Day Six: Tourists -- To Be or Not to Be?
Exploring Camden Town
At a Glance:
What: Exploring Markets with Appa
Where: Camden Town
Best Eats: Argentinian Grill
Song of the Day: Come On Eileen by Dexy's Midnight Runners
I’ll never forget the first time someone asked me for directions in New York City. It was a true right of passage. I didn’t know the answer to her question, but she had asked and I was feeling quite pleased all the same.
When I got to London, I refused to pick up a tourist map. I passed up the “London Attractions” pins tempting from Pinterest, determined that I was not going to be The American.
I walked to work in Oxford heels and wore my headphones in like a native who knew what they were doing.
Today marked the sixth day of my London adventure and I’ll assure you I was the one asking for directions; camera and tennis shoes and all. I am a tourist after all, no matter what my pride tells me, so I have the right to go all out if I want to, right?
Appa, a Norwegian intern from TAMMAM, and I decided to spend our first Saturday exploring Camden Town. Our official order of business was “research” the vintage clothing sold there. Camden is said to be the tourist trap of the city, but there is a reason so many people flock there.
Appa had been there several times her own when she did a gap year in London after high school, so she guided me through the brick fortress that has been transformed from horse stables into a cultural marketplace. We were mesmerized by shoes with plastic rabbits for heels, teas named for the forrest, gold encased leaves strung into jewelry, and dancers positioned in shop balconies.
After almost a mile of zig-zag turns, we came to a restaurant called the Cereal Killer Cafe. Fruit Loops, Cocoa Puffs, Lucky Charms, and the like, plastered the walls of this quirky front with a thousand colors. Tiny tin old-fashion milk cans served as breakfast bowls, and the staff carried white pitchers.
While the cereal was a feast for the eyes, we decided to let my American influence sway us toward the steaks sizzling on the Argentinian grill.
Appa, to her great dismay, was two pounds short of a side of “chips” (french fries), but when our food was ready a mound of the most magical fried potato concoction was there for us to.
“For Miss Confusion. So she does not have cry,” He said. He knew that missing out on their chips was an unfathomable travesty.
With full bellies and greasy fingers, we carried on through the labyrinth of cluttered stalls, popping into vintage shop after vintage shop where we dissected each garment in our minds. Appa’s knowledge of pattern design helped us take each cut back to the bolt, where we would walk through the biography of its construction.
“This one was bought commercially, but altered by someone else after,” she explained, “Look at the way the hem has been finished.”
We took note of sleeves tucked under the shoulder seams of 40’s jackets, and a dress bodice composed of six layers serving alternate purposes: one for the overlay lining, another to hide the boning, and so on.
We tried on the ugliest dresses we could find and paid no mind to the shop owners’ disgruntled murmers. A strapless apricot tube for her and a beaded 90’s travesty for me.
The last stop was a tea room that also sold vintage-inspired clothing. While Appa lost herself in the wall of shoes, I disappeared into the book section through the hall. I came up for air long enough to notice trays of finger sandwiches and tiny cakes being dispersed around the room. Appa’s attention, however, didn’t stray from the shoes.
I decided to make myself comfortable, as the series of Norwegian “ooohs” and “ahhhs” continued to trickle around the corner. I ended up falling in love with a 1952 edition of Things Worth While by Evelyn Cheesman, and for one coin it was mine.
Appa finally settled on a pair of black block heels and I had my book.
And a camera, a journal, a bag of snacks, and white tennis shoes.
No Underground map though.
So not all pride is lost...
...until I got on the tube with my headphones in and ended at the opposite end of the line from where I was headed.
I might have to let the whole anti-tourist thing go.