Friday, July 19, 2013
Today turned out to be a not-so-exciting one. I woke early, did substantial work at my computer before eating my muesli breakfast. But by the time I managed to get out of the house it was about 9. 45 am—perhaps already a tad too late to try to snag a 10 pound “Day Ticket”.
I took the Tube to Leicester Square and then walked to Shaftesbury Lane to the theater playing The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. No such luck today! The clerk told me that all tickets were gone in ten minutes as the play is proving very popular (possibly a result of the popularity of the novel). He said people had queued up since 6. 45 am!!! If I want a Day Ticket, it seems I must get there by at least 8.00 am. Oh well! Perhaps I shall try on another day.
Since I was in the West End area, I figured I would try to get Day Tickets for another play on my Must-See List: it turned out that One Man, Two Gov’nors was on at the Theater Royal Haymarket, not too far away. I walked there and got one ticket for 12 pounds—but it turned out to be high up in the Gallery. I took it anyway figuring that my field glasses would prove helpful. Then off I went to start my rambles in Soho and Trafalgar Square.
Traipsing around Trafalgar:
There was not much I saw for the first time today, save for Chinatown. I have walked through Gerard Street before (which is the heart of London’s Chinatown) but rarely have I observed the place minutely. This morning, I was right in the midst of the unloading going on at every supermarket and restaurant that lines Gerard Street—and it was both unpleasant and dangerous as there were mechanized dollies doing their thing—with me in the middle.
I quickly scuttled off and entered Leicester Square (going past the interesting Exchange and Bullion Center building on the right that dates from the late 1800s). As always, Leicester Square was alive with tourists looking for discounted theater tickets. I realized that the TKTS booth that used to be the hub of the area is now almost forlorn—very few discounted seats were available and although they were half price, they were still expensive. It seems that people now prefer to queue up outside individual theaters for the Day Tickets which are a real bargain, if you can get them.
The sculpture of Shakespeare is shrouded by scaffolding as it is under refurbishment and Charlie Chaplin in no longer there either. Looping around Orange Street, I arrived at the Sainsbury Wing of the National Theater and looping around the grand old fountains there, I took a few pictures before going up close and personal to peruse Edwin Landseer’s magnificent quartet of bronze lions. There was actually a queue of people waiting patiently to climb atop them to have their pictures taken.
I lopped around and entered the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, so named because it once stood in the fields and pastures in which sheep grazed. The inside is known for its superb ornamental plaster ceiling although its altar is rather plain. Once upon a time, I had attended a brilliant fusion concert inside with my nephew Sudarshan. I will never forget the acoustics of that lovely venue. This morning, I was present for the rehearsal of another lunch time concert: clarinet and piano—and I cannot tell you how awful it sounded. The program centered around the kind of atonal music I detest—it was all sound and fury signifying nothing. I scuttled out again as quickly as I could and made my way down into the Crypt which has perhaps the nicest gift store in London. It carries the most unusual merchandise and I always wish I had a bigger baggage allowance when I am in a place like this. As it turned out, all I could do was some window shopping before I left and resurfaced at the top.
An Errand and a Viewing at the National Portrait Gallery:
I crossed the street and entered the National Portrait Gallery where I had an errand associated with identifying an image that I intend to use as the cover of my book. Since the image does not belong to the Museum but is in a private collection, I need the help of an archivist and the staff of the Exhibitions Department to assist me. I did get the names, telephone numbers and email addresses of the persons to contact and then I went out to see the portrait that everyone was talking about a few months ago: the Portrait of Catherine Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge by Paul Emsley that critics either like or hate. No one seems to have loved it so far, so I was prepared not to be impressed. As it turned out, I thought it was an admirable likeness of the sitter (done with just two sittings granted to the artist whom Catherine chose personally) without any attempt made to glamorize her. Yes, the overall effect is grey, dull and somber but perhaps that was how the artist saw his subject. Nothing wrong with it, I thought. The eyes are magnetic—beautifully done in shades of hazel with a strange light shining out of them—so hard to achieve in a portrait.
I spent a while looking at some of the other newer, more contemporary portraits that have been added since I was last there (actor Timothy Spall, actress Maggie Smith) and then I made my way out and walked towards Charing Cross Road. It hadn’t turned out to be much of a morning, so I decided to take the Tube to Oxford Street for a peep into the Wallace Collection, another wonderful private collection of art.
Lunch in Starbucks at Selfridges:
Thanks to the current soap opera I have been watching in the States, Mr. Selfridge, I simply couldn’t resist the impulse to go to Selfridges and browse around. My first stop was the Jo Malone counter where, as a regular buyer, I was presented with a sample pot of Nectarine and Honey Body Cream. Then up I went to the café as I was hungry and wanted to eat my Stilton Cheese sandwich and to buy a drink to wash it down. It turned out that Starbucks has a location on the fourth floor which is the Food Hall. Unfortunately, it did not have wifi—standard in all Starbucks’ around the world—but I did buy a Strawberry and Cream Milkshake—and so good it was too on a morning that was muggy and sticky. Lunch break gave me a chance to regroup and decide what to do next and to rest my feet. I am walking an average of 6 miles a day and it is taking its toll on my feet though not apparently doing anything to bring down my weight! Well, it’s the milkshakes that have a lot to answer for, I guess!
Window Shopping on Marylebone High Street:
Lunch done, I walked along St. James’ Street towards Marylebone High Street to get to the Wallace Collection which is sandwiched in Mansfield Square between Oxford Street and Marylebone High Street—while the former is known for its chain stores (M&S, Selfridges, Zara, Monsoon, H&M, etc), the latter has the boutique stores (The White Company, Daunt Books) and many charity shops—a particular fancy of mine. I was thrilled to find a loaf of Walnut Bread at Waitrose (I do not often find it and when I do, I always buy one) and then it was in the many charity shops that I browsed (Oxfam, St. Bernard’s, Cancer Care, etc.). Alas, I found nothing to grab my fancy so I walked towards the Wallace Collection.
Saying Hullo to Masterpieces in the Wallace Collection:
The Wallace Collection is based in an 18th century mansion that belonged to the Dukes of Hertford and is filled with their collection of art and objects d’art—mainly from the 18th century, although there are significant pieces from other eras as well. It is a grand space that is beautifully maintained and, best of all, free to the public. It is also still very much a residence and I think it wonderful that the public is allowed to glimpse these marvels without needing to pay handsomely for them.
The reception desk provides a floor plan which allows folks to leave footprints around the spacious rooms in which royalty were once entertained. Notice the interior design and decoration as much as the art objects. Notice, for instance, the grand marble staircase with its exquisite metalwork railing. Notice the outdoor café space—under a great glass ceiling amid potted palms, one can sip a soothing cuppa.
Then notice the masterpieces that, according to the bequest can be moved around the house but never out of it. So if you want to see Fragonard’s The Swing or Franz Hals’ The Laughing Cavalier or Nicolas Poussin’s Dance to the Music of Time or Peter Paul Reuben’s Landscape with Rainbow or Velasquez’s Lady with a Fan—you can only see them here with no expectation whatsoever that they will come to a museum near you. For The Swing alone, it is worth making the pilgrimage to the Wallace. It is a darling painting—oil on wood—that tells a little story. The 18th century lady, complete with voluminous skirts and powdered wig, is being swung by her father—a white haired man in the background. But unbeknownst to him, her lover is concealed in the hedges waiting for a glimpse of his beloved. She, well knowing of his presence, flirts outrageously with him, even tossing her little pink sandal into the hedge for him to catch! It is twilight—there is little light except what shines on the lady’s face. I love this painting and I was thrilled to see it again.
I also adore another painting in this collection: Miss Bowles and her Dog by Joshua Reynolds. It is so evocative of innocence and of child-like beautiy that it always takes my breath away. Indeed in a collection that has masses of large-scale canvasses by Charles Oudry, Sargent, Reubens, it is the littlest ones that are most striking and I love them dearly.
I also love the arrogant expression on the face of the Hals’ Laughing Cavalier. There are also any number of Francois Bouchers—with his fat cherubic angels and their skeins and garlands of fruits and flowers. There are loads, simply loads, of Sevres porcelain, so you would be wise to see them here for free (rather than at Buckingham Palace where you will have to pay a bundle to see the Queen’s collection—she is a passionate collector of Sevres).
Yes, to read the label of every one of the paintings and to admire every item of Boule furniture, it would take all day—but if you want to see just the masterpieces, you can see the collection in a couple of hours—which is what I did.
I then walked up to Portman Square and jumped into the 139 bus going to St. John’s Wood so that I could water the plants on the balcony of my friend Raquel’s flat. This took me no more than a half hour’s detour. I was back on the bus again and took the Tube from Oxford Circus to get back home for a shower and a nap. Alas, I did not have the time for a cup of tea today.
Off to the Theater to see One Man, Two Gov’nors:
At 7.00 pm, I left the house to take the Tube to Piccadilly Circus from where I walked to the Theater Royal Haymarket to see One Man, Two Gov’nors. My seat was awful—way way too high with the gold bar coming right in the center and distorting the view. I realized quickly enough that it would be torture to sit there and I also discovered that the play, while really hilarious, contained too much slapstick for my liking. I got the idea pretty quickly: a series of mix-ups would occur as one man juggled the orders of his two employers (‘governors’ in Cockney slang). By the intermission, I decided that I had had enough and I left—it has been ages since I have left the theater half way through the play, but it was clearly not up my alley.
On the bus I arrived at Aldwych, from where I took another bus along Kingsway to Holborn and then I was inside Sainsburys’ buying two Indian ready meals as I had a sudden desire to eat Indian food! I bought Chicken Tikka Masala and Jal Frezi with Pullao and a tub of Carte D’Or Chocolate Explosion ice-cream (as it is still terribly hot) and some profiteroles (which I love) and then I was on the Tube at Holborn getting home for a fairly early night.
I heated up an Indian meal, ate a big dessert and then went off to sleep thinking that it hadn’t been much of a day after all.