Covent Garden: Where Odd is Ordinary

Eccentricity is on display every weekend in Covent Garden.

A stroll through Covent Garden is always filled with welcome surprises.  As we entered the cobbled piazza this weekend, Jackie and I ran into a group of peculiarly clad senior citizens.  I have seen these “pearly people” before and decided to approach to ask about their unusual uniform adorned with pearl buttons.

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I discovered that they are part of a charity organization: The London Pearly Kings & Queen Society.  This charity developed in recognition of young orphan, Henry Croft, who at age 13 became a Road-sweeper for the London Borough and was “adopted” by the Costermongers, a name given to the merchants who sold fruits and vegetables in the late 1800s.  These merchants wore smoke pearl buttons sewn on the piped seams of their black clothing to show their status as they worked their market stalls from day to day.  These stalls still exist today with everything from produce to trinkets to salvaged goods to art and antiques.

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Representative of its location adjacent to the venerable Royal Opera House and the artsy Soho theater district, Covent Garden is a place that blends highbrow and lowbrow.  Case in point, the central piazza is lined with a wide range of boutiques where classy Chanel blazers in ritzy shops “rub shoulders” with bobble-headed queens in tacky tourist stalls.

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On the weekend, the outdoor space becomes an impromptu stage for street performers.  We passed this golden man who miraculously balances himself and his golden brew.

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As we began our stroll, we saw a man sitting on the street patiently applying white face make up.  Circling back, we discovered this same man with only his painted face visible under a thatched basket as he transformed into the angry talking dog who “barks” insults at people as they walk past.

dog man

We left behind the activity of the plaza for a quick bite at the neighboring Balthazar’s Boulangerie.  Here, we sat at the counter and enjoyed fresh onion soup, crusty baguettes, and rhubarb tarts.  Tangy rhubarb is in season, and the chef let us sample a confit of rhubarb, strawberry, and star anise that had just come up from the ovens — delicious!

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All in all, a perfect Saturday filled with the quirky and the quaint…a typical London combination.

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