Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Victoria Albert Museum.

So my entire family went to London in June, and I'm still processing everything I saw, felt, experienced, heard, and tasted. It was wonderful. London is such an easy city to visit - beyond the language barrier thing, it's just so relaxing to me. It's easy to get around by Tube, and the people are incredibly nice. I never tire of how they say things, just ever so slightly different, with that fantastic accent. The food is to die for good - Indian, Thai, even the Italian was awesome. And I love British cuisine (yes, they have a cuisine). Pigeon, suckling pig, haddock, beef, every bit of it yummy. Every time I go to London I tend to turn British for exactly the amount of time I'm there. I'll rise and take my tea with milk, eat scones with tons of clotted cream and jam every chance I get, and say things like "bloody marvelous" and "chuffed". And drink nothing but Guinness.

Anyway, we saw a lot of things, my husband and I, including my favorite place on the face of this god's green earth - the Victoria Albert Museum. The museum is a wondrous hodge-podge of sculpture, paintings, clothes, and artifacts. Everything from the gowns worn by The Supremes to giant Buddhas from China and Thailand, to ornamental vases from Greece, to Catherine the Great's tiara. Basically everything pillaged from the colonies, right? I actually learned on this trip that the museum was founded after an exhibition was held in the 1800's highlighting the artifacts for the first time. People came from far and near to see these things, which included, "The largest pile of granite ever produced on this continent or any other!" (I'm not making this stuff up). You forget that back then people could barely eat, much less travel to India, so seeing an actual stuffed tiger or a carved chair, or even a huge load of granite was an incredibly big deal. They even advertised it like that - "See the World in Just One Afternoon."

Well we tried. After getting much too late of a start (vacation time) we arrived around 1:30 - the place closes at 5pm. And we immediately looked at each other, crestfallen. There was no WAY we'd even make a dent. We'd just have to come back the next day too. And we did, and experienced almost two days of the most wonderful sightseeing and photographic opportunities I had had the entire trip. Because the Victoria Albert is one of the few museums where they let you take pictures. I went stark raving crazy with the camera - trying out angles, lighting, etc. My little amateur photography brain cogs were spinning out of control, and my little no-nothing camera didn't have a clue what to do (man, do I need an upgrade!). Click here to see the results of my attempt to be "arty farty".

I don't know what it is about this place - the whole time we were in London I kept raving about it to my husband, but the days went by and I kept putting off going there. It was like I was hoarding it all to myself. When we finally went, I thought, "Why in hell did I wait so long? Now we'll never see everything!" I had forgotten how much I adored this place - the hallowed sculpture halls where your footfalls echo, the maze of rooms you can literally lose yourself in. One minute you're staring at an ancient Persian tile, only to wander into an area dedicated to Queen Victoria's funeral (complete with the actual film of the event). The old Vicotorian-ness of the place fascinates me. The smell of old furniture. The calm stares of the Buddhas. The tiny, intricate netsuke, so painstakingly figured, so artfully placed. It's a place for losing yourself, it's a place for wandering.

I gazed at a wooden statue of the Chinese bodhisattva Guan Yin for the longest time. The picture I took is here, but it does nothing to capture the peace emanating from the pores of this carving. Or the immensity of the work - it's HUGE! He sits in repose, but with one leg raised, ready to go help at any moment. Because Guan Yin is the one with a thousand ears, the one who hears every prayer. What a connection I felt with this piece! It was like nothing I had ever experienced in my love of sculpture. I wanted to pray in front of it.

The plaster cast rooms at the Victoria Albert are equally stunning. One side holds casts of statuary and entire church fronts from Europe, the other side is wholly dedicated to Italy (go figure). This area was closed, but after an hour of traversing the museum maze and locating the balcony, I got some great "deconstructed" shots of the curators arranging things. Greek gods half-in/half-out of their packing crates. Very "Thomas Crowne Affair".

Over on the European side, a statue of Perseus holding Medusa's head is slammed up against tombs of medieval knights. A huge lion's head overhangs a cast of Madonna and child, almost as if he were preparing to eat. A cast of some medieval pope looks forlornly at a sweeping depiction of the Goddess Diana. A cast of a man deep in thought, his palm raised to his head looks beyond that of a Turkish prince, his hands held out in prayer. It's again, a beautiful, gorgeous hodge-podge. At one point I was so overwhelmed by it all in, overwhelmed by the sheer beauty that flowed out and around everything, that it was just too much. I began to cry with joy. A heavy sigh escaped me and I was just so damn grateful to be right here in this moment, in this time. So much damn beauty. Everywhere I looked.


where i've escaped...

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