Thursday, October 20, 2016
Morning Mass at Ealing Abbey:
Ever since my former neighbor and friend Barbara fished out her I-pad during her visit to my flat on Sunday, and informed me that the Catholic Ealing Abbey is in my vicinity, I have been meaning to go there for daily Mass. Well, this morning was unusual. I awoke at 2.00 am and simply could not go back to sleep. It made sense to switch on my I-phone (which I charge overnight by my bedside) when I discovered that the third US Presidential debate was on. I tuned in immediately and listened to Trump and Clinton duke it out. A few Whatsapp messages were exchanged with Llew who was also watching in America before I tried to go back to sleep at about 4.00 am. But sleep simply eluded me. Giving up, I pulled my laptop close to me (also charging overnight on my double bed of which only one side is ever used!) and began to type a blog post. When I noticed that it was 6. 15 am, I decided, on impulse, to try to get to Mass. I would leave at 6.50 am for the 7.00 am Mass–hopefully, it would not be too dark or too daunting at that time.
And that was precisely what I did. I washed, dressed and left my flat on schedule. It was still dark enough that all vehicles on the street had their headlights on. However, there were already several people finding their way to the Tube station to get to work and there was a lot of traffic on the streets. I felt very safe indeed as I walked briskly to Church and found myself there in less than 10 minutes.
Ealing Abbey is a local parish church that is run by the Benedictine monks. It is, therefore, also a working monastery. It is beautiful, both inside and out. You climb a high series of steps and enter a large church that is impressive in its size. But apart from its painted timbered wooded beams on the ceiling, there is no ornamentation of any kind in this church. It is stark in its simplicity–probably in keeping with the monastic laws of avoiding any kind of ostentation. The altar is way up at a distance–again stark off-white stone steps lead to it. Candles are the only extraneous items on the altar. At one corner, I spotted a statue of Our Lady–but that was it.
In a few minutes, the service began and the monks trooped in–wearing black robes with heavy rope sashes at waist. They took their places way up at the altar, sitting, as it were, in the choir stalls–although there really weren’t any. Mass was short and very quick–parts of it were sung and in Latin. It was a most unusual daily Mass–called a Coventual Mass, there were, in fact, several nuns seated in the front pews–of which I recognized a couple of Indian ones. Overall, it was very interesting and I was thrilled with myself for going to Mass at a church that is very easily accessible.
It was much brighter when I walked back home less than half an hour later and there were far more people on the street as life returned to Ealing and a new day dawned.
Back Home for Brekkie and Some More Work:
Back home, I toasted two croissants for breakfast and ate them with peanut butter and Nutella with coffee. As I ate, I watched BBC Breakfast, then began the proofing of one more chapter with the idea of finishing it up before I arrived at my office (I have a good half hour commute on the Tube which allows me to get much reading done as I travel). Today, I had to leave my flat by 10.00am (which I did) as I had an 11.00 am meeting at NYU. I dressed (warmly) as the day promised to be chilly with periods of sunshine–and off I went.
Meeting and Working at NYU-London:
Students at NYU are excited about their mid-term break which starts in the first week of November–how is it possibly mid-term already??? I am still getting adjusted to my new routine…still, it will be nice to work in a building that will be devoid of students for a while.
My meeting with Kate and Philippa began promptly at 11.00 am. We met to discuss the Talking Points Lecture I will give and as we brainstormed, we discussed time, venue, format, participants, etc. I would send them a title and a blurb and a picture for the poster and they would take charge of publicity. We will hold it after the break and hope to attract a good audience of students and faculty members.
Once the meeting was done, I returned to my office and continued working on my chapter with the idea of finishing the proofing. All I was left to do then was the Conclusion to the book and I printed it out with the idea of proofing it in a very special place–the Kyoto Garden which is part of Holland Park in Kensington and which is one of my favorite parts of London. Frequent has been the occasion when I have sat in the garden and graded student essays to the sounds of cascading water from the nearby fountain and in the company of vivid peacocks that strut their stuff fearlessly amidst spring-time azaleas and rhododendrons. I was keen to see the garden in the autumn as I guessed that the Japanese maples would be fiery and would make some great photo ops. So that was my plan of action for the afternoon.
But first, lunch. I went downstairs to the kitchen to fix myself some soup and sat in the Faculty Lounge to eat my sandwich. It is always a pleasure to eat here as I invariably meet some of my London colleagues and get to know new ones. This time round, I met Julia and Eela and got to know Kate. Everyone is talking about the US election here and amidst an intellectual, liberal community, I suppose it is not surprising that no one wants Trump to win.
Back in my office, I continued culling through my printed memorabilia and having edited it all quite ruthlessly, Mark, the porter, found me a box in the store room downstairs and some tape. I packed up my brochures with the videos I have been buying from the thrift stores. With my box all packed for surface mailing to the US, I now have to get to the post office tomorrow to send it off. I took my box down and placed it in the store room and was pleased with myself for having completed a major chore. That task done, I left the building and since it was only about 2.15 pm, I decided to get one more museum ‘done’–and since I had not yet been to the British Museum although I had passed by it on numerous occasions, I resolved to go there and take a look at some new galleries that I have never covered before–although, from force of habit, I will also take a look at the Elgin Marbles!
Perusing Galleries at the British Museum:
I entered the British Museum from its back entrance on Montague Street near SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies). This is far from impressive, of course, but it takes you very quickly into the Main Court. From the many posters splashed around, I realized that there was a Maggi Hambling special exhibition entitled ‘Touch–Drawings on Paper’. Now I have always found Hambling fascinating although I do not know much about her work or life. What I do know is that she is a Suffolk-based artist and is personally known to my Suffolk-based friends Paul and Loulou (which whom I shall be spending a weekend very soon). They have been huge patrons of her work and when I lived in their Farringdon loft, a few years ago, a self-portrait by Maggi Hambling hung directly above my bed. So Maggie was really the last person I saw every night! For this reason, I was curious to see her work and I made my way up to the fourth floor to Gallery No. 90.
Every single work on display was deeply moving. A Modernist with a decidedly strong and very assured hand, Hambling’s portraits of her family members and dear friends are touchingly personal and strangely intimate. Images of her mother in her coffin, of her father on his death bed, of her art tutors while they lay ill, of ‘Sebastian’ whom she describes as the person she met in 1984 and began living with in 1987, of her friend, the TV personality and actor Stephen Fry who actually fell asleep as she sketched him, plus her pen and ink word of flowing water, the sea, and fire and ice ones inspired by Japanese calligraphy to which she became introduced in the British Museum, are all simply spell binding. I was so very glad I made the impulsive decision to go and peruse her work for it left me knowing much more about this artist than I had ever known before. Also, interestingly, there is a huge Michelangelo Cartoon of the Virgin Mary with Christ and St. Anne and John the Baptist that, because of its size, has a permanent home here amidst changing contemporary art exhibits.
From the fourth floor, I made my way to the Ground Floor to the Main Court which always takes my breath away in its architectural grandeur. My aim was to see the Waddesdon Bequest that was gifted to the Museum by the Rothschild Estate–part of the riches to be found in Waddesdon Manor which was the Rothschild grand mansion in the Oxfordshire countryside (now run by the National Trust). As I had not gone to see it (too long and too expensive an outing even from Oxford), I was keen to see the items in the British Museum.
And my gosh, were they spectacular! Small but exquisite, each item in Gallery 2a that comprises this collection is worth lengthy scrutiny. There is everything you can imagine a wealthy man would want to spend his money on if he has an eye for beauty and an understanding of craftsmanship. So here is what struck me: gold pitchers, ewers, platters; carved agate bowls and servers; Italian ceramic vases; rock crystal cups, jars, bowls and footed vessels; intricately carved boxwood boxes; a bejeweled reliquary containing a Thorn from Christ’s Crown of Thorns; gold pendants encrusted with jewels superbly worked; beautifully carved wooden statues (of St. Catherine and St. George); carved amber beer tankards and boxes. The collection pertains to the Renaissance in Europe and there is not a single item that is not worthy of careful attention. It is worth going to the Museum only to see this collection. How could I have missed it previously?
Finally, I did not wish to leave the Museum without asking for, seeking and finding the Ichthyosaurus that the amateur fossil-collector Mary Anning had found. Ever since I read the novel Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier and had visited Mary Anning’s House (how the Museum) in Lyme Regis in Dorset this past August, I have been keen to get to the British Museum to see the items she found that so enthralled the world of paleonthology at the end of the 19th century, including stalwarts like Darwin who praised her work and gave her credit. Well, I asked at the Main Information Desk and while one assistant had no idea what I was talking about, I must admire the other assistant who knew immediately where it was and where to send me. Inside Gallery 1–an extensive room containing mainly the collection of Hans Sloane (without whom the British Museum would probably never have been created)–I asked another assistant and she directed me to the exact showcase which contains some of the most significant of the fossils found in the British Isles. And there it was–the icythyosaurus fossil in its own special section with Mary Anning’s name very clearly detailing her precious find!
So with three major ‘finds’ under my own belt, I left the Museum–and no, I did not get to the Elgin Marbles but I will soon–and since it was still only about 3.30, I decided to get ahead to the Kyoto Garden. I jumped into a 390 bus, got off at Oxford Circus, took another bus that sailed along Regent Street, got off at Piccadilly Circus where I took the 9 all the way down Kensington High Street. I have to say that although the journey took me much longer than I had hoped, I had a chance to pass through Green Park and Kensington Garden and to take in the look of trees wearing their striking autumnal foliage–mostly yellows with some reds. It is a pretty time to be outdoors and I looked forward to my foray into Holland Park.
Before I entered through the Earl’s Court entrance, however, I nipped into Waitrose to buy myself some red onion marmalade (by Stokes), some fruit scones (by Genesis) and some wonderful artisan French butter from Brittany studded with sea salt crystals as I expected it to be similar to the Bordier butter that I used to enjoy when I lived in Paris. It was my intention to sit in the Kyoto Garden, proofread a chapter and munch on my scone!
Arrival in Kyoto Garden in Holland Park:
It is a long hike to get to the heart of Holland Park from the Earl’s Court entrance on Kensington High Street–but it is a way I know well. Evening was closing in and most people were on their way home, their kids in push chairs (strolleys) and their dogs in tow. I always love the brick arches that lead to the Italianate Garden with its lilting modern fountain and its neat flower beds (now displaying late season purple salvia and hydrangeas that have turned a vivid maroon). This part of the garden never fails to remind me of Lionel and Jean in As Times Goes By as it was here that they had first met in the TV series, as a very young couple just on the brink of life before the war separated them.
I crossed this garden and made my way, with very certain steps to the Kyoto Garden in the back as I know this area well–having spent many an idle hour here. It was at this point that I was followed by a very aggressive peacock for peacocks roam freely in this part of the park. I felt the first flutters of trepidation but walked briskly away–only to find myself being followed very determinedly by the peacock!
Not wishing to seem like a woos, I walked quickly on and arrived at the Kyoto Garden. I absolutely LOVE this place! As expected, the dwarf maples had turned scarlet and the plum and pear trees had yellowed leaves. I clicked a few pictures and found that the peacock was still stalking me. As I walked around the lovely curving pond, I was struck by the number of squirrels that had also congregated here. Everywhere there were parents and their children (several Asians) taking pictures and introducing their kids to the animal and bird life that swarmed around freely.
I found an empty spot on a bench overlooking the pond besides a lady who was eating a salad from out of a Tupperware box. I smiled, extracted the chapter I wanted to read from my bag and, at the same time, tried to pull out a scone. I meant to eat it with my butter as a tea time snack. And that was when I noticed the peacock closing in on me–simply staring at me while not a foot away. My flutters of trepidation turned to real fear and I squealed. The lady told me not to worry as it would do me no harm. But I kept imagining it moving suddenly and pecking me. I could not be reassured.
Half a minute later, I noticed a particularly needy squirrel arrive and sit at my feet. I jumped. It could possibly smell my food and was curious. But the lady besides me was eating too. Why were the peacock and the squirrel taking no interest in her? The squirrel came closer. I tried to shoo it away but it got on its hind legs and held its fore legs together and stared at me as if begging wordlessly! I was really afraid by this time and squealed louder. I realized then that it would be best to move my grocery bag up on to the bench. I put my chapter away as I was really terrified by this point. The peacock had moved away but the squirrel was getting bolder by the minute. He climbed on to a post, a foot away from me and looked poised to take a flying leap into my lap. No amount of shooing it away seemed to work. Two minutes later, just when I thought I had gotten rid of him, I found that he had climbed to the back of my bench and was inches away from my ear. The lady next to me said, “Be Careful. He is right behind you”. She was clearly nonplussed about his interest in me.
That was it. I screamed. I panicked big time. I simply had to get out of there. Gathering my bags and my things around me, I dropped my chapter and my pen and had the lady retrieve it for me as I was so frightened by this point that I could barely move. When she handed them back to me, I could hardly stutter a thank you as I fled. I have never encountered anything so bizarre in my life and I can tell you that it scared the Bejesus out of me. As I walked towards Bayswater Road to get to Shepherd’s Bush Market, my heart was racing. However, I did find another quiet bench in a far less crowded part of the park (with no squirrels or any other creatures around) and there I ate my scone with no disturbance whatsoever.
Back Home on the Tube:
I found Shepherd’s Bush Tube station after a ten minutes walk but I clearly was too unhinged to think correctly. I took a train heading to the wrong destination and realized after two stops that I was on the wrong one. Annoyed with myself at the waste of time and energy, I got off, retraced my stops in another train and then hopped into the right one that dropped me off at Ealing.
Once home, I took a shower and got dinner organized: Crostini with my red onion marmalade and blue cheese, king prawn masala with bread, a salad with lettuce, almonds and blue cheese. I watched New Tricks as I ate and tried to ease into the night after what had been a truly crazy evening.
Until tomorrow, cheerio…