Act IV: The highest of all London High Streets

Throughout England, if you’re on a High Street, then you’re probably on the main shopping drag of the neighborhood.  Not all high streets are, however, created equal.  Without a doubt, Maryleborne High Street tops them all.

First of all, Marlyeborne High Street is not overrun with tourists and chain stores.  Instead, it’s a charming major street that shoots off of Oxford Circus, a street often spilling over with crowds.  Do your gift shopping on Oxford Circus and peek into its many well-known and reputable chain stores, but step onto Marlyeborne High Street to linger and meander in and out of shops with character.  You’ll find independent book stores, gourmet, organic grocery stores and cafes, European boutiques and the occasional farmer’s market and craft fair.  As someone who dislikes crowds, I’m always searching for that uncrowded, unspoiled patch of London whenever I’m in town.  I found it on Marleyborne High Street.


Act III: Not all chain stores are evil

Here’s what I saw in front of the Apple Store on Regents Street.

I hate to dismiss any chain store as evil, but this was kind of ridiculous.  I wasn’t sure what was going on, but  all these people were waiting to just get into the Apple Store.  Thankfully I had visited the Apple Store the day before and only had to endure its lack of air conditioning and the long checkout line.

London, however, has some amazing chain stores that I heartily welcome.  I can’t tell you how many times the ubiquitous sandwich shop Pret a Manager has saved my life.  It’s such a shame they don’t have any stores in the U.S outside of New York.  They provide students, busy professionals and travelers on a budget with French baguette style sandwiches, tasty salads, desserts, pastries and coffee at very reasonable prices.  Pret a Manager is my beacon for economic yet completely fulfilling meals and they recycle like crazy.  It’s weird to wax poetic about a chain store, isn’t it? 

Last year, in London Heathrow Airport, I made a mad dash for the Pret a Manger in Terminal One when my stomach was running on empty.  After inhaling a sandwich, I turned to my friend and said “I’m going to get another sandwich in case I get hungry again on the plane.”  I’ve never pursued a sandwich with such conviction and determination.   You really have to try these sandwiches.  Their crayfish and rocket sandwich tastes like heaven shoved between two slices of whole wheat bread.

Act II: Going to the movies . . . abroad

I find myself going to movie theatres when I’m traveling abroad.  I once went to a great art house movie theatre in the Latin Quarter in Paris back in 2003. Right after Katherine Hepburn passed away, they played a Katherine Hepburn film festival including Bringing up Baby (Le Fantastic Monsieur Bebe) the day I left.

Last year in Paris, I watched the Coco Chanel biopic starring Audrey Tatou in a Paris movie theatre on the Champs Elysees on its opening day.

This time around, I found out about the British Film Institute from my London guidebook.  When you come from a country where art house and vintage movie theatres are falling away into extinction, a venue like the British Film Institute is heaven.

The week I was in London, they were playing Rashomon, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and La Strada.  I ended up seeing La Strada.  Anthony Quinn was wonderful as the moody, selfish, narcissistic strongman and Guilettia Massina was a very poignant, Harpo Marx, impish female hero.  I just love Fellini.

Act I: Hello darkness my old friend

If sleeping anywhere, in any position was a superpower, I’d be a superhero named narcolespy girl.  I can pretty much sleep in any position much to the envy of friends and family.  That said, I usually log in about 4-6 hours on most transatlantic flights and am pretty much ready to hit the ground running when I land.  This was the case in London.  After my first night in London, I was wide awake at 3 am.  It was actually pretty quiet by 6 am so I decided to take a stroll and take a few photos of quiet London, the London you’ll never see during its waking hours when it’s packed with cars and tourists.

Here’s something you don’t see every day — a scarf in a letterbox.

London, my old cat

Let me start with a great quote about London. 

London does not reveal itself with one shower of dazzle as Paris does; she is an old cat, secretive and independent, and although she enjoys purring pleasantly, being stroked once in a while, and, when she has the mind to, rubbing her back against your leg, she doesn’t care that much to wag her tail and sit up prettily, like the excited poodle cities.  Her pace is slow, and so must yours be (and that of a travel writer); she will not be rushed into showing her hiding places.

Kate Simon

I was just in London earlier this week.  I was gone for exactly 7 days, 2 of which were spent on a transatlantic flight.  A friend was celebrating his 25th wedding anniversary with a silver ceilidh, a Scottish dancing party.  Everyone asks if I took pictures of the ceilidh.  No, I was too busy dancing.  Anyway, photos don’t really capture the essence of what a ceilidh is the way Youtube can.  Here’s a snippet some someone else’s ceilidh — a dance I have done called “Strip the Willow.”  Sounds a bit like “Go out back and find me a switch” but it’s really quite pleasant.

Back to London itself.  I’ve been to London six times in the past ten years.  That’s a lot of mileage.  I’ll post some stories from my trip in five acts.

Bringing Up Baby

I’m spending a few days with my little niece while my brother is out of town on a business trip.  Thankfully, he had the good judgment to purchase and set up a brand new iMac loaded with all his pics of the baby before I arrived.

Happily, I cooked meals for both of us while Lizet was constantly tending to the baby’s insatiable appetite.  In moments of quiet (they have been few) I snuck away and borrowed some pics of the baby from the iMac.

Being with a newborn 24/7 requires having a good sense of humor when the baby pees on you, spits up on you, or cries inconsolably because no matter what you do, you’re not her mommy.  Thanks to Sienna’s incomparable cuteness, I weathered through it all.   Fortunately for me, Lizet took care of some of the worst case scenarios like the blowout bowel movement that soiled the baby’s clothes and back.  (A trip to the grocery store spared me from that one!)

Imagine Mexico was playing a World Cup match against a team of joint Japan-China team. In this case, Mexico clearly won the battle of the genes as Sienna looks a lot more like her Mexican great-grandma than her Chinese one.

Here’s a pic of Roscoe as a small but strong puppy.  He used to be the baby of the house but now he’s Sienna’s babysitter.  Poor dog didn’t see that coming!

Kirei / Guapa / Mei-li

Kirei is beautiful in Japanese.  Guapa is beautiful in Spanish.  Mei-li is beautiful in Chinese.  Those are the words I would use to describe my three week old niece Sienna.  She’s so special, above-average in so many ways to me, because she is a combination of three nationalities.

Upon first glance, she looks really Asian.  Especially when she’s sleeping.

But when she opens her eyes, she sometimes looks Latin and other times Asian. She doesn’t cry when strangers pick her up, but she does look intently at you and perks up when you speak to her in a high pitched voice. She’s happiest when swaddled tightly like a burrito and will happily fall asleep on your chest. She’s such a mellow baby except when it’s time to change her diaper or change her clothes. During the first four hours of my visit, we had to change her diaper 4 times and her clothes 3 times. After her bath, three adults scrambled to dress her in record time to soothe her baby cries of distress which only ended after she was dressed and wrapped up tightly in a blanket.

Sienna is so beautiful — we are all enchanted by her.