Friday, November 06, 2009

Part 9. The Sun at twilight, England.

I flew into Heathrow and found England in the grips of fear. There had been bombs. Everyone was hyper sensitive to this bear from the east traveling west. I spent an hour in customs, only just convincing them not to take my camera apart as I still had half a roll of film in it. They studied me and my passport at length, having me tell them time and again why I was there, how I had come there, What I had been doing in Egypt, The Philippines and in New Guinea. Finally they were satisfied that I posed no threat to their culture and the safety of their people they released me. I sought and found a Student Hostel where I shared my sleeping quarters with 10 other guys, some from the neighborhood, some for the middle east, one from South Africa, One guy was from Spain...We were a mix. My list for England was extensive. I wanted to see the British Museum, The Tate, Stonehenge, The V & A, Westminster, I saw an advertisement in the Tube for a the play “The Rocky Horror Show” The movie version of said play was how I had spent my Saturday nights when I was in Phoenix...This is before going became a cult, the people that went when I went did not throw things at the screen, and the only ones who dressed up were the homosexuals- Mostly it was artists and musicians who went. I decided I'd deserved a night at the theater so I put it in my list of things to do.
The next day I awoke, had breakfast in the common dining room and was off. First stop, The British Museum. It was amazing. I had seen things of significance all over the world but if it was small enough to carry, and if the British had been there, they crated it up and carried it home.
I saw the Rosetta stone (yeah the actual one) I saw the Elgin Marbles [these are some of the statues that that originally were part of the Parthenon, they were bought by Lord Elgin from the Turkish military during the Turkish occupation of Greece-the Turks were using them for target practice. They also used the Parthenon to store their gunpowder and the subsequent explosion brought the Temple to its current state of ruin], the panels from the Assyrian palace at Nimrod of the King Ashurnasirpal II (including The Lion Hunt), The actual Tablet from the epic of Gilgamesh that brought this first Hero story to the attention of the modern world [the one on display describes the Flood (suggesting the same flood that appears in the Old Testament in the story of Noah)], Artifacts from the royal cemetery at Ur, the artifacts from the Anglo-Saxon ship burial at Sutton-Hoo, The Tomb-Chapel of Nabamun from Egypt, The Greek-Roman collection including the Portland Vase, a late Roman Sarcophagus showing the twelve labors of Hercules I wandered around and was amazed at what was there-Its sorta their version of the Smithsonian but for the history of the world. I wandered into the rare manuscript section and I saw the actual signatures of Bethoven, Bach, Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Galileo, Raphael...the list goes on. It was much like reliving my entire trip in an day. That night one of the local boys in the Hostel where I was sleeping decided that I was going to accompany him on a drunk. I don't know why he took to me the way he did, I assume that he just decided that it was up to him to show this yank a good time in England. SO, we went. We hit a couple of strip joints, a Pub or two or three, and at around midnight we staggered in and went to the room we shared with the other 8 guys and poured ourselves into our separate beds. I came out of my drunken unconsciousness a few time to hear this guy's snoring-sounding like a chainsaw going through sheet metal. The next day he nodded at me as he ate his breakfast and we didn't speak again during my entire stay. That day I chose to go to the Victoria and Albert Museum. Cool place. The V & A is an artists Art Museum. They have have a great collection of Decorative Art, and some really rare pieces, for instance they have a small sculpture by Viet Stoss, Polish artist who was considered one of the bridge artists from the late Medieval to the Renaissance- There's very few of his pieces outside of Poland. They had the water color cartoons done by Raphael for the Tapestries he'd been hired to design. As for paintings, They have couple of Turners and a couple of Constables, The portrait of Charles the I by Van Dyck (he's facing the viewer along with both his profiles),”the day of the dream” by Rossetti, a couple of Gainsborough's, A good collection of Miniature paintings by Hilliard and Cooper, (Including the famous miniature of “a young man leaning against a tree amongst roses” [by Hilliard] that I have personally seen as the cover art for 4 or 5 books about Elizabethan England). The V & A also has a complete collection of Plaster casts of most of the worlds great works of art, so that the student can work from it without having to go to the country as I'd just been. Its a great place to go to do research. I had a swell time. Their drawing and print collection was amazing and I spent 3 hours in there.
The next day I took the day trip to Stonehenge, This was on my list of things I had to see before I died. Of all the ancient structure's I visited on this trip, this one was the most “unusual.” First of all it's in the middle of a cow pasture, and I know this cause the cows were there. Second, they don't let you get any closer then 25' away, there's a rope up all around it, seems people have been scrawling their names on it for hundreds of years, Third, there was a complete lack of “Tourist” activity, no vendors, no guys wanting to take your picture for a couple of bucks, No snack bar, No souvenir shops, No guided tours, You walk off the bus, Hike about half a mile into this cow pasture and there it is, a 4,000 year old stone Calender. Built with some stones that traveled hundreds of miles, without the use of a wheel, a winch, or a road. What's also interesting is that it was one of two. They have found evidence that there was a second ring set up exactly as Stonehenge about a mile and half away made completely of wood-they believed that to travel between the two was a sorta a ritualistic life-death experience. I saw a show recently that had this team of scientists set up an exact duplicate of how Stonehenge was set up when it was originally built, they wanted to do some sound, light, Geometry and and astronomical experiments in it. Seems that the place has very strange acoustics, and what with the astronomical set up they believed that it wasn't a place to have human sacrifice as was somewhat thought, but to have a mystical experience...sorta like the oracle of Delphi.
The day after that I went to The Tate Gallery. This is sorta the collection of “modern” and contemporary art with some middle ages, Renaissance, Age of Reason and Romantic thrown in for good measure.Its actually a couple museums fused together, At one time it was the collection of modern art, and the collection of British Art [For instance, they have the one of the biggest collections of Turner paintings in the world, like 300 paintings and 30,000 sketches and watercolors.] And some of the collection from the V & A, In alphabetical order some of their heavy hitters, Augenbach, Francis Bacon (not the explorer), Aubrey Beardsley, William Blake, Burne-Jones, Canaletto, Constable, Francis Cotes, Henry Fuseli (they've got like 3 versions of “The Nightmare”), Gainsborough, Hilliard (same one who did the miniatures mentioned before), David Hockney, Hogarth, William Hunt, Henry Moore, Edvard Munch (his first masterpiece called “the sick Child” and is a very autobiographic piece) Daniel Mytens, the elder, Joshua Reynolds, Rodin, Rossetti, Peter Paul Rubens, Stubbs, Toulouse-Lautrec, Turner, Van Gogh, and last but not least-Whistler. These are just the names I'm sure the non art population might recognize. Its and impressive collection. And then that night I went to the Theater to see the Rocky Horror Show. It was wonderful, I mean I knew the plot I'd seen the move more then 75 times...but seeing it as it was originally written was a treat. I also met the guy sitting behind me who's career was as management for large scale mines internationally, He'd just returned from a coal mine in Russia, and had worked on Bougainville about 4 years before I got there. We found out we knew some of the same people. So we ended up at a pub and drank and compared war stories for about 3 hours. The next day I went to see Big Ben. I hadn't done a lot of Touristy type things on this trip but as it was winding down to a close I decided to just do it. I just sorta did touristy type things my last day in England including having a t-shirt made for me that said "Pommy Bastard" {it became the favorite garb when the caricatures' of me were done, that and dressing me up like the Pope, I can see that expression on your face and I can honestly say I don't know why the latter.) That night I packed my stuff and spent my last night in Europe. The next day I went to Heathrow and Flew the six hours to New York.


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