Day 2 in London

OK, so Day 2 in London has been much much better. The Sister and I have adapted to London pretty fast. On the first day we were kind of lost. We had no idea how to use the public transportation system, which places served good food (and ended up eating in a horrible place called Garfunkel’s that turned out to be a chain for tourists), which areas should be visited, and how much anything was supposed to cost.

Today, however, we did much better. We used buses masterfully, getting exactly where we wanted to. I finally fulfilled a long-standing dream and bought myself a real Cornish pasty. Also, I got many different British soaps because I have this strange addiction to good soaps and I remember from my visit in 1990 that English soaps are the best in the world. They smell too good for words.

We found a very good restaurant with a veranda in a quiet little street. They served real jamon serrano there. In North America, when you order jamon serrano, you get something more like Canadian honey glazed ham, which is great in its own right but has nothing to do with the Iberian jamon. The sister ordered a lamb chop with peas and mint sauce. This is a dish nobody should leave the country without trying, in my opinion.

The Sister has a 2,5-year-old daughter, my niece Klubnikis, so we visited Hammel’s, a huge toy store. I dread American toy stores because they are normally very boring. However, in this toy store, instead of rows upon rows of scary-looking Barbies, they had such amazing, educational, creative toys that we bought enough for all of Klubnikis’s little friends.

We also stopped looking completely out of place, and people with British accents asked us for directions on three separate occasions. And on two of those occasions we were actually capable of helping them.

Tomorrow we are going to Berlin, and it feels very strange to go to Berlin on May 9. I’ve never been in Germany before but The Sister has. She tells me that when she was travelling in Germany a few years ago, she kept having flashbacks of tanks moving down the roads. The collective memory of what we call the Great Patriotic War is very strong among us. Our grandfather on our mother’s side was in the war. He marched all the way to the Reichstag and wrote our last name on its walls.

I wouldn’t have minded staying in London longer. Just as we started to feel comfortable in the city, we have to leave.


The Face of the City

I keep having this feeling that, unlike many other European cities, London is not trying to preserve its uniqueness. The beautiful old historic buildings are not being restored and maintained as well as they deserve. And ugly new buildings are crowding them everywhere. It was already like this, in a way, 22 years ago but now this trend is even more pronounced.

The Sister has a theory that the British have decided to direct their efforts to preserve the country’s uniqueness towards supporting and promoting the endless melodrama of the Royal Family, which is why neither resources nor any real interest are left for the preservation of the face of their capital. I’m not sure I have an opinion just yet.

Tomorrow we are going to Berlin, so I will be able to compare Berlin to London.


I just discovered that the word “Maidan ” means the exact same thing in India and in Ukraine.  In Russian, this word doesn’t exist, just in Ukrainian.  How fascinating is that?

I’m a philologist, so I’m aware if Indo-European languages but, still, it’s strange to see a word that is used exactly the same in such different countries.

Some More Observations on London

1. The coffee is very good. This isn’t even Spain or Portugal, but already the coffee is so much better than in North America that I feel copletely in Europe.

2. Since the last time I visited, the aggravating yet quaint British faucets are gone. Now, there are regular faucets like you see everywhere else in the world have been installed. Is it like this in people’s homes, too?

3. Once again, the city is very expensive. How do the British people live here? I haven’t been to a grocery store yet, so I don’t know how much the food costs, but everything else is just ruinous.

4. The Indian food is, indeed, amazing. Even at a very small out-of-the-way restaurant, we found Indian food that is far superior to any I have eaten in North America with the possible exception of one place in Lafayette, IN.

5. I’m glad that I wasn’t planning to buy any clothes because even though there are some really beautiful things in stores, everything is in tiny little sizes. I keep wondering if I’m at a store for little girls because most of the clothes do not have the physique of an adult woman in mind.

6. I’ve gotten very provincial because the crowds of people in the street feel very unusual to me.

7. London is truly becoming a Russian-speaking city because there are more Russian-speakers here than even in New York. I now have to watch what I say, which I’m not used to doing after 14 years of living in countries where nobody understands me.

I’m blogging from the hotel computer, so I can’t post any photos. But I promise that photos are upcoming.

In London

Twenty -two years after my last visit, I’m back in London. I have to say that it has changed a lot. I’m still struggling to get a feel on the city but after a full day of walking around (Piccadilly, Trafalgar Square, Westminster, Knightsbridge, Oxford Street, Paddington), I still haven’t managed to do that. For the most part, I have to keep reminding myself that I’m not in New York. And I’m not a huge fan of New York anyway.

Also, I can’t seem to find a bookstore anywhere. All I find are Gaps and Zaras that I can’t stand at home either.

But of course the Houses of Parliament and the Westminster Abbey are sublime. The Millennium Wheel is a little incongruous.

I keep almost being run over by traffic because I keep forgetting what direction the cars come from. The British accent is so sophisticated that I feel very dowdy with my Midwestern pronunciation.

Now we are planning to find a good Indian restaurant. There have got to be many around Paddington, right?

Weird Obama and Romney Ads

Can anybody decipher the following Obama ad for me?

Tell Barack you are in. . . what, exactly? And where should we join Michelle? In voting for Obama? With all due respect, why should anybody be influenced by Michelle Obama’s decision to vote for her own husband?

This isn’t the first time that I’m getting the feeling that Obama is trying hard not to win this election.

The good news is that his opponent is fighting for the same goal even harder. Look at a similar ad by Romney’s campaign:

I mean, if she is so much better than Romney that we are asked to stand with her and not with him, then maybe we should just go ahead and vote for her instead?

This Better Be Worth It!

This trip to Europe better be worth it, people, because it was an adventure of rare proportions to get into this airplane to London. The adventure included:

1. An unpleasant airline person at Lambert Airport refusing to let me board because “you will miss the connecting flight anyways.”

2. The need to phone customer assistance and the immediate autistic unraveling.

3. 5 flight delays.

4. A race across Chicago O’Hare with the grace of a wounded hippopotamus.

5. Getting to the plane right at that moment when the flight attendant starts to close the door.

In the end, however, a reward awaited me: I got one of those great seats on the long flight to London which is like Business Class without being Business Class. I was afraid I’d have to sit squeezed between strangers but, I sit in the aisle and the seat next to me is empty. So I don’t have to have strangers next to me at all. And the bathroom is very close.

I have V.S. Naipaul’s The Writer and the World with me, and what is more relaxing than Naipaul’ writing?