Thursday, May 14, 2009

With Chriselle--A Visit to Parliament and the V&A Museum

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Another grey dawn broke over London as Chrissie and I prepared for yet another day of sightseeing. Having broken with my routine and not having found the time to go grocery shopping, I awoke (at 7. 30) to find that I had nothing in the house for breakfast--no cereal, no bread for toast, nothing. I graded a few papers in bed while Chriselle caught a few more zzzzs, then at 8 am, I woke her up and we got on with coffee. Thank goodness for Paul's Patisserie just down the road that allowed me to introduce Chrissie to my favorite coffee shop and my special treats--an almond croissant and their inimitable hot chocolate.

The House of Commons and the House of Lords:
Having loaded up on the carbs, we were soon boarding the buses that took us to Parliament Square for the first item on our agenda today-- a visit to Parliament. The House of Commons opened at 10. 30 am with a short ceremony that included a procession in which the Speaker of the House, Michael Martin, was led into the House by a Sergeant of the Arms who bore an impressive mace in her hand. His coat tails and short train were held by a pair of footmen. As they entered the Peers' Lobby, a steward shouted, "Hat Off, Strangers!" and the bobbies sprinkled around the room took off their helmets and held them in their hands as the little procession passed us by with a loud and resounding tick-tock tick-tock that the heels of their shoes made as they stomped along the tiled floor! Ah, the pomp and ceremony of British traditions! The visitors lapped it all up especially the loud-voiced American woman who had a gazillion questions to ask.

When all formalities were duly completed, including the taking of our pictures and the frisking of our bodies, we were led into the chamber way up on the top floor into the "Strangers Gallery". The proceedings had already begun by the time we were permitted to take our seats. The topic of debate today was the issues of cyclists on London's streets--a matter of deep annoyance to me, most of the time--with apologies to all you cyclists out there. They are allowed to use the bus lanes which means that the buses, that cannot overtake them, have to cool their heels (tyres?)while the slowest cyclists pedal away, clearly out of breath and stamina. The more important issues of the day such as the problem of the Sri Lankan Tamils (who were shouting themselves hoarse on the square outside the ornate building) and of swine flu were scheduled for later in the day--but neither of us had the patience or the intention to sit it out that long. Chriselle, however, enjoyed the proceedings as this was an opportunity, she said, for her to hear educated British accents, more of which she had hoped to hear in London--but was disappointed as the city has become so cosmopolitan that most visitors now hear pigdin English most of the time. I loved the easy repartee that was exchanged by the members on opposite sides of the floor--much of which was delivered with the dry sarcasm for which the English are so famed. When we had listened to the debates for about 15 minutes, we decided to move on--this time to the far more ornate House of Lords.

The approach to the House of Lords is also far fancier than the staircase we had used to get to the House of Commons. This one was richly carpeted in scarlet, the wallpaper in a loud striking print. At the top of the staircase, in another "Strangers Gallery" we were asked to sign an undertaking that we would not disturb the proceedings in any way. The seat of the monarch--a very impressive affair in gilt--was at the far end of the hall. I saw a couple of people on the floor wearing the powdered wigs of the British law courts---they were probably lawyers. Others lounged around the benches looking rather bored. I was not too certain what matter was being discussed as Chriselle decided that she'd had enough and thought it was time to leave.

So off we went down towards Westminster Hall, the only part of the Building that was not destroyed in the fire that ravaged them in the mid-1800s when the present building was constructed in Gothic Revival style. The Peers' Hall is the most spectacular of the interior rooms with its rich carvings, ornate wall hanging, gigantic paintings, glittering chandelier, etc. Outside, in Westminster Hall with its impressive timbered roof, visitors can pause to examine the markings on the floor which point out the spots in which British royalty were laid in state at the time of their deaths. This room is the most historical with its references to convictions and acquittals (Thomas More convicted, Warren Hastings acquitted).

The Kyoto Garden in Holland Park:
Not too long after our interesting visit to Parliament, we hopped into another bus headed down Kensington High Street as I wanted to show Chriselle one of my favorite parts of London--the Japanese Kyoto Garden in Holland Park. I have discovered that not too many people know about this part of London--what I prefer to think of as my secret garden. Getting off the bus, we walked across Holland Park's Main Lawn, entered the Brick Orangery where early spring flowers have faded already and summer beds are in the process of being planted and into the Japanese Gardens. We were starving by that point and found the perfect spot to sit and have our picnic lunch--tuna and sweetcorn bagels--on the stone steps that spanned the pool formed by the short waterfall that left a soapy swirl all around us. To our delight, gorgeous peacocks and peahens kept us company, strutting their exotic plumage around for our pleasure. We took many pictures of the fabulous wildlife that included a grey heron and many pigeons.

The Victoria and Albert Museum:
It was not long before we headed towards a bus stop to get to the Victoria and Albert Museum but not before we made a slight detour to Waitrose where I stepped in to buy muesli to send off to Llew with Chriselle who flies to New York tomorrow. I also found some Walnut Bread which I quickly snapped up (as I find it around so rarely). Our bus arrived soon after and we found ourselves seats, changing at Cromwell Road to another bus that took us towards the V&A.

In-between taking in the Highlights, I made a call to bid goodbye and Bon Voyage to my brother Roger who was leaving Bombay for the States with his son on a 2 week holiday. Chriselle and I spoke to the two of them and to my parents who happened to be at Roger's flat. Then, I took Chriselle on a tour of the most significant pieces in the museum (which has also started to feel like home). These were the items we examined (not necessarily in this order):

1. Dale Chihuly's Chandelier in the main lobby.
2. Zaba Haidi's glass sculpture at the main entrance.
3. The Tudor Bed of Ware
4. The Tudor Armor
5. The Rococo Room
6.The Nicholas Hilliard Miniatures
7. The Rafael Rooms with the Sistine Chapel Cartoons
8. The Arbadil Carpet
9. Tipu's Tiger
10. The Jade Drinking Cup of Shah Jehan
11. The Gold Throne of Maharana Ranjit Singh
12. The ivory furniture in the South Asian Gallery.
13. The Vivienne Westwood Watteau Gown.
14. The Catherine Walker designed Hongkong Gown for Diana
15. The Terracotta Sculpture entitled 'Innocence' by Drury
16. Rodin's 'John the Baptist Preaching'
17. The Cast Court with Trajan's Column, Michelangelo's 'David' and 'Moses'.
18. Raphael's 'The School of Athens'
19. The Jewelry Galleries
20. The Jeringham Silver Wine Cooler
21. Constable's studies for 'The Haywain'
22. 'Breathless' by Cornelia Parker
23. The Poynter, Gamble and Morris Cafe Rooms where we treated ourselves to Afternoon Tea.

We made our way out of the V&A Museum through the central quadrangle with its serene pool and lovely balconies and galleries that emphasized the elegance of Victorian design. Chriselle told me that she loved the museum and could see why some visitors might consider it even better than the National Gallery. In its wealth of decorative arts, it outshines the National which focuses exclusively on paintings and sculpture.

Then, we were on the bus again headed home and catching up with our respective work assignments. Chriselle logged on and did some work, I continued grading my papers after I brewed us a pot of tea which we sat sipping slowly as we completed our work. I also packed up two small cases with my things that I wanted Chriselle to carry back to New York with me and all of this took a lot of time and focus. I now feel confident about moving my own things quite easily to my new digs at Farringdon at the end of the month for I have pruned my possessions down considerably and am left only with the clothing I will need for the next two months. The bulk of my books and files will be mailed back to America in the next couple of days. I have already started to feel curiously light and as soon a Chriselle leaves, I shall turn my attention to packing up my things and putting myself into Moving Mode.

A Night on the Town:
Chriselle had also made plans for us to go out with a few friends of hers and after she and I had both showered, we welcomed Ivana and her friend Rosa to our apartment. After we had taken a few pictures, we set out for the evening, walking first to Great Queen Street where we had a few drinks and appetizers in the Great Queen Street Bar where a friend named Emma extended her warmth and hospitality to us. The basement bar was awfully noisy with a group of four young women who shrieked their way through the evening until we could take it no longer and decided to move on--this time deciding to eat at an Indian restaurant called Masala Zone where we were joined by Chriselle's friend Rahul. Over traditional Indian chaat and thalis, we chatted some more and after midnight, with the more energetic among us electing to go clubbing, I caught the bus and returned home after what had been a very interesting but rather tiring night.

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