I love being underground, I love dark, close places. And dark massive airy places of course. And while London is undergirded by miles of tunnels, bunkers, culverts, sewers, abandoned underground stations and etc, can you legally get into any of them?
No. But Graham and I did our best.
We started in the Cafe in the Crypt, St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields. A copy of American Colonial architecture, which is really just a variation on a copy of traditional English architecture…and they sell decent coffee and quite delicious currant buns in a warm, dry, well-lit brick vault that a self-respecting ghost would never be caught…in.
They have an art exhibit on now, Cartooning and Conflict, international takes on the situation in Palestine/Israel. Some of them were good, some of them ridiculously simplistic. Of course.
So coffeed and fed, we started on the quest for the (now underground) Tyburn river. On foot. And wandered past St. James Palace just as a marching band was scheduled to appear (!), line up in front of the palace, play, salute, and head out again. It made no sense at all, but the tourists did like it.
I just love the incredible feeling of being fortuitously in exactly the right place at the right time…even if it’s only to see a marching band. We passed Truefitt & Hill, London’s oldest barber shop established in 1805. They say that:
Men deserve the best in everything they do. If you are looking for the finest in men’s grooming, we are confident you will find Truefitt & Hill’s unmatched product quality and prestigious tradition extremely compelling.
And looking in their window I believe them, almost makes me wish I were one
And so we wandered on. And in another blinding moment of fortuitosity, I mentioned we were looking for Davies Street and Graham realized we were on Davies Street, and so a moment of awed silence for such mad luck…
On Davies Street you can find Gray’s Antique Market, full of beautiful and very old things. But you actually want to turn the corner, head down the back for Gray’s Mews, because you head down into the basement there and you will find a section of the (famous) Tyburn River. Actually, I don’t think the river is famous, but the spot where they used to hang people certainly was. The river runs in culverts below London, until it arrives here, where it is neatly channeled and full of gold fish.
We couldn’t quite work out the mechanics of it, both of us thinking that the Tyburn river should be larger, dirtier, primeval. Possibly behind thick glass, certainly not staid and well-lit and mechanically aerated. But it was quite extraordinary all the same. And Gray’s Mews? Beautiful. You can see at the bottom the fabulous vintage clothing and jewelry store…quality gorgeousness, Chanel and proper furs and etc etc, long cigarette holders, old compacts that I could have conceivably afforded…it is the kind of place that is most dangerous, in that it has beautiful old things at the top of my price range (but still within it. Hence the danger.). Many other stores were shut up, sadly, like the shop below with the pair of dragon-bearing elephants that I truly desired:
It was a day of desire really, walking back down Bond Street we passed this store full of silver, and all of it beautiful
We were filled with a sense of satisfaction, of vague melancholy, of…thirst. So we stopped at the Iron Duke for a pint, a most satisfactory pub with a very interesting wall covering and scrumpy jack on tap:
From there we wound our way back down to a pub previously-spotted and tagged for a return. But once more on St. James we decided to wander into the cigar store, James J. Fox & Robert Lewis. And discovered that not only can you smoke a cigar inside (lit for you by use of a small, insanely impressive blow torch), but there is also a museum. In the basement! Underground once again, and happy because look at this:
I am a [wo]man of simple tastes, easily satisfied with the best.
The Queen Mother had her account here as well…I like to think of her kicking back and smoking a fine cigar or two. This place is packed with phenomenal things, an old register you can flip through, Oscar Wilde’s account, fur covered cigar cases, Cigars that are two, maybe three feet long, a tin of “Potter’s Asthma Smoking Tobacco”, this letter to the company from Churchill once again:
Confirming our telephone conversation, Sir Winston Churchill would be much obliged if you would send a box of 25 cigars of good quality, but not quite as good as the Romeo and Juliet, and of medium size, to his grandson for his birthday on October 10…
Highly recommended. Though we couldn’t afford cigars at the time. But we will be back, the humidor at the end of the room was extremely impressive. And I have never seen anything like this:
But I tore myself away.
So we found our way to the Red Lion, a small pub and the second oldest license in the West End. The oldest license? No one could say. That’s a quest for another day. But a good mix of people, Graham believes that many were masons, I accept their cover story of a funeral. The lad with the red trousers? Well, there’s no excuse for that sort of thing of course. And there were china plates lining the piece of wall between the wood paneling and the ceiling, I loved that. We had laid down the one pint per pub rule, this being an exploratory excursion, so we headed out. We passed the Golden Lion. Sadly closed. And then we found a second Red Lion. A slightly larger pub, with beveled and engraved mirrors
And as buns weren’t quite enough to support this kind of effort and quantity of drink we went in search of food. I hadn’t prepared an underground location for this, so we ended up with pizza. Probably the most delicious pizza I have ever eaten but we all know that’s because I was drunk. Drunk on the magic of London at night
From Soho we headed to embankment and a martini at the Buddha Bar. That was planned, the Buddha Bar is in the old tram tunnel you see, though of course you’d never know. We weren’t dressed for that kind of poshness of course, so most of the waitresses were rather dismissive and politely rude. Our waiter was awesome though, redeemed the whole place for me beyond any doubt.
And then still not quite ready to go home, we made a last stop, sort of underground once again, in the Coal Hole, “famous for coal-heavers and cartoonists”. Great little pub too, according to the menu (always a supreme source of local history), it was one of the last informal clubs of the Victorian era. Gillray and Rowlandson used to haunt this place! And I dearly hope they still do…Gilbert and Sullivan used to show up from time to time as well, but I’m not so fussed about them.
What a day, what a city, what a cousin. Joy.
Today I am hating LA.
There are few times I really hate people, very few. But EVERY time I try to get myself and my bike off of the train, and have to fight my way through a bunch of fat, ugly, morally bankrupt assholes who don’t have the common courtesy to let people off the train before they force their way onto it. Well. I hate them all. En masse and individually. And when people occasionally get a smack from one of my pedals or my bag I don’t even care, because damned if I get stuck on there and have to ride the train until the next stop. They always just stand there and stare at you when they’re directly in front. They don’t even try to move. And I don’t know what they think I’m going to do, I have far fewer options than they do if I want to get off the god damn train.
There are other things I hate about the train, but those have more systemic causes I know. I hate seeing kids the age of five and elders over 70 selling candy. I hate being around people drinking 40’s out of black plastic bags. I hate the simmering violence. Today in front of me there was an old black man spread out over three seats. And a rough 30-something latino guy asked him to move his feet. And he refused. And so the latino guy pushed his way onto the seat beside him. And the interchange?
“You think that mother-fucking seat is worth getting your head blown off? I will blow your head off mother-fucker, and so tell me if your life is worth that mother-fucking seat. Just you reach for it mother-fucker, I dare you, I will shoot you in the mother-fucking head, all you god damn mother fucking beaners should stay on your own damn side of the border, stealing our jobs, I hate all of you god damn mother fuckers, I’ll shoot all of you…”
And so on. And me with my insides curling up with fear because people do get shot in this city for such stupid shit, and there’s no telling what the latino guy is going to do and there’s a couple of younger black kids drunk already and with 40’s in their hands sitting a few seats up and one stands up and walks back to see if he’s going to get into it, and so I thank fuck when the latino guy realizes he is dealing with someone crazy enough (and with little enough to lose) to actually hurt him, and moves away. I hate it when poor people fight each other. It’s stupid, and it makes me angry. And I know that old guy has been kicked around by a horrible fucked up racist world, I hate that he let it beat him and takes it out on other people, other races.
And I’m still sore from getting hit by a stupid car, and I’m hating that too. I hate the stiffness along my right side and the ache in my shin. And i hate that people in cars don’t watch out for bicyclists.
And I hate the fact that I came home today looking forward to a wee bit of pasta, and all of the pots and pans have mysteriously disappeared. So I had to have tuna instead. And the can opener wasn’t really working. And there was no mayo. And i’m hoping that the pots will return with my roommate.
And you know, I started the day so happy. I’m not entirely sure why I woke up so happy, but I did. And then I wandered down to the liquor store for milk and tortillas and the old guy down there told me I was as beautiful as always even though I was all sleepy and tousled and entirely unwashed. He held my hand as he gave me my change and said he would love to marry me…what a lovely thing for the ego. Because he was very charming about it, and very respectful, and altogether a lovely old man. It’s not so nice when they’re lewd and creepy and look you up and down, I despise those guys, I’d have to hike up the hill to the Korean place.
And so this morning I sat on the bus surrounded by screaming children and wished happiness were contagious, that it could float around me to light up the grime and the dust the way afternoon sun sometimes does, set it dancing and spinning in tiny shining motes of light like golden butterflies. I thought that would be lovely. And then the day beat it out of me.
I wrote this a week ago in an internet free environment…
I’m in Aberdeen with Sara and Rowen and today sparkled with sunshine and rain, the train ride up here was glorious and filled with golden light and green moors and the sea, space around me in all directions, freedom stretching out side to side. And tonight I am absurdly happy. Very few people know happiness I think; I am so lucky.
A great chat, a tramp along a dirt path through the woods alongside a burn, and then a right up the hillside past fields with horses and a high stone wall to Rowen’s school to pick her up. A wee rest and then down to visit Sara’s brother past fields of pigs. We made pasta with fresh vegetables picked from their garden and romped with three tiny puppies who all finally fell asleep in my lap, and played tig and took a walk with the two dogs Bonnie and Meg down the road to the woods. We lost Meg and had to go back to look for her and then lost some time on the great bales of hay. My first time on bales of hay, you can jump and fall and roll around and it is soft almost like I imagine a cloud would be. There is honestly little better in the world than playing tig on bales of hay and clambering up and around and over and falling and not minding a bit. We lost Meg again, Meg was asserting her right not to go for a walk, so back to the house we went and then back home. And watched the empire strikes back munching on biscuits. Nevis the small black mouse had been released to enjoy his freedom a while in the living room, and it took some time to find him. I was having some misgivings about sleeping on the floor in said living room with Nevis running about, not enough to fall asleep somewhere else of course. But I have woken to find myself face to face with a mouse before, in the good old desert days, I can’t say I enjoyed it particularly. Luckily he was found underneath the chest and put to his own bed and so the room is mouse free and I am sleepy.
And I think in spite of everything life is beautiful.
Haven’t written this in ages, because I’ve been writing loads of…of…serious writing I suppose. And living brilliantly. But I had the perfect day yesterday, it was sparkling and glorious and included Hatch chiles on my breakfast eggs and incredible music and Iain Banks in the flesh and Macbeth performed on a jumping castle and activist writing and great company and drink and new friends and a drunk Welshman named Gary Cooper (!) and it went on and on, even continuing into this morning when I left folks sleeping as I headed out into the warm Edinburgh sunshine for my Glasgow bus, but a few hours sleep’s not quite enough and the day grew dark like the fog in my mind. Still I’m happy.
I was thinking thinking thinking about music and writing and wondered if poetry could always become song or song always be poetry, but that thought wasn’t deep enough for my mood and I sang to myself “I’ve legs to walk and thoughts to fly, eyes to laugh and lips to cry, a restless tongue to classify, oh I’m born to grow and grown to die,” which I love because the music and the words together turn my heart inside out and I think perhaps words demand their form as you write them and words meant to be sung must be different than words meant to be spoken aloud must be different then words written to be simply read by someone who can understand them. They all live in the spaces between people; to write for no one is to write words that lie dead. To breathe them life you must strip yourself bare, give everything, spare yourself nothing, seems to me music is the same, the hardest fucking thing you ever do and lucky there’s something driving you to it. And you truly love those few who have somehow found this immense generosity, you know them right away…yet still it is only between the one who gives and the other who truly hears that the greatness happens, I think that’s the beauty of the thing Es algo imprescindible. It’s a fierce rare joy to write something and get it exactly right, you ring golden like a bell, and you share its resonance then it becomes magic…songs, words, music, they are gifts, I saw it yesterday, think that’s partly why I am so happy. So tonight I’m wandering among some of my favourite words and tunes…and I have to say that without paper I would write my words into the sand even if I were the only person on earth, but it’s an amazing thing to give what you create, and to share what others have given.
At my window,
watching the sun go,
hoping the stars know
it’s time to shine,
the day dreams
aloft on dark wings,
soft as the sun streams
at day’s decline,
living is laughing,
and dying says nothing at all,
my babe and I lying here,
watching the evening fall
Townes Van Zandt
Lady in the frilled blouse
And plain tartan skirt
Since you have left the house
It’s emptiness has hurt
In your presence
Time rode easy
Anchored on a smile
But your absence
Rocked love’s balance
Unmoored the days
They buck and bound
Across the calendar
Loosed from the quiet sound
Of your flower tender voice
Así te amo porque no se amar de otra manera..
Sino así de este modo en que no soy ni eres
Tan cerca que tu mano sobre mi pecho es mía
Tan cerca que se cierran tus ojos con mi sueno
(I love you thus because I do not know another way to love
Only this way where I am not I and you are not you
So close that your..nhand on my chest is mine
So close your eyes close with my tiredness
the moon is hiding in
full of all dreams
cover her briefness in singing
close her with intricate faint birds
by daisies and twilights
Possibly the most beautiful poem in the world, ee cummings
Darkness kindled back into beginning
When the caught tongue nodded blind,
A star was broken
Into the centuries of the child
Myselves grieve now, and miracles cannot atone Dylan Thomas
Las palabras fueran avispas…………………The words were wasps
Y las calles como dunas…………………….And the streets like dunes
Cuando aun te espero llegar…………………While i still wait for you.
En un ataúd guardo tu tacto………………In a winding sheet i keep your touch
Y una corona ……………………………….And a crown
con tu pelo enmaranado……………………..tangled in your hair
Queriendo encontrar…………………………wanting to find
un arco iris infinito………………………….An infinite rainbow
Mis manos que aun son de hueso……………my hands that are still of bone
Y tu vientre sabe a pan..…………………….and your stomach tastes of bread
La catedral que es tu cuerpo…………………the cathedral that is your body
No se distinguir………………………………I don’t know how to distinguish
entre besos y raíces………………………….Between kisses and beginnings
No se distinguir………………………………I don’t know how to distinguish
lo complicado de lo simple………………….The complicated from the simple
Y ahora estas en mi lista……………………..And now you are on my list
De promesas a olvidar……………………….Of promises to forget
Todo arde si aplicas………………………….Everything burns if you apply
la chispa adecuada……………………………the adequate spark
Los Heroes del Silencio
Forgive what I give you. Though nightmare and cinders,
The one can be trodden, the other ridden,
We must use what transport we can. Both crunching
Path and bucking dream can take me
Where I shall leave the path and dismount
From the mad-eyed beast and keep my appointment
In green improbable fields with you.
Green improbable fields, damn I wish I wish I’d written that…and to end, all the things I try to believe in, Silvio Rodriguez, though cantera is hard to translate…talent isn’t quite it, ability perhaps…and masa’s hard too…dough might be better than flesh, corn flour mixed with water, but it could never mean the same in English
Si no creyera en lo mas duro…………..If I did not believe in what was hardest
Si no creyera en el deseo……………………If I did not believe in desire
Si no creyera en lo que creo………………If I did not believe in what I believe
Si no creyera en algo puro…………….If I did not believe in something pure
Si no creyera en cada herida……………If I did not believe in every wound
Si no creyera en la que ronde………….If I did not believe in what surrounds
Si no creyera en lo que esconde……….If I did not believe in what is hidden
Hacerse hermano de la vida…………………In becoming a brother to life
Si no creyera en quien me escucha…….If I did not believe in who listens to me
Si no creyera en lo que duele………………..If I did not believe in what hurts
Si no creyera en lo que quede……………If I did not believe in what remains
Si no creyera en lo que lucha………………..If I did not believe in my struggle
Ay que cosa fuera……………… …………..Ay what would I be,
que cosa fuera la masa sin cantera………What would the flesh be without talent
un amasijo hecho de cuerdas y tendones…A mass made of cords and tendons
un revoltijo de carne con madera…………….A mix up of meat and wood
un instrumento sin mejores resplandores……An instrument without greater splendour
que lucesitas montadas para escena………Than little lights staged for a scene
que cosa fuera, corazon, que cosa fuera…..What would I be, heart, what would I be
que cosa fuera la masa sin cantera……What would the flesh be without talent
un testaferro del traidor de los aplausos…A figurehead of the traitor to applause
un servidor de pasado en copa nueva………..A server of the past in a new cup
un eternizador de dioses del ocaso……….…An eternalizer of the western gods
jubilo hervido con trapo y lentejuela…Experience boiled with rags and spangles
que cosa fuera, corazon, que cosa fuera…..What would I be, heart, what would I be
que cosa fuera la masa sin cantera……..What would the flesh be without talent
Fucking hell this is long, inspiring at least to myself but long, I cannot be concise when this tired, and i can never tell whether what emerges from the fog is truth or rubbish…and there are so many lyrics poems words I love, better than sleep to read them but no, I’m off to my bed…