This is a blog about living and travelling in rural Normandy and I try to stay fairly close to the subject. I’ve gone off-piste from time to time. I was star-struck by an encounter with Blur’s Alex James, and I enthused about a friend’s chalet in Vaujany. Today I’m going to stray again. If this blog is all about rural life, I’m going to write about its opposite.
Last weekend we spent a day wandering around East London – a helter skelter patchwork of old industry and new development, a resolutely urban space crawling with builders and testers and security guards and snapping tourists like me as it enters the last weeks before the London Olympics. (For a neat travel account of things to do in East London, see the New York Times’ 36 Hours in East London).
We walked along the Lee Navigation, a system of canals built out of from the River Lea that once served industry, and are now the heart-center of Olympic development. This provided some excellent views of the main Olympic stadium, where sound checks were underway all afternoon.
Here is one of the entrances to the Olympic park. You can see old industrial buildings next to a secured gate into the Park. I love the graffiti under the canal bridge: IMAGINE WAKING TOMORROW AND ALL MUSIC HAS DISAPPEARED. Our dancing-singing-violin-playing daughters tried to imagine what that would be like.
It’s been decades since the canals have carried working barges, but there are houseboats all along the sides. You might think a houseboat is a romantic, bohemian way to live cost-effectively in London–that’s not always the case. Even if the houseboat is affordable, mooring prices and terms vary widely. Behind the houseboats here, you can see the kind of smart apartments that have appeared all over this once industrial area.
Someone has set up these miniature sculptures ‘watching’ the construction of the Olympic Park from across the Lee Navigation. (Is this a good moment to mention that there is a French connection to the Olympics. It was a Frenchman, Pierre de Coubertin, who in 1894 proposed in a speech at the Sorbonne the idea of revival of the Games and establishment of the International Olympic Committee.)
For lunch we made our way into Bow, where Roach Road was unexpectedly buzzing with Bugaboos and LandRovers–surely day visitors from Islington and Dulwich trying to snatch a bit of artistic urban cool just like us? Look at the Olympic Stadium looming behind.
With children and dog in tow, we were delighted to discover that the cafe at Stour Space is energetically child and dog friendly. This is certainly not the case in much of London–I have yet to find a dog-friendly cafe in Fulham. The excellent brunch menu included pea soup and bacon sandwiches.
Stour Space is hosting a retrospective of works by local printmaker James Brown. This version of a William Morris quotation, which can be bought at the V&A, particular spoke to us:
Since we’re talking opposites today, I had to take note of the requisite anti-Olympics graffiti just along the street.
There’s much beauty in the contrasts here. Of course there is: it’s the differences in life, after all, that provide richness and texture. The town mouse and the country mouse need each other, and make each other, in their contrast, more beautiful.