Friday, August 5, 2016

Buzzing Around Bloomsbury and Soaking in Art at the National Gallery

Friday, August 5, 2016

     I had the nicest day! It was the sort of day on which the weather dictates what you will do. And although I had decided to spend the entire day in one of my favorite places in London--The National Gallery at Trafalgar Square--when I found the sun smiling down on me in all its glory, there was simply no way I could deny the urge to get out there and enjoy it.
At Work at Dawn:
     But first things first. I actually awoke at 6.00 am today, but decided against going to church as I needed to do some urgent research for the trip that Chriselle and I intend to take soon in Eastern Europe. Having picked up books yesterday on Croatia and Slovenia, I got cracking on planning and plotting while most of London was still asleep. And before I knew it, it was 8. 30 and I had the basic outline of a trip that we can flesh out in due course. With flights identified on budget airlines, all I had to do was run them by her, get the green light and I could go ahead with bookings. 
     It was time to shower and eat breakfast (muesli with yoghurt and coffee). The sunshine beckoned and I carried my tray out to the garden and sat on a bench overlooked by a fat black bird with a vivid yellow beak (that I could not identify) and munched contentedly as I enjoyed the warmth of the sun's rays on my shoulders. Then I made a sandwich for myself and raced out of the house. At that point I made my decision: I would spend the morning completing my walk in Bloomsbury (that I had started yesterday), get to NYU campus to pick up my water bottle that I had left behind yesterday and then get to the National Gallery where I would spend the afternoon. The National has late evening closing on Fridays--at 9.00 pm--so it makes sound sense to spend Friday afternoons and evenings in that hallowed space.

 Buzzing Around Bloomsbury:
     I took the Central Line train to Holborn and began my rambles there. At Sicilian Avenue, I turned to Southampton Place where I found the home of Cardinal Newman. Just across, past The Cordon Bleu School of Culinary Art at Bloomsbury Square, was the home of Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli's father, Issac--and right opposite it was the home occupied by Gertrude Stein for a year before she moved to Paris and became a legend. Along Bedford Square I went toward Russel Square (which was the site yesterday of the deadly knifing of 7 people including an American female professor). There I spied the sculpture of Francis, Duke of Bedford, who was responsible for laying out the area in the Georgian Age in the way it currently stands. In fact, in this part of London, the Bedford family are still the largest property owners though much of their land is used today by hospitals and universities.
     I paused by Senate House which was spared by Hitler during the blitz as he had intended to make the building his London HQ when he had conquered it--thankfully, that did not happen! Still, the building was also the model for Orwell's Ministry of Truth in his novel 1984. It is a rather plain building, stretching one tier upon the other like a gigantic wedding cake (funnily enough, we have a very similar building near the NYU campus in New York--right opposite the Washington Arch at Washington Square!) Just a few feet away is the Faber Building (now used by SOAS--The School of Oriental and African Studies--of the University of London, where I will be giving a lecture later in the semester). It once housed the offices of the famous publishing firm of Faber and Faber where the poet T.S.Eliot (who used to live nearby) once used to work. My guide book says that in addition to being a fine poet, he was also an astute businessman and a great part of his early working life was spent working in banks and in publishing.
     I crossed the square then towards the Russel Hotel (one of my favorite buildings in London) only to discover that it was completely shrouded in scaffolding as it is undergoing a major refurbishment. More's the pity as the building is truly a stunner with its brick red color and lavish carving. From that point, I was directed to Queen's Square at the back--which was the first time I had been there and from there to Queen's Tavern and then on to the Church of St. George the Martyr that is known as the Sweep's Church as  Capt. James South established a charity here for the little boys who served in this capacity--often meeting a premature death. Right opposite the church is a Victorian water pump which cannot be used for drinking water any longer.

Lunch courtesy of the Hare Krishna Movement:
     By the time I returned to Russel Square, I found a  queue of people had lined up for free lunch distributed by the devotees of the Hare Krishna Movement. It was a simple rice and chick pea curry and since I am always up for a new experience, I joined the line and partook of the lunch. Then it was time to get a latte from Waitrose before returning to NYU to pick up my bottle. There, I checked email on wifi, used facilities, had a long videochat with my brother and his kids and then made my way to the National Gallery on the 29 bus from outside our campus that took me straight to Trafalgar Square. It had been a fabulous jaunt on a day when the temperature was perfect and humidity non-existent. I was very glad indeed that I had enjoyed it while it lasted.

Exploring the National Gallery--All Over Again!
     I can never tire of the National Gallery--it is quite simply a place in which I feel transformed in the presence of some of the greatest paintings produced by the Western world. I arrived at exactly 4.00 pm, got myself a map,a stool and an audio guide and began my study of the highlights that are beautifully spelled out in the black and white leaflet that goes with the guide. In the process, I took pictures of most of the masterpieces on display plus my own favorite ones. In particular, I was drawn to the paintings that were featured in the film, Framed, that I recently watched with my niece and nephew. They were the usual highlights that we see whenever one names the National Gallery--and then some.
     I had the most wonderful time for four whole hours during which time I took in about 60 masterpieces. Occasionally I diverted from the museum's suggestions to see those canvasses that I especially adore--as in the case of the work of Carlo Crivelli that I have only seen in this collection. He is an awesome artist with the most awesome attention to detail and I can stare at his paintings forever and still find something new in each one to mesmerize me. I stopped for a sandwich halfway through and then I was at it again--I simply could not get enough of the brilliant paintings surrounding me. And, of course, the audio guide meant that although I have seen these works so many times before, I still learned something new at each stop. It was just sheer undiluted bliss!

Return Home for Dinner:
     At exactly 8.00 pm, I left the Gallery having left just one section--the 19th century--uncovered. Hopefully, I shall get there tomorrow and be able to complete my mission! I took the Tube back from Charing Cross to my place and got home in 20 minutes. A quick stop at the Co-op supermarket to pick up some groceries for dinner tomorrow and I was all set.
     Back home, I noticed that the weekly cleaner had been for the place was sparkling and well tidied. I got dinner organized (sausages with cauliflower mash and a mango for dessert) before I went online to make the Easyjet bookings as I did get the green light from Chriselle during the day. That done, I spent a while chatting on Facetime with Llew before I began to blog even as I watched the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics which are at 12 midnight, my time.
     It was just one more wonderful day in this wonderful city. Having spent one week here already, I have to ask myself where the time has gone. But then I think of all the things I have done in just one week and I realize that I have utilized every second creatively and could not possibly have asked for a more brilliant week. Last week at this time I was flying across the Atlantic to get here--and already I feel as if I have been here forever.
     Until tomorrow, cheerio...

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