Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Out and about

August 16

As I neared the southeastern corner of Hyde Park this morning, a group of horse soldiers in full uniform were doing exercises, practices, whatever they call them. Stirring up dust. At one point I heard the commander shout, "Ride! Gallop!" Mostly they were going in circles around a small group of trees. Although my main goals for the day were the Dickens Museum and another visit to the British Museum, I had come this direction, farther south than I really needed to be, to see if I could find an address for a cousin: a location where one of her aunts had once had a bookshop. I found the address, which is now a gun shop! I took a photo and then saw another bookshop just a block or so on my way. I stopped in, both to look at their poetry and to ask if anyone in that shop knew anything about the other store. Two different employees knew a bit--one woman not quite as old as I am who's been in the book business for thirty years, and a younger man who must have been an infant or young child when the store was open. They said it had been around about thirty years ago and had lasted about a decade. They thought it closed for financial reasons. The woman also recommended a couple of other stores I should visit, one of which is the oldest bookshop in London. I may not make it to them tomorrow, but maybe Thursday or Friday.

I had morning tea at Pret-a-Manger on Berkeley Square, just a few doors down from a Rolls Royce dealer, which is next door to the Bentley dealer. Next stop the Dickens Museum--not quite as far as St. Paul's maybe, but still a long way.

2012 was the bicentennial of Dickens' birth and I tried to visit the museum then, but during my brief visit to London that year, it was being renovated and was closed. It's on Doughty Street (which just a couple of blocks down is John Street) and is in Bloomsbury. One of the employees told me that when Dickens first rented it, it cost eighty pounds a year, which was a great deal of money in 1837, especially for a twenty-five-year-old who wasn't born to money. But Dickens had already made quite a splash by then and had the money. The kitchen and washing room are in the basement (imagine the work the servants did!), and there are four (or five?) other floors. The museum contains lots of portraits of members of the family, as well as typical furnishings of the time, at least a couple of which were actually Dickens's, his armchair, for example. They also had a "commode chair" with a flip-up seat: aren't you glad you weren't the servant who had to take care of that? There are early editions of Dickens writings on display, a Dickens Timeline painted on the wall in one room which gives facts about his life and life at the time, and a sort of hands-on room where, today at least, they were letting folks try their hands at using paintbrush and pen-point to write their names (or whatever), mimicking the way Dickens had to write his books.

At lunch, just some sliced turkey and a Coke at M&S Food Hall, I remember that the Petrie Museum--featuring a lot of objects recovered by the early and very famous archaeologist Flinders Petrie--was in this same neck of the city at University College London. So that was my first goal after eating. It's a small museum, down a street that looks almost like an alley, and most of the items are small items, including a lot of pottery. Everything, as well as I can remember, is Egyptian. I was interested to see a couple of broken items, whose surfaces were still sharp and clear, from the reign of Pharaoh Pepy. One was definitely labeled Pepy II, but the other just said Pepy, so maybe it was the first. The cartouches on the second had more hieroglyphic symbols than the first, so maybe that was a way of indicating the second Pepy. I can't read hieroglyphs so I don't know! There were several items from the reign of Akhenaten, some of which were immediately recognizable because of the exaggerations of the human form characteristic of the period. But what got me really excited for a minute or so was, I thought, the Narmer Palette. I could hardly believe it was right there in front of me--and of course it wasn't: it was a copy. The Narmer Palette is one of the oldest historical (that is, it has readable text) objects in Egyptian history and one of the first things you learn about if you read or study about Egyptian history and art. It felt like an old friend, like seeing Gudea at the British Museum.

And yes, I visited the British Museum again, only a short visit, a stroll through some of the artifacts from ancient Britain and Europe, ancient Persia and Mesopotamia, and even a quick visit to Egypt and Assyria. Afterward I went to Jarndyce Books across the street, where I had bought an inexpensive 19th century copy of Byron's Beppo on an earlier trip. (Byron can be inexpensive to collect because his books were printed in large editions and aren't rare.) Today I thought I might find an inexpensive copy of one of the later segments of his "epic" Don Juan, which came out a few cantos at a time as he wrote them. No luck on Don Juan, which is quite a funny book, but instead I got an orphaned volume from an incomplete set of his works, making it cheap--20 pounds, which is less than some new hardcovers cost. It was printed in 1824, the year he died, and includes four poems, The Age of Bronze, The Island, The Vision of Judgment and The Deformed Transformed. The Vision of Judgment is one of his most famous poems, a comic satire, and The Deformed Transformed is a poetic drama. I've read them, but not the first two.

Well, by this time, I was ready for a jacket potato supper at M&S and a slow walk back to the hotel, with stops along the way to enjoy the nice day and read a bit. We had a mix of sun and clouds today, so that was good. Not as sunny as Friday and yesterday--the two great days for weather on the trip so far--but possibly warmer than yesterday and much better than any of those other days which were wearing my heart away.


drtee said...

The Vision of Judgment is the funniest poem ever written!

Cooper Renner said...

I plan to read it again. I tend toward Don Juan but this reading may change my mind.

My funniest novel choices are probably The Loved One (with some other Waughs not far behind) and Edgerton's Bible Salesman.