Monday, July 06, 2015

National Gallery

You can only spend so much time in a state of awe. I planned to spend hours in the National Gallery, but after about three hours, we burned out. Our aged brains just don't work the way they used to. At some point, the greatest masterpieces in the world start blending together and all you want to do is sit down. Breaking our visit into two days helped a lot as did forgetting about the guide books
and simply wandering around stopping at anything that caught our eye. Like we share one eye....I mean anything that caught either Richard's or my attention.

Although the galleries were crowded, behavior was civil and we could view everything without fighting for position. There was a large group of children wandering around with pencils and paper, plopping on the floor sketching what they liked. They were having fun and we enjoyed watching them get lost and dreamy eyed, hunched over their creations. 

Gainsborough didn't complete this painting...I believe he died before it was completed. The older girl's right arm is painted as to be tweaking the tail of a cat perched on their laps. You can see the pencilled-in sketch of the cat if you look closely. Barbara, who along with Nancy, taught me to look closely, will be sure to see the cat. 
The scene here is all happiness and smiles; behind the children, the cat is terrorizing the bird. Father Time is doing something in the upper left. All is not sweetnesss and light in Hogarth's portrait of The Graham Children, painted in 1742.

More big cats here in bad situations. I love the movement in this Reubens (The Lion Hunt) even though the subject is grisly. 

What a dress!! Look at the detail on the fabric in the close up. The painting is by Francois-Hubert Drouais "Madame de Pompadour at her Tambour Frame". Although she was born to a bourgeois family, she became a mistress to King Louis XV and remained his friend long after that relationship ended. 

Without magnification, you can't imagine how delicate and life-like the fabric is. The actual painting isn't lit well enough and you can't get close enough. The joys of digital photography. 
Jesus, learning to read. Looks a bit young for that sort of thing. I liked the frame, the light and the fact that Joseph is almost out of the frame making Mary and Jesus the whole focus. Joseph was always playing the supporting role. 
Here's another clever reflection effect in a portrait hanging in the National Portrait Gallery.

I think I found the martlet; it's not easy to see.
Liked the blue in this. "Virgin and Child in a Landscape". The painter, Grazio Gentileschi, painted on lapis lazuli frequently, as was the fashion at the time. You could get hooked on adding that majestic and arresting color to whatever was on the easel.

More beautiful blue. This painting is hung in the top row and yet I noticed most people tried to 
capture it on their cell phones by standing on tip toe. I wondered why they didn't re-position such a popular work. 

Overall, the National Gallery is great to're free to wander and the collections make some sense. Trying to find particular galleries is frustrating because they aren't in sequence. A minor criticism in the face of superb organization and the best price ever....FREE. There's excellent marketing and the gift shops are scattered here and there so plenty of opportunity to spend money of every kind of museum related souvenier. The cash registers were ringing merrily away and people seem inclined to cough up some cash for gee gaws given what they've saved on admission. 

Caravaggio..way, way out there for 1500. His depiction of boys brings up the question of his sexuality. Most of the young men in his paintings look like girls and there is an erotic undertone to them. This boy
s reaction to a lizard bite looks feminine to me; some art scholars speculate the painting is an allegory on the sting of love...or lost love? Caravaggio was, according to Wikipedia, a street brawler and in trouble with the law for much of his life. 

I think this is the same boy - he has a similar abundance of hair, and the off-the-shoulder white shirt reveals similar shapely shoulders.
So much for day 1. 

The girl with the pearl becomes The girl with the drink!

Our Nadia looking like the Girl with the Pearl while she was guiding us in Iran. She was anticipating a trip to Istanbul in the week after we left her. She couldn't wait to get rid of her head scarf and have an alcoholic beverage.

She sent this photo of herself today, unveiled and downing a shot. I hope they're ready for her cause here she comes.

Walking around the Embankment

London is more like London today. Drizzling on and off and 62 degrees - much more comfortable for walking around. I was rooting around Marks and Spencer taking photos of the packaged food, but they asked me to stop. I thought it was funny that you can take pictures of the Rembrandts in the National Gallery but M&S won't let you take a photo of their chicken salad packaging. 

I got a few anyway - of the Gastropub fare:

They have a good selection of ethnic foods to go. Ethnic may be considered politically incorrect n London. 

I think a cucumber-gin and tonic sauce sounds great on Seabass. I wonder what a vegetarian suet is?
We'll never know because it's far too noisy for me to eat in this pub.  Fortunately, in most places, the music level is tolerable but the crowds are loud and boisterous. It's a bit of a drag when you have to choose your dining experience based not on the food but the decibels. 
Just as I was feeling sorry for myself bumbling down the uneven stairs somewhere I noticed a woman ahead of me with two blind men holding onto her shoulder. Both men had canes they were tapping and she was giving a running narrative on what was happening and giving them instructions about curbs, veering left and right etc. You have to have guts to attempt a walk with two blind men in Trafalgar Square. I stopped feeling sorry for myself.

And speaking of blind men, I ran into this memorial and had to look up Henry Fawcett. He was blinded in a shooting accident at an early age, but went on to complete an excellent education. He was influential in getting Darwin's theory accepted. He fought for suffrage. As Postmaster General, he established a number of enduring programs including savings stamps and parcel post. All that, and he died at 51.

And then I saw the camel statue. Suddenly camels seem to be everywhere. This one is a memorial to the Imperial Camel Corp members fallen in the first World War.

 And how to end up spiraling down the Google rabbit hole.....from Wikipedia. What a leap in technology from camel mounts to the medi-vac.

"The 2nd Battalion of the ICC (Imperial Camel Corp) together with the Hongkong and Singapore Mountain Battery marched some 30 miles from El Arish, surprising the Turkish forces at Bir el Hassana, who surrendered without resistance. Some local Bedouin fired on the British, who suffered one casualty, a soldier who was shot in the ankle. Because he could no longer ride his camel the British evacuated him by aeroplane, in the first recorded case of aeromedical evacuation."

Saturday, July 04, 2015

The Cinnamon Club and Vivaldi

Another beautiful day in London and lunch at the Cinnamon Club with our Winchcombe friends Sue and John.

Flowers are in full bloom in the hanging pots around the city...mostly decorating the pubs.

Winnie's view of Big Ben.

A wonderful statue dedicated to Women in World War ll. The clothing represents all the professions women took on while the men were away in battle. The statue was financed by various fund raisers but a large chunk of the cost, 800,000 pounds, was contributed by Baroness Boothroyd, one-time speaker of the House of Commons (the only woman to hold the position) who won the money on "Who wants to be a Milionaire."

Controversial statue outside of St. Martin called "in the beginning"......The baby is emerging from a huge chunk of granite - you can gauge the size of the marble by referencing Richard's head. He's standing on the other side. 

Vivaldi by Candlelight was our concert fare for the evening at St. Martin. Our seats were a bit better this time. We sat in the balcony and looked directly over the orchestra. The performance by Ruth Rogers as the soloist in the Vivaldi was spectacular. 

She's technically superb, beautiful and energetic. Her playing is emotional, but just enough. Although the conductor runs the show, Ruth plays standing in the middle of the group and energizes and inspires the playing. The regular players were dressed in standard long back dresses for the women; the men in white shirts. The harpsichordist wore fire-engine red and Ruth wore a sapphire blue gown, perfect for her role. 

Here's the set-up for the orchestra. No photos during the performance. 

Watching the audience from above was amusing. A young man in the back row couldn't resist conducting. His friend was trying to hold him back, but he'd stop and then start back up again. He was in a corner out of the sight of the conductor thankfully. Many of the older people in the audience, obviously tourists, fell asleep. They'd wake up for the applause and then fall back to sleep when the music began again. A group of Asians wrote post card during the performance. In the back of the balcony there are unassigned seats, the cheap seats  - from which you cannot see the performers. As we filed out, there was a woman up there getting her shoes back on and her belt and God knows what else. Apparently she partially disrobed for the performance. Yuck...what are these people thinking? I mention this only because we actually worried about being under-dressed for these concerts. There is no longer such a condition as under-dressed.

St. Martin in the Fields Concert 1.

Richard commented that we were seated in the "uneven" rows (we would call it the "odd" section) in St Martins where we were waiting for the performance of Carmina Burana to begin. Seats on the other side were the even rows. He thought it was fitting for me, wobbly as I am, to be in the uneven section. 

As an unexpected bonus we heard the choir sing "Cloudburst" by Eric Whitacre. A sound picture, the piece used "randomly whispered words, tone-clusters and finger-clicks to imitate the sound of rain, as well as employing a diverse percussion section." It was great! Eric is famous on Ted and around the world in choral circles for putting together virtual chorales. You can check one of them out here.

A virtuoso, he wrote Cloudburst at the age of 22. Some people have all the luck..he's handsome, articulate, and hugely talented. 

The Carmina was stunning. I've only seen it twice and I "get" it a little more this time than last. What a showpiece for the kettle drum. The solo parts are very showy also..the tenor sang in a near falsetto; the soprano in something approaching coloratura. There was a children's choir; 14 of them squished together in a little box on the side. They sang only in the final section and had to wait patiently through 2 hours of singing for their turn. You'd see one of them every so often signal to their watcher that they needed the loo. They sang a little section of the piece wedged between the huge choir (50 voices) parts and the amazing soprano..their little kid's voices were a brilliant contrast. 

Our seats could have been better. I chose them because I thought we'd have a good view of all the performers which we did, but we were too far back. Richard called it the "outfield". I did get a good view of the organists feet during "Cloudburst" by craning my neck sideways. The chairs were terribly uncomfortable...our butts were sore at the end. The church seemed to heat up as the Carmina unfolded. 50 singers, going full blast can raise the temperature. It's always uplifting to be part of an appreciative audience and there were plenty of bravos and thunderous applause to accompany the standing O. 

As we walked back to our hotel, Don Giovanni performed live at the Royal Opera House was still raging in Trafalgar and the sirens were screaming by with regularity. The above is not my photo..I lifted it from the "Visit London"site. Live performances broadcast to the square will be occurring all summer. While walking by earlier we noticed this newish statue and wondered what it was. Called "Gift Horse" it has the British stock exchange ticker tape running through it's front paws which represents a blending of art, power and commerce.

Gratefully, we turned off the Strand out of the crowd and ducked down the alley, past the Sherlock Holmes pub where celebrants had spilled out into the street, laughing, drinking, back-slapping, flirting, iphoning, taking selfies and enjoying the warm evening. 

Friday, July 03, 2015

Hot times in London

Since we left home, we've been in temperatures mostly over 100. London at 80 feels cool and lovely to  us but Londoners are all asweat as there's not a lot of air conditioning in hotels and restaurants. Our little flat at Citadines does have air conditioning and our room has a tree right outside the window, keeping the area shady.

We're steps from Trafalgar Square and surrounded by every kind of restaurant imaginable. The Sherlock Holmes pub is in the next block for fish and chips and a pint. The old Scotland Yard is right across the street...I keep thinking Mr. Benedict Cumberbatch will show up any moment. It's peak season here right now and tour buses clog the roads and crowds of tourists all wearing yellow hats, or orange t-shirts, or some such identifiable clothing slog along behind their leaders.

Here's our building right across from Scotland Yard.

And we're within steps of plenty of entertainment.

The nearest pub, aways busy.

This is a pricey neighborhood for real estate. A block from us, a townhouse is for sale for
a mere 6,250,000 pounds. The neighbors are apparently miffed with something....
They've posted this sign.

In the National Portrait Gallery, we stopped and enjoyed listening to this teacher explain to the children what a caricature is. She had a cartoon of the painting of Lord Nelson they were admiring. They were all reciting after her..."caricature, caricature". They seemed to get the concept - she went on at length about how portraiturists painted their clients in flattering poses often attributing to them heroics that might possibly have been exaggerated. 

Trafalgar Square...everyone taking selfies.

Crowded, but not everywhere. The National Portrait Gallery was busy but certain spots were empty....we were alone with the piano tuner in this gallery. 

There's a bird painted in this earring prominently featured in the composition.  Richard can see it...I was getting dangerously close, squinting away, but still couldn't make it out. The subject was a notorious beauty of the day...she certainly had creamy skin, typically British and rosy cheeks. A great contrast to my own embattled complexion. "Sorry about my neck" comes to mind...the funny and final book by Nora Ephron. 

Tonight we stroll over to St. Martin in the Fields to hear Carmina Burana.

The crypt at St. Martin...a cool place to eat. 

The statue of George Washington has a great location in Trafalgar. It's resting on American soil which was sent in big boxes along with the statue.

Sadly the British flag is hanging at half-staff because of the thirty plus people mowed down on the beach in Tunisia. Services and memorials are on-going. Such a tragedy.