Friday, November 27, 2009


It's winter and cold. I feel ravenous most of the time. My primal instinct of hunter-gatherer has resurfaced. And London is a paradise for foodies. Walking certainly helps me to conceive food for thoughts and to discover places for foodies. Best coffee in London is sold at the Algerian Coffee Store in Old Compton Street. Check their website, you can buy on line. Italian deli, Lina Store, sells the best fresh ravioli. My favourite are those stuffed with crayfish. It makes a perfect quick lunch with a simple rocket salad. I try to buy seasonal fruits and vegetables in farmer markets. They taste much better than any (organic or not) that has been stored in a fridge for several weeks. The best part of it all is talking with small shop keeper, who will oblige and reveal food tips and cooking secrets...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A date with Leon

Yesterday I had an exciting date with my friend Leon. He is the 20 months son of my "Vals" friends, whose hospitality I abuse without shame. A date with Leon is always exciting. He is a breath of fresh air, and he forces me to take a different look at life. We went for an afternoon walk to the pond in Kensington Garden. The goal was too stare at the ducks and other water foils. The walk from the gate to the pond took us at least three times the time it would usually take me. Leon walks with a purpose: the ducks, but it doesn't stop him to look and marvel at everything. He has a curious mind and sees everything. Like most children he is fascinated by the squirrels, and approach them as close as he can. But his favourite game is too push down worm cast, or running away from us to show his disappointment as we didn't bring any stale bread to feed the birds.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Hanway Street

Not long ago, as I was botanising and sociologising (I know it is not a verb but I like it!) on the asphalt, I got side tracked to Hanway Street. Number 22 was playing a good tune of old rock & roll, the door was open, and I could not resist but go in. I had a brief encounter with the owner, Tim, and even bought a second-hand book on rock journalism. Nick is a character, and I decided to go back, take a picture, and have a chat with him. I found some time this afternoon, and this is the result. He wasn't reluctant about the pic or the chat, which was the funniest I've had in a long time. Tim has been selling records in the shop since 1979, and it is my idea of Ali Baba's sesame... To my question "Why did you open a music record shop?" he answered: "Bad luck..wrong time,wrong place...prison sentence" (giggles) -"what do you mean?" - "I live my life in a box, but could be worst like Mc Donald" ( more giggles) -" You must have seen so many people in 30 years" -" I don't recognise people" -"What you did not recognise me today?" - "How could I forget you?" (very sarcastic giggles)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Indian Horse Chestnut

Aesculus indica is one of my favourite horse chestnut. I have a special relationship with this tree and I can't forget its name or its appearance. Some may think because its country of origin - the Indian Himalayas - and it may well be one of the reasons. The story starts at the end of my first year in Kew. The flowers had long withered, and the unripe fruits were dangling from its branches. An old couple of visitors asked me the name of this tree, rightly pointing that the fruit looked like a fig, but that all other features were far from any fig tree they knew. I didn't have the time to look for the label when I heard Greg, head of the training section, shouting with contempt: "It is an INDIAN HORSE CHESTNUT". It was so shameful , I will never forget. The only thing I can tell is that I took a very close look at the tree, and went back to learn all its seasonal features. I was reward as I recognise it everywhere last year in the Himalayan foothills. The conkers are very similar in shape to the European Horsechestnut (A. hippocastaneum), just darker and rougher. A smaller eye - I like to call it the third eye - is drawn within the buckeye's white centre. This tree is, to my taste, the finest of the genus. The flowers bloom a little later than most species, and the summer foliage is a lustrous dark green that changes to orange/red in autumn. This tree has an undefinable poise. I have often observed its resistance to the Horsechestnut leaf miner (Cameraria ohridella), which is another good reason to be planted. And sometimes, when I look at a flower like that, all the misery and nonsense vanish, as by magic...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Columbia Road

Sundays are buzzing in Columbia Road. It is my favourite market in London, not last because of the flowers. It is colourful and lively, and the community is friendly. My friend Sonia lives here, and I have rediscovered this street over the summer on the quieter week days. I love to mooch in this area, make new friends. If you happen to be here on a Sunday, a few shops are worth visiting. My friend Mark keeps Far, a lovely antique shop that sells, at fair prices, Indian and African furniture and bric-a-brac. If you are looking for pots and planters, don't go further than The Red Mud Hut. I got to know Simon, who very kindly stored two planters I could not take away. He's a green fingered jewel maker. And they all let me advertise my business for free, helping me to find new customers. Last Sunday, I discovered a new folk/blues band basking on the street. Check out for their dates. Sadly, they haven't loaded any tunes on their page. I bought the album, which sounds like red maple leaves falling in a ray of autumn sun.