Thursday, August 4, 2016
Gray's Inn, The Welcome Collection and Research at the British Library.
Today was a mixed bag with a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I did not rise early enough to get to St. Paul's Cathedral for Mass. Instead I was able to IMO (videochat) with Chriselle--which was very productive indeed.
Coffee Morning with a Pair of Solicitors at Gray's Inn:
Brekkie done (muesli and yogurt with coffee), I showered and dressed and took the bus and the Tube (Central Line) to Chancery Lane--my former stomping ground. Since I was passing right by my old building, it would seem horribly unfriendly not to stop and say Hello to my former concierge, Arben, who, as always, gave me the warmest welcome. We exchanged pleasantries for a while and then I slipped into one of London's Inns of Court--Gray's Inn--which used to be in my own backyard when I lived on High Holborn. Although I have been to Gray's Inn before, it was especially significant this time round as I have read The Children Act by Ian McEwan which is set in this neighborhood--his female protagonist actually shares a flat with her husband in one of Gray's Inn's courtyards. For that reason, it was thrilling to walk those paths.
My objective was to get to one of the lawyer's offices (called 'Chambers' in the UK) to meet my friend Jane who lives in Yorkshire but comes down to London occasionally for a ballet performance. This time round, she was in London to see the Bolshoi Ballet do The Taming of the Shrew. Before she departed for Yorkshire, she was able to fit in a coffee with me. And since we have a mutual friend in my former neighbor Barbara, she was there too--so it was a thoroughly wonderful morning over coffee with two brilliant patent attorneys whose company was wonderfully enjoyable as we touched on a lot of interesting topics from Indian cuisine up north to Jane's South Asian connections. All too soon, it was time to say goodbye, but I know I will cherish very happy memories of our get-together.
Just before we went our separate ways, Barbara gave me a little tour of Gray's Inn. I absolutely adore the architecture of these Inns of Court and the old-fashioned world they conjure in my mind.
Then I hurried off to the British Library...but from there things went really wrong.
Making Bad Transport Decisions:
Despite the fact that London has such a fabulous public transport system that I credit myself with knowing really well, sometimes I make bad decisions. Like I decided to take a bus to King's Cross from Theobald's Road, but then I remembered that I hadn't called my Dad. So I sat at a bus stop and spent about 15 minutes chatting to him. When I did get to the bus-stop, I saw that it was 12. 15 pm. I decided, on impulse, to get to Trafalgar Square to the Church of St. Martin-in-The-Fields to listen to their free lunch time concert. I know, I know...it was foolish to get north to go south! But that's what I meant by not thinking right. Anyway, I got to King's Cross and decided to take the Northern Line southwards--but the Northern Line is one of the most complicated of lines and after a series of errors, I found that it was much too late to make the 1.00 pm concert--so I scrapped it (also on impulse) and decided to go to a concert at the church on another day. Like tomorrow...
Exploring the Wellcome Collection:
Instead, finding myself at Euston Station by this point, I hopped into an M and S Simply Food to buy myself a sandwich (as I had left my ham and cheese sandwich on my kitchen counter at home in my hurry to leave!) and sat at a bench in a square munching it with a large bunch of office-goers who were enjoying the lovely mild afternoon. When I was done with lunch, I found that I was right opposite the Museum that is known as the Wellcome Collection and since I had never been in there, well...inside I went.
Named after Henry Wellcome (he of Burroughs-Wellcome fame), a 19th century intellectual who wore many hats in his lifetime, the museum features rather eclectic items from his personal collection all of which have to do with the human body and its various functions. I was surprised at how lovely the interior is and how crowded it was. Considering that it is one of London's lesser-known museums, it is very well used indeed. The Cafe on the ground floor was buzzing, but upstairs is a quieter and much more posh space where I found that you can get the best bargain in Afternoon Teas--three courses with scones, sandwiches and cakes costs a lean 9 pounds per person or 16 pounds for two. That is truly a steal in this pricey city. Perhaps Chriselle and I can do it together when she gets here...
Inside, there are temporary exhibitions and bits that comprise a permanent collection. I stuck to the permanent portion entitled Medicine Man--which was a section devoted exclusively to Wellcome's personal collection. It had some really quirky and really cool items and among its highlights (although they do not have a leaflet that names these), I would pick the following:
1. A lock of hair of King George III.
2. Napolean's toothbrush
3. Charles Darwin's ivory walking sticks (there are two of them)
4. Florence Nightingale's moccasins
5. Lord Nelson's razor
6. A shrunken head of the Shuar people (I had seen some of these at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford)
7. A pair of shoes for bound Chinese feet (I was horrified at how tiny they were!)
8. A snuff box attached to a real stuffed ram's head complete with magnificent horns
9. A French guillotine
10.A mummified male body of a Peruvian Chimu person
11. The wax death mask of Benjamin Disraeli.
So there you have it. There is a grand collection of paintings all of which depict medicine and surgery through the ages, there is a replica of Freud's couch, there is an X-ray machine from the 1920s, all sorts of items associated with mankind's sexual life and behavior including chastity belts, there is a whole exhibition on forceps and surgical saws that made me weak-kneed...you name it, this museum has it. There is also a section called Medicine Now which I found far less interesting as it dealt with things like gastric bypass operations etc.
About an hour and a half later, I was out and about again, having covered one more item on my To-Do List (yes, as usual, I do have one or else I will get nothing done!).
By Bus to the British Library:
It was then time to get back to my original plan--which had been to get to the British Library. Jumping into a bus at Euston Terminus, I rode it for one stop to the Library and in ten minutes, I was in the South Asian Section looking for assistance as I tried to call for the items I needed. I had about 10 items on my list--journals, books and public office records of the former India Office in London. A very nice man assisted me and showed me the ropes and before I knew it, I had requested about 8 items from the list. Some of them would be with me in 70 minutes, others would take 2 days as they would be arriving from their stacks at Boston Spa which is in Yorkshire.
Having spent more than an hour searching through the online catalogue and making my requests, I decided it would be best to come back on Monday and spend the entire day in the library as most of the material I have requested should be in by then. So on that satisfied note, I left the library and went on to the next item on my agenda--a visit to my NYU-London campus.
A Visit to NYU-London:
It was high time I went to the NYU-London campus to meet my former colleagues among the staff. Since it is summer and classes are not yet in session, it is rather quiet--which makes it possible to really get work done. At the front door, I met the porters, Mohammed and Mark, who are buddies of mine as I have met them off and on over the years. I also met those folks who are still friends of mine after all these years--Ruth and Nigel--and new ones who will now work closely with me--Phillipa and Harvey. After a nice chat with Ruth who then introduced me to a few other new staff members, I left my things with the porters and set out for a walk in Bloomsbury as I thought it would be good to trek through another one of my former stomping grounds.
Using Frommer's book, Memorable Walks in London (of which there are 11 that I intend to finish before I depart from London), I began at Bedford Square which is the only true Georgian square left in London. I saw the blue plaques marking the homes of Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Anthony Hope Hawkins who wrote The Prisoner of Zenda and then I entered Gower Street to see plaques to Ottoline Morel, patroness of W.B. Yeats, a suffragette Millicent Gareth Fawcett, the place the first general anaesthesia was administered, etc. The walk carried on to Waterstone's, the bookstore, and on to Torrington Street, home of the poet Christina Rosetti, sister of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. It then took us to the best mid-Victorian church in London at Gordon Square. The square attained fame, thanks to the members of the Bloomsbury Group who granted it notoriety. Here, from 1904-7, the sisters Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell--held 'at homes' every Thursday to which their brothers Thoby and Adrian's friends were invited. These included the biographer-novelist Lytton Strachey (who lived two doors down), the economist John Maynard Keynes whose work helped found the International Monetary Fund (who also lived two doors down on the other side), playwright George Bernard Shaw, philisopher Bertrand Russel, novelist E.M. Forster, artists Clive Bell and Duncan Grant, publisher Leonard Woolf, etc. etc. I have been fascinated by the members of the Bloomsbury Group since my undergrad days and had visited this square before; but after reading Priya Parmar's book Life in Squares (which was the best book I read in 2015), I was absolutely thrilled to be in this revered venue and to visit each of the homes--now all turned into offices. I would heartily recommend this book to anyone interested in the tangled relationships--straight, bisexual and homosexual--of these individuals whose activities provoked a sneering comment from Gertrude Stein who was holding her own literary and artistic soirees in Paris at the same time:" It is a Young Man's Christian Association with the only thing missing being the Christian part!"
Just next door was supposedly the Percival David Collection of Chinese Ceramics, but these have moved to the British Museum and it is there that I intend to peruse them another time (in Gallery 94).
It was 6. 15 pm by then and so I returned to pick up my bag from NYU from where I took the No. 8 bus just outside campus to my home at Bethnal Green.
An Unexpected Brush with Art:
Except that when I got off at Bethnal Green Tube station, I noticed that the door to the Church of St. John was open and since it is a church designed by Sir John Soane and was on my To-Do List, I headed inside for a visit. At the door of the church, I noticed a bunch of young folks with wine and beer in hand. When I entered the church, I found the pastor, Rev. Allan Green at a bar selling the drinks! Well, it turned out that there was an art opening on the top floor--an installation by Miriam Sedacca--and in the crypt was another exhibition of astronomy as art. I bought a beer, chatted with two lovely artists for about twenty minutes, paid a visit to the altar to admire the work of Soane who only designed three churches in London, and then hopped into a bus and, two stops later, I was home.
Dinner and Travel Research:
Over dinner (toasted ham and cheese sandwich with salad and chicken cup of soup), I caught up with my email and my blog and began the travel research for my proposed trip to Eastern Europe in September with Chriselle.
Like I said, it was a mixed bag...the kind of day that offered so much of interest: reunions with fond friends and former colleagues, museum finds, social chatter over contemporary art, solid library work related to my research and a quiet dinner at home. I could not wish to have had a less eventful day.
Until tomorrow, cheerio...