We missed the fireworks for Guy Fawkes day before leaving for Australia, but apparently nothing was amiss. (Fawkes tried to blow up Parliament in 1605 and return England to Catholicism but was found hiding in the cellar with 36 barrels of gunpowder; the cellar below Parliament is ceremoniously searched annually.) London’s poorly paid firemen are still on strike until Christmas, for a 16% pay increase, which the government refuses. Other unions may join in sympathy while the firemen work their “other” jobs, 4 days a week on their downtime. The Army uses Green Goddesses, old engines from the ‘70’s, to fight fire. Yet, modern engines sit in firehouses behind pickets, and we wonder who actually owns them! Several deep tube stations are closed, because they can’t be protected from fire so far down into the earth’s bowels are they, and teachers, nurses, and air traffic controllers are threatening strikes.
The day before our trip, I toured a famed department store, Liberty, with a group of military wives. It’s façade is dramatic black and white half-timber, opened in 1875 selling ornaments, fabric, and objects d’art from Japan and the East. The pre-Raphaelites loved it, as did William Morris and the Aesthetic Movement enthusiasts. English dyers began copying Eastern style fabrics for the store. The arts and crafts and Art Nouveau movement saw more designs created, and in the nineteen-twenties the “Liberty Print,” a small dainty floral, was adored worldwide. Today thousands of prints are in their collection, and in the V&A museum, with collectible lamps and furniture based on Liberty designs. Some are stomach turners, full of peacock feathers and posies in odd color juxtapositions, but others are still quite agreeable. Designers used new fabrics such as crepe when it was first introduced, and Tana lawn cotton, from Ethiopia’s Lake Tana area. Liberty closed in Paris in the thirties, continued to look East, and couturiers still use their prints.
The store has a tall atrium with a glass roof; rough beams above the wooden entry floor are from two British ships, HMS Impregnable and HMS Hindustan. The Regent Street entry includes two carved disciples of Buddha, and sits on land owned by the Queen, where street railings and iron lampposts are painted dark royal blue. A portion of the store was added at the height of the Tudor revival in 1924. Fashions and other goods are the latest, displayed in small rooms, many with fireplaces, to remind shoppers of being home. There are antiques, a trendy bridal area, and a pleasant restaurant.
Our son Ted raised several thousand dollars from his church to buy missals for his Ethopian friends; he’s quite pleased. Son Patrick’s band The Stingers will tour Europe this month. They’ll play New Year’s Eve in Paris and we'll go too.
We have two fine new restaurants at the end of our mews, one Italian and one Indian, and the Victoria Pub across from them commissioned a painting. Friends stayed here while we were away, and we celebrated Thanksgiving with my sister Peggy and her friend Lucy at the Haun’s home here. Our second turkey dinner was with the Texas Exes and the Harvard Club—with football. With Peggy and Lucy, I visited the wonderful Aztec Show at the Royal Academy and saw sculptures of priests wearing other people’s skins, all bumpy, inside out, until they fell off. There were weapons, headdresses, animals, and religious pyramids filling ten rooms. The show offers curious Europeans a very rare look at South American treasures and there have been huge turnouts since few artifacts make it out of the Americas. Mike has one more trip to the US in December, then returns for the holidays. We hope to sightsee locally and relax after an astonishing and very busy fall.
We’ve hosted more than 100 guests since arriving here, plus more that just dropped in for meals or drinks. We have one more year here, in which I hope to focus on England and paint more. Cheerio, y’all.
My painting of the Victoria Pub at the end of our mews. Upstairs is the pretty Theatre dining room.
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