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!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Sherlock Holmes Museum and an old Byron book

Can you guess where I went this morning? The Sherlock Holmes Museum is on Baker Street, and the posted address is 221B, like Holmes's address in the stories, but it's a bit of a trick. From its placement on the street, the museum ought to be 239 or something like that. Just a few doors down is a Beatles store, which has a zillion kinds of things related to the Beatles: new things like t-shirts and so forth, and old things like copies of the Beatles monthly magazine from the '60s.

But back to Holmes: the photo above shows the entrance to the gift and memorabilia shop. The museum itself is right next door: a man dressed as a policeman stands at the door and you show him the ticket you bought in the gift shop (6 pounds) and go inside. The house is several floors: 4, maybe. I wasn't carefully counting. The museum aims at doing two things: one, presenting the house as a real place as described in the stories, and two, exhibiting items related to the specific stories and incidents from them.

This photo, for example, shows what purports to be a letter Holmes wrote to Watson. (Notice the date is my birthday.)

And this one, I think, intends to be the original hand-written text of "The Hound of the Baskervilles". I'm assuming it's supposed to be the accounts that Watson was mailing back to Holmes when Holmes was allegedly back in London.

This one is the book which hides a gun. I can't remember which story this is from: I'm not sure I've read it.

There is also a notebook of letters written to Holmes, many of them by children, and one from an official of the royal family, from St James Palace, replying to a request from the museum for an appearance by either Prince Philip or Prince Charles: I can't remember which. (I wasn't taking notes.)

This is Doctor Watson's desk. You can see his doctor's bag in the chair in the foreground.

The parlour features a violin, of course, waiting for Sherlock to pick it up and play, and the VR (Victoria Regina) of bullet holes which Holmes shot into the wall in a bad mood one day. There is also an elderly man on duty there, claiming to be Sherlock Holmes, greeting visitors and suggesting they take photos of themselves with Holmes's or Watson's hat on and a pipe in hand.

Two of my sisters are big fans of mystery novels and movies, and they both would have loved being here with me. Maybe one day I'll get them to London. It was a chilly, mostly cloudy day today, and there were small fires in several of the rooms. And of course one of the rooms (I think it was Mrs Hudson's, Holmes's housekeeper) with a very nice "potty chair."

After visiting the museum, I sauntered down Baker Street, heading toward Oxford Street, and came across a nice little restaurant where I had a croissant and a pot of tea. (I'd had a pot of tea, toast and dry corn flakes for breakfast at the hotel.) It was a nice pause after a fairly long walk, and I read several pages of Thomas Hardy's "Tess of the d'Urbervilles" while there. Then as I wandered farther south and came to a Pret a Manger (Ready to Eat). I had noticed when browsing one yesterday that "porridge" was on the menu. I checked it out, and it's sort of precooked oatmeal with milk already added in. Anyway, I went ahead and checked it out, to see if it's something I can safely eat, and it seems to be okay. So that was my third time to eat before noon today.

I also spent some time at Waterhouse, one of the British bookstore chains. Mostly I wanted to buy a central London map that would show tourist spots, because my old map from 2007 is actually a map from about 1998 and some things have changed. But of course I looked at books too and saw a book of poetry I might buy by a British poet I've never heard of, as well as 3 books by Irene Nemirovsky, whose works I really enjoy. Of course I just bought one of her books yesterday, so first I need to get it read. Anyway I found a nice street and tourist site map, and that's all I bought.

My fourth meal of the day, my lunch, was at Marks & Spencer. I went to the Food Hall (their grocery store) and bought an apple, a packet of sliced chicken and a package of potato sticks, then went up to their cafe and got a pot of green tea. Then I sat at a table and ate INSIDE, instead of outside--it was pretty nippy outside today. I think this may be a very good format for lunch for me for the next several days. It's also easier not to make a mess as you slice your apple, if you're at a table instead of eating out of your lap.

After lunch I moseyed on toward the British Museum. My idea was that I'd actually visit the British Library, which is a half mile or so past the British Museum, and on the way there stop in at a bookstore I remembered from 3 years ago, and see what I could find. I did some browsing, both on the shelves and in a couple of their printed catalogs, and came away with an 1818 printing of Lord Byron's comic book "Beppo." This poem, set in Venice, introduces the stanza form and something of the tone that Byron would go on to use to such great effect in his unfinished masterpiece "Don Juan". (He didn't finish it because he died in Greece while trying to help the fight for Greek independence.) This copy I bought today is something like a fifth printing, and it's in an inexpensive paper cover, rather than the original cover, so it was only 25 pounds. Byron is a relatively inexpensive poet to collect, if you want to collect old editions, because his books were quite popular and went through numerous printings. So most of them aren't really rare. (A good thing for a retiree.)

After leaving Jarndyce, the bookstore, I went to Starbucks for another cup of tea (and a donut), then I decided, since I was right there by the British Museum, I really should go inside. So I did. I didn't really stay very long, but I did visit my old friend Gudea, king of Lagash in Mesopotamia about 4100 years ago, peeked at some Egyptian stuff, and took this photo of Philistine coffin lids for you. If these coffin lids offer anything like actual portraits, then the Philistines were pretty funny looking dudes.

I decided to save the British Library for another day, but stopped in at one of the HMV music stores on Oxford Street on the way back to the hotel, a long walk. One of the clerks helped me find a number of offbeat experimental CDs, some by musicians I already know, some not. So there is another purchase I might make before I leave--one of those CDs. (Unless I find that they are available in the US.)

After a little picnic supper in Hyde Park at the Italian Gardens, I roamed the park a bit. It was quite chilly by this point. I had both sweatshirt and windbreaker on, and wouldn't have minded having the second windbreaker on as well. I got into a bit of a conversation with a young guy who seemed to maybe be a bit lost: he had the same problem I often have in London: he knew where he wanted to get on the map, the trick was actually doing it in reality. So he had me take a few photos of him with the Peter Pan statue, then as I was leaving him there, a young woman said something about the statue, and I asked her, "Do you need me to take yours too?" and she laughed and said no. I remember three years ago meeting a woman there, on my first day in London, and each of us taking the other's photo. It's a popular spot.

Then it was time to get back to the hotel and get my night-time routine done. On the way I saw this car which sort of puzzled me.

I wondered if it might be some kind of political comment or something like that, but on the back it says "Manual" and "Automatic", so apparently it's just a business that's run for (and/or by) immigrants from Iraq.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

England Swings

A LONG day today. I got up at 5 a.m. and had a quick shower before going down for an early breakfast. By 6:15 I was rolling my 40-pound suitcase up and down Valletta's hilly streets to the bus terminus to catch the 6:30 to the airport. There was an elderly Irish couple waiting there already, and a Scotchman joined us soon, and then the young couple who had come down to breakfast at the guesthouse. The bus got us to the airport by 7 and, since there were two flights leaving before 9, the checkin gate was open. After checking in, I sat down for a cup of tea at the little cafe (Malta's airport isn't terribly large, you understand), and then around 8 or so went toward the departure gates. Came through that all right, then wandered around inside the security area a bit, since I didn't see any sense in rushing to sit on the plane, and THEN, when I went to passport control to board the plane, they wanted to know why my passport didn't have an entry stamp. I explained that I had flown in from Rome, that there was no one waiting to stamp passports when I arrived in Malta, and that I had checked with "customer care" to see if I needed a stamp and was told no. The man explained that I should have been stamped in Rome, at the airport. So he took me into the small police office there at the airport, and they asked me when I had arrived, and if I could show proof of when I arrived, and so forth. They took a photo of my passport and of my paperwork from Red Bird travel: I couldn't find the stub of my boarding pass from that flight, but I still had the ticket purchase receipt Donna gave me weeks and weeks ago. Then they filled out a form, reporting that Rome had not registered me when I entered, and made me sign that, then gave me that original form and kept a copy of it for themselves. It was a little spooky, especially as it was getting close to time for the flight to leave.

When they let me go, and I approached the gate, I had the distinct impression the Air Malta folks were waiting on me, even though it wasn't quite 8:40, departure time. There were no other passengers waiting to board, and the guy sort of waved me toward the door, then said, "No, wait for the shuttle." At Malta International, you still walk out of the terminal, get onto a bus, ride the bus to the aircraft, then climb the stairs to enter it. So a bus came up to the curb, let me in--no one else there but me!--and took me to the jet. I was the last to board!

Well, after that, the flight was fortunately uneventful. And fortunately it was a bright sunny day--and even felt fairly warm, though that might have been because I was wearing jeans, a t-shirt and a long-sleeved shirt. I read a bit, dozed a bit, ate a bit, looked out the window a bit, on the flight. I saw the "white cliffs of Dover" as we neared the end of the flight, and was pleased to see that there was sunlight in England as well.

It was about 10:40 when we touched down, and disembarking went fairly quickly. Then we had a long walk to baggage claim and passport control, and then I had to find out about getting a train ticket to Victoria Station. I wasn't exactly sure what to do, but the gentlemen at the ticket counter was very helpful and told me I could get a day pass for the Tube (the London subway, also called the Underground) for only 1 pound 40 pence more than the train ticket, so I bought that, since I would need to take the Underground to Paddington Station (this will mean something to those of you who teach or taught elementary school, I think), which is quite near the hotel I'm staying in.

Now here's something I don't get: there's a train called the Gatwick Express, that brags about running every 15 minutes and getting you to Victoria Station in 30 minutes. I didn't check to see what it costs because I knew already that it costs quite a bit more than the regular train ride, which I had taken last time and which makes only two stops between Gatwick and Victoria. What I don't get is this: the regular train took less than 40 minutes to get to Victoria, so why pay extra to save 7 or 8 minutes? I suppose the train may not run as often--I don't know about that--because I only had to wait about 5 minutes for it. I also exchanged euros for pounds at the station: my 36 or 37 euros were worth just a pinch over 28 pounds, minus the 1 pound 50 handling charge. With about 6 pounds I still had from 2007, that got me a little money in my pocket without immediately hitting an ATM.

When I got to Victoria, I stopped in a little food shop and got a Coke and a bag of crisps (potato chips) to go with my packet of tuna I've been holding onto ever since America. Then I sat on a bench and part one of lunch. Then I found a helpful Underground employee to remind me what to do to get to Paddington. By the time I left Paddington Station (after getting more info from another helpful employee about how to get to Heathrow next week) and tugged that heavy suitcase to the hotel and got checked in, it was only about 1 p.m. London time (2 p.m. in Malta) so I had been up for 9 hours already, and it was only barely after lunch time. Sigh. I unloaded some stuff in the room, rearranged the backpack, changed into shorts and took off the long-sleeved shirt since it was fairly warm and sunny outside, and then I headed off. Even though my day pass was still good for more Tube riding, I walked and reacquainted myself with the streets I had seen so much of in 2007.

When I got past Hyde Park and over to Oxford Street, where the serious shopping starts, I went into Sainsbury's grocery store, which I remembered from before. It was time to supplement my tuna and chips. Inside Sainsbury's, I got an apple, a croissant and a bottle of water, then went over to the south side of Oxford Street to Marble Arch park for lunch part two. There I took a photo of this enormous horse head sculpture, which I do not remember from 2007.

There are also two brightly painted elephant sculptures in the park, and later I ran across some more of them in Berkeley Square (where I was having my lightish supper). A placard at Marble Arch explained that the elephants are part of "elephant walk," but there was no information I could find on the horse's head.

Lou Ann will want to conk me on the head when I tell you that my afternoon's goal, besides just enjoying being in London, was visiting some bookstores. It seemed better to wait till tomorrow to start museum-going and so forth, so I thought I'd check out some used book stores on Charing Cross Road. Now that's a fairly long walk from Hyde Park, but remember that so far today had mostly been riding--on a bus, on a jet, on a train, on a subway. So here are a few shots of swinging London. I think I took all of these as I was returning from Charing Cross Road, rather than on the way.

London seems to be under construction. I don't know if there is some big overhaul going on for a specific purpose, or if things are just happening. Behind the blue wall in this photo is empty space, though it may look like those buildings back there are inside the blue. This looked to be pretty much a full city block. I don't remember what was here 3 years ago, but I'm sure it wasn't empty. This is prime retail property on a major shopping route.

I also passed, entirely by chance, Carnaby Street, so famous in the '60s as the place where all the hippest shops were located. It seems to have sort of turned into a theme park now!

This young man was sitting off to the side in front of a store "playing" the traffic cone. One of the songs I recognized was "When the Saints Go Marchin' In". I donated 50 pence to the little pile of coins accumulating on his backpack.

And here is a bit of history making a comeback. I suppose most of us remember vaguely the British East India Company from our studies of the Age of Exploration in school. I passed this long temporary wall, blocking off the front of the building while the renovation is going on, advertising the East India Company's return. The photo's not very good. There's a lot of sunlight shining off of it.

And this quite tiny car is a model I have already seen 3 or 4 of. Apparently it's called the G-Wiz and is an electric car. It makes the MiniCooper look large!

Well, did I buy any books at the used stores? No, though I saw some I might ponder going back for. I did however buy a new book, at Blackwell's on Charing Cross: "All Our Worldly Goods" by Irene Nemirovsky. I've been quite taken with her work over the past several months. You may remember when "Suite Francaise" appeared a few years ago. Nemirovsky died in Auschwitz in 1942, and "Suite Francaise", unfinished, lay unknown in a suitcase in her daughter's possession for about 60 years. "All Our Worldly Goods" is one I haven't seen on the shelves in the US, though a story collection called "Dimanche" was published in the US just before I left. (I look forward to reading it when I get back.) "Suite Francaise" is really good, if you're looking for something to read. It was intended to be a suite of 5 short novels, only 2 of which were finished. Both of them are quite good, set in France right as World War II is beginning and the Germans are invading and then settling in as occupiers. "Fire in the Blood," another book Nemirovsky didn't live to complete, is also quite good, and it's a satisfying work, even though it's unfinished.

Another job for this afternoon I have saved for last because I think it may bore most (all?) of you witless. I wanted to check in with Vodafone and see if my Maltese "internet key" (mobile modem) was going to work here in London. There's good news and bad news about this: the bad news is that, yes, my Maltese internet key will work in the UK, but at the cost of 5 euros per MB of usage. (Because I would be "roaming"--not in my "home" zone.) Normally in Malta I was using 30-35 MB per night, so you can figure out pretty quickly that I could be running up charges of 150 euros a night to use the Maltese key! Not my idea of fun. So I asked them if I could get a UK SIM card for the modem and then just buy UK usage. The easy answer to that question is No. But the good news is how cheap the internet keys are in the UK. For 25 pounds, I was able to buy the UK internet key with 3 GB of usage already loaded into it. So basically I will be paying about 2.5 pounds a day for usage for the next ten days. Of course if I was staying longer, the price per day would average out less because the 3 GB don't expire for 30 days, and in 30 days I would probably not use more than 1.5 GB anyway. What is amazing to me about this price is that I thought the Maltese price was low, in comparison to what pay-as-you-go Mobile Broadband costs in the US, but the UK is even cheaper. The "key" plus 3 GB of usage in Malta cost 82 euros, somewhere between $105-110, but in the US it costs $129, plus tax, just to buy the key/modem from Verizon, which is a subsidiary of Vodafone. And then when you buy your pay-as-you-go usage, you get only 500 MB, which costs another $50. In 2007 I paid 40 pounds (when the pound was worth a lot more than it is now) for wifi usage, but I had to be either in Starbucks or TMobile for the wifi to work.

Well, now, the Internet Key won't connect. I've tried several times. And I realize now that I wasn't given a SIM card with my purchase. Is that the problem or is this supposed to work without one? I will have to go back tomorrow and find out what is going on. And that means I can't post this on the 25th or communicate with any of you right now. Rats.

Hey, I uninstalled the Malta key installation, and then did a new install with the UK key, and now it works. Cool.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Scicluna and the Ballet

I began this gray, dank morning with a visit to the head office of Heritage Malta. (Actually of course I had breakfast first, and a bit of a walk, and a shower, and even bought a luggage strap, but you get my drift.) Today was the opening day of an exhibit called "Deconstructing Michelangelo" and featuring paintings by a Maltese artist named George Scicluna. Scicluna has done his own interpretations of a number of Michelangelo's works, both paintings and sculptures. This first one here is his look at one of Michelangelo's madonnas. I took the photo at an angle to reduce the reflections from the numerous uncurtained windows in the hallway where the paintings were displayed. I like it when museums and galleries use natural light, but it's best when the paintings aren't under glass!

The second one, one of the pietas, I was able to shoot head on because it was in a darker part of the hallway.

If you want to know more about Scicluna and his work, you can go to

Later in the afternoon I went to another exhibit, also a freebie, though this one was in the gallery area of an arts supply store right inside the main gate of the city. In the back corner of the store, there's a spiral staircse up the gallery, which is open in the center, overlooking the floor below. While I was there, there was what looked to be an art lesson going on, one on one, but I didn't interrupt to ask if the teacher was the artist whose work was displayed. This exhibition was called "Ballet Dancers in Action", and most of the canvases, by artist Carmel Micallef, featured multiple persons embodying the theme. The style was sort of impressionistic, almost like sketches done with acrylic instead of pastel. In some of them he (she?) displayed a very impressive treatment of light, and the sense of motion was also very well-done.

About midday, after my lunch and while awaiting the Sliema ferry, I took this photo of a man fishing. Can't you just imagine what the cat is thinking?

I also managed to get a shot of a big guy who had his shirt off and was fairly heavily tattooed. Unfortunately he was too far off when I took the shot, so the photo is too indistinct to be worth looking at. If I'd been a little more gauche, I would have just stopped him, I guess, when he walked past a few minutes earlier, and said, "Hey, man, can I photograph your skin?"

I did directly ask this young guy if I could photograph him. You'll see why below. I asked about the uniform/costume too. He was actually on guard duty, for the prime minister's offices across the street from where he was standing. His uniform is the same as the knights' uniform, but he is specifically representing--he nodded toward the flag--the knights of Spain. Whether that is because the prime minister's offices are in what was the Auberge of Castille (which served the knights of Castille and Portugal) or whether they just change out the flags on some kind of rotation to represent all eight divisions of the knights, I didn't think to ask him.

Fortunately the clouds finally broke a little before one (though this also meant the wind picked up), and then we got about 4 good hours of sunlight, before a cloudy haze moved in again and the sunlight became a kind of filtered light. It was chilly enough near the water by 4:30 or so that I was wearing both windbreakers and didn't feel at all overheated. Down by the gates, with the wind somewhat blocked, it was more pleasant. Even so, on this my last full day in Malta, I think I had one or two windbreakers on all day, if I was outside.

Yes, my last full day. Tomorrow I have a flight to London, where it will probably be even chillier, but maybe not so windy, which has been a big part of the problem in my time on this little island. Whether Malta will ever have a summer this year, who knows? But I won't be here to find out! It's off to London and then back to the states. I don't think my dream of living somewhere without a car is going to pan out yet--maybe in another year or two.

Anyway, this "internet key" I bought when I arrived in Malta for mobile broadband usage is supposed to work in England (though it will use up my prepaid allotment more quickly, I believe, as it's "roaming", or something like that). If it works right, then I should be back online tomorrow night. If not, it may be a day or two till I find a place to wifi from. So if there is no blog entry tomorrow night, don't fret! I'll be back online sooner or later, won't I?