Window at Marchpane
Pam’s Pictorama Post: I am perched in a cramped hotel room as I start this. Tucked under the eaves in a huge, ancient building that is a labyrinth of stairs and hallways – I have gotten lost twice, perhaps the only times I have ever gotten lost in a hotel in a life that has incorporated a fair amount of far flung travel. This establishment also has the virtue, so to speak, of having been the coldest hotel room I was ever walked into when I arrived. (I managed to get heat into the room eventually – evidently Wynton could not and was rumored to have slept in his hat.) London has been experiencing extraordinarily bad weather, unused to snow and generally at a time when they might be expecting winter to start to break toward snowdrops, crocuses and spring, it snowed daily since I arrived earlier this week. Although total accumulation never exceeded several inches London was pretty much in shut down mode.
Let me back up a bit – I came to London to raise interest in (and of course money for) the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra – my primary purpose was a party hosted by an the British arm of an interested fraternal organization. If having an event in another country wasn’t difficult enough (it is) then the snow was the final kicker for this one. I readily admit that I was already a bit frayed when I arrived and, despite London being one of my favorite cities in the world, the city I know best outside of New York, and one where I even had the advantage of speaking the language, the event details were onerous, multiplying hourly with the weather. (We spent days looking for a piano for the venue – no one would deliver one in the snow – then briefly, we had three, finally one.) I was very grateful to have an extremely capable colleague here with me helping to manage it all. Still, when you are off your game you just are and I have been – I commenced by mangling a series of, expensive, tube cards (first de-magnatizing one by placing it near my phone, then jamming another in a machine when I should have just waved it, lost the damn thing about a million times once I realized it couldn’t be near any magnets, credit cards or near my phone) and even lost my trousers after hurriedly changing before our event.
The first two nights of the trip ran very late – the time difference was in out favor however and therefore 1:00 and 2:00 AM respectively were doable for this early-to-bed and early-to-rise Pictorama Pam. However, despite exhaustion, the morning after our event I rallied and rose early for the Bermondsey flea market.
Bermondsey is in South London and the trip required some planning to execute, especially in my somewhat ham handed and under-caffeinated mental state. When I got there I had a long, snowy, cold walk to the flea market site. Despite Google and the cheerful blue moving dot on the map, I was unable to locate the market. Freezing and dripping with snow, I finally broke down and wandered into a cafe and purchased coffee and a bagel. Turns out that the flea market should have been within sight of the cafe – it had not opened that day because of the weather. I curled up with my hot coffee and regrouped.
I texted my contact at the Bulgari Hotel to see if I could locate my trousers (a delightful birthday purchase I had no intention of losing) and no one could. I took off to the hotel to see if I could find them myself. This took me to Central London where I could execute that and treat myself to a trip to Leicester Square to see if any of my favorite haunts survived the past decade of my neglect.
Trousers retrieved and in hand, a half hour later I found myself in a mews close to Leicester Square where I was pleased to find that a favorite antiquarian children’s bookseller, Marchpane, is still in residence – although sadly closed due to the inclement weather. The print dealer across the news told me that they had been shut all week – people having trouble getting in from outside of Central London – the snow really piling up out of town.
Wet plate image from Victorian photos at the National Portrait Gallery, I believe by Oscar Rejlander
I restored my frazzled peace of mind by visiting some old favorites at the National Gallery as well as a splendid Victorian photography exhibit at the Portrait Gallery and a small exhibit on the British Sufragette. Afterward, on a whim, I routed myself through increasing snow, back past the bookstore. Blissfully, it had opened! Things were looking up at last. A charming young woman with mesmerizing tiny crystals highlighting her face like 21st century beauty marks, bright blue eyebrows and hair, and a very fetching black hat. For contrast, she sported canary yellow trousers and a blue velvet jacket – a woman after my own heart. Over the next 40 minutes or so I learned that she is Natalie Kay Thatcher – illustrator, book seller and writer (NatalieKayThatcher.com).
Natalie poses for me at Marchpane!
I explained my mission – rather specifically cat-themed children’s books – and my sodden disappointment at the failure of Bermondsey to materialize that morning. She was evidently not the least bit surprised that someone would be traveling to London trying to acquire antique toy cats and related items. We commiserated about my bad luck, discussed collecting and toys and soon were thick as thieves. She even invited me to peer into a box of toys in the basement of the store – oh bliss! She brought out a delightful large stuffed bunny which was tempting (he is definitely someone – he was wearing trousers and a vest) to see if I knew anything about him. Glorious bunny, but my mission was very much cat today. Nonetheless, I felt my feathers finally start to un-ruffle as we discussed under-appreciated juvenile series – she is researching some interesting sounding, obscure wartime children’s literature. Pam’s Pictorama came up and so did Waldo – and lo and behold – she had read Alias the Cat! Now my cat collection made much more sense and had context.
We shared some girl talk and she called a friend and former employer in Covent Garden who owns a store specializing in toy theaters. Until recently the store also sold some antique toys. He was unloading a shipment though and it wasn’t clear if he would be available later. Meanwhile Natalie also unearthed not one, but two very splendid Louis Wain books. They were, not surprisingly, quite dear. One in particular caught my attention. I decided I should not be impulsive and went off to eat my lunch around the corner and think about it. I had an appointment in another part of town at 3:00 and had to watch the time. I decided that Covent Garden could wait until later in the day and reluctantly I took my leave, back out into the snow, the siren song of the Louis Wain book taking up residence in my head.
Nearby I passed by a hole-in-the-wall tea shop where I had eaten many meals, and was amazed to still find it there. Ultimately I passed it up in favor of a café located where another favorite place had been, but definitely different, and less dodgy looking than the tea shop. I curled up with hot soup and lots of hot tea to warm myself up and take stock. Talking to Natalie about Kim and the kitties and my delightful life in Manhattan made me a bit homesick but, at least briefly, left me restored by finding a kindred spirit out in the far flung world.