One Corner of Hackney

I fell into the Thames. More accurately, it was Regent's Canal, which branches off the Thames. But that instant event eliminated any ambiguity about how to begin this post. And if I was going to slip and fall, it was better to do it here than on my last Translational Movement adventure. To provide a little bit of context (always a favorite word of mine), here is, or was, the corner of Vyner Street and Cambridge Heath Road in Hackney, London, where Nick and I were staying on an Airbnb-rented houseboat. Hackney shares a geographical area and a demographic distribution with Shoreditch, which I've written about before, but the energy is less playground and more routine.

I'll share that routine here. On trips like this where where quantum physics appear in a Tom Stoppard revival and the newsletter of a British Buddhist organization, where the same wave-partical experiment is a metaphor for the Cold War and spiritual enlightenment, where it feels both like everything is going wrong but life is still good and like everything is going right but you don't enjoy it the way you expected to, where the connections and contradictions are infinite, it can be comforting to scramble up the gangplank to safety (when you can do that) and focus on your little corner of the world.

And on the corner of Vyner Street and Cambridge Heath Road, in addition to any number of access points to the canal (by foot, by bike, or by boat) and the striking visual and vocal presence of a medium-sized population of swans, there are more than a few local establishments with flexible functions (of the kind that betray more disposable income than residents might admit to) where you can spend an entire day gaining focus and/or looking for distraction. I would start at the Hive of Vyner Street, a sustainable (biodynamic, organic, preservative free) wine bar and shop but also a cafe that doesn't shy away from the caffeine in coffee (though I do) and makes a version of that faddish smushed avocado on toast that is worth paying for, bedecked as it is with unctuous brie-like goat cheese and toasted sesame seeds. They also somehow make a water-based kefir drink with turmeric and ginger that sometimes sells out and would only impress me more if it turned out to be as medicinal as it is delicious. When it opens at 11, I would explore Victor Wynd's Museum of Curiosities, a cave-like shrine to taxidermy that is at turns scientifically relevant and fictitious--if you want to take the analogy between East London and Brooklyn further (and it is hard to resist) this is the equivalent of the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Gowanus. I might stay for a drink at the bar after paying the four-pound admission fee, or I might walk on to the Hackney Bureau. Here, you can get different snacks for different times of day though the avocado toast isn't as good as across the street. The cocktails made with single-malt scotch are as good as they sound, and fairly priced to suit this combination of English pub and modern mixology. There are galleries winding around Vyner Street though they seem to be in flux, those listed on smartphone maps closed and new ones opening. There's also an artists' studio that doubles as an Italian grocery, a kind of quantum experiment where you can buy a tube of anchovy paste that will fit nicely into your suitcase for the trip home. I'd end the day with more Italian food at Ombra. It isn't one of the best restaurants that you can find in London (or even in Hackney, especially on Broadway Market, just up Andrew's Road, another circuitous side street that starts on the the other side of Cambridge Heath Road and tracks the canal) but because it's nice to be close to home and because the pastas, like lasagna with spinach and winter squash or spaghetti with eggplant and capers, are warm and wholesome. I would end the day out back at the Hive. My suggestions: Treat yourself to an orange wine or a rosé. Tread carefully.