Saturday, July 31, 2010

Covering More Bits and Bobs of London

Friday, July 30, 2010

The tolling bells of St. Paul's Cathedral roused me at 7.oo am. After a shower and muesli breakfast (so thoughtfully fixed by Cynthia), I set off with two handsome escorts--Bishop Michael and his son Edward--for an insider's tour of St. Paul's Cathedral. The Bishop's presence opened magical doors for me as I was taken on a guided tour of the library in a hidden recess of Wren's magnificent building. We also had the chance to walk up and down the winding spiral staircase in one of the steeples. Its minimalist design was revolutionary for its time. Michael then requested Simon, an assistant in the library, to take me into the room housing The Great Model of 1763. It was a thrilling experience indeed to gaze upon an item not seen by the public. Christopher Wren created it at a cost of 300 pounds (the price of a house in his day) in walnut wood to give the selection committee a glimpse of the church he intended to erect after The Great Fire of London burned down the original timber building in 1666. The Model was designed in such a way as to enable the monarch to enter it and gaze upwards when standing directly below its stupendous dome. Inside details included the proposed coffering on the ceiling. Unfortunately, the design was rejected on grounds that it looked too much like the Catholic churches of Italy! Modifications to Wren's original design included the addition of twin steeples which, in my opinion, improves upon it and adds tremendous character to the edifice. In the same room as the Great Model is also exhibited Wren's Death Mask--he looked nothing like his portraits because "his teeth were missing, you see", as the good Bishop informed me!

I spent the next half hour up on the dome photographing London on what was a particularly splendid day. The city lay bathed in golden sunshine and I could easily pick out its landmarks, not the least of which were the many steeples of Wren's many post-Fire churches (including neighboring Saint Vetas' which Michael and Edward had taken me to see prior to our visit to St. Paul's and where Michael had once been Rector). I was especially pleased to be able to pick out my former home, the apartment building on the corner of High Holborn and Gray's Inn Road.

Later in the morning, I made my way down to the Crypt to see the newest Occulus exhibit which features four short films projected on to walls to create 360 degrees of viewing space. I recognized many of the people I have begun to know through the Colcloughs, including, of course, Michael himself. The film of the Great Model was of particular interest to me as I had just come back from viewing it and felt deeply privileged indeed.

In the book store, I spied a book I'd been wanting to purchase since last year--London Sketchbook: A City Observed which contains water colors and paintings by Graham Byfield and text by Marcus Binnery. Having visited most of the nooks and crannies of the city that the artist has portrayed in it, I had intended to buy it last year before I left the city but simply did not have the weight allowance in my bulging suitcases. Cynthia and Michael very kindly presented it to me as a gift, much to my delight. I know I shall spend many wonderful hours perusing its pages and thinking of the generous spirit of my lovely friends.

It was time to check out a museum in the East End of which I had read so much. Confusing information on their website made it necessary for me to take a bus there to find it--The Brahma Museum of Tea and Coffee. It was supposed to be located alongside the famed Borough Market which is open to retail customers on Friday. I spent the next hour browsing through the stalls and practically eating my lunch there based on the vast number of 'tasters' thrust at me. Unfortunately, the Brahma Museum seems to have closed down completely--I do wish its website would update the information.

It was time for me to take a bus to Liverpool Street Station where at the Tesco Metro, I picked up a vast stock of its Finest Fruit and Nut Muesli to take back home. I do feel like a glutton as the only souvenirs I now carry back from holidays overseas consist of food items that I cannot find or get in the States. I have finished buying my stock of English biscuits and English tea and I can only hope they will all fit in the single bag that American Airlines permits me to carry across the Atlantic.

With my shopping done, I took a bus back to Amen Corner to deposit it in my room and after a ten minute power nap I set off for the City Thameslink station to meet Rahul, a close friend of Chriselle's and a young man who became my close friend after he'd helped me move from Holborn to Smithfield last year. Over a coffee in a nearby Starbucks, we caught up with so much and I was pleased to discover that like my young friend, Jack, he is contemplating a visit to New York soon--when I hope to continue our conversation.

I walked briskly then to Bloomsbury to buy my stock of tea from Bury Stores on Bury Street just near the British Museum where I have been buying tea and biscuits for ages before walking again, past the flower-filled windows of the many hotels on Montague Street, to get to Russel Square Tube station where I met Gordon Beale, an old London acquaintance. Gordon runs a cultural activities group for international expatriates in London. Membership in his group is strictly by invitation only (I was vetted by someone two years ago). One you appear on his mailing list, you are kept informed of all sorts of cultural goings-on in the city--from classical music recitals in really special venues to lectures to walking tours to parties at the various consulates and embassies. I chose to meet my friend Murali who'd signed up as one of my followers of my blog posts and whose eclectic tastes in music would, I knew, encompass this one. Murali met me at SOAS (The School of Oriental and African Studies) in whose library I'd done so much of my research last year and which I know very well. There, in one of the basement auditoriums, we were treated to a very unusual combination of musical instruments led by an Iranian musicologist called Peyman Heydarian on the santur who with accompanist Emad Rajabalipour on the daf ( a large tambourine) presented Kurdish and Turkish music that was eminently likeable. They were joined by a lovely young student named Vicky Anastasiou whose vocal accompaniment added immensely to the trio. After the interval, the Middle Eastern musicians were joined by two white musicians, one playing the banjo, the other a tiny stringed instrument whose name I can't remember. Together, they presented Irish jigs and Scottish reels using the santur and the daf! Having attended a santur recital, many years ago, in India by the one and only Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, I would never have thought that it was capable of jamming with Western instruments or could possibly produce the sounds of Gaellic music. But indeed it did and how! We loved every minute of the session and enjoyed chatting during the interval with the young musicians.

It was time for dinner as I was starving and I took Murali to Pizzeria Paradiso just off Gower Street where he had ravioli and I had a pizza--Quatro Stagioni --with ham and mushrooms, olives and artichokes. It was the sort of thin-crust pizza I love and often make from scratch at home--very good indeed. At just past 11.oo pm, Murali and I said goodbye as he returned to his home in Wimbledon and I took the bus back to St. Paul's.

Cynthia and Michael had just returned from a formal evening out and were still togged out in their glad rags when we sat down for a chitchat until midnight! Hard to believe that my week in London is coming to a close and I haven't yet visited the National Gallery. It will be top of my agenda tomorrow!

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