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mardi gras mileage run trip report part 2 -- the diamonds might be on orange alert but there's still a ton of gold in old londontown

2006-03-05 - 9:27 a.m.

Note: This is part 2 of my Mardi Gras Mileage Run Trip Report. For part one, please click right here.

Thursday, February 23

The included breakfast was sad and sorry, especially compared to the wonderful spreads I enjoyed in January. You could have anything you wanted as long as it was granola or corn flakes.

I dropped by the Internet and tried to Priceline a different hotel, but they couldn't beat what I could get just by walking around. Hell, they weren't even close.

I went by tube to Southwark and followed the orange lamp-posts to the Tate Modern. One day an aspiring Dadaist will get up in the night and paint some of the crucial posts purple, and then we'll have tourists lost in circles for years.

Not only was it free to get in, but there was a free guided tour at 11:00, where a volunteer took us around and talked about some of the highlights, such as the Picassos and the Matisses, and Duchamp's The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass). Then I went back and strolled through on my own. It was a bit scary when I glanced at my watch and realized that it was after 3. I had completely lost track of time.

They're about to close up part of the exhibit and re-hang the fifth floor, so if somebody is reading this report for tourist information, I can't guarantee the same stuff will be on display when you visit. The third floor has already been re-hung, including the Rothko room and the Surrealist room. In one of the rooms, I noticed that the "Pet Shop Boys" were listed as patrons. Don't they have names? Oh well, a nice gesture anyway. You're mostly not allowed to take photographs, so come with sketchpad or diary to record your thrilling observations.


  • I don't think Rothko was correct to say that the paintings couldn't hang in a restaurant, the reason he gave for cancelling his commission and giving them to the Tate. I think they would go perfectly in an upscale, intimate, but womblike and windowless enclosed fine restaurant like many that you find in Vegas. Of course Vegas wasn't upscale in those days. That's long before Peachfront and friends had dined with the Picassos or the Renoirs at casino expense, tee hee.

  • Ishi's Light by Anish Kapoor. This is a disturbing egg that you walk into one by one. Standing back, you can see the upside-down reflection of the other people waiting their turn. As you move closer, they disappear in the mirror. Closer, and then you disappear. Quite disorienting. In fact, I stumbled as I stepped out.

  • Box in a Valise by Marcel Duchamp/Rose Sélavy. Sélavy was Duchamp's female name. I wonder if it's pronounced c'est la vie. In any case, the box was a small kit containing miniature copies of such famous works as Bride, the Mona Lisa with the moustache, Fountain, etcetera. It made me think of an evacuation kit, but of course he was fleeing war, not weather.

  • I don't remember where the old Tate Museum was located, but the new one's in an old power plant. They have special installations in the huge room where the turbine used to be. When I visited, they had Embankment by Rachel Whiteread. We were allowed to photograph that one. In fact, I went up on a higher floor and tried to photograph people wandering around in the installation. Some kids were running and I hoped to get a photo of them blurred out as they ran, but the Art Police came out and told them to knock it off before I could frame the picture.

  • They had a number of videos. I should have written down the name of the film-maker, but they had a pretty Lynchian one about some weirdos in various weird situations, I guess in a cheesy hotel. "We are the perfume of corridor..."

  • We always hear about the shithead, anti-feminist Picasso. Even the guide spoke of his frustrations, at age 80, of being unable to get it on any longer with his mistress and taking it out in a rather unattractive portrait where she has a green face, lopsided boobies, and poor bladder control. But I also visited the room where we were reminded of the anti-war activist Picasso. We all know Guernica but it wasn't just that he was concerned with Spain; one of the paintings on display was a protest of the Korean War.

After I came back to time, I realized that I wasn't real hungry but just a little light-headed. They have a decent restaurant there, so I ordered a glass of organic red wine and a bowl of leek and potato soup with creme fraiche. Now, if that ain't arty enough for you, you're just not trying.

bronze age cape, wales, 1900-1600 BC
By the time I left the museum, it was pretty late in the afternoon and raining to boot, but I still got quite a lot of walking done. I puttered around on the Millennial Bridge just to see if it would actually wobble, but I guess they fixed it OK. I found the replica of the Globe Theater, the replica of the Golden Hind, London Bridge -- hey, I thought London Bridge was in Arizona, but perhaps they've replaced it with the bridge with the green and blue lights -- Winchester Palace (a ruin), and Southwark Cathedral. Whew. They have a huge wine shop and restaurant, called Vinopolis, where the Romans used to have a wine shop. I'll have to take one of their wine-tasting tours some time when I'm not alone. But I'm not about to try all those wines and a Bombay Sapphire Gin to boot and then go stumbling around by myself. Sure, there's no crime in London and all that, but I could still slip and fall down the stairs and onto the tube tracks! Like the signs warned us, Last year there were 471 [tube] accidents involving alcohol, tee hee. Why be a statistic.

I hoped off the Circle Line early and strolled along the shops in High Street Kensington for a few minutes, in search of a bag to replace my $5 Vegas bag with its broken zipper, but although I saw some intriguing possibilities, I just can't be coaxed into paying those prices. Fortunately it looked like they were about to roll up the sidewalks at 7, thus removing all temptation. Back in the Paddington area, I actually strolled around almost all of the way to Notting Hill, hoping to get more of an appetite, but I never did. So I just puttered around soaking up the atmosphere.

colombian or costa rican gold mask
Friday, Feb. 24

I got up a little early hoping to cruise the internet before the day got started, but it just don't pay to get up early in London. The internet place was closed, and the cheaper off-peak tube pass doesn't start until 9:30 anyway. You live, you learn.

There were little pellets of ice or sleet, maybe even snow, coming down in the morning, so I spent the entire day in the British Museum where it was nice and cozy. They had several free tours offered, and I took two of them. On one tour, called "Living and Dying," it was just the three of us. But on the other tour, about the ancient Egyptians, there were around 30 of us and one of the guards warned the guide that he shouldn't have allowed so many people. They're a little tricky at the British Museum. It's free to get in, but the water fountain was broken. (Wasn't it broken last time I visited?) Bottled water is 1.95 pounds -- $4! No way. If I'm going to be robbed, it might as well be a British Museum beer.

Some highlights:

  • An entire collection of Bolivian Carnival costumes.
  • Supposedly the longest museum exhibit in the world, all of the pills a "typical" British man and a "typical" British woman would take in their lifetime. Actually, the British man who contributed his records is already dead, although the woman is still alive and well into her 80s, so I guess they will have to continue to add her medical records and pills to the exhibit as time goes by. They use real pills, sewn up in fabric.
  • Gold, gold, and more gold. You can never see all of the gold in the British Museum, although the eightysomething man on my "Living and Dying" tour swore that he'd already spent 10 days in the museum and he intended to look at every last exhibit!
  • A naturally mummified man from before the days of the mummies, when the dead were laid to rest in the hot sand and the "silicon in the sand acted to dry out his body just like the packages of silicate gel that come with your new camera," as the guide put it.
  • The infamous crystal skull and the sign explaining that it's a total hoax. Yes, it really is made of crystal, but from modern tools, not ancient days of the Aztecs.
  • Speaking of gold, little gold containers for lime from Colombia. They'd chew the coca leaf with the lime to get more punch from the drug. Pretty primitive form of free-basing but without all the nasty chance of catching on fire, so who's the real primitive?
  • A tree and wildlife made completely from cut-up guns collected in a drive to get guns off the streets of Madagascar.
  • Speaking of even more gold, Michaelangelo was apparently the Bill Gates of the art world, with an incredible personal wealth in cold hard metal. We are informed that when he died, they found almost 30 kilograms of gold just sitting by his bed. Hmm. Lessee. Call it 960 troy ounces times $550 an ounce (still under the closing price of $563 an ounce yesterday afternoon) and that's, er, $528,000 stuffed under the mattress, and never mind all of the money that he actually had secured someplace safe. No wonder he was able to attract the beautiful young boys even into advanced old age. From the sound of it, he treated his friends more kindly than Picasso did, though, so who can begrudge him.

In the evening, I took a stroll by the National Theater. There was a pink sky in the direction of the nearest bridge and blue and white lights strung on the building next door. I wondered if they'd forgotten to take down their Christmas lights or something, but on another day, I realized the blue lights were because it was the IBM building. Anyway, inside the theater, they had a free concert by some folksingers who mostly played their own songs instead of doing the usual folksinger thing of playing depressing songs from the failed protests of the past. But no folksinger can completely resist the urge to revisit the past, and they did a pretty decent rendition of Dylan's The Times They Are A-changin. They are no fools at the National Theater either. The stage for the musicians is directly across from the Long Bar (which is not very long by Long Bar at the Grand Casino in Biloxi standards but since that Long Bar has sadly vanished from the earth, it will have to do). They didn't care if the public grabbed a glass of wine and sat down right on the carpet to listen, and that's exactly what I did.

Still no real appetite. At a passing convenience store, I got a chicken tikka sandwich, which is some sort of (East) Indian spiced chicken thing in a burrito. Not bad.

You have just read Part Two of my Mardi Gras Mileage Run Trip Report. Stay tuned for Part 3, Greenwich.

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