Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Smithfield, The Barbican, Shad Thames and Dinner at Maze

Sunday, August 4, 2013:

Smithfield and The Barbican, Shad Thames, Dinner at Maze
As always, Sunday for me in London begins with an Anglican service—although having said that, I found out that service at St. Bartholomew The Great Church at Smithfield, where I decided to go, did not begin until 11.00am. I used time after breakfast (Cynthia’s lovely porridge made from scratch by stirring oats for what seems forever), to have a clear-out among my things, (especially the large amount of paper I have accumulated) and to work quite steadily.

Service at St. Bartholomew The Great Church:
            St. Bart’s, as it is commonly known, has stood in one form or the other since the 1100s, which makes it one of London’s oldest churches. It certainly looks its age, both inside and out, and is often used for movie shoots. Shakespeare in Love and Four Weddings and A Funeral are among the many that come to mind. I remember visiting the attached St. Bart’s Hospital Museum, a few years ago, from which one can get a very good idea of the origins of this institution—hospital and church which came up simultaneously. Suffice it to say that it was founded by a monk named Rahere (1100s) who made a vow to start a home for the care of the ill in Smithfield—the rest is truly history. In the church, there is a very hallowed grave stone and an effigy of Rahere—but it is the interior construction of the church that is amazing. It is Romanesque and built in three tiers—all of which makes it very photogenic. Having had its origins as a monastery, it still has one side of its cloisters (used today as a café) and a number of ancient monuments that proclaim its age. The hospital is still thriving next door.
            The service was High Anglican—which is to say, partly in Latin. So, for the most part, it was like watching a theatrical show with excellent singers and actors (preachers). The priest, One Fr. Mark Young, preached an excellent sermon (What is it about all these Anglican priests that makes them such eloquent speakers?). Although there wasn’t a full choir, the one man who did the singing was excellent. A great deal of incense floated about. I might have been back in the 1100s in the Lady Chapel (at the side) but for the fact that a female priest assisted. The readings were also quite brilliantly done. Overall, I loved every minute of what was rather a lengthy, very dramatic, service—but, at the end of the day, every second seemed fully worthwhile.

A Walking Tour of Smithfield:
            Since I was in Smithfield, I decided to use my DK Eyewitness Guide to wander around it and take in its antiquity. It is one of London’s oldest parts (what used to be the called The City—meaning The City of London as opposed to the neighboring City of Westminster) and retains some of its oldest monuments (the said church and hospital of St. Bart’s), the Victorian Smithfield Meat Market which gives the entire area its character and the warren of little streets, one of which is Cloth Fair.
            So a word about Cloth Fair would be in order: The name of the street originates from a medieval three-day Fair that brought every citizen of the city to this venue—it is basically a long and narrow street that lies right outside of the Church. Drawings from the era show thousands of people clustered together attending the fair which combined trading with amusement. The fair went on right until 1855 and was the subject of a famous play by Ben Jonson (Shakespeare’s contemporary) called Bartholomew Fair.
            So after I circumnavigated the church and took all the pictures I wanted, I stepped outside into the small side garden and from there into the street called Cloth Fair. There are two houses (Nos. 41 and 43) that remain from the 17th century—their windows are clearly Elizabethan although their ground floor has been modified. Next door at No. 45 lived one of my favorite English poets, St. John Betjeman. His home is marked in a side alley with a blue plaque. Until four years ago, when I used to live nearby in Farringdon, London, a pub-café named Betjeman’s was just below; but it has since been replaced by an organic vegetarian Italian restaurant.

A Stroll Around the Barbican Center:
            I walked the length of Cloth Fair and found myself staring at the tall tower of the Barbican Center. Since one of the items on my To-Do List for this visit was a glimpse into its famous Art Gallery, I decided to make a detour and tour the Barbican instead. I have been here before but only briefly and I had only skimmed the exterior. This time I discovered what a huge ‘’complex’ this is and how well it was planned in the 1960s to include residential, commercial and cultural enclaves so as to become a miniature city in itself—indeed it even has a Waitrose as part of its conveniences.
            Touring the Barbican meant entering tis glass doors and finding myself inside a very modern building that contained a multiplex cinema and stage space for concerts and drama. I  asked a receptionist for the exact location of the Art Gallery and was directed to the third floor but she said that it was closed as there are no exhibitions going on there right now—the next one will start at the end of September. What a terrible waste of really great space, I thought!
            I then wandered out on to a great spacious patio with fountains and a restaurant (The Barbican Food Hall). People were nursing their morning coffees while overlooking the Church of St. Giles Cripplegate—one of the old churches of the City that do not seem to be active anymore and are purely retained as showpieces to record the history of the area—there might be the occasional once weekly service or Mass said there. The poet John Milton is buried in this church. I strolled around the very substantial restaurant but did not feel like eating there alone. My rambles took me to the third floor on the elevator to have a look at the Art Gallery space. There is a door across a walkway that leads directly to the Museum of London which is very close by built almost on the ancient walls of the City.
            I left the Barbican and made my way out on the street again, passing by Waitrose from where I bought a snack (Tiramisu—yummy!) and ate it outside in the sunshine for there was a brisk wind and it was a trifle too cool. My feet were beginning to protest by this stage, so I simply took a bus and returned to my refuge at St. Paul’s. I felt sorely tempted to have an almond croissant and a hot chocolate from Paul’s, but believe me, my feet were very tired and I simply needed to get back immediately. I made do with a really lame layered pasta salad from Sainsbury instead—what was I thinking???!
            I spent the afternoon taking a brief nap because my friend Murali had texted me to find out if I wanted to meet for a cuppa at 4.00 pm. It was a good thought and I decided to follow on it after a rest. We decided to meet at the Design Museum, located at “Shad Thames”. I had never been there and it seemed worth a visit.

Exploring Shad Thames and the East:
            Half an hour later, I was outbound again—this time I took a bus to Tower Bridge intending to switch to another that would take me across Tower Bridge. But the London cycle race had diverted a few buses and I ended up reaching there but late for my appointment with Murali who waited patiently for me. I found that Shad Thames in a very narrow street just behind the riverside Thames promenade that is now almost completely lined by restaurants at the base of fancy luxury apartment blocks that offer accommodation to London’s yuppies. It was also lively—filled with hordes of visitors cluttering up the many little boutique shops. The Design Museum is located right at the end of this narrow lane.

The Design Museum:
            London’s Design Museum is a paen of praise to its designers who, over the years, have brought their design genius to bear on everyday items of utility. The trouble with living in a city where most museums are free means you balk at the thought of paying almost 13 pounds as entry fee—which was expected in this one. They did not honor my Metropolitan Museum ID card either—Murali and I, therefore, decided to give it a miss and settled down instead in its café for a lemony cuppa and a lovely long chinwag. As always, he is full of ideas for things I should not miss and a mine of knowledge on what is happening. Single-handedly, he could edit Time Out London, I think.
            After a while, we arose to take a walk along the waterfront (part of the Thames Path) and climbing up the steps that brought us back on the Tower Bridge, we walked across us. Our aim was to get to Petticoat Lane where a colorful market is held every Sunday. Although it was too late in the day for the market, we did reach the venue and circled around the Church of St. Botolph’s Outside Aldgate—not to be mistaken for two other St. Botolph’s that also dot the area! Alas, it took wasn’t open, so we simply walked towards public transport to get back home—he on the Tube, me on the bus, after what had been a nice stroll in the sunshine.

A Slap-Up Dinner at Maze:
            I was left with only enough time to come home, shower, iron my clothes and get ready for the dinner for which I had reserved seats at Maze, a restaurant run by TV chef, Gordon Ramsay. I was taking the friends who have so kindly lent me use of their homes in their absence at Holborn and St. John’s Wood respectively—Tim and Barbara and Raquel and Chris.
     Unfortunately, Chris took ill and was not able to join us. Tim and Barbara were awaiting my arrival at the bar with drinks in hand at 8. 25 pm as planned (I took the Tube to Bond Street and walked about 10 minutes to Grosvenor Square where the restaurant is located).  We found our table and then sat down to enjoy the creations of this well-known swearing chef! His menu is based on the tapas concept—small morsels, very flavorful and very elegantly presented. The waiter suggested we order 3 to 4 small plates per head—my friends had a hard time making their choices but we all saved room for pudding. I left Tim (who was a top West End chef in a former life) to order a bottle of Pouilly-Fuse for the table and I settled with a glass of Yakima Red beer. Our meal was lovely and the conversation so much fun that time flew and, before we knew it, it was 11. 00 pm and then about 11.30 pm when we left. Raquel called a cab and got home and Tim and Barbara dropped me off at my place at Amen Corner before getting back home to Holborn.  It was truly a slap-up meal that made a lovely night to remember.
         Until tomorrow, Cheerio!

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