Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Mind the Gap

The day after Thanksgiving, we headed into London for a mini-break, a belated birthday present for KT. The centerpiece of the trip was a visit that afternoon to the British Museum to see a sampling China's 8000 terracotta warriors, the first exhibition outside China of this unusual archaeological find. Here's a excerpt from the wikipedia description:

The Terracotta Army was buried with the Emperor of Qin (Qin Shi Huangdi) in 210-209 BC (his reign over Qin was from 247 BC to 221 BC and unified China from 221 BC to the end of his life in 210 BC). Their purpose was to help rule another empire with Shi Huangdi in the afterlife. Consequently, they are also sometimes referred to as "Qin's Armies". The Terracotta Army was discovered in March 1974 by local farmers drilling a water well to the east of Mount Lishan. Mount Lishan is also where the material to make the terracotta warriors originated. In addition to the warriors, an entire man-made necropolis for the emperor has been excavated.

I actually wasn't all that excited to see this show, because, hey, it's a bunch of similar looking statues. But I was wrong. First, the exhibit provided an impressive and clear history of China's first emperor, a story I shamefully knew little about. Second, the scope of the buried city he created with these statues is simply amazing. No two statues are identical, and the terracotta ranks go beyond soldiers--acrobats, horses, birds and more. Finally, I was moved that China had identified the burial mound where the First Emperor is but is refraining from digging it up. It hopes that non-invasive technologies will develop that will allow them to probe the site without disturbing it.

After the British Museum, we dashed over to South Kensington the subway as KT wanted to do some Christmas shopping at the Victoria & Albert museum shop (KT let me wait in a pub--she's the best wife in the world!). The V&A is also next to the Natural History museum where one of London's best outdoor skating rinks has been set up. We adored the South Kensington area--the subway stop has a nearby bakery, cheese shop, cookie store and more--and would love to live there if anyone wants to donate a million (pounds not dollars!) to let us buy a place.
The second goal of the weekend was to watch the Texas A&M vs Texas game at a sports bar hosting the London alumni clubs of both schools. So we sped away from the V&A, stopped in at Bodeans, the great BBQ place we found on a previous London trip, and rushed into the bar just after kickoff around 9pm. The Longhorns far outnumbered the Aggies, and Texas was expected to win easily, but A&M amazingly could not be stopped. You can spot KT in the right corner as everyone watches a key play. We rolled into our hotel room around 1am with our throats hoarse from shouting and celebrating the Aggie win.

We had a short agenda for Saturday. KT wanted to visit Borough Market, which was full of people, cheese, food, and more cheese. This market is one of London's oldest and most popular--Jude Law and other celebs often appear, and it's been used as location for many movies in need of a classic street market. Given that it's next to the Thames river, the Tate Modern museum, a wine mega-museum, and a brewpub, we would happily move here too if people gave us that million pounds.

Our final destination was the Tate Modern, one of the most popular museums in London (and the world). The Tate Modern houses an amazing modern art collection in a former power station and it's perhaps best known for the huge pieces of art installed in the central hall that used to house the station's turbines. The scary spider I recently wrote about was once on display in that hall. While we did speed through some of the collections and shopped again at the museum store, we were most taken with the new turbine hall installation, which has gotten everyone talking. Called Shibboleth and created by Doris Salcedo, it's a a crack in the floor (hence this post's title). That doesn't sound impressive but it is. The crack starts almost imperceptibly at one end of the huge hall and gradually widens and eventually splits into two fissures, creating a Y-shape. The gap's width never gets much bigger than the length of a foot but it's nonetheless dramatic visually. And people love it. They interact with, sticking hands into it, jumping across, lying down on the ground next to it. We spent a good 10 minutes watching people from above. The work has people guessing how Salcedo created it--this Guardian story with interview with construction experts is a fun read--as the interior of the crack has barbwire and other content that is obviously not from the Tate. Even the New York Times took note of the project yesterday. Mind the gap! -- JT

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