Thursday, September 4, 2008

First Day of Classes and a Private Art Opening

Today was simply amazing! Not only did I awake excited because I was going back to teach after a four month long summer vacation but I had an unexpectedly lovely evening as well.

I seem to have fallen into a wake-up routine with my body clock rousing me by 6 am.--how great it feels not to have to awake to an alarm clock anymore! This leaves me with an hour to read in bed (I am currently reading London by A. N. Wilson, a hugely fascinating account of the history of the city as told through its architecture).

Breakfast done, I showered and left for work about 9.15 taking yet another route to Bloomsbury. In fact, I am discovering shorter and more interesting ways to get to Bedford Square from my place at Holborn every time I walk that route. Today's rambles took me past Bloomsbury Square, Great Russell Square and Bedford Square with their sedate Georgian houses lining the gardens that structure them into neat urban parcels. This planning of the heart of London is simply ingenious.

Both classes that I taught today--one on Anglo-Indians, the other on Writing--went off well. They are small classes and the students seem eager to learn.They are also quite vocal and are happy to share their views and perceptions. They are excited to be in London and seem to be enjoying the experience. I have seen two familiar faces in my classes--students who have taken my courses earlier in New York have signed up to take my classes again. Despite the fact that they are three hour classes that meet just once a week, time flew, and I wasn't able to cover everything I meant to finish today...but then a great deal of time was spent introducing ourselves to each other and breaking the ice.

Multiculturalism reigns supreme in my classes. I have students from several parts of the globe--Korea, China, Poland, France, Canada and, of course, the good ole US of A. Their global experience is enviable and their openness to unfamiliar cultures is heartening.

Best of all, I loved the spaces in which I teach. My Anglo-Indian Studies class meets in a gorgeous room at Bedford Square with high ceilings, ornate brass American colonial style chandeliers, deep classical moldings and a fireplace! Somehow our Audio-visual equipment looks incongruous there--clashing with the Georgian ambiance of the building. Just outside my classroom is a magnificent staircase punctuated with plaster work with classical motifs reminiscent of the best work of Josiah Wedgwood. There is a certain solemnity to the space that affects me personally and I feel inspired to teach in such surroundings.

My Writing class meets at Birkbeck College of the University of London, just a block away from our Bedford Square premises. The English students have not yet returned for the start of their new academic year--they will be back at the end of the month of September. This leaves us using the premises exclusively. No doubt, it will be far more crowded when the entire student component is around. My class is on the 2nd floor--it is a corner room with wraparound windows on two sides that flood the room with light and sunshine. Outside in the quadrangle are mature trees whose branches seem to brush our windows. There is an expanse of green lawn just beneath us and the entire area is hushed. I cannot believe I am in the midst of the bustling city of London! How fortunate can any student (and teacher) be to have so appealing a view from a window?

When my classes ended for the day, I attended another freshman Orientation meeting with our Study Abroad Program Advisor Beth Haymaker and then finally decided to leave for home at 7 pm. I took my time walking back, stopping to buy an international phone card. When I reached home, I found a voice mail from my friend Janie Yang inviting me to the private opening of a new art exhibition by her friend Fletcher Sibthorp at the Medici Gallery on Cork Street in Mayfair, right next door to the Royal Academy of Art. Drinks at the opening would be followed by dinner ...and she hoped I could make it.

Well, I grabbed my bag and left immediately (never one to miss a good gig!) getting there on the Tube in a jiffy. And how glad I was that I had the energy after a 6 hour teaching routine to take in the show. It was a most impressive exhibition that featured portraits in oil of women, tall, elegant and willowy, many of whom were ballet dancers. Fletcher, whom I had the pleasure of meeting, is a latter-day Degas with access to the world of ballet dancing. His portraits are realist and vibrant, his colors bold and his depiction of the dancers shows consciousness of their delicate physical form and posture. I thoroughly enjoyed browsing through the gallery which was filled with designers of every kind as most of them went to school art with each other and are old friends.

Dinner followed at Amba Restaurant at the historic Mayfair Hotel (a blue plaque informed me that "Their Majesties the King and Queen had visited the hotel in 1927...") where Fletcher had made a reservation for some of his closest friends. Janie and Jimmy urged me to stay and I ended up enjoying a lovely meal with some of the friends I made last week--Tanya and Stewart were there--and some new friends that I had the chance to chat with, among them John Ambler and a lovely lady called Vivian whose male companion, a vet, was called Steven. I told him that I had just returned from the Yorkshire Dales where I had visited the home of James Herriott and he informed me that ever since Herriott's novels became bestsellers the demand for seats in veterinary schools expanded so enormously that the grades required were almost impossible to achieve and it became far more difficult to learn to become a vet than a physician. I thought that was a very interesting fact to glean. Steven ended, somewhat bitterly, "James Herriott's own grades in school were rubbish, but his success as a writer ended up making all of us swot hard to even get into vet school!"

Having started a low carb diet, I was worried that I would not find adequate choices on the menu but the Gloucestershire Loin of Pork with caramelized onions and balsamic reduction was very good and certainly met my current food restrictions.

It was almost midnight when we left the restaurant and chose to walk along some of the swankiest parts of London passing by Saville Row and Bond Street, the Burlington Gardens and Hay Hill. Shops carrying the names and logos of Bulgari and Chopard and Asprey enticed us by their exquisite window displays and an antique jewelry store called Bentley and Shepherd (if I remember correctly) sported gigantic logos to proclaim their royal warrants. I am slowly learning all these lovely parts of the city and am delighted to be introduced to them by native Londoners who love their city as much as I do and are very pleased to share it with me.

It was long past midnight when I reached home but by then I had received my second wind and sat down to hammer out these lines before bed.

Tomorrow also promises to be a busy day what with our Freshman Trip to Greenwich; but the forecast is calling for heavy rain all day and I hoping it will not be a complete washout. Fingers crossed!

1 comment:

Chriselle Almeida said...

All this sounds like a dream come true!!