay someone!

(Photos: Dogs in front of a shop on Westbourne Grove, looking like they've been told to permanently "stay!")

Friday, August 19, 2011


"There is no reason to set humans apart from other animals, no hope of bribing or appeasing the gods, no place for religious fanaticism, no call for ascetic self-denial, no justification for dreams of limitless power or perfect security, no rationale for wars of conquest or self-aggrandizement, no possibility of triumphing over nature. Instead...human beings should conquer their fears, accept the fact that they themselves and all the things they encounter are transitory, and embrace the beauty and the pleasure of the world."

-- Stephen Greenblatt in The New Yorker,
summarizing "On the Nature of Things,"
by Roman poet Lucretius

(Photo: Sticker found in New Brunswick, NJ, in June.)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Come Dine With Me

Dave and I have been learning more about British television. We latched onto BBC America, as I mentioned more than a year ago, long before we ever imagined moving to England. Now that we're here, we're expanding our roster of shows.

I mentioned several favorites in that last entry. I eventually watched all the episodes of "How Clean is Your House?" so I gave up on that one, and Jonathan Ross' talk show went off the air. Graham Norton seems to be on hiatus now. Gordon Ramsay just got too foul and mean-spirited for my taste.

Now we've moved on to "Come Dine With Me," which seems to be on every five minutes or so. It's a pretty brilliant concept: Get four (or sometimes five) very different people together and have them host each other for dinner. Each night a new person hosts, and the others comment on their menu selections, the execution of their meals, their personal habits and decor, and their entertaining skills. On top of it all, there's a rather sarcastic narrator who contributes punchy comments when needed -- he's a hoot.

We love this show. Why it hasn't been adapted for American markets I'm not sure. (Or maybe it has and we're just not aware.)

There's a quiz show called "Eggheads" that we sometimes watch, when different teams of challengers take on a standing group known as the "Eggheads," said to be Britain's brainiest quiz show participants. (I'm a fan of Daphne, who seems like a sweet old grandmothery type but has a brain sharp as a tack -- although she can be a little fuzzy on pop culture.)

There's "Heir Hunters," which I sometimes watch in the mornings, about teams of researchers who work to find living heirs for people who die without wills. (For a commission, of course.) The reporter in me likes all that research. Maybe I should get a job at one of those firms?

That's followed by "Homes Under the Hammer," a show about bedraggled houses sold at auction and then restored (or torn down) by their new owners.

Those are our favorites so far. We did find "Hoarders" episodes here, but they all seem to be reruns. And while folks in the states are enthralled by a new season of "Project Runway," it unfortunately doesn't seem to be available on our cable system at all.

(Photo: A colorful row of houses on Lancaster Road, not too far from our flat.)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011



As I wrote yesterday, by the time the movers departed, we'd been unable to get the dining room table through the doorway into the dining and living area -- it was trapped in the foyer, standing on end. I thought Dave and I would be able to resolve the problem once he got home, but the two of us couldn't get it through the door either. The legs were just a little too long.

We'd already taken the door off the hinges, so I was in a state of desperation. I was afraid I was going to have to make a drastic decision. Dave floated the idea of shortening or temporarily cutting and then repairing the table legs, which I ruled out immediately. I was envisioning having to ship the table back home again. (Selling or otherwise disposing of it isn't an option -- as you may remember, my dad built this table, and it was my childhood dining table growing up.)

We ended up calling a handyman, and asking him to remove the two inner strips of the living room door frame. I wasn't sure what this would entail, but the movers said it would be easy -- and indeed, the handyman was able to take them off with no problem. We slid the table through and he returned the door frame to its original state. We then re-hung the door. So all is as good as new, and a major crisis has been averted.

This handyman was AWESOME. He also hung all our artwork (our walls are concrete) and drilled a hole for the television cables in the book shelf, eliminating those unsightly wires. (We had the landlord's permission!) And he only charged £125, or roughly $200, which for the work he performed seemed reasonable.

So now our home really IS a home. Whew!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Stuff everywhere!

The moving truck arrived today, bearing our mattress, our dining room table, and about 28 boxes of miscellaneous stuff. Chaos! Above is how things looked shortly after the movers left -- virtually the only items I'd unwrapped by the time I took this photo were the big artworks. (I wanted to make sure they all arrived -- and they did.)

So far, I've discovered nothing broken or missing. It seems like everything is in good shape. Amazing!

The single biggest problem we've encountered is that the dining table won't fit through the doorway from the foyer into the living room. The movers tried every combination of positions, and we even took the door off the hinges. (Who needs a door there anyway?) But the table, for now, remains in the foyer. I'm waiting for Dave to get home to see if the two of us can figure something out.

Otherwise, though, things look good! Here's the living room, post-unpacking (click to enlarge):

And here are some of our books and tchotchkes, on the built-in shelves in the living room:

Dave, whose first day of work was today, has yet to get home and tackle the kitchen. He really needs to decide where things should go in that space, since it's his domain. I've unpacked all the dishes, but I'm leaving the pots and pans and baking stuff up to him:

It's beginning to seem like home around here! Now all we need are our four-legged "children"!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Home again

We're back in London, after an exhausting plane trip. It wasn't long, but it was early, so we had to get up at 4:30 a.m. to have breakfast and catch the bus out to the airport in Reykjavik. (The airport is about 45 minutes away from town.) So needless to say, both Dave and I are exhausted.

The weirdest thing about our flight: Although we were booked on Iceland Express, our airplane had "IRON MAIDEN Final Fronteir World Tour 2011" painted on it in huge letters. Looking online -- because I know nothing about Iron Maiden or its tour schedule -- I see that the tour ended Aug. 6 in London. Maybe the airline bought or reclaimed the plane from the band and just hasn't repainted it yet? Very odd. (I never had a chance to get a photo, but here's a picture of the exact same plane from Flickr.)

I could detect no traces of heavy metal in the passenger compartment, but my guess is it's been thoroughly cleaned and/or reconditioned.

London survived without us, we were glad to see. And tomorrow we'll have more excitement around here, when our furniture arrives! Finally we'll be able to get back to cooking and enjoying the rest of our beloved stuff.

(Photo: Centerpiece for a sidewalk cafe table, Reykjavik.)