Sunday, July 12, 2009

Rainy Days in London...

When I left Berlin last Thursday, it was 6am, cold and breezy. The weather was also a premonition of what I'd be facing in London. The last few weeks before departing for Europe, I'd been reading that it was already very hot in London. It's been very much the opposite. Yesterday was the worst in terms on rainfall. No thunderstorms but an off and on persistent drizzle.

Back to the start. At Schonefeld Airport, I discovered Stephanie RocĂ­o Miles of Harvard was on my Ryanair flight. It appears we're the only 2 salalmistas to arrive in London post-conference. We took the bus into the city and parted ways for our respective hotels at the Liverpool St. Station.

I'm staying at the Thanet Hotel in Bloomsbury and my single room is every bit as small as I expected it to be. The tiny room in Hotel San Antonio Abad in Lima was palatial compared to this. On the other hand, it's July, and even though this area is full of hotels I expect they're all booked and anything larger would bust my travel budget. In the meantime I have managed to make myself comfortable. It's a nice old building, the staff are very friendly, and the buffet breakfast is generous. I haven't needed the fan yet what with the drop in temperature and I haven't needed the extra blanket they placed in my wardrobe. The immediate area is full of restaurants, the bus stop on my street goes to Oxford Street (the British Museum is on the way), and the Russell Square underground station is 5 minutes in the opposite direction.

The hotel is also just down the street from the Institute of Commonwealth Studies. Friday morning I had a good conversation with their librarian about contributing some of their collections into the Digital Library of the Caribbean. What with summer holidays here, it'll take time to work out details but time is on our side. Alas, no news yet about the TICFIA awards.

Once finished there, I found Marchmont Street where I wanted to locate the laundrette mentioned in my hotel guide. I chose not to use the Hotel Maritim's laundry service but did need to make sure I would have fresh underwear for my remaining time. I also discovered the lovely Brunswick shopping arcade set into an apartment complex. More shops and restaurants there so I also stopped for lunch and visited Superdrugs for some needed toiletries. The hotel was closeby so I ran by the room to drop my purchases and then set out for my 2:30 tour of the British Library.

The BL is only a slightly longer walk and I made it with time to browse the gift shop. It wasn't too surprising to find Stephanie in the books section. Librarians can never resist browsing shelves. We then went to the information desk where they produced visitor tags and rung Geoff West. They reported Geoff would be with us shortly but Aquiles Alencar Brayner was on his way down. Stephanie hadn't met Aquiles in SALALM so by the time hands got shaken, Geoff had arrived.

What a place the British Library is! It's huge. There's a large courtyard in the entrance but once you're inside, you see lots of steps, signs, and in the back a huge rising stack of old volumes. This is the Imperial Library founded by George III. The stacks rising in the center of the building hints at the 4 underground floors of stacks of the other collections.

Geoff and Alencar walked us up and down various levels to see the different reading rooms and discuss various configurations the library has seen since the building opened in 1998. There's great emphasis on making it open to the public. Free wi-fi is available in the building. In addition to the restaurants and cafes, there are nice chairs with matching tables for plugging in one's computer to work. The atmosphere reminded me of how our students fill every possible space in the FIU Library to use their laptops.

The library has a special exhibit on Henry VIII and Geoff nicely supplied complimentary tickets for it. Stephanie opted to join me today at Sunday to see it. After tea and lattes with Geoff and Alencar, Stephanie and I also looked at the exhibit of special treasures of the BL. It's great to see manuscripts by Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, Virginia Woolf (there's also an audio panel where you can hear her giving a reading), and a marvelous interactive room devoted to the Magna Carta. I have to confess a modest display on the Beatles really touched me. There are manuscripts of Lennon and McCartney manuscripts. The audio panel for them has familiar songs but I got a real kick out of the Fan Club Christmas Disk sent out in 1963. They all send out Christmas greetings to their fans accompanied by hoots from the others, jingle bells, and creative takes on standard Christmas songs. You can hear the enthusiasm in this part of their career, their appreciation of fans' support and liking for one another. Ringo reminds us he was the newest member who'd just joined the year before. What a time machine!

Saturday I woke up and discovered the weather gods were active. I dumped some of my plans for primarily outdoor activities, and headed on the bus to Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery. That was a nice way to pass an afternoon with a late lunch, and then back to the room to collect laundry and make my way back to the laundrette. Luckily it wasn't crowded and a woman doing her wash provided change when I ran short, and information on how to start the washing machines and driers. I picked up a sandwich for dinner back at the hotel.

This morning started with a hint of sunshine through my window. I made my way back to the British Library and found Stephanie waiting outside the gate for the 11am opening. I enjoyed the exhibit. The documentary artifacts were many, I strapped on the audio guide so I could garner the various facts associated with the exhibit. You get a better sense of the king beyond the usual 6 wives melodramas.

Stephanie and I parted ways and I made my way down to the Victoria and Albert Museum. I'd finally gotten the courage to take the London underground and it's still more confusing than the systems I know well in Atlanta and Washington DC. There was a helpful information desk that got me on the right track. I took in many exhibits at the V&A with fashion, a special exhibit on the Baroque, and many halls of beautiful Asian art works from all regions. Lunch in the V&A was in a beautiful dining room from the period but slightly refurbished with bright shimmering balls suspended from the ceiling for light. Somehow it looked like Studio 54 did some time travel into the Victorian age.

From the V&A I visited that other British institution, Harrod's. Everyone else in London appeared to be there for their summer sales! The food halls were elbow to elbow. My favorite thing to see there was the Krispy Kremes counter. It was very popular! I found some quieter floors for refuge up in books but eventually made my way back on the tube and back to the hotel. Another quiet evening so I'm planning my itinerary for tomorrow. Stay tuned!

No comments:

Post a Comment