Tag Archives: London

Southwark Cathedral Contradictions

I can’t quite grasp the relationship between the glorious monsters on the outside and the glorious light and space and soaring of the inside

And I still cannot quite comprehend how stone can take this character of massive weightlessness, how anything so heavy and solid can delicately soar and continually unfold into mystery

This narrow Norman arch has stood here here supporting the roof for 800 years. Of course, it was once a wood roof, probably very similar to that of Westminster Hall  with its capitals of strange creatures and frightening angels…perhaps resolving some of the contradictions, but raising others. I want to know their stories, but fear them to be long gone. And while I love stumbling across the green man, I do not buy much of the crap written about him. So it is all wonder and mystery, this combination of such immense human skill, love, and imagination

Southwark Cathedral stands at the lowest point of the Thames, the old ford and today’s Tower Bridge, for long the only entrance to the City of London. You can see the remains of the Roman road alongside the cathedral, along with a statue of an ancient hunter god. There has been a church here since at least 606 AD…

[And the priests and staff inside are incredibly friendly and informative without being overwhelmingly so. And the incredible Burough Market is immediately next door.]

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The Monsters of Southwark Cathedral

They crouch beneath the eaves, bright proud glances and power full grown

Southwark Cathedral

They claw their way out through cracks in the flint and the stone of the walls. Emerge slowly, heavy lidded and weary as from a womb, their taloned limbs still to grow into the promise of their massive heads.

Southwark Cathedral

They mourn their sunlit exile from the river’s dark waters, their reduction to mere channels and spouts and perches for pigeons

Southwark Cathedral

And there is madness, tucked into cornered arrays of angles and planes and nothing means anything but the torrent of water that rushes through its vessel paying no mind to the vacant staring eyes

Southwark Cathedral

Endlessly, violently relieved of the weight of memory and ages by the mighty rushing of waters, relieved even of the precise crags of their own face.

The pigeons remain unafraid.

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A meditation on bridges

Bridges.I love them.

I heard a fascinating lecture by David Gilbert (London Holloway University of London) the other day, on London’s Hungerford Bridge. Also known as the Charing Cross bridge…it was a look at the symbolic significance of the prosaic, not the splashy and fanciful architectural feat. In fact, Hungerford was long considered the eyesore of London, there’s an amazing little illustration from Punch magazine showing a devil staring at the bridge titled ‘The Spirit of Ugliness’. The name of the talk in fact, but I don’t want to steal the thunder. Here is an image of it as it is today, the prosaic and ugly metal railway bridge now hidden by the pedestrian walkways:

It is beautiful. And even its ugliness was painted many times, its metal disappearing into the mist of the Thames…

What I loved most about the lecture was how it made me think. Bridges are fundamental elements to the city, but often unsung (with the exception of those towering examples of technical steel and beauty, or history). They are spaces of connections, flows, and movement, as opposed to walls which contain. They are a kind of unique public space, a meeting place of difference, they have constantly changing rhythms depending on the time of day, and they open up vistas of the city in ways nothing else does. And I’ve always loved bridges, so I went to my flickr page to pull photos and meditate on this love.

Apparently I primarily love what is found under bridges. How extraordinary.

Perhaps it’s the years in LA where bridges are somehow none of these things, but have been distorted and twisted into something entirely different. Here many of them are built so that you can never cross them on foot. It is true that you can cross one or two of the bridges that span the river, but that is the division between East and West, one of the hardest LA divisions to step across in every sense. For most bridges, their function is to move as many cars as possible as quickly as possible through a landscape controlled and despised by its occupants.

Here poverty and resistance send people under the bridges. Into spaces that fill you with rage at what can be done to a city, spaces that give you that undeniably pleasant feeling of mixed tragedy, beauty and danger, that thrill of the photographer that I always try to keep a close watch on…

These bridges built over the pulverized skeletons of a destroyed community, and supporting freeways that divide L.A. into its terrifying sections of racial segregation and despair, it is underneath them that new communities grow, communities that break your heart

And the beauty?

Where everyday resistance has taken them back, reclaimed them, like Chicano Park in San Diego

And this

And so even when I lived in Glasgow I seemed to keep my eyes down, though the view was untouched by pain

Maybe I shall think about trying to photograph what is on top of bridges, and what can be seen looking outwards…without ceasing to spend time underneath.

Bruno Schulz & Literary Pub Gossip

Reading The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz, also known as Cinnamon Shops. It moves easily between one title and the other in my mind, whatever my book cover might say. Moves easily between putrid terror and the warmth and fragrance of home. And I rode the tube furious that anyone who could fling my heart up and down and side to side with his glorious words, should write of a mad girl ‘s libidinous passion and hideous unnatural fertility, of an aunt of

almost self propagating fertility, a femininity without rein, morbidly expansive.

it’s not the fury of blame, just the impotent tragedy of this ancient war of sexes that I cannot find myself in. You see, I can fling words too. And all men must surely cower before me, as Schulz illustrates over and over again.

As a woman I find horror in this. And irony. One Gestapo agent spared Schulz’s life because he liked his pictures…it was another Nazi who shot him dead in the street.

It is a used book I found in Kensington on Saturday, and between two of the pages I found a small pressed flower, translucent, ancient, fragile. Beautiful. I love finding such things. And I love entire pages of this book, the lyrical madness of it. The way its edges don’t quite fit though the center holds. Mervyn Peake must also have loved him, the father crouched on the pelmet (impossible!), flapping his wings sends me reeling Gormenghast way…

And I went to write in the Seven Stars, one of my favourite pubs, small, mostly silent, I sat in a hard wooden chair by the fake coal fire, stared at the Inns of Court. Wrote reams. But is it true as one pub stalwart claimed, that Dylan Thomas made an international reputation at the expense of the local people? Must I hold it against him that he did not actually speak Welsh? And it’s Burns night…must I despise Burns and Chaucer for working for Her Majesty’s Inland Revenue Service? Ruining peoples’ lives? I am undecided. My brother texted me “Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous beastie,” in honor, but I prefer this.

Let every kind, their pleasure find
The savage, and the tender
Some social join, for some leagues combine
Some solitary wander.
–Robbie Burns

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Legally Underground

I love being underground, I love dark, close places. And dark massive airy places of course. And while London is undergirded by miles of tunnels, bunkers, culverts, sewers, abandoned underground stations and etc, can you legally get into any of them?

No. But Graham and I did our best.

We started in the Cafe in the Crypt, St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields. A copy of American Colonial architecture, which is really just a variation on a copy of traditional English architecture…and they sell decent coffee and quite delicious currant buns in a warm, dry, well-lit brick vault that a self-respecting ghost would never be caught…in.

They have an art exhibit on now, Cartooning and Conflict, international takes on the situation in Palestine/Israel. Some of them were good, some of them ridiculously simplistic. Of course.

So coffeed and fed, we started on the quest for the (now underground) Tyburn river. On foot. And wandered past St. James Palace just as a marching band was scheduled to appear (!), line up in front of the palace, play, salute, and head out again. It made no sense at all, but the tourists did like it.

I just love the incredible feeling of being fortuitously in exactly the right place at the right time…even if it’s only to see a marching band. We passed Truefitt & Hill, London’s oldest barber shop established in 1805. They say that:

Men deserve the best in everything they do. If you are looking for the finest in men’s grooming, we are confident you will find Truefitt & Hill’s unmatched product quality and prestigious tradition extremely compelling.

And looking in their window I believe them, almost makes me wish I were one

And so we wandered on. And in another blinding moment of fortuitosity, I mentioned we were looking for Davies Street and Graham realized we were on Davies Street, and so a moment of awed silence for such mad luck…

On Davies Street you can find Gray’s Antique Market, full of beautiful and very old things. But you actually want to turn the corner, head down the back for Gray’s Mews, because you head down into the basement there and you will find a section of the (famous) Tyburn River. Actually, I don’t think the river is famous, but the spot where they used to hang people certainly was. The river runs in culverts below London, until it arrives here, where it is neatly channeled and full of gold fish.

We couldn’t quite work out the mechanics of it, both of us thinking that the Tyburn river should be larger, dirtier, primeval. Possibly behind thick glass, certainly not staid and well-lit and mechanically aerated. But it was quite extraordinary all the same. And Gray’s Mews? Beautiful. You can see at the bottom the fabulous vintage clothing and jewelry store…quality gorgeousness, Chanel and proper furs and etc etc, long cigarette holders, old compacts that I could have conceivably afforded…it is the kind of place that is most dangerous, in that it has beautiful old things at the top of my price range (but still within it. Hence the danger.). Many other stores were shut up, sadly, like the shop below with the pair of dragon-bearing elephants that I truly desired:

It was a day of desire really, walking back down Bond Street we passed this store full of silver, and all of it beautiful

We were filled with a sense of satisfaction, of vague melancholy, of…thirst. So we stopped at the Iron Duke for a pint, a most satisfactory pub with a very interesting wall covering and scrumpy jack on tap:

From there we wound our way back down to a pub previously-spotted and tagged for a return. But once more on St. James we decided to wander into the cigar store, James J. Fox & Robert Lewis. And discovered that not only can you smoke a cigar inside (lit for you by use of a small, insanely impressive blow torch), but there is also a museum. In the basement! Underground once again, and happy because look at this:


And I discovered that, like Winston Churchill,

I am a [wo]man of simple tastes, easily satisfied with the best.

The Queen Mother had her account here as well…I like to think of her kicking back and smoking a fine cigar or two. This place is packed with phenomenal things, an old register you can flip through, Oscar Wilde’s account, fur covered cigar cases, Cigars that are two, maybe three feet long, a tin of “Potter’s Asthma Smoking Tobacco”, this letter to the company from Churchill once again:

Dear Sirs,

Confirming our telephone conversation, Sir Winston Churchill would be much obliged if you would send a box of 25 cigars of good quality, but not quite as good as the Romeo and Juliet, and of medium size, to his grandson for his birthday on October 10…

Highly recommended. Though we couldn’t afford cigars at the time. But we will be back, the humidor at the end of the room was extremely impressive. And I have never seen anything like this:

But I tore myself away.

So we found our way to the Red Lion, a small pub and the second oldest license in the West End. The oldest license? No one could say. That’s a quest for another day. But a good mix of people, Graham believes that many were masons, I accept their cover story of a funeral. The lad with the red trousers? Well, there’s no excuse for that sort of thing of course. And there were china plates lining the piece of wall between the wood paneling and the ceiling, I loved that. We had laid down the one pint per pub rule, this being an exploratory excursion, so we headed out. We passed the Golden Lion. Sadly closed. And then we found a second Red Lion. A slightly larger pub, with beveled and engraved mirrors

And as buns weren’t quite enough to support this kind of effort and quantity of drink we went in search of food. I hadn’t prepared an underground location for this, so we ended up with pizza. Probably the most delicious pizza I have ever eaten but we all know that’s because I was drunk. Drunk on the magic of London at night

From Soho we headed to embankment and a martini at the Buddha Bar. That was planned, the Buddha Bar is in the old tram tunnel you see, though of course you’d never know. We weren’t dressed for that kind of poshness of course, so most of the waitresses were rather dismissive and politely rude. Our waiter was awesome though, redeemed the whole place for me beyond any doubt.

And then still not quite ready to go home, we made a last stop, sort of underground once again, in the Coal Hole, “famous for coal-heavers and cartoonists”. Great little pub too, according to the menu (always a supreme source of local history), it was one of the last informal clubs of the Victorian era. Gillray and Rowlandson used to haunt this place! And I dearly hope they still do…Gilbert and Sullivan used to show up from time to time as well, but I’m not so fussed about them.

What a day, what a city, what a cousin. Joy.

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Art, gods and stone

Creation awes me, the act of it. And what we have the capacity to create. And both the time span and scope of humankind’s run on earth. I love how things are so much the same and yet so very different…we all love, but the ideal of love is different. We all fear, but the form of our fears is different. We all speak, but language is so different, and I wonder how much we are shaped by these things, how much of them we shape, how the shaping happens.

I went to the British Museum the last day in London, I’ve been there before but every time I go I see new things that I fall in love with, that remain in my memory. And this visit I found several panels like this, that I know I have seen before but never loved

Figures drawn from stone, once alive, and now disappearing. And they linger as they go, they would have been already gone if they had not been stolen. And to me their true beauty lies in this return, this state halfway between sculpture and stone…they remind me of Michelangelo’s slaves escaping from the marble, unfinished. But the slaves are an emergence and these represent a death and I find both hauntingly beautiful. And they fascinate me with the confusion between rock and flesh.

The British Museum is overwhelming of course, after a short time the mind stops taking in things really, overburdened with beauty in glass cases. There was also a stunning display of American prints and etchings from Hopper to Pollock…I love black and white drawings and etchings as well and their collection is fantastic. Go see it if you can.

The other things that stood out this trip? Hawks. I love them in their beauty and purity and unconscious cruelty, they are ultimate predators and represent freedom in a way that few other animals can…and I found this

from ancient Egypt, and this:

from ancient assyria, and this

er…from China perhaps? China I think, or possibly Tibet. And each haunting in its own way, showing something deep rooted to be found across such space and time, something profound. I’ve been trying to write it but my words erase its profundity so I shall just leave it for the now.

Still, I have never been to the British museum when the sun was shining, and that itself was beautiful, the architecture is cold and neo-classical, but the light made it beautiful.

London Days

London, it is such an incredible city, never feels like my city or anything like home. I feel like a stranger many places I suppose but somehow London especially, which is funny since I have spent more time here than many places. Still, it’s been a good trip. Met up with China Mieville and the next day with Stuart Christie. Went to a little event at Hausman’s and drank white wine and talked about Baudrillard and Rimbaud, Schopenhauer and Hegel and Marx and Cass Pennant, talked about bringing order to chaos and 80’s metal bands…I laughed and had my ideas sparked into little flames and learned a few things and made friends I shall probably never see again. Still, I like the fact that I know a few more people at large in the world who I would greatly love to run into again, and just might if I ever happen to be at Spitalfields on a Thursday, or at the right library. It was a brilliant and choice way to spend an evening.

The next day met up with my cousin Graham at Waterloo, both of us a bit rough and rather in favour of a nice laid back Sunday afternoon, so we strolled along the Thames and chatted about all sorts of things and I laughed the way few can make me laugh over such beautifully nonsensical things as the idea of bringing ruffs back into fashion, just think of Percy from Black Adder and you’ll know why this is such a brilliant idea…but if skinny jeans can make a come back, I don’t see why ruffs cannot, they are far cooler than cravats.

We passed this art installation, which I quite liked…it was clearly quite effective at bringing people together and making them play. And talk to each other.

 

 

And we had pints sitting alongside the river. And it rained. So we opened up our umbrellas and continued with the pints and the day was very good.