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Good Friday

I’ve regained my sense of humour and love for this magnificent city. Yes, it’s still grey and cold, as it always is, and yes, it’s unbelievably, insanely, crowded. But it’s also stuffed with treasure and beauty, history and tradition and style. And it’s still not actually raining. Yet.

This morning was museum day – off to the National Gallery to be there as it opened, clever me. Arrived at five to ten, to find hundreds of people in a queue by the entrance. Curses, foiled again! I stood in line as the queue shuffled forward, one by one, and decided, no, this will take at least half an hour, I’ll go to the Portrait Gallery instead and try again later. So I headed there, when, on the other side of the building, I saw another door with people walking in. Sure enough, it was another entrance, empty, no one. I just walked in and there I was in one of the greatest museums on earth, my own favourite. There were tears. For a minute, I had one of the central rooms all to myself. By the time I left, every room was jammed.
It’s a gorgeous building full of gorgeous work, spanning hundreds of years. Just beautiful.

Van Gogh’s chair

Vase of flowers by Bosschaert the Elder, 1609

The Magdelane reading, Rogier van der Weyden, 1438
One of my favourite paintings of all time – Botticelli, 1480. When I was at theatre school here in 1971, I was reading an art book when I was struck by this painting and saw it was at the National Gallery. I put on my coat, got on a double-decker, and in less than an hour was standing in front of the real thing. I love this young man, so grave with his calm, direct gaze looking right at us, hundreds of years in the future. Every time I come to London, I go to visit him. 
Had a coffee, saw more art till my feet hurt and the crowds – oh the school trips, giant packs of bored teenagers charging through – were too big. Outside, they were preparing for a Good Friday pageant featuring, they warned us over loudspeakers, a realistic re-enactment of the crucifixion, parental advisory in effect. Of all the things I do not want ever to see, that is top of the list.
That’s a troupe of Roman soldiers, getting ready to round up Jesus, I guess. 
Off to the National Portrait Gallery, another huge favourite. An amazing coincidence – as I entered one room, I saw two familiar faces – my friend Penny and her friend Steve, spending a few hours in London before returning home after a family visit! Penny is almost the only person I know in England, and there she was – what are the chances of that encounter? She is researching an anti-slavery activist with roots in Sheffield, where she lives, and showed me a painting of the first huge anti-slavery meeting in England with her lady in attendance, plus Mrs. Byron and all sorts of British gentry. I told her I envy this culture, that not only produced extraordinary people but also great artists to memorialize them for eternity. Here are two famous faces:

 The virgin queen

Neither a virgin nor a queen. A portrait called “Mike’s brother” – the painter was a friend of Macca’s brother Mike. Be still my beating heart.
I ploughed through the massive crowds, got the tube home, had lunch and rested, went out again. I broke a glass vase here and have been trying to find a replacement, decided, bravely, to go to Selfridge’s, which has everything. I guess Good Friday is shopping day in London, because that’s what the entire city is doing today, including, it looks to me, the entire Saudi royal family swathed in head to toe black cloth. Here are some pix from my walk:

a park nearby

 The crammed sidewalk outside Selfridge’s on Oxford Street

Just inside, the most lovely thing: a display of luminous photographs of birds by Luke Stephenson. People were charging by – I stopped to look and was nearly trampled. I don’t know how he achieved such detail, but the pictures are stunning.

An orange-cheeked waxbill. As beautiful as anything at the National Gallery.

I managed to get something like the broken vase – what a shop, there’s everything, I confess I did hang around the stationary section for a bit – and then walked home. Now more resting and a few glasses of wine before going out again to a local cinema to see my friend Harriet’s just-released movie, The Sense of an Ending. I bought my ticket in advance, and was shocked: it cost 17 pounds 50. That’s nearly $30. For a movie. This town is absurdly expensive anyway, and with the low Canadian dollar, it’s crippling. There will be no more shopping. 

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2 Responses to “Good Friday”

  1. alandmillen says:

    Hi Beth … I am just catching up with your tales from London. As usual, I find myself nodding at every observation. Your visit to your grandparents' former home struck a nerve. A few years back I stopped by the house in Ealing where I had my first birthday back in 1953. My last visit was back to London in November … the same week that Leonard Cohen died and Donald Trump was elected. Bizarre juxtaposition. I'm delighted that you finally crossed Abbey Road like a good Beatles pilgrim. On a selfish note, I hope this makes the Newcastle Road song "Words on the Wall" a bit more meaningful. I'm guessing my next visit will be towards the end of the year. But first, an early May visit to Paris to visit my firstborn. Cheers, Alan

  2. beth says:

    Alan, great to hear from you and glad you are along for the ride. Yes, I understand your song better now. This is a fantastic city, but I'm ready to go home. Two more days. I miss my house, my garden, and especially my family. But it's been a grand trip.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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Chris Walks
This blog evolves. It once was about travels. Now it’s a reason to be at the keyboard that I value.

Theresa Kishkan
Theresa Kishkan is a writer living on the Sechelt Peninsula on the west coast of Canada.

I walk on. With my feet, and in my mind as well.

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Wherever you’ve come from, wherever you’re going, consider this space a place for reflection and pause.

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