Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Unreal City!

Whatever visions remained from my last trip to London circa 1992, they were all eclipsed by my last five days there. Art and artists were the primary themes, as well as the obligatory moments of quiet in which to study my various Polish verb conjugations.

I had been eager to see the National Portrait Gallery ever since my undergraduate days, when I remember being introduced to the dreamily surreal portraits commissioned of Elizabeth I. In addition to the Tudor portraits, I was excited to find a special exhibit, "Searching for Shakespeare," which collected artifacts and supposed portraits from which to reconstruct a picture of the bard's life. I pored over the will for a long time trying to locate the infamous bequest to Anne Hathaway of the "secondbest bed," but in vain, as the 16th Century notary's scrawl was no more decipherable to me than Arabic. One hallway at NPG contained a chronological gauntlet of my literary heroes, Sterne and Swift, Smollett, Richardson, and so on. Then along to the National Gallery. I looked at almost everything, but what moved me most was Hogarth's series Marriage a la Mode, which I had only seen in miniature black and white, a scathing indictment of upper-class loveless marriage for money and the tragedy which necessarily ensues.

That evening, Amanda and I had cocktails and dinner with former MP Tony Benn, one of Britain's most radical statesmen. The premise was to discuss Benn's experiences with Paul Robeson and other towering figures of 20th Century history, from Gandhi and Churchill to Saddam Hussein. But Benn had a knack for turning what might have been an interview around, and genuinely sought to understand our own backgrounds, religious and cultural, as well as how we had come to know each other. He gave the impression that our own lives were as interesting to him as his to us, and though many fellow diners and waitstaff recognized the Right and Honourable, his celebrity seemed to have never disturbed his grounded and sincere character.

The next day, upon returning from the Tate Modern Gallery, replete with my beloved Rothkos, Magrittes, Ernsts, and a showing of Un Chien Andalou, Amanda met me on the way out the door, having just received an invitation to appear on Rachel Fuller's internet broadcast, "In the Attic." While seated in the waiting area, I met Rachel and friends, including her partner, Who guitarist and vocalist Pete Townshend. At one point, Pete sat next to me and we conversed, mainly about our respective interests in writing. Occasionally he would pick up an acoustic guitar and fool around. But "fooling around" for Pete Townshend sounded like what I would have to practice for days to achieve. And I was awestruck that he seemed to be able to compose in real-time as naturally as others breathe.

After returning home late, I would have to wake before 5am to catch my flight to Krakow. As I bid goodbye to British soil, I pondered what might lie in story for me on the continent...


Blogger SuperAmanda said...

Sums it up nicely!!!

6:16 AM, April 08, 2006  
Blogger Suesjoy said...

Thanks for sharing!
Nice to hear that both Mr.Benn and Mr. P are the gracious, humble sort.

3:47 AM, April 17, 2006  
Blogger SuperAmanda said...

Come on come on!
More stuff from Shakedown Street Kenny.

8:38 AM, July 07, 2006  
Blogger Metalchick said...

I saw you on Justine's blog, so I thought I'd drop by.
If you get this, you are welcome to drop by my blog.
That's cool that you got to meet Pete & Rachel.

1:46 AM, July 18, 2006  

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