February 22, 2008

The Brits Sure Nicked a Bunch of Stuff in Their Time

I've learned from my experience over the last few weeks, that if you are going to place near two or three Tube stations, none of which have any lifts (and you happen to be hauling four children and a stroller around the city with you), always choose the station with the smallest number of intersecting lines. Some stations are big hubs and some Tube lines are way, way, way underground. If you stop at Baker Street and are on the Jubilee or Bakerloo line, you will be carrying a baby, a stroller, and holding the hand of a three year old up several flights of stairs and more than one really steep escalator. This is no fun. If you get off at Regent's Park instead, through which only the Bakerloo line runs, you will still be way underground, but you will not have to navigate so many crowded steps and passages and it seems like many of the smaller stations actually do have lifts, though not ones that get you all the way down to the tracks or up to the street level.

And from that digression into navigating the London Underground, let me suggest that with children around, you should take Russell Square, rather than Holborn to get to the British Museum. At least that's what we did.

The British Museum, as all the guide books will tell you, is huge. We could have spent days in there and I would like to go back, if we get a chance.

First things first, we headed for the Rosetta stone, which they handily put front and center. We've read the kids a book about Jean François Champollion (who deciphered the thing) and also talked about the stone when studying Egypt. That and the other Egyptian statuary were neat, though perhaps not thrilling because we saw a nice exhibit of Egyptian stuff come through the local art museum in Nashville, sure it wasn't the British Museum's collection, but trying telling that to the kids.

We hadn't seen Assyrian artifacts before and there is nothing quite like passing between a couple of those giant winged lions to put one in awe of what they, though terrible and violent, could also accomplish in terms of art and beauty of a sort. This is where I started really thinking about what I wrote in the title though. The Brits have, at least in their past, had a long and glorious career in taking home prize possessions from other peoples. On the other hand, those same things are now being cared for, stored, and preserved for the future. They are not being left in the questionable care of barbarians who might one day decide to blow them up.

Past the Assyrians, we entered a small area of Greek artifacts, and again although these were the real thing and not the fiberglass copies they'd seen at home in the Nashville Parthenon, but the Elgin Marbles were really only rather ho hum as far as they, the children, were concerned.

"But you said there were mummies! Where are the mummies?" the five year old was quite definite on what she wanted to see next. So we scooted on upstairs to see more ancient dead people, these ones more exposed than those at Westminster. Mummies are one of those fascinating things. It's hard to believe that you are looking at a real person who once lived, breathed and cared about the things of this life, and when you do think of it, it is hard to look at the mummy. Who would want to be stared at in a case in the hardened, blackened condition of an ancient mummy?

So, I can't say that was my favorite part, but the kids thought it was rather nifty and I enjoyed the fancy sarcophagi. Actually, one thing I really did like even better was the art put on top of the mummies to represent what they looked like. In the late Roman Egyptian period, people were still being mummified, and they often had a painting of them in life laid over the face of the wrapped up body. Since I'm generally used to thinking of ancient painting as rather flat and Byzantine, these paintings, which were very good and very three dimensional (for flat works) were a surprise. Seeing how the people looked in life interested me, just as it had when looking at the sculptural effigies at Westminster.

The little kids started getting wiggly and fussy and the older ones needed to find a toilet, so we speed toured through the Greeks, Romans and a room full of money. I was interested in the busts of famous Roman leaders, but didn't get much time to look.

After our bathroom break and a quick stop for a few postcards, we were on our way home to rest up for the next day's cross-country excursion to see college friends.


Love that picture of your little guy looking at the Rosetta Stone!

Posted by: dcrmom at February 22, 2008 04:21 PM

Thanks! He thought being able to see it was so cool.

Posted by: Jordana at February 22, 2008 04:23 PM

I'm really loving this vicarious tour! Thanks!! I almost feel like I've been there!

Also, I love how your narratives sound as if you've picked up the jolly-Brit accent. Then again, maybe you're doing that on purpose. Oh well. It's still cool.


Posted by: Angie at February 22, 2008 07:36 PM