Still resonating from the incredible energy and inspirations that comes from great art and paintings such as that on display in the National Gallery, we turn towards Her Royal Majesty’s residence in London and venture on our way. Ah, Buckingham Palace, a grand Palace and highly guarded too. Of course there’s the stoic and taciturn guards out in front of the gates that everyone poses with hoping to get a reaction of some kind and usually for naught but fun for some nonetheless. Though this time the security is a bit more elaborate due to the unfortunate and horrific incidents in Paris the week preceding my visit to London as we see policemen accoutered with automatic weapons holstered high on their chests and often with a finger poised near the safety and trigger. Their appearance is a bit alarming and ominous but this is offset by the smiles they are sporting between themselves as they stand in groups around entrances on the backside but I don’t doubt their readiness and training for a second. We did traverse a bit of a greenway bisecting a part of St. James Park in downtown London and me being an enthusiast bird watcher of sorts, will always take a moment to look at some when in a totally different spot on the planet other than my home country. I snap a few pics of the water fowl in the park but nevertheless time is running out and we must adhere to our appointed rounds.
Now we head towards the Victoria and Albert museum. I hand my trusty iphone over to my hostess, who though being a longtime London resident from time to time in the past and has a knowledge of the layout of London, is a bit of an anachronism. She has not really embraced the ‘smart phone’ age we live in and still has one of those ‘small basic’ phones. You know the ones that can’t receive emoji’s in text messages or photo attachments, basically a phone in its most basic of functions, but I’m quite surprised at how deft she is with adapting to the map applications. I must admit there’s something incredibly attractive about intuitive smart women. Right; on we go. With a few turnarounds and ‘no, it’s this way’, we find the museum. It’s a grand structure and it’s packed full of art and antiquities. A bit of background; The Victoria and Albert Museum is the world’s largest decorative arts and design, with a collection of approximately 4.5 million, yes, millions of pieces. Whew, no way we’re going to see all of these items so we concentrate on a few galleries advised to us by a very knowledgeable staff member we query as we entered. I posed to the female staff member, who by the way has a most mellifluous and erudite voice, about some artifacts from Greece that England had procured back in their 19th century Empire ‘Glory Days’, and that now Greece is calling for the return and it’s a bit of a row between the governments, “The Greek Marbles you mean?” she so eloquently orated, “No those aren’t here I’m afraid. They sit in the museum of Natural History”. With that being put to rest she then tells us the exhibits we should see with our limited time is the Asian collection and the Castings exhibit too. Right, off we go. Now funny, with that short interaction and query about the Greek Marbles, I’ve put it in my head that this museum’s collection which was mainly built and acquired during the reign of Victoria and Albert, and it’s been recorded in history quite often that Empires are known to be a bit ‘grabby’ with artifacts and antiquities especially in the areas they’ve established themselves back in the good ol’ days of colonialism. Egad, a lot of these items could have been ‘appropriated’ in some way. A very naïve and ignorant view I must admit on my part but my ‘Former England’s colonialist American’ roots somehow hijack my otherwise open way of thinking towards more benevolent leanings and optimism, to one of ‘Good God man!, the vast majority of these items were just taken from the regions while under British rule.’ I know; pathetic but it was regretfully there in my head. So as we’re looking at all the fantastic artifacts I’m quipping here and there, ‘Oh yeah, just put this on the boat and ship it back’ Finally after several of these snarky remarks my hostess in a most polite and English way elucidates to my ignorant and obviously uninformed remarks, ‘You know, museums quite often pay for most of the items on display and the others are on loan. These all didn’t come by ‘Royal acquisition’. To me that told me, ‘Now see here my good man, my country has its fair share of illegalities and grievances in its past but we’re not a country that was built upon brigandage!’ Oops, I’m a dork. I quickly apologize for my comments and acquiesce. I must say there are some fantastic items displayed here. The most impressive to me was the enormity of the Cast Court exhibits. Although these items look like the real thing, they’re plaster casts made for the real pieces from countries around the world. Most of these casts were made in the 19th century and they’re huge! Of course there are some sculptures of repute; Michelangelo’s David of course, but many more others and tombs as well. There are these huge ornate columns called Trajan’s Column, which is originally in Rome. It has a continuous circular frieze from top to bottom depicting the Roman Emperor Trajan’s two victories against the Dacian Kingdom, located in what is now the Romania and Moldovan areas, and conquered by the Romans in the very early part of the 2nd century. This column is in two pieces so as to accommodate its standing upright within the building. Even with its divided stature the columns are imposing and triumphant in appearance. Then there’s the grand ‘Portico de Gloria’ made from the Cathedral ‘Santiago de Compostela’ located in Galicia, Spain. The sheer work it must have took to undertake this endeavor is amazing. The intricacies and the detail of the arch’s tympanum and facade depict scenes and stories from the various apostles and people in Jesus’ life in the New Testament. The cathedral is reportedly constructed upon the burial place of St. James. He was one of the 12 apostles and after a rude beheading by the Romans while in Jerusalem, St. James’ body was brought to Galicia. Legend has it the apostle James first brought Christianity to the Iberian Peninsula but his work was cut short in the 1st century A.D. (Yes I know). The cathedral that stands now was finished in the early 13th century and the Portico is just a fraction of the majestic properties it displays. Nevertheless I am not in Galicia so I enjoy what is before me. Some of these casts are just amazing. One of the fine attributes of these casts is the fact they were made in the 19th century, so their appearance reflects as they were back then. Before the ravishes of time, before 20th century pollution and overzealous conservation and restoration and more importantly, some of these casts are of artwork and examples that no longer exist due to war or disaster; man-made or natural. Good going Britannia. I could go on trying to describe what I’m seeing but it would take me the better part of a week to type this all down so I’ll just enclose the pics I shot of some of the displays that caught my eye. It was a wonderful time at the V& A.
We finish up our evening at the not so fancy Wetherspoon’s Restaurant. My hostess just had to guffaw at me at my insistence for my wanting to go to this most ‘Denny’s-like’ eateries. I go there cuz’ the fish n’ chips are generous in proportions and the price is most economical by England’s standards. A popular place, just like our beloved Denny’s, and since it’s a Friday night and it’s around 7:30 pm, the place is full of people stopping in after work or starting their weekend with a few pints and a bite to eat. More of a sports bar in appearance but different, there’s a vibrant social vibe here as you feel it’s more a meeting place to either view a football game, you know what kind of football, or chat with your friends and have a pint and bites, rather than the sole purpose of getting some food then moving on. That’s my intention but I’m an American and since I don’t drink pints or other such, me and my hostess sit and chat about how the week has gone.
I retire to my hotel and enjoy one last time in that glorious shower, bid adieu to the hotel staff and I’m taken to Heathrow for my departure. Everyone should travel somewhere at least once in their lives. It doesn’t have to be a far corner of the Earth, but somewhere that your soul can be nourished and enriched. Somewhere you can drink in the wonders that our planet has to offer. Be it man made, natural or a marriage of both.
Do not deny yourself this pleasure.