Monday, May 13, 2019

London, United Kingdom: Meet Me At The Cemetery Gates

Vandals, apparently unable to separate the arguably razor-sharp predictions Marx made in the 19th century with the ruinous dictatorships which bore his name in the 20th, damaged this memorial about a year after my visit. Way to "own the libs", at the same time taking a page out of the Taliban playbook.

Day two in London was a big day, start to finish. I took more than 17,000 steps, closed my iWatch fitness rings, and seemed to have travelled clear from one end of town to the other.

So let's start there.

London is big.

New York City has five boroughs, London has 32 (originally 54).

On that day, a Saturday, I probably passed through a dozen boroughs.  I crossed the Thames twice, on foot over two different bridges.

First things first: the not-so-full English breakfast.

Ristorante E. Pellicci Working the Saturday brunch crowd. Owner, center-left.
"I don't usually wait in queues," said Deth Veggie as we approached a small but growing queue outside E Pellicci. The owner, spotting Veggie, came over to greet us.

"You should have come on a weekday!" He said, eyeing the queue and packed, tiny restaurant. The two of us put our names on the list.

"I told you he'd remember me," said Veggie. Hard to forget a 6'5" giant American, and Veggie's voice carries as well.

Playing the crowd and personally greeting each guest, the owner shortly returns to the now lengthy queue outside with a hot plate of freshly fried chips doused in just the right amount of malt vinegar - the English way.

The restaurant is Italian, but I was there to experience the Full English: a hearty meal consisting of black pudding, fried toast, fried egg, grilled tomatoes, sausage, bacon and beans.

Their version left out the beans, and we had to substitute black pudding - which was the thing I was really interested in - for bacon, which in England is more of a country bacon, usually cured shoulder, like the Kentucky bacon I like to get at Wolfsen's Meats and Sausages back in Gustine.

"I think Douglas Adams has a quip somewhere in one of the Hitchhiker's books about Arthur Dent going into a crowded club where he later tells Ford Prefect that between the door and the bar he thinks he may have had sex seven or eight times."

Veggie doesn't like queues (neither do I, really) and I don't like being jostled too much. However becoming intimately friendly with the front of the house staff throughout our meal, who could not help but brush up against me several dozen times to fetch plates off the pass and bring them to hungry patrons in the crammed dining room, was a tolerable price to pay for the ambience of the place, and it's sense of genuine authenticity.

Although, missing the country bacon and the beans, arguably not really the Full English.

A friend of mine lamented that the fried bread lacked butter. Understand, this bread is put in a deep frier and served quite crispy but soaked in oil. I pointed this out to her, and she doubled down that the fried bread should absolutely be buttered.

And one wonders why gout is so prevalent among western Europeans. Butter or not, I knew I was going to have to walk this one off.

"Do you want to see Douglas Adams' grave site?" asked Veggie.

"Shit yeah I do!"

"Karl Marx is buried there too,"

"You're kidding? Sign me up."

Not quite the Full English, but certainly close enough for my poor gastro-intestinal system.

Supposedly Pellicci has been run by the same family for generations. The progenitor is said to have been a cabinet maker, hence the elaborate inlay work inside the restaurant.

In New York City you can get counterfeit goods, in London you can get counterfeit fast food.

Keats and Yeats are on your side, but you lose, 'cause weird lover Wilde is on mine...

I handed a Five British Sterling Silver pound note (£5) to the gate attendant who Veggie aptly described as "eastern European goth chic" (like the sultan, not the baby chicken).

He does not mean this scornfully, of course. However a large influx of eastern European immigrants, particularly Polish are viewed with disdain by an increasingly and troublingly growing subset of nativist Britons. Nativist threats to common decency range in severity from the laughable petition (a French word) to remove (a French word) all French words from the British passport (a French word) to Brexit to Neo-Nazis.

Veggie and I discuss the worrying rise of nationalism in both Europe and the United States throughout my visit. 

"Usually, as was the case with the Trump election, it's a case of the poor shooting themselves in the foot. In the case of Brexit, at least voters shot everyone including the rich in the foot as well," Veggie quipped.


Veggie is fond of broad pronouncements, and I don't blame him: he owns his worldview and is more than happy to defend it, even when he is wrong (some examples, Veggie refuses to acknowledge that a Martini is a drink made with gin, not vodka, and he insists that the highest form of pizza is Chicago deep-dish, which of course is not pizza at all, but a sort of bread lasagna which is very delicious and very much not pizza).

Having traveled somewhat to parts of the United States that could be considered "Trump Country" (as much as I hate to give voice to the idea that some indelible chasm exists), I can see more nuanced descriptions for Brexit or Trump than "the poor shooting themselves in the foot". For one thing, the middle-class are primarily culpable at least in the US version of this current horror show. At the end of the day, one must look inward when ones world view is so thoroughly rebuffed, and I think it's not unreasonable to lay some considerable blame at the feet of neo-liberal globalist progressive thinkers and pols and their failure to capture the imagination of the voters.

To be fair, Trump did lose the popular vote.

Also, one should not assume that Veggie and I are a pair of privileged dandies waxing philosophical about the finicky whims of the commoners. That's largely the case, but both he and I have proper working-class pedigrees we will happily expound upon next to any unlucky bloke at the pub that catches our attention.


"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" author Douglas Adams. People leave pens in lieu of flowers.

See also: The Rock and Roll Swindle.


Gravesite of the proprietor of Britain's first Chinese restaurant.

We left the cemetery, walking through tony brick and mortar public housing in the Tudor style smooshed together. We took a double-decker down to the Thames. 

Once there, we refueled with a quick pint of cidre and some snacks (fried haloumi cheese, an Asian pork belly and baby lettuces plate and a bowl of crispy chips served with mayonnaise and Coleman's for dipping). The traditional draft system uses the bar tender's own muscle to syphon the beer or cidre from the keg, stored at cellar temperature (or as an American might see it, warm) and lacking the artificial infusion of CO2 or nitrogen that the American Kegerator tap system artificially infuses (flat).

Surprisingly good.

Sampled many sides, including the halloumi. In the main room, a rather loud crowd of what we assumed must be a local amateur football or rugby club celebrated with a few pints after the morning's match.

Naturally all at the book exchange. I believe good old George may be the reason the Kindle was invented.





After, we crossed the Black Friar Bridge, looped past the Eye of London, crossed the Thames again and got into the tube in the shadow of Big Ben.

By the time we got back to Veggie's flat, it was time to kick off my boots for the night, and order in.

Appropriation

Classical Studies (capital C capital S) were still emphasized early on in my social studies and history coursework during middle and high school (roughly grades 5 through 10). The classics, in Western parlance, study ancient civilizations (of the West) and their impact on history, literature and culture (of the West). There was some glancing mentions of Mesopotamia, the Etruscans, Pagan Europe (which, I would learn after high school, should not be viewed in the monolithic or glancing manner of my school texts) and Ancient Egypt, but primarily focused on Greek and Roman societies and literature.

On thing we collectively noticed as students was the close correlation between the Greek gods and the Roman gods. Surely, we thought, it was not an accident that for the Greeks there was Aphrodite and the Romans Venus, or Ares and Mars, Zeus and Jupiter, Dionysus and Bacchus?

As the Greek Empire began to erode, slowly and surely the Romans appropriated their lands, culture, gods and government.

Mister Lizak, himself an admitted Philhellene, conveyed to us a rule of cultures that on its face seems to be fairly simplistic, but extrapolated into modern society has proven to be both rewarding and vexing: throughout history it is often the conquered who have a significant and sometimes greater influence on the conquerer.

This is true certainly from the Greeks to the Romans, the Spaniards to the Moors, West Africa to the Caribbean and Creole, et cetera.

They say at one point the sun never set on the British Empire, but eventually the bill came due and the British Empire contracted faster than it expanded, always with lasting consequences and frequently lingering resentment.

That said, outside of India (and perhaps Sunnyvale, California), the best place in the world to get a good vindaloo is London.

"Hong Kong is up for grabs,
London is full of Arabs,
We could be in Palestine overrun by the Chinese line
With the boys from the Mersey and the Thames and the Tyne."

In my wanderings of London I saw many Hasidic prayer shawls, hijabs, North and West African garments, the cotton linen garb of the Afghani, Pakistani and other central Asian peoples, all shades of skin pigment, all colors of eyes, straight, curly, black, blonde, red, purple and green hair.

I also saw at least one skin head, and judging from his bomber jacket and white-laced Dr Martens I was disinclined to invite him over for a nice plate of tikka masala. Or for any reason what so ever.

As a long time resident of San Francisco this seems completely ordinary. In fact, about the only thing that upset me was that the Indian food in London is measurably better than, and more varied than, that which is available to those of us who live in the Bay Area in spite of our large Indian immigrant community.



Veggie looking appropriately dour past a post reminding Britons not to jump into the Thames, no matter how much Morrissey you've been listening to.


Ingress, then a bit of brunch...

The following day Veggie, his wife and I set forth for brunch. She bounded ahead to put our names on the list of a popular spot called "The Good Egg" while Veggie and I slowly made our way over since I wanted to make use of some of the portal keys I had amassed in the last 40 or so hours playing Ingress on the double deckers.

This is what we call in the game community a "walking build", sometimes a solo endeavour and sometimes a team activity. Veggie, sensibly, refuses to play but does ask me questions about the game mechanics, privacy caveats and culture of the game as we meander down the road past one point of interest after another (here's a mural, there's an old church, here's a placard celebrating some Victorian Lord or Lady's accomplishments, there's a pub older than the United States itself).

I explain how, in the early days of Ingress, the game was invite only and only for Android users (Niantic, the software developer, was at the time one of the many companies in the Google Alphabet). Some game location data came from Google – certain businesses had early promotional deals with Niantic and so each ZipCar or AXA Bank or Circle K would become a game piece fixed in space called a portal – over which the two competing factions would vie for control. Other early portals may have come from map information featuring museums, post offices, public buildings and the like. The rest were all contributed by players themselves, and in the early days older players (dubbed "founders" in the game) would insist this was mostly done in good faith.

However as the game gathered more users and the mechanics were worked out by the players, the advantage for a player to have their own vanity portals appear on the "portal network" near where a player lived or worked became a motivating factor in a number of specious portal submissions, and the submission rate exceeded Niantic's ability to vet the portal-worthiness of each location. Therefore soon after I started playing (and coincidentally after the general release of the game out of invite-only beta, as well as to the much larger audience of iOS device users), Niantic removed the ability of players to submit portals, and portals submitted during that year remained in limbo until Niantic figured out how to crowd-source processing the backlog using an anonymous voting system that was offered to senior level players to sort the wheat from the chaff as they say (more chaff than wheat, in this case).

After some time, the backlog reduced to a manageable size, slowly and carefully Niantic began allowing new portal submissions which would be reviewed in the same crowd-sourced manner.

That is how I was able to submit the gravesite of Douglas Adams as a new portal (the submission was later declined, which means I will have to go back to London and resubmit it).

We arrived at The Good Egg where a decent sized queue had formed outside, but since the wife had preceded Veggie and I by a good 20 minutes, we only had to stand for about five minutes before a server fetched us and led us into the dining room.









A proper London dive. Rare, and discouraged in pubs, is the jukebox.

If Veggie and his wife were Brett and Rennie Sparks, this would be their bio photo.



Pinkies out means extra fancy.



Sunday Roast





The tourist left to their own devices and the worst toast in London.

The rest of this speaks for itself...


Perhaps not the worst breakfast ever, but close.

At least the crappy breakfast spot had a sense of color.


The addition of "brown sauce", a condiment as familiar to the Brits as ketchup is to us Yanks (and with similar origins, I suspect), did not improve on this most disappointing of British breakfasts.


Do not be deceived by the Eames inspired decor and palette, this shop makes terrible food.



A bagel shop that makes no such thing.















Boombox nation.

Poppie's Fish & Chips








Old and new.


St. John Bread







Feeling supersonic, give me gin & tonic.




A "quesadilla" according to the VIP lounge at Gatwick.