Tuesday, May 20, 2008

London Times

I went to London! I still can't believe it. It was a very good trip. It would have been a perfect trip, actually, if it weren't for the debilitating allergies that unexpectedly hit me there, but oh well. I still had a really great time, and wish I could have spent even more time there, because don't feel like I even scratched the surface of all the things there are to do and see in that amazing city.
The flying part was near-perfect, though. I love flying, and a transatlantic flight is even more fun because they pamper you. Tons of snacks, a huge meal, movies, tv, and music on your own private tv, socks and blankets... I love it. And I lucked out and got a seat with plenty of legroom, too! So I got to catch up on all the movies I meant to see but didn't want to pay for. Atonement gets 5 stars, Enchanted gets 4, Juno gets 4, 27 Dresses gets 1.
The first thing I did when I got to London was drop my stuff off at the hotel and go to church, because it was Sunday morning when we arrived. The church was within walking distance of our hotel, right across the street from the Museum of Natural History. Unfortunately, I'd had only 2 or 3 hours of sleep, and there was no a/c in the chapel, I was nodding off. Still, I'm glad I went because it made me feel at home in a strange land.

For the rest of the week I went to museums and parks, and wandered around seeing random sights. It was surreal because almost every street has centuries of history packed into it. For example, at the Natural History Museum, when I was looking at some famous diamonds, I thought to myself, "what beautiful replicas." Then I realized I was at the London Natural History Museum and realized that those were the real things. It was the the same feeling at Tate Britain, where I came face to face with Proserpine, a Rossetti painting that has always haunted me. Awestruck, I tried to accept the fact that I wasn't looking at a book reproduction anymore, but the actual object.

My favorite museum is the Victoria and Albert, which has an utterly amazing collection of objects ranging from medieval religious carvings to a plaster cast of Trajan's Column to clothing worn by Diana Ross and the Supremes. I could have spent the entire week there and been happy. Other museums I visited were the British Museum (I saw the Rosetta Stone! And an excellent exhibition of American prints) and the National Portrait Gallery. As a class, we visited Apsley House (the Duke of Westminster lived there and its full of Napoleonic things including a giant marble statue of Napoleon, naked with a fig leaf) and Tate Britain where we got a lecture on English art by a young man who could have been the British twin of Logan Eccles from Veronica Mars, which is probably the only reason why most of my class was able to pay attention for two hours.

One of the best things about London is all the parks. Hyde Park was within walking distance of my hotel, so I went there frequently to enjoy the beautiful weather. It was amazing--sunny and 70's for most of the days. And though the parks were full of the trees that were the source of all my nasal woes, I couldn't stay away. The English know how to make a park! Winding paths, rows of trees, green meadows, and placid swan-filled pools greeted my eye at every turn. I tried to get some drawing and painting time in, but there were so many other things I wanted to see to be able to sit down for very long.

In London it is also easy to come across beautiful statues and monuments everywhere you go. I thought that the Prince Albert Memorial with Albert Hall just beyond, was fascinating. This was in Kensington Gardens, where I had just as much fun photographing the sights as I did the tourists. One of these days, I'm going to do a series of woodblock prints about tourists and how funny humans are when they walk around posing in front of things and taking pictures. Like me in London, for example!

I saw Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and the Eye, which is a huge ferris-wheel type contraption that you can go on for a slow ride and a birdseye view of the city. Actually, from my hotel room window we had a great view of the city, with the Eye in the distance. One night I looked outside and saw some stunning fireworks.

It was too expensive to buy any souvenirs (the exchange rate is horrible now) so I spent all my money on delicious food. I ate at some really great places, but not the Sherlock Holmes, which would have been fun because I'm a HUGE fan. In fact, I made sure to bring a book of Sherlock Holmes stories to read on the plane, to get me in the mood for London. I ate fish and chips (traditionally served with peas, it was delicious!), and a meat pie (very very good), and lots of yummy pastries. And the loveliest thing about England is that you can order tea (herb in my case) and they always give you your own personal teapot with all the accoutrements. Very civilized and nice for my scratchy throat.

One day I got the opportunity to take a bus out to the countryside (which looks amazingly like parts of Oregon), to Chichester, with some British students and their teacher (the British-accented Logan Eccles lookalike). There I saw a beautiful old cathedral from the 12th century. It had modern elements to it, though, as through the years the community has commissioned modern artists to create different elements such as stained glass windows and paintings for the interior. But most interesting was an area where the floor had been excavated to reveal an ancient Roman mosaic-tile floor beneath. On this trip I also went to Petworth, one of those huge country estates like on Pride and Prejudice. This one is still lived in by the owners, but half is open as a museum because the art collection is outstanding. It contains some 22 Whistlers, and lots of other amazing English art, including a lifesize portrait of Henry VIII that I couldn't take my eyes off of. But more amazing was the carved wood decoration in the main hall. Every wall surface was decorated in elaborated and intricately carved wooden flowers, musical instruments, scrolls and swags, etc. I wasn't allowed to take a picture, but it doesn't matter because a picture would not have been sufficient. This was the most amazing woodcarving I have ever seen in my life.

What else did I do in London? I hunted for vintage jewelry at Covent Gardens (found some gorgeous pieces that were out of my price range, alas!), ate ice cream while dipping my feet in the fountain in Trafalgar Square, went to a party where I danced away the night and saw a girl-metal band called "Tits of Death" perform, rode the Tube a lot, and just had a great time. I couldn't have asked for a better trip, and it was more like a vacation than school.


Lis said...

I've said it before, I'll say it again - you are still the coolest person in the world.

You should have brought Logan home for a souvenir!

It sounds like a marvy trip. I'm jealous.

jeff said...

British food has a relatively unfair reputation for being bland or worse. I'm glad you liked it.

I'm a big fan of the UK, and all I've seen of London is the airport. I'll have to go visit sometime, and bring you along as the tour guide.