Monday, March 31, 2014

Greenwich: The Times and Sea-sons

One of those weekends . . . the kind where I wander off into the blue without telling anybody, explore London in the company of my own thoughts, and have a marvelous time.

Friday was Greenwich.

Greenwich is primarily famed as the defining point of the Prime Meridian, the entirely arbitrary center of the world as you go round from left to right (or right to left).* Here's the line, with Paige standing on it for scale.

And here is the very official time, along with several other very official measures. So this is exactly what time it was when I took this photo. EXACTLY.

Greenwich is also famed as the site of a rather good smash-up alien invasion in one of them Thor movies, in this complex that was a palace and then turned into a hospital and then into a college.

It's quite lovely, but it really needs a big alien ship fin tearing through the lawn.

It is split down the middle like that, not for any silly reason like "We needed to put a CGI alien spaceship slicing through it," but for the good and sensible and practical reason that Queen Anne, whose house lies behind, didn't want her view of the Thames obstructed. She still has a clear vista, even though she barely lived in that house a year and is quite dead now in any case.

She had a point, though. Although it's just down the river from central London, it feels open and airy and very far away from city life. As pleasant a park space as ever I've wandered.

Although the palace has been revamped quite a few times, it still holds onto some pretty dang breathtaking ceilings in what is straightforwardly enough called the "Painted Hall."

Queen Anne's house is now used as a gallery to display the collection of the Maritime Museum, which sits just next door. Of particular note was a display of from-life illustrations of World War II. My favorites were these charcoal sketches done by a WREN (whose name is too blurry to make out in the photo, more's the pity) of her colleagues at work. 

I love these. There's so much power in them. None of the women face the viewer; they're too busy fixing things and building things and manning the wireless and winning the war. Maybe they're tired. Maybe they're lonely. Maybe they're scared. But they're getting things done, with their own two hands and the brains in their heads, because somebody's got to do them.

By this point, I'd fully lost the other members of the party as I delved into the Maritime museum itself.

Front of the museum.
Rear of the museum.
I tend to enjoy naval museums, partially because I'm a Navy brat and it's in my blood, partially because of an enormous and beautiful picture book that made me conversant in the management of tall ships when I was about twelve. So I had a good long crawl through this one, and enjoyed myself thoroughly.

This being a very British naval museum, they have an impressive collection of figureheads.

I also found this giant map, and on this giant map I found my mission country--one of the three nations I now claim as a home. 

The museum had several fantastic and very sensitively constructed exhibits, including one on the history of the East India Trading Company and another on the history of trans-Atlantic British commerce. Here's an infographic that caught my attention; the widths of the lines represent the number of people who followed that route to settle in North America before about 1750.

My gosh. I mean, my GOSH. Those skinny lines are all the people necessary to settle and populate the colonies that gave Britain and France such trouble . . . and the huge broad lines are the slaves brought in to make those colonies profitable. All those people, outnumbering the Europeans by an order of magnitude . . . and yet their descendants are technically classed as 'minority.' So many thousands of people who didn't live long enough to have children.

Also of note are Lord Nelson's bloody socks and trousers. Man, the poor guy bled to death surrounded by souvenir hunters. First the bullet, now the poor man's socks?**

And as one more comforting blast from the past, look what I found in the entryway! Awww, he memories.

Wandering through town afterwards, I stumbled across another museum. Here, for your edification and entertainment, are photographs from the world's only Museum of Fans. 

I learned all kinds of things . . . what different parts of fans are called, and different styles, and what the different parts are made from, and all about the illustrious guilds of fanmakers (did you know they had guilds?) . . .

It seems that painting pictures to be mounted on fans is, in fact, a thing. A rather prestigious thing. 

There was another by Gaugin, but I didn't get a photo of it. 

Up next: the London Transport Museum, Southwark Cathedral (the behind-the-scenes tour), and other meanderings.

*This is ignoring the undeniable fact that left and right are entirely arbitrary themselves, when we're talking about a globe in which "up" and "down" are also arbitrary.

**If ever, ever, EVER a blood-stained piece of my clothing goes on display in a museum, I beg everyone reading this to burn that museum down.

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