11 November, 2007

what was Shakespeare's last name?

Just one of the wonderful questions our guide yesterday at the Globe Theatre tells us gets asked during his tours! Let's see, what else? "Who painted the sky?" Reminds me of the American tourist at Windsor Castle who, watching yet another airplane cross the sky, asked a guide "why the Queen built the castle so close to Heathrow?" Dear me. One worries a bit.

It's shameful that we've lived her for close to two years and it took an out-of-town visitor to get us to the Globe. But that's often the way, isn't it? I never visited Ellis Island until my parents came to visit, nor the Empire State Building or other New York attractions. Thank goodness for John's sister Cathy who arrived yesterday for a quixotic, whirlwind 24-hour stay to gain, what else, frequent flyer miles! And to see her family, of course.

The evening before, I confess, I felt a bit down, not to say bored with what I had been up to all week, namely laundry, cooking, organising the house including dismantling piles of books from all the place and shoving them into bookshelves, getting a royal soaking on Thursday on the way to Avery's riding lesson, watching her skate, the usual. Dull! Repetitive! Really boring. Finally, Friday saw a celebratory birthday lunch with my dear friend Becky and a couple of her friends (among them Kristin from the fabulous Maze birthday lunch!), which helped my mood tremendously. What would one do without girlfriends? Just to have people to talk to about children, husbands, travel, future plans, to bounce ideas off and learn from. We had a wonderful time, at L'Entrecote in Marylebone Lane. It's such a funny restaurant (Becky's all-time favorite): there is no choice on the menu, unless you include how well-cooked your steak is. It's green salad with walnuts, rump steak, with a "secret sauce" (a bit of a curried mustardy vinaigrett?), and French fries. That's it! Plus adorable little French waitresses in sort of French-farce black dresses with white ruffly aprons. Like lunch with girlfriends, the place is comfort itself. And they let us sit over the bill and chat, even though the place was quite full. Happy Birthday, Becky.

Somehow, then, I got down again between lunch and school pickup, a mood not noticeably enhanced by the whingey, moaning, overwhelmed lump of humanity that is my child by Friday afternoon. Nothing suits her! Hungry, cold, tired, and tired of being asked, "Where is your..." The evening before she had managed to misplace no fewer than the following items: eyeglasses, violin, winter coat. Grrr! In the mood she was in, nothing is good news. Even a skating lesson with her beloved friend Jamie is but a brief chink of blue in the cloudy sky of her existence. Rats.

But by Saturday morning, and John's sister's arrival, I was ready for a change of pace, big time. And far from being jetlagged and unenergetic, Cathy was raring to go. We bundled up and jumped in the Mini and top-down (November wind notwithstanding) we were off to the Globe.

First we needed lunch, and I was glad I had done a bit of research on where to go. There's only one real choice: The Swan at the Globe, and it was lovely, lovely, lovely! Before it makes you as crazy as it made me, the music playing on their website is "Comptine d'un autre ete," from the soundtrack of Amelie. How's this for customer service: I was driven so crazy by this music that I emailed the restaurant, and someone amazing called Joanne in management actually replied and sent a file of the song. How crazy helpful is that? But I digress.

The food was so simple, and so good, that I want to go back and have more things immediately. Cathy is a strict vegetarian and we were very pleased to see that among the starters there was a vegetarian butternut squash soup, and a beetroot, cured salmon and fennel salad. But in the end she succumbed to goat's cheese Wellington with fig puree, and loved it. I had duck terrine (with a glorious vein of pure foie gras running through it), and John, being a bigger boy, had a main course of halibut steak with a caper mousseline and one of those clever latticed stacks of chips so popular these days. Avery ordered a "young diners" portion (so respectful, that phrase!) of macaroni cheese and not only was it delicate, perfectly flavored and nicely browned, but HUGE! We all tucked in. All in all, a good enough reason to cross the river even if you're not interested in Shakespeare. But we were.

The museum exhibition is very absorbing and could easily have provided food for though for over the amount of time we had before the tour, so allow at least 45 minutes. And our tour guide! Totally crush-worthy, was David. So many funny stories, gestures of his elegant actor's hands (must be, we decided), evocative English schoolboy floppy hair and an immaculate trenchcoat, he owned the Globe with his stories and energy. We were all immediately inspired to see a play there, although the season is regrettably short (due to its open roof, hence the joke about "who painted the sky"), running only from May-October, and since our summers aren't spent in London, we're a bit limited. But it would be sublime. I think it's a miracle that an American actor was motivated to reconstruct it, that the architects were wise enough to leave it simple, and beautifully pared-down.

From the Globe, John peeled off to take Avery to acting (newly motivated, of course!) and Cathy and I hit the underground for a visit to Charing Cross Road, since she's a bibliophile after my own heart. Sadly, however, the extraordinarily crummy exchange rate was a deterrent although she did succumb to a nice volume of Joseph Conrad.

After a brief rest, we were off to dinner at one of our old, old favorite stomping grounds from our newlywed days in the early 90s, Star of India in South Kensington. Family-owned since 1954, it was wonderful 40 years later, but is even more wonderful now having been recently refurbished in a minimalist style (but retaining the beloved frescoed ceiling, thank you!) and the food has gone from family-homey to light and sophisticated. The saag paneer I always doted on is still pleasing, although Avery missed the old chunks of cheese (now floating tendrils), and I did miss comfortable chana masala, my favorite chickpea dish, but perhaps it's not cool anymore. But the green-curry chicken dish (I cannot remember its name! but yogurty and with a slight kick) was divine, and Cathy had an aubergine dish that I did not sample, but which John said was good. I just dived in with my usual bossy nature in a restaurant where we're sharing, and ordered lots of different things, and we were completely happy. Excellent cucumber raitha, really first-rate, and the best poppadums in London, I'm sure.

We had such a happy, comfortable time. Cathy is one of those people whose quality of listening makes you feel much more interesting than you know you are: she is completely focused on what you're saying, completely sincere, and asks thought-provoking, concentrated questions, all overlaid with a bubbling laugh and warmth that makes her the perfect sister-in-law, and aunt. She treats Avery in that way that you'd think comes naturally to people but doesn't that often: like a real person whose opinions are to be taken seriously. Not in an affected or precious way, but with genuine interest and respect. And she stayed awake through dinner! No jet lag gets in the way of her wholehearted appreciation of life.

This morning, sadly, she was off early to the airport. And our ordinary lives, infused briefly with energy and new things, settled back down to... normal. Safe travels, Cathy.

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