Sunday, April 18, 2004

Elephant & Blog.

More recollections of passing through Thatcherite England, April 1988.

Early in the week I made my way alone to the Imperial War Museum (N. declined to go), south of the river near the Elephant & Castle tube station, which was grimy and graffiti'd and one of the ugliest I saw. The museum is laid out in a U shape, with one wing roughly devoted to the First World War, and the other more or less covering the Second. Mostly the exhibits, which lined either wall, had British military and homefront themes, though there was nodding acknowledgment of other theaters in the two world wars.

In the WWI wing, I spent a lot of time reading the recruitment posters -- Enlist Today -- Is Your "Best Boy" in Khakis? In Not, Shouldn't He Be? That sort of thing. Conspicuously absent in the WWII section was any mention that I could see of the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, but on a map depicting the Nazi attack on Poland in September 1939, which only showed arrows depicting German troop movements, someone had inked in, by hand, arrows for Soviet troop movements of the same month, which of course had overrun eastern Poland.

On Thursday we went to the British Museum. N. and I spent time walking around together, but the place is so vast we also focused on different subjects for a while. I went to the classical antiquities rooms -- rooms and rooms and rooms would be more like it. I started with antiquities that day, but wasn't satisfied and went back for more the next day while N. was shopping. The things they have! It can only compare, in my experience, with the Pergamon Museum in East Berlin. It was wearing on the feet, delightful to the eye, a high-protein plate for the mind.

I saw things Greek, Etruscan, and Roman -- statues and friezes, of course, but also a load of smaller items, such as the world's first coins (Asia Minor) and a crown of oak leaves and acorns made of hammered gold. I'm sure I saw that very crown – how many of them could there be? -- on my first visit to Chicago in 1981 at the Art Institute, when it was part of a traveling treasures of Alexander exhibit. There's no evidence linking the crown to Alexander himself, but it was from his time. And I'm glad Lord Elgin went to the trouble to acquire the Marbles.

I passed through other parts of the museum, too, taking a short look at the Sutton Hoo exhibit and the clock room, which I wandered into by accident. There were clocks everywhere. I've never seen so many in one place.


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