Monday, September 22, 2008
I had the kind of day that can only be described as perfect. Did a batch of laundry and cleaned my flat--still can't believe how quickly I can finish that. Have finally mastered the brain behind the washer-cum-dryer concept and now my smalls are no longer getting fried and my clothes are emerging bone dry and do not need to get to an ironing board before they can be placed back in the closet.Yyeess!
Spent a few hours of the morning networking with my Anglo-Indian contacts and organizing the many names and addresses, telephone numbers and email addresses that are now pouring into my possession from all over the UK as people are helping me make connections. I will be spending at least one morning at my office this week sitting on the phone and making follow-up calls to set up interview appointments. I'm so glad that I had a breakthrough with Marina Stubbs in Brighton yesterday as that seems to have set the ball rolling.
Then, I made myself a sandwich lunch with everything that was in my fridge--multi-grain bread, hummus, olives, tomatoes, Stilton Cheese and Gorgonzola Cheese--and walked out into a very sunny afternoon. I headed straight for one of my favorite places in London, the National Gallery. Of course, I decided to take the scenic path there, past Covent Garden which had attracted only a few visitors until I arrived at the Jubilee Market which I discovered to be a covered antiques market. Of course, I could not resist spending a half hour browsing among the vintage jewelry and china bric-a-brac before I pressed on towards the Museum.
Part of my museum musing was also work as I need to identify the ten or fifteen paintings I will place on my own tour when I teach my Writing class at the Gallery on October 9. So heading straight for the research computers down in the basement, I spent the next half hour identifying the exact locations of a bunch of them based on the book I am using to study the works--The Guide to the National Gallery by Homan Potterton. It is my aim to go over every single one of the paintings in the Gallery in the next one year and I intended to study two or three rooms at a time. Well, I started at the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries and finished five of them, feasting my eyes upon the fabulous Piero della Francescas, the Giovanni Bellinis and the Andrea Mategnas in the Gallery's collection while also studying some of the Albrect Durers.
Then, I sat on a bench and watched a few fat pigeons forage for food among the tourists as I munched my sandwich and took the shortest route I could to Green Park Tube station to embark upon one of the guided walks entitled "Spies and Spooks in Mayfair" from my book entitled 24 Great Walks in London. I discovered a place called Shepherd Market, the heart of the 'village' of Mayfair, Crewe House, one of Mayfair's last existing mansions (today the Embassy of Saudi Arabia), two beautiful churches (Grosvenor Chapel where "coffee and cakes are served in the garden on the first Tuesday of each month") and the Jesuit-run Church of the Immaculate Conception with its ornate Gothic interior and magnificent statuary, a wonderfully tucked-away park called the Mount Street Gardens where, during the Cold War, KGB spies are said to have congregated and left notes for each other on the park benches, the Claremont Club in Berkeley Square which sits cheek by jowl to the homes once occupied by writer Somerset Maugham, soldier and administrator Clive of India and Prime Minister Anthony Eden.
The terraced house occupied today by Maggs Bros Antiquarian Booksellers at Berkeley Square is reputed to be the most haunted house in London. There are many stories about the many apparitions that have been sighted here and the awful fate that has befallen those who did sight them. I also passed the Red Lion at 1 Waverton Mews, which, the book says, is singer Tom Jones' favorite pub. At South Audley Raod, I passed by my very favorite shop in all of London--Thomas Goode and Co. that stocks the most fabulous china, porcelain and silverware that I have ever seen. The store is like a museum and every time I am in London, I love to spend an afternoon just feasting my eyes on the works of art represented by the painted porcelain on display for those with heavy wallets to purchase. I feel so indebted to this book for taking me into the secret niches of London that I would never have encountered on my own and, as always, these walks leave me with renewed appreciation and affection for this city.
Then, I hopped onto the Tube at Green Park and headed for the School of Oriental and African Studies where, in the Brunei Gallery, public intellectual, critic and journalist Clive Bloom who teaches Political Science and Culture at New York University was giving a public lecture on "The Idea of Britishness". The auditorium was packed with NYU students taking the seminar on contemporary British culture and I was pleased to join them as part of the audience. Bloom's lecture was jocular and serious in turn as he spelled out the uncertainties of identity that have plagued Britons in recent years as the influx of immigrants have increased and cultural polarities have grown. He did make jokes about the British penchant of pin-up girls in their tabloids, their obsession with Victoria 'Posh Spice' Beckham, their new vocabulary (chavs --a working class person with Burberry togs and bling, gingas--red-heads), and their idiosyncrasies--the English see the wearing of baseballs caps indoors as terribly disrespectful and consider curry their national dish. He was intensely proud of the fact that Chicken Tikka Masala was created in the British Isles and is unheard of in India.
So as I walked home briskly at 7. 15, I told myself that this was the kind of day I visualized when I was first told that I would be spending a year in London. It had all the ingredients that for me, at least, spell bliss--antiquing, studying Masterpieces in oil, discovering the hidden corners of a city on foot, and feeling intellectually stimulated at a public lecture given by an extraordinary speaker.