The British Museum – Imperial Theft?

“I was eating salad” was seen outside a London Pub near the British Museum with the introduction London Pride – Because no great story ever started with – I accept the challenge.
Let me start by saying that this British Museum is an amazing place which I feel privileged to visit. Instead of travelling to every continent, visiting hundreds of places, you can find here, distilled and kept safe, the story of humanity displayed and available for free view.

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My friend Rod LeFlea replied “bunch of thieves” to my Facebook post about my visit. I sympathise. Anyone with knowledge of aboriginal heritage knows of the century long struggle to reclaim aboriginal bodies and parts (like skulls) “collected” for study and untouched in dusty drawers far from their country. Similarly, the Greeks want their marbles back, even if Lord Elgin had permission to save them from vandalism. The Egyptians know that more than 50% of the Pharaonic art works also sit in London rather than Cairo.
How did all this “stuff” end up here then. it was called the Age of Enlightenment.

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Sir Joseph Banks was one of the thousands of highly educated middle class gentlemen who swarmed across the Empire collecting and classifying and returning to England with the idea that what they were doing was an important addition to the ultimate study – that of mankind itself. Banks was of course, the naturalist who accompanied James Cook on the trip that established and mapped the East Coast of Australia. He returned and, for the rest of his long and productive life, supported the colonisation of Australia and continued to collect Australiana.
Banks was just one of many such men. The writer, historian Bill Bryson considers that this group of middle and upper class men, educated but without the need to “work” revolutionised knowledge – in a day before professional scientists, they built the base from which today’s information rich society emerged.
Rod I think you are right, they were a bunch of thieves but I am grateful for the treasure trove they have kept safe and left to be still wondered at today.

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Without Museums, these clocks from the 1500’s would surely be trash not treasure.

Franco American Relationships -Born in Blood

Unless my Australian readers are History buffs with an interest in the French and American Revolutions (like Australian politicians Kim Beazley, Bob Carr et moi) they may not see the significance of these iconic symbols conjoined in this Image.

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The image shows the Eiffel Tower in the background, with a 11 metre replica of the Statue of Liberty on the Île aux Cygnes, river Seine in Paris in the foreground. The original statue, a gift to the United States from the people of France, is of a robed female figure representing Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom, who bears a torch and a tabula ansata (a tablet evoking the law) upon which is inscribed the date of the American Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.
The smaller Statue of Liberty in Paris is near the Grenelle Bridge over the River Seine is 11.50 m high and was Inaugurated on July 4, 1889. Its tablet bears two dates: “IV JUILLET 1776” (July 4, 1776: the United States Declaration of Independence) like the New York statue, and “XIV JUILLET 1789” (July 14, 1789: the storming of the Bastille).

There is something unique in Franco-American political relationships. The French and English were competitors in the colonisation of the north of the New World. England fought four wars (the French & Indian Wars) before finally expelling the French from the continent. Interestingly, in the final Seven Years War fought in Canada, the discoverer of Eastern Australian, Captain Cook played a significant role in the taking of Quebec, by mapping the St Lawrence River, allowing the Fleet to take the city.
The French retaliated by secretly supporting the American colonies in their dispute with England, supplying men and materials. After the American Declaration of Independence, many French Military Officers joined the revolutionary army. After Washington’s victory and the surrender of the British in what was to become the USA , France was the first country to establish diplomatic relations with the new nation.
Six years later, the French Revolution toppled the Bourbon regime and President George Washington recognized the French government but remained neutral in the war between France and England. There was further co-operation between France under Napoleon Boneparte and The US 3rd President Thomas Jefferson, when France sold them the Louisiana Purchase for 15 million dollars, to keep the land out of the hands of England. Jefferson lived in Paris during the revolution and said this “French by blood, American by birth, I have devoted a part of my life to strengthening the bonds between two allied nations who, from Yorktown to this day, have always fought side by side for Liberty.”
More recently, during WW1 and WW2, it would be reasonable to say that the entry into both conflicts of US forces has been motivated more by a desire to support for France than any great love of England by America.

Sculpture

I am sure that I never appreciated sculpture as an art form until I came to Europe. Certainly there are public statues and monuments in Australia, there are art prizes for sculpture,and the usual controversies about whether modern pieces are really art! Aside from the annual Sculpture by the Sea exhibition, along the cliff side walks of Sydney’s Eastern Suburb beaches which I have enjoyed, I don’t remember having an emotional connection with much Australian sculptural work. In the streets of Italy, France and England public areas are filled with massive marble and bronzes of Gods, Kings, Generals everywhere.

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Shown are sculptural works from 3 millennia and from all the countries I have visited so far. In the Musee D’orsy there were rows and rows of magnificent works, even in their rigid immobility expressing emotions better than a painting or photograph because of their three dimensional character. Unfortunately photography is forbidden – but I got a shot from the upper level where there are hundreds of Expressionist and Post Expressionist paintings to include here last. The second last image is a work by Henry Moore, sitting with the Serpentine River in the background in Hyde Park, London.

A Wedding in Positano

I could have included the first photos in my Italian Gallery but walking into someone’s wedding deserved a special spot.
We had an optional tour of Positano, a town re invented for tourists by a article John Steinbeck wrote in Harper’s Bazar “It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.” The fishing industry had collapsed and in the early 50’s more than half the population had emigrated to Australia and then BOOM. now they have a licence to remove money from tourists.
First the wedding – the bride came walking down the hill to the Church at the bottom, saw my camera and gave an excited twirl, looking very pleased with herself. An hour later we saw her agai, complete with ring, husband and the right to be addressed as Señora!

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The is only one road into Positano, winding torturously down the hillside. To get there we had to swap our bus for 4 hire cars with brave drivers. The houses cascade down the hills and lanes wind their way between buildings with every available space crammed with stalls selling clothing, jewelry – everything you could imagine. A small population support six different banks. Most workers commute and a large proportion of the properties are used for holiday homes by Hollywood types.

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Scene in Passing – a Gallery of people in Italy

I like to take pictures of people in unposed situations.
I love to photograph people I do not know, going about their own business, enjoying themselves.
I avoid photographing people in distress, down and outs, and young children I do not know.
It’ a pain to caption them all so All I will just tell you is that they all in Italy.

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I hope you enjoy a little taste of Italy.

Chaos Can’t be Outrun – a Gallery from Pompeii

What do we learn in visiting Pompeii? When our Trafalgar group visited Pompeii en route to the Amalfi Coast, some of our parties were stunned by the scale of the disaster. They had expected to see some ruins, like some of the castles you see as shattered debris. Instead we found not a reconstruction, but a town of 20,000 people preserved since AD 79 because of the nature of the catastrophe.
The event was well documented by the Roman historian, Pliny the Younger, who was staying on the opposite, safe side of the volcano Vesuvius, and wrote 2 letters to his historian friend Tacitus.
We know there were plenty of warnings as only 4000 bodies were found. The first thing we learn is that the smart people got out of town. There was no lava flow involved. Vesuvius erupts explosively, releasing poisonous gases, rocks and enormous quantities of ash which buried the town to a depth of 6 metres, effectively fossilising all that remained.
So we are left with a text book example of a Roman town and a lesson in survival. Sometimes you can’t.

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The top two images show the large, beautiful outside theatre area, also used for exercise, the next our tour group in the hot room in the men’s bath house, the next the impressive outside walls of this fortified city and the deeply rutted roads in the city centre.
In the background of the next two Vesuvius is seen, still active and incredibly dangerous to the 600,000 people who live in the towns around the base of the mountain today.

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The last images show the beautiful gates into the city and an oven that looks like it could cook pizza today.

Talking with Strangers

Great perils have this beauty, that they bring to light the fraternity of strangers. Victor Hugo

Yesterday was wet, cold and windy and we spent 6 hours in a bus. Not what you might think – it was an excellent day.
We opted for a one day hop on/off tour of 40 highlights of Paris with a taped multi lingual guide in one of those brightly coloured, open topped Doubled Deckers. We spent the first 90 minutes doing the entire circuit, not leaving the bus, not not taking a picture, just absorbing the ambience and listening to the guide ( which was regularly out of synch with what we were seeing but we coped).
We then continued, leaving the bus at the Tuileries Gardens for 30 minutes, catching the next one to the Arc de Triomphe and spending 90 minutes there.
We took our time at the Arc itself ( I posted about it immediately on FaceBook) and then walked about half the length of the Champs Élysées and back looking at some of the most expensive shops in the world, at things we wouldn’t buy even if we had the money.
We were wet, cold, tired and hungry – time for a stop. Everything was crowded but we bought a sandwich, a croissant and hot chocolates and sat ourselves next to a couple a little older than ourselves. Home, with the comfort of family, friends and familiarity with the culture, we would have nodded, eaten and then gone our own ways with little chance of conversation, let alone intimacy. in strange lands we seem to risk the perils, and we were soon in animated chat with David and Ada from Israel.
David a lawyer, originally from the USA, followed Ada to her native Israel 30 years ago. We mainly discussed the differences and commonalities between the three cultures we came from. David was interested in Australia as he sees in it the America he left behind and no longer respects. He sees the USA now as a cruel country unless you have luck and resources.
He made the comment that in Israel, if you tripped on a rock, King David may have done the same! We laughed but Ada was sceptical about whether there was a historical David. Interestingly, she accepted that there was evidence of a historical Jesus. I told her the Psalms were still read daily around the world and author named himself as David and wasn’t this literature as good a proff as archeology. Her husband had to translate the word Psalms for her – obviously in Jewish Holy Books they are given a different name (Tehilim I think). Her face lit up! She told me I had taught her something about her own culture that she would never forget.
It was soon time for parting. Yes, we exchangedy addresses etc, but unless they read this blog post, the reality of geography and time means that this exchange will probably not be repeated. It will not be forgotten though.
We caught the next bus to the Eiffel Tower, with its peak wreathed in cloud, got out for the obligatory photos with the international symbol of Paris and had to skip the final stop at Notre Dame or we would have missed the last bus – hence the photo from a bus including a tour bus -post modern?

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The Cathedral of Notre Dame, the scene of Victor Hugo’s novel, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame, as seen through from the top of a tourist bus”