The plan was to meet up with Belinda and make a pilgrimage to the famed Highgate Cemetery. The weather in town was cold but not overly worrying so our dress code was "Warm Stylish." Belinda wore a Dries Van Noten cape and Ann Demeulemeester boots. (The boots would prove challenging.)
When we arrived in Highgate, the weather was completely different. There was snow everywhere; apparently, what melts in town sticks in the village. Pavement walking was tricky at best, but once inside the cemetery, it was a virtual slipfest.
Thank goodness my boots had a faint tread on them; Belinda's had none. We clutched each other like two little old ladies. All I could think was, "Great, she's going to break an ankle and be forced to drop out of the show."
When we weren't falling on our bums, we noticed that the combination of snow with overgrown greenery looked like something out of a Peter Jackson movie.
A rare shot of Belinda standing.
Thanks to our trusty map, we were able to locate two special gravestones that I wanted to see. Finding George Eliot's was quite exciting.
I read Middlemarch about ten years ago and, like a character out of "Fahrenheit 451", I still carry around the last sentence of the book in my head:
"(T)he growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs."
That George, she gets it so right. In this age of all-consuming celebrity and me-ism, we owe so much to the vast invisible majority who quietly do the right thing, live the invisible life, and never seek recognition, acclaim, or a YouTube video.
Finally, there was the gravestone that, for me, represented the birth of Bloomsbury: the marker for Leslie and Julia Stephens, parents of Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf.
Next, we hopped a cab to much-less-snowy Hampstead and paid a visit to my favorite second-hand bookstore, Keith Fawkes (on Flask Walk, just around the corner from the tube station). Nearly all of my vintage orange Penguins were purchased here.
I'm happy to report there's still quite a selection (and still quite inexpensive).
I've been coming here since the mid-nineties so I was thrilled to still see Jerry, the kindly manager, behind the counter. He shyly told me the press had recently described him as being "alarmingly knowledgeable." I told him that's because he is.
From there, it was a quick jaunt to Well Walk, one of the most charming streets in Hampstead.
A few more twists and turns and there was Belinda's old house, the one she was living in when I met her in 1996.
The gate was slightly ajar, so we poked our heads in. Gorgeous as ever. I used to sleep in that tippy-top tower when I spent the night.
After dropping her off at the theater, I whizzed over to Liberty. It never disappoints.
I always like to see what's new and exciting in the chair department. They seem to have cornered the market on tradition with a twist.
I love the raw selvedge on this otherwise tailored chair. It gives it a slight punk edge which I find especially pleasing.
And look at these Gallic armchairs upholstered in Liberty's famous peacock print. So gamine, so dainty, so "French Women Don't Get Fat."
After picking up a few presents, it was off to Wandsworth to have dinner with Tony and Helen, two of Piero's old colleagues from his days at EMI Records. The house was uber-chic, not surprising considering Helen is an interior designer. I especially liked the Victorian floor tiles (which were a lovely foreshadowing of what I would soon see in Morocco).
Helen is a divine cook and we feasted on a soul-nourishing winter stew that would have Nigel Slater begging for the recipe, followed by a scrumptious Eton Mess.
It's impossible not to be witty in this room. It seeps into you by proxy.
A bit of whimsy is always to be appreciated.
Today was Luca's turn to be expedition leader, so after a quick breakfast in the hotel...
...which really didn't have to be so quick, because I could have stayed there all day, sipping creamy capuccinos...
...we followed Luca's directive and examined Big Ben from below...
...and then above, via the London Eye.
It was our maiden voyage and it was really quite breathtaking.
To make the ride even more fun, some adorable Japanese boys asked if they could pose with Luca because, in their words, "he have good style." For a mother who often despairs at the outfits her son chooses in the morning ("Must your t-shirt reach your knees?"), I found myself silently hoping this might be a sartorial watershed for him.
After retracing our steps through Trafalgar Square, Luca headed toward Waterstone's. A little voice inside me said, "Yes." I make my fair share of parenting mistakes, but one thing I do take pride in is his love for bookstores.
I picked out this book for him, written by comedian David Walliams and illustrated by Quentin Blake. It was a no-brainer. "Yes!"
Luca, however, was having none of it. The voices in my head went something like this:
What do you mean you don't want "Mr. Stink"? David Walliams is soo cool. He's on this show "Little Britain" that Daddy and I love. And Quentin Blake did the illustrations. This is a very hip book.
If you want him to love reading as much as you do, you need to let him choose his own books.
Mom, can I get it?
From there, it was a short walk to another favorite haunt, The Covent Garden Hotel, to fulfill Luca's request for hot chocolate (and pay a visit to my future dining room chairs).
I love this hotel so much. It's an irreverent mix of traditional and sexy, with dark glossy woodwork and a brilliant mix of fabrics and one-off pieces.
I have always assumed these porte-cochere curtains were printed, but I touched them this time and realized they are completely needlepointed. Fabulous.
The sun was just setting (at 4:15 pm) and the dining room was making that delicious transition from day to night, transforming itself from a shady lookout onto the world into a glowing, cozy refuge.
There were my chairs, looking as covetable as ever. They're the perfect size for a not overly-large dining room (like mine) and offer enough cozy support for all shapes and sizes.
After that, it was a brief stop at the Seven Dials (infamous haunt of Jack the Ripper)...
...a peek into The Lamb and Flag, the ancient tavern that's wet the lips of everyone from Charles Dickens to "the wits and gallants of the Restoration"....
...and a quick Guy Ritchie-inspired photo session.
And so to bed.