December 17, 2006

London day 2 - Borough Market and the Tate Modern

We're staying at a cute little B&B in Knightsbridge, just around the corner from the retail madness that is Harrods in christmas time. We had a nice little breakfast of yoghurt, croissants, coffee and fruit then walked to the tube. The nearest tube stop is Knightsbridge just a few blocks away and is directly opposite Harrods's entrance.

Our first destination was the Borough Market in Southwark ("sutherk"). This was originally a working wholesale fruit and vegetable market under the mainline train tracks right near London Bridge. We took the tube to the London Bridge station using our shiny new Oyster cards (after adding money to them... ahem. See previous post.) While it is still a working fruit and vegetable market in the wee hours of the night, that's not why we wanted to go. On weekends it turns into one of the biggest and most popular food markets in London.

The Borough Market has everything. If you've ever been to the San Francisco Ferry Building Farmers Market, imagine that about three times bigger and twice as crowded. There are people there selling everything. Prepared food, lots of game including whole rabbits, ducks, and pheasants. Large mounds of fresh yellow butter being sold by weight, and meat. Unbelievable meat. Meat from cows, sheep, pigs and more exotic animals (springbok anyone? how about ostrich?), identified by breed, location, and how it was raised. Most exciting though was the sheer quantity and variety of smoked and preserved meats. Can you say BACON? I had no idea there were so many bacon possibilities and here they were on display. Back bacon, dry cured bacon, streaky bacon, each identified by the breed of pig it had come from. A cornicopia of bacon.

Besides meat, there were lovely fresh mushrooms (it's cepes season!), a wide variety of fruits both mundane (apples of all varieties) and exotic (dragon fruit, the fruit of a peruvian cactus), a huge assortment of cheeses with specialists selling one particular artisan stilton and generalists selling cheeses from all over the world. There was a good coffee shop, we were excited when we noticed they were using mazzer grinders, la marzzoco expresso machines, and I heard the familiar "tink" of someone knocking the portafilter before polishing the puck. Sure enough they were making excellent espresso though a little more acidic and not as velvety smooth as Blue Bottle I had not expected to find espresso I could compare to Blue Bottle just walking around a market!

Sprinkled throughout were various confectioners, selling cakes, pies, cookies ("biscuits"), shortbread, candies, jams, honeys, and yes chocolate. Chocolate bulk, chocolate confections, and chocolate truffles. Lots and lots of chocolate truffles. We bought an assortment to fortify ourselves for the rest of the day and wandered off towards the Tate Modern for the rest of our day.

The Tate Modern is London's museum of modern art (defined as "since 1900") and has three main floors each divided roughly in half. Today we visited two floors, but since the Tate prohibits all photography in the exhibit halls, there will be no photos from me! Photos below courtesy of the Tate. We started with "Material Gestures" with rooms by or about Anish Kapoor and Barnett Newman, Material Gestures, Rothko, Expressionism, Distinguished Voices, Contemporary Painting, Claude Monet and Abstract Expressionism, Tacita Dean, and finally another room by Tacita Dean. The "Material Gestures" room contained some lovely Giacomettis, and the Claude Monet room had a riveting Pollock "Summertime: Number 9A." The photo (click on it for a slightly larger version and discussion) does not even begin to do the painting justice. It's full of rhythmic motion and life.

We moved on to "
Poetry and Dream" which is mostly about Surrealism and its influence on modern art. I'm a huge fan of surrealism, so I was in heaven. The rooms were: Giorgio de Chirico and Jannis Kounellis, Giorgio de Chirico and Jannis Kounellis, Poetry and Dream: Surrealism and Film, Poetry and Dream: Beyond Surrealism, Francis Picabia, Thomas Schütte, Francis Bacon and Louise Bourgeois, Joseph Beuys and Cy Twombly, Juan Muñoz, Cindy Sherman and Gillian Wearing, Realisms, and Susan Hiller. One of the most striking exhibits was the Thomas Schütte exhibit "Enemies" consisting of pairs of male figures, heads sculpted from Fimo ("Sculpey") signifying the corrpution of current political figures. Not representational of an specific politicians, but somehow evoking all politics as corrupt.

At this point we were both hungry and exhausted so took a break for lunch in the excellent Tate cafe. Debbie and I shared fish and chips and I tried a beer from Wensleydale that had a sheep on the label. How perfect is that?

After lunch we went up to the fifth floor, which has two exhibits, one "Idea and Object" devoted to minimalism, and one called "States of Flux" devoted to Cubism, Futurism and Vorticism. I found both of them tedious and boring. I guess I was either tired, or I don't like all modern art. (I suspect the latter.) Though there was some pop and Russian socialist realism in States of Flux that I liked.

At this point we were exhausted. Walked to the the Southwark station then back to the B&B for a quick nap and some internet. Then off to dinner at Haandi an Indian place right around the corner. The food was excellent, we had lamb chops, a nice chicken dish that's a favorite of north indian truck drivers, and a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.
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