Thursday, January 7, 2010

The London/Marrakech Express, Part Three

(Highgate, London, 2009)

December 24th

London. Morning. Cold everywhere. Cold up on Hampstead Heath, where it settles on the cheeks of children sledding on Parliament Hill. Cold in the noses of salesgirls arriving for their morning shift at Top Shop. Cold creeping into the collars of City businessmen; cold savagely freezing the fingers and toes of tourists standing in line for Madame Tussaud's. Cold all round, whirling and swirling into every crevice and corner of the frozen metropolis.

Inside The Gore Hotel, however, it is blissfully warm. Piero and Luca have ventured out on various errands and I am alone. I glance down at the pile of books I have accumulated so far and my signed copy (thank you, Hatchard's) of interior decorator/society fixture Nicholas Haslam's new memoir stares beseechingly up at me.

All right, Nicky. It's your turn today.

I decide to read it downstairs in the hotel's fabled Bar 190, which is to me one of London's best-kept secrets. In 1968, the Rolling Stones filmed "Beggar's Banquet" there and it still has the feeling of a decadent private members club, complete with Gothic details and worn-to-a-high-sheen leather furniture. (They even offer a "Rock 'n Roll Tea" with star-shaped cookies and Jack Daniel muffins.) I repair downstairs and find it for once gloriously empty.

As I settle myself into the lounging area in the rear known as "Cinderella's Carriage"...

...I spot the massive framed photographs of the Rolling Stones taken in this very room during the "Beggars Banquet" party...

...and wonder if the energy of Mr. Haslam himself has led me here. In 1964, he threw the band a legendary soirée and has been close friends with them ever since. I leaf through the book's index and sure enough, there are multiple entries for the Rolling Stones. Synchronicity is in the house.

December 25th

Christmas lunch was at Baglioni's (opposite Hyde Park and just around the corner from our hotel).
(photo via Baglioni's website)

It was a wonderful meal, made even better by the fact that we celebrated with good friends.
(Belinda and me)

(Piero and Belinda's husband, Morgan)

After gorging ourselves on turkey and stuffing and bread and soup and salad and pudding and espresso (everyone) and pasta with butter and cheese (Luca), we all surreptitiously undo the top buttons of our respective trousers/skirts and stagger back to our respective abodes.

That evening, la famiglia Giramonti, still in the depths of a carbohydrate haze, collapses into bed early. Predictably, at some point during the wee hours, a mass fidgeting of legs underneath our respective bedclothes makes it apparent that we are all wide awake. Luca comes up with a brilliant remedy for our sleeplessness: a game of midnight Scrabble.
Outside, the city is completely silent. The only sound for miles, it seems to us, are our whispers ("That's not a word"; "Yes, it IS") and the sound of tiles clacking onto the game board.


December 26th

Boxing Day. Our flight to Marrakech leaves at 3pm. I leave Piero and Luca asleep in bed and take a taxi to meet Belinda for an early morning walk along the Thames. The light is just coming up and the streets are empty. The slow cadence of our footsteps feels like physical meditation.

I find myself wishing that I had made it to St. Paul's Cathedral when all of a sudden, there it is, visible through a gap in two buildings. I gasp. It's too strange.

The light is so mystical and otherworldly that I almost feel like crying. We walk in silence.

On the flight to Marrakech, we block out the turbulence and the cramped seats by retreating into private dominions. We are in a netherworld at 32,000 feet.

Setting foot on the tarmac (and a new continent), however, reenergizes us immediately. Our North African adventure has officially begun.

After clearing customs, we are met by a tall elegant Moroccan named Hamza who chauffeurs us into the city proper. We drive under a walled archway that marks passage into the ancient medina and through the maze-like alleys (too narrow to be called streets) to our hotel, La Sultana. Once inside, we are led down hallways that redefine my definition of the word "exquisite."

After being ushered into a gorgeous courtyard, we are feted with glasses of mint tea and a tiered stand of sweet delicacies which Luca promptly devours. Apparently, the task of checking-in is deemed too taxing a duty for arriving guests. All paperwork is performed off-stage and when our glasses are drained, our room key is presented.

If this is a sign of the level of service here, I think to myself, I may never want to leave.

Our room is on the second floor overlooking the interior of one of the five courtyards in the hotel. It's called "Crocodile" (and Luca counts twenty-four of them) but it is the wooden dome over our bed that I can't stop looking at.

The bathroom is another revelation, resplendent with marble and Moroccan plasterwork, carved alcoves and towels strewn with rose petals.

We take the elevator to the roof garden and peer over the edge. Below us, a thrilling cacophony of sounds and shouts floats up to us. French and Arabic voices mingle with the thrum of mopeds, the clop of horse-drawn carriages and the intermittent screech of wheels.
We are here.

36 comments:

helen tilston said...

Oh - my heart skipped a beat at the thought of Hatchards - the book store in London. One of the best book stores in the world.Then a spot of tea at Fortnum & Mason's. Loved your early morning walk pics. Hugs and thanks for sharing Helen

Helena Halme said...

Excellent pictures and words. I'm in awe and cannot wait for next installment.
Helena xx

C.T. said...

WHAT do you want me to say?? I am speechless - for once-.

Debra said...

What a wonderful adventure for all of you. You are doing an amazing job of keeping us in the loop of such a special adventure. Luca looks to be a great traveler.

Jeanne said...

Loving every word!
Jeanne:)

ArchitectDesign™ said...

Oh my god, you take the most fabulous vacations! This is the last post I need at this moment when I'm trying to decide where to take my 'big birthday' trip in June - London, Loire Valley / Sof Fr / or San Franciso with a segway down to San Simeon. You so have me yearning for London - aka the most expensive option! LOL

Susan Erickson said...

Just what all us, left at home, types need to make it through another dismal, grey, cold, icy day. London was TOO fabulous But Marrakesh is like the ultimate in exotic. I was there 35 years ago on the hippie trail. Your way of travelling looks so much nicer. (that's what 35 years can do!)Go girl!

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Architect Design: Lucky you to have such great choices! London is admittedly one of my favorite cities, but for your birthday trip, I would choose somewhere that offers you a greater possibility of "losing yourself". After all, "losing yourself" is the first step to "finding yourself", right? :) Immersing yourself in another culture is so freeing, I find. The challenges and experiences that you encounter open up the most wonderful doors...and you exist solely in the present moment. No worrying about bills back home, or approaching deadlines for work...it's just "How will I get from here to there?" And "What adventures will I have today?" xx

Amy said...

completely loving these posts. i want to get on a plane immediately! wondering if you speak french? we traveled to morocco a few years ago and since we only speak english and spanish, had troubles once outside the cities...it was a fabulous adventure though!

little augury said...

What an beautiful hotel,wouldn't it be nice if all adopted that practice & Beautiful,to, the images, I still can't get over how well you can photographically chronicle the experience and savor it!GT

pve design said...

You always seem to be exactly where you should be.
I find comfort in your escapades in gypsy sort of way or that of a nomad. Your son is so incredibly lucky, like I said, I would make an excellent nanny/ artist and side-kick.
pve

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Little Augury: Your comment about taking photos and still savoring the moment is very perceptive. I snap photos super quickly because of that very reason: I don't want to only view my vacation through a lens, I want to experience it with my heart, my soul and my own two eyes as well! Otherwise, what's the point? I always try to make sure that using my camera never overshadows my passionate participation in my journey.

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Amy: I do speak French, which makes everything easier. I love languages -- they're like a delicious secret code, a word puzzle, a verbal cryptogram. I wish I knew more. I also speak passable Italian, but wish I could say I was truly fluent (fortunately, my husband is). My Norwegian father at one time spoke seven, and I was always fascinated by his flawless accents and his ability to rapidly switch from one to another. Oh, that there were more hours in the day...!!

little augury said...

There is an absolute spontaneity at its' best to the photographs, but with thought, and you have definitely captured the pace the trip, fast-slow, exhaustion and exhilaration. It just works! G

Helen James said...

Redefining the word "exquisite".......that is what you have done, these posts of your trip are my favourite posts you have done, maybe my favourite posts EVER! Your ability to grab the reader and usher them along magically unfolding each detail like an ever unwrapping present is sublime!!!. The images!, the words!, the opening passage is so beautifully written. You have outdone yourself x x

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

May these posts go on forever!

Laura [What I Like] said...

Your Christmas sounds divine (partially due to the setting and partially due to the lack of laboring over a stove for hours on end!) and those hallways in your Morocco hotel are so magical! They feel so totally unfamiliar and exotic...I find that is a difficult sensation to achieve these days so congratulations on having done so!

Miss Cavendish said...

I second Pamela Terry and Edward. That there are such beautiful places is thrilling.

katiedid said...

You are leaving me gasping for breath! My idea of a dream...how in the worls do you do manage to travel with such style and cover so much ground! It is my dream vacation and I will be waiting anxiously for your next blog post. Truly inspiring, as is what I have come to expect from your wonderful blog! We have held a Chritmas Eve party at our house which others have come to depend on for the last 15 years. Although there is something to be said for tradition but I think it may be time to pass the baton and have a new experience bofore my fledglings leave the nest.

Madelief said...

I enjoyed your story very much. What a beautiful hotel and your trip to Marrakech....I wish I could join you. It is still on my wish list!

groetjes Madelief

Kathy Gillespie said...

Pura magia!

"Travels With Lisa"...the book...that's what I am waiting for.
...and do you mind me asking...what camera are you using?

Susan's Snippets said...

Lisa -

Thank you for the kind words..they have been placed in my heart.

I read through this post and was once again mesmerized by your writing and your life.

Enjoy, Enjoy, Enjoy!!

especially your boy
:^)

Angie Muresan said...

What a fine time was had by all! You and Belinda look so beautiful, and the men so very debonair.
And I love Morocco!!!

LPC said...

Drunk with beauty. Makes me want to go and reread the Alexandria Quartet...

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Lisa-


The Morocco hotel: beyond.

Bliss, bliss and bliss.

thanks and cheers, DIANE
www.thestylesaloniste.com

Diane said...

Next time around, I want your life. :)

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Lisa-


NICKY HASLAM:

It's one name dropped after another--but I could not put it down. Most of it is likely true.
He has had millions of lives and has lived to the hilt.
I loved the part in New York--where he was in the middle of every trend and artist (well, he was in the middle and top and so forth of every ...person...but anyway)...he reveals all about himself and others (his lawyers must have spend months checking and reading with fine tooth comb). I hope you enjoyed it enormously...like a rich feast or a plum pudding full of raisins and tasty morsels.
cheers, DIANE
www.thestylesaloniste.com

Anna Wang said...

I love these posts Lisa. We chinese have a funny saying when we eat something absolutely delicious, we say, it made our eyebrows fall off. (Where does that come from?) That's how I feel about your posts! Speaking of deliciousness...I made fish pie today after seeing your post last week. I must say, it was quite heavenly - I used salted cod, king prawns and leeks. That and a nice bottle of white burgundy in front of the fire. Life is good. Oh yeah, early morning walks are magical. The light!

Cathi said...

What an excellent adventure! :)

StuckInABook said...

Oo, you must tell me next time you're in London!

StuckInABook said...

And to let you know... I *finally* did your Ten Random Things meme, but in a slightly unusual way...

Annie said...

Thanks for giving a real picture of what a trip to Marrakech would be like. I have always wanted to go there and I saw it through your eyes.

ewix said...

Lucky you......So lovely to see your photos of Marrakesh and Essouira!
We lived in Marrakesh for 2 years and miss our little house in the medina very much.
We go back in March....
see
thhouseinmarrakesh.blogspot.com

c and m said...

the arrival at La Sultana is so incredibly magical, no? I stayed there in 2005 and it was a place I will never forget. loved revisiting it on your blog!

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Sildenafil said...

you are so lucky to be able to visit and know all those beautiful places you have photographed, I am jealous of you actually! :)

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