13 December, 2006

real estate and also some fun


Sir Edward Elgar, if you please















So we're innocently viewing flats on Friday, in the rain that the BBC weather people variously describe as a downpour, a deluge, or merely a soaking. I love it when the weather guy says earnestly, "The rain should stop around lunchtime, leaving us with a gentle drizzle." I don't think Americans, as a general rule, consider that it has stopped raining if it is still drizzling. However. My point is, our real estate search was sort of hampered by drizzle, or whatever you call it, because it was less appealing just to wander through the neighborhood. We looked in Notting Hill, and what might be more properly called Holland Park, and saw one possible flat, except that there was a nasty leak, dripping from the ceiling into a saucepan. And guess what the estate agent ("realtor" to us Yanks) said? "Oh, after this bit of rain today it will stop. And it won't rain anymore." Well, that engenders confidence in her honesty! It's only England: of course it won't rain anymore.

Then another much nicer flat, whose owner opened the door with the encouraging words, "Welcome to the House of Lurgy." True to her word, the flat was inhabited by two darling little girls coughing and sneezing and generally being ill. We vowed not to touch anything and to wash our hands immediately upon leaving. A very nice modern do-up of essentially two floors of a Victorian house. Perfectly nice, with a garden, and Avery could have more room in her room. This is beginning to be essential as she, her hundreds of books, her pony gear, are threatening to burst the seams of her current space. This flat was a real possibility.

From there, we went to Hyde Park Village, a hop and skip from the stable, which is a bonus. There we saw an extremely nice, if boring, small house. It had been done up to appeal to expats, and so was neutral throughout, which is dull but would be livened up by our things, so it appealed to me. And, dear readers: a separate DRYER! This means that I could actually dry more then one bedsheet at a time, a true luxury. And a real-sized freezer. I have found that even from my days of living in France in 1982, the European disdain for ice has increased. Therefore, one cannot find ice trays in stores, and icemakers in freezers do not exist, plus the freezers are too small to accomodate a bag of ice, which in any case is extremely hard to find. What is it about Americans and ice! But I love ice, and this freezer had room to store it. A strange thing to love about a house, but there you go.

Home to lunch and a head spinning with real estate. John's mom had gamely gone along to all the flats, squeezing in and out of Emmy with aplomb. She happily entered into all John's obsessive discussions on the topic of where to live, while I served my fancy tuna salad. Because John and his mom liked it so much, I shall share (the recipe, not the salad, because Blogger does not run to food across the wires):

Fancy Tuna Salad
(serves 4)

First of all, keep this important cultural rule in mind: if you order "tuna salad" in England, that's what you'll get. Tuna. With salad. If you want what Americans think of as tuna salad, you must order "tuna mayonnaise." That being said...

1 jar or 2 cans, yellowtail tuna steaks in olive oil (you can use the ordinary flake tuna, and I often have, but if you can find really fancy tuna, it's just a couple of pounds more and will really improve the result)
1/2 can (200 grams) chick peas
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 small red onion, minced
2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup mayonnaise
4 leaves butter lettuce (also called Boston, or here, "round lettuce")

Separate the tuna steaks into nice bite-size chunks, and add all other ingredient, mix without completely shredding the tuna. Eat piled onto lettuce leaves.

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So that was Friday. On Saturday we dropped Avery off at Sophia's house for an afternoon of theatre! Oh, I almost forgot to tell you about an amazing musical evening John's mom and I went to, at the Grosvenor Chapel in South Audley Street. Actually it was our nasty, greedy landlords' one generous gesture, inviting us to this concert, whereupon they raised the rent 18%. Oh well, carping does no one any favors. The point is, if you ever get a chance to hear English Sinfonia, you must go! They are a group of perhaps 8 women (and one chap, playing the bass!) on violin and viola, and they produced, in that gorgeous candlelit church, the most magical sounds you can imagine. I don't hear very much live music, and it seemed completely impossible that human bodies in front of me could simply lift up their instruments and become... a concert! Just gorgeous. Mostly Handel, and some Vivaldi, but then a fellow called Edward Elgar, whose music reminded me of my childhood experiments with Debussy under the watchful ear (can an ear watch? whatever) of my piano-talented mother. His piece was called "Serenade for Strings," and the instructions were "allegro piacevole," which to my non-fluent Italian vocabulary sounds like... "fast enough to please a vole"? Surely not. Anyway, it was just gorgeous. I wish Avery had gone, because she has just begun violin lessons (what a terrible thing to learn just at the very beginning!) and would have been inspired.

We picked Avery up at Sophia's house, with her father Claus opening the door to us in the drizzly dark, warm cosy English light (and Diva the black lab!) spilling out the door onto the checkered tiles. How beautiful. He welcome us in for a warming glass of champagne, and then the girls and Susan came barreling back in from their theatre adventure, full of incoherent (well, Susan wasn't) stories about the opera they had seen, "Chincha-Chancha Cooroo, or the Weaver's Wedding." Adriana's parents came to collect her as well, and we all sat around gossiping about the holidays, the iniquities of the French teacher, recipes for treacle cookies!

And now I must run get sandwich ingredients for the tea party we're having this afternoon. Sophia's family will come over after the school Christmas concert, which promises to be one of those thousand-tissue events. I'll let you know how it goes. Suffice right now to say: Avery will be playing the violin...

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