Monday, August 23, 2010

British Birthday

Today I turned 30 and apparently my body has gotten the memo. My head seems to sport an unusual amount of gray, my back throbs appropriately according to the weather, and my morning runs have been less than spectacular... but I still have my eyes. And today those baby browns saw some London treasures with a different perspective.

The day began with a morning run around Primrose Hill. For those of you who are looking to see the London skyline but don't want to pay the budget breaking 17 pounds for the London Eye, check out the panorama atop Primrose Hill. It'll make you feel just like Maria from the Sound of Music.

After a quick shower, we packed a lunch consisting of Borough Market prosciutto, pesto, and bread and headed to the Maida Vale tube station, pitstopping at the adjacent 'Bucks for some coffee fuel. It is a quick, yet sweaty, 15 minute ride to Trafalgar square where we pause to picnic, Jess sharing a bit of trivia about Nelson's column which, "May or not be true."

With lunch disposed of, we enter the museum and are pleasantly surprised and pleased by the lax security at the National Gallery. No queuing, no bag checks, no problem.

It being my birthday, I make the executive decision to head straight for Van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait, a painting I've been waiting for years to see. You can never, of course, head "straight" for anything in a museum such as the National Gallery. There are too many treasures along the way to not stop and smell the roses. Titian's Allegory of Prudence, also a personal favorite, seems an appropriate image for the day. The handsome painting depicts three heads: an aging Titian, his middle-aged son Orazio, and young cousin Marco Vecellio, representing the Three Ages of Man. The Latin inscription atop reads, "From the past, the present acts prudently, lest it spoil future action." Is there a "Your turning 30" birthday message in there? If so I choose to ignore it.

We spill through a few more rooms, dozens of I-died-in-my-30's paintings of Christ litter the wall... Eventually, we trade out the golden Gothic works for some more somber, darker, Baroque ones. We check out the Rembrandt Self- Potraits, the first of which depicts a younger Rembrandt seen at the height of his career, cloaked in the vestments of success and brimming with youthful confidence. One can hear the cheery beats of Men at Work playing in the background, "Ain't nothing gonna break my stride, nobody gonna slow me down..."

The second self-portrait, painted almost thirty years later, is much more of a psychological portrait of the Old Master, his face now wearing the heavy mask of age. The crisp brushstrokes of his earlier years now more emotional, more painterly. His stare more reflective more... more... depressing.

(In case you were wondering, we did finally make it to Van Eyck's iconic work. It is so intricately painted I want to take it home to study it in more depth later. Apparently you aren't allowed to says the not-so pleasant lady in the blue sports coat who patrols the room).

Last but not least we decide to check out a fascinating special exhibition: Fake's, Mistakes, and Discoveries. The bulk of the show deals with paintings that had, at one point in time, been attributed to the work of an Old Master, only to be proven/discovered later that they are forgeries or genuine contemporary imitations. So here we sit, in a room full of paintings that used to hang in the gallery's permanent collection-- formerly the best of the best. Originally estimated to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars how far their stars have fallen. "Rembrandt's," "Botticelli's," "Holbein's," no longer. There they hang, an art historical freak show, gawked at by the passersby who hold them in derision...

Why is that lady staring at me? Quit staring! Nothing to see here lady, move along.
My God, even these basement dwellers know about my birthday. Cut the shit National Gallery. What are you my mom? I don't need any more of your melancholic life lessons.

With the dusk setting in we decide to drink (normally I'd say, "Go for a drink" but tonight that might be an understatement), so we head over to the OXO bar and restaurant. Perched on the 8th floor veranda overlooking the Thames, St. Paul's dome seemingly so close you could reach out and touch it, we dine on grilled octopus, chorizo, and dumplings, while reflecting on life over libations. Ahh... where does the time go? I think about my friends and family at home, it is five hours earlier for most of them. To be five hours younger again. I can still remember 5 hours ago, the sun was still up and a much younger me was excited to start celebrating a birthday...

*It should be noted that this day wasn't nearly as depressing as I make it out to be. It was actually fun ;)

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