Saturday, January 24, 2009

British Museum II

I love London. If you've got a free Saturday, your choice isn't which movie to go to, but which museum or which concert. Brilliant. And today we got back in the spirit with one of each.

We had our second taste of the British Museum today (we still haven't seen half of it yet), seeing the Europe from prehistory-present rooms (who knew that several former kings were buried in ships? Entire ships buried with a king inside! I sure didn't...) and, the highlight for me, the clocks and watches exhibit. I know, I know: clocks and watches... Tom, how boring ARE you? It was fascinating, though! It just reopened weeks ago (the curator of clocks and watches happens to be married to the head librarian at College, so I've been hearing about the process), and it is, like so many things in that building, utterly fascinating.

The mainstream stuff was impressive; for instance these proud grandfather clocks

with painstakingly intricate inlay.

Things only got more interesting from there. Here is an armillary sphere, "a representation of the heavens reduced to a series of metal bands."

And here is the actual chronometer used on the Beagle's famous 1831 voyage with Charles Darwin.

The most fascinating piece by far, however, was this:

A ship? Yes, but look at the detail:

Oh, and, I almost forgot to mention, it 'sails' across a flat surface and has dancing figurines, working canons, and a small organ with miniature bellows that plays music — all by intricate clockwork. Read on (please excuse the imperfect focus).

I had only heard of such things in a novella by Steven Millhauser, August Eschenberg, which I simply thought was another example of his typically fanciful, fantastical descriptions of excess. This, however, seems to have come from some other world, and I am unreasonably intrigued by it.

After a quick dinner, we then headed to the London Sinfonietta's concert (I hadn't been to a Sinfonietta concert yet... still haven't been to the London Symphony, only the Philharmonic and Philharmonia). We went to hear Frederic Rzewski's Coming Together (which I'll be performing at College in three weeks), which is a piece of music I can best describe as terrifying. The other two pieces were mediocre at best, but the Rzewski is such a powerful piece, even an uninspired performance is a visceral experience.

On a final note, I often muse about things the US and the UK would benefit from should they share their cultural advances (for instance, pub quizzes should be introduced in the States). I have long suspected but only today confirmed that drinking fountains are an exclusively American concept. I miss them; please, UK, implement this wonderful invention from the colonies.

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