Thursday, August 23, 2007

Sunday, August 12: Happy Birthday, Hillary!

We started our day with the requisite British pub experience. The Mayflower fit the bill nicely and it was a very short walk from Alain’s flat. We shared a large portion of beef and cheddar pie, accompanied by a mountain of mashed potatoes. It being only 11:30 in the morning, I resisted the urge to wash it down with a pint of ale. Not that I haven’t seen plenty of Germans quenching THEIR breakfast-time thirst with a cold one. We started out on the back patio that sat over the Thames (thrilling!) but sprinkles drove us indoors, where we were entertained by quotes painted around the room. One from Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well was painted above the bench behind me: “It is like a barber’s chair that fits all buttocks…” You can see another tasteful example in the photo below (if you click on it to make it bigger):

Next we were off to Brick Lane, where I found all of the interesting people I’d been looking for the night before. Known as Banglatown, it was lined with Indian restaurants. Each had a sort of barker standing outside, trying to rustle up business. The Brick Lane Market was a dim, sweltering place, filled with wonderful smells. Food vendors offering cuisine from all over the world were clustered around the entrance, and I wished I could have bought something to eat from each and every one of them. Our pre-determined and worthy goal, however, was to eat the memorable passion fruit mousse from the Brazilian cart. It’s such a shame that passion fruit is, if even attainable, totally unaffordable in the US. I’ve had desserts made from it in many other places, and it’s oh so very good. Here was my favorite non-food booth:

Upon exiting the market, we found ourselves in hipster-ville. Artsy salons, vintage clothing stores, graffiti and street art, a great music/coffee shop. Normally the vibe would get on my nerves a wee bit, but it was a tremendous relief after the atmosphere of the previous night. I’ll take too cool for school over party central any day. OK, truth be told, I would have loved to have popped into some of those stores. But we had only one day in London and the equally famous Camden Market to get to.


We stopped here for tea and a rest. We, and at least one other gentleman, found it to be a great spot for people-watching.

My kids were much less impressed by this photo than I expected them to be.

Unfortunately, things were shutting down at Camden Market by the time we arrived. We did get the opportunity to eat some doughnuts and snicker at the over-the-top stores that were like a Disneyland theme park version of punk. I have to admit, though that the staff and wares on display at Cyberdog scared me to death.

And then we were off, walking as fast as our legs and inappropriate footwear would permit. It was, let us not forget, Hillary’s birthday. And though, due to a scheduling mishap, we would not be having our highly anticipated dinner at Le Cinq in Paris, the day would be redeemed. Hillary and Alain, who were former salsa partners, were going to do something they’ve always wanted to: take a tango class.

We found the place with little difficulty: a basement-level Tapas bar with half the area given over to studio space for dancing. Not long after entering we were greeted by the eccentric man who appeared to be in charge. It was the first time in my life that a greeting made me feel like I’d been assaulted. He was, in appearance and manner, like a short Argentinean ladies’ man version of Bob from Twin Peaks (follow link and scroll down for a photo of Bob). His long gray hair was all slicked straight back from his large and extremely tanned face. He was dressed head to toe in white linen, and he oozed machismo. I found him terrifying. Henceforth he shall be known as Scary Tango Man.

I observed the beginner lesson, which looked like a lot of fun. Scary Tango Man was not the teacher; rather it was an unlikely British fellow with a bit of a pot belly. He was a very good teacher. Hillary and Alain were praised for their quick progress. At the end of two hours, which was twice as long as we’d expected and planned for, the lessons were over and the dancing began in earnest. All the students gathered in the studio. And then a scene played out before me that I will not soon forget.

Scary Tango Man threw his arm up in the air and shouted “I WANT SOMEONE TO DANCE WITH!” Utter silence followed. Every woman tried her best to avoid eye contact or any movement that might single her out. Finally, when it was obvious there would be no volunteers, he selected a victim. “YOU!” he commanded, pointing at a tall young blond. She made no excuses, merely rolled her eyes. I think she got the best of him with that gesture alone.

The music began, and with it, the dance. Never have I seen a more oddly matched pair. He was short and dark. She was tall and fair. In her high-heeled sandals, she was at least a foot taller than he was. She had the kind of figure that isn’t “in fashion” but that never goes out of fashion with men. Nor should it. In tango one never moves the hips, but one swivels. She was very slim but with very womanly hips, and to watch her swivel those hips about the dance floor by pivoting on her foot was almost mesmerizing. She maintained as severe an expression as he did the entire time. On the final note of the song she followed his last step and then gave a little kick and turned away from him with a last flick of her foot. We all clapped like crazy. He had utterly failed to intimidate her and was now Slightly Less Scary Tango Man.

We had no time for dancing, as this was our only night to eat fish and chips and there was only one place left open on Sunday night to eat them. Hillary had done some research online and found the one place that was well-known and open. The ambiance wasn’t much, but it was pretty spectacular to receive an entire battered fillet of cod. There was no mention of beer on the menu, but I made inquiries and ended up with the only one they had—the same Turkish beer as the night before.

We headed “home” and I discovered that Alain’s roommates had deemed the futon I’d slept on the night before inadequate. They’d set me up with the most deluxe air mattress I’ve ever seen and had made up and turned down the bed for me. This is the sight that greeted my tired eyes:


1 comment:

Hillary said...

Wow, that WAS a nice birthday, now that I see how much fun we had! I can't believe we did all that in one day. My feet are starting to ache again just reading about it.

Soho, by the way, is the frat area we visited. But Scary Salsa Man never did get a more official name.

Alain and I just got back from Madrid where we tried to get good falafels, but the ones you had that night just can't be beat.