Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Autumn Arrives in Islington

Monday, October 13, 2008

After four glorious days when it shone proudly upon the earth, the sun played peekaboo today, disappearing, for the most part behind thick cloud cover. I did not feel sorry that I stayed cooped up at home transcribing an interview from my tape recorder on to my laptop. Did not realize how gruelling a task that would be until I got started. But once I got the hang of it, I quickly picked up speed and hope to get more adept as time goes by.

Lunch was a baguette sandwich munched on my couch while watching British sitcoms on Gold, a channel I've discovered that does Oldies--some of which are my own favorites--As Time Goes By, Keeping Up Appearances, Fawlty Towers, One Foot in the Grave, even Sorry. Then, it was back to the salt mines until 3. 30 pm, when I rushed off for my appointment with Paul Montgomery, a second generation Anglo-Indian who had made plans to meet me in Islington.

I constantly underestimate the distance and the time it will take me to walk to my destinations despite being an expert map reader. In about 40 minutes, I arrived at our meeting point, the English and Media Center on Compton Terrace just outside the Highbury and Islington Tube Station. Paul had attended a workshop there and suggested we use the library-cum-lounge for our chat. He is a very personable man who had extensively researched his own family ties to India and has written about them with little intention of getting his discoveries published.

In the lounge, we were lucky to be able to partake of the remains of the "Tea and Cakes" that had been served to the workshop participants. With some delicious herb tea and a whopping slice of tiramisu, I felt fortified to start our conversation. Paul, of course, did most of the talking and then read to me quite beautifully from his own memoirs. It made for a very touching evening indeed as he disclosed some of the most unsavory aspects of his family background--secrets that were never even whispered about behind closed doors. At the end of our evening, he agreed to come in as a guest lecturer and speak to my students of Anglo-Indian history.

When we said goodbye, I decided to go for a walk around Islington, an area that is beloved to my colleague Tim Tomlinson (now based in Florence,Italy) after the one year he lived there while on assignment at NYU-London. I found this little 'village' it be quite delightful indeed. The High Street is filled with trendy shops, stone sculpture graces the tiny 'greens', and traditional pubs and ethnic restaurants galore offer enticing morsels. There is some literary history to be found in the environs--Evelyn Waugh and George Orwell lived in the area and there is a pub named The Orwell on the corner of Essex Road to commemorate this fact--and much cultural fare--the Sadler's Wells Theater that offers world class dance performances is here as is the Almeida Theater (not in any way associated with my surname) which hides a wonderful gourmet restaurant that belongs to Terence Conran.

Then, as I was trundling my way through the streets, it occurred to me that fall had arrived in London though you'd never guess it by the temperatures--it is still so warm. Crispy, crunchy, crackly leaves are everywhere on the sidewalks. But where is the glory? Where is the dazzling drama of color that leaves me dumbfounded in my New England garden? Where are the sugar maples that turn shades of burnt sienna, blazing orange, sunshine yellow and amethyst? No, there is none of the seasonal visual feast that we associate with Autumn on the North Atlantic coast of the United States of America and I realize, with a pang, that I will miss Nature's showy splendour this year.

When I reached home, I found that the sole of my right foot was seriously hurting and taking a painkiller, I tried to comfort the ache. I had walked for an hour and a half non-stop on the way back and while all this exercise is keeping me trim and offering exercise and allowing me to discover London, it is probably doing a number on my feet and I had probably better watch out. Especially since I have a break planned in Berlin this coming weekend where I will, undoubtedly, do miles of walking once again.

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