Grey in the Face

Waking up in London felt especially thrilling at seventeen. I was mesmerized by everything. The underground’s escalators, which practically reached the heavens, palaces, double decker buses, street fashion, parks of greenery and the fragrance of cigarettes filling the ancient sidewalks.

I was truly in love. As a kid from Riverside, California, this was an especially significant treat. Going from vastness of freeways and strip malls to British cultural institutions, would make any sad bloke smile.

On one particular trip to London, with my mom I would wake up and take strolls along Euston Road. It’s a street, which isn’t particularly lovely, just a place to catch the train. Since it was London, I reveled in the ordinary pavement with extraordinary history.

On my first walk in the old capital, I came back to our hotel room and washed my face. Grey poured from my face. “This is quite peculiar. “Why is their grey pouring from my face? “I asked myself. I told my mom. “I’ve been blowing my nose and grey has been coming out, “she said, appearing quite annoyed.

I grinned rather than falling into a state of worrying. The grey happenstance delighted me. It meant I was in London. That fact was truly thrilling. Each day, I washed my face the same occurrence continued.

By the time, I returned home to the States, grey no longer filled my sink. I was very sad. Secretly, I longed to still have my tootsies planted on British soil.

Years later, I returned to London. I was still a visitor, but the love affair was more romantic than Love Actually, Notting Hill & Bridget Jones’ Diary combined.

 

 

 

 

England By Boat

In the library of my high school was a collection of travel books from Time Life. The Great Britain book left the most indelible mark and featured nostalgic (not intentional) photography from the 1960’s. Captions accompanied the riveting photography included:

-Young people dancing the night away at a London flat

-Regent Street decked out in lights.

-Swinging London (on Carnaby Street)

It made the U.K. into a place of dazzling fantasy and an obvious exodus for someone curious about the world. In high school, I wrote a report on Great Britain and received an A. Eventually; I visited the UK when I was fifteen. I remember the excitement and the same thought raced across my brain cells, ” I am gonna see London, it’s really gonna happen.”

On the day of our trip to England, we took the ferryboat from Calais to Dover. The skies were unusually blue like Frank Sinatra’s eyes. As the ferry sailed, English Channel also reflected the intense hue. The boat was filled with English people laughing, conversing and eating sandwiches. I stepped out to the deck and spent the first forty-five minutes daydreaming.

“Would London be like the Time life photos of the Swinging 60’s? Is there music on every corner, accompanying the rain? & Is Buckingham Palace as big in person?” These were the questions I pondered.

The White Cliffs of Dover emerged from a mile away. My eyes starred into England from a distance. “I’ve always wanted to see Britain,” I declared to one of my classmates. He smiled and said ” You’re dream has come true.”

The boat arrived at Dover and I went through customs. Then our classmates & I boarded a bus to Canterbury. I kept thinking, ” We’re going to crash, we’re going to crash,” since it was my first time driving in the opposite side of the road. However, we didn’t. After an afternoon in Canterbury, exploring its very English charms, it was off to London.

Two hours after dozing off on a winding highway, I awoke and found myself in London. I remember seeing the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London, while reveling in the austerity of some of Britain’s most fascinating sites.

London became one of my favorite cities. The pictures from Time Life couldn’t compare to actually being there. I fell in love and became obsessed with all things British. Throughout my life, I ended up visiting England more. However, nothing compared to the memorable encounter with the British Isles with the White Cliffs of Dover welcoming my youthful imagination.

Field Trip

Brown paper bags stuffed with goodies for an afternoon nosh. Motion sickness setting in and no Pepto-Bismol. A Walkman filled with cool tunes. Every ten minutes, cassette tapes from the Reality Bites soundtrack to R.E.M were played. Oh, It was definitely 1994.

It was also a year, which gave me some of my greatest field trip memories. From cultural institutions to serene lakes, I saw quite a bit as a young lad.

Through my teenage years, my mom treated many of our outings like a field trip. She would pack lunches and take me somewhere splendidly memorable. On our trip to London, we picked up sandwiches and miniature pecan pies from Pret. Then took the tube to Tower Hamlets.

The Tower of London would be our destination. It’s an integral part of British history. Depending on whether one is William the Conqueror, Queen Elizabeth I, or many of those beheaded, the tower holds a smorgasbord of memories.

Though, it’s a place of bleak history, my mother & I didn’t let some ghosts rain on our British history parade. We toured the Tower. Everything seemed fascinating. The way the white tower looked against partly cloudy skies. The beefeaters (the Tower of London’s guards) with their intriguing tales & even seeing where people were imprisoned left us with an unexpected smile.

However, nothing beat seeing the crown jewels of the British monarchy. Seeing so much intense glitter made this gay boy hungry.

Therefore, we found a little bench and proceeded on eating our lunch. Unlike field trips in America, my mom kept our lunch in her Kate Spade bag. The sandwiches were delicious. Most importantly, we saw an important part of English history on our field trip.

Till this day, I treat all my outings like a field trip. Whether, I’m driving to Palm Springs or having an arty day at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, I love the concept of packing snacks and having a day full of culture.

 

Sidewalks Of London

London has some of the world’s most memorable streets. The hilly streets of Hampstead, money infused Knightsbridge and gritty Whitechapel provide the eye with a distinct polaroid of time gone by and the capital’s modern hustle bustle. The ride into London from Heathrow has always provided me with an air of excitement.

On my trips to London as a teenager, red brick buildings lined the streets of Marylebone. The hues of green from London’s many parks gave the city love of rouge hues a bit of extraordinary character. I remember the excitement, I felt surrounded by a land, which looks so different from my own. The Georgian architecture, roaring double decker buses and a melting pot of faces wearing the most edgy and proper outfits.

My feet almost smiled in delight. When I would arrive at my hotel, the euphoria kicked in. I would jump out of the cab and step into London soil. Breathing in, the icy air was the equivalent of taking nostalgia of time gone by. I wasted no time in exploring the city.

As a twenty-something, my love affair with London never diminished. Though my temporary neighborhood changed, the thrill of being in the capital remained. In Notting Hill with its many cafes, post-card worthy squares and the distinct white stucco architecture inspired my inner writer for a week’s time.

The streets of London had inspired many of the world’s literary greats. Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde & Virginia Woolf breathed that same icy, but creative air and were inspired by the maze of sidewalks.

Through they’re writing old London still lives in libraries and bookshelves around the world. For me, walking through the capital is the equivalent of listening to both classical and rock music. There will always be a proper & grungy aspect, which tickles the inspiration nerve giving way to great art of all forms.

Tea And Crumpets

Mom: What’s time is it Anthony?

Me: We’re standing in front of Big Ben.

Mom: oh yeah.

This happened while strolling in one of London’s many torrential downpours. The English capital has always provided me with many memorable moments. However, I couldn’t just capture that moment, bring it home and play it off as a souvenir. Therefore, we wanted to bring home a special keepsake from our favorite city.

When the rain gave way to blue skies, we marched into Oxford Street. For some reason, we both had a fascination with Marks & Spencer (JC Penny with food). The food section tickled our fancy. I gathered up cookies and candies. Mom (an avid tea drinker) picked out chamomile, English, Earl Grey and green flavored teas. In fact, she went on tea overload, purchasing boxes of grey Marks & Spencer brand teas.

As we left Marks & Spencer’s for the tube, the feeling of tea overload officially hit us sans pouring a bag with water into a proper cup. When our train arrived, she handed me the heavy bag. “I believe we bought too many boxes of tea.” She raised her right eyebrow and replied, “no we didn’t, it’s for our family and friends.”

“If you say so,” I replied. My hands felt tired from schlepping those teas around. On the flight back home, I ate most of the sweets. I didn’t get scolded, since we were on a long flight.

When I returned back home one drawer was stuffed with the English department store brand tea. My mom gave dad a few boxes to give to his co-workers, but it didn’t elevate our tea dilemma.

“There are orphans in the third world without tea, we must drink it all,” she said. At first, it was OK. Then she started serving it after every meal and not a damn crumpet to be found. I would go to bed at night with my mom dancing around me singing, “Remember the orphans without tea.”

I hit my breaking point. My dad served me a soothing cup of coffee. “How about tea instead?” asked my mom. “I’m done, I can’t any more,” I replied with great confidence. From that day on, I couldn’t drink tea ever again. Till this day, it fueled my love of the coffee bean. However, I do love a chai latte, especially when it’s laced with a shot of espresso.

Royal Albert

On a chilly March evening, I hailed a black cab. As it made it’s way through the darkened woods of Hyde Park, anticipation built. This was my very grown up night out in London. My shoes were perfectly polished, shirt & tie present while a navy blue pea coat kept me warm.

I reached my destination in South Kensington. The Royal Albert Hall, where the voices of rock n’ roll and opera have merged. The sounds of classical music played for the delights of Londoners and tourists alike. Staring into the round-shaped red building I too lit up with excitement.

It was my first time at the famed concert hall and was seeing the opera, Madam Butterfly. I took my seat at the balcony. Like the exterior the Royal Albert Hall is a theatre in the round. I was dazzled by it ornate interior. Everyone was beautifully dressed and shined with anticipation for a wonderful performance.

Opera can be the equivalent of a proper lullaby for both my ears and eyes (it makes me sleepy).  I adjusted my tie and unbuttoned the very warm coat, the lights dimed. From the darkness came an enchanting sound.

The singer’s operatic voice grabbed my attention like a shot of espresso in a coffee cup. The opera was lengthy as expected. I struggled to keep my eyes open, but achieved not falling asleep. When the actors took the stage, they received a standing ovation.

After the opera, I walked along South Kensington’s well-polished sidewalks and grabbed a bite to eat. High culture activities are one of the reasons; I’ve been going to London for thirteen years. Resort holidays can be fun, especially when there is booze involved.

However, nothing beats London. I adore going to plays, viewing exquisite art and being a part of the cosmopolitan street scene. Every time, I leave the English capital, there’s always that ” I need to see more” feeling. Hence, I will be coming back to London for a lifetime.

Kensington High Street

The sun did shine over Britain on my last trip. I landed at Heathrow airport on a chilly March afternoon. Excitedly, I held back from jumping up and down on my seat. So, I turned on my phone to call my dad and alas, there was no mobile service.

I purchased a temporary mobile for my trip, since I had friends to meet up with. I tried turning the phone on and off, but it didn’t work. There I was arriving in exciting London without a proper communications tool.

Instead of crying up a rain storm, which would make any London shower look like a day in the desert, I pressed on. Living without a mobile wouldn’t be so traumatizing.

Therefore, I commenced my trip sans a phone. I took the tube, strolled Hyde Park +Kensington Gardens, examined wonderful art at the National Gallery and lounged in South Kensington without the distraction of text messaging and ringtones. It then dawned on me; this is the way that every generation before mine lived life with less distraction.

The challenging obstacle was meeting up with my London friends. However, I met up with them the old fashioned way. I called them through my hotel phone and we planned on meeting in front of the Kensington High Street tube station.

I stood in front of the station for a while and didn’t have a mobile to check up on their arrival. Instead of being impatient, I compensated by buying myself a white chocolate chip cookie inside the tube station. It was delicious and I discovered that time goes faster when eating something delicious. My friends showed up and we had a wonderful dinner and night out on the town.

The next day, my dad called the phone company and fixed the mobile dilemma. Soon, I excitedly had phone dates with my friends back home while walking some of London’s most historic streets. It was fun, until I saw the mobile bill. Next time, I plan on ditching the mobile all together.

London was more enchanting without distraction. Not having a mobile for a couple days wasn’t so bad, but I was also in one of the world’s most exciting places, which helped. Therefore, cheers London for breaking me free of modern technology for nearly a week.

Tube Station

The excitement of grabbing a seat on the top of a double-decker in rush hour, watching people try not to dance while a fun tune plays at Selfridges department store and walking in East End’s bleak greyness are some of my favorite London memories. It’s one of those cities, which inspires me. I love the parks with their majestic ponds, the relics of the British Museum and even digging through a vinyl record shop in Camden.

The London underground/tube equates instant stimulation for me. The dizzying array of West End musicals being advertised, the cozy seats on the train and even the street musicians belting out familiar tunes make my brain smile.

The downside of the tube is the line to buy an oyster card. One particular evening, I had to buy an oyster card and stand in the world’s longest line. It was just another oy vey moment for me.

While waiting at the Notting Hill Gate station, something quite remarkable occurred, a fashion show. It was an unexpected catwalk. Londoners walking in pea coats, trench coats and rain coats. There was street fashion, business suits and even an alternative thinker.

A daring lady in red accentuated a sea of black and grey hues. Students, creative types, businessmen with faces represented a virtual united nations. In a few minutes, I experienced not only London fashion but also the capital’s cultural diversity.

I eventually bought my oyster card. Entering the tube after years of being away felt nothing less than heavenly. Most Londoners complain about the tube, but I adore riding it regardless of train delays.

My experience in the ticket line produced an unexpectedly memorable London experience. It also reminded me of why I love visiting the English capital, the energy and cinematic moments, which I will write about in the book of life for ages to come.

My Jogging Shoes

When I would come to visit my dad in California he would take me shopping. He knew I was on a tight budget in New York and bought me shoes to walk around the Village comfortably.

Like any proper New Yorker, my dressy outfit came equipped with a pair of jogging shoes. I walked an average of eighty blocks a day and sometimes went crosstown twice a day.

Therefore, wearing dress shoes was unheard of. Regardless of convention I paraded up the concrete canyons of Midtown in my worn out Nikes. When I arrived at the office, the more dressy Kenneth Cole loafers were placed on my tootsies and the Nikes hibernated in my messenger bag.

Recently, I was on the Upper West Side on Yon Kippur. It was lovely seeing all the Jewish families walking along Columbus Avenue going to synagogue. They were beautifully dressed and wearing sneakers. It reminded me of why I love New York. In a city that is dressy, you can still travel in comfort.

My favorite sneakers of all time were my shiny black Creative Recreation sneakers. I wore them around in London. They joined the Sloane Rangers (blond rich girls who hang out in Chelsea) on Kings Road, took strolls along the canals of Camden and had a cardio vascular workout on the tube’s maze of escalators.

Some shoes are too cute not to wear everywhere. Therefore, even though they didn’t have the comfort of old jogging shoes, they were shinny and pretty. Us, gay folk love shiny things.

I love the looks I get when I wear my sneakers with a proper outfit. While, some my point their noses far up the air, I’m rebelling against the system.

Either way, I don’t ever use jogging sneakers for running. The only time that would happen is as follows: if someone placed a hot pastrami sandwich on a stick and had me chasing after it.

East Sixth Street

I love Indian food. Growing up, my mother was obsessed with curries, Naan bread and mango lassies. At a very young age, I didn’t quite appreciate the joys of delving into exotic cuisine. I’d have two bites of my mom’s chicken tikka masala and beg for McDonald’s.

However, on a trip to London, I gave Indian food a shot. At an unassuming restaurant in Covent Garden, I fell in love. The flavors exploded like fireworks for my taste buds. I adored the taste of curry and soon went from ordering mild to medium curries.

In New York, I frequented East Sixth Street in the East Village. It’s also known as curry road. There I would sample a smorgasbord of regional Indian cuisines.

I recently had dinner in curry lane with friends. Adriana ordered her chicken tikka masala extra spicy. I thought to myself, “Oh I love spicy food, I’ll also order it extra spicy.” When my dish arrived, the smells left me breathless in joy. I broke a piece of Naan bread and began to feast.

The first bites of the dish had a wonderful creamy texture and then the kicker. As I chewed further, the spice from the curry intensified. I wore a most proper outfit that evening. Soon, I was drenched. I had to constantly dry my forehead.

Adriana was more comfortable with the intense spiciness. My mouth was on fire, but I couldn’t stop eating. It tasted magnificently. I took the last bite, which further intensified the internal heat wave feeling. However, it was well worth it. Regardless of spice, Indian remains one of my favorite cuisines.

Living in a big city like New York exposes one to a United Nations of cuisines. One doesn’t have to travel far distances to have an authentic taste of any country, when it’s in one of the five boroughs.

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