Thursday, October 27, 2016
London and Suffolk
Waking up at 5.30 am is now part of my routine--I probably am sleep-deprived but I do not feel it. Before sunrise, I have accomplished a great deal each morning: I catch up with email, write a daily blog post, review my To-Do List, making transport and hotel bookings for forthcoming travel...the list goes on.
But by 8.00 am, I was hungry and since I did not have too much by way of breakfast at home (I am once again in the process of cleaning out my fridge in preparation for travel), I decided to go out for a walk in Ealing to find out if I could get a full English breakfast anywhere. After an hour of wandering, I found one place that did a Full English 'halal' breakfast (turkey sausages and no bacon!) Well, I wasn't having any of it--so I went back home, toasted a croissant and a scone and ate it with spreads and coffee while feeling impatient with myself for having wasted an hour I could ill-afford.
Still, I quickly caught up on my list of work-related items for the day as I finalized the Author Questionnaire that had been sent to me by my publishers. It took much longer than I thought as I had a bit of research to do to fill in the answers. By 12 noon, I stopped to make myself a sandwich lunch, had a shower and got dressed. I also packed an overnight bag for myself as I would be meeting my friend Loulou in the evening for a ride into the country with her. As you can see, I had so much to do.
Detour at the Wallace Collection:
With time flying, my extensive proposed travel through the months of November and December in Europe and India, I am already looking at the end of my stint in London. Hence, I have a compelling need to finish seeing favorite works in the many museums that I have haunted through the years and which I have not yet seen.
Having finished a lot of my work at home and knowing that I needed to spend no more than an hour in my office, I took a detour and got off at Oxford Circus from where I walked along James Street to get to the Wallace Collection--for that was my goal today. I intended to take a look at my favorite works in what is a most unusual museum in the city. Just as Paris has its private homes or hotel particuliers that belonged to the aristocracy and were receptacles of their compulsive collecting of art works, so too the Wallace Collection represents the collecting zeal of four of the Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, son of the fourth Marquess. It was gifted to the nation by Lady Wallace and represents one of the finest collections of 18th and 19th century decorative arts, Old Master paintings, sculpture and furniture as well as a first-rate Armory collection. What's more, since it is housed in their own home, you get a peep into the world of the astronomically wealthy with its own brand of interior decoration that we do not usually see--for seriously, this is a palace.
I am always amazed by how grand it is--as I keep forgetting between visits what stupendous wealth the aristocracy amassed. The entrance stuns, the staircase that winds upwards is arresting. There is opulence and grandeur everywhere. Nothing was understated--remember this is the 18th century...that Baroque period when everything was Over The Top. I climbed the stairs and feasted my eyes on the fabulous collection of paintings by Francois Boucher with their chubby cherubs and their skeins of fruit and flowers and their idealized women with buxom figures and generous hips. In the next room, there is a massive collection of paintings of French women by Greuze--loads of them. But a lovely one also in this gallery is a portrait of Miss Bowles by Joshua Reynolds which Marina Vaizey numbers among her One Hundred Masterpieces of World Art. In the next room is another one of Vaizey's picks--The Swing by Fragonard. It is surprisingly small but filled with exquisite detail. My other favorites in this collection are The Laughing Cavalier by Franz Hals whose sardonic glance stops you in your tracks and Dance to the Music of Time by Nicholas Poussin. There are rooms simply stuffed with Canalettos and Gaudi's depictions of Venice and since most visitors focus solely on the paintings, you tend to miss the abundance of sculpture and the extravagant furniture in the style of Boule--ornate and heavily gilded. There is a lovely self-portrait by Rembrandt and right opposite it is one of his son Titus. There are paintings by Reubens and quite a few by one of my favorite Flemish painters, Pieter de Hooch.
You can see this collection hurriedly, but it really deserves an entire morning devoted to it. I did not have as much time as I would have liked but I was mesmerized by the painted Sevres porcelain, the amount of jewelry on display and the Italian ceramics. Each time I visit this place, I keep saying that I will return again and spend more time here--but somehow, it never happens. So I was more than happy that I had found the time to fit this visit in--towards the end of my stay here.
Off to NYU to Work:
Before I left the area, I walked down Marlylebone Street which is filled with pricey boutiques but offers great window-shopping opportunities. Then, I took the Tube to my office and at NYU and printed out a great deal of material to review. I read it carefully and also printed out my air ticket to India as well as material for the lecture I will give at the University of Leeds in the north of England where I will be headed in a couple of days. I needed to review and prepare for that lecture too and I intended to do so in Suffolk.
Meeting Rahul for Coffee:
At about 4. 30 pm, I emailed Chriselle's friend Rahul to find out if he was still going to keep our coffee meeting at 6 pm at Liverpool Street Station--two evenings of cancelled appointments might have been followed by a hat trick. I was taking no chances. He was. I continued working till 5. 15pm, then took the Tube to our appointed spot (Wasabi right outside the station on Bishopsgate) and had a lovely reunion with him.
It was while we were sipping our lattes and catching up that I got a call from my friend Loulou. Since it was half-term holiday, all trains were running at off-peak rates--we did not need to wait till 7.00 pm to catch our train. She wondered if I could meet her earlier. When I told her that I was having coffee with Rahul, she joined us at Café Nero. Rahul had finished telling me about his global work clients in financial management and his coming trip to Bombay for Christmas--where we hope to meet again. He is a childhood friend of Chriselle and it was at his place that she had stayed in London before I joined her from Oxford. Rahul has proven to be a thorough gentleman on more than one occasion and had given me a hand with my move from Holborn to Farringdon about eight years ago! We have stayed closely in touch through the years and it is always a pleasure to meet him when I am in London.
When Loulou joined us, we had a lovely natter, the three of us together, before I bid Rahul goodbye and we raced off for our train.
Off to Suffolk with Loulou:
The train crept and crawled all the way to Ipswich--there is always trouble of some sort or the other on the tracks, it seems. Still, we did not mind as we had so much catching up to do. The lights of the skyscrapers of Liverpool Street Station gave way to the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf and the well-lit buildings of Stratford and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park--the Acelor Mittal is spectacular in its rosy red glow just meters from the train tracks. Once we left the city behind, however, there was pitch darkness outside as we headed into Suffolk.
Loulou had her car parked at Ipswich station from where we drove to her place, about 45 minutes away, through quiet villages and miles of vast and empty fields. Having lived here for thirty years, Loulou knows this region like the back of her hand--she was not daunted, therefore, by fallow deer that darted about in front of us or by narrow country lanes.
Entering her property at Stanny House Farm, we were greeted by a whole flock of black-faced baa-ing sheep as we made our way to her front porch! What a welcome! Soon my memories of this lovely place came rushing back to me as we entered the large country family-room-cum-kitchen whose brown wooden cabinets and spacious counter space reminded me so much of my home in Southport and made me feel a trifle homesick.
Loulou was starving and did not lose time in pulling out a most delicious Boeuf Bourginon that was made with amazing home made stock. It was wonderfully redolent of bacon and mushrooms and it made a very satisfying dinner indeed on a fairly cold night. As she caught up with her email, I caught up with mine (once I acquired wifi passwords) and soon I was making my way to bed for it was already 10.30 pm.
My room was a charming and sweetly-decorated space with a view, she promised, that was the best in the house--but I would have to wait to find out when sunlight returned to Suffolk. For the moment, I washed and undressed in my little bathroom right outside my room and went off to sleep.
It had been a day of much accomplishment and joyous reunions and I was all set to enjoy my time in the countryside as I fell asleep.
Until tomorrow, cheerio...