Monday, October 31, 2016

Traipsing Through The Tower of London and Haunting Hampstead on Halloween Eve

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Morning Rush:
     Since clocks went back an hour in the middle of the night, I had re-set my own wrist-watch before I dropped off last night. Still, despite getting an extra hour to blog, review my upcoming travel plans and make my To-Do List for the coming week, plus preparing for the talk I will give at the University of Leeds on Wednesday, time flew and before I knew it, I was jumping up to have my breakfast, take a shower and still make it for the 9. 15 am Mass.
     I was off on the Tube to the Church of St. Peter in Chains (St. Peter Ad Viculum) which is one of the Royal Chapels as it is attached to the Tower of London. Not only did this excursion represent my desire to attend Mass at a different church each Sunday but it would be a good way to spend a Saturday morning--reviewing, once again, the bloodiest aspects of British History in the place in which all the drama has unfolded over the centuries.
     The journey took longer than I thought as I had to get all the way to the East and Tube trains are less frequent on weekends. The morning was extremely foggy and as I walked--no, almost ran--from Tower Hill Tube station into the Tower of London (past the guards who let you in without a ticket if you are going to Mass in the church), I noticed that the bridge posts of Tower Bridge had become invisible and that the tops of the Gherkin and the Shard were lost--it was almost as if they had never been built. For a little while, pre-Modern London was all that could be seen and it was eerie.
     Mass, as always, was a lovely service with a priest who seems to be a born raconteur. He preached a very thought-provoking sermon on the 'Lesson' as Anglicans call it: Render Unto Ceasar what is Ceasar's, etc...There were about 25 people in attendance, mostly regulars although there were a few visitors such as myself. The priest greeted us warmly at the church door at the end of Mass. A Yeoman Warder (Beefeater) stood guard at the door throughout the service and escorted the Lector to the podium and escorted him back to his seat when he finished--I would love to have a Yeoman Warder escort me back and forth when I am a Lector in my church--talk about pomp and ceremony. Well!!!
     After Mass, I waited in the Tower yard for about fifteen minutes as I listened to the harsh cawing of the Tower Ravens--a protected lot who eat 170 gms of meat each day! Digest that fact, y'all! These are the only 'wild animals' still in the Tower--at an exhibit that I looked at later, I discovered that the Tower used to be something of a zoo until the end of the 19th century when it was closed forever. It seems that English kings were fond of having exotic animals from around the world brought to them as gifts which they kept in the Tower. They often indulged in the spectacle of animal fights and visitors to the Tower often brought little cats and dogs with them to feed to lions, tigers, etc. when these animals were kept in captivity here! I do not believe that I have been to this section of the Tower before and I found it quite difficult to view. However, in this same section, a display of some of the ceramic poppies that had filled the moat in 2014 in commemoration of a centenary of the Great War, did bring me to tears. It was a brilliant way to recognize the fallen.
     I also went into the Torture Chamber for the first time--or at least I do not recall being there before--where I saw notorious instruments of torture such as the Rack and the Scavenger's Daughter (also known as the Skeffington's Irons). While the rack stretched the body, the latter compressed it and was, we were told, far more painful that the former. There were also Manacles used to hang prisoners by their wrists for long periods of time. Seriously---I now know why I cannot remember being here before. Such awful atrocities are best forgotten.
     In the White Tower, I saw the famed Line of Kings exhibit with its assortment of armory and model horses--again, not quite my cup of tea although this section, understandably, is always crawling with kids.
     The piece de resistance, of course, of a visit to the Tower of London, is the building containing the Crown Jewels and since I went there, first thing, I was able to appreciate them without the milling crowds that came later--because, believe me, this place is mobbed. I got a good look again at the Cullinan Diamonds (both I and II) and the Koh-I-noor, of course, which India keep demanding back from time to time. In addition to the crowns--my favorite is the little diamond one that Queen Victoria had specially made for her after Albert's death to go with her widow's veils--there is loads of silver plate, gold articles used at the Coronation services, massive plates used on Maundy Thursday to distribute alms in an age-old custom that the Queen still follows as well as Baptismal fonts used at royal christenings. There are scepters and orbs as well and all the regalia that goes with being a real Queen ever so often--as opposed to dressing in the ordinary clothing of mere mortals at various opening ceremonies for most of the year. I enjoyed it all, I have to say, and recalled similar visits with Llew and Chriselle over the years--and I missed them both, in the process.
     When I had my fill of the Tower and its many buildings, including the Tudor Wing where the beheadings took place--today represented by a very nice crystal pillow and a dedication to those who lives were cut short by the brutality and excesses of past ages--I saw the building in which the two little princes were held and probably murdered as well as the room in which the imprisoned Walter Raleigh wrote his History of the World. It was quite refreshing to get these lessons again in British History and I was glad I went.
     I have to say that the day was quite wretched--not only was it sunless but it was fog-ridden and really cold and I felt horribly under-clad. It was worse by the river where the fog seemed to creep right into my bones. A hot chocolate was urgently called for and I found the Armory Café where I ordered one and ate it with the chocolate cupcake I had carried with me--which, by the way, was delicious. It was probably the first gluten-free product I have ever eaten (bought for a guest at my Tea party yesterday).
On to Hampstead:
       It was not the best of days to visit Hampstead which is one of my favorite parts of London, but I guess I had little choice. If I wait for perfect days to see all the places I wish to traverse, I will go nowhere in England! I took the Tube from Tower Hill and in about 45 minutes, I was at Hampstead where, being far away from the river, the cold was much less noticeable. The fog had cleared somewhat and although it was grey and dull, it didn't seem as terrible as it had been at the Tower--where, the weather, seemed really appropriate on the Eve of Halloween.
     I spent some time in the thrift shops at Hampstead and indulged myself in a lovely necklace from Zara that I picked up, unbelievably, for 4 pounds! Now you know why I haunt these charity shops. This find resided in a shop run by Mary Portas who has become known as the Queen of Charity Shopping in the UK and who has set up these shops with proceeds that go directly to Save The Children and other charities. So, not only do I get bargains, but I am contributing to alleviating suffering in the world as well! After I had done the rounds of a few on the High Street and in side lanes, I walked through another favorite lane--Flash Walk--where a few consignment and antiques shops called my name. I almost bought a beautiful set of bisque porcelain vases but there were a few chips in them and the thought of transporting them to the US put me off although the price was perfect. So I left them behind and walked on.

Visiting Burgh House and the Ribeiro Exhibition:
     There are several houses in Hampstead that are very well-known and that I have visited on past trips: Keats' House, Kenwood House, Fenton House, Goldfinger's House, etc. But I had never been to Burgh House (where entry is free) and which is one of the 'London Shh' group of historic homes. On doing some research, a few days ago, I found out that there would be an exhibition by an Indian Goan artist named Lancelot Ribeiro on after October 26. That's why I kept a visit to Burgh House for this weekend.
        I was very fortunate to find the house really quickly on a side street. It is only open from a few days a week and is known for its café. Being that it was so cold, I was amazed to see people sitting on garden furniture outside the café. Inside, the house is an 18th century mansion in Queen Anne style. It was one of the first mansions to come up in Hampstead which was then known as a spa town of sorts for tis medicinal wells--hence, the names of roads such as Well Walk, etc. It was built in 1704 for Henry and Hannah Sewell and has now been left to the nation. It retains its beautiful stairway, its ornamented fireplaces and mantels and its crown molding in every room. Today, the house is used for art exhibitions although the top floor is a lovely museum recording Hamsptead life through the centuries.

Viewing the Ribeiro Exhibition:
     The Ribeiro exhibition was deeply moving for me as I was able to identify with a lot of the items on display. Lancelot was the half-brother of the far more famous Indian Goan artist, Francis Newton Souza (known as F. N. Souza) who made his home in New York. Ribeiro arrived in the UK in 1953--the same era as the vast numbers of Anglo-Indians whom I have interviewed for my forthcoming book. Letters written by his mother to him from Bombay, his Indian passports, his passage on the Mooltan steamer to the UK, his traveling iron, the wooden toys he fashioned for his daughter Marsha and other memorabilia are lovingly displayed in an exhibition that was curated among other people by her. I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with Marsha. She informed me that Ribeiro's fame is now growing and that although in the small space only a few of his smaller works could be shown, there will be on-going exhibitions at the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum plus talks on the artist, etc. in the year to come. She also invited me to a lecture at the British Museum this coming Sunday to be followed by a reception at the Grosvenor Hotel. Since I am in the city next Sunday, I will probably attend.
     Ribeiro's work shows drastic changes in style through the decades. There are very modernist Abstract paintings of Bombay, there are feathered watercolors of Hampstead Heath where he often walked and picnicked with his family, there are geometricals, there are self-portraits and portraits of his family members, there are religious paintings and representations of Christ borne out of his Indo-Portuguese Catholic background--there is really a wealth of material to engage the viewer and to get to know the late artist who died in 2010.  Chatting with Marsha, I was offered more insights into his life and work and came away feeling deeply moved by it all.

Back Home for a Quiet Evening:
     I was seriously exhausted by the time I left Hampstead. There was still light (as we'd put clocks back, remember?) and I'd have loved to have rambled around some more in some of my favorite little lanes in the area. But I was simply too bushed. My lower back ached and I urgently had to get back home to relax. I also took one wrong train when I made a connection, but retraced my steps soon enough and got home within the hour.
     Once home at 6.00 pm, I simply threw myself on my bed and had a half hour's nap. I awoke to Facetime with Llew for about half an hour and then sat down to have something to eat. I had lasagna (from my freezer), aloo gobhi and some Tandoori Fish (also from my freezer). As you can see, I am trying again to finish up everything in my fridge as ten days from now, I will be moving out of this lovely place.
     I watched the third part of Tutankhamun as I ate. I have become hooked to this superb show starring Max Irons (Jeremy's son) in the role of Howard Carter with Sam Neil as Lord Carnavaron. It is simply spell-binding and although I know the bare bones of the story of the discovery of the tomb, I have to say that I am learning a lot about the official political and personal squabbling that occurred in the process.  This is really great TV, in my opinion (all shot on location). As I watched, I could hear the explosion of occasional fireworks as there are a lot of Hindus in Ealing and with Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, being celebrated today, there was general festivity in the air.
     It was about 10.00 pm when I fell asleep after what had been a truly tiring day. I seem to have overdone it after a long time and I  will definitely need to rest tomorrow.
     Until tomorrow, cheerio... 

1 comment:

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Rochelle - thanks for highlighting Ribiero ... I'll keep an eye out for his exhibitions in London as they come up. I think I forgot your Caravaggio book ... lovely present. You have once again done loads ...

When I visited the Poppy Display at the Tower - the Shard was in the mist then ... and with the overload of kids and half-term catching a train was a tad difficult! But the poppies really brought home the horrors conducted there ... I don't think I've seen too much of the inside ... but have seen the jewels ... I avoided the rack etc ...

Cheers and good luck for Leeds - Hilary