Monday, March 30, 2009

Hail Britannia, Part Four

Another day, another full agenda. Our trip was nearing its end, and I began moving in faster and faster motion. First on the itinerary was a brisk walk around the corner to the Victoria and Albert Museum. It was just going to be a quick visit today -- we were visiting only one room.
On the way in, I took a fancy to this lovely ornamental ironwork that bordered the museum...
...and was delighted to discover it repeated as a motif inside.

I handed Luca the museum map and and pointed to my favorite room. He accepted the challenge. I followed his little steps as he directed me past the ancient statuary...

...down the beautiful halls...
...and into the room that to me, is Christmas itself, the Textile Study Room. All of these enormous cabinets house the most precious embroideries in existence. And do you see all the brass handles? Give them a tug and out comes a framed treasure. Samplers, embroidered clothing, textile patterns, dating from the 1500's to the 1900's -- there is a selection of everything you can think of. Along the wall are tables so that you can prop them up and drool over them at your leisure.  

I love this little school handkerchief. I find its austerity quite modern.

At one point, I turned around and saw this amazing framed piece of fabric created by the Bloomsbury Group. I was overjoyed. It hadn't been displayed on my last visit.

I would totally upholster a pillow (or even a chair) in it today. Wouldn't you?

Next is the most heartbreaking work of embroidery I've ever seen.  Made around 1830 by a young woman named Elizabeth Parker, it's an autobiography in thread:  the story of her early life in domestic service and the horrible trials she underwent from various employers, nearly leading to suicide.
Some haunting extracts: 

"...Then I went to Fairleigh, [as] housemaid to Captain O., but they treated me with cruelty too horrible to mention....For trying to avoid the wicked design of my master I was thrown downstairs...I never told my friends what had happened to me...I acknowledge being guilty of that great sin of self-destruction....Day and night have I cried..." 

It ends abruptly with the words, "...what will become of my soul." Difficult as it was to tear myself away from it, I find it even harder to stop thinking about now.

I was also struck by this 18th century sampler because the little girl who embroidered it was only seven years old, the same age as Luca. I thought he would find it fascinating.

He didn't.  Strike one for Mommy.

So we hightailed it to the cafe, where his mood lifted enough to notice the incredible painted ceiling above us.

We both thought the orb lights were pretty amazing, too.

Then it was off to the National Portrait Gallery near Trafalgar Square.  Upon entering, Luca was handed this wonderful activity book, along with a handful of colored pencils.  He was thrilled and so was I.

Every room became an adventure...

...and an exciting chance to record history.

He was obsessed with this young man's frilly high-waisted outfit. I told him people used to dress like that, but he point-blank refused to believe me. "How do you know he wasn't going to a costume party?", he said.

There was a quick detour to St. Martin-in-the-Fields, where Luca did this brass rubbing of a bear...
...and a dash to Hatchard's, the oldest bookseller in London (or close to it)...

...where the sales clerks dress jauntily in shirt and tie and are erudite beyond all telling.  The oh-so-elegant shop boasts what I consider to be the most well-edited five floors of books in London.  The Queen has given it her Royal Seal of Approval, so you know you're in good hands.

Finally, it was next door to the mother of all grocery purveyors, Fortnum and Mason.

I tremble every time I cross the threshold.

Everything they sell is heartstoppingly delicious. And the red carpet has me at hello.

I feverishly scanned the store until I spotted my Holy Grail: the jam section.

There, in all its glory, were pots and pots of my beloved rose petal jam, along with about fifty other mouthwatering selections.  I loaded up my metal basket as quickly as I could, as ever since my jam post, I have been inundated with requests to bring some back.  (One pot is for you, dear readers.  I'll let you know when it arrives.)

I also purchased some biscuits...

...and Gentleman's Relish, a highly touted concoction of anchovies and spices. (I asked the salesman what it tasted like and he replied, "Fishy and salty." That was good enough for me.)

Their food hampers have been world-renowned for hundreds of years and justly so. One day I vow to order myself one.

After Fortnum's, Luca and I returned to the hotel, met up with The Divine Italian and hailed a black cab to Barnes, a posh suburb south of the Thames, where Luca was having his first international sleepover and Piero and I were having our first night off.

We had been invited to join four friends for dinner at one of the most long-standing private clubs in London, The Chelsea Arts Club. 
Founded by James McNeil Whistler in 1899, it's been a central gathering place for revolutionaries, bohemians, and intellectuals for over 100 years.

Imagine a place where everyone resembles Lucien Freud, David Hockney or Sir Ian McKellan and the women are all wild-eyed and passionate and you'll start to get the idea. Everywhere I turned, I was greeted by a wild shock of hair, a lilac velvet smoking jacket or a silk foulard flung carelessly around someone's neck.  Those were the men. The women were intense and lovely with lashings of red lipstick and fervent gazes.

We had a delicious meal that went on for hours, the kind of dinner where laughter gives way to more bottles of wine being opened and you hope that it never ends. At one point, we all noticed that the wait staff had cleaned the entire restaurant except our table. On the way out, I snuck this single photo. 
I'm kind of loving a dark painted wall right now. With candlelight and gold accents, I think it's terribly glamorous.  On the wall are paintings of previous members enjoying themselves in the very room we were in.  Lovely.

After that, we all repaired to The Gore for a post-prandial cocktail.  (Please don't ask how I felt the next morning.)

We had one more day in London and I went camera-free, so I'm afraid we've reached the last of my photos. We went to the park, we browsed, we dallied, and on our last night we all had dinner at Shoreditch House in the East End with some expat friends and their too-too adorable three year old twins. As we drove back to the hotel, we pressed our noses to the window to take in every last beautiful sight.

That's all she wrote.


Anonymous said...


Linda said...

My goodness, Lisa, you are really doing my last trip--although I didn't get invited to the Chelsea Arts Club (rats). Remember Dennis Severs next time.

Did you see Mrs. Archibald (Grace) Christie's work in the cases in the textile room at the V&A. My absolute favorite. A couple of years ago Trellis was on the wall but it is in storage now although I believe that you can make arrangement to see it. If I could wave a magic wand I wish I could have her talents. There are a couple of books c 1920. I am surprised that no has done a book of designs based on her work. It always amuses me that Agatha Christie was also Mrs. Archibald Christie--although I am quite sure they were two different Archies.

A few years ago I was at the Royal School of Needlework at Hampton Court. In one small room of that 16th c palace there was: a woman cutting 16th c slips off rotted fabric; a woman working on an altar front for a cathedral; and three students designing on computers. You have to love it.


Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Linda: When I lived in London, I wanted to take classes at the RSN, but we moved to LA before I had a chance. How amazing that you did! The Dennis Sever's website was amazing, BTW...I am thoroughly obsessed, and have just ordered his book, "Spitalfields", on I may also order the BBC documentary because it sounds as though so much of the experience of that house is auditory, right?

Laura said...

Oh those orbs...those orbs! I love them even more than the chandeliers at the Metropolitan Opera House! And I love that Luca is doing brass rubbings...I have wonderful memories of doing those with my sister when we went on family trips to Ashland, Oregon for the Shakespeare festival.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Swooning here. All my favourites in one post. Too much to take in! The perfect trip to London!

Susan's Snippets said...

Lisa -

Thank you for sharing another chapter of your trip. I don't want it to end!

I am in love with the sampler from the 7 year-old and Miss Parker's anguished embroidery. How hauntingly tragic that her life up until then was so sad.

praying it ended up glad

So Lovely said...

Gentlemen's Relish. I sing it praises. Its an acquired taste but I love it, ts so delicious.

I miss it every morning with my tea. My father would make me toast every morning with GR spread "liberally" on it.

Tricia said...

Such a dreamy trip. Thank you for sharing its delights with us. Little does Luca know that he has an international fan club!!

Tavarua said...

A life well lived - What a great London visit - lovely photos - here we ca learn from you how to really enjoy and have full interesting week in London. And a visit to Arts Club - that is great. You surely have an amazing passion for life..and the memories your son will have ..Well, alredy I think..fantastic -- Wonderful post

pve design said...

I especially rank in the dilly dally department.
"Dallied" - that is when you got me.

Funnyrunner said...

So cool! Thanks for all the beautiful photos. The husband and I are taking our 10 1/2 and 13-yr-old boys to London and Paris (for their first time) in another 3 weeks!

Flo said...

Oh I love the V&A, it is my favourite place to go for tea as the coffee shop (as you posted) is amazing, you could be in another world!

Really enjoyed reading your view of London, working there you can loose touch of what makes it so wonderful.

Did you make it as far as Daunts books on Marylebone High Street? It is a wonderful book shop!


Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Linda: I don't think I saw Mrs. Archibald Christie's work as poor little Luca was struggling with his attention span in the Textile Room. :(
I am going to do a Google search on her now...thanks for mentioning her!

Susan's Snippets: You'll be glad to know that Ms. Parker ended up having an okay life. According to the research, she became a schoolteacher and although she never married, she raised her niece and lived her life surrounded by family.

So Lovely: I'll let you know when the GR arrives. My husband is especially eager to try it, although I am guessing that my son will give it a pass. How wonderful that you had such an expansive palate as a child!

Flo: So funny...the friends we had dinner with our last night live in Marylebone and mentioned Daunt's as well. I'll have to go back asap and check it out...can't believe I haven't been there!

Bart Boehlert said...

Such great posts -- I feel like I have been on a trip to London. And Lucky Luca, what a wonderful mum.

Anonymous said...

Love the dark walls!!!! I have mine cement grey in the living room and it looks amazing at night by candle glow. Thanks for the glimpse from home. Im officially homesick now.....

Linda said...

Lisa--More on Dennis Severs. Yes, sound is really important to the experience--because it is an experience. It is time travel. We went at night and the house was dimly lit with candles as it would have been at the time (probably electric lights but they felt like candles). You are told not to speak and you walk from room to room. There are docents on each floor but they are just keeping an eye on things. They do not speak. The rooms are packed and you look around peering into the darkness. Then you hear the "inhabitants" of the house. Footsteps. Doors slamming. Conservations in which you can here the sound but not the words. A baby cries. You get to the room where the sound came from and it is gone, but you can hear another sound in the distance. "They" are always elsewhere, but they are definitely there. It sounds arty-farty, but it is feels real. "You either get it or you don't." The best "museum house" I have ever been in and I have been in a lot. But it is not really a "museum house." It is theatre as only the Brits do it--although Dennis was an American from California although he moved to London right after high school.

As I noted before, Dennis Severs' jacket is hanging behind the screen in the main bedroom so he is still there even tho he died 10 years ago. This house is a masterpiece.

Also interesting is the house that Benjamin Franklin lived in while he was in London. It too is a 18th c London townhouse. When I was there in 2006, it was not furnished except with really well done examples of museum display craft with excellent telling of the story of Franklin in London by an actress rather than a docent. Different, interesting but not magical, but worthy of time for those who like houses and history.

Toby Worthington said...

This post rang several bells of memory, one after another. I recall spending a blissful afternoon in the Textile Room of the V&A; the curator of it was
pleased that anyone at all should take an interest in her little corner of heaven.
Fortnum & Mason: for lunch or afternoon tea in the St James's Restaurant on the 4th floor~a place delightfully frozen in time.
That 17th century portrait of the foppish gentleman in tall boots standing on a chequerboard floor once informed the colour scheme of a John Fowler designed room in Scotland. It can be seen in the book Colefax & Fowler Best in Interior Decoration.

Toby Worthington said...

This post rang several bells of memory, one after another. I recall spending a blissful afternoon in the Textile Room of the V&A; the curator of it was
pleased that anyone at all should take an interest in her little corner of heaven.
Fortnum & Mason: for lunch or afternoon tea in the St James's Restaurant on the 4th floor~a place delightfully frozen in time.
That 17th century portrait of the foppish gentleman in tall boots standing on a chequerboard floor once informed the colour scheme of a John Fowler designed room in Scotland. It can be seen in the book Colefax & Fowler Best in Interior Decoration.
PS Was your hotel in the Cromwell Road?

MeanmagentaMarbling said...

Ah! The wonderful printed textiles by the Bloomsbury Group, the V&A tea room, Fortnum & Mason, goodness, I am dizzy! I must tell you Lisa that when I studied in London the V&A was my second home, such a unique and inspiring museum, did you see the Fashion and Costume department?
Many thanks for sharing your great photos and memories!
Ciao! Paola

Style Court said...

What a treat to see your pictures from the V & A. You must have been in heaven. I think the samplers are amazing. Loved Luca's bear too :)

Valerie Wills Interiors said...

Loved loved loved this post. I used to work in St. James's Street and in my lunch break would often go to Fortnum's or Hatchards... I was just back there for a bit of shopping (Oct 09) - first time in 12 years and fell in love with London all over again!

Carl said...

I bet you had a great trip at Victoria and Albert Museum! Before you went inside the museum, you found a nice work of art: the ornamental ironwork. It is good that you expose your kid to museums at his younger age. He would likely appreciate history and art because of it.

Carl Patten


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