Wednesday, March 20: London
Today was devoted to meeting up with old London friends who either go back a long way with me or are recent but very firm buddies. After 8.00 am mass, I took a bus to Holborn to eat my very favorite breakfast while in England—which is not English at all! It is an almond croissant and a hot chocolate at Paul’s Patisserie. This is a Belgian chain that has no presence yet in the USA—hence, whenever I get the chance to enjoy one of its treats, I go for it. It makes baked goods that are second to none and this was precisely the first breakfast that Llew and I had eaten the very first morning that I had arrived to live in London, four years ago. So as I nursed my croissant and my hot chocolate, my mind went back to that morning which had proven to be the harbinger of such an incredible year in my life.
Off to Euston to Meet Emma:
With about 45 minutes at my disposal, I took a bus from Kingsway to Euston for my first appointment of the day—a meeting at the concealed Café Rouge to meet Emmy Sweeney, my colleague at NYU-London, whom I had gotten to know and grew fond of when I had lived in London. Emma arrived just a few minutes after I did and, as you might guess, we spent the next hour and a half simply catching up on all the exciting things that have happened in our lives. We discovered, in the process, that we have so much in common. But before we knew it, it was time for me to say goodbye, after making the great discovery that being in Euston, I could easily get to Harrow and Wealdstone on a superfast train instead of taking the Tube. Emma directed me to the platforms and left.
Meeting Bash in Harrow:
I had about an hour to spend with my friend Bash whom I had gotten to know four years ago in London. Over the years, Bash has stayed friends with me and sportingly driven me to spots of interest around London on memorable daytrips that have introduced both of us to wonderfully charming venues. This time, all we could afford was an hour together at Café Nero in South Harrow which Bash often uses as an ad hoc office. Once again, I downed a coffee with the intention of saving my appetite for lunch later on. And once again, Bash and I chatted nineteen to the dozen knowing that was all the time at our disposal.
Lunch with Bina in Harrow:
Bash drove me back to Harrow and Wealdstone station for my next appointment with my childhood friend Bina who lives nearby. We had grown up together and go back a long long way to our school days in Bombay and to nights spent studying together for our high school board exams. Bina and her husband Navin are now empty nesters and their home in which I have stayed on many past visits to London seemed different without the presence of their kids, now both at “uni”.
Still, when Bina arrived at the station to pick me up and drive me to her house, it gave us the opportunity to catch up on so much. A great chef, she had created a simple but delicious home-cooked meal for me with rice, chapattis, dal, spinach with cottage cheese and a chicken curry. How good it felt to have a genuine Indian meal after such a long time! Much as I would have liked to stay on, I was on horseback, for I had more appointments to keep later that evening. Bina dropped me back at the station, I jumped into the superfast train and was delighted to reach Euston in under 10 minutes. It was simply incredible!
Since I had an hour to spare before my next appointment, I wandered to Fitzrovia to continue the last bits of Karen’s Bohemian Ink Walk. At Fitzroy Square, I discovered the neighborhood in which one of my favorite novelists, Ian McEwan lives and had a chance to visit the Indian YMCA, in which Mahatma Gandhi had lived while he was a student in London. The hostel is still impeccably maintained for essentially Indian students and I thought it was a good place to keep in mind for future long stays in London.
Lenten Sermon at the Mercer’s Hall:
Then, I was on a bus again making my way to Bank for a rather interesting interlude with a Benedictine monk who would be preaching a Lenten sermon in the imposing and quite gorgeous Mercer’s Hall on Ironmonger’s Lane at Cheapside. My friend Michael is a Chaplain to the Mercers who, he explained, were wool merchants. The Worshipful Company of Mercers has their London headquarters at Cheapside and are among the rare companies whose premises actually contains a chapel inside it.
It was just before the service that I met my dear friend Loulou who was also invited to join the service by the Colcloughs. How happy I was to see Loulou again! I introduced her to Cynthia who had saved three seats for us and for the next hour or so I gave myself up to the wonderful choir, the stirring readings, the excellent sermon preached by a Catholic clergyman in an Anglican chapel and to the pomp and pageantry that characterize such events in a setting that was little short of sumptuous.
The hour long service was followed by a wine and snack reception during which I introduced Michael to Loulou. He pulled me aside to show me a wonderful sculpture of the Dead Christ that had recently been discovered deep in the bowels of the building and which probably precedes the Reformation when it might have been concealed underground. It will be at the Tate Museum for a little while before finding a permanent place in the Mercer’s Hall. Meanwhile, drinks did the rounds—I opted for a glass of sherry as the sandwiches and “things on sticks” were offered by wait staff. We had to leave before the desserts appeared, however, as Loulou and I had theater plans and we did not wish to be late.
The Judas Kiss at the West End with Loulou:
So off we went on the Tube to the Duke of York Theater in the West End to see yet another drama—The Judas Kiss by David Hare, based on the life of Oscar Wilde and his clandestine homosexual relationship with the very young Lord Alfred Douglas known as Bosie. I had chosen to see this play as I have a soft corner for Rupert Everet who played Wilde. I had seen Everet on stage before, several years ago, in The Importance of Being Ernest also by Oscar Wilde, so it was great to actually see him play Wilde. Having said that, I must also state that I had difficulty recognizing him—he was made to put on enormous weight for the role. The play is a sad commentary on the hypocrisy that surrounded homosexuality in the 19th century in the UK and the terrible discrimination to which Wilde was subjected simply because he did not possess a peerage in the way that Bosie did. What I did not expect, however, was the stark male nudity on stage that would probably not be acceptable in the States. Young gorgeous bodies cavorted about without the slightest self-consciousness and yet it appeared perfectly natural within the context of the script.
As in the case of Rosemary, so too with Loulou—we simply had to get somewhere after the play to sit and chat. We chose Café La Rocha, another little French café right opposite the theater and there we enjoyed a cappuccino as we brought the curtain down on a lovely evening with similar promises to get together again soon.