Wwoofing Adventures #4

01 December 2008

London Tour, cont.

Our fresh new day brought fresh new energy and attitudes to the three of us, and we set out early the next morning to finish our London walking tour and browse the many galleries and museums around the city. Leicester and Trafalgar Squares were among the first stops, the National Gallery our next. I obligingly studied my favorite periods of paintings as I wandered from room to room, but soon sleepiness overcame me and I had to sit down. Perhaps I just wasn’t cultured enough to appreciate the work of such great artists as Caravaggio and Van Gogh and Seurat and Giovanni with alertness, but really I tend to find the layout of museums and galleries a bit tedious—if I’m to study anything in great depth, I don’t do so standing up. I kept dreaming of a museum in which the paintings were displayed on individual tables with benches beside them, allowing the viewer to sit and peer down at the art, that visual direction so much more conducive to actual study. But I enjoyed listening to the folks drifting in and out as they discussed their impending lunches and, occasionally, a painting.

St. James Park was our next stop, for I remembered it as a haven of green and quiet and ducks in the middle of the bustling city. We broke bread on the lawn while some rowdy boys displayed their Frisbee skills further on. It was wise of them to keep moving, for the day was brisk and after my quick nap under my jacket I was thoroughly chilled and ready to spend several pounds on a hot drink. We walked up to Buckingham Palace, stared at it dutifully for a moment, and then continued on our way to the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The V&A

The three of us wandered through the museum’s provocative exhibit about book-designing, fascinated by the layouts and themes and handwritten pages of each piece. One artist even blew his carefully executed book up with dynamite. Then the fashion exhibit kept me entertained for at least two hours with displays of designer ensembles from the modern era, namely eighteenth-century through present. Oh, the construction of the garments and the carefully-wrought details! It was as though I were walking through the back covers of Threads in fact. I soaked in as much as I could and vowed to incorporate similar techniques into future sewing projects.

“Did you see that welt pocket, Meagan? Meagan?” Come to think of it, I vaguely remembered her telling me she was going to some other exhibit. After traipsing through several rooms and floors, I managed to locate LeeAnn wandering the metalsmithing hallway, and the two of us recommenced our search for Meagan.

Our Discovery

We were passing through the second or third floor when something arrested us—and suddenly LeeAnn and I were staring dumbfounded at Trajan’s Column, assembled right there a few feet from us, the scenes of war spiraling up the absolutely massive cylinder. We had read about that very piece in our CivArts texts and here it was, commanding attention as if it were an ancient Roman himself. The detail of the myriad faces was incredible and seemed to suggest that the abstract concept of war-and-conquer was propelled by individual persons. I briefly scanned the rest of the room which was scattered with Romanesque doorways, Elizabethan sculptures, a whole church front, altars, effigies, and crosses, but inevitably my gaze would again alight upon the Column.
“eh?” I thought, “what was that?” In its rhapsodic flight, my gaze had swept over a nearby placard. I ventured closer to read: …despite the large proportions of the gallery, the height of 83 feet is not large enough to accommodate the column in one piece, as it may be seen in Rome … The cast is displayed in two … opening of the Architectural Courts in 1873 … The sections of plaster reliefs are each individually numbered to make up a giant jigsaw…
Suddenly recommitted to finding Meagan, we made our sheepish exit, and I hoped that the couple over yonder had not overheard my naïve amazement at finding the priceless Roman art in Great Britain. Once reunited, the three of us had just enough time to scout out a sushi place before returning to the V&A for their Regency festivities which we were delighted to discover for the evening.

Reliving Regency

First that evening we watched the recreation of one of the duels between Sheridan and Matthews. LeeAnn, a fencer herself, pressed close to analyze the fencers’ techniques as we watched the two re-enactors brandishing their swords and bandying insults at one another. Next was the dance.

The Regency dancing was to be held in the room displaying the tapestries of the Acts of the Apostles. The tapestries were on loan from Her Majesty’s collection—and my mind immediately shot back through history and imagined Raphael’s hand painting those very scenes, those very eyes, those very shadows in the draping cloth. As we looked on each cartoon, LeeAnn read the pertinent biblical passages so that our ears were washed in truth as our eyes were treated to its visual representation. I had made sure to read each placard carefully lest these, too, should prove to be imposters, but each attested firmly to the 16th-century origin of the paintings.

A man and a woman in regency dress demonstrated two dances in a rather ungraceful series of hops and twirls and dips, but after watching the onlookers half-heartedly copying them, we soon took our leave. And, I must say, I was proud of our full day and late night—synchronizing our internal clocks with that of Great Britain’s was going well.

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