Thursday, October 14, 2010

10:03 a.m.

When I lived here two and half years ago, I found my favorite place in London rather quickly. After hours dedicated to the research of all places coolycool, the Nordic Bakery was at the top of my list of nooks to visit. Turns out it was a replica of my imagined alternate universe — a contemplative haunt for frozen January mornings warmed only by the radiant heat and hair-raising ability of black coffee; an authentic smorgasbord of Scandinavian cuisine — smoked salmon, pumpernickel and dill — that impressed even my blue-eyed, homesick Norwegian date; a fragrance so thick with cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar — the sweetest ingredients comprising the stickiest rolls — that it left a saturated mark on your sense of smell for the rest of the day.

At the Nordic Bakery, an all-glass storefront marked by signage in bright-white Helvetica surrounds a low-profile, wooden door that opens inside to a large, canteen-style table surrounded by sparse, minimal 2-person seating and a counter occupied by tantalizing snacks, lunches and pretty, pony-tailed blondes in denim aprons. The first time I visited the Nordic Bakery, the girl at the counter had just pulled a batch of cinnamon rolls out of the oven, and it was possibly the only time in which a roomful of people stopped their frenetic conversations and clinking cutlery to smell something better than roses.

Let me take a moment to tell you that these cinnamon rolls aren’t like any you’ve seen or tasted. Really, they aren’t. I promise. Crispy, and dark brown — from sugar and molasses — on the outside, each flaky layer closer to the center is more tender and gooey than the next. Nordic Bakery was and is it for me — a place bring friends, dates, my mom and grandma. An experience to write home about.

There is, however, one place that is better than Nordic Bakery, and it is the adjacent park. Golden Square appears as it sounds — a four-sided haven in the middle of a loud, over-crowded city. Restaurants, cafes and shops (including an instrument shop where I have rented cellos) line the perimeter of the square, and the old brick and stone buildings do the best job of blocking out the city sounds that, through most of the day, can be classified as very, very loud, white nose (you can’t get rid of it, so just ignore it). It’s not until you sit on a bench in Golden Square that your ears feel clear.

Here, the waves of construction and overpopulated currents of people that you swam through is faint — barely a memory. Park-goers and pigeons converse quietly, sometimes between species. When there isn’t a free bench, strangers sit knee-to-knee, pseudo cross-legged, on the stone lips of the square’s colorful and dramatic gardens. A pale statue of a Romanesque man, Georgius II, gazes in the direction of Piccadilly Circus. His right hand is missing. Left with a shattered nub of a wrist, he takes in the scene as dark, iridescent pigeons peer from his shoulders and head as they scout out derelict snacks.

There are six small plynths in Golden Square. On one rests this morning’s paper, damp with rain. Another displays an ornamental stone vase of greenery, and on one more, a teenager with an afro looks down at his friend, talking over the music coming from his mp3.

Golden Square is the hub for the area’s lunchtime crowd. Their snippets of conversation are quiet whispers, happy to be out of the office.

I have a game in which I select a random piece of music, look at a person and pretend the song is part of his or her life’s soundtrack. Pigeon-pooped, cigarette-butted, tree-lined Golden Square is the perfect place for this sort of game. It’s funny when Carmina Burana underscores a well-dressed woman’s lunch. Suddenly she is not simply eating, but destroying — terrorizing — that parma ham and mozz panini with pesto.

As quickly as those who frequent Golden Square fill it, they hurry off, an hour later, leaving the garden as they found it, save for a few plastic wrappers and cans of Aranciata. Strangely, the grounds are as quiet when the crowds are gone as when they play and chatter behind the gates.

After buying a short latte and a cinammon roll (perfect for dunking) in Nordic Bakery, I assess from a table whether or not it is the right day to enjoy the other half of my snack in Golden Square. If the air breathes clear and the rain patters at a tolerable pace, I’ll venture beyond the fence to an open bench and tease the pigeons with the perfect afternoon in my hands.

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