16 April 2012
It took a couple of days for London to blow me away. I was in the most touristy area imaginable, down by the Thames, around Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey, but some places can penetrate the shroud of crowds and postcards and souvenir stands.
I was struck for the first time by the scale of the city’s history. Everywhere were grand buildings bearing the symbols of past eras, statues and flourishes that would stand as works of art in their own right but were instead serving as decorations, furthering the beauty of a whole. In Australia, we have the poorer cousins of these monuments, and even they are the exception. In London, they are everywhere, forming high walls of ornately worked stone, covering the horizon with grand spires and domes and arches. No less ingenious modern skyscrapers pop up between them, reminding you that you are in a modern city, but one that has stood for hundreds of years.
We took the audio tour of Westminster Abbey, narrated by the delicious, very British, slightly villainous voice of Jeremy Irons. The tour did a good job of communicating how important a symbol it is as the site of kings and queens coronations and burials, creating a sense of continuity among the tumult of royal succession. The layers of additions and renovations mirror the construction of this sense of continuity.
Like many of the world’s great buildings, it is a palace for a religion. Is it hypocritical to build grand monuments to theologies that preach the rejection of the material and the pursuit of the spiritual? Or is furthering the glory of a faith the best use of riches imaginable? How do faiths that preach charity to the poor reconcile this? Then again, churches and temples are often the greatest architectural achievements of a civilisation, enjoyed by millions of people down the generations.
17 April 2012
The Tate Modern
Surrealist are makes you turn inward. It’s imagery is often so abstract that it is, at first, disorienting, so that it takes a while to form an impression. Then your mind begins to discern objects and absorb the atmosphere of the piece, reminding you of a feeling or mental process, the sensations of the mind. The impressions are often unsettling because they express the repressed.
The Globe Theatre
Our guide was a crisp spoken actor with a fussy moustache and a cravat. For forty minutes he lead us around the theatre, filling the bare stage with beautiful details and anecdotes, and the occasional recitation of a scene from Hamlet.
In Shakespeare’s time, the “groundlings”, who bought the cheap standing room tickets at the front of the stage, believed that disease was spread by bad smells, and so chewed garlic to create some kind of counter-stench forcefield.
Members of the elite would sometimes sit on the balcony behind the stage. This gave them a crap view of the play, but they didn’t care. It let them be seen, and gave them the illusion the audience was looking at them.
The Shakespearean accent was not the perfect diction Laurence Olivier style pomp, but a nearly Irish brogue. When our guide demonstrated it, it had a natural duple rhythm, and was so fast that it was nearly unintelligible.