Monday, September 11, 2006

I Do, I Really Do

I remember the first time I stepped my foot on British soil, 12 years ago. My friends and I were so excited that the very morning we arrived and checked in our 3 star hotel in Sussex Gardens (all expenses paid by our sponsors, of course) we straightaway went walking along Edgeware Road, stopped by the tourist shops and bought ourselves maps and London guide books so that we can discover London as much as we can within the few days that we were here, for we were only in transit from our real destination which was Scotland.

I remember feeling so very clever at the time because I knew of a few places in London from my own reading and from stories regaled by my mother and brother for both of them spent some time in the UK years ago while they were studying here - my mother in the 60s and my brother in the late 80s. I remember that it was so very exciting discovering how to take the tube, studying the tube map and marvelling at how very easy it was to go to the many tourist destinations and by the end of the day, feeling so very tired of walking.

The first night in London was a shock to us all for when we turned on the TV, we couldn’t get any other good channels except for 1 and the show that was on was about breasts and how they react to sexual stimulation. And when we went into the phone booths to call home the next day it was another shock when we saw all those graphic sex adverts! Of course, we didn’t mean to read them but it was plastered all over the inside walls of the booth - we couldn’t very well close our eyes when we went into the booths to talk to our mothers back in Malaysia!

I remember the first place I wanted to visit was Trafalgar square, because of what my mother told me and what I saw in LAT’s cartoons when I was small. And so I persuaded my friends (who were clueless as to where to go) to visit the square first and then going around from there. It was exhilarating. I couldn’t believe that I was actually in LONDON! And then we went to the National Gallery next to the square but did not spend too much time there because my friends were not so very interested in paintings as I was. I remember one of them saying, "Kita orang tak interested la dengan paintings ni - kau sorang je! Nanti kau datang la sini sorang-sorang." (We're not interested in paintings - only you are! You should come here by yourself). And I answered with my resigned "Iyalah." (Alright.) And so we went to all the other famous tourist attractions in London; the parliament building at Westminster and Big Ben, St Paul’s Church, the Tower Bridge, London Dungeon, Tower of London, Madam Tussaud’s, Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace, Oxford Street etc. all within the few days we were there. We had a blast before starting school in Scotland. I will never forget my first experience going around this place. But I never did return to the National Gallery again, alone, to look at the paintings.

But last weekend when my husband and I could not think of any other shopping malls to visit during the weekend (a Malaysian habit of ours, I'm afraid), we decided to just go sight-seeing in Central London. I suggested Trafalgar Square because it was within walking distance to China Town where I could go and look for some asam keping, for my stock has run out, and the children can chase some pigeons (they do delight in that!). But I also thought of going to the National Gallery again to look at those paintings. It was a very relaxed and laid back kind of weekend because we didn't really have any other agenda except for the asam keping, and so my husband agreed to climb up the stairs from the square to the gallery, although he wasn't really interested in paintings himself. I admit we didn’t really spend as much time there as I would have liked, as my 2 year old was making a racket – shouting to hear his voice echo in the large galleries and crawling under the barriers to go nearer to (and nearly touching!) the paintings and stomping his feet on the polished wooden floors as hard as he could to make maximum noise with his trainers – but I still had sufficient time to look at certain famous pictures that I have seen in books, the internet and newspapers, ones that I have really wanted to see with my own eyes.

The paintings were beautiful and I looked at many of them in absolute wonder. Because we could not use our cameras in the galleries, I could not take any pics to put in this blog but I have searched and added here some of the pics I saw in the galleries - the ones that I really liked.

Seurat, 'Bathers at Asnières', 1884

James Wright of Derby, An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump, 1768

(This one is so LARGE and very, very realistic - I think its my favourite.)

Monet, The Thames below Westminster, circa 1871

Constable, The Cenotaph to Reynolds' Memory, Coleorton 1833-6

(My husband's favourite was this one - it is a very elaborate and detailed painting. Breath taking!)

Manet, 'The Execution of Maximilian' 1867-8

I have to say at 30 years old, I am looking at London with different eyes. That first time it was with satisfaction and pride of actually being here, in the UK, where I have always wanted to pursue my degree. And it was also with the excitement of independence and discovery - a feeling that I think cannot be brushed off so easily for it is very potent and can make many do many things that he/she would never do otherwise. Then, I was too young and excited to really appreciate the beauty of the places and its architecture. But now, years later, after reading so many historical books (albeit fiction), and acquiring an interest in the old London, and not to mention being a little older and perhaps a little bit wiser and mature, I am more interested in the history and story behind the old buildings and streets. In short, I fell in love with London all over again with my new knowledge. I could imagine seeing the fictional female characters in my storybooks strolling along The Serpent in Hyde Park . And I could see the alpha heroes handling their pair of grays from a high-perched phaeton on the cobbled streets along the Thames River. Looking at the buildings, many already standing proud since hundreds and hundreds of years ago, I cannot help but feel amazed and awed by the fact that I am here looking at these cold stones that have seen so much history and so many people - some great, some just leading their day to day lives, but now are all dead - passing by here, right here where I was standing. And now, my humble person can claim to be one of these people.

It was a different experience altogether than the one I had at 18 years old. However much I complain about my being here, I do love London, I do. For all its ridiculously fickle weather, its congession, its effing black women drivers and its horrifying and silly Tv programmes, it is really a wonderful place.


FloweRinTheDesert said...

the paintings are breathtaking, indeed. I would love to have the opportunity to visit such galleries myself. to see those amazingly realistic paintings up close and personal. And imagine them being painted by the hands of those gifted ppl long long ago. for me it'd be one of those places you CAN go visit for hours on your own.

hopefully one day kalau ada rezeki, insylh... :)

krapus said...

eh.. how come you didn't take me to the national gallery when I was there?... tension!

halwafy said...

flowerinthedesert: Funnily enough I never ever thought of going alone to visit these places - don't know how to explain it but when I walk alone in London, I feel very lonely - there would be many people around, yes, but the feeling is still there. Doesn't happen to me in KL though..

Krapus: I thought you went with K liza? Van Gogh's 'Sunflowers' is also there...dah pernah pergi tengok ke belum?

tati said...

Kak Chibah byk suka paintings from post-impressionists -Manet,Monet,Seurat and Van Gogh.I adore Van Gogh's works.He's got attitude.hehe..

risa said...

wow.... so exciting. i never been to London. i wish one day me too can stay in London for at least 1 year.