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E-Mailing Through Europe >> London 2001


This ... is London

Date: Wed, 4 Jul 2001 07:44:50 -0700 (PDT)

From: k p ken@kpny.com
Subject: greetings from london

Hello. This is the first of my email dispatches from Europe, which tend to be long and irrelevant.

Sorry, these british typewriters are keyed improperly. I meant to type lucid and irreverant.

The idea for this series came about on my solo trip to Europe in 1998, and served as a nice journal of my time there for me and as a way for those of you stuck in miserable jobs back in the US to live vicariously through me. You can view those stories at my website http://www.kpny.com. These new emails will be added to kpny.com after I get back.

If you don't like my emails, let me know and I'll remove you.

One of the big differences between these dispatches and those from 1998 will be the inclusion of my fiancee Eva. We're both learning the joy of comprimise on this trip. She's a `lets see all the sites' kind of gal, and i'm a `lets see where the wind blows me' kind of guy.

Needless to say, the first two days of our trip have been busy seeing all the sites.

We landed monday evening and were picked up at Heathrow (eva) and Gatwick (me) by my cousins John and Dianne. Thanks, J&D!

After a bit of chat, we retired to our warm bedroom in the back of J&D's Wimbeldon apartment. Warm for 2 reasons: a) it's been sunny and hot here this summer, unusual for London but welcome weather for tourists and b) their radiator is leaking and they have to keep it on to prevent their floor from crashing down.

Anyway, Eva and I got up at the crack of dawn English time on Tuesday, and made it to the center of London right about noon. We quickly decided to see the free concert at St. Martins in the Fields church (thanks, Marcie!), and walked the few blocks from Westminster station to the church. The concert would start at 1:05 pm, which gave us an hour to kill. Right next to the church is the National Gallery, which is showing the Vermeer exhibit I avoided seeing in both Washington DC and New York. [As they say, "When in London, view art as the Dutch do."] We secured £3 student tickets (I'm a student for this trip, according to my fake New York State University ID) for 1 pm. So much for the free concert.

The Vermeer exhibit was interesting, if you like seeing seventeenth century dutch men wearing more clothes and bigger hair than any 80s metal band, with the possible exception of Winger. The exhibit featured many other Delft artists who lived through the infamous "devistating Delft gunpowder explosion of 1654." It was apparently second in impact to the Delftian economy only to the "devistating delft rat population explosion of 1655 that followed shortly after the gunpowder explosion of 1654."

Having seen enough art for the day, we worked our way past Parliament and Big Ben, across the Thames river, past the National Theater, and wound up at the Tate Modern, a newly designed modern art museum. On the way we secured groundling tickets to Shakespeare's Globe theater for Friday night.

Anyway, the Tate is perhaps the most interesting and well designed modern art museum I've ever been to. It's worth a trip to London just to see the place. Really. I can't put into proper words the clever way the architects converted a massive brownish-yellow brick monstrosity that was a former British Power building into a breathtakingly austere yet modern house of art. It is the same feeling one gets at the new Getty museum in LA, except here the art is even better than the building.

Two hours was not enough time to see the art, which was cleverly arranged in thematic rooms on the 3rd and 5th floor, with a 4th floor special exhibition place.

Clever is the operative word of the whole place, really. And I mean clever in the best British sense of the word, in which it has several layers of meaning and depth. Like a good Monthy Python sketch or an essay by George Orwell.

At the same time, there is a praticality about the exhibits that I noted at the National Gallery as well. The curators put descriptive paragraphs about each work in a little box where usually only the name of the work, artist and date can be viewed. And the descriptions tell you what to think in a way that is simulaneously practical yet leaves no room for interpretation. For example, near Dali's "Lobster Telephone" (1936) they wrote: "Lobsters and telephones had strong erotic connotations for Dali. Here, he plays on the similarity in shape between the telepohone and lobster, turning an familiar instrument into something that is both amusing and disturbing."

I was amused by the work, and disturbed by the thought of lobster-based eroticism.

Anyway, this is getting long, so I'll cut to the chase: We left the amazing Tate in search of a pint of beer before heading back to J&D's for supper. After a few blocks walk (remember, in England one looks right, left, right before crossing the street) we found Prince Henry's Pub. I ordered a Guinness, as this is the closest I'm going to get to Ireland on this trip (sorry, Ryan). It was poured well, smooth, black as the soot on most of the buildings in London, and tasted fine at a perfect 55 degrees.

Eva ordered a honey ale called something like Gigglesworth or Biggleswort. It was also poured well, smooth, as yellow as the honey in the queen's tea and tasted fine as well.

The end of a perfect day of touristing was completed with a nice supper of melon, lemon chicken, and strawberries and cream. It went down well with the usual interesting conversation between cousins.

That's it for now. Next dispatch will discuss the importance of the 4th of July to the British people, a review of the Secret Churchill War Rooms, and an account of how Eva and I snuck into 10 Downing Street.


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