Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The London/Marrakech Express, Part Two


December 21st

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.

December 23rd
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.

Yes.

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:

Bad Mother:
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.

Good Mother:
If you want him to love reading as much as you do, you need to let him choose his own books.
Luca:
Mom, can I get it?

Me:
Yes.

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.

58 comments:

Helen James said...

Your writing is so evocative, enthralling, I love London already but your posts make me want to hop on a plane and discover all your amazing haunts. I LOVED Belinda's cape, what perfect attire for a trip to a graveyard on a snowy day! That street of Houses in Hampstead like a fairytale and I adore the Firmdale Hotels, when I showed my collection in London it was always from a suite at The Soho Hotel, their breakfasts are legendary and attention to detail, as your discovery of the needlepoint curtain illustrates, so exquisite. waiting mouth ajar for next episode are we off to Marrakech? x

Emily said...

Thank you for whisking us away with you! I enjoyed every minute!

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Emily and Helen: So glad you liked it...

Helen: what collection did you show? Was it your artwork? Your photography? How perfect to have meetings from there...surrounded by such color and texture.

Marrakech begins at the end of Thursday's post and then continues through all next week.

xx

Cathi said...

I have always wanted to go to London, thank you for taking me with you! Looking forward to your next installment! :)

Bart Boehlert said...

Dreamy trip/post. Love that cape – so chic in the snow!
BB

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Bart: I knew you'd appreciate the Van Noten.

tcg said...

I lived in London for 5 weeks last summer and it was a dream come true, so you can imagine how excited I was to find your blog! Thanks for all the fabulous photos of London...more, more, more! Just a quick aside, I made the winter version of Eton Mess, with cranberry compote, for Christmas dinner, and it was divine!
Kas

AlwaysMe said...

So far I have read your London posts five times. The first time I cried with happiness that you were kind enough to share such beauty and luxury with the armchair travelers at home. Each time my eyes linger on a different detail. Love the Tudor suite, the special stairway to the room, the stained glass windows, the colors...
My eight year old has taken many of Luca's book recommendations and I am sure will be interested in his latest selection. Santa brought three more installments of the Beast Quest series.
Your writing is fabulous. I thought of you often during the holidays. I am glad you had such a wonderful trip.

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

AlwaysMe: Your post has touched me tremendously. The words "thank you" are not enough.

Modern Traditionalist said...

You have yet to disappoint. Thank you for offering all of us a glimpse into your fabulous exploits abroad. All of us ladies can relate to form before function mishaps, especially those which are weather related. Belinda sure looked fabulous, though!

Style Court said...

Lisa, the chairs really have that Vanessa Bell vibe that you adore :)

little augury said...

Gracious, I am exhausted. The Hamstead jaunt will become more memorable due to the snow-It is best to explore with the best of friends too. I can imagine you wanted to tug the curtains off the rods and wear them home! Luca-definite styling, that hat is killer and it truly takes a man to carry it off.Serious style-I sense a blog in his future. G

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I positively wallowed in this post!

Laura said...

Oh, Lisa, I am so enjoying these posts! What a treat to be able to experience a city I've never been to, but have always longed to visit. London through your eyes is truly magical.

Helen James said...

LBG it was clothes and accessories, during London Fashion Week, yes a truly beautiful setting and fun too. Can't wait for Marrakech , Morocco is TOP of my wishlist of places to visit!.

Hanako66 said...

What an amazing trip!! I haven't visited London in years and I adored being able to go along for the ride!

silent storyteller said...

London looks so enchanting through your eyes...thank you!

JMW said...

Oh, I'm so envious of your trip to London! I'm currently reading "Her Fearful Symmetry" so I loved seeing your jaunts about Highgate Cemetary. Happy New Year!

Kathy Gillespie said...

I savored every bit of this post while sitting at my desk eating my mundane little lunch. You managed to whisk me away for a few moments to a dreamy London holiday. Luca reminds me so much of my son at that age, always up for the adventure...and wanting to read the scariest of books....and looking so darn cute!

Sariah said...

Oh, Lisa, I barely know where to start. What a fantastic post! I lived in London for a year in college and I felt like I was reliving (a more sophisticated version of) my time there. Thank you.

Needlepoint curtains - what could be more luxurious? And your darling Luca - what a wonderful little person. Thank you for sharing.

ashleylauren said...

Thank you so much for these travel posts! Between the beautiful photographs and your expressive writing, you truly do transport us readers. This post broke up my monotonous day, allowing me to escape for a few moments, and return to the present in a more positive state of mind. So thank you again!

ashley

Anonymous said...

Lisa,
I feel like I was there with you.. Can't wait to see how Morocco was... Beautiful, beautiful..
-Karin

pve design said...

All in a days work.
Why you and your little "Oliver Twist" certainly do have loads of energy and delirious fun. I felt as if I were in your pocket.
(those peacock chairs, swoon!)
pve

Debra said...

How wonderful of you to take us along on this fabulous journey. And may I add that your Luca is so very, very handsome and yes-he has great style! On a buying trip to London a few years back I visited a few of these same places- you have brought back some cherished memories for me- Thank you. Can't wait for the next update.

Klever Girl said...

I love how you brought so much detail of London back to us, and therefore, to the rest of the world.

Greetings from South Texas!

Scott Fazzini said...

Lisa -I looooove cemeteries. A snowy historic cemetery with you and Belinda Carlisle is like a dream come true. Young Luca is extraordinarily dapper, and will no doubt grow into a fascinatingly charming young man. He's under the influence of such an amazingly intoxicating mother.

Thank you for sharing your inspiring travels.

s.

abodewell said...

What is it about vintage orange Penguins that make them so nice? Perhaps it's the feeling of walking down the street with one in your hand, the bright color shining from your clutched palm, begging to be read (much like an orange itself, waiting to be eaten). Thanks for taking us on such a nice little trip!

LPC said...

Second only to making the trip myself.

royalapothic said...

once again amazing! my kind of London.

Amber of Brisbane said...

Oh, Lisa. You are a treasure. Thank you for such a gloriously decadent vicarious London holiday. You see the world through the most discerning eyes. There is always a bit of whimsy and fancy to add a little friction to the mix. I am almost weeping at the beauty and quiet splendour you have shared with us all. I can hardly wait for the North African adventure!

(and to think you got to see the grave of the parents of Vanessa and Virginia "on or about 2010"...a century of Bloomsbury fabulousness!)

W. Adair said...

I stumbled onto your blog about two weeks ago and read through almost in it's entirety one evening. You have a fearless style that is just fantastic. I had seen a fairly forgettable movie (with Tea Leoni and that great British guy hosting the G. Globes this year, I believe) and had been rather obsessed with an interior in the film which had an upholstered chair with cherry blossoms all over it. Well, up came your foyer and there it was! Love P. Dunham too.

It's wonderful to read your latest posts and I can't wait for the next. Firmdale Hotels are a favorite as well and I am now certainly planning a trip abroad this summer with children! I've even got a list in my handbag with little Luca's book club selections for my almost 8 year old. Thanks for being so inspiring!

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Hi Lisa-


HIGHGATE in the snow.

Pretty fabulous. Loved it all.

Belinda's tower. Delicious.

cheers and looking forward to next week, DIANE
www.thestylesaloniste.com

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Hi Lisa-


HIGHGATE in the snow.

Pretty fabulous. Loved it all.

Belinda's tower. Delicious.

cheers and looking forward to next week, DIANE
www.thestylesaloniste.com

serenknitity said...

How I love to see the city I live in through your eyes. We've got a snow day today - it's falling in huge flakes and the whole place is at a standstill, so I especially enjoyed having the time to linger on your post, steaming mug of Lapsang in hand. Having never visited the bookshop or the hotels mentioned I can feel a rummage and a cocktail or two coming on!

deb said...

I'd like to thank you for giving me a desire to go to London. I don't know why I didn't think it would appeal to me . But seeing it through your soul, Wow!

Happy New Year, and thanks for sharing in your unique way.

Louise said...

Lovely photographic journal and Luca looks very handsome in his Fedora!

C.T. said...

Lisaaaahh, I don't know what to say...besides the usual...you know...You've taken me with you on these trips by your images and written words. Can I say thank you?!! I better never ever book a holiday myself. All I need is you to go there, take marvelous pictures, let you write the whole darn thing and I can assure you...I'll be having a lot more fun!!!! Santa Maria in heaven...How many parts will there be?? Just asking, juuuuust asking...XXX, Carmie.

Easy and Elegant Life said...

This is living! What a fine adventure and what fantastic photos. It's been far too long since Mrs. E. and I upped stakes. Your trip is inspiring.

And the little guy wears that hat well.

opera glass said...

I have been a long time reader, however this is my first comment. I just wanted to say thank you for your wonderful blog and latest post. I love Hampstead and Well Walk! It is my dream to move there one day and your post is so evocative that I feel transported.

Tricia said...

...the most delightful thing I've read all day. It lightens my load. Many thank!

Tricia said...

http://helenjamesdesign.blogspot.com/

Lisa - this is Helen James' wonderful website -- I think you two are destined to meet!

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

To All Of You: I am EXTREMELY touched by all your thoughtful, kind and enlightening comments. I love that so many of us have so many common memories and experiences of London...and that so many of you are sharing this adventure with me. Just wait until we get to Morocco! xx

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Opera Glass: I am honored.

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

C.T.: There will be seven parts. xx

A Super Dilettante said...

Oh my dear, you made me homesick as I used to live in Highgate during my flat sharing years. I've always love reading the words in the gravestones and I love going into the churchyard and cemeteries. It's something the artist Stanley Spencer might do. But all my friends thought I was cracking up!! I love old Belinda's house!! It's somewhere I can see myself living.

As for Luca, he *does* have style. Isn't it incredible to see children growing up and developing their individual style? I think it must be in his blood. The Italian knows how to dress like the French knows how to cook! He is like his late grandfather -stylish. As they say, it runs in the family :)

Angie Muresan said...

Luca is absolutely gorgeous!!!! Is he spoken for already?

What a fabulous time you had, Lisa!

Tricia said...

Duh! I just saw that Helen's website was already on your blogroll. My bad!

CashmereLibrarian said...

When Belinda's tired of her cape, might she pass it on to me?

StuckInABook said...

Oo, I want to go to that bookshop, live in that turret, and own the chairs from the restaurant! A very covet-covet-covet feeling...

Vanya-Endless Inspiration said...

wow you are having the most wonderful adventure, I'm so enjoying following; you are making me homesick for London, snow and all!

P.S: the fabric on your future dining chairs is Misia by Manuel Canovas

skirmishofwit said...

How lovely to read about all your adventures! I was especially excited to recognise all your Hampstead shots, as that is where I live. I love that bookshop with its higgledy piggledy piles of books. Very glad you had such a wonderful holiday!

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Sildenafil said...

I read you other post, "The London/Marrakech Express, Part One" and I really liked it, that is why I'm reading this too, I couldn't miss it!

Grace said...

Lisa, your writing inspires me. I live only an hour away from London, and you've taken me along a wonderfully different view of it. I love Hampstead, but have only seen it in the summer. I am taking note of all the spots to go for a break from shopping or to simply while away an afternoon with a friend. Thank you for sharing.

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