12 January, 2006

kindergarteners, a haircut and a fishmonger

It's an odd combination, but it made up my Thursday today! Yes, I'm up to my old tricks with the little kids. Just like in Abby's class at PS234 lo these many years ago (starting, I remember, in the sad days of October 2001, trying to be normal again), I got to spirit little kindergarteners out of the classroom one by one and have them read to me from their little book bags in the library at King's College Preparatory School! It was a remarkably similar experience, considering we're supposed to be strangers in a strange land. Yes, instead of being called "four going on five" they're called "rising fours" by the staff, and yes, they're all wearing uniforms with their hair in plaits, but... they still giggle if you make up nonsense words out of "bathtub" and their noses ALL run just the same as in America. Only instead of saying "Can you get me a Kleenex?" they say "Might I have a tissue please?" So I read with little Malrika, Emilia B. (there's an Emilia K. as well, I hear, but she's only a rumor until next week for me), Lily, and I forget who else. Partway through there was much distraction as the sounds of the Church of England daily assembly hymn floated down from the room above. Whoever I had at the time said plaintively, "I cahn't concentrate with all the noise those gulls are making!" I hoped that among the gulls passing through I would see Avery but Form Four was otherwise occupied. Oh, and did you know that the Latin word for horse is masculine? She's furious, being a true feminist from birth. I fanned the flames by telling her that in French, "war" is feminine. Ooooh, so unfair.

Then in the universal situation where you can't go home because the cleaning lady's there, I decided to get a haircut. The lovely Piero from Vincenza gave me a very nice pixie-ish (well, ageing pixie) cut for not too horrible a price, and then I had to kill some more time so I went grocery shopping of course, and decided what I reallly wanted for dinner was oyster stew. I don't know why. Because I knew the oysters would be hard to find and it would give me a mission. So after two abortive attempts at supermarkets, I ended up at a fishmonger in the Marylebone High Street, London's answer to... what... I don't think there is anything like it in Manhattan. A true high street, winding along with lots of taxis and zebra crossings (don't forget to pronounce zebra properly), with the requisite neighborhood-friendly shops (as opposed to tourist places), like a chemist's, lots of pubs and tearooms, shoe repair, and a fishmonger! An impossibly quaint blue-fronted small shop with a front window that is removed upon the shop's opening, and the fishes and shellfishes and seaweed sit on their beds of ice right in your face. Gorgeous! It's called FishWorks and it's of course very famous but I have never heard of it because my husband hates fish. Why? Many you have heard the inflammatory and entirely undeserved story of one slightly undercooked red snapper I produced roughly eleven years ago and he claims I was trying to kill him. There would be so many easier ways.

But back to the fishmonger. He said immediately but in a slightly frosty Englishy manner that for between 60p and 1 pound 60 per oyster, it would be his pleasure, no, his privilege, to shuck them for my stew. In the meantime, why didn't I have lunch in the restaurant? Turned out that behind the tiny shop the size of our bathroom at 16 Jay Street is a full-on gourmet restaurant! I love to eat lunch by myself, so in I went, and was practically the first person there, other people having real lives that don't involve avoiding cleaning ladies, I guess. It's owned by a famous youngish fishmonger called Mitchell Tonks, who happened to be there being feted by some langoustine purveyors (as my dad would say, one of the long list of things that's never happened to me), so he signed a cookbook for my mother -in-law Rosemary! I then had an appetizer of organic sea bream roe taramasalata, a fishy sort of garlicky mayo concoction topped with olive oil and parsley and accompanied by yummy baguette slices and a little dish of a sort of salsa verte. While I was munching away lots more people came in and EVERYONE looked like he (there were virtually no women) was about to close a really, really big deal with the person across the table. The langoustine purveyors ordered a whole fish of some kind that fed all six of them, steamed in white wine and thyme. Not them, I mean, the fish.

Then I had a double mound of fresh-picked Dungeness crab: I've never seen it that way before with both the white claw meat and the dark inner meat displayed separately. This was with tiny seedless slices of cucumber, homemade mayo and the salad I forgot I loved so much because you can't get it in America so I blocked it out: a wonderful combination of rocket (arugula to the Italians), lamb's lettuce (also called mache) and baby spinach. Mmmm. I'm addicted again.

So I sat there with my glass of Pinot Whatever, not being a wine connoisseur, and ate happily and looked at all the people who were probably famous if I read the FT instead of Hello! magazine (I had the latest issue with me, by the way, and did you know how MUCH Gwyneth Paltrow prefers London to Hollywood? I didn't. She can just live like a normal person here. Yeah). On the way out I picked up my oysters and the guy asked me what I was going to do with them, and when I described my oyster stew, he totally unbent and said, "My Chinese mother makes that! It is the best!" Food brings out the friendly in everyone.

I'm back here now, having consoled Maria the cleaning lady on her near-fatal fright at seeing Wimsey fly out from under the bed when she vacuumed. I've unpacked my groceries, brushed thousands of little tiny hairs off my black turtleneck sweater (which one, you ask? My second favorite one, the favorite one's at the cleaner's. I'm a little nervous with only one sweater, I can tell you that). We're waiting to hear if the garden flat we liked so much will let Avery play in the garden, and if so, we may have a home soon! Our container shipment arrived and passed customs, which would be great news if we had anywhere to put it.

But we LOVE it. When are you coming to visit?