Friday, April 20, 2007

Impressions on a day...

...In Belgravia

It's nice to drive through, walk through, pop in and out of...but working there felt uncomfortable. Like Conrad's "whited sepulchres" in The Heart of Darkness, London's land of embassies is not conducive to residents. And yet, people who are not affiliated with an embassy insist on living there. Today I worked for a solicitor in a big house off Belgrave Square where she lives with her husband, and both work from home. There were attendance notes dealing with the acquisition of a holiday villa in Barbados (they've just spent 3 months there!), with related fees for golf membership, grounds maintenance, seasonal rental, housekeeping, etc. I also typed out the villa inventory.

And just when I started wondering how long they had lived in the house, she asked me to type up a letter to the Grosvenor Estates (holders of the land on which Belgravia sits) about some dispute with the required colouring of the building and joinery. They bought it in 1997 in a state of disrepair, which apparently was the case with much of the non-diplomatic property in that amazing neighbourhood. Imagine, the people living there now are sitting on fortunes.

Still, I thought they had lived there for decades because of the moth-eaten mish-mash, down to the worn corded tassel in the basement loo, the mismatched threadbare antique chairs, the old red pile carpets so thick I tottered on my heels.


Speaking of heels, I was told to dress smartly this morning, so I did. Black heels, black tights, black skirt with wraparound chain belt, and cotton paisley blouse. I don't usually wear heels with skirts for work, preferring flatter heels, though I do attempt them with trousers for some reason. Anyway, it got me groped on my way out of the Tube station this morning. Was passed by a black guy who seemed to be jogging, and before I knew it my rear end had been grasped. I was too shocked to exclaim because nothing like that has ever happened before, not even in Italy. What is the point of it???


So, what did I see today? When I went out for lunch I walked through the gigantic Belgrave Square, where behind nearly every door there sits an embassy, and the only colour against the backdrop of cream and white are the many flags above the porticos. Also, it is the only time I have ever seen a Neoclassical grocery store. I went in there for my very very yummy sandwich: malted grain bread filled with mashed onion bhaji, cucumber, fresh red onion, mango chutney, mint dressing, and fresh coriander leaf. MmmmMMMmmMMmmMMmm, do try it sometime if you live here.

Waitrose at Belgrave Square

When I was leaving, I saw a black Mercedes pull up in front. The driver got up and ran round to let out a typical casually westernised Mideastern lady, you know, with the sunglasses in her hair, tight jeans and pointy snakeskin shoes, and as she strode into the store he literally trotted behind her, leaving the car right...where he...left it... I nearly laughed out loud at the scene. I am sure she didn't carry her own basket, oh no. I imagine she is the wife of one of the ambassadors lurking in the neighbourhood and lifts a finger for nothing.

Behind that Merc was another, and then behind that was a gorgeous gunmetal grey Rolls Royce Silver Cloud, purring as it awaited an opportunity to ooze into the stream of traffic.

The 40-50 year old classic Rolls Royce Silver Cloud

I walked back to the solicitor's house, around the square rather than through it, as this is one of the London gardens reserved only for keyholding residents. No way through that wrought iron fence for me, not like at St James's Square...

Homage to Leonardo in Belgrave Square garden.

She let me sit in the garden. Let me describe this typical London space. It is a patio actually (which is probably why residents need a garden in the square). There are trellisses against the fences, overflowing with all manner of creeping vine and vegetation. There is a deck table and chairs, an outdoor heater like the ones on restaurant terraces, a koi pond, and at the very end the impression of a nymphaeum with a classical statue standing before three mirrored arches. Looking back towards the house with its doors and windows was a black painted iron staircase spiraling down from the first floor, and a juliet balcony on the third (or vice versa). All this in an area about 12 ft by 24 ft, and that's one of the larger London patios!

I prefer a garden ANYDAY. Although quite pretty, this entire house and garden felt like a gilded cage. I think I have been living in the garden suburb of St John's Wood for too long...! And I have never lived without a garden before.


Another reason I dressed smartly is because I was on a standby list for entry to the famed Chinawhite club, but didn't get the call, so after work I took a couple of stops west to Knightsbridge and went shopping at Harvey Nichols. The Food Hall carries an astounding "kick yo' ass hot" snack mix from Arizona. Habanero pepper, say no more. I love it, and have been meaning to go back for more.

I also needed to get my cousin (the charity director) a birthday gift. As she has everything and is quite fussy...I didn't know what to do. I settled on a lead-free pewter jam spoon that hooks onto the ledge of the jar. It very organic and not like anything I have seen recently, but I do think the Baroque metalworkers would appreciate it.

(I think I got her the shell one...)

The gift wrapping was complimentary, and I had a choice of occasional paper or classic silver and white Harvey Nicks with a silver bow. I thought that would complement the spoon nicely, so I chose that. I also had her wrap the book (signed by the authors!) I bought in the Food Hall for [someone I have just realised reads this blog]. I will send that for her [special occasion].

Right, you will hear from me after the weekend. I have a dinner on Sunday and day one at the A.C. on Monday...catch you then!


L B said...

Come to think of it... I've never been groped before.. not by a total stranger anyway.. *sigh* Life is so unfair! Oh well... The spoons are so totally cool!!

Anonymous said...

I totaly love the spoons


Memoria said...

I can't believe you were groped! (side note: why was it necessary to mention the race of the guy? You never do that for other people you describe in your blogs...interesting)

I would love to see what you wore that day. Sounds like you looked so cute.

Olivia said...

LB - trust me, you don't want to be.


Jia - quirky enough for you to like eh!


Memoria - Aie! Because, after a while it becomes undeniable. Guess who mugged me outside my house? Guess who whispers dirty/unintelligible things in my ear on the street? When I lived with my aunt in East London I used to be afraid to go home after dark because it was a rough area and I had been menaced even in daylight.

Anyway, I mentioned the two Arab guys in the park last week...

Katja said...

I've never been groped, although I've had plenty of 'hellos' when I dress up smartly.

Have a lovely weekend :)

Selba said...

East London is unsafe place? Wah... I couldn't believe that even in Europe, there are unsafe place.

Olivia said...

Katja - that must happen daily because you always dress smart!


Selba - every city has unsafe neighbourhoods, people are the same all over the world. Even shootings occur in London, not far from where my aunt used to live.

Guyana-Gyal said...

Ahhh, Olivia, I knew I could depend on you to provide my *escape*. What a delicious life...okay, the groping was not delish, but the rest of it, your observations, dry humour, love of beautiful things...I enjoy.

I just finished reading The Devil Wears Prada [a great flu book]...that mid-East woman made me remember.

Olivia said...

Gyal - ah, makes my day that you enjoy it so much!

I am about to finish reading that book too!

Dan said...

Hi Olivia! If you're going to use a photo of my personal car, at least give me credit! :)

Thanks for linking to me! That was very sweet of you! I have done the same. And to respond to something you said on my blog, I think it's so cool that you got your mom to sport a Louise Brooks haircut for a few years. Any photos from then? :)

Mikeachim said...

I'm....I'm sorry for groping you. I just....well, I kinda had a moment.
And I'm tanned, I'll have you know.
I enjoyed your word-pictures of Belgravia. Very evocative. But not my cup of tea. (Although saying that identifies me as easily English enough). I've strolled through, and it was.....fanatically tamed. Everything that could have gone awry had been wrestled to the ground and subdued, particularly the gardens. Me, I like it wild.
The bowls of the spoons are fascinatingly crinkly-crumbly-cracked. I bet it would feel nice against the mouth.
Good for a nice spoonful of Nutella.

Olivia said...

Dan - hehe, yea I totally stole your piccie!

Thanks for linking to me, and for responding here, it saves me from scrolling through 300 comments!

Sadly, no pics with me of her haircut. They're all in storage.


Mike - you are jogging to Greece and happened to be in London?!?!?

Yes, the resident covenants in Belgravia, though somewhat disagreeable to me, reminded me of our neighbourhood outside of Houston. We chose it for the covenants, so we had tidy streets and well-maintained houses set far back from the street, with imaginative landscaping, but we also had huuuge backyards and friendly neighbours, never locked our doors, it was perfect.

I am giving my cousin her spoon today, I hope she likes it. She will probably laugh at it, but secretly treasure it.

tooners said...

i just love this blog.

first, i've been groped one time in the souq... if i had known who it was, i think i would have slapped him. i don't understand the need for it.

i love the gift you bought. you pick such interesting things! did she like it?

the job sounds rather intriguing in that it's so personal. are you still working there or was it only a temp?

Anonymous said...

Ooh Livsy! Getting groped! Honestly..some people are so uncouth ;)

That waitrose is so fancy!! Our waitrose doesn't have stone pillars!! Oh to be wealthy and live there!

Hope you're okay honey.xx

AmitL said...

Great pics,Olivia.:)And,quite bad about the groping part...I guess some perverts exist everywhere....ooph,the sandwich sounds quite yummy,especially since it's veggie.What is a neoclassical grocery store,btw?And,how was day one at the A.C.??:)

amillionpieces said...

Hey! Congrats on getting in at the Arts Council! x

The Moody Minstrel said...

I guess subway groping is not as "uniquely Japanese" as the media here would like to think. I'm sorry it had to happen to you, m'lady!

A garden rather than a fancy, gilded cage...truer words have never been spoken! Then again, with my country-hicks-pretending-to-be-suburbanites upbringing and corresponding lack of refinement, I wound up being treated with extreme contempt at a menswear shop in Oxford Circus (even though I bought a fairly expensive jacket there) when I was in London. If I ever tried to wander into Belgravia I'd probably wind up getting sprayed with pesticide!

ML said...

Beautiful spoons! Perfect gift for the fussy person who has everything.

Sorry about the groping by the world's biggest assjaw!

Anonymous said...

what moi! Quirky? Nooooooo


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