neither here nor there: day 5

At last we make it to the British Museum. Thursday got off to a great start. We slept in a bit, skipping out on the English breakfast (free is great and all, but I can only eat so much eggs and bacon), making it to the Museum shortly after it opened.

We admired the Great Court for a bit as we enjoyed scones in the café before getting to work in the Parthenon galleries.

We spent a long time in the two side galleries immediately before the Duveen gallery. In the gallery to the right as you walk in, there's a maquette of the Parthenon as it would have looked completed in 438 or so B.C.

...which was shortly thereafter completely surrounded by a school group.

Also in that gallery are plaster casts of some of the marbles. One of the wall labels reads: "The sculptures themselves are now less complete than the casts, which are therefore an important record of the condition of the sculpture before it was damaged by two centuries of exposure to the elements."

Most of the stuff in that gallery is plaster cast or replica, but there are a couple of instances where old and authentic meets new and artificial.

There's another maquette in the opposite gallery, to the left as you enter through the glass doors, but this one has the Parthenon in situ, on top of the Acropolis.

This one is different from the maquette in the MFA in that it depicts the Parthenon and surrounding buildings as they looked before centuries of invasions, revisions, explosions, removal of select sculptures, etc. And it's on the wall, offering you a bird's eye view of the city on a hill without craning your neck or bending on tip toes over a glass case.

There are a few more fragments in this gallery but the lighting is generally pretty dim to accommodate for a video on the opposite wall so most of the pictures I took were hopelessly blurry (I'm not a big fan of flash).

In the Duveen gallery, I went a little crazy with taking photos. I took pictures of the general view, taking it all in:

of other people taking a look (or taking a rest, as it were):

of the floor:

of the backs of things:

and other details:

Walking through the Parthenon galleries, I kept having these flashes of scenes from the 1982 animated film The Last Unicorn, based on Peter S. Beagle's book of the same title.

Particularly strong was the Midnight Carnival scene, where the witch Mommy Fortuna, who can see the magical creature for what she really is, nevertheless casts a spell on her, as she has on numerous other animals, to make people see a unicorn instead of a mare. Her authenticity shouldn't be discernible to the visitors, but as they walk around, something changes when they get to her cage, like they know something's different about her, even though the illusion is no different than the other creatures. There's something really sad about that whole movie (I get a lump in my throat still, just reading the synopsis on Wikipedia). Oh, to be 5 again.

But anyway, I digress. There's other famous stuff in the British Museum, like the Rosetta Stone.

You can just barely see the Parthenon galleries through the glass that surrounds the stone. There's also a replica of it just across the Great Court, in the Enlightenment Gallery, out in the open and on a tilt, as it was originally displayed. I noticed several people looking very confused by the replica's unceremonious display. "This can't possibly be the real thing."

At that point we decided, since the Museum was open late that night, to take a break for lunch and a visit to nearby Sir John Soane's Museum. After lunch we decided to head back to Bloomsbury Square for yet another 99 Flake. The day was going so well. I had thoroughly enjoyed the British Museum and was excited to head to Athens the next day, and we even had time for ice cream in the park before heading to the second museum of the day. I took a picture of the pigeons, having a scavenging "bath" in the trashbin.

At that point I checked my guidebook for something and when I went to put it back in my bag I noticed my passport was missing. I immediately freaked out. I dumped everything out of my bag, checked under the bench, raced over to where the ice cream truck had been. Nothing. I think I cried a little. When I couldn't be 100% sure I'd even put it in my bag that morning, Neal bet me ten pounds that it was still in the hotel room (come to think of it, he never paid up...although I did find a ten pound note on the ground our last night in London...).

I was convinced I lost it because I was pretty sure I would've noticed it missing earlier in the day had I left it in the hotel, but just to be sure, after we retraced our steps through the Holborn, Bloomsbury, and Fitzrovia neighborhoods, I went back to the hotel while Neal checked the park again. No luck on either end. "Oh, little blue rectangle, where are you?"

With no phone in our B&B room, I had to use the phone in the lobby and as I was trying to make sense of the embassy's mind-boggling menus the attendant on duty kept interrupting me, trying, I'm sure, to be helpful. Eventually, I gave up on the phone and we decided to go in person, trying desperately to get there before 5, not even sure of the hours. Not surprisingly, we were too late, but the guard was incredibly helpful (and optimistic, which helped), explaining that we should come back prepared first thing the next morning. Hopefully we'd have time to get a temporary replacement with enough time to make our 2 p.m. flight to Athens.

After getting passport photos from a vending machine in Boots (which I later learned were not valid for U.S. standards) we headed back to the area where I thought I lost it, placing a lost items report at the Holborn police station. There was nothing else we could do so we tried to make the most of the evening. The Sir John Soane's Museum was closed by then, so we spent another hour or so back at the British Museum.

When we returned to the hotel the man who'd previously been so helpful (or at least had tried to be) was suddenly quite negative. If we weren't scheduled to check out the next morning by 11, it wouldn't have been an issue, but as we explained the latest to him and requested to store our bags just in case by some miracle we got out of the embassy in time to retrieve them, check out, and make our flight, he guaranteed me that I'd be at the embassy all day. Fortunately for us, they had availability that next night, but we'd be on our own if we needed any more time than that.

The thing is, I understand where he was coming from, only wanting to warn me that it wasn't exactly realistic to expect to resolve the problem quickly enough to move on with our itinerary, as planned, but it would have been equally foolish to give up and, defeated, give in to London for another night. If we hadn't packed our bags that night and planned for the worst and best case scenarios, I wouldn't have made my flight to Athens via Frankfurt the next afternoon, where, during the four-hour layover, I finally caught up on my journal.


the oakland samps said...

I love your Last Unicorn analogy. I recently rewatched this movie as an adult. The singing was hard to take, but otherwise it stands the test of time. This movie and the Dark Crystal were two of the most haunting movies I saw as a child.

Becky G. said...

It's funny because the songs are what make me so sad. Which doesn't mean they're any good, but for some reason, to me at least, really emotional. I just have such vivid memories of watching that movie over and over again as a child.

So Neal was a bit confused, not so much by my analogy, but by the need for Mommy Fortuna to cast a spell on a real unicorn. If you're familiar with the film, you probably won't have any problems with this, but if you haven't seem the movie a million times, for whatever reason (something, I think, about people seeing what they want and/or expect to see) normal people don't see a unicorn when they look at her; they just see a horse. Mommy Fortuna, witch that she is, of course can tell the difference, but casts a spell on her anyway to make sure the common folks see a magical creature. Even so, they sense something different about her. Music plays. People cry. Etc.

At any rate, whether or not you took to this film adaptation, it's a pretty amazing story and there are rumors about another film project in the works, which would be awesome.