You can tell whether anyone posing in front of I.M. Pei’s infamous pyramid entrance to this museum actually intends on visiting based on one thing. Footwear. To try and pack in as much as possible of this museum you need your most comfortable shoes so forget Parisian chic and all that rubbish – just wear trainers for the endurance sport that visiting the Louvre actually is.
I’d planned to get to the Louvre as early as possible knowing there’d be a long queue for the entrance, however by the time my brother had spent an age arranging his hair in the bathroom and we’d dropped our bags off at the train station – the queue was already around two hours long. Whilst the museum is undoubtedly worth a wait this long, the Louvre was enveloped in an icy mist that gave the palatial complex a rather gothic feel and coupled with the sub-zero temperatures, the queue did feel an age.
Once inside however we immeadiately picked up a map and sat down to draw our route incorporating the highlights for my brother and some more obscure galleries for me. We were there for a whole day and only saw a small portion of the galleries despite neccessary military style planning.
For our first stop I took my brother to see the Venus de Milo. Crowds and crowds of people surrounded it and this is my problem with the idea of ‘highlights’ – often people just stare, including my brother and I, just because we’re told an object is important. Although apparently famed for its beauty, since this is definitely subjective, to me this statue seemed often less interesting than those tucked into the surrounding alcoves.
Quickly exhausted by the sheer mass of crowds we headed from classical civilisation to the empty galleries of the Levant and Mesopotamia. From one armless statue to another and this time without the surrounding selfie sticks yet personally this statue from ‘Ain Ghazal in Jordan is far more interesting. Yes, it may look like a crude figurine but this figure from the 8th century BC is one of the earliest examples of ritual figurative art. Whilst seemingly crude they originally wore elaborate costumes and wigs and had a complicated internal structure to support the weight of the dried plaster. I could go on… maybe because I once managed to write 2,500 words on them for a university essay.
Continuing through these galleries you encounter more amazing exhibits – the Palace Gates of Sargon II rivalling displays in Berlin’s Pergamon; Hamurrabi’s law code (the oldest deciphered law code in the world) and bizarre votive figurines, all completely free from crowds.
We then travelled forward a few thousand years in time, although only having traversed a few galleries to early French sculpture. Napoleon sitting up in bed crowned with laurels and crushing an eagle to a Neapolitan fisherboy strangling turtles. No subject is seeming too great or small. My personal favourite is the tomb of Philippe Pot, a Burgundian nobleman, notable for the ghostly life-like mourners, faces all completely shrouded. Although it’s closely followed by St George and a dragon nibbling his lance like a breadstick!
Bonjour mon petit pois!! Just after Christmas my brother and I headed away on a joint Christmas/birthday treat together to Paris. My brother had never been and I only visited once aged 9 but some memories are still incredibly vivid and others came flooding back during our three day trip. We essentially wandered around Paris for two days taking advantage of the EU members under 26 free entrance and spent another compulsory day in the Louvre.
Other than our occasional family holidays to Germany/Austria, my brother had never been abroad and also had no experience of long-distance coach journeys. His introduction to my second home – the departures area of London’s Victoria coach station – was not auspicious. We had chosen to travel on the busiest day of the year – the evening of the last Christmas holiday when sardines would have complained about the conditions, people spilling outside into the coach bays to not be suffocated by the sheer mass of travellers. After eight hours of bus and ferry travel later we arrived with a Parisian morning still enveloped in darkness.
Deciding to start exploring in this characterful area of Paris we headed towards the only purveyor of breakfast open at 8 in the morning. Having picked some relatively cheap but unusual pastries and ordering some necessary caffeine, I nearly had to be scraped off the floor, learning the lesson that whilst the patisserie may be cheap, apparently it is standard in Paris to charge €5 for a small mediocre coffee! But the pastries were just the sugar kick we needed before heading to our next destination..
Pere Lachaise Cemetery
Seeing as it was so early, Paris hadn’t come alive yet we decided to visit the dead. It would have been perfectly possible to wonder around this cemetery for hours with each corner having unusual tombs stones and the rising sun added to the atmosphere. Unfortunately though we were still encumbered by our joint suitcase and as Pere Lachaise is rather hilly, we eventually decided to cut our aimless wondering short to drop it off in a station locker before heading for the islands.
Walking alone the Seine toward the Ile de la Cite in the crisp winter morning air was pretty scenic and arriving at the myriad of statues and buttresses and all-round Gothic architectural beauty was undoubtedly a highlight of the trip even if the exterior has been etched in my mind for over a decade. We both really wanted to visit the gargoyles but with a two hour queue and so much of Paris to visit we headed off to possibly the greatest piece of architecture on earth.
Waiting in the hour long entrance queue that is the norm for any attraction in Paris and eating a balanced lunch of crisps and macaroons cobbled together from the bottom of our rucksacks, my brother asked whether the queue was really worth it .Little did he know. 20 minutes later and we were inside a place that (cliché warning) photos cannot possible do justice to. Saint-King Louis IX’s reliquary chapel for the “Crown of Thorns” is a place where I would happily just lie on the floor and stare at the windows and their amazing overall effect for hours. In fact one day when I care less about social propriety I probably will!
Well its been a while… not that I haven’t been writing but in the past handful of months nearly every milisecond has been taken up with churning out endless essays and realising that three years into my degree I probably understand less about archaeology than I did when I was significantly less in debt. What little break I have had since October disappeared into a black-hole of flu and family medical emergencies which also had the unfortunate side effect that I was the only functioning person who could ferry my brother to his endless university interviews. To add to this my laptop committed harakiri by somehow magically jumping off a flat surface and until my finances improve I’m having to beg, borrow and steal (not quite resorted to that yet) computer access.
Anyway since I’ve now only got my dissertation to focus on – starts using excavation skills to dig a hole to sit in manically laughing whilst trying to hide from impending doom – I thought I’d occasionally take a break from my academic insanity with the odd blog post. So off we go…
One slight advantage of taking my brother to varying university interviews is the experience to travel. York has now been replaced by Norwich as my favourite English cathedral/minster city and Hendon is… not sure but I spent several hours in a campus foyer there. Anyway last week I ended up in South London shoving my brother through yet another door with a perfunctory good luck before wondering off for a couple of hours.. or so I thought. Having wandered down to Peckham I came across the amazing Persepolis, a Persian corner shop which stocks an amazing myriad of Middle Eastern produce. As soon as I’d crossed the threshold however I noticed my phone buzzing and apparently by brother had been waiting for me to collect him for a while. Three hours of travel and his interview lasted a measly ten minutes.
Since this was his last interview as a treat we headed to the Robots Exhibition at the Science Museum and having disposed of a cumbersome art portfolio (in a cloakroom not a bin!) we then discovered that there were no tickets until the afternoon due to something called half term. I had noticed that the average museum-goer in South Kensington that weekday was surprisingly baby-faced. Anyway wolfing down lunch under the benign golden gaze of Prince Albert in Kensington Gardens we headed down to London’s newest museum – the Design Museum.
My thoughts on the Design Museum; in all honesty I doubt I’ll be visiting again to look at the permanent collections. Whilst the building itself is relatively large, the free displays appear in a small area on the top floor and seem rather disjointed and not fully expressing the long British history of design. Often displays felt like they focused on being interesting design rather than interesting the viewer in the designs of the objects themselves. With large amounts of the museum were given over to a bar, restaurant and members lounge, it felt more a venue than a fully functioning museum which was incredibly disappointing especially in comparison to continental museums with a similar remit such as Copenhagen’s Design Museum and Vienna’s MAK (or Applied Arts Museum).
Returning to the Science Museum, we first went to a free special centenary exhibition: Wounded – Conflict, Casualties and Care. Whilst nearly a million British military personnel were killed, two million were wounded and the exhibition focused on the medical challenges faced on the front line and back home. The exhibits focused on break-throughs in this period, such as blood transfusion, x-rays as well as focusing on the varying responses to PTSD both then and among contemporary veterans.
From the sombre history of past medicine to futuristic engineering in Robots. This exhibition was utterly bizarre but did lead me to conclude that robots aren’t going to be taking over the universe any time soon. It’s taken nearly three years for one of the world’s most advanced robots to tell the difference between a banana and an apple of its own accord and the majority still struggle to walk long distances without swiftly draining their batteries. Others were plain surreal with the Japanese Telenoid meant to be hugged during long-distance calls with the facial features changing to match what is being said by the caller – I personally feel more comfortable with the idea of Skype. Continue reading →
Today is World Mental Health Day so it seemed an appropriate day to review Bedlam: the Asylum and Beyond exhibition at the Wellcome Collection in central Londo. I visited this exhibition during an extended lunch-break from university and whilst usually I prefer to spend my spare time avoiding deadlines and catching up with friends, for personal reasons this exhibition was of interest. Because I’m one of them. One of the 10%. Still no clue?
10% of English people will suffer from depression in their lifetime.
Every year one in four of us will suffer some sort of mental health problem.
Whilst the Bedlam exhibition showed the improvement in care of those once considered hysteric, melancholic, insane and disturbed and the change from what was the neat Georgian facade of eponymous Bedlam hospital then in London’s Moorfields, hiding an interior of broken individuals treated like zoo animals, shockingly visited on the tourist circuit of contemporary London. But the exhibition ended with a challenging question – what has the asylum been replaced with and are they still needed. Whilst the asylum is traditionally seen by some as an outdated and inhumane practice replaced by therapy and care in the community they are also seen by many suffering from mental health issues as “a safe space to be ‘mad.’” The world asylum after all means place of refuge.
The asylum had evolved from that 18th century hell-hole to institutions such as the Netherne Hospital in Surrey which was a pioneering centre of art therapy where around 100,000 art works were created in under thirty years. Other similar institutions had music rooms, entertainment programmes and provided work placements on farms and in craft workshops. A far cry from the idea of endless sombre padded cells (even though yes these were commonly used as a means of self-protection before the advent of many forms of medication). In 1961, Health Minister Enoch Powell announced the closure of these apparently unwieldy institutions and no more funding allocated towards updating their facilities – an announcement that came as a complete surprise to the medical profession with only a handful of experimental care in the community schemes. It was heart-breaking hearing the account of former patients returning to the familiar grounds of Netherne during it’s conversion into luxury apartments and being moved on.
Unfortunately the government’s current climate of austerity politics has also not been kind to mental health services. Last year the government cut this sectors NHS budget by nearly 10% and they receive only 13% of NHS funding despite accounting for a fifth of the illnesses suffered by those in the UK. At one point in 2014 there were even no mental health beds available in the hospital units that replaced those in the asylums. Continue reading →
My time in Jerusalem was undoubtedly the highlight of my trip – walking through the Old City mixing with Ethiopian monks, Hasidic Jews and Palestinian shoppers all in such a small space. The city itself is a microcosm of the cultural make-up of the rest of urban Israel, however I wasn’t to find that out for a few days since my next destinations were distinctly lacking in people especially when compared to navigating the crammed streets and souks of the region’s historical capital.
To get the bus to Masada (and anywhere in Israel) a knowledge of the Hebrew alphabet is essential otherwise you will have no idea of the bus’s direction even if you know the number. All the bus stations (and some supermarkets) in Israel also have a high level of security with baggage scanners which while at first can seem ominous or a hassle actually make the country remarkably safe to travel through and these constant checks eventually become a routine part of daily life.
Masada, the rock plateau and fortification, besieged for months by the Romans, a siege that resulted in the mass “suicide” of the roughly 900 people trapped on the plateau to avoid a life of slavery. Since Jewish law forbids suicide, the killers where chosen by lots so that only one individual had to kill himself. This harrowing story combined with the amazing geography of the fortress make it one of the most visited sites in this country.
I wanted to hike up to the top of Masada to see sunrise (and also therefore avoid the insane morning/midday/afternoon heat) and since I can’t drive I had to stay at the very overpriced hostel at its base. Dinner there cost more than my budget would allow me to spend and since Masada is in the middle of nowhere I unfortunately woke up at the ridiculous time of 4am to start my climb on a very empty stomach. The walk up the snake trail began in the dark alongside a surprising number of fellow slightly unhinged individuals. After around half an hour of climbing, it began to get steeper and as I drained my first water bottle and started deliriously fantasising about breakfast foods, calling the ascent to the plateau enjoyable would be as far from the truth as possible. There was after all a reason the Romans spent a ridiculous amount of time and manpower building a ramp up the other site of the plateau.
However all these grumbles are completely irrelevant. The seemingly never-ending steps did in fact come to an end and the view is breath-taking, unforgettable, string of other cliché words etc. Slowly watching the sun rise over Jordan and the Dead Sea whilst sitting knackered on the edge of a fortified plateau (health and safety completely forgotten) associated with one of the most tragic sieges in history was worth every drop of sweat.
After exploring the ruins of the palace complexes, ritual baths and caves on the plateau and admiring the view over the multiple playing-card shaped Roman military camps and the surprisingly mediocre ramp that surrounded Masada, the siren call of food back at the hostel proved to great and I hoofed it back down the path. Having both not eaten for close to 24 hours and having just completed a pretty strenuous climbs I may have eaten two trays of breakfast food in a state of hunger that meant I was beyond caring whether the chocolate mousse touched the herring! Continue reading →