Monday, September 5, 2016
I am having the most jam-packed days! When I set out in the morning, I have some idea where I am headed...but then it is almost as if the day takes over with a mind of its own and dictates where I ought to go.
This morning, I awoke at 6.00 am, drafted and posted a blog, booked coach tickets online for my trips to Oxford and back--I would have liked to spend two unbroken weeks there but now that I have an important meeting at NYU, I will need to get back once in-between. Still, I scored great prices: it is true what they say on the sides of those Mega Buses! You really can get one pound fares!!! I did! I also worked out my schedule for the next few days as I leave on Wednesday and need to accomplish a lot before I go. I have begun packing my things away for my imminent move mid-month and put aside material I need to take to my new office at NYU.
Yes, today was a red-letter day because I got possession of my new office and would be settling in later in the day--there was much to be accomplished. I had breakfast--the last of my honey yogurt with muesli and decaff coffee (as I am finishing up all my food supplies and buying nothing more), showered and left my house at 10.00 am for the Library.
At Queen Mary College Library:
I jumped into a bus going to Queen Mary College, two stops away, and spent most of the morning with my books at the Library, taking notes and creating a Bibliography for material for which I will call while I am researching at the Bodleian Library at Oxford. I love the fact that there are still only a few folks on the college campus and I still have the library almost entirely to myself. It truly has been a pleasure working here--and the fact that it is just down the road and can be reached in under 10 minutes, is a real blessing. The only library I have ever been able to reach faster has been the Fairfield University Library from my home in Southport--but I drive there and the drive takes me four minutes!
When my work quota for the day was done, I left as I did not want to be late for the next item on my agent. I was headed to the Barbican.
Lecture at the Barbican Center:
The Barbican Center is a place worth exploring even if one is not really headed there for any particular reason. I love its maze of residential apartment buildings, library, restaurants, theater, music concert halls, cafes, art galleries, etc. Over the years, I have seen some fine art exhibitions here. This area, as I understand it, was disused and lying wasted for years until someone came up with a plan to redeem it by using architectural vision that has transformed the entire area. It sits in a very historic part of The City with iconic buildings surrounding it--such as the Victorian Smithfield Meat Market and the medieval Church of Saint Sepulchre--right in its vicinity.
I, however, took a bus from the Library for two stops till Stepney Green Tube station, then hopped into a Hammersmith and City line train going to the Barbican stop where I hopped off and walked the five minutes to the Library. I was headed to listen to a lecture on The Great Fire of London by Jill Finch who is a Blue Badge guide--she gives coach tours of the city of London and leads walking tours too through specific neighborhoods. On Wednesday, she had a walking tour that accompanies this lecture and but for the fact that I am trying to prevent PF, I would have been there in a flash.
Her lecture began at exactly 12. 30. A small portion of the library was dedicated to it and it was packed. Using Powerpoint, she screened images that took us back to the past--The City of London as it existed in 1666, the cause of the origin of the Fire and its exact position on medieval maps, the reasons for its rapid spread (proximity of the structures made exclusively of timber and thatch, a cruel wind that encouraged it), the destruction it wrought, the accounts of it (Pepys and Evelyn), etc. In-between, she interspersed the talk with anecdotes, bits of humor and the like. I learned that although they could have built a firewall much earlier to curtail it, initially no one thought it would spread as quickly as it did. They only built the firewall after it had raged four days and was likely to reach the Tower of London in the East and Whitehall in the West. Even the King, Charles II, became involved in rescue efforts personally assisting in bringing help to those who needed it. After September 5, when it stopped blazing, the City was no more.
Out of the ashes, it was necessary to recreate the city and that's when rebuilding plans began. Jill took us through the paces explaining that there were several plans submitted for reconstruction but the assignment fell to Wren who first focused on the churches and the rebuilding of St. Paul's Cathedral as Fire Wardens, retired judges who came out of retirement to address the claims of those who had lost everything in the fire and needed compensation, began their work. Within ten years, The City was resuscitated with new rules in place. All buildings from then on are to be made of brick or stone--the only exception was the Shakespeare Globe Theater for which Sam Wannamaker received special permission when he wished to recreate it exactly as it had stood in Elizabethan times--with a thatched roof. Insurance companies were formed and they have flourished since then. Plans for grid construction were roundly rejected--they would work superbly in America, but Londoners preferred a more haphazard look to their city. After that dreadful time, the city would face destruction on the same scale again in the 20th century, during the Blitz; but it would arise, yet again, Phoenix-like, to become the dazzling metropolis it is today. I really did enjoy the lecture although I have to say, somewhat ashamedly, that although it was very interesting and she was a very engaging speaker, I actually nodded off to sleep a couple of times despite my strong determination to behave!
Completing my Walk Through The City:
Since I was in the environs of the Barbican, I decided to finish off the Walking Tour of The City that Murali and I had begun a few weeks ago. Although I have stopped walking for pleasure for fear of reigniting PF, I really do love this area so much that I simply could not resist it. So, off I went with my book in hand--Frommer's Memorable Walks in London.
From the Barbican, I could see the jade-green domes of Smithfield Meat Market, so I headed in that direction. I skirted around its periphery and was stunned at what they have made of the area--the Crossrail (to be called the Elizabeth Line) is to pass through this area (Farringdon-Barbican) and, as is to be expected, they are digging up a vast part of it. There are also dozens of large corporate complexes going up in the area--my friend Alisha told me yesterday that Deloitte is creating five new buildings in the area--the meat market is going to close down soon and will be replaced by a market like Spitalfields. This will be a pity, methinks, as I love the uniqueness of a huge meat market in the middle of the city. Having lived in this part for a prolonged period in a massive loft belonging to friends of mine in Farringdon, in the years gone by, I know this area really well and love it.
So, for old times sake, I walked past Florin Court, the Art Deco Building that is used as the exterior of the building in which Hercule Poirrot lives in the TV series and to Charterhouse. I had once taken a tour of its interior--given a few times a week, check the website--and would highly recommend it. Monks still live inside--monks that descend from the same order that put up the first monastery in medieval times. As the place was added to over the centuries, it reflected the architectural tastes of the periods through which it has survived--Tudor, Elizabethan, Baroque, etc. Needless to say, it is a popular venue for film shooting and I have often recognized parts of it in the period films and TV series I watch.
For old times' sake, I then walked to Cowcross Lane to the building I had once occupied (how I had loved my flat there!) and then through the vast arched portal of Smithfield Market and arrived on the other side to enter the old Church of St. Bartholomew The Great. The entire area had been shrouded by scaffolding when I had lived there--that is all gone now and the circular park has now been turned into a underground parking lot with the sculpture of the lady in the center glowing anew. The Church itself is the oldest parish church in the city dating from the 1100s. It is much used in film shootings (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Shakespeare in Love) as it is of Norman origin. I have attended Mass in this church several times, so I was not about to pay 5 pounds to tour it. Perhaps I shall attend Evensong tomorrow at 6. 30 pm. Erected by the monk Rahere who is interred in the church, the old small cloister still remains.
Rahere is also responsible for founding the adjoining St. Bart's Hospital. Permission to build and expand was handed over to the monks, who converted to Protestantism, by Henry VIII later in the 1500s. To celebrate that, a Henry VIII Gateway to the Hospital was built. You can visit the Hospital Chapel--known as the Church of St. Bartholomew the Less as well as the excellent St. Bart's Hospital Museum which I have seen in the past--its stairwell carries two magnificent paintings by Hogarth which are memorable.
I then walked around the black and white checkered church to Cloth Fair to see the home of one of my favorite poets, the late Sir John Betjeman, and the site of the medieval fair that was held here each year till the mid 1800s and which gave Ben Jonson's play its name--Bartholomew Fair. From there, I walked down Giltspur Lane to see the golden sculpture of the Fat Boy--reportedly a symbol of the gluttony that they believe brought on the curse of the Great Fire upon London--and then walked to the Viaduct Tavern, dating from the 1700s on the corner at the Holborn Viaduct. Inside there are lovely mirrored paintings and a red tin ceiling which make it highly atmospheric.
Across the street is Old Bailey, the Court House where trials are open to the public (I have attended one in the past) , topped by the gilded sculpture of the Goddess of Justice with the scales of mercy in her hands. When I used to live in London with my friends in Amen Court, I would part the curtains of my room each morning to see this magnificent dome right in front of me! It never ceased to charm me. Next stop: the Church of Saint Sepulchre which simply came to be known as Sepulchre Church--this was the church from which the Knights set out on their Crusades across Europe! Can you imagine??? I have never been inside this church and would very much like to. It also features in the Oranges and Lemons poem: "When will you pay me, say the Bells of Old Bailey". So much history, so much brilliant architecture, crammed in this small square mile of space--no wonder I adore this area so much!
At NYU Campus:
I hopped into a 46 bus going to Holborn Circus (as a number of buses were on a diverted route) and from there into a 25 to get to Bloomsbury and to my NYU campus. In half an hour, the porter Mark gave me the keys to my office on the third floor. I loved it. Its windows look out on to the dome of the British Museum and the tops of Centerpoint--the skyscraper at Tottenham Court Road. How lucky am I to have this venue to work in??? The last time I worked in London, my colleague Karen and I had shared a basement office. This time, I have my own individual office on the third floor with a view! I am certainly movin' on up (as George Jefferson from the American TV series The Jeffersons would have said!)! Yes, I am thrilled by little pleasures of this kind.
Losing no time, I walked around the third floor meeting my new British colleagues and introducing myself. I met another GRI Fellow, a grad student (I am the only faculty member) and my colleague Emily Bauman who is not a Fellow but also has a semester off teaching. It was lovely to see a familiar face again. I also met Eric, one of the senior administrators at NYU-London, and received a very warm welcome from him. I then sat down on my brand-new Mac desktop computer that had been set up with a shell for me and began to check my email. I also needed to print something out (printer is in the adjoining room) but there was some glitch with the set up and I will have to wait until tomorrow to do that. Instead, I went down to the faculty lounge where I printed my Conference Program for Scotland and photocopied some material. I do not believe I will have a lot of time for sightseeing but I am looking forward to meeting a new Twitter friend for dinner in Edinburgh. As I have already starting packing my backpack for that trip (I will also be going to Glasgow), I am looking forward to it now.
Off to Foyle's:
When I finished off at NYU, I had about an hour to spare. So I jumped into a bus going to Cambridge Circus, jumped off at McDonald's for a KitKat McFlurry sundae, then walked into Foyle's, the bookshop, for a short browse of new titles and then jumped back into a bus again to return to Bloomsbury.
Lecture on British Orientation at the Congress Center:
Yes, I was attending my second lecture of the day at 6.20 pm at the Congress Center--part of our Orientation events for new students on campus. It was an Introduction to British Music and Comedy and consisted of two short lectures: the one on music was given by David Sinclair who has written extensively on the subject and one a stand-up comedy routine by Mark Dolan who is one of Britain's best-known stand-up comics and has just returned from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Sinclair used the screen to project videos--one of James Corden's Carpool Karaoke with Adele, another of The Kinks and a third of Punk Rockers--as Punk is celebrating an important anniversary this year (there is a special exhibition on Punk at the British Library right now). Dolan was full of humor (it is impossible to resist making fun of the Brexit Vote and of Donald Trump, I suppose) and there were many laughs. I think NYU found a great way to appeal to the students' interests (Music, stand up comedy routines) to introduce the country in which they have chosen to study. I enjoyed it but was ready to call it a day at 8.15 pm when it ended. However, it was nice to resume contact with some of my new British colleagues at NYU and to get to know a few more of them.
On the Bus Home:
I had walked a bit too much and could not face the thought of making a Tube change from the Northern to the Central Line and then taking a bus home from Bethnal Green--so I simply took a 25 bus going home and although it took me about 35 minutes on the bus (as opposed to 20 minutes on the Tube), it was a lovely way to relax and see the city by night. I am getting more used to coming home after night has fallen, but I am still uncomfortable about the neighborhood and the folks who people it.
I had a long chat with Llew, had my dinner (the last of my chicken piri-piri and my broccoli with soup) and I fell asleep watching a bit more of the Beck episode on my laptop--but I haven't finished it yet.
So there was my day---busy, busy, busy. But so enlightening and so much fun.
Until tomorrow, cheerio...