Friday, December 3, 2010

50 UK Days: Week 7

Although this blog post will get published after I’m home, I’m actually writing it somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean squashed in my coach seat on a Delta flight. Despite my initial fears that the weather would cause problems, we departed only about 1 hour later than scheduled, which is surprising considering the number of delayed flights out of London. Gatwick Airport, which you can see from the BBC image above, was actually closed for 2 days. Fortunately, I was flying out of Heathrow, which had cancelled flights, but never shut down. The snow in London itself did start sticking and on Thursday morning there was a whole single inch of snow on the ground. Now, if you sense sarcasm in my tone, you’re reading this well. I have been rather stymied by the total lack of preparation the British government has displayed regarding the weather. Admittedly, this has been an early surprise, and I have been told by friends that in general UK weather is relatively temperate, that rarely do they get extreme weather conditions. In fact, the amount of snow they have been getting these past few years is actually a phenomena. More than one Londoner told me there was a period when it never snowed in almost 20 years. Is it global warming? Shifts in water currents? Ozone depletion? Who knows. But wouldn’t it seem that for a country basically an island situated in the north with a portion of it practically in the Arctic circle, that they would be better prepared for snow and cold weather? How is it that train lines are shut down for a week? How can cars be stuck on motorways for multiple days? In some areas I can understand this. For instance, in the wolds of East Yorkshire, where it’s just hills and moors and rural land, it seems completely reasonable that it’s much more difficult to plow these areas or de-ice the roads. But London? An enormous international city that’s been in existence for 2000 years? They can’t plow the streets of south London so people can get to work? It just seems bizarre to me. And before any of my British friends gets defensive, I think it’s important to note that the BBC this morning was reading the complaints and concerns of numerous British people’s emails, and they were actively grilling politicians about the failure to respond to what has amounted to a national crisis.

Related to this, however, is one amusing thing. BBC newscasters are some of the most staid individuals ever. They rarely crack a smile and when they joke it’s so subtle one doesn’t realize it was a joke until a few seconds later. In short, emotions rarely makes an appearance. Until you get to the weather. The winter blast that hit England has led to some of the most melodramatic weather reporting. The newscasters are actually animated! Consider these repeated choices words and phrases: frigid, horrendous, whipping, gale-like winds, biting cold, freezing temperatures, etc. Now say it with a young woman’s articulate English accent, emphasizing the ‘r’ and other consonant sounds, and I think you can tell what I mean. When you hear them report the temperatures you immediately agree. 0 degrees, -1 degrees, -10 degrees, even -20 in a northern Scottish town yesterday. But this is Celsius, not Fahrenheit. So while certainly -5 degrees is below freezing, in Fahrenheit that’s only about 25 degrees. Now, that still is cold, but it sounds WAY colder and WAY more horrific when they exclaim: “The blustery, frigid winds will make the already unbearable cold temperatures of nearly minus 5 below 0 seem even more horrendous than the night before!” Bloody hell, it’s flippin’ cold!

So aside from all the weather reports, and the news of student protests, I have in fact been busy. As far as my work was concerned, during the nearly 2 weeks I was in London, I spent much of my time at the Royal Academy and the National Art Library at the Victoria & Albert Museum doing research. I also spent time at the British Library and the Conway Picture Library. (The British Library had an interesting exhibition called Evolving English, that I may write about later.) I also made my usual pilgrimage to Tate Britain to see the permanent collection, which is being reinstalled due to renovations on the Edwardian building and the new mission embracing more modernism since Penelope Curtis, formerly Curator of the Henry Moore Institute, has taken over as the new head of Tate Britain. (The Art Newspaper published an interview with her just this past week about her plans for this historic museum of British art.) I also visited the Wallace Collection for the first time. The former private collection of the first 4 Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace (illegitimate son of the 4th Marquess), it was turned over to the state by the baronet's widow Lady Wallace upon her death in 1897. The museum is quite amazing with its focus on French art. They have some spectacular pictures by Watteau and his Rococo followers, and a decent collection of 19th-century French paintings by Delaroche, Scheffer, and others. Best of all was the opportunity finally to see what I consider to be one of the most erotic pictures ever painted, The Swing by Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1767), which was a true delight. bklynbiblio readers may recall me writing about this work in connection with Yinka Shonibare.

My Thanksgiving dinner this year was Malaysian cuisine (specifically lamb with vegetables, not that lamb is a Malaysian but a nod to British taste). It was certainly an interesting twist on the traditional turkey dinner. I also ate a fantastic Lebanese dinner one night at Yalla Yalla, seriously one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten (thank you so much, AS!). My international tour also included joining friends for French food, Greek food, and Chinese food. London cuisine certainly has come of age, and you will definitely get a good meal there, so have no fear of that. I wish I could talk about fabulous desserts and cakes I had, but I’m at a loss there. I think I needed CC to encourage me to eat more sweets.

If you’ve been keeping track of my 50 UK Days, then you know that I was gone 7 weeks, so that’s 49 days. Montreal started the trip, but since Canada has long been part of the arm of British imperialism (after all Queen Liz is still on their money), it seemed fine to include it in the group. Adding in travel time, it did magically work out to be 50 days. And after all is said and done, I have to admit that these 50 UK Days have been an exciting and thoroughly fantastic adventure. I have done so much, seen so many people professionally and personally, making new friends along the way, that I really can’t complain too much, especially these last two weeks in London. Well, I could complain about the labor strike screwing up the underground Tube. I could complain about getting woken up at 6am one morning because of a fire alarm, that we all had to stand outside in the freezing cold. And I could complain about the early cold snap itself. But really, why complain? Brooklyn, here I come! It’s going to be so nice to wear different clothes.

1 comment:

pranogajec said...

Welcome back! 'Twas fun to live vicariously in the UK for that short while.