Sunday, May 16, 2004

London Calling...

I mentioned London briefly in my last post, and I must expound on my sentiment regarding this great city more...

I was recently talking to Casper, an Englishman that resembles Tom Cruise, who has been renting my parents' house in Westchester for the past year or so, with his wife and children. We were talking about the entire financial industry -- he works for Svenska Handelsbanken -- hedge funds and prime brokerage in particular. Thanks to him, I'm reading a great book, When Genius Failed by Roger Lowenstein, but during our conversation, we got into talking about England in general -- he'd grown up in Notting Hill.

I mentioned I stayed with a friend (J. Harry Edmiston, who's made appearances in past posts) in Notting Hill Gate the last time I was in London, and we got to talking about Portobello Road and all sorts of things related to London and England as a whole. I've always been an anglophile -- as silly as it may be, I think my curiosity was first peeked because of my affinity for great English bands like the Beatles, the Who, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, the Sex Pistols, the Police, David Bowie, Pink Floyd, Cream/Eric Clapton, etc, etc, etc, shall I go on?

My first trip to the U.K. was in 1990, when I traveled all through England, beginning with Hereford, traveling through Milton-Keynes (great cows...albeit cement), London, into the Sussexes (Chichester, mainly, with its Roman influence that still exists strongly, and I did travel to Portsmouth and almost into Devon and Cornwall -- otherwise, Brighton a bit, where a busty blonde flashed me, and in Ashdown Forest), then through Cambridge, Leicestershire, and Derby into Mersey (Liverpool!) and Lancashire (of the famed Blackburn -- can you name that Beatles tune?), making my last stop in Cumbria, in the Lake District (beautiful area, occasionally punctuated by the RAF jets waving at you from overhead), before returning to London. That trip really gave me a very good feel for the range and diversity of the landscape (the green, rolling hills of the Lake District to the stark white cliffs of Brighton), and because I stayed with some families along the way, I got to know some of its people intimately. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience (no doubt helped somewhat by a French girl by the name of Carine along the way).

Taken near Chichester, West Sussex: Summer, 1990

Of course, when you think of it, there are great similarities between the English and the Japanese cultures -- both countries with tremendous history in knighthood, monarchy, and the ilk; island nations with magnificent naval prowess; and an appreciation for tea. Of course, the biggest difference is the quality of its traditional foods (although fish and chips definitely hit the spot at times..I'm not sure what I think of scones, however), but barring that, I did notice and appreciate the similar sensibilities, including the common mastery of the dental arts.

Without getting into a whole dissertation in the comparison, I'll move onto London. What a fantastic city it is. (By the by, Arsenal is kicking some serious butt this season, thanks in part to Campbell...!) There aren't many other cities aside from New York (as a matter of fact, none other than London) I would consider living in, and for good reason...aside the fact that the English accent in women turns me on more than anything else (one of my first girlfriends was from Kent), what I love about London is its vibrant nature, even more alive as a city than New York is in recent years, I dare say.

Speaking of dares, I wouldn't have dared ventured south of the river when I'd first gone there -- the farthest south I'd gone was to the Tate, and really only stayed near Hyde Park/Knightsbridge and Sloane Square that time (I'm proud to say that even as a foreign traveler, I have yet to really venture into the West End, aside maybe to see a movie in Leicester Square). Yet, what they have done there since is nothing short of fantastic. From the Globe to the Tate Modern (and the "Eye"-sore, which I'm still mixed about -- it does provide great views of London, however), they have done a fantastic job in revitalizing this area of the city. The Jubilee line extension is extremely well done in my opinion, and is likely the best subway system I've seen, both aesthetically, and in its engineering feat.

The music scene there (in Brixton and in general) is far more diverse than the commercially driven NYC, and I really can appreciate Brixton in its gritty glory as it reminds me of New York's East Village pre-gentrification, up to about the early 90's. Most recently, I stayed in Hoxton/Shoreditch/Islington (with Richard Hatherall and his fiancee, Jessica Lieberman -- who was working recently on an independent short here in New York with Sibling Rivalry Productions), right on Great Eastern, and even at the trendy clubs around there, the diversity in music was greatly appreciated -- one DJ in particular mixed in Felakuti with modern beats like those by Pizzicato Five... unimaginable in New York.

Of course, the people make the city as the city does its people, and in general, I really like the English. The wit and the muted, subtle, and dry humor is as great as the zany, wacky humor (Eddie Izzard is hilarious!) -- also, the people are a lot more friendly and accommodating than in NY in general. I remember a friend of mine who'd stayed with Blair (whatever your opinion may be of him politically) for some time had told me how Tony was disarmingly humorous in person, and generous and kind.

It is often said that Europeans are easy to know, but somewhat difficult to get to know, and I appreciate and respect this regard. I think the "Old World" has many wisdoms in its natural ways, and this is one of them -- I'm often accused of being "too closed" by my American colleagues, but this is with good reason. Obviously, I chose poorly in recent years, but you live and learn...nevertheless, point is, I've noticed in general that the English are poised and mild-mannered until you get to know them well, at which point you know them as blabbering lushes hellbent on soaking up every bit of alcohol existant on the entire isle...very much like the Japanese (and the exact reverse of the Americans, some may say). With tonics like that Newcastle Brown can hardly blame them.

ALTHOUGH...I remember this one instance, in 1990, I was only 17 at the time, and a few of us were playing soccer (or football) in Cheshire, near the Welch border. It was a sunny, hot day, and obviously I'd grown thirsty, so I grabbed this plastic jug labeled "Apple Cider" -- in the U.S., this is an equivalent to apple juice. While I chugged the sucker down, NOBODY on the field, not a single bastardly soul, warned me that the frigging thing was ALCOHOLIC! So, I'm dehydrated as hell and on top of that I'm piss drunk, while all of them bastards are laughing and pointing at the "dumb American." Next time I'm out playing soccer with the English, I'll make sure to bring what the Russians call "a little water," more commonly known as vodka. But again, knowing the English, they'll probably play better.

Anyway, back to London. What I also appreciate about the city is this subtle overture of the royalty and aristocracy that reside there. Aside the pinky rings, this is openly visible by simply going to certain places at night, or even when walking around different neighborhoods. It's a certain air that some might call snobbish, pretentious, or staid, but it's an air that adds to the whole dimension of the city. If you disagree, consider this: in America, the celebrity are considered as royalty. I think that's far worse in many senses. It ties in with another aspect of the London nightlife I really appreciate, which is the membership clubs. Whatever gripes and misgivings one might have about this, especially given what I mentioned about the weaning process, I think it is a wise move, and I often wished that more places in New York would begin implementing this approach.

Nevertheless, also, being as young as America is as a nation, we have a tendency to latch on to anything "historic," yet what I thought was interesting about Europeans in general is their rigorously integrating the modern while respecting the historic. For instance, I don't remember the name of the train station any more, but there is a relatively old train station just north of the City in London.

The architecture is perfectly in tact on the outside, but once you step indoors, it is thoroughly modern -- it's as though the land was treated as an empty plot of land that happened to have an ancient structure to roof it. This is in stark comparison (although I very much appreciate it as one of the best pieces of architecture in the entire city of New York) to the renovation of Grand Central Station that was spearheaded by Jackie Kennedy, which restored the architecture to its original state to a tee, while placing some modern upgrades here and there as necessary -- including two tennis courts in one of the levels above Vanderbilt Hall, where my father goes weekly.

Grand Central Terminal, New York

On a completely separate note, and one in which I'll end this post, as an automotive enthusiast, one cannot go by without mentioning Park Lane. What a fantastic place this is. McLarens, Lotuses, Rolls Royces, Bentleys, Aston Martins, Jaguars, and Minis, all displayed in a beautiful context of Hyde Park, right in the middle of the city (ok so farther to the West, but nevertheless). Between Park Lane and H.R.Owen in Kensington where Ferraris, Maseratis, Lotuses, and TVR's are displayed, I've spent more time appreciating these masterpieces there than i did at National Gallery, the Tate, or the Tate Modern combined (and I've always been a huge Turner fan!). I have yet to lay my eyes on the newly arrived British production, the Noble, but I will no doubt during my next jaunt...

I hear that the world apparently feels the Italians have all the automotive design sense (not to scoff at the Ferraris, Maseratis, and to a much, much lesser degree, Lamborghinis), but I, for one, beg to differ. The small isle off the coast of continental Europe has produced more variety and range of tastefully designed, refined automobiles with distinct character per square mile than any other place on the globe, and I would be perfectly content were I told I can only buy cars from England alone for the rest of my natural (and extremely content) life (...ok, so it has in part to do with the fact they're more reliable nowadays due to international/foreign ownership...but we'll ignore that part). Without much further ado, I present Exhibit A...or should I say, AM? Imagine being cradled in fine, hand-stitched Connoly leather and modern, state-of-the-art carbon fiber and aluminum (aluminium, yeah, yeah, yeah, ya damn limeys), with 460 horses at your disposal, taking you from 0-60MPH in less than 5...

The Aston Martin V12 Vanquish...drool...



At 4:06 AM, Blogger Matt the Hat said...

Thanks for a really interesting read

(from another Englishman!)


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