June 7: Church Music and Modern Art

Monday morning after breakfast we rode the Tube to Charing Cross station and exited into Trafalgar Square, the square in the middle of London with a column, statue, and lion sculptures dedicated to Lord Nelson.  The lions were bigger than they appear in pictures and you can clearly see the dog paws they have because the sculptor didn’t know exactly how lions looked.  The weather was warm and sunny and since it was nine in the morning the square wasn’t very crowded.  We walked around the square taking a few pictures and then walked to St. Martin-in-the-Fields (SMITF) church near the northeast corner of the square.  SMITF is an 18th century church famous for its music program and programs to help the homeless.  We self-toured the inside of the church with its various memorials and pews designated for royalty.  We went downstairs to the gift shop that had a brass rubbing exhibit.  Brass rubbing is where customers can take historic relief sculptures, cover them with paper and rub their image onto the paper with crayons.  We didn’t give that a go but we looked at many of the sculptures.  We also saw the Café in the Crypt that wasn’t yet serving lunch but the food looked good.

Since we had some time before lunch, we decided to walk around some of the famous buildings in the area.  We walked to the Westminister Clock Tower (A.K.A. Big Ben), the Houses of Parliament, and the electrified statue of Winston Churchill (electrified to keep the pigeons off).  We walked by Westminister Abbey and through St. James Park to Buckingham Palace (reportedly called “Buck House” by the locals).  When we arrived they were having the daily Changing of the Guard with all the English soldiers in red uniforms and tall black helmets marching down the street playing music.  The leader was walking a large dog also wearing a red coat.  There were many tourists there and we didn’t stay for the entire ceremony but we did see more soldiers with gold helmets ride up on horses.  We left Buck House by walking down the promenade, a street lined with the Union Jack flags to the Admiralty Arch.  From there it was a quick street crossing to return to Trafalgar Square.

We returned to the Crypt Café at St. Martin-in-the-Fields (SMITF) and had lunch.  The sausage and corn fritter entrée I had tasted great as did the apple fritter for dessert.  My wife had the bean and mushroom stew entrée.  While walking around in the church basement I noticed a community room full of Chinese people.  They were eating noodles and talking loudly in their native language.  SMITF has services in Chinese.  We went upstairs to the church to attend a free concert of church organ music, part of SMITF’s famous music program.  The church has a very large organ in the back and the concert was fairly crowded with both tourists and locals.  The organists played pieces by Bach, Nicolas De Grigny, William Walond and Charles Widor.  My favorites were the Bach Prelude and Fugue at the beginning and the Widor Toccata in F at the end.

After the concert we took the Tube to Backfriars station.  We walked to and crossed the Millennium Bridge, a pedestrian suspension bridge across the Thames built in 1999-2000.  From it were views of St. Paul’s Cathedral to the north, Tower Bridge to the east, and to the south, the replica of Shakespeare’s globe theater, and the Tate Modern art museum, our destination.  Housed in a former power station and set up in 2000, it’s the largest modern art museum in the world.  It’s free to the public, though they charge admission for special exhibitions.  We saw a special exhibition: paintings by the 20th century American painter Edward Hopper.  His most famous painting is the late night diner scene in Nighthawks that was on display there along with many other paintings including a couple from the personal collection of Steve Martin.  After the exhibition we saw the rest of the art on display at the museum which included works by Dali and Matisse and also these small circular rooms with the walls lit up with changing colored light.  In all it’s an interesting and extensive collection, though those not interested in modern art such as one of our future tour guides might question the artistic justification of some works.  We shopped by the large gift shop and left just as the museum closed for the day.

From the Tate Modern we took the Tube to the Covent Garden street market area where we had planned to have fish and chips and the Rock and Sole Plaice restaurant.  After we arrived we decided instead to have baked potatoes or jacket potatoes at Ponti’s.  My wife had the chicken curry potato and I had the potato with chicken, bacon, and avocado.  It tasted great and the large potato tasted as good as the filling.  It was a lot of food, though. We returned to our apartment in South Kensington after dinner.

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