I have been done with classes now for over two weeks, and have been attempting to spend my days studying in the mornings and exploring in the afternoons. So far I have managed the first go-round of review for my courses – the re-reading of lecture and reading notes, review of past exam questions at a very basic level, etc – and have made a lot of progress on my thesis. And by progress I mean a load of words that may or may not all get edited or deleted.
I have definitely been successful in exploring London. My first day off I spent a few hours just wandering along the south side of the river Thames. There’s a great path along the water, and there are loads of cool buildings, museums and restaurants. I snapped quite a few shots that day, including a sand serpent being constructed during low tide. The next day I attempted to see the Van Gogh exhibition at the Royal Academy but the line was already 90 minutes long, so instead of joining a queue of old aged pensioners, I went into the main hall to see this exhibition of old photographs of London. Lately I’ve been finding old photography to be the most fascinating art, and so am seeking it out wherever I can find it. So naturally my next stop was the National Portrait Gallery for an Irving Penn retrospective. Very simple photos but so beautiful.
Later in the week I finally made it to the Hunterian Museum, which is just next door to my university. Is it wrong that I spent more time in this tiny space than I did at the Uffizi in Florence a few years ago? Possibly. But it was so fascinating. Loads of preserved specimens, a history of surgery, and the bones of an Irish giant. Very cool stuff. And free!
By the end of the week I dragged Kate (who was kind enough to play along) to the 50th anniversary of Carnaby Street exhibition. It was not exactly … large. There was a long shadowbox filled with some interesting photographs and artifacts, a few excellent pieces of clothing from the 60s, and … that was about it. But it did mean that we were able to scoot next door to explore Liberty of London, which is this fantastic old department store that carries things like components for hat-making, designer clothes, and artisenal chocolates. Browsing was a real treat. Even more of a treat? The Diner we went to around the corner, which serves excellent milkshakes and onion rings. I have an appointment to go back there for some french toast soon. The we met up with Stefani, who has just started a new job, which is very exciting, especially in this economy in this city.
A week ago Sunday I made it over to the Photographers’ Gallery, which is currently exhibiting the Deutsche Borsche Photography Prize finalists. Shocking absolutely no one, my favorite was Donovan Wylie, a Belfast man who was nominated for his work on documenting the demolition of The Maze prison in the North of Ireland. He also has a great book called Scrapbook, which shows some clippings and images from The Troubles.
Finally I ended the week with a tour of Somerset House. This place is fantastic. It’s a bit unassuming from the Strand – it just looks like another of the great large buildings here – but inside the courtyard is a gorgeous former palace with an amazing history. They give free tours twice weekly, so I latched onto one and learned so much about the place, and some other things, like the Great Stink of 1858. My favorite little tidbit was the story behind four statues on the upper level of the north side facing inward. They are personages representing Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas. The first three are bringing gifts to the Kingdom, but since the statues were commissioned around the time of the revolution in the states, the Americas are bringing fire. Awesome.
There is SO MUCH to see and do here, and I’ve just barely scratched the surface. Sometimes I make plans but don’t end up going, and that worked out to my benefit on Friday – I was supposed to go to the American Apparel Rummage Sale on Brick Lane, but as you can see, that would not have been a lot of fun.