If you’ve only seen London in movies and TV shows, like I had until last week, you’d imagine that there are a few streets where historical dramas are filmed, and a couple of neighborhoods that are pretty, and then, perhaps, like me, you’d think that the rest is urban infill, mundane or un-pretty buildings between the nice ones.
Here in New York there are about five neighborhoods, protected by landmarks laws, where people can film period dramas, all finite: Brooklyn Heights, the West Village, Park Slope, Gramercy Park. Maybe bits of the Upper West Side or Prospect Heights. In London the neighborhoods just go on and on. For days. There are hundreds of them: beautiful streets, jewel-like neighborhoods: Egerton Gardens and Crescent (where I stayed!), and the nearby squares Thurloe, Cadogan, Oslow, Pelham. Then further, Eton, Bloomsbury, Grosvenor, Burton, and the regal Belgravia.
I could have happily spent my five days in London doing nothing but walking through the neighborhoods, one after another after the next, a parade of Edwardian and Victorian row houses lining the streets, squares, gardens – both public and private – and crescents: gorgeous, brilliant facades. Notting Hill. Mayfair. Chelsea. Granted, these areas are affluent; the buildings were consistently, perfectly clean and white. And the weather gods smiled on me; astoundingly I enjoyed sunny, warm days, a splendid late April of parks and gardens in full bloom, just turning green and dense with spring blossoms.
There is an underlying message oozing from these facades. They suggest a cultural certainty, perhaps superiority: they define urban living in a distinctly British way. “We have literally conquered the world and have come back home. Here, we live in gracious splendor.” And so it is that a walking tourist, from anywhere, would gain insight into a psyche, or a national mentality, this being one of the great values, of course, of traveling at all.