1) This long-contemplated vacation - initiated before I made the decision to leave ye Instytytte - finally became reality when I called ye Yber to bring me to the airport. England! and then a week-long crossing on the Queen Mary II! And yet I approached the day rather calmly, and even chaired a condo association meeting an hour before departure.
1a) Always I forget to pack something. This time it was my night guard. At least I have dental wax and oil of cloves in my bag in case a dental calamity results.
2) Waiting in the terminal after an early dinner, I marveled at the number of tiny, noisy children planning to travel by plane overnight.
3) Of the flight over, its painful tedium was over quickly and is now almost forgotten. But I didn’t sleep a bit.
4) A friend kindly advised me about ye Hethrywe Express train from the airport, which turned out to be the perfect way to get into the city. And then a taxi from Paddington brought me to my hotel, ye Xynia in Kensington (chose for its proximity to the V&A). I had to keep reminding myself that they drive on the left here. Some of the streets were so narrow I’m sure we got through them because the taxi only had one coat of lacquer.
4a) The hotel’s name put me in mind of the only person I’d ever heard of of that name, Nicholas II’s sister the Grand Duchess Xenia, pronounced ZEEN-ya. So of course I kept thinking of Gene Kelly in The Pirate singing “Nina,” but substituting the Grand Duchess’s name and scandalizing her.
4a.1) Fanny Holtzman (most remembered to history as Gertrude Lawrence’s lawyer - I suspect several of you have just said “Who?” twice - was also the Grand Duchess’s lawyer when she sued Hollywood over the film Rasputin. Fanny, meeting her for the first time over luncheon at Frogmore, made a good impression. At some point in the conversation Fanny asked “But what am I to call you?” All the courtiers present turned in horror. One didn’t call Royalty anything other than “Sir” or “Ma’am” after the initial greeting by title! After a tense pause, the Grand Duchess responded kindly “You may call me Xenia,” making Fanny perhaps the only commoner ever offered the privilege.
5) After a quick lunch, I set out to find Leighton House, a 15-minute walk away. My Interlochen friend Bootsie just returned from England about a month ago, and he had begged me to visit it. “I think you might be the reincarnation of Frederick Lord Leighton,” he wrote. “When I was in his house all I could think about was how much [you] would LOVE this.”
5a) How right he was! Of course any house that incorporated healthy doses of Orientalism, bold color, and bronze reductions of male nudes beautifully lit by skylights would naturally inspire me, but this house really sings. I was born to live in this house! The only thing that mars it now is a profusion of NO PHOTOGRAPHY signs.
5b) Also, pine cones in all the chairs - undoubtedly to keep people from sitting in them, but one does rather think of Fraulein Maria complaining about her rheumatism.
5c) And I would certainly replace the fountain in the Arab Room with a hot tub.
6) Drifting down Kensington High Street afterward, I noted Holland Park for its references in a) Alan Hollinghurst’s wonderful novel The Swimming-pool Library, and b) the BBC documentary Debutantes.
7) And then, shopping!
7a) I spotted a curious sign: “Traditional Hardware Store,” or some such. And I thought, “Aha! Perhaps they’ll have what I’ve been looking for all these years.” And they did! Brass business-card frames to nail by the doorbells at home. Finalmente, our bells can now be identified.
7b) And quite by chance there was a Waterstone’s there, which made me long for the one that used to be on Exeter and Newbury where the Exeter Street Theatre used to be. And quite by chance I found the perfect book: Adrian Tinniswood’s The Long Weekend: Life in the English Country House Between the Wars.
8) I tend not to be that adventurous about food when I travel, so after a long NAP I dined at the hotel with The Economist and a glass of light wine. And then slept like a champ.