aamcnamara: (Default)
Yesterday--among other things--I went to the Tower of London.

I had been avoiding it. I said to myself, "It's all historic--but I don't really care that much about kings--and it's so expensive!"

It was worth it.

I got there about half an hour after they opened; it was raining, and there was already a formidable line at the ticket office. I sighed and, like a good Londoner, joined the queue. (My mother has recently asked me to bring her something small and purely British as a souvenir. I am not sure what "purely British" means. So, since then, I have been thinking of wholly inappropriate things that fit that criteria: an Oystercard! a vaguely distant expression! a queue!)

At any rate, I got inside. There's one whole side of the Tower complex where you can go up (steep, rain-slick) steps to the walls, and walk along the top of the wall. The wall's sprinkled with towers, so you're always stepping down into tower rooms--those narrow spiral stone staircases--to see educational displays and then up more steps and out again into the rain. (It is not wheelchair accessible in the slightest.) Every time the weather has changed again: misty, drizzling, damp, raining.

...the one problem is that at the end there's a display of crowns, which everyone goes through at a very slow shuffle (becoming a further queue), and in addition to not caring that much about kings I don't care that much about crowns. So I ducked out of that fairly quickly. But the rest of the wall-walk--that was good, all historical details and some artifacts and some replicas, like of historical weapons that you can heft. And the occasional bit of a period room. Most of the rooms are done up with projectors and screens or tiny speakers or other technological aids to Viewing History, which I have mixed feelings about, but certainly they added detail.

After that, I was right by the Crown Jewels, but the only reason I would've gone in would've been motivated by the BBC Sherlock, and really that is not motivation enough when crowds and I are concerned. Anyway, I knew I wanted to see the White Tower, and I knew that the Tower of London as a whole would only get busier as it moved on toward lunchtime.

And the White Tower was--well. They had displays of armor and weaponry, which were quite nice; they had disorientingly Victorian white-painted sash(?) windows set into the big forbidding stone arches; they had further projectors and sound clips, of which I grew progressively more weary. And then, just as I was saying to myself, "Well, this has been interesting, but I am not sure I am really on board with how they are presenting it--"

There was the Chapel of St. John's. Where you are requested not to take photographs. Where you are requested to keep your voice down--and gentlemen, please take off your hats. (Actual sign.) (I took my hat off. What am I, if not a gentleman?) Where they have not added any projectors, any sound bites, any fancy or glamorous technology to glitz up the stones. Where there is an informational plaque on a stand, and--that is it. That's all.

That's enough.

I did not look at the plaque at first. I did not have to. I could feel the age of this place around me. The solidity of it. The comfort and the quiet of it. When I did step over and read it, I was utterly unsurprised that it had been there for nine hundred years, and that, as far as I can tell, the only thing that's changed is the windows (stained glass) and the paint job.

All too soon, a group came in after me, talking at normal volume despite the signs. Someone took a picture (despite the signs) and even though someone else reminded her firmly not to, the peace had been broken. I fled: on to more Interactive! Displays! and big exhibit-labels on glass cases and a big modern-art dragon sculpture (admittedly, pretty cool).

But I think those few minutes were worth the price of admission all by themselves.

I wandered around for a good bit more, seeing various other bits of the Tower complex, photographing a raven (as all tourists must do), watching a Beefeater pace stiffly on a stretch of pavement about twenty feet long (and then, when it started raining, backing into a little niche just exactly like a robotic nutcracker putting itself back into its box)... but really, nothing could top the Chapel of St. John's.

Honestly? I'd go back to the Tower just to go through that one room again.
aamcnamara: (Default)
Spent most of the day out at Kew Gardens. My pictures keep going up on facebook; when I get back to the States, I'll probably cull them down to the highlights and do a picspam post over here (cut-tagged, of course).

Did some writing:
14150 / 80000

Not all of this was today. I started having more plot ideas again recently, and that turned into "oh, okay, here are some things to fix and some things to go on with", and...well. It isn't twenty thousand words in the month of June, but it's some words, and some words are generally better than no words. And my protagonist, finally, is doing her protagonist thing. I've gotten her to a place where the people who were steering her--finally--have faltered and gone "Oh. What do we do now?" so that she can grab the wheel and say, "This is what we do now."

Tomorrow plunges me into my last full week in London. I'm kind of glad--London is a little too much city for me, I've decided--but it's also tragic because there are so many things I wanted to see that I haven't. I've at least brushed past most of the things in west-ish London, but the City proper and the eastern bit of London are like unto vast uncharted reaches to me. But it's probably impossible to see everything, and, hey, this just means I have to come back sometime, right?
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For the past few days, I have been...research, basically. I'm running down all my leads, and keep saying "oh, how about this?"--"no, that's not interesting or relevant either". Today I finished everything I could early in the afternoon, so I went to Regent's Park. It's kind of a perfect place: quiet, green, obviously administered to with great care, full of flowers and long avenues and benches where one can sit and write some more of a really sketched-out draft of a story. A good place for Alenas who are tired of city.

Going down to Cambridge next week, for which plans have at length solidified, will help with the "whoops, running out of stuff"; whole new set of archives! On the other hand, I have to figure out food for three days without, probably, so much as a fridge. I possibly did not think this through. (But I am making strong mental notes not to bring cans of stuff without a can-opener. We don't actually need to reenact Three Men in a Boat. Honest. Although [livejournal.com profile] thanate reminds me that probably it is possible to acquire a can-opener in Cambridge these days.)

Here, have some macros I made of a cygnet at the National Archives pond being fluffy and cute and apathetic:
cynical cygnet says no )
aamcnamara: (Default)
Even in London, there are books. In my life there are always books. And I think that the additional bag I was planning on acquiring during my trip here...may end up mostly filled with books. (I only have bought three so far, but then I have just finished reading the third one.)

three books, similar and dissimilar )

Today I went to the Chelsea Physic Garden. I sat on a bench and read and wrote a bit in my notebook and took a bunch of pictures of trees and banks of shrubbery and neatly-planted beds. And I may have come up with an idea for a new short story. Like rereading The Dragon Waiting, this is something I'll have to do historical research for, but hopefully I will not be lazy and will write it/do the job properly.

I still think Whisper-Trail is horrible. I wrote about 70 words on it yesterday and then I gave up. Maybe if I leave it alone for a while it will get better? -/useless hopes-
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Things that my life will be lacking when I leave London:

1. The sharp-sweet taste of very lemony lemon cookies.
2. A bar of soap that smells of lavender.
3. The taste and mouth-feel of oatcakes spread with jam from Wales (blueberry-apple, I think).
4. Rosemary-scented handsoap in public restrooms (the National Archives, and I think the British Museum as well, though I did not today become a person who smells their hands in the bathroom while washing them).
5. Strawberry toothpaste, which I used to use as a kid but hadn't for years (I have become a mint-toothpaste person) until I ran across it in a store and it was the only flavor they had of Tom's of Maine. Which, well, I have never looked very deeply into the matter of toothpaste, but I needed toothpaste past the tiny travel tube I brought, and I knew that buying Tom's of Maine would make my mother happy. (Hi, Mom.) Hence strawberry, which will now have layered memories of childhood and London in it, if I ever buy it afterward.

Yesterday I finished everything I could do in the National Archives early, so I wandered around in Kew. I found a really nice little used-books shop, where I will endeavor not to spend all of my money (they have dragon sculptures, and shelves that look like trees!), and an organic-food store where I found--glory of glories--EnerG bread, aka the first loaf of bread I have found in England that I can eat. And the aforementioned very lemony lemon cookies, which similarly are the first cookies I have found in England that I can eat. Sandwiches! Toast! Cookies!

Today I went to the British Museum. It is overwhelming and impressive and full of amazing things. I saw several Greek vases that we talked about in my art history class last year! And of course the Elgin Marbles, which were mentioned in novels I read as a kid and imagined as spheres made of marble.

It also wore me down, little by little, by the crowds and the hugeness and the fact that I know that a lot of what's there--all the cultural diversity, and the variety, and the vast timespan covered--was stolen from graves, taken without permission, cheated out of people, etc. Which just kind of came to a head when I got to the Egyptian gallery, already footsore, and realized that they had actual mummies in the cases; and then went into the next room, where there was an example of a basketweave coffin with what appeared to be an actual skeleton in it. Just--people. Is this actually acceptable?

So I left, resisting the urge of "but I haven't seen everything yet!". The Roman fighting demonstrations that I'd stumbled on earlier were still happening, so I sat there for a little while, but then I decided to walk down to the Sir John Soane Museum, which sounded cool. And then I went slightly the wrong way and ended up in Covent Garden instead. Um. Whoops? I found the Apple store (and went up two flights of stairs, having missed the iPods completely on the ground floor--my iPod touch was lost on my journey here, alas, so I wanted to look at what's out there) and I found another tea store (where I did not buy anything, thank you very much, even though they had teapot-shaped tea infusers (I am holding out for the robot-shaped tea infuser I spotted once at the Wedge Co-Op in Minneapolis))... and then I checked my map and saw where I'd gone wrong and headed toward the Soane museum again.

It took a bit more wandering to actually get there, but when I did, I found that it was next to a very nice park (Lincoln's Inn Fields, I believe) in which I sat and ate one of the aforementioned cookies, which I had brought along.

Sir John Soane's idea of museum-collecting, as it turns out, is basically like Isabella Gardner's. Only he was into the Classics, and also peculiar architecture and interesting things to do with natural light, so it's this Victorian-I-think row-house-type-thing crammed with paintings and statues and vases and reliefs where all the light comes from odd skylights (one small room has a tiny glass cupola in its ceiling) and windows with various colors of glass, and gets reflected in the many mirrors and mirrored doors... Said windows usually look out into tiny courtyards filled with further monuments, of course. There's a sarcophagus for a mummy, but it's empty; and the sense of overwhelming personality and Cool Architectural Stuff at least gives something to put in the other pan against the "wow, all this stuff was robbed from graves" thing.

I've no idea what they do when it's overcast--I am not kidding when I say that all the light comes from skylights and windows--although one of my flatmates says they occasionally do a Candlelit Night where they put candles everywhere, which sounds gorgeous.

In the end, I could probably go back to either of the museums I visited today. But I'm more likely to drag people to the Soane, and also I hear there's a false wall I didn't get to see in operation (!). Going back to the British Museum, I think I would have to have a Plan: do initial research on some area/time period/etc. and then go and look at all the things in that or those room(s), so that I at least have some context.

But the British Museum did have a volunteer who let me hold a small Romano-Celtic war-god. So there's that. And really it was a very nice day, although my calves are extremely sore now, and I did not go out again and buy groceries this evening at all. (I should have. If I had made plans for tomorrow at all, not having bought groceries today would mess them right up. But I haven't made plans for tomorrow; and it was windy tonight; and my feet hurt. So there.)
aamcnamara: (Default)
11779 / 80000


800 words tonight, after getting distracted for quite a while by the Internet.

London is--well. London. Double-decker buses are space-efficient in crowded cities, that's why they make them. Oxford Street in the rain becomes a battlefield between clans of umbrellas; pedestrians without umbrellas receive friendly fire from both sides in the form of cold drips down the neck. Having been nearly splashed and/or run over by London cabs somehow seems like it validates the fact that I Am In London.

The Mob came over from Cardiff for the weekend. We spent an hour in the Twinings tea shop in the Strand; we took pictures of each other by the police-box outside the Earl's Court Tube station; we wandered through the Science Museum; we scored day tickets to see Christopher Eccleston be wonderfully angsty and covered in blood in a Greek tragedy at the National Theatre; and we found Forbidden Planet (despite me not writing down the address), which meant I got to buy books, which means I have something to read on my commutes. So basically, it encapsulated our friendship in the form of a weekend.

I want to live in the British Library for ever and ever. I accept the necessity of the National Archives, but have a complicated relationship with a) the Public Records Office's idea of archival organization ("Oh, someone has donated a group of papers to us, including a bunch of personal letters! We will interfile them with everything else we own in chronological order!") and b) microfilm.

Today was sunny, and I went out to eat my lunch by the bit of a pond that the National Archives has. I saw mallard ducks and a couple of swans, all of which were larger than I'm used to them being (probably because they get fed scraps), and a bird I didn't recognize--black and white with a yellow eye that makes it look slightly startled for all of eternity. Looked it up tonight, and turns out it is a tufted duck.

Life here is good. I'm settling in. And I have begun, finally, to write again. That can only be good news.

May 2017

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