Had breakfast at Les Filles, a very pleasant place. Sat there and had an email exchange with Janette of FOPAL and someone who wanted to donate 20-year runs of computer journals, ACM Transactions and the like. I offered suggestions and forwarded to Gretta at CHM, only to get a reply from the donor, basically saying, sorry, they’ve already recycled most of them, forget it. Pih.
Back at me little room (it is very small) I discovered the hotel wi-fi wasn’t working. Instead of offering the daily log-in your room number page, it said this service is blocked. Down at the desk, happily found that a hotel staff member got the same message on his phone, so it wasn’t just me. All they could offer was to wait for “the manager” to come in at 9. And indeed, at 9:10, all was back online.
After publishing the &Juliet post, I headed out. My plan was to Tube it to South Kensington station, which is close to the V&A, the Science Museum, and the Natural History Museum. I wasn’t sure which to go into. It turns out there is a dedicated “subway” (underground walkway) from the station, to all the museums. In it, I found myself following a large herd of grade-school kids. They took the turn for the Science Museum so I carried on to the V&A.
The volunteer at the entry gave me a map and reminded me of what I had learned by careful research a month ago and then completely forgotten to note this morning: there is a docent-led highlights tour at 10:30 and I’m just in time. Yay. The tour meeting point was in the front hall at the main entrance (the tunnel from the station comes in at one end). And here, under the entrance dome, was a familiar sight: possibly the biggest Chihuly glass sculpture I’ve seen.
Always nice to meet an old friend in a strange place. The docent, Rob, was excellent. He led a group of only five people, around the ground floor spaces showing us about 6 specific pieces, with background info and interesting side-lights. He threw in enough history of the museum for orientation. An exemplary docent tour.
In a nutshell, the Victoria & Albert was established by Prince Albert after the Great Exposition to house exemplary arts and crafts for the benefit of British artisans. It specializes in art and design. During the tour I learned about “casts”. In the 19th Century there was a thing for making copies of classical art, typically by making latex casts as molds and then casting plaster replicas. The V&A has a large hall devoted to these casts, of which the largest are — I was boggled at seeing this — a cast taken of Trajan’s column in Rome. Yup, some Victorian built a scaffold around a 98-meter column, took latex molds off it, and recreated it in plaster (around a brick core) in London. It’s all there in the building although they have cut it into two, 40-meter sections to fit under the roof.
One of Rob’s stops was the tea rooms. There are three, each decorated by a different famous name of the day. After the tour I was hungry and had a very good lunch, which I ate in the Poynter room, which is all decorated in ceramics. Ceramic technology was a hot area of interest of the day; they were just rediscovering how to do Della-Robia type glazes. Here’s a view.
The chandeliers are from the 21st Century and while pretty, wouldn’t be my choice for this room. But they didn’t ask me.
After lunch I spent about 90 minutes walking almost all the halls, although I confess I walked pretty briskly through some. There is so much stuff. I was especially impressed with the scope of the ceramics halls, which go on forever. If you were interested in making or collecting ceramics, there is nothing you couldn’t learn about ceramics from any era, culture or style by walking these aisles. Metal objects. Halls and halls of furniture, from the middle ages to mid-century modern. Objects from Japan, South Asia, India, and the Near East — one of Rob’s highlight objects was the huge Arbadil Carpet, from a shrine in Iran. Nothing from Oceania, I think.
By 1:30 my eyes looked like this: and I headed out the door. Where to now? Well, Harrod’s is just up that street over there… so I went to the famous Harrod’s store. Which didn’t please me. My first thought was, this could not be more different from Selfridge’s. The latter is wide open, spacious, brilliantly lit. From the moment you step through the door you are in it. At Harrod’s, every street level entrance opens into a low-ceilinged, dark boutique for one of the high-class brands. Get through one of them to the center and you are in the dimly lit perfumery section. Finally to the escalators where you ascend past faux-Egyptian columns like a thirties movie theater. Anyway, I found the men’s wear and almost found a sweater. Light soft wool in green or blue, shawl collar, quarter-zip. Two drawbacks. One, it was very long, would have hung below my hips. And, B, it was £240. OK, I flunk shopping.
I took a taxi back, rather than walk several blocks to the Knightsbridge Tube. That didn’t work out so well; the ride was £15, due to slow traffic. (What did I say yesterday about gridlock?)
Anyway home, take a nap, ready for another night out.