Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Another London weekend

Back from Harrogate, a little stuffed - exam on the Friday and then 4 hours travelling.
An expedition to the British Museum (off Tottenham Court Road, in Bloomsbury). The architecture is very massive and plain on the outside, but inspiring on the inside. There's a large central court, once clearly open, now enclosed with a geodesic structure roof, and the Reading Room - a very large elliptical floor plan - in the centre of the enclosure. Very impressive inside - vaulted ceiling and books stacked around the outside, and reference and reading space on the floor and in a gallery at second fllor height.
The Museum itself - we started just wandering through with only a map - was initially disappointing. There seemeed little organisation or themes - there was a ' living and dying' themed exhibition in the ethnographics section with the usual encomiums to 'spiritual cultures', but a lot of other items were simply stacked up in cabinets with only a vague chronology.
Then, on a whim and after a coffee, we went Rosetta-stone hunting and found the Egyptian wing. Big difference. Big pieces. Old stuff - some huge statues were 2360BC - that's 4363 years ago. Beautiful carving and scripts. The Rossetta stone was impressive - it is inscribed very clearly and deeply, in Greek, demotic (common script) and hieroglypics, and was the key to deciphering the latter. By an Englishman and a Frenchman. Some of the old stone columns had a palm frond top, were made of granite and have aged very well indeed. Very satisfying. Some of the smaller animal sculptures were positively modern in their stylisation - there really is nothing new under the sun.
Onwards to an Italian pizza just off Leicester Square and then the Odeon theatre and Rings III.
What an amazing movie. A three-hanky affair, with the best battle scenes we've ever seen. The audience spontaneously cheered at Legolas' little run (no scene giveaways here) and stood up and clapped at the end. Theatre was packed to the rafters, too. The sunsets and NZ scenery brough on a bit of homesickness, naturally. A lot, actually.
Monday, after a day's work, another little treat: a performance of Handel's Messiah at St Martin-in-the-fields. We had gallery seats right over the orchestra (mostly a string section, a couple of flutes/oboes/brass), and a drummer. The drummer was something of an obsessive: he constantly tuned, tightened, listened, tuned, loosened, listened. Couldn't leave those damned skins alone for more than two minutes at a stretch. There was a choir, naturally: mostly singing the words in roundelays. If you can imagine a religious version of 'Row row row your boat' with slight variations for two hours you have it. However, the church was beautiful: very plain outside, faded but massive and elegant inside, with a glorious pipe organ (not used for Handel, unfortunately). Not the biggest we've seen (that would be the 5,300 pipe one at York Minster, with a 32 foot bass pipe that had to be seen up close to be believed), just a 16 ft bass, but polished and with little angels carved right at the top of the pipe ranks. Despite the obvious talent of the performers, especially first cello who got a lot of work to do and was visibly enjoying herself, more memorable for the setting than the work itself. The singers were very good, but the content was just too labouredly religious for us unbelievers. With a drummer, double bass, cello and small brass section we did hope for some light jazz to finish off. Ha. Didn't happen. Walked back to the Westminster tube station in gripping cold. Need more possum fur.

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