...which i only JUST found out is london's haven for used booksellers. i have come to england hopefully as a prepared job candidate but woefully underprepared as a tourist.
the overnight trips to europe pretty much always put me on no sleep for the next day. but you have to tough it out, and unprepared it can be pretty tough. but fun! after landing at heathrow at what was for me 2:30am EDT and going through a tortuously long customs line, my only plan was to 1) buy a cheap travel guide, 2) find an ATM and get myself some brit cash money, and 3) get to waterloo station and store my larger carryon bag for the night so that i wouldn't have to drag it all over town with me today and could instead just pick it up before getting the train to southampton. all three missions accomplished, however bleary-eyed!
my only other plan was to see the tate modern: which, as it turns out, is within easy walking distance of waterloo station, right along the south bank of the mighty murky thames. perfect. and what is the very last restaurant i come to along the bank before arriving at the tate: a joint run by the fine folks at young's brewery! trust me tho, the many interesting kinds of young's beer on tap they had to offer looked tempting, but coffee had to be my drink of choice to go alongside the traditional "full english breakfast" of eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, beans, tomatos, and mushrooms. sounds weird, and frankly the last three items indeed are what make it weird: beans, as in baked beans, in a straight tomato-y sauce (not barbequed and molassassed at all), sorta straight outta the can; tomatos, as in stewed whole plum tomatoes, also seemingly straight outta the can; and little whole mushrooms, browned somehow, and like straight out of a jar rather than a can. but who the hell cares it was all totally tasty and worked for me.
and what is the big exhibit currently running at the tate modern? kandinsky: the road to abstraction! (or maybe it was the path to abstraction. ok yes, path.) oh it was so good. i heart kandinsky in a big way, and it was completely fascinating to see where he was coming from, as this was all stuff from 1908-1921. nine huge rooms of it! too much of course. but fascinating. like he was 40 in 1908 and still painting landscapes! unusual ones of course, and he quickly went the impressionist and post-impressionist ways. heavy expressionist or as the would call it in franco-non-teutonic places, fauvism. (that's probably a hugely incorrect art-historical leap i'm making there, but it's he brashness of colors that unites the fauvists and the expressionists. or rather, early kandinsky is that link maybe?) anyway, the incredibly variety of tones, palattes, and lines he gets are quite something. by the time he gets to his signature style it makes absolute sense logically. i love that, when you get a larger sense of the whole career and see that, for example, wow rothko had a brief klee/surrealist phase, or wow sol le witt had the seemingly manditory ab-ex phase...
anyway the kandinsky really took the wind outta my sails (that and the 7-item breakfast), plus i foolishly took a quick tour through the one portion of the tate modern's permanent collection which was also bewilderingly awesome. but i totally ran out of gas, so needing sleep and so wishing i knew exactly what my plans were for the next 24 hours, so hoping they include sleep and a friendly face! my contacts here are either out of town till later in the evening or not able to put me up for the night and one i simply hadn't heard back from. so i tried feebly to nap sitting upright on benches in the museum, i spent sometime in the tate bookstore looking at cool english versions of theory books that i don't have. (and what's up with zizek? man he's crankin 'em out these days.) i even took a totally pointless walk across the thames and found a youth hostel international, if i'd found an obvious entranceway i wouldve gone in and inquired about accommodations there.
finally i decided i'd go back to the tate, pick up the briefcase i'd checked there and go to a bookstore mentioned in my cheap travel guide. picadilly was only a few tube stations away, so off i went. the bookstores were of course lame -- one with no poetry section at all, another with all new stuff (waterstone, sorta like borders), but it was very interesting to see what was in print from british publishers, what american poets get picked up by bloodaxe and carcanet (can you say carolyn forcche and tony hoagland among others), and what other interesting editions of the americans were available. for example i got totally excited to see a 2-volume "new york school poets" edited for carcanet by mark ford. i would so totally teach those books! he does a pretty good job overall it seems, esp vol 2 which contains excellent coolidge and ceravolo selections. big big mistake, however, to relegate barbara guest to vol 2. BIG mistake. plus both vols are super dude-heavy (good selection of mayer but no alice notley?!?!) and need to be supplemented pretty heavily.
anyhow the nice lady at the customer service desk told me that charing cross road is the place for used booksellers -- a 10 minute walk so off i went! even tho in all likelihood, she warned me, they would all be closed (after 6pm on a sunday). nevertheless, the walk along picadilly towards leicester square was much closer to what i'd imagined london to be like. bustling. the south bank area was all people strolling, eating, jogging even, with lame guys singing "time in a bottle" to acoustic guitar. (mark, there's some psychic oblivion for you!) and when i saw a sign for an internet cafe charging 1 pound for an hour of internet access -- stuff *is* expensive here, it's like 6£ (cool they have a "£" key on this keyboard!) for a decent breakfast or an all-day tube pass but then you realize that's 10USD, or 10£ to see the kandinsky and then you realize that's like 17USD. anyway i couldn't resist checking the email and found, lo and behold, my london contact whom i never heard from was at a poetry festival in cork! so he's back, mebbe we'll meet up and my need for human contact and a place to stay will be solved! gonna go phone him, soccer fans are screaming...