Sunday, December 23, 2007

London Transport Museum

Last night my friend Judy and I went to the London Transport Museum, located in Covent Garden. It has an impressive array of buses, trains, horse drawn trolleys and covers the history of the London Underground. Above is the main hall with several double decker buses. The stairs in the older ones were very narrow and steep.
Here's one old tube train, predating the electric ones.
We then wandered over the Trafalgar Square. Carolers sang beneath the giant Christmas tree.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Go-karting at King's Cross

Today, for our Christmas party at the studio, we went to the Raceway go-kart track at King's Cross. As you can see, it's an indoor facility, utilizing an old warehouse, which is going to be torn down soon for a huge new development.

I didn't quite know what to expect, only that I hoped I wouldn't have the same humiliating experience I had at the now-defunct Fontaine Ferry Park in Louisville when I was a kid. Most of the park was very old, but one fairly modern addition was a very nice Autopia-like go-kart track, which did not have a center safety rail like the one at Disneyland. I was thrilled when I was finally tall enough to drive one myself and was doing fairly well until I took one very sharp curve and pinned the car sideways against the curb. I turned around to see a dozen drivers behind me, angry that I had ruined the ride for them. A grumpy teenaged attendant told me to scoot over and drove the rest of the way himself. I was further humiliated when I saw my father doubled over with laughter.

Now logic told me that I was no longer a kid and after all have logged several hundred thousand miles on the roads, and in Los Angeles yet, but somehow I suspected some snotty teenager, this time with a British accent, would tell me to get out and drive the car back to the pit where my workmates would be standing there doubled up with laughter. Naturally, I didn't set any records, that I didn't have an delusions about, but on the other hand I didn't pin the car against the curb as a few others did, I didn't spin out, flip over a barrier or decaptiate myself. My driving partner and I came in 11th out of 16. The kid inside of me was not impressed but at least relieved.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Bee Movie Premiere

Last night, December 6, I attended the Bee Movie UK premiere with friends at the Empire Cinema in Leicester Square. That's Barry the Bee welcoming us inside as seen from the start of the green carpet. Despite the gusty night, there was little chance of him flying away, because as it is stated in the film, bees can't fly in the rain.

I was on the story team on the movie from 2004-2005. Jeffrey Katzenberg, director Simon Smith, Renee Zellweger and Jerry Seinfeld introduced the screening.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Christmastime is Here

Today I braved the crowds on Oxford Street. On your marks, get set, GO!!!
Apparently London department stores seek to humiliate their employees by making them dress up in imaginative, humiliating costumes as these. My question about these were, were they presents or elves? Or elves wrapped up as presents? Why were they wrapped as presents? Does Santa get rid of some of his elves like this by leaving them behind? Whose idea was this?
Ah, Selfridges, the monumental department store. It takes up an entire city block. The men's department alone is the size of most normal department stores, so you can imagine how big the women's department is. Three times that size. I didn't dare look, but the shoe department alone must be the size of an mid sized airport. Of course everything was twice as expensive as it would be at Macy's or even Bloomingdale's but people were pushing and shoving one another to pay twice retail and more. Harry Gordon Selfridge's story is quite interesting. He was an American magnate, born in Wisconsin, originally with the similarly opulent Marshall Fields Department Store of Chicago. He dated both Dolly Sisters, the famous Vaudeville act, apparently at the same time, and died broke (but apparently after a full life) in Putney, a London suburb within walking distance of my flat. Despite his ending in poverty, the store remains a monument to the wealthy, exactly as he would have wanted. Even Selfridges, however, can't compare to the grandest of all department stores, the one, the only

Harrod's! Yes, there it is, lit up and sending artificial snow out over its eaves to shoppers below, which seemed like half the city. The tube entrances and exits were blocked with the crush of people pushing in and out of this massive, famous store. I hoped to buy something in the famous food court, with one large room dedicated to the finest chocolates in the world, but gave up trying. It was simply too crowded for me. If one could barely get in and out on December 1st, what is it like on Christmas Eve? God help anyone who ventures forth to find out.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Lord Mayor's Show

I saw posters advertising the Lord Mayor's Show but forgot about it until I turned on the television today and saw the live broadcast. I actually had the presence of mind to look up the information on their website, on which they gave a detailed schedule of the parade route and said they would to stick to it 'within seconds'. What? This is not Germany, 'on time' is relatively subjective to the English. I saw that it went on for hours, so I figured that if I could get to the Mansion House tube station within sight of St. Paul's (as you can see from the picture below) I might just see the whole thing. I was astonished that as soon as I surfaced from the Tube and hit the curb (or as they spell it here, kerb), here it came.

It was a pageant of pomp, with beautiful uniforms and sprightly bands, interspersed with rather uninspired floats (those expecting something on the order of the Macy's Parade would be dissatisfied), and the occasional antique bus, Rolls and even a steam roller.
This was an accordion band from Ireland. Since much of my childhood was spent being tortured by my own sinister accordion, I had to take this shot.
Towards the end, the pomp reached rather majestic heights when the ornate beyond belief coach of the Lord Mayor came into sight. The new mayor, Alderman David Lewis, leaned out and waved not twelve feet from me but I failed to get a good enough picture to post here. I had to lift up the camera over the crowd of waving flags and other digital cameras so I was shooting blind, and that's just what it looked like. Very disappointing.
A few hours later, there was a twenty minute, free fireworks display on the Thames near Waterloo bridge.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

London Wetland Centre

About a 45 minute walk upriver from me is the London Wetland Centre, as the brochure states "43 hectares of beautiful wetlands created by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust in the heart of the capital city."

The marshland is in a well-maintained semi-natural state, with pathways leading to different groups of native and non-native species of water fowl.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Guy Fawkes Night

Nearby Battersea Park hosted a Guy Fawkes celebration on Saturday night. Traditional toffee apples and baked potatoes were on hand, but I chose a hot dog (well, I am an American, after all). It started with a bonfire, followed by about a half hour of fireworks timed to a music track, quite nicely done, but I was a little underwhelmed by its size and scope considering it was advertised the biggest in London and an estimated 50,000 showed up. On the other hand, the fireworks celebrations are numerous and spread over several nights, not just November 5th, the actual Guy Fawkes date.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

London City Hall

Immediately west of Tower Bridge is this Norman Foster creation, London City Hall.

It is complimented by a plaza of rectangular glass structures and a below-grade amphitheatre. The spire looks as if it was spirited in from the 1964-65 New York World's Fair.

Three icons of London

Standing near the front of the Design Museum, I captured this shot with Tower Bridge (1894), The Tower of London (1078 - 1285) and looking like the spaceship from Destination Moon that's touched down within its walls, the 30 St. Mary Axe (popularly known as The Gherkin) (2004). This is modern London at a glance, the old, the very old, and the very new, all side by side.

Design Museum

The Design Museum is just east of Tower Bridge. I was surprised to read that the exterior design is not original, but constructed to look like vintage International Modern Style. There's a bookstore and cafe on the ground floor, then two floors of exhibits. It's not terribly large and there is an entrance fee. Currently there is an excellent exhibit showcasing the career of architect Zaha Hadid. The first room was so theatrical at first I didn't know what I was looking at. The shot above is simply a table of architectural models in front an entire long wall of projected images. Hadid's work ranges from modern 21st century to certainly where no man has gone before. Her buildings are highly imaginative, many of them quite organic.
One of the many cases of models.

A chandelier from one of her buildings.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Sights along the Thames

This is one of the many houseboats moored along the river. Note the potted plants on its deck.
More houseboats are clustered near a charming old church. Beyond is an ultramodern residential tower, one of the many that have almost completely replaced the old industrial buildings on the shores of the Thames.

There are also boats resting in canals.

I spotted two swans getting drowsy in the fading light.

Albion Riverside

About a mile down the Thames from my flat is this spectacular new residential building, Albion Riverside. It was completed in 2003, designed by Foster and Partners, founded by architect Norman Foster. The firm is responsible for some of the more exciting new buildings in London, including London City Hall, Wembley Arena and 30 St. Mary Axe, popularly known as "The Gherkin."

While the sides of the building are curved, leaning on angled posts,

the front side is rippled, like the surface of the river it faces.

The rear of the building continues to surprise.

John Piper's British Gas Mural

I noticed the mural on this building near the Thames in west London shortly after I moved to my flat just across the river. A little research revealed it had been a British Gas building, now converted to flats. Clearly, the structure itself was greatly altered but someone was smart enough to retain the mural, by British painter and designer John Piper (1903-1992). Unfortunately, they didn't have the foresight to showcase their treasure with reflecting pools and gardens, which it certainly deserves. Even as your eye is drawn to the wonderful colors and shapes of Piper's designs, it is assaulted by one of the ugliest fenced parking lots I've seen in London, which I have struggled to avoid showing here.

The Tate Britain Museum in London has a strong collection of Piper's work, including a photograph of him making the panels.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Great beauties of General Motors' past

Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles, my friend Richard Stanley tells me that General Motors is planning to include his 1928 La Salle 303 Roadster (above) and his 1938 Cadillac 60 Special V8 (below) in a book marking their upcoming centennial. These two rare and glorious diadems are the crown jewels of Richard's classic car collection and I've been priviledged to ride in both of them. I had never before ridden in cars that old, and was surprised how fun the LaSalle was. I remarked at the time it was like being in an amusement park ride. I simply couldn't stop smiling. Produced just ten years later, the 1938 Cadillac demonstrated enormous strides forward in the automotive world. It set the standard for all luxury cars (including Rolls Royce). Now nearly seventy years old, gliding through the streets of Los Angeles (a city hardly lacking in automotive splendor) she is still turning heads. How many grand old dames can say that? Incidentally, these stunning photographs are Richard's own; he's a professional photographer as well as a noted realtor. You can see his current listings and more of his photography here.

Sunday browsing at Camden Market

Today my Brazilian friends Ennio and Adriana breezed into London for a holiday. The Torresans now live in Los Angeles, but I met Ennio at Amblimation when I lived here before, in 1989-91. Here's his website. They were determined to ignore their jet lag (though Ennio said he was sure the ground was occasionally tilted), so we wandered for hours through the vast Camden Market, which stretches several blocks (if there is such a thing as a 'block' in London). The market has grown over the years, spreading under old trestle arches, former warehouses and most notably, an old horse trolley barn, complete with its old brick curved ramp. As you can see in the picture above, one arch now sports an enormous old chandelier. This is typical of the market's funky splendor. Literally hundreds of stalls sell every sort of merchandise: some old, some new. One store sold outrageous club ware that very literally recalled The Jetsons. Adriana very nearly was tempted to become Jane Jetson. She resisted, possibly because we still aren't quite ready for flying bubble cars. There's also stores and stalls of furniture, toys, vintage clothing, jewelry, crafts, and numerous food stalls, much of it at fairly reasonable prices, which for London is saying a lot.
Here's Adriana and Ennio Torresan and their good friend Beatriz, who is also from Brazil but now lives in London. She was our fearless guide.

In the middle of Camden Market is the Camden Lock. Some people aren't aware there are canals in London.

We finally left past 7 PM. I was surprised many of the stalls were still open.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Leicester Square Odeon

Since Sir John Soane's house is really not terribly far from Leicester Square, I strolled over and that's where I bought the Dufy. I took a few shots of the Leicester Square Odeon, which looms over the square like something out of Metropolis. Here's where you want to go when you must see a Big Film on a Big Screen. It's akin to the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. Here's more information about this cinema.

Sir John Soane's house of treasures

Very close to the Holborn tube stop is this elegant, leafy and quiet street called Lincoln Inn Fields overlooking a pretty little park. In the middle of the row of extravagant townhouses is Georgian architect Sir John Soane's rather incredible residence.
The facade looks a tad eccentric, yes, with those partial columns and stone maidens on the third floor, but nothing prepares one for the interior. Sir John left his house to Britain in 1837 with one minor clause: nothing was to be changed. I didn't quite know what to expect other than an old house, but the place is crammed from floor to ceiling in most locations with jaw dropping objects from antiquity, including Seti I's sarcophagus (the British Museum was offered it for 2,000 pounds but rejected it, and let's just say it's not exactly a piece of junk). Only a few people were let in at a time (and it was free) which made the viewing rather pleasant throughout. Much of the house does feel like a museum, that is, the way museums used to be before more thought was given to actually viewing pieces with some breathing space around them. Most amazing is the atrium, which stretches from the basement through three floors to a glass domed roof. The reception rooms on the ground floor are beautiful yet odd, with rather startling colors and murals on the ceiling. Besides loads of old Roman busts and pieces of ancient decor (one clearly sees where he got his inspiration for his own Neo-Classical designs), there's the Hogarth Rake's Progress paintings in one room (1734). The downside: no interior photography allowed and the books for sale aren't very good. However, interior photos can be seen here.