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Sunday, November 21, 2004

British Museum

Yesterday, made my first trip to the British Museum, after looking through a list of free things to do in my old copy of Time Out. There are quite a few free museums and galleries here, but none--not even the National Gallery--on the scale of the British Museum.

An absolutely monstrous building--as interesting to see as some of the artifacts--its high columns and ceilings are a fitting place for the treasures it displays. Most of the pieces--be they statues from Parthenon in Greece or a piece from the shpinx in Egypt--were "aquired" with little thought during this country's imperialistic age. While a lot of the pieces where probably taken from their home countries by treasure hunters looking to make a profit, some were also brought home by adventurers of the day--such as Thomas Cook--as souveniers. And, either way, much of the pieces here may have been lost by now; while the art work, statues and whatever may have been stolen, the British Museum does one hell of a good job maintaining and caring for what they do now have.

A Saturday probably isn't the best day to go, as the place was packed, making it hard to see the most famous exhibits, the Rosetta stone and Cleopatra's mummy, which I did see, but just for a moment, before getting frustrated at the crowds around me. And, because I didn't have a guide book (I did end up buying one eventually) I mostly just wandered from room to room not knowing exactly what I was looking at.

While wandering down one set of stairs, I came across a three-story high Haida totem pole, which made me laugh. It's nice to know they bothered to bring something back from Canada... It was nice to see though, I have to admit.

And wandering aimlessly does have its upside. When unexpected, some of the rooms come as quite a shocking surprise. You can walk from a stone-walled room full of sarcophogi and Egyptian stela to a marble room of elegantly sculpted, life-size Greek and Roman statues, and then on to a room of Far East tresures with giant sculpted creatures against every wall, before stepping through a solid wood door frame into a massive wood and glass library, with display cases full of stuff--random, absolutely random stuff--from across the world. And that's just four rooms in a huge three floor building...

As with any British tourist destination, no matter how high-brow it is, there's a gift shop. This one was so ambitious it offered life-sized copies of some of the statues/statue pieces...which in a sense, is a bit sad, but if the museum's crowded, and you missed seeing something, just go to the shop--odds are, they've got a perfect replica of it, with no crowd blocking your view...


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