Sunday, July 28, 2013
Third Time Lucky—At Chiswick House Finally!
Today’s excursion occurred quite by chance. In fact, when the day dawned, all that struck me was that it was Moving Day again—this past week seemed to have flown! But my friends Chris and Raquel were returning from the States late in the evening and I intended to move out by 7. 30 pm. With most of my packing done yesterday, I awoke at about 6. 30 am today, blogged for a bit, then finished up the last odds and ends of my packing before planning out my day.
Sunday Service at St. George’s, Bloomsbury:
Regular readers of this blog will know that on Sundays in London, I usually seek out a historic church in which to attend Service as I love the variety of services that the various churches offer and because it permits me to peruse the gorgeous ecclesiastical architecture of this city. Having seen St. George’s Church at Bloomsbury merely from the outside on my walk around Bloomsbury, the other day, I decided to attend the 10. 30 am service there (I discovered the timing of the service from the church’s website).
I left my place on Abbey Road at 10.00 am and by 10. 25am, I was at Bloomsbury. The church gates were open and I found myself inside a space that exemplified English Baroque to the T. This church is the work of Nicholas Hawksmoor, a pupil of Christopher Wren, who had learned everything he knew from Inigo Jones. Well, there it was—plainly visible to the eye: the classical discipline of Inigo Jones and the Baroque exuberance of Wren brilliantly combined in a space that was imposing yet austere. Anyone familiar with Hawkmoor’s work will recognize his style: I have seen his work at St. Alfrege’s Church in Greenwich and at Christ Church, Spitalfields—so it was easy for me to recognize his signature touches: broad Greek columns (his were Corinthian), classical proportions and 18th century symmetry, marquetry around the altar in woods of many colors, simplicity without too much color. The church was recently refurbished and it is a grand space indeed. The service was equally interesting. It didn’t have the full choral grandeur of the services I have attended these past two Sundays (at St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Queen’s Chapel at St. James Palace respectively) but it was still absorbing. The Rev. David Peebles preached a very stirring sermon, the Lectors were wonderful—clear and full of expression. As always, the pastor made it a point to introduce himself to me at the end of the service and say “Welcome”. I was invited to stay for coffee after the service but I had been on an empty stomach and it was 11. 45am. I needed something more than coffee—much more than coffee!
A Full English Breakfast at the Bloomsbury Café:
It was time to go out in search of sustenance—big time sustenance! A Full English Breakfast, I thought, would be in order. It would be my Brunch since I was unlikely to eat anything again until dinner time. Bloomsbury—being the home of the British Museum and always crawling with visitors—has no dearth of places offering this most nourishing of meals. So it was not surprising that I found my way to the Bloomsbury Café on Bloomsbury Street to partake of the Full English Breakfast that was advertised on the blackboard on the sidewalk. That and an Americano coffee, I told the proprietor, would be my order.
A few minutes later, it arrived—my Full-Blown Heart Attack on a Plate! Two scrambled eggs, 2 sausages, 4 rashers of bacon, baked beans, 2 slices of white buttered toast (yes, yes, I know the grilled tomatoes and mushrooms were missing, but this was still pretty humongous!) It took me a good half an hour to savor all of it and by 12. 30 pm (as Bloomsbury slowly came to tourist life), I paid my bill (8.25 pounds), thanked the owner for his excellent meal and made my way to my office at NYU to get some material printed—only to realize that it is no longer open on Sundays. Oh well!
Off To Victoria for a Ticket to Oxford:
When I spied a 74 bus coming along with the sign stating that it would terminate at Victoria, I jumped into it to run my next errand: the purchasing of my return ticket to Oxford (as I will be heading there on Wednesday). I thoroughly enjoyed the bus ride along Oxford Street and into Mayfair and Belgravia before we arrived at Victoria Bus Station where I changed into another bus to get to the Coach Station. Thankfully, the queue was short and I ended up getting a return ticket at a cheaper fare than was being offered on the website; plus I did not need to pay the delivery charges that I simply could not get rid of on the site—I ended up saving nearly four pounds on my ticket and this pleased me absurdly!
Finally Getting to Chiswick House:
It was about 1. 30 by then and quite suddenly, I decided that this would be the time to make a trip to Chiswick (pronounced ‘Chizzik’) to get inside Chiswick House, a grand 18th century mansion on the outskirts of the city. On two occasions in the past when I have made the trip there, my intentions of visiting the house were thwarted. Maintained by the English Heritage, a not-for-profit organization that preserves heritage properties in the UK, it is only open three days a week. When I had visited with my friend Amy, five years ago, we had arrived on a day when it was closed. Three months ago, when I arrived there with another friend Raquel, there was a Camellia Festival on that had closed down the house temporarily for a week. I crossed my fingers and hoped it would be third time lucky. And indeed it was!
By the time I got to Chiswick High Street on the Tube (getting off at Tunham Green), it was about 3. 30 pm but I could not resist poking around the thrift shops that are plentiful in the area. I did find a lovely shiny bracelet and I was delighted with it. Then, fairly racing along Devonshire Road to the venue (which I remembered well from my last visit), I reached Chiswick House at 4. 00 pm. This left me one hour to see the house (I did not wish to spend time in the gardens which are free to the public). I paid the entry fee of 5. 40 pounds and began my tour of the house. But first, I think, a little historical information might be in order.
Chiswick House was the brain child of Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington (known as Lord Burlington), who was born with a golden spoon in his mouth, the son of landed gentry. His parents already owned vast property in Piccadilly including Burlington House (which became the Royal Academy of Arts). At the age of 21, as was the custom at the time, Lord B undertook the Grand Tour—a long journey through Europe which was felt to complete the education of any young aristocrat of the time (this was the early-18th century). This experience was life-changing for him as, in Italy, he became introduced to the work of Andrea Palladio whose showpiece city of Vicenza took his breath away. He resolved to build himself a villa similar in form and substance to the great work of Palladio and was fortunate to come upon the English architect Inigo Jones who had just returned from Italy himself and been completely swept away by Palladio’s genius.
Teaming up with Jones, Lord B created Chiswick House, a mansion that is plainly inspired by Villa la Rotunda in Vicenza: anyone who had visited the latter in Italy will easily spot the similarities at Chiswick House. Indeed as someone who was completely taken by Palladio’s work at Villa La Rotunda in Vicenza, I was profoundly interested in Chiswick House. There was a short audio-visual presentation that introduced Burlington’s vision and led one into the secrets of this amazing home.
An audio guide ably led us on a self-guided tour that I found intensely fascinating. The ground floor is a series of rooms that once accommodated Lord B’s library and his smoking room and led into the original home that his parents had owned (destroyed by the fifth Earl in the 19th century). We were also led into the basement cellar with its numerous kegs of wine. But the true glories of the house are on the top story where room after room simply dazzles the eye—for Lord B was an avid collector who returned from the Grand Tour with 870 wooden crates containing Italian art including two priceless porphyry (rare purple marble quarried in Egypt) vases and two gilded wooden table bases with Florentine pietra dura (inlaid) marble tops. There are a multitude of paintings in the rooms—of which the Red Velvet Room and the Green Velvet Room are the most sumptuous. There is also a Blue Velvet Room which is much smaller and which served as Lord B’s private study. The paintings include contemporary portraits by Van Dyke and Stephano Ricci, landscapes and scenes depicting classical mythology. An abundance of gilding, grand brass chandeliers, innumerable marble busts of Greek and Roman personages punctuate the home. It is simply glorious and I am delighted, just delighted, that I was finally able to feast my eyes upon this home. Considering that it is so easily accessible from London (the No. 190 bus from Hammersmith stops right outside the main gate of the property from where the house is only a few steps away—so much simpler to get to it this way than walking all the way from Tunham Green Tube statin as I had done), I simply can’t believe that it has taken me so long to see Chiswick House.
I did stop to buy a drink (Elderflower and Grape Juice) at the famous café attached to the house as I badly needed a cool drink. Then I felt ready for the journey back home.
Indeed, I found the bus stop (190) right outside the main gate and when I reached Chiswick High Street, I realized that bus No. 27 went all the way to Chalk Farm past Baker Street. Well, it was a grand evening for a long drive and on it I hopped. It took me about an hour to reach Gloucester Place from where I hopped into the 189 bus to get to Abbey Road. I was dropped just opposite my building, Neville Court.
Moving To and Settling In Battersea:
By 6.45 pm, I was home. It took me about half an hour to settle the last of my stuff and to clean and tidy up behind me as I did want to leave the place looking welcoming for my friends upon their return (I did leave them a bunch of gifts with a Thank-you card). I also left my suitcase behind with the intention of picking it up tomorrow. By 7. 15 pm, I took my backpack with me and left the house on the Tube to Vauxhall headed to my friend Roz’s place at Battersea.
In under an hour (at 8. 10 pm to be precise), I was ringing Roz’s doorbell. We sat in her garden and ate a lovely meal of chicken fingers with couscous and a salad of lettuce and tomatoes with the last of the delicious Elderflower water that I really enjoy here in the UK. She showed me up to my room and I settled down with a nice hot shower and made myself comfortable in her darling three-level home that is filled with paintings, sculpture and other wonderful art work. Although I will only be here for two days before I leave for Oxford, I am looking forward to some great times with her. My room overlooks her garden and the train tracks and occasionally I hear a train steaming into the night as I type this. It is wonderfully comforting to be in the company of a good friend and I know I will have a very happy time here.
Until tomorrow, Cheerio!