In my many walks around London this spring and summer, I have come across a forgotten part of this city. Its disused cemeteries.
These cemeteries were used from medieval times and up to the 18th century, when they became overflown and the administration ordered them closed and others built outside of the central part of town.
Cemeteries pushed outside of Central London aside, the reality is that the city is sprinkled with the graves of the past. There are graves sprinkled randomly in between two residential buildings near Blackfriars Bridge. I wouldn’t like to see them if I looked outside my window at night. There are some other graves and mortuary stones sprinkled in a garden not far from St Paul’s Cathedral (again, to give residents something fun to look at night). For sure, graves are under our feet when we walk down the street. It is just that there is no stone to mark them as such.
Back to the old cemeteries for now and to the places that have captured my attention.
Bunhill Row, near Old Street. The resting place of William Blake, Daniel Defoe and John Bunyan, of another 150,000 souls and possibly the most spoiled pigeons and squirrels in the world.
Cross Bones, Southwark. A fence full of mortuary memorabilia signals the presence of this cemetery: cards, photos, ribbons left by those who have lost someone greet visitors at the gate. Cross Bones has been disused for some time now as well, however it is known in London as the cemetery of the destitute. Throughout medieval times and later centuries, it became a burial place for those who society could not bury in “mainstream” places: prostitutes, their babies, and thieves. Of all the cemeteries I have seen this year, this one seemed the saddest.
St Anne’s Church, Soho. The interesting part about this cemetery is that it lies 2m above ground level due to the high number of people that have been interred here. There are no mortuary stones to signal its existence, only a serene patch of green turf to cover its grounds. As such, it is one of the places that you pass by without much awareness of what lies beneath the ground.
There is a lot of hype around Florence and its cultural treasures. Rightfully so, as the city was the home of the Renaissance and of all its creative minds and they have left a living treasure behind.
For this reason, every morning is a cultural rush around the streets of Florence and an attempt to grab a spot at the front of the queues that align outside of the Accademia, the Gallery of the Uffizi, and all other significant locations in the city.
For the same reason, every one who joins in the queues shares the same feeling of excitement that, at the end of an hour’s wait or at the end of two hours’ wait, there will be at least a piece of internationally acclaimed art to look at.
The one that did it for me was the sculpture of David by Michelangelo. It is a masterpiece in its own right and the shining star of the Accademia. It is waiting for visitors on its own pedestal and graces them with its presence from afar and close by. They say that the Gioconda looks like she is looking at you from every angle. With “The David”, as the Italians refer to it, it feels like you want to look at it from every angle. – And you want to go around and around it lots of times.
I am certain mankind has invented gelato to cope with summer and with heat. Nowhere is this more apparent than Italy, where gelato is not just the ingredient that cools you down and prevents you from a heat stroke; it is also a way of life.
Lunch at La Menagere done half an hour ago; feeling like a dessert? Sounds like the right time for a three-scoop gelato, caramel, coffee, hazelnut to be precise. Walked all the way down to Il Ponte Vecchio and you cannot bear the heat? Sounds like the right time for another gelato. Showcasing chocolate, caramel and some other flavour-fillers. Had a good couple of hours’ worth of a walk around the city and you would like to treat yourself for the effort? Why not sit down on the stairs of the museum and enjoy the EUR 10-worth of gelato that you’ve just bought yourself. In the case of this particular cup of gelato, I do not recall the flavours I was enjoying. Only the price.
I have already written about La Menagere in the post that now lives on Vocal Media. It is nevertheless a sort of a timeless place, one that perhaps is at its best during the summer.
It feels like it is during the summer that the doors of this restaurant remain fully open throughout the day. You can see inside it as you walk down the street and stop – because its interior does indeed draw you in.
On the one side, there is a long communal table adorned with massive silverware and wild flowers. Decadent chandeliers give light from above. When you think that the space has nothing else to offer and you have taken all of it in, you notice a piano at the back of the room. The space is not simply for wining and dining. It can help you enjoy yourself as well.
On the other side, across the wall that separates La Menagere in two, is the design and coffee shop. Tables and benches are sprinkled throughout this space. People sit at them, in ones, in twos, enjoying their food, their double espressos, their books or – quite rarely – their computers.
Outside La Menagere, a row of coffee tables allows customers to enjoy themselves. In the midst of the summer heat, in the midst of the busy city, I enjoyed myself at La Menagere and was grateful for the respite it provided.
On a recent Friday afternoon, with a little time to spare, I visited the London Film Museum. I was incentivised by “Bond in Motion”, their exhibition of cars that had featured in James Bond films.
Am I glad I went, because the exhibition proved itself to be a great display of four-wheel vehicles that had graced the film franchise since the 1960s. It is difficult to say which ones I have enjoyed the most, as all the cars were spectacular and I have a weakness for vintage cars to start with. Yet if I were to, it would have to be the two Rolls Royce cars that were on display.
Looking at the inside of one of them, I remembered the time that I was working for Stafford Long, an employer and branding agency in London. I learned at the time, that the inside of a Rolls Royce is sewn by hand. At the end of the work, the employee who worked on the inside of the car stiches his or her initials in the car tapestry. It is all to show the attention, care and detail that go into the making of the car.
And now, to go back to the exhibition of James Bond cars, I looked at the inside of one of the vintage Rolls that were on display. It seemed to me to portray the same level of care, detail and attention that they display today. I found that inspiring.
A stroll on Perry Street; a visit to the Whitney; a visit to the New Museum; a visit maybe to the MoMA, because why not; coffee at Sweetleaf; dinner at Salt & Charcoal, because I have to have that sushi again; dinner at the Hakkasan, because I have to bust out my best outfits when I am in New York. An ice-skating session in Bryant Park, because I have put this on hold since last winter. A meeting at Toastmasters and another one at The Father’s Heart, because I need to see my friends.
Suffices for one week.
Shenandoah Park was a treat not just because I got to see a beautiful park and its colours at the start of autumn. It was a treat because I got to spend a day in the company of a dear friend, who has been living in the States for more than a decade. She and I spent the morning driving from Manassas to the park, chatting and listening to music on the way, stopping at drive-through shops and ordering late breakfast treats.
At Shenandoah Park, we decided on the trek to follow and set on it. It was difficult to keep walking and looking straight ahead when all the trees around were displaying and adorning autumn colours. It was like a symphony of colours everywhere, playing on different tones from tree to tree.
At some point on our trek, we stopped for a sandwich at the foot of several giant trees. I told my friend that I was hoping Heaven would be like a long-stretching beach with a villa full of the world’s best books, endless white curtains floating in the gentle breeze. It would only be me and the Great Lion walking down the beach from dusk till dawn, I said to her.
I am very happy she consented.