Culture Day in London

Wednesday, December 21, 2005 — George had a business appointment with someone at the British Library at 10:30, so after our breakfast (I should note that the Hotel Montana tariff includes “full English breakfast”; but it is more than I can gaze upon early in the morning, and the food isn’t very good) at the patisserie, we split up. I spent the morning at the British Museum seeing two special exhibitions: Forgotten Empire: the ancient world of Persia; and Samuel Palmer: Vision and Landscape.

The Persia exhibition contained a lot of antiquities lent by the government of Iran, which I am quite certain will never be seen in the U.S., so it was a good chance. It is a monumental exhibition, well executed. Samuel Palmer is a favorite Romantic landscape painter; however the majority of the paintings in this very large exhibition are quite small, so it was difficult to see them.

Of course, I did a bit of shopping in the British Museum gift shop before heading back up the road to meet George at the British Library. From there we took the Tube to St. Paul’s Cathedral. George had a second errand to run: delivery of a photograph to the librarian at the St. Bride Printing Library on Fleet Street. He’d had lunch with his host at the British Library, but I hadn’t, so he left me at a branch of my favorite British fast food establishment, Pret a manger, for a sandwich followed by a quick trip to the St. Paul’s Cathedral Bookstore.

When we met up again at 3:30 PM (already well into twilight on this shortest day of the year) we walked across the Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern to see an exhibition of the paintings of Henri Rousseau, “Jungles in Paris.” These paintings of such things as tigers eating virgins must have been quite shocking in their day. What is more amazing is that Rousseau himself never set foot out of France–he absorbed the stores and pictures of others to create his images.

We had a leisurely walk back across the Blackfriars Bridge up to Covent Garden and a stop at Penhaligon’s perfume shop to stock up and buy several Christmas gifts for people.

We were read for dinner, but of course we were in the middle of the theatre district right before showtime, so every place was mobbed. We walked from Covent Garden to Soho and ended up eating at an old standby Balans, on Old Compton Street. It was packed and earshatteringly noisy, but we got a table quickly, and the food was good. It was a Thai chicken pasta dish for me, plus a rich chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream.

Since we had both been on our feet all day, I convinced George that we should take the Tube back to King’s Cross. I was extremely happy to take my shoes off. The weather had been chilly all day.

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