Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Working at NYU-London, Visiting Sir John Soane's Museum and Discovering Dickens' London

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

      I am waking up, for some reason, between 4.00 and 4. 30 am each morning and staying awake for an hour. I then fall asleep again at about 5.00 or 5. 30 and do not wake up until 7.00 am. This is throwing my whole schedule out of whack and I am not even sure if, in the end, I am getting enough sleep. Luckily, when I am in London, I always seem to function on an adrenalin-fuelled high: I rarely feel fatigued and rarely crave sleep. So, let's hope this unprecedented burst of energy continues despite disturbed sleep patterns.
     Once I woke up, I did not waste much time. Cecil, my friend, was supposed to come in here with a TV set, but he texted to let me know he would come in the evening at 7. 30 pm. I caught up with my blog, then reviewed my lecture--all without getting out of bed as I usually work on my laptop while still in bed. When I had made a few changes, added more bits from another chapter of my book and was satisfied with my work, I emailed a copy to myself at my office at NYU. I then washed and got my breakfast organized: I had mango and passion fruit muesli with coffee. I also made myself a cheese and pickle sandwich and packed it up with a sachet of soup. Once done, I went in for a shower and finding out that it was rather chilly today, I dressed warmly and left my flat at exactly 10.00am.
     I reached my NYU office at Bedford Square at exactly 10. 45 and worked at my desk till 1.00 pm. There was much printing to be done and much material to review as I prepared for my invited lecture tomorrow in the Center of South Asian Studies at Cambridge University.
     At 1.00 pm, when I was all done, I went down to the Faculty Lounge to get hot water for my soup and to eat my sandwich lunch. By 1.45, with beautiful bright sunshine beckoning outside, I decided to take a look at one of my favorite places in London and a place I always make sure I visit on each prolonged stay in the city--Sir John Soane's Museum.

Re-Visiting a Favorite Venue--Sir John Soane's Museum:
     Sir John Soanes was an 18th century architect who has left a lasting mark upon the city in a few iconic buildings that carry his markedly Classical signature: the Bank of England, 10 Downing Street, The Dulwich Picture Gallery and the Church of St. John's at Bethnal Green (where I had attended Mass two weeks ago). He was also a passionate and compulsive collector and he devoted his life to attending auctions where he bet on literally thousands of architectural fragments and contemporary paintings that he somehow managed to accommodate in his home at Lincoln's Inn Field--which, by the way, happens to be the largest Square in London.
     Soon, his original home was inadequate to accommodate his treasures and he ended up buying the two houses that adjoin No. 12, i.e. Nos. 11 and 13. After his death, he bequeathed his houses and their contents to the nation with the stipulation that nothing should be moved unless absolutely necessary. Today, the three adjoining houses form one of London's most unique and intriguing spaces. Being such an architectural buff myself, I adore this place and always make it a point to return. For me, it is not just the collection that is intriguing but the manner in which he displayed his finds that keep me enthralled.

Inside the Museum:
      Apart from the multitudes of architectural fragments and models that one finds inside, the Museum is also a house that Soane shared with his beloved wife and an office in which he ran his firm, made his designs and maintained a career. The visitor goes through beautifully-appointed rooms such as the Main entrance hall, the living room-cum-dining room, the library. Upstairs are bedrooms. Downstairs is the kitchen and the crypt--a repository of even more items in the collection. There is everything you could possibly imagine: friezes, classical statues, sculpture, busts, plaster seals, urns, vases--anything of a classical nature was his obsession. There is even an entire sarcophagus from Egypt whose arrival in his home he celebrated with a three day party! There is also a Monk's Parlor--the only Gothic part of the house which contains wonderful medieval architectural fragments and many stunning examples of stained glass.  It is truly hard to imagine that one man could have accumulated so many items in a single lifetime. I couldn't help feel sorry for his wife and his servants--imagine all that dusting!
     Also quite remarkable about the house and probably its most amazing feature is the picture gallery he designed which exists in three tiers or layers. The guide opens one set of doors to reveal another and then another. On one side, there are paintings of Soane's designs as executed by Joseph Gandy, a good friend and an artist. There are also a couple of painting by Turner who was also a close friend. On the other side, there is the entire original set of Hogarth's series of paintings known as The Rake's Progress. I was very fortunate to catch a guided tour during which the guide gave a detailed explanation of the entire story of debauchery which meets its ultimate punishment. Really interesting stuff! It took me about an hour and half to peruse the Museum at leisure.

A Walk Through Dickens' London:
     Then, when I emerged from the museum and found that it was still bright, I decided to take advantage of the light and go off on another guided walk as delineated in my book on Memorable Walks in London by Frommer. The walk began at Lincoln's Inn Field, took in the Soane Museum and led me to the other side of the field to John Foster's House with its portico. Forster was a friend of Dickens and the house is said to have been the model for the home of John Jarndyce in Bleak House. At the end of that lane was The Old Curiosity Shop--and for the first time in my life, I actually went inside it! It is a shoe shop today, run by a group of Orientals, one of whom opened the door for me when I rang the bell. Inside, I saw a bevy of wonderfully-made shoes, each of which was like a work of art. I was really thrilled to have finally been inside the House that Dickens made popular in his novel The Old Curiosity Shop. Across the street is the new wing of the London School of Economics that my friend Barbara had especially taken me to see on a visit to London last year.
      I then passed the Royal College of Surgeons (where the Hunterian Museum that I have visited before is located). It is a building built entirely in Neo-Classical style by none other than Charles Barry who designed the Houses of Parliament and Highclere Castle (setting of Downton Abbey). Right by it was one of the buildings of the LSE (London School of Economics and Political Science--Mick Jagger is an alumnus--although he dropped out before graduating). I decided to nip inside--because I had never been in before. Unfortunately, you need an ID card to enter the electronic stile. I had a quick look around, noticed that K. Antony Appiah of NYU gave a lecture there just a couple of days ago, and I left.
     My next port of call was Lincoln's Inn itself--one of the Inns of Court and the one that Dickens referred to repeatedly as the Court of Chancery in his novel Bleak House. It was a graduation day of sorts for I saw a number of young folk in gowns and wigs posing for pictures. I walked through the glorious gatehouse (the playwright Ben Jonson is said to have laid some of the bricks in his job as a mason) and entered the vast courtyard. I then made my way into the Chapel which is a masterpiece by another brilliant and famous English architect, Inigo Jones. The metaphysical poet John Donne was once the Dean of this Chapel and he preached here quite frequently. So much history--architectural and literary--wrapped up  in one place. A service was about to begin in ten minutes--so I merely made note of the glorious stained glass windows and the one above the main altar with its hundreds of crests worked into the design.
     I passed Wildy and Co. (the oldest law book seller in the UK) and arrived at Carey Street where I entered The Seven Stars pub (one of the smallest pubs in the country) and one that Dickens frequented. There are illustrations from Dickens' novels on the walls. Past Bell Yard, I arrived on Fleet Street where my attention was drawn to the obelisque crowned with a dragon that is known as Temple Bar and that marks the line of demarcation between the City of London and the City of Westminster.
     At this point, I crossed the street to get a picture of the ornate and splendid Gothic façade of the Royal Courts of Justice (whose interior I have toured on a previous visit) when the Lloyds Bank Royal Court Branch caught my eye. Indeed, I have passed by this place on foot on many an occasion and had never really 'seen' it before. It is an exuberant collage of ceramic tiles that create twin fountains plus walls that are grand in their quiet pastel colors and Orientalist design. Inside, there are two more small chambers to cross where the ceramic tiles on the walls are so gorgeous that it is hard to believe I had not seen any of this before. Many of the tiles placed together on the wall form the features of characters in the plays of Ben Jonson. I took a bit of a rest in the main hall where banking operations were very much in progress and then I made a detour next door.
     By this time, I was tired and thirsty--so it was handy that Twinning's main store was just around the corner. I was aware that they do tea samplings and I joined in to taste a delicious herbal tea that was warm and refreshing and completely hit the spot. By then, it was about 5.00 pm and I had been on my feet for hours. I decided to suspend the walk and pick it up again another time.
     It would be best for me to walk to Holborn to take the Central Line from there directly back home--but I got side tracked by a café that had a very good deal on Afternoon Tea (cake and a cup of tea or coffee for 3. 65 pounds!) I stepped in, ordered a decaff Americano and a thick slice of Green Macha Cake with Raspberries that was very good indeed.
     Half an hour later, I was on the train and home by 6.00 pm. I Facetimed with Llew for a while and then opened the door to Cecil who arrived with my TV set. Unfortunately, although it looks good, he could not find the aerial--so I will have to wait until that is set up. Anyway, as I will be out of town and in Cambridge for the next two days, I would not be watching anything till Friday.
    I got myself organized for my early morning departure tomorrow--packed a small overnight case with clothing and toiletries and then sat down to catch up on my blog. Dinner was Indian food that was leftover from a previous meal--lamb korma with bread and another cup of soup with ice-cream for dessert and then I called it an early night as I have an early morning wake up call.
     Until tomorrow, cheerio...           


1 comment:

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Rochelle - have an excellent day today in Cambridge and enjoy the lecture and connections you'll make ...

Another post to come back to - you tell us so much ... cheers Hilary