Sunday, September 13, 2009

In England's Green and Pleasant Land

I can't believe that I'm still standing, let alone writing this post, given that I slept all of an hour and a half on the plane and didn't nap when I reached Spooner's. It took me over an hour to get through immigration at Heathrow -- it's usually about 20 minutes, but this is a particularly busy time because international students are all arriving for the fall term and, let's face it, this is a great time of year to be in London.

We actually worked in a lot of stuff for a half day of exploring, with one person only semi-coherent and semi-oriented. We took the tube to Moorgate and then headed over to Liverpool Station so I could use the loo (note to self: the loo costs 30p). I'd heard about the Raven Row Gallery on the Robert Elms Show on BBC London, so I wanted to stop briefly there. It is in an absolutely wonderful Georgian house that once had shops on the ground floor, behind beautiful bowed windows. The gallery is the inspiration of Alex Sainsbury (Son of Sainsbury's) and features new contemporary artists. But the building itself is the real work of art, and worth seeing no matter what is on in the gallery. Everything has been painted the same ivory color, which might sound a bit monotonous and boring, but it really serves to highlight the lovely bones and bows of the house and the rooms.

From there, we went to Dennis Severs House, a totally different type of back-in-time experience. The house is in Folgate Street near Spitalfields Market, and was once the home of Huguenot silk weavers. Dennis Severs purchased the house in the 1970s, saving it from the wrecking ball. He lovingly filled the rooms with what, in his imagination, depicted the lives of the (imaginary) Jarvis family during different times in the 17th - 19th centuries. The rooms are absolutely chock-a-block with stuff -- half-nibbled biscuits, clothing, furnishing, pets, chamber pots, etc., etc. But that's not all. Dennis Severs actually lived in this house for 20 years. A house without electricity, central heating, plumbing (there is one cold water tap in the basement kitchen), or a bathtub. Since his death, friends of Dennis Severs have maintained the house as he would have wanted it. The idea is that visitors will walk around from room to room, silently experiencing the house and its inhabitants. You sense that someone has just left a room or that you are intruding on a private moment. The whole thing is meant to be a multi-sensory, time transport experience that can be yours for £8.

We did a little more rambling in the East End: Spooner shopped for spices in Brick Lane, I looked for street name signs and street art, and we stopped for snacks at the Albion Cafe (corner of Redchurch and Boundary Rd). Quite a lot, really, for an arrival day on little sleep.

Tomorrow: Kensal Green Cemetery and Notting Hill (weather permitting)

Distance covered: 16579 steps (6.8 miles)
£20 to top up my Oyster card
£8 for Dennis Severs House
£4.10 for snacks at the Albion Cafe

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