London — Day Three

Street Art

Shockingly, the sun was out this morning and there wasn’t a drop of rain all day. That was a good thing, because I was scheduled to go on a walking tour of street art in London’s East End. I’m mad about street art and always try to check out the local scene.

I met up with the guide near the Whitechapel Art Gallery, just a few blocks from where I attended college in the early 1970s.  The area has changed radically since I spent time there.  It’s gentrifying by the moment.

We set off at a brisk pace and for the next two hours saw an astonishing variety of art by dozens of street artists.  The guide, Malcolm, was knowledgeable and took the group to off-the-beaten-track locations that none of us would ever have found on our own. He gave great explanations about when, where, and how the art is created.  As in other cities, much of it is illegally painted, often at odd hours of the night. But as the art form becomes more popular, people are offering wall space to known artists. The last area we visited featured an original Banksy, the most well-known of international street artists.

Malcolm and I chatted a great deal as we walked; we each recognized a kindred spirit. He told me that I had to see the street art in Brixton (another London neighborhood). Next trip.

When the tour was done, I kept walking around the area, spotting ever more artwork. I ambled towards Spitalfields Market. Along the way, desperate to sit for a while, I stopped at a Vietnamese street food restaurant and ate delicious Pho. To drink, I had Vietnamese milk coffee, a potent hit of caffeine and sugar. Fortified, I was ready to explore Spitalfields. For many centuries, the area has been a mecca for immigrants to London. There has been a market in the same location for hundreds of years. Recently renovated, the area is now a mix of full-time shops, vendors of crafts and imported goods, and a flea market. It’s a lively, vibrant scene.  I was tempted by a few items but managed to refrain from buying a thing.

Sue and I planned to meet late afternoon at St. Martin’s in the Field Church near Trafalgar Square. I arrived early and thought I’d sit for a while in the peace and quiet of the church. When I saw musicians rehearsing for an evening performance, I was delighted. In years past I’ve been to wonderful concerts in the church. Unfortunately, these musicians were torturing Vivaldi. After enduring fifteen minutes of The Four Seasons played at record speed with no finesse, I escaped to the café in the crypt.

Sue and I exchanged stories about our adventures while sipping tea. Then up the block to see Ian McKellen in the pantomime Mother Goose. Pantomime is a uniquely British form of entertainment that mashes slapstick, puns, total silliness, audience participation, superb singing, and lots of hamming it up in every conceivable way. The story is like no Mother Goose tale anyone has ever heard or seen. Ian McKellen played Mrs. Goose (Mother Goose). Watching a Shakesperean actor wearing over-the-top drag outfits, be outrageously funny and so out of character for any part we are accustomed to, was a treat.

Post-theater we walked to one of Sue’s favorite Indian restaurants, Cinnamon Bazaar.  As with the play, it was non-traditional. The food is updated Indian classics.