Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Sir John Soane, and the Royal Academy

What do these places have in common? Synchronicity.  We went to the Royal Academy to see the annual Summer Exhibition featuring contemporary artists’ work in paint, collage, ceramics, sculpture, print, photography and mixed media.  The vast space, high ceilings and enormous rooms of Burlington House were chock-o-block with new work hung and organized by contemporary artists who are themselves masters of their field.  It was an enormous show.  The pieces are for sale–at reasonable prices for the most part–and selling.  All the red dots testified to the British buying public’s taste for fresh work by upcoming artists.

One smaller room was hung with woven pieces by Grayson Perry.  I took a photo of one and then was politely admonished by a “warder” that photos are not allowed.  Mr. Perry’s work is amazing.  Huge tapestry-like pieces, colorful and amusing with a bite.  This series comments on British society and the gentry’s need to pay more taxes. Sound familiar!

Sir John Soane, an eminent architect of the 19th C, was a member of the Royal Academy, only one of his many titles, and was himself a brilliant collector and architect and painter.  Yesterday we went to his home(s) in Holborn an area just north of Covent Garden in London central.  He and his wife owned three adjacent row houses in which they and their two sons lived amongst Sir John’s collections.  Happily these homes are essentially as the Soane family lived in them; the collections as Sir John arranged them.  This is a rare case as most of the homes of famous people bear little or no resemblance to their original owner’s taste or possessions.

Sir John collected many things which is a great understatement. But you can read more about it all if you’re interested. I was bowled over when I entered a small room “The Paintings Room” and saw before me a large Canaletto so close I could have touched it if I dared. Above were two smaller ones. “Yes,” the warder assured me, “these are originals. There are no copies in this collection.” He then went on to display the complete set of Hogarth’s “The Rake’s Progress” guiding us through foolish Mr. Rake’s awful decline and death.

Finally, a triumph of ingenuity and proximity. Sir John purchased Seti I’s limestone sarcophagus when the British Museum in the 1880’s declined to do so. He paid 2000 pounds for this mammoth item, had it carted home and installed in a lower level portion of his home. (To put that purchase in a context: the home where the piece sits cost Soane 1400 pounds.) There it sits covered in hieroglyphs which were once highlighted with cobalt blue paste that was rubbed into the images which has long since faded. This is a masterpiece rarely seen outside museums. The warder said the British Museum couldn’t afford it because they had just purchased the Elgin Marbles! Poor Egypt! Poor Greece!

After viewing hundreds of marble fragments from Greece, Italy and who knows where, one marble cornucopia about 18″ long and 6″ high caught my eye. I was delighted to read that it came from Villa Adriana (Hadrian’s villa) outside Rome. I seem to have a psychic link to Hadrian!

Starving, we walked across the street and into Lincoln’s Inn Fields park and on to Fields for lunch. We sat outside overlooking the public tennis courts. No action–too hot, I think. Relaxing, I heard a young man encouraging his friends to sit outside as it was prettier than being inside. I watched the friendly banter and he turned to me and said “What are you drinking?” “Agua, pura agua,” I responded in Spanish–don’t ask me why–and then he proceeded to engage me in a charming discussion about where I was from and where he was from (France) and all in fluent Spanish which thankfully I was able to manage. Eventually he joined us and we had a fabulous long talk about Europe, France, and the U.S. Tomas is going to Detroit later this year. Detroit! Yikes! He’s employed in the automotive industry and his employer is sending him to Detroit–probably to uncover what not to do! Perhaps a visit to Seattle can be arranged??

And so, three venues somehow all linking themselves in my brain–synchronicity leading to unimagined connections and future adventures.

Ode to the Tube

Mind the Gap

“Mind the Gap!”

I love the tube.

It’s clean and fast.

Nary a cig butt or candy wrapper can be seen.

The walls and floors, stairs and escalators are tidy.

How do they do that?

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“Mind the Gap.”

The Oyster Card is terrific, saves 50% off the fare

and the rides are not cheap

but then what else is there?

Big red double decker buses are fun but

caught in heavy London traffic they slow and start and stop

while below thousands zip from here to there in minutes.

“Mind the Gap!”

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You can ride from Cockfosters to Shephards Bush

from Mudchute to Canary Wharf to Elephant and Castle

and don’t forget Waterloo and Bakerloo.

“Mind the Gap!”

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The maps are numerous and easy to read,

the attendants kind and plentiful. They escort the

disabled to the platform they need,

and answer silly questions with equanimity.

No panhandlers, or hawkers, or spitters, no one shouting

their sad story walking from car to car asking for money.

So, hat’s off to this small land so clever and bright and

easy to understand and

“Mind the Gap!”

Chelsea, London

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Took the Heathrow Express (20 L) to Paddington Station and a cab to Redburn Street No. 11 where we have rented a flat.  The cab driver who hauled our suitcases down a short flight was mighty impressed.  Well, it’s no small thing to live a few blocks away from Cheyne Street the former location of Henry VIII’s manor home with it’s sweeping lawn down to the banks of the Thames.  Cheyne Street is lovely with rows of homes where lumanaries lived and died over centuries.  Henry’s home was torn down long ago, but here long ago means two hundred years and the replacements are 300 or more years old!

We took a walk across the Albert Bridge built in 1874.  Painted in white, pink, yellow and green it looks like a Victorian ice cream parlor posed against the beautiful blue sky.  The Thames is muddy and broad.  The picture is shot from the bridge looking up the river toward Big Ben and Parliament.

We walked around Chelsea, had a salad at a pub where I ordered a pint of “It’s A Boy” ale.  It was just the ticket for an exhausted and dazed traveler.  Chelsea sports a Starbucks and the European headquarters of Anthropologie.  I believe my dear friend Molly Jasper helped to design and inaugurate this branch. 

Sea gulls abound here–their chatter and calls at dawn and at dusk are amusing.  They remind me to revel in my unrestrained emotion.  I’m feeling very good and happy about my life today!

Bare Bones Itinerary

Time is rushing by as I attempt to wrap up the myriad details associated with a three-month absence from home. Trying to sandwich coffee dates, dinners and walks with close friends into the rapidly diminishing time before departure July 24 is a challenge. I have been blessed with a personal schedule that permits time for long talks with friends, lot’s of yoga, regular lifting and conditioning at the gym, and now I feel that precious time slipping away.

We’re flying from Seattle to London. The new airline protocols are troubling: a ticket on coach essentially buys you a seat. A seat where you’d like to sit and beside someone you’ve chosen to sit beside (at least on one side) all cost extra. If you want to book your seat well before take-off that will cost you $75; if you want more leg room pony up some more bucks. Don’t even imagine you’ll have good food, a blanket or a pillow. Wow! I remember the days when a trip on a plane was luxurious? When you got blankets and pillows; and the deli spread from NYC to the West Coast was ample and delicious. That service is only a distant memory and only to those born in the 50’s.

We arrive in London and head to Chelsea where a rented apartment with a small outdoor patio will be home for 2.5 weeks. Hopefully, daytrips to Oxford, Cambridge and a castle or two will unfold. London alone could take a year, but we’ve got 2.5 weeks.

Then we head to The Cotswold, York, and Hadrian’s Wall before crossing into Scotland and settling into Edinburgh. We plan to travel by train. We’re going to be in Edinburgh during the Fringe Festival where we’ll see our grandson, David “on the boards.”

We leave Edinburgh and fly to Toulouse landing in the Dordogne in southwest France. We’ll stay in Sarlat which is a beautiful medieval town not far from the famous cave of Lascaux. Lascaux is no longer open to the public but other caves are. Next stop Paris for two weeks living in an apartment near the Sorbonne.

Then Italy: Cinque Terre, Ravenna, Arezzo, and Rome. The trip is a mix of familiar places and ones not seen before. A full itinerary, but one measured by longer spells in some places and shorter ones in others. Hopefully, the trains run and the planes take off and land safely. What more could anyone want!