Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Le Gavroche

I'm a bit bleary-eyed this morning. Last night Dave and I went with our friends Gordon, Donna and Keith to Le Gavroche, a well-known Michelin-starred restaurant in Mayfair. We've been trying to get a table there for a while, and finally -- after some maneuvering -- Gordon was able to get us in. We've had the reservation for weeks, if not months.

A Tuesday night (i.e. a school night) is not the best time for a multi-course meal with wine pairings, but we indulged anyway and of course it was terrific.

I got up in the middle of the night to drink water and take aspirin, and I suppose I'm ready for the workday. If it's anything like yesterday it will be crazy -- I had six people call in sick and ask for subs, and the library was busy as all get-out with people returning mountains of Spring Break reading material. Plus the kids hadn't seen their friends for weeks so they were all wound up.

Fortunately, the school has hired a new sub coordinator, and she is due to start on Monday. So I'll wrap up this week and then overlap a bit with her next week to help her train, and then I'm free of one of my two jobs!

(Photo: Notting Hill, this week. Dave really likes these bushes but we don't know what they're called. Anyone have any idea?)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Bottle Cap Art

Yesterday afternoon I had to meet someone for coffee in Maida Vale -- a friend of a friend who is in college studying journalism, and wanted to talk about the business. On the way home, walking through Notting Hill, I glanced down an alley and saw this colorful artwork.

These creations made of bottle caps decorated plywood sheets on the doors and windows of a building. I'm not sure who did them or why, but they were interesting!

I'm calling it "Bottle Cap Art," but as you can see there were other objects incorporated as well, including vinyl records and mirrors.

These two women decided to use the art as a backdrop for a long series of fashion-model-type photos. They posed, walked, vamped and carried on for a while, which was pretty amusing to watch.

Monday, April 21, 2014

An Uneventful Easter

Well, this is it: The last day of Spring Break, or Easter Monday, as it's known here in the U.K. I suppose I should be sleeping in, but I've never been much of a sleeping-in person. Even Olga is still in bed, and she's usually up with the sun.

Easter was uneventful, as one would expect in a non-deity-worshipping household. In fact I wouldn't have even known it was Easter had I relied on first-hand experience -- I saw no sign of Easter observance in our neighborhood. The churches were not outwardly decorated in any particular way. They appeared, to me, as moribund as ever.

We watched a couple of episodes of "The Good Wife" (which we're just starting) and then "Back to the Future," which I haven't seen since I was about 18. Dave made lamb for dinner, and I suppressed my ethical conundrums about eating a poor defenseless lamb long enough to eat -- and it did taste pretty good, although lamb will never be my favorite meat.

Ironically, given that it was Easter, I finished Sam Harris's book "The End of Faith," a strongly worded argument against all organized religion. Harris sees religion as a force dragging us ever-backward, away from reason and scientific and social advancement, toward armed conflict and tribalism. And he's not just talking about fundamentalists -- he's talking about all religion, and in fact sees moderates as complicit in the problem by creating circumstances that tolerate the extremist fringes. I think he's essentially correct, though I must admit I got lost in some of his deeper philosophical discussions about ethics. (Maybe I was too worried about that lamb!)

(Photo: An alley in Shoreditch on Saturday.)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Adela Reaumurella

Olga and I went to Wormwood Scrubs yesterday, and we encountered an unusual cluster of insects hovering and swarming around a nondescript blackberry bush. They were like nothing I'd ever seen before, metallic and irridescent, with long, white antennae that seemed to stay more or less vertical as they flew. They'd take to the air when the sun shone, and resettle on the foliage whenever the sun slipped behind a cloud.

At first I thought they were some type of fly, but after I got home and did some research I determined they are Adela reaumurella, which is actually a moth. Isn't that a great Latin name? So poetic!

I know everyone is clamoring to see Olga in her new red harness. I still prefer the pink, but since that wasn't an option, I can live with this. She is clearly pleased with it.

Last night Dave and I went with some of his coworkers to dinner and to see the National Youth Orchestra at Royal Festival Hall. One of Dave's students was playing in the orchestra, which performed a contemporary work by Thomas Adès called "Asyla" -- which included a movement based on the pounding rhythms of a London nightclub -- as well as Richard Strauss' "Ein Heldenleben." I found the Adès piece more interesting, though it was one of those dissonant, chirpy, clangy experiences that definitely isn't for everyone.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

We Did Not Eat the Worm

Our weather is a tad schizophrenic at the moment. Thursday was so warm I went without a jacket, but yesterday had a chilly edge. It was about 50ºF when I went walking in Shoreditch to renew my stock of London photography. I had a great walk and caught up with some street art, which I've been pretty much ignoring in recent months.

When I came back to Notting Hill I dropped by the florist near our flat to ask what happened to the homeless woman who lived on the doorstep there. (You may remember that I wrote about her in mid-February and she vanished about a month after that.) Turns out her name is Sarah, and she was picked up by Social Services because, as the florist put it, "she was getting really bad." (Whatever that means.) They said they think she's in the hospital now. At least she's hopefully being well cared for.

In return for this information, I bought three stems of delphinium for the insane price of £21.

Dave and I then ran some errands, including going to a local pet store for an emergency supply of hypoallergenic food for Olga. I belatedly realized yesterday that her food supply has dwindled and here we are, in the middle of a long holiday weekend. Our usual supplier -- the vet -- is closed until Tuesday! Yikes! The pet shop we visited didn't have her usual food but we cobbled together some options to keep her fed into next week, and also bought her a new harness (red, because they were out of the pink). Everything together came to the insane price of £85.

I am all for supporting local businesses, I really am. And I understand how they might cost a bit more. But clearly we can't really afford our local businesses.

Finally, I met up last night with my friend Jennifer, from my newspaper days in Florida, who's visiting London. We all had drinks back at our flat, and while she was here the dementia-afflicted magazine man stopped by and asked us for a magazine. All we had handy was a New Yorker, which I hadn't even read except for Ian Frazier's fascinating piece on horseshoe crabs -- but I gave it to him anyway. Then the three of us went to dinner at the pub across the street, where the manager -- who knows me and Dave -- gave us each a free tequila shot, which seems like a weird thing to dole out in a British pub. I have never done a tequila shot in my life, but now I can say I have. I probably never will again.

(Photo: Taking a smoke break outside Liverpool Street Station near Shoreditch, yesterday morning.)

Friday, April 18, 2014

Rolling in Petals at the End of the World

Olga was literally "in the pink" yesterday at the park. The cherry trees are dropping their blossoms and she had a great time rolling around in them.

My own recent "in the pink" experience -- my sunburn -- has faded. It was never very severe and not at all painful; I had no peeling and certainly no blisters. Knock on wood, I've never been sunburned badly enough to blister.

Apparently it's Easter weekend! Who knew?! Today and Monday are bank holidays in the U.K., so everything is closed. Just one more reason to hang out and take things slow before school resumes on Tuesday.

On a heavier note, I read an interesting article in the New York Times Magazine yesterday about a longtime environmental activist who says we humans have to stop deluding ourselves that we can stop or slow our current ecological crisis. He no longer believes we can turn the tide on global warming or mass extinctions. What we have to do now, he believes, is learn to live with what we've created:

“What do you do,” he asked, “when you accept that all of these changes are coming, things that you value are going to be lost, things that make you unhappy are going to happen, things that you wanted to achieve you can’t achieve, but you still have to live with it, and there’s still beauty, and there’s still meaning, and there are still things you can do to make the world less bad?”

It's a fascinating article, and perhaps it resonated with me because of my basic cynicism about the future of the planet. Other environmentalists criticize this guy's approach, saying he's given up -- but he says the only hope he has abandoned is false hope. Sounds reasonable to me. Maybe I'm a "crazy collapsitarian."

There is still beauty, though. Look at that dog! Look at those petals!

Thursday, April 17, 2014


Olga arrived home last night, and promptly did what she always does when she comes home from the kennel -- ate a big bowl of food and fell fast asleep. We always joke that they must not feed her there! I suspect that when she's away from home she neither eats nor sleeps completely normally, being in a less familiar environment.

While Olga came back safe and sound, her trademark pink harness did not. Apparently it got filthy on one of her walks (easy to imagine), the kennel staff removed it, and it somehow got thrown away. That's the story, anyway. The guy who brought her home offered to pay for it, but we'd already intended to get her a new one, so I told him not to worry about it. I can walk her for now using her collar, but I do think she probably needs a harness -- she's been known to wiggle out of that collar in moments of great excitement ("Cat! CAT!") and I wouldn't want her streaking away from me and into London traffic.

As for me, I stayed awake all day yesterday, despite having slept only about 20 minutes on our flights. (I can't sleep on airplanes, and I've never understood how anyone can -- though I can see how it might be easier for people who aren't 6'2.) I did laundry, which I have been looking forward to for days. I hate carrying around a bag full of clothes steeped in salt water, sweat and sunblock.

Dave made boeuf bourguignon, and we watched some Star Trek.

Someone asked about the beach glass -- here's the only piece I kept, the sloped and cracked neck of a bottle. All the glass I found was basic green or brown bottle glass, in varying shades, and I left most of it behind on the beach, piled beneath a tree for whoever wants it. I really try to bring back a minimum of stuff whenever I travel. I don't want to load up the house with souvenirs.

I kept these shells, too. They're just like shells I would have bought as a kid in those baskets of assorted shells from cheap Florida gift shops -- like Stuckey's, maybe -- and so different from shells we'd find on any beach in the Sunshine State. They seem exotic, even now.

Today means more laundry, and catching up in blogland and finishing the book I'm now reading, "Rebecca" by Daphne du Maurier (who, by the way, is not a man). Olga and I will probably also renew our acquaintance with the park.