With only five days until my departure, everything seems hurried and rushed but also slowed down, all at the same time. Time seems to be inching by and then very suddenly flying past! It is a very strange feeling and it’s almost as if I’ve been in a funk over the past few days. Not happy or sad, just somewhere in between.
Last week, I had the chance to visit Somerset House on the Strand. When I say it’s next door, I mean it quite literally — King’s and Somerset House actually share a wall. And yet this was the first time I ventured into the massive courtyard.
The first thing you see is a large ice skating rink right in the center, set up especially for the holidays and sponsored by Tiffany & Co. The whole courtyard has lots of Christmas decorations including a large tree, the Wrap-Up Shop and designers at Somerset Shop selling all kinds of little gifts, and even a miniature Tiffany’s luxury sweets, gifts, and yes – jewelry. Since I went in the afternoon, it wasn’t very crowded, just a few kids squealing and laughing as they ventured out onto the slippery ice.
I visited two exhibits (both free) that were currently going on. The first was 20 Years of Dazed and Confused Magazine, which was essentially a visual journey through two decades of covers, articles and celebrity spotlights. I don’t know much about the magazine but from what I saw they must have a reputation for producing avant-garde portraits of celebrities (read: nude). Lots of Kate Moss. It was interesting, and some of the portraiture and fashion spreads were quite stunning, but it probably would have resonated more if I was familiar with the magazine.
The second exhibit I visited was called Amazon, a photography exhibition. The first portion centered around the work of Sabastiao Salgado from his project “Genesis”, and was largely aerial photos of Amazonian landscapes and portraits of indigenous, traditional peoples. The photos were all really beautiful and I especially enjoyed the various shots of the natives – sometimes hunting, sometimes resting, sometimes just watching the world go by.
The second portion of the Amazon exhibit featured the photography of Per-Anders Pettersson from a recent visit to northwest Brazil. The photos illustrated the extreme devastation and destruction of the Amazonian landscapes due to deforestation and other non-sustainable practices that exploit both the land and the impoverished people who live on it. The exhibition works — seeing the photos of the people and the land, and then realizing what terrible things are being done there, made the crisis seem that much more real and relevant. It was incredibly sad, but I am glad they are raising awareness about such an important issue. The Amazon is a treasure and it should be protected instead of abused and discarded.
The last stop at Somerset, and the part I most looked forward to, was the Courtauld Gallery. Since I was there on a Monday before 2:00PM it was completely free! I got to see the exhibits and the gallery for absolutely nothing – awesome! But this small collection would have been worth paying to see. When you first step in, the gallery seems small (deceiving, as it spans several stories) – but the personal, cozy feeling was what I loved about it! After I visited it felt like I knew a secret – all these incredible and famous pieces of art right there 10 feet from the Strand! I promptly told everyone I talked to that they had to go! They have a modest collection of sculpture and decorative art spanning several periods and regions. They also had great drawings and sketches by lots of artists – in particular, they had a special exhibit on Spanish drawings. Some were plans for later paintings while others were more just doodles and studies. My favorite, by far, was a 1906 sketch by Picasso of pigs. Just lots of little pigs. I fell in love with it.
But the crown jewel of the Gallery is definitely its collection of paintings. From medieval to Renaissance, Rubens to Impressionists, it was quite an impressive inventory. It has one of the famous self portraits of Van Gogh displaying his bandaged ear, and the first work from Picasso’s “Blue Period” – a sweet but somber portrait of a small child holding a dove. I spotted Manet’s familiar “A Bar at Folies-Bergere” and Cranach’s “Adam and Eve” (you might know this piece from the intro theme for the TV show “Desperate Housewives”). The collection was rounded out by pieces from Monet, Cezanne, Renoir and Degas. It was extraordinary and a definite must-see for anyone visiting London!
Thursday evening I got to meet up with some friends from Queen Mary’s and we headed over to O’Neills Pub in Leicester Square to see a live band preform. The band was awesome – we sang at the top of our lungs and danced the night away. We had a blast!
I was a little sick this weekend, but I am feeling much better. Now I’m just trying to crank out these last papers and fit in all the last minute things I’ve been meaning to do while here. I can’t believe I have less than a week left in London!