Thursday, August 11, 2016

Mr Bean?

August 11

Today's first: I visited the Serpentine Gallery. When I say it was "worth the wait," I mean that there was no reason to hurry in. It's very small and is exhibiting the work of only artist at the moment. The work was not bad, but hardly exciting. On the other hand, several hundred yards up the road is the Serpentine Sackler Gallery which opened in 2013. It's much cooler. The heart of the building is two barrel-vaulted brick rooms which were built during the Napoleonic Wars to store munitions. The rest of the gallery surrounds those chambers. The works on display, by Etel Adnan, were an interesting range--near abstracts, text-based accordion-fold book/works, and some videos on loop. Definitely worth a look.

After the gallery, I had lunch and then headed off for the British Museum which is the cultural spot I've most visited here. (I'm sure I've been to Marks & Spencer ten times as often, but they aren't cultural: I buy food there AND they have bathrooms.) As I walked along Wigmore Street (a way to avoid the crowds of Oxford Street while going in the same direction), I was for a while behind a businessman of some sort (or lawyer?) who made me decide he looked sort of like Mr Bean masquerading as someone "serious". He had a fairly big head, narrow shoulders and long legs. He was wearing (of course!) the traditional dark suit, but the pants were pulled up so high it looked like he almost had a wedgie and the hems just reached his ankles. He had the ugly shiny lace-up dress shoes and looked as silly as American businessmen do--like boys trying to play adult. If "clothes make the man," the man must not amount to much.

At the British Museum, I visited the ancient Near East again. My good friend Gudea of Lagash was waiting there (I'll post a drawing at Flickr and maybe Facebook), and people were crowded around the so-called Battle Standard of Ur. The museum was quite crowded, and for the first time visitors had to pass through a security area that made it easier for employees to search backpacks and purses before allowing us the enter. It was cool to see an exhibit based around the ancient cuneiform tablet library of Nineveh (photo at Facebook), and I laughed when I encountered in the Roman exhibits the busts of Vespasian and his son Titus, both emperors. I remember my thesis supervisor at UT joking that Vespasian looked like LBJ, and Titus wasn't much more attractive. Vespasian built the Colosseum, though he died before it was completely finished and inaugurated. That job was left to Titus, who spent a great deal of money on the initial games there. His expenditures were the subject of my thesis, and during his short reign he also had to deal with the eruption of Vesuvius and the destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Needless to say, he spent a great deal of money in his reign, whereas his father was noted for frugality.

I made a run through the London Review Bookstore--great for poetry and literature--and bought a short biography of the British poet WS Graham which just came out last year and which I'd never heard of. (It's also signed by the author.) At checkout I also left them a copy of my latest little book, telling the clerk that they could do what they wanted with it, that since my work appears with small presses it doesn't get a lot of distribution and I liked the idea of a copy of it floating around in London somewhere. She said she would pass it on to her boss. After that, I made my way toward Covent Garden to look for a bookstore called Tender Books which was mentioned in yesterday's edition of the International New York Times. As it turns out, it's located near, but not in Covent Garden, on Cecil Court where there are a number of other bookstores, mostly selling collectible first editions. Tender Books is quite small, focusing on art and related books (including Aram Saroyan's minimal poetry!) and with a gallery in the basement. The artist featured right now had books to sell along with the art, some of which is made with wine dripped along the walls--the streaks of color looking like long skinny nails. When the exhibit ends, those "stains" will be cleaned away and the art will vanish. In other stores I saw several early editions of poetry by Louis Zukofsky, Lorine Niedecker and Basil Bunting. The Bunting book, published in Galveston (!) in 1950, was priced at 500 pounds.

By this time I was quite hungry again and as I worked my way northwest toward and through Piccadilly Circus and on from there, I had a croissant at Donuts & Baguettes, along with bottled water bought at Boots drugstore (which has a really stinky snack selection). I had supper--ham, chips, Apple from Sainsbury grocery--in Berkeley Square. Across from the square is a Bentley dealer, and not too much farther along, I passed a convertible Rolls Royce parked on the street--dark blue with light orange (!) leather interior. Who decided that looked good? Post-supper tea at M&S and then on toward the hotel. I stopped a couple of times, walking through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, because sunlight was breaking through a hole in the clouds and I wanted to just stand in it. Another mostly cloudy day today--in fact, possibly the most nearly sunless four days I've ever had in London, though a little while ago as I looked out the hotel room window, I saw blue sky and direct sunlight on the building opposite. And after my shower, right about sundown, I went back out for a few minutes under a mostly blue sky. Needless to say, I dare not hope it will last till tomorrow. On the other hand, it felt like we finally reached 70 degrees today. I haven't seen a weather report, but it felt less cold. So it's now possible for me to believe that August might eventually be warmer than May, but I still withhold judgment on the idea of sunlight more than 20% of a day.

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