december 2004, london

i had wanted, and promised, to visit giovanni in london several times this year, mostly around mid-to-late summer, but for various reasons (mostly my lack of proper decision-making, very inappropriate in a supposed adult), it hadn't happened, but finally in early december, i had one last little reason to do so, namely the prospect of hanging out for a day or two at a computer graphics festival called the cgi festival. more about this towards the bottom.

giovanni has worked in london for about a year now, but according to his own description, has not really settled down there yet. he likes his job somewhat, but doesn't get along with everyone at work. specifically, there is one particular colleague who is more ambitious than he knows what to do with, without the required talent to justify this. the kind of person who should just adjust to spending the rest of his life behind the same desk, without really getting anywhere or having any more than he currently has, miserable, insecure with his various (in)abilities, frustrated with his nagging wife, the screaming kids, his small petrol-guzzling car, and the unsatifying mistress who he only doesn't get rid of because she threatens to tell his wife and his boss, something which on second thought would probably only improve his life.

a second reason for not feeling at home has to be london itself. cold, damp, miserable weather most of the year, insane living costs, racial tension, realitively high violence levels, sour-faced overcrowdedness, the long list of disadvantages goes on. for me, i have to add one more, very important, problem: the whole 5 days i was there, and i did walk rather a lot through various mixed areas, i saw not a single playground, not a single toy store, and just a few, bratty, spoiled children at the natural history museum, who proceeded to tear down several of the dinosaur skeletons, and lay around on the floor faking fear in the earthquake simulator. london is not a place i could consider living with a child in my wildest imagination, unless i have dreamt the whole thing, and london is really a tropical paradise with overjoyed inhabitants and low, low rents for beautiful large apartments in safe, child-friendly neighbourhoods.

giovanni and i had a great time though, and even met our friend rob b. who is usually so busy that he doesn't have time to say "i'm busy", but just says "i'm b", with the "b" simply being pronounced as the first letter of the word "busy", with the rest missing in action. unfortunately i was in london for too short a time to visit either other friends there, or my slightly scattered family.

december 4

but i am getting ahead of myself. after a short flight, only made slightly uncomfortable by the exceedingly short row-to-row distances in the typically cheap ryanair flight, and the ominous announcement just before takeoff that there would be a slight delay, due to the inability of the crew to start one of the engines, i arrived safe, kinked, and sound in stansted airport, some 75 minutes and a £24 (roundtrip) train-ride removed from london proper.

i took the stansted "express" and then switched to the tube, heading down to brixton where i found giovanni's apartment, and managed to enter, in spite of a missing doorbell. eventually i just phoned him and told him to open the front door...

we chatted a bit, then hopped on a bus, direction city-centre, getting off by the parliament buildings and westminster abbey, faced by a grim churchill. i guess anyone would be grim faced with london weather year-round. we walked around a bit, past trafalgar square and later on, picadilly circus, and then returned home. this time of year, it gets dark about 16.00...

while we were at trafalgar square, we popped in to the national gallery, where giovanni had reserved entry to the raphael exhibition, which was truly excellent. they did a superb job collecting various interesting pieces from his entire career, and with the help of headphones, we were treated to a detailed, but interesting description of his life and work. my favorite was called, madonna of the pinks, a subdued but beautiful piece of work.

december 5

the next morning was a sunday, and we miraculously persuaded giovanni's old bialetti to make us a cup of coffee, in spite of the incredible build-up of a heat-defeating layer. i had to open it and look in to find this out, but the bottom piece is not ceramic, but metal! according to an informal survey of bialetti-style moca cookers, i am the only person on the face of the earth whose bialetti still resembles itself on the date of purchase. i have even seen some which were partially corroded away.

anyway, we once again took the tube, a typical escalator of which is seen here, and headed for the city centre once more, where we proceeded to walk fairly aimlessly around, taking pictures of whatever. i did want to see foster's swiss re building, so we went past there.

later on we met rob b. who suggested we visit camden market, which i have not seen before. an incredibly crowded place, which for london really says something, it is nonetheless interesting and if i had been there to shop, i am sure i would have ended up with a large bag of stuff to drag back. it was hard to find a seat in a restaurant though, but we eventually managed to find a good viet-thai place, if i recall correctly.

december 6

the next day, giovanni had to spend catching up with some work, having just returned from argentina, so i headed out alone to take pictures of some things i found interesting, including a house almost exactly opposite giovanni's, where david bowie apparently was born, or at least grew up.

then i left for the natural history museum, my primary mission objective was to gather evidence of dinosaurs for jana, as well as document their life-size bluewhale model, go through the earth model, as well as experience the earthquake simulator. the coelacanth was merely an added bonus, as were the deep sea fish. i especially like the black one, before and after dinner :)

the little kid below the t-rex head model was just so keen to get close to it, it was funny to watch. other than the kids i saw in this museum, i don't recall seeing any kids on the whole trip, except one or two in brixton, looking like prey, around where giovanni lives.

by the way, in the picture of the two arms with claws, the little model is a similar creature to the one believed to have been stuck to the back of the arms, except smaller. the arms are 2.5 meter long. they don't know what this beast looked like, but my guess is that it ate t-rex for tea.

after the museum, i headed up to hyde park, wanting to take some interesting pictures of the incredibly uninteresting speaker's corner. perhaps people are no longer as interactive as they used to be, having successfully transferred these attributes to their computers.

heading south, i took a picture of a most british mini, built by bmw, by the way, and then a porsche carrera gt, which costs £316.000, if memory serves. i wonder what they would charge to put a roof on it.

all this walking lands you up at buckingham palace, where you can witness the queen's toy soldiers strutting around in comic poses. continuing on, i got to westminster abbey and the parliament buildings again, just as the sun decided to peek out, the only time on the trip.

i had naïvely thought that britain was somehow more relaxed, more civil and less paranoid than the united states, in spite of having a similarly idiotic foreign policy at the moment, but the barricades around downing street quickly dispelled that illusion. a less friendly street i have only seen around the american embassy in berlin, and in brixton late at night.

the queen's life guard, suitably situated a 15-minute drive from the queen, seemed fairly relaxed. in fact, one chap seemed about to keel over, no doubt from the heat.

on past the courts, to st. paul, one of the larger domes in europe, but still much smaller than the st. peter's basilica. it is situated in much too small a spot, leading me to walk around for half an hour, looking for a better vantage point. in the process i probably managed to get much better pictures than i would have, had it had more space around, which just goes to show... erm... something. i even snapped a picture inside, although i was not supposed to, since a mass was about to take place.

i also managed to snap a shot of something looking like a refinery in a northern part of central london, whose bizarre name i forget, as well as a chunk of a roman wall. the romans pretty much made london popular, way back when, and from the date the romans set up a city defense, it never stopped growing, something which is generally considered a mistake. it is much too large, and has probably been so since the early 1900s.

december 7/8

the final two days i more or less spent at the the cgi festival, which in spite of my getting off at highbury & islington, was situated very near angel station, a place of some repute among manfred mann fans, and incidentally, an interesting area where i might consider living, were it not for the crowds, the expense and the lack of children's facilities.

of note here is a slide from a gelato presentation, with two pictures from the matrix series of games and movies. i presume dan wexler and the other gelato people are green with envy that they didn't get to contribute, and therefore put up a mental ray-generated image. after that, an attractive and very large maxon booth, enemy territory in the form of a pixar booth, with a nice girl who kept smiling at me, a useless waste of screenspace in the form of maya running with a single modelling window showing just a small explosion on a 30" screen, and finally, a softimage xsi classroom, open to the public. softimage also had a demo room, and both rooms were well attended most of the time. all three major graphics card vendors were present, as well as discreet with 3ds max, and sad to say, the only major computer graphics vendors missing were mental images with mental ray, and alias with maya. all others were present in some form or another.

in general, i would say that the festival was small, but successful, with interesting talks, and enough of a presence from important companies, and enough of an interest from the public, that it will likely grow over time into something major, but this year it was small and cozy.

and that was the end of that trip. in spite of my disappointment with london in general, there are obviously enough interesting things to see that i will likely return, next time hopefully with more time and better weather, however likely that second part is.