Thursday, December 22, 2011

Only Remembered

This was a happy happy day. After class, I finally made the successful trip to Cass Art to get that box of artist's supplies. And used some coupons and got a piece of paper for my final project. This meant walking home with a bag chock-full of stuff slung over a shoulder. The box had a scarlet inkwell, two oil paints, two acrylics, masking fluid (which I am informed is for making white space in watercolor paintings and it rubs off unlike crayon), a watercolor tube, and some sticks that are like charcoal/chalk/crayon hybrids. I am inexpert with those. But if I figure out how to use them, they should be fun. So with this chock-full bag (I was also carrying my backpack) I found my way to the Handweaver's Studio before heading home because I'd wanted to for a while. I found a hand spindle that is much better than my cd-pencil-and-clay handmade one (because it is balanced) and got some wool of various types for not too much because they weren't huge hunks of wool and besides that they gave me the student price on the spindle because that's what I'd been told it was when it turned out not to be. But I like it. It's served me well, and I'm actually almost out of wool already, and that wasn't even a month ago. Yeah, I liked it. It's actually kind of addictive, and after a bit you can spin while doing almost anything else. You know, if you need your hands, then you run into a problem, but's great!

Then the best part of the day. I was sitting there spinning while some people were headed to War Horse feeling kind of disappointed because that was the one play I wanted to see here (the rest were Broadway plays, really; better to watch them in the States) (and okay, I would have been majorly upset if we hadn't seen some Shakespeare plays, but I got 3 of those in!) (I'd actually wanted to see it since before I even knew I was going on the program after watching a video about the puppet they made for it) when Karen came up to me and said “Hey, you coming?” Huh? “Don't you remember you paid for this in September?” I probably didn't shut up the rest of the way there from excitement. (Remember how the NH museum said I have a bad memory? Yeah, it just confirmed something I already knew.) And let me tell you, so very worth every pound.

The play started with a gentleman coming in and just standing while some birds flew; he started singing later as another military man walked in and sat sketching a bit. Then came a young foal puppet—he had two people for the front legs, two for the back, and one for the head. They were basically part of the puppet; I guess you could say they were the horse. The foal had stiff, unjointed legs which worked well for getting the jerky-legged young foal movement. He was alone on stage for a while, then rounded up and sold at auction after two brothers had a betting battle over him—the brother who won was just drunk and stubborn and held a grudge against the other brother (who, it was later revealed, thought less of the first brother because he hadn't gone to war while conveniently forgetting that someone had to stay and run the family farm, which the brother who liked drinking left later but before the play started to get his own farm) when he'd been at the fair to buy a cow. And it was doubly hard for everyone to understand when the foal was a hunter/workhorse mix who, because of his hunter blood, wouldn't be much good for farming purposes. His wife was furious but decided that the only way to make a profit was to raise him and then sell him, and turned his care over to her son. Which is a bad idea with an animal you want to sell, because of course the boy developed an attachment. He named the foal Joey and taught him to come at a whistle, a few other tricks, and rear when he said (I think) “Way up!” And he reared at the back of the stage and suddenly the full grown horse was standing there, moving out from the shadows of backstage as the young foal puppet dissolved. (Someone said it basically split in half, but I missed it, being focused on this new huge animal.) The grown Joey was impressive. He's basically a wicker construction, but the working of the horse is almost all interior—two inside working legs and breath and tail, and the one on the head. I think the one standing outside working the head also worked the ears, which moved individually. With all of this, he moved almost just like a real horse, and sometimes watching the play I could believe that he was alive. Not real, perhaps; he had too little hair to be real, but definitely alive.

The boy—Albert, I think—was of course fond of his horse. He raced him across fields and jumped fences with him, which caught the attention of the military gent from the beginning who began sketching the pair, and of Albert's father's brother and son, who became rather covetous. So they got Albert's father drunk and bet him that he couldn't get Joey to plow in a week, 32 guineas (the price originally paid for Joey which was the most that year by far) against Joey himself. Albert's father stumbled home drunk and tried to put a collar on Joey who reacted...strongly...and Albert and his mother rushed out to see the commotion, whereupon Albert was told to teach Joey to plow or he'd lose his horse, so he said he'd teach him and if they won the bet, his father had to promise to never sell Joey. He did teach him, too, because Joey trusted him—it only took a day or so each to get him used to the collar and being directed by the long leads, but the week passed and the bet time came without his actually having been able to move the plow. Of course, it being a play, the plow was pulled the required distance among much cheering and disbelief and Joey astonished them all. (The plow had fabric on the front that it pulled to make a furrow.) At this point, the bells rang and WWI was begun. The next scene saw Albert's cousin joining the war, given a knife for luck which had seen his father and his grandfather through their wars, and Albert's father hearing that 100 (pounds? Guineas? Whichever is more, I think) being offered for a good officer's horse. And shortly thereafter, Joey was on stage and already switched hands before Albert ever showed up to protest. When he couldn't get his horse back, he tried to enlist but was only 15. The officer—the same one who'd been sketching—promised that he'd take good care of Joey and bring him back; after all, this war would only last perhaps a week. He also promised to show him the sketches he'd made.

Joey entered the war service and was introduced to Topthorn, the other full horse-puppet on stage (He was black, Joey was a bright chestnut) and had a quick fight with him to establish pecking order. The first charge began—Joey and Topthorne with riders, the other cavalry being represented by horse puppets that were just heads and backs resting on one person with officers who were heads and torsos mounted on them and held by another on the side charging into a flash of cannon fire—and Joey's officer was shot from his back by either a piece of shrapnel or a bomb, a huge piece of wicked-looking metal coming from across the stage through flashing light and the captain fell backwards, lifted and carried backwards and laid down by stagehands. Around them, the others also fell one by one, leaving the stage littered with bodies as the stagehands laid down to join the dead. The halves of horses and humans that had almost been comical before suddenly became grotesque reminders of the shattered bodies of war. And among all this came Christmas at Albert's home, where he received a bicycle from his parents (which he was unenthusiastic about, seeing it as an inadequate replacement for Joey, which disappointed his mother and caused his father's temper to boil over) and a package from the front which he received eagerly, and then read the news of the officer's death which came with the sketchbook with Joey's picture. He was devastated by the news and his mother went to get something to cheer him up, only re-arriving after he'd taken the sketch of Joey and ridden off on his bicycle.

The next scene was of Albert's cousin being told to ride Joey (He belonged to your family, right? *moment of tension for the cousin*) and they rode into war, met with machine gun fire, the stage went black, and cut for intermission. Cruel, cruel people who leave me hanging at a scene like that.

When intermission was over, Albert had joined the war and been shuffled from the unit he was trying to join to the infantry, where he told the (colonel?) in charge (whose every sentence was interspersed liberally with “effin'”) that he was looking for his horse, showed him the sketch, and was mocked for it (“Do I look like a horseman? Do I look like an equine enthusiast?” with his favorite word thrown in) and they were told to grab a shovel. They laughed. And were sent packing for the shovels with all due speed.

Meanwhile, Joey and Topthorn, with riders, had been captured by the Germans, the leader of whom was very distraught at the need to go to the battleground and put the poor horses, caught by and hanging from the barbed wire, out of their misery and angry with the English for making the horses ride into this. His second in command was, well, he was one of the people who enjoyed war. He was bloodthirsty, suspicious, overeager to attack, and in the end killed Albert's cousin who was just trying to keep the knife his father had given him. With the boy's own knife. The officer who had ridden Topthorn was taken prisoner, and then they were going to take the horses back to the front (which the first German officer was upset about) when the ambulance showed up, pulled by the two other full horse puppets. If you can call them horses. The skeleton of these puppets showed through starkly, accentuated by more wood to make a spine jutting out from their backs, and instead of a firm mesh coating their sides, they had ghastly white tattered fabric around their stomachs, obviously dead on their feet. The ambulance was obviously in desperate need of the two fresh horses to pull it. The officer (who had taken an instant liking to Topthorn) tried to put a collar on him to save him from the front but Topthorn was skittish and wouldn't accept it (which the officer both admired and was sorry for—the Germans must be crazy to want such horses to be reduced to wearing a collar), when Joey approached cautiously. “You've done this before? It must be the English who are crazy!” On seeing his example, Topthorn allowed himself to be collared and the ambulance was pulled away.

Albert's company was in the war zone and he and a friend got separated.  Albert heard a horse and almost went to it when his friend, Davy, I think, pulled him back and Albert told him about his horse, even showed him the sketch.  Davy laughed at him for going all this way for a horse, and told him about his girl back home.  Albert asked to see a picture, looked at it, and said "Well, at least Joey is supposed to look like a horse!"

When the officer and two horses got to the hospital, the officers were dead and the hospital a wreck, so the officer decided to take one of their uniforms and pretend he was a hospital orderly and stay there with the horses.  Which really worked rather well for a while; the horses got to sit and do little, the officer made friends with a little girl who liked the horses and her mother which was difficult at first since they were French and the lady didn't trust him at all.  But then the other officer, the one who had stabbed Albert's cousin, came along with a huge gun carriage and the skeletal horses, one of which died there, and he commandeered the two horses again, taking the officer with him.  The last skeletal horse died on the way and Topthorn wasn't doing well, either.

Meanwhile, Albert's company was following a gun carriage and ran across a dead horse by the side of the road.  Albert noticed it was still slightly alive and had to kill it, in front of a little French girl who was looking for her horse and she cried, and Albert gave up, deciding that Joey was already dead.  At this point, they were attacked by gas and Albert didn't put his mask on, and Davy pulled him out and to the hospital.

Topthorn died, there was a face-off between several of the Germans who were arguing about the war--Topthorn's German officer, who had wanted to take him home after the war, was angry with the fanatic officer because he'd worked the beautiful horses too hard, he ended up shot, and then a bomb came and killed most of them, but Joey was cut free and he ran off in a panic and got tangled in some barbed wire in No-Man's-Land.  The German and English trenches on either side were surprised to see a horse, white-flagged each other and got out to rescue him.  The English side won the horse in a coin toss and took him to the hospital.  The officer in the trench was Albert's first officer, actually.

The trench officer took Joey to the hospital and was asking if they could save him, because the men had decided he was a miracle horse.  Meanwhile, Albert was just across the stage.  He had been blinded by the gas but wasn't responding to anything, encouragement or otherwise because he was depressed.  The doctor looking at Joey decided he was infected and couldn't be helped, mostly because there would be no one to watch him during recovery which he needed, and pulled out a gun to shoot him.  His gun was empty, so they started reloading it and then an officer got upset at the delay and pulled out his gun.  Albert was talking about Joey and whistled the whistle that called him.  Joey perked up and started moving as he could, Albert heard the horse and his response and went wild, and the trench officer, connecting it at last, pushed the gun away from Joey the instant it went off.

You can imagine the reunion that followed, and the play ended with Albert's mother and father at their farm, his mother looking back wondering at the man who had turned into their lane, and both of them dropped their loads in surprise to see Albert and Joey riding up the road to their home.

As far as giant's shoulders go, I like this one.

He is my ideal.

Of all the art shows in all the world, and we managed to end up in this one.

For those of you who don't know, Da Vinci is a flipping genius. At everything. And this show only focused on one aspect, his art, and at one time of his life, in Florence, and we still got a taste of everything because he incorporates it all into each other because he's a genius. Not to overuse the word. But his face shows up as the definition in the dictionary. Chuck Norris takes his hat off to Da Vinci. (Sorry. After the dictionary comment, I felt it was necessary to use another word-meme.)

Anyway, here's the story. The National Gallery decided to put on a Da Vinci exhibit. They got all of his paintings that were allowed to travel (the Mona Lisa and one other are stationary they-do-not-leave-home paintings, but there were 5 others) which meant, for the first time in their existence, the two versions of the Virgin of the Rocks, Da Vinci's two interpretations of one theme, Mary with John and the Christ Child in a rocky setting, were in the same place. Facing each other, even. As well as a contemporary full-size copy of the Last Supper, about as close as we'll ever get to see it in its full glory and not cracked and faded. Or much less faded. And all of these were from his time in Milan. They also had loads of sketches and so forth, and all of this was in one place. And we went there. Day 1 of the exhibit. I was giddy.

Some interesting things—

Da Vinci's idealized figure (female) seems to be a narrow ovular face, small chin, long thin nose, tall and wide forehead, small mouth and large eyes.  You can find it in Lady with the Ermine, Virgin of the Rocks, and so on.  

Lady with an Ermine--look at the ermine.  Why is it there?  It's a symbol of purity--white ermines were said to be caught by putting dirt in their path which they wouldn't touch because they wanted to keep their white coats pure.  Which I would have said is more vanity, but they said purity.  So he idealized the ermine, too--it's got dog paws and a bear's face, if you look at it.  Literally; not just looks like--he actually used dogs and bears as models for his ermine.

Last Supper:  In order --> direction:  Bartholomew, James the lesser, Andrew, Judas, Peter, John, Christ, Thomas, James the Greater, Philip, Matthew, Thaddeus, Simon.  Also note:  This is by heads.  There are a few who stick their heads behind others and get it out of order.  Like Peter.  Which makes sense because he drew Peter as a hot-headed person.  All of them were idealized men (which is different than the women) except for Judas who he wanted to portray as ugly--he'd done a lot of studies on beauty and ugliness.  Also, all of them portrayed the traditional characteristics of the apostle.  Peter, as stated, is hot-headed and impulsive.  Bartholomew is built like a warrior.  James isn't so much concerned as utterly outraged.  Philip is supposed to have a look of "pleading inquiry."  John's face and Christ's are extremely similar, in my opinion.  And Judas knocked over a salt cellar with his elbow.

My favorite quotes which they had posted/pasted/sketched on the walls (no, not backwards, but I probably could have read them anyway)

"That figure is most praiseworthy which best expresses through its actions the passions of its mind."  (See also:  Last Supper.)

"A true understanding of all the forms found in the works of the way to understand the maker of so many wonderful things and the way to love so great an inventor..."

"When you make a figure, think well about what it is and what you want it to do, and see that the work is in keeping with the figure's aim and character."

"If the poet says he can inflame men with love...the painter has the power to do the same, and to an even greater degree, in that he can place in front of the lover the true likeness of that which is beloved."

"A good painter is to paint two main things, namely man and the workings of man's mind.  The first is easy, the second is difficult, for it is to be represented by the gestures and movements of the limbs."  (Do you notice a theme here?)

And the poem by Bernaro Bellincioni will finish this post off for me.  Notice the Petrarchan sonnet structure which I'm sure rhymed in Italian.  (It's about Lady with an Ermine.)

     Who stirs your wrath?  Of whom are you envious, Nature?
Of Vinci, who has portrayed one of your stars;
     Cecilia, today so very beautiful is she
Whose lovely eyes make the sun seem dark shadow.

     The honour is yours, even if with his painting
It is he who makes her appear to listen and not speak
     Think only that the more alive and beautiful she remains--
The greater will be your glory--in every future age.

     Give thanks therefore to Ludovico
And to the talent and hand of Leonardo,
         Who wants to share her with those to come

     Everyone who sees her thus, though too late
To see her living, will say:  This suffices for us
         Now to understand what is nature and what is art.

Travel Weekend: Definition: Relax at home.

Do you know what happens when the professors on a study abroad tell the students that they are free to go wherever they want for an entire weekend starting Thursday? No? I'll tell you. Wednesday morning, you wake up in a ghost town.

Okay, it's not completely empty. But your one class of the day doesn't do anything (well, we watched Art 21 videos on contemporary artists rather than a drawing lesson) because it's little use when 70% of the class is gone to do something gradeable. Maybe 50% was there, but that was in the beginning of class. Couldn't have been more than 30 by the end. And I rather liked it. See, I figured that the group I would have wanted to go with was going to Wales, and I was going there after the program ended anyway, and it would have cost me more and I didn't want to spend more, so I decided I'd take advantage of the empty center. Hey, there were still places to go and things to see in London, anyway.

I don't know if I mentioned, but I became somewhat well known for my corner. See, it's a busy center and I like my privacy, so I found my own privacy in the form of a corner of the parlour, which was one of the less populated rooms normally and had the added advantage of being where people gathered for dinner so I didn't have to worry about missing it, with my computer, whatever homework/artwork I was working on or book I was reading, and my wool. Did I mention I started doing some spinning? (Wait, that was a week after this post, so I probably didn't. Well, consider this not so much foreshadowing as foreoutrightstating.) So that's where I was when I wasn't out and about, in classes, eating, or socializing. Fond memories of that corner. Kind of. Which was also nice because people knew where to find me. End side note. I mean, I did spend time here over the travel weekend, but not important. NOW end side note.

So that Wednesday, people left for Wales, Barcelona, Portugal (not sure which part specifically), Madrid, Milan, I don't even know if I've got them all right and I'm pretty sure I don't have everything, but you get the idea. I spent the time doing a bit of schoolwork, a bit of fun work (I may or may not have been thinking of costume ideas and how to put them together and sketching them out) and kicking back from a *coughcough* strenuous semester of work. Stop that, I have too been working. Just differently and slightly more casually than normal school demands.

The next day I slept in, ah bliss, until probably 10 (See, unless you're in seminary, have a 7 a.m. class or just inflict early rising on yourself, you probably get up later than I normally do. Adjusting for time difference. Because otherwise you probably got up hours after me.) and got my sketchbook, then went to the British Museum to sketch. I had a bit of difficulty with my sketch of a tea house (They have an entire Japanese tea house in the British Museum! I mean, the entire thing! According to the plaque, some people came from Japan and constructed it specially. Oh, and there's one in the Korean area, too.) because the angles and distances were disagreeing with my idea of where they were, but I spent a while on that, then walked home. I took a bus halfway, anyway, then walked back across the parks. It was a beautiful fall afternoon and the sun was beginning to set even though it was only probably 4 or 5 (I may have taken longer to start out than I acted like.) but then again, it's 3.39 as I'm writing this and the sun is already dipping pretty low to the horizon. Reminds me how far north I am sometimes, when I forget because Provo's colder than here. They were setting up some sort of fair in Hyde Park which I was later to learn was the Winter Wonderland park, a pretty big attraction apparently. I was also passed by a gang of bicyclers who I recognized as Fat Bike Tour bikers, partly by their beach cruisers and also by the sign. Down by the Long Pond, assuming, I have my park geography correct, there was a feeding frenzy as the aquatic birds mobbed a person who was feeding them. Slightly more politely than that—they only ganged up on each other. I also ran across SSID, the severely survival-instinct deficient squirrel, who, when I first saw him, was climbing up a guy's pant leg. The outside. I assumed the gent in question had been standing there coaxing him for a good while and I was going to get a picture. However, upon my pausing probably 2-3 yards away, Ssid looked over, saw me, and charged across the gap to go climbing up my jeans. I laughed, took a step, he vaulted clear of this suddenly moving and unsteady perch, noticed I'd stopped again, charged back up and, after I took a picture of him, started climbing over my camera. I began leaving and after vaulting clear again, he started following me. An elderly couple who had been watching found the whole thing highly amusing, offered him a piece of cooked pasta, which he grabbed, nibbled, and threw away in disgust. When you're survival-instinct deficient, I suppose you can be a food snob if you want. But then he tried to grab another piece they were offering a different squirrel. By this time, I was concerned for his continued existence because I knew a lot of dogs frequented the park, but then one showed up and Ssid showed as a gray streak on his way to a tree trunk, assuaging my worries and I continued home merely highly amused.

The next day was Remembrance Day, which I discovered was also Veteran's Day (I didn't realize this until people began posting on veterans on Facebook with what I was sure was more than coincidental numbers and I finally ran across a post that explicitly stated that it was Veteran's Day). I spent the afternoon (following another sleep-in and a late brunch) at the Natural History museum, where I picked up my own Remembrance Day poppy which I had no lapel for so I ended up carrying it. I think I explored pretty much the entirety of the NH museum, from Dippy the diplodocus (sp? Spellcheck doesn't like it but I don't see anything but “diplomatic” in the corrections.) to the geology and all the sparkly rocks in all sorts of colors (ooOOooo...sparkly minerals! And other types of hardened matter! Some of which is polished and some not! In an impressive array of colors people sometimes don't suspect rocks of being capable of!) where some children were, from what I could tell of the running back and forth and conversation, either saving the world or stopping a spy or possibly both, to the dinosaur section with their animatronic T-rex who was not full-sized or he would not have fit in that tiny room and probably was very frustrated that all these juicy meat bits are passing by staring at him when his feet are glued to the floor and many other fossils (and a few more animatronic dinos scattered about who also seemed vaguely hungry, but that's probably just because they haven't eaten for several thousand years, at an understatement). There was also a mammal side which I'd been through before, a cross-section of sequoia that was as old as some of the fossils but had been living a good deal more recently, a preservation area, a plant section, the Planet Earth area that I actually went through instead of speeding past (I sat in the shaking earthquake grocery store through two vibrations and saw a bit about volcanoes), and the ecology bit. One thing I thought was interesting was the comparative ecology, Africa to Australia bit. The dingos and hyenas were comparative, obviously, as were the kangaroos and zebras, I think (they showed the African animal and when you pressed it, they showed the Australian equivalent and then why—this was because they travel in herds and eat grass and are therefore a large prey source), and giraffes and koalas. Which made me laugh because they're both such singular animals, but it's true, they both eat leaves up top of trees where the other animals can't reach. They had a display about the life cycle of a rabbit, and by life cycle I mean it was sitting there innocently, died, and went through various stages of decay. Wow, I thought, definitely a kid-friendly exhibit. But that was nothing to the human biology exhibit where they had displays on hormones and how much you have at any given time, had displays on pregnancy, and some other things. I mean, there wasn't anything graphic, but it was still kind of surprising. They also told me I had a bad memory, or short-term. I hardly thought this was fair; the page full of acorns and the page full of peanuts look rather similar, and having seen a lot of pictures, I've probably seen them before anyway even if not on that screen. (They showed about 40 pictures, which you'd obviously never remember all of when you only saw each for one to two seconds, then asked you if you'd ever seen one of 10 others before, some of which weren't on there. As in the example above, but I can't remember which was actually there. Or even if that's the one I got wrong, just that I only got 5 or 6 right.) They also had a bit about memory in high-stress situations, which I thought was funny because I read The Alloy of Law not long after in which one of the characters starts writing down details of the robbers during a robbery because she knows in stressful situations people don't always remember everything or even remember the instance incorrectly. So you can see why I didn't have time for much else that evening.

Saturday I spent mostly at home. There was a good deal of writing going on, as well as a bit of drawing and calling family. And people were returning from their breaks. The girls who'd stayed home—well, me, Ashley, and Sara, anyway, went to Nando's for dinner which holy tastebuds, Batman, is worth it by a lot. Oh, wow. I got a medium-heat chicken which is among the juiciest, most flavorful chickens I've ever had the opportunity to taste and I'd get it again in a heartbeat. Okay, maybe not. But only because I would want to try, say, the steak which was only a pound or two more, or the wraps or so on. Because their sauces and their food in general are a veritable party for the taste and otherwise mouth-wateringly delicious. I mean, not to be over-enthusiastic or anything.

And so ended the second weekend of the month of November. And verily it was a weekend of great delight.

Richter left?

Gerhardt Richter. What can I say? The guy's pretty awesome. I really respect anyone who can work with the variety that he displayed.

This post is about a trip we took to a special exhibit at the Tate Modern on Gerhardt Richter, a man who's been producing art for decades. I mean decades. Some of his earliest stuff is about WWII, and his latest stuff is still coming out.

What does he do? Well, he is a modern artist and he kind of helped develop the contemporary art world. (There's a difference between modern and contemporary art, by the way; by “modern artist” I meant he is living and working now, and “contemporary art” is the style he works in, which is the movement currently happening, I guess. Modern art is a former movement and has become part of art history, really.) But Gerhardt Richter is skilled. He makes photorealism stand at attention—some of his works are indistinguishable from photos until you get close enough to notice the brushstrokes. Then he does some that are photorealistic until he messes with them—blurs edges, changes things, makes it hazy—to create the effect he wants. And then he does some things that are not even vaguely realistic, working with huge canvases and lots of paint and huge squeegees. I kind of like the effect squeegees have on art. We'd seen some of his stuff previously that was on permanent display at the Tate Modern, but there was so much more and some of it so much more colorful. Oh, yeah, and he works with sculpture—especially glasswork.

All in all, color me impressed. (Ha ha, 'cuz he works with art. Get it? Get it? Okay, just slap me now.) Beautiful work, and again, does well across mediums and styles. I am not so good with that. I think it takes impressive brainpower and skill to change up your style.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Knowledge and Power

Meaning we went to Parliament and the Library.

First off:  Parliament!  It used to be a medieval castle for one o' them early kings, and the oldest part is the great hall which still has the original roof.  During WWII, the building was burning during the Blitz and Churchill told people to save the hall instead of the House of Commons because the hall was older.  From there we followed our guide through the central hall (there are mosaics of the 4 patron saints of the UK on the roof) to the place where the Queen comes in (all of the halls and rooms are really nicely furnished, shock as that may be, but I wasn't allowed to take pictures except in the hall, even of the reigning monarch's portraits which get moved down as they're each replaced) and followed the path she takes when she visits Parliament. We saw the House of Lords and where they stand when they vote (on something that's not a clear majority vote--basically, if they can't instantly tell by a raise of hands, they call a 7-minute recess or something, ring a bell, and at the end of that seven minutes you'd better be on the yea or nay side of the hall or you're locked out and don't get to vote; they then count everyone going back in on each side and who you are for records of who voted which side, and thus get a tally of votes) and where the woolsack is to remind everyone just where the wealth of the country started.  Yep, sheep.  We then went to the House of Commons.  Guess what--the queen is not allowed.  The one place the queen is forbidden by law to go.  It's a lot like the House of Lords, just a bit simpler and one is green and the other red.  I'm pretty sure the House of Commons was the green one.  Story time!

When the constitutional monarchy was installed, the people wanted to be sure the monarchs remembered the fact that they were in charge.  The common people, as in.  You know, the ones in the House of Commons.  So they banned the monarchs from the House of Commons chambers/whole side of Parliament.  When the current reigning monarch comes to parliament, she gets to the House of Lords and can't go further, but she needs the rest of the people there before she delivers her address, so there's a guy in black who goes to the House of Commons for her.  And as soon as the door guards see him coming, they slam the door.  In his face.  Very abruptly.  Yay, English customs!  So the guy picks up his stick and knocks on the door.  And by knocks I mean picks up his stick and heaves it into the door (he's got a grip on it halfway up and pounds the end into the door hard enough to leave a dent, and you can see the spots where he missed) saying "For God, for Queen, and for Country!"  (Italics equals pound on the door.)  So they open the door and mosey on down to the House of Lords--they do it slowly because, hey look, they're important and the queen has to wait for them.  Kind of an "eat it, monarchs!" gesture.

Story time's over, folks.

But that's okay, I found more stories.  And they're awesome.

See, the British Library, which is by the way awesome and I only saw a little bit of it, has this room called the "treasure room" which has awesome stuff in it.  There were at least 10 illuminated Gospels, including the Lindisfarne gospels, several copies of other religious texts from most religions across the world.  (No copies of the Book of Mormon, though...), Chinese manuscripts of ancient legends, sketchbooks of naturalists, a book with a handwritten score of The Messiah, and so on--a room full of this stuff.  Also voice recordings, like Seamus Heaney or Virginia Woolf or Tennessee Williams, and the Beatles case with some of the original songs, including the first draft of Yesterday, and a panel on the side with several of their songs and this .

That.  That was awesome.  I love that room so much right now.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A (mostly) pleasant skull. I meant stroll!

I had a new group today.  The one thing I wanted to do was to get to the Orangerie, after that I was good with whatever (because there were few enough groups going to the Orangerie (just the one, really) that being picky was impossible).  So.  The Orangerie.  Their main draw, and it's a great draw, is that they have two rooms of panorama view 360 ovular degrees of huge 10x60' or something like that canvases of Monet's water lilies.  They're amazing and wonderful and...just wow.  Basically.  When you get close, the lines dissolve into a swimming swirl of pastel paint.  Downstairs from this was a gallery of painters from around the same time--impressionists, Spanish painters, and many others.  And there were a few ladies in there set up with easels, painting the paintings.  I was somewhat jealous...painting Renoir with the original Renoir in front of you?  Awesome.

After that, we went up the Arc d'Triumphe again, which is the hazard of group-hopping.  We had a few girls craning over the side to see the traffic at the bottom--somewhere around 8 lanes and no directional signals, except that traffic could only progress in one direction.  Throw in buses, construction trucks, bikes, and a few pedestrians, and it gets hectic.  And yet no one got hit, that we saw anyway.

After that, Allison wanted to go down one of the streets which is famous for its shopping--I forgot its name--which was one of her goals of being in Paris, but no one else wanted to go, so she and I went down and told them we'd meet them at the catacombs.  Which led to us waiting for them for 45 minutes in front of the catacombs because they went to lunch in the meanwhile.  Anyway, the catacombs.  Yeah, that's where the title of this post comes from.  I wasn't sure what I was expecting, but there was a long long way of just wandering around some underground passages until we suddenly came across the "door of the dead" and all I could think of was LOTR and I wondered if there was a rock in there where we could call armies of the dead or something...But then we went through the door and, um, let's just say that I don't get freaked out often but rows and rows of bones, just piled in heaps with the outward part stacked into patterns of leg bones and skulls, skulls everywhere staring out with those dead eyes and arranged in crosses and hearts and there was no end to them and...*shudder*

After that we just wandered for a bit.  We sat by the Seine for a little while reading "Where's Charlie?" which is "Where's Wally?" in England.  Or Waldo in the states.  After that, we walked back to the hotel--Allison and I stopped for ice cream (and then the rest of the group left, again) and we boarded the train back to London.  I was in the same not-a-window-seat but I was awake for more of the trip home, so I got to see the chunnel--it was really dark.

Thus ends my Parisian adventure.

Sorry it's on its side.  But seriously.  CREEPY.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Wait, there's *more* art? Who made this stuff?

Started the fourth day in Paris with a wander to the Pompadour.  I think that's how it's spelled.  It's Paris's museum of modern art, and I have to admit, it is pretty interesting.  (Still not my favorite, but such is life my taste in art.)  Although anywhere that has an enormous fabric structure that looks like a Dr. Seuss creation is pretty cool.  Another one of my favorites was A Bicycle built for 2,000.  Except they had the computer version, the whole song, and different tracks of the song.  You can't hear it except by listening to the individual tracks, but there are a few spots where people's imitations were burps, xylophones, and other fun sounds.  The one that I really liked was, I guess, the fan that was floating two cassette tape circles in the air.  There was a platform with shallow edges, the fan was above and blowing directly down, and the air pressure, I assume, was redirected upward by the box, while the tapes kept themselves relatively well centered by virtue of being circles--if one side pulled too far, the other side would be caught in a draft and pull back and so forth.

Interesting thing about the Pompadour--it was built to look unfinished; rather, to look like the skeleton of a building and yet be a completely functional building.  Hard to explain.  So check it out instead.  (The zig-zag is the escalator shaft.)

From there we wandered through Napoleon's tomb on our way to the Rodin museum.  For a dictator and a short dude, they went over the top for Napoleon.  Pretty much literally.  (Nicole says it's because they were trying to prevent him escaping.)

Well, on to Rodin.  Dude, the guy's a genius!  Well, yes, he does have a fondness for the nude model, but his sculptures are incredible.  They had (a copy of) the Thinker, the Gates of Hell for which said Thinker was Dante-ing, a lot of marble sculptures and smaller ones and on and on.  Jessica's note was that he put a lot of tension into his sculpture, no matter the subject matter.  If I could sculpt as well as Rodin, I'd be pretty pleased with myself, I think.  The Waltz is one I rather like--the motion is pretty awesome.  And the second one is because I'm in awe of the detail.

Our last stop of the day was the d'Orsay, which is also a great museum.  Tell you what, if you're in Paris and for some reason want to skip the Louvre, come here.  Since we got there late, I didn't have as much time as I would have liked, but I went up to the post-Impressionist room and looked at the Van Gogh stuff they've got there.  I find I much prefer those of his paintings that had absolute swaths of paint, where the texture creates half of the feeling.  I did a sketch in the time before the museum closed of the Reapers.  No pics, sorry, they weren't allowed.

Monday, November 7, 2011

We're following the Louis, the Louis, the Louis...

Backwards, I grant.

This morning, the first thing we did was hop on the train to Versailles. Yes, we did. It was pretty stunning. As in “this is enormous this is enormous this is enormous this is enormous” stunning. There were 4 of us this time—me, Carolyn, Jessica, and Nicole. We walked in and headed through the house first—it was a bit chilly out, but it wasn't supposed to rain during the day, so we were hoping it would burn off before long.

Versailles...what can I say? It's huge, it's magnificent, it's definitely over-extravagant for Paris's financial conditions at the time it was built, it used to be Louis XIV's hunting getaway when he was young but he turned it into what it is now by spending half of France's GDP, and I don't know if that's now or then.  Have I mentioned Rick before?  Nicole's been reading him like a book... oh, wait... and he knows his history.  But Versailles.  There's gold everywhere that it can reasonably be put, a few places that don't make sense, and paint or carvings or both over the rest. Or gold on the carvings. We saw pretty much everything—multi-stone statues, more statues, crystal chandeliers, the billiards-room that was basically the “man-cave” as Carolyn put it but seriously was the least manly man-cave I've ever seen or heard of, a bunch more statues, the Hercules room because Louis likes him, the queen's room and the king's room which are in two completely separate parts of the palace—apparently there were 19 princes born in the queen's room, and royal princes were all born publicly to prove their blue-bloodedness, which would, I think, severely irritate me. Oh, and more statues. We walked through the Hall of Mirrors and saw the place WWI ended—see also Eiffel Tower of a previous post. There was also a hall of large paintings of battles, where I learned one very important thing about war paintings—they all utilize what I call the DH. The Dramatic Horse. This horse should be the leader's horse, should be very pretty, and should be hamming it up as much as possible. It's also possible for the horses that are dying at the bottom to be Sub-Dramatic Horses, or for the DH to have Flanking DH's. Honestly, the only 2 pictures without the Dramatic Horse had no horses in the pictures whatsoever, and the most subdued DH was Joan d'Arc's, and the whole picture for her was quieter. Even he was big and dark and had armor on. Oh, the Hall of Mirrors, the scenes painted on the roof are all supposed to illustrate Louis XIV's life. Let me just say he apparently kept some pretty good company.
(This is Louis's version of real life.  See where the company he keeps does fun things like fly and throw lightning?  Oh, yeah, he does, too.)

(I saw this statue 3 times.  Walked through the Hall of Mirrors and liked it, went to the Louvre and saw it in bronze (Oh, look, the Versailles one was a copy!) and then saw it down in the classical statues made of marble.  It just got copied all over the place.)

When we'd wandered all over the palace, we found our way out to the gardens which were, indeed, somewhat warmer. But slightly disappointing because the fountains were all off and several of the places had closed. All the same, though—it was beautiful. Especially with the fall foliage. We joined Rachel at the top of the gardens and looked at a lovely fountain of Apollo and Athena's mom turning people into frogs, then walked down an alley and into a maze. Well, if you knew where you were going, it wasn't so much of a maze, but the trees were tall and the passages narrow, not to mention the multiple options of where to go and the part where we ended up where we started, so maze. This is also where we noticed the statues were being covered, and it was actually kind of creepy. We eventually found our way to Apollo's fountain in his chariot surrounded by fish and heralds, and walked down an aisle of tall trees dropping leaves (which Rachel and Jessica tried to catch) and tried to get to Marie Antoinette's peasant place, where she had a “regular peasant cottage” with a library and billiards room where she could shepherd her perfumed sheep. Yep, really in touch with the people, that one. Unfortunately, that way was closed and other members of the party were distracted by bikes. I stayed behind and watched two bags while Rachel, who was also sitting out on the bike ride (sorry, but I consider 6,50 euros a bit much for an hour of biking) watched a third, and I got a bit of sketching in (drew a corner of a house, basically) and then Rachel went on a boat ride in the canal and I walked over and sat and talked with people at the side of the canal until the group got back together and we made our way up the lane with much singing (okay, only a very little, and that kind of quietly because we didn't want to seem too touristy) and dancing (I lie on that one). Oh, and I negotiated a purchase while making the guy think I was French! Maybe. All I know is it's really easy when you say “Bonjour,” put the thing on the counter, he “bonjour”s back, gives you a price, you pay and say “merci” as you walk out the door. If the price he gives you is in French (and is fortunately the same as the tag says and also the register), you are allowed to think he thinks you're French. Or speak it well.

We hopped on another train and returned to mainland Paris, where we made our way to the palace Louis abandoned in favor of Versailles. Hardly surprising why, though.  You can see then ends of the grounds from the top of the building, and honestly, only 3 wings?  Ridiculous.  It now houses some glass pyramids out front. Hurrah for the Louvre!

Due to tiredness and a bit of lateness of the hour, we only stayed there for two hours. Which was nothing like enough time, but it was enough to get my feet tired out walking from the Code of Hammurabi to the Winged Victory of Samothrace to the Mona Lisa (briefly; I'm not fond of crowds) through the Italian painters and to the Dutch painters, the German painters, some medieval art, to Cupid and Psyche, and all over the place. Wish I could have taken more time with them, but the very fact that I saw them is incredible! So awesome! And I'm going back if I can; we're here 'til Friday and I should be able to plan some time in. Really, I don't know how to talk about museums; have I mentioned this before? (I will say that the layout isn't all that great because there are limited ways to get up and down and it's a U-shape, so getting from one end of the U to the other can involve lots of walking. But hey, more stuff to look at on the way!

As we were on our way out of the Louvre, we passed through one of the arches and there was a cellist sitting there playing. It was absolutely beautiful. He was good at playing, and he'd picked his location well for acoustics. I stayed and listened for a while because I really really didn't want to leave.   

They say it's more beautiful in the rain.

Today started out as a normal day. Okay, not. Went downstairs for a croissant-y, hot chocolate-y, pear and crepe breakfast (and that's just the half of it) before our group meeting where I gave night bike tours a 5-star review. After that, we hit the city and headed over to Notre Dame. Well, after walking by the Hotel de Ville (with the standard Libertie, Egalitie, Fraternitie on it, and I make no guarantees on my spelling skills) which was very nice. It has also been cleaned except for the steeple—and I so very very much hope that it was cleaned with lasers as well.   Incidentally, another warning about Paris--there are quite a few unscrupulous people out there.  Like the girls who were ostensibly collecting money for a deaf-mute school--but the details were sketchy and they were very bad actors as deaf-mutes, since they responded to things they shouldn't have heard and were talking when they thought people weren't looking.  Among other things that rather detracted from their reputability.  Watch out for scammers, basically.

 Come Notre Dame, the line for the bell towers was rather long, so we decided to not go in before going up to prevent the line growing longer while we waited. I stared up at the gargoyles and wished I could see them in all their rain-spouting glory. Shortly thereafter, I not only got my wish, but the line decreased dramatically (okay, only a little—there were enough souvenir shops that umbrellas were easy to obtain for those who desired them) and I found myself regretting having left my umbrella at the hotel, not for my sake but for my sketchbook's. Is it bad that I left my jacket in my backpack to protect a sketchbook when it was pouring outside and I was in short sleeves? I hope not or this will be another one of those times where I have to forbid “she doesn't have the sense to come in out of the rain” comments.

Anyway, we finally got to go up the steps of the bell tower. That thing is pretty. The steps are steep, sure, but you were expecting maybe an escalator? So we came out on a platform waay up above it where the arrow is in the following picture.
(Disclaimer:  Not my picture, just my drawings)
So that was a good view. There were a bunch of gargoyles all over up there, as well, and I have decided that gargoyles are awesome. Still kind of wet and rainy in waves. We went around up the bell tower to see the Edouard Therese bell (only it has at least one more name) in a wooden belfry, walked around another platform topside, and finally came back down and went into the nave. They were actually wrapping up a service and I admire the people for doing it so solemnly when a great majority of the tourists took the multiple “Silence” signs to mean “Don't stop talking. But I guess lower voices would probably be a good thing, if it works for you.”

Shall I describe the interior? It was really impressive, but there are pictures everywhere. The ceiling was immense, made you feel itty-bitty, and the stained-glass windows are my favorite because they're like glowing, living art work. Also, the two rose windows on either side of the transept are about as big as the one in the above picture and aren't half covered by an organ. I...kind of like them better. It's a bit dark, especially on the side aisles, and it's lit by the stained glass and by large chandeliers of electric torches. They may need to bring the lasers inside for a spot or two, actually. Beautiful carvings and art, though, and a bunch of candles on the side which you can take or light but they ask for a 2 or 5 euro donation (entirely up to you...we just put that in small print so you feel guilty...), and interestingly enough, their altar up front seems to have minimalist human figures on it. Not quite what I expected, to tell the truth. Oh, hey, they've also got the crown of thorns and a piece of the true cross in reliquaries there, but the two girls who went in told us you couldn't see the crown and basically, unless you were there on a pilgrimage or something and intended on touching the relics with a handkerchief to absorb some of the healing power or other power of said relics, it probably wasn't worth the visit. Okay, they didn't have the bit about the handkerchief; I just remembered that from Art History. (See, Professor Johnson? I was paying attention. I just am not good at names and dates, not even of people. So...nyaah.)

From there we headed down a small bit to Sant Chapelle, a “small gem” as Karen describes it, which is apt. Nowhere near as big as Notre Dame; the ceiling is much smaller and there's just the one nave, basically, but holy cow the stained glass windows! There aren't walls, there are just windows! The whole place glows! Exceptionally impressive. Not to mention the whole thing is painted—mostly blue, gold, and red, but with other colors and with pictures and with inlays and a pretty mosaic get the idea. Beautiful place.

Well, from there we hopped on a tube to the Catacombs. Which were closed because it was All Saints' Day. (I mean, really. Timing.) So we wandered a different cemetery for a while (if you've seen Phantom of the Opera, you know kind of what it looks like), then went to the Pantheon which was closed, then went to the Luxembourg Museum where they were having a Cezanne exhibit but turned out to not be on our museum pass so Sarah and Carolyn went in anyway while the rest of us went to the church of St. Michael's a few blocks away to sketch/write. It was much, much quieter (see also: lack of tourists); still quite a large church, somewhat Gothic in design, lots of gray stone instead of the yellowish stone elsewhere (made me feel like I was in a grotto area, especially because of the enormous seashell on a stone next to me and the green-blue lighting in the very far part of the church).  There was an evensong happening there, but I would have been okay if it wasn't because—the choir director was putting her heart into it, the wonderful woman, but...I'm sorry, she just didn't have a good singing voice and it was piercing and off-tempo and over a loudspeaker so I mostly felt sorry for her but also could not ignore her. It was interesting listening in French, though; I felt like it could have been Latin and I wouldn't have known the difference so gives me a flavor of the old-time services.

We met back up with Carolyn and Sarah and found our way to dinner and then home. On the way home, an accordion player made Sarah's day by jumping on the Metro behind her and playing for a few stops. Very fun. Incidentally, I have by now sampled croissants, crepes, and french bread, plus some fried duck. I feel I've gotten a good taste of French cuisine. And I'm honestly rather tired.  (No, I did not get sick.  Take that, winter rain.)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

This. Is. PARIS!!!!!

Okay, I'm having a great time, but there are a few things I want to whine about first. Like not getting a window on the train, which is irritating, but hey, at least I slept through the whole trip which I also really didn't want to do and because I got up at 4 in the morning because after my downstairs roommate turned on the light I couldn't go back to sleep even though I was pretty much ready to just jump out of bed and go and I don't like getting up that early, I was one of the few people whose room wasn't actually ready when we arrived at the hotel and so there was bag shuffling and it didn't help my being already slightly irritated, and Paris is really rather dirty and the metro positively reeks sometimes and being told we have to stay in groups of 3 makes things difficult when you want to go places other people don't or you don't want to go where they do and finding groups who will put up with you for a while is harder than it has any right to be. But other than that, I like the city. On to happier things.

Also, disclaimer: I can't spell French much less pronounce it. Nor am I finding the symbol thingies here. So...bear that in mind when you come across place names.

So, as I said, we took the train to Paris early this morning and arrived at about 11 in the morning. We set our stuff down in the hotel and parted ways. My group was waiting for Sarah to get back from Sacre Couer but we figured we'd go out a bit beforehand. We went out and explored a bit, and even found our way back afterwords! Yay! We went to a big tall monument in the middle of a roundabout which we might have been able to figure out if we, you know, could read French. (Okay, I can read it to some extent, but understanding it is a completely different story.) (Later discovered it's the Bastille monument.) From there we walked down a park that had an art fair inside which we didn't go to because we knew we'd be seeing lots more art and also didn't want to spend the money. Walked across a bridge, turned back, found our way back to the hotel, and voila! We negotiated some of Paris all on our lonesome! And got a croissant at a bakery on the way back. Sorry, patisserie.

Sarah returned and we checked for tours on the computer because first day, we want to know where we are. More than a vague “Paris.” Because that's too easy. And too hard. Carolyn had a hotel she wanted to find, recommended to her by Rick Smiths. (He's a good friend. Oh, by the way, Rick Smiths wrote a guidebook and Carolyn brought it and good ol' Rick has been our guide and companion for a good deal of the trip. Carolyn and Nicole kept him in their respective bags at various times.) There were several boat tours, but the one that Sarah wanted to do was called “Fat Bike Tours” which ended with a boat tour but cost more. We eventually decided on that one, reluctantly in my case, but now I've decided it was very much worth it. More on that later.

We struck camp and lit out for Cafe March (okay, I don't remember the exact name, but it was something like that) which was a relatively cheap cafe according to Rick. But that's in a place where “moderate” is 25-30 euros a plate. Paris is bleeping expensive! By the way. And grocery stores are as easy to find as pebbles dropped in a ball-pit at a McDonald's playground. Except there isn't a bottom of Paris you can check. So at this cafe, which is on Rue Clare if you ever want to find it (which you will shortly), we had our first French food. Quiches, pasta, that kind of stuff. I got some fried duck. Hey, I figured if you're interested in something and in the country it came from, give it a try! Duck—it's like chicken, but a barely stronger flavor and mostly dark meat. Not too bad. I'm just glad it came sans head or feet, which the ducks in the shops on Queensway all still have.

From there, we headed towards the Eiffel tower where we were supposed to meet our Fat Bike tour guides. On the way, we passed another patisserie with some awesome-looking stuff, and we decided to give it a try. I got a stick of bread with tiny chocolate bits baked in which was just over a euro and it was great. Seriously delicious. And Karen got a raspberry mousse—I mention this because that's where the patisserie got its fame from as far as our group is concerned. Karen was in love with that thing. She looked like biting it was biting into pure ecstasy. (We've decided by now that it's the best in Paris, and if you want to find it when you go to Paris or when anyone you know goes to Paris, it's at the corner of Rue San Dominique and Rue Clare. The ladies there are also very patient with halting French or trying to explain things in English. It's also made me want to have a bakery a bit more if I can get some recipes like that or make some stuff like that. *considers experimentation, casts about for guinea pigs*)

We finally made it to the Eiffel, which was lit by this time and we'd seen it sparkle. Why did no one tell me that? The Eiffel tower sparkles! White lights twinkle on and off all the way up the tower for a good few minutes about every hour at night, and it's awesome! Anyway, we met at the Pilier Sud (or South Leg for all us good English speakers) and hiked our way over to the bike shop where they asked us to get into two groups, ours with Billy from Colorado and theirs with Joe from London. Yay, they speak English! It's weird being the one who doesn't understand the language when you're accustomed to your language being dominant even when traveling to another country—or at least to England and Scotland; I didn't speak the language well in Mexico, either, but I had fluent speakers (parents) with me so that wasn't so bad. They also asked us who wouldn't be drinking red wine—in Joe's group, it was the little girl, and in ours it was...all of us. Billy was slightly dismayed. Fortunately, he got over it and decided we weren't all that bad after all. Anyway, we got our California Beach Cruisers (which all had names; mine was Top Hat, Nicole's was anonymous, Sarah's was unpronounceable, I forgot Karen's, but Carolyn had the best named and fortunately not prophetic Flaming Heap of Twisted Metal) and helmets and bright yellow reflective vests, got the safety lecture, were told to herd like a family or like our own car (or just a stampede of wild buffalo that people better respect or else, but that was just me), were told 2nd gear was the best unless you wanted to put it in 3rd but that would give you a really good workout. (Lies. I was coasting at least as often as pedaling.)

Our tour took us past the Military School, through the Latin Quarter, past Notre Dame and Hotel de Ville (o with a ^ but not finding it, as I said), the Louvre, past Princess Diana's Flame and rose memorial garden, down to the docks, then on the boat tour up under several bridges, back past the Eiffel Tower, back to the dock, and then back to the bike shop. But now that I said what we did, let me tell you what we did.

We started the tour heading towards the Military College where Napoleon learned.  Billy told us that the French originally detested Napoleon, but eventually (years after he died) held him up as a national icon and rather admired him.  They even gave him this enormous tomb with a golden dome that you can see for quite a ways.  We went from there to the Latin Quarter.  No, it's not Latin America, it's the student sector.  See, the college that had been built there in 1254 was so old that all the students learned Latin, so that was the part of the city where everyone spoke Latin.  They called this the "Class 5 rapids" as we were going through a good deal of traffic, but the good news is there are bike/bus lanes and enough of us that people didn't bother the bikers.  

This stretch ended at Notre Dame where he told us about the Gothic architecture, you know, about how flying buttresses made it possible to build taller buildings and have, oh, say, ventilation or windows and suchlike.  Also how the gargoyles are for scaring evil spirits and they figured they may as well use them as rain spouts while they were up there.  And why the tower is darker than the rest of it--it's because up until the millennium or thereabouts, that's how dark the whole thing had been.  Basically solid BLACK.  And they wanted to clean it, so they cleaned everything but the tower to show how it had been.  And how did they clean it?  He asked us what we thought, and said no to steam-blasting, sand-blasting, water, soap, vinegar, bleach, and everything anyone mentioned, until we were all bitingly curious (I don't even know if that's a thing, but it is now) and he was ready for his big reveal.  Here it is...Lasers.  Yeah, really.  They got some high-tech lasers and heated the dirt to a temperature where it burned off but the wall wasn't hurt.  Lasers.  Cool stuff.

On the bridge over the river where we were standing, the chain-link or whatever the side fence was made of was invisible behind thousands of locks.  They're called love locks--you write your and your lover's name on the lock, put it on the bridge, and then throw the key into the river and your love will last forever.  Which is why the combination locks that are appearing are...amusing.  Oh, also, don't fall in the river--the police come and get you in their speedboats but if you've swallowed much river water you have your stomach pumped.  And the police are already busy with the drunk people.

Across the river from Notre Dame was Hotel de Ville, or rather the Paris Hotel de Ville because every town in France has one because it's the mayoral residence or at least used to be and also the court.  Paris is actually the only one where the mayor still lives there.  The current mayor has apparently, along with everything else he's been up to, has organized what's called "White Night" except in French but I forgot how to say it in French, which is a phrase meaning you stayed up until the night was white again...meaning you were either partying or studying a little harder than is good for you.  This "White Night," though, is the first Saturday of October (Or the second?  Something like that.) and all the buildings--museums, cathedrals, government buildings, etcetera, are open for 24 hours (probably sunrise to sunrise or so) for free.  He's also created a city-wide free cycle hire that's so amazingly successful that other towns like London or Denver or Washington are also creating them.  (Hear that, Salt Lake/Provo?  Nudge nudge.)

On this stop we also went across to another island to a little shop where they sell ice cream.  Amazingly delicious ice cream.  That up until recently was only available on the one island but now is sold in a few shops in mainland Paris where they are proud of the fact, and it is never packaged or shipped out of Paris for any occasion.  And it's made fresh every day.  This island is also the home of the most expensive real estate in one of the most expensive cities on the planet, because there's limited access (no metro or bus stops), and who was it, Johnny Depp, Meg Ryan (specifically mentioned) and some other famous and overly wealthy people own pretty much whole floors of apartment buildings there--one place has seven windows across that are all one room.  They're basically one-floor mansions or something like that. 

We got back on our bikes and went down the river to the French Academy of the Arts or something like that, I can't remember the name, but it's got a bridge connecting it to the Louvre.  The Academy/College/what-have-you is where the French language is regulated.  Stringently.  Some of their recent decisions:  "hot dog" and "weekend" can be used in proper French, "computer" and "email" cannot, and "iPod" is a masculine word.  The aforementioned bridge is a strictly pedestrian (and bike) bridge, enforced by the fact that there are bridges down the length that you might be able to get a smart car around, assuming you could get it up the steps on either side.  This, and its location, makes it a very popular hang-out spot and the location of almost nightly open-air concerts in the summer.  

Anyway, we crossed this bridge, got back on our bikes, and biked through the Louvre.  Yeah, you heard that right, we biked through the Louvre!  I mean, obviously not through the galleries, but it's got a courtyard in the back and that big open space in the front where the pyramids are, and we biked through the arches to get out to the front.  It was pretty awesome.  Oh, and by the way, very pretty decor on the outside.  Stopped for a "photo op" in which my group made ourselves the Louvre pyramid.  Fun times. 

We then biked down to the harbor--which took us past "Princess Diana's Flame" which was actually a gift from the States in return for the Statue of Liberty and the real memorial is a rose garden, but no one really cares about that, apparently-- and jumped on a boat, which took us down past many of the places we'd already been and we got some more fun tidbits on the way.  For example, the bridge that goes to the National Assembly is made of rocks from the Bastille.  Nicole pointed out the irony on that one.  (Nicole has a quick mind--she's the one who cracked us all up as we sailed under a bridge that had some carvings of goddess figures--Carolyn observed that they were very manly women, and Nicole said "Yeah, Herm-Aphrodites!"  (In case you missed it, she said it like the Greek goddess.  Hence why we laughed.)

We ended our boat ride by floating (sailing? no sail...) past the Eiffel Tower and Billy filled us in on its history, also known as why he has a man-crush on Mr. Eiffel.  (Emphasis on the second E and not the first.)  They had a contest for the design for the gates of the World Fair, and the Eiffel Tower just barely beat...guess enormous guillotine.  Yeah, really.  They wanted to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution.  But Eiffel won, and then he had 20 years to plot how to make sure his tower lasted longer than 20 years.  He happened to also be a genius and was working on creating radio signals, and told the army they could, you know, put one of these receivers on top of his tower.  So they did and they liked it, so his tower stayed.  I'm sure he gave out a "Boo-yah!" at the news or something.  (Or the one we joke with here--Tusken Raider grunts.)  And then, a few years later, war broke out, and a few years after that, it ended.  Because they caught German radio transmissions that put the blame for the war on them.  Which was the receiver on the Eiffel Tower.  (Eiffel:  "Boo-yah!")

By the time this was over and we got back to the bike shop, it was past our curfew of 11, but we had called Peter before starting to warn him we'd be out late.  Great way to start our trip, breaking one of the few rules we had.  

Sunday, October 30, 2011

It must be Halloween. There are bodies everywhere.

No, really, there are.  Well, all over my sketchbook, anyway.  We were taking turns doing 1 and 3 minute poses to practice figure drawings in our drawing class.  A few notes from that: First off, guys aren't the only ones who randomly start strength competitions if given the chance.  Second, if someone does something cool in the beginning, they're hard to beat.  Third, if you decide during the beginning of one of these kinds of things to show off and hold a rather difficult position for one and/or for three minutes, don't be surprised when your legs protest when you stand up.  (Fourth, just don't do that.  It's silly.)

That was the morning, then, and it filled up my sketchbook.  But we're interested in Halloween here, so we now move on.

I went out to Camden Market and I'm beginning to think that half of London is either open-air market or park, but anyway my friends were looking for costume supplies.  I was ready to pick up something if it was small and cheap and could be easily modified into a good costume but the only things I saw that I wanted were awesome looking coats and top hats, the latter of which I'd have trouble getting home and the former were rather pricey.  So I didn't get anything and ended up at the last moment putting on a skirt, throwing a scarf around my waist, my shoulder, and my head, asking a friend to curl my hair, borrowing some bright eyeshadow, and calling myself a gypsy.  There were some pretty awesome costumes--we had TMNTs, some of the English students dressed as artists with berets and painted-up shirts that said "What is Art?" on the back to mock in homage to Heiddeger or however you spell his name, John Bennion and his son dressed as each other which was utterly hilarious, there was a pirate, a chimney sweep, a few bobbies, a wolf, a cartoon character a la Lichtenstein...lots of others, you get the idea.  Pretty clever stuff, too.

So, party--Thais had made some awesome cream-cheese-and-shrimp stuff baked into pumpkins which you ate with the pumpkin flesh on rice and it was delicious, and there was candy and light-up table decor and much rejoicing.  We followed this up with sugar-cookie decorating and consumption, and then a dance party in the classroom which was highly entertaining and quite fun (We'd had a party earlier for one of the days when two of the girls had birthdays on the same day and I somehow managed over the course of these two dance parties to convince some of the girls here that I'm an awesome dancer in the freestyle not-ballroom method.  My doing the worm during the first party may have had something to do with that.)  All in all, great night.  And on Saturday after a failed attempt to go on the Harry Potter tour which we were late for and found out it wasn't free after all anyway and a sketchbook excursion which led to more wandering around London down in the Kensington area, we watched Nightmare Before Christmas on Saturday evening.  Happy Halloween and hauntings and spookiness, all.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Excellence of Excellent Museums

So...the Royal Academy of Art had an exhibit called Degas and the Ballet which was beyond words amazing.  Every picture you've ever ever seen by Degas concerning ballet was there, lots of paintings you've never heard of, a lot of sketches and practices, the Little Dancer sculpture in a case in the middle of the room surrounded by sketches of the model from all angles.  It was unbelievably awesome.  We were looking at composition again--how did Degas incorporate movement into an art form that is, by nature, static?  Because he's a genius who did that.  Some of the ones I put in my sketchbook-- Just look at this!  The whole thing makes rhythm! Their postures send the movement through them, and if you look, it directs your eye, oddly enough, off and to the corner, not to mention the fact that the dancers, although definitely the focal point, are not in the center. (second picture down)  The very fact that the dancer, who is lightest and therefore draws the eye, is so little defined, means the focus has to be elsewhere, and it lands on her position and hence the movement.  Please note, these are my thoughts and I don't claim to be an expert.  Also sketched--Dancers in Blue and his Russian Dancers.  Because they're awesome and because Degas inspires me.

The exhibit also incorporated a few rooms of contemporaries of Degas who may have inspired him.  (More links coming up!)  Francois Willeme (he's got symbols in his names I can't replicate easily) made three-dimensional images by photographing a person in a dome simultaneously from 24 angles and then tracing the photos with an instrument that etched the movements into a block of clay; after that, he'd smooth it a bit and add details by hand.  I unfortunately can't even link you somewhere with more info.  Next, Etienne-Jules Marey--he was a scientist who was fascinated by movement and made sequential photos and sculptures thereof--for example, birds flying.  One series showed individual birds, while the next had a wavelike structure showing a seagull flying, but it was two dozen birds melded into one sculpture so that their wings were the most distinct part of them.  According to his wiki, he had a "photographic gun" and is the one who discovered/made the theory that cats always land on their feet.  Loie Fuller (she has two dots on the "i") was a dancer who did some incredible dancing with a robe she invented.  There aren't any videos of her dancing, but there are imitators and this is the kind of thing she did.  (Maybe I was analyzing the make of her robe and contemplating imitating it...what's that to you?) (This is the video they played there, color was added later.)  Incidentally, her robe is probably about twice as long as it is wide, gathered around the shoulders,  extended by sticks, and had to be short enough to not trip her at its shortest part, which would be her height.  It also had to be rather light but durable fabric or it would have a) been a killer to wear and b) wouldn't have flowed well.  (Yet another costume idea...)

The next museum we went to was the Imperial War Museum.  For many of my friends, I know what you're thinking.  Stop it.  Now.  There are no mouse droids, no blasters, no stormtrooper helmets, no Star Wars. Just stop.  :)  What was there--a Jagdpanzer, a Sherman, various other tanks, rockets, exhibits on merchant sailors, wartime artwork, an exhibit on the Holocaust which I kind of avoided, an exhibit on the "Secret War" about the MI5, MI6, and the other British Secret Services, which I found very intriguing.  They had invisible ink literally everywhere, from their shirt collars to their socks.  There was one match in a matchbox   that had a message.  Ingenious little devices, and devices they discovered.  I think that's where the phrase "double-crosser" came from, as the code name for the spies who switched sides was "Operation Double Cross."

The part I remember most about the museum, though, is the feelings and the discussion it caused.  I couldn't help leaving there wondering at the horrors of human ingenuity when turned to kill others, or the tragedy that is war.  We held a long discussion on the steps about war, about why people fight, and if there's a way to not fight.  Some of the thoughts raised were that war is the easy way out, that as humans, lashing back is our natural reaction, that there are always peaceful means that we can use.  I mention these because my view is slightly different.  I want to say first that I think war is tragic; it's one of the worst, if not the worst, thing that we as mankind do to each other.  But there are times when I think it can't be avoided.  There are wicked people in the world who do wicked things, whether that be oppression, murder, or any number of things.  Sometimes they don't listen when you try to work things out peacefully, and sometimes war is the only way to oppose.  Sometimes you have to fight to protect something, whether it be your country, your family, or some ideal.  The Nephites fought for the Anti-Nephi-Lehies after they took an oath not to raise their weapons of war again.  But, by the same token, their sons fought the Lamanites.  I think the biggest question when deciding about war--what are your true motives for the war?  Do you respect not only the lives of your people but the lives of the soldiers you fight against?  Have you tried peaceful means, and/or would trying cost more than fighting?  Not necessarily in lives, there are times when something is more important than life.

Those are my thoughts that I just wrote in a few minutes; I don't know how organized or logical they are, but there they are.  And I think that the fact that the museum made me think is something that's valuable--that's why I think we have museums, to make us think and to look at the past and learn from it.

More Art! Pile it on, folks!

I had a fun day one of the days between the art fair and this post running around to Cass Art, L. Cornellson and Sons, and a fancy paper store with Emily, picking up various art supplies at each place.  It was beautiful and brisk and exciting.  Wandering London is cool.

Moving on...

We went to visit the Courtauld Gallery.  It's part of a university, I believe, so we got in free since we're a university (and because when they asked Peter if we were London-based, he didn't lie about it and they were impressed).  The Courtauld is cool because, although it's a rather small museum, they have things like Van Goghs (self portrait with bandaged ear) and Picassos (little girl with a dove, beginning of blue period) and Cezannes (one or two of that mountain he was always doing) and Manets (lady at the bar) see where I'm going with this?  It was really interesting to be able to see them in person and I touch my forehead to Mark Johnson, my old art history professor, since I got some of what was going on, but no more than that because he was a boring professor and made it a boring subject and hence I didn't know more.  Sorry, but it's true.  We were talking about composition; how shapes, colors, values, and so on create the composition and affect how you see it.

There was a lantern festival that evening, so a group of us hopped a tube and headed over.  It was pretty fun; they had a procession with paper lanterns that had transparent/translucent circular faces and an LED light inside that made them glow very nicely.  The sides were strips of paper, and this whole little bundle was hung from the end of a dowel rod, and they followed a group of drummers around the park for a while.  It was very pretty to watch and the rhythm was very catching.  Unfortunately, that's about all there was to that, so we were there for maybe half an hour if not less.

And then I managed to get a runny nose and sat there cursing it for most of the weekend.  Good times.  Especially during Stake Conference on Sunday--half of the group went to the same place for once on a Sunday.  It was a very good Stake Conference.  I believe there were probably about 500 people, at a guess.  As you can tell from that statement, I'm very very sure of my numbers.  *cough*  I also think it was due to the cold that, despite bringing paper with the intent of making sure my fingers stayed occupied so my brain stayed focused, and paying attention up through the sustainings, I suddenly found myself waking up just before the rest hymn with no memory of having fallen asleep in the first place.  But the talks that I heard were very excellent.  And one of the members of the stake presidency said he'd put one of their youth up against any 10 in Europe.  (Don't tell the other youth in Europe...)'s everywhere...HELP!

The above describes my approximate feelings about the Frieze Art Fair.  The FAF is a big thing, apparently; galleries from all over the world pick their favorite artists and send their work and possibly them to this one place where they set up a big tent--retail-department-store big--and sell it all.  It's in a few places including New York; this year, it was set up in Regent's Park and hoo, boy, was it crowded.  Not just with people.  There were some ridiculous things there.  There were these huge bulbous shapes; they looked like dew drops, but they were polished mirror things.  Big wooden sculptures, little pieces of art, crystalline shapes, a big "credit-card-destroying" machine--no, really--a giant bent clothes hanger, some video art (there was a depressing one of Popeye that I think will disturb me forever, and one of dogs jumping down a sidewalk on their hind legs that just caused an o.O expression), and on and on and on...  The art, the crush of people--it was all rather overwhelming and rather exhausted me by the end.  Basically, I've decided that huge art sales are not my thing and my taste in art tends away from the grotesque and to things that don't jump out and obnoxiously scream for your attention, but the pieces that are easier enjoyed quietly and by your choosing to seek them out.  I actually think that taste extends to most of my life.  (With a few exceptions...wearing a cloak is not something you do when you don't want to attract attention.)

Feeling Austen

This one's going to be a bit short; sorry about that.

The last day of our trip started with a trip to Stourhead Gardens.  It's a garden made to look like one of the garden paintings from Italy.  They made the pond and everything. They've got grottos, temples, and lots and lots of trees from all over.  And yes, one of those temples is related to Pride and Prejudice again--the first proposal was filmed there.  (Yep, freak out.  Most of the girls on the trip did.  I felt rather required to go as the token Elizabeth--oddly enough, although we've got 2 Sara(h)s, 2 Lauras and a Lauren and a Laurel and a Laurie, I'm the only Elizabeth.)  I think we went at the best time; it was just opened, so everything was dappled in morning, with a bit of mist still rising off from the lake.  I rather liked the grotto; there were two fountain statues--not quite fountains themselves, the statues were surrounded by water.  And there was a beautiful view out of one onto the lake through a "ruined wall."  Constructed ruins, aren't they fun?  I also may have gone up a little ways into some of the trees.  What can I say?  I've got climbing fever. You could say I'm attempting to compensate for a height deficiency, but I lay no credit to such claims.  Also you'd just be wrong.  To conclude: Stourhead is pretty cool and if you go, go in the morning.  Or the evening; I think it'd be nice in the sunset.  But that's when the bugs come out.

We then took a hop and skip further back to visit...wait for it...Stonehenge!  (After the impressiveness-disappointment of Men an Tol and Lanyon Quoit, I'd had a dream about Stonehenge where the rocks came up to about my forehead and I was ready to be on the warpath about that.)  Fortunately, it lived up to its name and was really very impressive.  ...Unfortunately, there's not an awful lot to say about Stonehenge, either.  You can't really go up to it, so you go, take pictures, sketch it, and then you're pretty much done.  (I hear the neo-pagans got permission to go and do some sort of something or other there that evening.  We weren't there.  And I only saw one person who may have been a neo-pagan.  Either that or she has a propensity for dressing oddly and going to big stone monolithic monuments.  I won't comment too much on that because I think it'd be hilarious to, for example, get a group of Latin scholars to dress in togas and wander around the Roman baths looking at these strange individuals who have invaded their baths extremely skeptically and speaking nothing but Latin.  Besides, she wasn't even all that strangely dressed.  I also toyed with the thought of going to various castles in full garb.  It'd be great.)

After this, we jumped straight back through time to where we'd been before (Wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff, you wouldn't understand) and landed at the Jane Austen house where she'd lived when she published most of her books, if not all.  Had a few people playing piano there again, delighting the people who were there again, then looked at all of the things and artifacts from her life.  I always feel kind of awkward doing that--I mean, it's kind of weird looking at stuff that people lived with, that was part of their daily lives, with signs that say "Don't touch" and describe exactly what it is.  Interesting, though.  The writing table she used was there, and let me tell you, I'm surprised she managed to do anything on a table that size.  There was a bit of an emphasis on Sense and Sensibility at the time; I think it's their book of the year or something.  They had dresses and so on from the movies, pages of manuscript and original copies--you get the idea.  There was also a gentleman there who was very concerned that we make it to the movie--he reminded me every time he saw me for a good 15 minutes leading up, even though I told him I was waiting for a friend to catch up.

We then headed back to the center, arriving at about 6 in the afternoon.  And so concludes that trip.

Incidentally, would you do me a favor?  I just want to know how many people read this--could you comment with your name?  Thanks!