Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Day of Lovely Reunions with Friends:

Wednesday, July 24, 2013
A Day of Lovely Reunions with Friends:
            These later get-ups are great for making me feel rested but they are not good for getting work done. I am a Morning Person and at my most productive between 5.00 am and 9.00 am. And I hate the thought of having to wake up to an alarm—so I shall just hope I will be rising at an earlier hour soon.
            My day began with brekkie—multi-seeded bread with peanut butter and Wensleydale cheese—with tea. It is delicious but carb heavy and although all the walking I have been doing (an average of 5 miles a day—going up to 8 plus miles on some days) has already led to the loss of my “cruise weight”, it will be a while before I can come down to my desired weight again—it will mean losing about 8 pounds. Not something I am going to worry about while traveling…
Off to the Tate Britain to see the Turners:
            Over the last few times when I have been in London, I have not had the chance to peruse the marvelous collection of works by Turner for which the Tate Britain is famed as the bulk of the collection has been traveling to various parts of the world. Now that they are all back to their home at the Tate, I figured I should lose no time going out to see them. I took the Tube to Pimlico and walked the six minutes to the museum—if you recall I had met my friend Murali there last week but our viewing of the Turners had been cut short by his kind offer to take a look at my laptop—he is an IT Man and he fixed it in a jiffy! But he is now very busy and I figure that if I wait to go with him, it will never happen—so I set out on my own and what a lovely morning I had.
            The Turner Bequest, as it is known, put thousands (and I mean, thousands) of works by Turner (the Tate owns 37,000 works on paper alone) into the hands of the Tate Britain. To best exhibit them, the Tate specially constructed the Clore Gallery which houses the collection and allows the viewer to see the progression of Turner’s craftsmanship. From largely realistic canvasses, his work became progressively impressionistic; from representations of mythical scenes, he delved into nature and experimented freely with attempts to capture light—for which he became best known in his later life. I had a lovely morning examining his works which are spread out over 10 galleries and grouped quite beautifully. The bonus was that I also saw a few canvasses by John Constable, his contemporary, who painted scenes from the Stour Valley, Dedham, East Bergholt and other places where I had once taken my students on a day-long field-trip. Constable’s View of Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows—a spot I had actually stood upon to peruse the scene when I was in Salisbury--is now in the Tate. It has been moved recently from the National Gallery where it was on loan for years.
            Once I finished seeing the Turners, I drifted into other parts of the museum and ended up perusing grand sculpture by Jacob Epstein (his alabaster sculpture Jacob and the Angel is outstanding) and massive works by Henry Moore.  I also saw a lot of interesting paintings by Lowry and by Lucien Freud and I realized that to see the older works, I will need to come on another day.
            Llew called while I was in the galleries and I had a long chat with him. It was then time for me to leave the museum for my next appointment at the National Gallery with a very dear and very old friend.

Meeting Firdaus at the National:
            Dr. Firdaus Gandavia is one of my dearest and oldest friends. We met for the first time about 30 years ago when we were both on British Council Scholarships at Oxford where we became inseparable. Over the years, we have stayed close friends. He is a true Renaissance man: a financial whiz (he is a qualified Chartered Accountant and now the Chief Financial Executive of a huge firm in Bombay) with a Ph.D. in English Literature—his dissertation was on Graham Greene. Extremely well-read and a wonderful conversationalist, I enjoy the best times with him and when he suggested that we meet at the National at 1.00 pm, I jumped at it as he is in London on a short visit and returns to Bombay tomorrow. Naturally we had an affectionate reunion and then decided to go far away from the tourist mele of Trafalgar Square to have something to eat. I recommended Blackfriar’s Pub—so off we went.

Light Lunch at Blackfriar’s Pub:
            Blackfriar’s Pub near Blackfriar’s Bridge is one of London’s most unusual pubs—the exterior sports a fat black friar at the entrance and inside there are wonderful friezes on the walls and on the ceiling that portray friars dressed in black robes also marching around the walls that are plastered with axioms. It is a truly fun place. The wall sconces and the andirons at the fireplace also feature hooded friars—so there is a lot of visual interest to keep the eye riveted as you enjoy a draught ale. Ihis part of London.  believe that Blackfriars is so-called because in the distant pre-Reformation past, an order of monastic friars who wore black robes were based in the area 
          Firdaus was having a later big meal with another friend so opted for apple crumble and a coffee. Since it was a hot morning, I chose Eton Mess (a combination of vanilla ice-cream, strawberry sauce, fresh strawberries and meringue) and a pint of ale. This pub is one that participates in The Ale Trail—a plan which marks your card for every pint of ale you consume and gives you the fifth one for free. You can then also purchase the “I Walked The Ale Trail” T-shirt. The pubs are in The City—that part of London that is mainly financial and during the last week of my stay in The City, I shall try to walk it—it is one of the items on my London To-Do List.
            “Dr. G” (as I affectionately call my friend) and I had a lovely hour together and then it was time for me to go on to the next item on my agenda for the day—a Cruise upon Regent’s Canal in a Narrow Boat. Four years ago, when Chriselle had visited London during my stay here, we had tried to do the canal cruise but had missed it by just a few minutes. This time, I was determined to do it. Unfortunately, Dr. G had done it years ago and had to keep his next appointment at Hampstead, so he escorted me as far as Camden Town where we said goodbye before he proceeded to his next appointment and I went into the madness of the market.

Combing Camden Town:
            Camden Town has grown into this incredibly colorful area with loads of shops catering to a very specific demographic—young, hip, edgy. I saw tons of heavy boots, leather studded garments, steel jewelry—you name it, they had it. The market has developed around what is known as Camden Lock—a Lock upon the Regent’s Canal which was once the industrial life-blood of the city. The locks regulate the amount of water in the canal; they prevent flooding and stalling of the narrow boats that ply it. Today, these boats have been turned into cruisers for the pleasure of tourists. The usual route goes from Little Venice to Camden Town, but I chose to do the journey in the opposite direction from Camden Town to Little Venice.
            I chose Jason’s Boats because the cruise is done in a boat that is 107 years old—so it really did see the Industrial Revolution. The return journey cost 9 pounds but I had time for only a one-way cruise—which costs a hefty 8 pounds. Doesn’t make much sense to me, but there you have it. The return journey is a better financial bargain; but I simply did not have the time as I had a packed evening ahead of me.

Cruising Down Regent’s Canal:
            Fortunately, I had picked the perfect afternoon to go cruising down Regent’s Canal. The temperature was perfect, there was low humidity and a lovely gentle breeze blew throughout. We left the craziness of Camden Lock and cruised quietly down the narrow canal lined on the right hand side by the paved tow path—this was the path that the horse walked on as the barge was pulled by horses in the days before engines and automobiles. All commercial traffic used the canals—London had the Regent’s Canal and across the country, there was the Grand Union Canal that joined it. Goods and passengers were transported on these canals through hard-working horses and their human caretakers right through the 1900s and into the 20th.
            We passed by London Zoo and caught a glimpse of the birds in their large cages. It brought to my mind the trip that Chriselle and I had made to the zoo and the way in which we had bent laughing at the antics of the chimpanzees. Around Regent’s Park, we saw grand mansions whose rears look out on to the canal with their impeccable private gardens. Further on, at St. John’s Woods, we were at the back of the famous Lord’s Cricket Ground and in front of a power station which was once a coal-loading station in the days of steam power. The canals were used for commercial purposes right until the 1950s and the narrow boats on which entire families once lived in cramped quarters, were converted to pleasure craft. Occasionally we passed by long stretches of greenery with willow trees trailing their foliage into the water. It was very calming to be in such an environment and hard to believe one was still in Central London.
Eventually we reached Little Venice which has developed into a very upscale neighborhood with celebrities such as Judi Dench having purchased houses there. They are beautiful terraces structures and are very pleasing to the eye. We disembarked at Little Venice after what had been a truly lovely afternoon’s excursion and one I would gladly recommend to anyone wishing to get away from the tourist bustle but still wanting to enjoy the pleasures that London can offer.
  I walked briskly up to Paddington Underground Station and rode the Tube home to St. John’s Wood. This left me enough time for a short nap before I showered and got dressed for my next appointment—dinner with a former student.

Dinner at Hyde Park with Elise and James:
            Yes, today turned out to be a day of happy reunions and at 7. 30 pm, I was ringing the doorbell of my former NYU student, Elise, who lives in a lovely flat right opposite Hyde Park on Kensington High Street. Elise is unforgettable as she was a star student who took two of my courses as an undergrad at NYU and then travelled with me to India and Nepal on a Summer Trip that I had led. She is married to an English barrister named James and is the mother of two kids (Thomas, almost two and 8 month old Elektra). It is a little strange for me to look upon these students as mothers with children and domestic responsibilities when I once knew them as mere kids. While I had met Thomas on a past visit, I was looking forward to the pleasure of meeting the gorgeous Elektra and, of course, James.
            Elise’s cousin Greer was at her place when I reached but she left soon after. James arrived in due course from his chambers at Pump Court (which, coincidentally, happens to be one of my favorite parts of legal London). Elise offered champagne which I had to refuse (too afraid of my suphite allergy). I opted instead for a beer (perfect on a muggy day) and enjoyed her marvelous steak dinner—the steak done just right, medium rare as I like it. Served with boiled potatoes and green beans, it was the simplest food but perfectly seasoned with just salt and pepper to allow the flavor of the meat and the vegetables to come through without being drowned by spice. I loved it.
            We had a wonderful conversation and a great opportunity to catch up once the kids were asleep. I learned a great deal about James’ impressive background (Eton, Cambridge) and his work in Commercial Law which seems closely related to what Llew is now doing in his own relationship with the SEC. James was a Classics major so we had much to discuss and overall, it turned out to be a scintillating evening in the company of young people of whom I am intensely fond. Their abundance of blessings is easily evident in their setting and their interaction with each other and I couldn’t help feel deeply grateful for them.
            It was 10. 00 pm when I jumped up to go back home by taking the bus from across the street to Marble Arch and then changing to the 139 bus from there which dropped me right opposite my building on Abbey Road. I did nothing more than brush and floss my teeth and change for bed before I was out like a light.    
           Until tomorrow, Cheerio!                    

No comments: