Woke up early in an effort to get to St. James Palace for the start of the Tour DE France: unfortunately, a full English breakfast (eggs and oatmeal and toast and jam!) and some Oyster-accumulation and misdirection on the tube cost Cassie and me some time, and we arrived at St. James Park a half hour after the riders to see Tour Detritus like barricades and skinny wannabes in US Postal Service jerseys. We were in time to catch the Changing of the Guard over at Buckingham Palace, which was especially crowded with Tour Tourists. Wandering away, we went past St. James Palace (official residence of Prince Charles) and over to Piccadilly Street, where we checked in briefly at St. James Church during the singing Eucharist.
Piccadilly is home to many famous retailers, among them grocers Fortnum and Mason, who were under construction as they prepared for their tercentennial celebration. The first floor featured an extensive array of teas, jams, pastries, and a glassed-in display of chocolates that almost killed me. The basement held a meat and cheese shop, a wine tasting bar with caviar and champagne luncheons, as well as food accessories and oddities of every kind, including one brand of vodka with a real (and “completely edible!”) scorpion inside each bottle. My other favorites included the aged-for-sixty-years balsamic vinegar (which went for 60 pounds/tiny bottle) and the 117-pound foie gras. The full store reopens in September, and supposedly also carries clothing and accessories and has a café and restaurant. Even under construction, with three floors out of commission, this was the most stunningly well-equipped and arranged grocery/department store I have ever seen. The fact that the staff all wore tailcoats certainly did not harm my impression. I bought a large plain scone and some “Traditional clotted cream from Cornwall,” and Cassie and I made our way to the Royal Academy of Arts courtyard, where three large abstract bronze dinosaurs stood over springs that bubbled gently from the stone and ran shallowly down hill in different directions. The sound was terrific, and it was so pleasant to sit on a bench, eating a scone and clotted cream with water flowing all around. The installation is called something like “The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth, But Not the Mineral Rights.” I can’t tell how politically charged it’s supposed to make me feel, but it sure was fun to eat a scone there. Around two o'clock we wandered further down Piccadilly to the Underground, and rode it back to Euston Station, which is a very short walk from Hughes Parry. Back at home, I finished unpacking, looked through the packet we were given last night, and read a little of Dan Rebellato’s “1956 and All That.”
After a two-hour nap, seven of us went to dinner at Shah, an Indian restaurant off Euston Road. I had spicy chicken and naan, while flashy Indian music videos played behind me. One featured a large and very Catholic church and many flirtatious eyes and giggling smiles. A few of us stopped to get dinner for tomorrow night – pasta and tomato pesto! – and returned home to Hughes Parry for some reading and sleeping and showering and strawberry eating. Tomorrow is our first day at the Paul Mellon Centre: introductions, tours, and a little architecture.
SPECIAL NOTE: Tap water is irritable to waiters in restaurants. If you order it, you get one small glass, and one small glass only. I imagine foreigners suffer dehydration at purveyors of spicy foods on the regular.