Wednesday, March 19, 2008

London Art and Gardens

Once a year Henry and I enjoy a long weekend of couple time. We became engaged in London so it was only natural to return. Our children enjoy grandparent time too.

The Cranley Hotel in Chelsea offers Old World style at an affordable price for London. It’s a triple townhouse with a grand parlor and only two rooms per floor off each set of stairs, enclosed by a foyer door. It’s quiet and peaceful even though the Gloucester Road tube (subway) station is only 5 minutes walk away as are the many shops and restaurants on the Old Brompton and Fulham Roads. Dim-T does delicious dim sum across from The Gloucester Road Bookshop.

On the night we arrived, we took a taxi to but walked back from our favorite Indian restaurant, Chutney Mary’s. The food is always original and delicious and the atmosphere intimate and romantic. The Star of India is well reviewed and just around the corner from the hotel, but the food and atmosphere was nowhere near as good. My standards are high because Indian food is fabulous in London.

On Saturday we had a tasty lunch of Vietnamese spring rolls, Japanese dumplings and noodles and Thai curried vegetables. We chose Tampopo because of its name, a favorite Japanese movie which celebrates the sensuality and humor of good food.

March in England means rain so we hurried off to Regent’s Park before it got too damp. I had to see the spring carpet of daffodils. The light rain had scared away most people, so we could enjoy the cherry blossoms in peace. The only sound was the fountain and soon the rain stopped. It rarely rains all day or that hard. Flowers last so long in the greenhouse mist that is the English spring.

The Broad Avenue Gardens in Regent’s Park are a changing palette of pure artistry. The flowers bloom in a succession of contrasting hues and complementary shapes. The bright colors relieve the symmetry of the plantings. Living in London, I had loved wandering these gardens weekly. They are at their best in April with everything blooming and few tourists, but the summer roses in Queen Mary’s Gardens (also in Regent’s Park) are worth seeing too.

After the gardens, my favorite destination is Tate Modern. We got off at the Embankment tube station to see the view of Westminster from the Golden Jubilee Bridge. The London Eye provides a broader perspective, especially for kids, but we appreciated not having to do that this weekend. If you want to ride the London Eye, best to book on-line to avoid waiting on one. From there it’s a pleasant stroll along the Thames’s south bank to Tate Modern.

Tate Modern is a national art museum housed in a former power station. General admission is free although donations are welcome. The almost Fascist architecture is austere and uninviting from the outside, but the Turbine Hall provides an enormous interior space for art installations. The best exhibit I’ve seen was by Danish artist Olafur Eliasson in 2004. His setting sun was off the African savannah seen from an Asian temple.

Sometimes art is awe inspiring. The Weather Project was actually all done with smoke and mirrors. It’s truly only half a sun reflected on the ceiling, but it felt so natural and whole. People lay on the floor for the best view or in adulation. Spiritual.

Note how different the same space looks with the current installation by Doris Salcedo. I took both photos from the above bridge. Our first thought upon entering the hall on Saturday was “Uh, oh the museum is breaking up.” There were caution signs along a huge crack that split the floor from the entrance to the end of the cavernous space. The next question was “Is this art?”

I suspended judgment and turned to the other viewers. Half of the fun of Tate installations is watching people interact with the art, especially the young. The children loved the crack: leaping over it, peering inside and balancing along the edge. It made me think of games I played growing up on NYC sidewalks (pavement). Even grownups were acting like children exploring.

Intrigued, I leaned over to take a closer look. My camera found images that reminded me of the end of winter when ice cracks. Inside was a Grand Canyon of complexity and surprising beauty. Maybe beauty wasn’t the right word because there was something chilling, almost repugnant, in the chasm laced with wire. I thought about the Mexican border and other fences that keep out immigrants. What was the crack saying?

I was close to the truth. Salcedo called her installation Shibboleth. The gallery pamphlet explained: The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “a word used as a test for detecting people from another district or country by their pronunciation; a word or sound very difficult for foreigners to pronounce.” In a Biblical story, the Gileadites used the word to trap and slay the fleeing Ephraimites who could not pronounce the “sh” sound. Shibboleth was a token of power over other people.

Salcedo’s installation evoked separation and subjugation. She has written of how modernity is “exclusively European” thus marginalizing others. A native of Bogotá, Columbia, her work focuses on colonial and imperial history. I know a little of Bogotá as my college roommate and her family have relocated there for a year to teach in an international school. Deborah Sabin is blogging about it occasionally. Deb has spent her life defying shibboleths.

Henry and I viewed the rest of the impressive modern art collection, including a dimly lit room of burgundy Rothko’s, but it was hard to appreciate it after the Shibboleth. Art can be beautiful like a garden or a sunrise, but it can also be ugly like a crack.

End Links:

This post was part of the Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day as the garden photos were taken on March 15, 2008. Check out the link to view what else was blooming around the world on that day.

Here's an MP4 film of Doris Salcedo walking you through her exhibition.

I’ve added a contact e-mail for the Serengeti school charity to the end of my Tanzania Safari Post. Educational aid helps mend the crack between developed and under developed nations.

This article is a joke (click title to view):

And this one is serious?
Saturday's Telegraph reported a change in literary taste after an organ transplant.


Carol Michel said...

Sarah, Thanks for the link and the beautiful pictures of Regent Park. I have included you in the list of those posting flowers blooming on March 15th. I hope you can join us in April as well.

London in the spring sounds like a wonderful place.

Sarah Laurence said...

Good morning Carol,

Thank you for organizing the Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. My daughter and I will be in Paris the weekend before April 15 with plans to visit Giverny where Monet painted the lilies. I'd be happy to share the photos on your next Bloom Day although I'll probably be a day late as I usually post Wednesdays. Please add me to your list. It was a treat to see over 80 gardens in bloom, a flourishing blog community!

Frances, said...

That was a beautiful tour of your nice London trip, thanks for letting us enjoy it along with you and your hubby. The cherry tree looked breathtaking as did the daffodils and all the art. I loved the sun reflection. What a wonderful place.

Frances at Faire Garden

Katarina said...

Thanks for visiting my blog - you are quite right about Sweden being a cold country. But this year is different. We haven't had any real winter - at least not on the west coast where I live.

I've enjoyed reading your post very much, it brings back lots of memories from the two years I spent in london when I was young. So, thanks!
/Katarina (Roses and stuff)

Lisa at Greenbow said...

I loved this post Sarah. It brought back memories of a March trip to London almost 25 years ago. Thank you for bringing us along with you through the art in the gardens and the museum.

Sherry at the Zoo said...

Thank you for visiting my blog Sarah.

Thank you for the tour of London. Regent Park looks beautiful. I've enjoyed your pictures. That crack is almost mesmerizing, isn't it?

Muum said...

Thanks for your visit tomy blog, and I so enjoyed your tour of the park! I have only visited England once, I'd love to come back again!

kate said...

Your London weekend sounded delightful and fun - lovely hotel, good restaurants and the Tate. Oh, and flowers too. I would love seeing the Tate installation - I spent an amazing day in the Tate in the mid-1980s. Brings back memories.

I would love seeing the carpet of daffodils in Regent Park along with the cherry trees in bloom. Oxford must be an amazing sight in springtime too ...

Jean Campbell said...

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Your Bloom Day post is a delight, both the text and the photos. I look forward to April's tour of Monet's Gardens.

kjohnson said...

Hello Sarah, My husband and I visited London in March a decade or so ago. I remember my great delight at the blooming early daffodils. Your pictures brought it all back (although the Tate Modern was not yet a reality).

I've added you blog to my bookmarks and look forward to visiting your site throughout the year.

Shady Gardener said...

Sarah, You seem to be having a wonderful time! You have provided an interestingly diverse tour of London! We visited briefly about 5 years ago. We had some very enjoyable times there, but we also traveled north through Scotland.

I'll look forward to reading more of your stay. Thanks for your visit to my blog. :-)

Sherry at the Zoo said...

HI Sarah,

Thanks for the book suggestion and the link to your review. I think I will have to order that book from Amazon.

Sherry from the Zoo

Anonymous said...

What fantastic photos! I love your picture of the Sunset, and wish I'd seen it in person. My favourite Tate Modern exhbit was Anish Kapoor's "Prometheus", the giant reddish sculpture which seemed to swallow up the entire hall like a gurt great eardrum
I've had some great times at The Cranley too!

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

Lovely, especially those cherry trees! Someday, I may make it to England...sigh.