Eden

Today Mr. Henry finds himself in London where the sun is shining. In Dickensian London, the sun did not shine. But in post-millennium London, the sun shines through clear skies. Streets are clean. The Thames is not malodorous. People are tall and apple-cheeked. Men show tattoos. Women show cleavage and leg. No one wears a hat.southbank.jpg

Sea breezes refresh foot-weary tourists rambling along the South Bank. In front of the old power station, now the Tate Modern, freshly planted aspens rustle musically. Street mimes strike frozen positions as standing statues. Their principal artistic achievement seems to lie in the heavy application of spray paint, all of a single color – a blue guitarist, a silver Merlin, a golden Mary Queen of Scots.

A sinuous, undulating woman with blond dredlocks danced erotically with a shiny hula hoop. Propriety prevented Mr. Henry from enjoying the full performance, however, propriety and a glance from Mrs. Henry.

Unwittingly the Henrys became caught up in a march for colitis and Crohn’s disease. Shortly Mr. Henry’s vitals began to rumble in sympathy. It was time for lunch.

At Terence Conran’s Skylon cafe, Mr. Henry ate a bowel-friendly sandwich of grilled courgette and minted hummous, a fresh and delightful pairing of flavors. In a spirit of adventure he bought a muffin of green peas, mint, and feta cheese. It was perfectly horrible. Indeed, the English are a courageous nation. The highlight of the meal was a bag of black pepper and sea salt crisps. The English genuinely appreciate the crisp.

“Mind the gap!” exhorted the Underground conductor. Inside the car, a placard quoted John Milton’s description of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the garden:

They hand in hand, with wand’ring steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way
Paradise Lost. Book xii. Line 645

johnmilton.jpg

“Way Out” read the exit sign.

For dinner their hostess, My Phuong, poached a beautiful clear-eyed Scottish salmon, a special treat after this year’s shocking absence of Pacific salmon. Tangy and bright baby arugula earned its English sobriquet, “rocket.”

Is it the unexpected turns of phrase, the long days, or the driving on the left that so subtly disorients and pleases? Perhaps it’s the wicked high prices. Whatever the reasons, Mr. Henry is delighted to be here in this temporary Eden. Milton understood that all Edens are temporary, so find one for yourself and take your solitary way.

8 Responses to “Eden”

  1. Twistie June 24, 2008 at 8:25 am #

    (is wickedly jealous)

    I want to be in London. How I love and adore that city! It’s the only big city I’ve ever visited that felt like home to me. Some of my fondest memories are of being in London, eating samosas you could get for a pound on any street corner, it seemed. Delicious, fragrant, filling, massive, and very, very cheap.

    The thing I loved about eating in London is that – as Mr. Henry has discovered – the food is generally either sublime or appalling and there’s very little in between. None of this namby-pamby, middle-of-the-road-not-terribly-exciting-but-okay stuff. No, London is an adventure for the taste buds as well as the eye and mind.

    Coming home, Mr. Twistie and I took our chances smuggling back two cans of vegetarian haggis from Fortnum&Mason. Despite the fact they were both canned and labled vegetarian, we were warned that there might be trouble getting them home because of restrictions on importing meat products. We took our chances anyway. The joke was too horrible to leave behind. A very nice customs man at the San Francisco airport let us slip them through when we swore on our mothers’ souls that we would never, ever attempt to open and eat the contents of those cans.

    In fact, he seemed just as amused as we were by the concept of canned vegetarian haggis.

    And yes, we kept our word. We wanted proof. We had no interest in consuming the contents.

  2. raincoaster June 24, 2008 at 6:16 pm #

    Tell Boris raincoaster says hi.

    I have a friend who proudly displays “Breakfast in a can” complete with poached eggs. We all pray he never opens it.

    Who was it who said “There are in England sixty different religious sects and only one sauce”? He had the gist of it right. Then again, if you drink as much as the English do, you wouldn’t care what you dinner tasted like either!

  3. Casey June 24, 2008 at 6:22 pm #

    peas in a muffin? of course it was vile!
    but I love London with a deep and abiding passion and, like Twistie, admit to pea-green envy of your visit.

  4. Leanne June 25, 2008 at 5:47 am #

    was it Somerset Maugham who said “England is the land that food forgot”?

  5. Twistie June 26, 2008 at 8:50 am #

    Oh Raincoaster! Oh, Leanne! Don’t fall for the French propaganda! Not that the French don’t know their way around a kitchen, but I feel quite certain that they are the ones who started the rumor that the Brits can’t cook for beans, and they’re dead wrong.

    Try a couple bites of a proper shepherd’s pie with lamb and vegetables bubbling away under a golden topping of mashed potatoes. Have a hearty, flaky, utterly delectable Cornish pasty. Dig into proper roast beef and Yorkshire pudding with homemade gravy. The food isn’t fussy, but it’s solid and delicious. And if you’ve never tried a proper steamed suet pudding, well, you’ve missed yourself a great and grand treat.

    British food has gotten a bum rap through much of history, but I think it was brought on by a combination of snobbishness and jealousy.

  6. mywhimsey June 26, 2008 at 9:13 am #

    Twistie, I had a former roommate who consumed vegetarian haggis fairly regularly. I beg of you, do not allow those cans to fall into irresponsible hands, hands that may wield a can opener. All I will say is that the smell is simply cannot be conceived of in the human imagination.

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