Well, it's official: Kensington is now the 21e Arrondissement.
This eternally trendy neighbourhood of the Royal Burrough (of Kensington & Chelsea) has, of course, long been famous for being chock-a-block with both Americans and French. But lately the latter have been gaining ground. So when Anna and I walked out yesterday, of a really lovely spring day, for a cheeky afternoon pint at one of our locals, followed by a poke around a book shop, we weren't surprised to pass two families, in sequence, chattering in French little Francophone moppets all muslin-clad and chirruping winningly.
Nor were we much surprised, coming back down a cute little back street, to realise for the first time that there were three French joints in a row (the kind of joints that cater to French people, not to trendy Francophiles) out of the eight or so shops in view.
And I suppose we weren't completely shocked to find that both of the employees in that traditionally British high street off-license, Oddbins, where we stopped to pick up a couple for home for later were French guys. However, they weren't just French guys they were actually French, I mean positively Parisian: slouching behind the counter with an open bottle of red wine for themselves and two half-emptied glasses glinting in the reflected sunlight. And then we saw that the card PIN pad was set to French rather than English.
The Battle of Waterloo may as well never have been fought. Londres Ouest, c'est Francais.
In unrelated news: I decided some serious reading progress was in order, so I hefted Gravity's Rainbow off the shelf. (Joe refers to his copy as "the bowling ball" he keeps it on the top shelf of a hall closet and once a year drags it down for another go.) It seemed like it was time. But, I have to confess, 95 pages in, it got the better of me. "Just not in the mood right now," I told myself, heaving it back up to its spot. I think I really meant I wasn't feeling up to it.
Still feeling like I needed to make some progress on something important, I turned to my new prize possession: a couple of weeks ago, I finally stumbled on all four volumes of Orwell's Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters. (Suitably, at the Gloucester Road Bookshop the one run by Graham Greene's nephew and where I met Anna.)
I've had, erm, Volume 3 in hand for about three years (a pale blue Penguin Modern Classics edition); and I remember thinking, Hey, I'll find Volumes 1, 2 and 4 any day now! That was three years ago. Tough ticket. (I did find a hardcover set in one of the Charing Cross Road bookshops and very nearly sprang the required £150.00. But not quite.)
Anyway, I've now started into them and it feels like coming home. Orwell's essays are, quite simply, indispensible.