Monday, May 6, 2013

Crashing back to Earth

I've seen so many very interesting things here and learned so much also.  Last night I went to Tooting Bec (I love that name), which is a section of London where there are a lot of great Indian restaurants.  My landlady took me out there.  The food was great and the restaurant was full of people from all over India.  Shradha, my hostess, was telling me which part of  India they were from based on the way their saris were wrapped or their hair ornaments.  It was fascinating.

We talked about remodels, houses, what Bellevue is like, etc.  When we got back she invited me into her four floor home and she shared all of her plans for the future.  She's quite an animated lady, full of positive energies and projects.  She is a radiographer by profession and assists women with fertility issues using ultrasound and a supportive positive attitude.

Next week she is going to Spain to walk 100 miles on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella.   It's her version of my London trip.   She was explaining how she has an 80 year lease on their home which was built about 150 years ago.  She then was talking about the improvements she wanted to make to it which started a whole other conversation about why.  If she doesn't own the place, why would she spend money to put in say, a new kitchen?  She explained that there are two levels of "ownership" I'm calling them.  There is the freeholder who actually owns the property on which the building stands.   Then there are the people who buy the lease on the units within the building.  I'd say that the lease is less expensive than our houses, but our houses are way less expensive than the freeholders cost.  She said that the freeholder's purchase price on the houses just down the road from the pizza place on the opposite corner of the intersection are between 5.5M to 6M GBP.  Now take that figure and multiply times the exchange rate of 1 GBP = $1.50 US.  That's a lot of money...but the bright side is that here in London, they get there trash picked up more than once a week.  :)  The white units along the road are the ones she was talking about.
I saw this on the way to Kensington Palace this morning.  Tell me if you could make an Aston Martin that James Bond would drive, why would you build one that looks like a Smart Car?
Another item I've been meaning to share this week is the outlets here in this flat.  The UK has these rather large 3 prong plugs, but the cool thing about the ones here is that they have switches on them.  You can turn the switch on and off at the plug, which CAN get a bit confusing if you also have a wall switch.  Think about it.  There are 4 possible settings for the two switches and only one of those settings will actually make the item plugged into the wall work.  It took me a while to get the hang of this even though it seems like it could be a good thing to have...especially with small children. 
Other typical things I've seen.  Here is a picture of one of the pubs in the heart of a nearby neighborhood.  It's usual for a popular pub to have more occupants than there is room for.  No worries, they just pile out into the street and occupy the sidewalks.  In this instance they also were sitting on a wall across the street.
On my perambulations today, I walked into this cheese shop to get this shot.  OMG, the smell was overpowering in there.  That's a lot of stinky cheese in one place!
Last photo is my "arty" shot for the day.  I took this through the window of an antique shop up near Notting Hill Gate.
Note to self.  Never, ever, ever get sucked back into your work email before you return from vacation.  Nothing can kill a wine buzz faster than viewing unpleasant things at work from a distance.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Coming Down to the Wire

It's coming down to the wire and I'm trying to make sure that I get everything done that I was sure I had to do and see.  I've seen everything at the V&A that interested me and was even surprised to find things that I didn't expect...like the Modern Glass section.   Was a little disappointed to hear an American make a comment about this being "so Seattle" without realizing the debt there is to the Italian glass community.  In fact, there was no work from any Seattle artist there.

My favorite part of the museum was the section on fashion.  The majority of the clothing in the museum was in this section although there were a few articles spread through the British Galleries as well as other halls.  Their collection starts with the early 1700s and goes through 2010.

One of the things that all of us in the gallery commented upon were the size of the shoes in the exhibit cases.  The shoes from the 17th and 18th centuries were all very small and NARROW.  These were all 3" or narrower across the widest part of the foot.  We all chatted with each other and wondered how could their feet have been that narrow?  No immediate answer was forthcoming.
Another interesting piece was the mantua, which was fashionable woman's wear between 1700 to 1740 although it was mandatory for women to wear them when they appeared at court until between 1745 and 1750.  They were designed to show off the exquisitely embroidered fabric, but required the wearer to walk sideways through most door openings.
Below is a close up of an embroidered men's waistcoat from the 18th Century.  What really impressed me and made me stop to think was that this work was done by hand.  I think about how long it takes to embroider just a few inches of this kind of fabric and how much fabric it takes for the waistcoat and my brain boggles.  
The work in this lace collar was absolutely exquisite.
These two locks were very unusual.  On the first one, there are two buttons below the figure's forward foot.  When pressed, the foot swings up at the knee (into a very unnatural position) and the key can be inserted and turned.  The rifle is pointing at a dial that has numbers all the way around.  Each time the lock is opened, the dial turns and keeps track of how many times it has been opened.  This security of course supposes, that you can remember what number it was on when last you opened it.
The second lock has TWO dials.  This was meant to be an extra level of security because the other person wouldn't know which dial was the actual dial.  Again, in order for it be any additional security, you'd need to remember which dial to look at AND which number it was on.   I don't think that these ever caught on.
Here's another item that screams "one of a kind".   It doesn't look like very much wood was harmed in the making of this chair.  However, looks like a lot of critters were.  I tried to get a better picture of this but it just wasn't as photogenic as you'd think.  There wasn't a good angle on this monstrosity.
Yesterday I went to the Churchill War Rooms.   These underground rooms below Whitehall were ordered to be built out in 1938 and were finished only weeks before World War II broke out.  They were reinforced with a 6 ft slab of iron and cement which made them all feel safer, but it was later determined to have been totally inadequate in the case of a direct hit.  It would have been hard to work in such close quarters and the sleeping conditions were decidedly unpleasant.

They also had an off shoot museum down there that covered the life and times of Winston Churchill.  It had a very interesting hands-on interactive high tech exhibit that was a time line of his life.   It was over 30' long and started on the left corner of the photo with 1874, the year he was born, and traveled up the left side and then back down the right side to the year 1965 and his death.
This second picture shows how the time line would slide back and forth and you could open up the individual years to see what happened in the world that year or something in Winston's own life.  It was very impressive.  It would have been easy to have spent hours in there, but it was the end of the day and my feet were done.
Although not one of his more famous quotes, I liked this one all the same.  
I'll leave you here with a short movie I took going down into the Underground this afternoon.
video





Friday, May 3, 2013

So far away

As I sit in here in a coffee shop (yes, a Starbucks) on Fulham Road in South Kensington, I realize it's a lot like looking through the wrong end of a telescope when I think on my life back home.  I believe that for me, to travel alone has the affect of feeling disassociated from the rest of my life.  There is very little around me that reminds me of that other Ellen.  I haven't even been deleting the junk mail in my work email and have read maybe 3-4 emails since I left.  This morning, due to Internet consumption at the flat, I turned off the email sync on my work account.  As I left the flat, they were installing broadband.
Further defining the delineation of there and here are the working people in their nice suits and smart ensembles.  As I sit here in my traveling clothes, I see another aspect of this separation which seems similar to Vonnegut's character Billy Pilgrim being "unstuck in time".  Enough introspection.

While sitting here typing, a young gentleman in a very nice business suit came in and ordered his coffee.   As he waited for it, he went over to the "customize your drink" counter and proceeded to dig in the trash bin.  I was able to watch unabashedly as his back was towards me.  He then proceeded to pull out a couple of receipts and select one and put it into a little case he had.  Not quite at the level of the disheveled man picking up half smoked cigarettes on the sidewalk yesterday, but still something that catches your focus.

I attended a performance of The Tempest at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in Southwark the other night.  What an experience.  I had decided to not carry my camera as I was "traveling light' and I'll never make that mistake again.  I can't share pics, so I'll have to describe it.  The theatre is roundish on the outside, but the seats don't sweep in a curve, more like a 20 sided figure.  There are three galleries or tiers with roughly 16 sections of 3 rows of 6 seats in each tier.  The seats are wooden without backs unless you sit in the third row or on the rail and lean forward on it as I did.  In front of the stage and up to the ground floor gallery is an large open area.  Tickets here are cheaper and the people who attend the play and stand in this area are called "groundlings".

I was on the third tier and from here I had a great view of everything.  The play was wonderful and more interactive than events at home.  I've been to the Old Globe in San Diego (long ago) and there was nothing like this.  The groundlings become part of the show.  At one point one of the fools walked up to the edge of the stage and "urinated" on the groundling in front of him.  On my side of the stage, just after the interval (intermission), the same fool fell backwards off the stage into the arms of three groundlings.  I'd see one of them reach up to touch his legs and thought that odd, but realized it was a signal that they were ready for him.

Also, the staging used the whole theatre similar to the Cirque du Soleil.  The Sprites in the play ran around behind us making noises and playing instruments.  In the beginning, during the Tempest, they somehow managed to have the seats shaking under us.

The play ended at 10:30 and I walked back across the Millenium bridge with the beautifully lit dome of St. Paul's straight ahead of me.  I cursed myself for having left my camera with me for the second or third time that evening.

The weather here has improved with each day.  It's become glorious bright, warm Spring weather and will stay so throughout the remainder of my stay.

Yesterday, I met up with an old friend that I have known since 1989.  John is an international level yacht racing judge and has been a part of 6 summer Olympic games as well as numerous America's Cups and other yacht racing events worldwide.  We met at the V&A museum and had a coffee in the courtyard catching up on the last 20 years or so.  We took in a bit of the Medieval gallery as well as the Japanese gallery before going into the David Bowie exhibit at 3p.    They had a great collection of items and what they had to convey was great, but the flow of the exhibit was a bit incoherent.  We were given headsets with audio that was keyed using Wifi.  When you entered a zone, the commentary was supposed to match with what was on the screens, etc.  I think they must be having some difficulties with that bit as I would sometimes catch the signal from a different exhibit through the wall as the signal would bleed outside the intended range.  In addition to the headphones, music was being played in various larger rooms along the way.  As I said, it was a bit incoherent.  I did learn a lot about Bowie and feel that they were spot on in calling out his having been a leader in not only the music world but the Zeitgeist of our generation.  Even if you didn't listen to his music, or thought he was a bit bizarrely dressed, he did a lot to blur the gender boundaries making it possible to usher in an era of gradual acceptance and redefining "new norms"  Sorry, no cameras allowed.

We stayed in the exhibit until closing and then went to a pub and on to dinner where we met up with John's daughter Katie.  I had last seen Katie in Spring 1990 when she was a sweet, shy little girl of about 6 or 7.   She was going through the throes of changing jobs, which is much less straightforward in the UK as it is in the States.  As she and John discussed the situation, I sat back a bit and enjoyed the wine, the meal and again the look through the wrong end of the telescope.

Winding down now, I'll tell you that I was able to answer one of my previous posts question.

It IS illegal to not clean up after one's pooch.  However, everyone must walk their dog in the dark.  You'd think someone would notice people leaving baggies in the street, surely?

Other recent pics.

This young man found a way to relax in the courtyard of the museum during his visit.
Yesterday, I visited the section of the museum that held Silver objects.  Below is a little backgammon made from Sterling.  Size-wise, this set is only 6" x 3" opened up like this.  I think what impressed me most was the use of the hole in the middle of the counters to distinguish between the two players.
One last picture and then I'm outta here.  I visited the wrought Iron section of the museum on Wednesday.  Here is a neat photo of a bracket and it's shadow on the wall.  I may try to crop this some time to make it more interesting, but there are too many things to go see and do today.  


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Making up for lost (Internet) time

I've always found that going back and trying to remember what I did the day before when I get behind on posting is tough.  There are so many memories and impressions, that it all begins to jumble.   I'm still able to see in my mind's eye the black patent leather loafers with the oil slick finish from the day I arrived.
After not falling asleep until after 3a, I was woken up too early Tuesday morning.   Remember all of the scaffolding in the area that I mentioned?  Well one is across the street from the flat between buildings and they park the their truck immediate ly below my windows.  Here's the picture, but try to imagine the noise of all those old metal fittings being thrown into the bed of the truck.
The construction goes on apace...

I take a different path to the museum each day to make sure I see something different each day.  Tuesday,  I learned about the trash bags on the sidewalks in front of the houses.  It looked kind of like trash day, but not everyone had trash out.  Then I saw this sign and it all made sense.
Due to the fact that the streets and the sidewalks are rather narrow,  the trash does present an obstacle when out walking.  To carry this baggy in the street story a little further, I took this photo the day before.
These are specially made little baggies that are meant to hold your doggy's droppings.  At least, that's what they say on them.  However, I didn't see a sign like the one above that says which days someone will collect them.  A few feet further along was another pile (!)  or two in plastic bags like we use at home.  Wouldn't it be swell if we could all have those little plastic bags collected by someone?  Multiple weekly trash collection and dog poop removal.  I wonder how much this costs the citizens of London?

Saw a lot more interesting things at the museum.   Here is a close-up of a small stained glass that I thought seemed a bit contemporary for the era.  
I'm feeling a little quirky and in the interest of catching up, this entry is going to take a turn for the worse.  Uh oh.  Here goes, odd photos with little commentary.

This is a piece of tin glazed pottery created about 700 AD.  If you ask me this guy looks REALLY familiar.  He could be the guy who came to work on your furnace last week or the guy that runs the newstand downtown.  This face belongs to the mythical "every man".  Have you ever thought about how people's faces are nothing more than composites of a few varying features?  Long nose?  Thick lips?  Maybe the furnace guy is RELATED to  Mr. 700 AD.   Oops that ran a little long.
This next photo is a another close-up detail of the tassel on the boot of a Roman looking soldier in a marble carving.  If you ask me, it looks like the nose and tongue of a dog.  If I had a Sharpie, I could draw on the rest of the face so you would see what I mean. 
The next one is a close up of a tapestry depicting a hunting scene, replete with horses, dogs, bears, boars, servants and noble ladies and men.  I had a hard time getting past how the horse had a face like a flounder...with both eyes on the same side.   No, really, I appreciated the tapestry.  Honest.  just saying... 
Ahhhh.  The tapestry skeleton with the uni-brow.
This must be where Disney get its ideas.
I'm not too sure what these are...lighters?  The juxtaposition was good.  But seriously, what do you do with the one in the middle.  Take it to a bar with you and leave it on the counter as a suggestion or what?

Next.   The Underground.  This one was creepy looking.  I couldn't take my eyes off of it.
They're also running this in commercial form on TV.
Last but not least.  YOU do the math.



Strangely quiet.

On Monday, without warning, the Internet in the apartment went dead.  Usage limit had been exceeded.   Since then I have been playing tag with the  landlady trying to get it resolved.   This morning we applied the pin from the voucher,  but it still will not let me on in spite of the account showing 7 Gb available.   I've tried all sorts of things,  rebooting the tablet,  dropping the router and authenticating again.  Maybe I will reboot the router and I'm wondering if I should delete the cookies on the tablet.   Will need to check with one of my smarter acquaintances.
Hope to have a posting later today,  it's been busy here.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Lots of things to see in London

When you walk through London, you have to keep your wits about you.  1)  there are a lot of opportunities to fall and go boom around here.  I have been careful so far, but I find myself stopping to look down before I start out walking again after taking a photo or inspecting something else that I've found interesting.  2)  there are a lot of foreigners around here... Eastern European, Japanese, Italians and French stand out more than anything else.  They travel in packs making it hard for those that are trying to share the sidewalk with them.  I saw a group of about 20-25 Japanese tourists go running across Cromwell Road in the middle of the block during rush hour.  This is a 4 lane road.  They made it across the first two lanes before they succeeded in totally stopping the traffic in the other direction.  3)  It's very easy to pass what I'm looking for as I'm distracted by everything around me and there's a lot to see.  Like the detail on these chimneys.


Today was my first day at the museum.  I started with one of the free museum tours they offer.  This one focused on the Medieval and Renaissance periods.  While I waited for the tour to start, I shot down to the ticket desk to get a ticket to one of the exhibitions, "Treasures of the Royal Courts: Tudors, Stuarts and Russian Tzars".  After the tour I went through the Sculpture section and then to the Exhibition, "Photography not allowed".  I saw one of Thomas a Becket's reliquaries and a fascinating wood inlay "portrait" of which I hope you can see the amazing detail in my photo below.



Another remarkable item that I saw today caused a stir in the art world when it was first "uncovered".  It is a Rosellino terra cotta sculpture of Madonna and Child.  When statues were commissioned, the artist first worked up a miniature in wax.  The next step was a terra cotta figure that was larger than the wax one, but much smaller than what is eventually carved in marble.  What is unique about this one, was the humanism that Rosellino imparted to the figures. This portrayal of Jesus and the Madonna was sacrilegious for that time and the commission was never executed in marble.

What a pity though.  Look at Mary's face as she tickles the Baby Jesus' stomach.  He in turn is laughing and it's not evident in my photo, but his feet are arched and his toes are flexed from being tickled.

After that I left the museum and walked all over.  I was trying to find something for lunch, but either wasn't seeing anything that I could eat or appealed to me or I simply was not turning down the right streets!  The more I walked, the hungrier I got and the further afield I was.   All of a sudden I looked down an alley that looked interesting and at the end of it was a small pedestrian zone.  Call it fate, but I walked into one of the cafes, asked if there were any Gluten Free items and wound up enjoying this yummy Orange Polenta Cake with a nicely crafted latte.

As I've walked along, I've been curious as to the construction time period of the various streets lined with their rows of attached houses.  In the area I'm staying in, the rows of houses are all white plaster fronted with creamy yellowy-brown brick back walls.  A few blocks to the east, it's all red brick and there is a lot of remodeling going on in this section.  On some of the business  streets, the red brick buildings are dated in the late 1880's and I wonder if the row houses date from the same period.

One more thing to cover before I close.  Last night I was too tired to go further into the shopping experience that was Harrod's.  The place was packed with tourists (like me) talking about bombings (not me) and generally milling around in packs.  There were also some locals trying to take advantage of the 10% discount weekend when they buy things like the expensive support hose...one of the nice little British ladies who tried to help me find my way told me this.  In between dodging gaggles of giggling Japanese teenagers and not even bothering to look at the price tags anymore, I managed to shoot a couple of photos that sum up the "high fashion" experience of Harrod's for me.  I bought a pair of each of these shoes.





Sunday, April 28, 2013

Rolling with it

It always seems that no matter how much time you spend planning a trip, you either quickly learn that you have very little control over what will happen or you risk ruining your vacation.

The Comfort Economy section on the long portion of my air travel  was overbooked due to the configuration of the actual plane not being the same as the one pictured on line.  Many of us were given different variations of "the computer system has a glitch in it, you no longer have the seat that you paid for."  It wasn't so bad for me, but the 6'5" chap I met in line wasn't happy and I can't say that I blame him.  That extra 3-4" of leg room would have been great for him. By calling it a computer problem, they didn't have to compensate for "their error".  Apparently, a computer glitch is akin to an act of God.  I was lucky to have the middle seat next to me empty also.  Another pleasant surprise was the actual Gluten Free meals with which I was presented.  Delta has come along way from writing my seat number and "GF" on my breakfast banana with a Sharpie!  I had an honest to goodness Udi's GF Chocolate Muffin which I admit I ate for dinner a little while ago.  I'm too tired to worry about proper nutrition today.

I breezed through passport control after a pleasant chat with the agent and headed out to the Underground, withdrawing cash at an Amex ATM along the way.  As I stood figuring out the logistics of breaking a £10 note to get change for the phone to be able to contact the agent to arrange picking up the key, a very kind gentleman who was assisting people by the elevator near the phones asked me if I needed assistance as I looked lost. He then very kindly offered me the use of his phone to call the agent.  Then he and his colleague gave me some very kind advice as to which type of Underground pass to buy and I was on my way.  I have found everyone whom I have asked for assistance to be extremely kind and helpful.  I'm not sure why I haven't noticed this before, unless it is because I'm travelling alone and my attention is focused more outward than towards my travelling companion.

I'm staying in a compact little flat in the Kensington Chelsea area. What it lacks in charm, it more than makes up for in location.  My goal is to stay awake until after dark, so I grabbed a coffee and walked up the road to Harrod's to check out the place.  Here are some photos of things that caught my eye along the way.  The juxtaposition of the brick colors was interesting and the cherry blossom photo reminded me of one I took with my phone on a walk back home earlier this week.

Harrod's is a lot like Las Vegas, only I think Vegas is less expensive.  I was looking at some scarves and felt like my fingers had been singed.  £189.  Ouch.  After that I simply kept my hands behind my back as I walked around.  I'm sure the body language was obvious.  The prices weren't the only thing that is a bit over the top.
At this point I noticed that I was having a little trouble walking in a coordinated fashion and decided to head home doing a little shopping along the way.  The whole way home it felt like moving through a fog and I was constantly amazed at how little time had expired between glimpses at my watch.  At one point I would have sworn that the battery was dead.  It seemed like my brain was mumbling the whole way back...um mum mumum...bzzz.

I now have a bunch of magenta tulips in my apartment as well as some yogurt and soy milk for breakfast tomorrow.  I've unpacked the suitcase and am now simply waiting until it seems "not too early" to go to sleep in my attempt to get on London time.  I am just off a main road here and there is still traffic whooshing along out there and people rushing to and fro.

There are many other impressions from my first few hours here, but there's this background noise in my head...um mum mumum....bzzzzzzz that is getting in the way.   I'm going to roll with it.