August 27, 2015

London - A Royal and Arabian Affair

It's our second day in London and sleep continues to be evasive. Apparently the main road (Sloane Avenue) right outside our apartment windows is a major drag racing boulevard for the wealthy Arabs who take pleasure in ignoring all speed and noise ordinances during the night. Just when you start to fall asleep you hear the high pitched shrill of a Ferrari's grinding gears. I'm sure that's music to some ears, but not mine at 2:30 AM. We seriously are getting very little sleep and this fact is really cutting into my "fun on vacation Sherry" demeanor.

At first we were a little surprised to see the sheer volume of luxury cars drive up and down our street. We knew Chelsea was an upscale neighborhood, but keeping up with the Joneses in this neighborhood would require that you drive a Bentley or Rolls Royce for grabbing groceries or perhaps a Lamborghini supercar to pick up Davey from school. A Range Rover Sport in this neighborhood was what the poor people drive around. Why drive a "factory" model when you can gold plate it?

Or perhaps purple ultra-suede is more to your liking?

Electric blue anyone?

Apparently many of the ultra-luxury and supercars we saw around our neighborhood and other areas of London are owned by the young rich Arab playboys who like to vacation in London during the summer to escape the intense heat of the gulf. Car owners from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait will happily pay a small fortune - in excess of £20,000 for their metal marvels to be flown around 3,000 miles. I found an interesting article online that details this extravagance.

I can only imagine what their private jets look like.

So while we were among "royalty" we had a date with the Queen to visit the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace. Buckingham Palace only allows visitors during a few weeks per year and we were lucky to be in London during this period. April and I toured the State Rooms about 10 years ago and I was pleased to see that they had added some additional exhibits.

My favorite part of the entire tour were several exhibits and videos providing an overview of how palace staffers prepare for a State dinner in the ballroom for 170 guests. Last year the Queen and other members of the Royal family welcomed more than 62,000 people to the palace.

While in their current incarnation state banquets are largely a 20th-century innovation, Queen Victoria wrote in her diary about entertaining Napoleon III of France in 1855, ‘in the usual dining room’. The following year, after vast renovations, she added a new Ballroom, having appealed to Prime Minister Robert Peel for ‘a room capable of containing a larger number of persons whom the Queen has to invite in the course of a season’. State banquets have been held here since 1914.

A state visit is planned 12 months in advance. The guest country is chosen by the government; the guest list of about 170 is then drawn up between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Royal Household. Invitations issued by the Queen are sent out two months in advance.

I would kill to actually see the kitchens at the palace, but I was completely fascinated with the preamble leading up to a typical State dinner. The displays of the various pantries (from glassware and crystal to an entire drawer system for dessert forks) were everything I wish I had room for. Imagine an entire room full of drawers filled with china of various patterns? Ah, my happy place.


I also loved that the menus they provide at each place setting are written in French. Apparently the Queen knows what great cuisine is all about!

For a banquet, the table is covered with linen tablecloths centered using specially made measuring sticks, napkins are folded into a Dutch bonnet shape, and each guest is allocated 46cm for their setting. Carson from Downton Abbey would have approved! I thought it fascinating that they serve each guest from servers (a footman holds the dish while the guest serves themselves), not a plate with the entire meal already present on the plate. I must step up my "formal" dinner parties now - anyone know of a good footman?

On banquet nights 19 stations are set up around the ballroom each manned by four staff - a page, footman, under butler and a wine butler - who use a traffic light system to co-ordinate the serving of courses.

While the first and second courses – usually fish followed by meat – are served on silver-gilt plates, the pudding, prepared by the Royal Pastry Chef, and fruit course are served on a porcelain service (either Tournai or a Minton service made in 1877). Each guest is served five different wines, starting with champagne, chosen by the Clerk of the Royal Cellars and Yeoman of the Royal Cellars, along with the Head of Government Hospitality. These are bought in for the event and paid for by the government.

Dinner normally takes one hour and 20 minutes. At the end of the meal 12 pipers process around the room – a tradition started by Queen Victoria – and the guests depart for coffee and handmade petits fours in the State Rooms. The room is stripped down in two hours. Washing up is done by hand. Guess you don't want to risk putting the antique service pieces in the dishwasher!

In addition to the State dinners, the Queen also hosts 3 "garden parties" each summer with up to 8,000 people attending. Now that's a party! I do love the sense of tradition that Queen Elizabeth seemingly carries on. Who knows what the next generation will do. Apparently Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip will be the last royals to actually inhabit Buckingham Palace. Rumor has it that Prince Charles will turn it into a museum.

So that wraps up our second day in London and hopefully a long nap (or at least a good night's sleep) will be in my future.

Cheerio mates!

No comments:

Post a Comment