Don't get me wrong – no one can replace New York Italians in my heart.The ones on Arthur Ave. who sell olive bread and sliced prosciutto. Huge toasted paninis and hot slices. But here in London there are Italians straight from Italy – the first generation immigrants that most NYC shops have grown out of. Just like in the Bronx, they're accompanied by Eastern Europeans in droves, who smile while they sell salami and the brightest green pesto. The Da Mario deli in Highbury Barn is a ray of sunshine in my grocery shopping life here in gray London. Not only do they have fresh pasta (they say it's delivered from Italy) and a huge selection of meats – they also have good bagels, which have rendered any diet attempts useless.
During what Charlie calls my "Annual Festival" in which my birthday and Valentine's Day collide on the same day to give me an excellent excuse to reap the celebratory perks of both holidays spread over three to five days, we splashed out and went to London's Michelin-starred Clove Club for a five-course tasting menu. We sat for maybe 10 minutes before Charlie suggested we just eff it and for go the £95 ten-courser instead in what was perhaps his most daring display of affection to date.It was the right move.
London smells OK, has all the functions expected from a first-world country (like trash collection and 24-hour electricity) and def has some good food, but I'd still trade it for the smelly streets of Asia. Roaches and all, I'd rather be eating fresh seafood in Bangkok right now, or char kway teowon the streets of Singapore. One thing Charlie and I really grew to love in Malaysia was greens – kang kong, morning glory, anything green – tossed with sambal belacan, a typical chili sauce with the salty, pungent addition of shrimp paste.
When Charlie and I arrived in Chennai after a 28-hour train ride from Calcutta, we got in a fight with an auto-rickshaw driver within our first 30 minutes in the city. We were specific at the rickshaw stand about where we needed to go, but our driver followed his own directions despite my insisting that he was wrong (they call me GP-EL for a reason). I finally thrust my phone to his ear with our hotel on the other line (a working phone is a MUST for travel around India), and after a few words, he admitted defeat. But he wanted us to pay the amount on the meter after driving us in circles, when we had already agreed on a lower price to the correct location. Obviously.
We did not pay the higher price, but things got heated when we got to our destination. It's a theme in India (and life) – headstrong men there REFUSE to ask for clarification or assistance when they're unsure of something. I couldn't count on two hands the amount of times a driver told us he knew where we were going, even when he literally had zero idea and didn't even understand our words when we announced our destination. Too nervous to lose the job, these guys drive off with you and try to casually clarify later, which leads to disaster more often than not. These encounters are what make travel in India incredibly frustrating, and make it a country that's gratifying to make it through a day in.
Considering how long it's taken Charlie and I to come to terms with our feelings about India after spending three months there this past summer, I find myself wishing I had another chance to explore Mumbai surprisingly often. We had about three days in the city and it was just enough time to get an idea how the city works (with immense amounts of calculated disorder), but certainly not enough time to see everything I would have wanted to. Every street was a street I could spend an hour taking photos of and every person had a fascinating story.