Thursday, August 19, 2010
The Mean Streets of Greenwich
Our plan was to visit the prime meridian—it was only a few train stops from our campground—then split up, each going our own way.
I guess I was surprised by the crowds which included a large tour group. But, we managed to enjoy it anyway and it was free!
It’s quite a hike up to the Royal Observatory which offered stunning views of London and many exhibits including a camera obscura, the house of John Flamsteed, the first Royal Astronomer, a planetarium and of course, the Prime Meridian.
We started with the remains of a 40 foot telescope, built for astronomer William Herschel, who became famous for his discovery of the planet Uranus in 1781.
The telescope was the largest in the world and cost over £4,000, paid for by King George III. Sadly, the Herschels did not use it for much serious astronomy since it was difficult to set up and maintain. William’s son dismantled it in 1840. Most of the tube was destroyed when a tree fell on it 30 years later.
I was intrigued by the Camera Obscura, which means “darkened chamber” in Latin. In a darkened room with a pin hole in one wall, an upside-down image of the world appears on the opposite wall. Developments through the centuries with mirrors and lenses transformed the Camera Obscura from a darkened room into a portable instrument which was the forerunner of the modern camera. After our eyes adjusted to the pitch black, we were able to see a view similar to the photo of the city I took, above. We had a Camera Obscura set up in the Arboretum as a student project a few years ago. It was interesting to compare them. There was very little difference.
The Prime Meridian is an imaginary line running north-south through Greenwich. In 1884 the line was named as the world’s Longitude Zero by the International Meridian Conference.
We visited Flamsteed’s house dating from the late 17th century. The observatory at the top was spectacular.
This is a photo of what it would have looked like.
We went through a museum with time pieces and longitudinal mechanisms, finally deciding to walk back to the train station for our farewell. We always think we’ll be able to see something in an hour. We’re always wrong!
Looking at the sky darkening as we walked, I decided to head back to Homer while Chuck made his way to the British Museum for another visit.
Having a conversation across the tracks while waiting for our trains.
I just couldn’t bring myself to leave England without pursuing activities of “socially redeeming value” for as long as I could; so, I pondered the alternatives and decided to re-visit and further explore the British Museum. I thought I would try some of the free eyeOpener tours, thinking this would help me navigate a confusing building layout; but, I had already missed one tour, and by the time I got to the next tour’s starting point, either it had already left or there was no interest; since I didn’t really care about North America anyway (in a museum artifacts kind of way, that is), I decided to continue my exploration of the exhibits relating to Buddhism.
I was reminded of these by perusing the brochure on A History of the World in 100 Objects; so, I headed off to room 33 to learn about the religions of India. I had seen some of this before, but I enjoyed the chance to refresh my memory and enjoy these beautiful objects.
By the time I was finished here I was ready to either leave—I was tired—or have a cappuccino. After my so-so coffee, I was reinvigorated and ready to oh-so-briefly review the ancient worlds of Greece, Rome, Lycia, Assyria, Mesopotamia and Egypt. The highlights were the Rosetta Stone, the sculptured guardians to the Palace of Sargon, the Elgin Marbles (now known as the Parthenon Marbles—a stab at political correctness by the Brits) and the Lycean tomb.
I was ready to leave again, but thought I would try one more time to find the reading room where Karl Marx thought through the ideas for Das Kapital. That was, unfortunately, either closed or non-existent—at any rate, I did not find it. But, at the top of the flight of stairs, I saw that an exhibit on the history of print in China was going on, currently, and it was right through the doors in front of me.
The earliest dated woodblock print in the world is an 868 AD version of the Diamond Sutra, from the Mahayana Buddhist tradition. It turns out that Buddhism fostered the spread of print, since it was believed that commissioning and reproducing sacred texts earned merit and that in turn brought you closer to the goal of stopping the endless cycle of rebirths. The Chinese apparently pioneered two-colour woodblocks in the 12 century. There were also woodblocks for four-colour processes on display; but, I am not sure if they were first in this area. Just before leaving this exhibit floor, I saw a cartoon (full-size preparatory study for a painting) by Leonardo; these are exceedingly rare.
Now, I was really ready to leave. Miraculously, I managed to read my map correctly and was able to go directly to the correct Tube station in minimal time. I was even able to read the train schedule at the Charing Cross station, after a brief panic—during which I could not find my stop on any of the displays; finally, it came up. I treated myself to a vanilla shake, found a seat, and began to review Rick Steves’ descriptions of all the London sites, those visited and those missed. Curiously, I do not regret the decision, fairly consistent throughout our journey, to emphasize artifacts over paintings. I accept that I cannot take in everything and this is the choice I made. Maybe next time…
OK, so what's the speed of dark? ~ Stephen Wright.
Posted by Chuck and Claire at 8/19/2010 05:15:00 AM