I decided to throw my inhibitions to the wind and buy a round-trip ticket to London for two days later. Most plan flights weeks in advanced, but I was feeling spontaneous. My Thursday class was canceled so the possibility for a 4-day adventure was too enticing. It’s an unbelievable feeling and privilege to be able to hop on the web, put in travel dates, and choose a European country to fly to. I never thought I would utter words like “…Should I go to Copenhagen this weekend? Nah I think I’ll go to London.”
A good friend of mine has lived in London her whole life and offered that I could stay at her flat whenever I came to visit. We discussed meeting up sometime since I was in Europe, but I had said I needed to settle in and figure out my schedule before we made any plans. It must have been a big surprise when Mollie received a message out of the blue saying “I think I’m comin’ to London this Thursday!!” Fortunately she was home that weekend and told me, “Absolutely come!” After finding out the details of where she lived and which airport I should fly into, I instantly booked the tickets!
Before I knew it, I was in the air. It’s exciting being able to leave the country so easily and I had never been to the UK before. Luckily I had the window seat because I knew I had some sights in store. It was a beautiful day in Rome and the clouds were epic as ever. It’s awesome being able to see ruins between rolling hills from an aerial perspective.
Eventually I fell asleep and sooner than I expected I was in London. Looking out the window, I enjoyed the memory of Italian blue skies and seas juxtaposed with the socked-in grey of London. The landscape and weather seemed rather fitting and I figured the grey was here to stay.
I landed at the Stansted airport and followed the crowd in hopes of finding the train. I took the Stansted Express to the Liverpool St. Station, where I was meeting Mollie. It was rush hour at the time, which meant people were making their commute home and the perfect opportunity for wonderful people watching. I’ve never been around such well-dressed, well-composed masses before. Everyone looked so wealthy and elegant and held their heads high with some sort of dignity.
After a few minutes of trying to figure out whether it was just a facade or if everyone really was that rich and classy, I met up with Mollie. It had been almost a year and it was excellent to see her! One of the first things she told me was: “Oh my god you sound so American!” This was the first time we had conversed outside of the states, so I guess on her own turf my Californian slang was a tad more startling.
We wandered the streets of London catching up. The city looked so pristine compared to Rome, the buildings almost looked fake. There wasn’t any graffiti in this area and everything was spotless. We headed towards the heart of Soho where we were meeting up with 2 of Mollie’s friends for a special dinner.She stopped in front of a sex-shop with no name. I was a little confused but figured this was just the spot we were meeting up with her friends. But then she went to open the door, which had me intrigued. We entered into a small room with red lighting and bizarre decor such as a smiling set of teeth coming out of the bell of a saxophone. There was a woman dressed in a racer-jumpsuit with enormous curly ginger hair who took our coats and escorted us down a narrow stairwell to the main part of the restaurant.
It was a hacienda-style mexican restaurant and tequila bar called, La Bodega Negra. It had aggressively dim lighting and chic furnishings, in what looked liked the basement of a military barrack. I spent a couple hours indulging and chatting with Mollie and my new London friends. We had delicious soft-shell crab tacos with a chipotle cream sauce, blue-tail tuna ceviche and Toronja Buenas. It was one of the hippest places I’ve ever been and apparently a hotspot for celebrities and young wealthy Brits. It was a tad pricey but had a killer atmosphere and well worth the experience.After dinner we went to the opening night of SELF by English artist Antony Micallef at the Lazarides Rathbone. The cousin of one of Mollie’s friends is the curator of the gallery, so we were put on the list for the exclusive event. Lazarides is a gallery that exhibits unique contemporary artists that normally push the boundaries of categorization. It is considered the international market leader for “urban art.”Antony Micallef is a prominent contemporary painter whose work sells for a pretty penny. This new body of work we saw, entitled SELF is a series of colorful abstract self-portraits. The paintings were beautiful and I was glad to have been able to see them in person. He slabs on layer after layer of oil paint, creating a topography of sorts. I never would have been able to see the intricate depths of the work through a 2 dimensional image. Once the gallery opening ended, we got a private tour from the curator of the gallery that was converted from a four story town-house. Every wall contained art and each room was full of permanent works from well known artists who have exhibited in the past. It was awesome to see their office spaces and private galleries, and hear more about the behind the scenes of what goes into curating a show. I was blown away to get the inside scoop of the contemporary art scene in London and to find out how much the paintings from tonight were selling for.After the gallery we met up with some more friends of miss Mollie’s at the legendary jazz club, Ronnie Scott’s. The event began with Brazilian Night in the top floor of the club, which entailed: two eccentric woman jamming out some samba tunes, 2 Amazonian showgirls whose colorful headdresses took up most of the dance floor and a conga line full of overzealous middle-aged folks. The people I was with claimed this was a curveball for the normally classy club but I had a great time and it was hilarious. This was sharply contrasted with the performance by a talented jazz quartet in a candle-lit red velvet piano bar with wine and cheese plates. Overall it was a fantastic night and a beautiful welcome to the UK!The following morning Mollie and I had a proper English breakfast in a trendy cafe called Barber & Parlour in Shoreditch. It’s a one-stop shop for all your culinary and grooming needs. Right to the side of people enjoying a cup of joe was an old-fashioned barber shop. Pick the wrong spot at the cafe and you just might get a snip of hair in your omelette. Mollie had class until the night so I had the whole day ahead of me. I was excited to wander around a new city with nothing but my camera and an abundance of inspiration. My journey started with the two pieces (above) by artist James Cochran (aka Jimmy C.). These energetic portraits displayed his talent and drip-painting style. They are on Whitby St. right in front of the cafe. From there — it was a domino-effect — moving piece by piece, enjoying all of the street art and cool shops in Shoreditch. I spent the morning wandering through Shoreditch and Brick Lane enjoying vintage shops, the Old Spitalfields Market and free local art galleries. Such as Beauty in Decay II by MEGGS (2 above) and Open Eye Signal (above), a 7 layer hand-cut stencil by artist duo SNIK all at StolenSpace Gallery. East London is chock-full of art everywhere you look.
Eventually I approached The River Thames that runs through southern England. I could see the London Parliament, Big Ben and the London Eye in the distance. I continued down the bank and then from far away I could see the London Bridge. Although those landmarks are all glorious in their own right, today… I was tackling: Tate Modern I spent the next 5 hours exploring every inch of Tate Modern. It is the most visited modern art gallery in the world, referenced countless times in my art classes at UC Berkeley and a place I always dreamed of visiting. I cannot believe what I was able see before my eyes. It is absolutely a different experience seeing these iconic works in person.
Art breeds art. It is amazing to see what surrounding yourself with art can do to inspire creativity. Such as the young boy (above) who sketched Picasso’s The Three Dancers (1925). It is an infinite chain: Picasso expressed an abstraction of a love triangle, which inspired the boy to draw a unique replica which ultimately led me to capture the moment. The air was alive and I was excited to see everything that I could.I spent a lot of time looking at the work from two of my favorite painters, Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso. Tate Modern has a large collection of their work on the second floor, called Poetry and Dream. It was incredible to be able to see such detail up close! I found new things within work I’ve seen for years.
I met up with my friend, Justin (above), who is one of 6 of my friends from Berkeley studying in London. He is doing a fashion program at Central St. Martins, an arts university in London. We exchanged stories about our semesters so far. It was very interesting to hear about his experience and the prestigious program. We went through the new exhibit called Conflict/Time/Photography. I was intrigued by the title and Justin wanted to see it for inspiration for a shirt he is designing. It was a captivating display that moves chronologically from minutes—hours—days—weeks—months—years—decades after different traumatic war-related events. The work was stunning, but I was mentally and physically exhausted from my 5 hours in Tate. Which meant the perfect time for Justin and I to go to Chinatown for stir-fry for dinner. The following night was the beloved V-day and Mollie’s flat had people over for drinks. I invited the Berkeley crew to come too. It was absolutely awesome to have a room mixed full of ol’ Berkeley friends and my new Brit buddies.
Mollie’s boyfriend, Jakob, is the manager of a jazz club called the Arch·Dead Dolls Club. So after the soiree we all went down to the club for some live music. Jakob is incredibly nice and welcoming and treated us all to free drinks. Valentines Day is an interesting night to go out, but as soon as our group entered we livened the mood of the lonely hearts club. We danced wildly till the wee hours of the night. Mollie even managed to convince the normally stubborn jazz band to play 3 encores. I had the best time jamming with friends both old and new.My final day in London, Jakob took me around some new parts of Hackney. Him and our friend Oska had insisted on showing me around, although due to some late night shenanigans, Oska was a no show. After breakfast we headed to the first stop: the Columbia Road Flower Market. The colorful flower filled streets were pleasant and refreshing. The air was crisp and filled with a floral aroma. It was funny though, most of the vendors were bulky stern-looking men, bellowing out with thick cockney dialects the deals for their bouquets like they were used-car salesmen. I wondered how they got into the floral industry. As we walked down the cold brick streets we ran into a small farm. I was not expecting to interact with a goat or a gaggle of geese in the center of the city. The Hackney City Farm was founded in the 80’s allow people of the borough to interact with animals and connect with some nature. Jakob is originally from Sweden but moved to London 2 years ago. It’s bizarre though, he has a nearly indistinguishable British accent. We wandered the streets of Brick Lane looking at the graffiti covered walls, checking out art galleries and pondering life. We talked about the differences and similarities between Sweden, the UK and the US; about how our globally connected generation is so close to finally ‘getting it’ whilst at the brink of destroying the world as we know it; and the paradox of our rapidly progressive society as it simultaneously digresses. And how like-minded people have such a natural tendency to come together.We ended our excursion in Dalston, the new up and coming hip area in London. Jakob explained that the center for young artsy people shifts around every few years after the old one has been gentrified and commercialized. First it was SoHo then Shoreditch and now Dalston. But basically as soon as an area is recognized as hip they start driving up rents and driving out locals.Thanks so much to Mollie for being a wonderful person and such a gracious host! I absolutely fell in love with East London. You and your rad friends showed me the best time and you surely haven’t seen the last of me.
I may not have ridden the London Eye, been mesmerized by the Westminster Abbey, taken a selfie with a pissed off Queen’s gaurd in front of the Buckingham Palace and I may have only seen Big Ben from afar — but I did have 4 incredible days — living as a Londoner.