Friday, October 3, 2008

Hiya Hadrian!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Just when I was contemplating whether or not to splurge on the special exhibit at the British Museum titled "Hadrian: Empire and Conflict", Robert Pinkerton from NYU's Programing Department emailed to let me know that they had extra tickets and could join them. Could I indeed!

We assembled outside the Bedford Square Gardens--about 10 students and Prof. Jane Beckett who teaches Art History and whom I got to know rather well on our recent trip to Liverpool. I was excited because Llew and I had just visited Hadrian's Wall , a month ago, on the border between Scotland and England. We had also visited the Milecastle at Birdoswold where a Roman Fort once stood and where ruined remains can still be seen. Despite having scaled the Wall, there was little I knew about Hadrian and this exhibit certainly filled that void.

Of course, for me, one of the greatest joys of visiting the special exhibits at the British is the opportunity to gaze upon the Reading Room in which Karl Marx once sat for weeks on end and scribbled his tour de force, Das Kapital. Now that the Reading Rooms have moved to the new British Library at St. Pancras, we've lost this historic gem of a room, But the ceiling has been beautifully refurbished and renovated so that it sparkles in the dim light, its gilded ribbing standing out against the soft egg-shell blue of the background. Its dome towers above like that of the Parthenon or the Duomo in Florence and it did not surprize me to see a mention of the similarities between these world-famous domes at the exhibition as Hadrian was a great lover of architecture and added many magnificent buildings to the Rome of his time.

Born in AD 76 and reigning between AD 117-138, Hadrian is easily recognizable (among all Roman emperiors) by his beard and the crease in his ear-lobe, which detail is found in all depictions of the emperor in stone as well as in metal. There are two splendid busts in the exhibit, one a collossal one of Hadrian himself, found in huge fragments rather recently in Turkey, the other of Antinous, his male lover and one for whom he had a deep and abiding love though married to Sabina. The couple had no children and after his death, Hadrian who was himself the adopted son of the Emperor Trajan, went on to adopt Marcus Aurelius who also reigned over the Roman Empire.

Lots of sculpture, some portions of his famous Wall, fragments of the autobiography he wrote towards the end of his life, olive oil amphorea and a really superb recreation of his villa in Tivoli outside Rome, made up the bulk of the exhibit. It wasn't particularly wonderful but it was very enlightening and I am glad I went.

As I was walking home after a long day (I had taught two classes during the day), I passed by the London Review of Books Bookshop and Cafe and noticed that there was a reading in progress. I poked by head in and discovered that John Banville (Booker Prize-winning author of The Sea) had just finished a reading from his new book, a mystery entitled The Lemur. Thanks to my new cell phone, I called Llew immediately to find out if I should purchase a signed copy for him as Banville sat down to sign books for his fans--most of whom had come with a pile of his earlier publications.

Then, I got home and over dinner I watched Marion Cottilard present her Oscar-winning performance as Edith Piaf in La Vie En Rose. I did not enjoy the movie at all as I think it needs to be seen on the big screen. However, I adored every single song, especially the title Song La Vie En Rose, one of the classics among modern French melodies, as well as several others that I recognized and can hum but whose names I do not know. However, her performance was very impressive indeed and I am sure if one saw it on the big screen, the effect would be numbing.

Tomorrow afternoon, I leave for sunny Spain ("Say Viva Espana"!) and am looking forward to nice weather as I go out and discover Antonio Gaudi's remarkable work in Barcelona.

I'll be back in London on Tuesday. Until then, Adios!

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