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A Visit to Holland Park and the new Museum of Design

December 13, 2016, Tuesday: London

A Visit to Holland Park and the New Museum of Design

Another Early Start:

It has become routine for me to get no more than six hours of sleep per night. Accordingly, I awoke in Maida Vale as the rest of the household bustled around getting ready for their day. Taking things back and forth between my office and my home takes some organization and I am trying to keep my wits clearly about me as I go about the task of basically closing shop in London.

My aim today was to view the new Museum of Design that used to be at Shad Thames where I had once met a friend for a coffee.  After deciding to re-locate, thanks to Terence Conran who seems to have poured moolah into the project, the museum has a new home. During my absence, it re-opened with much fanfare in Holland Park at Kensington and had I spent more time googling its exact location, I would have taken the Tube to Kensington High Street and found my way from there. As it turned out, I got off at Holland Park–which meant a really long walk to get to the other (Kensington) side of the park before I found the building.

Visiting the Museum of Design:

I did not have a lot of time to spare for the museum, so I had to hurry through it. Besides, Holland Park is one of my favorite parts of London and walking through it always gives me a high. I tended to linger there–which left me less time for the museum. I associate the Park, in my mind, with the TV series As Times Goes By (my favorite British TV series of all time!) Lionel and Jean, the protagonists, first meet in Holland Park when young. Almost forty years later, Holland Park is the setting for a lot of their meetings when they reinstate contact and re-ignite interest in one another. I have taken many pictures, over the years, in the exact spots where the shooting of the TV series occurred–yes, I am that keen on it! I have also visited the street and the house that was their TV home for many years while the series was shot–at St. James’ Gardens. not far from Holland Park. Hence, I lingered in the park on a cold morning when so few people were about.

Eventually, a good half hour after I emerged from the Tube station, I found the Museum in its spiffy new home–all glass and sharp angles. The architect is John Pawson with whose work I am unfamiliar. I was fortunate enough to get free entry into the Museum with my Met ID card, but I have to make clear that while there were no ‘free’ bits in the former location, in this new avatar, the Museum has left its top most floor ‘free’. You only pay for the special exhibits that keep changing frequently.

The top floor, in my opinion, was the best part of the it all. On walls that are hung with interesting objects from the beginning of the twentieth century, you can trace the history and development of everyday things that we use while taking their design for granted. There are some museum pieces, for instance, that we did actually once use. For instance, there are brick-size and brick-heavy cell phones that I can clearly remember Llew possessing! I went rapidly through them and really do wish I had more time to take it all in.

Going swiftly from one floor to the next, I found that the best part of the museum for me was its internal design. I loved the concept of assessing each floor through stairs and elevators on opposite banks of the building. The Modernist vision is very obvious and I enjoyed it all.

Off to Waitrose for a Coffee:

I cannot pass Waitrose without going in for a few goodies and since I was starving by this point, I got my free café latte and delicious freshly-baked pecan rolls and ate them at the counter overlooking Kensington High Street. Then, I popped my head into the Oxfam thrift store to look for vintage jewelry and finding none, I hopped into a bus that took me to my office at NYU.

More Packing:

I had a big chore to undertake for my office still needed to be cleared out. I finally finished packing one suitcase that I could carry to India and tried to cram everything else into the other suitcase that I would leave behind in London. The snacks and foods I had left in my office over five months needed to be consumed–and so lunch was rather a mishmash of soup, Border’s Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies, M&S Pistachio and Almond Cookies and Prawn Crackers from Waitrose! Although it sounds an easy task, I have to tell you that I was mentally and physically exhausted by the time I finished stashing all my things away.

 Off to Buy Shoes:

Since I would be in Bombay for Christmas and New Year and since I had a rather shabby pair of black court shoes that needed replacement, I set off for Oxford Street to buy myself a pair. I took the Tube to Marble Arch and set off for the large M&S there, when lo and behold, I passed by Next and saw the perfect pair right in the window. Now what are the odds that such a thing would happen? I marched right in and decided that, if the price was right and they were comfortable, I would buy them right away.

How lucky was I? The shoes were very reasonably priced, fit me like a glove (although I did not know my size in British measurements and merely gave the salesman my American size) and actually looked good on my feet. So, without a whole lot of fuss and minimal time, I found exactly what I wanted and was out.

I did, however, get eventually to Marks and Sparks as I wanted to buy a rich fruit cake to carry to India for Christmas. I found the cake too without too much wastage of time and armed with my purchases, I got back on the Tube towards home.

Finishing the Gingerbread House:

Jonas and I spent some time working on the gingerbread house that we had started constructing two days ago. This was the fun day as it involved decorating the house with candy. Jonas had a field day and as we continued our hard work on the project, his mother got dinner organized.

We sat down to eat a simple but delicious salad with bread, cheese and crackers and were ready to call it a night soon enough as it was a school night for Jonas.

Hard to believe that my long stint in London is coming to a swift end.

Until tomorrow, cheerio…

Meeting at NYU-London, Visit to British Museum and A Fright in Holland Park

Thursday, October 20, 2016

London

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!

As if….

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…

Friends, Shopping, Kyoto Gardens, More Friends, More Shopping…


Friday, August 9, 2013
London
What do you do when you realize you have only two days left in your favorite city in the world? Do you complete the rest of the items on your sightseeing To-Do List? Do you spend them shopping for last-minute items? Do you panic that you will exceed baggage weight allowance and end up paying heavy charges? Do you fill it seeing friends whose contact with you makes your life more meaningful?  Well, in my case it was all of the above.
            So when I awoke at 8.00 am after a hellish night during which I stayed wide awake until 3.00 am listening to the bongs from the clock on St. Paul’s Cathedral and regretting the caffeine- laden chocolate drink I had consumed, last thing at night, from Paul’s, I skipped Mass and began to plan my day, literally hour-wise, as I had so much to pack in.
           
Breakfast with a Dear Friend at St. John’s Wood:
I showered and skipped breakfast and took the Tube straight to St. John’s Wood and walked briskly to Gail’s, the coffee shop at which I had plans to meet my friend Marilyn. Marilyn had been away from London for the past three weeks and had only just returned—hence the late date for our first meeting. Talking of Gail’s, have you noticed how many coffee shop chains have sprouted all over London, each better than the next? These Londoners are simply spoiled for choice—and every single one is packed so the economy had better be booming.
            Marilyn arrived ten minutes later but since we wanted someplace quieter to catch up in, we stepped next door into French Café Richoux which has the best pastries in town. Since it was breakfast time, we opted for something more sensible–she had Eggs Benedict sanssmoked salmon which I was quick to gobble and I had French Toast with an Americano. It was delicious but not as delicious as our long chinwag during which we found out all the exciting things that have happened in our lives since last we met a year and half ago, also in London. Marilyn was one of the close friends I had made during my life in London and she is someone I have clung to as I have gained nothing but wisdom, comfort and entertainment from our friendship.
            But then it was time to say goodbye and to get on with other items on my agenda.   
  
Shopping…
A bus from Wellington Road took me straight to Oxford Street where I found the side entrance to Mark sand Sparks—exactly the place I was seeking. I was in and out in a jiffy as I knew exactly what I wanted: my year’s supply of cotton undies. And from the Food Hall in the basement, two bars of their scrumptious Battenburg Cake which Llew and I love. Excess Baggage or not, I am going to have the room and the weight allowance for these!
An Errand at Victoria:
From the same bus stop at which I had alighted, I jumped into the 82 bus then headed to Victoria as I had a small errand to accomplish. I have been commissioned the submission of an essay on the new Shakespeare portrait that was unearthed a few years ago in Ireland and which is now considered the only definitive portrait for which he actually posed in his lifetime—and therefore, the most authentic likeness we have of him.  
A few days ago, when passing in a bus, I had spied the use of this portrait on the sign post of The Shakespeare Pub at Victoria and since I wish to illustrate my essay with a picture to indicate that this portrait is now so widely acknowledged as Shakespeare’s own that even pubs are using it, I wished to take pictures of it.          
So with my camera carefully recording it, I composed my pictures from all sides of this corner pub and when I was satisfied with the quality of my pix, I hopped on to the Tube at Victoria and headed for my favorite part of London. I got off at Holland Park and found my way to the entrance from the North side—I usually approach it from the Kensington side.
The walk from the South side approach was lovely—flowers were in full bloom in the gardens and the shady paths that led to the center were just delightful on this particularly temperate morning in London.   
Lingering in my Favorite Spot in London:
            So knowing London as well as I do, I guess if someone had to ask me what my favorite spot in the entire city is, I would answer without a second’s hesitation. So it was somewhat inexplicable, even to me, that I had not yet found the time to linger there until my second-last day in the city. I will keep you out of suspense by disclosing that what I mean is the amazing Kyoto Garden in Holland Park. I mean where else in a city would you see masses of azaleas blooming in vivid colors in the spring? Where could you tune the rest of the world right out as you listened to the soothing sounds of a tumbling cascade accumulating foamy water in a rock pool filled with giant koi? Where could you linger as peacocks, yes peacocks, came to say Hello and rewarded you with glimpses of their stunning tail feathers? Where could you pause to appreciate the calming qualities of Zen minimalist landscaping design? I have done all of the above in the gardens that were gifted to the UK by the Government of Japan. It amazes me that this place is not mobbed—but thank goodness it isn’t. I have the happiest memories of whiling away the hours grading my students’ papers on the stone benches of this garden while glancing occasionally at herons darting into the pool. I also have happy memories of introducing Chriselle to this memorable spot—a spot she too grew to love—as we chased peacocks for pictures on the park’s lawns.
            So naturally, I stopped there to relive those happy memories at the fag end of my London stay. I nibbled on my lunch—Carluccio’s take-out offerings. Savoring them quietly, I paused to give thanks for a brilliant month that will always remain in my memory as a marvelous time for self-reflection and self-growth in a city I adore.
           
Reliving the Romance of a TV Show:
            Then, because I was in Holland Park, I left the Kyoto Gardens behind me and arrived in the Orangery. The Belvedere Restaurant by Marco Pierre White, one of London’s best-regarded chefs, was right beside me. Since I hadn’t clicked any pictures from the terrace on the evening I was at the party thrown by my friends the Harveys, three weeks ago, I asked permission of the receptionist to do so this time. She readily agreed and up I went to the terrace which overlooks the formal Italianate Garden in which key scenes from my favorite TV show of all time were shot: As Time Goes By. This is the scene in which a young Lionel Hardcastle (Geoffey Palmer) meets a young Jean Pargiter (Judi Dench) for the first time and asks her the way to Curzon Street. I clicked a few pictures there as well as ones of the bench on which Jean pauses during her lunch break when she encounters a breathless jogger.
Yes, yes, I know I am quite quite hopeless when it comes to ATGB so you must forgive me my idiosyncratic excesses; but coming to Holland Park is always for me, a pilgrimage of sorts in the same way that Beatles devotees go to the crosswalk on Abbey Road and pose for pic there. See the similarity? So I am not that cracked after all, right?
More Shopping:
            Using the more conventional exit by which I USUALLY leave Holland Park, I arrived at Kensington High Street. This gave me the opportunity to check out a couple of thrift stores before I crossed the street and went to Waitrose to buy my stock of Ainsley Herriot powdered soups that are a staple in the Almeida household and much loved by Llew and me. With a dozen packets in my possession, I left my favorite pantry in the world and hopped on a bus again.
Off to Buy A ‘Stick’:
I rode it all the way to Bloomsbury as the next item on my To-Do List was buying myself a good quality umbrella from James and Co. at Bloomsbury, one of the oldest ‘stick’ shops in the country. Indeed it was in business at a time when gentlemen carried walking sticks—then a most fashionable accessory. Today with walking sticks no longer de rigeur, the shop sells umbrellas and very expensive ones too with fancy carved handles, real crocodile skin embellishment and sturdy frames as only the English can make them. I was fed up of the el cheapoJapanese ones that bend at the slightest sign of a wind so procuring a good umbrella was on my list.
            Alas, I did not find one that was pretty enough for my liking. I particularly wanted one with beige tones to match my Burberry trench raincoat and not finding anything appealing enough, I sadly walked out of the store empty handed. Perhaps on my next trip to London, I shall find the right one for which I will not mind forking out 100 pounds or more!
An Errand at NYU and the Post Office:
            Well, at that point my day went downhill. I decided to stop briefly at NYU to find out how much I owed for the mailing of my printed material to the States only to find that my box was still sitting in the mail room and hadn’t been send off. This meant an unexpected trudge to the Post Office at Holborn with Mark, our porter, to get rates and when we discovered how expensive it was to ship by surface through Royal Mail, we balked and decided to use the courier service instead.
So we trudged back to Bedford Square and Mark promised me that the parcel will be couriered first thing on Monday. I can only hope all my books, notes and other research material will reach me intact and soon.
Tea with Roz:
            It was almost 5,00 pm and I was late by half an hour for my cuppa with my friend Roz on Tottenham Court Road. I had left my jacket at her home in Battersea and she had kindly brought it to work for me to pick up. We planned to have a cuppa for the last time before my departure and seeing how distressed I was over my parcel, she marched me off to Yumcha for a pot of Chelsea Chai. And sitting and chatting with her and laughing at little things as we often do, my distress became a thing of the past. It was just wonderful to sit in (yet another) coffee shop and shoot the breeze with one of my dearest friends in London—probably for a very long time to come.
Home Finally:
            I said goodbye to Roz, got on the Tube at Goodge Street and headed back to Amen Court. I had wanted a short rest before I left for my evening’s dinner appointment, but the NYU wild good chase had delayed me. So all I had time to do was freshen up and change and leave the house again for my 6. 45 pm appointment with Bande Hassan, Llew’s former colleague and now close family friend.
Dinner with a Dear Friend:
            I took the Tube to Marble Arch and met him at Portman Square as decided and we strolled the couple of block to the London Hilton Hotel where the famous Italian restaurant Locanda Locatelli is located. We were soon joined by Kiran, yet another of his invitees, and then we gave ourselves up to the fun and relaxation of a great evening in superb company with amazing cuisine. Service, as befits a great restaurant, was impeccable and my red prawn risotto with zucchini flowers were perfect. For dessert I had a chocolate fondant with a pistachio sauce center served with “milk ice-cream” while also nibbling on the selection of sorbets ordered for the table: passionfruit and apricot, strawberry, apple. Delightful! Indeed, Locanda Locatlelidoes not have its great reputation for nothing and we were fully satisfied.
            It was about 10.00 pm, when I bid goodbye to my host and thanked him for his generosity. He and Kiran walked me to the Tube and I was home by 10. 15 pm and in bed by 11.00 after what had been a day of purposeful agenda completion—but above all, a chance to meet my London friends without whom my stays in this city are simply not the same. I had started and ended my day with good friends and to me that was made it exceptional.
            Until tomorrow, cheerio!

Puccini, a Picnic (at Vintage Car Rally) and a Posh Party!


Sunday, July 21, 2013
London:

 

My friend Bishop Michael of St. Paul’s Cathedral told me that he thought my Blog post of today would be especially interesting—and he was not mistaken! I had a most extraordinary day during most of which my phone was shut off and Llew, trying hard to reach for me a long weekend chat, was much disappointed.
Snagging A Day Ticket at the Royal Opera House:
I awoke early (by 6.00 am) and did some editing work before I ate scrambled eggs and chipolata sausages for breakfast and jumped on to the Tube. Needless to say, Holborn and the Tube were empty at that unearthly hour on a Sunday but by 8. 30 am, I was at Covent Garden joining the other Early Birds in the Day Ticket line. I must say I was delighted to discover how well-heeled they were. Distinguished elderly men and women joined Asian youngsters—many had brought portable stools on which to perch as they whiled away the time. I took one of the chapters of my book to edit and since I was concentrating on it so deeply, time flew and before I knew it, the doors opened and five minutes later, I was the proud owner of a ticket to see Giacomo Puccini’s La Rondine at the 1.00 pm matinee show It was deeply thrilling, to say the least. So it was really worth the wait.
Sunday Church Service in a Royal Venue:
            I have waited for years to attend Sunday Service at the Queen’s Chapel at St. James’ Palace. The trouble is that they have very selected times during the year when services are held there—next week, the Royal Family goes on holiday to Balmoral in Scotland, for instance…so services will be suspended until September. During the winter, services are held in the Chapel Royal of St. James’ Palace. (I was very pleased to attend service there this past March with my friend Cynthia and her son Aidan). So, I was excited to be received by the verger Katherine who saw me to my seat at the Queen’s Chapel, a space that is breathtakingly beautiful. But then, I am not surprised. It is, after all, the work of the exceptional Inigo Jones who learned everything he knew from the legendary Andrea Palladio of Italy and brought his Classical principles to British architecture to create an aesthetic that, in time, influenced Christopher Wren and his pupil Nicholas Hawksmoor. Built in 1663 for Portuguese Queen Henrietta Maria, the wife of Charles II, it was a Roman Catholic place of worship for a Roman Catholic queen. In course of time, it was, of course, taken over by the Church of England.
            The chapel has large Palladian windows—named after Palladio, of course. The style is strictly balanced and symmetrical. The colors are those of the French tea room, Laduree: Wedgwood Green with Gold Accents. And what accents they were! There was gold lavished everywhere—but subtly, never gaudily. On the plaster ceiling, on the side walls, on the altar where the added bonus was the most magnificent wood carving (and gilding) by my favorite 18th century craftsman, the superbly-named Grindling Gibbons. There were twin arc angles high up on the altar holding a lavish garland of flowers and fruit and lower down the altar too framing the beautiful painted altarpiece. I have not been able to find out who painted this Nativity scene but it is a lovely image and suits the classic subtlety of the interior.
            The service was equally wonderful and I felt excited and privileged to discover that the angelic choristers were going to sing a Jubilate in English composed by none other than Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria, who was a talented and passionate musician—he often played the violin with his good friend Mendelsohn on the piano at Buckingham Palace. In fact, coincidentally enough, tomorrow night is the start of a four-part BBC TV series entitled “Monarchs and Music” moderated by David Starkey which will discuss in detail the contribution of royal family members to the grand British tradition of music.
            I always think it is marvelous that the Anglican Church has kept alive the stirring music that was composed for the Church by some of the world’s greatest composers—indeed it is only in the UK that I get to hear this kind of music (there was a lot of Tomas and also some Handel) and it never fails to move me deeply and convince me that the Anglican Church is a far better place to worship than the Catholic ones when one is in the UK. (Although, having said that, most of the London Catholic Churches also do a sung Latin Mass on Sundays during which I have heard the most amazing music and the most impressive choirs). In America, it is only very rarely (only on high holy days) that one gets to hear such music in a Catholic church. The preacher was a visiting chaplain from the Isles of Scilly (pronounced Silly) off the coast of Cornwall and he did a competent job likening his islands to Bethel, the holy city named in the day’s reading. Overall, I had a most moving Sunday church experience—exactly the sort that will bring me eagerly to church again next Sunday in another historic house of worship.               
Puccini at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden:        
            Just as the service ended, a No.9 (old Routemaster bus) came trundling down Pall Mall—I was so excited as I always try to ride a Routemaster once during each of my London stays. Although I was only taking it for one stop—up to the Tube Station at Green Park—it seemed worthwhile and I was excited. These rides never fail to remind me of my childhood in Bombay as we had double decker red buses there too and, as children, always clambered to the top deck hoping to get the front window seats for a bird’s eye view of the passing scene. These rides always bring out the kid in me and I love to return to my happy Indian childhood in this fashion.
            I reached Green Park station, hopped on to the Tube and got off at Covent Garden from where it was only a short stroll to the Royal Opera House. I was so excited to see an opera at the Royal Opera House that I could barely control myself. Doors had already opened, a half hour before the show began. This gave me the chance to stroll around the fabulous premises and to take in the glass and iron ceilinged bar-café where patrons were sipping pre-dinner drinks. I also went into the restaurant with its beautiful painted panels and its soft lighting. The entire effect is one of old-world opulence and class and I allowed all of it to sink in.
            Ten minutes before the show could begin, I found my seat—and what a great seat it was! The opera began and I gave myself up completely to the grand music of Puccini. What I love about opera in addition to the music are the lavish sets and costumes and this production had both. Set during the 1920 and early 30s, is the era of the flapper girl, the entire show reminded me a bit of the novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald (think The Great Gatsby) and Paris of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. La Rondine, which in Italian, means the swallow, centers on Magda (played brilliantly by soprano Angela Georghiou) who falls in love with Ruggero but despite his devotion finds herself unable to escape her past. The sets were strongly reminiscent of the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany particularly in the stained glass panels and the iridescent mosaic pillars of the first and second acts. The reproduction of Bullier’s, the Parisian jazz club of the Roaring Twenties, was also stunning. And the supporting cast did as good a job as possible to keep up with the demands of the plot and the score. Overall, it was a memorable afternoon at the opera and one that will stay in my own mind forever.    
Off to a Picnic and Vintage Car Show at Kensington Gardens:
            Back to the Tube station, I walked dodging the crowds that were thick and eager and found my way to Queensway station on the Central Line for the next appointment on my agenda: A Vintage Car Show at Kensington Gardens to see the 1936 vintage car owned by my friend John Harvey who had shipped it across the pond in order to participate in the Aston Martin Centenary Exhibition. There were over a hundred cars on display lining the Main Walk to create an avenue of cars just opposite the rear entrance of Kensington Palace.
           Needless to say, the cars that drew the most attention were in the section marked with a gigantic golden 007—they had been used in the James Bond films. Some of them were horribly battered from all the beating Bond took in trying to stay one step ahead of his enemies. Others featured the exciting gadgetry for which Bond is best known: skis attached to the sides, rifles that pop out of the headlights, etc. I joined my friends Cynthia and Michael at the venue and they, in turn, introduced me to a bunch of their friends—Susi and her mother Sabine and her husband Nicholas. We made a jolly lot, joined also by the younger members of the family, Edward and Aidan. Our friend’s green and black car got a great deal of attention from the public as he had just commissioned a local artist to paint it—and the painting was still drying upon an easel right by the car—which was the only one to sport New York state license plates.
            The Aston-Martin that also drew a lot of comments and was most photographed was the ink-blue one belonging to Prince Charles. He had loaned it to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and they had driven down The Mall in it to their honeymoon. It featured a small sterling silver dragon on its windshield. It occurred to me that here I was gazing upon their honeymoon vehicle while the world waits with bated breath for the birth of their first child. How time flies!      
              It was hot and it was humid and it was time for a Pimms—my first one of the summer. Nicholas bought us all a round of drinks: Pimms for most of us, beer for the boys, water for Cynthia! We cooled off under an umbrella at a wooden picnic table and shot the breeze for a while. It was a lovely afternoon and a great setting for a picnic in the park—the red-bricked rear façade of Kensington Palace looked down on us benignly. It occurred to me that I was thoroughly enjoying my time in London and that although I do love doing all sorts of things on my own in this city, it was my friends who were making it especially enjoyable for me.
Off to a Posh Party at the Belvedere:
            An hour later, when the car show ended at 5. 00 pm and the Aston Martins began to leave the park, we left the park too. Nicholas drove all the ladies to the next venue: the Belvedere Hotel at Holland Park (Michael and his sons gamely agreed to foot it out to the venue). We found the entrance that leads straight to the very posh environs of the Belvedere Restaurant where our American hosts, John and wife Kazie and daughters Kitty and Alex were waiting to greet us as we entered. The Harveys, who are Manhattan-based, invited a bunch of their London friends and business associates and a number of their NY friends who made the trip across the pond especially to attend the show. Passed hors’d’oeuvresfound their way into our fingers and our mouths as lovely cocktails were offered too: Watermelon martinis, Pimms, champagne, wines. We circulated, met new friends, said Hello to old ones, pecked many cheeks, made numerous trans-Atlantic contacts, exchanged contact details as we nibbled at the appetizers and then made our way to the many food stations. There was a variety of things to tickle the palate: from seafood served with delicious sauces to Thai curries, to Tex-Mex guacamole and chilli and tacos to a station named  “British Country Garden” which offered salads and quiches and scotch eggs and meat pies and Cornish pasties! How wonderful! For pudding, there were tiny strawberry tarts, even tinier ice-cream cones with rose-strawberry ice-cream and still tinier orange-polenta cakes. Everything was just delicious and I had a grand time. I never think that I am going to attend these posh parties in London but somehow I always do—and they are always fun because my friends always include me in them. I particularly enjoyed making friends with Manhattanites, the Anands: Vijay, a well-known ENT specialist is a good friend of my good friend, Cheri-Anne from Louisiana, also an ENT specialist, and his wife Nanda was friendly, warm and happy to meet a fellow-Indian from Connecticut in London. Of course, we have made plans to meet again when I get home. 
             The Belvedere overlooks the formal gardens of Holland Park–location of a famous scene from the BBC TV show As Time Goes By (one of my favorite shows of all time). It is the venue in which a young lieutenant Lionel Hardcastle (played by Geoffrey Palmer) meets the young nurse Jean Pargiter (played by Judi Dench) and comes up with the only pick-up line to enter his head: “Excuse me, but do you know the way to Curzon Street?” Not much has changed in the park: the red brick arches, the symmetrical flower beds, the sun dial in the middle, are still there and I feel stupid that I did not take a picture of the scene from the balcony of the restaurant which afforded a very pretty view of the setting. Holland Park is also the location of the Kyoto Garden or the Japanese Garden (filled with azaleas, cascading waterfalls and peacocks) which is one of my favorite parts of the city. I used to sit there and grade student papers when I was teaching in London.    
            At 11.00 pm, with everyone else having left, we who were having such a good time, were pretty much the last to leave. Michael and Cynthia hailed a cab and dropped me off at Holborn while Kitty, who was their house guest for the week, carried on with them. The boys again gamely decided to take public transport to get home! No, chivalry is not dead!
            It was about 11. 45 pm when I reached home and finally got to sleep on my last night in my Holborn flat. Tomorrow, I will awake and start packing for my move to Abbey Road where I will partake in Beatles’ history.
            Until tomorrow, Cheerio!