Victoria Nelson is in London this month!… Read her London Postcard:
I am in London this month, staying in a spacious flat with dodgy plumbing in the Marylebone district of central London (this is the old station, not the flat):
The weather has been gorgeous, tulips and daffodils are blooming in all the parks. This is lucky for me because the central heating in the flat is unpredictable.
Besides reading packet 2, I have been exploring the canals of London and their colorful live-aboard narrowboats:
This is sort-of research for an introduction I am writing to an edition of “strange stories” by an English writer no one has heard of named Robert Aickman. He also championed the preservation of canals and these steel-hulled colorfully painted boats that were once major conveyors of goods throughout the country.
Aickman’s centenary was celebrated last year by Faber & Faber with a reissue of four volumes of his stories with ridiculous covers that make him look like a fantasy writer instead of the complex modernist he was:
I know my editor at the New York Review Classics editions has better taste than this.
London is full of weird and wonderful literary and art events. Somehow I stumbled into a synchronous chain of them that landed me first at the Institute of Contemporary Art for a collective reading of artist Suzanne Treister’s specially designed anarcho-cybernetic-techno Tarot cards:
The future was semihopeful, according to our collective reading. The Stewart Brand card kept turning up for some reason. The next day I treated myself to the last deck at the rare book purveyor Maggs on Berkeley Square:
Next stop was a show of the 7us San Francisco comic strip artist Melinda Gebbe at the Horse Hospital, an avant garde venue that was once exactly what the name implies, right in the heart of London behind Russell Square:
Melinda Gebbe’s art brought back memories of the old days in San Francisco. She recounted the challenges of being a woman artist in the male R Crumb comic world. I loved her images, which I’d never seen before:
Amazingly, this was her first ever one-woman show. For the past twenty-five years she’s been married to the graphic novelist Alan Moore.
Then it was on to an event at the Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, a very curious venue indeed in Bethnal Green. Here’s a sample cabinet in the tiny two-story housel:
Sitting on a ratty maroon velvet settee in semidarkness I heard a lecture on Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria, who wasn’t mad but was very particular in his habits.
Next stop: the MayDay Rooms on Fleet Street. An old Berkeley acquaintance I ran into at the Horse Hospital invited me to this brand-new archive of hard-copy materials that libraries never accept either because of digitalization or because of radical political content. Since most such endeavors are usually conducted in dark cold basements under a single bare light bulb, I was astonished to find a gorgeous, beautifully restored building, one of the many former newspaper offices abandoned after the Internet:
MayDay Rooms boasts a roof garden, a meditation room, and many other amenities as they strive to “activate” their archives by engaging current political groups. The International Garment Workers Union London local was coming that afternoon.
Fittingly, Goldman Sachs was right across the street.
And then there were the bars.
At the private bar at Grouchos, the (formerly) hip private club for the entertainment world, I watched the Grand National steeplechase (which looks like murder on the horses):
I met a literary agent in the left bar of this edifice in Holborn that looks more like Parliament than the hotel it is:
And another agent in this ossified old hotel around the corner from my flat whose bar has hunting rifles displayed over the bar. Drinks were outrageously expensive, but as always I wasn’t paying for them:
As my time in London draws to an end, what was truly remarkable about this visit was the web of interconnections among all the writers and artists I encountered. One person and place led to another, right down the line. I’ve been here many times before, but the synchronicity this time was quite magical. I’m leaving with many new friends, and I’m struck again by what a small world of writers and artists and filmmakers it is, compared to our own sprawling cultural landscape. That smallness has its drawbacks, but this April I was seeing all its advantages.