Monday, June 23, 2014

Mum's visit: Kensington Gardens and the Tower of London

It was such a treat to have my mother visit us! She was super excited when she heard we'd be spending the summer in England, because she herself studied at Oxford for a year abroad, and has been dying for an excuse to come back and visit her old school friends. Husband and I took the week off - okay, that's not quite true; I had to make one very brief trip to the library to check some page numbers for the final details of my article. But we mostly set our work aside and enjoyed a week of touristing across England. It was the first time we've gotten out of London - but more on those adventures later.

For our first day, mum and her husband wanted to accomplish two goals: see the Peter Pan statue and the Crown Jewels. So first we headed off to the beautiful Kensington Gardens, and spent a few hours tramping across the gardens looking for the statue. We walked around the beautiful park, looked at the vivid flowers by the palace, stopped for some delicious ice cream, and got a little lost. That's when we came across this:

These rocks are not accidental. In fact, this is a commissioned sculpture called "Rock on top of another rock." While mum and her husband stopped to ask directions, I sat under a tree (my legs were rather sore by this point) and bemusedly admired the sculpture. Husband and I decided it reminded us of the Japanese tradition of the artificial mountain - when you live in a city in Japan, and are disconnected from nature, you bring something from nature into the built environment so you can contemplate it. "Rock on top of another rock" looks quite a bit like the stainless steel artificial mountain on display at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

Some more walking and the beginnings of a sunburn later, we found the Peter Pan statue. Curious why this statue is here in Kensington Gardens, we did some googling and found out that Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens is a 1906 novel by J.M. Barrie that tells Peter's origin story.

After lunch - mum's first British pub of the trip - we headed over to the Tower of London. It was quite a different experience to be there as an tourist rather than a member of the congregation. We arrived just in time for a tour led by one of the yeoman warders, who was both extremely knowledgeable and extraordinarily funny. At the end of his talk, he repeated a few of the sillier questions he's been asked before; my favorite was "Are these the original ravens?"

For those who don't know, the Tower of London has been inhabited by a group (an "unkindness") of ravens since William the Conqueror built the place in the eleventh century. According to legend, if the ravens leave the Tower, England will fall. So naturally, England's response is to clip the ravens' wings so they can't leave - making my husband grouse about the bloody-minded logic of empire. Empire aside, I thought they were extremely cute!

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