Saturday, December 22, 2012

Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat Where Have You Been?

Well actually I've been to London if not to visit the Queen then to do quite a lot of things in four short days.
This delightful lithograph in the lobby of the National Theatre proves that
many cats can indeed look at a Queen!  Sadly I didn't make a note of the artist's
name or the title and the National website gives no clues.

I first visited London when I was 19 in 1969. Up until then the farthest I had been away from home was New York one Christmas with my mother (when we had the embarrassing scene with the unsuccessful attempted to "poison" me with "uncooked" hamburger at Schrafft's Restaurant) and Nassau with my friend Eugene (who saved me from drowning two hours after we arrived and has suffered with a bad back ever after). You would think that those two episodes alone might have killed any urge I had to travel but no, that May I set off on the first of many voyages to London; and I was to cross the Atlantic once again three months later en route to Austria.  In those heady years of high salaries, working for the airlines and living at home if I had been eligible for air points (if such a thing had existed) I would have had enough to do around the world within a year or two. The trips were frequent and mainly to Europe and many of the trips meant time spent in London - sometimes only for a day or two.

The reason for that first trip was opera - The Glyndebourne Festival and the Royal Opera at Covent Garden. Then there was the theatre - Love for Love with Geraldine McEwan at the National Theatre (still housed in the Old Vic back then), Sarah Miles and Eileen Atikens in Vivat Vivat Regina and a trip down to Chichester to see the incomparable Alistair Sim and a very young Patricia Routledge in Pinero's The Magistrate

Well 43 years later I arrived at Heathrow a week ago Thursday past for a few days and the principal motivation once again was opera - plus ca change!!

The Royal Opera House was staging a rare revival of Meyerbeer's Robert la diable  - the last time the infamous ghostly ballet of debauched nuns danced on that stage was 1890.   And in one of those strange little quirks of serendipity the National Theatre (in their South Bank home) was presenting The Magistrate with John Lithgow as the beset-upon Mr Posket.  Did I mention "plus ca change"????
Not only the shops in Mayfair were dressed up for the season;
though this little girl was not at all impressed with the Candy Cane.

And if there's a Candy Cane man, you just know there had to be
a Candy Kiss on roller skates nearby - after all it is London.

I really meant to go and check that the crows were still at the Tower after
encountering this rather exotic outfit at the M and S check-out. However the Russian gentleman
with the fat wallet with her seemed rather pleased with his lady so....  chaqu'un as they say.

There were, of course, quite a few added attractions - my dear Fotis was coming in from Athens for the opera and we had seats together (quite by accident) in the front row of the amphitheatre; Chantal, a colleague from Rome was on temporary duty at the High Commission and I had an invitation to stay with her and a night out at the National; and David and the Diplomate had issued an invitation to Sunday lunch.  It was going to be a full four days.


Although the landscapes don't quite marry up it is possible that the artist intended the portraits of Ashraf 'Ali Khan and his mistress Muttubby to be a facing each other in a book. Dip Chad is one of the few artists of the period of whom much is known and his style is distinctive for its experimentation and subtle use of colour.  For some reason the portrait of Muttubby reminded me of Magritte - funny the associations our minds make.
From the catalogue for MUGHAL INDIA, British Library

But of course being London there were all the serendipitous events that pop-up in what is still after all these visits one of the most exciting cities on the surface of this ever shrinking globe.  At 1430 on Thursday afternoon Fotis phoned to say that he had an extra ticket for the (sold-out) Hollywood Costume exhibition at the V and A and to get my lily-white over there by 1530 if I wanted to see it.  And see it I did - and met his friend Irini Kyriakidou who, as well as being a very beautiful and talented soprano in her own right, just happens to be married to Bryan Hymel who was singing the eponymous Robert.  Which then led to an opportunity to go backstage after the performance followed by a late night dinner in Covent Garden with Irini, Bryan, Fotis and their friend Sascha.  An e-mail exchange with David about Sunday's lunch led to an unplanned trip to the British Library to see a splendid exhibition of books and illustrations from the Moghul Period in India.  And Sunday lunch as well as bringing the delights of a perfectly cooked joint of lamb placed me in the company of David, Diplomate and Edward, a fascinating gentleman with an equally fascinating history.

And my faithful travelling companion Sidd accompanied me to Pink to look at shirts but frankly was more interested in getting his photo taken with Santa.  I mean where else but London would you find a Pink Santa?

Some how I managed to squeeze a trip to Seldfridge's and a quick pop by Fortnum and Mason to see their very disappointing windows this year - no moving figures and more advertisement than anything - with a stop behind them at Pink on Jermyn Street.  To make up for the disappointment of not spending £175.00 on that great shirt I headed back to the V and A again.  A walk-around their remarkable Medieval Galleries, a look-in at the Raphael's and a saunter through the English Renaissance displays was almost as good as retail therapy.

You could almost miss this beautiful little 13th century ivory fragment from Northern England in the midst of all the glories of the Medieval galleries at the V and A.  Carved from a walrus tusk it depicts Joseph of Aramathea supporting the body of Christ as it is removed from the cross.  Strange how a small piece of ivory can be turned into something so moving.

A full but strangely not exhausting few days that proved that even after the many visits I am very much not "tired of life".

"Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford."
— Samuel Johnson to Boswell,
September 20, 1777.

22 December -1890: Cornwallis Valley Railway begins operation between Kentville and Kingsport, Nova Scotia.

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4 comments:

JACKIESUE said...

I want to go to England just to see the tower of london ..

Debra She Who Seeks said...

A whirlwind trip to London -- you lucky guy!

David said...

What - you're not prepared to put up the photo of you in our 'guestbook' bunny ears? Well, London looks swell - and it jolly well is at this time of year. I'm sorry we failed on the Sondheim front, and to any short-term visitors I can still say that the long-running One Man, Two Guvnors must be the funniest show in town stil, even with its second main man.

Laurent said...

I saw that photo with the Bunny Ears quite fetching!