Posts Tagged ‘Art


What I Found in London Town

poetry on st. paul's domeI’m happy to say that I can now cross London off my list. To be honest, the only reason it was high on the list to begin with was that everyone told me it should be. I never felt the powerful draw to it that I’ve felt to, say, Paris or Ireland. I went because it’s London and it’s important – and because I have a cousin who is studying there and offered me a place to stay and a guided weekend tour.

And what a tour it was. I decided that with all the history and hype, London would be a great place for the ultimate tourist extravaganza. With a list of projected activities and some careful strategizing, Jessie and I did our best to see as much as possible in 3 days. While I’m happy with what we saw, I am also glad that there remains plenty yet to be seen – because after 3 days in London, there is now something deep within me saying, ‘Go back. Go back. Go back.’

We fit in most of the standard touristy stuff, though some we had to skip going inside, and if I give you my impressions on everything this would be a guidebook-length post, so here’s a brief list in no particular order with some thoughts thrown in: Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guards (drowning in crowds and clouds of coffee breath), St. James’s Park (golden fall colors), Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square (woo theatre!), Parliament and Big Ben (I couldn’t stop singing “You Can Fly” from Peter Pan the whole time, also it’s gorgeous), Westminster Abbey (Poppy Appeal), Millenium Bridge (walking over the Thames was magical), Tower Bridge, the London Eye (20 euros to go up, no thanks), the British Museum (Rosetta Stone and mummies, check!), Tate Modern (Francis Bacon in a converted power plant is creepy), the Tower of London, British Library (best collection of Western literary treasures in the world – incredible), Shakespeare’s Globe (covered in scaffolding), Borough Market (delicious lemon tart), St. Paul’s Cathedral (attended a somber service in Remembrance of WWI), Piccadilly Circus, Charles Dickens’s House/Museum, ride in a double-decker bus, beer with fish and chips in a pub, and of course a quick stop by Platform 9 3/4 in King’s Cross Station.

Whew! Oh, and let’s not forget the theatre! First we got half-price tickets at TKTS in Leicester Square for 6 Characters in Search of an Author. It blew my mind. Read the review and please see it if it comes your way. The following day we saw a matinee of Spamalot in a successful attempt to balance out the heavy drama with a relentlessly silly musical. I would see a show every day if I could, but since these two have to hold me for now, I’m glad they were good ones.

Some art that I did not need to pay for – but that had the greatest impact on me – appeared in the form of giant words projected on the blue-lit dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral against the heavy charcoal night sky. We emerged from (I think) the Blackfriars tube station with another destination in mind, but immediately looked up to see “HANDS” looming over us in bright white letters. Each word faded to make room for a new one every minute or so, in seemingly total random order. Here are the ones my camera caught:


Some of these flashed across the dome more than once, and some words appeared in French, Spanish, and what I think was Arabic and maybe Hebrew. I can think of nothing else to call what I saw than a poem; at least that’s what it was to me. I stood there mesmerized, watching this enormous living public poem on a historical city landmark that at one point symbolized London’s survival, perhaps even the survival of good everywhere. Following my travel companion, I tore myself away but continued to stare up at the dome as we walked along the Thames. Every towering word dominated the city scape and, no matter how random, seemed to have some special, calculated meaning while at the same time subject to any interpretation. Quite like a poem; just huge and flashing in the sky over one of the world’s greatest cities.

I never did any research to find out what exactly the point was of the dome words and who was responsible. I think it had something to do with Remembrance weekend, but I actually prefer to be left in the dark, left standing on Millenium Bridge at night over the black water of the Thames gazing up in a trance at the lighted words, the lighted poetry in the sky.

And here is why I now love London and aim to return someday – it’s full of surprises. I wore my red poppy in honor of those who serve, said goodnight to Big Ben as a I made my way down the steps of a tube station for the last – and what seemed like the 100th – time that weekend, and took a train to the airport on Sunday night. Unfortunately, my flight was not until 7 am Monday morning out of Standsted, so I had to sleep at the airport as there was no way to get there from Hampton (where I stayed) early enough in the morning.

After so many tube rides and a hellish night spent in an airport with only linoleum floors and only plastic chairs, I was ready to be out of the hugeness that is London and back in the little Dutch city that I now call home. I’ll go back to London someday, but for now I’l search for love in the sky over Amsterdam.


The Color Game

Color is something that I think a lot about – whether it’s the topic of race, trying to keep my eyes open to find art in the everyday, or just selecting my accessories every morning, it’s frequently on my mind. In any context, I prefer a bold combination of brightly contrasting tones – not one thing (or person) matching with anything else – rather than a flat blend of similar hues. I recently made my first visit to the Getty in LA, and spending a whole day alone surrounded by a myriad of stimulating art, color, and people, I got to thinking about how important the awareness of art – and by extension, color – is to a healthy and enriched understanding of the world. Color makes things vital and striking, prompts us to feel in ways that we don’t notice or understand. It brings the world to life; there is a reason, I might venture, that blood is red.

I play a game with the little girls I babysit where we take turns listing every color we can think of. It started with the 5-year-old wanting to name the colors of the rainbow – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet (though, I think one of those has been voted off the spectrum since I learned ROYGBIV in 1st grade) – and when she started to realize how much farther the list can stretch, it turned into a game, a challenge. We began with the obvious additions like brown and black, then got a little crazier with colors like magenta and turquoise. After a little while, her limited knowledge of color names had run out, and my mental catalog of Crayola’s inventory had been exhausted. (Fortunately, the 3-year-old was content recycling the few pinks and purples she could think of.)

Because I’d been channeling my elementary school coloring fests and tossing out crayon names like “robin’s egg blue” and “granny smith apple,” I was accused by one very skeptical kindergartener of cheating, of making things up. I told her those were real colors, at least according to the company who holds the monopoly on the industry, and then realized that if Crayola can do it, then we should too. I wanted to see her consider every object, image, place she’d ever seen and remember the color of it, turning whatever it was into its own special shade, removing it from the absolutist, over-simplified umbrella colors that make up our rainbow or any basic box of markers.

She took to this with great enthusiasm, embracing the challenge and appreciating the endless scope of possibility. I shared her excitement and we would congratulate each other with each clever suggestion. “Moon silver!” she would shout victoriously. Despite her fervor, however, she would pause and question the validity of almost every color she offered, asking, puzzled, “Does that count?” Yes, they all count. As far as we know, with our weak human vision, everything is it’s own unique color, and may as well be labeled as such.

When our imaginations began to drag, I suggested we look around the backyard for different colors to use. She’d been collecting big fuzzy caterpillars all week in a small, blue plastic bucket with the little mermaid on it. She peered into this home-made sanctuary full of dead flowers and abducted insects and her face lit up – she announced with bright zeal her crowning achievement, her proudest discovery: Caterpillar Brown. I was delighted and intrigued by this, because although caterpillars come in dozens of different colors, the ones in her little pail were brown, and so this becomes the defining color of caterpillars.

But here is where this game gets risky. It is important that we differentiate between a Caterpillar Brown that refers to just one type of caterpillar that is colored with just one type of brown, and a Caterpillar Brown that assumes all such insects are this one color. I was reminded of the other day when she’d been watching me color a picture for her. I used the Peach crayon, and she observed out-loud that I was using the “skin colored crayon.” I told her that, well, yes, this crayon is similar to the color of my skin, but it’s very different from the color of many other people’s skin, including her own – a perfect soft blend of browns from India and the Philippines. She acknowledged the truth in this, but maintained that it was still the skin-colored crayon because that’s what everyone else in her class calls it.

So, we can have a brown named after caterpillars, but not one named after her beautiful skin, because that is already taken by the Peach crayon – already deemed by her fellow 5-year-old California kindergarteners as the only shade worthy of being both a fruit, and the color of, well, humanity. Before the 1960s, this crayon actually did carry the official Crayola label of “Flesh.” Fortunately, the company volunteered a more politically and ethically correct option. The trouble now, in the 21st century, is getting those impressionable minds who actually use the crayons to recognize and understand the colors that are all around us, to appreciate and enjoy each one uniquely.

"Try to be one of the people on whom nothing is lost!" -Henry James, The Art of Fiction
February 2019
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