Whew! I’ve finally unpacked, done the laundry, and gotten a decent night’s sleep, having just returned from a quick 10-day visit to two of my favorite cities.
Rather than a full travelogue – most of you are quite familiar with these locations – here are some random impressions/moments from this trip.
Arrival Day (Hooray for British Airways Austin-London direct flight!)
- Caught the last day of the history of underwear show at the V&A. Not as titillating as one might have expected, except for the bondage-y innerwear-as-outerwear trend pieces. Grateful I don’t live in an era of wool drawers (itchy!), cone bras (remember Madonna’s?), 18” corsets that played havoc with women’s internal organs, or paniers.
- Discover I’ve forgotten melatonin. Crap. Turns out, you can’t buy it over the counter. Will tough it out with red wine or vodka before bed.
- Dinner with local friends (helps one feel less like a tourist), noting as always that Brits are wittier than Americans. Sorry, but there it is.
- Robert Rauschenberg retrospective at Tate Modern. Don’t miss if you’re in town.
- The Leopard Bar at the Montague on the Gardens hotel. I do love a leopard pattern!
- Buying a new animal-head umbrella at one of my favorite shops, James Smith Umbrellas in Bloomsbury. It’s like stepping back in time to the Victorian era, replete with walking sticks and a “vintage” salesman.
- Eating (duh) and drinking “cheap and cheerful” dreadful wine with friends.
We spent most of our time here, and my overall sense was that people are feeling edgy and a bit under siege, although everyone we encountered was perfectly lovely.
Sadly, the city is looking a bit tired and dingy. More litter and dogs*** in the streets/on the sidewalk than I recall from the last trip two years ago. The métro is smellier. There’s almost a palpable collective Gallic shrug of “why bother?” going on.
However, we had a wonderful visit. How bad can things be when you eat croissants every day? (I recommend finding your local Eric Kayser bakery.)
- Love the Eurostar! So much easier than dealing with the airport. But my overlarge suitcase was very cumbersome.
- Wonderful Kiefer/Rodin show at the Musée Rodin. A fascinating “conversation” between artists of different generations looking at the same subjects.
- Want to look Parisian? Wear a scarf with everything! I felt I was passing for a native when someone stopped me on the street to ask (en français, bien sûr!) if I lived in the neighborhood. It’s good to blend in, especially these days.
- People treat you better if you carry a good handbag. Superficial but true.
- Today’s polemic: French/British children can tell a Monet from a Manet by six years old because going to museums is part of their everyday schooling, not a special event. No wonder we’re raising generations of Philistines in our country, where the arts are considered an elitist luxury and Führer Trump wants to abolish the National Endowment! If you can’t appreciate beauty, you can’t appreciate anything. OK, I’m jumping off my soapbox now.
- p.s., Where but in Paris does a shopkeeper recommend a museum exhibit? Does this happen in Chicago? I don’t think so.
- Chatting with people makes all the difference between feeling like a visitor and feeling comfortably part of your surroundings. A few moments:
- Conversation with the proprietor of vintage handbag store (specializing in 1950’s Hermès) combining her limited English with my fractured French. A delightful history lesson.
- Another Hermès moment: my husband chatting with a Saudi gentleman while his wife special-ordered various bags and I spent a tiny fraction of what she did. Although not in the same financial league, our husbands shared a laugh over the common experience of patiently waiting while their wives shopped.
- Discussing politics with taxi drivers (we’re all worried!)
- Music is a universal language. Having coffee one evening at a brasserie near our hotel, we enjoyed a playlist of Ray Charles, the late, great BB King and Tina Turner. Thumbs up all around with the owner and other patrons.
- People dress very casually at The Opéra Bastille, where we saw a beautifully sung Carmen. Glad I didn’t pack a special fancy outfit.
- Note to self: Buy booze at the Monoprix to avoid paying minibar prices. Who cares if we don’t finish it?