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Must be the season of the witch: Nikki's autumn trip to London and Paris

Must be the season of the witch: Nikki's autumn trip to London and Paris

Old Nov 17th, 2015, 03:27 PM
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Wonderful writing. I'm really enjoying this!
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Old Nov 17th, 2015, 04:22 PM
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Me too! Keep it up, Nikki, and thanks.
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Old Nov 18th, 2015, 01:32 AM
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We spend Sunday with Alan’s extended family. Elderly aunts and uncles, cousins, young children of cousins, about seventeen people if I am counting correctly, we all gather for lunch at Rani Restaurant in Finchley, a vegetarian restaurant specializing in food from Gujarat in Northwestern India. The last time this entire crowd got together was our last visit to London six years ago.

The restaurant’s website says, “The ambience at Rani is perfect for meeting friends and family and enjoying long conversations over a good meal in a quiet, convivial atmosphere.” I don’t know how quiet it is while we are there, but it is certainly long and convivial.

As we are saying our goodbyes, Michael says to his elderly aunt, “Keep your pecker up!” I burst out laughing; this is not something I can imagine saying in such a situation. It must have a different connotation here. There is some laughter when they figure out why I am so surprised.

After lunch we go to Alan’s cousin Sara’s house nearby, and later she drives us back to central London, to the apartment of an elderly uncle who was unable to come to lunch. Traffic between Finchley and central London is horrendous, there is construction and there are backups on all alternative routes. It takes us an hour and a half to go this relatively short distance. Reports come in from all the others who headed home after lunch and they had similar experiences.

Sara parks her car in front of the apartment and when she tries to start it again to pull forward in the parking space, it will not start. So she calls the automobile association to come start the car. We wait over two hours for them. At least it gives us time for a nice long visit. When they do come, the car starts right up. To be fair, Alan said it probably would. Sara is now nervous about getting home. She does send an e-mail when she arrives, and all went well.

We take an Uber back to our apartment, by which time it is pretty late. Alan goes out in search of a grocery store that is open but instead returns with some tasty Lebanese takeout. We have a late supper of lamb and okra and call it a night.
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Old Nov 18th, 2015, 01:38 AM
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Thank you for all the encouraging comments. I am trying to get as much of this written as possible before leaving for California Saturday. Yes, really.

Weekender, I hope your nephew has as uneventful a recovery as I have been having and that he continues to feel well.
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Old Nov 18th, 2015, 09:33 AM
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Nikki, love your descriptions, especially of the Donovan concert. Your writing style is very evocative. I very much look forward to more.
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Old Nov 18th, 2015, 09:58 AM
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MORE!!!
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Old Nov 18th, 2015, 02:55 PM
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Monday morning begins with a visit from the building’s concierge. On Friday I had rested my arm on the marble counter in the bathroom and it came apart in my hands. There were five chunks of stone that had cracked off at the seams, startling me considerably. A call to the rental agent Friday had revealed that the owners were “aware of the problem” but that the concierge was away until after the weekend.

Alan had pieced together the counter but it was resting precariously on the sink with no support. So we had been very careful to avoid touching it, which in the very narrow bathroom was not that easy.

The concierge takes a look and is impressed by the extent of the damage. Evidently one piece had broken off previously and he had used putty to reattach it. Now the entire counter is in pieces. He puts putty on the remaining pieces but we will be extremely careful with it for the rest of our stay.

We further explore Chelsea this morning and have lunch at Medlar, a bus ride away on the King’s Road. This is another recommendation from a Fodor’s friend. What an outstanding meal! For starters we have a foie gras and smoked eel terrine with toasted brioche and salad and tuna tartare with shrimp beignet, avocado puree, cucumber and chili. Then Alan has red mullet with mussel and saffron broth, sea purslane, and roast potatoes. I have a fantastic dish of rare grilled ox heart with veal sweetbread, rainbow chard, pomme anna, and confit onions. For dessert there is a pear beignet with warm dipping chocolate and chantilly cream. There is chocolate left when we have finished dipping the beignet. That must be why we have a spoon.

When we have finished that, they bring us chocolate truffles and a passion fruit marshmallow. If I had known that was coming, I wouldn’t have ordered the pear beignet, but that would have been a real shame.

We agree that it is unlikely we will have a better meal in Paris.

We get into a conversation with the couple at the next table. The man tells us he teaches statistics to, among others, food tasters in Paris. Why do they need statistics, one might ask, and I do. Evidently it is to quantify the qualities of taste for the development of new products. I remain skeptical. In case the food tasters decide not to use statistics, this fellow can always fall back on his other profession: growing Christmas trees.

We cross the street after lunch and head into Rococo, a chocolate shop. I am not sure whether this was on the chocolate tour suggested by a news article sent to me by a friend before the trip, but I’m not taking any chances of missing it in case it was since we are so close. I can’t do justice to the generous samples they offer, but I do buy some to take back to the apartment. My friend would be so disappointed if I didn’t. If it was mentioned in the article. Which I have no intention of finding out.

It is a beautiful afternoon and we wander over to the Thames, enjoy the sunshine and the atmosphere, and eventually take a bus back to the apartment.
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Old Nov 18th, 2015, 06:07 PM
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I'm really enjoying your trip report! And this last installment was a particularly delicious read. Thanks for sharing and keep it coming!
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Old Nov 19th, 2015, 12:44 AM
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As we walk from the bus stop, we pass another chocolate shop, Artisan du Chocolat. In for a penny, in for a pound, I figure, so we walk in carrying the bag from Rococo and walk out with just a few more chocolates for later sampling.

This evening we have tickets to see Farinelli and the King at the Duke of York’s Theatre in the West End. The very convenient bus line in front of our apartment takes us there. I have been using Google maps to find our way around London with great success. Public transportation is included in the directions, giving routes by bus and tube as well as showing the walking path to and from the bus stop for the start point and the destination.

We arrive at this very intimate theater with crowds of people, and there is pushing and shoving to find seats. I am surprised by the lack of civility, but it is a small space.

The play is very interesting, based on the mentally ill King Philippe V of Spain and his relationship with a castrato named Farinelli who calms the king’s demons by singing to him and to us. The king is played by Mark Rylance, who gives a wonderful performance, and the castrato is played by a rotating cast of three countertenors (castrati being in short supply in the twenty-first century).

I look for meaning in the play beyond a curious anecdote from history and find evidence in the play and its staging for a theory that the bipolar illness of the king is a metaphor for the duality of man. The ministers are two-faced and two actors play Farinelli: one sings and the other speaks. There is some language about harmony and the music of the spheres and the stars. Does art strive to restore harmony to a divided world as it does to a divided soul?
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Old Nov 19th, 2015, 07:17 AM
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Tuesday we have planned to go to the British Museum. There are several exhibitions I would like to see. As I look at the website, however, I learn that while the museum itself is free, the special exhibits are not, and the cost of admission to each one is such that seeing more than one can become pretty expensive. I consult with Alan, who believes one might be enough in any case, so we go over the list and decide to see Egypt: faith after the pharaohs.

What a good decision! It does, however, take us a while to find it. The sign for the exhibition points up a long staircase, so I look for an elevator and find one. After taking the wrong elevator to the wrong wing and then the right elevator to the wrong floor (and reluctant to leave the fascinating looking collections we walk through while correcting our errors), we finally enter the right exhibit.

This is a stunning collection of artifacts from Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The audio guide is included in the price of admission and it is very informative. We spend quite a bit of time here and by the end I am glad we are not heading into another major exhibition. I am tempted to buy the catalogue but do not want to carry it around, so I decide to buy it after returning home.

In the time remaining we explore the Enlightenment Gallery, which I would not have noticed without a suggestion on Fodor’s. This is a permanent exhibit in a space formerly known as the King’s Library and around which the present museum building was constructed. It houses some of the museum’s earliest acquisitions with explanations and insights about the spirit of the Enlightenment in which the collection of books and objects became fashionable. It is this spirit that has given rise to the modern concept of museums as well as to our own penchant for collecting, cataloguing and analyzing objects. We do not have time to do this gallery justice before closing time.

It is drizzling outside when we leave and we have some time before we are to meet Alan’s cousin Sara and her husband David in a nearby restaurant. My plan had been to kill an hour in the pub across the street, but I am evidently not the only one with this plan at the museum’s closing time. There are tables out on the street, however, and the drizzle is just a misty sort of thing and it is still pretty warm out, so we park ourselves at an outdoor seat while Alan has a beer.

Dinner is just down the street at Malabar Junction, a South Indian restaurant that offers “a combination of Cochin, Malabar and Travancore cuisine in the Exciting and authentic Keralian tradition” according to its website. Sara explains that she ate here with a large group once and that we should order the South Indian menu items rather than the North Indian items that are not their specialty, such as we had Sunday at Rani. David disregards this advice and ends up unhappy with his selections, but the rest of us are pleased with our choices, selected with Sara’s guidance.

Sara orders some kind of fermented bread. This is not my favorite, but there is also delicious paratha. We share an assortment of starters and then I have a fried whole pomfret fish. I enjoy our meal and the company. We are sorry we have not been able to spend more time with all Alan’s family, but they are very busy and we are happy to have been able to see them when we did.
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Old Nov 19th, 2015, 09:27 AM
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Oops, I just noticed an error. The museum where we got the audio guide was not the British Museum but the Royal Academy of Art, which I am writing up now. Just don't want anyone showing up at the British Museum and expecting their free audio guide because I said so.
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Old Nov 19th, 2015, 10:13 AM
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NIkki: Glad you are back safe and sound. Was slightly afraid you might still be in Paris. Not that that is a bad thing, but you might have experienced discomfort, even just as a traveler.

Am happily reading your very excellent TR, which is so entertaining, and so very well written.

I am happy you are writing about Paris, because we were in Paris for 10 days in September, and I had not gotten around to writing a report. (it was a rather unusual trip in several ways.) And now that the awful killings have taken place, I don't feel in the mood to write as yet.

I think I'll do a short version after a while.

And in the mantime, I can enjoy yours, with many thanks.
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Old Nov 19th, 2015, 12:01 PM
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Nikki, I think much art does strive to do just that.

On another note, I admire your choice of ox heart and sweetbreads.
And chocolate.
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Old Nov 19th, 2015, 01:24 PM
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Wednesday is our last full day in London. I have a long list of museums and galleries that I would be happy to see. I show Alan the list and we agree to go to the Royal Academy of Arts to see the Ai Weiwei exhibition. Once again, this is an excellent choice. I am completely unfamiliar with this artist’s works but leave feeling I have had a good overview of his life and career and have been exposed to a number of extraordinary monumental works. The audio guide, included with admission, is extremely helpful.

One work that I find tremendously powerful is made from ninety tons of steel reinforcing rods that were twisted in the devastating earthquake in Sichuan, China in 2008 in which thousands of children died in schools that had been built using shoddy construction techniques. The rods were all straightened by workers at Ai Weiwei’s studio in a laborious and time-consuming process and assembled into a landscape that carpets the floor of one gallery.

There are sculptural assemblages made from ancient artifacts using beautiful woodworking techniques and everyday items made from marble. The courtyard is filled with trees assembled from pieces of dead wood collected in southern China, and a chair is posed among the trees. The chair appears to be a leather club chair but it is made of black stone.

I leave with the feeling that this is work that makes a strong political statement but also a strong artistic one.

Dinner tonight is a gathering with friends from the Fodor’s message board, both of whom I have met before but haven’t seen since our last trip to London six years ago. PatrickLondon, FlannerUK, and my husband and I meet at Frontline, a restaurant near Paddington Station. This is convenient to the Circle Line, which we take from the Sloane Square Station.

I am surprised to find that the Circle Line is not actually a circle. I seem to remember that it used to be a circle, but my memory is not completely trustworthy as it used to be. The description of its route that I find on line is intimidatingly complex. But I am overthinking things; the route from our station to Paddington is straightforward. I have looked at the location on Google maps and pass all the landmarks I had noted to make sure we are walking in the right direction as we exit the station: McDonalds, KFC, Subway. Yes, it’s this way.

Frontline is the restaurant attached to the Frontline Club, a press club that, as described on its website, “exists to promote freedom of expression and support journalists, cameramen and photographers who risk their lives in the course of their work.” FlannerUK has suggested that we might have bragging-rights neighbors, but if there are any, nobody points them out to me.

The menu says much of the food comes from the restaurant’s own farm in Norfolk or is ethically and sustainably sourced from the surrounding area. I have some kind of venison starter and then grouse. Well no, I don’t actually grouse; I am very content. To be here at all, and in this company, is a wonderful treat, and I have one of those moments of gratitude with which this entire trip is peppered.

Dessert is an autumn fruit crumble. In the roughly three hours we have spent here, the noise level has gone from pretty low to high enough to inhibit conversation, although we are all folks who can talk. We do not solve all the world’s problems nor explain everything there is to be explained. There are still open questions to be researched back at home. As there should be.
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Old Nov 19th, 2015, 02:28 PM
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Hi NIKKI,

" But I will write it in the hope that I can capture some of the feeling of visiting a great city that offers so much and that will continue to captivate visitors long after the events of this week find their way into the history books."

So glad you are writing this report. What an extraordinary experience to have been so near to the terrorist attacks in London in 2005 and this recent event in Paris.

Enjoying all of your culinary adventures...
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Old Nov 19th, 2015, 02:49 PM
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Great dinner group!
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Old Nov 19th, 2015, 08:17 PM
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That Ai Weiwei sculpture sounds beautiful.

On to Paris.
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Old Nov 19th, 2015, 11:41 PM
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Your memory isn't faulty: the Circle Line was a circle(ish) once, but a few years ago they turned it into a sort of paper-clip arrangement. I'm not entirely sure what the rationale was, but I think it had something to do with reducing the number of times it had to cross other lines so as to increase frequencies. Or maybe more opportunities to wake up the people who'd fallen asleep on it.
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Old Nov 20th, 2015, 12:47 AM
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Looking forward to your Paris report. We share a love of the city! I'm glad you are traveling and enjoying so much. I always look forward to your reports.
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Old Nov 20th, 2015, 01:17 AM
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just found this Nikki, and have sat here entranced while I should have been working/washing up/being walked by the dog etc.

So glad that you have recovered enough from the treatment [which I now remember you posted about at the time, but then faded from my memory, and hopefully a little from yours] to be able to travel, and that you were not actually in Paris last weekend.

so much to interest and amuse in your TR - I'm particularly pleased that the cornish brie came up to scratch, and, having met you, like flanner wondered if the lack of comprehension while you were buying it was more down to the check-out person's english than your pronunciation. BTW, this is the second time that the different connotations of the phrase "keep your pecker up" have been raised here recently - I was taken to task for using it on it on the WFD thread I believe. It really is perfectly innocent, if slightly antiquated phrase here, as your family have now confirmed.
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