Pies, the British Museum, Curry, and Billy Elliot: or What it is to be British

Photo credit: Ewan Munro

Chapter 4b

Day 4, 9/25, Thu, 3 PM-11 PM, forecast: acute weatherlike events 

PIES! Savory, hearty, flaky British pies are much of my diet now. They’re the British version of a burrito, in that you can eat the very container which holds in all of the meal’s meat, veg, juices, and assorted cholesterol.

Collin Pointon

(Click for hi-res)


     Sarah and I walked several miles between tube stations and pie shops (that were closed or out of pies). It was the most anachronistic walk I’ve done, what with giant glass arcologies beside slanted Elizabethan rooftops.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/20_Fenchurch_Street (Click for hi-res)

20 Fenchurch Street building

     Thank the London tourist board for signs leading you to the British Museum from its nearest tube station. Sarah was confident I was lost, but I just kept stopping at each sign and interpreting it’s arrows that pointed almost entirely not at a nearby street. Invariably “THAT WAY” was a building, or a closed sidewalk, or literally three streets that converged at Escheresque angles. I foresaw the logical action and then did exactly not that, and it worked. Is this how London ESP gestates in the mind?

     I almost wish the British Museum charged an entrance fee. That way, perhaps, you wouldn’t be surrounded by the dregs of humanity. By that I do not mean the poor, the destitute, the criminal, nor even the corporate lobbyist. I mean those pitiless, soulless, vain individuals that invest in selfie sticks.



A forever morally lost child.

    To illustrate, I am one of those strange creatures, who will actually read those signs stuck on the walls of museums. The ones filled with 2 pnt font next to that “old shit,” as archeologists say. Whilst I immersed myself in the story of the winged lions of Nimrud [1], I felt a subtle nudge at my hip. An Asian dude was nursing his vanity, and that required a selfie in front of these incredible 2800 year old monoliths. Was he a mutual 8th Century BCE Babylonian sculpture admirer? Of course not, because he proceeded to depressingly trudge through several more rooms clicking his selfie stick button like rat belonging to B.F. Skinner. He did not “snap and go,” rather he proceeded to “snap, step, snap,”

‘Round the room he went,

     snap here, snap there, grin-less selfies everywhere.

Physiological complications as a result of prolonged selfie stick use

     He didn’t smile. He stared into his phone; it clasped by dead plastic hands and suspended three feet away on a metal stick of meaninglessness. If only that stick selfie would capture his inner appearance. Like Dorian Gray, his visage would remain youthful, but with each passing selfie, you would see a progression of his inner decay. Watch as the sinews of his face wither under the enormous weight of vain, uninhibited and repetitive egotism. The eyeballs, which began seeing clear reality, would cloud; registering only moments categorizable by twitter hashtags. Teeth crack and crumble from the overuse of “duck faces” and Miley Cyress tongues.

     Like a character in a psychological horror story, I was encircled by “them.” The people who weren’t people. “They,” were merely the last vestiges of matter, giving form solely to their digital presences. There was a group of three women doing the same as the selfie stick man: blindly enacting muscle memory with a selfie stick in front of “museumy shit.” Do they know what geo-political conflicts the Elgin marbles represent? Well they stood in front of them–they have the proof they did!

     This is the post-post-modern condition: to possess infinite information about everything but to know none of it. I was astounded at the wealth of artifacts from Nineveh and Nimrud. I saw the mastery the Babylonians had for hewing stone into story. These stories were conveyed not through words, but sculpted motion. They still conveyed meaning to me, though thousands of years of language, culture, history, and geography separate us.

Collin Pointon Collin Pointon Collin Pointon

     Meanwhile, these selfie stick beings were there and yet not.

     A moment that would have taken a skilled Babylonian sculptor perhaps months to capture, was created in an inhuman millisecond. Pure supply-demand can unveil the terrible result. Such a supply of “moment captures” decreases any existent demand. A Babylonian carving takes time, it’s heavy, it’s huge, it’s delicate. Meaning fills the moment it captures. A selfie is fast, weightless, instantly transmittable, infinitely reproducible, infinitely mundane. It plummets over time closer and closer to worthlessness.

     Neither does a selfie show what’s behind it. Maybe by writing–such an absurdly methodical hobby compared to instagram–I can clarify what happened and what it meant from the other side. The subject rather than the lens. Here I can, perhaps, force meaning back through the lens, provide meaning to the photos rather than the photos provide any and all meaning to me.

    We gawked at the Rosetta stone, whose backside is impressive. Nothing compared to the front, but the juxtaposition of the two is interesting. I mean, not like the standard juxtaposition of front and back which is utterly mundane. I mean the comparison of what is written on the two. I snapped a photo from the Stone’s point of view, because that’s just what I do with famous landmarks. Rather than capture the same bloody shot that everybody has of the Rosetta stone, Big Ben and all that boredom, I like photos of their backsides. I like to recall not just the landmark or the famous object itself, but the angles that no one gets.

Rosetta Stone sideview

(Click for hi-res)

     Just as Sarah and I hopped up the staircase to Floor 2, the museum was closing. Like always when traveling, you have hours in a place that would take days to comprehend, and days in a city that would take years to know fully.

     As we exited, we beheld the Museum of museums, the audacity of British Empire’s historiography (and even histofetishism). The massive columns in the foyer evoke ancient Egyptian and Greek architecture. Outside, the high frieze illustrates a British Parthenon.

League_of_Extraordinary cover

     In the comic book series, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, artifacts of the bizarre cultures of the world provide a backdrop to the heroes’ meetings. The purpose, is to expose the British Empire’s love affair with the foreign; a sweeping worldwide Orientalism made possible only be ruthless colonialism and an accompanying presupposed cultural superiority. Allan Quatermain and especially Captain Nemo criticize the Empire’s worldview continuously. Thus, the comic firmly presents a critique of colonialism, and the grand histofetishism and xenofetishism that places like the British Museum represented.

     As for the British Museum of today, it’s apparent mindset toward foreign cultures is more inclusive, though veins of it’s own past prejudices run through its architecture and collections. I will certainly be back to see more.

     Sarah and I next traveled to Trafalgar square. I told her how great it was, how pigeons outnumber people and even eat seeds off their heads. I told her how Sherlock filmed there at one point and…oh it’s closed. The whole damn square was closed for some stupid concert.

My GPS when abroad

My GPS when abroad

     We got lost again. My phone gps was useless, or at least I was in using it. Sarah and I walked a mile down a huge street with the barracks for the Queen’s horseback guards and a large protest too. Somehow we found a tube station, and emerged near Victoria Palace Theatre to see Billy Eliot.

     We had just enough time to get consolation curry–a sanctuary of relief in our dark times. It was steaming, and we ran with said steaming curry back to Victoria Palace–a hard place to find amidst surrounding cataclysmic construction work. Sarah and I developed entire fake backstories, with long-con machinations in order to eat this curry in the lobby of the theatre. Surprisingly, none of the complex fiction was necessary. We bumbled into my parents, and they took care of the tickets while Sarah and I gorged on kamikaze hot vindaloo–still at molten rock temperature.

Ewan Munro

Pictured: Enlightenment

     Years hence, I will recall that moment: the simultaneous pleasure and burning pain of mass vindaloo consumption in the lobby of the Victoria Palace Theatre–watched over by Mom and Dad, ancy to get into the show before they shut the doors on us.

     Somehow that moment, in its entirety is symbolic of all life. Well, maybe just my life. It’s akin to a biblical passage, where we can know what happened, yet always find new lessons upon rereading it. I suppose what I mean is, you can be religious or you can eat vindaloo; either gets you to the same destination.

     All four of us loved the show. It was quintessentially Elton John (he adapted it from film into the musical). There is no better example than the scene wherein Elliot sings and dances with giant anthropomorphic dresses (See: “Expressing Yourself“).

Sarah Dasso

Our day ended. We soaked in hot baths and passed out with Elton John music in our heads. Oh, and I endured weird vindaloo induced dreams.

[1] “Assyrian sculpture and Balawat Gates (Room 6).” Exhibit at the British Museum.  http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/galleries/middle_east/room_6_assyrian_sculpture.aspx

About C.P.

Collin is a professional writer and scholar. He holds an MA in Philosophy and a BA in English literature. His philosophical work has appeared in print published by Wiley/Blackwell and Open Court. More of his writings, philosophical, literary, comic, and just plain nonsensical are available online. He currently lives in Seattle where he is writing science fiction, dressing up for Cons, and wreaking havoc on his opponents (npcs and tabletop humans alike).
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