Fancy Eating with Padre: Sale e Pepe

There is nowhere in Knightsbridge/Kensington or Soho that sells cannoli at 4pm on a Thursday. It- may not be a question asked by many, but it was a lesson that I learned the long way.

The cannoli hunt was a failure, but it led to finding Sale e Pepe, a treat for my birthday. From the outside it looked dead and small, with roadworks in front of it adding to some attraction, but stickers on the door,  hunger, rain, and the assumption that a restaurant near the back of Harrod’s can’t be all bad was sufficient reason to enter.

Perhaps you will find this Google summary more enticing:

“Enduring contemporary trattoria with a classic menu, a lively atmosphere and singing waiters.”

Or the opening of the restaurant’s own website.

“With over forty years of service, Sale e Pepe continues to attract loyal clientele from all over the world.”

Indeed, dear padre and I have been here twice, making it our regular “fancy Italian” and maybe soon we, too, can call ourselves “loyal clientele”. (Our other regular restaurant, in case you were wondering, is Bleeding Heart Bistro, where we were greeted on our last visit with a “long time” from the waiter).

A good Italian is hard to find. Yet Italian food is the world, or maybe just Europe, over consistently among the most popular of cuisines both for eating in and eating out. If you would like a mediocre Italian, we are simply spoiled for choice. For such a simple cuisine (that is, the spicing is not complex) it really should be much easier to find a good place, I used to complain, before learning that ingredients, chef’s skill, and love (that’s amore) are all required to make a good Italian restaurant. Unfortunately, the first of this recipe means that the good Italians that I have found have been on the pricier side. If you have  a recommendation for a non-Knightsbridge Italian, please do let me know. My goodness,  the ‘Best Italian Restaurants’ list on TripAdvisor is harrowing.

My other recommendations/good experiences in Italian restaurants in the capital are the now-closed Fabrizio, and Signor Sassi, so good that their menus don’t have prices, for the Spaghetti Lobster.  Here I am looking for affordable, good Italian restaurants and recommending lobster.

At Sale e Pepe, other affordable dishes that I will recommend are the Grigliata di Pesce Misto, or a rather generous mixed grilled fish, scallops and prawns to you and I, and the daily pasta special of bay scallops pappardelle (“thicker, flatter tagliatelli”), a useless recommendation unless you visit on certain days but a recommendation nonetheless. My dad recommends the veal escalopes, either way, which he orders by pointing at the menu.

For wine we share a half bottle of the orvieto, which gives me the confidence to bombastically speak Italian when ordering and speaking to the waiters.

The waiters sometimes sing. For our early dinners we have only been privy to this once, much to our surprise, but as Google says, this is one of the draws and one of the benefits of this particular accidental finds. Dinner and a show, dinner and a show, listen to them sing, and away we go.

Dessert is good, though I am by this point at my mildly-drunk, overly-caffeinated, ready-to-have-a-deep-conversation stage of dining; I am in my element, I comment on the number of mirrors in the restaurant during the dessert course on both visits.

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Hall of Mirrors; somewhere to talk business and life

At restaurants, padre always makes a point of calling me his “daughter” to waiting staff. It must be tough being a white man with a half Chinese daughter.

All desserts are £7.50. They recommend the tiramisu the first time. The tiramisu at Signor Sassi is better (though I was even more drunk, caffeinated and having a deep conversation on that occasion), but both (sorry Pierre, bonjour Pierre) are better than Pierre’s homemade tiramisu, which is an endorsement as Pierre does a very good tiramisu; tiramisu is my litmus test of both home cooks and Italian restaurants. Padre had the lemon tart which he couldn’t finish and I vaguely remember as being good although the Gran Marnier has fogged that memory. The Semifreddo al Cioccolato is the best restaurant dessert I have had in 2017, strike that, best dessert of 2017, even if I didn’t understand what a semifreddo was and look forlornly at the lack of chocolate ice cream on the plate; chocolate ice cream is within, not brazenly scooped on the plate.

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Semifreddo, courtesy of TripAdvisor

Third time will be the charm for visiting when it’s not pissing it down. Umbrellas in the closet, a damp slog through RBKC, a fine coffee at the Rembrandt Hotel.

Salute!

Sale e Pepe, 9-15 Pavilion Road, London, SW1X 0HD, +44 (0)207 235 0098

Holes in the Wall: This & That Cafe

Ever since I moved to London I have tried to make my return visits to Manchester ones which are memorable and explorative for my friends and I. In spite of having lived in Manchester for some six years, it has been on the sporadic return visits that I seem to have better explored some of the city’s best ‘hidden’ restaurants (I say ‘hidden’ more in terms of geographic location and also not being a chain), although This and That has featured on a large number of ‘Best Cheap Eats in Manchester’-type listicles that I used to wile away my work days reading, and it also proudly proclaims itself to be ‘Manchester’s Favourite Curry House’ (I thought that was Mughli, which I have also never visited) on its website.

It was March 2016. My friend Carl and I went to the Chinese Centre for Contemporary Art and learned that Chinese Contemporary Art wasn’t really our thing and that our years lived in Manchester having avoided the gallery weren’t wasted ones. That isn’t to say that the gallery is bad – indeed, it is quite good – just that we have not yet reached a stage in our lives that it is something that we can understand and fully appreciate. As such, we talked about relationships and Lenten sacrifices.

We met a third friend just before midday and ambled through the Manchester rain for, at 12pm, the earliest curry of all of our lives. How did three twentysomethings manage to reach this age without having a breakfast curry? Why, a commitment to a healthy diet, of course, says the girl who used to eat nearly expired Nando’s chocolate cake at 7am.

My mother often says that she doesn’t think that I would like something because it would be ‘beneath’ me. To be fair to her, several of the restaurants that I have been to since I moved to London have been of the Ivy Café (one of my favourites) and SushiSamba (a disappointment) variety, and these are the restaurants I tend to tell her about so she can live vicariously through me. However, when listing my preferred restaurants, often they are those which lazy writers such as myself would call ‘authentic’, that is to say ‘a type of cuisine cooked by the person from the country that it originated’. Rent prices mean that this type of restaurant is usually situated in a less-than-glamorous side of town, and that if you are going out to eat with me you should either expect to have to wear a tie or follow me down an alley.

Alley it is. A wet, stinking Manchester alley. The entrance is a metal door.

Source: This & That. Picture the door closed and the alley wet.

After briefly wondering if I was leading them to a premature death, my friends were pleasantly surprised that there was indeed a restaurant inside and that the promise of three curries for £5.50 (£3.90 if you’re going all vegetarian) was true.

Tables and service are cafeteria-style, though the staff are friendlier than my school lunchladies even if on asking for a recommendation they just piled the food on (lamb, chicken, daal, all fine choices). The menu is a ‘day by day’ menu rather than a regular menu, so really it’s a place to go when you fancy ‘curry’ rather than if you have your heart set on a rogan josh or whatever your curry of choice is. There are sauces and onions which can be added free of charge next to the cutlery station and jugs of water.

The three of us were impressed with the food. Maybe I was just impressed with the portions and that it is quite different from your regular Indian fare. I have since learned that I have stomach issues with curry and so the saltiness that I have tasted may have had more to do with that than the fineries of the food itself.

It wasn’t enough to put me off though, and on another occasion I took an ex-work colleague who, impressed by the portion size and ‘authenticity’, vowed to take her boyfriend here. Seven months on, she still hasn’t. On a completely different occasion when I still lived in Manchester, my friend tried to take me to a rice and three café, but all of them (Marhaba, Yadgar) were closed, as was a Korean place, and we had to settle on Thai food in a supermarket, which was two thumbs up on the ‘authenticity’ scale.

This is a Manchester institution for a reason, and worth a visit if you actually like and can handle Indian food. What accolades I am giving here!

Carl has since become my ‘friend that I take to weird places’, including the gallery next door to the gallery that I had actually intended on going to in which we spent an uncomfortable minute alone in a mirrored box with an equally confused Chinese tourist, to a near-empty thuggish pool hall, and for Ethiopian food (more on that later). In turn, I am his ‘friend who takes him to weird places that he can later take other friends to). A friendship to be treasured indeed. Such a shame that he is moving to North Carolina.

This & That Café, 3 Soap Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester M4 1EW

No Harmo in Some Parmo

I went to visit my Aunt in Yarm. She and I aren’t very close, and this weekend visit totalled more time that we had spent together than in the rest of my life. It was nice.

The weekend itinerary was as follows:

Whitby: lot of goths; best fish and chips in the country.

Durham: sound cathedral and cake, though I was outraged at having to pay extra for cream on a scone. Whipped cream, not clotted. Outraged.

Darlington: hide in an alley.

Yarm: lover’s walk, for family.

On the second evening she took me to her local pub for the Teesside specialty of Chicken Parmesan. We had nachos to start. Our family has a famously large appetite for such small Chinese people.

“There aren’t any all you can eat restaurants in Hong Kong. They would be out of business very quickly.”

She went for the standard Parmo. I went for the hotshot, which came with jalapenos, chorizo and a spicy sauce on top of the already artery-clogging breaded chicken and cheese. She had only had a Parmo once before, from her local takeaway. This was better. Having tried both Parmo and Hotshot I would recommend the Hotshot, though I like sauce and spice so of course I would.

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Real food. Hearty food. I finished everything except five chips. I thought I was going to collapse. Good work, Teesside. I don’t know how you aren’t all dead.

The pub, village, and overall trip were all lovely (“lovely”. What an inoffensive adjective), with the north east of England having perhaps the most attractive train journeys outside of the Highlands. This is Real England, and it is awful and awe-ful in equal measure.

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The Pot and Glass, Church Rd, Egglescliffe Vilage, Stockton-on-Tees TS16 9DQ

Eatalian: Mercato Metropolitano

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Cannoli is a wonderful thing / For when I eat / My heart will sing

Fresh from a lacklustre and overpriced Chinese meal (Hutong at the Shard. It was a tourist day) we embarked on a walk and a hunt for dessert.

What was just several short months ago a patch of industrial wasteland is now the Mercato Metropolitano, an overpriced slice of Italia at the confluence of Elephant, Borough and Newington.

If you can afford to buy property in London right now, buy Elephant.

Initially set on gelato, the £3.50 per scoop price tag tempered our appetite for  that. Freshly-piped Sicilian giant cannoli for £3.90 was the winner, with a side of Americanos. The Sicialian stall is in the outdoor area and the owner is rarely at his pitch.

For somewhere so close to London Bridge and ‘bustling’ Borough Market, the MM is eerily quiet. I returned on my final day in London with Hans for some celebratory/commiseratory cannolis and it was still the case, even though more had opened.

The MM positions itself as an Italian market, with an Italian grocery, the aforementioned gelateria, Sicialian stall (cannoli and arancini), and café, as well as pizza, bakeries, pasta stalls, delis, and Aperol Spritz by the barrel-load. To try and enhance its commercial viability there is an ever-growing number of non-Italian stalls, including “traditional English food”.

A solid idea, but the actuality feels oddly lacking. Once its roots have more firmly taken, maybe it will entice more people further down Newington Causeway, bringing life to the badlands.

Forza to London’s new Little Italy (Piccolo Italia?) and make Italian food – arguably the greatest of all the cuisines – regain its crown from the sea of fads.

Museum of the Present

What is culture? What is a museum? And why do we visit them?

The hoardes of tourists that crowd the great cultural tombs that are museums will surely give a cacophony of different responses to each of these questions, and each response, especially to the final question, is surely valid in its own right.

But is a museum still serving its purpose? And will it continue doing so into the future?

Most people, I’m sure, will hope to the positive on all of these respects. Museum attendance, particularly in metropolitan and tourist centres, remains high, and architectural tenders for museums, galleries and other cultural buildings continues to be among the highest of all building typologies – and those which architects respond to with the greatest gusto.

One of my favourite Friday post-work pasttimes when in London was attending museums. The ‘new’ Tate Modern is one which I would recommend when the week’s tiredness has got too much, as it had for me. I wish I understood modern art more, but in a haze of hangover and exhaustion, I finally began to understand it. It’s about an emotion. It’s about beauty. And I felt a lot of those things wandering the vast galleries of Herzog + de Meuron’s new mausoleum of the fashionable (with added irritation to the residents of the Rodgers’ apartments across the way).

The National Gallery is somewhere that I would recommend to anyone at any time, as long as you aren’t too averse to crowds. It remains my favourite gallery in London, although Tate Modern and Newport Street Gallery may be my favourite gallery spaces.

Then there is the British Museum, where the initial questions in these posts first came into my head. This vast collection of geographical and historical ephemera which has been collected for centuries. It stands as one of the finest cultural institutions in the world, and is consistently one of the globe’s most visited. Yet I remain largely ambivalent towards it. There is a room with clocks, a room with coins and a room with watercolours which stand out in my mind as being enjoyable, and of course the great tourist crush around Egyptology.

But these are just things. Nothing more, nothing less. The craftsmanship is admirable, but other than that we are just looking at the mantlepieces, cupboards and dumpsters of the past.

Shops are the museums of the present. I have known people to go on shopping vacations, and people who judge those people who go on said shopping vacation.

“How vapid their lives must be,” they say, admonishing the accused for not visiting the great museums and galleries that stand within the very same shopping city. But why force yourself to go to a museum when it is of no interest to you? For someone with no cultural capital, a museum is arguably of as much use as  person going to a shop with no financial capital. Sure it may be vaguely nice, but is it not a waste of time in the end.

I asked my mother what her favourite museum was. “The V&A”, she responded, “because there is so much choice”. Ah the V&A, the great hypermarket of the British museum world, complete with terrible wayfinding, with their tourist crush this time by Orientalism and the outdoor atrium (on a nice day at least). Barrage me with culture, barrage me with things, teach me, teach me!

I enjoy museums, yet the first place I take myself to on arriving in a new city is the (super)market. Where better to learn about a culture than the very place that they sustain themselves. For anyone into social history or anthropology, the shop is as valid a window into another culture as the museum, though the museum will probably tell you more about the years prior.

To be successful, museums and shops both have to sell things, whether it is ideas, knowledge or simply things. Maybe it is no coincidence that among my favourite galleries in London are those which double as art dealerships: art is a commodity, after all.

There is no conclusion to this, it’s something I’m still working through, like so much of life.

Jeff Koons, Newport Street Gallery: my favourite gallery room in London

Jeff Koons, Newport Street Gallery: my favourite gallery room in London

Liberty of London: one of the world's finest fashion

Liberty of London: one of the world’s finest fashion “museums”

RH (Restoration Hardware) Chicago, at the 3 Arts Club. Locate in a listed (or US equivalent) building. There are bouncers on the door who asked me if I wanted to come in. I thought it was a members club but it's just a store, albeit a store that feels like a contemporary art gallery (there is a even a contemporary art section) slash members club. Easily pleased. Recommend for avoiding freak late-March snow and hailstorms.

RH (Restoration Hardware) Chicago, at the 3 Arts Club. Locate in a listed (or US equivalent) building. There are bouncers on the door who asked me if I wanted to come in. I thought it was a members club but it’s just a store, albeit a store that feels like a contemporary art gallery (there is a even a contemporary art section) slash members club. Easily pleased. Recommend for avoiding freak late-March snow and hailstorms.

Neighbourhoods of London: Richmond

Calling this a neighobourhood of London may be a stretch as it’s in Surrey and is very much its own town.

My second weekend armed with bike I said to myself that if the weather was good I would make the journey out to Richmond Park. The weather was good.I overslept and had to skip the market for the day, so began my cycle to Richmond.

Unfit or incredibly lost I shall never know, but it took me nearly double the time that google maps had predicted.

In preparation for your Richmond arrival, you head west through increasingly more affluent areas: Westminster, Pimlico, Belgravia, Knightsbridge, Sloane Square, Chelsea, Kensington, West Brompton, Fulham, Putney, then finally the great park.

It is not a cycle-friendly route, or a well-signposted one. One way to tell a hipster area is by  the provision of cycle lanes and cycle parking. West London doesn’t need hipsters. Gentrification happened centuries ago. Cycle lanes make way for the tyres of the new Range Rover. It’s important the Tarquin gets to school in style and safety.

On entering Richmond Park I was tired and stressed from the cycle and underwhelmed by the park. Sure, it was a vast expanse of parkland far surpassing most areas that I had seen in Manchester (the walks around Chorlton and Didsbury are quite picturesque) with its rolling hills and attractive people jogging round and through, but this was still just a park for goodness sake. Why was this worth the (what was to become) 25 mile round-trip?

I then ran into some new friends:

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Ah yes the deer. Of course the deer. However could I doubt the deer. This is the reason that so many tourists endure the horrors of the District Line and the long walk uphill from Richmond to the park. I had expected some deer, but not to have my path blocked by herds (or proper collective noun) of deer.

They were beautiful, the autumn colours were beautiful, even the sunlight was beautiful. Richmond Park is worth it.

I walked my bike and ran into herds and herds more deer.

There are a number of viewpoints throughout the park, and then on leaving the park there are further viewpoints throughout the town. I imagine the people of Richmond go for weekly constitutions to look out across London to say “we are close to you, big city, but we are not you. We are better than you. We have views towards you without the riffraff, one of the most majestic parks in the world, and a stretch of river that we have made the Thames Riviera.”

Several months later I had a meeting in Richmond. Richmond is very insular. Richmond is very rich. Richmond just needs Richmond. Step off the train at Richmond and acknowledge that you have arrived in Richmond. If you live in Richmond and are very Richmond, there is no need at all to leave Richmond. If there is need to, it is to holiday. Need to run an errand outside of Richmond? Send the help.

As I cycled through the town, again making many a wrong term, I felt very much like an outsider looking in. This isn’t my place and these aren’t my people. I am the Londoner looking up the hill towards the park, no really being able to get a glimpse inside.

The cycle back was more treacherous than the cycle to, with my making increasingly questionable decisions to take the long way back through Kew, Shepherds Bush, Hammersmith, Chiswick, Fulham, then along the Thames Path which is a testament of how not to manage a public footpath.

West London is nothing. If you aren’t an inhabitant, there are few reasons that I saw to make the leap past zone two, especially for cyclists. Past the city and zone one, London in all directions becomes a great suburb for those who historically and recently want nightly respite from the centre. For the urbans, the outer zones, and especially the west, offers us parkland to admire sporadically, clean our lungs for the year, then again appreciate the vibrancy of the city.

Artisan stores have made it to central; the reasons for heading west become ever-less.

 

Neighbourhoods of London: Gallery Hopping Around Mayfair

Today I fell in love with London all over again. This tends to happen on sunny Saturdays where I have vague plan that then descends into a wander. This was another one of those days.

What other city can you see chic Sheikhs barrel supercars down narrow historic roads lined with some of the most expensive brands in the world barely 200m away from the tourist hordes looking to bag their next bargain from the souvenir sellers that punctuate one of the least attractive but enduringly popular shopping streets in the world. Mad old ladies with outrageous fashion that would be derided in the provinces are celebrated here. This is old money. Old money doesn’t care. The architecture, the history, the sheer variety of things to do and people to see is so overwhelming that I took a 7pm nap in bewilderment.

The part of London that I get most consistently lost in is Mayfair. It is maybe the universe’s cruel way of making me wander the wider expanses of an area that I so clearly cannot afford. Town planners of yore didn’t care about a sensical geography around here. This is the district for promenading, for showing off your wealth, and for parting with it as you come across a new, unexpected shop having taken the wrong turn.

I am starting this new series with the richest square on the Monopoly board because it is one of my favourite parts of the capital due to its sheer ridiculousness. The geography of London will never fail to amaze me, and the sudden and marked contrast between Oxford Street and Mayfair is stark. My first week in London I got deeply lost in Mayfair for half an hour, and was quite scared of it. Nine months in the city and I truly do adore it.

My relationship with Mayfair is quite new. Even though I was born in Camden and regularly visited Chinatown in my youth, mother and I never ventured in the land between Piccadilly and Oxford Street. Now I have meetings in Mayfair (offices here are decorated like fine hotels, and the beverage offerings beat the public sector by quite some margin) and spend my Saturdays wandering around.

The Saturday after I returned from Chicago was my first foray into the Mayfair gallery hop. TimeOut is still my bible for the city, for better or for worse, and it had recommended three or four new art shows in and around Oxford Circus. Thinking about the world, London must also surely be one of only a handful of cities worldwide that can have a weekly magazine dedicated to culture and socialising, with new events fighting for places in a calendar constantly. You can never truly “do” London. The variety within is astonishing.

The galleries that I visited are lost in my memory. First to Stephen Friedman for a “humorous” art exhibition split over two sides of the road, as the gallery is. Two hipsters were the only other visitors. They quickly left. Two severe women fashionably concentrated on their screens. Next, to Savile Row, and my first foray into ringing a doorbell for entry into a gallery. A less severe woman, chatting to I presume her boss about sales. The exhibition was underwhelming. I left quickly.A gallery further down this street or another street caught my eye, with much of the exhibition hidden from street view, but clearly large paintings on display within. I ventured in. It was good. I found my new hobby.

Mayfair is littered with galleries, but far from the usual tourist galleries. These are buying galleries. Pictures and sculptures won’t necessarily have descriptions. If you want a description, pick up a sheet. When they do have descriptions, they will likely be minimal, have a price, or feature a sticker to show that they have been bought. These are either semi-private collections or collections which are concerned with the business of art.

These are not places for the fanny pack tourist. The security guards, doorbells, and severe men and women who are working either furiously or not at all are all there to ward off the people that aren’t made for this type of environment.

Today Ilga and I went gallery hopping. I, dishevelled from cycling, with my raincoat, dress, bare legs, and fitflops, and she also in casual, cycle-ready wear. Up and down the country people may have looked at us as not looking “fashionable” enough, but in London, if you act like you belong, you do and people won’t question it. March in and act like you belong. Take in the hidden, free culture that these public galleries/stores offer.

Ring that bell and feel that plush carpet or cold chrome floor beneath your feet, taking in how designed all of the interiors are. This is your reward for making the leap inside.

Mayfair galleries are seemingly only hypermodern or Victorian millionaire in style. I love the smell of wealth on a Saturday.

Ilga was shocked at how small most of the galleries are. These galleries aren’t for the wider public, they are for buyers, and buyers with this kind of money don’t need to be overwhelmed with choice. They like what they like, or know what an investment is, and will part with their money as they see fit.

Today’s walk went as follows:

  1. The Photographer’s Gallery (not Mayfair): modern on the inside, with four floors of galleries. Usually only one floor takes my interest.
  2. Getty Images Gallery (not Mayfair): first visited on my initial Mayfair gallery hopping trip. The Slim Aarons ‘Poolside’ exhibition was my favourite exhibition that I have seen since moving to London. The new 1926: Britain Through the Lens” exhibition is a charming snapshot of a year in the life of our changing country. The best for well-curated documentary photography.
  3. Ronchini Gallery: following on from my enthusiasm for Slim Aarons, I was excited to see Massimo Vitali’s large-scale photographs of the rich and beautiful at the beach. Slim wins out, but the scale and framing of Vitali’s work was enthralling.
  4. Ben Brown Fine Arts: Ilga’s favourite of the galleries. The subterranean gallery is an oasis of calm in the city, much like the Ori Gersht photographs of zen gardens. Two bohemian art types had a heated conversation in one corner.
  5. Halcyon Gallery: Andy Warhol galore. What a fine city in which you can just happen upon a major Andy Warhol show that has very few visitors and generally isn’t well publicised. An unexpected feature of my day, and the one which prompted me to continue my Mayfair jaunt.
  6. Richard Green: a classical fine art gallery with a doorbell for entry and a plush interior. Oil paintings lined the first room, with works from a few masters featuring, and further in were Dutch flowers and Edward Seago exhibitions. This opened in 1955, but give you an idea of what the dealings of the rich in the 19th century may have been like, only with computers. No pictures were allowed, but I imagine this was how many living rooms of the past few centuries were fashioned. The Fine Arts Society next door, which I thought this was, is only open Monday-Friday 10-6, or by appointment on Saturday. Art buyers aren’t constrained by our usual working week.
  7. D-Contemporary: another doorbell. I was enticed in by the wildlife photography that was advertised on the outside. Roger Hooper is one of the finest wildlife photographers in the world, and here was a chance exhibition. The staff were friendly and gave me a leaflet on the charity and exhibition. People who want money are friendly. Refreshments at the back, photographs that make you want to book a safari throughout.
  8. David Zwirner: the planned end gallery to my trip. The Richard Hamilton exhibition on the second floor may not have been worth the walk, but it did remind me that I like clean plastic products. The R. Crumb exhibition ‘Art and Beauty’ was exceedingly enjoyable. There were roughly twenty people within during my 15 minute visit, a good show for Mayfair. Advertising pays off, and a big name with a comparatively big collection makes it worth the trip.

Other galleries were visited, but these were fleeting. I continued to wander the streets and admire the shops, which are galleries in themselves. There are increasingly few good shopping streets in the country, but these window displays are constantly inviting even if the security and the prices mean that the stores themselves are often not. Aside from the clothing and designers, the specialty shops incite a curiosity as to how they stay in business, but not enough curiosity to actually enter (where galleries accept my disheveled look, shops realise that I won’t be making a purchase and thus it makes for a more uncomfortable experience).

Ah, to have this kind of wealth. Ah, to be this free to see this fine city how the other half live it.

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Slim Aarons, Poolside Glamour

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Londoners do what they do

Final Thoughts On Surfing

Ten lessons in, injuries abound and am I more of a surfer than I was a week ago? Yes, I suppose I am, as I have actually been surfing (for one) and know the technique (for two) although am still yet to be at a stage where I can apply the technique.

Surfing should have taught me to relax more. In a way it has, as it has shown me just how many anxieties that I have. Money, timing, these are the two main ones. For this trip I was helpfully ferried everywhere by the staff at the surf club. Being surfers, they were often late. One thing that sends my anxiety into overdrive is sitting on a step waiting for a car to come with no way of contacting the driver, especially if it is my car to the airport. My mind thinks of ten different ways to get to the airport, all of which will hopefully not result in missing my flight or spending too much money. The driver came. They always came.

Even out on the sea, I couldn’t every fully relax into it. It’s true what they say: the less you think about it, the easier it becomes. This morning the waves were flat and I spent most of the time paddling around on the flat. That was remarkable. Though tiring. Oh how my poor muscles and brain have been overworking.

I don’t think I’m sociable enough to be a surfer.

I will miss the rolling of the waves, and even the sea crashing relentlessly into my face. I won’t missing changing into and out of wetsuits.

I can stand on the board, in spite of my bruised legs and blackened foot (a bad landing is a bad landing indeed). I will try surfing again. Once you have the basics, you can go off and do. But this will likely be my only “pure” surf holiday, a holiday that I still fit a lot of sightseeing into. I like to try new things. I’m a commitment phobe of sorts.

Being alone for a week has been both a blessing and a nuisance (not a curse, I wouldn’t put it that far) as other people can help assuage worries just by merely being there. You feel less stranded in a crowd. Three newbies landed this morning. They will have a less alone week.The girl that I spoke to (who told me of another couple being there) said I must have been lonely and bored, but I was immediately grateful for my week of relative solitude. Classes break it  up a little, even if everyone else is speaking Portuguese. She was English as well, and her anxiety was growing I could see. Maybe it’s a great British-Portuguese divide.

A girl in one of the surf classes said that her hero is Queen Elizabeth I. She was 15 and Portuguese. A Swiss soon-to-be Commodities Trader is venturing through Portugal with no real plans to learn to surf and find some spots. I wish I had the confidence and freedom of others sometimes. I can work on that. Time is fluid. Like the sea!

Here ends another good trip, where I have let loose, tightened up, and learned a lot about myself. Life learning never ends, just as the waves never stop (ick).

Final note: Porto Airport is one of the best that I’ve been to. Easy access to the city, unlimited wifi, a good Duty Free, mobile charging points, and even water! The Portuguese are very hospitable.

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Secondary Thoughts on Surfing/Initial Thoughts on Portuguese Salmon

Two surf lessons in one day and I feel great, though tomorrow morning will be the real test of strength and versatility.

In the morning I got mildly frustrated with myself that I wasn’t able to stand up without using my knee, but then I thought I should let go. I saw the Dutch mother naked for a third time. The Dutch father bought me a coffee and gave me his business card. I’m great at networking. Portuguese coffee is stronger and more bitter than Italian coffee, just like the Portuguese and Italians. Both of those descriptions are probably incorrect.

The Dutch father, a presently very chill and friendly man, told me about how he had two burnouts in his previous job as the owner of a bespoke furniture business.

“I would just worry about money and work. It wasn’t good for my family. I was very fat. I just ate, drank and worked. I spent €40,000 a year on food and drink for the business, which is ridiculous. Money isn’t everything. The more money you have, the more you spend. It doesn’t mean anything. People with less money have a good time. And now, I have a nice house, can take holidays when I like, do things that I like, am much healthier, and am getting to know my family a lot better. I am a better husband and father, and that’s what matters. So no, I’m not good at surfing, but it is all good. And one day I may finally learn.”

Lunch with the surf instructor. I couldn’t decide between squid, salmon or sardines. The waiter said salmon so I went for salmon. The surf instructor had the squid. He had to Google the translation for squid even though it was right there on the menu. I love it when people add unnecessary steps to their day. The salmon was fresh and meaty. The squid was fresh and with bite. I went to the dark side of carbs with bread and potato. The Portuguese know how to do their seafood. I impressed yet another person with the quantity that I can eat.

Meaty fine fish

Meaty fine fish

The streets were alive with the smell of seafood

The streets were alive with the smell of seafood

The Portuguese sure do love Super Bock. €6 for 10 bottles is too good value, darnit. Also €6 for a bottle of wine in a restaurant is straight madness.

“If you don’t stand without using your knee, they will change the code to the hostel and you will have to sleep outside.”

Nothing like threats to make me improve my technique. The afternoon class was two rather than eight, and my improvement was marked. That was some magic salmon alright.

There is no feeling quite like gliding on a wave, even if it is a wee wave by the shore. I can see how people get addicted to this. I laughed and flailed my arms with glee/I hugged my instructor in the sea/all in all: yay me! Good for the soul and good for the abs.

My instructor the following day reminded me of a Northern Irish girl that I lived with in the first year of uni, though not Northern Irish. I didn’t know that girl very well so maybe my comparison is wrong. The waves beat me down on day three. The sea is a commanding mistress. I love it when I’m put in my place.

Initial Thoughts On Surfing

There is nothing quite like surfing in the ocean. Oh to be a terrible person that starts posts in this way.

I injured my ankle a week or two ago and wish I hadn’t as it surely has had a negative effect on my surfing abilities.

I can pop up on land easily enough but the instability of the sea makes it all the more difficult. I managed to stand on my second wave, but flew too close to the sun too early on and didn’t manage to stand again until my second to last and final waves.

The Dutch family from the pool lesson were there again. I saw the mother naked again. The father and I discussed work and he was impressed that I knew an interior designer/architect (Frei Otto) that he does work for. He went much further out than I did, into the bigger waves. After the surf  I asked him if he had caught any good waves. He replied that he hadn’t really, but that’s not the point. It is exercise for the mind. I asked him what he meant, as it was certainly exercise for my body but it was hardly reading Nietzsche, and he replied that you can’t really think of anything else while you are surfing. Clears your mind is what he meant. A meditation by surfing. I couldn’t agree more.

As I walked through the water again and again trying to catch a wave, I went through different feelings of exhaustion, frustration and absolute calm. The vast expanse of water, the lolling of the waves, the crashing of the waves into my face, the dragging of the surfboard, the heavy rain followed by breaking sunshine: it was all so beautiful, and any life concerns simply don’t matter in the moment.

It was exhausting, and my stamina gave out. I thought that I was quite fit. I shouldn’t have walked so much these past few days. Onto land briefly to work on my “pop up” technique, and to regain some stamina.

“You’re tired” my instructor said as he dragged me through the sea.

“A little. It’s fine.” My arms and legs were throbbing.

“Try again, just once more!”

Five more times and I was getting it. The less you think, the better you do. Surfing goes against a lot of my natural persona, but by doing so shows me the many sides of life’s beauty. (I am writing this sat in a window listening to thunder and watching a downpour).

My afternoon lesson was cancelled, which I am thankful for as I should take this time to rest and recuperate.

The surfing instructor (fit and good looking, as you would hope/expect for a Portuguese surfing instructor) showed me where the good fish restaurants are in the area, told that I simply must try a Francesinha, validated that I have seen all of Porto. Even though he has lived in Porto all his life, he said that I now know it better than him. He may have been being particularly nice after having to hold my hand through surfing much more than he expected after my initial success.  He said that he didn’t like Casa de Musica, that it was like an alien shot it down from space. It is besides a lovely roundabout and statue and doesn’t blend in too well with the landscape. Guidebooks have us believe otherwise: “The crowning glory of Modernist architecture for the people of Porto”. Portuguese traffic is sudden and unexpected, much like the rain.

“You have an accent of English.”

“I am English.”

“Then it’s okay.”

The smell of the restaurant street was spectacular and I will go again to eat. Today I am forcing myself to try and rest.

Portuguese to pata de nata very well. I got some from a supermarket, as that’s what’s closest.

Now to fully embrace the surfing lifestyle through rest.