Wednesday, June 20, 2012

St. George's Cathedral/National Gallery/Olympic Walking Tour

Wow, what a day yesterday!  I had so much going on I had to postpone writing and publishing this post until today since I was so absolutely exhausted and wanted to get some sleep.  To start out yesterday, I got up at 6:30 to go to 7:30 mass at St. George's Cathedral.  St. George's was the first Catholic cathedral built in the United Kingdom since the Reformation, and it's a block away from my building, how amazing is that?  Mass was said in a very small chapel off to the side of the main sanctuary in the cathedral.

The actual sanctuary was gorgeous as well.  I'd love to go to Sunday Mass there, just to hear Mass in a cathedral, which I think would be absolutely amazing. 

There's a certain simplicity about this cathedral.  I mean, it's gorgeous and wonderfully decorated, but I'm used to St. Patrick's in New York and such.  There are only a few small chapels in this cathedral, at least that I could see.  There's one for St. Joseph geared toward children with books and everything.  The one I liked the most was for St. Patrick.  Naturally, it was bathed in green and, once again, simple yet beautiful.

Mass was understandably small.  There were several businessmen in suits on their way to work, which I thought was pretty cool that they took time out of their busy schedules for this.  There were also about half a dozen sisters from the Missionaries of Charity, the religious order Mother Theresa started.  I thought this was pretty awesome, I'd never seen them before except on television.  I guess it makes sense to have them here, since there's such a heavy Indian population (Brits call them "Asian", not "Indian" fyi).  It was really cool to see them.  Most of the Mass was spoken, but that was because it was so short (thirty minutes, which, compared to Byzantine Catholic liturgies is about the length of some priests' homilies).  I definitely want to go back one Sunday, not just this Sunday since I'll be in Wales then.

After Mass, and class, I headed over to the National Gallery for a little bit of exploring with a guy from API.  We wandered around for about an hour and a half.  I know it's not nearly enough time, but we have plenty of time to go back, we just wanted to get a taste for what it was like.  Let me tell you, I saw some pretty amazing paintings in that hour and a half.  First, I got to see Van Gogh's Sunflowers

He did more than one painting of sunflowers, but that doesn't make them any less amazing.  It was so cool being able to look at the painting up close and personal.  The use of colors and layering and detail, it's something that can only be appreciated in person I'm afraid.  Sure, photos like the one above are nice, but you MUST see it in person to truly understand what it's like.

Speaking of seeing a painting in general, that is the ONLY way to see the next painting I saw, Monet's Waterlilies.  Once again, Monet did several of these, all inspired by the pond in his backyard.  The one at the National Gallery was the last one he did.

I mean, the picture above is gorgeous, but to truly understand the beauty of this painting, it is essential you see it in person.  Surprisingly, I liked another painting by Monet in the room just a little bit more.  Below is a copy of Monet's painting of Venice.  I thought the use of color and lighting in this one was a little more beautiful, but that's just me.  That's not to say the waterlilies weren't pretty, because they were gorgeous as well.

When we rushed through the Gallery a few days ago for the scavenger hunt, I got to catch a glimpse of The Execution of Jane Grey by Paul Delaroche.  I mentioned it briefly in another blog post, but now I finally got a chance to go back and appreciate this work of art.

First of all, this painting is absolutely HUGE, probably life size, which is a little bit of a bigger deal since there are five people in the painting.  The attention to detail was beyond anything I'd ever seen in a painting either.  On the left hand side you can see a woman in a red gown leaning against the wall in despair.  Well, the folds of her gown around her legs looked like a photo (I'm not joking).  Also, Jane's hair curled down over her shoulder looked like a photo as well.  You just feel dwarfed by this painting and the magnitude of the message it's trying to convey.  You feel bad for Jane (as you should) and her fate.  That's the one thing about going to art galleries, you don't realize how big (or small) some paintings are until you see them in person.  Yes, in a book the dimensions are usually listed, but that doesn't mean anything until you're standing right there next to the painting.

Finally, I saw a special exhibit, Titian's Flight Into Egypt.  This is the first time this painting has been let out of Russia in several decades, so it was a real treat to see it.  The flight into Egypt is often something forgotten in the Bible.  After Christ's birth, Herod was on a rampage looking for him and killing all male babies under the age of two.  An angel came to Joseph in the night and told him to take Mary and the baby to Egypt where they would be safe, and they stayed there for quite some time. 

The painting above is fairly huge.  What's ironic about it is the background, which represents the Alps where Titian grew up, so it's not accurate at all.  That doesn't mean it's not a good painting.  Since there were so few paintings on the subject at the time, Titian could take as many artistic liberties as he wanted, which he did.  It's only on loan to England for another two months or so, and I'll probably go back to see it at least one more time before I leave.

Well, believe it or not, I actually managed to cram even MORE into yesterday (I told you it was a really long day).  I went on a walking tour of the Olympic venues.  We couldn't go to the venues, they're still being constructed (cutting it kind of close), but we got fairly close to them.

The building pictured above was our first stop.  It's an old grain mill along the river.  In it they're practicing for the opening ceremony, which is to reflect the heritage of the part of London where the games take place (it's where all the heavy industry used to be).

Next we got to a spot where we could see a majority of the venues.  On the left hand side above you'll see something that looks like a roller coaster.  This is this huge structure that will be a viewing platform (you can see it on the top) for people to watch the games and everything.  It's absolutely huge and still under construction.  Next to it you'll see a stadium.  That's where the Opening Ceremony will take place.  There are zip lines between those little triangles on the top (those are lights) for actors and scenery to move around during the Opening Ceremony.  Also, when watching the ceremony keep an eye on the US flag as it makes its lap around the stadium, as the person holding it won't dip it in respect as he or she passes the Queen and other dignitaries.  This is intentional.  When we came to the Games here in London in 1908, the American team didn't see our flag flying.  Instead of leaving (which is what the Swedes did that same year when they didn't see their flag), the person holding the flag at the ceremony didn't dip it out of respect, and he said, "This flag doesn't bow to an earthly king," and this set a practice still in use today.  It's hard to tell in this picture, but the stadium is incomplete.  There was supposed to be a wrap that went around it, but they've been having trouble finding a sponsor since the sponsor won't be able to put their name or anything on it since they're not an official sponsor of the Olympics.  Finally, they found a chemical company.  Unfortunately, that company is responsible for the Bhopal disaster in India in 1984, which is probably why India has been threatening to boycott the games.  We'll have to see how this one plays out.

Above is the aquatic center.  As the name implies, this is where all the swimming and aquatic events will take place.  I think it's a pretty cool looking structure, but that's just my humble opinion, not everyone agrees with me there.

That hotel looking thing picture above is actually Olympic Village, where all the athletes are going to live.  Afterwards, it's going to be turned into apartments for the area.  It's really hard to see, but just past Olympic Village is a bubble looking thing, and that is the basketball stadium.  Interestingly enough, it's going to be taken apart after the Games and sent over to Rio, and in four years, you'll see the same exact stadium being used for their Olympics, which is a pretty good idea.

The big black building above is the handball stadium.  As the name implies, this is where handball and other such games will take place during the Olympics.  It's really just a big, black building, nothing overly impressive when compared to the other venues in my opinion.

Our last stop was to see statues of the two Olympic mascots.  I know they look a little weird.  The top one is Mandeville, and he is for the Paralympics.  The bottom one is Wenlock, and he's for the Olympics.  They epresent molten drops of steel that can shape shift into anything to symbolize how the section of the games where the Olympics will be was once a HUGE industrial center.

Well, that was my incredibly busy day yesterday.  I'd tell you what I have planned for today, but it's far more exciting to make you wait and see.  Until tonight then.

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