Thursday, October 27, 2016

Caravaggio at the National Gallery and Indian Lunch in Southall

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

     Having gone to bed at 9. 30 pm, I suppose it wasn't surprising that I awoke at 3. 30 am. However, I did force myself to get back to sleep and when I opened my eyes again, it was a little before 5.00am--which made it the most sleep I have had in months! Not a bad thing at all. I awoke refreshed, relaxed and ready to start what turned out to be a rather bizarre day.
     So, as usual, I did a blog post, caught up with email, planned my list of things to do for the day and had my brekkie--two toasted croissants with spreads and coffee. All these carbs, by the way, are doing a number on my weighing scale. It will be Low Carbs/No Carbs for sure when I get back home. But for the moment, it is simply easier (and much cheaper) for me to load up on bread and pasta. I watched some inane TV while munching my breakfast and decided to dress and leave the house without a shower as I wanted to shampoo my hair in the evening. I was meeting Raquel at the National Gallery at 10.00 am--so at 9. 15am, I left my flat to get into the Tube.

Caravaggio at the National Gallery:
     I do not, as a rule, pay to see exhibitions at the National Gallery--as I prefer to wait for them to simply come to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (which they almost invariably do). This one was an exception to my rule--as it was Caravaggio, who is simply my favorite artist of all time. I have tracked down his work in many parts of the world and spent a while in contemplation before each one of them. Thus, it was that I made plans to meet my friend Raquel at the National Gallery so that we could see it together. There was actually a line to get in at the Sainsbury Wing where you purchase tickets, but it moved quickly and in no time at all, we were presented with our tickets (15 pounds each) and an audio guide (another 2. 50 pounds). Armed with our tickets, we went downstairs to the basement for the show.
     Unfortunately, I could not linger as long as I'd have liked to--first off, it was crowded and there were heads of varied size vying for space in front of me. Getting the audio guide was a good idea as it would have been impossible to inch up to the curatorial notes and to read them in the rather dim lighting of the place. Secondly, I had a luncheon appointment all the way in Southall which would take me at least an hour to get to. Hence, the consciousness of time...
     The show is powerful, I will tell you that. However, do not expect to see an assembly of Caravaggio's works from around the globe. There are no more than five of his works and two are on permanent exhibit at the National--Boy Bitten by Lizard and Supper at Emmaus. What I found really fabulous was John the Baptist which features the prophet in his youth (I do not think any other artist has presented him in this guise)--not just young but muscular (contrary to the emaciated 'voice in the wilderness' portrayal to which we are accustomed). And, of course, the big 'discovery'' of the exhibition is the mesmerizing 'Taking of Christ', painted in 1602 that was unearthed for the very first time a couple of years ago as a genuine Caravaggio. Jesuit priests in Dublin who own it, ate their meals in their refectory below its deeply moving presence. On discovery that it was a real Caravaggio, it was moved to the National Gallery of Ireland. At the National, it is justifiably the highlight of the show--not just because it portrays a Biblical moment with such vivid immediacy and ominous intent but because it contains--surprise, surprise!--a self-portrait of the artist, clearly discernible at extreme right, keeping company with Judas who has identified the Messiah with a kiss, but actually holding up a lantern to light up His face. Is  the artist implying that we are all complicit in the act of betrayal? Striking in this depiction is the dull gleam of silvered armor worn by the Roman guards and the calm expression on Christ's face as he faces the inevitable.
     But this painting apart, the aim of this exhibition is to emphasize the huge influence that Caravaggio had on artists who followed for the next couple of centuries--he was indeed the Old Masters' Master! From the Frenchman George de la Tour (whose depictions of genre scenes such as the telling of fortunes on the streets and the cheating at card tables are reminiscent of the larger-than-life portraits that fill Caravaggio's canvasses) to the Father-Daughter team of Orazio and Artimisia Gentileschi whose paintings exude drama whether it is the Slaying of Goliath (Orazio) or the Abduction of Susanna (Artimisia). As I said, this is a powerful exhibition and you will be repeatedly struck by the play of light and darkness (chiaroscuro that Caravaggio perfected), the capturing of the impact of a single candle upon the faces of the subjects, the manner in which a stray ray of light from a lone window can illuminate raw expressions on the faces of commoners. Caravaggio mastered all the techniques: he knew how to portray people, the minutia of objects crowding a table (as in a still life) and expressions on animated and quiet faces while sparing no detail in providing a narrative. This exhibition was profoundly moving and will stay with me for a long time to come.
     Outside at Trafalgar Square, there were children everywhere--I realized it is half term holiday which means that English children have the week off. Working parents take the week off with them and, as was obvious, many were having a staycation in the city!

Off to Southall:
     Raquel and I had a quick post-mortem natter about the exhibition (which we both loved) before she went back into the gallery and I scooted off to Southall for my luncheon appointment.
     I took the Bakerloo line from Charing Cross to Paddington and the Great Western Railway to Southall--it was the second stop after Paddington, the first being Ealing Broadway--so if I had gone to Southall from home, I would have been there in ten minutes! Who knew? Well anyway...From the station, I had to make my way to The Broadway where the restaurant called The Punjabee is located. I had looked it up on Google maps and it was at least a 20 minute walk from the station. So I hopped into a bus sailing down the street for a while and cut off about half of the walk. I did reach on time at 12. 45 pm and there they were--my old friends, the Anglo-Indians of the North London Anglo-Indian Association--Henry, Terry and Malcolm, with whom I had associated a few years ago when I was doing field research for my book.
     It was at Henry's invitation that I was joining the informal group of retired RAF chaps who meet once a month at this restaurant to shoot the breeze and tuck into some curry--which they adore. At Henry's suggestion, I ordered the Lamb Curry (which turned out to be delicious if a bit too fiery for my palate) and the Aloo Gobhi (Potatoes with Cauliflower) which turned out to be too dry for me. Unlike everyone else at the table, I did not order rice--I had a naan instead. It was a very satisfying meal in an authentic Indian setting.  The restaurant was also full of families with children--the school holidays had brought them all swarming out "for a curry". I am not sure when the British will realize and accept the fact that not all Indian food is curried!
      Conversation was fun and non-stop around our table. Henry shared with me the dinky album of his daughter Karen's wedding. It was lovely! Terry told me about his challenges with ill health, Malcolm talked about his grand-kids. The years melted as we caught up. On the other end of the table, the other RAF chaps were playing their own catch-up games. What a wonderful idea--that they meet like this, in person, and do what email and the telephone fail to accomplish: provide the personal, human touch. I thought it was a great idea. Two of my hosts have been coming to this restaurant since 1989 and the monthly reunion has been going on for about five years. It works--so it continues. We talked about people who have passed away since the time I spoke to the community in the UK--too many, some too soon. We spoke about my book coming out and about them purchasing copies to send off to their family members and friends. Not long to wait now, my friends....not long at all.
     Henry treated me to the meal--he did not allow me to pay. Ever the gallant Anglo-Indian gentleman is our Henry. All of them ordered food packets to take away--they love their Indian food too much, these Anglo-Indians, to not take a ton home with them, once a month. Into the freezer it goes and slowly is it savored before the next RAF Reunion fills up the freezer again. It is another idea that works!
     Before we parted, they took me to Ambala, a Punjabi Sweet Mart where they took more Indian food home--dessert this time. In a few days it will be Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights and a time to stuff one's face with highly sweetened milky delights. The place was crowded, the queue moved at snail's pace. I decided to get into the festive Diwali spirit and ordered a few sweets myself--a selection of one each, just to taste. Unbelievably, it cost me just a little more than 2 pounds! I could not believe it...
     Henry took me via the long route home as Southtall was simply jammed with traffic. You could be in one of the smaller towns in the Punjab--Amritsar or Patiala or Jullunder or Ludhiana--any one of the towns that links India's Grand Trunk Road--it was that authentic. Curry Houses and sweet shops sat cheek by jowl with sari and salwar-khameez displays, gold jewelry that glittered enticingly, video parlors that carried Bollywood hits and Pakistani TV sitcoms, supermarkets filled with Indian vegetables and spices. What a place to be! Anyone nostalgic for their India Fix could find fulfillment in this enclave. But time brings slow, imperceptible change. And my friends informed me that with the infiltration of the Somalians into the area, the Punjabis are moving out. And on the edges of this Little India, I did see many black men hanging out and gossiping.
     I got the train back to the City and since I had Indian food with me (I purchased 10 Lamb Samosas) and my sweets, and since I was passing right by Ealing Broadway, I hopped off and went home to leave my food behind. I had a chance to take a look at my email and then took a 20-minute nap as I had yet another appointment to keep in the city. But first, after I awoke, I had a really big job to do: I had to book my ticket for my Winter Break in Bombay.

Booking a Ticket for India:
     I have to say that it was difficult to find a reasonably priced ticket to Bombay and back to London without having to deal with no less than a 15 hour layover in some Arab country. Even Jet Air flights had 15 hour layovers in Abu Dhabi as Ethihad takes their passengers over for part of the journey. I did not fancy spending any more time in the Middle East than I needed to--I could not wait to board the flight and step down on Indian soil. So, it was with much difficulty and with the forking out of a hundred pounds more (that I thought was fully worthwhile) that I found a Jet Air non-stop flight to Bombay and back to London on the dates I desired. It was a feat and I felt pleased to get this big job out of the way.
     As soon as I put payment through on my credit card, I jumped up and raced out of the house. I was meeting Natalie, another Tweep that I follow, for the first time in London and I did not want to be late. Since she works near Whitehall and I thought I would be making my way there from my office at Bloomsbury, I told her to meet me at 6 pm at Foyle's on Charing Cross Road. My daughter Chriselle's London-based friend Rahul had taken her to Café Vergnano that he said was the best coffee shop in the city and I thought it would be great to check it out with Natalie.

A Disappointment with Natalie:
     Well... having taken the Great Western Railway for the first time in the afternoon, I discovered that there was only one stop between Ealing Broadway and Paddington--I decided to try it out and voila, I was at Padding in under five minutes!!! I could not believe it. From there, I took the Bakerloo Line and made a change for one stop to get off at Leicester Square where I fought tourist hordes all the way to Foyle's--only to find that Natalie was not there! It seems she had sent me a text (which I did not get!) to inform me that she was struck in a meeting at work and needed to reschedule. Oh well...for the second night in a row, I have had plans changed on me at the last-minute. Let's hope it will not happen tomorrow when I am to meet Rahul...
     I also discovered via a text from Llew that my credit card payment for my air ticket had been declined for security reasons.  I was deeply annoyed as this is not the first time it has happened. Despite having informed my credit card company that I am traveling all over the world and will be using my card for large and small transactions, they keep stopping my payments. It is frustrating especially when purchasing air tickets as one does not know if one will get the same fare again--they disappear like magic from our screens, these fares. What's even worse is that to sort the matter out, I need to make these overseas calls which I am not even able to do with the skinny phone plan I have in the UK! Llew had to make the call for me, get the payment through and, of course, I would need to return home to make the transaction again. I was just deeply dejected all around as I turned back.

Back Home for Dinner and Cold Feet:
     I took the Tube home and by 7. 30, I was on my laptop again booking my ticket for India as my credit card company did respond to Llew's call.  And yes, it involved talking to the online ticketing company--but I did get my original fare and my ticket was done. Phew!
      Feeling stressed out, I went in for a shower and shampoo and while my hair dried, I got my dinner organized. I ate my leftover Indian meal from lunch time with Black Forest Trifle for dessert and watched the season finale of Cold Feet. I have to say that it all ended very lamely. Eddie and David actually duking it out physically on the dance floor was simply implausible and I think the writers have truly lost the plot. Suffice it to say that it will be a long wait before the next season steps around...but I am hardly going to hold my breath.
    Again, it was by 10.00 pm, that I decided to go to bed but after checking Twitter and getting some important email responses done, it was about 11.00 pm when I turned out my light.
     Tomorrow will be a very busy day--my last one in London before I leave for the country as I have been invited by my friend Loulou to spend the next couple of days with her in Suffolk on her sprawling real working farm of hundreds of acres. It should be fun and a lovely change of scene...but I have miles to go before I sleep--figuratively (and poetically speaking), I mean.
     Until tomorrow, cheerio...              

1 comment:

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Rochelle - lots going on ... I'm so glad the Caravaggio worked out - and I've found those exhibitions really full sometimes - similarly at the British Museum - when skirting people, and generally overhearing other parts of the exhibition ... I tend to wander around and buy the book to read later on ... and I have the articles that have drawn me in.

Wonderful to meet your Anglo Indian friends and to be immersed in their Southall culture ... enjoy those 'sweets' ...

I hope yesterday went well for your meeting with Rahul .. at least you booked your Bombay trip ...

Take care and all the best for the last couple of English days! Hilary