International Book Buying

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I discovered Hatchard’s via a collection of postcards of The World’s Greatest Bookstores.

I feel much better about my propensity to buy too many books when I am traveling after hearing one fellow bibliophile call it patronizing the arts. Yes, I am a patron of the arts. And it is much easier to tuck a beautiful special edition of The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield in your bag than a painting or sculpture!

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The collection includes a postcard featuring Moe’s in Berkeley. I look forward to exploring this bookshop!

My Auntie J and I volunteer to send postcards to potential voters to encourage them to be a good citizen. She found a box of The World’s Greatest Bookstores. There are 50 featured, and one is for Hatchard’s in London. I’d somehow never heard of it or been there.

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El Ateneo Grand Splendid looks like an opera house more than a bookstore! A reason to go to Buenos Aires, Argentina.

I love Foyle’s in London. It is popular with television writers too and appears in the Netflix adaptation of Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Christopher Foyle in Foyle’s War is named for the bookstore. It didn’t rate a postcard though.

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The bookstore on the left is Alabama Booksmith from Birmingham, Alabama. The Hatchard’s postcard is on the right.

I have only been to a couple of the book shops featured: City Light Books in San Francisco, The Strand in New York City, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee and Powells Books in Portland (as often as possible). With bookstores in Goa, India and The Bookworm in China, I can’t commit to visit them all. One thing I can safely guarantee, I will always return with more books in my bag than when I left home.

Shopping for the Unique London

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Retail is hurting because of competition with Internet shopping. And I believe it’s suffering because shopping has become so boring. The shops on Main Street in almost every city around the world is practically the same. So when I travel I am looking for something unique. Sure I love Anthropologie, but I can always shop there at home. London used to have more unique shops. Now I search for them. Of course the atmosphere is still London-ey.

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Nothing says London like a classic black cab.

Neighborhoods are distinct and some streets are closed to auto traffic. Plus London still has some large and unique department stores. My favorite is Liberty (not Harrods). And when I got to Liberty I have to go to the floor with Liberty fabric and Rowan yarn. I also love Liberty’s customer service and their help with getting VAT refund.

You can get a VAT refund if you buy goods worth over 50 pounds. Save your receipts and take advantage of help from the first shop where they will give you the VAT refund envelope. I prefer to make time when I depart to go to the VAT refund desk (all the way to the left in Heathrow Terminal 2) before I check my bags. Sometimes they ask to see the goods. You can get cash (but what to do with a bunch of foreign currency?) or get a refund to your credit card (preferred). If you forget or run out of time, I believe you can also mail it in.

Harry Potter Play Anything But Cursed

IMG_7094Our Harry Potter holiday was planned around the Wednesday performances of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One & Two.  The tickets said Part One starts at 2:00 p.m. and to arrive an hour early to get through security.  We met up at my hotel, Mimi’s Hotel Soho. We had a short walk to the Palace Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue. We didn’t know what to expect but we thought it might be best to eat a light lunch to avoid feeling sleepy or hungry. I suggested the cafe at Foyle’s Books and we had a yummy kabab with salad. When we arrived at the theater it took a few minutes for us to realize the line to get in already wrapped round the building. Good thing we had assigned seats!

The play is based on JK Rowling’s story. I’d read the script when it first came out and didn’t remember the plot. UK Sarah had just read it. We both were most curious about the staging and how the director will portray the magic.

IMG_7100The play is now in New York City as well. The Palace Theatre is a beautiful older stage with steep rows in the balcony. We got to know our neighbors well as we helped each other navigate to our seats. In our row everyone was committed to both parts on this day. We all bought our tickets for March 13 at the end of November.

I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, so I’ll just say that it was a hugely satisfying experience. We loved the staging and the special effects. The play was well-acted and much more entertaining when performed (than when read as a script).

Some actors stole their scenes–Ron and Moaning Myrtle–overall it was very entertaining. The break in the middle was about 2.5 hours, and again we had to return an hour early to go through security again. We had about 1.5 hours to sort out dinner.

IMG_7104UK Sarah was craving soup so we walked 15 minutes to Shoop Soup. We had a lots of choice and we were able to score two seats on the limited bar seating at front. There is also outdoor seating for fair weather. The soup was yummy and the sourdough bread just right. We enjoyed a conversation with a taxi cab driver who regularly stops here for dinner.

We returned for the second half and cheered for the performers at the end. The walk to our hotel was easy and we were full of happy chat over Harry Potter characters.

I recommend this play for any fans of Harry Potter. I am not sure how it’d go down if you had not read the books. I also am not sure if children under 11 would find it too scary. We were frightened a couple of times ourselves (and we are too old to politely ask our age.)

It was an excellent start to our Harry Potter holiday.

London in Brexit Time

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Watching the latest Brexit vote on BBC in my hotel room.

The countdown is underway. March 29 is the drop-dead date. If the British Parliament does not approve Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal then the UK will leave the European Union without an agreement and this is likely to result in chaos in trade and travel. Most of the people I talked to shared that they feel that the uncertainty is already costing their economy and that they expect more of a bill to come due (and that the average person will pay it–not the politicians or the wealthy). I arrived in London on March 12th and watched the Parliamentary debate as covered on the BBC on my hotel room television.

The motion to pass the Conservative Prime Minister May’s negotiated principles for political divorce went down in flames–another historic losing vote. No one seems able to explain why Theresa May hasn’t lost her job yet.

IMG_7086Later in the week, I anxiously listened to the March 18th podcast Talking Politics. “Can this go on?” was the title and Cambridge professors David Runciman and Helen Thompson are bewildered. They made references to the English Civil War and joked at the end that all that is left is the Queen intervening.

A day or two later I discovered the FiveThirtyEight political podcast from March 15 focused on Brexit. Galen Druke interviewed David Runciman and Helen Thompson. It was helpful to have Druke’s questions to unpack some of the nuances. At that time Runciman gave May a 50-50 chance of getting her deal passed. At that time they thought the next steps would be for the Prime Minister to bring a clear choice in two votes to the Parliament on March 19. Things continue to evolve including the EU ministers expressing that the only way the UK can have an extension for an orderly exit is if the Parliament approves the negotiated deal. You can get up to the minute information on the BBC website.

You might wonder why an American should care so much about Brexit. Partly because I have friends in the UK who will be impacted. And because the United States is inexplicably still connected to Britain. In 2016 the UK voted for Brexit and the US electoral college gave Trump the nod. It feels like much of a muchness. We are both struggling with how we maintain a functioning democracy in the social media age and with growing economic inequality and insecurity due to climate change.

I’m praying for us all. May cooler heads prevail and may people dig deep for the kind of leadership needed at this pivotal moment in history.

Darjeeling Express Delights

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Darjeeling Express is on the 3rd level of the Kingly (food) Court in London

I just ate the most wonderful lunch of comfort Indian food at Darjeeling Express. I made the reservation for the day I arrived in London. The only time available for a lunch for two was at 2:00, 2:15 or 2:30. That suited me because I was arriving at 10:30 at Heathrow and would need to drop my bags in Soho. Fortunately my hotel was just an 8 minute walk from the restaurant (plus a few minutes for finding Kingly Ct–Google maps got me there but the entrance to the courtyard feels positively secretive.) I selected 2:30 and subsequently learned that this is the last seating for lunch service. The reservation form didn’t give an option for solo diners so I hoped they’d forgive me for saying I was two people!

I came in out of the rain and shed my coat and umbrella at the door. The restaurant was still mostly full when I arrived. It is more casual dining and very comfortable. Within a few minutes the three tables for two closest to the kitchen were full and I was at the middle table. I sat facing the kitchen so I could watch the women preparing food. I have not eaten Indian food often and when I have it has been mostly at the type of place where there is a buffet or a more limited menu. The beverage was an easy decision as the Tamarind Spritz sounded so refreshing. As I studied the menu and the specials of the day I noticed that the young couple next to me were enjoying an easy banter and as they were Indian might have some helpful suggestions.

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When you step into the courtyard off of Carnaby Street you’ll find this oasis of dining establishments and a yoga studio, of course.

I asked them if they have eaten here before? Yes! Did they have any favorites? Yes! They were eating vegetarian but I was open to mixing it up. I accepted their suggestion for Bihari Phulki as a starter. A generous portion arrived with two sauces–I loved the tamarind sauce best, the other was a bit spicy for me and still delicious. They explained that this is the kind of food they would eat at home on a day like today. I wasn’t sure if they meant eat at home as in home-cooking or if they were from India. They did both grow up in New Delhi but met in London. They meant it was the kind of comforting food that ticks lots of boxes on a cold, blustery day.

While I waited for my main, they were served Puchkas. I’m sorry I don’t have a picture of it. It looks like a circle of eggs shells broken at the top around a small ceramic pot of sauce. You pour the liquid into the shell of pastry and pop it into your mouth. The flavors crash in a series of delicious waves. I know because this lovely couple offered me the seventh one, assuring me that I would keep them from fighting over it.

For my main I chose the Calcutta Chicken Chaap that comes with bread or rice. My dining friends suggested the bread as it is the kind of bread your mother would make at home or you could get on the street in New Delhi, albeit the street version is greasier. It was amazing: light and fluffy and a great compliment to the chicken. So good that I broke my rule of taking a “doggy bag” when I am on the road. I wished I had taken the chicken too as I ended up giving it to a homeless man outside Hatchard’s bookstore. The number of homeless people in London on this visit surprised and saddened me.

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Chef Asma Khan

I planned my trip to London around Harry Pottering with my friend UK Sarah at the end of November when I got a screaming deal on Air New Zealand. Then a few weeks ago season 6 of the Chef’s Table debuted on Netflix. I was intrigued by the episode featuring chef Asma Khan and her London restaurant Darjeeling Express. And thrilled when I discovered I could afford to eat there and a reservation was possible.

One of the other reasons to dine at Darjeeling Express is Chef Khan’s commitment to hiring mostly women and supporting charities that lift up women. On my table was an appeal to give to The Lotus Flower Cafe. And on the website there is information on Second Daughters Fund the charity also featured in Chef’s Table, Volume Six, Episode Three.

American Pie Vs. British Pie

Final-Book-Cover_15Dec2011_cropped1Happy Pi(e) Day!

My first plan for today was to read Beth M. Howard’s book Making Piece and then to reflect on the roles pie has played in my own life. I am as my mother reminds me “from a long line of pie-baking women.”

I bought the book (it’s on my TBR shelf) and then I realized I’d be in London on Pi(e) Day.

I am in London in the middle of two glorious days Harry Pottering. I did scope out a shop, Pieminister, where I could try some British meat pies. Alas our schedule is so full it may not happen today. I may have to wait for Ian Leavitt’s pie in the butcher shop in Tollesbury, Essex.

CriscoI recently began watching the Great British Bake Off on Netflix. I am late to the party. I went back to watch from the early seasons and someone in there they gave the amateur bakers the challenge to bake an American pie. I was appalled by how they interpreted our pies. First they all used butter only crust. While there are Americans who use butter only crust, it is more common to use half-butter, half-shortening in the crust. Or as the women in my family do–all shortening, preferably Crisco. (I’m sure Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry are shuddering if they read this.) Second, American pie is served from it’s pie “pan” which is most commonly a ceramic dish especially for pie. The bakers did get right that it is almost always very sweet and can be a cream pie or a fruit pie or a combination.

Watching the show has also reminded me of some of the very delicious meat pies I have enjoyed in England. I hope to eat some today, perhaps at Warner Brothers Studios.

Pick up a fork and celebrate Pi(e) Day with your choice of savory or sweet!

Update: I did get some absolutely fabulous chicken pot pie from Ian the butcher in Tollesbury, Essex. He makes his with a puff pastry top.

Prepping for a Very Harry Potter Vacation

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Hogwarts at Universal Studios, Hollywood, CA

I am going to England in March to visit UK Sarah and we are going to spend the first 2 days geeking out over Harry Potter. We will see both parts of The Cursed Child at the theater and then the next day visit Warner Bros.’ The Making of Harry Potter.

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Fans enjoying Hogsmeade at Universal Studios.

In preparation I am re-reading all 7 books by JK Rowling. I will probably watch all the films again too. My close reading of the Harry Potter series is so much more enjoyable and meaningful because as I read a chapter I am pausing to listen to the podcast Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. The co-hosts Vanessa Zoltan and Casper ter Kuile created a unique format. Each episode has a theme, such as friendship, commitment, fear or other values/ emotions. They begin with a short story from one of them that illustrates the theme. Then they compete in a friendly competition of recapping the chapter in 30 seconds. This is followed by a discussion of the chapter through the lens of the theme. They then apply a spiritual practice, such as lectio divina, to part of the text, finally they each give a blessing to one of the characters. Often there is also an interview with a guest rabbi or professor. Or they play a short message from a listener. I am LOVING the whole experience.

Vanessa and Casper met at Harvard Divinity School. Vanessa is up front about her Jewish background and nonbeliever status. Casper is a little more enigmatic. He has a lovely British accent and can share his boarding school experience. They are both very empathetic, mature people with a strong moral compass. It all adds up to a fascinating podcast.

By the way, just to be on the safe side, I am flying back to California before the deadline for hard Brexit.