Every Christmas my mother would come to Los Angeles to visit my brother and me. It was a family ritual to dine at the Hotel Bel-Air, the most exquisite hotel property in all of LA County. Surrounded by ethereal gardens with a stone bridge perched over the soothing sounds of the murmuring stream, the hotel simply exudes serenity. It is a haven in the midst of a maddening city of traffic and rudeness, pretension and egoism. A throwback to the days of manners and quiet moneyed guests, the hotel is the antithesis of tabloid Hollywood, at least around Christmastime.
After enjoying our celebratory dinner we all moved to the little bar for a quiet nightcap. There, was a rather proper English gentleman who took quite an interest in me. We chatted for a few minutes, I gave him my number and in the days ensuing he would call and we’d talk for hours. In LA on business he was soon back off to London where he continued to pursue me with calls, gifts and compliments. After about a month of this he asked me to visit and arranged a business class flight.
Now before moving on to the meat of our visit, I must tell you my experience once I arrived at Heathrow. My interrogator was a woman, a no-nonsense woman who grilled me thus. Where was I staying, did I plan to work, who was I visiting, how long had I known him, where did I meet him, what were we planning to do while I was there…Finally I proclaimed in indignation, “Lady, you are worse than my mother!” She sent me on my way without even the tiniest of an upturned lip.
I exited the terminal to my handsome, distinguished host and his awaiting chauffeur driven Rolls Royce who sped us off to Grosvenor Square in Mayfair. This was beginning to feel like a fairy tale! There I was in the midst of Embassies and brownstones of the titled. Yet no sooner had the fairy tale started had it begun to unravel.
As with any self-respecting woman, before arriving I had made it clear that I would expect my own room. After all, I hardly knew this man regardless of our countless hours on the phone and his fancy credentials. I was offered the quintessential cup of tea, shown my room and instructed that the room by the kitchen was off limits. What could possibly be beyond that door? His office? Photos of his unmentioned girlfriend? Her belongings, methodically hidden from view? Red flag #1.
On the first evening my host made plans for us to dine with his close friends; a lovely couple I quite enjoyed. However my date, evidently not much of a drinker, had had a bit too much wine and it fell on me to make our way back to Mayfair with little help in the way of directions. So there I was driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the street, in a city I didn’t know calling upon my experience as a Location Scout to make it back in one piece. No sooner had we made it up the stairs to the flat was I cornered on the couch and practically mauled by an overzealous suitor full of Bordeaux. Red flags #2 + 3.
Deciding to excuse the evening’s behavior as a miscalculation on my date’s part, the next day we carried on with our scheduled itinerary around the city. A trip to eye the Crown Jewels in The Tower of London, a gander at Big Ben and London Bridge, an open double decker bus tour through the Financial District and so on. It was a fun day. After a quick respite back at the flat, we moved on to a pub style dinner; a blur of comfort foods piled onto the plate reminiscent of a Thanksgiving meal. Unkempt dogs patiently awaiting their owners were tied up around the entrance in the intermittent rain.
The following day we left for our weekend visit to Brighton, a crumbling seaside town once known as an off radar destination where prominent men would bring their mistresses. Even while staying at the Grand Hotel Brighton, the town’s most prestigious hotel, there remained an air of louche secrecy. The crumbling boardwalk with its blue-collar touristy attractions left me once again pondering the closed door passed the kitchen. While the Brits are known for their fun and witty humor, my date was an uptight rather humorless, entitled fellow whose interaction left me feeling as I could only imagine Diana felt with Charles. I began to think of my suitor as a stuffy old Tea Bag whose distaste for my love of coffee and often silly, playful demeanor seemed to leave him in horror. Our weekend ended with what could only be reminiscent of the fumbling’s of a fraternity boy void of finesse and romance. Red flags #4 + 5.
Our journey back to London was mired in stale air, the discomfort palpable. In an attempt to rescue the last few days of my holiday I decided it was time to move to a hotel. I was set up in a rather lovely area near Harrods in Knightsbridge. Single rooms in London are renowned for being unceremoniously small so without a moments hesitation and equipped with my date’s American Express card I immediately moved to a double room.
The remainder of my visit created it’s own set of interesting circumstances. My first night alone I chose to treat myself to dining at a top restaurant. A pitfall of being a single woman, I was eyed curiously by the maître d and directed to a table in the far back where service seemed to be begrudgingly provided. It was reminiscent of my days in Boston when I would meet my father at the Ritz Carlton Bar before dinner. Regardless that I was dressed in the conservative attire dictated by the provincial onus of the 80s, the bartender would summarily ignore me as if I were a workingwoman waiting for my john.
Once again I shrugged off the offending behavior and spent the remainder of my days knocking around the fabulous Knightsbridge boutiques culminating in the essential visit to Harrods. I discovered the eclectic style of Nicole Farhi and bought two sweaters, which I have to this day. They are void of being a reminder of my failed fairy tale and stand instead for the independence and fortitude I exhibited by leaving an awkward situation.
Though my fairy tale may have not come to fruition, I fostered my own inner aptitude by taking care of myself and relishing in the energy and historical beauty surrounding me. London is a vibrant, cultured city where I regretted not for one moment having made the decision to leave my ‘palace’ in Grosvenor Square. So perhaps I didn’t leave with my Prince but instead I left with a new respect for myself.
Dream, Travel, Explore