Friday, April 25, 2008

Good Thames (like good times, get it?)

We've been having a rollicking good time lately. Last weekend was jam-packed with all sorts of fun and games.

I started the weekend by meeting my friend Courtney (of the London Gator club, for which she is going to hand over responsibility to me!) for a drink at a nearby trendy bar. I hadn’t seen her in ages, and it was good to catch up and hear what she’s been up in the past few months. I also got to meet a couple of her friends. It was so nice to be with a group of girls. I realized yesterday that unless I make a special trip to see the receptionist at work and have a 30-second conversation with her about the weather or something, I never get to talk to anyone female in the course of a normal day. That can’t be healthy. But I had a lovely time with Courtney and her friends and enjoyed my strawberry Tom Collins.

After that, I was off to meet Andrew for dinner at Villandry. We had reservations for the special London Restaurant Week menu, where you get a three-course meal for just £25. Marvellous. I started with a nice charcuterie platter with various salamis and hams and some incredible celeriac remoulade, while Andrew had a seafood bisque that arrived in a copper saucepan, from which the waitress poured the soup into a warmed tureen at the table. Then I had chicken paillard with arugula salad and red pepper relish. Andrew had steamed sea bass with tapenade and roasted potatoes. Finally, I had a flourless chocolate cake and Andrew went for the lemon tart. It was utterly fabulous. I was especially pleased because I had heard of Villandry, I think in a Nigella Lawson book, well before we moved to London. When I went for my first job interview in the fall, I showed up early and walked around the neighbourhood. I spotted the restaurant and sighed, thinking that I would never get to go somewhere like that. But now I’ve been, and I loved it.

On the way back home from the restaurant, we ran into some people Andrew knew from the bank, and we went for a drink with them around the corner. I love seeing the reactions of people when they see Andrew. It was just the same at Barnes & Noble. They absolutely light up; they are so happy to see him. I felt like I was being escorted by a movie star. But then I always feel that lucky to be with Andrew.

Saturday was another fantastic day. We had a leisurely breakfast, Andrew went for a run, and then we headed into town. We went to the Tate Britain gallery, where I went just a few weeks ago with Elise. I wanted to take Andrew because he hadn’t been before, and the museum just put on display two Pre-Raphaelite paintings on loan from a museum in Puerto Rico. One of the paintings was Flaming June, which is one of my favourites. It was spectacular in “real life,” much more beautiful even than all the posters I’d seen of it (including one I hung on the walls of all my dorm rooms and apartments in Gainesville). The way the artist (Frederic, Lord Leighton) painted the folds of the transparent orange fabric was amazing. You can see all the curves of the body underneath. It was really quite breathtaking. And I could finally see the setting of the painting. The top is usually cropped in posters, and in the actual painting, you can see that the sleeping woman is outside on a terrace overlooking the sea at sunset.

The other painting was a huge mural, probably 10 feet high and 20 feet long, of the death of King Arthur, by Edward Burne-Jones. I’ve always loved his paintings. They are easily recognisable by the uniform beauty of the women; they are always tall and lithe, with calm features and faraway looks on their pale faces. If I were to inhabit a painting, I might choose a Burne-Jones work. The King Arthur painting was spectacular to see, for both its size and its beauty. The colours were rich jewel tones in sharp contrast to his usual muted palette, and the details of the clothing, architecture and gardens were stunning. Hanging in the same room as the mural were several of the artist’s drawings, and it was neat to see the progression from sketch to finished work.

Andrew is a big fan of sculpture, and the Tate was also showing a special exhibition of neoclassical sculptures that were collected by Englishmen in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They were beautiful: lots of nymphs and maidens, busts of political figures, and mythical scenes. My favourite was a sculpture of a girl in a Turkish slave market. The chains around the girls ankles made her appear even more delicate and beautiful. And it’s amazing that working with such a solid material as marble, sculptors can capture such fragility.

But before we saw any of the art, we went to the museum café, in a room covered in a gorgeous, fantastical mural with knights on horseback chasing unicorns and toga-clad children cavorting with unicorns, plus, strangely, an Oxbridge undergraduate wearing a straw boater riding a bicycle. It was all set in a landscape that veered from classical woodland to pagoda-dotted hillsides and ruin-filled valleys. It was fun to look at as we enjoyed our afternoon tea with little sandwiches and pastries. The whole afternoon made me remember why I love England.

Which leads quite nicely into our Sunday activity, which was a trip up to Bedfordshire to visit a St. George’s Day festival with Amy and Don. St. George (of dragon fame) is the patron saint of England, and his saint’s day is the 23rd of April. It has become somewhat controversial, because many people in England fear any hint of nationalism or patriotism, but the current government is promoting those very notions, and so this year there were more St. George’s Day festivities than usual, I gather. At any rate, English Heritage was proud to celebrate St. George, and they put on a festival at Wrest Park. We took the train up there in the morning fog (that turned into the afternoon fog and then the evening fog…) and got a taxi to the park. There is a huge house there, but the real feature is the park and gardens. We only saw a little bit of the park because the weather was not great, but what we saw was green and beautiful.

The festival was spread out over the lawns. There were arenas for medieval fair-style shows (juggling, acrobatics, that sort of thing), vendors selling family trees on fake parchment, pewter goblets, and, because it’s England, a beer tent. I must admit, after shivering in the cold and the damp, it felt nice to sit in the beer tent and share some cider and roast pork sandwiches with the crew. We watched a show revolving around a bed of nails and audience participation (I can’t hear you…When I say St. George, I want you to cheer!) and a pageant featuring St. George on horseback and some lucky person in an awesome dragon costume. We also saw a falconry display and lots of soldiers dressed in uniforms from throughout Britain’s history. It was pretty cool! Even Amy got over her cynicism and had a good time. Afterwards, we found a nearby pub for some more cider and a village pig roast, then it was back to London and back to the work week. Phew!


Robert said...

I'm sensing this underlying theme of: a) getting out and about and understanding your surrounds while invariably b) running into a pub or whatnot to grab a pint.


David Ricke said...

"God save the Queen" "Raise the Union Jack" The Brits should be proud of their country, but what do I know. I'm just a flag waving xenophobic American....