Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Sunday in the Parks with Ivana

Sunday, October 12, 2008

I awoke at 6 this morning (despite going to bed after midnight) and could not fall asleep again so I sat in bed reading Amitav Ghosh's Sea of Poppies. When I stuck my head outside the window, there was not a soul in sight on either side of High Holborn even at 8 am. It is amazing how quiet this area gets at the weekend when the law firms have shut down.

Then, Surprise! Surprise! My next door neighbor Barbara was in church this morning at the 9 am Mass at St. Ethelreda's Parish on Ely Place. It was nice to be able to wave to one known face in the congregation in the midst of that sea of strangers. Our priest was a Frenchman, Fr. Dennis Labarette (he goes as Fr. "Denny", said Barbara) who stood outside to greet us as we left the church. Barbara did me the favor of picking up a copy of The Mail for me from Holborn. I would have accompanied her but I was expecting a call from Ivana which came right on cue as soon as I entered the house. Now that I am buying the Sunday papers, I guess you can say I am getting acculturated to London. I am beginning to recognize the local celebrities that are almost unknown in the States: Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen, Agnes Deyn, Charles Saatchi, Stephen Fry, Sienna Miller.

Ivana ("you can call me Ivvy") did call to set a time and a place--Sloan Square Tube Station at a quarter past eleven. Getting there took longer than I thought and Ivvy had beaten me there despite having arrived there on her bicycle. We found a bike stand on which to fasten it and were away on one of the self-guided walks in my DK Eye Witness Guide to London: A Two to Three Hour Walk in Chelsea and Battersea. I'm not quite sure that Ivana knew what she was in for when she agreed to set out with me but she declared at several intervals during our walk that she was having a great time. And I believed her...for what was not to love about our rambles?

Leaving the excited Sloan Rangers behind us, we turned into Holbein Place, named, of course, for Hans Holbein, the Dutch portrait painter whom Henry VIII befriended (his work graces the National Portrait Gallery with its wide array of Tudor and Elizabethan mugs shots in oils). Out on Pimlico Road, one of my favorite streets in London, I could not resist peeking into the showrooms of interior decorating doyens Linley (yes, that is Viscount Linley, the Queen's nephew, son of her late sister Margaret) and Joanna Wood whose signature English County look has inspired me for years.

Then, we were walking past the Royal Hospital's magnificent buildings (designed by none other than Sir Christopher Wren) where I was delighted to catch a glimpse of a Chelsea Pensioner complete with long red coat and dapper black hat. In the Ranelagh Gardens, I saw the site of the famous annual Spring Chelsea Flower Show and resolved anew to try to obtain tickets for next year.

We crossed the swirling waters of the Thames at Chelsea Bridge with its four golden galleons guarding the gateposts and were over on the other bank in Battersea. In the extensive park that borders the banks we stopped for a light lunch before passing by the Buddhist Pagoda and crossing the river again--this time on the elegant Albert Bridge with its white painted ironwork. Over on the Chelsea side, we strolled along the delightful Embankment unable to get over the grandeur of the day or how fortunate we were to be able to enjoy it so thoroughly.

I couldn't resist taking pictures by the sculpture of Thomas Carlyle whose home on Cheyne Row I had visited only a couple of days ago and of St. Thomas More who also lived on Cheyne Walk. A few steps later, his very dignified statue came into view--in gilding and black stone against the charming backdrop of the old red brick Chelsea Church. Naturally, we had to step inside and were unexpectedly treated to the rehearsal of a German operatic duo which we paused to enjoy for a while. Then, we were inspecting the remotest corners of the church, taking in the private chapel and the memorial to Sir Thomas More, the poor ill-fated Chancellor to Henry VIII who refused to accept his supreme authority as Head of the Church of England, was beheaded in the Tower of London, only to be canonized a saint by the Catholic Church. Wonderful stone memorials, most of which were destroyed through German bombing in World War II and were loving restored, grace the dim interiors of this venerable church. Ivana was as enchanted as I was as we stopped frequently to read tomb stones and memorials dating from the 1400s.

When we did get out into the bright sunshine, we made our way to the King's Road past the beautiful terraced houses that carry multi-million dollar price tags today. The shoppers were still hard at it as we walked through the Chelsea Arts and Crafts Market and picked up fresh walnut bread in Waitrose before heading towards Sloan Square where Ivana picked up her bike and left me to sample scents at Jo Malone's showroom on Walton Street.

Half an hour later, half drooping with fatigue, I returned home on the Tube and treated myself to a cream tea--fruit scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream that I had picked up from M&S Simply Food. That and some rich fruit cake provided sustenance enough to allow me to sit and grade my first lot of essays from my Writing class. Except that the darn phone did not stop ringing and after a while I just left the machine to pick up.

An Inspector Lynley Mystery and watching Steven Fry's new series on the BBC based on his exploration of the fifty US states got me ready for dinner and I fixed myself my Cheddar-Broccoli Soup with the aforementioned Walnut Bread. With some Chocolate Fudge Pudding for dessert, I was ready to call it a night.

And I hope I will sleep longer tonight.

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