Monday, September 22, 2014
on top of the world
I love hop on-hop off buses.
My introduction to the concept was in Barcelona. Buying a day pass gave me the ability to take a bus around the city -- along with a rather good commentary -- to learn where the major sights were located. I then had the option of getting off the bus whenever my fancy was tickled or I could make up a walking itinerary and return later. Either way, a couple of hours were well-invested in condensed research.
Even though I have taken hop on-hop offs in several cities, I have never been on one in London. Until today.
When I came to London in the 1970s, I learned the city the old-fashioned way with guide book in hand and a sturdy pair of shoes on my feet. So, I have never felt the need to ride on the open level of a double-decker bus.
The three of us decided today was a good day to face the streaming breezes. The weather was slightly cloudy. But the sun promised to break through. And the 63 degree temperature was perfect for being outside.
I thought I was going to get some good photographs. I should have known better. Photographs from a moving bus are never very good because of the framing problem. And the bus itself tends to get in the way.
Even with a bit of luck, shots like this one of the monument to the 1666 fire that burned most of London barely creep out of the cliché box.
So, I just sat back and enjoyed myself on the ride past Hyde Park through Kensington and north to Bloomsbury. We switched to a second bus to head to the south bank of the Thames on a circular route around the Tower of London.
I had a bit more luck with the Victorian decorations on Tower bridge -- a bridge that tourists often mistake for London bridge.
Of course, it would be better without the scattered tourists. On a bus, though, there is no waiting.
This skyline of London worked better. Not only is the light stone of the Tower a distinct contrast to the blue of London's financial district, but the Norman lines of the Tower make an interesting juxtaposition for the post-modern curves of the contemporary buildings.
Speaking of contrasts, you have already seen the World War One poppies filing the moat of the Tower. But, from this angle, they truly look like flowing blood.
We hopped off of the bus on the south side of the Thames to visit the new (for me) Tate Modern Art Museum. The building itself is a piece of art. A converted power plant, to be exact.
As interesting as the exterior is, the building holds plenty of artistic gems. Such as, these Richard Tuttle pieces being installed in the old Turbo chamber.
These pieces do not interest me much even when they are in their completed state. But it was fun to see them at this stage. The emperor without his clothes.
The largest draw was a sampling of the Tate's modern art paintings. And a draw it was. What better way to spend a Sunday than at a free afternoon looking at a Picasso? Especially if you are young.
Or looking at people looking at a Picasso.
This Procter caught my eye. Following the First World War, several artists veered away from impressionism and the emerging expressionism. Procter's Morning is a good example.
Initially it appears to be a retro piece. A regression to Romanticism. Until you look at it closely. It is almost a Tamara de Lempicka -- but with humanity.
Even though the lines are softened, the piece is as abstract (in the sense that it captures the essence of form rather than merely representing it) as a Picasso. The tension between the forms and the appearance of a woman at rest optimistically awakening to a new day provides an almost magnetic attraction for the viewer.
For me, the next room had a far different draw. For some reason, the Tate has installed a full room of Soviet Communist posters.
On first glance, the installation seems to mock the very essence of Communist pretensions at idealism. Especially, since we know how the story ended. (Or, at least, we think we do.)
The description of the exhibit completely strips Communism of its basic evil notion that human nature can be changed -- if the force of the state is compelling enough. I find it hard to imagine that the Tate would mount an exhibition of the equally-abhorrent propaganda of Hitler's National Socialism.
When we came out of the Tate, God had a far better art show in mind for us. Sunshine broke through the clouds to light up the opposite shore. What could be more dramatic than an historic city lit bright with a dramatic black backdrop of clouds?
I couldn't decide which of these two shots to share. So, I give you both.
Even the silly pun-ridden statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus, with his bow and arrow honoring the charitable deeds of the Earl of Shaftesbury, was improved by the day's dramatic lighting.
But the prize for the most unexpected sight of the day goes to this series of banners stretched across the upscale shopping precinct of Regent Street.
I am accustomed to seeing American flags in Britain. After all, even with the recent foreign policy disagreements, Britain still maintains a "special relationship" with The States.
A certain segment of Brits has long been fascinated with American football. That was true when I lived here in the 1970s. But that love has broken out into an obsession.
Last year, the merchants of Regent Street sponsored a kickoff event honoring the annual series of American football games at Wembley arena. It is happening again this year on 26 September. I will just barely miss it. And that is a shame. It sounds like a fascinating cross-cultural event.
Instead, I will be in either Oregon or Washington. Patti, Ken, and I fly back to Seattle on Tuesday. But, before we go, we will have one more star London attraction to visit.
You can either guess -- or wait one more day.