tion, though of course the noble ApuHanrnrace may not be blamed for the fact thatrnthe scheduled connection from Romernhad departed long before the flight fromrnLondon was in the air. All I can mention,rnhopefully, is that this morning I breakfastedrnon perfectly ripe damson plumsrnoverhanging the stone table on the patio,rnand that the coffee was good. In a way,rnknowing myself as well as I do, it is alreadyrnpretty clear what the next couple ofrnweeks will be like.rnI was in London for most of June andrnthe first week of July, roughly from Ascotrnto Wimbledon, getting plastered on thatrnfamous pink concoction of exceptionallyrnfine weather, predatory women, and grinningrnmen in gray still known as the Season.rnOne scene in particular, in the diningrnroom of Aspinalls, is still vivid in myrnmind, and I would like to relive it now,rnagainst a background of furiously independent-rnminded crickets and reedvrnechoes of southern voices that sound asrnone imagines Homeric anticjuity. I wasrneavesdropping on a table of six Italiansrnfrom Milan and two English businessmenrnwith Estuary accents, all in their latern50’s, when a gargantuan platter of lighdyrnpoached wild salmon trout made its appearancernand the conversation, whichrnhad been tending to food anyway, suddenlyrnburst the banks and became downrightrnraucous. Ah, salmonel No,trotarnBefore I invite the reader to laugh outrnloud as I laughed just then, I had betterrnexplain something. While I am preparedrnto accept as given that a hundred yearsrnago food in London restaurants was asrngood as anywhere in Europe, it is equallyrntrue that the generation now living wasrnbrought up on overcooked broccoli andrnbacon grease cut with the finest claret, byrnwhich they meant the most mediocrernBordeaux. I used to find their innocencernwholly admirable, on the grounds that itrnis always easier to find a good roast chickenrnand a glass of drinkable red than an interestingrnperson to talk to or a friend whornwon’t make a pass at your wife; indeed, Irncan go fiirther and confess that I associatedrntheir innocence with moral rectitude,rnif not downright saintliness. “Don’t yournknow there’s a war on?” their menusrnseemed to say, and as far as I was concernedrnthere plainly was.rnMeanwhile, of course, MargaretrnThatcher was busy loosening all the socialrnscrews. Thalassotherapy and balayagernbecame the new bywords for success.rnNew restaurants appeared everyrnday, cappuccino frothed on every streetrncorner in Chelsea, specialty shops soldrnexotic Basque cheeses, obscure Piedmontrnhams, and allegedly Neapolitanrnburrate, until finally, 10 or 15 years later,rnthe once-upright London came to standrnon its head like a kind of jimior-leaguernManhattan. This means that instead ofrntwo or three coffee bars where in the oldrndays you couldn’t get an espresso, therernare now two or three hundred espressornbars where you can’t get an espresso. Insteadrnof having your broccoli overcooked,rnyou never get broccoli at all andrnhave to feed on Malaysian baby dwarf figrnleaves, or some other such fashionablernthing. And if yon mention the war, peoplernthink you are bonkers.rnThe effect of all this on the Lorrdoners’rnpsyche has been one of massive confusion,rnsomething along the lines of therncult television series The Prisoner. Theyrnno longer know where they are, who isrnmaking them drink cappnccino and wh’,rnwhere the husband’s secretary finds thernmoney to buy purple ostrich sandals, whornpaid for their nanny’s holiday in the Maldirnes, or why the Tunes is always going onrnabout the Internet while the BBC is discoveringrnthe pleasures of lesbian love.rnNow imagine. Into this unholy mess,rnwhich is the present-day, Manhattanized,rnconfused London, valk six middle-agedrnItalian men in Caraceni suits and shirtsrnby Siniscalchi. And ogle the lightlyrnpoached salmon trout as if God had put itrnthere for them.rnAdmittedly, Aspinalls —now as 10 orrn1 5 years ago, in the days before thernThatcher revolution ended, as revolutionsrndo, with the social reductio ad ahsurdumrn— has what I have always believedrnis the best restaurant in town, in part becausernit is subsidized by the casino and inrnpart because John Aspinall is an old-fashionedrneccentric who has all the producernorganically grown on his own farms forrnthe pleasure of the club’s members. Allrnthe desserts are made in his own house,rnby his own pastry chef, and delivered tornthe club in time for dinner with his ownrnear and driver. But what’s so solemnlyrnridiculous about the,scene I’m describingrnis that the Milanese visitors were taking itrnall for granted, assuming that they hadrnbeen brought to Aspinalls for a taste ofrnthe new London, the international one,rnthe one without social barriers and overcookedrnveg.rnSoon, their excited conversation took arnfamiliar course, as they labored to translaternthe word “grouse” into Italian. If thisrnis indeed the new international London,rnI reflected, and if what they want to talkrnabout is plain old food, then this conversationrnought to go very differently. W\rnnot begin by asking each other simplernquestions like “How do yon say ‘freshrntortelloni of ricotta with butter and sage’rnin Italian?” Or “What is the Italian forrnHausgemachte lasagne niit Spinat?” Or,rncome to think of it, for “pitsa margarita, srnprosh^m tomatnym soiisom”? Then onerncould proceed to pose a whole menu ofrnstill more toothsome linguistic conundrums,rnsuch as the Italian equivalent ofrnthe red or green cazunzei from thernDolomites, served with popp)seed butter,rnor the Italian word for zuppa sarda.rnMind you, the more this line of inquirv’rnreminds you of loneseo’s hilariousrnand frightening play The Lesson, the lessrnat home yon will feel in the new LondonrnI’m now describing, apart from a handfulrnof time-frozen institutions like Aspinallsrnwhose continued existence, anywav,rnrather hangs by a thread. It almost seemsrnthat the surreal object of the whole nightmarishrnexercise is to imagine a group ofrnBelgians in Harrods, shortly before itsrnowner is booted out of Britain, arguingrnwhether the French word shopping canrnbe translated into the English language,rnor a group of Russians walking into thernHouse of Lords, just days before it becomesrna theme park, and debating sullenlyrnamong themselves whether thernRussian word demokratiya has some localrnequivalent.rnIt was another narrow escape for me,rnthen, from the perverted pleasures of thernSeason, perverted because contrived, unnatural,rnderacinated, and just short of surreal.rnAnd here I sit on the patio, carefullyrnpaved four centuries ago and cared forrnby anonymous, gnarled, brown hands everrnsince, thinking that the damson plumsrnabove my head are ripe and real and ha’erna name. In a couple of weeks’ time, I’llrnbe making a journey by car to the Argentario,rnon the Tuscan coast, and therernagain I will sit, on another terrace, thinkingrnlazily that the giant watermelonrnshielded from the sun by the beach umbrellarnis neither a racial slur nor a classrnsymbol, but simply a pitilessly quarteredrngreen sphere which the gods have inventedrnfor the amusement of thirsty children.rnAnd then, come autumn, there will bernVenice, beloved Venice, where thernworld ends. Not the way Italy ends here,rnat Santa Maria di Leuea, or as Englandrndoes at Dover, with a precipitous drop intornthe sea, but the way a bodily injuryrnheals itself or an evil spell is lifted, gradu-rn36/CHRONICLESrnrnrn