Thanks to Yelp my taste buds were set on an Indian/Pakistani restaurant in East London. I had read nightmare warnings of lines up to an hour so I figured I’d get there right as they opened up at noon. The day was strange in that I could actually see splotches of blue sky up there amid the clouds. I gave myself some leeway to walk around the neighborhood a little and wandered up to the doors right at noon. I was the first and only one there.
The place was called Tayyabs and it was the best food I’ve ever tasted. I do not kid about these types of things.
I got off the tube and walked through East London, a much dirtier and grungier part of the city than I’ve seen so far, pass more veiled Muslim women than I’ve encountered in my 33 years living in L.A. It’s not that we don’t have our share of Muslims it’s just that you’re more likely to see one driving a Benz than hiding in a Burka. There was a mosque with separate Mens and Womens entrances, seeing that was a first for me in my young life. (Yes, 33 is young, dammit!) There was trash and urban detritus everywhere and now I know why Central London is so clean, because the wind must blow it all East.
I was seated in the corner while an army of waiters shared greetings and hugs and ignored me. There was a waiting pitcher of water, which I always appreciate, and tiny-tiny glasses so I was able to entertain myself with filling and refilling my glass after ever sip, but even that treasure chest of fun dulls and I quickly grew impatient waiting. I had looked forward to this meal for more than sixteen hours now and my stomach was throwing a mutiny over Captain Brain. It had seized control of the vessel and was yelling at the captain, “Goddamn it I don’t care if you find it impolite, flag one of those motherfuckers down and feed me!”
‘Yo motherfucker,’ I shouted.
Well not really. After sheepishly getting my waiter’s attention I apologized profusely, placed an order for two veggie samosas, a lamb-something, rice, naan, and a mango smoothie, and dazed there dreaming about my meal to come. They dropped a salad in front of me and I was off the races. I hoovered that up and then took notes about how excited I was and read my book and generally sat there reflecting on what a big wide world it is and how many people are out there spinning around aimlessly in its festooned delights and how much good food there is available for modern man to purge on and how the two things might not be so unrelated as at first glance, but probably are.
But I didn’t really have time to get all deep because right then the food came and the mutiny in my stomach was abruptly turned back and I had a moment of wide-eyed wonderment that reached down into the pit of my primitive being.
“Thank you so much. Man, it looks delicious,” I slobbered. “Thank you, oh thank you!”
I was hungry. And it looked good.
I bit into the samosa and immediately slowed my chewing down in order to linger and savor the taste of it. It was the softest, most lightly fried shell I ever placed in my mouth and the sweetest blend of vegetables and spices combined to create the most delicate of juxtapositions, it was truth wrapped in flaky pastry — there was something heavenly in its perfection — like a haiku of flavors. This was not a meal to be rushed through. It was sublime. The naan was doughy and delicious and when I bit into the lamb I nearly shouted ‘hallelujah.’ Which might have been somewhat inappropriate, so I merely shook my head in disbelief instead and pigged out with a smile on my face, a happy and engorging man.
With ten minutes of pure delight digesting in my stomach, I humbly forgave them for the small delay in ordering and wished I could go back to the beginning of the dish. I looked around sadly at my disappearing feast. I was half done when I remembered my mango smoothie and, not being much of either a mango or a smoothie fan, was surprised to discover it slid down the gullet like an exquisite narcotic and just instantly made me feel good. Tropical refreshments in the grim, soot-blackened East End? Believe it.
My taste buds had had their orgy and were now forgiving me for all the McDonald’s and other culinary castaways I threw down my human rubbish bin on this trip. ‘This was a festival of epicurean pleasures assembled by the kindest and wisest of hands. We have never been treated so well,’ my taste buds shouted. ‘Thank you, Captain Brain. You may now have the jerk pay the bill.’
That’s me, I’m the jerk. And I was strangely proud for having finished everything except for about a 1/4 of my naan and 274 pieces of rice. This meal was worth the 5,000 mile planetrip. This was one spoil of Colonialism I didn’t feel guilty about. I only wished my credit card was rejected so I could have been allowed to wash the dishes and eat others’ leftovers. Yum.
I then walked through Brick Lane and enjoyed the graffiti and sights of the colorful district, the retro clothing stores, the Bengali and Indian restaurants. The area was a little sleepy on a Friday afternoon and I ambled the the street with an urge to meander, but a bladder that said skedaddle.
I passed through a business district with tall glass skyscrapers that teemed with industry and men in suits and women in blouses on my way to the Liverpool Tube stop before disappearing into the Never-where of the Underground where I stared at my shoes and the overgrown lots and bricked apartment rows of Wherever-we-were. I was a plump and satiated man in need of an afternoon siesta, as they say in the home country so I rode the Tube with a fading, drowsy interest.
After recovering from that stretch of noontime gluttony with a little time in front of the Mac, I headed across the Thames to the Tate Modern for a wad of afternoon culture. The Tate Modern is a huge boxy museum right across the Millennium Bridge from St. Paul’s Cathedral and it’s a remarkable bit of time warp to stand next to a surrealist painting by Picasso or Ernst and look out the window at the 400-plus year-old cathedral with an Ipod in your ear playing Kayne West. Weird stuff.
The Tate is somewhat hit-or-miss when it comes to the art. But it’s free so all those hits are nothing but pure, affordable joy. There’s some really amazing pieces and then there are some room-sized abstract stuff that quite literally made one girl say, “Modern art makes me so angry!” She was commenting on a facsimile palm tree laying on the floor with random palm-inspired collages behind it in glass. I can’t say it made me angry, but I certainly wasn’t experiencing enlightenment.
On the other hand you had Picassos and Dalis and a roomful of Soviet Propaganda posters that could give a hundred Shepard Fairlys a profitable career. It reminded me that I’ve been meaning to get another tattoo on my left leg for about 8 years now. Where does the time go? Christopher Wood was a succesful artist who at only 29 entered a paranoid state and fell under a train. I’m 33 and haven’t done a single thing worth falling under a train for.
I kept going, wandering through the rooms, analyzing the art with that slow up and down appraisle that means absolutely nothing, it’s just how you’re supposed to look at art I reckoned, a pretentious 10-pound cranium stride. I couldn’t keep up the esoteric posturing because I kept getting distracted by my fellow art patrons and ended up having a seat and scrolling what I thought would surely become a tour-de-force screed.
Instead I composed a poem that would prove to be scattered and piecemeal, a vague collection of thoughts…
People — themselves assembled. Hanging on walls.
Stuck to a place in time,
Framed by wood and hard metal.
We don’t have that luxury.
In the painting there is a head growing out of a
tree stalk which is itself a head.
It is not beautiful.
I watched a girl with long, curly blond hair, red boots, black stockings, a purple skirt, and slung over her shoulder a North Face messenger bag. She stood on one leg like a stork as she read the description to a Monet painting, some lilly pads or something. She was a swirl of color and design: a work of art. As was the older lady with seashells on the straps of her purse and a bright pink bonnet. And the man who stood on his tippy-toes to closer inspect the corner of Walpurgis Night, clicking his tongue to express approval. We are all projections, illuminated and self-referential. The clicking tongues, the inadvertent leg-lifting, the toe-stepper. We are all poems, paintings, songs…
The muses were calling. I had the urge to go to my hotel room and pull a Kerouac. Write religiously, feverishly and without stop until I had the great American novel tucked in my book bag then go take a picture in a forest, drink rot-gut wine, slick back my hair with brill cream(?)
This always happens when I’m inspired by art. I immediately want to rush out and type up some impassioned manifesto. That’s the true worth in preserving these pieces, I supposed, inspiring other megalomaniacs to put their worst/best into the pursuit, thus the ideas and passion proliferates so that the art lives on. It’s like a parasite in this way. When Karate Kid came out I practiced my crane kick all summer.
I kid, (Karate Kid) but it’s true. Good art should be exponential; the original creation and all subsequent ones formed in its wake. Good art should make you dream of grander things, so dreams are constantly growing. Good art is a hustler, motivating you to do something obsessively, for no other reason than because it is your obsession. Good art is an elegant racket, and should make you want to add your own voice to the beautiful fray, despite how out-of-tune and offensive it may sound, or precisely because of how out-of-tune and offensive it may sound.
Good art should make you… I don’t know, do something.
Bad art is another story.