Friday, September 19, 2008

Udon At Wagamama...Finally! And some London-based Free-Writes...

So, I finally got to Wagamama and had myself a dinner there. When my friend Amy and I had arrived in London in March, we'd wanted to check it out. Didn't happen. Then when Llew was here, two weeks ago, I wanted to eat there. Other happenings cancelled out those plans.

So when my old Elphinstone College buddy Michelle from back home in Bombay decided to meet up with me for dinner today, I suggested Wagamama and was amazed to find that she had never eaten there. So there we were strolling along the South Bank after a lovely bus ride along Waterloo Bridge. The entire area had a mela-like atmosphere about it. People were out in droves, crowding the South Bank, and allowing me to glimpse the vital cultural life of this city. There was the British Film Institute with its catalogue as thick as a phone book announcing its forthcoming Film Festival titles. Just next door was the National Theater with its enticements. And then we were at the South Bank Center where Music and Dance performances were announced through their handouts. Just to go through those offerings will take ages and I plan to scan them on the Tube tomorrow as I head out to Hounslow to spend the day with my Dad's cousin Sybil and her ex-husband Joel. I must get down to seeing some serious shows and if I get down there early enough I might even get tickets to some of them.

Wagamama was not as great as I had expected. I had a great big bowl of thick rice noodles with a variety of meats--chicken and prawns and something called a 'fishroll'. Michelle was in a hurry to return home to Islington to her elderly parents, so we did leave at 8pm, but it was great to see her again and to catch up with her. So much has happened in her life in recent times and it was good to have the evening together.

Thus ended a rather busy day for me. After a 9 am meeting, I was still unable to fix the Address Book on my Optonline webmail which has crashed. The technician has promised to fix it as soon as possible. I spent the morning getting a lot of work accomplished at my computer in my office at Bedford Square as well as obtain membership at the Senate House Library at the University of London with a brand new ID card. The place reminded me very much of the bureaucratic offices at the University of Bombay. Karen hates the look of the building which she finds "depressing", but I guess I just felt at home there! She informed me that the building was George Orwell's model for the Ministry buildings in 1984! Creeppieee! She also informed me that the only reason the Senate House was saved during the blitzkreig was that Hitler intended to use it as British SS Headquarters after he had conquered Great Britain! It is these aspects of London that fascinate me--the fact that so much history and literature is cemented into the very bricks of each building.

Talking of London's Buildings, I set my Writing Class a five minute free-write assignment which I then set to tackling myself. Complete the sentence: London Is...with one word, then write a paragraph about it. Here's what I came up with:

Historic. Centuries of happenings condensed into a few hundred square miles. Rogues and Royalty, paupers and the pompous, natives and novices—the human detritus of all ages crowd its streets, clog its river and scale its towers and turrets. What the world doesn’t know about London’s doings, it doesn’t need to find out. But carved in stone on its imposing facades, embedded in walls clad in ivy and concealed within the secure receptacles of its many museums and libraries is a wealth of secrets only manuscripts can reveal, only books can divulge. Trust me, London is historic.

Then, I set them the task of writing their impressions of the area "Around the British Library" (taking their cue from Donald Goddard's book Blimey! Another Book About London. And these were my impressions:

The solid Neo-Classical façade of the British Museum stands like a sentinel guarding a cohort of minor structures. In the warren of streets that radiate from its antique nucleus are shops to satisfy every whim, filled with things no one needs—a lambswool beret at the Scotch Shop, pencil ornaments shaped like London bobbies and beefeaters, a bunch of coriander and a bottle of kimchi at the Korean grocery. The local color conjured by these cheap commodities contrasts effectively with the priceless antiquities mirroring the same cultures in the museum’s hallowed cases: an artifact from the Scottish Highlands, medieval treasures from Sutton Hoo, a Tang dynasty horse in gaudy ceramic.

When you leave the precincts of the Museum behind, you are in the many squares that characterize London’s layout: neat parcels of grass that sit like green handkerchiefs in the pockets of Georgian suits of brick and mortar—those uniform three-storey townhouses whose windows, curiously, grow smaller as one’s eyes travel ever higher to the attics, roofs and terracotta-topper chimney pots.--indicating that glass was expensive rendering windows a luxury to be affixed only in the show-off sections of a home.

Punctuated by the embracing branches of mature oaks and elms, these imposing buildings strike, their basement gardens spilling over with hanging annuals and plastered with coppery ivy that provide the sort of eye-candy that makes me ache with longing for a similar garret of my own.

But when you leave the serenity of these private enclaves and join the throngs of shoppers on busy Tottenham Court Road whose daily errands involve topping up their mobile accounts, selecting bangers to go with that evening’s mash or picking up laundry that’s been commercially scrubbed and spun, you enter commonplace London--the London of common folk, the hoi polloi, who beyond the pockets of privilege, keep the city operating. They never glimpse Hadrian's grim profile at the British or seek the blue plaque that announces the residence of Ms. Woolf who made near-by Bloomsbury legendary as they go about the performance of just one more mundane chore far from the gawking eyes of visitors for whom every square inch of the city is endlessly fascinating.

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