Sunday, August 4, 2013

It's Saturday in London!

Well it turns out that Don is human after all.  We beat him up!  He slept late this morning and didn't pop down until after after 7:00!  And we beat him out of the house for the first time!!

We had separate agendas for the day and planned to meet in Trafalgar Square at 6:00.  Loren and I headed out, stopping by the Brackenbury Cafe for our morning coffee before boarding the Tube for Holburn to visit the Soane House.  Our good friend Jeffrey had recommended this to us.  Sir John Soane was an architect and collector and the web site claims it is the "best house-museum" in the world.  Well you know what I think of museums, but when we were in Paris we had happened across the house of a Parisian aristocrat, and I loved wandering around the rooms picturing how people lived and seeing time frozen, so I told Loren I'd be interested in going.

The setting of the house was charming.  Lincoln's Inn Fields was the street that enclosed a park on four sides.  Towering buildings and quaint townhouses framed the park.

The buildings turned out to be mostly medical teaching places related to the Royal College of Surgeons.

Sir John Soane’s house, museum and library at No. 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields has been a public museum since the early 19th century. Soane demolished and rebuilt three houses in succession on the north side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, beginning with No. 12 between 1792 and 1794, moving on to No. 13, re-built in two phases in 1808-9 and 1812, and concluding with No. 14, rebuilt in 1823-24.

On his appointment as Professor of Architecture at the Royal Academy in 1806 Soane began to arrange the Books, casts and models in order that the students might have the benefit of easy access to them and proposed opening his house for the use of the Royal Academy students the day before and the day after each of his lectures. It was during the Napoleonic Wars and his students could not get to Europe, so he decided to bring Europe to his students.

When we arrived we were asked to turn our cell phones off and we had to put my purse and Loren's back pack into a plastic bag "to prevent them from snagging on artifacts."  Odd, I thought, what does that mean?   Well we were to find out...  This place is chock full of artifacts, classic and renowned paintings, Egyptian sarcophagi, ... well you can't possible imagine what is in this place unless you see it.  But just to give you an idea, the collection is listed on the web site.  Here it is:

    5888 Egyptian, Greek and Roman artifacts and antiquities
    323 Gems
    202 Engraved seals
    70 Medieval objects
    24 Italian and Northern Renaissance bronzes
    495 pieces of sculpture, including 117 Works by named English Sculptors
    30 Natural objects and curiosities, from fossils to mummified cats
    442 Plaster casts (from antique and renaissance buildings or works of art)
    69 Oriental or South American objects:
    104 Stained glass subject panels
    331 Paintings and drawings (excluding architectural drawings)
    7783 books.

As I had to turn my phone off, I couldn't take any pictures, and they are quite parsimonious with pictures on their web site.  But try to imagine the list of the collection above being housed in a home- and he and his family lived there too!!!

Sir John Soane
Soane also had a weird sense of humor.  He built a crypt on the lower floor of the house.  You go down these very narrow stairs to a dark room.  He created a story of a fictitious monk,  Giovanni who died.  Looking outside the window of the crypt room is a tomb and on the plaque is says, "Good Bye Fanny."  It turns out that Fanny was his wife's lap dog who is buried out there!
Loren loved this place and found it fascinating.  I was appalled!  I felt like I had entered the abode of a mad aristocratic hoarder.  Instead of collecting old newspapers, computer parts or phone books, he collected expensive historical shards and paintings and statuary.  I asked one of the docents where he got his money from and was told he made a good living as an architect but also his wife's uncle died and left her with a sizable fortune.  In those days, a wife's money becomes her husbands!!  I then asked what his wife thought about all this "stuff" around and apparently she supported her husband in everything he did.   (I wonder who dusted!!)  I will remember my visit to the Soane House as "The Attack of the Artifact!"

One very interesting tidbit that we discovered is that the red phone booth, an icon in England, has a connection to Soane.  The red telephone box was the result of a competition in 1924 to design a kiosk that would be acceptable to the London Metropolitan Boroughs. The organizers invited entries from three respected architects and selected the design submitted by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott.  The invitation had come at the time when Scott had been made a trustee of Sir John Soane's Museum — his design for the competition was in the classical style, but topped with a dome reminiscent of Soane's self-designed mausoleums in St Pancras' Old Churchyard.  Sir Giles would come to Soane's house for board meetings and right there in the meeting room was a wooden model of this mausoleum- probably giving Scott the idea for his design.  According to a museum docent, the red color was taken from the walls of that very board room.  What really surprises us is the number of phone booths still peppering the streets of London.  Unlike San Francisco, public phone booths are all over the place.  We haven't seen anyone use them, so perhaps they are just being respected for their historical significance.  Just this past March, 2013 a classic red phone box was installed on the Royal Navy warship, HMS Westminster as a reminder of life back home for the crew as they sail around the globe.

After our trip to the Soane House, we wended our way back to Covent Gardens to go to the theater.  Have I told you about Pret A Manger?  Before I left, my friend, Arta, told me that they were all over London and a great place to grad a good sandwich for much less than anywhere else.  She was so right and we have frequented various Pret A Manger's across town.  There is a wide variety of sandwiches and salads and it's a great place to stop and re-energize.  That's just what Loren and I did before going across the street to the Duchess theater.

The theater is wonderful - one of the smallest in London, and our seats were sixth row center.  The play, August Wilson's Fences had gotten wonderful reviews and Loren had talked to a lady who had seen it who said she was in tears at the end.  We had wanted to see something other than musicals, so we picked this one.  It was wonderful.

Wilson's 1983 play, which forms part of the late dramatist's epic ten-play cycle about the black experience in 20th-century America, centres on Troy Maxson,  once a gifted athlete who was denied his shot at the big time and now struggles through daily life in Pittsburgh. Resentful of a world he believes has denied him chances at every turn, he takes out his anger on his loyal wife and sports-obsessed son.

Fences was written in 1983 and made its Broadway premiere in 1987, starring James Earl Jones.  

It went on to win a Tony Award for Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The play, which is set in Pittsburgh in 1957, was recently revived on Broadway in an acclaimed production starring Denzel Washington, though rumors of a West End transfer failed to materialize.   I would have LOVED to see Denzel Washington in this role, but I'm not sure that even Denzel could have topped Lenny Henry.  I was surprised to discover that Henry is known as a stand up comic although he has also been praised for his role as Othello.  He was fabulous in the role Troy Maxon and all the other actors were superb as well - except for the wife who didn't project very well.  I was so glad I saw this play.

Next stop, Trafalgar Square to meet up with Don.  Don had gone to the National Gallery for his morning outing before he headed to the theater to see Phantom of the Opera. IF you like museums, The National Gallery is magnificent... and like so many museums in London, IT'S FREE!!!  It is situated directly across from Trafalgar Square and is quite beautiful being guarded by the lions around the fountain with Lord Nelson towering above.
 Don had a wonderful time wandering the halls of the gallery and looking at his favorite artists.  He was drawn to the impressionists, and especially Monet.  The National Gallery has an amazing service.  You can go to this computer and peruse the entire collection.  When you find a painting you want you can select it, indicating the size and whether you want a matte or glossy print or have it printed on canvas.  After you order what you want, you get a receipt which you take to the cashier desk and pay for it.  Then your order is sent to the printing department and you can go down and retrieve it in twenty minutes.

Don ordered Monet's Snow Scene at Argenteuil on canvas.  When he went to the printing wing to get his print, he saw it coming off of this enormous HP printer ready to go.  I think that's quite an amazing system.  Here is the painting that Don bought.
Monet's Snow Scene at Argenteuil
 For the afternoon, Don had tickets to see Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty's Theater - one of the grand elegant theaters in London.

Phantom is the longest running show in the history of Her Majesty's Theater opening there in October of 1986.
 Don had seen Phantom several times and plays the music often when he's at home.  He very much liked the production although was a bit disappointed with the lead Phantom singer. However the woman who played Christine was magnificent.

As planned, we met in Trafalgar Square at 6:00.  It was a gorgeous day - check out the blue skies- and the square was filled with people and buskers doing their tricks.

There was this tall guy with a Union Jack and an umbrella standing there and I wondered what he would do if we put a coin in his tin.  Well, he immediately opened his umbrella and beckoned to Loren to come and have his picture taken!!

Another very interesting item in the square was this big, huge blue rooster.  It just so happened that this sculpture was featured in the Sunday London Times and has an interesting story behind it.  It sits on what is called Trafalgar Square's Fourth Plinth - a pedestal designed and built in 1841 where they never got around to installing a proposed equestrian statue of William IV because they didn't have the funds.  Since 1999 the plinth has acted as the smallest sculpture park in the world.  What would Lord Nelson say? A giant rooster - the symbol of France - has taken up a perch beneath the admiral's statue in Trafalgar Square, which celebrates Britain's 1805 defeat of Napoleon's armies.

The 15.4ft fibreglass artwork took its place on the vacant Fourth Plinth in late July and will stay up for 18 months.  The sculpture's name is Hahn/Cock and was done by a German artist, Katharina Fritsch.

We met Don in front of one of the Lions that surrounded the fountain and went in search of a pub that Loren knew about that used to be what they called a Gin House.  The streets of London on a Saturday night are bustling and many of the pubs were loud and filled to the brim.  We went in to various places until we decided to just take the next one that came along... and it was the very one that Loren had wanted to find! 

 It was a huge place with sparkling etched mirrors along all the walls.  By this time we were tired and hungry... Of course the first thing on hand was to order our Pints.

Then all three of us ordered fish and chips!  A great ending to a Saturday in London!

After dinner we dragged ourselves home and headed straight for bed!  We were exhausted!!
A Pint and Fish and Chips on a Saturday Night in London!


Essie said...

Been BUSTING to see "Fences!" Am exhausted just reading about what you do in a day...and you still find energy to write about it! For which we, your loyal readers, thank you.
Leave for Adirondacks tomorrow ~ off grid for 4 days. xox

Anonymous said...

Just getting caught up on your last 2 blogs -- wonderful, Nance, really. Thank you so much for doing this, it's probably not that easy when you are tired from your full, exciting days in London. Your descriptions and pictures are so vivid that I feel as if I am there with all of you!!! tons of love, Carol