November 19, 2007
Notes on London
Jotted in the hotel notebook:
- The British Museum has neat stuff, but honestly, if it’s a cloudy day, the main attraction is the atrium, which is the closest simulation I have yet found of the underworld. The sterile air… the ghastly, formless chalk-white light… the long, loitering lines… the babel of languages… it’s spooky and depressing in a not-unenjoyable way.
- You could spend an entire day just soaking up street names in London. I guess it’s all just set so deeply into our literature and culture; everything resonates in your ears and on your lips, even if you don’t know why. Tottenham Court? Charing Cross? Hampstead Heath? Clearly there are wizards in all of those places.
- The London Underground is instantly navigable. The stations sort of hold your hand. (And they too have wizard names.)
- The Tate Modern used to be a power plant, and its cavernous main room — the Turbine Hall! — is devoted to commissioned installations. Apparently for artists it’s quite a challenge because the space is just so big. The artist Doris Salcedo came up with a brilliant solution, on display when I was there: No sculpture. Instead, she carved a giant, seismic crack into the floor. Pictures don’t really do it justice; in my mind, the real work of art isn’t the crack at all (though it’s beautiful) but rather the inescapable thought: “She actually broke open the floor? They let her do this? She wrecked the museum!” It feels totally transgressive — and, therefore, awesome.
- Leading to and from the Tate Modern there’s a pedestrian-only bridge across the Thames. It’s pretty thrilling.
- Oh hey, and: I tried meta-free travel this time. That is, I took no camera, and took no pictures. Recommended!