Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Careening Around Canary Wharf and Charterhouse

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

            Having woken up by 6.00 am and launched straight into my work, I did not wish to break off at 8.00 am to attend Mass. I, therefore, continued to stay at my computer until almost 9.00 am—which was three solid hours of work—before I went downstairs to join Cynthia for breakfast. I enjoyed her delicious porridge with tea and then it was time for me to start my packing particularly since I wished to see how I am doing with weight restrictions. About an hour later, having sorted my possessions and decided how best to divide them between my single bag and my hand baggage, I got ready to leave. There were a few places I wished to go to and a few places I wished to see before the day was through.

I did the equivalent of a pub crawl this morning in that I did a church crawl. Having found the Wren and Hawksmore churches closed yesterday, I made one more attempt to enter them today. My first stop was the Church of St. Stephen Walbrook where I had the chance to take in Sir Christopher Wren’s prototype for St. Paul’s Cathedral. It is true that going by the plain exterior of the church with its single spire, one would never imagine that the interior could be quite so gorgeous. And it was superb. The inside of the dome is embellished with fine plaster tracery work. There is a grand altar reredos and a pulpit in dark carved wood and the altar, designed by none other than Henry Moore is a solid marble slab which some describe as a lump of cheese. Large powerful Greek pillars hold up the structure whose Neo-Classical principles of design and decoration are simply splendid.
            This church is also famous for the fact that its former Vicar, one Chad Varah, initiated the institution of the Samaritans, an organization that provides assistance to people in despair. They are taught to simply ring the number that used to be “Mansion 9000” when it was founded. The number took the caller straight to a live person on the other end who would then talk the caller out of the desire to commit a desperate act. The Samaritans still do their incredible work today and have saved several lives in the process. But it all began in this church which used to be the official church of the Lord Mayor of London (as Mansion House, the Mayor’s official residence is next door). The original telephone used to initiate this mission of mercy is kept in a glass case in the church.
With this mission accomplished, I crossed the street and entered the church of St. Mary Woolnoth which was designed by Wren’s pupil, Nicholas Hawksmoor. It was also open and I had a chance to take in its interior which sported the main features of the typical Anglican church. But clearly, in this case, it is the exterior design that is striking.

Careening Around Canary Wharf:
       I had never been to Canary Wharf other than to pass it on the DLR train when headed to Greenwich. Having heard so much about this part of London, I decided to take the Tube to get there and to wander around and explore a bit. For the uninitiated, Canary Wharf became the center of London’s banking industry, a few years ago, when they moved from the overcrowded City to this bend on the Thames. The largest banking enterprises are here—they were swiftly followed by the journalism industry that abandoned Fleet Street (apparently, the 18th and 19th century buildings were no longer able to sustain the vast amount of wiring and cable laying that digital technology demanded). Hence, the move to new state-of-the-art premises.
            Well, as might be expected, Canary Wharf is like the Nariman Point of Bombay or Hoboken in New Jersey—areas that have sprouted like mushrooms in recent years to accommodate the thrust of commerce and industry ever upwards. It is a maze of sky scrapers—all glass and chrome, but not at all a concrete jungle because clever landscaping prevents it from such terrible degradation. Instead, there is a vast artificial lake, well spaced out promenades, wide open patios for enjoying good weather and an excellent network of transport channels that make it very easily accessible. I browsed among its many restaurants because folks who work here (generally having deep pockets) need to eat—hence Carluccios, the Slug and Lettuce, One Bar, etc. are all located in this space. I could easily have spent longer lingering among its many malls, but I had to get on with my day, so I bought some caponata and a lemon tart from Carluccios for my lunch and hopped back on the Tube to get back home.

Off to NYU and SOAS for Meetings:
            Back home, I picked up another lot of papers, books, files and photocopied material that I needed to mail back home to the States and got on the bus to drop them off at NYU. I did not have much time to linger, as I had a meeting with an anthropologist at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London to talk about drafting a proposal to the British publishers for my book. The meeting took place in the Staff Common Room on the first floor of the building in which I have often attended meetings and performances in the basement auditorium in the years gone by.
            When the meeting ended, I returned to NYU and spent the next couple of hours working steadily as well as preparing my box for mailing with the help of the porters Mo and Mark who are always so accommodating to me.

In the Footsteps of Carthusian Monks:
            My next port of call was what is known as Charterhouse near Smithfield Market. I had forgotten how exactly to reach it, but by hopping on a 55 bus, I remembered that I ought to get off at St. John’s Lane (one of my former haunts when I had lived at Cowcross Lane near Farringdon Tube station). I walked through the ancient St. John’s Doorway that had once seen knights ride through it on their way to the Holy Land and then I was at Smithfield Market and entering the vast property of Charterhouse.
            The name Charter-house comes from Chartres in France from where the first Carthusian monks originated. By the 1100s, they had reached this location and set up a monastery complete with priory church and cloisters—monks cloistered themselves from the world and once they entered the monastery had no more contact with the secular world.
            Through my friend Bishop Michael, I was able to join a tour group that was led by a Brother known as Douglas Ellison. He was introducing himself to a group of about 20 visitors who had arrived from various venues. A brief history of the Carthusiasns brought us to the founder, a knight named John de Many of the Middle Ages who is still well remembered and honored in these premises. The history then swung to the Tudor period when the original medieval buildings were pulled down and a fancy Tudor mansion was built complete with Great Hall (used then for dining and still used for the same purpose) and a chapel—both of which we visited on the tour. The interior of the chapel is filled with commemorative tombs, etc. to one Thomas Sutton who founded the Charterhouse School for Boys with which some very prominent names are associated—such as John Wesley, founder of the Methodists; Lord Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts and William Makepeace Thackeray, the novelist, all of whom were students at this school. The coat of arms of the Sutton Family which includes a species of dog similar to a grey hound, are to be found everywhere.
There were also references to the four Carthusian monks who were horribly treated during the Reformation for defying Henry VIII’s edicts. They were led away from the monastery (after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538) to Tyburn where they were hung, drawn and quartered—a really horrific way to die. Each year, on the anniversary of their martyrdom, they are remembered at an ecumenical service that includes the Catholic clergy, in the premises. I was told that a red rose is laid on the ground to represent each of the martyrs who died that awful day. Needless to say, they were only four of the several thousands of monks and priors who refused to accept Henry VIII’s new laws and perished. Sir Thomas More, perhaps the most famous of the lot that defied Henry, was also briefly a student at this school and indeed when one tours the Tudor buildings, one very much expects to see him turn a corner.
            We were taken into the Grand Hall both upstairs and down. The buildings also suffered severe bomb damage during the War and were effectively restored and refurbished, so that many different architectural styles are evident as well as layers of stone work that are different with every passing age. It is a vast space with many different courtyards (the Master’s Court, the Wash House Court, etc). Part of the ancient Norman cloister still remains, but it is in a very unfinished state. There are 41 brothers living on the premises today under the leadership of a Master and in the presence of a Preacher (one Hugh Williams, a friend of Michael’s, who came out to say hello and greet me which was very sweet of him indeed). The tour was very enlightening and told me a lot about the place and the manner in which it has evolved over the centuries. The boy’s school eventually moved to Godalming in Surrey (where it currently exists as a very exclusive fee-paying private school) leaving the space free for the contemporary brothers. Since the place does not receive any government funding and depends entirely on grants, it is trying hard to link with the Museum of London to publicize the place (which is used for the shooting of many period films) and to attract private tour groups to take in its many interior and exterior charms. I have to say that though I enjoyed every minute of the tour, it was tiring as it went on for almost 2 hours.       

Dinner at Maze by Gordon Ramsay:
            I got back home to Amen Court by bus and took a short rest before getting ready for my evening’s plans. I was taking my host friends Michael and Cynthia and Rosemary (Roz) to dinner to thank them for being so generous with their hospitality towards me while I was a guest at their home. It was indeed a small gesture but the only way by which I could show my appreciation to them. We had 6. 45 pm reservations at Maze, the upscale restaurant by Gordon Ramsay where I had taken other friends only a few days ago. We took the Tube to Bond Street and then walked five minutes to Grosvenor Square where we were seated and awaited Roz who arrived about ten minutes later.
            Well, the food was fantastic and my guests enjoyed it enormously. We each chose a total of four courses—savory and sweet--and with the conversation flowing around the table, we made friends with our waiter Naveen who turned out to be a Catholic from Mangalore. The food was really excellent and the presentation and service simply superb. We thoroughly enjoyed it and before we could quite grasp the fact, it was almost 10. 00 pm.

A Bus Ride Through the London Night:
            We ended our evening with a bus ride on a double decker No. 11 bus that allowed us to enjoy the City by night with all the lights illuminating the many monuments of the capital. Roz gave us a ride in her car to Victoria Road where we were able to hop into a bus going home. Buckingham Palace and the Victoria Memorial were beautifully lit as were Westminster Abbey and Big Ben Tower. The renovation of the Cenotaph on Whitehall has been completed and the monument glows in a golden light. Trafalgar Square’s fountains are no longer blue for the new heir to the throne—they spout water in different colors. The Strand was vibrant with throngs just emerging form the theaters opposite the Savoy Hotel or from the restaurants of Covent Garden. Sitting upstairs we had box-side views of the proceedings down below and it was great seeing the city from this perspective at night when electric light added magic and mystique to this most architecturally stunning of urban landscapes.
            We were home by 11.00 pm and ready to call it a day.
Until tomorrow, cheerio!                     

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