Friday, March 23, 2007

A Long Post in Which Paddington Station, Krispy Kreme, Shopping in the UK, and the National Gallery are Discussed

We ventured out early this morning. We started with a short walk to Paddington Station (or Pabbingtom Station, as dd4 refers to it). We've been reading "Paddington Bear" by Michael Bond, so seeing the station was a highlight for my children. I had heard that there was a Krispy Kreme donut shop there, so we went for breakfast. Just an aside, I have an addiction to KK! On the way there, the streets were full of serious-faced people presumably heading to work. I get some funny looks from people around here -- the lady with the three little children always in tow. I'm sure most folks are wondering why my oldest two aren't in nursery school.

We ordered an assorted dozen at Krispy Kreme. Then the next part of eating out in England is always figuring out what to drink. In the States, we always get chocolate or strawberry milk with our donuts, which I didn't see, so I had to look carefully at which type of milk to get because they call 2% semi-skimmed here and skim milk is called skimmed. Not that much different, I realize, but add new packaging, etc. and it always takes me longer than the average English person who is waiting behind me to figure out what we're getting, or in this case drinking. Then, for me I ordered coffee. The very helpful gal behind the counter asked, "What kind of coffee?" WHAT? Just coffee! But then she kindly gave me a quick list of the types they offered such as latte, espresso, and lastly what she termed "filter coffee", which I assumed was what I considered just regular ol' joe. That's what I got.

As soon as we finished our yummy donuts, we went to look around Paddington Station a bit. There's a little mall area with a few shops, several places to eat, a Boots drugstore, and a few grocery stores -- Marks and Spencer and Sainsbury's. We went into a beautiful women's clothing store --I know, what was I thinking?! --called Monsoon. Lovely, lovely, feminine clothes with a bit of glitz to them. I am feeling very, very duddy in my fashion here in London. Everything is so trendy. And most of the trends are things I wouldn't wear (large orange and brown circular print dress, for example) or would only flatter a 16 -year old, size 4 girl (skinny jeans!). So, I've been feeling really Midwestern and sticking-out-like-a-sore-thumb and super duddy and yucky and old. Not to mention the fact that I'm not sure exactly what was going on in my head when I packed for myself, but I seem to have brought my ugliest, most impractical clothes. Anyway, back to Monsoon. Now that was a store that I could find things that suit my style! I do hope to go back there sometime sans children. Did I mention that the sizes in the UK are two sizes higher than the US? Does that stink or what? So, if you wear a size 6 in the US (like say, what you wore before you had 3 children in 3 and a half years! ), you would wear a 10 in the UK. I think that is an evil, evil way of sizing, don't you agree?! Now, if you wear an even larger size (who would, really?), than you wear an even larger size here! UGH!

After the little time we spent looking at the shops and tearing things from the baby's little grubby grasp before we left each one (Did I mention that she grabbed something unbeknownst to me in the shop at the British Museum the other day? So, not only is she a macabre child who is obsessed with mummies, but she's also a little clepto-in-training as well. We returned the item, by the way.), we headed out to catch the 23 bus to Trafalgar Square. That's right people...silly little adventurous me was going to attempt public transportation alone with three children. And silly little adventurous me was going to attempt taking the children to the National Gallery and exposing them to great classic works of art by the masters. Stop laughing! This could work, right?

The first bus 23 that made it to the stop was very crowded, and there was another one right behind it, so we waited and got on the less crowded bus. And, yeah! We did it! And there were two seats together for the older two, plus room in the buggy (stroller) area for baby and me. The bus trip was fine, just your usual kinds of squabbles between the two olders. They are starting to get more used to our little part of London. They recognize certain stores, such as Hamley's and areas, such as Piccadilly Circus. They were excited to be getting off at Trafalgar Square. The book that I had brought home for the children after my initial trip here, called "Katie in London", has been very helpful in getting them excited about Trafalgar and Piccadilly and other touristy sights here. If you are planning a trip here, definitely invest in this book. Amazon stocks it, I think.

We got to the National Gallery about ten minutes before it opened and it was cold and windy waiting for those doors to open. When they did, we went straight to the information counter and picked up a children's trail, which right now happens to be looking for angels in various works throughout the museum. Then we asked a few more questions and were off to the Art Action Zone computer room. It is such a great place! At the Art Action Zone, you can look through the collections in the gallery online. Then you can print out your own specialized tour map. They have tours already planned, or you can make up your own. Tours are organized by artist, theme, time period, subject, etc. And there are also some great tours for children like cats, monsters, and creepy crawlies, where the children are to find the paintings included which all have cats in them, for example. We chose a post-impressionism tour because I had been in the Manet to Picasso exhibit before and also because I had brought home an art cube with some of the paintings we were going to see. I hoped the familiarity might keep them interested and make them excited.

I told the children that we were going on a treasure hunt and we printed out our map with prints included and headed out as detectives in search of Bathers at Asnieres by Seurat , Sunflowers by Van Gogh, A Vase of Flowers by Gaugin, Avenue at Chantilly by Cezanne, and The Painter's Father by Cezanne. We found them all quite quickly. The favorite was probably Bathers because of it's size. DD4 got bored quickly. She was not really impressed and remembering what I had told her earlier about the fact that she was doing something that none of her friends probably had. Early on, she was ready to go!

Since the first tour was done so quickly, we went back to the Art Action Zone and decided to take one more tour, this time with some images of Jesus. We found two to look for, printed out our guide, and headed up to the second floor where the works could be found. My son became very excited about finding the paintings on this tour and predictably, dd4 and now even dd2 were fussy, complaining, and ready to go. But all of this changed as we entered the wings where Jesus as a subject in the paintings was more common. DD4 became so excited to see anything where Jesus was depicted. She was particularly drawn to this painting and wanted to linger there. The child who wanted to go home 15 minutes into our first tour was now begging to stay behind and tarry at this piece where Jesus was on his way to Calvary, with Mary mourning behind him and Saint Veronica kneeling beside him wiping his brow. When I inquired as to why she liked this one so much, she said, "Because that lady in the red is helping Jesus."

You know the scripture where Jesus says to his disciples, "Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for such is the kingdom of heaven"? Today, I felt like I was experiencing the reality of that verse. I love that my little girl was drawn to the pictures depicting Jesus more than that of the Impressionists. I am in awe of her noticing Veronica and am touched by her concern about Jesus. I was struck by the fact that my little girl, who doesn't concentrate on any one thing for more than about 3 seconds, lingered there --looking, thinking, wondering at Jesus. I hope that today never slips from my mind. I want to remember my children's first experience with great art. I want to remember my son's excitement at the scavenger hunt. And I always want to remember the great concern that my little girl had for Jesus upon seeing "The Way to Calvary" by Jacopo Bassano.

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