SUNNY AND IN THE 60s…I can’t complain about yesterday’s weather in London. And there’s something about the sky. When it’s not gray (as it so often is, and is again today, Friday), it’s particularly, poignantly beautiful.
I visited two of the city’s outstanding art museums, the 250-year-old Royal Academy of Arts, where one of the current blockbusters is American Painting After the Fall (meaning after the stock market crash of 1929 — I had wondered which fall they were talking about), full of rarely-seen, dystopian works by Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton, Edward Hopper and other social realists. Most were borrowed from museums other than New York’s and were wholly new to me.
I breezed through the permanent collection of The National Portrait Gallery just to get the idea, lingering over a few Tudors and Stuarts whose faces or costumes particularly arrested me. Then I enjoyed a ‘modern British’ vegetarian lunch in the third-floor restaurant, where the view rivaled (and resembled) that of Florence, with an unexpected number of domes and spires.
Both art institutions are housed in venerable buildings whose interiors have been cleverly revamped to suit current purposes, with (in the National Portrait Gallery, especially) dramatically long escalators and glass elevators that allow the building’s original ornate detail to still be seen.
Late in the day, I walked through some of the city’s poshest precincts, including St. James Square, top, and Westminster, wearing out more shoe leather over the Millennium Bridge. Destination: the National Theatre for Twelfth Night, a brilliantly staged production of Shakespeare’s original, in modern, outrageous costume and with hilarious physical comedy. I hope they don’t bring it to Broadway, where they’re sure to ruin it.
Come see what I saw.
Above, The Royal Academy of Arts on busy Piccadilly
While just around the corner, on the narrow side streets, the feel is of a smaller, even older town
High-priced shopping in the Burlington Arcade, off Piccadilly, includes several hatters and other old-fashioned businesses. Above, Fortnum & Mason’s glittering displays
I peeked into Zedel’s, a fabulous and festive Art Deco-era brasserie, a dead ringer for Paris’s, and found it hopping at lunchtime
Outside the National Portrait Gallery, above. Sadly, there’s a fair amount of homelessness on display in London
Samuel Pepys, 17th century diarist, bon vivant and Secretary of the Navy, without whom we would know much less of London’s Plague and Great Fire
The brooding young poet, later priest, John Donne
The view from my table at Portrait, the National Portrait Gallery’s top floor restaurant. Nelson’s column at Trafalgar Square is prominent
Above, the view from my plate: a goat cheese starter and herbed quinoa and cauliflower main, artfully composed
Trafalgar Square from street level in late afternoon, now pedestrianized. I remember it as a terrifyingly traffic-choked roundabout in the late 1960s
Skirting St. James Park at sunset
Same time of day but looking east, a host of golden daffodils
Japanese musicians on the Embankment, astonishingly good
Irresistible Thames evening views, again. You can be sure I wasn’t the only one taking iPhone photos