London

In London to hear Bret Easton Ellis discuss Imperial Bedrooms on Tuesday, I took an early train and spent the day.

A wander through Soho and the dubious delights of Carnaby Street led to a veritable treasure of sandwich-making.  Thanks for Franks is nestled just off Carnaby St itself (Yelp) and styled like an American diner-cum-deli.  It serves the kind of giant, meaty sandiwches that characters in American TV shows eat at their desks, dripping teriyaki sauce and/or Thousand Island dressing everywhere but miraculously not on their clothes or any important documents (Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo, I’m looking at you…).  I had the chargrilled chicken, which at £6 wasn’t too bad given the location, and sat outside watching Soho’s wildlife.  Highly recommended.

Denmark Street might not be what it once was, but it’s still a pilgrimage I have to make from time to time.  There are still gems to be found every now and again, such as the lovely 1969 Gibson EB-0 I played.  Can’t afford it at the moment, but someday it’d be a lovely addition to the stable someday.

St George’s Bloomsbury is a pilgrimage of a more traditional sort, one I’ve tried and failed to make a couple of times before.  This time I called ahead. Simply the best preserved and most elegant of Nicholas Hawksmoor’s glorious Baroque London churches, it is a treasure.  My love of English Baroque churches probably stems from a couple of other examples, Derby Cathedral and Holy Trinity Leeds, but St George’s trumps them both for sheer elegance.  The nave is a perfect cube, which seems an unremarkable fact until you think about it for a moment, stood within its geometric simplicity.

The Renaissance Drawings exhibition at the British Museum is well worth a trip, especially if you happen to have a friend who’s a member of the Museum and can get you past the queues.  The Reading Room in its current labyrinthine state is a thing of wonder, as are the drawings themselves.  Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael and a number of their compatriots of whom most of us have never heard, all represented here in the form of sketches, preparatory drawings and the like; artfully arranged and compared with prints of the paintings/sculptures, we see great works of the Renaissance “under construction”, the skin peeled away to reveal the artist’s thoughts, intentions, changes of mind.  For those who love to contemplate the workings of the great minds, it’s a remarkable exhibition.

The greatest hidden gem of all,  nowadays not a very well kept secret at all, is Gabriel’s Wharf (Yelp).   A delightful oasis of calm between Waterloo and Blackfriars Bridge on the South Bank, Gabriel’s Wharf hosts a collection of shops, cafes and bars that seem a genuine, organic aggregation, a world away from the forced, development-agency-project kind of waterfront development we see so much of in cities.  Mere metres from the Thames, Gourmet Pizza Company (Yelp) is my go-to place for reasonably priced dinner on the South Bank (rivalled by Azzurro (Yelp) if you’re more Waterloo way) and once again delivered.  Get a table outside and people-watch to your heart’s content.

Bret Easton Ellis remained as much of an enigma at the end of his hour-and-a-half appearance on the stage of the Queen Elizabeth Hall as he was before we took our seats; he read from Imperial Bedrooms, spoke at length answering questions both from Suzy Feay and members of the audience, but never really let his guard down.  Anything too close to the bone (or just plain boring) he swatted away with a deadpan, one-word response.  Earnest student types would ask overly academic questions about whether or not he felt his work was devalued by certain criticism, to which Ellis would simply reply “No. *pause*  Do I have to go on?”  He discussed the work of David Foster Wallace (“Infinite Jest was unreadable”) and complimented a couple of well-read fans on their “Very funny” questions, but the most eccentric moment came when he announced that “Series 3 of The Hills is like a modern-day Jane Austen novel, only with better names,” said with the same inscrutable, is-he-isn’t-he-kidding tone that pervades both Ellis’s writing and, apparently, his conversations.

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