London Day 5

Up until this morning, I was a novice traveler still wide-eyed at the fact that I was across the ocean in a foreign land with tidbits of little things outside of my comfort culture. I was quite amused by accents and transportation oddities, though English breakfasts continued to wow me for the entire trip. The time had come for me to become a serious traveler and see some quality London. I finally managed to get a grip and remember to use my camera frivolously after only taking two pictures the day before. For a first trip, this needed to be preserved in much more detail. Motivated as such, today I would go to the Tate Modern: the national gallery of international modern art. I had seen massive posters in subways similar to the ones shown below taken in a later station:

It was time.

Only I had no clue where the museum was. I was fairly sure there was an adventure to be had trying to find this place on my own.

First stop early this morning is the Tube station in Russell Square. I look through the map and find that second to St Pancras, Bank station has the most number of intersection lines which constitutes itself as a fairly major hub within Zone 1 (central London). After riding west, I hopped lines in Holbourn and found myself in the Bank station a small while later. I surfaced and let the immediate disappointment pass for the Tate Modern was not outside the Bank station. Nor did it occupy the few immediate streets next to the Bank station. I pried deeper into the city, keeping a sharp eye for signs indicating modern art. Instead, I ran into a large dome:

Surely this building held potential to be heralded as the Tate Modern. I cherished my discovery though while I dipped inside a cafe to my immediate left in the picture. Their chalkboard menu standing in the alley headlined "Full English Breakfast". How could I say no?

I ordered from the counter and two girls relayed my order down to the underground chefs. On the main level was a small grill, pastries, and a beverage stand behind their counter. The rest was all open seating on at the tables. Here is the table next to mine:

Sitting with my pot of tea waiting for breakfast to surface, I paid notice to the two girls running the store. The customer service was prompt and with a smile, and not atypical of other cafes I'd visited. Once everyone had their orders, the girls would change coffee filters or sprits the pastry cabinet. Sure they gossiped about English things, but they kept an eye on the customers and work too. It was midmorning on a Friday, so most of the other company was business huddles on the manager. On short break, some suits would swing in and order something small, while some set their order into motion before running back outside and down the street. In ten minutes or so they would reenter just as the preparations were finished. These had breakfast down to a science.

As did the cook. This was by far the best English Breakfast I had had during the whole trip. At first it was a novelty, but now, being a connoisseur, I could recognize a solid breakfast. It was recognized and devoured, as I sat idle and ate while others ate and ran. Savoring both ham and undisclosed Tate, I bubbled with excitement.

Finally, under tremendous pressure, I meandered down the street to claim my Tate Modern. Outside was a grassy patch that did not appear very modern at all:

Neither did the lion heads that fed the pool:

A statue of two lovers in arms stood overlooking the area, which can be spotted above the grassy patch above. Closer, they were in arms:

Turning towards the mammoth building I discovered the Tate had fled the premises, and it its shell now lay St. Paul's Cathedral, the Baroque church dedicated in the late 1600's. This was the fourth church christened St. Paul's to rest on this lot: the first of which dates back to 604AD. However, no one had proof that the Tate Modern did not occupy this space before then. My nose was not deceived...there was modern art here once long, long ago.

So I made the most of my visit and circled the church, having apparently discovered the rear. A rose garden guaranteed that the back of the church stay as fresh and formidable:

A large fountain overlooked the corner. The figure atop brandished a gold ornament, which I forgot to capture. Instead, here the foreground fountain lies just out of the cathedral's shade:

Facing the side of the church was another building that housed administrative offices and the rectory. Remembering that good ironwork pops up in common spaces, here one of the entrances:

Following the outline of the church, I climb the front stairs to look out over the circus. Here's where I stepped:

And here is what I viewed:

A closer look to the left lower where a separate statue lay:

The front of the statue:

I went into the cathedral but there wasn't much to do for free. As a place of worship, no cameras were permitted. As a place of tourism, 9 was required. I saved my money and proceeded on my adventure for the Tate.

This man's charge in life was to build house of God out of sand, ironically in the form of St. Paul's Cathedral just one block away. The cathedral had long banished little sand people from its doors. In the late 1800's the church deemed them dirty, little, and imaginary. This man fought for years to provide such people a place of sanctuary.

Apparently he found a loophole in zoning laws facilitating the raising of a sand church less than seven feet tall in the middle of a public plaza. Good for him I say.

English law on land regulation is quite bizarre. In the same plaza, the following houses littered the space:

Each stood almost three feet tall and lacked most amenities such as water, central heating, and a door. The dual chimneys however gave the crowded community an aesthetic charm otherwise lost in the scrawled outer fixtures.

Coincidentally, this is a good time to bring up an English matter that disturbed me throughout the trip. A number of these wooden chateaus were not yet leased. Likewise, many empty buildings, offices, rooms, and apartments were advertised vacant waiting for occupants. In the US, we would call such areas "Space for Lease". In London, signs echoed "To Let" rather than "for Lease". Here is a window in the same plaza following Splinterville pictured above:

This makes perfect sense. There nothing wrong with neither the sign nor the phrase in general when considered alone. However, understand that the English word for restroom or bathroom is referred directly as a toilet. There are men's toilets and women's toilets. There are private toilets and luxury toilets and public toilets. At the outskirt of the plaza was this public toilet on the corner of the intersection:

Now, mind the gap back in the retail lease sign and notice that with that particular font and typographic setting, one can easily and haphazardly induce an i into the gap, thus converting a "to let" sign into a "toilet" sign. I can't count how many times I confused lease ads for restroom signs. Was this the lowest standard of retail space, or was this the best bathroom in town? Were there toilets to let? With a different font, or perhaps properly cased words, I may not have been quite as confused on first glance.

On the other side of the toilet matter I stumbled one block away onto a line of children sitting on the sidewalk:

I was at first both annoyed and excited to discover a parade that blocked my path from a direction I well figured to house the Tate. For a Friday morning free of holiday, I wouldn't expect much else than truant children to hold spectacle for such folly, but these kids were quite orderly for being rebels, particularly with police in the parade. I followed the children a block upstream to this:

The Pass the Parcel Parade! The inflated float blasted music as local news crews lined the road and children waved home. A bunch of shop owners stepped outside smiling with crossed arms. One said that this was an effort to break the world record for the biggest pass the parcel game. Supposedly, there were some 2500 kids lining the streets. This parade followed the parcel that was passed in a game similar to hot potato. The exception here being when the music stopped, the person with the parcel had to open as much of it as they could before the music started. Now, this parcel is crafted such that it is not easy tear into and has many layers. Tons of kids sat on the sidewalk curbs waiting for the parade to come around and them to pass the partially destroyed gift to their neighbor. The parade was just getting into position when I ran into it as the parcel was not yet set into motion.

I put the Tate on hold for a bit watch the kids. Most were chatting away in small groups:

While others sat spaced according to seated children zoning laws, busy in their bags of tasks:

By now you've noticed that they are uniformed children. That's as much as I was able to gather: whether they were public schools with dress codes or local private collections was beyond me. One all girl school though was the most bizarre of all. For any number of reasons, each girl was given a copy of today's newspaper. These two pictures are by far my favorite of the whole trip:

But oh how fast those papers were dropped when the music caught up to them:

Passers by tried to navigate the sidewalks litters with kiddies:

At this point my options were to cross the parade to where I surely figured the Tate would lay, or follow the line of children to the Tate. It would be much more appropriate that the line of children end somehow, hoping the game isn't in fact a circle of players, at the footsteps of the Tate.

On my way I passed a Bank of Scotland:

And a courtyard of something:

Some building had flowers in on every window sill:

Meanwhile, the kids were getting crazier. Crazy hats:

Finally I found the front of the line, where the game was about to start. Some celebrity sprinted up the street with the parcel in hand:

Apparently Scooby-Doo was trying to cash in on the spontaneous publicity to promote his new movie and plush toys:

Silly Scooby, parcels are for kids.

Sadly, the building behind them was not the Tate Modern. I continued on my way, heading towards a shopping arcade. What arcade would be complete without Fuzzy's Grub just two blocks shy?

Down a bit further was a true architectural highlight of the day: the London Metal Exchange. Two shots of the building as I drew closer:

And that of the front door:

Behind these doors some of Britain's finest metal is traded. That day Judas Priest was going for two Iron Maidens. Foreign metal, Metallica in particular, were rather weak in recent times as they've just lost their luster. It was an interesting day in musical finance.

Across from the exchange was a good view of the London suppository. I don't know what this is or for, but everyone referred to the landmark as the "suppositree":

All of this fun though wasn't getting me any closer to the Tate Modern. I backtracked a bit when I realized I was nearing the Tower of London. This bound I knew to be too far, so I headed instead riverside where I ran into the Monument:

The Monument was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, the same architect who designed St. Paul's Cathedral. It was built in the 1670s to commemorate the great fire of London that torched some 13,000 houses over three days. The lower portion pictured depicts some religious scene of a martyr, but a tall column juts from its center 202 feet tall altogether. At the top is a balcony that overlooks much of the city, I found out later looking at the full size picture. The entrance was on the other side of the mural and I didn't notice. Supposedly the view is worth the climb in stairs.

The Monument rests against the northern side of London Bridge, which I crossed to take its picture. Here is THE London Bridge:

Yes, I was disappointed too. I gather the original London Bridge had fallen down, my fair lady, so they built a much more stable variety. Unfortunately, it is nothing visually compared to the other bridges.

Now planted on the south bank of the Thames, I figured the Tate had to be nearby. I crossed a church to follow a sidewalk against the river, but marveled at how many people were just hanging out on the church property. By now it was nearly lunchtime:

To the left of that picture was some grass, emphasizing "some", that was completely covered with business people, teenagers, elderly, small dogs, etc. It looked as though it was the closest park-like space for miles on the south bank, and Londoners needed to quench their thirst for sod.

Just around the right corner from this church was a pirate ship:

...which was enlisting pirates:

Before following down the river sidewalk though, I smelled food. This wasn't just one food: this was foods. I followed my nose to this:

This was no meager open air market. These vendors meant business and business they brought. This area was known as the Buroughs, and the Burough Market Traders occupied space under a road bridge:

Now, having been to farmers markets and miscellaneous open stands of wares, I am no stranger to mounds of good food. However, I became more excited with each booth I found. I hopped from one to another, first taking pictures and then discreetly drooling. The tomatoes I could care less for:

The breads smelled amazing:

The jams and preservatives only made things worse:

Of course, all of this was nothing compared to homemade meat pies. Search the web for pieminister and good things will follow. I wished that moment for a mobile oven of my own:

This place was such a haven that I longed to be a part of it. I dreamt of opening my own potato company right there on the grounds, naming it Lee brothers in quiet irony being the only Lee in my family not to have a brother. This dream, however, was not ahead of its time, but rather 130 years too late:

The market even continued out onto the street on the other side. Here is a view of daylight I finally saw:

...and my personal favorite for best juicer of the day:

Mmmlamb. Make sure to note the lamb hearts for sale, as I believe they play a role later in the evening.

In a whirl of such jubilee my heart swelled at the prospect of wholesome foods and spirited vendors. It was in this moment that sudden began to bleed profusely all over myself. Remember the great bloody nose St. James? That was a scratch compared to this. I question the dry air of the south bank, but regardless I had to get as far away from the food as possible as blood began to run down my arm. I managed to get away from the food, but couldn't find a quiet, secluded anything away from people for me to get a grip. Instead, I wandered street after street trying to either find solitude or run out of blood, and neither was happening quickly. Finally, I ran into a constable, who led me two blocks farther to a hospital.

I assured him that I was ok as I stepped through the door. I snuck past the front desk clerk and headed straight for a private bathroom, where I promptly locked the door behind me. I bled into the sink while cleaning up my face and hands, and then wiping down the sink and door handle. Apparently I had not gone unnoticed, and someone knocked at the door. I explained that I just had a bloody nose, and needed to clean up. She offered me some gauss to help clog the bleeding, but by then things had slowly to a mild eruption. Another few minutes and I was right as rain. I managed to squeak out again before the nurse returned because it was already well after 1pm and I had to cross the city again for Russell Square. I walked out the hospital, and thought quickly to snap where I was:

Technically this was a minor injury. I rounded the full hospital entrance on my way back:

...if I only knew which way was back... I was hurrying down street after street that I couldn't remember which way to go back. I peeked down a few streets but nothing looked familiar. I then remembered that I didn't have to get back: I just needed to get underground. A nice lady pointed me to the nearest station and I tiptoed down the steps so not to disturbed any further bloodshed.

Once at Russell Station I crossed the park towards the British Museum. Today was the last day of Dana's program and they had ended early to have lunch near the museum. When I passed through the gates I found Dana perched on a slab of wall with lawmates abound. I crawled up and caught her up with the morning fun. Here is the view from the slab:

Jeremy and some of her other friends were going to tour the museum then, but Rebecca was going to the Old Globe that evening for her third straight show. Each night they show a different play, and I was a bit bummed having missed Titus Andronicus the night before. Tonight's feature was Coriolanus: a Shakespearian play I didn't recognize. Although you can get seats at the Old Globe, the best and cheapest view is no seat at all, but rather standing square in front of the stage. For 5 apiece, it was an obvious choice. We headed back to Dana's dorm to find where the Old Globe was.

We found the Old Globe. It was another few hundred feet upstream from the pirate ship. I would have ran into it had I not burrowed into the Burroughs. Tickets had to be bought at the theater, so we took the same trains down I took up. We stopped for some gelato before purchasing our tickets. This area featured a number of signs pointing to different cultural targets. There it was, right next to Shakespeare's Old Globe was the Tate Modern. Here is the overhead map view from the Old Globe's website:

So to be fair, although I didn't actually make it to the Tate Modern, I came pretty damn close, and might have indeed made it had I not made a hospital run instead. This was a worthy adventure.

While Dana and I headed back to her dorm to plan food for the evening and find me some orange juice and Oreos, I had to show her the Burroughs. Dana was happy. She bought some jellies from the booth above by coincidence. I found a color variety of nuts:

Now, Dana likes Ethiopian food. This is no secret. We made it back to her dorm room and searched online for restaurants near the Old Globe, but ultimately the search narrowed to find Ethiopian restaurants in London. We had already been to one not far away, and there was another one right next to it, but it was an area we had already done, so we tried to find others. Finally, we decided on one that seemed reasonably close to the Old Globe. It was in Vauxhall. We had already spent some time relaxing in her dorm, so we hurried down to the station and boarded the Victoria line.

After we got to the station, waited for a train, and surface in Vauxhall, we had lost 30 minutes. Remembering the direction from the station to the restaurant, we had another 15 minute walk ahead of us. Unfortunately, it was already after 6pm and the doors of the Old Globe opened at 7:30. With a heavy sign and a glare of defeat, we realized we didn't have enough time to make it to the restaurant, enjoy a meal, and still get back in time to the theater. Some of Dana's lawmates had planned a dinner at Wagamama's, a noodle restaurant near the Old Globe, so we headed over to the theater again, now for dinner. Not exactly our proudest moment in logistics.

Wagamama though proved to be quite an experience. Technically, they are a noodle bar. Most all of the noodle dishes showcased particular Asian noodles in spices. I had a teppan fried-noodle dish called Yaki Udon. The noodles were huge, and very, very good. Ignoring from the fact that we were pressed for time, I probably would have inhaled the food anyways because it was so good. I was pleased to note that they have two cookbooks available of noodle recipes. We had joined Dana's lawmates mid-meal, but with the show starting we had to say our final goodbyes because some were leaving the following day for other places in Europe.

Soon after they opened the doors we joined the masses near the stage. There were some very strict rules and some very large women to enforce them. Firstly, there was no leaning, sitting, or squatting during the performance. These were standing room tickets and we had to fulfill our part of the deal. If someone was caught sitting or leaning against the stage or the cascading planks that lead up to it, they would be tarred and feathered on the spot. The next rule was no photography while they show was on. Until then, however, I was able to take some shots of the theater from groundling space while daylight still filtered through the open roof.

And then I remembered that I was there, and had to prove it!

Before the play began, a band played some folk music in the back of the standing space. As the music quelled under applause, the play began with the vagrants and citizens of the chorus prodding their way through the standing crowd. A few would climb up on the stage, but most played their parts right alongside the audience. They talked among themselves, pardoned their path before brushing people aside, and schemed away until Coriolanus, played by a beastly Jonathan Cake, came flying out from backstage to drive them off. It took a few scenes to get comfortable with the Shakespearian English, but the acting definitely drove the play. The fights were gory and vicious. Actors were slammed down the edge of the stage, punched and kicked the long platform leading up to the stage, and often spilled down into the standing room as well. People had to move quickly to get out of the way. For being a reconstructed theater (the work of an Ohio actor since the original burned down when a prop cannon caught fire), the experience felt as genuine as possible. By intermission, my body ached from standing but my eyes were still wide with excitement. Coriolanus had an awesome battle cry that invited all sorts of imitations during the break.

It was during this break that Dana clued us in why one character in particular looked so familiar. Joseph Marcell, the butler from The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air, played the lead general under Coriolanus. Dana was very proud of this, and we all exclaimed "Jeffrey!" He now had white hair, perhaps by costume, but still was the Geoffrey we all know and love.

The second half began and drama ensued. The play is a tragedy, and Coriolanus dies at the end betrayed by his enemy and minions. As he stands at the edge of the stage, two men stab him with knives. Shocked, he falls into the crowd where, at the last second, a couple stagehands reach up to ease him down onto the floor. The audience backed into a circle around him as the villain dove in, rustled about, and then whipped his arm into the air to cradle Coriolanus's heart. Blood was spewed all over the crowd in the process, and I have to admit that the heart looked awfully similar to the lamb's heart at the market just up the road. Still, I clapped until my hands hurt as much as my back did, and meant ever beat of it.

The play then broke into a song and dance number, succeeded by curtain calls.

Over three hours of show finally came to a close, and we contributed to the flowing masses ebbing down the sidewalks. The others took the Tube back to the dorms, while we found a bar still serving drinks after 11pm. Exhausted, we sat on the second story and looked out at the illuminated north bank. It hit both of us that we'd have to leave soon: Dana to Ireland tomorrow and me back stateside a few days later. Barry has said that London is a ten-trip city. It takes ten trips to sufficiently experience the area. Unfortunately this means leaving unsatisfied nine times. Neither of us wanted to leave, and reluctantly we left the river for sleep.