Mr. Pea Coat Goes to London

“I just can’t seem to get enough by Depeche Mode,” played in conjunction to my morning walk. This stroll was quite different from the norm. I wasn’t in America, but in jolly old London.

While I listened to the most British of new wave songs of the 80’s, I walked down the very British Mall. It leads to Buckingham Palace. Although this classifies me as a tourist, I found the walk quite refreshing and memorable.

In the grand tradition of London, the sky was grey. Color came through the beautifully manicured flower gardens and green grass, which accentuate St. James Park. The ducks quacked merrily away, while taking a late morning’s swim.

There stood Buckingham Palace, the tourists went mad snapping photos. “I really want a photo in front of Buckingham Palace. Gee, I know I’ll look like an awful tourist, but shit, I am one,” said I. I found a most splendid bench and took a photo of myself in front of the Queen’s magnificent residence. “This is much easier than, asking someone to take photo,” said I, internally. The photo shoots didn’t stop there.

“Oh look at these lovely red brick in South Kensington. I shall take a picture of myself in front of them,” said I. Snap, went my camera. ” Gee, the canals of Camden are grungy, but kind of cool, I don’t feel like asking anyone to take a picture of me, so here I go again, said I. As predicted, my camera went snap, snap, snap.

When the photos developed, I giggled. “Wow, I look silly taking photos of myself in London. I should’ve asked someone just to take the photos.

Years later, I found out my self portraits had a name. “A selfie? Is that what they call the process of taking a photo of one’s self? The selfies saw online, were typically folks taking photos of themselves in front of mirrors or with puppies. Either way, I like to think I pioneered the concept with all those selfies I took in London. Or should I say I like to think I pioneered the concept.

In tribute to the selfie, here’s an 80’s love ballad to ponder:

“All by myself. Don’t want to live, all by myself, anymore.”(Sang by Eric Carmen)

Boy About the World

Ten years ago, in the blazing Riverside sun, I arrived for a photo shoot. In a matter of minutes, I struck a pose and proudly, “vogued.” Not quite, but I did shine my brightest smile.

On the faithful day, I took my passport photo. Upon receiving my new photo, an eyebrow was raised in terror. “Oy, I look like Butthead from Beavis and Butthead fame,” said I. Obtaining a new passport was one of the highlights of 2004: a suburban odyssey.

At the time, I was traveling to Spain for the Christmas holiday. When I touched down on Madrid, the excitement filled the drab customs hall. With one brave swoop, I had my first passport stamp (on the new passport).

My passport became my constant companion on visits to the Prado Museum and Barcelona’s lively Las Ramblas (Street). When I returned to the States, I wondered, “will I have other stamps gracing the pages of my beloved passport?”

Time would answer my question with great vigor. Soon, my feet touchdown on Australia. I marveled at the grandeur of the Sydney Opera house, sky blue seawater and marvelous cliffs, which epitomized Aussie living.

Then I ate plenty of pizza in Rome, with the backdrop of ancient history and vespas. It made me feel just a little closer to the artistic eye of Federico Fellini. Excitedly, I made the impossible happen.

“Ladies and gentleman, welcome to Tokyo Narita,” said the flight attendant upon arrival in Japan. It was a destination, I had always dreamed of visiting, but never thought I would actually make it to.

I fell madly love with Japanese quirk. Vending machines, Pachinko halls, Harajuku’s street fashion and neon lights, it delighted me. I longed for another trip to Tokyo and returned, two years later.

The Tokyo metro, a fashionable tweed coat, admiring kitschy art, it was a dream come true, x 2. However, my adoration for travel didn’t end in Japan. Paris eventually beckoned.

Coffee sipped from a porcelain cup, coupled with a dizzying array of experimental and enjoying live jazz at an underground bar, made Paris more inspirational than sitting through a Francois Truffaut and Jean Luc Godard film marathon.

As my Air France flew out of Paris, I shed a tear. “Oh, I think I am sick,” said I. That’s right, I didn’t need WebMD to diagnose this condition. While sitting through the same Family Ties episode on the flight for hours, a diagnosis was reached. “Oy, I have the travel bug,” said I.

It’s that condition, which is medically untreatable. However, more stamps on the passport would help elevate any wanderlust symptoms. I trekked on. After listening to the Evita soundtrack, one too many times, I was inspired to head south of the equator.

Buenos Aires was elegant, even in the midst of deep humidity. I ate steak and more steak and even more (you guessed it) steak. I also found romance with a flan with dulce de leche, which melted from the afternoon sun. “Oy, I must eat vegetables, when I get home,” proclaimed I.

On my return to the States, I didn’t exactly become a vegetarian. I did marvel at my collection of stamps. One stamp was still elusive. On an icy, but sunny Tuesday in an island, which was also known as a kingdom. I ran around in a navy pea coat and proclaimed, “hello London.”

I had a most magnificent time in old London. It was a place, which dazzled me as a teenager. As an adult, it still captivated my imagination.

While wondering around one of the capital’s many spaces of green, I took a deep breath. “This has been amazing, all this travel. The ducks on the pond are charming. Look at those clouds above. Oh, that beer from the pub last night is my making my head chime like Big Ben. I am in London and feel like a real world traveler,” said I.

After a quick trip to Amsterdam from London, I plotted my next trip. However, as time went on, the only jet setting my passport saw was moving from one New York apartment to the next. The traveling stopped as adulthood responsibilities took over.

During the Thanksgiving holiday, the passport and I finally took a voyage together. Did you take that fabulous trip to Rio, you ask?” Why, no, the next exotic destination was better known, as “Casa de Daddy,” (dad’s house) in Riverside, CA. I didn’t receive a precious passport stamp for flying cross-country, but it was a treat to finally use it on plane travel.

After stuffing my face with my dad’s famous turkey and stuffing, I was heading back home to New York. Like most voyages to Riverside, I had a lay over. As I rushed through Phoenix airport, I felt like a jet setter again. The plane was boarding. I was given the news, which most airline travelers dread.

“Folks, you have to check in your carry on, we’re out of overhead space on this plane,” said the (not at all) merry flight attendant. “Oy, what’s the point of having a carry-on? Asked I.

The plane took off into the darkness of Arizona’s rustic desert. “With the all this modern technology, how does this plane not have television sets behind the seats?” asked I with a strategic eye roll.

I checked my pocket, “oh no, my passport,” said I. “ Oh that’s right, I stuffed it in my carry on luggage, I replied with ease. “Shit, I had to check it in. Dear travel Gods, please save my precious little passport. I promise to go to church. Actually, I promise not to say fuck so much on Sundays,” said I.

The flight commenced and we finally landed in Jersey. I rushed to baggage claim. I waited with a bit of anxiety kicking in. The colorful array of suitcases made their way through the conveyor belt.

Hello, hint of olive green, that’s my suitcase, I declared. I grabbed it and opened up the top zipper. Shining navy blue and bright was my passport. I skimmed through the pages. “Oh stamps, you are more colorful than any of those silly suitcases in the conveyor belt. With great relief, I made my way back to the city.

Whoever says New York doesn’t sleep, hasn’t stepped out of a train at a 6 AM on Sunday. Walking through a sleepy Manhattan to grab a coffee, my own backyard seemed more exotic, even after being away for only four days. “Hey I really like passport stamps and writing about my travels,” said I, while reminiscing on my good ol’ days of travel.

When I returned to my apartment. I put my passport away. Soon it will retire, since I have to renew my passport. I’ll miss our many journeys together. Optimistically, I head to McNally Jackson’s (bookstore) travel section.

It’s the closest I get to the international travel. As I opened up books on countries, which I aspire to walk in, I proclaim, “don’t worry new passport, you will be filled with precious and very colorful new stamps.” I just need to strike a pose and vogue, for the next passport photo. Excuse me, while I practice my best cheesy smile.

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.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 464 other followers