After braving Ryannair once more--they were just dandy, even if they were a whole ten minutes late--plus a punctilously officious border guard ("it's on moy back, innit, if they send you back!" he puffed) because my passport lacks my German residency permit, I was finally allowed to set foot in Albion. Still, it only took an additional ten minutes for me to convince him that I really do have a husband and children in Germany, plus the residency permit in my old passport, which is around on my desk somewhere.
Right now I'm in some bat cave reserved for Americans at the Clarendon hotel in Bloomsbury--outside my window a moldy cement square, the official drainpipe, and, when I look up, the fence at street level one flight up, atop some shaky-looking bricks. Plus a plant or two, hiding from the feet of passersby. T.S. Eliot would have loved to write about this--in fact, he did:
THEY are rattling breakfast plates in basement kitchens,
And along the trampled edges of the street
I am aware of the damp souls of housemaids
Sprouting despondently at area gates.
The brown waves of fog toss up to me
Twisted faces from the bottom of the street,
And tear from a passer-by with muddy skirts
An aimless smile . . .
but hey, the bed's comfortable, the shower has hot water after a nanosecond or two, but not the extreme pressure I like. And although the internet connection remains unpredictable as British weather (and you have to pay for it), really, the place is not so bad. The very young staff, mostly Eastern European and Indian, are Upstairs Downstairs eager to please. I wish the breakfast were better than cold hard boiled eggs, cold everything except the toast in the weird little torture-rack of a thingie that seems designed to torment it into coolness . . . if they'd just put it on a plate some of the heat would remain in the toast which is, after all, in my book supposed to be toasty. And quiet, it ain't. A thin ceiling separates me from loud, and getting louder drunken laughter.
The rest of London swirls rainily around me . . . down the street at the Penn Club, where the gargoyles, my mother and my aunt, are staying, the breakfast includes stronger coffee, scrambled eggs, and oatmeal, which the British persist in calling "porridge." So okay, it still tastes good. But my aunt likes to tell my mother, "You were so D-R-U-N-K last night you said you couldn't dial the phone." Then my mother says, "Oh, yes I could!" Nodding at me she points to my aunt: "She's really slow. Can't hear anything either." My aunt shakes her head, "Well, my ex-husband was an alcoholic, so I'm sensitive to these things, and I'm worried that you might become one." Both of these ladies are in their nineties and nothing stops them. Not to be outdone, my mother asks: "Well, whatever happened to your former son in law?" My aunt shakes her head, "Well, of course, we haven't heard from him for years. He was C-D, YOU KNOW, A CROSS-DRESSER, BUT DON'T TELL ANYONE!" she brays. Details get thrown down like gauntlets: he was too drunk to visit the kid, the kid finally said, "it's his loss." The harpies stare at each other, out of steam for the moment. When they do this at breakfast, I order more coffee. At dinner, more red wine. While they drink, they remain silent. Since both seem deaf as posts, but insist that they don't need their hearing aids, they speak very loudly indeed. I like to tell myself that no car could ever run over the two of them--despite London traffic, you can hear them halfway down the block, each stridently insisting that the other forgot something or that YOUR PURSE IS TOO SMALL WE HAVE TO BUY YOU A BIGGER ONE.
Yesterday I went to a ballet class taught by Ian Knowles at the Pineapple dance studios--a dream come true, everything about the place from the perfect class (my back no longer hurts!) to the shabby gentility of its style--how it reminds me of New York in the late seventies, floors and all--was a dream come true. A lovely, placed class with a teacher whose dry wit--shades of David Howard--delighted me. Today I went to tap, and that was fun, too.
So now it's off to the "gimrack" shops, as the gargoyles say, to buy my children plaster casts of Big Ben, The London Eye, and Buckingham Palace. And that'll do . . . I'm too tired to visit the real ones.
I'm lying in bed contemplating another of those delicious dance classes but sometime I've just got to get the oldest kid a bobble-headed King Henry VIII to go with his bobble-headed Caesar. The younger son would like statues of Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and the London Eye, all of which I'd rather buy than visit. My daughter would love a real cardigan, which is something I can't find in Germany, at least not a design-free one. I wandered through the Elgin marbles this morning with my mother, who wondered whether the Barbarians or the Christians had "chopped off the male members," as she put it. I don't know. Do you?