Sunday, November 16, 2008

Nov 17 for Nov 13

A sign in the Embankment Underground Station, London.

November 15 
  This is the first time since I last posted that I have had a chance to write properly. I am torn between writing thank you notes and this. This wins for the moment. I am currently in communication limbo, outside any wifi hotspots, unless I walk up and down the streets of this small French village, divining for radio waves with my Compaq dowsing rod. I am desparate to get this written before the events to be described fade, or to be more precise, are crowded into a corner of my mind from which they may never reemerge. I think I last left off preparing to go to London. I can't check at the moment because of WiFi Limbo. 
  London. I knew it was going to be a good day when I picked up the rental car and found my way home! When I made my reservation for the car, I also reserved a SatNav(GPS) for an extra 70 pounds, or about $135. The morning I was to pick up the car, I suddenly realized I could have bought one for that, if I had only thought so earlier. I mentioned it to Andy and he suggested we go early for the car and see if we couldn't find one. So, that's what we did. Sure enough, they were near to the cost of the rental one, but the one's for Europe cost more. Andy, thinking ahead, suggested we get one good for England, Ireland, Europe and the USA. He and Chris are planning to visit next year and drive the American west. I said that I couldn't afford the top of the line one, so he suggested I put in 50 pounds and he would foot the rest. I said no, I'll do 70 to which he replied,"the whole idea was to save money on the cost of the rental, so 50 pounds it is". From there, we went to collect the car. Actually, Andy dropped me off and said call if you need anything and left. I looked at my watch, gulped as I realised I had an hour to complete the rental, then find my way back to his house, and get dressed before we were to leave and pick up Chris before we walked to the train station. Getting dressed and picking up Chris were the easy parts, but  anyone who has ever driven in England will attest, finding my way back could prove to be tricky. I made the necessary arrangements, and the rental manager brought out the key to the small, frumpy economy car I had reserved. Or so I thought. In actuality, she said , we've given you a Fiat Bravo. Is that all right? I glanced out the window at the sleek silver machine sitting in my rental spot, and fighting fear they would realise their error, casually said,Okay. We did the walkaround, I got in, started it, took a deep breath, then another, then realised I had forgot to exhale after the first. Exhaling, I put it in gear, eased out the clutch, and drove straight to Andy's house. I did kill it one time turning a corner, but no one saw so I don't think it counted. I jumped out, rang the doorbell, warmed to Andy's Oooh at sight of the car and said to him"Are you surprised to see me?!" We gathered our stuff, went to get Chris from work, parked the car, walked to the station, got on the train that was waiting, and left Tonbridge for one marvelous evening in London.
 Andy, type A that he is, couldn't be satisfied with just toddling up to London, catch some tunes from the symphony, and beetle on home again. No! In researching the tickets for the London Smphony, he discovered that the venue, the Barbican Centre, was also hosting a war photography expostion including the works of Robert Capa, so he bought tickets for that so we could attend prior to the concert. Of course, looking at photogaphs on the third floor is hard work, so needing  to eat before we attended the concert on the first floor,  we stopped off at Searcy's, a top grade restaurant on the second floor for which he just happened to have reservations. 
  He, reading the menu, said, "Hmmm, Venison,Rabbit, and Pheasant Pie. Served for two." and casually went on to another subject. When it came time to order, I ordered for starters, smoked eel,poached egg, and beets, and then glancing at Andy-said How does the pie sound? He said it is for two, to which I replied,Do you want to try it. A flashing smile affirmed our menu choice, whilst Chris had a beautiful piece of pork on a bed of vegetables. After my smoked eel, I was somewhat leery about the pie, for fear that it couldn't possibly compete with the appetiser. Quite wrong. What a dish! Served with mashed potatoes, Andy and I easily ate a pie that could have fed a family of four(rugby players). Chris gave me some pointers on how to use the mashed potatoes to my advantage in getting the peas from the pie to stay on my fork.(I was eating English style, or attempting to, with knife and fork).My apple upside down cake was so light I think it only stayed on the plate due to the apple glace liberally coating it. All this was interspersed with good conservation, but this all took time, so we hurriedly settled and walked the two flights of stairs down to the concert hall.
 Finding our seats, we marveled at their placement. There were more expensive available, but I don' think they could have been any better for this particular concert. Within five minutes the Symphony struck up the first piece, Bartok's Wooden Prince, to which we all agreed was not the most catchy tune, but at times it did promise to break out into melody. It is a testament to how good the LSO was that it, for me, was enjoyable. But, what it did do most of all, was to give us a glimpse of Marin Alsop (Google her), and I knew, right then, that the New World was going to be a cracker. Andy and I enjoyed watching the crew bring the piano up from below the stage on an elevator for the next piece which was Franz Liszt's Piano Concerto #2, in A major, again marvelously played by the guest solosit Jean-Yves Thibaudet and the Symphony. Again, we each thought that although played brilliantly none of us would be whistling it on the way home.
 After the intermission, we settled in for the piece'de resistance, Dvorak's 9th Symphony, From the New World. Settled is the wrong choice of word. I closed my eyes and listened to the first few measures, sighed, and knew this one was going to be good. I have listened to that symphony more than any other, as it was my mother's favorite. Any one who knew my mother will be appreciative of the fact that during one of the softest parts of the second movement someone unwrapped a cellophane candy wrapper! Be that as it may, this was a marvelous rendition, guided,urged,drawn and driven by Marin Alsop. The English audience brought her back three times until she finally turned to her orchestra, appeared to ask them a question, and before we knew what had hit us, fired off Dvorak's Carnival Overture!!  That one we whistled!! 
 Afterwards, we scurried back to the Tube. Coming out of the Embankment station in order to make our way back to Charing Cross station and the train home, I heard a busker strum the first few notes of his guitar as I glanced up at the man-made canyon of buildings I was entering and saw through a light mist the Union Jack flying atop a bulding to my right. I stopped for a moment just to breathe in the wonder of the moment, then hurried to catch up with my family. The train ride was one laugh after another as we discussed old tv shows and then at last, we were home at 12. I packed and loaded the car until 1:30, then went to bed after writing a note of appreciation to Andy and Chris. As wonderful as the day was, it was due in large part to having shared it with them.  As I said to them, "It isn't often that Life throws you a near perfect day, and I had just had one with them". Yes, Anthea, this is me, Alan, your husband writing this and no, no one is threatening me!!??:>)
At 5:30 that morning, I woke to begin the journey to France....

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