Monday, November 1, 2010

50 UK Days: Week 3

All Hallow's Eve--a.k.a. Halloween--has only become a big deal in the UK in the past few years. The majority of people I saw celebrating did so this past Saturday night, and almost everyone was in the 18-25 year range. They were all dressed in “sexy knickers” too. I don’t think I saw a single scary costume out there. But my favorite explanation as to why Halloween is so much more significant in the US than here came from a ITV newscaster this morning who claimed it was because America has huge pumpkins, like the large ones in the picture above (photo: Mark Boster, L.A. Times). In the UK they never get that big. I guess it's true then...size does matter.

Choosing to ignore most of the drunken revelry, I spent the weekend exploring more of Leeds (and doing research of course). On Saturday I shopped at the City Market, which basically is a flea market meets meat/fish/produce market. With all the possible shopping options here, my mother would have been ecstatic. If we had come to England on a visit, I could have dropped her off in Leeds for 2 weeks so I could go site-seeing, and she would have been like a bluejay in a birdbath flittering from one shop to the next in sheer delight.

On Sunday, I spent a few hours at the Leeds City Museum. Living in NYC, it’s difficult to visit museums in smaller cities and be open-minded about their collections and installations, but occasionally you can be impressed. The City Museum did just that, in particular with their displays on the history of the city. I took the digital photograph you see here of one part of this installation focusing on mid-Victorian history. You can see display cases of historic clothing and everyday objects, and between the cases are videos of people reenacting the lives of Leeds citizens from the past, using their actual words and real-life scenarios taken from surviving personal diaries and correspondence. The domes hanging from the ceiling are where you stand to hear the videos. The history section goes from Anglo-Saxon days to the present, but of course my favorite parts were from the late 1700s to the early 1900s. The displays all show an awareness of the Disneyfication of museums, which in the US are geared for children. Here I was surprised to see adults enchanted by the flip-charts, games, trivia, and whatnot, to the point that I found myself joining them in pulling on levers and pressing buttons too, just to learn more about the city’s history. Did you know, for instance, that the population grew from 17,000 in the 1770s to more than 89,000 by the 1840s? This exponential growth in population was because of the industrial revolution, which made Leeds one of the most important wool manufacturing production centers in the world.

Other parts of the museum were less thrilling. The section on the ancient world has a requisite exposed mummy in the Egyptian section and a few insignificant examples of Greco-Roman marbles and vases. The natural history section has lots of taxidermied animals, which always freak me out, so I ignored that section. They did have a special exhibition on that was interesting though: Heroes & Heroines: Fashion from Film. The show included outfits worn by actors in different historic films made for the cinema and television. In part, the exhibition is seen as relevant for an area rich in the history of wool and textile manufacturing, and a countryside (Yorkshire) where many historical dramas have been either set or filmed. It included things like Cate Blanchett’s coronation gown when she played the Tudor queen Elizabeth and Kate Winslet’s evening gown as Sylvia Llewelyn Davies in Finding Neverland. The curators juxtaposed this with true historical clothing from the represented time period, to show how costume designers base their work on original styles, but modify them for the camera. Of all the outfits on display, I found myself chuckling over those worn by Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. There was the banyan robe he wore after stepping from a bath, and the outfit he stripped out of before diving into the lake. The outfits and text labels for these couldn’t help but remind us how much we loved Firth’s watery scenes. Even the label for an historical white linen shirt from the early 1800s noted that it was “typical of the kind of garment the BBC’s Mr. Darcy would have worn when taking a dip in the lake. It is a lot longer than shirts worn today...because, in the past, men did not wear underpants! Instead men would simply tuck their shirt between their legs.” You can almost hear the giggle in-between the words, can’t you? On that note, it seemed only appropriate to end with that classic scene of Mr. Darcy’s dip in the lake and said linen shirt. If you’ve never seen this miniseries, you must. It is one of the best BBC literary adaptations ever made, and Firth really is quite sexy.

1 comment:

Sherman Clarke said...

Oh, dear, this is getting repetitious. If there was a reblog feature like on Tumblr, I'd just have to set bkylnbiblio to feed to shermaniablog. Since I haven't seen the BBC "Pride and Prejudice," it was Matthew Macfadyen (Darcy in 2005 movie) that I saw in the white linen shirt (with the sprigs of hair in the neck opening). But mostly it's art and I must thank you for the romp that I took around Chatsworth and "Pemberley" on the way to remembering the white linen shirt.