Friday, August 12, 2016

Something/s Old (Guildhall Art Gallery and Wren Churches), Nothing New...

Friday, August 12, 2016

     Today was vastly different from the days I've had here so far. First off, I awoke at 6.00 am, which now seems to be my standard waking hour. I spent most of the morning reviewing plans for a possible visit to Margate to hear my friend and NYU colleague read from her first, recently-published novel. But while fares are really reasonable, I cannot find a reasonably-priced place to stay. It appears I might have to nix my plans.
     At any rate, by 8.00 am, I tumbled out of bed for a shower and without brekkie--because I had no time (yes, despite waking at 6 am!)--I left the house for a 9.30 doctor's appointment at Holborn. It was all done by 10.00 and since I was rather peckish by then, I walked to the Waitrose at Brunswick Center near Russel Square Tube Station and bought a freshly-baked croissant and got a complimentary latte. It was quite terrific.

A Visit to NYU and a Lunch-Time Concert:
     Then, since I was so close to my campus, I hoofed it to NYU to get some printing done. That task was accomplished a half hour later when I jumped into a No. 25 bus at 12. 30 to get to the Church of St. Lawrence Jewry at Cheapside (near St. Paul's Cathedral)for the 1.00 pm Lunch Time Concert that I know from past experience is a real (free) treat.
     Well, the program was outstanding: The Haydn Trio consisting of piano, violin and cello played a Haydn Symphony followed by a Beethoven one. The church was not as packed as St. Martins-in-The-Field had been--yet every attendee was an intense music-lover. You could just tell by the total reverence with which they listened. I have to pinch myself to believe that I am able to listen to world-class music of this caliber for free and without making reservations. Imagine just being able to walk into a stunning church and being able to listen to this sort of sublime sound! Only in London, kids. Only in London.
     And indeed the church is stunning. Unwittingly, this turned out to be a day when I visited a number of Wren churches in The City--without really meaning to. What do I mean by The City? And why is it in capitals? So a word of explanation. The City is in London but not all of London is in The City.The City is the one square mile of territory that comprised the business district in the Middle Ages. It was presided over by a Lord Mayor (not to be confused with the Mayor of (all) London! So, in effect, even today, London has a Mayor and a Lord Mayor. The Mayor (elected, currently Sadiq Khan) has his office in City Hall (the Norman Foster building that looks like a collapsed glass pudding!); while the Lord Mayor (appointed, Lord Mountevans) has his office in Mansion House opposite the Bank of England. In the Medieval Age, there were seven gates through which one could enter The City: Aldgate (Entry for The City's Aldermen), Moorgate (Entry for Muslims), Bishopsgate (Entry for Bishops and other Church Prelates), Cripplegate (Cripples used to sit at this gate begging for alms), Newgate (the last one built), etc. etc. You can still see silver dragon sculptures in the vicinity of these 'gates'--denoting the limits of The City. Today, some Tube stations and main roads still bear the names of these gates   After the Great Fire of London of 1666 (which was exactly 350 years ago), almost all of The City of London was destroyed. The chief architect of the period, Sir Christopher Wren, was called upon to re-build and re-design the city. He started off with the churches--little by little every single one of them was re-built to his design (their steeples being different in every case) with St. Paul's Cathedral of 1672 being his masterpiece. Thus, it is possible to visit every single one of the 'Wren Churches' in The City and my friend Murali has done just that. Please take a look at his blog post to read all about his efforts at covering all of them on a single walk (and you thought I was nuts!):

     The Church of St. Lawrence Jewry is so-called because in the Middle Ages, it was in the heart of the Jewish neighborhood and apparently surrounded by money-lenders, goldsmiths, financiers, etc. This explains, perhaps, why the Bank of England and the London Stock Exchange Building are so close at hand. And yes, it is a church by Wren and although the exterior is nothing to shout about, it is spectacular within--gorgeous gilding on the Neo-Classical Corinthian columns, ceiling motifs, etc. The altar has a small painting depicting St. Lawrence (the saint who was tortured through death by grilling) who is always featured with an iron grill in his hand. And surrounding the painting is exquisite wood carving which I would hazard a guess is the handiwork of my favorite wood carver of all time, Sir Grindling Gibbons! So you can just imagine: in addition to feasting on divine music, there was the visual interest of the church--a combination that was simply hard to beat. I loved every second that I was inside--for the music and the sumptuous decor were outstanding. 

Highlights Tour at the Guildhall Art Gallery:
     So the Something Old part of today's headline derives from the fact that I thought I would take a Highlights Tour of the Guildhall Art Gallery which is literally just a few steps away from the Church of St. Lawrence Jewry. I have been to this Art Gallery before--on a couple of occasions. It is doubly interesting because it houses a magnificent collection of art works pertaining to the city of London--all of London, not just The City's square mile--and because it is the site of the former Roman amphitheater of Londinium! They found the remains of the Roman arena when they were building the Art Gallery adjoining the medieval Guildhall in the 1960s.
     As always, the tour was very good indeed. We saw about seven paintings in an hour through the efforts of a very competent lady who knew her stuff and conveyed it exceedingly well. We saw the stupendous John Singleton Copley painting of 'The Siege of Gibraltar' which cannot be ignored--because it is so huge--plus works by Tissot, Millet, etc. She took us downstairs and showed us a portrait of one of the Fire Judges who were appointed after the Fire to settle peoples' claims and also the engraving by Claes Janzs Visscher of 1666 depicting medieval London that has inspired a contemporary version called 'Visscher Redrawn' and which contains a number of 'clues' based on Shakespearean quotes. One might well amuse oneself trying to identify all of the buildings contained in the clues. If one has a free day...Murali, how about it, eh?
     Overall, it was a delightful tour indeed and I am glad I took it for the guide also invited us to visit the inside of the Guildhall next door--which I had never done before (because I had no idea one could go inside!)

Disappointments Galore at the Guildhall and the Goldsmith's Hall:
     That attempt to enter the Guildhall was the start of a series of disappointments--but then you win some, you lose some! The Guildhall was undergoing renovation and was closed to visitors. It is likely to reopen in September but no one is sure. I will attempt to see it later in the Fall. Bummer!
     Not to be daunted, I walked briskly to the Goldsmith's Hall which the website of Visit London proclaims to be one of the hidden treasures of the city. Well, guess what? They were not just renovating there too, but they assured me that the place is not open to the public except when Goldsmith Fairs are on--and those too are strictly by purchased tickets! Double Bummer! There was nothing to be done but to give up on seeing the place and moving to Cheapside to take a bus home.
     And that was when I passed by another church--the Church of St. Vedast. And it was yet another Wren church! Now I simply cannot pass by an ancient London church and not pop inside--especially not when the door is open! So in I went--for the second time--because I had once visited this church in the company of my friend Bishop Michael who had once served as its Vicar. It is beautiful in a stark and very plain manner--but it does have Wren written all over it.  

Perusing More Wren Churches:
     And that's when I heard them--this carillon of church bells in so joyous a peal that it was impossible to resist the temptation to go out and investigate. Where was so wondrous a sound coming from? And what, pray, was the occasion for that merry pealing?
     Well, the sounds emanated from yet another Wren church--the Church of St. Mary-le-Bow (also referred to as Bow Church) and not to be confused with the other Bow Church that is close to Stratford and the Olympic Park! Well, this is the church that is supposed to have fixed the environs of the city's real Cockneys. Only if you lived within sounding distance of the bells could you call yourself a true Cockney. These bells are also mentioned in the famous 'Oranges and Lemons' poem: "'I do not know'", said the Great Bells of Bow." Among all the bells mentioned in the poem, only Bow's Bells are referred to as "great"--and believe me, having heard them this afternoon, I can tell you they are! The sound and the volume are both amazing. And the reason for their clanging? Well, a wedding had just taken place! And when I got to the church square, there was the bridal couple and their very special guests all sipping bubbly from champagne flutes! What a stirring sight for a Friday afternoon!
     Of course I went inside! And how magnificent were the modern stained glass windows there! Designed after the Blitz blew away all the original windows, they are a very moving sight--the modernity of 20th century vision contrasted with the classicism of Wren.
     Three Wren churches in a single hour! I was almost competing with Murali!

Back Home to Eat and Cook and Plan:
     It wasn't much later, after I'd had a long conversation with my Dad and brother in Bombay on my cell phone in the church square, that I shopped at M and S for basic ingredients because--believe it or not--I who am not at all partial to Indian food had a craving for a curry! I bought a bottled Tikka Masala, some chicken thighs, an onion and a pack of mixed peppers and I was on a bus heading home. It was not quite 5.00 pm which meant I had ample time to cook myself some Chicken Tikka Masala before it got dark.
    When I reached home, I found that the weekly cleaning lady had been. The house smelled nice and the kitchen was spotless. I almost felt sorry to have to dirty it again with my cooking.
      But first...I needed to eat for I had eaten nothing since my croissant and latte at Waitrose at 10.30 am! Seated on a bench in my garden on a truly peaceful evening with a soft breeze stirring, I had a pot of tea and that most English of 'teas'--beans on toast! For I had bought a can of baked beans and a can of sardines at the local Co-op and decided that when in England, I would eat as the English do!  The sardines I shall enjoy another time...yes, on toast!
     My curry and my mixed pepper side dish were done in less than an hour. I washed up, put my dishes away and headed upstairs to do a bit of work on finding accommodation in Croatia. I also penciled in a lot of dates that coincide with major Autumn events in London--such as Guy Fawkes' Night on November 5 and the Lord Mayor's Procession on November 12. There are also a ton of events associated with the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London and I do hope to attend some of the ones that are free to the public. I spent almost half an hour on a videochat with Chriselle and then sat down to do a spot of blogging.
     Night came before I knew it...and although the day held some disappointments, there was ample compensation. And for that I go to bed grateful.
     Until tomorrow, cheerio...       

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