Friday, June 29, 2007

Day Twelve In London

Tuesday, September 11

Saint Pancras Old Church
The British Library
Saint Pancras New Church
Saint Aloysius Church
The Petrie Museum
“The Last Confession”

This day will be devoted to exploring several attractions that my brother and I visited in past years, and described in detail to our parents. Our parents were so intrigued by our descriptions of these attractions that our parents wanted to experience these same things themselves, just as we experienced them. My parents will be able to experience these attractions on this day. I hope they will not be too disappointed.

All of these attractions are in the King’s Cross area.

This day will also be a very early day for us. We will leave our hotel at 7:00 a.m., without breakfast, and take the subway to King’s Cross Station.

From King’s Cross Station, we will take a pleasant but long walk through a residential neighborhood to Saint Pancras Old Church, an ancient church situated on one of the oldest Christian sites in Europe. The present church building, a small and simple stone structure, is almost a thousand years old. It is filled with ancient monuments and relics, and it is seldom visited by tourists. The church is only open very early each morning, when local residents use the church for prayer.

The church building is in the middle of a large and beautiful churchyard. The churchyard is notable for its large variety of monuments, as well as for two other prominent features.

The first of these features is the mausoleum of Sir John Soane’s wife, in a unique shape of Soane’s own design, which later was to become famous when it was adopted as the model for London’s public telephone booths (now in the process of becoming extinct).

The second is a giant and ancient tree, around which centuries-old tombstones have been artfully arranged, the handiwork of Thomas Hardy at the time Hardy worked as a construction laborer. While groundwork was being laid for the railroad tracks leading into Saint Pancras Station, then under construction, Hardy was assigned the task of disposing of old headstones (the new railroad track was being laid over the site of an ancient cemetery). Hardy’s solution was to arrange the gravestones around an ancient tree on the church grounds.

From Saint Pancras Old Church, we will walk to The British Library, the British equivalent of the Library Of Congress. On the way, we will locate a local restaurant in which to have breakfast.

The treasures on display in the main gallery of The British Library are overwhelming—The Diamond Sutra, the manuscript of Beowulf, The Lindisfarne Gospels, The Luttrell Psalter, The Sherborne Missal (my personal favorite), The Sforza Hours, the notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci, Shakespeare’s first folio, the original score to Handel’s “Messiah”—and these historic treasures are among the most important such works in the world. My mother, especially, will love examining all of these things.

The British Library also houses the great library of George III, on display behind glass walls, as well as an unexpectedly interesting series of galleries on the history of printing, which my brother and I visited in 2005 and, to our surprise, found to be fascinating.

From The British Library, we will make the short walk to Saint Pancras New Church, London’s most remarkable Greek Revival building. This is one of my favorite London churches. The building is an architectural masterpiece, inside and out.

Saint Pancras New Church was inspired by the Erectheum, although the church’s octagonal tower was modeled after The Temple Of The Winds. At the rear of the church’s exterior are two caryatid porches, one on each side, of great beauty and distinction. The caryatid porches somehow heighten and complete the structure’s perfection.

The interior of the church is splendid, beautifully but simply designed and decorated, consistent with the Greek Revival style.

In 2003 and 2004 and 2005, my brother and I attended Sunday service at this church many times. We did so because our hotel was nearby. On our first visit, we were asked if we would read the responses during service. We were very surprised that we had been asked, but we agreed to do so, and we continued to do so at each successive service we attended. Our parents will enjoy visiting this church very much. They want to visit the church where their sons, total strangers to the congregation, from halfway around the world, participated in worship service so many times.

From Saint Pancras New Church, we will walk the short distance to Saint Aloysius Church, another of London’s churches founded by French immigrants, in this case those who fled from the Revolution. The current building, from the late 1960’s, is worth visiting only for its interior. Like the interior of Notre Dame De France, which we will have visited on our first day in London, this church’s interior is circular (although the exterior is not).

From Saint Aloysius, we will walk to University College London. Along the way, we will have lunch at Friends House, a Quaker center, which my brother and I have visited many times in order to have a decent lunch. This is another of those places our parents heard us talk about, and which they want to experience for themselves.

At University College London we will visit The Petrie Museum, housed on the second floor of one of the university libraries. The Petrie Museum is one of London’s most unusual museums, because the premises are entirely inadequate for its astonishing collection of Egyptian Antiquities, one of the largest and most important such collections in the world.

The museum is dark and dim and dirty, and the displays are wretched--cramped and poorly-organized and poorly-lighted (flashlights are freely handed out to visitors, happily)--but the artifacts on display make a visit to the museum essential. Among other items in its vast holdings, the museum owns the world’s largest and finest collection of Roman-Period Egyptian Funerary Portraits.

A new building for The Petrie Museum is scheduled to open next year. The new building will be most welcome, because not only is the current museum a total mess, but it also has space to display less than ten per cent of its amazing collection.

In 2004, my brother and I visited The Petrie Museum, and my brother pretended to be “dismayed” that I had “dragged” him to such a dirty and gloomy place. In fact, he loved the museum—when I told him that we should leave if he disliked the museum, he said “No, I haven’t seen everything yet”, and he then spent more than two hours happily peering into cabinets and drawers and display cases--and he welcomes the prospect of returning. It will be our final visit before the old, inadequate premises are closed forever. The Petrie Museum is another of London’s attractions that our parents want to experience just as my brother and I experienced them.

Late in the afternoon, we will leave the museum and walk to the central theater district.

In the theater district, we will have dinner at a very, very inexpensive dining establishment my brother and I came upon by chance several years ago. It is named “The Stockpot” and it must be London’s least expensive restaurant in which the food is good. My brother and I liked the place, and we have eaten there many, many times on evenings in which we attended theater performances in the West End. Our parents want to eat at this place where their sons ate so many times in the past.

After dinner, we will walk around the corner to The Haymarket Theatre to attend a performance of “The Last Confession”, a new play by Roger Crane, a New York-based attorney.

“The Last Confession” is Crane’s first play, and it had its first production earlier this year at the Chichester Festival Theatre. The production and the play were greatly acclaimed, and the production has since transferred to the West End.

The cast is a large and distinguished one—Michael Jayston and David Suchet are the most famous names in the cast—and the play addresses the circumstances of the death of Pope John Paul I, a death which has never been adequately explained in the minds of many Vatican-watchers.

After the performance, we will walk to Piccadilly Circus Station, and take the subway back to our hotel.

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