02 February 2008


Today, I went on an adventure to London!

I am sorry to say, however, that there are no pictures. I did take a few, but I have not yet uploaded them - I just got back! The ones I did take were not anything special, nothing better than you could find online or on a postcard. So here's the story.

I took the Oxford Tube bus into London, getting off at Victoria Station. My plan was to go the Inns-of-Court where John Donne spent the formative years of his youth. To get there, I had to walk down FLEET STREET. I was looking very carefully for a meat pie shop with a barber's on the floor above it, but I was out of luck. I didn't even find any meat pies. :/ But I DID find this awesome church, called St. Dunstan's, and when I walked in, I saw that it was a dual Anglican/Orthodox Church. It is octagonal, and so one alcove is the Anglican altar and the one adjacent to it is the Orthodox altar, with an iconostas shipped from a monastery in Romania. The iconography was done by a man named Alexandrescu, and so I wonder if there is any relation to the Alexandrescus that I know. It was pretty cool. I didn't get to greet the priest, because he was preparing for a wedding and hearing confessions but I went in to pray a little and enjoy seeing a full iconostas.

So then I went over to the Inns-of-Court, and was unable to figure out how to get inside. Okay, well that was a nice walk. Fleet Street is very near to the Thames, so I walked across the Millemium Bridge. It's kind of annoying, actually, because it affords a beautiful view, from both sides, so people walk very slowly. And it is made of metal grating, so when people drag their feet, it makes a very obnoxious sound. In any case, I skadoodled over to the Tate Modern Art Museum. There is a really interesting installation in the basement right now, called 'Shibboleth', and it is this giant crack in the foundations of the museum. It is supposed to represent the chasms that we put between ourselves and other people.

This is a very interesting idea to think about, especially in London. I realize that some of what I have been encountering is cultural. In fact, J and I were talking about this just last night. People seem very unfriendly, but that mostly has to do with cultural conditioning. I also feel that there is a certain sadness and loneliness one encounters in the city. This is primarily why I enjoy the city, in some ways. It's anonymous, and affords solitude without absolutely abandoning all people. But as a lifestyle, I think it gets pretty lonely. On Thursday night, at dinner we got into a conversation about what poverty means. We started with the obvious - homeless people, those who are in material need of some sort. Scot also brought up the issue of other kinds of poverty - people who need relationships, or emotional support, or other sorts of non-material care. I get a sense that this is the case here. I mean, there is probably an issue with caring for people's material needs just like at home. And there is probably an equally urgent need to care for people's non-material needs at home too. But being out of my comfort zone and immersing myself in another culture, I think, has made me a little more aware of others' need for love. Something I am trying to do is remember that we are all made in the image of God, and to see Christ in everyone I encounter. What am I going to do with that? I have to love these people. I try to smile at people. That's not something that people here do very much. I have already mastered walking about with my head always up and never making eye contact with anybody. I blend in more, for sure, but sometimes eye contact with a stranger or a smile can be a kindness. So we'll start with that.

Anyways. I digress. Where was I? The Tate. I went to the museum, but I started getting restless and hungry, so I left after a little bit. I saw some really cool art, and some really crappy art. There was a room with one of Monet's Water Lilies, and the rest of the pieces were very abstract, reminiscent of the impressionism, but with less of a defined subject. There was a good Jackson Pollack in there. Lots of white space on the canvas, which made the paint splotches vastly more interesting. There were also a lot of Mark Rothko pieces, and a late Henri Matisse piece called 'The Snail'. When he got really old and bedridden, he would have his helpers/students/disciples paint pieces of paper and then he would cut them into shapes and arrange them. He felt that this was the height of abstract art. There was also a really crappy piece that was a portrait of a woman, but her whole body was a pelvis, it was called 'Tree of Fluids'. Not good art.

So I decided to go to St. Paul's and see the funerary statue of John Donne there. It was going to cost me 8 pounds 50 to get in ($17 for those of you who are curious), and I considered 'going to mass' which was being said. But it was being said, not sung, which I think completely defeats the purpose. So I left, vowing to come back for the Candlemas Eucharist service at 5 PM, and then show myself around. I figured I might as well head over to Kensington, where the Royal College of Art is. I know a guy there, Steve, who is a Master's student there. He told me that he was working on something, but that I was more than welcome to come and see. I ended up being there for two hours. The cool thing about an art school is that there are SO MANY exhibitions. I looked at the installations, textile/furniture, and gsm & j (goldsmithing, silversmithing, metalworking, and jewelry) pretty extensively, although I am sure that there was painting and sculpture there somewhere. Steve was working on a pretty awesome project. The theme of the installation gallery was human interaction with technology and addressed a lot of questions about what it means to be human in a technological age. Some of the other pieces elsewhere in the college were geared specifically towards examining our homes and the domestic sphere, and what it means to have stability. It's kind of cool to see what people of my generation think are important social issues, and how they think about them artistically. Going from a modern art museum to a postmodern art school was a really interesting exercise. Postmodern art is so much different than modern art. Modernism aimed for abstractness and expression of chaos, whereas what I saw at the RCA was more straightforward and concrete.

I left the RCA and went to St. Paul's for their eucharist service for Candlemas. I was late, I got there in the middle of the homily (which was good! and true!) and then the Liturgy of the Faithful. I missed all the beautiful singing at the beginning, but that was okay. The Sanctus was really lovely. The Cathedral Choir there is all-male, so the sopranos and altos are young boys. I teared up a few times, because it was so beautiful. It was also very sad, because I can only experience this amazing liturgical tradition as an outsider. I can't participate, which is sad. But I sang a little in the recessional, because it was in English and in beautiful chant.

After St. Paul's, I found a place that made a real Caramel Macchiato, drank one, and then made my way back to Oxford. I ended up sitting next to this guy who really didn't want to be sat next to, which made me feel kind of awkward. I bit my fingernails the whole time back because I felt so nervous sitting next to him.

Anyways, today was a productive and educational day - lots of art, some prayer, lots of walking. I could have gone for more prayer. But tomorrow is Sunday, and I am going to go to Greek liturgy. It's just too bad that all of this has anything to do with my tutorial on Tuesday. :/ Wish me luck!


Gina said...

Hello Love,

What a delightful Blog today. I can remember all the places you are talking about. How beautiful all of it was, except the stuff that wasn't. I certainly think that your writing about your experience turned out much like the art you saw and the Candlemas you experienced. I don't see how this will not be counted as one of your best days.


chris said...

Erin, you've done more in one day then most people do in a lifetime, and written about it. :)


amy katherine said...

Do you really think I'm inimitable? Thanks, Erin. I'm so glad you tipped me off about this. I'm excited to read the rest of your posts, and I'd love to talk more about art and post-modernity.

Renée said...

You saw 'Shibboleth'?!?! I am rather jealous at the moment.