Friday, April 20, 2018

I See London, part 3 the final chapter

Previously, on EvidentlyBlog...
Part 1 and Part 2

And now, the conclusion of "I See London" -- a travelog.

Harry Potter Store, British Museum: Highlights Tour, Hamstead Heath Bus Ride
Dinner @ The Blue Door Bistro, Dessert/Drinks @ City Garden Bar

Oops here's the final chapter of our London trip last month. It's not that I forgot about it so much as I have been mulling over my thoughts. But first things first...

Let's be honest, Harry Potter is such a big deal now in our house that we couldn't skip picking up some goodies. This is a cool store situated in Kings Cross Station itself. Lots of fun and crowded as one would expect.

Okay so here's the part I've been mulling over. The British Museum: a crown jewel in a city with real crown jewels, a world-class museum that ranks above all others, a collection rivaled by none. 

I didn't visit the British Museum during my time here as a student in the 90's. I certainly went to other museums (the Victoria and Albert Museum being my favorite) but just never made it to this one. We took the highlights tour which in some ways is a relief so that you know you're seeing noteworthy items but also you get a human guide who can answer questions and efficiently move you though this enormous place.

These days, I see things with more clarity especially when it comes to culture and identity. Artifacts are products of a culture and, out of context, they can seem like something to gawk at and 'exoticize' people or groups (as is also done with People of Color). But as we walked through the museum and looked at the displays, I kept kept thinking: 'These things don't belong here. SOMEONE STOLE THIS.' Things such as contents of Egyptian tombs, sculptures from the Pantheon, an Easter Island Head carving, beadwork/weavings from Pacific Northwest Native American Tribes(!)--All these items have home area museums and cultural centers where their artifacts can and should live in context. Whereas, an item in the British Museum is mounted, illuminated by a bright light and placed behind plexiglass with a small placard off to one side sterilely explaining its significance in London F**king England.
We are beyond this 'let's display stuff because the public would never see it otherwise.' With photos, video media and the Internet--you can see and learn about anything from the privacy of your own home without changing out of your PJs. Or, you can travel all over the planet via an airplane to see animals, cultural artifacts and meet people of other backgrounds in their actual environments. And I'm certainly not having: 'we can take care of these things better than the home country because--uh, reasons.' Nope.
My problematic favorite, the Victoria and Albert Museum (also in London), is currently in trouble for continuing to hold onto KNOWN STOLEN Ethiopian artifacts and the remains of an Ethiopian noble who died in England over a century ago. (LINK BELOW) V&A has the audacity to tell Ethiopian officials that they would *loan* the items back to Ethiopia if desired. Not good. As I often have to tell my children, "that doesn't belong to you, so give it back."
The Pacific NW Native American Displays and a British Columbian First Nation Totem Pole really hit a nerve for me. It did not feel right to see that there. Not at all. Now I know that *some* of these cultures/nations might have gifted artifacts of their own free will to the British and/or colonial powers, so in some cases, it's not technically 'stealing'. But still. But STILL.
If larger museums like the British Museum or V&A are concerned about preservation and restoration of the world's vast artifacts, how about working with local museums & cultural organizations to help them catalog and take care of their stuff in their places of origin? Loans are fine as long as the pieces go back to whence they came and are controlled by those originating cultures/countries.

UPDATE 5/4/18: V&A has the audacity to tell Ethiopian officials that they would *loan* the items back to Ethiopia if desired. Not good. As I often have to tell my children, "that doesn't belong to you, give it back." 

Radio piece from The Takeaway on WNYC

The Lewis Chess set is what the one in the first Harry Potter movie was based on.

The Portland Vase in Roman Cameo Glass

Paintings from inside an Egyptian tomb

An Easter Island London

Carvings from the Pantheon

The Thinker. A bit smaller than I imagined though.

So the British Museum... not our favorite due to finding increasingly problematic artifacts as we wandered through the exhibit rooms. The Native American Displays and a British Columbian First Nation Totem Pole just really hit a nerve. I know that *some* of these cultures/nations gifted artifacts of their own free will to the British and/or colonial powers, so in some cases it's not technically 'stealing'. But STILL. If larger museums are concerned about preservation and restoration of the world's vast artifacts, how about working with local museums & cultural organizations to help them catalog or take care of their artifacts in their home countries? Loans are fine as long as the pieces go back to whence they came and are controlled by those originating cultures and/or countries. 

Outside of Parliament...again because Ken left his scarf the previous day and we retrieved it.

Camden Town

This is a place called Sky Garden which you can have food, drinks, music on the 36th floor of a fancy building in the financial district. There are also lots of plants, hence "Sky Garden." But it tries a little too hard to be cool and the logistics (service, music, atmosphere) are subpar. So we enjoyed the view from this establishment but wouldn't recommend.

In the Tube, traversing the crazy fast and steep escalators

Primrose Hill, Camden Town, Regents Park Walk
Dinner Côte Barbican, Barbican: Experimental Theater The Encounter 7:30PM

This was my favorite day in the city. It was the only sunny day we had there and it was a perfect 63 degrees. We followed a suggested walk around Primrose Hill/Camden Town/Regents Park in our Lonely Planet guidebook (which is helpful and has non-touristy excursions and fun) and loved it.

View from Primrose Hill

Along Regent's Canal

My first and possibly last cronut. Verdict: Meh. 

Camden Town on a Saturday. Don't do it.

Neato light fixtures in a pub we stopped at.

Strolling through Regent's Park

The Barbican is one of my favorite places. It's part school for the arts, part performance center. Edgy, experimental stuff here is common. When I stumbled upon it in the 90's, the way the water feature integrated with the buildings blew my mind. But more importantly, in a country with such rich tradition in theatre, pushing boundaries to expand that artistic form is crucial. The Barbican delivers.

We watched a performance that required the use of headphones in an astonishing and transcendent experience. This performance was like no other I've ever seen. This review describes it perfectly HERE.

At the end of the day, we hit 25,000+ steps/15 miles! 

Such a great time. Such a needed getaway to recharge. Such a modern, vibrant city to run around in with my most favorite accomplice. London, can't wait to see you again! 💂🌍

Thursday, April 19, 2018

I See London, part 2

Google London, Shakespeare Globe: Theater Tour & Match Stick Girl, Dinner (Indian) Tayyab’s & Alex Horne Show

Ken had a meeting and some work to wrap up so I 'allowed' it as long as he took me into the office with him to see this cool work space he kept describing. Those stairwells look like they could just switch around like the ones in Hogwarts and, like every Google office I've been in, there is such creative decor and details to see. They even have a kitted-out band room, because of course they do.

St. Paul's Cathedral

The Globe Theatre

In 1994 when I was going to school, this replica of The Globe Theatre was just being built. It's a genuine attempt to put Shakespeare's works in their physical context so audiences can get the full effect. If you are reading/listening closely, you can see mention in his various works of the theatre's attributes. Absolutely fascinating!

Unfortunately performances here don't start until the end of April. But we were lucky enough to see part of a rehearsal during our tour of the theatre itself. Hamlet is first up this season. 
To be or not to be....

They do have an indoor theatre replica that staged smaller plays of the time. It's mostly lit by candle light on giant chandeliers. In this picture not all of them are even lit. They are beeswax candles like they were back in the day so that sweet earthy smell would waft over us throughout the performance of a collection of Hans Christian Andersen stories. While well-staged and well-acted, anyone who knows his stories is familiar with how sinister and dark they actually are. Ah well.

Bankside on the Thames, across from St. Paul's Cathedral

London Eye or as Dave P says, the 'giant bicycle wheel'

For dinner we headed to an Indian Restaurant that had lots of buzz in the White Chapel called Tayyabs. The food was better than average but the ambiance left a little to be desired. No matter, one of the aims of this trip was to also sample food and restaurants that we would never get a chance to in the US or with kids in tow. Ken found a late comedy show for us to go to just a block away where we were staying in Soho. It was a practice/run-through for comedy special that a talented musical comedian Alex Horne and his band were due to record a week later. They are hilarious and remind me a little of the 'Flight of the Conchords' with more people and more polish.

Duck & Waffle Breakfast, Exploring the City of London, Bank of England Field trip
Musical: Chicago Matinee, Dinner Berners Tavern

Duck and Waffle does serve a cooked duck leg with a waffle but you can also go for something a little more traditional as I did. I'm not much into #foodporn or taking photos of food. But this deserved an exception. D&W is also on the 40th floor of a steel and glass building in The City which is the financial district of London with tall buildings and serious people walking around in suits.

Duck & Waffle

I guess this is art? 
Leadenhall Market

The Gherkin

I was really looking forward to seeing Chicago since I liked the movie so much and it just opened in London after a several year absence. Bottom line though: They can't all be good. Especially when you build your show around a charismatic guy who can't sing. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

What Americans call a 'tavern' would be what Brits call a pub but this was no dive. I discovered it on a list of good restaurants with notable interiors. It did not disappoint on any level. Who knew you could brine pork chops or make a pork pie in the shape of a bread loaf or make a creme brûlée with rhubarb or use bacon fat-washed whiskey in a cocktail? Impeccable food, great atmosphere and warm, friendly service from everyone.

Notting Hill & Portobello Road, Guided Tour of Parliament & Afternoon Tea, Play that Goes Wrong, Late Dinner: Spanish Tapas at Barrafina

Notting Hill/Portobello Road: Famous shopping street for little boutiques and antiques in a cute neighborhood

Until about 2 years ago, I wouldn't have had much interest in touring Parliament but with the machinations of our current government and a blossoming understanding of civics in the US, I was very keen to see how the Brits govern themselves. It is fascinating to see how the monarchy transitioned into a Parliamentary government (spoiler: by accident and/or laziness on the part of the sovereign). But we got to stand in the room where the Queen puts her 24 ft robe on before she officially opens Parliament each year and walk the same steps as she would to the House of Lords. Portraits, statues and gothic revival architectural style. Big Ben or rather the tower holding Big Ben was under repair. [Trivia bit: Big Ben is actually the name of the bell inside the clock tower.] Sadly, it doesn't look as impressive.

"Look kids, Big Ben."

We had better luck with our evening entertainment: Play that Goes Wrong which is like another one of my favorite physical comedy/slapstick play-within-a-play construct 'Noises Off'. We laughed so much and thoroughly enjoyed this play. It's also on Broadway and is touring to limited US cities. If you ever come across it, you must go.

Barrafina on the same street as our AirBnB. Always crowded. Amazing food.

To Be Continued...Part 3