Everything you have heard about the English is true. They are disingenuous and dull except when they are drunk, which is almost all the time, on the cheapest, warmest swill one can imagine; and then they reach a level of unspeakable vulgarity. If I never stepped inside an English pub again, it would be too soon. Beating the streets of London in search of a good cocktail, I might as well have been training to climb Kilimanjaro! Contrarily, the English have great dental hygiene but simply have a different definition of the color white. The country is very deluded about its quotidian racism. Politics here are a mess and murder on the rise. Unlike Americans, however, they do not shoot each other (save the occasional Cumbrian madman) but prefer the knife for bodily assault. And the English loathe Americans despite their constant effort to recreate our popular culture and poetry. The English female’s penchant for vertigo-inducing short skirts, black tights and bedraggled hair leaves much to be desired. Fun and intimacy are utterly foreign concepts. The only remnants I have of my libertine lifestyle, when I am here and away from my beloved island of Manhattan, are: reruns of Dynasty (left) ; a fabulous newspaper column, called “Out in the City”, by Richard Dennen; and, wandering the halls of academia, Bessie Smith’s voice—seeping from a door left ajar by an eminent Henry James scholar.
Nonetheless, all is forgiven due to fact that I live in the splendor (vastly apart, mind you, from luxury) of Hampstead. It is an unparalleled quarter of London. From the window of my study, I watch a neighboring couple of squirrels plan their day in the trees and chat with an ornery magpie that is only interested in my leftover baguette. My street is lined with Magnolia stellata, purple-leaf plum, Rhododendron ponticum, Choisya ternata and hedges that are ever green. Whenever there is need to go to the post office, I always make my way past Anna Freud’s garden. How can I help but sing “of summer in full-throated ease”1, living just a short walk from John Keats’ house—where any guest of mine is sure to be taken? If I need a reward at the weekend, I trek the heath to Kenwood House for breakfast. Several weeks ago, I was coming home from Fenton House and decided to walk down Frognal, passing number 97, where the contralto Kathleen Ferrier lived. Immediately, her 1947 recording of Brahams’ Alto-Rhapsodie (a favorite) filled my head. I continued my walk, rounding the corner to catch the sunset on University College School and a small valley of buildings that spanned three centuries. “Turning from these with awe, once more I raised / My eyes to fathom the space every way”2. If only my friend and Virgil scholar, the poet James Byrne, who told me of all this before I had ever seen it, was there to share it with me. Alas, it was only me to say, “This is evidence, real as a gold piece”3 and the spirit of Keats to witness the love affair.
1. from "Ode to a Nightingale" by John Keats.
2. from “The Fall of Hyperion”, by John Keats
3. from “Testimony”, by James Byrne