c o l u m b i n a

"by her keen and active wit, she [ is ] able to hold her own in every situation and emerge with ease and dignity from the most involved intrigues." ~ Duchartre

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

london: a recap

so, this trip to London fell in my lap. Booked in a whirlwind, packed in a tornado and off for a long weekend across the big and briny. To sum up:

1. British Airways, how do I love thee? I love thee for thy 18 channels of non-stop in-flight entertainment channels and not having to pay for the priviledge of enjoying them. (After a long deliberation, I ended up watching the new version of Pride and Prejudice. Shut up. I was in keeping with the spirit of the trip and by the time I was ready for my plane nap, was filled with warm and fuzzy feelings for the world at large courtesy of Matthew McFadyen and his pretty brooding face.)

I love your Liliputian food stuffs that were actually EDIBLE and accompanied by free liquor. You sated my hunger, got me tipsy, and made me feel tall, like the best boyfriend I never had.

I love your "flight crew" who are perhaps the most polite and efficient human beings on the planet. The fact that you have somehow wrangled them into your service, away from the Peace Core or the Mother Teresa Missions of the World, is impressive. I thought my mother's jaw was going to fall off when this ultra helpful stewardess squeezed herself through the throngs piling up in the aisles as we were waiting for the doors to open to get my mother's coat down from the overhead bin three seats back FOR HER.

2. People in London celebrate St. Patricks Day in very much the same way that we do here in the States: by getting drunk and wearing funny hats in public. Though the dressing up as St. George is definitely part of the holiday tradtion that hasn't crossed the Atlantic yet. (Because nothing promises a rollicking good time and a trip to the Charing Cross emergency room like inebriated idiots allowed spears.)

3. Mama almost got run over by a double-decker bus. Seriously, can't take her anywhere.

4. I could live in the British Museum and still not see the entire collection. I spent five and a half hours there and only managed to cover the Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Near Eastern galleries. I could also murder half the school groups of England for the way they "play" in the galleries. Now, I get that most people don't find the stuff as fascinating as I do and that kids in particular get rambunctious in the final throes of boredom and that the kids in these fieldtrips far outnumber their wranglers chaperones. However, hanging off large blocks of stone at least 4,000 years old as if they were part of the playground jungle-jim while teacher pays absolutely no attention at all = so not cool. So, as the misguided little children put their fingers on any artifact within reach and not behind glass, I practiced my deep breathing and tried to quell the impulse to kill ( "Daniel, go to your happy place." )

Anyway, I sat in the Egyptian galleries for who knows how long, and managed to completely transcribe one stelae into my notebook so that I could attempt a complete translation in the food court. Most of the time I just clung to my Faulkner and sight-transliterated. (Though I can still spot a hpt-di-nsw with great accuracy. Go me!) My splurge present to myself was a fully transcribed booklet of the Papyrus of Nebseni, which I fully intend to translate when I get some free time. (Ha ha ha.)

Biggest "squee" moment, though? Seeing the Reading Room in all its glory. (Such a sucker for a magnificent library.) By the plebian entrance where you can be admitted to a small entrance space without a reading card, they have several bookshelves devoted to the greats who have used their library over the years. I nearly passed out from contained giggles at seeing the Dorothy L. Sayers shelf (issued her reading pass in 1920) populated with all her Wimsey books.

Oh yes, and the food in the gallery court? Sucks. Don't bother with it, no matter how starved you are. Disgusting and over-priced.

5. The Victoria and Albert Museum brings new meaning to "a little something of everything." Is there anything that that museum DOESN'T have? (Answer: a table fountain. I'll explain later.) They have a Chihuli chandelier in the entranceway, a Riemenschiender statuette, more silverware than you can shake a stick at, paintings by Burne-Jones and Turner, Raphael cartoons for his tapestries currently in the Vatican Museum, dresses by Coco Chanel, a typography book by Eric Gill, that damn Dyson vacuum from stupid commercial, a couch made out of teddy bears, and Charles I's wedding suit. Seriously. It's overwhelming on so many levels.

To explain the table fountain comment... One of the few great things about Cleveland is its art museum, which is widely held to be one of the greatest small collections in the United States. (It's small, but what's there is varied and "cherce," as Spencer Tracy would say.) Needless to say, I know their collection pretty well, from visiting a lot and having an internship in their conservation department. One of my favorite pieces EVER is a table fountain from 14th century France, shaped like a castle THAT PLAYS MUSIC. Yes, dammit, this is quite possibly the coolest piece of medieval art to grace a museum case. And Cleveland has it, and the V&A, despite far surpassing CMA in sheer metal tonnage, DOES NOT. Huh.

Also at the V&A, two large "Cast Galleries," which present copies of famous works of art from all over Europe. Copies, mind. There are big plaques that read "Plaster Reproduction OF..." And yet, there always is that one fool with his digital camera who's taking 16 pictures of the fake David like he was in Florence, isn't there?

And finally, nothing makes you look more knowledgeable than using the provided magnifying glasses when looking at minatures. (Their minatures gallery rocks, by the way. Definitely a must-see.) They had the most gorgeous mini silouhettes and one woman browsing the gallery turned to me with a question. (Uh, not a tour guide, ma'am.) After I read her the accompanying plaque, she spent the next five minutes telling me how I looked like someone who knew what it was about. (See Chris in her natural habitat... a museum.)

6. I love the Tube. I love the color-coded maps, and its disconcerting cleanliness and orderliness for a subway, and the automated "mind the gap" voice and the little displays that tell you how many more minutes you need to wait for your train.

7. Harrods is cool and evil in turns. While you can literally buy anything and everything there, I defy you to FIND those things in a relatively quick fashion. You CAN'T. It's like some weird rats-in-a-maze experiment, that building, where up becomes down and retracking your steps never works. Their Georgian restaurant is breath-takingly beautiful and their tea is scrumptious, including those wonderful staples scones with clotted cream and cucumber sandwiches. (I remain flabbergasted that my mother didn't know what clotted cream was until that evening. The woman that raised ME. Boggles the mind.) Oh, and you have to morgage your house to buy anything there.

On a more personal note, the hieroglyphs in the Egyptian escalator bays? Pure gibberish. Just decoration. I expected better of you, Harrods.

8. The Costa coffee chain blows Starbucks out of the water. How, do you ask? Oversized hot chocolate with whipped cream, foam, chocolate shavings and strawberry flavored marshmellows. Oh yes.

9. Tescos are ALWAYS busy. It is always a good time of the day to go food shopping, apparently. And they don't carry Pims or Jaffa Cakes of any kind, so again, my television has lied to me, dammit.

10. I got to see Countess Daisy's castle! Wasn't even excited about seeing Warwick Castle, and then came the revelation-- Countess Warwick, Frances "Daisy" Grenville was the mistress of the heap. (This is what fiction does to a girl; Robin Paige, I'm looking at you. I start squeeing delightedly and my mother spends more minutes worrying what the hell is wrong with her daughter. Again.) The Madame Tussaud's display of the 1898 house party with the Prince of Wales was totally cool and the grounds were beautiful. Could have done without the never-ending uneven stone spiral staircases of claustrophobia and imminent death, but the view from the ramparts was really worth it. (Not worth the dying part, but definitely worth the few tense minutes on the stairs. Not for the faint of heart or the overly portly, though, those stairs.

11. Shakespeare's birthplace isn't nearly as interesting as his plays.

12. There are a lot of sheep in the Cotswolds. And depending on whom you ask, they're in a breeding ground for meat or a recreational spa (the tour guide and my lamb-loving mother, respectively).

13. Oxford totally rocks, though it is completely unrealistic to suppose that people will be punting on the Cherwell and/or the Thames the Isis when the weather feels like its still winter.

14. I still have no idea what Yorkshire pudding is, other than yummy.

15. It costs the same to get round-trip airfare to Ireland as it does to get a cab from Hammersmith to Heathrow. The cabs are cool, I admit, but still, DAMN.

16. No celebrity sightings this time around. Which is rather a shame, because we saw that Jeremy Irons is currently doing a play in town and wouldn't it have been neat if one could make a habit out of seeing respected British theater actors on the street whenever one was in London? Alas, but no. And no Rickman sightings either, even though we stayed in Hammersmith, which IMDb lists as his birthplace. Also, sad, as I had such high hopes of not falling down this time.

17. I'd go back in a heartbeat. Any takers?


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