Thursday, June 10, 2010

Summing Up? The Grand European Adventure 2010

Well, folks, I'm back in Texas and enjoying being warm again. All together I was gone 50 days: 4 to Florida; 14 on the cruise; 22 in Malta; 10 in London. What were the highlights of the trip?

1. You will probably all laugh at me, but perhaps the very finest time of all was sitting in the Palm House in Kew Gardens, drawing and listening as Chris Watson manipulated his tapes to create a new mix of his "Whispering in the Leaves" sound installation. It was great.

2. Cadiz, Spain. Cadiz is compactly situated on a peninsula, making it a great city for getting around in on foot. And we had great weather that day: sunny and warm without a roaring wind.

3. Obidos, Portugal. A lovely little walled hilltop village, and another great day for weather. This may also be the only place outside the U.S. where I saw (and bought) Lay's potato chips!

4. Listening to (and drawing) great music. Both in Malta and on the ship, I heard a great deal of classical music live. Often I sat and drew while listening and afterward gave the drawings to one or another of the musicians. That was fun.

5. Revisiting old sights. It was fun to see places (and in a few cases) people I hadn't seen since 2007.

6. Marks & Spencer cafes.

7. Meeting cruise employees from many different countries and sort of getting to know them over 2 weeks on the ship.

8. Visiting bookstores with an English slant (even in Malta).

9. The car museum in Qawra, Malta.

And what about lowlights?

1. Not getting to visit the Azores Islands because of very rough weather. On the one hand, it might have been really unpleasant trying to walk about a lovely 300 year old town in a chilly rain; on the other, it was disappointing to lose our first "land" day after a week at sea. It was raining and windy, yes, but apparently what really decided the captain against trying to dock at Punta Delgada was the size of the swells that kept lifting the ship as they tried to bring it to the dock.

2. The weather in general. It was mostly sunny (except in London), but there was so much wind so much of the time that being outside, which I love, wasn't necessarily pleasant. And the temperatures, while not truly cold, were often chilly enough to require a windbreaker (or two) and/or sweatshirt: not exactly what one wants in May after a long cold winter.

3. Some of the cruise amenities. I was disappointed that this ship focused more on in-room movie-watching than in-theatre movie-watching, which I would have preferred.

4. Listening to a squalling toddler on a multi-hour transatlantic flight.

5. Having a last-minute passport difficulty in Malta (because personnel at Fiumicino Airport in Rome never stamped my passport) and hoping I didn't miss my flight to London.

Overall, despite the fact that I never felt quite as settled and "at home" in Malta as I had hoped, it was a great trip.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

TV by the River, and Swans on the Serpentine

Today is my California sister's birthday! Happy Birthday, Jane!

And we had sunshine again today, so maybe Jane sent it from the desert. London sure needed it. I believe the temperature actually hit 75 today, but the wind was up again, so sometimes it wasn't as comfortable as yesterday. Sitting on the bank of the Thames doing a drawing this afternoon, I needed the windbreaker.

My first photo today is a mother (or father?) swan and the cygnets. I think Hans Christian Andersen was wrong: just because they're not yellow doesn't mean they're ugly.

My target on my long walk this morning was the Tate Gallery of Modern Art--or the Tate Modern, as they call it--so I went through Hyde Park and out toward Buckingham Palace, and then east along The Mall to The Strand. (I'm sure you're all following this on your maps of London!) I had walked almost the whole length of The Mall (the big street that connects Buckingham Palace up to where the Horse Guards are) when I came to The Mall Galleries. They had an exhibit of artwork involving textiles. An artist named Amanda Hislop had some small landscapes done on (or with?) pieces of cloth. Quite cool. I also had morning tea in the cafe there.

Not far beyond the galleries, near the Admiralty Arch, is the column for the Duke of York. This Duke of York is "the" Duke, the one of the nursery rhyme: "The grand old Duke of York / He had ten thousand men." He was George III's second son, so he never got to be king, and a government official who was standing there told me that "they say" the reason the column is so high and the Duke's statue so far up in the sky is so people couldn't throw things at it. Apparently he was very unpopular: remember in the rhyme what he did, he "marched them up to the top of the hill / And marched them down again."

While I was there, I heard something behind me and looked, and there went a a troop of horsemen, on their way to the Changing of the Guards, I assume. A lot of them were carrying musical instruments. I got a couple of photos, but neither was terribly good, so I won't post either. (If you want to see them, email me.)

After passing through the Admiralty Arch, I moseyed down The Strand, another famous street for readers of 19th century English fiction. I picked up some lunch for a little picnic on the river bank and crossed over the Thames on the Waterloo Bridge and turned east. I had my lunch on "The Queen's Walk" not far from the National Theatre, the IBM Building and the London Television Centre. This last explains, I suppose, a little bit of serendipity I had. There was a small crowd standing on the walk above the river and some kind of food presentation going on, with cameraman, wiring, and so forth. I asked a woman in the crowd what it was, and she explained that they were doing a live outdoor segment for the show called "This Morning." The woman in the center is one of the hosts (the male host was sitting off to the side), and the guest, a chef, is to her right and facing away from the camera in this photo: they were on commercial break, I think. Apparently the chef is pretty well-known, at least over here, but I don't know who he is.

Then, down on the river bank itself, was this guy in a kilt sculpting the words "This Morning Live on the South Bank".

From here I made my way on to the Tate Modern. The collection there includes Picassos and Dalis, as well as less famous artists of the 20th century, and of course they do special exhibits as well. There are several going on now, some of which were free (I went into those); two others cost 10 pounds each and I skipped those. One of the paintings which must be one of the most famous is one of the Monet paintings of Waterlilies. This one is quite large: I guess it must be 4 feet high and 8 or 10 feet long. There is also a Jackson Pollock, which looks like you expect a Pollock to look like, that must be about 30 inches high and at least 5 times that long. I was especially interested in the work of a Portuguese artist named Sarmento whose paintings sometimes looked sort of like unfinished sketches, and an African artist (from the Ivory Coast) who works on small pieces of stiff paper, sort of like card stock, and uses ball point and colored pencil: small drawings with various things written around them. Some kind of dream interpretation or representation. There is also a room devoted to an American artist named Ed Ruschka whose work often makes me laugh, though I don't know for sure if that is his intent. I like it a lot. One of the paintings is basically a red background with block printing on it that says something like "You must find me insane because I'm just crazy about that little girl."

It was a warmish sunny day, remember, and most Londoners don't have yards, so there were people all over the place in the public spaces, including on the lawn between the Tate Modern and the river. Right here by the museum you can also go onto the Millennium Bridge--a footbridge over the Thames that leads more or less straight to St Paul's Cathedral. I joined the crowd crossing the river and, once I was across, took pictures of two street names that caught my eye. I didn't see David Hasselhoff anywhere around this place, though:

And right near it, leading up to St Paul's, is this street. I hear people sleep good here. Hehehe.

St Paul's charges 12 pounds 50 pence to go inside, and I figured I've seen a zillion churches on this trip and the last trip so--architectural marvel or no--I skipped it again. I did sit for a few minutes in one of the garderns, resting my feet, and looking at the map. And that's when I saw this pigeon. As you all know, I'm not a fan of pigeons, but this little gal or guy sort of won my heart. Look carefully at his/her right foot:

I made a side trip up Old Bailey road, not far from St Paul's, to take this photo for those of you who are fans of British mysteries. There are two buildings labeled "Central Criminal Court," and this is the old one, so I reckon it must be Old Bailey itself.

I also took a peek in another church designed, like St Paul's, by Sir Christopher Wren, yet another St Martin (not in-the-Fields, but in Ludgate). It was nice enough: just a church.

And then it was time for the long meandering walk back to the hotel: back along the river for a while, along The Strand, past Trafalgar Square, up Regent Street, west on Oxford Street, and so forth. I browsed books one last time at Waterstone's (didn't buy anything), had one last little picnic in Hyde Park, worked on a couple of sketches at the Italian Gardens, and then back to the hotel. I think I've got the suitcase pretty well packed, and the things pulled aside that I will need in the backpack for carry-on.

And then tomorrow: that long long flight.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Sunlight? In London?

Today two amazing things happened: 1] I wore shorts; and 2] I used my sunglasses. Yes. In London.

Why? you ask. 1] The temperature exceeded 55 degrees Fahrenheit; and 2] the sun shone. Yes. In London.

I actually felt like a human being. I was able to sit OUTSIDE and draw without getting wet or feeling like a stalactite. And when I say, "The sun shone," I don't mean it shone for 12 minutes; then didn't shine for 37 minutes; then shone for 6 minutes; then--Well, you get the idea. The sun shone virtually the entire day. Thank you, high pressure system.

And the high temperature today? 70. Yes. In London. Two degrees ABOVE NORMAL. I had not felt 70 degrees, OUTSIDE, since May 23 or 24. Amazing. The temperature was right about what they had predicted, but the amount of sunlight was actually HIGHER than they had predicted. Amazing.

When I left the hotel of course, about 9:30, it was NOT 70 degrees. 60 maybe. But I wore shorts anyway, and a windbreaker. And I carried the other windbreaker in the backpack, AND the umbrella. I didn't dare believe that I might actually need neither of them all day. When I got to Marble Arch park, a half-mile or so away, I actually took the windbreaker off, even though it was still a bit chilly, and sat on a bench in the shade to draw. Sitting in the sun would have been nice, of course, but it's difficult to draw on white paper if you are squinting against the sunlight. I drew the huge horse-head sculpture, and a little scene involving two elephants (one mostly hidden) from the Elephant Parade. Here's that sketch, in small form:

After drawing a while, I went on to Marks and Spencer (Oxford Street west) for morning tea, then moseyed on to Grant & Cutler, a bookstore that specializes in non-English language material, where I browsed a while without buying anything. Remember that I still haven't finished the two Spanish books I bought in Cadiz, since I've mostly been reading English. Then I went to Marks and Spence (Oxford Street east) for a jacket potato and tea for lunch. THEN I went on to my easternmost point for today: the Sir John Soanes Museum. This is a house-museum, established by act of Parliament in 1833, a few years before Soanes died, since the museum is what he intended for the house after his death. (He didn't have to move out before he died.) Soanes was a very prominent architect, with plenty of money, and his house actually occupied 3 previous addresses. It's full of his collections: pieces of old sculpture and buildings, a bit of ancient pottery, over 6000 books, paintings--LOTS of paintings, and so forth. In several places on the ground floor, there are grates in the floor, which I thought might be for ventilation purposes or for hot air from fires in the basement to rise up through (like the Romans did), but one of the employees told me that they were actually to allow natural light into the basement!

My next goal was Foyle's bookstore, a really big bookstore on Charing Cross Road, where I thought I might stumble across something I really NEEDED to buy, and where I might finally buy the poetry book "Dart" by Alice Oswald, which I've been intending to buy for a week now. The easiest way to get from Lincoln's Inn Fields, where the Soanes Museum is, to Charing Cross Road put me near Covent Garden, so I figured I ought to go ahead and make the detour and see if there was anything there I should look at. Along the way I came by this huge building, which I had noticed the other day, but hadn't known what it was. Apparently it's the Masonic hall--I'm not sure of it's official name. I don't know if you can tell from this photo, which I took kind of leaning and looking up at it, but it's quite imposing.

Well, there wasn't anything special as far as I could tell about Covent Garden nowadays--it's just shops and restaurants--but there was a couple of acrobatic sorts out on one of the open areas putting on a show. If you look carefully, you might be able to tell that the woman to the left is balanced on a straight-line ladder.

There was also a woman off to the side, in the shade near one of the buildings, with her easel set up doing a small painting--probably about 8 by 8 inches--of Covent Garden: it was going very well and looking quite nice.

Once I got to Charing Cross Road, I noticed this sign which made me think of my friends the Comptons, though they might not appreciate the designation "OLD".

Many of you will remember the book and movie "84, Charing Cross Road." Well, if you look way over to the right in this photo you'll see the blue 82. That's Charing Cross Road. I took the photo the way I did because I'm sort of guessing that the Pizza Hut occupies the space that may once have been both 83 and 84 Charing Cross Road. Was there actually a bookstore at # 84, once upon a time, or was it all fiction? Your guess is as good as mine.

And then on to Foyle's. I spent a good while here--maybe an hour, maybe 45 minutes--looking more at the poetry section than anywhere else. The poetry section is quite large, larger than you're likely to see almost anywhere in the US, but of course the emphasis is English. And it's interesting to see the differences and who is considered important enough to be on the shelf and so forth. Poets who are hardly read at all anymore in the US are represented by one or more books--folks like Walter de la Mare, for example, or Mervyn Peake, who is known almost exclusively as a novelist in the US, or W.S. Graham, who has hardly ever been published in the US--and it's interesting to see an American poet like Wallace Stevens represented by "Harmonium", his first book, published almost 90 years ago, and not in print in the US as a separate book but only as a part of his collected poems. Some authors--not a lot--are represented by books from American presses, not English editions, and others which are available from different presses in the two countries look better in their English editions: Faber & Faber makes much more attractive and elegant poetry paperbacks than Random House does!

Anyway, whether being practical was the best thing to do or not, that's what I did. I bought "Dart" (which is available in the US only as part of a "selected" poems by the author) and resisted other temptations. Of course I still have tomorrow. . . .

As I made my way back toward the hotel, I made another stop at Marks and Spencer for afternoon tea, and here I succumbed to a different temptation: I bought a white linen long-sleeved shirt. I had noticed it at M&S before, and today I decided I could use another button-down shirt, especially something as light and cool as these are supposed to be. (Why any man needs a light and cool shirt in England is beyond me, but in Texas I HOPE it will be hot!

I've got to tell you: it was SO nice to be able to be outside without being cold or wet or both. It was so nice to sit in the shade and draw. It was so nice to walk down Oxford Street, on the SUNNY side of the street, and feel warm without feeling hot and sweaty under the multiple layers of jackets necessary to avoid feeling cold and miserable. It really was like being human again.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

39 Steps, Tips for Pedestrians, and Horrible Weather

People make fun of Icelanders for allegedly believing in brownies, an idea which costs them nothing and hurts no one. But no one makes fun of the English for spending millions (or billions?) of pounds on sun screen and sunglasses, two items that no one ever needs in the British Isles. You know how the SPF works. If you're wearing SPF 30 and spend an hour in full sunlight, you get only 2 minutes of "exposure"--your exposure is reduced by a factor of 30. Now since in England it is completely unheard of for the sun to shine more than 2 minutes in any given hour (and normally it will be far LESS than 2 minutes), England is itself officially SPF 30!

Here are the daily high temperatures beginning on May 25, last Tuesday, when I arrived: 63, 59, 61, 66, 61, 64, 61, and (today) 55. You will notice that only ONE DAY has even approached the so-called normal high of 68, which is itself no great shakes. And that English sense of humor you all love so much? They are predicting 69 or 70 for tomorrow! HarharharHAHAHAharharhar.

This morning, not being a banker's holiday, the laundry was actually open. I was actually able to leave off my jeans for washing, an important consideration since July 27, 1913, was the last time it was warm enough in London to wear shorts, and since in today's rain the front of my khakis got wet all the way up to the bottoms of my pockets (that is, the top of my thighs) as I walked back to the hotel this afternoon. Now of course this "express" laundry won't have my jeans ready for me before 5 p.m. tomorrow, but that's the breaks. I assume it will take at least 24 hours of continuous rotation in a dryer for the jeans to dry after being washed.

After leaving my jeans off at the laundry, I headed back toward the British Library where I hoped to get some clarification (including cost) about getting some kind of electronic photocopy of one of their books. Along the way, I veered into Regent's Park, which I passed yesterday, but had never visited before. On a nice day, it might have been a nice walk. Today of course the drizzle started up about the time I got as far into the park as I intended to go and as I turned back toward the east to go on to the library.

At some point on the walk to (or from?) the library, I passed this big plaque/carving, built into the wall of a building. Since many of you (myself included, nowadays) like Dickens's work quite a lot, I thought you might like this photo:

In case you can't read the notice, it says, "While living in a house on this site Charles Dickens wrote six of his principal works, characters from which appear in this sculptured panel." I think that's probably Little Dorrit and her father at the upper right, and maybe Oliver and his grandfather just right of Dickens, but you'll have to decide who the rest are.

When I got to the library I found out that the book I was interested in was on site there, rather than elsewhere, so that, if I wanted to go through the procedure of applying for a reading room pass and waiting for the book to be brought up from storage (about 70 minutes), then I could go ahead and see it today. So I did that: got the reader's pass (good for this whole month) and put in my request for the book. Then I left for lunch while the book was being found, and that's when I found out why I had trouble closing my umbrella when I entered--the shaft was broken! Of course. So I held it sort of not-quite-completely opened and made my way back to Euston train station for a little lunch. While there I bought another umbrella, from one of Lou Ann's favorite places--Boots Pharmacy. (I think I have already managed to bend the shaft of this new umbrella, apparently while trying to shake the excess water off of it before going inside one place or another: who would have thought that an umbrella was so hard to make?)

Back at the library, I got my book: "Ximenes, The Wreath and Other Poems" by J.W. Polidori, published in London in 1819. Polidori is mostly famous for having written "The Vampyre," published anonymously in 1816 (and mistakenly thought to be Lord Byron's work) and then in book form under Polidori's name in 1819. I've been working Polidori into my Maltese werewolf stories, so I wanted to take a look at this book. There is another book of poetry too, called "The Fall of the Angels", which even the British Library doesn't have a copy of! Anyway, the book looks like pretty standard Romantic period poetry, not worth much study, though I would like to read "Ximenes", which Polidori called "A dramatic action," i.e. a play for reading rather than staging. As it turns out, I can get the library to create a photocopy of this for me, but it will cost somewhere between $40-45, so I'll have to decide if I want to do that or not.

After leaving the library for good, my general goal was to reach the TKTS stand and see about getting a discount ticket to the matinee of "The 39 Steps". I didn't have to hurry too much, as the play began at 3 and it was not yet 1:30. Miracle of miracles, the rain had sort of tapered off during some of this walk, and I didn't have to have the (new) umbrella opened the entire time. I stopped into a bookstore I passed by chance, which seemed in some ways sort of like Half-Price Books, with both used books and remaindered books in stock. I bought a copy of a "brief life" of the author E.M. Forster who wrote a couple of novels and several stories which I like very much. Even if you haven't read Forster, you have probably seen movies based on his novels: "A Room with a View" (my favorite), "Howards End," "A Passage to India" and "Where Angels Fear to Tread." Not too many blocks farther I came to the London Review Bookstore. I didn't have a lot of time to spend there, and mostly browsed poetry, but it looked to have perhaps the smartest selection of books of any store I've been in in London. It is very near the British Museum, so I guess it's just a matter of walking one way or another that explains why I haven't seen it before.

Finally I made it back to Leicester Square to TKTS and asked about the matinee: they had a "very good" seat that cost 25 pounds, and a not so good seat for 14 pounds, so I went for the not-so-good. "The 39 Steps" is a kind of spy novel, almost one hundred years old and set right before World War I. Hitchcock made it into a movie and--judging by this play--he must have set it in the '30s, instead of the '10s. (I don't believe I've ever seen the movie, but I'm sure some of you have.) For this new stage adaptation, they have gone for comedy, so that the story is still a spy thriller, but it's played for laughs. There are only four main actors in the company: the male lead, who plays the bored Englishman who learns of the attempt to smuggle top secret information out of England; the female lead, who plays the two main female roles, the first of whom informs the male of the conspiracy and is killed for her efforts; and the other two men, who play all the other roles, including the females. One of these guys is really quite funny, especially when playing an old woman dressed in a knee-length skirt which shows the dark socks and garters from his male clothing. There is some clever staging, especially the use of a translucent curtain, lit from behind, while the players manipulate various stick figures to show actions too complicated to stage. In another scene, the male lead is trying to escape while carrying the female lead across a storm-swollen river (hey, that was appropriate for today!). The river is represented by a blue sheet the other two actors are shaking and rippling along the floor, but when the 'hero' tries to cross they lift it up as high as his waist and drive him back. The third time they do that, instead of acting defeated by the river, he simply tells the other actors to stop it and they drop the sheet and let him cross. It was funnier than it sounds, I'm sure.

Well, when I left the theater, about 4:45, can you guess what it was doing? Raining again. And this time it just went on and on, and somewhat heavier than earlier. I made my way toward Marks & Spencer to have supper and passed another author sign along the way:

After my light supper (supplemented by oatmeal back at the hotel) at M&S, I left in--can you guess?--more rain. You will be pleased that I didn't actually strike and fling bricks at any of the people on the sidewalks standing in the way and slowing everyone down in the rain, but I can't say I wasn't cussing at them under my breath. I am not a very nice person after I crack under the strain of way too much awful weather, made worse by people who seem determined to trap you in it as long as possible.

And so here are your tips for pedestrians in London:

1] You have no rights. Don't make the mistake of thinking that you do. If a cab or bus driver wants to jump the curb and smash you flat, he will. There will be investigation into your death. There will be no charges filed.

2] The fact that there are WALK/DON'T WALK signals at major intersections means nothing at all. The signal will show WALK at best for 30 seconds every hour. Even if motor traffic is stopped all four directions, the DON'T WALK signal will still be lit. If you insist on waiting for the WALK signal, it will take you 6-8 hours to walk half a mile and, on a day like today, you will certainly catch pneumonia in the process. You HAVE TO CROSS against the light, most of the time. Of course if a cab or bus driver smashes you flat when you are doing so, see 1] above.

3] If at all possible, the traffic engineers of London will make it impossible to cross a street in one go. Crossing a major street can actually involve using four separate crosswalks with four separate WALK/DON'T WALK signals, none of which will be timed to operate together. In this situation, if you insist on waiting for the 4 separate WALK signals, it can take you as long as 4 hours to walk 150 feet. A prime example of this is Hampstead Road at Euston Road.

4] London sidewalks are not actually designed for walking. They are designed for standing upon and handing out advertising flyers and free evening newspapers; OR for parking your baby buggy, longways across foot traffic, while you carry on a conversation with someone else with a baby buggy 15-20 feet farther down the sidewalk; OR for standing four abreast in a family group and preventing any movement in any direction.

By the way, London is quite an international city, and I don't know how many languages you might hear spoken on the streets. What is more remarkable than the non-English speakers, however, is the prevalence of English speakers from whom you cannot understand more than 1 word in 50. There are big, tough-looking men on the streets of London, who give the impression that they have played on rugby leagues all their lives, but have played AS THE BALL, and who speak English with no consonants at all: it's all vowels and glottal stops. But then why not? One is bound to suffer psychological damage when the cumulative lifetime total of hours of actual sunlight one has experienced is a single digit number.

Which brings up the issue of "sunrise" and "sunset". By this time of year the gap between "sunrise" and "sunset" is at least 16 or 17 hours. The trick, though, is that the terms are entirely metaphorical. When the percentage of time the sky is covered by cloud is equal to the reputed purity of Ivory soap (99.44%), the odds of actually seeing the sun as it climbs up or down the horizon are not high. "Sunrise" means: that time at which the clouds begin to seem less dark; and "sunset" is of course the opposite: that time at which the clouds get even darker.

In Malta my daily routine was 85% eating and walking; here in London it is 85% eating, walking and removing or reassuming multiple layers of clothing. It is possible to be comfortably warm INSIDE. It is NOT possible OUTSIDE. Outside there are two conditions: cold and hot. If one is sitting or standing still, one is cold, despite that four layers of clothing one is wearing. If one is walking at a rate of 4-5 miles per hour, then one is hot if one is still wearing those four layers of clothing. If one removes one layer, then one is cold again. At this point, I can feel no hesitation in making this recommendation: if any one of you ever hears me again utter the words, "London is a wonderful place," even if I attach the qualification "despite the weather," you are instructed to wallop me in the head with a shovel and bury me alive.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Magna Carta and the Cass art store

Some of you, I know, would love to spend May 31 with a 60-degree overcast day. I say, Pooh.

You will laugh when I tell you that perhaps the highlight of the day was a quick trip to the Cass art store. I was directed there by a clerk at Waterstone's bookstore after asking if they had blank books or sketch books. The weather was unpleasant, of course, and I hadn't brought my pencils or drawing book with me from the hotel, so I thought it might be nice to sit in the National Gallery and draw.

Cass is great. Great prices--a lot of the stuff in the store was marked way down--and great stuff: slim drawing books of only 20 sheets or so with high quality paper; thicker, full-scale drawing books, either with hardbacks or spiral spines; and so forth. I could have bought several, without spending much money, if I weren't worried about my suitcase being overweight. As it was, I bought two of the slim books, sized about like a piece of typing paper; a 2B pencil; a sharpener and an eraser. All for about 5 pounds. Then I headed over to the Gallery, browsed around a bit, and ended up doing a couple of sketches.

Earlier in the day, I tried to take my jeans to the laundry not far from the hotel, only to find out that it was closed for the "banker's holiday." Why laundries get to close for banker's holidays, I don't know, and I wish the woman had thought to mention it to me the other day when I stopped in there to ask about getting clothes washed. Was there a sign on the day saying "Closed On Monday for the Banker's Holiday"? No. And in fact none of the shops I saw closed today had such a sign. One of them even had the "OPEN" sign prominently displayed in the doorway, even though the store was closed.

So instead of dropping off the jeans, which I have had to wear so often here in London that they can almost walk on their own, I had to had back to the hotel to drop them off. Then I trundled on to the Sherlock Holmes Museum, not to visit the museum again, but rather to buy something appropriately Sherlock-y at a niece's request: I decided the A. Conan Doyle 150th anniversary "first day of issue" stamped envelope, addressed to Sherlock Holmes, would be appropriate. If she doesn't like it, I'll keep it. The museum and store, fortunately, were open.

Then I decided to press on toward the British Library, hoping it would be open. I wasn't quite ready for my morning tea, so I passed by the cafes on Baker Street, which were also open, and headed on up Marylebone Road and then Euston Road toward the library. As I got closer to the library, I was ready for morning tea--and sitting somewhere warm--but along that stretch of road there were not many coffee shops or cafes, until I came to Euston Road train station, where there were quite a few. I sat in Pret a Manger--which was actually warm enough inside that they had the door propped open--and had tea and a croissant. I rested and read for a while, then went across the plaza to the Krispy Kreme stand (the first I've seen in London) and got an "original glazed" donut--not nearly as good cold as they are when they come hot off the conveyor belt at a real store, like I used to get in El Paso.

By this time the British Library was pretty close, and it was open! This statue is out in front, and it made me think of the William Blake paintings of the measuring god he called Urizen. I didn't see the sculptor's name or whether he was inspired by Blake or not.

At least the exhibits were open. The reading rooms, which I had hoped to visit, were not--and I may not have time to use them anyway. One has to "join" to get a reading pass, and then it may take as long as 48 hours to have the books one wants brought up out of storage. I had hoped to see if they had some 19th century copies of some of John Polidori's books, which seem to have vanished off the face of the earth, except, of course, for "The Vampyre", which I have no need to see. But the online catalogs were closed for the banker's holiday too, so I don't even know if they will have the books. I may be able to search online tonight, when I get connected to the Internet.

So the British Library, like the laundy, was a bit of a disappointment. As I sad, however, the exhibits were open, and that saved the long walk from being an utter failure. A large exhibit room features "Treasures of the British Library," some of which are treasures indeed. The Library owns two of the 4 existing copies of the Magna Carta (1215), considered one of the foundation documents of English (and hence American) democracy, though only one of them is on display right now. One of the other two is in the Salisbury Cathedral, and I saw that one in 2007, so I've seen 2 of the 4 copies now. The Library also has a copy of the 1225 version of the Magna Carta, issued by King Edward III, son of King John, who was forced to issue the original one.

There is also Thomas Hardy's original manuscript of "Tess of the Durbervilles" which I'm reading at the moment; a bunch of Shakespeare and Shakespeare-related stuff; illuminated manuscripts; a Gutenberg Bible (there's also one at the University of Texas); and even the manuscript of "Beowulf." Quite a cool place. There is also this very cool painting outside the exhibition rooms, called "Paradoxymoron." I don't, unfortunately, remember the artist's name. This is a photo of the painting seen from directly in front.

And now I'm standing off to the right a bit:

And now I'm off to the left a bit:

And now I'm standing almost directly to the left side. You can see that the painting is not flat, and the angles of the various panels create the optical illusion that you are moving past an actual set of shelves. Very cool.

By the time I left the museum I was ready for lunch, and I kept looking for some place I could get a baked potato. This is not a part of London I'm at all familiar with, so I was using the map and hoping for the best. Finally, near the Goodge Street Underground station, I found a place. It wasn't the best baked potato I have ever had, but it took the edge off my hunger at least.

Then I took a bit of a walk to find the street sign for Goodge Street itself, rather than the train station. If you ever liked the old folky-jazzy Donovan music, before the days of "Sunshine Superman," perhaps you'll remember "Sunny Goodge Street." Needless to say, Goodge Street was not sunny today.

And given the fairly dreadful weather, I thought I could do worse than spend some time in the British Museum, not far away now. As I walked toward, I saw Bedford Square on my map, and thought I might as well walk past it, since I was in the neighborhood. I made the entire circuit of the square, looking for the historical markers, but the only one I took a photo of was for Anthony Hope, author of "Prisoner of Zenda", who lived on Bedford Square for a while. The gardens in the center of the square are, by the way, private, and you have to have a key to get into them. There were lots of "TO LET" signs on the square, however, so maybe you will take out a lease and get a key.

Here's a historical marker I photographed elsewhere in the neighborhood, maybe on Tottenham Court Road, which turns into Charing Cross Road, which sort of turns into Whitehall. I believe this building is a hotel now, but it may not have been when H.G. Wells lived there.

It was starting to drizzle as I approached the British Museum, and that's when I got the idea it would be good to get some drawing materials and sit inside and sketch. But I wasn't terribly impressed with what the BM shops had to offer--nothing as good as the Tate Britain shops, that's for sure!--and then, while I was looking, the sun came out! I know because I was in the shop in the great court of the Museum which has skylights. So I left the museum and headed out. I figured I could enjoy the sunlight and get some drawing stuff at one of the bookstores down on Charing Cross. I made it to Blackwell's in a few minutes, and it was actually beginning to feel warm enough that I thought I might be able to take the sweatshirt off. I was looking at the stuff in Blackwell's, sort of nice, but not exactly what I wanted, so I thought, "Well, I'll just zip down to Waterstone's", and I stepped outside, and the sun was gone. Maybe 15 minutes, maybe 20 minutes, all together. And it never came back either. Sigh.

Well, you already know that Waterstone's didn't have what I wanted, but they directed me to Cass. After I left the National Gallery and started my walk to Marks & Spencer for supper and then the hotel for the evening, I took a photo of this "ship in a bottle" outside the Gallery at Trafalgar Square. It's up on a huge platform which had, I think, a torso of a woman on it when I was here in 2007. That's Admiral Nelson on his column in the background.

Well, if the forecasters are right, tomorrow will be just as cold as today, with the added "benefit" of showers. THEN, IF they are right, it might actually get into the low 70s on Wednesday. With sunlight. I won't hold my breath. The warmest it's been in London so far is 66, and that was Friday afternoon while I was in the theatre watching "Dirty Dancing." Tomorrow I may go see "The 39 Steps". There certainly won't be any reason to hang around outside. Tata.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Some Comments on London Weather, and other subjects

Here are some pointers about London weather. Basically it comes in two forms: "rainy" and "sunny". If it's "rainy," then there will be 100% cloud cover and precipitation falling RIGHT NOW. If it's "sunny," the cloud cover will drop to as low as 90% coverage and rain won't be falling YET. See if you can find the blue skies over Sunny Buckingham Palace:

If a Londoner says, "It was so hot I thought my brain would fry inside my skull," he means it was 65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature hits 70 degrees Fahrenheit, he will put an ice pack on his face and book a flight to Antarctica. If he says, "Oh, it's quite pleasant, isn't it?" he means it is 55 degrees. If he says, "It's a fine day for a brisk walk," he means it's 40 degrees.

If you come to London in July or August, you might be able to leave the thermal underwear at home. From September through June, you should make sure you have at least four layers on hand to use as needed.


I had morning tea today at the cafe on the Serpentine in Hyde Park. I think the cafe is called the Serpentine not because it's on the Serpentine, but because once you get inside, it's almost impossible to find a way out of there. Then I passed Buckingham Palace, not long before the changing of the guards. These guys were, I presume, on their way to the changing: I passed them just a bit to the east of the Palace.

I went on my way to Westminster Abbey where I, as we Americans say, "went to church." It's the second time I've been to a Sunday service there, the first time in 2007 when the Archbishop of Canterbury delivered the sermon. I was not cold inside the abbey, but after all, I had long pants on, a t-shirt and a long-sleeved shirt. As I went down the side aisle to take my seat (I wasn't in a pew), I passed and/or stepped on the grave markers of Charles Darwin, Edward Elgar and Ralph Vaughn Williams. Many noteworthy English folk are buried in Westminster Abbey, but the floor is not almost completely tombstones as with St John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta.

The Abbey is right across the street from Parliament (to the east), and this assemblage was on a patch of empty lawn to the north of the Abbey.

I don't precisely who the protesters were--and if their protest had anything to do with the recent British elections or if it's something else--but at least one of their messages was quite clear! I wasn't too far north of here when I came across this street sign I thought some of you would enjoy.

The Clarence (restaurant) is named, I suppose, after the Duke of Clarence. I think by this time I had already had my lunch, a jacket potato and a cup of tea at a place on either Parliament St or Whitehall (essentially the same road--most roads in London seem to change their names about every 15 feet). I moseyed on toward Trafalgar Square where I intended to spend some time at the National Portrait Gallery, just around the corner.

Trafalgar Square was packed with people--after all, there was some sun in amongst the clouds, the temperature was at least 60, and the wind wasn't strongest enough to rip a child of 40 or more pounds out of its parents' hands and into the sky: in other words, a lovely day. There were several painted people on the square, up close to the entrance to the National Gallery (not the same as the National Portrait Gallery), having their pictures taken with tourists and hoping for coins to be thrown into their hats. This guy actually looked even less human and alive up close than he does in this photo. He was wearing a mask, I think, because there was some kind of glass or plastic over his eyes, and this made him look artificial even if you assumed he was a painted human. He was also very good at standing still.

The National Portrait Gallery, which I did not visit in 2007, has some really interesting work. As one of the guards explained to me--after I asked her how to match 4 bronze busts with the name tags for them mounted several feet away on the wall--the criterion for including a portrait in the gallery isn't artistic excellence: it's the status of the person portrayed in connection with British culture and history. The most interesting to me were the more recent portraits--partly because you could actually compare these portraits against your own idea, from photographs, of what the people really look like (Princess Diana, for example; the Queen; William and Harry; Paul McCartney) and partly because the portraits aren't so deadly serious in tone as most portraits from earlier periods are.

There's a very interesting self-portrait of the English author and artist Mervyn Peake, done when he was quite young: his eyes are wide and glaring, and he has a thinnish young man's mustache. And others, even of people I couldn't identify, made me smile or laugh, just because the bright colors or the simplified portrayal style seemed so whimsical. I was interested to see portraits of a number of English authors--Tennyson, Browning, Byron, Keats and so forth--some of them done when the authors were too young to be terribly famous yet. But of course they associated with other writers and artists, and so they were painted, even if they weren't yet world-renowned. And there were two very impressive terracotta busts of English kings: George II (at least I remember it being the II) and James II. The George was a fine depiction of a middle-aged man, serious-looking and depicted in a Roman fashion, though I couldn't say if it really looked like him or not. James II was impressive for another reason: it seemed utterly ludicrous. He too was depicted more or less as a Caesar or an ancient hero, but his hair was so long and flowing, and the attitude and posture of his face and head so "heroic," that I practically had to laugh. I know very little about James II, but what I know about him doesn't mesh with that image. He was only king for 3 years because he was so insistent on his Catholicism, 150 years after England had gone Anglican, that he was removed and replaced with William and Mary.

Although I had visited the National Gallery before, I went through it for a while again after leaving the portrait gallery, just to see what I wanted to notice. There are several paintings by JMW Turner, though the big accumulation of them is at the Tate Britain; a couple by Caravaggio (who was, for a short time, a Knight of Malta), including a really disturbing painting of a young man being bitten on the finger by a lizard; and a nice exhibit of a Danish artist I'd never heard of, Christian Kobke, from the first half of the 19th century. He did a lot of portraits, as well as many landscapes of areas near where he lived. One really impressive painting, which looked to be about 25 square feet, is more than half sky, but it's not boring. Many of the other paintings were quite small.

On my way back "home" toward the hotel, I walked down Pall Mall, a famous street I don't think I strolled down last time, except maybe for a block or two. Here is something I thought you might enjoy. In Sliema, Malta, there was the Tex-Mex Bar & Grill; on Pall Mall, it's the Texas Embassy Restaurant & Grill.

I was afraid I would have to get all the way back to Sainsbury's "local" grocery store at the Marble Arch to get some food for supper, but on Piccadilly I stumbled across a Marks & Spencer "Simply Foods" which was open on Sunday, so I took my ham, apple, cookies and Coke to Berkeley Square for supper. It was about 5, and I spent about 20 minutes eating. I was wearing long pants, t-shirt, long-sleeved shirt AND windbreaker, and I was still cold by the time I finished. In fact, just a few minutes later, as I resumed my walk, the wind was so strong and I was so cold, I put the second windbreaker on, and walked at a very fast clip for several hundred yards before I was warm enough to take it off. Finally by the time I got to the Marble Arch, I was warm enough to take the other windbreaker off, but from there all the way back to the hotel, I was just a bit too cool with only the two shirts and body heat to warm me up. And if the wind by itself isn't bad enough, the sycamores (at least I think they're sycamores) are constantly setting loose their fluff, which I'm clearly allergic to, sneezing and dripping and feeling like something is caught in my throat. If I were still wearing contacts, I would probably have to be removing them and cleaning them a half dozen times a day from all the dirt and dust the wind is kicking up. I tell you the truth: I am having a good time doing the things and I am doing here, but if Richard Branson knocked on the hotel room door right now and said, "Pack up, dude; I'm taking the Lear to Texas tonight," I don't think I would say no. I am really tired of being cold and fighting the wind.

And now, tonight, I've got an older couple in the room next to me, and I thought that would be a good thing. But the man plays their TV so loud, I can hear it through the wall. So I just set my TV to the same channel, so the two soundtracks wouldn't be conflicting, but HE WON'T LEAVE IT ON ONE CHANNEL. I've changed the channel at least four times in the past 30 minutes because he keeps flipping. Hotels!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Chris Watson: Whispering in the Leaves

Today's highlight, and one of the highlights of the trip, was attending Chris Watson's "Whispering in the Leaves" in the Palm House at Kew Gardens, in Kew, not too far from London. Watson, once a member of an English band called Cabaret Voltaire, now creates sound collages from environmental recordings he makes--in a tropical rain forest, for example (as with "Whispering in the Leaves"). "Whispering in the Leaves" is actually two recordings, around 20 minutes each, created specifically for the Palm House, the gardens' glasshouse reproduction of a tropical rain forest, and intended to play throughout this summer. Today was the debut. One of the recordings, called "Dawn", plays each hour of the morning that Kew Gardens are open; "Dusk," plays in the afternoon. For the debut today, Watson came to the Palm House for a 1 p.m. performance of "Dusk" during which he "played" his existing tapes to create a performance different from the recording which will normally play. A thunderstorm was included in the collage, especially appropriate since today was a rainy, chilly mess of a day. Here's a photo I took as he and an assistant worked with the setup before beginning the show. Watson is on the right.

After the show I got a chance to talk to Watson and asked if the recordings would be released by Touch Music, a UK company which has released others of his works. In this case, he said no, because the recording is designed with the Palm House in mind, designed for this specific environment, and he feels it would lose too much, separated from its setting, which plays through 80 (or was it 90?) speakers mounted in the glasshouse. I showed him the drawings I made before and during the performance and told him I would send him photos of them if there was an email address at his website. He called over one of the Touch Music employees, and then a few minutes later, the label head, and introduced them. I told them I had found out about the performance either from their email newsletter or website, which I have bookmarked on my computer. Mike, the label head, told me the US is their best market and they are looking into expanding into the US. They gave me the email address so that I could send them the drawing photos. It was a lot of fun.

Palm House is only one small part of the gardens which are a huge park, over 150 acres, with grounds for wandering about in (on more pleasant days than today), and a number of special buildings for specific purposes. Palm House is the tropical rain forest glass house. Another glass house features temperate plants, and another has about 8 or 10 separate climate "zones" in it, including a couple designed to attract and nurture butterflies. Here's one of the photos I took there:

and another, of the chrysalis box, which sort of gives me the creeps: like a science-fiction movie version of a cloning chamber or something:

Beneath the Palm House is the "marine" area, with aquariums for plants as well as fish. It's not a large exhibit, but it's pretty cool that one of the aquariums has two seahorses in it. This is the best photo I go: they are cagy little critters.

Another aquarium had a peculiar little ringed fish that looked like a worm except for its tail, flattened and slightly broader than the rest of its body. Its head was the smallest part of it. In another aquarium were several of those fish, which are also shaped like worms (or snakes if you prefer) and burrow tail-first into the sand, which they were doing as I watched. It looks almost like a magic trick.

There is also a gallery building which features botanical paintings, going back as far as the 18th century; a pagoda; a few "temples"; and a "minka" house, which shows the traditional way houses used to be built in Japan, with thatched roofs, wood-beamed walls, and so forth. Resistant to, and easier to repair after, earthquakes and typhoons, as well as environmentally sound. The bamboo garden is around the minka, and there's also a 'rhododendron dell', which enormous plants, nearby. There was a non-rainy patch in the middle of the afternoon when I wandered some of these areas. But for the first 3 hours, more or less, that I was at the Gardens it was either raining or misting and it wasn't lovely to be outside. In fact, it wasn't terribly pleasant to be inside either, in the Temperate House, because even with the low temperature, wind and rain, they had the doors and some of the windows open, letting the weather in. Too cold for me. (In fact, I'd argue that it's quite a stretch to call England's climate "temperate" at all. Hehehe.)

The Gardens were founded in the mid-18th century, and they started putting in the glasshouses in the 19th century.

I spent the biggest part of the day there, or in Kew itself, where both before and after visiting the Gardens I had tea and snack. The train station is quite near, and Kew itself looks more like what we Americans probably think an English town ought to look like than London. The houses near the Gardens, even though they were mostly joined to others, like condos kind of, had small yard areas and driveways, and were made of that red brick so common in England. The couple of main streets near the train station (it's actually part of the London Underground, but it's above ground here) have small shops and restaurants, which cater as much to tourists, I imagine, as to locals.

It would have been a fine day for sunshine and a bit of warmth, since there is so much to see outside at the gardens, but it was not to be. It was a miserably ugly day, weather-wise, perhaps second only to the day on the ship when we weren't able to dock in the Azores because the swells were so bad, and certainly the ugliest day I've had yet in England, much like a bad day in February in Texas. I knew I'd almost certainly have chilly weather here, and I figured I'd have a great deal of cloud cover. But I'd hoped at least to get out of the wind which haunted both Malta and the cruise. But it hasn't happened yet. The wind in London hasn't been as strong as the wind in Malta, but it has blown day after day, probably 10 to 15 miles per hour, most of the day. Oh well, perhaps when I get back to the States, I'll learn once again what it feels like when the temperature soars to 75 degrees. I include this final photo, simply for the chuckle. This poster actually advertises the Palm House, if you can make out the small print, but I certainly had to scoff at the idea of "feeling the heat" here in England.

Friday, May 28, 2010

"Dirty Dancing"--not that I did any of it

I think I've fallen in love with the new version of the London taxi. If they were available in the US, and got a recommendation from Consumer Reports, I might want to buy one. You can see a couple here, plus part of a third. I suppose more are black than any other color, but they aren't all black, and many have advertising on the side panels.

This morning I took it fairly easy because I had a long walk ahead of me in the afternoon. I sat in Kensington Gardens for a while and worked on a sketch using the "In Memory of Speke" monument--Speke is one of the explorers credited (wrongly?) with finding the source of the Nile in the 1860s. I searched down Queensborough Terrace for the house where the Greek poet C.P. Cavafy had lived for a while as a boy, and I had porridge and a cup of tea at Pret a Manger. It was very sunny early on, though the clouds and sun played tiddlywinks with each other from about 9 a.m. on. This has been the sunniest day so far, I suppose, since Tuesday, though it wasn't as warm as Tuesday, and I don't think we've come close to 70 degrees yet. If we hit 70, the Londoners will complain of the heat, and I will be ecstatic.

My long walk this afternoon was due to "Dirty Dancing," performed in the Aldwych Theatre which is, unfortunately for me, one of the theatres farthest to the east in the theatre district. Along the way I had my Marks & Spencer lunch again--apple, ham, scone, pot of tea--and a bit of sightseeing as I walked. I found Denmark St, famous in English pop music history--The Kinks have a song named after it--and the Theatre Royal, sometimes called Theatre Royal Drury Lane. I believe "Oliver!" is being performed there now, though I probably first heard of it because the musician and singer Robert Wyatt, whom I like, released a live album recorded there. One side of the Theatre is on Drury Lane, though the main entrance nowadays is elsewhere.

I got to the Aldwych about 2:15 and bought the ticket Dominique had set aside for me. Seating didn't open till 2:30, so I roamed a little bit and found Sir John Soames Museum, which is supposed to be really fine. Last time I tried to find it and couldn't, so maybe I'll be able to visit it next week. I was on the verge of telling my friend Lou Ann that the museum only exists if she is in London. I also passed the "New Academic Building" of the London School of Economics and took this photo simply because, if I remember correctly, Mick Jagger was an LSE student before he got rich in another kind of business entirely.

And right across the street from the Aldwych Theatre is BBC Bush House. I don't know what goes on in Bush House as opposed to other BBC buildings, but I thought it was worth a photo, especially as so many of you love Masterpiece Theatre.

And here is the Aldwych.

The ticket Dominique set aside for me was quite a good one: in the Dress Circle, which is sort of the first balcony, but not high and removed as you think of a balcony being. The most expensive floor, I suppose, is the Grand Circle, which looks, as far as I could tell, to be a bit below the level of the stage, but I guess it angles up. My seat was C13--on the third row of the Dress Circle, smack dab in the middle. Thanks, Dominique! I don't remember enough about the movie, which I saw back in the '80s, to know if the musical varies much in plot or not. There is a subplot about the civil rights movement and young people at the resort wanting to take part in that; another subplot about one of the dancers having an abortion; and of course a lot of music and dancing. Some of the music was performed live--a young black woman and a young white guy were the stand-out vocalists--and some was recorded, including songs from the early '60s like "You Don't Own Me" and "This Magic Moment." The big climax scene features the hit song from the movie and an extended dance number featuring 20 or so people. The set was fairly simple--a staircase on each side with a screen door into one of the "cabins"--and other props and furnishings came and went as needed. The biggest part of the stage revolves, in two different pieces, and this was used effectively in the staging, as was the three-piece video screen at the back, which allowed them to show rain falling or scenery passing by as a car drove, etc.

On the walk back west after the show I sort of stumbled onto Covent Garden Market. Covent Garden is famous, but I can't for the life of me think why! Maybe 0ne of you will type some information into a comment. I also came across this performance at the intersection of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road. The three guys were playing "Crossroads" in the style of Cream as I walked up, and they sounded quite good. But still, I don't think they are transformation of Tottenham Court Road advertised on the billboard behind them.

And this was a horse-riding class of some sort going on in Hyde Park.

One thing you notice about London, if there is any sunshine at all, is that the parks (or gardens as they call most of them) really get used. People and dogs are everywhere, and as I mentioned above, their ideas of cold and heat are quite different from mine. Yesterday, for example, as I walked through Hyde Park on my way to the Tate Britain museum, when the weather was completely cloudy and very chilly, I saw a mother and son, both in short sleeves and looking very exercise-y, while I sat on a bench with my pound cake and hot tea and two or three shirts or windbreakers on, and still right on the edge of wanting to escape to the Bahamas. Then, just a few minutes later when I was walking again, I passed what looked like a father and grown son, with a dog, throwing a frisbee disk back and forth, and the young man had his shirt off. But it's also true that I'll sometimes see people, especially women, bundled up even more than I am.

I repeat the question I have asked in this blog before: will I ever feel 80 degrees, outside, again?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Henry Moore and the Duck

If 65% of my time in Malta was eating and walking, that figure in London may be closer to 90%, most of it walking. As I walked this cold gloomy morning toward the Tate Britain Museum, I bought a cup of tea and a slice of lemon pound cake and sat on a bench by The Serpentine, a winding stretch of water in Hyde Park, to consume. This little rascal seemed to be quite interested in the fact that I had food in my hand. Look at those pink feet!

As I passed under the Wellington Arch, in honor of the famous military figure the Duke of Wellington, I noticed the sign saying you could climb up to the top and see the views. I don't recall ever seeing that sign in 2007, but maybe I just ignored it. Anyway, I paid the 3 pounds 70 pence and went up. There are three or four floors as you go up, which have various kinds of photo exhibits in them. But at the top, which is actually not quite at the top, you can go outside to the west and the east, I think, and look down into the little park below, and down along the road called Constitution Hill, which leads to Buckingham Palace. You can see the top of the tower of Big Ben off in the distance, and most of the giant Ferris wheel called the London Eye.

There was a huge crowd at Buckingham Palace, getting ready for the changing of the guard, but there were lots of divider fences/screens in the area too, and also over by the Houses of Parliament, so I presume something big is going on this weekend. I didn't see a sign to tell me what it was, though. As I got closer to the Tate Britain it began to mist lightly, but not quite enough for me to get the umbrella out. I had the hat on, and that keep most of the mist off my glasses.

I've been to the Tate Britain before, and to the huge and wonderful JMW Turner exhibits there, but today's main reason was that there is a special exhibit there now of the work of Henry Moore. Those of you who live in Dallas have probably seen the monumental bronze "Dallas Piece" which is on the lawn in front of the Dallas City Hall and is a fairly late work, made of three pieces. The works in this exhibition were from the '20s to the '60s and included sculpture in wood, stone and bronze, and drawings, some of them studies for sculptures and some of them for their own sake. His work in the 1920s, when he was young, gave me a feeling of African tribal art and occasionally even Central American work, like that of the tribes before the Spanish invasions. Mostly he was working with the human form--mother & child combinations were prevalent--but in a kind of stylized and not quite realistic way. Around the late '20s several of the female figures--some sculpture, some masks--had strange shapes out to the side or back of their heads. I eventually decided this was an unusual way of indicating some kind of bun-style in the hair, but my first thought, given that some of the earlier work looked like American tribal art, was that the woman's head was sort of morphing into an animal's head. Some pieces during this period also involve string, which surprised me.

As Moore got older the shapes got more and more abstracted and distorted, though most often still based loosely on the human figure. During World War II he quit doing sculpture and concentrated on drawing with various media--crayon, pencil, watercolor--and there was a gallery here focused on drawings inspired by the air raid shelters and by coal mining. These are often dark and moody pieces, and really give a different sense of his work. He compared the air raid shelters, and the people being crowded into them, to the holds of slave ships, and he thought that coal mines were a good representation of hell.

Photos weren't allowed of the art, unfortunately, but as I later walked north from the Tate, I noticed this sculpture which certainly looks like a Moore work (though it may not be) so I took a photo of it for you, with Parliament and Big Ben in the background.

From here I went north along the banks of the Thames River with the Victoria Embankment Gardens to my left. The obelisk called "Cleopatra's Needle" is here though, as the plaques on it note, it is an obelisk of the Pharaoh Thutmose III (about 3500 years ago), which Ramses II later added some carving to.

It was moved in ancient times to Alexandria (founded by Alexander the Great) and erected there in 12 BC, almost 20 years after Cleopatra committed suicide--so your guess is as good as mine as to why it's called Cleopatra's Needle. It was given to Britain by the ruler of Egypt almost 200 years ago. I can't remember if he was called a Sultan or a Bey or what exactly.

It's flanked on two of its four sides by sphinxes which I presume not to be ancient, since they are in awfully good shape (minor damage from bombing during World War II) and look to be quite sheeny bronze.

This threesome of elephants is in the Victoria Embankment Gardens, right near the Needle, and the elephants scattered all over the city are called Elephant Parade, not Elephant Walk as I had written earlier, and they are drawing attention to the terrible plight of the Asian elephant, in danger of extinction. You can also buy one of these for your home or garden, if you want to place a bid!

From here I went on to the theatre area, to find out which theatre "Dirty Dancing" is showing at and if there had been a ticket set aside for me there. As of yet, there isn't, but the man said they often aren't actually put there at the ticket counter until the night before. So I may be going to see it at the matinee tomorrow or I may not. I took a good luck at the brochure for this time period from the discount tickets company and may check into either "The 39 Steps" or "The Mousetrap," both of which have matinees next Wednesday.

I also dropped into St-Martin-in-the-Fields church, which was undergoing a bunch of work when I was here in 2007. A group of 8 musicians was rehearsing inside, with various people listening in, so I joined them for a little while. There is a concert tonight, so maybe these are some of the musicians who by now have already been playing this evening. I didn't have my drawing materials with me, so I read my Nemirovsky book while listening. But I didn't stay terribly long: I could see the sun shining outside and didn't want to miss too much of that. And, as you know, rehearsals aren't quite as interesting as actual performances, since there are stops and starts and so forth. Still, when they were playing straight through a composition, it was quite lovely.

I noticed a sign about going down the stairs to the crypt, so I did. As you can see it's now a cafe!

As it turns out, the church has a very large amount of space underground, a lot of which looks new. In addition to the cafe, there's a gift shop and rooms for musicians and so forth. There was also a display about the St John Bible which is apparently still in production--the information says it is the first illuminated Bible to be produced since the invention of modern printing in the 1400s.

Later, after supper and a quick stop by the hotel to get my drawing materials and get rid of my backpack, I went over to Kensington Gardens, just a few blocks away, and sat and drew for a little while: the sun was shining, though it was still a bit chilly at 6 p.m. I had ditched the sweatshirt but was wearing both windbreakers. After drawing I walked down to the Diana Memorial Fountain, which is a circular sort of concrete stream, and saw this new sculpture, just unveiled last September, which I had first seen this morning, from the other side of the water, as I walked toward the Tate. It's called Isis and is quite large, as you can see from the man standing to the side and behind it. That whiteness in the green, farther back, is back of the Diana fountain.

Well, there may be showers tomorrow, but also some "brightening up" maybe in the afternoon, and the temperature may soar all the way up to 66! I'm pretty sure it was in the 50s this morning, though when the clouds started to clear this afternoon--which didn't get really serious till about 2:30 or so--it warmed up a good bit. For a while I even took the sweatshirt off and walked around in my short-sleeved shirt!