london, day two

We had breakfast in a little cafe (what New Yorkers call a coffee shop, a real working-person's breakfast spot) in R's neighbourhood. This was my only opportunity to have a full English breakfast on this trip, and it was yummy.

We got a bit of a late start, but that was probably best in the long run. I either did poor research or didn't fully take in what I was reading, because we didn't realize the British Library was no longer part of the British Museum. Last time we were in London, the British Library was closed for its massive renovation. I had really enjoyed it when I was here before, and I knew Allan would want to see it. So first we went to the British Museum, learned our mistake, and got back on the tube to the King's Cross, where the new British Library is located.

The exterior is an unprepossessing building, but the interior is white and light and airy, designed around a glass-encased tower of books, known as The King's Library, with seating all around it. Scores of people were working in the open, sitting in chairs of very clever design - each comfy chair a small L, with a desk for a laptop and a side table for papers and books. There are also standing spots, where you can lean against a tall, slanted back support.

The Library's permanent exhibit has been updated and modernized. When I was there in 1985, if I recall correctly, it was a parade of male British writers and British historical documents. I do also remember seeing a Mozart score. I was still an English major at heart and that was fine with me. Now they've widened their lens. Along with Shakespeare and the Beowulf manuscript, there are early printed documents from China, Japan, Korea, and India, and along with the Gutenberg bibles there are korans and hagaddahs. The music section includes a Beatles display, and there are female authors other than Jane Austen. Also Magna Carta, the Lindisfarne Gospels, and many gorgeous illuminated manuscripts, which I love.

We only went to the permanent exhibit, although there were two current exhibits, one on propaganda and a beautiful display on the detective novel. There's also a huge philatelic collection, contained in a wall of metal plates, stacked side by side, that you can pull out to view. One interesting stamp we saw: from the Lodz ghetto in occupied Poland: judenpost.

In between the British Library and meeting Mara at her workplace, we thought we'd see some of London's great new architecture. We took the tube to London Bridge, came above ground, turned the corner, and WOW, there was The Shard. It's an exciting building.

We walked around to see it from different angles. Looking straight up, against a background of sky and drifting clouds, you get the disconcerting illusion that the building is falling towards you. Because of the building's transparent skin, it looks different at different times of day.

I gather from the media that Londoners have been put off by how expensive it is to visit the observation area - "The View From The Shard" - and how far in advance you have to book: advanced tickets at £25, day-of £30. Then we saw the kicker: "Immediate Access: £100." If you have the dough, you don't have queue up with the riff raff. A class system even for a tourist attraction.

We also saw City Hall, where Mara is working right now, and the top of "The Gherkin", which resembles a giant dildo more than a pickle. Although we didn't see it close up, it seems unappealing in the distance. The shape is interesting but the colour and pattern of the skin seems tacky.

When Mara got out of work, we took a long and seemingly complicated tube ride to Chiswick (pronounced "chis-ick"), and met Justin and their daughter A at a beautiful pub, the Duke of Sussex, a great setting and a really interesting Spanish-themed menu. We ordered a lot of food and wine, and had a really nice time. Mara's daughter is an amazing girl - smart, precocious, adorable, and altogether charming.

When it was almost A's bedtime, Dad and daughter took off, and Allan and I went to another pub and had a quick pint with Mara. Everyone inside was watching a Chelsea v Tottenham game. Neighbourhood pubs are one one of my favourite things about the UK. (They are disappearing, too. I'm told that in the country overall, an average of three pubs close each week.)

We went back to Mara's to see her flat, then a long tube ride back to R's neighbourhood. I love the tube. (We used the hell out of our day passes.) And I love London! This visit was mainly to see friends, but just being in this great city gives me such a charge. I fell in love with London on my first time there in 1982, and only like it more every time I've been back.

This morning we were up very early. R drove us to the tube, which we took to the St Pancras Station, and are now in Paris!

Some photos of London architecture are here.

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