"When truth and compassion part ways, follow compassion." ~ Unknown

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

UK walkabouts

Wild parakeet - Greenwich Park, London
One of the wild
green parakeets of London
(Note: I've gone a little wild with the formatting this time so please leave a comment if this layout doesn't work on your screen. Thanks.)

Here's a list of the main places we've visited, in order since Bath, with a few photos and notes thrown in for good measure.

Chair and photo of
1960s "middling class" with
photo of parallel world look-alikes.
Parallel world look-alikes

Geffrye Museum of the Home
is housed in a building that was  built in 1714 as an almshouse for the poor. A series of period rooms along the hall that is the spine of the building allow visitors a peek at the homes of the 'middling class' from 17th century to the present day. In the modern section, reduced to one photo and a chair, I came face to face with a 1960s version of myself and two of my children. The likenesses between them and us was mind-blowing, definitely time shifting, parallel world look-alikes.

The Queen's Horse Guard.
The horse didn't like it
and neither did the guard.
Buckingham Palace and, of course, no photos allowed. The tickets were pricey but seemed like a must-do, given that we've been hearing about the place all our lives. We were prepared for it to be a total bust but it wasn't. In fact, it basically  fulfilled my wildest childhood fantasy of what a palace should be. And, having recently visited Brighton Pavilion, we had fun identifying treasures Queen Victoria had taken from there. Also, the highly theatrical, over-the-top decor of the music room and other less formal chambers, designed by George IV's personal architect John Nash was, simply put, mind-blowing. It was also interesting to see photos of the Queen and Prince Philip with the Obamas and other notables in the room where the state dinners are held. As for the photo of Swami and the Horse Guard, don't blame him. I put him up to it. He was every bit as uncomfortable as the horse. It was stupid of me to get so close and the guard let me know it with a masterful withering glance. Blocks later, I still felt like an asshole.

The Reckless Sleeper
by René Magritte

Tate Modern - We both really enjoyed the Poetry and Dream exhibit. It had works from some of my favorite painters, like René Magritte. And then there was the inevitable black painting and the white painting, some garbage, a broken chair suspended from the ceiling, an unmade bed in a corner, and even two sacks of sand all posing as art. I could not, did not contain myself.

"Art"at Tate Modern
Unmade bed
Stuff "art"
Tate Modern, Britain

Our art crawl through Europe has led to some interesting discussions about the current state of art or "art". This morning M. sent me two good links to articles on the subject, one at 3quarksdaily and the other at Commentary Magazine, How Art Became Irrelevant. Both are definitely worth a read if you're interested in the subject.

Toeing the old
Prime Meridian line

Greenwich to see the new Prime Meridian Line as it has moved 330 ft (101 meters) to the east. The usual crowd of people was there lined up to be photographed straddling the old line where (we thought) East met West. Then we walked over to the  approximate new place where, using modern GPS technology, researchers have determined 0° longitude actually runs. According to London's Daily Mail, "it now cuts across Greenwich Park near a bin". Also we saw several deer and lots of crows, seagulls, magpies, squirrels, the lovely green wild parakeets, a grassy mound that's supposedly covering Roman ruins and walked the tunnel under the Thames.

Minerva dreaming - Greenwich Park, London
Minerva contemplating the crows
in Greenwich Park

Swami and Rembrandt
at Kenwood House

Walked Hampstead Heath and visited Kenwood English Heritage House, a 17th-century country manor where we saw, among other paintings, a self-portrait by Rembrandt and works by Hals, Turner and Vermeer. Swami especially liked the Rembrandt and the Hals.

Winchester Cathedral  Of course, the cathedral is ancient and grand. Here we took the tour. Our guide, one of several volunteers, was wonderful. She delighted us all with fascinating, quirky details about the history of the cathedral. The whole town of Winchester is built on a peat bog so, over the centuries, the massive cathedral was slowly sinking into the ground. In the early 1900s, it was in danger of collapse so a deep-sea diver by the name of William Walker was hired to do the repairs. Walker's job was to go down below the cathedral's base and find solid ground. At that point, bags of concrete were lowered down to him and, every day for six years, he worked in the total and utter dark far below ground, building a foundation. One hundred years later, Winchester Cathedral still sits firm on the foundation he built and the head from his diver's suit, a photo and plaque telling the story hold a place of honor within.

Swami and Minerva enjoying a sunbeam
at Almshouse of Noble Poverty
The Hospital of St. Cross and Almshouse of Nobel Poverty is not a hospital in today's sense of the word but a medieval poor house also located in Winchester. Known as "England's oldest and most perfect almshouse", it still functions as established around 1135 by Henry de Blois, grandson of William the Conqueror. Noticing that we were a little underwhelmed by the grounds, one of the Brothers invited us to a tour of his quarters. He explained that being chosen to live at the Noble Almshouse depends "entirely on how you look, how you fit in. That's it". He started out at St. Cross as a porter and had been working there for about three years when a resident died and he was invited to become a Brother. I can see why. He was a gentleman, a singer and a member of the choir. He was also a cat lover. Several photos of his cat and cat decor brightened his tiny apartment. But the Brothers live a very simple life at the Noble Almshouse. They are not allowed pets so, these days, his beloved cat Effie lives with the Bishop. My memory of him is both sweet and sad.

Cambridge - King's College Chapel and Fitzwilliam Museum

King Henry VIII - Cambridge
King Henry VIII
in Cambridge

King's College Chapel was built by a succession of kings but Henry VIII finished it in 1515 and, for me, his presence overshadowed the rest. That's probably because I have fairly limited knowledge of English history. In any case, it is an amazing place though it seems more a tribute to kingly glory than heavenly. Ok, a massive Ruben's masterpiece hangs over the alter but the alter itself is otherwise quite plain. And I wonder if anyone has ever counted all the swords, crowns and other royal symbols chiseled into the towering walls, pillars and ceiling.

"At the Cafe" Degas - 1876
"At the Cafe" Degas - 1876
Fitzwilliam Museum
And then there's the mile high wooden screen that separates the nave from the alter Henry had installed to celebrate his marriage to Anne Boleyn. It's stained dark red brown, I am sad to report, by ox blood and, originally contained a carving of Anne's head and another of a woman hanging by her hair. In Henry's day, hanging a woman by her hair until it separated from her scalp was common punishment for I don't know what. M. Lee suggested perhaps for cooking a bad meal. The portrait of the woman hanging by her hair remains but Henry commanded the portrait of Anne's head be removed after he had her beheaded at the Tower of London.

The Fitizwilliam was nice but only a few pieces really stood out. "At the Cafe" was my favorite but, when it comes to Degas, I'm easy.

Me, Lee and Swami
on the Tames at Limehouse
Walked along Regents Canal to the Thames we were amazed to see all the narrow boats. Until now, we didn't know about the labyrinth of waterways running through the island. There are some 2200 navigable miles of canals and hundreds, if not thousands, of hand operated locks to move the narrow boats up and over hills on their way through the countryside at 2 to 4 miles an hour. Very cool if you're not in a hurry.

Frank and the walkie talkie

I'm trying to finish this while sitting at St. Pancras International. We're leaving England now and headed to Ghent, Belgium, where we'll be for the next week. Ok. M. Lee, Swami and Minerva are here with me but this morning I feel a bit the way my grandfather must have felt on his seven voyages around the world, alone and far far away.


Roy said...

So many things to comment on ! The 60's parallel world look-alikes freaked me out especially, because of the Jung thing--this is exactly what I have been thinking about--precisely, how it might be to transport back in time to fulfill some sci-fi mission and be confronted with tight pants and huge collars but also long, boring stretches of time -- reality -- where nothing happens. Anyway, not to ramble. Still thinking about it.
I don't know what I think of the unmade bed. Can't look away. It is somehow . . . . familiar. Who hasn't vacuumed the sheet because it's still a week from laundry day? I mean, not me.

asha said...

I feel I should apologize because this post is entirely too long. When I started writing it, I intended to do a short narrative about our time in London, something like that, and include a list of places at the bottom with very little comment, just a list to jog my memory for future reference. Nothing more. Obviously, things got totally out of hand. Once again I fell into the rabbit hole but next time will be different. I'm sure of it.

So you've been contemplating time travel lately? Yes, that could be a bit odd, I suppose. That photo actually did kind of freak me out. When things like this happen, Lee always says the algorithms are getting sloppy.

Crumbs? What crumbs?

Roy said...

No.Next time you will do the exact same thing, and I will read it. Seldom, by the way, do I do so without some additional Google enhanced excursion--like reading about the relevance of art--that made my head hurt, a little. I still need to look up St. Pancreas, patron saint of carbohydrates.

asha said...

Well, given that you are the 100% of my readership, your opinions carry a lot of weight around here. If only for my, already questionable, mental health I do need to keep things simple all around. I can complicate a shopping list. Anyway, yes. we must discuss art next time we're all in Portland where coffee shops abound. Until then, may St. Pancreas watch over us all.

Roy said...

I'm in! Some dreary, rainy Portland day. With any luck, there will be a piece of sheet metal screwed down over a hole in the floor.

St. Pancreas metabolize us.

asha said...

Perfect thing to do on a rainy day. There must be a coffee shop in Portland decorated like a junk yard. Oh yes. That's right. The Cafe at the a.r.t museum. St. Pancreas runs a salon there.