Hello y’all! I believe, after being continually inspired, day after day, in a range of dramatic fashions, that studying abroad in the city of London warrants a reinstitution of my high-falutin blogging. Thus I am returning to my rambling here, in hopes of getting something more out of my reflections on my experiences in the city.
Wednesday was particularly exciting- it began at precisely 6:02 am with my alarm. I peered out the window, (which affords a sky view of the tip of The London Eye) and London was already wide awake (if indeed it ever went to sleep) as the neon-lighted double deckers whirled by on the wrong side of the road, the neon jacketed bicyclers pedaled furiously in the opposite direction, and the walking Londoners trudged along in their uniformly black attire. (So much detail it’s ridiculous! It’s good to be back to this writing!)
And by a grace of God I got out of bed, happily strolling along the Jubilee Bridge towards Trafalgar Square, proud to be up with the early runners and an incredible amount of people but only a fraction of the traffic that would be rushing about a few hours later.
Why was I dashing off to the heart of London at such an early hour? To get tickets to view the once-in-a-lifetime Leonardo da Vinci exhibit taking place at the National Gallery – just 2 buildings down from the Notre Dame London Centre where I have my classes! The line was already wrapped around the cove inside at 6:45 am, and the queue-counter estimated that I was around #200 / 500 of the allocated tickets for the exhibit that day. You see, they only give out 500 tickets a day – the museum presold tickets in September, but they were completely out of them by October! And because the exhibition is ending this week, I knew that this was my last opportunity to see it. Surprisingly, it was warmer outside before the sun came up than after it did, when the wind picked up and the toes went numb.
But the 5 1/2 hours I spent waiting in line were quite unexpectedly happily spent chatting with an elderly, quite knowledgeable, new friend who lives on the outskirts of London. She told me all about the exhibits that I should visit while in London, having lived all over the world and having chosen to live in London, she shared a lot of family stories, political issues, cultural issues, and bits of wisdom with me. The two things that I remember her stating: “At age 70, I can say that what I enjoy is art and music, and taking long walks. Wine and nice meals are nice, but they don’t last. The real pleasures of my life have been looking, listening, and walking.” She also offered one wish for her native Chinese culture and children in general: “I wish I could teach children how to really look. Not to just take a picture of something, but to really look. It’s so important. Education is the most important thing.” This stuck with me. We live in a highly visual culture, and I do enjoy looking- like my new friend, it is one of my greatest pleasures in life. And I hope that in London I can keep honing this skill.
The Leonardo exhibit definitely challenged me to look- to have the patience to wait for the lingering crowds to shift a few paces over, to squeeze between people to get a good look at the incredibly miniscule, detailed drawings by Leonardo. I’m amazed at how flawlessly he executes his lines- how his sketches look like decorative swirls and patterns from afar, but up close, are actually detailed studies of a man’s profile. I loved the elegance of his line. The layers of his line. The softness of light on body of the infant Christ in Virgin of the Rocks. I was so thankful to see both versions of The Virgin of the Rocks – it was my main reason for going to the exhibit. It’s one of my favorite paintings of all. Highly mysterious, highly paradoxical, and remarkably unique to Leonardo’s vision and mind.
More posts (and pictures) on the markets of London soon! Cheers!