Seeing “Hamilton” in London

Calling London an international city is inadequate. It’s like a city with no nationality at all; no native tongue, everyone speaking their own.

“Does anyone speak English in this town?” I said to my wife as we made our way through dense throngs at the Portobello street market. Searching for our daughter Elizabeth, now settled down in London, after getting a Masters Degree at University College London, and then a good job in her chosen field. This one week trip was mainly to see her and, for the first time, Sam Brown, her French-English partner of two plus years.

We’d agreed to meet at Portobello at 11:00. But our wakeup call didn’t come and we’d overslept till ten, then found our overnight phone recharge had failed too, so we couldn’t get Elizabeth’s message specifying a meeting point. We decided we’d best head out, not realizing how huge Portobello had grown in the three decades since our last visit. Now an amazing endless array of vendors selling anything and everything. But with our eyes peeled for Elizabeth, we didn’t take in much merch.

Finally got the phone recharged during lunch at a Thai eatery (delicious!) and soon did meet up with our offspring. Meantime we had already met, Sam, who passed inspection with flying colors. They seem well-matched, a great couple.

We’d timed our trip to coincide with one by Harry Lee, the new Executive Director of the Somaliland school project we’ve been involved with, and Board chair Andra Ehrenkranz. Soft-spoken Harry’s been with it from the start and is just terrific.

We had two dinners, one with some past teachers, the other with some student alums. In between, a meeting with Mo (for Mohammad) Ali, a young member of parliament from Wales, born in Somaliland, and still much engaged with that country. He’s a very personable fellow.

We met at the Conservative Party’s campaign HQ, greeted by a bust of Margaret Thatcher; then passed through a boiler room operation with a few dozen desks with screens and staffers; into the Thatcher Conference Room, sporting busts of Churchill and David Cameron, overseen by a giant modernist portrait of a very fierce looking Maggie.

A big quote from her on the wall: “The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.” Ha ha. I thought: is that your best shot? No wonder the party is headed for an historic defeat. (At Westminster we saw huge loud anti-Tory demonstrations.)*

We didn’t discuss any of that with Ali; instead, Somaliland economic and political developments, and their import for the schools project, particularly for raising its profile, and of course funding. Afterward that discussion continued with Harry and Andra at lunch. I had fish-and-chips — but oh what a plate, the fish a foot long, really scrumptious.

I came away with a renewed feeling that Therese and I are actually doing something making a difference for people, and for Somaliland’s future.

London’s Underground system is excellent. Trains long and frequent, thus never overstuffed. On one trip I sat across from a thirtyish gal whose face I studied because it looked so quintessentially British, and I was puzzling over what made it so. She (like most riders) was looking at her phone, with mild pleasure. Then suddenly she displayed intense anguish and started crying, wiping away tears. As we exited, I leaned over and said, “Whatever it was, I feel very sorry for you.” And she gave me a huge smile.

We also walked for miles and miles, with the help of a wonderful map app that guided us like GPS (and Elizabeth who was a terrific tour guide). Saw some great, mind-bending art at the Tate Modern; had an afternoon tea river cruise; toured the Churchill war room and museum; John Keats’s house; Regents Park, including four hours at its zoo; Hampstead Heath with a tour of old master paintings in Kenwood House; Westminster Abbey; and the British Museum, seeing once again some old friends, the colossal pair of Assyrian human-headed winged lions, excavated by Layard, that guarded King Ashurbanipal’s throne room at Nimrud in the Ninth Century BCE, which still take my breath away.

Our last night we had dinner with Elizabeth and Sam at a Japanese restaurant before we all saw “Hamilton.” Probably the last Americans who hadn’t seen it, and doing so in Britain added piquancy. It lived up to the hype. After the opening sequence I asked myself, can that energy level be sustained? It pretty much was. I enjoyed it greatly with the benefit of being deeply versed in the history; but wondered how many American viewers, let alone Brits, could fully follow it.

As usual, what I enjoyed most on this trip was relishing what a terrific wife I’ve got.

* But I’m actually a Thatcher fan:

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