Tuesday, December 23, 2008

London, October 25th Part 1

London, the 25th

I’ve sat down to write this blog three times. The first time, I actually made it halfway and it was glorious. Specks of golden historical detail embellished my first-person narrative and brought it to a vibrant, though short-lived, life. I say short-lived, because my third flashdrive in 6 months corrupted the file, and it was gone. Now, staring at my notes two months after the events, I am intimidated by my inflated memories of the first version. Will this be as good? Can it come close? No, probably not, but damnit, I’m writing it down anyways because I haven’t updated my blog in weeks and it’s my New Years Resolution to record my London trip for posterity (and the mild amusement of friends and family who are bored at work). So here goes, and keep in mind that whatever comes from my fingers now is nowhere near what it could have been… *sniff* *sigh* *single tear* *string of profanities towards that flashdrive*…

On the 25th of October, which if memory serves, was a (need to check cubicle calendar…) a Saturday, my boyfriend Charles and I were to meet my very good friends Monique, Athena, and her Fabulous British Boyfriend (FBB) Alex at London Bridge station. Our adventure for the day was Borough Market in Southwark, a place I have seen described as a “foodie paradise,” a giant market where one can forage for whatever wonders the local flora and fauna can produce. I envisioned heaps of brightly colored British vegetation like currants and cucumbers, mountains of caramel-coloured farmhouse cheeses, and the sweet warm waftings of pastries stacked in golden piles.

Nothing is ever quite as you expect. Borough Market was better.

Let me backtrack – first we had to find our friends. Planning a place to meet up from across an ocean and the width of a continent is a triumph of optimism over sense, but that’s exactly what we tried to do, looking at an online map of the tube station. Alex, the FBB, suggested we meet outside the actual market at Oast House in the station: “there we can join forces and strike into the interior with strength in numbers.” Our carefully forged plan was doomed to failure in the labyrinthine tube station and crumbled into confused raspy pay-phone calls and “where ARE you?”s that were cut off mid-sentence by my failure to insert coins into the slot at the appointed times. We found Athena first, and Alex ran off to search for Monique who was wandering around outside probably wondering why our calls kept cutting out. Finally we were on our way.

Alex, Athena’s FBB and our fearless Sherpa of London city streets, guided us through winding narrow lanes to Borough Market, which is a series of paved paths formed by myriad market stalls and tables practically toppling with pumpkins and apples, heads of lettuce, bunches of radishes and yes—boxes of red and black currants. Is there anything more British than currants? I tried to take everything in as quickly as possible as we moved through the crowds of people, not noticing where my friends or my feet went. I veered off several times, always with an arm or a finger wrapped around Charles, who knows how I get at these kinds of places. Furry rabbits and fowls hung overhead, which prompted Monique to sigh with pity for the poor things, and me to dream of roasting and stuffing them. They’re dead already, right? Might as well enjoy. Besides, there’s nothing like seeing strung up game to feel like you’re really in a medieval town, next to nature, glorious mud, and history as old as the pitted cobbled stones under your feet. As if this weren’t sublime enough—through the brisk rain scrubbed air, I smelled spicy steam coming from the mulled wine stand. Ok, there is one thing slightly more British than currants, and that is mulled wine. I’ve tried making it 3 times since I got back, but no cup of mine was better than the one I had at Borough Market. We rounded a few corners and found cheese and a mountain of brownies within a few tables of eachother. My senses were overloaded- but I walked straight past the brownie-Everest to the love of my life: crunchy, caramely Dutch aged Gouda. I nearly wept for joy, barely glancing at the layout of raspberry tarts and baked sweets to my left. My eyes were on the cheese. I came, I tasted, I bought as much as I could eat in a day.

Historic Fact: Borough Market is London’s oldest food market. It was established on the south bank of the Thames when the Romans built the first London Bridge. It has occupied its present site for 250 years.
Still clutching my rapidly cooling mulled wine, which had ceased to steam while I deliberated over how many pounds of cheese my boyfriend and I could conceivably inhale over the course of the day, we ventured forth along the Thames. Past Monmouth Coffee with its lines trailing out the door and around the corner, past a reproduction of Sir Francis Drake’s ship, The Golden Hind, and past the Clink. Apparently, the famous prison is now a site for Birthday parties.

Historic Fact: The Clink was a notorious prison in Southwark, England functioned from the 12th century until 1780. It was originally used for the detention of religious non-conformists (both Protestant and Catholic, as English religious winds changed). The Clink Prison Museum is currently located on the original site in Clink Street, in the basement of a former warehouse.

As we walked, the terrible Tate Modern loomed tall, sterile and ugly, still very much the Bankside Power Station, and looking more like one of Blake’s “dark Satanic mills.” Entry is free, but in my opinion, you get what you pay for. On the other side of the river, the dome of St. Paul’s floated like a Nintendo cloud above the London rooftops.

We browsed through rows of paperback books set up under Waterloo Bridge—though after my forays into Charing Cross bookstores, I couldn’t bring myself to buy—and crossed Embankment Bridge on our way to the National Portrait Gallery. Just outside the opening of Embankment tube station is Gordon’s Wine Bar, a family owned restaurant where guests can enjoy wine and “an excellent cheese plate” by candle-light in an old crypt, so Alex told us. This place is at the top of my list for my next trip to London, but as it was, we needed to get to the gallery in time to scope out the Tudors and depart in time for tea.

End of October 25th, Part 1 (part 2 will be posted shortly)

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