Bleary eyed, we shuffle out the door at an obscenely early hour and down the street to the bus stop. It's a humble beginning to a day that would be anything but ordinary. Bolstered by bus station tea made tolerable by pairing with homemade muffins, Mary, Shaun and I board the express bus to London where we are later expelled into the bustling city.
First stop, Trafalgar Square. St. Martin-in-the-Fields has hosted free lunchtime concerts for 65 years, and we settle into our seats just moments before the program begins. The artists range from up and coming young musicians to renouned figures and choirs from around the world. Today's concert features a piano duo performing two 4-hands 1-piano pieces. It is a genre near to my heart, as the last time I touched a piano was to play such a piece with my son, Erik. The music resounds in the large space, rendered more impressive by its surroundings. The white interior of the soaring interior trimmed with fine gold lines and adorned with chandeliers lends its own art to the music. While the first piece by Liszt is complex and demanding, I find it lacking, knowing my piano teacher would demand it be more “musical.” In short, it sounds loud and bangy. But the second piece, “The Divine Poem” by Scriabin, is captivating. More modern and full of a range of emotions, it sings through the space surrounding us. Before I am ready, it is finished and so is the concert.
Across the street the National Portait Gallery. With only half an hour available, we leave it to Shaun – who paints himself – to select a collection to visit. Conveniently, the impressionists are immediately opposite the main door and we hurry into the hallowed rooms. I immediately feel humbled to see so many original masters assembled in this space. It takes only a few steps to move from one famous painting to another and I am amazed to be drinking in the rich colors and brush stokes of these fabled artists. I try not to rush from Cezanne to Monet to Renoir to Manet, and quickly find the short descriptions of the paintings to be concise, illuminating and worthwhile, enriching my visit which is only long enough to leave me eager to return.
Through the maze of tube stations. Which brings us to a tea room and Ruth. My friendship with Mary blossomed into the second generation when we introduced our young daughters, Ruth and Karen, as pen pals across the ocean. They have since attended each others' weddings and remain fast friends, as we have. Now sitting across from me is a confident young attorney, having tea with us and sharing stories as if no time had passed since I last saw her.
The skies have brightened a bit, even revealing a few patches of blue. We take the opportunity to walk the streets of London and take in the city up close. Skirting St. Paul's Cathedral, it's towers rising above us, we come to the Millenium Bridge. It seems odd, a modern new structure added to the revered old buildings of London. And yet I find its sleek design appealing and enjoy its gleaming contrast as it takes me across the Thames River.
The bridge is not the only new addition. Everywhere I look, the London skyline is pierced by a modern structure. But what I love are the fanciful names attached to these buildings that describe their shape – the cheese grater, the shard and gherkin. There is a surprising sense of humor in it all.
Our finale is dinner. To simplify things, Mary had made reservations at Prezzo in the area near the bus station. Once seated, we know it's just a quick jaunt to the bus and can relax over our meal. The bottle of wine adds just the right touch to our entrées of pizza and pasta, and it is one of those meals where conversation and good times roll. The perfect ending to our day.
It was good, this day in London. Thanks to Mary and Shaun, I've had a Larkin London!
(For those who may not be in the know, it's Mary and Shaun Larkin)