Saturday, May 2, 2009

May 2: Sir John Soane's Museum and the British Museum

The day started late again today with time adjustments still taking place.  At around 11:30, we departed for Sir John Soane's Museum, another free museum and former home of the eponymous Sir John Soane (1753-1857), an English architect who specialized in the Neo-Classical style.  Unfortunately, Soane's work was not truly appreciated until the late 19th century, by which time many of his works were already demolished.  The nearly total replacement of his most notable work, the Bank of England, was described by Sir Nikolaus Pevsner (a noted German-born British scholar of architecture) as "the greatest architectural crime, in the City of London, in the 20th century".

What Soane did leave behind, which has thankfully not been destroyed, in addition to some of his works, was his home at No. 13 Lincoln's Inn Fields, Holburn, London which contains various works of art, pieces of architecture, and other historical miscellany collected by Soane during his lifetime and arranged, in the words of a caretaker, "in the exact placement they were in the day he died".  This seemed to be a reasonable thing to accept as we stepped from the queue into the museum, checked our bags at the door, and walked amidst the hodge-podge of antiquity which inhabits the home.  It is fortunate that upon Sir John's death he didn't, say, fall into a collection of his vases or sculptures, which would have evidently been left in pieces on the floor.  It was quite an interesting excursion.  It really feels as if Sir John is just out for a bit and that we, the lucky impostors, are allowed to peer into nearly every nook and cranny.  The centerpiece is the sarcophagus of Seti I, son of Ramses I and father of Ramses II.  It was purchased by Soane in 1824 when the British Museum refused to pay the £2,000 requested and is quite a site.  

Following this, I purchased another take-away sandwich at Pret a Manger and we headed for the British Museum for an introductory visit (a longer visit is set aside for Thursday, May 7).  Disregarding the general pilfering that went on to fill the museum with some of its most impressive pieces (the Elgin Marbles which were removed from the Parthenon, the Benin Bronzes, the Rosetta Stone to name some of the notables), the museum is an amazing site to behold.  Divided into periods from ancient to modern, the museum covers 2 miles of exhibition space, making it impossible to take in on a single visit, regardless of length.  

After visiting the museum, we headed back to the hotel for a brief rest and then ventured out once again, this time so I could pick up some clothes at Marks & Spencer (colloquially known as Marks & Sparks or simply M & S).  After adding 4 shirts and 1 pair of jeans to my bag, I was approached by a woman wishing me to use her "£5 Off" coupon in order to return her £5 in cash.  I was paying with a card and wasn't about to just hand over a £5 note.  So I inquired, just for fun, if they would return £5 to me.  Naturally, they wouldn't and I gave her the coupon back.  

"Why wouldn't they do it?" she asked.  I should've immediately thought of the "No Cash Value" that is typically printed on American coupons and directed her attention thusly; instead I stated "I don't know but I assume they know what they are doing", implying very evidently that she did not.  Immediately after which, we left, leaving her to attempt to get something for nothing from someone else. 

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