Friday, January 13, 2006

Moments in a Bygone Age

Another day of not focussing on work. Around lunchtime may brain just turned to Swiss cheese and I achieved nothing all afternoon.

This evening I was meeting Brett, Ping and Miles to go to the Three Emperors exhibition at the Royal Academy. The exhibition covers the reigns of the three most famous emperors of the Qing (China’s last) Imperial dynasty. Like the Turks Exhibition I saw here last February, there are some fascinating items on display; the Imperial Court Robes, the objets d’art, the scrolls and calligraphy; all thoroughly described by the exhibit labels, room catalogues and audio guides in a series of themed rooms.

The detail on the scrolls was incredible, the cloisonné and the precision of the stitching on the robes were beautiful, but the thing that I think made the biggest impression was that this was all happening around the time the Stuarts and Hanoverians were on the throne here; that feels almost contemporary – this isn’t ancient history; the rituals, the art, the clothing were all from a bygone era, but they were still in use as the Industrial Revolution was starting in Europe…

Afterwards we went for dinner at Claridge’s which was very pleasant, although the service wasn’t quite what I’d expect from a restaurant in a hotel of this class. The food was, nevertheless, splendid and the ambiance of the Reading Room very conducive to cosy conversation; we dined sitting on well-stuffed easy chairs which made it very easy to relax between courses. Nobody fancied wine, but I glanced through the wine-list anyway and they had very well-stocked cellar; something for every pocket from £27 to £1700+ per bottle…

After dinner, we had a brief wander up to the first floor to compare the décor; downstairs is very Art Deco, while upstairs you get a much more Baroque feel. As we came down again, I had a bit of a Titanic moment; the foyer floor is tiled in black and white so coming down the sweeping grand staircase into that, with a couple of folks in evening dress smoking by the open fire and the elegant dining room just off to one side, sent me back about 94 years; a somewhat strange moment of déjà vu!

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