I had one of those days that reminded me why it’s so wonderful to live in London. Even the weather cooperated!
Tim and I try to visit the Royal Opera House at least twice a year. Frankly we could go more often, but I quite like splurging on pricey seats in the Orchestra stalls; it makes for a very rich sensory experience, and we can fill the cultural craving gap with cinema offerings from both the Metropolitan Opera House and the ROH. The ROH offers discounts now and again on new productions with “no-name” performers to fill the seats, and I like taking advantage of their generosity. When an email flooded in giving half-price tickets to a new production of Il trovatore, well, I only hesitated long enough to see if my opera partner was available on a date I’d chosen.
Fast forward to a few days before when I thought it wise to book a restaurant nearby the opera house. We have often found ourselves at Café Des Amis on Hanover Place, steps from Bow Street, and as we hadn’t been for a while it felt about time. Unfortunately I came to PERMANENTLY CLOSED on a table booking site; a fixture of Covent Garden no more. Disappointed but not dismayed I booked a table at Masala Zone, a chain of Indian restaurants whose owners’ portfolios include some well-known restaurants in London where you can pay more and eat as well. We’d been once before (though I’d forgotten about the ceiling full of Rajasthani dolls) and needed only to be mindful of service with a 7:15 date across the street; previously we were struggling to flag down someone to bring us the bill.
Fast forward once again to 5 pm on a lovely, sunny Thursday and I’m walking to meet Tim. Just as I arrive he exits the building with a warm smile and a very cheery hello; the day has been good already with a favourable verdict in a trial that kept him from coming to America with me. We strolled (yes, hand in hand) through Lincolns Inn Fields, across Kingsway and along Longacre to the restaurant, chatting about the day’s events, the next Prime Minister (Theresa or Andrea, either way a woman), and the upcoming weekend sailing.
At 5:30 pm we are ushered to a window-side corner table with views of Floral and Hanover Streets, where there are any number of strollers, tourists, lovers, kids, and opera goers walking by. I remarked that it was quite a busy corner and Tim reminded me that the street parallel to Floral is Longacre, filled with shops and a main drag generally, with a tube station for Covent Garden. Ah yes. A waitperson promptly appears and cheerfully asks for a drinks order. It’s decidedly pink. We also order quickly to make the most of our 90-minute dining window. It all arrives at a pleasant place and is all delicious.
At 7 pm we are walking through the entrance for a 7:15 start. We pick up flyers that tell who the cast for the evening is along with a brief synopsis of the Verdi opera. I don’t believe I’d seen it, even going back to my days of seasons at the Met in NYC, but I’d read ahead—I try not to be too distracted by having to read the projected dialogue, and knowing what the story is helps to stay focused on the music and the stage.
Because I acted quickly on the ROH email, I was able to book seats very near the orchestra pit and stage—perhaps the closest I’ve ever been to be able to occasionally turn my eye toward the conductor, Gianandrea Noseda, who was mouthing along the words and moving his arms in harmony to the music, sometimes swaying gently, other times juddering in staccato. This was his debut at the ROH, and he received warm applause at the conclusion.
To see the performers so closely, too, is a real treat; there were times I felt the Count, sung beautifully by the handsome Brit baritone Christopher Maltman, was looking right at me. The character portrayed by Marina Prudenskaya—who stole the Count’s brother to to avenge her mother’s burning at the stake for witchcraft, and blinded by rage instead threw her own child into the pyre—was at once disturbed, wild, and sorrowful. And, dare I say, the American tenor Gregory Kunde had a hint of the lyrical voice of Pavarotti, though without the power. It reminded me how fortunate I was to see Luciano several times in New York.
At the interval we strolled up to sip our preordered Ruinart (the ROH has an app, but of course) and watch the flurry of activity at the bar. I just love these 30 minutes of standing in the Paul Hamlyn Hall, glasses and silverware clinking as the opera goers enjoy a quick meal or a glass of something, chatting away about the set (it was modern, and has had mixed reviews), the performers, or perhaps just the events of the day. It never fails that Tim sees someone he knows, and this time I was introduced to Lord Trimble, the first minister of Northern Ireland and once leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, and his wife Daphne. They were certain Theresa May would be the next Prime Minister.
And as the curtain came down and we poured out of the building we were greeted with a noisy, busy London evening. Theatres on Drury Lane were also releasing their patrons, and as is typical on Thursdays the outdoor space at the pubs was filled with customers holding their glasses and chatting loudly. It’s a scene that never gets tired to my eyes; I love the vibrancy of the city, particularly on warm nights where it’s far better to be out and among the crowds. We had a short walk to the bus, and ambled up the stairs to sit on the top deck and watch the city go by. Everywhere along the ride there were people out and about as it approached 11 pm. Perhaps London is rivalling the city that never sleeps? (We need to get the night tube working!)
|Park Avenue looking south|
Yes, I absolutely loved my recent trip back to America; I satisfied my craving for “proper” pizza at Roberta’s in Brooklyn, and spent a few meals over food and conversation at Tops Diner. There was a wonderful trip into NYC to have brunch at The Odeon in lower Manhattan, a lovely treat with my sister and her other half, and then a walk along the water to see the boats and enjoy the sun.
I got to the beach (though, like England, the water was still too cold to swim) and the boardwalk with my dear friend Jill, and spent an evening with her husband and daughter, who has grown into a beautiful, smart adult like her mom. I saw two of my wonderful university friends Haydee and Terry who I know went out of their way to see me, and caught up with a dear friend from work and strolled around nearby Grand Central Station. I attended a work reunion, seeing several people I hadn’t seen in multiple years, and saw relatives and friends of relatives who came a distance to catch up in person, always a treat.
|Donuts at The Odeon|
And of course I got to see my nephew graduate and then spend an evening with my family—even ¾ of the Texans (the fourth did call to speak with us, which was lovely)—and finally meet my niece’s fiancée. (I approve.)
It was a trip, solo, that was filled with lots of little excursions that I might not otherwise have spent the time doing if accompanied; I'd forgotten how much New York, like London, is so easy to navigate, making it possible to see so many people uptown, downtown, and back in New Jersey.
There were precious moments each day and quiet reflection each night at how very fortunate I am to have these bonds that never seem to weaken with time or distance. Finally all those promised warm hugs in emails, texts and chats done in the flesh! It’s still feels wonderful and warm weeks later.
Still, still, London is my home. And it's a fabulous place to be.