Feet dusty and skin bare, the sun hot on my back so that it feels as though my flesh were slow-roasting. Even the birds are quiet, lulled into a dose and unable to emit more than an occasional drowsy chirrup from their tree top bandstands. Spring has fully arrived to this island, blowing away the shrouded skies of winter and bathing our sun-famished bodies with a welcome warmth.
The inhabitants of London, grimly familiar with the brevity of the English sun, leap at even the faintest opportunity to take in some rays. The moment the temperature tops 60 degrees they shed clothing like a confetti, head for the nearest park armed with a six pack of beer, and drape themselves decorously across the grass. In April and May this ritual requires admirable determination, since the capricious spring weather rarely holds fine for long. In fact, it is a rule of London life that the moment you arrange yourself in a grassy corner of the park complete with beach towel and book, the clouds roll in and the sun surrenders. And yet, when the city is genuinely graced with good weather, there is a sense of festival in the air and on weekends half the population floods out of doors and into the parks, gardens, greens, and commons.
One of the joys of living in London is the plethora of green spaces strewn throughout the city. From the busy thoroughfares of Hyde Park, swarming with bicyclists, joggers, dogs, and horses, to the wild expanse of Richmond Park, there is a green oasis to suit every mood and occasion. And although these verdurous havens are wonderful throughout the year, they come alive in the spring and summer, blossoming with the daffodils as the sun triumphs in its annual battle against the grey.
For myself, the sunning season has not truly begun until I’ve had my first ice cream in the park. It is a quintessential summer experience–a lush, arctic mountain soaring above its crunchy cone. In the heat of a lazy afternoon, there is nothing better than to rouse yourself from that sun-drugged daze and indulge in a scoop or two of the best. “I doubt the world holds for anyone a more soul-stirring surprise,” said the early 20th century American journalist Heywood Broun, “than the first adventure with ice cream.” Surely there is no dessert more capable of eliciting delight from children and adults alike than a cone of ice cream: it is self-contained kingdom complete with edible packaging, a perilous confectionary – eat it or it dissolves into an ignominious mush, a shadow of its former glory.
Last week, eager to christen the sun, I cycled along the Thames to the London outpost of Richmond. This charming idyll is situated to the south west of the city proper. With its bustling high street and and bucolic position rising up from the river, it feels more like a thriving country village than a borough of the nation’s capital. The streets twist and tumble and sometimes come to an abrupt end in that bewildering fashion typical of London–exceedingly irritating if you’re late for a meeting but endearing if you’re have nothing better to do than wander the circuitous maze. After parking my bicycle near Richmond Green, I ambled down the narrow, shadowy depths of Brewers lane to Gelateria Danieli.
I confess to an undiscriminating love of all ices and ice creams, from sorbets, water ices and those horrendous, syrup-drenched snow cones you find at American state fairs to creamy ice cream and zesty frozen yoghurt. However, I have a particular soft spot for the luxurious Italian gelato, with its plethora of sophisticated flavours, rolling lyrically off the tongue, almost as satisfying to pronounce as to eat–amaretto, marron glace, panna cotta, stracciatella.
Gelato, despite its luxurious texture, contains less fat than ice cream. It is made with a lower proportion of cream to milk and derives that signature richness from slower churning, incorporating less air into the mix, as well as a carefully balanced quantity of sugar and water, preventing it from freezing solid. The result is a dense concoction with a flavor unmuffled by too much hefty butterfat.
At Gelateria Danieli I chose a scoop of rocher, a potent chocolate and hazelnut gelato, and, clutching my cone wandered over to the green, sprawled on the grass, and polished off every ounce. I always find it a disheartening moment to arrive at the tip of the cone and take that last mouthful. How did it disappear so quickly? Is gelato is capable of evaporation? And yet, I console myself, the sun has arrived and this was just the beginning of a long, golden summer filled with many more trips to the park, bare feet and hot earth, and many more cones of soul-stirring gelato.