Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Returning to teach last Thursday, not on a double decker bus but on my own two feet, I realized that I had missed my 'commute' to work. I had used the entire month of September to experiment in an attempt to find the shortest, fastest, most interesting ways to get to work and back. Each time I had taken a different route. I had felt singularly fortunate to be able to do this as the Chancery Lane Tube station lies literally just 24 steps away from the entrance to my building, rather picturesquely named Bishop House--yes, Llew actually counted!
Having lived in the Connecticut countryside for twelve years, it takes us a minimum hour and a half to get anywhere in New York City! I still have to pinch myself to believe that here, in London, I am anywhere I want to be in under a quarter of an hour. Occasionally, I've checked my watch to make sure it hasn't stopped as I simply cannot believe that I can get from Marble Arch to Holborn in 16 minutes flat!
High Holborn is busy during the week but deadly quiet at the weekend. Because Bishop House shares a common wall with Gray's Inn, one of the Inns of Court of Chancery, solicitors, barristers and their support staff pour out of their chambers all day dressed in stylish business attire, carrying bulky briefcases, their lattes smoking in their firm grasp.
At Holburn Tube Station, I make a right on to Southampton Row, then a quick left into a lovely pathway called Sicilian Avenue, which is really a passage between two beautiful old buildings. The lane is bordered by charming restaurants and boutiques whose window displays change periodically and offer endless interest to me. The mouth watering aroma of smoky bacon wafts towards my nostrils from the plates of hungry patrons fuelling up for the day on full English breakfasts. At the next-door florist, I recall Mrs. Dalloway who stopped to smell the roses, as I admire the chartreuse shade of the early chrysanthemums.
Then, I make a left, cross the street and enter the garden at Bloomsbury Square immortalized by the Modernist scribes of the early 20th century who took their collective name from the neighborhood they loved so well. Across the rather tired green lawn sprinkled with a few fatigued benches sit idlers with no particular agenda for the day and I have often felt the urge to join them.
I cross over into Great Russel Street where the imposing presence of the British Museum always overwhelms me, speaking as it does of hoary antiquity. I pass by its wrought-iron railings on the side of Montague Street where a gaggle of Edwardian hotels provide, I am certain, lovely accommodation for the many visitors as eager to explore London as I am. They are welcomed by cheerful striped awnings and windows whose boxes spill over with a profusion of gay blooms. At the very end of the road, I see the grand lettering SOAS and I find msyelf delighted that I can use the vast library resources of this world famous institution of higher learning--the School of Oriental and African Studies.
I cut into Montague Place, the other end of the British Museum, where at the Edward VII entrance, foreign students giggle as they take pictures with one of the famous stone lions. The Senate House is on my right--its severe lines having provided inspiration for the forbidding ministries of public control in George Orwell's 1984. I am not surprised that Hitler supposedly did not bomb this part of Bloomsbury as he wished to convert the building into his SS Headquarters after he had invaded Great Britain. That was some wishful thinking!
At the end of the road, I turn left sharply into Bedford Square, pass the Georgian houses surrounding the green patch of mature oaks and elms and hasten towards the comfort of my basement office in the building whose porch proclaims " NYU in London" on the marble pavings. This is, as Virginia Woolf would have said, a room of my own --though I do share it with my colleague Karen.
And I am so proud to be one of its occupants.