It’s my last day here in London. I haven’t seen everything I want to see but then again where’s the relaxing part of that ambition. I did come here to vacation and relax and to take in some inspiring views this storied city has to offer but let me digress a bit and address some things I forgot to write about from my day V posting.
As I showed with some of my pics that I took from the St. Paul Stone Gallery, I wanted to show the emerging modern skyline of London. Besides the obvious ones that have been erected in the past 5 to 10 years or so, namely and most striking among them being the Swiss Re building, or known to the locals as ‘The Gherkin’, which by the way is a small cucumber commonly made into pickles. I’ve always called it ‘The Salt Shaker’ cuz’ that’s the first thing that came to my mind. (I know it could be a bullet out of its brass casing shell or an artillery projectile or worse, a suppository. Yes, yes, a bit puerile on that last one Chris) When I came here back in the early 2000’s the Gherkin pretty much stood alone on the horizon, but now since London is rivaling NYC in the stock market and trading industry, it’s getting a bit crowded around it but across the Thames and not too far from the Gherkin stands the new-kid-on-the-block; The Shard. Aptly named for its appearance, the Shard does resemble a shard of glass, plus having glass as its exterior makes it a no-brainer. The Shard is the tallest building in the EU and it’s actually the 2nd tallest structure in the UK, the tallest is a concrete telecommunications structure if you can believe that. (Emley Moore Transmitting Station outside Kirklees, West Yorkshire) For now the Shard does stand alone in its immediate area so as to appear all the more ‘towering’ amongst the adjacent structures, (sorry couldn’t help myself there), so only time will tell if the financial flow will continue to point indicators up and thus more buildings will follow.
London's Modern Skyline
Also on my way to my appointed rendezvous I passed by this group of grade school kids, maybe 20 or so, and they were all dressed up as pirates. Most with 3 cornered hats resplendently adorned with the ‘Jolly Roger’, eye-patches, some with a plastic Cutlass and a few with plastic Parrots on their shoulder. Quite a sight is was. Couldn’t help but get a big grin on your face as you walked by. I have no idea as to the purpose of this ‘Bevy of Buccaneers’ but I liked it.
I also got nice shots of the dome of St. Paul from across the Thames after a brief covering of clouds came and dropped a bit of rain on the town. With the passing of the precipitation the sun broke through and upon landing on the dome with its bright light it was as if the dome’s white stone qualities stood out. What a contrast it was amongst the buildings surrounding it especially with the grey background. You can see the photos pre-direct sunlight and post-sunlight. Lovely. Right! All caught up now, let’s move on.
We met at my hotel this last day in the morning and we again cut through the park with Kensington Palace and the Gardens and we were heading to the ‘Fab’ place I alluded to in the last posting. Of course I’m referring to the ‘Fab Four’; the Beatles. It’s the famous crosswalk on Abbey Road that we’re walking too. I know this is at times a bit of an ‘eye-roller’ to some people when you announce that you want to visit and see it. ‘Oh you’re going there huh?’ If anybody is a Beatle fan it’s just a nostalgic and evocative place to go. Of course it’s the month of January and the trees are bare, quite the opposite optics the iconic photo displays, plus the architectural landscape is a bit changed as well. Then there are the old cars that are not there but the crosswalk itself still retains a lot of the same characteristics. We trust in my iphone to navigate our way there, and get to see quite a bit of London’s many colorful and varied neighborhoods. Little cities really, all joined together in a confederacy making up London metro. While walking my hostess tells me of the minor machinations and fees and taxes the residents must pay to each city council for services, i.e., refuge collection, tree and shrubbery upkeep, street repairs and maintenance. It’s a wonder there’s any money left over for living expenses but it all seems to work.
After a remedial perambulatory education on these subjects we arrive at the famed crosswalk. It’s a bit gray this morning, par for the course, and rather than being a simple crosswalk that I imagined on a non-descript street, it’s actually right off an intersection. The intersection consists of Grove End Road and Abbey Road, made a bit tricky by not being a clean intersecting of two lines but with End Grove at a bit of an offset. It’s a staggered intersection and there’s an island in the road as well that gives it a ‘round-about’ appearance but it doesn’t function that way. When we arrive there are small groups of people and some couples taking photos and doing the celebrated walk in the crosswalk, we all know why. I was there to do the same thing. If you go to Google Earth and look up the intersection on there, you’ll see pretty much the same scene. People loitering about and some in the intersection doing what I can only guess at being ‘The Walk’. I will note here too that everyone is conscience of each other’s intention with being there and we all wait our turns to allow just one person, the subject, to do ‘The Walk’ to the other side. Can’t help but be polite here in London. Now mind you it’s a bit chilly outside and the wind is blowing a bit but that doesn’t temper my enthusiasm for accuracy. There are certain factors in play here that is complicating things with our re-creation attempts, this is a crosswalk and all that are waiting on either end of the designated way obligate the flow of traffic and all the motor cars approaching it to stop and allow safe passage. But that’s not the desired effect the majority of people want standing on the curbs. We don’t want any vehicle to be stopped at the crosswalk, that’s not the image at all. It’s got to be clear. Oh sure there can be a car down the road a bit, either approaching or going thither, but not stopped at the crosswalk. No, no, no, no, that won’t do. We have to wait for a break in the traffic to accommodate the desired effect. Then you step into the street and cross to the other side. Not a tricky thing, you just got to be patient. Me, I want it to look good. I don’t live here and I don’t know when I’ll be back here so do the effort and get it right. One thing I notice is that everybody else, being the people who are behind the camera, is standing on the curb. One has even gone out to stand on the island for the shot but to me this angle of the perspective is not quite right is it. No, the person behind the camera, my host, is going to have to risk it a bit and stand out in the middle of the street while I walk with impunity and with the full protections granted to the pedestrians of London from the safety of the confines in the crosswalk. Art does demand sacrifice on occasion. Did I mention not only does she have to stare down oncoming traffic but she must also turn a blind eye to the other oncoming lane, her backside, and thus have faith they won’t run her down from behind. Stern stuff these Brits are. God love em’. I start to get ready and queue up on the curb just out of camera shot so as not to interfere with the preceding team. Now it’s my turn and after a few false alarms, cars stopping for you to cross but then you wave them on, a break happens at last. My hostess fixes herself in the road straddling the dividing line and I step into the crosswalk. I’m in my hoodie and scarf and I try to take on the mien of either John or George. Mainly John cuz’ he’s got his hands in his pockets as do I but they’re in my hoodie. Ringo I can’t do cuz’ I don’t have a ‘ciggie’ in between me’ fingas’. She snaps away with my iphone and rushes out of the way of oncoming traffic. I run back to her side and we examine what we’ve got. They look good. Now for the Paul re-creation; barefooted and no hoodie. This is fun. I take my shoes and socks off hardly noticing the chill in the air and we queue up for our turn. We’re lucky cuz’ there’s really not many people here at all and this could’ve been much more laborious and inaccurate if there were a lot of fans. The break comes and we jump into action. I try to look relaxed but you just get excited when you do ‘The Walk’, and when that happens it loses its efficacy and genuineness. My iphone can take bursts of photos, rapid fire, and it’s in that burst that an image is good. Not exact but under our primitive circumstances it’s pretty good. We collect ourselves, I thank my hostess for her work, nerve and patience, put my shoes and socks back on, adorn my hoodie, tie my scarf around my neck and we’re off towards London proper. Back to the National Gallery to finish viewing the paintings I didn’t get to see because our first visit was near closing time. Right. Off we go.
Well we’ve already been walking quite a bit and while we talk I tell my hostess I’ve never boarded one of the double-decker buses that make up a part of the public transit system here in London. Since we have our Oyster Cards, your pass for the ‘Chube’ and train stations, they also work on the buses. This is genius, to have all the public transportation systems working with one card and fused together seamlessly. I know if America was not such a ‘car culture’ that we live in and the car industry being such a major economic driving force, (Oops, I did it again) we’d probably have something along the same ideas but we just won’t give up our wheels dude! Anyhoo, the bus is only 1.25 quid as opposed to whatever distance the train station to station is, the length of your ride determines your fare. Buses are more economical but a bit slower. I don’t care cuz’ this is something new to me! We jump on board and immediately head upstairs and what d’ya know, the seats right in front is open and it’s ours to claim. Now I’ve got this huge elevated view of the street and sidewalks and looking in the cars next to us. Oh the joy! I feel as if I’m on some sort of carnival ride through this busy city landscape. Plus I’m starting to get a bit haughty cuz’ whenever we stop to pick people up I get to see what’s on top of their heads, a feature we’re not privy to or don’t think about but made obvious to me from my newly situated vantage point, and when the people come upstairs I give them a smug sort of look and think, “I’ve just seen the top of your head.”
Disembarking the double-decker bus we’re right around the corner from Trafalgar Square and back at the National Gallery. I’ve got to talk about the activities that go on within close proximity in front of the Gallery. Everyday there seems to be performance art of one kind or another out in front. When I came last time with Celeste and Tomomi, there are these two rather grand plinths flanking the first level of stairs leading up to the Gallery. The plinth on the right, if you’re looking at the Gallery, has the ubiquitous sort of war-hero-on-a-horse bronze statue. George IV is the subject in this equestrian setting. The other plinth or officially known as the Fourth Plinth is the interesting one. Originally a statue of William IV, in an equine pose, was to be placed on the plinth but due to insufficient funds that was abandoned and for 150 years it remained empty.
As its use was debated over the years, in 1998 it was announced that a series of artworks were to be exhibited upon the plinth. Due to the success and the public embracing this endeavor a commission was appointed to oversee its management, operations and exhibits. So when I came to London close to 6 years ago the plinth was host to a ‘public space exhibit.’ What was happening was anyone could queue up, I mean anybody, and you were allowed to ascend the plinth and do whatever you felt like doing. Give a speech, dance, stand on your head or whatever. I’m sure there was an allotted time limit one was given but sometimes I saw a person get on and be off in less than a minute. I actually liked the concept behind it. On this visit there was a big blue rooster on the plinth. The rooster was pretty much a true Royal Blue, how apropos, and a bit striking too. Also in the front were these street performers. They appeared to be defying gravity in a sitting posture floating above the ground while they leaned languorously with their elbow on nothing but a slim rod with a diameter no thicker than an average broomstick. Plus they were painted up with a metallic sort of patina so as to blend in as a sculpture of some kind. There were three in total, two as metallic sculptures and the other was Death, replete in hooded attire and a scythe clasped in a bony hand and they all were tacitly asking for tips put in a receptacle in front of each one of them. Eh, it’s a livin’. Also another interesting point on Trafalgar Square, the column, the obvious attraction here, is called Nelson’s Column with a likeness of the man was placed on top, and at the column’s base there are four majestically posed lions on the corners in a triumphant ‘In-your-face’ gesture because these lions were originally from the captured French and Spanish ship’s cannons that took place in the Battle of Trafalgar. The ‘spoils of war’ were melted down and placed at Lord Nelson’s feet so to speak. You can see the lions are rather large so that gives you an idea of how large this capture of war materiel had been.
Back in the Gallery and we go for the wings we neglected to view when we came on our last visit. This was the more modern paintings, the early impressionists and the giants of impressionists. Just stunning paintings. I never grow tired of viewing art, especially when it’s this high caliber. I’ve taken the liberty of posting just a few of some of my faves. By the way, these pics you’re seeing are not some ‘gifs’ we grabbed on the internet. These are the pics I snapped with my phone as I stood in front of the paintings. On some you can zoom in and see the brush strokes in the paint. I still can’t get over the energy these paintings give off to me when I stand so close to them. We spend about an hour here and then buy a few things in the gift shop and we set our sights on Buckingham Palace and the Victoria and Albert museum which I have never been to. There’s more to squeeze into this last day and we must get going.
Right. Off you go then.