Herewith an account of the adventures in England in 2018, written on the spot with scant reworking. The events depicted took place last week ago.

Settle in. There's a lot today.

Up and off to the British Museum; I was standing in line remembering that I was there last summer and it’s a lot of rock. What I wanted were paintings, so why delay? Off to the National Gallery. Where I was two years ago.

I’ll bore you with art in a moment. First, a complaint about humanity. Mobile phones have made people boors in museums, or rather made the boors more boorish. Perhaps once people were content to get a postcard of a famous painting so they could think “I saw that, locked its image in my brain, and in a way possessed it, if only for a moment.” Or “that’s pretty, I’ll put it on the fridge.” Or they send it to someone as a bit of class-status one-upmanship. Whatever. Now they take pictures of the paintings without actually looking at the painting.

Here’s the famous painting I saw. Well not saw but I was there. Because I am living the Best Life and I believe that Art is a necessary attribute.

Granted, it was a Sunday, lots of tourists, but I imagine that’s who goes to the Gallery.

Some of them weren’t even looking at the Hogarths in the proper order. I mean. I can’t even. But we’ll get to that.

Right away I knew I was in for a good day: a Thomas Cole exhibition. Moralizing story painting? Bring it! I know the series about the rise and fall of civilization, but you have to see the real thing - and the landscapes, of course, are spectacular. He felt so bad about the loss of landscape to industry and humanity that you wish you could’ve reassured him: we’re going to plant a lot of trees. All these innovations mean people don’t have to break their backs in the fields, or never travel more than 20 miles from their birth. I mean, c’mon, Tom old boy, you’ve crossed the seas; more than most’ll ever do. You paint nice romantic images of goatherds and shepherdesses, but it’s crap work. Everyone in your paintings had a toothache.

Found some old favorites.



I love Ingres; this one’s always stayed with me, for her expression. He worked on that one for 12 years, and you wonder if she felt a bit crestfallen when she got it. Or insisted it looked exactly as she did today. The fabric was fashionable “Lyon silk.” Was it still fashionable when he was done?

This one I’ve always admired; it’s Pete Campbell from Mad Men in his earlier incarnation.



But I never noticed this.



Says the plaque on the wall: “The space may have been reserved for a child for Mrs. Andrews to hold.”

That’s poignant and sad. Then again:

According to the National Gallery, it is a Gainsborough masterpiece celebrating a marriage, starring a fashionable young couple and an unfinished spot on the bride’s lap for a future child to be painted in.

That description, according to an art historian, should be swiftly updated, to take in a new theory: the artist was sending up his subjects with a series of rude symbols while hell-bent on revenge.

Gainsborough had fallen out with the Andrews, and loaded the painting with insults.

Among the hidden signs Hamilton claims to have identified are two donkeys trapped in a pen, added in the far background to the left of the painting, a “phallic” bag tied to Mr Andrews hip complete with “floppy leather glove” and a doodle of a penis in Mrs Andrews’ lap.

Says the piece. I’m not convinced.

This one is just a masterpiece - of composition and lighting, yes. Overall it’s not a masterpiece, but the elements are brilliant, and the personalities are deft. The entire painting:



It’s a guy murdering a bird by using the Mysterious Power of Vacuum! Let’s look at some details.



The wild-haired scientist is looking at us, involving the spectator in his experiment. The chap on the left is keen on the display, because he is interested in advancement, technology, the new age of science. His wife - I presume it’s his wife - gives him a look that’s just deadly. Choose your interpretation: oh you poseur, asking questions as if you’re practically a Doctor of Vacuum yourself or if only you were as interested in me as you are in science, or what silly things you waste your mind upon.

Wikipedia says they’re looking at each other, but I disagree. It also names them:

The young lovers may have been based on Thomas Coltman and Mary Barlow, friends of Wright's, whom he later painted in Mr and Mrs Thomas Coltman (also in the National Gallery) after their marriage in 1769.

On the other side of the painting:



Father comforts the distraught daughters but instructs them to look, and learn. This is science, my dears. We must face what science hath wrought.

Your basic adoration, Dutch, early 16th century, had this detail at the bottom:


Do you see it?




Master, he came, asked if it was ready, he was quite mad about the delay - he said it looked finished to him and took it -


Master, what left was there to do? I looked upon it and saw nothing that could be improved. Your work as ever was exquisite.


Master, it is doubtful there will be room on the card in the museum to point it out.


I wouldn’t worry, Master -


(Actually, Wikipedia is kind, and while it cites the sources of the two dogs, notes that the lines are visible through the stone because the overpainting has faded. )

Left; gloomy outside, with rain. Really! London, gloomy and rainy? It happens, I was warned.



That was 3 PM.

I wanted something modern. What was at the Tate? Oh good, an exhibition of Weimar Era art. Jolly Good. How far? Forty minutes on foot? Let’s go.

Light drizzle. Down this interesting narrow street, which gave no indication it connected with a bridge across the Thames:

Then across the Jubilee Bridge, dodging the tourists, then down into the Southside area - you probably know it from pictures of the big Ferris Wheel, the London Eye. It’s been built up and improved over the years, although the spirit of the place seems dominated by the Brutalist National Theater.


Gah. No. Moving along to the Tate past food stalls and restaurants, under the bridge, past some some old and new vistas.



The 60s and 70s really was the flourishing of British Drear. Well, here we are at the Tate Modern! Let’s see what sort of inspirational inner spaces we have . . .



I found a gallery that reminded me “you’re going to dislike almost everything in this damned joint.”



The Literally Crap exhibit almost took up an entire gallery, and every nodded and pursed their lips and studied it:



If an enormous dog drank Pepto-Bismol is the only possible explanation here.

Room after room of meretricious, homely, ugly, angry junk. But where’s the Weimar exhibit? Ah - Boiler wing, fourth floor.



Pity about that war. Ruined everything and everyone.

It was a good exhibit, and gives you a sense of the cultural dislocation after the war. Or the way artists previously shut out of the galleries were welcome in because their limited abilities fit the zeitgeist. Everyone seemed drawn to this one:



It's by Rudy Schlichter. Most of his work is unpalatable to me. And Hitler! It was degenerate art. I think there are reasons to dislike his stuff without going all Nazi on everything; just because the Nazis hated it doesn’t mean it was good.

The portraits of his wife are good, though. She was known as Speedy Schlichter, a very modern name.

In 1927, Schlichter befriended Elfriede Elisabeth Koehler, called Speedy, a cocotte from Geneva, who shared Schlichter's interest in buttoned boots, bondage and masochistic games. Schlichter now abandoned the workers' movement and associated with conservative intellectuals such as Ernst Jünger and Karl Kraus ("There is no more unfortunate creature under the sun than a fetishist who yearns for a woman's shoe and has to settle for the whole woman"). Speedy and he even re-joined the Catholic church. A strange move, but Schlichter felt masochistic about his masochism and wanted to confess, while Speedy was content to somehow officialize her new life. 

He wrote a naughty autobiography, which the Nazis banned. “Three years later, he was expelled from the Reich's Association of German Writers, and spent a couple of months in prison on procuration charges (Speedy had supplemented the family income receiving paying customers in their private flat).

They sound fabulously unhappy. Another pic of Speedy here.

Can’t seem to find what happened to her in the end. He survived the Nazis and resumed his work after the war.

Ah, a bracing draught of pure ice water after all that:



The best picture in the entire building is probably this shot from the Weimar exhibit, and also serves as my reaction shot to everything else in the building:


Back outside; another 45 minute walk, and I was back at the Dials. Another normal day in London.





Was about to take a nap, but I got a call from my wife about some leaking pipes. You’re never a second away from home in the 21st century.

LATER The elevators didn’t open because the fire signal was going. I did the natural thing you do when the fire alarm sounds: I went back to my room and got my belongings. I mean, c’mon. Passport and money, it’s just down the hall, and I’ll be damned if I spend the rest of my vacation trying to reaquire those docs.

I walked around in the evening and took pictures. It was raining. Perfect.



There was a lost dog in Picadilly, which sounds like a short story.


He had a collar, and came up to people sniffing, friendly. Then he went back to a couple and followed them around; he belonged to them, it seemed. We hope. Who brings a dog off the leash into Picadilly? Silly, silly people. For God’s sake there are enormous buses whooshing around corners every 90 seconds, which must be terrifying to a small dog.

There was, of course, a man playing bagpipes. Flaming bagpipes.

And that's not the half of it. Tomorrow: history that meant something to a Fargo lad; tales of transportation; off again to Walbers.