Back from an unseasonably quiet London. At first glance everything seems as before but there are hints that the recession is beginning to bite. Dinner reservations in the more fashionable restaurants in St.James's and Mayfair suddenly seem much easier to come by and the aloof froideur that used to be the hallmark of many of these establishments seems to have been replaced by a refreshing bonhomie. Around Jermyn Street and Piccadilly it seemed that half of the tables were still empty at nine o'clock in the evening. Let's hope that it is just the hiatus before Christmas entertaining proper starts. I stayed at the Sofitel on Waterloo place and found the Roux Brothers excellent brasserie to be quite deserted on my first night there. Admittedly, it is slap bang in the middle of troubled hedge fund country but for a location which supplies such excellent food and service it must be dispiriting both for management and staff.
Hatchards had on their shelves two of H.V. Mortons long lost classics - ' A traveller in Rome' and 'A traveller in Italy'. I snatched both up hardly believing that such a politically incorrect wordsmith could still be in print. Written in the mid-1950's his description of journeys the length and breadth of the peninsula are full of serious and humorous insights that taken together give him the mantle of a real eccentric. Despite a somewhat raffish reputation he could at times surprise with his generosity of spirit not least when he fulsomely described someone as ' always alert to the beauty in women, charm in young men and dignity in the elderly'. Writing about the the American presence around the Via Veneto in Rome he talks of ' an area where you can find quick-lunch bars and American restaurants which specialize in club sandwiches, Chicken Maryland, apple pie, canned peaches, hamburgers and American coffee. These haters of colonialism have indeed created a barefaced colony where they feel safe and at home, and into which they can return, as into a fortress,after raids into foreign territory!'. Having read this I cannot take my mind off Chicken Maryland. My mother used to serve this when I was a child but for the life of me I cannot remember what went alongside the chcken apart from bacon and corn - was it pineapple fritter?.
On the plane on the way back to Rome I bumped into a former colleague that I hadn't seen in 14 years - my first reaction was delight at seeing him again to be followed a split second later by the by the rather mean thought ' I hope I haven't aged that much'. It is wonderful to meet old acquaintances again but it comes as a shock to the system to see how quickly time races along.