Friday, June 08, 2007

DSC_3744 - Self ReferenceToday's post will be about (yep, first lines are always the hardest) Monet at the Royal Academy. If like me you usually find the room devoted to sketches and preliminary work the most fascinating part of any exhibition, you'll probably like the Unknown Monet exhibition. Gone are the Smarties-in-glycol waterlilies and florid smog, except for the last room which contains a wide array of since-replaced and renamed London bridges (which took some explaining to the Americans wanting to see them). Instead the walls are covered with earlier works and sketches, largely depicting the Normandy coast with Honfleur (where the lock gates had broken), Deauville (where the tide forbade) and Le Harve (where we wished we hadn't bothered after the third lap of the mopedcade) vying with chunks of shore which seem like Durdle Door and Ballard combined or like the slumping chunks round the Mulberry Harbour (yes, I am covering for not having quite recalled the name of the place yet).

You will of course have to have a high tolerance for boats, preferably a liking and the tendency to note the bits he hasn't got quite right. You may also wonder how someone who must have spent so much time by the sea could repeatedly get it slightly wrong, with boats being hauled through the surf, if a near calm could be called that, without any splashes or ripples, or a brilliant reflection not matching the partially lit subject. But then in a later room Monet's print of one of his own pictures, while more ragged than the professional printmaker's, manages to convey the standing waves around a coast far more clearly than the latter's print, which is solely concerned and thereby consumed by the surface ripples. Which won't make much sense if you haven't seen the prints of the Savage Coast.

The self-reproducing prints were part of Monet's promotional system. It's odd to discover, or be reminded, that rarely is fame accidental, and that management of reputation and renown is not a recent invention. Which sounds immensely facile given the prevalent knowledge of defamed post-mortem hunchback kings, Shakespearean slander and even the existence of the word 'Machiavellian', but it's easy to think of refinement of such as modern ills.

And while you're there, don't ignore the cluster of computers; his sketchbooks, which are shown on touchscreen monitors (how very Tomorrow's World; how very usable, except when they make the link too small and so it disappears beneath a futilely bouncing fingertip, or when I short the signal by letting other fingers brush the screen. And where have I learnt to put two fingers on the screen and spread them apart to zoom in from? Because it's something I expect to work, although it didn't on these screens, which restricted options to a single left mouse button).

I've just realised I'm breaking with tradition by posting before an exhibition closes; the Monet is on till the tenth.

After a couple of apples in the courtyard (try to be around the Champman dinosaurs at quarter to one; you'll see why if you wander around them), we headed west, past expensive shops full of cheese and cheesecloth, the long familiar Stockpot, and the back of the galleries, whereupon - er, I realised that should actually be 'east' above - we decided to see what's in the National Portrait Gallery for once. Greer, Mudoch, Caine, Moss, and Chirac lambasting Blair in a corridor (there's a section following Blair in the build-up to the Iraq war, which is quite good, although presumably published aeons ago in the Times). Then upstairs for tea, at scandalous prices, which aren't that ghastly for London (be warned: service is not included except in the end bill [regardless of how miserable the waitress is]. And the sandwiches are dainty), but are when in the knowledge it's cheaper in the basement. Yet the basement only gives a view of pedestrians' legs, whereas the restaurant gives a view of Nelson's legs. It may also come with the view of some familiar shoulders.

Continuing in the tradition of the blurry back views of both Chris Martin and David Gray with miscellaneous children, I have a shot of both Alistair McGowan's extremely well-tanned elbow (that'll be what one gets for using a zoom while shooting from the ribcage) and a far wider shot of most of the room with dark cluster representing Ronni Ancona's hair, with a tanned temple protruding beyond it as McGowan explains something in his deep, carrying voice (is it eavesdropping if the eaves are rumbling in resonance?). I would report what the conversation was about, but I was more concerned with attempting reflection free photography of the view (remind me not to wear white). So I haven't much to say about them, except that Ancona looks better, far healthier, in life. I didn't bound up and ask for autographs, as, er, were I being cruel, I might comment that their work is only fractionally less patchy than his hair*, but I'm not, or should not be, so I'll leave it as I'm just not the autograph-seeking kind.

* Although that's true of much comedy. I suppose it's the air of forced jollity bathed in mildly frantic despair, which pervades much of their work, that I dislike. It's too orchestrated, too pessimistic, assuming the joke will flop and so over-acting to compensate, striving to get a laugh on every single line, including the stage directions. There's no confidence in it, no assumption of some minor morsel of intelligence on the part of the audience. They don't seem to trust themselves to be good.

So after the famous faces, and watching the National Gallery workers sneak onto the roof for a smoke, we adjourned to Oxford Street, going our separate ways to fill separate needs, which in my case was replacement pair of linen trousers. H&M once more, despite the last being from there and having been worn through, as it was over the course of several years, and they're cheaper than anywhere else (and they're cut so the skinnily misshapen don't end up like a cross between Tintin and MC Hammer in them). What's it say about the shop that there are at least three different ranges of linen trousers and the blacks were down to about 3 or entirely absent in each of them? The choices were 31 or 32. Fortunately, despite wearing a recent GAP 33 the 31 fitted better, so I'm happy, or possibly suffering from anoxeria absent-mindia.

I also intended to buy some shorts, but got bewildered by the range of not quite right khakis and beiges, and then discovered they were all 34s and 36s. Now, what's that say about the shop that the unsold extra-large sizes end at a 36-inch waist? As someone who was once ravaged by a wayward 48-inch waist Spitfire wing kit in M&S (I was in a hurry, it was hanging on a low shelf, so sprawled across the floor, and suddenly I was being dragged back to its lair, flailing to escape and expecting to have lines of sucker marks across my arms), I suspect they're breaking some discrimination law (although given the dearth of gangly armed shirts in any shop bar M&S, which does them in navy striped, blue, pale blue, four types of blue check and white, I suspect there is no such law).

After the excitement of expanding my non-suit, vaguely respectable trouser collection from a solitary of pair of greenly tinged, smally stained, lightly scuffed, slightly shapeless M&S things to the above plus the further above, I wandered off taking photographs while fielding phonecalls from someone who thought he was being helpful by relaying information between two people who'd already arranged things between themselves.

And then south, shortcutting through Soho yet again, realising rather too late that it might not be suitable for all audiences. She who shall not be named was complaining about the people standing blocking the pavement, wondering why all the pubs in the area seemed immensely popular yet had strangely gendrally ['tis a word] imbalanced clientèle, and then upon the sight of a rather gropesome kiss between a man in a leather cap and a man in terribly short shorts (er, clichés are apparently very now) was heard to utter "oh".

So into, and through, Covent Garden, having achieved a bare minimum of getting-lostage (I always forget Long Acre) and browsed the early arrivals for the Malayasian fair: It might not start till tomorrow, but I'm sure they'll sell you something if you ask them very nicely.

Southwards still, through the missing ranks of watermen, and over Waterloo Bridge (another renamed bridge, it being nearly built when a pragmatic parliament decided they needed to commemorate the battle), scanning rooftops for errant figures, an occupation that not only emphasises the amount of clutter around, but makes bluntly modern buildings seem considerate through acquiescing to the temporary forms, rather than the guerilla pomp of more decorative structures. It's surprising how differently the buildings react to a human shape; the towers of the National Gallery suddenly shrink, becoming mere boxes, whereas others seem intent on grinding the figures into the sky (whereas others still appear to be grinding themselves into the sky; the clay on the fly tower obviously has not been getting enough water, as the bit where no grass sprouted has started to flake off).

After short bout of bemusing helpfulness (directions, photo, local knowledge - always getting asked) while discovering that even in June easterlies off the Thames aren't that warm, we depart, Gormleying along the way.

Worth the wait? There are earlier others still to come.


"bare minimum of getting-lostage".

You're picking up Azuricish I see.

Sick one.

Anyway, who were you in London with and when?
But "bare" is not in the you sense. And I picked -age up from my brother years ago.

To answer your questions: people, sometime.
If you're interested, Language Week 2007 starts Monday, June 25!
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