Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Day 9: Stitches to the Sea

Part 9 of my vacation trip diary. If you're joining the trip in progress, the prior entries are:
Day 1: Standing Stones | Day 2: Cotswold Way | Day 3: Don't You Know There's a War On? | Day 4: The Black Country | Day 5: Ironbridge to Shrewsbury | Day 6: The Enchanted Palace | Day 7: Uncovering the Past, Cataloguing the Present | Intermission | Day 8: From Hampstead Heath to Our Just Deserts

7/2 Friday

The next morning we set off for the Victoria and Albert Museum, which has been running an exhibition of British quilts. The quilt line was enormously long, so we browsed through the galleries for a bit instead, including one of our favorites, the decorative ironwork collection:
The V&A has a fabulous collection of ironwork

—and viewed a number of installations in their ‘modern architects designing for small spaces’ exhibition. While we couldn’t find it in ourselves to dislike the tower of books, and the treehouse was kind of neat, in general we concluded (not for the first time) that modern architects have been hanging out with the modern artists smoking crack.

At noon we took walk back to a restaurant we’d spotted early and so can confirm that the gourmet burger trend has indeed hit London.

After lunch we Tubed over to the British museum to hear a gallery talk we’d marked out earlier as looking interesting, on the conservation of the Sutton Hoo treasure. This turned out to be fascinating, in part because the treasure provided a history of conservation techniques, as different pieces had been conserved and repaired at different times, and sometimes new information would be incorporated as archeologists changed their views on what various bits meant. For example, they had some scraps of maple which they had several competing theories as to what they might have been, but which they now think are the remains of wooden bottles. And as the theories changed, the way the scraps were displayed also had to change.

Then we returned to the V&A—we’d been dissuaded by the line in the AM, by the imminence of lunch, and the plan to attend the gallery talk, but in the afternoon, with no immediate deadline, we could take our time over the quilt exhibition. There was still a line, but I waited in company with my trusty sock-in-progress, and soon had tickets in hand and husband in tow.

The selection of the quilts was interesting because they were chosen not only for their workmanship but to illustrate the level of social engagement among women, particularly in periods when women did not for the most part participate in public discourse. Some of the quilts showed scenes commemorating historical events, like battles in the Napoleonic wars and the coronation of Queen Victoria. Others illustrated opinions on comtemporary politics or social issues. In most of the older quilts, the workmanship was excellent, and in some it was absolutely stunning. I looked at one quilt that must have had nearly twenty stitches to the inch, beautifully hand-quilted.

Alas, in their effort to use a media to span time, the curators included a number of modern quilts. Not modern in the sense they were made recently, but modern in the sense of modern ‘art’. I’ve already acquainted you with our views on the subject, so let’s just say I don’t find it any more appealing because it’s rendered in fabric.

By then it was time to leave, because we had a train to catch. We had checked out of the hotel earlier, but asked them to hold our bags, so we collected them, hauled them over to Liverpool Station, and promptly parked the largest (containing things we wouldn’t need over the weekend) in Left Luggage. (We’d left the same bag at Paddington earlier in the trip while we were walking over the Cotswolds, as we hadn’t wanted to haul everything with us in backpacks.) We secured sandwiches, and boarded the train for Harwich. The trip was pleasant, and we fell into conversation with an English woman, and a young lady from Australia who were interested in my knitting. The English woman was having difficulty with her bicycle light—the bit of the switch that protruded outside the case was broken—so I loaned her a knitting needle to poke in and turn it off. (My husband shook his head mournfully—not for the first time—and said, ‘if only I’d known that knitting was the way to meet women back when I was wanting to meet women!’. He’s continually astonished at how often I strike up conversations with strangers when knitting in public.)

The countryside flew by and gave way to gently rolling fields as we neared the coast. The shipping terminal at Harwich wasn’t much of an attraction—an ugly building, surrounded by railyards and shipping containers. But it was dwarfed by the giant container port at Felixstowe, visible across Harwich Haven, the estuary of the Rivers Stour and Orwell. We went straight to the terminal, which had a vast and charming mural done in embroidery, apparently for the millenium, showing scenes from local history. (Alas, I can't find a link to it online.) We found customs formalities brief and easy, with no lines, and boarded our ferry.

The ship was a brand new addition to the Stena Line, and much larger than we’d pictured. It was as if we’d boarded a city block, that would cast off and sail us across the channel. The two lower decks were dedicated to cars and eighteen wheelers. Then there was a deck of restaurants, shops, cafes and a casino. And then a deck full of small but comfortable cabins. We liked it a good deal, and crawled into our bunks knowing when we woke up in the morning, we’d be in the Netherlands.

Slideshow of more London photos: (You can click on the show to see it with larger photos.)

1 comment:

  1. I so want to take the trip you're on. That is so cool. (My daughter did get to go to the V&A Museum in April.) And the knitting needle/husband comment was priceless!