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Books England Europe

Remembrance of Things Past

Turns out Proust was an apt choice for my “lite” summer reading. Last weekend’s break in the Lake District was filled with nostalgic musings brought on by the fact that the hotel we have stayed in every year for the past five years has changed hands since our last visit.

On the surface the new owners have made improvements. Paint and soft furnishings have been changed from florals to tasteful neutrals, tongue and cheek taxidermy graces walls and mantel pieces, and vintage accessories of the riding boot and croquet set variety are strategically dotted in corners of rooms. In other words, it now looks like every other country house hotel in England. The menu, previously of the home cooking variety by a lady named Viv, now has the same scallop with pancetta and pea puree type repertoire found in every gastropub in England (not that my scallops with pancetta and pea puree were unenjoyable). Jam served at breakfast comes in shallow porcelain ramekins instead of the foil topped plastic packets of Silver Shred I once paid homage to on this blog. And all these changes are reflected in the average age of the clientele, which used to hover around seventy even when you included husband and me. In a hotel of fifteen rooms I counted only one elderly couple, she sporting the reliable female OAP attire of ped socks in wedge sandals, he nodding off on the couch in the lounge after their 7pm supper.

Husband and I made good sport of lamenting all the so called improvements, the edge of which was taken off by the amazing (that’s an average day to you in L.A.) weather and the splendid isolation of the place, features that a lick of sage green paint and a stuffed owl in a glass box don’t change. Still, I’ve noticed in our middle age we are getting more and more sensitive to changes in places we hold dear. Earlier in the month in Paris we spent the best part of an hour venting our disgust over the appearance of a Lacoste shop on the site of a former crumbling down patisserie in the Marais. It wasn’t even a good patisserie—I once had a very mediocre lemon tart there—and yet there was something unmistakably violating about the appearance of the shiny new global retail brand in its place.

All this longing for the way things used to be makes me feel old and boring. We’ve become the kind of people who like the memory-fueled idea of a place more than the place itself, and, even worse, are prone to wheeze on about it. The only remedy I can think of is rather palatable as far as medicine goes: time to book a vacation to a place we’ve never been before. Then we can complain the whole time about new things.

Books England

Hey Lady

My new year’s resolution last year was to read something by Proust. I really wanted to read Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life but somehow that didn’t see like a very legitimate thing to do without having read anything by Proust first. A year later the red spine of volume one of In Search of Lost Time is still staring back at me from my bedside table, nestled between Any Human Heart and A Thousand Splendid Suns. Unlike those book club mandated tomes, the pages of ISOLT remain unsullied by my nub nailed fingers.

So this year I made another new year’s resolution, one that would enable me to keep last year’s, albeit behind schedule. I’d let my subscription to The New Yorker expire in February and reallocate NYer reading time to ISOLT. It seemed like a good plan until this morning when Rachel Johnson, sister of the slightly mad Boris the mayor of London, appeared on BBC Breakfast to talk about the magazine she is now editing, The Lady.

Now why didn’t anybody tell me about The Lady? It’s taken me years to unravel so many of the mysteries of proper British life, things like marmite, the difference between hunting and shooting, and what a gilet is and how you pronounce it. And yet all along—125 years to be exact —there has been a magazine to guide me in the ways of British ladyship. According to the news anchor its reputation of late has been the best place to advertise if you are in search of a nanny, but Ms. Johnson has livened up the old dowager. It even has literary and Cotswoldian links, having been established by the grandfather of the Mitford sisters. Coming up on my one year anniversary of becoming a Brit I feel I am practically a lady anyway. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than subscribing….to yet another weekly.