A London Photo Diary

For London, I missed one day of class.
Thursday morning in London town.
I landed at 10AM and did not arrive at my hotel until 11:45AM. The drive into the city was much longer than expected.
“What do you mean, ‘Is the traffic always this bad,'” the driver laughed, “This is good, smooth traffic. An hour from Heathrow into town is good. When it’s bad it’s terrible,” he waved at the road where all the cars seemed at a standstill, “This is very good traffic. You are lucky.”
He was neatly dressed, in his early forties and from Bangladesh. He spoke accented English in a soft measured way. Had I met him elsewhere, I would have thought him something other than a driver, but he was a husband and father too, living in London with his wife and two young children. He was wary of being priced out of the city. We talked about the cost of petrol (over 10USD per gallon!) and the growing number of bankers and real estate developers, the former who seemed to be the only people who could find jobs and the latter who were coming in to build extravagant flats only the superrich could afford. As we drove through various neighborhoods, he gave me a brief summary of each, quoting the average price of the flats.
“This neighborhood used to be affordable. Now it is no longer so.”
“See that building there? The smallest, lower level flats are said to start at ten million pounds.”
“This was not such a nice neighborhood but now the prices are going up because it’s being developed and more wealthy people are coming in to buy the homes for cheap.” He shifted in his seat, “Well, cheap for them.”
We passed tall glass architectural landmarks which made him shake his head, (“Soon there will be no one left but finance types and foreign businessmen.”) In the city, we drove in brief two-minute intervals, several yards at a time before stopping for many minutes more. London has very few highways, it seems. I remained undecided about roundabouts.
In front of the Holiday Inn Express, he put my suitcase down and surveyed the East London neighborhood where the Person of Interest (POI) lived, just up the street from the hotel in a blandly furnished but spacious corporate one-bedroom flat. POI had described the neighborhood as “the Brooklyn-ish borough of London.” “It has a lot of character,” he said. POI likes character: old stone buildings, fireplaces, quaint towns called Bath. The neighborhood had its seedier bits, I would learn, but gentrification was well underway.
Old Street Tube Station.
POI was at work. Check-in, take a nap, he said, and I’ll meet you for afternoon tea. I unpacked, showered. My room was on the 9th floor had a small window overlooking neighboring rooftops. Briefly, I considered heading out earlier to explore the city, but stood for a while in front of the window before falling onto the bed. “Hm,” I thought, “I’m in London.” I fell asleep.
Glistening rooftops.
Directly across the street from the hotel, amazing feats of graffiti, not so amazingly captured by my camera.
At 4PM I met POI for afternoon tea at Apsley’s in The Lanesborough, a swanky hotel in swanky Knightsbridge. We sat down at a quiet corner table. POI He had had a trying day at work and asked our server if they served beer with afternoon tea.
Remnants of afternoon tea at Apsley’s at the Lanesborough. Not pictured: the beer POI ordered.
A much better photo of the dining room taken from the hotel website. We sat in the back corner and had a very good view of very wealthy people taking tea. I think I was the only person to ask for seconds that day. Or ever.

“Certainly,” our server nodded. He was a young, South Asian man, dressed in a fitted white uniform. He stood ramrod straight and spoke with reassuring courteousness, a result of what I imagined was rigorous hospitality training. When the beer arrived, he poured it neatly, lifting the bottle with an elegant steadiness. I was transfixed. When I asked for seconds of the pink strawberry dessert below, (you can do this at British high teas) he said, “Certainly. I shall bring it straightaway.”

At a neighboring table, a lanky blond man in his early thirties ate alone, slowly working his way through eggs benedict and an afternoon tea tower for one. In between bites of cucumber and coronation chicken sandwiches, I wondered if he was waiting for someone. Perhaps his wife? But no one came and after a time, he left, much of the tower untouched.

The dessert tier BB (Before Betty).
After tea, POI suggested a walk through Hyde Park before heading to the theater. We had tickets to Monty Python’s “Spamalot.” There was a lake in there somewhere, he said. We could walk alongside the water. It was getting dark and we missed the lake by a few hundred yards. Instead we found ourselves at a crossroads somewhere at the heart of Hyde Park.
“Look,” POI joked, “We’re at a crossroads.”
So we were. A Muslim woman in a Burka pushed a stroller past us. We couldn’t see her face, but there was little light left and soon, it would be hard to read each other’s expressions.
POI suggested we have a glass of wine. I nodded and we walked out of the park, down into the tube,  wondering where to go. The Sherlock Holmes appeared, as though by magic.
Gentlemen standing and having a pint. This is common, to stand outside of or even across the street from the pub and tell your friends, “Come over! We’re at the pub!” when in fact you are probably outside the pub.
We sat outside at a small sticky table. A young Saudi man with an open delicate face approached, holding a pint and a pack of cigarettes. He was well dressed in a tailored slim black coat. An oxblood scarf hung around his slender neck. He did not appear to be waiting for anyone.
“May I put this here for a minute?” he asked, hovering the pint over the edge of our table, as though we’d say no. We nodded.
“Thanks,” he said.  We continued our conversation.
The young man smoked and tapped his cigarette towards the ground. Some of the ash floated our way and landed on POI’s suit. POI cast an annoyed look in the Saudi’s direction, but he did not notice. Instead, he came closer.
“It’s so refreshing to hear non-British accents,” he said, smiling. POI and I looked at each other – the Sherlock Holmes was quite a touristy bar – when I’d gone inside to use the restroom had heard several American, French and German conversations inside and spied a Japanese couple mulling over the menu near the door. His teeth were white and straight and his skin and hair gave off the healthy sheen afforded by a rich but moderated diet. He had what I could only place as an international accent – a hint of everything and indicator of nothing, except a privileged life lived in fine metropolises the world over. He might have gone to school in Switzerland, Hong Kong or Dubai. He took another drag of the cigarette – a certain carelessness in his eyes as he blew the smoke away – and asked where we were from.
“New York,” said POI. I added that I was originally from California.
The man nodded. He had gone to international school and guessed that POI had as well. I wondered if there was some sort of tell. POI had no discernible accent – he sounds completely American to me – but ten years in another country ought to make, at the very least, subtle alterations to ones’ tongue. The Saudi was here just for the night, revisiting an old haunt. He used to work around the corner in banking but was now in real estate several tube stops away.
“It’s not far,” he said, “but it feels like another world. I like it much better.”
He and POI spoke for a few minutes about real estate prices. The Saudi man was on the other side of things, perhaps the son of one of the superrich real estate developers who was making life in London an impossibility for the Indian driver. He did not see what the problem was. The “rise” – if one could call it that – in housing prices seemed reasonable to him. Better to get in early when things are not quite as expensive as they could be, just a few years from now. POI disagreed, but it was not a night to be arguing with strangers regarding economics. I watched them talk and wondered where it was the young Saudi called home. After a while, he excused himself to smoke alone on the curb.
The Shard at night.

The next morning I awoke at 5AM. I wrote a few emails then uncharacteristically went for a run. I ran up the street and past POI’s building. His lights were still off. I turned onto Hoxton Street and jogged past bright bakeries, cafes and delis. A fine mist fell the entire time so that when I was ready to turn back my hair was quite damp.

Diversity.
The Paris Cafe in London, where neither French nor English are spoken. Not sure why the man and woman are green.

I turned back onto the corner of Old Street and Curtain Road and looked up. The light on the fifth floor was on. POI was awake now too.

Dawn at the intersection of Hoxton St. and Curtain Road.
Breakfast essentials of an American man in London. Not pictured: my expression after trying Marmite.

POI had a half day of work before it was the weekend. Now it was time to see the city.

Flowers in London are cheaper than in New York City.
Though not quite as cheap as my flowered skirt from Forever 21.
The smart, decisive Shard and an unfortunate recycling truck that simply would not move.
An interesting way to disguise (or draw attention to?) rubbish bins.
I did not visit.
POI and I made plans to meet for lunch.
“Where?” I asked.
“Borough Market,” he said, “I’ll see you there at noon.”
Aka: more cheese samples than you’ve ever seen in your life.
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