Saturday, January 28, 2012

I was there: spy novel edition

Over the summer, Crystal and I met up with my parents in London. We stayed in the Hyde Park Rooms in Sussex Gardens, about 100 yards south of Paddington Station, a hotel that, for all I know, is the very same one described by Le Carre in the opening paragraph of part 2 of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (page 119 in my edition).
The Hotel Islay in Sussex Gardens-- where, on the day after his visit to Ascot, George Smiley under the name of Barraclough had set up his operational headquarters-- was a very quiet place, considering its position, and perfectly suited to his needs. It lay a hundred yards south of Paddington Station, one of a terrace of elderly mansions cut off from the main avenue by a line of plane trees and a parking patch. The traffic roared past it all night. But the inside, though it was a fire-bowl of clashing wallpapers and copper lampshades, was a place of extraordinary calm.
I sent that paragraph to my parents, and my dad replied, "travel makes so many dimensions of life more interesting, doesn't it," which seems to me exactly right.

(A ton of human history has unfolded on that little fleck of land. I spent two weeks walking around London, and that's all it took to cover the territory reasonably well. Novels and news stories, short stories, songs about Soho and assorted Underground stations, the little bits of history I stumble on-- Shakespeare and the Globe, Victoria, Elizabeth, Henry VIII-- in two weeks of walking I've been to those places.

A friend from college is doing graduate work at University College London and staying in a dorm around the corner from where I (and George Smiley!) stayed. In class last semester I singled out a particular piece of art for scorn. I'd seen it at the Tate Modern, and although I didn't mention that, a student later told me that she knew exactly the piece I was talking about-- she'd seen it at the Tate, too. More than the other places I've been, London is a bottleneck in the world.)