Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What day number was this again?

Most of yesterday was spent at the Imperial War Museum, which really isn't as jingoistic as it sounds. The wars of the 20th century were not the distant foreign skirmishes that Americans perceived, but visceral, existential threats. St. Paul's was very nearly destroyed by the Nazis--and much of the surrounding neighborhoods were--and the British had troops in both world wars from the beginning. So there is a much more personal angle to it all than would be found in the states.

On the outside of the museum--whose facade is unfortunately under construction and has a facsimile draped over it--sits a graffitied chunk of rock which, when one looks at the accompanying plaque, one learns was taken from the Berlin Wall. A mighty artifact.

On the various levels of the main hall were large weapons and parts of vehicles from conflicts past, from both sides. My favorite was the human torpedo used by he Italians in WWI, which would speed through the water and up to the undersides of boats, where two divers would plant an explosive and leave, blowing up their target about an hour later. Unfortunately I only got a few photos snapped before the camera on my battery died.

I sketched quite a bit, but I'm going back today to revisit some exhibits and take some pictures. Photography was forbidden in two of the main exhibits, concerning Holocaust-inspired art, war artists, and World War 1, specifically, and so at that point the sketchbook was all I had. I wish I could find a copy of the photo used to finish the WWI exhibit, because it really is a beautiful finish to such a grim subject.

The gift shop is full of books and merchandise that I would have loved to throw money down on, but I settled on just a couple post-cards. There is a collection of wartime comics and a two-CD set of war movie themes that I may yet purchase, however.

When I was finished I took the bus back over the Thames and to Trafalgar Square, so I could easily get to Leicester Square, where I have spent an awful lot of time on this trip. I went to the little book store I found a few days ago and purchased some old programs; the first was a King Lear production, which had some interesting materials in the program itself, and the second was for a 1971 Cambridge production of Hamlet starring Ian McKellan. These I bought for 5 and 10 pounds respectively. In the meantime the proprietor, Dave Drummond, entertained visiting friends with witty banter, including a brief anecdote about how the great Sir John Gielgud once came into the store and brought him a 17th century silk purse. The man is quite a character, but I think he was eager to get rid of me, being that it was closing time.

Later in the evening Jordan, Ari, Kim, and I went looking for a pub. Along the way I saw this and felt I had to take a picture.

We eventually settled on the Duke of Wellington, on Portabella. It was a nice place, though though the clientelle was conspicuously white (the rest of the city, especially where we are staying, is incredibly diverse). After a few drinks we got into a heated political discussion, and as we returned home we more than once had to take care to lower our voices. I snapped this along the way, for Ben Jarvis' sake, and then my battery died.

We went looking for a food vendor at 1 in the morning and crossed paths with a half-mad black woman with a broken cigarette dangling from her mouth. She approached Jordan and rasped, "Are you man or are you dancer?"

She wanted to know if he had a light.

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