Culture vulture.

Tuesday, March 6th, 2001

I am so mad at myself. Two days ago, Louis de Bernière was in a tiny bookshop not a 30 seconds’ walk from my front door, signing copies of Corelli’s Mandolin - and I didn’t know about it until it had all been over for several hours.

It may seem incredible that I wouldn’t have known about it, but the problem is that when I reach the end of my street, I can either turn left and head into Hove or turn right and head into Brighton. Some geographical background: Hove and Brighton were officially declared one city a few months ago (called “Brighton & Hove” - and I wonder if, sometime in the future, it will come to be known as “Brightonove" or something, much like “Brighthelmstone" was contracted into “Brighton" - but this is not really important to my tale of woe). I actually live about two streets into Hove, and my house is more or less equidistant from the center of Hove and center of Brighton. But I rarely if ever go into the center of Hove just because - well, it’s a bit boring. There are some nice shops and stuff there, and I will definitely explore it more the longer I live here, but all the places in which I shop regularly are in Brighton. So when I get to the end of my street, I almost never turn left.

But on Sunday night I turned left to go to a pub in Hove, and that is when I saw the giant Corelli’s Mandolin display in the window of the bookshop right around the corner. I kicked myself repeatedly (metaphorically), lamented my misfortune and then ran to the pub to drown my sorrows. Thinking about it now, perhaps it’s better that I missed the book signing; I would probably have wound up saying something completely vacuous to de Bernière - like, “I really liked your book.” And then I would have kicked myself afterwards for being such a flake. But still. I would have at least liked to have had the chance to say something vacuous.

I’m going to have to turn left more often.

Despite having missed the book signing, I have been enriching myself culturally in many other ways, which I will use as an excuse for not having updated this site in a day and age. Just about a month ago, I went up to London to see the William Blake exhibition at the Tate Britain. What can I say? The man was nuts. The exhibition was great (though the rooms were crowded and very, very hot) and the paintings/drawings/poems were absolutely brilliant. Some of the paintings and drawings were remarkably similar to modern graphic novels; some looked they should be adorning the cover of a death metal album. (Note: After writing this, I looked around on the Internet and discovered that the great graphic novelist Alan Moore has actually used Blake in his work - go figure.)

Beyond the images, I was overwhelmed by the immensity and complexity of the mythology that Blake managed to create for himself. I also found myself wondering if Jung was in any way influenced by Blake’s psychological and mythological ideas. In particular, Blake’s concept of a person’s spiritual counterpart of the opposite sex made me think automatically of Jung’s animus/anima concept. And all pretentious intellectual musing aside, his stuff was just plain cool. (Note: After writing this, I looked around on the Internet and discovered that there is actually a “Jungian approach” to Blake’s work - I should have known.)

A week after expanding my artistic horizons in London, Jeremy and I went to Paris - for a day. For 7 hours, to be precise. A friend of ours from the States was in Paris for the week, and since he couldn’t make it to England to see us, we decided to be horribly decadent and take the Chunnel train to see him. It’s incredibly fast and easy - and not terribly expensive - to get from London to Paris now. Even getting from Brighton to Paris isn’t bad: it’s an hour to London on the train, and then 2 ½ hours from London to Paris on the really fast Eurostar train (300 km/h fast - as seen in the movie “Mission: Impossible”). And that’s all there is to it.

It felt wildly romantic and very European to be zipping between London and Paris for a day. We got to Paris at noon and went straight to Notre Dame, which is the one thing I said I wanted to see if I could only see one thing in Paris. And seeing that one thing made the whole trip worth it. The size of Notre Dame is overwhelming. The height of the ceiling from the inside is utterly awesome, and I stood in the center of the cathedral for a very long time, neck craned and mouth agape, marveling at the lofty, unimaginable height.

Aside from seeing that marvelous medieval architecture, I also rode the Metro, drank about 50 cups of café, consumed more sugar in the space of six hours than I would normally do in six weeks (in the form of crêpes, éclairs, and crème brulée), spoke some very stilted French, marveled at the Seine, ate a frog’s leg (really - and no, it didn’t taste like chicken, it tasted like alligator - really), and generally fell in love with all things français. Then I got back on the snazzy Eurostar and zipped back to Blighty. And now I can’t wait to get back to France. Ooh la la.

A few days later, Jeremy and I were back in London doing the tourist thing once more. This time we went to the Temple Church, which is a must-see for anyone who loves Foucault’s Pendulum as much as I do (it was built by the Templars, don’t you know). The Temple Church is an interesting, rather hidden little quirk (if you want to call an amazing and rare medieval church a “quirk") in a city that is positively brimming with interesting, hidden quirks. That’s one of the things I’m coming to love more and more about London: it seems that, if you look hard enough, there is an interesting bit of nearly forgotten history or lore to be found on every corner and in every street.

After checking out the effigies of Templars in the Temple Church, we ate lunch in the BBC World Service building surrounded by BBC World Service people (I coveted their BBC identification cards) and then moved on to the British Museum to admire yet another architectural marvel: the Great Court and now-open-to-the-public Reading Room. The courtyard just opened recently after being fitted with a glass and metal ceiling by the architect Norman Foster (of Reichstag fame). I’m generally not much of a glass and metal type of girl (stones and wood are more my thing), but when I walked into the immense, airy courtyard and looked up at the glittering mesh ceiling draped across the tops of the buildings, I actually got goosebumps. It is, quite literally, breathtaking. Jeremy admired the way the courtyard was “futuristic but not alienating”, and I agreed with him; the Great Court could have a been a set for the movie “2001", but it wasn’t at all cold or intimidating. But when we got back to Brighton and I took another look at the ceiling in the Brighton train station (which is a typical Victorian train station), I realized that the ceiling of the Great Court - and the whole courtyard, really - is just as much Victorian as it is futuristic. And that just makes Foster’s work feel even more appropriate to the British Museum.

The Reading Room in the middle of the Great Court also took my breath away. Near the doors, they had lists with the names of some of the famous people who held cards for the reading room - and that’s everyone from Karl Marx to Mark Twain. The list of names was awe-inspiring, as was the room itself (which, from above, looks a bit like a labyrinth or the Maze of Life symbol that you can find on this website - I found that, too, extremely fitting).

The actual museum bit of the British Museum is also amazing (I mean, the Rosetta Stone is there - the Rosetta Stone!), though as Jeremy and I walked around admiring stuff, we were only half-joking each time we pointed out some great treasure from Ireland or Egypt or India while commenting on the peculiarity of the fact that the treasure was in the British Museum in London and not, in fact, in Ireland or Egypt or India. To the victor go the spoils, or something.

And that is that. That’s what I’ve been up to for the past month - making the most of where I live, and having a lot of fun doing it, it must be said. And now it’s back to everyday life, back to the nose on the grindstone, the daily grind, the rat race.

But only for another three weeks - and then we’re off to Ameri-kay!

Comments

1

So you missed the bloke with the french aristocratic name who wrote the mandolin book, but you got to see me and I got to see Brighton again. Never in all the time I´ve been in the film-business have I had such larks. And I think it would be safe to say that The Mayflower on Western Road in Hove provides reasonable Chinese Take-away food and that the rates at the bfi National Library are just plain exorbitant. These are just afterthoughts on a brilliant week some of us spent in the south-west of Britain, even without cultural treasures and all that.

Posted by whopper

2

Good morining from USA!! Any chance you heard anything about a long lost fairy language being inscripted on the back of the Rosetta Stone while in London? I can not find any info on the subject. Thank you in advance for your time! Suzanne Zotos

Posted by Suzanne Zotos

3

What bookstore was it? Do they have authors there regularly? (I promise you I’m not a stalker; seeing as you mentioned it’s 30 seconds from your door! I just moved down to Brighton from London and I’m still exploring the neighborhood.)

Posted by Janette

4

Hi Janette, welcome to Brighton! The bookstore is City Books on Western Road, just over the border into Hove. It’s a great little independent bookstore, and it does seem to get authors there quite a lot. Borders has readings from authors as well, but City Books somehow manages to pull the bigger, better names. It’s definitely a nice place to check out.

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