Tuesday, 4 February 2003

Richard Cooper's 2003 Hoban Adventure 24/28

17:44

L'Escargot Restaurant

(The Medusa Frequency)

I left the British Museum at just after five o’clock and hobbled into New Oxford Street to contemplate how much further I could feasibly go on. I went into Costa Coffee and pondered the matter over an enormous cup of tea and an almond biscotti, gazing out the window at a beautiful old pub called The Bloomsbury. The sky was darkening nicely by now into the true richness of the winter dusk-blue, and the red buses, yellow streetlamps and white faces made the London canvas complete. Half an hour spent dangling in mid-air off a tall stool had helped my feet considerably, and I couldn’t wimp out of finishing off the last few stops of my tour now.

I tried to locate the nearest Tube station but it seemed that unless I hopped on a bus, any station would be a few minutes’ walk away, and in any case they’d all be crammed with commuters. I decided to rough it and walked down New Oxford Street, across Tottenham Court Road into Oxford Street, and turned left into Soho Street which then became Soho Square, the home of Russ’s publisher Bloomsbury. Greek Street was directly off the square and L’Escargot about half-way down on the right.
The restaurant is one of London’s best in its price range (“moderate-expensive” according to one review), and its Soho location assures it a creative clientele. This passage from The Medusa Frequency is one of my favourite scenes in all of Russell Hoban’s books and is arguably definitive of his style and subject, containing a potent mixture of reality, fantasy, magic realism, and humour both subtle (I love the “elderly” James Bond actress) and totally wild. The line “I prefer my ideas to come to me out of ignorance” is one that stuck firmly in my mind when I first read it in my late teens; it didn’t so much put ideas into my head (sic) about how one should approach life and art as chime with an instinct I already had, that while it’s important to be tuned into the right things in life, if you’re an impressionable person there is definitely a danger of opening yourself up so much that you lose your own identity amid the ideas of others. Of course, it is possible to take this attitude too far and end up never learning anything, or deliberately choosing not to learn anything or be influenced by anybody. But as Bob Dylan once said, “Open up yer eyes an’ yer ears an’ yer influenced an’ there’s nothing you can do about it.”

The thought crossed my mind to tape the quote to the menu display outside the front door but this seemed a bit of a naff idea, so I folded up the quote into quarters and flicked it through the letterbox where it skidded across the floor towards a queue of people waiting to be seated. I nipped down to the end of Greek Street sharpish before any curious waiters could come out and give it back.

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