1. Abbey Road
I'd like to be a London driver approaching the intersection of Grove's End and Abbey Road. Of course, I'd know what I was in for way ahead of time, and maybe I'd sigh or go "Bloody hell" or maybe I'd plan my route on purpose just to see people stepping into the footsteps of the Beatles in the famous zebra crossing one door up from Abbey Road Studios.
It's a scene, a kind of unofficial, do-it-yourself tourist trap and shrine. You can see the acolytes a block away, gathered at the shores of the famous ford, waiting for a pause in the dangerous flow of traffic, until finally one brave soul takes the camera and stands in the middle of the road while one or more confreres venture out into the crossing and strike the pose, legs scissored, arms bent or frozen in the arc of a swing: mid-purpose, mid-stride, being a Beatle, being a look-at-me-being-a-Beatle, melting into a mental album cover with the Volkswagen (license plate 28IF) there even if it's not there.
One of them, of course, was Matt, who had half a dozen takes with Carol as his brave and long-suffering photographer before he was remotely satisfied with one of the results. (He was more than a little miffed when here one take for a quartet of young Italians turned out perfectly.)
The studio is a whitewashed, businesslike-looking place, not the brownstone mansion projected from the album cover. (It was reassuring to see someone inside the gates unloading a stand-up bass from a van: real music still being played in there). On the low white wall in front, ten thousand scrawls: WE LOVE YOU JOHN; ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE; GIVE PEACE A CHANCE; BEATLES FOREVER, and other names and messages. Just another afternoon on Abbey Road.
We are having lunch at The Flask, a pub both of us remember from our previous stays in this favorite part of London far off in NW3. I'm feeling a twinge of traveler's guilt because I vetoed The Wells, another Hampstead pub which Carol had opted for. We might have to have dessert there.
We've just come back from a walk on the Heath, a return ramble for both of us, though in my case I mainly used to stay around Parliament Hill, near our flat, so this was an addition to a memory, like exploring a wing in your house you never visited. What to say about the Heath? It's the whole song. Nature, history, memory, and art combined. Having started at Kenwood House, a mansion turned art museum (thanks to Lord Iveagh, sire of the Guinness Brewery), we stocked ourselves with visions of Dutch and British landscapes and proceeded out into a living painting of fields, woods, ponds, heath, with wood pigeons and magpies. And if the Heath was the pinnacle of the trip, then the pinnacle of the Heath would be Kite Hill, where we used to lie in the grass looking up at the "night harbor" of stars, satellites, and other aircraft, and where we came upon a woman and her young daughter flying a butterfly kite, with all of London spread out beyond.
Now we are one steak-and-kidney pie (the Flask) and one rhubarb crumble (the Wells) to the good. The Wells, incidentally, is the only pub I've ever been in that included an entree for dogs on the menu, both in full- or half-bowl servings. But that seems in keeping with the nature of Hampstead and its dogs, a remarkably well-behaved lot, from the ones we met on the Heath.