13 March, 2006

Monday Monday


I feel like I need a vacation from my weekend! Yesterday we walked over four miles after dropping Avery off just past Holland Park, at her new friend Sophia's gorgeous house (more on that later), and then when I went to fetch her I decided to get on the phone to my mama and walk all the way there. Today if I were not surrounded by cleaning lady and electrician checking all our bits and pieces, I would be flat out on the sofa with a hot water bottle and a kitty. It could still happen, when everyone abandons me.

And Avery's been invited to play at Jade's house on Friday! How nice. Her glamourous mum approached me at dropoff this morning, never my favorite time of day to chat but oh well, and said, "How would Friday be? Right, good. Sorted. Lovely. Bye!" and I felt like I'd been hit by a steamroller. Unlike at PS 234, no one here has yet learned that I should never be asked to make plans at 8:15 in the morning because there's such a significant chance that I will not remember a thing I said I would do. But here, now I've a record of our plans. Don't let me forget.

class="mobile-post">Made a salad last night that I want you all to try (except my mother who thinks avocados taste like modeling clay). Very simple and pretty, in fact pretty enough to post a picture of it finished on my kitchen counter last evening, before John demolished most of it even before dinner began. I just managed to salvage a few mouthfuls for myself. You run your knife all around an avocado, lengthwise, and then twist it so as to separate the two halves (one will contain the
pit). Then run your knife down the inside of the non-pit half of the avocado, again
lengthwise, in thin slices, and turn the avocado half inside out, like you would a mango if you've ever watched Hercule Poirot prepare a mango. If you haven't, just trust me, that's how you do it. Pull off the slices, even if some of them break, and fan them out on a plate. Then slice a ball of mozzarella nice and thick and intersperse with the avocado. Then halve tiny cherry tomatoes, and scatter them across the salad. Sprinkle with balsamic vinegar and dot with spoonsful of pesto, sprinkle with salt, and you're done. Hide from husband if you want any for yourself.

There was some sort of parade (or protest? they all look alike) that shut down Park Lane yesterday morning, thus effectively trapping us in Mayfair, but alas we had to get to Kensington to take Avery to Sophia's, so we hopped in a taxi and for the price of a nice lunch out got her to her playdate.

Sophia's mum Susan greeted us on the steps of their big, elegant house (inside a wrought-iron gate and across a courtyard, so civilized). The inner foyer is tiled in a sort of Italianate, well-worn and colorful pattern, and the walls lined with Susan's collection of mid-century modern art, the mantelpiece of the hallway fireplace lined with invitations to art exhibitions and weddings. One card said, just like you read in a book, something like "Mrs Annabelle Westacott, At Home." I've always wanted a card like that, just to announce that I'm At Home. High ceilings, layered rugs, flower arrangements, the walls hung salon-style with art from floor to ceiling. An installation of twelve Man Ray watercolours, "Evolution of a Cactus," which of course I have TAUGHT to people but never seen in person. Susan is a docent at the Royal Academy of Art and clearly passionate about her subject in a way that I admire but don't exactly share anymore, having made the colossal symbolic gesture of leaving all my art history books in storage in New Jersey.

Avery immediately followed Sophia up the mammoth staircase, followed by their black labrador, Diva, so Susan gave us a tour of the five-storey house complete with two kitchens, a garden, a terrace and a roof deck, bookshelves throughout (making me terribly envious and impatient for my own). At some point her husband Claus joined us, a somewhat older German man with the indefinable aura of the sophisticated European financier: sort of pumpkin-colored corduroy trousers, a red sweater, blue shirt, and thinning hair floating across the top of his head, horn-rimmed spectacles and highly-polished loafers. He approached us and held out his hand, which John met with his own, HOWEVER Claus reached right past him to ME in a gesture of old-world elegance that I found quite charming! Then he allowed John to shake his hand, saying something along the lines of, "I'm so sorry to have been delayed, matters of consultations about contemporary German art, you know." Not something that normally calls me to the phone on a given Sunday afternoon, but there you have it. He and John immediately got down to the ever-popular game of "investment bankers I have known," settling down to one Arthur Winther, about whom I heard a lot in maybe 1988 but haven't thought of since; he was enough to bond the two men in stories of "swaps" and discussions of various currencies and the old days of rogue banking. John said, "I remember when Goldman Sachs was suffering some bad numbers and Arthur just couldn't stand it, called a meeting and stood there, slamming his fists down on the table and shouting, "We must focus on... EVERYTHING!" This so took me back to the old heady days when Goldman Sachs ruled the world, complete with its own emergency blood supply in Moscow (I remember my little access card in my wallet, lo these many years ago).

Susan and I discussed art history, and the incredibly tiny world that makes her the godmother of the children of the couple who developed our loft building on Franklin Street. Got that? The girls made a whirlwind appearance to ask if 1) they could jump on Sophia's bed, and 2) they could try on Susan's shoes. Permission was granted for both requests. We looked out at the beautiful, manicured garden, graced with a trampoline, and I asked if they had nice neighbors, since they are, as they say in London real-estate-speak, "overlooked." "Oh, they're lovely," Susan said, "even if the frogs from their pond do tend to make their way rather too frequently over our hedge. Yesterday I had to fling two of them back over, and they were attached to each other at the time, in that way that creatures do when springtime arrives, you know. But I had to
get to them before Diva did, you see."

Susan herself is absolutely beautiful in the way of a Ralph Lauren model, perfect bone structure, a loosely gathered ponytail with elegant strands escaping, a simple shawl-collared cashmere cardigan, and discreet Reinstein Ross jewelry (another nice bonding point for us; shared jewelry designers will do that for you). She ushered us out the door and we headed over to South Ken for lunch. Of course on the way we ran into one of John's colleagues, a gorgeous and athletic woman called Mary whom I was glad I hadn't known existed until then: how does he work surrounded by these people? I refrained from asking if she was going to be on his mammoth Asian odyssey in a couple of weeks. I don't want to know.

We got a table at the Bibendum Oyster Bar in our old haunt, the
Michelin Building in the Fulham Road.

I don't know why I love that place, I never really enjoy the food, but there you go. It's the ambience. We had curried parsnip soup, good but too thick I thought, and then I succumbed to the temptation of a classic English dish I have always read about but never eaten: potted shrimps. The idea is one of a very sort of English confit, a way of preserving food in the days before adequate refrigeration. The shrimps (tiny tiny things, must ask at which point shrimps come to be called prawns; it seems to be a size thing, but I'll have to find out) are placed in a little pot, hence the name, and then covered with melted butter, which then, I hate to use the word, congeals and forms a sort of seal. It never occurred to me, when reading about Lord Peter Wimsey eating potted shrimps, that they actually are served congealed. Now I know, and it's one of those instances where the bad things people say about English food are entirely deserved. What a weird thing to eat. Traditional garnishes of marinated cucumbers, cornichons and toast points. Whew, it was hard going. John looked at me smugly over his perfect bowl of Caesar salad and inquired how my shrimps were, declined to share and clearly had his own opinions of people who order things because they appear on the menus in murder mysteries written 70 years ago. Fair enough. But we shared a nice South African sauvignon blanc, had a wander through the rug section of Conran's, realized for the fifteenth time that we have never measured the living room and therefore cannot buy a rug, and walked home. John took a nap and I had my mammoth walk back to get Fifi.

Well, the electrician has finally left. Can I justify a quick little lie-down on the sofa? So tempting.

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