My first week in London

It’s been almost a full week since I’ve arrived in London and I’ve been trying to pack each of my days to bursting. So far, so good, except that it’s really hot here (who knew that could happen?) and there’s no AC, thus no respite from the heat. Walking around sweating and getting a mild sunburn is all fine and dandy if you can dip into deliciously cool restaurants, bars, or even public transportation once in a while, but AC is not a given here, anywhere. To wit: for the first time in my life last night, I was hot in a movie theater. It was like topsy-turvy world! Movie theaters are supposed to be frozen tundras so cold that your extremities lose feeling, Britain. Get with the program. Sheesh.

Before I tell you about my adventures this week, here is a short list of things I’ve learned and/or noticed over the last few days walking around London: 1) always carry your own water, unless you want to fork over the equivalent of your hypothetical child’s first year of college for a bottle of it; 2) don’t shop at Whole Foods — just don’t even go in — the prices are too traumatic; 3) don’t shop at the cute Italian coffee place around the corner, unless you are prepared to pay the equivalent of US $20 for one sandwich’s worth of Parma ham; 4) walk if possible; bus if you can’t walk; Tube if you can’t bus; 5) wear sunscreen (this advice applies outside of London, as well, FYI); 6) Italians are annoying in every context outside of Italy (sorry, Italians — real talk); 7) Brazilians and Americans are everywhere you look (or listen), and they/we are loud. But not as loud as Italians. Again, sorry, Italians. I love your food, your wine, and your country. But going forward, you guys have got to master spatial awareness and volume control.

British Museum

British Museum

So, where have I gone this week? Oh, lots of places. On Wednesday I walked around Covent Gardens and also spent a few hours at the British Museum, where I saw mummies, Assyrian stuff, Iranian stuff, Greek stuff, European stuff, a cool walrus tusk chess set, and the Rosetta Stone (overrated). On Thursday, I made my way to the Tate Modern art museum. Camille, one of Al’s lovely cousins who we’re staying with, was kind enough to give me her Tate member card, so I got to see all of the private exhibitions, featuring art by Ellen Gallagher, Ibrahim El Salahi, Saloua Raouda Choucair, and Meschac Gaba. Kind of interesting that two out of the four exhibitions were African artists. My favorite exhibition was Ellen Gallagher AxME. Gallagher is an American artist who does a lot of really cool, whimsical collages with photos from old African-American lifestyle magazines, over which she superimposes bright yellow wigs and googly eyes and other things. Sounds kinda crazy, and it kinda is. The permanent collections at the Tate were very good, as well, but less fun to walk around in, since they were all flooded by shrieking schoolchildren. When one is trying to enjoy art by looking contemplatively (or at least quietly) at it, one does not really appreciate the sounds of other human beings shouting next to one’s ear. Or maybe that’s just me?

Cy Twombly (at the Tate Modern)

Cy Twombly (at the Tate Modern)

Actually, I noticed some interesting behaviors while I was strolling through the Ellen Gallagher exhibit, from which I am prepared to draw broad cultural conclusions, because anthropologists always make sweeping statements based on tiny bits of anecdotal evidence, right? So, after observing both British and American patrons at the museum, I noticed that British people are more likely to give each other pedantic notes on pieces of art in a stage whisper (e.g., “You see how the googly eyes are an ironic statement about the underlying dehumanization of the dominant corporatist culture of the era?”), while Americans are more likely to ask their whining three year old toddler what her opinion is of the art (“Do you see that, Madison? It’s a jellyfish. Can you say jellyfish? What do you like about this painting, Madison? Madison, please sit in your stroller correctly.”). Both behaviors are highly annoying, although to be honest, I found the show-offy whispering easier to stomach. To give more detail, there was a pregnant woman (American) pushing her squirming three year-old in a stroller through the private exhibit. This woman insisted on asking, in a loud voice, for said three year-old’s informed opinion about each and every piece of art. As a fellow American, I wondered if I could perform some sort of international citizen’s arrest on behalf of my countrymen, but instead, I just made a silent note to self never to be That Person who assumes that everyone else in the modern art gallery is as charmed as I am by my toddler’s awareness of shapes and colors. Also, that poor kid, right? What three year-old wants to be dragged to a non-interactive art museum? There are probably a million other places that lady could have brought that child that day, none of which involved rooms full of surrealist art. Just saying.

Exhibition brochures

Exhibition brochures

Anyway, I got through most of the Tate Modern but I still need to go back to the Tate Britain, which I will do perhaps next week. I haven’t decided what adventures I am going to get up to today, but the world is my oyster. There is so much to see and do in this city, I could do five different things every day and not exhaust the possibilities. Glorious!

Happy Friday to one and all.

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