London pride


I’m always critical of the UK for being poor at certain things other countries do well, such as providing affordable and reliable public transport and producing decent bread. But then again, the tea is superb and the museums not only have amazing collections but are a real pleasure to visit. Never have I been told off for eating a sweet, not carrying my handbag on my arm instead of my shoulder, getting too close to paintings or even just having a camera. There is simply a relaxed atmosphere to enjoy the art.


The courtyard of the Royal Academy where I called on my way to the NPG.

I’ve been going to the National Portrait Gallery for many years and have lost track of the number of wonderful exhibitions I’ve seen there: Henri Cartier-Bresson, John Singer Sargent, Russian portraits, Man Ray, Giacometti, Audrey Hepburn portraits etc. But I have fewer opportunities to visit the permanent collection which is really a shame because whenever I return there, I realise just how magnificent it is and see how much I still need to discover. There are familiar paintings and photos to visit again, almost like old friends. Perhaps a portrait of a favourite writer or someone I admire, or others where the subject is less important compared to the extraordinary face or the beauty of the fabric. And then you see something new and find it impossible to tear yourself away from that particular room. Needless to say, however much time you spend there, it will never be enough to see everything you want to and there is always a little sadness and frustration upon leaving this wonderful place.




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No visit to London would be complete without refreshments though and I knew I had to return to Maison Bertaux in Soho which I discovered thanks to my friend Jan. This was my second time there and I enjoyed it even more than the last. The staff are lovely – finding you the best table, waiting patiently while you agonise over which cake to choose because there are so many and everything looks amazing. In the end, we chose a wonderful chocolate one as well as some cheesecake and devoured the enormous slices, accompanied by a huge pot of delicious tea. They really were some of the best cakes I’ve ever tasted. My only regret was not having lunch there because the range of quiches was truly mouthwatering.







At the end of each visit to London, there is a little sadness and regret at not living closer but also the promise I make to return very soon to discover more. And you really can’t ask for anything better than that.


Some impressions from my walk around Mayfair.




Dreaming of my future scarf and handbag at Hermès.




The Burlington Arcade.


Some Manolo Blahniks.


At Maison Assouline on Piccadilly.






Shoes in films

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I have a love hate relationship with shoes. I dream of having a huge collection of ballerina flats, boots of varying heights, heels and sneakers and am conscious that beautiful shoes make all the difference to any outfit. But buying them has always been a nightmare as my own feet are extremely narrow and generally between sizes meaning blisters and wounds are frequent occurrences and the reason why a packet of plasters is my handbag essential most of the year.

Believing that investing in better quality would solve the problem, I once blew a large part of my salary on two pairs of designer shoes from boutiques on Savignyplatz in Berlin. The first were sandal wedges for summer whose straps broke in a very short time and the other pair inflicted such terrible injuries that I was relieved to sell them to someone with slightly smaller feet for a fraction of the price. I don’t recall limping for more than a week after wearing them. Still, I continue to admire beautiful footwear and dream of the perfect shoe. In the meantime, here are some iconic ones from the big screen to discover and revisit. Let me know what your favourites are or if I’ve missed anything important.

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Along with The Wizard of Oz, the most famous shoes in cinematic history are surely those worn by Moira Shearer in the Powell and Pressburger masterpiece, ‘The Red Shoes’. They have a life of their own in the stunning ballet within the film and take on an unbearable poignancy at the end. Jack Cardiff’s magnificent colour photography is probably the greatest of all time.

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Dorothy with her legendary magical red shoes in The Wizard of Oz, one of my childhood favourites.

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Monsieur Hulot with his trademark raincoat and umbrella who leaves footprints everywhere, here leading to an unfortunate misunderstanding in the brilliant ‘Mon Oncle’.

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Marty McFly with his iconic Nikes in ‘Back to the Future II’. Things haven’t developed as the film predicted but these sneakers are still the stuff of dreams.

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Jennifer Grey was my teen idol after I saw her in ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ and, of course, ‘Dirty Dancing’. I love her white sneakers and envy her dance moves.

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I can’t say too much about the significance of shoes in ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ without spoilers, only that you need to watch it if you haven’t done so already and that it teaches us the importance of looking at a man’s shoes.

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Not only does Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly have Givenchy alligator shoes lying around her bedroom, she also has milk and another pair in the fridge.

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Carrie Bradshaw with her Manolo Blahniks. I don’t much care for the Sex and the City films but have a soft spot for the series as it reminds me of good times in the ’90s and watching it secretly in my bedroom late at night.

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In ‘Bringing Up Baby’, one of the greatest comedies of all time, Katharine Hepburn loses her heel and is forced to walk lopsided during yet another calamity which she inflicts on poor hapless Cary Grant. 

Spring past and present

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One of the things I miss the most about living in the city, especially one as green as Berlin, is that element of surprise. My favourite thing has always been to get up very early at the weekend and go out to walk and take pictures. Riding in the S-Bahn, I would often look out of the window and spot a group of trees in blossom, or some lilacs, or particularly beautiful light on a favourite building that would make me rush off at the next station, even if it was nowhere near my planned destination. The light changes by the minute, the sunny morning can turn to rain and dash the blossom so you’re forever chasing shadows and fleeting beauty. Catch joy while it flies. And then there are the markets. I was lucky enough to live close to an amazing one in Charlottenburg on Karl-August-Platz that took over the whole square twice a week. Saturdays were always something special and I would return laden with bags packed with magnificent seasonal fruit and vegetables, bunches of flowers, French cheeses, apple croissant and huge eggs which often had double yolks.

The setting has changed of course, but my habits remain the same, never sleeping for more than 6 hours so I can get up and catch a glimpse of the sunrise which is more and more elusive. Each day, I walk in the garden to make a note of the smallest changes which I’m sure I’ll remember but never do. But I still dream of returning to my favourite cherry trees in the Buergerpark in Pankow and lingering to talk with them for a little while, just like Proust’s narrotor does with the hawthorn blossom.

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Schloss Schoenhausen in Pankow

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At the market on Karl-August-Platz in Charlottenburg

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My place (almost)

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Spring unfolding in the park outside my old building in Pankow

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French connection


Shortly after I had moved to Charlottenburg, I placed an ad on the Connexion française website for a language exchange so that I could practise my French conversation with someone and they could learn English in return. I had a few responses but the meet-ups weren’t really successful because we didn’t have much in common. But on the verge of giving up hope, I received a message from a young French woman (let’s just call her J.) suggesting  we meet at the S-Bahn station at Hackescher Hoefe.

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Dressed in jeans, a white sleeveless top and gold Nike trainers, she was instantly recognisable on the platform. I can’t remember where exactly we went that first evening in this rather touristy area with generally mediocre and overpriced places to eat but thereafter, we met once a week, at first to speak French and then English and then just French which suited us both better. Sometimes we would head  to Datscha in Friedrichshain, a Russian café-bar with a Soviet style living room lined with pictures of Lenin and other communist memorabilia, where we ordered borscht, followed by Russischer Zupfkuchen, which isn’t actually Russian at all, or the warm blinis with quark and blackcurrants. Despite sharing a love of exercise, we both had a weakness for any rich desserts (rather like Diane Keaton and her neighbour in Manhattan Murder Mystery). Other times, we went to see French or English films at the Hackesche Hoefe Kino, the Sony Center or at my favourite Arsenal Kino on Potsdamer Platz.



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Our tastes didn’t always coincide. She hated Juliette Gréco and Jacques Brel and found the attitude of Mersault abhorrent after I gave her a copy of Camus’ ‘LÉtranger’. But the only really awful thing about being with J. was that she is stunningly beautiful. Next to her, I knew what it must have felt like to be friends with Lana Turner. In a city where no straight men ever look at you unless you’re wearing an evening gown and heels (speaking from personal experience), all the heads turned whenever we walked into a place and I was completely ignored. Alongside someone blonde, tanned and super slim, I felt plain and badly dressed. Even my all my male friends admired her looks and constantly pestered me for her number which I had to somehow diplomatically refuse.




After a few months, we started hanging out at the Insitut Français on Ku’damm which has a wonderful cinema and exhibition rooms on the ground floor with large windows shining light across the pavements as dusk falls, reminding me of the aquarium like ones at the hotel in Balbec through which observers could watch the dinner guests in Proust’s Recherche. Afterwards, we always headed for the one cheap place to eat round there – an Italian pizzeria on Uhlandstrasse where you sit on wooden benches and they announce when your order is ready to collect in garbled Italian which meant listening out closely in mortal fear of missing it. The owner was rather un-Italian looking, bald with glasses, but he was clearly smitten with J and asked her out. She told me about their date – how she waited until 2 am for the restaurant to close, then they went to a nightclub owned by his brother where they started dancing. Gradually she became aware that he was giving directions for other couples and dancers to clear the floor until they were completely alone with the music.

Despite that, J. decided that she didn’t want to see him again which meant we could never return to the pizzeria. She told me she was bored with the city and that, “Berlin me semble fade”. A little later J. returned to Paris where she still lives to this day. Our paths have crossed only once since then when she invited me to stay in her tiny apartment in Montparnasse. I think I annoyed her with my large suitcase and inability to be tidy, even in such a small space. At a party with many of her friends who gathered to eat Galette des Rois, nobody spoke to me all evening and I felt hurt when she asked me if I hadn’t found it too boring. I decided then that she was probably just too cool to be my friend, that things weren’t the same and that I was OK with that. After returning to Berlin, I picked up my copy of ‘L’Étranger’ and had dinner at the pizzeria on Uhlandstrasse.


The joys of spring


No matter how much I try to notice each little sign as the days grow warmer and longer, spring always takes me by surprise. I remember walking down my street in Charlottenburg on a particularly lovely evening with a softness in the air and suddenly noticing that all those buds on the trees which had remained stubbornly closed for so long were suddenly open and that the city was in bloom.


Back then, the parks and squares were my back garden but these days I’m lucky to have one of my own where I can watch the seasons change much more easily. There is always something new. As the snowdrops dry and fade, there is a blaze of daffodils, the forsythia threading its way through the branches of the apple tree under which snake’s head fritillary have spread. And as all of those become a little less vivid, tulips start to emerge in carnival or soft colours, single or double. There is so much beauty to savour and so much still to come – the bluebell woods, the rhododendrons, the apple blossom, the elegance of the magnolia. I realise how important it is just to try to take each day at a time and look for the good things, rather than getting caught up in worries of what has been and what may be or never be. I wish you a wonderful spring.











Somewhere I have never travelled..

…Gladly beyond any experience.

I have recently started to suffer with insomnia, rarely sleeping more than a few hours a night. One of my readers (hello Kenneth!) suggested imagining a journey to a place I have visited or would like to visit as a way of drifting off. And so I find myself in those hollow morning hours (or The Hour of the Wolf as Ingmar Bergman so brilliantly put it) travelling to places I know and love and also those imaginary places of the past which no longer exist or the cities of my mind where I have yet to venture.

I know them well. Those New York drugstores illuminated late at night on street corners where you can get a coffee or an ice cream sundae. There are the neon signs and theatres to discover on Times Square in the 1920s. There is always a film I want to see at the all night cinema and I can observe the lights of the apartments whizzing past from the Third Avenue El.

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In L.A, there are the dazzling headlights to admire from the hills, Schwab’s pharmacy, Romanoff’s and the Brown Derby if there’s a free table, palm lined avenues and morning walks in the grounds of the Griffith Observatory. Sometimes the Hollywood sign still reads Hollywoodland.

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In San Francisco, I imagine the winding roads of Hitchcock’s Vertigo and those shadowy streets which Fred Lyon captured so brilliantly. Or hear the music in the jazz club visited by the ill-fated Edmund O’Brien in D.O.A.

Fred Lyon

And of course there is Paris in its greatest times. The hotel rooms you can live in so cheaply can be rather cold and dingy but you only need to walk a short distance to be enveloped in the warmth of the Flore or the Deux Magots as you sit and write on the first floor. There are books to borrow from the original Shakespeare and Company or something in French if you prefer from Adrienne Monier’s ‘La Maison des Amis des Livres’. And at night, there are strolls along the wide avenues, sometimes even climbing the steep flights of stairs up to Montmartre to observe the city at your feet, other times wandering by the Seine to admire the Pont Neuf.

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In Venice, I think of the poet Joseph Brodsky who went there every year, generally in winter, arriving for the first time late at night by train, smoking and drinking coffee in the station cafe while he waited for someone to meet him, as described in his exquisite book ‘Watermark’.


Gianni Berengo Gardin, 1960

All of this makes me a hopeless romantic or a misguided nostalgic for something I never knew, depending on your viewpoint. The past was never this wonderful in reality, I’m fully aware. And yet as I drift between wakefulness and sleep, I think about the spaces we need to think and exist which are missing in today’s cities, how much has been lost and how much we need to save and feel glad that these invisible cities are still accessible to us in books, films, photos and perhaps even in dreams.

The Richfield Oil Tower, Los Angeles

London calling


Whatever the season and however often I go to London, I always seem to end up in the same part – that stretch between Green Park and Piccadilly Circus. It’s a habit I’ve had for at least 15 years. Sometimes I feel bad about neglecting other interesting sights and areas but then again, you have so many wonderful places there. There’s the park itself with a few brave daffodils at this time of year standing proud and further on, the trees in blossom along many of the winding paths. The beautiful Burlington Arcade where you can admire the pink pyramids of Ladurée macarons and agonish over which mouth-watering flavours to choose. And when you’ve finally made your selection, there is Frédéric Malle to spritz or repurchase new and old favourites like Portrait of a Lady or Chanel to discover more of Les Exclusifs perfumes. Or if you’re broke, it’s a chance to just savour some old world elegance.

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As usual, I headed for the Royal Academy, sipping coffee and enjoying a huge slice of moelleux au chocolat, bought across the street from Paul’s bakery, in its magnificent courtyard underneath the watchful gaze of Sir Joshua Reynolds. On the hottest day of the year, it suddenly felt like summer with everyone in T-shirts, soaking up the sun. Inside, they had rolled out the red carpet in honour of the Russian Revolution exhibition. Room after room was filled with monumental, extraordinarily beautiful and amazing displays, finishing with the room of memory which featured just a few of the people arrested or shot in the age of terror. Looking at their faces, some famous, others just ordinary citizens, I thought of all the lives destroyed, talents lost and broken dreams. People no different from us today.

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IMG_3395 After seeing so much and fighting through the crowds in the gallery, I headed to the sanctuary of Fortnum and Mason across the street. Gigantic displays of Easter eggs and chocolate bunnies, stacks of teas from all over the world, silver and glass teapots are just a few things that transfix you when you walk in. That and the beautiful staircase leading to the wine section downstairs. I was content that day to order a pot of Afternoon Blend and watch the world go by in the tearoom.







But what is tea without books? Just a couple of shops down, you enter the world of Hatchard’s, my favourite bookshop ever. Holly Golightly famously had Tiffany’s but this is my ultimate place for “the mean reds”. It’s a sanctuary where nothing bad can happen to you and as an anxiety sufferer, the ultimate refuge. I took my time choosing, lingering by a whole section devoted to P.G. Wodehouse, another to Churchill. On the first floor, I curled up on a comfortable green sofa with a pile of books before deciding upon Evelyn Waugh’s ‘Put Out More Flags’, ‘Carol’ and ‘Deep Water’ by Patricia Highsmith and ‘The Goodbye Look’ by Ross Macdonald. At the till downstairs, a man with many Fortnum’s bags was trying to order an obscure novel from the American assistant while alongside, another customer with a suitcase was enquiring about a rare children’s book. “Take him up to the second floor”, his colleague insisted. “One person waiting isn’t a queue”, before asking if I agreed with his definition. Who was I to argue?



But even in a favourite area, there are new things to tempt you away. My friend Jan had told me about Maison Bertaux, an old French patisserie in Soho. I had passed close by this place many times before but had no idea of its existence until he told me about the amazing croissants and old-fashioned atmosphere. On my last morning, a cool, grey day, we were there for breakfast first thing, seated at one of the corner tables with its blue checked cloths. The pastries and coffee were the best I’ve ever had in London but hunger and the dark interior that early meant I didn’t manage to take decent photos. I can’t wait to return there next time to sample some of the wonderful cakes, getting off just a few stops earlier than usual on the Piccadilly Line, even if it means going to Hatchard’s a little later.





Bloomsbury in bloom by our hotel





Sir John Betjeman, poet and saviour of St. Pancras.


Just time for a glass of champagne at the long bar before boarding the train.