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Monday, October 8, 2007

Roberta gets around!

Sunday morning, I managed to get up early enough that I could spend almost two hours reading, drinking tea, and polishing off the last of my grocery store scones…and still make it out the door to church!

My book, American Psycho, got to such a creepy part that I suddenly felt compelled to hop up, shower, and seek a cleaner, more wholesome part of life. So, I checked the service times at Westminster Abbey and realized I could make the 11:15 service if I hustled. And, I decided that the weather was perfect for Roberta to make her London debut! (Roberta is the tweed cap I bought last year in Victoria, Canada…Mary Neal, Leigh Ann and I would probably agree Roberta is the only good thing that came out of our night in Victoria.)

Upon arriving at Westminster, however, I remembered there is a big Methodist church next door called Methodist Central Hall (photo above), and I was feeling really pulled to get back to my roots – all of this expensive food, drink, culture of consumption, etc., had started to feel a little overwhelming, and I needed a little normalcy. The service had already started, but I rode the elevator up with an elderly black man on crutches and a young Asian girl, which basically says it all about what an incredibly diverse congregation this was. They were celebrating the 75th anniversary of Nigerian independence, so a lot of the women had on these beautifully intricate head wraps. It was probably the most diverse church I’ve ever been to, and I imagined God must really smile to see that. After church, the young adults pastor made a beeline to tell me about their young adults group, which meets on Thursday nights, and I explained my temporary status but took their very cool booklet to give to my minister in Charlotte.

From there, I walked down to the Tate Britain museum, where they’re having a special exhibit called the Turner Prize Retrospective. I’d seen a brief segment about it on the news last week; apparently the Turner Prize was created in the mid-80s to create some interest around the modern British art scene, and it’s been quite controversial over the years. The exhibit was £11, but it was worth it.

This photo is probably the most iconic part of the exhibit and, I think, one of the most controversial winners.

Called ‘Mother and Child Divided, it is a large cow and a calf; both are cut in half and preserved in separate formaldehyde cases. Blech. I didn’t get into the symbolism/meaning or whatever of this one, and my biggest takeaway while looking at it was a little four-year-old boy who approached with his father shouting excitedly, ‘Look, Daddy! It’s a cow!’ Then, upon closer inspection, ‘Daddy, what’s wrong with the cow?’

I mean, I think it’s great to expose kids to art and all, but why anyone would choose to subject a child to such complex, esoteric art is really beyond me.

Anyway, the exhibit has a mix of mediums, and some of the sculpture or video pieces were very thought-provoking. There was a documentary about Bush and Texas, including stops in Waco and Crawford, that won in 2004, but I wasn’t that impressed and thought it was probably chosen just because of the anti-Bush sentiment.

It seems that the Turner prize definitely stirs up a lot of controversy, and this one from 2001 was apparently one of the most controversial ones…

It is a room where the lights go on and off every five seconds. Uh huh. That’s the exhibit. That’s the big winner. Man, can you imagine how the artists who lost to that guy must have felt?

Here’s the official explanation: Creed challenged traditional ideas of display, in particular the expectations of the viewer within a museum context. The work invites the visitor to re-evaluate rules and conventions, focusing attention on the very fabric of the gallery.

It kind of reminds me of this time in college in some ‘cultural studies’ English class when a student informed the professor that we shouldn’t be tested on which ideas came from which authors, as hadn’t we been studying all semester how there were no ‘original’ ideas and they were all cultural constructs?

Oh, well, anyway, as you can tell, I really enjoyed the exhibit, and I guess just missed out on having someone to discuss it with!

So, from there, I gobbled down a gorgonzola, red pepper and tapenade baguette on the steps, then went to Westminster Abbey for the 3 p.m. Evensong service.

I made a quick stop for a self-portrait in front of the Parliament buildings.

I could have asked someone to take my photo, but that’s not as fun because you don’t end up with these trial runs…

I didn’t know what to expect of Evensong and though it might be some sort of choral vespers, but it’s basically a full church service (no communion). It was pretty cool to sit and look around the abbey, and of course the sound of the choir was lovely. (I actually ended up sitting in the side near Poet's Corner, but I didn't realize that until today when I looked at a map.) Ironically, I guess yesterday’s lectionary was from John, the story of Jesus and the blind man, because I heard it in both services, but the guy at Westminster Abbey did a really good job of encouraging us to think about how we see things with strange/new vs. familiar eyes...e.g., the Pharisees saw the blind man as dirty and hopeless, but Jesus saw him as someone worth helping.

The service was over about 4:15, so I looked around the Abbey a bit (the only really famous part I saw was Newton’s tomb; the back part behind the main alter is closed on Sundays, and they were sort of pushing us out). I cannot imagine how frustrating it must be to ride herd over tourists in a sacred woman was taking photos during the service, and I couldn't figure out if she was asked to leave or just left because she was either (a) offended/embarrassed or (b) successful in getting the photo, which was all she wanted anyway. Then, I hustled (and I really had to hurry) to make it to Kensington Palace for the last admission at 5 p.m. I almost didn’t make it, and I was a little worried I might not get in and would thus waste a bunch of time…but I had free admission (a $24 value!) with my Historic Royal Palaces membership.

Here's a glimpse of what the palace looks like set among the changing leaves of the park...

The tour started in the Princess Dianna memorial exhibit, which had a ton of video clips and photos; standing and watching the wedding-related bits was particularly interesting, and I listened to some of the interviews with photographers who’d followed her over the years. Upstairs, they had about 8 of her dresses on display, with a video interview of Mario Testino talking about the famous photos he took of her in the dresses for the Christie’s auction. Probably the coolest dress to see was the one from the iconic photo of her dance at the White House with John Travolta. I also found myself trying to eyeball the sizes to see if you could tell whether her shape changed over the years…is that awful? The 1992 dress definitely looked smaller than the 1984 dress.

From there, the remainder of the Kensington Palace tour is of the palace as it would have been in the Victorian era. Queen Victoria lived at Kensington Palace until she became queen and moved to Buckingham Palace, so a lot of the tour commentary had to do with her. The funniest thing was a set of ‘Indian clubs’ she was supposed to use to work out. Overall, I thought the palace tour was neat and was really glad I did it, but what else can I say about yet another palace?

After that, I headed home, giving myself two gold stars for making the most of my last Sunday in London!

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