This magical trip began with my visiting a place I’d often heard of and one I’d also often heard English people lament about: Picadilly Circus. Please note that it is NOT actually a circus (this may seem like a ridiculous clarification, but I assure you it is a very necessary one).
Technically, I began at Trafalgar Square:
The colossal enormity of the place, the latent history embedded in it, just standing there, for Christ’s sake, was more than enough to send anyone’s head spinning. Regrettably it is, of course, a tourist trap, but it isn’t without its charms; I saw children mounting those giant lions and sitting on them giggling, pretending to ride them while their parents shouted, saw a man (street performer?) spray painted entirely bronze/gold standing on a podium, motionless (just when I thought only LA got those types), and tourists and children teenybopping all over.
But oh, it was so very beautiful. I felt myself drowning in beauty;
and there was something far too surreal about looking off into the distance and seeing Big Ben,
seeing the river Thames.
It was simply too hard to believe, that after all this time I was finally here
(finally home, I liked to think).
Being immensely curious, I decided to spend some time in the stunning National Gallery. It was glorious, far too much to possibly hope to describe. I just walked around, literally open-mouthed, for about an hour, meticulously going from room to room (wearing an Abbey Road t-shirt and looking like a ridiculous tourist, which I was), examining every painting and imagining how my old Art History teacher would react when I told her.
above: The Toilet of Venus (‘The Rokeby Venus’) by Diego Velazquez, 1647-51
This painting was one of my favorites. The way her face is in the mirror, you’d think she was admiring herself, but when you approach it in person it seems as though she is staring at you — that murky, phantom face looking directly into yours. It was chilling.
One of the things I loved the most about the gallery, and the painting above, was getting to think about and see firsthand classical ideas of beauty. we live in an age where media puts a lot of “pressure” on us blah blah blah, the point is nowadays it’s hard to be conventionally construed as beautiful unless you are thin. Now, this doesn’t hurt me too much personally seeing as I could care less about ‘conventional’ beauty (always being attracted to extremes, violent passions, freaks and such types) but it was wonderfully refreshing to, once more, be forced into a new perspective far broader than my own limited experience. To be able to truly comprehend that our way (the American way, Californian way, whatever you choose it to be) is NOT the only way of thinking.
I loved looking at the many many paintings of Venus and similar nudes, seeing their pale bodies, curves and curly hair and knowing that they were beautiful, and the rest of the world thought so too.
Just as I was about to head out of the Gallery I saw a poster that said the place featured Gustav Klimt (the artist of the following painting, The Kiss, which I intend to be my first tattoo. I am fantastically in love with it.
(This was painted in 1907-08, roughly around the fin de siecle period. Curiously enough, all the greatest loves of my life — this painting as well as many others, authors and books, emerge from this golden period)
So naturally when I heard the Gallery housed Klimt my poor heart had a spasm and I ran around like mad looking for it. After going to the room it was promised to be in with no success I approached the information desk with a sinking heart, only to be told it had been moved —
and for a split second I nearly burst into tears
but LUCKILY ENOUGH
it had only been moved elsewhere in London,
to the Tate Modern Museum
(and yes, I will cry)
After the Gallery I went out in search of curry, Indian food being my absolute favorite (the lengths I go for a good curry), so I headed into Picadilly:
(cue Led Zeppelin “OH YEAH, OH YEAH, OH, OH, OH” from Black Dog)
I wore boots this time but it was no matter. I felt like a character from Greek mythology condemned to spend all of eternity walking, having walked so much that day, that not only did my feet bleed but blister as well. Of course I was too giddy to care about what my body wanted (having abused it thoroughly thus far, being too excited to sleep or eat properly for days).
So I walked:
I spent the entire day trying to frantically memorize everything I saw; I felt my body close to collapsing from exhaustion but kept begging it to go on, so desperate was I to take in as much as possible.
There were a great deal of parks along the way, incidentally, including the famous Hyde Park (above); I didn’t stop in them for too long, though. But what was fantastic is that you could rent bikes AT the parks — the first half hour costing you nothing, and then some ridiculously nominal fee (a pound, I believe) for an hour.
It just goes to remind me how very different the English culture is. The particular ways in which it is unique strike me at first as usually comical (is this a typical reaction?) but then, when considered, I have grown really fond of several things. The lingo, for instance, bewilders everyone at first, but certain words and phrases grow on me (‘car park’, rather than ‘parking lot’, is one of my favorites — it just sounds so much more whimsical).
The English apparently also love to read newspapers, something that sounds perfectly average I’m sure, but just think: how many times do you see anyone in America reading a newspaper that isn’t some sort of older businessman?
Public transportation here, too, is FAR better than back home. In California, you see, the majority of the people that take the bus are BAT SHIT INSANE. Being a gypsy and all I have been taking the bus for years and years and seen every variety of freak/freak incident known to man, from a robbery that took place on a bus I was on in Oakland, to drunks and raging alcoholics cussing out crying babies, etc etc.
But in England, everyone rides public transport. Normal people, for the first time in my life, ride the bus with me. It is such an immense relief; infinitely more practical, too.
At any rate, I got my curry (after four hours of walking); sat in Trafalgar Square reading The Brothers Karamazov and just generally had a wonderfully pleasant afternoon.
P.S. they sell cigarettes EVERYWHERE here, even at the Student Store on my campus …
I am never going to leave.