Here it is, exactly 5:51 PM September 21, the official final setting of the sun on Summer 2016 on the Long Island Sound:
But the best was yet to come! 23 minutes later, at 6:14 PM, the sky lit up like this:
Oh, it was a joy to behold. Let’s hope that the meaning that we dredge out of this play of light illuminates our way as we head into the deepening darkness of Fall and the Winter Solstice (you now, some meaningful something about the amount of brilliance left in the year and being present when it presents itself, yada yada yada).
But I still have a bit of Summer left to show you today — so let’s all get into the Way Back Machine to August in London:
Once upon a time in the Chelsea Physic Garden, specifically in 2001 back when the place was not one of the Top Ten Gardens in the UK (and overrun with visitors might I add), “refreshments” meant a cup of tea and a slice of home-baked cake, at the cost of one pound, provided for sale by the lady volunteers who pretty much ran the garden.
This is what the fluorescent-lit tea room, complete with oil cloth table coverings, looked like in those long-ago times:
Here is what it looks like now (“Now” being August 16, 2016):
Back in those simpler days of yore, this was the full extent of the menu options:
Now-a-days, this (below) is the kind of thing you chow down on for “refreshments” at the Chelsea Physic Garden:
This is what the north side of the Great Lawn looked like back in the days when English people (c. 2001) did not crave a goat cheese tart during their stroll in the Chelsea Physic Garden:
And this is what it looks like now:
The average tab for a single lunch with a glass of wine at the Tangerine Dream is £25 ($32.50). This is now called a bargain, considering the venue and location (in the swanky Royal Borough of Chelsea) and the fact that London is getting terribly terribly chic all over.
The Chelsea Physic Garden and The Tangerine Dream, and in fact any other nifty piece of business in London, or, for that matter, in any little po-dunk at home or abroad, is described over and over as “a hidden gem“. I object to this usage. First because the term “hidden gem” is stupid. Secondly because gems are not, as a rule, “hidden”: gems are universally treasured as status symbols throughout the world and as such are usually flaunted in front of others, shown off in glittering settings such as reality stars’ engagement rings, Elizabeth Taylor necklaces, royal tiaras, scepters, sacred reliquaries, and the like. The only reason that a gem would ever be hidden is because it is either stolen or cursed. So what on Earth does it mean to call something a “hidden gem”???
This “hidden gem” thing is a case of something sounding good — it does, after all, have two great buzz words, “hidden” and “gem” in it — so it gets used frequently by people who like the sound of words but don’t pay particular attention to their meaning. In other words, amateurs, and bad writers.
So, people, unless you can come up with an example of a literal “hidden gem” that would make sense of this term, stop annoying me and delete “hidden gem” from your vocabulary and find some other way to describe a pleasure or instance of beauty that is out-of-the-way, over-looked, under-appreciated, or simply new to you.
The Chelsea Physic Garden is now a well-known tourist attraction and the Tangerine Dream is often so packed that the only way to get a seat under the gazebo is to make a reservation several days beforehand, so neither, by any stretch of the imagination, is hidden.
The main attractions of the Chelsea Physic Garden are, for me, the Wollemi Pine (see: Gardens of Awe and Folly, Key West chapter) thriving near the fernery on the north wall (which I neglected to photograph for you; sorry about that), and this:
That is how I got it in my brain that my visit to London would not be complete without a glass of English wine. As you can tell from my previous post (You’re Never Too Old For A Pub Crawl) I had many opportunities to ask after a glass of English wine, but I never found on on the menu as it is not commonly served in London pubs and speakeasies. So on my final day in London I headed to my trusty wine shop in Earl’s Court and asked for a bottle of Britain’s finest.
The gracious staffer at Odd Bins on Earl’s Court Road explained that English wines are not that easy to find because the locally produced vintages are rather expensive compared to the continental stuff, which is really cheap. He searched his inventory and offered me three choices, a sparkling white wine and two kinds of rose. I of course went with the bubbly:
Since I am used to the high price of imported wines, I did not flinch at the £19.50 price tag of this excellent Brut Reserve Sparkling from Lyme Bay winery in Devon (West Country), a “fruit-driven sparkling wine that displays refreshing lemon and green apple notes, with a vibrant and creamy mousse finish.”
No. 2 Top Drinking Experience in London: I brought this special bottle to the Last Night in London Toast gathering of me, Top Cat, my sister, her husband, and the unbearably cute cats they were babysitting:
I highly recommend the Odd Bins on Earl’s Court Road and the Lyme Bay Reserve and the company of cats to make your London visit complete.
Which brings me to my No. 1 Top Drinking Experience in London:
Yes, we are back at the Savoy, sight of the infamous Attitude Adjustment Incident. But I’m bringing you back here because I did not tell you the real story as to how Top Cat and I fetched up at this 5-star watering hole (just in time to have our first fight on our first day in London).
Back in the early aughts (sometime in 2000 or 2001) I had come here, to the Savoy’s famous American Bar for a martini. At that time, it was hard to imagine how a martini cold be worse than the one I got at the American Bar at the Savoy. It was tiny — no more than a 4-oz dollop of alcohol; it was room temperature; and it was served in a very dinky parfait glass:
That’s why, when I went to the Dorchester the next evening, I grilled the bartender before I ordered a drink: Do you know how to make a martini? Can you show me the glass you serve it in?
Well, it’s been 15 years since I ordered a martini in London and I was very curious to see if the Savoy had changed with the times, and was capable of serving a decent martini. As I have already discussed, the answer is yes, and yes.
I might mention that ordering a drink at the American Bar is daunting. The drinks menu, which was completely re-vamped in January 2016, is a fat little pamphlet describing 24 drinks that pay homage to London landmarks such as the studio where Alfred Hitchcock filmed some of his classics, Abbey Road Studios, and the original 13th-century estate that eventually became the site of the Savoy.
“With these stories, what we want is to set up a day for a guest who is visiting London for a day or two by having a cocktail at the bar,” head bartender Erik Lorincz says, “and then recommend that they visit the actual place where we took the inspiration from.”
Well, I rather doubt that. But they did go to a lot of trouble to make a little silent movie about one cocktail called “Pickering Place”:
Getting a martini at the Savoy is complicated because you have to call your gin or vodka, but not without reading a full description of each liquor’s place of origin, bouquet, pedigree, favorite movie, most recent book read, and how long its last relationship lasted. In other words, it’s as grueling as a first date.
I chose a homely and inexpensive little potato vodka for me and Top Cat. Two drinks plus a tid bit dish came to £38 ($49.40). The Savoy is not for the feint of heart.
I also got a great photo of two ladies inspecting the earrings one of them had bought at Harvey Nichols (with the pianist in the background):
I also wanted to come to The Savoy because I had read that there was a Cocktail Museum near the America Bar:
It’s actually only one cabinet of old bottles, if the ilk “Marlene Dietrich’s favorite scotch”.
But mostly I had to go back to the Savoy because of the cat it keeps in its lobby:
This is Kaspar, the cat that lives in the lobby of the Savoy, who was, luckily, not engaged in saving lives when I came to visit:
Here’s the story:
In 1898, the diamond magnate Woolf Joel held a dinner party for 14 guests at the London hotel. One invitee had to drop out at the last minute, reducing the number of diners to 13, an unlucky number that prompted one one dinner guest to warn that death would befall the first person to leave the table. Mr. Joel scoffed at the idea and, to prove his disdain for superstition, he left first. Weeks later he was shot dead in Johannesburg.
Shocked by the news, and anxious to avoid a repeat of such ill fate, The Savoy decided to always provide an extra guest for every table of thirteen. Initially the hotel had a member of staff sit amongst the diners, but this proved unpopular. Guests felt unable to discuss their private matters freely in front of the help. Thus, in a stroke of genius, Kaspar was created – sculpted into life by architect Basil Ionides in 1926 — a 2ft-high feline sculpture to become the permanent 14th dinner guest.
You can also see Kaspar at the entrance to the Savoy, on the only street in London where cars drive on the right (making it easier for guests to exit their limos and enter the hotel):
The American Bar is one of the rare examples of Art Deco in London, a city that did not embrace the style during its heyday of the 1920s and 30s. And, in fact, Kaspar himself is very much an Art Deco kitty also. . . but is he the only Art Deco kitty you can find in this city?
In fact, he is NOT the only Art Deco kitty you can find in London, if you know where to look. And, Dear Readers, I know where to look!
But that’s another cat story.
Here’s another look at the last sun set of Summer 2016 on the Long Island Sound:
Here it is reflected in the windows of the neighbor’s house:
And this is the last delivery of a 2016 Blue Jay feather (on my driveway):
Thank you, Summer of 2016.
As far as the Summer of 2016 is concerned, our Australian friends are just starting theirs (or is it the Summer of ’17 already?) — and I hope all our wonderful Aussie readers in the southwest are safe and dry! We are watching the weather reports about the 50-year cyclone about to hit and are very concerned — hold on!