One unexpected side effect of not having my camera cable: it’s surprisingly hard to keep myself entertained in the evenings. I didn’t realize how much time I spent last year, sucking the day’s pictures down to my laptop, deleting the bad ones, and labeling the rest before I could forget what they were. I find myself at loose ends in the evenings, more than expected, and curse the combination of virtue and light packing that made the only book in my luggage Christopher Hill’s The World Turned Upside Down. I cannot brain enough to read about seventeenth-century socio-politico-religious movements right now.
Today I slept in (meaning I didn’t get up until nearly 9). The V&A doesn’t open until 10, so no rush, except that the hostel closes down breakfast at 9:30. Going through the tunnel from the Tube to the museum, I’m impressed by the busker there; in a narrow space of tile and concrete, he’s managing to play the bagpipes without rupturing anyone’s eardrums. Well done, sir.
Entering that way, the first thing you pass is the entrance to the gallery for Europe 1600-1800. Very convenient. I commence the taking of pages of notes, snickering particularly over this gem:
An alteration in the table bears a pencil scribble ‘Daniel Ogden is a Whoring Dog and has got the Crankhams 1766’, to which Ogden has replied ‘Dam the Liers’.
Alas, they’re still working on the new Medieval and Renaissance Galleries (to be opened in 2009, after I don’t need them anymore), so their Northern Renaissance rooms are kind of stripped — as they were last year. But what I’m really afraid of is what I’ll find in the British Galleries. During my previous visit, they’d closed down the exact section I needed, and I’m half-convinced I’ll walk in to find the Tudor section open but the Stuart section closed.
But fate is not feeling that mean. I spend a lovely two hours taking reams of notes — half of them on the Tudor section, which in theory I don’t need, but there are interesting details there, and the fae certainly lag behind in fashion when it suits them, so it might come in handy. (Or maybe I just haven’t broken the habit yet.) The process is exhausting, though, so I’m glad I only have to go through half of one level. The rest can wait for future books in future years, thank you very much.
I also get to thinking about museum design. (Warning: digression.) The V&A has installed lots of touch-screen monitors that help you explore things like the difference between Elizabethan and Jacobean style, or the details packed into Thomas More’s famiy portrait, or the workings of a “detector lock” (which is ingenious). They also have audio stations that play sixteenth century virginal music for you, or explain the classical myths alluded to in the tapestries, or get Jenny Tiramini (costume designer for the Globe) to talk about how you’re supposed to move in period clothing and what you rip if you move like a modern person. They even have architectural panels with Braille inscriptions and raised reliefs, so the blind can feel what the restored wall in front of them looks like. And that’s not even counting the “Discovery Area” with all kinds of hands-on activities.
I often feel that museum displays dedicated to “interactivity” are kind of gimmicky. But maybe they were just immature, and curators are getting into their stride; the examples here genuinely contribute to my experience. Without question, though, the best — as at the Museum in Docklands — are the reconstructions. I’d love to see a museum where every exhibit of a historical period is designed as a space of that period, with objects shown in their usual context. It would be expensive and a pain to build, and you’d have to sacrifice some verisimilitude to display things — an earring closed away in a jewelry box is not much use to anyone — but somebody should build a museum like that. And if someone has, I want to know where it is.
End digression; time for stupidity. I’ve been on my feet for the last four hours, so I prepare. The above notes, I write while bathing my feet in the courtyard pond of the V&A. Then I stop by the hostel, to dump my bag and check where I’m going. Armed with only my notebook, my camera, and a vague mental map — that, more than anything, is the stupidity — I set out northward.
Who can guess where I’m going?
The first leg is on Farringdon, with a detour up Giltspur to fix the picture problem at Pie Corner. Rather than backtracking, I successfully navigate back lanes and return to Farringdon. It takes me through Clerkenwell; the part of my mind that sees London’s past more than its present is vaguely surprised by the lack of quiet green fields. (The rest of my brain gives a long-suffering sigh at the idiocy of that part.) I turn right on Rosebery Avenue, and grin a little grin. By now the street signs have a different borough name on them; I’m getting closer. Northwest on Rosebery, and — this walk is not nearly so bad as I feared — left on St. John Street. I’ve barely turned that corner when I see the distinctive cupola ahead: I’ve arrived at the Angel in Islington.
Memento players and anybody who’s read MNC understand why I had to come here.
If I’m tracing the history correctly, the actual building that gave the area its name is a bank now (its modern facade looking odd with that cupola above it), and besides, it isn’t the original building anyway, and besides, it isn’t even on the original site. Whatever. It’s enough to be here, even if the Angel Inn isn’t the Angel Inn anymore. Instead I go into the Angel Pub next door. And as far as I’m concerned, it’s courtesy of Rosamund and Gertrude Goodemeade that here I can get chips, a burger, and a drink for the price of that damned appetizer last night. In fact, it’s too much food; I’m picking at the chips as I write these notes, bound and dtermined to stuff myself silly while I’m here. (Lunch was kind of makeshift today anyway.)
(Digression on pubs: I half-wish that before coming here I had looked over the bookmark I have somewhere for an online guide to pub etiquette. It really isn’t the same as an American bar or a restaurant, and sometimes it feels quite alien. At least I remember to order my food at the bar. But they do have their charm, I suppose — like the toothless old possibly drunk man the next table over, who is being loudly inappropriate, from the twenty percent of his monologue I can make out. Isn’t he part of the standard decor?)
Pubs, however, are boring places to be on one’s own, and I haven’t the energy or the will to try and make friends. I stay until every last scrap of food is gone, then wander back — by a different route this time, trusting to my sense of direction and geography. I hit Goswell Road later than I meant to, but hit it I do, and thus come back to the City via Aldersgate, the way my characters would come. For a brief, disorienting moment, my mind conflates modern London with old, and imagines that, as with Harvard Yard today, if I arrive too late the gate will be closed. But sunset is two hours off still, and besides — the gate is long gone, and cannot be shut.
I listen to a podcast while enjoying the last of the sunlight in the churchyard; apparently the closure was due to the City Salute on Wednesday, not the restoration work. It makes me smile. Even when a man comes along to chase the last of us out so they close the gardens, I don’t begrudge it; thanks to him, I spot the path inlay that marks where Paul’s Cross used to stand, with people preaching sermons at its feet.
Four days done; four to go. And then onward to Rome . . . .