Friday 28 May 2004

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© 2004 Giles Orr

I went to the Soanes House first today. It's an experience - one of the most cluttered places I've ever seen, but in this case cluttered with very valuable antiquities. Urns, busts, pottery fragments, architectural models, chunks of buildings tacked on the wall, medallions, paintings ... More or less how Soanes left it 200 years ago.

I sat and wrote in the Lincoln's Inn Fields next to the Soanes - nowhere to sit in the Soanes itself, all the chairs are old and not for actual use ...

I was pushing myself too hard yesterday, determined to see as much of London as I possibly could. Even to the point of not enjoying it. It's important to make good use of my time, but if I don't enjoy it why even come?

Just for the hell of it (having seen the name on the map) I got on the tube and went to Notting Hill. Found an Oddbins (a liquor store that's also in Edinburgh) and ended up having a long chat with the woman and man there, mostly about where to buy whisky (Old Compton Rd. in Soho) but also about work permits (the man is Australian, and only started work a week ago) and where "Notting Hill" was filmed. She sighed when I asked, but was quite helpful. Apparently the markets only happen on the weekend, and are full of tourists - "stale" as she put it. I didn't bother walking over, back on the metro towards Soho - only one stop from where I was at the Soanes.

The big whisky store on Old Compton Street is Vintage House. British liquor stores keep open bottles of alcohol on hand for you to sample as that's legal in the UK. I ended up talking to the owner, who ran me through several whiskies:

Ardbeg Uigeadail - an Ardbeg I like - peat beyond belief, the owner thinks it's overboard, but it works for me. Very flavourful.

Bowmore 20 year old, Vintage House's bottling ... Still sweet, not the peat kick of the Ardbeg. Really really good. I'll be buying.

Port Ellen port casked. Very odd. Interesting. Owner says he's still not sure about it himself. Expensive. Still deciding ... probably not.

In what may have been an unwise move, I bought two bottles of their Bowmore 20 and one of the Uigeadail. Which means no Talisker Distiller's for me, and possibly duties. I had thought I'd be buying the Talisker Distiller's because it's completely unavailable in the U.S.

Old Compton street and the area around it has a lot of cafes and restaurants. I ate at an Indian one. The restaurant was completely empty during the 45 minutes I was there, but the food was quite good. Right on Old Compton there's also the "Gay Bar" and an immense number of male couples.

After lunch I returned to the hotel to drop off the bottles and then headed out to St. Paul's. I'd eaten a late lunch and didn't arrive at St. Paul's until 1550. They don't let people in after 1600, and close at 1630. With an admission price of £7 I decided to pass on this trip. At least I got a bit of a look at both the inside and the outside. As I was told by some fellow tourists at breakfast at the hotel, pretty much the entire front facade is covered in scaffolding and cloth.

From St. Pauls to Parliament again, just to see the Burghers of Calais who stand in a park at the south end. All of them this time. The light was, of course, behind them. A plaque explained the story, the six(?) of them trading their lives for the life of their city. I find that ironic, standing as it does in front of parliament. Politicians are much more willing to give the lives of the people in the military for their country than their own lives.

I got on the Jubilee line headed for the Tate Modern. I hadn't ridden the Jubilee line before. All three stations I saw had glass barriers along the edge of the platforms, with sliding doors where the car doors will be. Thus leapers are confounded and maintenance is doubled.

The Jubilee and Piccadilly lines use the same size trains, but the District line cars are a bit bigger (thank god). I'm tall, but on the Piccadilly cars I feel like a giant. The cars curve down from a center maximum height of about 6'5", so I can't stand more than about 8" off center. Seats line the sides of the cars, and the cars are so narrow that two people with mid-sized bags at their feet will completely block the car (a major problem with hoards of people coming in from Heathrow). Circle line tube cars are different again. Taller.

The Tate Modern is in Southwark. Southwark is an ugly part of London, and the Tate Modern does a fine job of blending in. Southwark looks like it was built in the 1950s and 60s, and the Tate is in a former power generating station. They've made excellent use of the space inside, dividing it into galleries immense and small, but the outside is just ugly.

One of the major reasons I wanted to come to the Tate Modern was that they have a copy of Rodin's "The Kiss." The wall plate says this is one of three full size copies of "The Kiss." As it's in marble, I'm surprised there are that many. The marble is slightly mottled and pitted, which suggests bad skin. I didn't expect that. Apparently "The Kiss" wasn't one of Rodin's favourites: "A large sculpted knick-knack following the usual formula." I beg to differ - I might agree on the formula, but the execution is superb.

One of the most interesting displays at the Tate (and there were quite a few) is Olafur Eliasson's "Your Double-Lighthouse Projection." Makes your eyes go crazy. Fascinating. It has nothing to do with Lighthouses - it's a closer relative to light tables. You walk into a cylindrical room with a featureless colour-shifting wall. If you stand close enough to the wall, the colour entirely consumes your vision. And it keeps ... changing. It confused my brain and eyes until I couldn't really say what colour I was looking at.

And from there back to the Oriental Canteen. It was on my way to the hotel. They were out of roast pork (barbeque pork), too bad - I really just wanted roast pork on rice. I ordered "Wanton Soup Noodles" instead. And I got to write because I was stuffed in the corner at the only one person table.

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by giles