South Kensington is perhaps the wealthiest part of London (I’m not sure how it compares to Chelsea). “It’s not the real London,” people keep telling us. It crawls with American students, ex-pats, and glitzy, sunglassed Brits who live and/or work here. Around our block I’ve seen several magistrates and embassies from around the world – Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Thailand. And there are many ethnic cafes and restaurants – Indian, Moroccan, French. Yet these and all the shops have a similar hip feel, even the drugstores; every product is neatly packaged and organized and branded with lowercase words. Giant, beautiful Hyde Park sits down the block, filled with small schoolchildren wearing adorable uniforms and sun-hats. Shadeless residential streets gleam white in the sun, Parthenon-esque with their rows of columns proudly supporting them. One particular corner of a nearby block exudes such a soapy laundry scent that I expect bubbles to spill out from the windows at any moment.
In short, there is nothing gritty about South Kensington. Nothing like the Lower East Side or Dorchester, MA, obviously. I expected the change but am still adjusting. However, I do feel at an advantage having lived here before. I’m already accustomed to the quirks I had forgotten about – the switches on the outlets, the showerheads, the idioms of the language, crossing the street, buying long, thin jugs of milk, seeing pasty shops on the corners. My pocketbook, however, still has a bit of adjusting to do.
Tomorrow we take a field trip to the world headquarters of Reuters news service. We have the morning free, so I might visit the National Gallery. I’m excited for many reasons, not least of which is the prospect of leaving this neighborhood for more “London-like” regions.