Saturday, August 20, 2016

Europe By Train: London #2: "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life"

Horse of Selene, the Greek moon goddess, British Museum
With Samuel Johnson's famous quote in mind, I gorged on London museums, most free. I wanted to devour everything, an impossibly rich buffet. The British Museum is, simply, mind-boggling. With self-deprecating British humor, they state that here they display the best in the world, since the Empire had the world to plunder.

Centaur fighting Lapith warrior
A controversial exhibit is the Elgin Marbles, a massive group of Athenian sculptures from the temple of Parthenon and Acropolis citadel. The British ambassador of the early 19C was given "permission" by the Turkish (Ottoman) ruler to remove many tumbled and crumbled pieces. These are now on exhibit, along with a fairly impartial history of Greece's position regarding their attempts to reclaim them. I will not go there, except to say that both sides have valid points. Although Lord Byron called it looting--and the Greek government still does--the museum takes its role of custodian for these ancient artworks with utmost gravity.

 There is also a magnificent Asia collection.

I am particularly fond of Ganesha, the Hindu god of good fortune.

London is a theater town, bar none. One evening we went to see "A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time." Before the curtain, we strolled through Soho's Chinatown.

In the Gielgud's lobby were some wonderful drawings of famous theater personalities. This is Noel Coward, who played the effete but was in fact a brave spy during WWII.

Here is John Gielgud as Hamlet.

I paused to chat with Oscar Wilde.

The Victoria and Albert Museum is in a class by itself, quirky and crafty. The entry hall marries modern and traditional with a gorgeous Chihuly glass sculpture.

One of my favorite pieces is this wood carving from the collection of Tipu Sultan, the powerful, late-18C "Tiger of Mysore." I imagine when British officials of the East India Company came to call that nervous laughter ensued. 

The maharajas were patrons of the arts. Look at this beautiful instrument!

In the Islamic world, the purdah screen became its own work of art. This is carved sandstone.

I also admired this samurai. Look at his tabi-clad feet.

There are so many nooks and crannies at the V&A, always something to discover. In a back corner, we came across this old spiral staircase.

Plaster casts of many important art pieces were collected for art students and archival purposes. Here is David.

Wouldn't we all love to spend some time here ?

And wouldn't we love the many lifetimes it would take to feast at the table of London?!

Next stop: Dublin, By Train and Ferry

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Europe By Train: London #1: Exploring Worlds

Eurostar is a sweet way to travel. We left Gare du Nord mid-afternoon, and in less than three hours arrived at St. Pancras in the heart of London. Two Tube stops later, we reached Covent Garden, where we stayed with my brother. We came across this florist in our neighborhood, a nod to Eliza Doolittle of My Fair Lady.

The next day I met my friend Karin Salvalaggio at the Tate Museum.

We decided it was too fine a day to stay inside and walked back along the South Bank. 

When I said what I'd really like to do is visit a pub, she replied, "I'm your girl!" She took me to her hangout, The Dove.

Maybe because of her pull, we snagged a seat on the deck overlooking the Thames.

The Daughter flew to join us after her last college exam, the end of junior year. The next day we visited the National Gallery. Its acquisition of Van Gogh's Sunflowers, about fifteen years after his death, was critical in securing Vincent's reputation in the art world.

Some more Van Gogh, Wheatfield with Cypresses and Long Grass with Butterflies.

I love this Degas, La Coiffure.

Trafalgar Square was busy that day.

Isn't he a marvelous fellow?

On Mother's Day we had a Greek lunch at Primrose Hill and walked back through Regent's Park. I'm a sucker for canals.

My research led me to the Imperial War Museum, as fascinating as the Musée de l'Armée in Paris, but somehow more personal. I weeped at some of the heroes of WW2, especially some of the brave female spies, many of whom sacrificed their lives. But many survived to bear witness. Being a radio operator was most dangerous, as their transmissions were easily tracked by the enemy.

One of the bravest British agents was of Indian Muslim descent. Noor Inayat Khan arrived in Paris in 1943. Even after her network was betrayed, she continued to transmit messages, despite immense danger. She was arrested, tortured, and murdered in Dachau.

Here is the cigarette paper diary (and bridge scores) of another prisoner who survived.

On the home front, a propaganda war was waged. "To Dress Extravagantly in War Time is worse than Bad Form. It is Unpatriotic."

My latest novel is set partly in Southeast Asia during WW2. This is a map of the campaign to retake Burma from Japanese forces.

Indian soldiers played a huge role in the war, fighting bravely for the Allies, despite their dreams of independence.

An aerial view of the devilish Burma Road.

Next: More London Fun

Mata Hari