Monday, July 15, 2013

A Spontaneous Saturday--Bastille Day, National Gallery, Hog Roast

Saturday, July 13, 2013:
Saturday Sans Plan:
            Things seemed to go particularly badly for me today. Pre-dawn wake-ups (today at 4. 50 am after which I forced myself to go back to sleep and then wake at 6. 10 am) means that I feel extremely drowsy mid-afternoon and can barely stand, forget about trying to force my eyes open.
I did a bit of work on my PC, then washed, dressed, had a muesli breakfast while watching BBC’s Breakfast show and began to look forward to Saturday Kitchen with James Martin which begins at 10 am. Meanwhile, when I pulled the battery out of my camera to charge it, I discovered that it would not fit into my US adaptor. Fortunately, Currys, the digital people, have a store at Holborn Circus—a trip downstairs would be in order. But wouldn’t you just know it? Since lawyer-centric Holborn comes to a virtual commercial standstill at the weekends, Currys was closed—even on a Saturday. I crossed the street to Blacks who stock travel supplies—they had no adaptor, but the sales assistant suggested I “try Argos, Miss” (It has been a long time since I have been addressed as “Miss”, so I felt flattered). So Argos came to the rescue and with the nice Indian assistant helping me out there, I was well equipped to re-charge my camera battery and add to my photo collection.
            Back home, I watched Saturday Kitchen with astonishment at the amount of weight James Martin has put on in four years—he used to be cute and sexy and slim when I used to watch his show while I lived in London. Accompanying him was Rick Stein showing viewers how to make a Bhaji, if you please—an Indian breakfast dish he claims he learned in India. He served it with chappatis topped with a fried egg for breakfast! Other than the chappatis, I could find nothing Indian in that Indian breakfast. Needless to say, I was disappointed—more so because the promised Coffee-Walnut Cake (my favorite) was never demonstrated step-by step although the completed cake was tantalizingly shown several times. 
            At 11. 30 am, I decided to investigate, by means of Journey Planner, how I could get to the Horniman Museum by bus. Once I had figured it out, I realized it would take one and a half hour each way. It was already too late in the day to set out and decided to postpone the trip to Monday. First things First, I thought: Let’s get some work done at my office at NYU. So I stepped out into the sun and the startling heat (thankfully it was not humid) when I discovered that I had misplaced my clip-on sunglasses at the Royal Academy of Arts yesterday for that was where I distinctly remember last having them on. I went back upstairs, did a thorough search of my bag and my trousers’ pockets and drew a blank. I could call the RA and find out if someone had turned them in to the Lost and Found (they hadn’t) or I could simply go to a pharmacy and find another pair. I was deeply despondent by this time for nothing seemed to be going right.
            The bus to Bloomsbury trundled up soon enough. I walked briskly to Bedford Square but Vincent, the Weekend Porter on duty, did not know me and needed to confirm my credentials before permitting me to use office facilities. A quick call to one of my former London colleagues and that hiccup was sorted. I descended into the basement computer lab and spent the next one hour working: printing and editing some text and trying to print out a chapter that has been reviewed by the editors and that needs to be reworked by the end of this month for it has a strict publication deadline. The printer worked well initially then something happened, and as so often occurs with these machines that have minds all of their own, it simply stopped functioning. Still, I had managed to get a sheaf of material printed out—which means I will be intensely busy in the next few days getting some solid work accomplished.
            By 1.30, I had completed my work and stepped into the Spec Savers on Tottenham Court Road to buy myself a replacement clip on-pair of sunglasses. I was informed by the sales assistant that such things are not manufactured in the UK and can only be custom-made by a private optometrist/optician (for a bomb, no doubt). Disappointed, I stepped into Boots pharmacy next door—and hey presto, there they were and on sale too for ten pounds!  I snatched a pair eagerly and stepped out on to the street vastly relieved at being shaded from the mounting glare.

Reading Festival at Trafalgar Square:      
Then, I was on the Tube to Charing Cross intending to poke around the Reading Festival at Trafalgar Square which was crawling with students. Unfortunately, the demographic focus was adult literacy and although the place was stuffed with school kids and some events were scheduled on the stage, there was nothing to hold my interest.

An Afternoon at the National Gallery:
After picking up a few book marks, I stepped into the café at the National Gallery which seemed like the most sensible place to be on an afternoon in which the mercury climbed to a steady 90 plus degrees! There I ate my ox tongue sandwich and took a bit of foot rest before joining folks for the start of the 2.30 pm guided tour given by someone named Carly. The National Gallery is one of my favorite places in the whole wide world and something of a second home to me as I know my way around it almost as well as I do the Metropolitan Museum in New York. This is what Carly showed in her hour-long tour:
1. The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian by the brothers Antonio del Pollaiuolo and Piero del Pollaiuolo
2. Diana in her Lair by Titian
3. The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein
4. Queen Charlotte by Thomas Lawrence
5. The Bathers at Asniers by Georges Seurat.

It was a good tour—but the galleries were noisy and crowded. Everyone wanted to beat the heat by finding refuge in its air-conditioned interiors. It finished at 3. 30 pm and since the next tour was at 4.00, I had half an hour in which to investigate the special exhibition entitled “Saints Alive” by Michael Landy. It was a truly bizarre show in which iconic Old Master works on the portrayal of saints from the National Gallery’s permanent collection are taken by the artist and given a new twist. Landy chose portraits of martyred saints and using the concept of the mechanical wheel as in kinetic art of the 1970s, mangled the originals so completely as to create moving sculpture and mechanical installations.  For example, he took Lucas Cranach’s Saints Genevieve and Appollina and created a sculpture in which the figure pulls out her teeth as the tortured saint had hers forcibly removed. Similarly, St. Jerome, Saint Catherine of Alexandria, St. Francis of Assissi and others were subjected to the same weird treatment. Thanks to the film that accompanies the show, I was able to make a great deal of sense of the artist’s vision and objective but I must admit that I did not find it even remotely appealing.
At 4.00 pm, I joined Carly’s Highlights Tour again. This is what she showed to a much smaller group on her second round:

1. The Wilton Diptych
2. The Origin of the Milky Way by Jacomo Tintoretto
3. Mr and Mrs William Hallet by Thomas Gainsborough
4. Autumnal View of Het Steen by Peter Paul Reubens
5. Bridge over Water Lily Pond at Giverny by Claude Monet

            The tour concluded at 5. 00 pm and Carly was kind enough to introduce me to Tania at the Audio Guide Desk who said that since I was a docent at the Met, she would gladly permit me to use the audio guide, free of charge, if I showed up while she was on duty. I was thrilled as I hurried to the bus stop to get back to Holborn, shower, dress and leave for the Hog Roast to which I was invited at St. Paul’s

Hog Roast at St. Paul’s Cathedral:
            Every year, Year Eight students of St. Paul’s School (attached to St. Paul’s Cathedral), have a Send-Off Barbecue at attached Amen Court (designed by the great Sir Christopher Wren in 1672). These young lads are choristers—they form the boys’ choir that sings at all the great events that the Cathedral organizes. Over the years, I have had my favorites—but by the next year when I return, they have disappeared. Their voices crack and they must leave for more grown-up pastures. This year, since I was in town, I was invited by my friends Bishop Michael and his wife Cynthia to attend. I arrived at their place at 6. 15 pm and found the Court already alive with happy families—parents, siblings and the proud young graduates themselves were present around the marquees set up on the lawn. There was even a dog called Jacob, clearly in Doggy Heaven from all the scraps the kids were feeding him.  
It was great to see my friends Michael and Cynthia and their son Aidan again and to gab non-stop as we always do. Since I stayed at their place less than three months ago, I felt as if I had never left. When we stepped outside, into a still warm evening, Cynthia introduced me to a number of interesting parents including Saro from Kerala whose Year Eight chorister son Kevin had done the Reading in church on Friday and, as I could see then, had been bristling with nerves. Eventually, we got down to some sipping (orange juice for me—no lager in sight) and eating: pulled pork (it was, after all, a Hog Roast), red cabbage coleslaw, a green salad, quiche. I avoided the bun (am trying to eliminate carbs in an attempt to lose ‘cruise weight’) and then returned to Cynthia’s table with our plates—so much easier to eat roasted meat with a real fork and knife.
Back outside, we circulated some more. I met the Music Director Andrew Carwood and the Deputy Head of the School, Clive Marriot—before the speeches began. And what lovely speeches they were too--funny and moving at the same time! They boys were given a really warm send-off with so many sincere Thank-yous mentioned all around. Their mentors were thanked and their parents and their siblings—and all those responsible for having provided them with the unique opportunity of serving as choir boys in one of the world’s greatest houses of worship. Most go off now to prestigious boarding schools around the country already having achieved more than most boys their age have done. I had a lump in my throat at the farewell speeches, I have to say, although I did not know any of them personally. It is always touching to perceive the innocent promise of youth untouched by the trials that the world presents. That’s why I have always loved graduation ceremonies.
“Choc Ices” followed for dessert after the speechifying. I stayed long enough to meet Kitty, the Colcloughs’ present house guest whose dad John I happen to have met on an earlier visit to London. She is a vivacious New Yorker ready to start grad school in London in the fall. We chatted for a long while and then I left and came ‘home’ to High Holborn ready to drop into bed after what had started off as a lousy day but improved considerably as it progressed.        

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