the permanent closure of my favorite London hotel

I am so sad after learning that my favorite London hotel is closing down permanently because of COVID. The Penn Club. Not a fancy place. Cozy as a warm teapot. Quaker-affiliated. (That’s the Quaker movement, not the oats.) No elevator. Simple, clean rooms. A full English breakfast served in a pleasant dining room at communal tables. For years I had stayed there, my mother too on a few occasions. I feel like an orphan now.

Oh, sure, London is full of hotels and I’ve stayed in many of them. But this place was special, not to mention superbly located in central London in the lovely leafy district of Bloomsbury. A 20-minute walk from St. Pancras train station where the Eurostar arrives from Paris, steps from the world-renowned British Museum and my favorite book and teashop. Gosh, I miss London. 

I had some memorable moments there:

The morning I was awakened by a rustling sound at 5 a.m. I went to my window, looked down onto the street below and saw the most magnificent fox sauntering down the sidewalk. A fox! In central London!  He’d been rummaging in one of the rubbish bins.

Reuniting with my two childhood friends, Kathy and Claire, in December 2018.

Meeting up with an ex-boyfriend (oh, there were so many ex-boyfriends …).

Having pleasant conversations with total strangers while tucking into a plate of sausage, bacon, eggs and baked beans with toast (English breakfast) at a shared table in the dining room.

Returning to the hotel after walking 7 or 8 hours all over the city and relaxing in the quiet Cadbury Room with the daily newspapers and surrounded by books. It was a warm and welcoming place, not swish or posh, but cozy and tranquil. I’m not a swishy person. I have friends who insist on staying in swank and trendy hotels when they travel, but I don’t.

Why is it called The Cadbury Room? Because the management maintained Quaker values of integrity, equality, tolerance and simplicity, honesty and fairness in all of their dealings. The great English confectionary companies: Cadbury of Birmingham, Rowntree’s of York, and Fry’s of Bristol were all rooted in Quakerism in their early years.

Goodbye, Penn Club. Thanks for the memories (sniff).

Here’s the email I received last week –

Dear Friends,

With profound sorrow and regret, the Board of The Penn Club must now inform you that in its present situation The Club is unsustainable and must cease business from the end of March this year.

As you know, COVID19 resulted in two closures in 2020 resulting in a significant drop in occupancy rates with serious financial consequences. Even when open between lockdowns, bookings were at a level which made The Club unviable for the foreseeable future and whilst vaccines offer some hope, too much uncertainty remains.

We recognise how very sad this news is for all users of The Club. It is especially poignant in this 101st year of existence and particularly given the money and effort invested in major upgrading over the last few years. We can take some comfort in acknowledging and honouring how special The Club has been to so many users during its history.

With sadness and in Friendship,

The Penn Club Board

On a cheerier note, here’s a blog post (link below) that I wrote way back in the summer of 2014 entitled My London – Bloomsbury. It mentions The Penn Club. If you’re in the mood for some armchair travelling, I did a whole “My London” series that covers all my trips to that great city. Just scroll up to the top of this page and click on LONDON.

My London – Bloomsbury | Juliet in Paris

new, recommended facemask in France

FFP2 it’s called. Cloth masks are discouraged, these are the recommended new ones.

I bought a bunch of them at the pharmacy the other day. Monday to Friday, from the moment I step out of my building in the morning to when I return at night, I’m wearing a mask. I wear a mask on the bus or metro. Or if I walk to work. I sit at my desk 7.5 hours a day wearing a mask only to take it off to drink coffee. In the staff cafeteria, plexiglass panels have been positioned on all the tables so that when we eat with our colleagues, the panel separates us.

FFP2 stands for “filtering face piece”, with the number indicating the level of protection. 

Here’s a really good article in WIRED, UK version, explaining the different types of masks and their level of protection –

What are N95 and FFP2 face masks? | WIRED UK

Paris!

The video below was filmed yesterday when it was cold and sunny. But the cold spell is over now. The temperature is forecast to shoot up to 16°C (60.8°F) this weekend.

I stumbled across this amateur video on YouTube. It’s not the most exciting video in the world, but was filmed yesterday (Sunday) on a few streets in the 5th and 6th arrondissements (Left Bank).

Further below is a better video taken in the 16th arrondissement –

(205) Live streaming in Paris 14/02/2021 – YouTube

freezing cold in France and nut milks on this sunny Saturday morning.

For the first time ever, and because it’s so c-c-cold, I’ve had to move my chaise longue away from the window because of the freezing air that was seeping in … from where? The windows are double-glazed and properly sealed. And then I remembered. The ventilation slits above the windows. The French believe that ventilation, otherwise called aération, is très important and certain apartment buildings, depending on what year they were built – mine was built in the 1970s – have actual round holes in the wall for that purpose, usually in the kitchen under or above the window.

Above my windows are narrow openings. I climbed up on a footstool last night, put my hand against one of them and yelped out loud. You could feel the damp freezing air pouring in. It was minus 5 degrees celsius outside.

See those black things above the window? They’re a pair of old socks. I stuffed a sock into each slit and my action helped a lot. No more frosty draft blowing onto my body as I recline on the chaise longue. Most of western Europe isn’t prepared for cold weather like this. “But you’re Canadian!” people say to me when I complain. I know it, but I haven’t lived there for a long time. Plus Canadian houses are well-heated and insulated, not necessarily the case here.

Right now (Saturday morning) it’s brilliantly sunny and minus 3 degrees outside. I’m off to my local supermarket to stock up on food. There’s no lockdown in France, but there’s a 6 pm curfew which makes it difficult for working people to do their food shopping Monday to Friday. The good news is that I’m on vacation for a week, a week to stay home and finish the manuscript of my memoir. I’ve been given an editorial deadline of February 28th, in other words my 60,000 words need to be polished and ready to go by then. I have a new London-based editor who has agreed to take on my manuscript; she’ll be free on March 1st. She edited the memoir of André Aciman, the man who wrote the novel, Call Me by your Name, that was turned into a movie. I’m thrilled at the opportunity to work with her.

Anyway, back to the supermarket and nut milks. I could eat dairy all day long – whole milk, cream, butter, cheese – but the truth is that eating too much of it is bad for you. So as an alternative to animal-derived milk, I make my own nut milk and it’s delicious. Weekends, I pour a generous amount into a big mug of coffee, sometimes with an added splash of coconut milk, and it’s a treat to look forward to. I use a mixture of almonds and cashews.

“But why don’t you just buy nut milk?” people ask me. Because when you look at the ingredients on the side of the carton, it’s loaded with sugars, salt and unpronounceable names of weird stuff. When making your own food, it’s you who controls the amount of sugar and everything else.

Buy good quality nuts, soak them all night in water, throw away the water the next morning, rinse thoroughly then throw them into the blender with filtered water and strain. Add honey, dates or dessicated coconut for natural sweetener if you want. Here’s a video from The Kitchn on the subject –

How To Make Nut Milk from Cashews, Almonds, and More | Kitchn (thekitchn.com)

 

Grace Kelly’s grand-daughter, Charlotte

Tragically, Grace Kelly died at the age of 52 in a horrendous car accident in 1982 on a steep and winding mountainous road above the principality of Monaco where she lived. She was a ravishingly beautiful woman, inside and out.

It was during the Cannes Film Festival in 1955 that she met Prince Rainier III, the sovereign of the Principality of Monaco, located east of Cannes on the French Riviera. By this time, Kelly was a successful actress, but her biggest role was as Princess of Monaco when she married Prince Rainier in April 1956.

They had three children: Caroline (1957), Albert (1958) and Stephanie (1965). In 1986, Caroline gave birth to a girl, Charlotte. Tragically, Charlotte’s father, Stefano Casiraghi, an Italian industrialist, was killed in a speedboat racing accident in 1990.

Charlotte is eleventh in line to the throne of Monaco.

Here’s the 34-year old Charlotte Casiraghi today discussing books. What strikes the viewer are two things: her deep voice, and her resemblance to her mother when Caroline was younger.

What strikes me is the sad fact that Charlotte Casiraghi never knew her grandmother, Grace, nor her own father.

(195) In the library of Charlotte Casiraghi — CHANEL – YouTube

Charles Aznavour, La Bohème

Well! My previous post of Barbara Pravi skyrocketed with hundreds of views from all over the world. (I swear, I have the quietest blog readers … aside from my small, loyal fan base, not many readers leaves comments!?)

So I’m thinking that in these troubled times people are craving authenticity, humanity, connection. Because music connects people emotionally, I thought of the well-loved Charles Aznavour.

Aznavour was French-Armenian. He died on October 1, 2018 at the age of 94.

Here’s his signature song on YouTube. 24,163,836 views –

(193) Charles Aznavour – La Boheme – B&W – HQ Audio – YouTube

who is Barbara Pravi? winner of Eurovision 2020

Standing in front of my bathroom mirror yesterday morning putting eye makeup on and listening to the radio, this alluring voice came on. I put down my eyebrush and listened attentively. Who was it? A young Parisian woman – une parisienne – named Barbara Pravi. She won the Eurovision song contest last year and will be representing France in the 2021 Eurovision song contest with her song, Voilà.

Born in Paris in 1993, Barbara’s paternal grandfather is Serbian; her mother is Iranian.

Watching her in the video below, one can almost see the ghosts of Aznavour, Brel and Piaf in her studied body gestures. It’s not an easy song. It’s rare and refreshing to see a young new singer bring back the tradition of the cabaret style of the 1950s and 60s. It’s also true that the beauty of the French language is enhanced in song. Here she is in the sound studio of RTL radio station –

(191) Barbara Pravi – Voilà (Live) – Le Grand Studio RTL – YouTube