European Diary

Café Society

On the pavement flank of the café, my field of vision was being traversed, with the quiescent regularity of Attic horsemen galloping along the circumference of a drinking vessel, by strange women.  Making their way up the Fulham Road, past the famous cinema, some of them moved in little groupings, like schools of gamboling goldfish; others singly and proudly, their hyperbolic determination a figure of Leibnizian optimism.  It was now lunchtime, and some plaintive notes of the Pied Piper of Hamelin seemed to hang on the sweaty air, not least because the exodus along the pavement resembled the ordered swarm of jet-black bodies sprouting rats’ tails in the musicians’ scores, when, high up in a box at the theater, one peers through binoculars at the rickety stands in the magically illuminated orchestra pit.

Out of what fairy-tale woodwork had they come?  All round lay the chalky white houses and the privately green squares of Chelsea, a honeycomb arrangement of such regular form it could not but oppress the eye corrupted by continental diversity.  Such was the heritage of the Industrial Revolution.  All round lay workers’ housing; whether built for lords or for grocers, it was utterly devoid of both princely caprice and commonplace individuality, so that the poorer houses differed from the richer ones in size alone, grandness being understood as a quality of mass, strictly quantitative...

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