The Court at Barbican Station
Recently I had to go to the Russian Visa Application Center on Gee Street which is closest to the Barbican Underground station. First time, it was raining and I’d gone during peak time and was trudging down the street in what I hoped was the right direction. Across the street from me were 3 ladies sitting under an awning outside of a coffee shop. When I returned to the underground station, I passed them on the same side of the street and they were all drinking coffee and cackling with the delight of old friends getting together and talking and gossiping.
My first trip was fruitless as the Visa Application Center didn’t like my letter of introduction so I had to get that fixed and then return. Again, I was going in the early morning rush hour time (approximately 8-8:30 a.m.). As I pass by the café on the opposite side of the street, again I notice the three old ladies (OK, I am old too but I’m fairly sure they were all older than me by at least 10 years). Again they are enjoying themselves in front of this café and drinking coffee or tea and gossiping and laughing. I noticed that someone stopped and joined them for a few minutes and then I was past and almost to the Center.
Yesterday I returned one last time to the Russian Visa Application Center to pick up our passports with the all-important and vital visa inside. The Russian Visa Application Center gives you a very short time frame to pick up your documents. I wanted to be there when the doors opened so I would be assured of getting our passports returned.. But at the time, I was rather too early (after three trips, I knew the way much better) so I stopped at the same café where the three ladies were sitting. Before when I passed them, it was around 8:30 a.m. Yesterday, it was 4:15 p.m. and yet there were the same three ladies sitting at their favorite table. It seemed to be their favorite table because they were there all three times I passed and always in the same spot and always arranged in the same manner. Not only their favorite table but favorite café and apparently favorite chairs as well.
I went inside to buy something to drink and sat down at the table next to them. While they were all speaking English, it was with a bit of Eastern European accent of some kind. Couldn’t really identify it. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was quite actively eavesdropping. After seeing them there from early morning to later afternoon and not knowing if they ever moved away or not, I was thinking there was more to the story.
It was a good day yesterday weather wise. There were many people on the street walking up and down. About every third person was hailed by the ladies and stopped for a chat. These ladies must live outside at this café during the day and were holding court with all the neighbors. Sometimes there was hugs and air kisses all around and sometimes just brief handshakes. Sometimes the person being hailed was just talked to for a couple of seconds as they continued to walk and passed out of hearing shortly. Other times, the person being hailed would be halted and queried on their business, both past and present.
The three ladies were always happy to call out to the people passing and knew them all by name and seemed to know them all in great detail such as children, husband or wife’s name, pets, business, shopping habits, church attended, holiday plans, gardens, enemies, other friends, and troubles. It was quite educational and fascinating to sit and listen to this font of knowledge coming from these three old ladies as they held their social court in front of this small café. I know quite a lot now about the people and general population of people living around the Barbican underground than I ever wanted to know or thought I would know. Probably wouldn’t recognize most of the people that stopped to talk though.
After each “guest” had moved on and before the next “guest” was called to the “docket”, the three ladies would discuss and assimilate any new knowledge just received and glean through it for juicy bits of gossip, or sympathize with the problems, or discuss with disdain the choices made by some of the residents. These ladies were the judge, jury, prosecuting attorney and defense attorney all rolled together in a neat package of three old ladies holding court every day at the Barbican. Next year I will have to return to get another Russian Visa for a different trip. I can hardly wait to see if they are still there in their capacity of the neighborhood court.