London Trip 3

We’ve been running around town at such a pace that when we finally do return to the hotel each night, I don’t have much energy left to write. Here’s a snapshot of the last few days.

Tuesday, the 18th

If I had only one day in London, I’d spend as much of it as possible at the Tate Britain. It’s Joanna’s favorite museum, too, for its collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings. While she toured the Gothic Nightmares exhibit, I wandered through the contemporary arts wing. Some pieces I plan to write more about later:

We spent four or five hours at the Tate before leaving to give St. Paul’s another try. However, we arrived there at 4:05, which, as it turns out, is five minutes after they admit the last visitors. (Read the guide book, then get on the Tube. Read the guide book, then get on the Tube.) So, we traveled back toward the hotel and spent an hour or so at Waterstone’s.

Most sensible people would have just walked back to the hotel from Waterstone’s, but our feet were killing us, so we sunk into the mass of bodies that is the Picadilly Tube stop at rush hour and, for the first and only time all week, we got separated. It was like a scene from a movie. I told Joanna I needed to take a quick look at the map, and by the time I turned back toward her she was gone, engulfed by the tide of commuters. Honestly, I got panicky and even had her name sounded over the intercom, but by that point she was on a train headed north. I learned this a half hour later when we found each other again at the hotel. We spent the rest of the evening relaxing.

Wednesday, the 19th

After visiting five museums in four days, we decided to take a break from all the, you know, culture and, instead, went shopping. Joanna took off for Selfridge’s; I went browsing on Berwick Street. By my count, there are eleven record shops on two blocks of Berwick. I walked into every one of them but came away empty-handed. When I met up with Joanna, she’d had enough of that behemoth of a department store, so we got some lunch, took a quick stroll through Liberty, and then went to Hamleys, where we picked up a gift or two for our niece.

My only request for the trip was that we take in at least one play while here. Our choice came down to The Crucible at The Gielgud or Endgame at The Barbican. Last week, The Crucible received Time Out‘s first-ever six-star review, but Endgame worked better with our schedule. Plus, it gave us a chance to walk around the Barbican, which is a blocks-wide landmark of 1980s prefab concrete construction. Not the prettiest thing to look at but fascinating, nonetheless.

Endgame is being staged as part of the Barbican’s month-long celebration of the Beckett centenary. I’d never read the play, so I’m not sure how this production stacks up, but it certainly felt long. (It came in ten minutes longer that its scheduled 85-minute run, so I assume some of the pacing problems will be worked out by the end of the week.) Kenneth Cranham is great as Hamm; Peter Dinklage is less great as Clov.

Thursday, the 20th

On our third trip to St. Paul’s, we finally got in the door but decided against taking the full tour. We’d both taken it before and wanted to spend our time elsewhere. After a few minutes of gazing around the cathedral, we headed over to the Tower of London. It was my first time there, and I had a ball. We did the whole bit — walking along with a Beefeater and listening to his stories. It really is a remarkable place. I particularly like the occasional areas that are relatively free of signage and velvet ropes, the corners and stairwells that look much as they did eight and nine centuries ago. The Chapel of St. John the Evangelist in the White Tower is just astounding.

We grabbed a late lunch on the way back then headed in different directions for a bit more browsing. Fopp, down on Earlham Street, has a fantastic (and surprisingly inexpensive) selection of CDs, vinyl, DVDs, and books. I swore I wouldn’t buy anything, but I came away with some DVDs: Sexy Beast and the 2-disc collection, The Work of Director Jonathan Glazer, both for a few pounds each, and Carlos Reygadas’s Battle in Heaven. A few minutes of shopping in another country and the strangeness of film distribution economies becomes obvious. The Reygadas film and Sokurov’s The Sun, both of which are still making their way along the festival route in the States, are available on DVD everywhere I turn over here.

A little further up Earlham, I also found The Dover Bookshop, which sells only books related to graphic and web design. Their particular specialty is royalty-free images. I’m proud of myself for having spent less than 15 pounds there.

Last night we finally made our way back to the British Museum. During our first trip there, we were both exhausted from the flight and annoyed by the tens of thousands of visitors who bumped and pushed us at every turn. Late on a Thursday evening, the museum is a quite different place. We had whole rooms to ourselves and took our time wandering through them. I can’t quite comprehend what it means to look at a human artifact from 10 centuries ago. My head just can’t wrap around that.