Saturday, August 27, 2011
As phenomenal as yesterday was in London, today was lousy. I mean, first of all, the weather stank. Intermittent spells of sunshine fought for supremacy over annoyingly brief showers. And when it rained, it poured. After starting my day losing an entire blog post, I rewrote the whole account and delayed myself by a whole hour. The upside was that I was able to enjoy one of mine host Michael's legendary oatmeal breakfasts with the rest of his family--wife Cynthia, sons Edward and Aidan.
Hurricane Irene Barges in:
There was much concern expressed over the possible cancellation of my Virgin Atlantic flight tomorrow as Hurricane Irene brings the entire US east coast to a stand still. I discovered that at NYU, Orientation, for which I was racing back home, has been cancelled. Somewhat relieved at the thought of enjoying an extra day in London, I completely forgot that today is my wedding anniversary, until my husband called from across the pond to wish me!
Discovering Britain's Best-Known Female Artist:
Breakfast consumed, I took a bus to Waterloo Bridge to the Hayward Gallery in hopes of catching the exciting Tracy Emin retrospective that is ending in two days' time. To my astonishment and delight, walk-in tickets were available and I could enter although reciprocal arrangements between the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Hayward have been suspended for the last three days. I ended up paying 12 pounds--but it was so worth it. I intended to spend no longer than an hour on the exhibition; but to my surprise, three hours later, I was still inside the Hayward.
Although Emin's name was known to me (together with Damien Hirst, she is the UK's best-known contemporary artist), I was totally unfamiliar with her work and was shocked, disturbed and deeply saddened by her oeuvre and the life experiences that gave them birth. Hopelessly raw, alarmingly pessimistic, movingly stark, her world is one of loss and regret and her work is a desperate attempt to regain some of it. Using multi media in the most extraordinary ways, she has woven together the fabric of her life in a fashion that is personal, candid, stark and startling. There are line drawings, oils on canvas, quilts, embroidery, wooden sculpture and other installations, photographs, films, video conversations and props of every conceivable kind, including hospital wrist ID tags and used tampons, to bring to the foreground of her memory those events and circumstances that have dominated and scarred her life. Memorabilia figures emphatically in her work and at the end of the day, it is startling how closely and with what frank scrutiny she has documented every aspect of her life so as to create a composite whole. By the end of the exhibition, I felt I knew this woman intimately and my heart ached for her and the painful loneliness of her world. Never having been to the Hayward which is a part of the Southbank Center, I had planned to visit it on this trip...but I never expected that it was Emin's work that would draw me there and have such a powerful effect on my own psyche.
Lunching at the Festival of Britain:
Despite being deeply overwrought by Emin's work, I managed to make my way after a heavy downpour towards the Royal Festival Hall where the Festival of Britain was in full swing. By 1.00 pm, I reconnected with my friend Shahnaz and her daughter Azra who had also joined me at the Hayward (Azra is a student of Applied Art at the moment at a London School of Design and Shahnaz is a prolific porcelain artist). They too were reeling from the impact of Emin's work and as we went out in search of sustenance, we tasted a few of the samplers being handed out before deciding on a Moroccan concoction: Chicken Harisa served with Tsaziki and a chili sauce over pitta. It was delicious but fiery and with tears streaming down our respective cheeks, we went our separate ways with plans to meet later in the afternoon at Fulham Palace. Shahnaz and Azra went off to run an errand while I hopped into a bus to get to Holland Park where my mission was to identify, explore and photograph the many locations associated with the TV show As Times Goes By. I am a die-hard fan of the series and I had waited one whole year to accomplish this!
A Decision to Detour to Fulham Palace:
But alas, with the Strand under "road works", bus services were disrupted and I found myself walking from Aldwych to Charing Cross where I took the Tube. From Oxford Circus, I took buses again towards Holland Park, but halfway through my adventure, I realized that I would need to abandon my mission. You see, having decided to reconnect with my friends at Fulham Palace near Putney, I realized that I would need to abandon my ATGB mission. Seething with frustration, I found that a big game at the Chelsea Football Club (Chelsea Versus Norwich) had closed down the King's Road and caused a major route diversion. I completely lost my bearings as the bus veered far outside the boundaries of my map! I stayed on the bus that was headed to Putney Bridge and after what seemed like forever, I was in Putney and striding towards the Palace where my friends had reached long before I did. A good fifteen minute walk finally brought me to the Tudor gatehouse of the Palace and into its grounds.
Fulham Palace: Another Huge Disappointment:
If Lambeth Palace awed me, Fulham was a major letdown. Traditionally used as the residence of the Bishops of London (although the current one, Richard Chartres, lives at Dean's Yard near Amen Court, next door to my present home near St. Paul's Cathedral), it was built in the time of the Tudors and added on in the 18th century and Victorian periods. Sitting strategically on the banks of the Thames, it saw occupation by royalty in Tudor and Elizabethan times (both Katherine of Aragon and Elizabeth I lived here at various times). Yet, it has clearly fallen into disuse and been allowed to go to seed. The grounds are unkempt, the gardens are merely a backyard full of ungainly weeds, a few desultory apple, pear and quince trees had thrown a few indifferent windfall fruit to the ground and although I was pleased to spy a perfect apple spared by the birds, there was nothing to impress about this space. Inside, most of the building, including the chapel, was closed for a wedding. We were allowed to peruse three rooms of which none was even remotely interesting. Overall, I was angry that I'd spent such a chunk of the afternoon trying to get there. It is certainly not something I will ever recommend to any visitor.
Operation Judi Dench:
With showers punctuating the evening, I hopped into a bus determined to get to Holland Park to pick up the threads of my ATGB mission while there still was light left to take a few pictures. Luckily, by the time I alighted from the bus (filled with rowdy Chelsea FC supporters--Chelsea had won!), the rain had stopped and the Holland Park area appeared freshly washed and subtly fragranced. I followed the contours of my map and after a slow and seemingly endless trudge north along Addison Road, I found the homesof Jean Pargiter played by Dame Judi Dench and Lionel Hardcastle played by Geoffrey Palmer in the TV show. The terraced home at 21 St. James' Gardens (still sporting its navy blue front door and famous house number) and a few alongside it are clearly used only for location shootings for they seemed inhabited, the blinds in the front rooms pulled firmly down.
Across the street, in pretty St. James' Gardens, stands the picturesque stone church of St. James Norland but, alas, the gates to the private park are open only to residents of the square. I posed for pictures on the famous stoop having pulled in an obliging passer-by to take them! I also found Julie's Bar, the small neighborhood eatery around the corner which features prominently in the series. Having clicked several pictures, I made my exhausted way back to the bus stop and headed for Holborn.
I still had food shopping to do for my annual provision supplies and when the bus arrived at Holborn, I nipped into the new Waitrose to pick up a few goodies. By the time I got out and headed to the Sainsbury at Holborn Junction (which used to be a Sainsbury Central but is now a Local), the doors were well and truly shut and a curt notice said, "This store will open at 7 am on Tuesday". Good job I had picked up at least a few items from Waitrose! If Hurricane Irene is shutting down the US northeast Atlantic coast, "August Bank Holiday Weekend" is clearly shutting down the UK.
Back on another bus, I reached Amen Court only to be greeted by Edward who confirmed that my flight had been cancelled. He told me that he had spent most of the evening trying to get me reinstated on a flight to Kennedy departing on Monday for Llew had called me several times during the day to tell me to try to place myself on the manifest. But no such luck. Meanwhile, Cynthia rustled up a dinner of fish cakes for me and over hazelnut yogurt (another one of my favorite treats in the UK) that I could not resist buying, I had myself a good meal. Alas, as a result of all the gum-chewing I have been doing (under medical orders), the sides of my tongue feel sore (while my mouth is still dry!) because a series of abscesses now lines the sides. I could barely eat my dinner so it was just as well that Shahnaz and Azra, feeling too exhausted after our Fulham expedition, had urged me to cancel our reservation at Locanda Locatelli. Oh well, perhaps another time.
I spent most of the evening trying to contact Virgin Atlantic, following the fortunes of Hurricane Irene and getting nowhere (literally). Much as I am delighted to be detained in my favorite city in the world and in a home full of people who love and care for me, I can only imagine how difficult it is for Llew who was so looking forward to my return after three whole months, only to have to wait for an indefinite period!
What a challenging day it had been! As I burrow under the covers, totally knackered, it feels chilly--more autumnal than August. I can only hope that my bonus day tomorrow will be less inconsistent.