Saturday, October 9, 2010

A brief return to the Greeks

I sat in the British Museum today and wrote a note because I was so overcome with astonishment. I thought I should spend an hour having a look at the ‘Parthenon Sculptures’ (as they are now diplomatically called) while ‘things Greek’ are still uppermost in my mind (was it only last week I was in Athens?) Well – remember how I raved about the treasures in the Greek Archaeological Museum? You must excuse me – I had not then ventured into the British Museum. Acquisitive types, the British imperialists, weren’t they?

Sketching the Parthenon metopes

First sight to meet my eyes: fragments of the decorative carving from one of the Mycenaean beehive tombs – the very one I visited! Then: gold, sculpture, pottery and architectural fragments from Mycenae. And lots of those weird eyeless, beak-nosed humanoid figures from the Cyclades. And virtually an entire tomb of the Nereids– three stories high.

I was beginning to see the Greeks’ point...and then the Parthenon Sculptures themselves...what amazing and lovely things they are. The head of a horse from the East Pediment! The extraordinary barely-relief metopes! The detail that has been preserved on the metopes and the frieze is in stark contrast to the eroded sections left in Athens. The display is very accessible, with the frieze and metopes at eye level. In the New Acropolis Museum in Athens they are set high, as they would have been on the Parthenon building (and to the same scale), which is interesting in itself. I have read that the carving on the frieze is deeper at the top than the bottom because of the angle of view from below.

Lord Elgin at 21 years old
So the pendulum of my opinion swung back in favour of Lord Elgin when I saw the state of (relative) preservation of the Parthenon marbles. But then in a corner I found a whole Doric pediment and block from the Parthenon itself! While the Greeks, with EU money, are spending 40 years painstakingly re-building new ones for the Parthenon! Surely that could go back.

By the way, remember all the ancient statues in Greece that had generally lost their heads? I now know where quite a few of them are. As to the missing penises, who can tell?

I confined myself today to the Greek and Roman exhibits. It was too overwhelming otherwise. I will save for another day the haul from Egypt, the Rosetta stone, the Roman Briton finds (the most recent of which, a lovely bronze mask, has just been sold to a collector for £2m according to this morning’s Guardian), ancient Iran and Turkey, and a whole Enlightenment-themed display. Amongst other things. *phew*

I continued my breakfast research this morning. Although there has been some success with locating well-cooked poached eggs, I have reluctantly concluded that the English do not understand bread. I have been given Italian (not good for toast), “English’ muffin (soggy), and today plain white sliced (ugh). Where is the good sourdough in London? Ah – a new project! Find the sourdough!

Russell the autumn?
I walked through Russell Square today, which might fairly be termed the heart of my ‘hood. There is very little  autumn foliage in evidence as yet. Ah – you knew I would get to the weather sooner or later, didn’t you? So far I have found it very mild, somewhat humid and occasionally (but not often) damp. Although the temperatures are still mild (18 – 22 ish) the light is, I think, becoming more dull and grey (or is that because I have spent the last ten days on the Aegean or Mediterranean?) But that outdoor cafe in Russell Square looked attractive – perhaps I had better hurry to eat there soon.

Oh yes- I meant to mention one last Greek treasure discovered in the British Museum – the missing Caryatid! There she was, lonely without her five sisters. Later, taking a cab back from my hairdressing appointment (result: acceptable, indeed quite acceptable) I spotted from the cab window a porch on Euston Road sporting what else but a set of copy Caryatids! A quick consultation with my now dog-eared map, and it seems I was looking at....St Pancras Church! The Greek-inspired replacement for Old St Pancras which was encroached upon by the station. It’s a small world.

I have other news – tonight I had a marvellous theatrical experience in the West End, but it is very late and ‘Warhorse’ deserves a post all of its own, so I’ll save that for later.

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