UK March 2010: Winding Down

Because I am apparently legally insane and want to collapse when I get back to California, I ventured out the other day for a full, full day of site seeing. Left the house at 9:30, am got back at 11:00 pm. Let me explain. The original plan was a full day at the British Museum. It's a pretty full museum especially if you like Greek, Assyrian or Egyptian artifacts. I had three main things to see on my list. The collection is very impressive. The British did a great job of looting from the world for centuries. You can see a huge chunk of ancient world treasures and artifacts without ever leaving London. It's easy to get overwhelmed by the number of important items there and get burnt out before you finish your tour. Pack a lunch, break for water. Span time.

My first item was the museum's big draw-- the rosetta stone. Even those of us that are slightly jaded, have to be taken back by the importance of the stone and how much was learned through it's discovery. I have a weakness for Egyptology, so it's been a big win for me. And also, I have the rosetta stone to thank for my coffee mug from the Luxor that spells out 'Rachel' in hieroglyphs. Talk about ancient treasures, I've had that thing of beauty for five years now. Everyone was huddled around the stone. Some there, slightly bored, seeing it because their tour map told them to. Some of us just staring for a bit, walking around the front. The back. The sides. Sizing it up. Somehow these treasures of importance that you read about in school, like the rosetta stone, seem to detached from your daily life of cleaning the house, fighting for a seat on BART, and wrangling chihuahuas. And then you see it and suddenly things are more than captions in books, this is real. Very real and probably very heavy.

From there I took a one minute stroll over to the Parthenon. Just like that, I was looking at an Athenian treasure. Or parts of it. The British Museum has quite a bit from the ancient structure, in a room designed to house the bits and pieces known as the Elgin marbles; named after Lord Elgin that sold them to the museum. Greece kind of, sort of wants them back. A small sign in the British Museum states that the marbles are still there because they 'would not survive being moved'. Do your own math on this one.

Another big item on my list was seeing the bog man. I became a interested in the whole bog body thing while traipsing around Ireland. Learning about the landscape and how the peat grows in layers, the old layers begin releasing acid which preserves the bodies and since it is a low oxygen environment there is not much to rot them. So you see lines on hands, scars, tattoos and analyze stomach contents from people that died in the Iron Age.

At this point my day was running late. I'm known to wander. One of the items on my list was the National Portrait Gallery. They are open late on Thursdays, so I decided instead of heading back for dinner that I would grab a bite and hit that museum before my evening plans started. I was hoping to see the Irving Penn exhibit, so I was happy it all worked out. I think we can all sense a theme of me being drawn to photography exhibits in general, and then you add in the Vogue factor. I would've been upset if I missed it. I stayed in the gallery with his work for awhile. Mixing up the order I saw everything in, zooming in close and zooming out. I had made small talk with the gallery employee at the door on my way in. Probably what stopped me from being arrested during the zooming in part.

With time to kill and a credit card I had emptied before I left for my trip, I felt inspired to take a quick look again around Soho and see if I needed a proper souvenir. I found a pair of shoes to properly mark the trip in my memories and justify the exchange rate. Here.

My next step was the opera I had decided to see: Satyagraha. I butchered the title several times and then just settled on calling it 'The Gandhi Opera'. I have never been to a proper opera before and had settled on going to this for three key reasons: you try new things on vacation, it sounded interesting, the balcony tickets were cheap. And so there I was with my heavy coat, big purse, camera and box of new shoes squeezing into a tiny packed row for a three plus hour show. There were four women, a group, between me and the aisle, and we all chatted for a bit before the show and at break. I had bought the program. The opera was in Sanskrit. I wasn't sure I would've fully understood in English, so this gave me an excuse to read the program heavily. I shared it with them at break and we all spent a couple of minutes picking out the literal items from Gandhi's life and the ones created for the show. They helped me with the Hindu gods that appeared, I figured out Krishna and Ganesh, needed help beyond that. The show was moving, the music simple, more like a backdrop to the voices and to the stage set. The set was also simple, but powerful. Non-violence and transformation were the key themes throughout. Gandhi goes from a lawyer dressed in British clothes to the image we are more familiar with, him in a robe. First the shoes come off, then the coat, the hair... The newspapers in the set are held up by the players and become a temporary screen for words, then for weapons, then they are taken off the stage and then giant paper mache creatures come out.

Gandhi gets linked to Martin Luther King Jr. towards the end. A small door opens in the top of the corrugated back drop of the stage. You can see the figure with his back facing you and know who he is. At the podium arms slowly moving, not to distract from Gandhi and the Salt March scene on stage, but to accent. And to link two big figures of non-violence. Two more windows appear in the backdrop next to King. They are covered in thin screens, you see the backdrop of The March on Washington. First photos from the march, thinned and vague, then the heavy outline of players acting out the protest march. In silhouette only-- a figure crouched on the ground, shielding his head while two other figures stand above with billy clubs. The other screen, a person on the ground, the outline of a thick boot repeatedly kicking them over and over. Powerful. Then the screens are torn open and people in riot gear climb down ropes, meeting the stage, and flooding around picking off the salt march protesters and pulling them off the stage. The stage is left with just Gandhi and the MLK Jr. figure still up in the backdrop. Curtain drops.

Entering the streets of London again after that was surreal. But I weaved through the crowds of theatre goers, all seemingly let out at the same time. Found my way to the crowded, crowded train and through myself into bed as soon as my key clicked the front door closed.

Almost done. One more travel update to go. Stay with me folks, I'm running out of steam.

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