Magically delicious

My husband spent last week in London and returned home with treats for everyone. It’s funny how reductive our tastes can be: tea, biscuits, Smarties and the Queen.

There were also requests for Rescue Remedy, a particular facial toner my daughter uses and tea tree oil, all of which I’m sure we could find at the healthy supermarket if we could be bothered to drive for 25 minutes. These were emotional touchpoint requests not deep desires in and of themselves. We miss our old life enough to want some visual reminders.

When we had just moved back, I bought Twinkies. The girls had never had one. It would be educational and I wanted to see if they were still as delicious as I thought they were in my teens. They weren’t. No one liked them.

This story on food Americans miss when abroad includes things which, except for Mexican food and hamburgers, aren’t very good, but they signify home.

Not all bagels in NYC are good. Most aren’t. Favorite place? Brick Lane Beigel Bake, London, their bagels, small and chewy, still warm and filled with cream cheese and lox. And Carmelli’s, a place up in Golders Green, North London, did decent bagels, too. It just takes a while to find what you think you want or need.

That we bring back teabags (and of strong builders’ tea at that) instead of loose tea may indicate a lapse or lack of standards. There is, it turns out, a place downtown that sells freshly roasted coffee beans and a selection of loose tea. That is where we should be shopping. We have known about it the whole time we have lived here but have thought, oh, it won’t be that good, it’s inconvenient, the hours are stupid.  (They don’t open until 9 AM on weekdays!) And maybe so, but if and when we ever move or it closes this will be the kind of place we pine for.

While he was there, I pictured the shops along the street where his hotel was. The things I would have asked for couldn’t have been brought home: the thrill of discovering an obscure book in the Oxfam used book shop, a sausage roll from The Ginger Pig, smelling soaps in Ortigia, the beautiful packaging of Rococo chocolates (I will ask for a tea towel next time), browsing for ribbon for my work ID badge in V. V. Rouleaux, getting picnic provisions at Waitrose and passing from a summer street into the coolness of a park in an ancient city.

The older daughter asked for Smarties, but what she really wanted him to do was ride the new Metropolitan Line, which she has seen on YouTube, and tell her about it. Even for me, the irritants of tube travel, the repetition, the black snot formed by breathing particles of burnt rubber train wheels, the Metro and its sensationalist headlines, the arrival at your stop, the series of escalator journeys up towards Big Ben that was a stage in my commute, become the stuff of dreams.

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