Saturday, September 29, 2007

In which (some) nice things are finally said about London

"A sprawling North London parkland, composed of oaks, willows and chestnuts, yews and sycamores, the beech and the birch; that encompasses the city's highest point and spreads far beyond it; that is so well planted it feels unplanned; that is not the country but it is no more garden than Yellowstone; that has a shade of green for every possible felicitation of light; that paints itself in russets and ambers in the autumn, canary-yellow in the splashy spring; with tickling bush grass to hide teenage lovers and joint smokers, broad oaks for brave men to kiss against, mown meadows for summer ball games, hills for kites, ponds for hippies, an icy lido for old men with strong constitutions, mean llamas for mean children and for the tourists, a country house, its facade painted white enough for any Hollywood close-up, complete with a tea room, although anything you buy from there should be eaten outside with the grass beneath your toes, sitting under the magnolia tree, letting the white upturned bells of blossoms, blush-pink at their tips, fall all around you. Hampstead Heath! Glory of London! Where Keats walked and Jarman fucked, where Orwell exercised his weakened lungs and Constable never failed to find something holy"

- Zadie Smith, "On Beauty"

(Because I don't have to explain why the only place in London I would consider moving to (from three minutes away from Regents Park) is three minutes away from the Heath)

To tell you the truth, it didn't start out that way. At first, we tried to convince ourselves that we were open to other neighborhoods. We would look at it if it satisfied two conditions - a reasonably large park close by, and 15 minutes to get to Kings Cross[1] (door to National Rail). Islington lost out because of the first condition, as did most of the close-to-City neighborhoods. Bayswater lost because of the second, and the other areas around Hyde Park weren't exactly our favorite neighborhoods. Not just because we couldn't afford it. But because what will we do around diplomats and American expats and Harrods shoppers and the Notting Hill crowd? That pretty much left our little neighborhood, north of Marylebone maybe a little way up to St Johns Wood[2]. But since one of the reasons for this moving idea is that we should try some other neighborhood (the other reason being getting a little more space, if possible), we had pretty much decided not to move. Then we gave in a little and said maybe the river will do instead of the park. That gave us the London Bridge area, east of the Tower Bridge but wait, the bankers! Oh no. If we moved there, our entire year will be spent bitching about the "high IQ morons" who live around us in these convereted warehouses. I mean, imagine Bill and moi living next to these bankers in Shad Thames. See, see now. I would so do that if I was writing one of those "undercover" books, yes.

So then we gave up on everything else and said yes, Hampstead is expensive and it has just the Northern Line and its not Zone 1 BUT it has the Heath. Which we so love. If there's one place in London that you won't hear me complaining about (or comparing to the city by the lake), its the Heath. And the Northern line from Hampstead will get to Kings Cross in less than 15 minutes. We should at least check the neighborhood out. We owe it to the Heath.

So it was on a glorious Saturday morning we got on a bus to check out the neighborhood. Out of habit, we just went straight to the Heath instead of getting down at the High St. Up Parliament Hill road, into the Heath and up the Hill. As usual, random mix of locals and tourists sitting on benches enjoying the view. Photos being shot. We do our usual comedy.

"You know someone's going to shoot us one of these days. Especially if we move here"

"Hey, freedom of speech remember?"

"Nonsense. You keep making fun of these people, they aren't going to tolerate it"

"Oh c'mon. These Brits are crazy. This is so like the whole Changing of the Guard thing. All they do is dress up and walk up and down for an hour and its some big deal. Tradition, my foot"

"Who said I don't agree? But you can't come to Parliament Hill every day and make fun of people who are here to see the skyline view"

"Skyline. Ha Ha Ha! Skyline, indeed. Rooftop view, I would call it. All these cute Victorian houses. Chal, lets count how many rooftops we see"

"People are staring at us"

"So? If the city doesn't have a skyline, it doesn't have a skyline. Just because you climb up a Hill, wait, a mound called Parliament and claim its a skyline doesn't make it anything of the sort."

"Enough, lets go"

"I love America"

"Too loud. Not the right sentiment in this liberal haven. Chal lets go"

The next couple of hours was spent in the Heath taking in everything you have read about already in the beginning of this post. We got lost a couple of times but that's what you are meant to do in the Heath so it turned out to be fine. Finally we got out and decided to walk up and down streets to see if they made sense. They did.

"Squirrel Hill[3] man"

"Too hep to be Squirrel Hill. I'd say Shadyside"

"I guess"

"Its the Shady Ave part of the Shadyside. Also that Amberson Ave types near where you and BM used to live"

"Yeah, but its all up and down like Negley. Hmm"


"So you like it?"

"I think so, yes. What's that?"

"Some street festival. Probably a block party."

"Looks nice. Good music"

"Way too many kids"

"Fuck, yes. Forget what I said. We won't live here"

"I know. Kids could be a problem. Plus even if we want to, they wouldn't let us live here. We wouldn't qualify"


A few minutes later we are at the Heath St.

"Dude, this is nice"

"I know. Such lovely cafes and these stores are nice too"

"Wait, whats that queue there?"


"Its some food stall. Wait, its a creperie. With 15 people waiting in line. I am going there"

"I don't know man. It looks like some general stall"

"You go do something else. I want crepes"

Bill comes back twenty minutes later.

"You have hardly moved!"

"That's because they make those crepes in front of you. Mouth watering, they are. Look, they are some big deal around here. They have all those press things written about them"

"Whatever. I am a little skeptical. But we will see"

We finally get out crepes. A slab of butter. Buckwheat batter. Chocolate and banana. All together. Bill gets the classic ratatouille. I take a bite. Bill's paying (for once). I take another bite. I cross the street and run away. There's no way in hell I am sharing this with him.

"Hey, where did you run away?"

"Here only. I was just looking at this bus timetable to see whether you can get to Kings Cross if the Northern line is not functioning. There's a bus that takes you to KC in 12 minutes. All's cool"

"So you have decided to move here?"

"Have you tried the crepe?"

"Not yet"

"Try it and tell me you don't want to move here"


"Orgasmic, isn't it?"

"Close. Close. Let me try yours."

"No...wait, here's a Waterstone's. A bookstore so close. See, good choice to move here. Come lets go in"

Inside Waterstone's. I am somewhere in popular fiction. Local author, it says, Julian Barnes. Zadie Smith. Hmm.

"Hey, you should come check this out"


"Come, check this section"

I follow Bill. A huge section. Jewish interest.

"Oh, I didn't tell you. I was thinking about it when I said Squirrel Hill. The area north of here, like north of the station and then going up to Golders Green"


"Its all supposed to be all majorly intellectual and all. Also, euphemism for Jewish"

"Okay then. We are moving here"

"Righto Mr Eli Feynman[4]. We are indeed moving here"

See, moving decisions are that easy. All you have to do is to get your priorities right.

PS: This doesn't mean we are moving. We haven't even started looking at flats. Excuse to check out neighborhoods really.

[1] For those of you who think I am mean to Bill, please read the sentence again. You will see how considerate I really am.

[2] I know, it gets a little too yuppie around here sometimes with all the LBS crowd moving in and all but you can't have everything, you know.

[3] Bill's very Jewish neighborhood in Pittsburgh

[4] I am not making this up. There was a time when Bill used to call restaurants for reservations under the name of Eli Feynman[5]. It was very interesting to watch people go crazy when we actually turned up.

[5] Coined by BM. Please to ask her for details


Cheshire Cat said...

You actually prefer the "Hog Butcher for the World, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat" to London?? Come on, this must be nostalgia, it can't be based on an objective criterion. True, London is expensive, but think of the museums, the galleries, the theaters, think of CECIL COURT.

Of course, it's possible you're some kind of architetural fanatic, in which case, yes, there's a shortage of gigantic glass cuboids on London...

Veena said...

Cat: You are going to hate me for this but did I mention the third reason for taking current job? The office is on St Martins Lane which means that every single day, I take the tube to Leicester Sq underground and walk to St Martins through Cecil Ct. But fact still remains that that's only the third reason, second being travel to big shoulders city thrice a year. So yes, I prefer Chicago to London because the quality of life I get for the same amount of money is much better in Chicago. Its not just the buildings though they are a big part (I will almost always pick the concrete over the abstract); the park and the lake and more importantly, the people make a big difference.

Btw, its not like I am complaining about London. I love it here. If I had to make the decision all over again, I'd still pick London. Just that I am not likely to live here long term. The museums and the theatres are all lovely but they are not enough.

Cheshire Cat said...

So you walk through Cecil Ct every day and... actually manage to get to work?? Coming to think of it, maybe it's a good thing I'm not in your position.

It's interesting we have such different perspectives on this - I lived in Chicago for many years, but have only visited London. My enthusiasm would probably plummet if I actually had to pay rent in London. But also I get the feeling you don't really care much for the English :)

Veena said...

"But also I get the feeling you don't really care much for the English"

Gross generalizations but well. Its not that I don't care much for the English. In Asterix style, I just like making fun of them. Mostly because I can't stand them acting so superior with the Americans (rest of the world too but the Americans esp who I am quite fond of and who unlike the rest of the world actually seem to care about what these people say)

Preeti said...

so are we pretending to be non-yuppie again, Ms. Lincoln Park/St. John's Wood consultant?? ah well .. the heath's a good choice though ... wee bit south of two golf clubs ...

Veena said...

I give you Zadie Smith and you give me golf clubs?! You yuppie, me non-yuppie.

Just cos I have some yuppie characteristics doesn't mean I am yuppie or anything. I mean, is it my fault that they always go live near the lake and the park where I want to live? (Maybe if I keep saying that 23 times a day, I will convince myself)

Though nowadays I don't mind the whole yuppie thing. The bankers are so much easier to pick on. And nobody can accuse me of being one.

Preeti said...

thought you in your yuppieness might have picked it because of the golf clubs .. beautiful way to enjoy a glorious summer day in london, no? I mean the days you're not enjoying the summer in the south of france of course.. (or marrakesh for that matter .. tut tut)

that's true ... consultants are much cooler than bankers ... am happy as long I have some banker's fancy car to ride around in..

Veena said...

Golf? A beautiful way to spend a glorious summer day in London?
Dude, all I can say is I am glad that you have finally shed all pretensions and embraced true calling. Now to settle down with a proper SAR person and your life will be perfect.

Preeti said...

wha?? what pretensions .. did I ever claim to be bohemian cool? also, I'm the one moving to the east vill, while you're moving to golf paradise..

also, where's your sarcasm filter, woman? last time I checked, there weren't any glorious summer days in London :)

Veena said...
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Veena said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Veena said...

Arrggh! This thing is randomly deleting my comment!

Exactly how many summer days have you spent in London though?

Of course there are glorious summer days in London. Three times a year: once in April, once in September and once in February.

And please not to call it golf paradise. Thats way up North. Did you know there are some majorly family type kiddy neighborhoods around the Heath? Pick on that if you want. But don't say golf.

Wait, you are moving to East Village but you are not pretending to be anything. Or anyone. Right.

Anonymous said...

BM: I feel compelled to interject here. I hope you don't mean the East Village in Manhattan. That would be tragic. In my opinion, the only place to move to in Manhattan without dealing with the crushing burden and self-loathing that comes from being thought a yuppie (or worse, a bohemian, or worst of all, a bohemian yuppie or boppie) is opposite the Pakistani Deli on 9th Ave and 37th-ish street. A street so rundown, so infinitely slummy that its not even ironic. Everything else alas, has already been taken by The Masters of the Universe.


Anonymous said...

Oh sorry that was for Preeti-who-is-moving-to-EV. For some reason, I thought you were BM.


Anonymous said...

Cheshire/Veena: What is Cecil Court? Is it like Fi'th Avenue or something with designer wares seducing you at every turn?


Veena said...

n!: Same concept, different category. Not so much as designer though, more like vintage