Wednesday, November 2, 2016
A Morning With A Difference:
After what started as a harrowing night, peace and quiet did reign over the crummy hostel in which I awoke on a beautifully sunny day. The fog and drizzle and dreariness of yesterday gave way to blue skies. It was a day tailor-made for sight-seeing and I decided to look on the positive side and get on with my day. Accordingly, I washed and dressed and got the heck out as soon as I could. Although free breakfast was provided (all day long) at the hostel--a number of half-opened boxes of cereal, a range of jams and white bread with a toaster were provided--I was having none of it. My aim was to find a decent breakfast in some place nice in which I could pass time until the museums opened for the day.
My other aim was to see two or three of the city's major attractions before meeting Paul, a professor of Portuguese, in the coffee shop opposite the main university library building at 4.00 pm. These were: the Royal Armories, Leeds City Gallery (closed until next year for renovation), the Henry Moore Institute, the Victorian Quarter and a few of the superb Victorian civic buildings. Fortunately, most of these attractions are within the City Center--all accessible on foot.
But first I needed brekkie...
Full English Breakfast in a Pub:
I did eventually find something I had been craving for days--a reasonably-priced Full English Brekkie. As I walked down towards Leeds Station (from where I would find a bus to take me to the Royal Armories--which is the only attraction quite out of the way of the main sights), I found a pub that was actually open at 8.00 am. It was the refuge I was seeking on a terribly chilly day--for Leeds (being so much higher than London) is already really cold. I was grateful for my cap, gloves, scarf, warm socks and full-length down coat as I battled the wind.
Full English Brekkie did cheer me up inside and out. There is truly nothing quite as appealing as the kind of heavy-duty oval ceramic platters that publicans place before you containing eggs and bacon, sausages and mushrooms, tomatoes, hash browns, baked beans and toast to make you feel as if you can conquer the world. Over unlimited hot coffee (yes, the concept of unlimited does exist in some hidden pockets of the UK), I sat myself under a TV screen, sole mistress of all I surveyed, and ate. And ate. And ate. It was simply divine. About a half hour into my enormous meal, elderly patrons arrived and before nine o clock tolled, were deep into their buckets of ale and stout and lager! No wonder pub culture is alive and kicking in Britain and publicans are not completely out of business. Yet.
Off to the Royal Armories:
At about 9. 30 am, I left the pub and made my way towards the station past one street after the other that was completely lined with shops. It would not be long before I would discover that Leeds is the Shopping Capital of the World! But for the moment, I resisted the urge to get into some of them--okay, I did wander into one that sold the most amazingly shaped and fashioned soap (like wedges of fancy cake), bath bombs (like cupcakes), etc. before I found my way to the station and into a No. 70 bus that took me across the river and to the Royal Armories.
Inside the Royal Armories:
Prima facie, the Royal Armories is not my kind of place at all. It is why I whizzed through the small armory collection in the Tower of London, a few days ago. However, every guide book extolls the virtues of this place and urges the visitor to make the pilgrimage to the collection that was once housed in the Tower of London but moved to their present venue when this building was built.
The building is new and very modern--not at all what one expects to find in a place that houses historic weapons, arms and armor. It reminded me much of the Albert Dock in Liverpool as it is built around a boat basin with boats still anchored in it. This is a very modern part of the city--glass and concrete towers all around you. The entrance had a giant poppy attached to it--an emblem of what everyone in the country is wearing on their lapels at the moment: red poppies to commemorate Remembrance Day which is on November 11 and which is still marked with much reverence in this country--unlike the US where it is called Veterans Day and given no importance at all. And yes, as someone who has studied the Battle of the Somme in detail in France and has walked the Poppy Trail on the fields of Picardie, I did make my contribution in the many boxes that have sprouted up everywhere and I am wearing my own poppy lapel pin proudly.
Once inside, I did what I usually do: I asked one of the guides to point out a few highlights that I ought not to miss. I had thought I would spend no more than an hour in this place...but by the time the guide told me what to look for, I knew it would take longer than an hour. As it turned out, I was there when the museum opened at 10.00am and left only after 1.00 pm. It was quite fascinating really.
So what did I see? First off, the display on the walls of a tower-like structure was quite wonderful. It consisted of spears, shields, cannons, cannon balls, pistols, guns...all very well arranged and reflected in an arrangements of mirrors on the floor that made the collage above appear endless.
Next, I took the elevator to the second floor to look at armor from the Elizabethan Age. Here I saw the armor of luminaries of the period: Henry VIII, Earl of Deveruex Robert Dudley (the only man Elizabeth I is rumored to have really loved), armor of women who marched into war, armor of little boys. This is all very well arranged as is the complex manufacture of them. This floor is devoted to jousting and hunting and there is accompanying heraldry and the paraphenalia associated with pageantry right here.
Sections merge one into the other and before long, I found myself in the Civil War section with a young man dressed in costume giving a performance. He talked about why the Civil War occurred and demonstrated the use of rifles that were used in it. So what is nice about this museum is that you often come upon a section where you are then treated to a short demonstration or an act of some sort.
In another section, for instance, another young actor clad as a pub-owner in Canterbury in the 1100s, told the story of how and why Thomas Beckett was killed. It was entertaining because he punctuated his narrative with jokes and wise cracks. I found myself attracted to the section on the Indian Uprising of 1857 that is known as the Sepoy Mutiny. I spent a while there looking at the notorious Enfield Rifle that led to the loss of thousands of lives on both sides. There is no attempt at white-washing the death and destruction that early British rule in India under the East India Company caused.
And so it went on--as the sections merged, I found myself attracted by exhibits that did not stick to the highlights to which I had been directed. I saw sections on the Great War and on trench warfare--there was to be a demonstration here too but I did not stay for it. I eventually got to the fifth floor to see the armored elephant--it was quite a stunner, I have to admit. Set within the context of Moghul India, it offered insights into the kind of warfare that was carried out on the Indian sub-continent before the arrival of the British. But before you get there, you see a huge tableau of a tiger hunt conducted from the back of an elephant in India. Short films on hunting for food and for sport interspersed these sections.
This is a museum that would be child's paradise. I can imagine children spending hours here fully enthralled by what they see. In spite of myself and my tendency not to particularly like such things, I was drawn in. And I definitely could see why this would be a place to which all guide books direct visitors. I was not unhappy at all that I had ventured into it.
Retail Therapy Capital:
I took the bus back to the City Center and got off at the station. From there, I wandered around, using my map, towards the Victorian Quarter which is a series of lovely sturdy buildings--all stone and ornate curlicues and carvings--that were built in the Age of Victoria as indoor markets. Inside, you are struck by soaring iron ceilings that are wonderfully decorated with ornamental animal heads to support a structure that in turn forms a canopy above individual kiosks or stalls. While I spotted everything from bric a brac to ribbons and trimmings, from fruit and veg to sausage rolls, nothing really caught my eye. In the Leeds City Market, the buying and selling is old-fashioned.
However, once you leave this section behind, you enter modern-day Leeds with arcades and malls galore--built on the same principal of each one being a complete structure unto itself--it is filled with lovely glass fronted, bow-windowed shops carrying luxury goods--from designer showrooms such as Louis Vuitton and Mulberry to perfumers, from cashmere cardigans and leather gloves to high-end artisan chocolates and cheese. The architecture is stunning and as soon as I arrived in Leeds, I discovered that Christmas had arrived too. Every shop is decorated already with all sorts of glitter and a variety of items that Americans call 'ornaments' and the British call 'baubles'. Every place is brightly lit, each store oozes offers and there is much to catch the eye and empty the wallet. I browsed but did not pause too long anywhere.
In Search of the Major Art Galleries and Civil Buildings:
Leaving retail therapy behind me, I went in search of Phase Three of my sight-seeing--a look at the Art Galleries. I could not have been more disappointed. The Leeds City Gallery is closed (although its café is very pretty and quite ornate--I stepped in for a few minutes to take in its grandeur) and the adjoining Henry Moore Institute (which usually houses interesting sculpture) was also closed for a new installation. Left with two major art venues closed to me, I wandered off to see the Central Library Building with its lovely clock tower and its façade blackened with age and soot from decades of Industrial waste (for Leeds sits right in the heart of the Midlands that saw unbelievable manufacturing zeal during the Industrial Revolution) and the Town Hall--a rather unusual building with its rust colored façade. A few streets up, I passed by the Civic Building and then the Leeds City Museum (into which I popped for a just a few minutes).
I would have liked to have lingered everywhere, but by this time, I was running out of steam and felt that I ought to get to the appointed meeting spot--a coffee shop called Opposite right opposite the Parkinson Library Building of Leeds University. I meandered slowly through streets that began to show evidence of student foot traffic and within twenty minutes, I was seated in Opposite with a steaming bowl of bean soup with bread and butter and an iced mocha latte--which was my lunch. I people-gazed as students and faculty members trooped in and out, I eavesdropped unashamedly on conversations around me (it is the sort of thing you do when you are alone) and I tucked into my second meal for the day well past 3. 30 pm as my breakfast had fueled all my forays up to this point.
Off to Give my Talk:
At 4.00 pm, as planned, Paul, my host arrived with Sophia, his colleague in the Departure of Portuguese Studies. It was a pleasure to meet them both and as they escorted me across the road and into the university campus, I got a chance to see a portion of the university before dusk fell and it got too dark.
About a half hour later, I was all set up on my seat and speaking to a far bigger audience than I had supposed would turn up at the end of the day. Paul introduced me to students and faculty and I began my talk on the Indo-Portuguese Influence on Diasporic Goan writers. I have to say that it went off really well and was followed by a very lively discussion in which a large number of questions were asked and comments made. I was very satisfied indeed with the way things went and felt happy that my journey up north into England had been completely worthwhile.
Dinner at Hansa's:
My host Paul and another one of his colleagues called Aleric then invited me to join them for dinner--they chose a place called Hansa's--run by a Gujarati from Tanzania called Hansa who made her home in Leeds. Had I more time, I would have taken a bus to Bradford which is the Curry Capital of the UK--but Hansa's seemed like a very happy compromise.
Like most Gujaratis, Hansa is a vegetarian and the fare she offers remains strictly within the confines of her dietary limitations. I ordered the Paneer and Vegetable Sizzler Platter as I felt a trifle full after my very late lunch but my companions chose the Thali Meal which was very substantial indeed. With a Kingfisher beer, the sizzler was quite wonderfully delicious if a tad too spicy even for my Indian palate! Our discussion continued over dinner when we had a truly stimulating conversation and many laughs. Overall, it had been a very good academic experience and I was invited by Paul to contribute an essay on a new collection of Goan literature that he is intended to produce.
Paul escorted me back to the hostel where I arrived at about 10.00 pm to find that Shilpa, my roomie, had already made herself ready for bed. I did not stay up much longer myself. I'd had a long and very fulfilling day and was ready to call it a night. I also had an early start to look forward to as I had major plans for the following day--I intended to get to Sheffield in order to visit Chatsworth House in fulfillment of a dream I have cherished for ages.
Until tomorrow, cheerio...