I am a native in this world And think in it as a native thinks
Sunday, December 17, 2017
Saturday, December 16, 2017
Because when you wake up on a Saturday and you decide that screw it, you are NOT going into the office today, it feels like Christmas came early. I lazed around all afternoon, finished one book and started another, and went through the last of the Brussels pictures.
This accordion is from a delightful exhibit in the Museum of Musical Instruments, where I spent a few hours getting out of the rain my first day in Brussels. They had a collection of Estonian folk instruments in little tented cubicles, with motion sensors so that as you stood before each of the instruments, a recording of its music began to play. You'd move through the curtains to the next instrument and the new melody would start, overlapping the music from the previous room.
I somehow managed to hit myself in the eye with the laminated card they handed out as a museum guide, so I walked through much of the exhibit with tears rolling down my face, but I just pretended to be overcome by the music.
Thursday, December 14, 2017
Bonus urban poetry: colorful art hanging from the ceiling in Galerie Ravenstein in Brussels.
This was an arcade with shops and offices, not a gallery in the English sense of the word, but I was just cutting through on my way somewhere else and these pyramids made me smile.
And still do, on yet another snowy morning in New York. It's not even officially winter yet, but you'd never know it by the weather.
Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Monday, December 11, 2017
Sunday, December 10, 2017
Saturday, December 9, 2017
I must have seen these reliefs, from the North Palace of Ashurbanipal at Ninevah, before but I didn't remember them.
The royal seal of the Assyrian kings showed the king face to face with a lion, driving his sword through it, which symbolized his responsibility to protect his people from their enemies. In the mid-seventh century, the lions were more than just a symbolic threat. The records of Ashurbanipal report that “corpses of men, cattle and sheep lie in heaps as if the plague has killed them. Shepherds and herdsmen lament at what the lions have done. The villages are in mourning day and night.”
Clearly the king had to do something, and just as clearly it was more convenient, not to mention less risky, to have the lions brought to him. So this great lion hunt actually took place in an arena, where caged lions were released one at a time and the king killed them from a chariot.
Versions of these are found in most of the ancient cultures of the Middle East -- here's a photo I never posted of the Gate of All Nations at Persepolis in Iran.
The damage here from millennia of exposure to the elements -- plus at least one angry army -- gives some weight to the British Museum's argument for keeping the Parthenon marbles. While actually walking through the ruins of Persepolis and seeing the stones in context was a once in a lifetime thrill, not that many of us get to go to Iran. And it's not likely that I'll ever go back. But while I may never see the art of Persepolis again, I can take a bus uptown and see Assyrian art at the Metropolitan Museum any time I want.
When does protection become imperialism? Are they always the same thing?
It's complicated, obviously. Here's one more example: I knew that ancient Ninevah was somewhere in present-day Iraq, but I didn't realize until this last British Museum visit that it was on the outskirts of what is now Mosul.
Mosul was of course under the control of ISIS for much of the past several years. In addition to all the other havoc they created in the region, they destroyed all the statues of lumasi that had been left at the original site, as well as those in a local museum. So although I would have enjoyed visiting the ruins of Ninevah, the art would have been much safer outside of Iraq.
A lamassu was an Assyrian protective deity, usually regarded as female even though they had the heads of human males. The body might be either a lion or a bull, but they were always winged. Pairs of these statues flanked the entranceways at palaces.
My fascination with these creatures goes back to childhood -- one of my favorite books was All About Archaeology, which I borrowed from the library over and over again (thanks to the miracle of Amazon, I now own my very own copy!) It tells the stories of Heinrich Schliemann and Troy, Howard Carter and the tomb of King Tut, and Leonard Woolley and Ur, and one of the illustrations shows a statue similar to this being dragged on a sledge during the excavation of Ninevah.
There are examples in many of the major museums of the world, and I've been lucky enough to see them in the Louvre and the Metropolitan and the Pergamon, but these were the first. And they're still my favorites.
This particular statue guarded the throne room of Ashurnasirpal in the 9th century BC. You can't really tell the size from the picture, but it's almost 12 feet tall.
Friday, December 8, 2017
On the other hand, I leave for Santiago five weeks from tomorrow. And there will be no wi-fi or phone service on the ship to Antarctica -- it will just be me and my fellow adventurers and some icebergs. It's as close as you can get to radio silence in this modern world and I'm looking forward to it.
In the meantime, here are some fun shadows on Buckingham Palace Road.
Thursday, December 7, 2017
Let's head back to the British Museum, for an Assyrian relief of a cockerel that is probably not demented but definitely preening.
I was obsessed with the Assyrian collection during my first visits to the museum long ago; I remember writing what was probably a very bad poem about the winged lions and the irony of carving wings out of stone. It's still my favorite part of the museum -- one thing, at least, that hasn't changed.
I don't remember which particular palace this relief adorned, but it's probably about 2800 years old.
Wednesday, December 6, 2017
This is the Nova Building, a new monstrosity by Victoria Station. At first glance, I assumed it was still under construction and that the red was some kind of tarp, but upon closer inspection I realized that the building was in fact finished and occupied, and that it apparently, if improbably, looked like that on purpose.
I am not the only one who feels this way, as I learned when Googling “ugly red building near Victoria Station” to find out more about it. Its sheer awfulness has not gone unnoticed, and this being England, the commentary has been delightfully snarky. The phrase “hideous mess” turns up repeatedly; The Guardian called it a “particularly obnoxious 90-metre argyle sweater.”
The best description came from the judges at Building Design magazine, which awarded it the 2017 Carbuncle Cup as the ugliest building in the UK for its “bright red prows that adorn various points of the exterior like the inflamed protruding breasts of demented preening cockerels.”
Tuesday, December 5, 2017
I've been more than a little bit cranky since I returned from vacation and found myself in document conversion hell, but I've managed not to have any actual temper tantrums, being neither two years old nor the President of the United States.
Jupiter has no such inhibitions, and this storm last month, captured by the Juno probe, was bigger than many planets. Now, that's a tantrum!
Image Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, SwRI, MSSS; Processing: Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran
Monday, December 4, 2017
I think Eliza Doolittle was actually referring to the Court of St James's, which is the official name of the court of the British sovereign, and not the very posh and proper neighborhood where I was staying my last few days in London, but I sang this every day anyway as I walked down St James Place to St James Street, then past St James's Palace, on my way to St James Park.
These pictures are of the palace, which is the oldest royal palace and the official residence of the British monarchy, even though the kings and queens have actually lived up the street in Buckingham Palace since Victoria. Now it's the residence of minor royalty like the daughters of Prince Andrew and Fergie, though Charles and Camilla do live right next door in Clarence House.
I meant to get a better picture than the one on the left -- I was distracted by that plane -- but never did.
Sunday, December 3, 2017
Saturday, December 2, 2017
I neglected to mention that all of this art is from the Parthenon, in the British Museum, in case you hadn't already figured it out.
The Parthenon collection, also known as the Elgin Marbles after the ambassador to the Ottoman Empire who removed them from the Parthenon and transported them to Britain at the beginning of the nineteenth century, are of course the subject of a long-running dispute with Greece. (The builders of the Acropolis Museum in Athens clearly expect to get them back some day; they have replicas of everything that's in London and make it obvious that they consider the fakes a temporary solution.)
The British Museum offers a pamphlet in the exhibit, explaining the history of the marbles and also making it clear that they have no intention of giving them to anyone.
The [British] Museum is a unique resource for the world: the breadth and depth of its collection allows the world's public to re-examine cultural identities and explore the connections between them. Within the context of this unparalleled collection, the Parthenon sculptures are an important representation of the culture of ancient Athens. Millions of visitors admire the beauty of the sculptures each year -- free of charge....The Acropolis Museum allows the Parthenon sculptures that are in Athens to be appreciated against the backdrop of ancient Greek and Athenian history. This display does not alter the Trustees' view that the sculptures are part of everyone's shared heritage and transcend cultural boundaries.
I think we would all agree that this is not a happy horse. It's always a surprise to me how the humans (and/or gods) in Greek statuary always look so placid and posed, while the horses are full of passion and movement.
I do know how this horse feels. I'm writing this from my office, where I am babysitting a document conversion process that I expect to be working on until I die, or retire, whichever comes first. (I have 16,000 documents to convert in this phase of the project -- so far today I have converted 323.) I brought in my personal laptop, figuring I could at least sort through photos while the conversions chugged along, but it hasn't worked out as planned. First, I forgot the charger, so I'm almost out of battery power. Second, these conversions do not chug along. Word crashes every ten documents or so and has to be restarted, and the entire process comes to a halt every so often and requires extreme coaxing to resume.
So like this horse, I am neither posed nor placid. I am, unlike the software, just chugging along.
Thursday, November 30, 2017
Tuesday, November 28, 2017
Monday, November 27, 2017
And I was cranky because I was hungry. I avoid airline meals whenever possible, even in business class, but I have to say the meals served in coach on the flight yesterday were possibly the worst I've ever seen. I was starving by the time the pre-arrival snack was served but no one could possibly be hungry enough to find that warmed-up turkey on a roll with cream cheese spread appealing, or even edible. I managed one bite.
I'm sure the man in this window on St James Place isn't finding his meeting any more fascinating than most of us do, but he definitely has a better view.
Saturday, November 25, 2017
The light looks almost tropical, but the dead leaves in the background are the giveaway -- this grey heron was in St James Park, not on a warm beach somewhere.
I was lucky with the weather in London, as it scarcely rained and there was sun almost every day, but no one would ever have mistaken it for the tropics.
These signs, more than anything, made the terror of living in London during the Blitz real to me. Although the war rooms had been reinforced with a 5-foot thick concrete slab overhead, a direct bomb hit would probably have destroyed them.
But that wasn't the only potential danger, so there are signs explaining how to dig your way out through bomb debris, and how to distinguish the alarm that meant a gas attack from the one that meant a ground attack inside the building.
I have many more pictures of, well, everything really, but as I'm spending the afternoon with yet another cousin, and then heading out to Heathrow to spend the night before my flight home tomorrow, here's something easy and quick: the kitchen in the Churchill War Rooms.
This museum is in the fortified bunker under the Treasury building in Whitehall where Churchill and his staff lived and worked during the Second World War. There are offices and conference rooms, bedrooms for military officers and senior staff and dormitories for the peons, and this kitchen, which Jane Austen might have found ridiculously old-fashioned. The stove looks like something from a doll's house.
- Sunday bird blogging
- It's creepy and it's kooky, mysterious and spooky
- Bonus reflections
- Saturday reflections
- Urban poetry
- Urban poetry
- Astronomy Tuesday
- More snow
- Sunday bird blogging
- The queen of the night
- The lions
- The lion hunt
- While we're on the subject of lumasi
- An ancient face
- The winged lions
- Saturday reflections
- Urban poetry
- Speaking of demented preening cockerels...
- There'll always be an England
- Astronomy Tuesday
- One day I'll be famous, I'll be proper and prim, g...
- Bonus bird blogging for Monday morning
- Sunday bird blogging
- The Elgin Marbles
- More Greek horses
- Wild horses
- Saturday reflections
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