Friday, July 30, 2010

Cheerful Chinwags, Shakespeare in the Park & A Celebrity Chef

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Today was a day for reunions--with some of my closest London friends and my former NYU colleagues. I had the best time, sometimes tearful, as they (my friends, not my former colleagues) went over the sad recent events in the Almeida family and gave me warm hugs and much friendly advice. I adore them and was so thrilled to have had those uplifting chinwags.

First stop was Queen's Park, on the Tube. There, on Salusbury Road at a coffee shop called Gail's, I met my Swiss friend Marilyn who, together with her Belgian husband Phillipe, had provided me with ever so many gourmet meals at their fabulous home in Willesden Green. The unexpected bonus was a chance to meet their lovely daughter Emma-Louise who in her chic bob looked ultra glamorous. She stayed long enough to take some pictures with me before scooting off.

It was a lovely reunion indeed. I was struck by Marilyn's insights, clairvoyance and compassion. She shared so many nuggets of wisdom with me that I came out of our meeting genuinely edified with lessons I know I can actually use in my life going forward. On the way back to the Tube, she drove me past the home I loved so well and in which our friendship had been ignited and grew to a roaring blaze. Swollen by the power of friendship, I said goodbye to her and popped into a pharmacy to ask the well-trained pharmacists (both of Indian sub-continent origin) what I should take for the beginnings of a cough and scratchy throat. Their over-the-counter prescriptions turned out to be very effective indeed (as I found out as the day wore on).

On to NYU:
I took the Tube next to Tottenhan Court Road from where I walked to Bedford Square and our NYU campus. It felt wonderful to retread the pavements upon which I had left so many footprints a year ago. I got a warm and very special welcome from the security guard Mo who was joined by Mark, both of whom were delighted to see me again. I walked down the winding stair to my well-remembered basement office before I went upstairs to see the administrative staff, Anna and David and Yvonne and Ruth, who had made my life so easy while I'd taught in London for a year. What a great joy it was to reconnect with all of them and catch up on every change that has occured in the past year! I met new recruits and spent a while at the window of Yvonne's office overlooking the huge archaeological 'dig' at the British Museum where intentions of adding a new wing have led to the unearthing of the bones of a large herd of cattle--there is one intact skeleton, horns and all, that lies in a grave--all so clearly visible from Yvonne's window. Hard to understand how these remains could be found in a house that once belonged to Lord Montague (which became the British Museum).

Shakespeare in the Park:
More chinwags later, I changed two buses to get to Baker Street Station where at the Sherlock Holmes statue, I met the person who was supposed to give me two complimentary tickets to see The Comedy of Errors at Regent's Park Open Air Theater. This arrangement is open only to a select group of expatriates in London whose cultural interests run to theater. Admission to the group is strictly by invitation only and I was delighted to have been signed up when I first came to live in London.

I invited my friend Cynthia to go with me ( as I had received two tickets) and she was delighted. She actually rescheduled her Pilates class to join me at the same venue. We walked past the serpentine queues outside Madame Tussaud's and entered the Queen Mary Rose Garden at Regent's Park on our way to the venue. Having seen Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest last year at the same venue with my young friend Jack, I knew the place well. We found our seats after another chinwag in the garden outside the Open Air Theater.

Both Cynthia and I were glad that Michael had printed out the plot of the play for us as it is hugely complicated. Mistaken identity, the separation of twins as children, the reunion of long-lost spouses--all the stock features of Shakespearean comedy--made this a play that was difficult to follow unless one was forewarned what to expect. The production was very original indeed--set in Turkey of the 1930s and involving elements of musical theater. There was song and dance and a trio of jazz musicians who heightened interest in the plot and gave substance to Shakespeare's poetry. Lots of rough and tumble and physical comedy were part of the show and both Cynthia and I enjoyed it immensely. We'd lucked out with the weather which was just right--cool with overcast skies that eliminated glare and made for a very pleasant experience. I couldn't think of a better way to enjoy an afternoon in a London park than by listening to the cadences of The Bard.

It was time for us to part company as Cynthia and I took the Tube. I got off at Charing Cross, hoping to catch a glimpse of at least a couple of my favorite paintings at the National Gallery but all I had the time to do was use the restrooms inside before the museum closed for the day. I lazed around the steps of Trafalgar Square that were filled to bursting with fellow-tourists as I admired Edward Landseer's lions. I realize that while I have pictures of Chriselle astride them at age nine, I have never straddled those lions myself--and perhaps someday I should!

A Celebrated Restaurant:
At 6. 30 pm, I walked to the steps of the Church of St. Martin-in-the Field where I'd made plans to meet yet another dear English friend--Rosemary, whom I know as Roz. She arrived on schedule and we looked for a pub in which to have a drink before we kept our dinner reservation. Unfortunately, the one picked by the barman at the Jerusalem Tavern, the previous day, as his favorite pub in the city, The Harp at Charing Cross was so tightly-packed, that we forewent the pleasure and headed on the Tube to Tower Hill intending to get a drink at the restaurant itself.

I had made reservations for two at Cafe Spice Namaste, the restaurant owned by Cyrus Todiwala, a Parsi chef from Bombay, with whom I had become familiar on the UK TV Food Network when I lived in London. When I returned to the States, I had purchased his cook book and made his superb Bread and Butter Pudding (Parsi-style) from it. It was my intention to eat in his restaurant upon my next visit to London, so I was as pleased as Punch when Roz was free to join me.

We sat at the bar for a while nursing our drinks before moving into a vast hall for the restaurant is located in an old red brick building on Prescott Street (which took some finding) near the Tower of London. Of course, I had hyped up Todiwalla's Parsi cuisine so much that I hoped Roz would not be disappointed--and indeed she was not. She left the ordering to me and I started with that Parsi classic--Prawn Patia--for starters. It was superb--just the right touches of sweet, sour and spicy notes. We went on to order Aunt Leeli's Coriander Coated Salmon which was served with a Bombay-style Potato Bhaji studded with carrots and peas and the piece de resistance of any Parsi wedding banquet--the Dhansak which is a Mutton and Lentil Stew served over brown rice with a kachumber of onions and minced coriander leaves with a light squeeze of lemon and dash of lime juice. Everything was great--just as your Parsi neighbor in Bombay used to make it!

Roz and I talked non-stop and like Marilyn, she too sent warm verbal hugs my way as we caught up. She was keen to lay eyes on chef Cyrus whose wife Perin had taken good care of us all evening long. So, you can imagine how delighted we were when Cyrus, presuming I was a Parsi myself, came up to our table to shake hands and chat with us. He was not disappointed when he discovered that though I am not a Parsi, I am almost a Goan (Mangloreans once having been Goans themselves!), for he had spent many years in training at the Taj in Goa where he picked up fluent Konkani in which he began to speak to me! He was also raised in Bandra in Bombay, so we had so many elements in common. We told him how much we'd enjoyed our meal and he was thrilled when I said I owned his book and had actually tried out his pudding! Needless to say, I requested him and his wife to pose for a picture with us (which he willingly did) before we ordered the Lagan Nu Custer (the traditional Parsi wedding style custard dessert). Indeed, we had a wonderful evening that was made more meaningful by the presence of the chef who actually graced our table!

Neither Roz nor I could believe that it was almost 11.oo pm when we rose to leave after coffee. Our talking had been continuous as we spoke about our beloved kids (and grand kids in her case), our beloved ageing parents, our Significant Others and our common friends as well as our common interests as Roz had often been my companion to the theater, cinema and art galleries when I had lived in London.

Before we knew it, it was time to go our separate ways--I took a bus back to St. Paul's, she took the Tube to her lovely home in Battersea.

Friends! What would one ever do without them?

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