Mar 11, 2012
I never met Mr. Anselmi or that is what I would wish, for, where a single vision that I had to be believed, then I think I would descend into madness as assuredly as the sun will rise on the morrow for such would be the horror to envelope my mind. Yet, vision as it was, it was so fleeting and indistinct that, even today at a distance of years – emblazoned upon my memory though it remains – I retain doubt of the veracity of my senses and their ability to transmit to my mind a faithful representation of the world in which I inhabit and, more specifically, of a damp, fog enshrouded night in the autumn of 1872.
Mr. Anselmi's shop was located in the vicinity of Knightsbridge between a small sausage factory and a knacker. This, to me, represented a testament of the efficiency that our good queen, her Majesty, Victoria, had fostered in the city of London, making it, indeed, the marvel of the modern world. In only my own short life, I had seen the poor in the work houses and factories where they belonged, the streets were clean and gas-lit, the villains and ruffians pushed, thanks to the London Constabulary, to the fringes and our city thronged with theatre, music, dance and art. A young man such as myself, given over - as I was and am to this day – to the more musaic dispositions of my spirit, had only the embarrassment of choice where it came to an evening's entertainment in the company of friends, acquaintances or business associates.
It was frequently my wont to use the Kensington Road to pass from my apartments in Notting Hill, along the south edge of Kensington Garden toward my father's legal offices in Piccadilly Circus. In this way, in the late summer of the year, I dismounted my ebony mare after spying the swinging sign above the door of the shop. The sign read:
By appointment to Her Majesty,
purveyors of fine apparel for
Gentlemen and Ladies:
Gustavo Anselmi, Esq.
I entered under a merrily ringing bell and my nostrils immediately filled with the rich perfume of the tanned skins which, in the front of the shop, had been transformed into the most exquisite if, at times, extravagantly foppish items of adornment. I was immediately greeted by a man a little younger than myself.
“Are you the proprietor?” I inquired while leaning on my walking stick and the fingers of my other hand caressed the paper-thin suppleness of a black-dyed topcoat.
“Oh, no, Sir,” he emphasised, smiling and bowing slightly. “Mr. Anselmi is away conducting affairs, I am afraid.”
“These vests are delightful,” I commented, having already made my decision after seeing him wearing one of a similar style. “Can you have one made up for me?”
He sized me up and then questioned, “You wear a number 40, Sir?”
“I do, indeed.”
He efficiently flipped through the rack and extracted the precise object.
“This should be just the thing,” he said, offering it to me. He added, after turning to regard the back of the shop, “Between you and me, Sir, the tailor is in and, for a gentleman such as yourself, I believe he can be persuaded to make the adjustments immediately.” He laid a finger to the side of his nose in a conspiratorial fashion making me smile.
“What should I pay you, my good man?”
“It will be 4 pounds, 6, Sir.”
“An optimal price,” I observed and the fellow promptly took the necessary measurements, scribbling on a little scrap of newspaper which he took from the pocket of his vest.
“If you would like to wait in the shop next door, Sir, and return in 15 minutes, I know that they will be pleased to offer you some samples and refreshment.”
“This is optimal service,” I said, extracting my calling card from my waistcoat. “Please leave this,” I commanded, “for Mr. Anselmi on his return such that he may exchange in kind.”
Moments later, in the next shop, I was greeted by a woman in an Italian styled dress and apron and made to sit at a small table in the sun by the window. The sausages and other fare were so enticingly and delicately spiced that I could not but inquire. I quickly discovered that my hostess was from nowhere but south London.
“Excuse me, Madame,” I hailed to her. “These are absolutely delicious – is the proprietor about?” I took a sip of light, red wine to cleanse my palatte.
“Oh,” she exclaimed, allowing an unlikely giggle to escape her. “I ain't no 'Madame', sir – just Mrs. Bobkins but you are a gentleman for saying. No, the owner is Mr. Anselmi – the same one what own the uffer two places beside. We don't never see 'im about scarce ever. 'e's always off buying this and selling that or whatever 'e does and leaves the supplies in the ice-box every morning – always fresh. Poor Mr. Bobkins comes in at 4 in the morning, 'e does, and starts turning the grinder.”
“This recipe is unique,” I offered, savouring another morsel.
“They are delicious, they certainly are. Between you and me, sir, I fink he must 'ave brought it from 'is country,” - she lowered her voice - “'e's an Italian gentleman, you know. 'e's right kind to Mr. Bobkins 'n meself, 'e is – let's us take what isn't sold 'ome wif us every night fer supper, 'e does.” She nodded primly in emphasis. “Fanks to 'im, our boys is growing up strong as ox, they are.”
A short time later, I was back on my horse with two packages; one, my old vest as I now sported the new one, and a second to be cooked for lunch at the office. I never did receive the return compliment from Mr. Anselmi but, delighted by my experience there, I returned several times to purchase items for myself, or as gifts for others.
The entire chain of events would have been lost to memory had it not been for the aforementioned night in the Autumn.
I was fortunate that, only a few months later and thanks to the kindness and generosity of the late Mr. Ashbury of New York city, I too transferred to America where I was fortunate enough to continue my artistic ramblings and achieve sufficient success at it, with the assistance of a small pension from my late parents, to continue in modest comfort. Nevertheless, on that particular night, myself and my boon childhood companion, Mr. James Everett, were retuning from the theatre after viewing the premier of Mr. Stevens', 'An Odd Occurrence in Chelsea' and, while it was touted as a romantic farce, in truth, the only thing farcical about it was that it had been allowed to be performed on stage.
We found to our chagrin, but certainly not for the first time, that between drinks in the Galleria before, more during the performance and, then, supping together after, we had consumed entirely too much wine. Thus, while neither the one nor the other was terribly steady on his feet, we decided to walk through Knightsbridge to take some air and, once past the Gloucester Road, to share a hansom first to my apartments and then, he, on to his parents' estate in West Kilburn.
The day had been a delight for the good citizens of London with a blazing sun and warmth but, as evening came on which it did quite early, the smog collected like pillows in the streets and where one moment it was easy to find one's way, in the next, it was difficult to see the next street lamp hissing and sputtering in the dense mist. More than once, we became disoriented but, knowing the area better than my friend, we linked arms and I acted the part of guide although I began to despair of being able to hail a cab.
I was looking and soon found in the swirling whiteness that surrounded us – thankfully there was a gas lamp nearby – Mr. Anselmi's apparel shop and, next to it, his sausage shop. As we came abreast, now clearer of head due to the walk, I heard what seemed to be a commotion of nondescript origin. Pausing in the street, I studied the swirling eddies looking for a source and, with a lick of breeze, for only a moment, that blindness parted and I saw. A man – elderly and with the long, white hair to prove it – toiled with the weight of a bulging and tattered, burlap sack and I knew not why this affair would be proceeding at such an hour. I could only conceive that it was Mr. Anselmi returning from his travels.
“Mr. Anselmi?” I called but there was no answer from the hunched man who dropped the sack and promptly turned to unlock the door.
“Mr. Anselmi, do you require assistance?
Again, there was no answer but, as he and his burden disappeared inside, I saw what no person should see and far too many connexions were made in my mind to not perceive the horror before me for, as stated previously, the sack was tattered and incompletely mended; from one of these tears protruded a woman's hand. I bent and vomited on my shoes before fleeing with my companion.
For many years, I have lived in New York, ever grateful to the patronage that I have received in this country and in this city. Yet, with my age, at times, my heart longs to return to our Island and, perhaps, live out my remaining days there. If so, I will stay to the North Country where is the origin of our family.
London still leaves a disgusting taste in my mouth.