Wednesday of last week we met up with Roger Sabin and Libbie McQuillan for an image-intensive day out (doesn't that sound much more dynamic than we looked at art and museums and then drank Belgian beer?). We started at the cafe in Foyle's, which has become much more like its neighbor across the street. I don't think we'd seen one another since the BD conference in Leuven/Louvain (ah, Belgium!) which was such a delightful time.
After consuming our beverages, we headed down the street to a student exhibit at Roger's college which was quite entertaining despite beginning on the top floor (did I mention how nigh-on-Texas-hot London was last week?). The works varied from the imitative to the inspired -- a big favorite was the guy who took photos of himself squeezed into tiny places (between phone booths, under benches, inside rubbish bins) then captioned them with his feelings about being squeezed into the spot. Quite amusing and had the effect of making us wonder what it would be like to worm ourselves into small openings we passed later in the day, so mission accomplished I think. Art ought to change the way you see the world.
We went off in search of the Cartoon Art Trust, only to discover that it was once again in the process of relocating, so not ready for visitors (as was Skoob one of our favorite bookstores in London). But our motto of the day was "Nil desperandum" and Roger, thinking quickly, suggested a visit to the Soane Museum where we could see some Hogarth paintings and a lot of Empire plunder. The museum was a short walk away and turned out to be a delightful oddity, chock full of the bric-a-brac the wealthy architect accumulated by the mere compulsion of interest. It was fascinating to see the Rake's Progress up close. There are so many details impossible to guess from reproductions.
Our next stop on our impromptu tour of the less-well-known museums of London took us to the Freemason's Hall on Great Queen Street to see the museum/library and even better! the gift shop. What amazing items -- wonderful silverwork, peculiar items like the horse's hoof turned into a snuff box, lots of flashy spangled ribbons and medals. We even saw some actual masons on the fire escape in full regalia, chatting on cell phones and offering a lovely contrast of the ancient and modern. But I suspect Roger is right; this openness is a concerted effort to dispel the notion that there is anything even remotely unusual about the Masons.
"People might think that to become a Freemason is quite difficult. It's actually straightforward."
"Q Why are you a secret society?
A We are not, but lodge meetings, like those of many other groups, are private and open only to members. The rules and aims of Freemasonry are available to the public. Meeting places are known and in many areas are used by the local community for activities other than Freemasonry. Members are encouraged to speak openly about Freemasonry."
"Q Why do your 'obligations' contain hideous penalties?
A They no longer do. When Masonic ritual was developing in the late 1600s and 1700s it was quite common for legal and civil oaths to include physical penalties and Freemasonry simply followed the practice of the times. In Freemasonry, however, the physical penalties were always symbolic and were never carried out. After long discussion, they were removed from the promises in 1986."
Nothing to see, move along, we're just ordinary business men in aprons. Of course -- but we bought things in the gift shop anyway. Gene is very proud of his masonic teddy bear. Seeing as we had worked up a mysterious thirst by then, we headed off to Belgo to find alchemical solutions to this problem. Some Leffe did the trick for me, Hoegaarden for others. What thirst cannot be appeased by the application of Belgian beer? So we chatted away the evening over some moules frites and more beer, and had a great time.
And yes, there is more to say about the London trip: TO BE CONTINUED