One of my favourite radio programs is the Wednesday morning “Taste Test” on CBC’s Radio 1, Montreal morning show. The music critic, Brendan Kelly, reviews some new music or showcases a new artist with host Mike Finnerty.

It’s entertaining. After listening to a few cuts, the discussion, whether from the listeners texting in or from the chat of the radio hosts, inevitably leads to what the music reminds them of.

Is it 60’s music? The 70’s? Does it remind them of The Beatles? Or perhaps The Beach Boys?

This bugs me: why can’t you talk about the music on its own terms? The labels, I feel, trip them up.

Sure, compare if you must with other musical eras or artists, but tone it down a bit!

Yet, I found myself doing the same thing while strolling through different London parks and neighbourhoods on many different occasions. Wandering around a new district, like Soho, for example, I would inevitably pipe up to Naomi, “This reminds me of…”

It was incredible how often and how strong this feeling came up.

(Speaking of “incredible”, I loved mocking the cockney accent and learned that for most words which end in …ble (i.e. terrible, incredible, etc.), you can instead end the word sounding out “bo”, as in “incredibo”. It seemed to work! Whenever I spoke “British” to Naomi, which was more and more often as the trip wore on, I would end up swearing, as if all Brits have pent up four-letter words eager to get out.)

Er, to return to the subject: In the span of a day, even a couple of hours, I would be reminded of many different places, from India (the 4-mile walk along the Thames from Richmond to Kew Gardens – don’t ask me why; I was last in India in 1984); to Toronto (on certain over-ground subway rides which brought me back to trips on the Yonge Street line during a year spent in T.O. in 1985); to New York City (obvious).

Some London moments were uniquely British, a feeling of greatness and power – for example, while walking to the Albert & Victoria Museum down Exhibition Road. Completely distinctive, you couldn’t compare the experience to anything; I experienced a feeling of enormous authority and grandeur from the decades and centuries of England’s past.

Exhibition Road. You've passed the magnificent Albert Memorial, the Royal Albert Hall, and now you're on your way to the Albert & Victoria Museum...
Exhibition Road. You’ve passed the magnificent Albert Memorial, the Royal Albert Hall, and now you’re on your way to the Albert & Victoria Museum…

The Worst Job in the World

OK, it’s not the worst job in the world, but it can’t be very much fun to be a doorman at the posh retail stores of New Bond Street in the expensive Mayfair neighbourhood of London. Are these men there, besides to open the door to customers, to intimidate people? Or potential shoplifters? Bad policy, I would say. They are generally large, well-muscled individuals who stand in the doorways of handbag shops, jewelry stores, clothing boutiques and every other type of luxury item boutique in the area.

New Picture
New Bond Street, where a handbag can put you back many hundreds, if not thousands of dollars…

Perhaps they are there to reassure nervous, yet wealthy patrons, I don’t know. They don’t seem too happy, however.

Cartier jewellers in London's New Bond Street.
Cartier jewellers in London’s New Bond Street.

Speaking of jobs, I often wondered where the army of workers and servers who attend to the wealthy in London live. Certainly not in the quartiers we visited: Far too expensive. I wondered how long it takes them to get to work every day.

One afternoon, we met a relative of Naomi’s at a high-class restaurant run by famous Israeli chef and writer, Yotam Ottolenghi, not far from famous Piccadilly Circus. Monica also invited her daughter, who works nearby, to join us. Olivia told us that, even though a college grad in civil engineering and possessor of a new job, she was forced to look for accommodation in what she thought was a relatively cheaper neighbourhood, in the southern district of Brixton.

These housing problems, due to exorbitant costs, are problems shared by young people in so many of today’s large cities, Toronto, Vancouver, New York City…


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