I want it to happen to me: when we went to London on weekends


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The eighties ended. The peseta reigned and a bubble kept the pound at bay. What to do a weekend without a plan? Go to London, for example.

It all started with a ticket. The thin layers of paper were compressed in the travel agency's folder. Under the elongated deck, fate multiplied in the reddish echoes of the autocopy.

There were bags, a taxi. My father articulated "International Flights" in an oracular tone. The engine started with the creak of a trampoline and we climbed towards the avenue of America.

Barajas: tails of chrome cars and our safe-conduct towards the empty counter and the hostess with a friendly smile. Non-invoicing was a manifestation of free will. There was no size limitation, no struggles to fit suitcases on the seats, or threats of extra cost. Non-invoicing was freedom.

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London in the early 90s, some things remain the same, but others have changed forever © Getty Images

During the flight, the tolerance extended in an open bar format that my father used liberally . The answer to another gin and tonic was a smile, a bottle and ice that overflowed a plastic cup.

Expectation detonated with the blow on the runway. Heathrow opened in signals that made up a foreign language.

Upon departure, a man in a dark suit was waiting for us with a sheet on which our surname was drawn. He picked up the bags and accompanied us to the car.

It was a break for my father to talk to the driver. My brother watched them and my mother nodded as the landscape went on strangely. The grassy plots, the glass of the suburban hotels and, beyond, the homogeneity of dark brick in straight rows.

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"My father had marked the Savoy as a residence because he was only a few steps from Covent Garden © Getty Images

The city did not assert itself until it reached the pink mass of the Natural History Museum. From there, the road became familiar: Knightsbridge, Hyde Park Corner, Buckingham, Green Park, Trafalgar and the Strand.

The access to the Savoy, embedded in a cul-de-sac on which a large art deco marquee was projected, retained the spirit of the gorge. An overwhelming carving man in a top hat and red cape kept the door. His pink skin tightened in a smile as a bellboy took the bags.

The entrance was silent, dark wood, checkered floors. Before the renovation, the hotel maintained a warm decline. My father had marked it as a local residence because it was only a few steps from Covent Garden, its mecca.

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'Dippy the Diplodocus', in the Natural History Museum © Getty Images

To this requirement were added the views over the river, the patina furniture, the bathrooms that commemorated the Belle Époque and a leisurely attention.

Mike, the concierge, guarded tickets for strange operas, like Elektra de Strauss or Attila de Verdi. I liked the sandwiches of the entrance and an atmosphere that reminded me of My Fair Lady.

I enjoyed ballet more. There was a choreography of Balanchine on a sober dark blue background. Princess Margarita came out to say hello.

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The Russian choreographer George Balanchine © Getty Images

Mornings began with breakfast in the room. The view opened over the Thames. The Houses of Parliament were cut to the bottom.

The bellhop brought to the window a circular table whose wings extended as it passed through the carpet. I remember the white tablecloth, the butter, the little silver knives, the porcelain on which the tea was poured, the alignment of the jams.

During the day, our range of action was reduced. The gestures happened in revisited spaces. In Jermyn Street shirts, the elderly dependents, the striped poplin, the thick ties and the wide panties obeyed an invariable pattern.

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The famous Hilditch and Key shirt manufacturers on Jermyn Street, Piccadilly, London © Getty Images

The lavender soap we bought from my grandmother in Floris remained. The Royal Academy exhibition referred to a previous sample.

In Simpson's, the carver officiated the sacrifice of roast-beef on a silver-covered altar. The Yorkshire pudding and gravy sauce were blessed by the acolytes.

In other temples the ritual was less rigorous. Rules was not yet a tourist attraction and Joe Allen materialized the memory of a distant New York.


Simpson's roast beef, one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's favorite places © Simpson's

There were also other gods. Not only Wagner and Donizetti reigned. Oscar Wilde's encounters with Bosie at the Savoy's bar kept his drive. By chance, we relapsed into an unimportant woman.

In my memory a performance is still projected in the Haymarket theater. Something in the staging and in the women's dresses of the public spoke of him, of Wilde, explicitly, literally.

I stop and doubt if I have reworked the memory. Maybe. I notice a greater sharpness in my solitude intervals, in the spaces of my own exploration.

During my father's nap, he crossed Covent Garden and wandered through Stanfords' maps, guides and travel books, or climbed up to Piccadilly and looked for novels and history books in Hatchards.

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Hatchards, founded in Piccadilly in 1797 © Getty Images

Other times my fixation for the Italian primitives took me to the National Gallery. When the Sainsbury Wing was inaugurated, the Venturi basilical space was set in my geography. There, between Uccello, Piero della Francesca, Mantegna and Giovanni Bellini, hung 'The marriage Arnolfini' by Van Eyck: talisman and object of devotion.

But harmony is not eternal. The balance is broken without recording the inflection point. The crack that marked the landslide had a smiling face. Her name was Laura. I met her in Madrid, in an unapproved context. He had moved to London and sold bracelets in Candem.

That weekend was not my brother and I proposed to go to the hotel one afternoon. He did not reach the elevator. The doorman held her in a side room. Laura gave my name and they called me.

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"Her name was Laura. She had moved to London and sold bracelets in Candem" © Getty Images

When I appeared, he smiled. He wore jeans and a faded shirt. We go up to the room. He took off his shoes and jumped on the carpet, on the bed.

He ordered a delirious dinner at the room service and laughed out loud at the dish covers. We drank the furniture bar and made love.

And London changed.

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The Arnolfini Marriage of Jan van Eyck © Getty Images