wide-eyed provincial

To London for the weekend. Best to treat these things as holidays to a foreign country, especially when you factor in the cost of restaurant meals. I could have flown to Rome and back for less than the cost of a meal for five in Percy Street. In fact I have just flown to Philadelphia and back for less than the cost of that meal and a quiet family lunch in the excellent Vietnamese restaurant in Churton Street. On the other hand, when you live in the country, and friends won’t come out to be entertained, how else to thank them for years of kindness, including lending us a house in France for a week one summer? Two bottles unextravagant wine, two bottles of mineral water, one vin santo, one campari soda, one grappa; four mains, one pasta, three starters, two puddings — £180.50 with service.

Meanwhile, down in Pimlico, four starters, four main courses, two ice creams, three beers and a pot of tea came to £65 with tip. The food at Paolo’s was very good, but I cannot honestly contrive a measurement that would make it three times as good as the Mekong’s.

Still, write off the weekend as a foreign holiday, and consider that at least we got some culture in. The Tate’s exhibition of Turner in Venice is quite astonishing, and made me very ashamed that I had never bothered to go there when I lived around the corner for six months in the late Eighties. Pimlico then was almost entirely dead, except for the Mekong; nothing seems to have changed except that the Mekong has a new menu, with most of the old dishes on it; and that there was an off-duty waiter lying in a sleeping bag in the unheated cellar at the foot of the stairs where once, we were told, Mick Jagger had eaten lunch.

From time to time one would see the demented figure of Jennifer Paterson buzzing through the streets on her sanctified Vespa. I ate quite a lot of her cooking when we both worked for the Spectator. She thoroughly deserved her later celebrity, but it’s odd that the excuse for it should have been her food, which ranged from eccentric through to downright nasty. Her character was orthogonal to her cooking, ranging from eccentric to extremely thoughtful.

The other great discovery, which can be enjoyed at home, is the Tate’s web site, containing digitised versions of much of their Turner collection. The pictures are all indexed properly by subject, down to some very fine detail.
What’s more remarkable is that they have scanned in most of his notebooks. There are at least a hundred of them, and though many of the pencil sketches are frankly dull, and faded until you choose “enhanced view” from the dropdown, the tiny watercolours are just fantastic, and without this technology would never be seen at all. I loved this one of Trier, which was for fifty years the capital of all Europe under Constantine the great.

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