We arrived to steely skies and moderately cold temperatures (rather San Franciscan) and have settled into our hotel near Hyde Park.
This morning as we stepped into London from our hotel, I breathed in deeply and settled into a brisk walk toward the Mayfair public library, a copy of Inheritance tucked inside my bag.
Mayfair is a charming district of upscale shops and townhouses, hotels and picturesque pubs and eateries so that you almost don’t mind the gray skies. In the center of Mayfair stands the Victorian Gothic church known as Farm Street Church, bordered on one side by a green park, now landscaped with beds of daffodils and tulips. It may be rainy and cold, but spring is coming to London.
At one end of the wrought iron gates (what else?) stands the Mayfair Public Library, housed in one of the pretty brick townhouses, the white trimmed windows smiling upon us and the pretty porch and stairs beckoning us inside. The doors were open and I found a friendly face at the Enquiries Desk. The librarian was happy to accept a copy of my novel about London and England. I left happy too. Somehow, making these little connections is like the icing on the cake of this publication. Inheritance came from a deep desire to share this inspiring city and historic country, to point to a few of the great gifts England has given Western civilization and the world, particularly in terms of faith. Some of these gifts are today being squandered, and it is an inheritance I hate to see wasted. So giving this novel, with its Glastonbury cover, to the young librarian was immensely gratifying, itself a kind of inheritance passed onto the next reader generation.
We returned to the sculpted gates and strolled through the park, past the carved chevet of the church, and out to the busy streets of Mayfair (hope to do another blog post on the church). In many ways, the neighborhood hasn’t changed in the twenty or more years of our visits – the brick houses lining the roads, the steepled roofs with their chimney pots, the balconies and white flower boxes now with spring plantings. The black boxy taxis still round the corners, and we still study the painted warnings on the pavement at our feet before crossing, Look to the left, Look to the right, for those of us who are startled by traffic rushing from surprising directions. We are still the wary walkers in this city of speedy cars and rushed pedestrians with places to go and people to see, their phones close to their ears. Probably like any other major city, the bustle carries us along as though we are swept by a strong current. I study the faces as they flood past. Skin of every color, faces of every race. Old and young, but most middle-aged like me, part of the huge ‘forties and ‘fifties Baby Boom, before birth control and unwanted children. Indeed, the young today are the wanted, the lucky, the chosen few, one could unfashionably say, the survivors. I hear very little English spoken, but sudden bits of Russian, Arabic, French. The English voices I hear are heavily accented with other lands. London has become the Commonwealth itself, as the children of Empire returned to the Motherland, to be educated, to stay and raise their families in peace, and perhaps even still, in relative prosperity.
We continued through Piccadilly and down to St. James Square, Whitehall, where the police presence was noticeable and I recalled that meetings concerning Libya were being held there, including our own American Secretary of State Clinton, meetings that had filled the front pages of the papers this morning. But also in this square was our next destination, not quite so newsworthy, but nevertheless just as important, the London Public Library.
There too, an eager and friendly young man welcomed my novel for the collection, explaining the procedures of acquisition, the hurdles of acceptance, and I nodded, for we do the same with our collections at home. It is an era of increased pornography and gratuitous violence and sometimes a sensible oversight is necessary, particularly in reference to the written word. Indeed, not all books are created equal. I left the library, again with gratitude, for my little novel was birthed here in London, as the characters, much like ourselves, pounded these streets, visited these churches, historic sites, eateries and hotels. Ah, London.
We headed back up to Piccadilly, and while my husband window-shopped Jermyn Street, I browsed Hatchard’s Books, est. 1797 according to the Queen’s Purveyor’s sign over the door. As I climbed the central mahogany staircase I was happy to hear the familiar creak of the flooring, smell the sweet mellowness of the books (What is that smell? Expectation? Longing? Hints of leather bindings? Dust? All of this?). I meandered my way through the rooms, for there are many separate spaces, nooks and crannies, past the novels, to the history titles, then religion, and finally the children’s to check out the wonderful picture books, still on the top floor. My youngest granddaughter turns six next week.
Ah, London! We headed outside into the greyness and bustle and traffic and back to the hotel as a light rain began to fall and umbrellas popped open suddenly everywhere.