Friday, October 14, 2016
I am awaking later than I like these days--this means that I do not have as much time to finish all the things I want to do before it is time for me to get down to work. Still, that said, I read through my email, got a bit of the world's news through Twitter, drafted one blog post and then sat down to make a call to my Dad in Bombay that went on for almost half an hour. With only enough time to wolf down my cereal and coffee, I rushed in for a shower and left my home on schedule at 10.15 am exactly as I had wished to do.
Meeting at NYU:
I arrived at NYU at exactly 11.00 am just in time for the Research Fellows' meeting with Eric and Ruth that took place on schedule over tea and coffee and lovely biscuits. We did have a lot to talk about and meeting with the other Fellows is always an opportunity for me to get to know some of them better. It went on till 12 noon when Ruth had to excuse herself and the meeting ended. I rushed off to my office to print out two chapters of my book that I now need to get down to proof reading and revising in order to get the manuscript off to my publishers by the end of this month which is my deadline. With those chapters safely in my bag (I intend to work on them over the weekend at home), I left NYU's Bedford Square campus--but just before I did, I picked up mail from my pigeon hole and found that my MasterCard that Llew had mailed me had arrived from the US. I did not open it--just stuffed in my bag and ran to keep my next appointment.
Meeting Raquel in the Handel-Hendrix House on Brook Street:
My next appointment was at 12.45 pm with my friend Raquel who had the afternoon off and offered to do something fun with me. We mutually decided to visit the Handel-Hendrix House on Brook Street in Mayfair as neither one of us had been there before. As the day pass by and I get bogged down by work and then have to leave London to travel, I am trying to see all the items on my To-Do List that still require perusing. This place was one of them and Raquel was keen to cover it with me.
The entrance to the twin houses is steep--10 pounds per head (but then these small museums rarely receive public funding). I arrived about ten minutes before Raquel and together, we bought our tickets and entered through a very narrow door on Brook Street that could so easily go unnoticed (unless you are as astute about London sightseeing as I am).
The cool part about this place is that for years it used to be the Handel House Museum. The composer George Frederick Handel had taken rooms in this house in Mayfair in the late 17th century and had lived here and composed quite a few of his best-known works. It was the house in which he rehearsed many of the leading sopranos of his day and in which many leading composers and musicians such as John Gay, composer of The Beggar's Opera, had come to meet him.
I had never been to this place although it had been on my To-Do List for quite a while. What moved it higher on the list was that it was recently opened as the Handel-Hendrix House, a couple of years ago--for the American musician and guitarist Jimi Hendrix just happened to have rented out the house next door--literally separated by a common wall and 300 years of history! Friends of the Handel House had been trying for years to acquire the Hendrix House and to join the two together as a museum--and when this happened it became a magnet for modern rock music lovers around the world--who come for Hendrix and stay for Handel. Or vice versa, of course.
The Handel House is rather Spartan--as might be expected. There are three floors that showcase his parlor and composing room on one floor, his bedroom on the next together with a shop. In this part of the house, there are many portraits of Handel, a sculpted bust of him as well as portraits of his contemporaries--other musicians and public figures of the day. His bedroom has been retained in the way it would have been in his lifetime although none of the furniture is actually his own (everything was sold soon after he passed away). There are also a few contemporary harpsichords and spinnets in the house to give an idea of the kind of instruments on which Handel composed.
On the third floor, one enters into the Hendrix part of the house. This house was rented by Hendrix after he arrived in London in the mid-1960s and took up residence in it with his then girlfriend Kathy Etchingham. Having done rather poorly during the early years of his career in the States, Hendrix was heard by a British musician who thought him to be the finest guitarist ever. He referred Hendrix to his British friend who then decided to become Hendrix's manager provided he moved to London. Hendrix did so--and his career simply took off as the Brits embraced his talent in a way his own countrymen had not.
In the house at Brook Street, Hendrix lived in harmony with Kathy, visited by many contemporary musicians including George Harrison who often crashed in the adjoining room after a few hours of hard party-ing. The place was furnished and decorated by Kathy and reflects the taste of the hippie generation: bright colors, wildly patterned cushions and rugs, feathers, mirrors, jazzy fringed lamps. There is also a vast collection of LP records that he owned and which he often bought from the neighboring Oxford Street stores. Hendrix made wonderful music in this space and worked on several of his hit records while living here.
Memorabilia from the Hendrix era is far more interesting and colorful and can leave one absorbed for a couple of hours. His record collection that embraced the works of artistes as varied as Bob Dylan, Ravi Shankar, the Beatles and Handel's own works are all on display. In fact, Hendrix was tickled to know that Handel had lived next door to him, 300 years previously, and because he had never heard Handel's music, he went out and bought a few of his records! You walk through the bedroom and into the record room as well as the main hallway where there are pictures, quotes and the like to liven one's visit. There is also a short movie to watch with clips from Hendrix's musical career which allows one to get a taste of his music. We spent a lot of time in this space and thoroughly enjoyed walking down Memory Lane probably because Hendrix's journey towards stardom happened in our own lifetime.
There are frequent concerts in this space for which one needs to check the schedule--however, all of these required paid tickets.
Lunch at The South Audley Pub:
It was about 2. 30 pm when we left the house and I was starving--Raquel had eaten lunch before leaving home while I was surviving on biscuits from our coffee meeting. She wanted to take me to a cute glass café on the rooftop of a neighboring building, but she could not find it. Instead, we wandered around Mayfair actually passing by the US Embassy on Mount Street and the sculptures of Roosevelt and Reagan before arriving at The South Audley Pub where she had a pot of tea and I had one of their small plates: a delicious portion of Mac and Cheese made superlative by all the gooey Gruyere cheese in it. It provided Raquel and me a chance to catch up and have a lovely long natter and make plans for future meetings.
Not too long after, we said goodbye and I realized that the credit card I had received needed to be activated before I could use it. I could not use my UK cell phone for international calls (even if they are toll free) and so I decided to go back to my office at NYU to make the call. I jumped into a bus that took me to Marble Arch and from there into a Tube to get off at Tottenham Court Road. I made the call, stayed for precisely ten minutes and left. For some reason, I felt tired--possibly because of all my activity of the previous day in Cambridge!
Back Home and Then Off For Dinner:
I stopped at Sainsbury to buy a dessert (Mandarin Orange Cheesecake) for the family that had invited me to dinner. By the time I got home, it was 5. 45 and I thought I had enough time to brew a nice pot of tea and eat a couple of biscuits before leaving for my next appointment--for I had been invited to her home for dinner by a lady I had met only two days ago on the Tube--if you can believe it! We got talking and somehow decided that we should meet again. She gave me her email address and then, before I knew it, she was inviting me to her home for dinner! It turns out that she lives in Acton, not too far from my place--and so I accepted the invitation very graciously.
At 7.00 pm I left my home for my 7. 30 dinner with Ami and her family. During the evening, we actually got to know a lot more about each other. It turns out that Ami is originally from Bombay and that she met her husband Raj while they were both students at LSE--as they say her, while they were "at uni". They were married 25 years ago and have 2 young boys--whom I also had the pleasure of meeting.
Ami and Raj live in a gorgeous home that they built a couple of years ago and only moved into fully early this year. It is a beautiful modern home gloriously furnished. Over a superb home cooked meal that included Tilapia Fish Curry, Mushroom Curry, Palak Paneer, Rice, Parathas, Salad and Pickle, I had myself a great meal with white wine to sip through it. They had also invited another one of their LSE classmates called Anuj (Ticks) who was from Nigeria too and who was also fun to be with. Conversation flowed easily as they talked about their transnational and transcontinental path to the UK--from India and Uganda to Nigeria to London via New York where, for a while, Ami worked as an investment banker. Today, they run their own business in property acquisition from Central London and are looking at putting their sons through university while thinking about their next move.
I thoroughly enjoyed myself with this lovely couple who made me feel so warmly welcomed into their home and who embraced me with a tremendous sense of hospitality--something I truly appreciate being so far away from my own home and loved ones. I have to admit that fatigue was getting the better of me by the end of the evening when I actually felt myself drop off a couple of times--much to my chagrin!
At the end of the evening, Anju dropped me off in his car to West Acton Tube station from where, five minutes later, I hopped into a train that took me home in 10 minutes. Tired and determined to take it easy for the next couple of days, I got into bed in 10 minutes and fell fast asleep.
Until tomorrow, cheerio...