Thursday, July 14, 2011

Day Five: Déjà Vu - In a Good Way

This is the latest entry in a series of posts on my vacation trip in May. The prior posts were:
Prologue: To Sleep, Perchance to Dream
Day One: The City of Dreaming Spires
Day Two: Eccentric Ramblings
Day Three: A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Palace
Day Four: A Day in Alfred's City

Tuesday, May 24

The next day started slowly for me- I stayed at the hotel for a couple of hours waiting for some minor digestive issues to resolve themselves. JT went out and walked, and took a turn through the science museum, where he reported an exhibit of knitting machines (I would have been interested in this,but - so much England, so little time).

On his return we set out to walk around the city- we've done a fair amount of walking in London at this point, but it's a wonderful city to walk in, and we were much struck, as always, by the number and variety of parks and greenspaces. The roses were in full bloom in Hyde Park.

I was blown away by the size of some of these...I can't call them bushes...rose trees. Take a look:
The bench with sitting human I included for scale are normal-sized, not miniatures or facsimiles.

We strolled as far as Trafalgar square and decided to look in at the National Gallery.

For no special reason we could discern, there was a large ship in a bottle outside.

As with so many of the large museums, we generally try to experience it in smaller chunks. This time we took a docent tour that featured a variety of paintings, as well as pointing up the mosaics on the floor. The mosaics were the work of Russian artist Boris Anrep, who laid them over a period of years in the late 20's and early 30's. We were charmed to note a number of Anrep's contemporaries, including Winston Churchill, and scenes with his friends playing the parts of various classical characters. Featured scenes included Alice in Wonderland and Rutherford splitting the atom. There is a nice description of their range in this New York Times article about the mosaics.

Interestingly, Anrep laid the mosaics right side up, in place, unlike the Romans whom (we learned in Winchester) laid their mosaics face down on flat sheets in sections and then flipped them over to install them in the floors and walls they were meant to decorate.

Another work featured on the tour was (one of the umpty-bazillion paintings of ) the Annuciation by Carlo Crivelli. The scene depicts Mary as a 15th century woman, and much of the painting is taken up with a lively city scene. The docent pointed out with delightful enthusiasm many of the details- the angel Gabriel gossiping in the street instead of observing the Holy Spirit at work, a small child and a priest, who are the only ones in the scene who appear to notice the bolt of light coming down from heaven, the handsome peacock (symbolizing immortality) on the balcony.

And not on the docent tour but possibly the most entertaining, was the painting of an eighteenth century racehorse, Whistlejacket. The photo really doesn't do it justice- the horse is painted near or at life-size, and is so vividly executed that at any moment you expect him to whinny and leap off the wall into the gallery. Which is where the entertainment came in, as I spent much of the rest of the day imagining a plot for a children's picture-book, wherein a bored young child (much like me in my younger days) is looking at the painting when the horse talks to him, and then takes him on an eventful tour through the paintings of the museum. (The child has some quite horrifying adventures, and a narrow escape in Modern art. And he gets into rather a lot of trouble for eating the fruit in a still life. Museums are hungry work.)

Despite enjoying much of the painting, after a couple of hours we started to experience art fatigue, and moved on. We went over to the nearby church of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, known to classical music lovers as the site of a superb concert series- and bought tickets for a concert later in the week. They also have an excellent restaurant in the Crypt, where we stopped for lunch (speaking of hungry work).

We walked on to St. Paul's—one of our plans had been to take one of the verger's tours there—but found that our timing was off, so we noted down the tour times for another day.

We walked on, admiring the scenery:
—up into Bloomsbury for Thai fusion food at Busaba Eathai, and then caught the tube to Camden for a different concert- this one folk music with Jez Lowe at Cecil Sharp House, home of the English Folk Song and Dance Society. It was excellent.

If our roster of activities sounds rather familiar, you've got a good memory- these are all places we've been before and enjoyed on previous trips. As much as we like seeing new places- sometimes the places we've been are well worth more than one visit. And yet I think no matter how often we return, we'll still be discovering new charms—to the city, to its many fine museums, and of course...the restaurants!


  1. When you publish that children's book I want a copy for my grandson. Seriously, (saying this as the daughter of an art dealer and who loved the aside on the modern art section being somewhere to narrowly escape) you should do it.

  2. Oh, I think that would be a brilliant children's book!