Tuesday, September 23, 2008
I decided to start my day off by preparing for my Thursday classes instead of keeping it all for Wednesday. After all, tomorrow I would like to get to the half-price ticket booth at Leicester square for tickets to see Dame Eileen Atkins in The Female of the Species. My course on Anglo-Indians is going well and with the prep that is involved in using Gloria Jean Moore's book (The Anglo-Indian Vision) as text, reading the 500 page tome called White Moghuls by William Dalrymple and connecting with real-life Anglo-Indians through the email and interviewing them, I feel steeped in the culture and the ethos. Which is perfect--as I intend to start my research at the British Library soon.
With Chapter Four (The Sepoy Mutiny of 1857) in the bag, I took advantage of the mild weather and set out on one of my walks. I called Cynthia Colclough for company but she was off to the hairdressers today and took a rain check. So off I went with my book and my map and my sturdy walking shoes (or 'trainers' as they call them here) and headed for Fleet Street and the Blackfriars Underground Station where the walk commenced.
I was thrust immediately into the little bylanes behind bustling Blackfriars. In Blackfriars Yard is visible the last remains of the Blackfriars Theater with which Shakespeare was associated. Just a few feet ahead was one of London's oldest cemeteries, now a garden attached to a monastery but bearing evidence of its use as a cemetery in the ancient gravestones dating from the 1700s. A few feet ahead was the Cockpit Pub, so-called because it was actually used in the Elizabethan Age as a cock-fighting den. The gallleries that encircle the pub "upstairs" bear evidence of this use. Just across the road is the picturesquely named Church of St. Andrews in the Wardrobe, so called because the church was right next door to the grand building that once contained the royal wardrobe. Alas, this burned down in the Great Fire of London of 1666 though the church remains. I am repeatedly struck by the serenity of these London churches and the suddenness with which they creep up on you in spaces where you least expect to see them! Soon I was passing by the Old Bailey, the famous Court House with the gilded statue crowning it that portrays the Goddess of Justice with the scales in her outstretched hands. Next door, is the church of St. Sebastian whose bells are a part of the 'Oranges and Lemons' poem of old--the Bells of Old Bailey!
Then, I was out on Carter Lane where the Youth Hostel in which I had stayed in
March with my friend Amy Tobin stands. I passed right by it and went through Dean's Court on to Sir Christopher Wren's masterpiece, St. Paul's Cathedral, with its dominating dome and the statue of Queen Anne in the forecourt. A quick visit into the interior, though not a full tour, and I was out again, walking through the Wren-designed gateway of Temple Bar which once stood on Fleet Street but was moved carefully, brick by brick, to its present location. Once past Paternoster Square, I walked out towards Amen Court (where, I believe, Cynthia lives in the quarters assigned to the Canon-Pastor) and saw the remains of what was once Newgate prison, one of London's most notorious jails.
Then, I was out on Newgate Street heading towards the ruined church of Christchurch Greyfriars, which interestingly sits right next door to the ruined Merril Lynch! In the churchyard, I saw some more antiquated gravestones, admired some late-blooming roses (it is another mystery to me how these urban gardens flourish with seemingly no care at all producing the most abundant David Austin roses), then turned towards Postman Park where I admired the wall covered with ceramic tiles to commemorate those who gave their lives trying to save others--what a heart-warming and unique idea. Even their stories, fired forever on those ceramic tiles, made such interesting reading.
On the other side of Postman Park, I found myself on Aldgate Street where once the ancient Roman walls and gates of London stood. Indeed, the word Aldgate derives from the fact that a gate was actually at that spot and Samuel Pepys, the 18th century diarist, writes of the day he walked out and saw at least 5 heads impaled upon the walls--of prisoners who had been sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered! Yikkkes! At the Old Raglan Pub named for the Duke who was given to wearing a peculiar kind of sleeve that bears his name, I turned and arrived at the old Saddler's Hall where the medieval guild of saddlers had their headquarters.
Now who would have guessed that all these interesting tidbits of information were to be gleaned around the precincts of St. Paul's? Most visitors only see the cathedral and move on to the next site. How fortunate I felt that my year-long stay allows me to browse at leisure through these hidden niches of the city and to encounter first-hand the history that has soaked into these streets.
Home for lunch and some more work (I needed to transcribe my first interview before I forget the nuances of our conversation) and then I was headed out to NYU's campus at Bedford Square where I had made plans to have coffee with Prof. Mick Hattaway who teaches British Writers. He took me to the coffee shop attached to the London Review of Books in a lane right in front of the British Museum. We had a very interesting conversation in which Mick shared with me his recent discoveries surrounding his family genealogy. Then, I rushed off to the 6 pm screening of Stephen Frears The Queen starring Helen Mirren on campus as part of Phillip Drummond's course on Contemporary British Cinema which I am auditing. I had seen and enjoyed the film before but, of course, it was so special to see the Royal Family on screen in light of our recent encounter with all of them outside Balmoral in Scotland.
Come to think of it, this too was my kind of day--I accomplished a good amount of work, took a self-guided enlightening tour and saw a good movie. What better way to spend a fine day in London?