Giant Blue Rooster In Trafalgar Square Leaves Londoners Bemused And Befuddled


Trafalgar Square in London has a new statue — a giant blue cockerel. It’s the latest work of art to adorn the Fourth Plinth, a nineteenth-century base flanking Nelson’s Column. The other three plinths all have statues but the Fourth Plinth never got one, and so in recent years it’s become home to a series of temporary sculptures.

The giant blue cock, as the British media can’t resist calling it, has caused a bit of a stir. The cockerel and the color blue are both symbols of France, and this is a square dedicated to one of the British Empire’s greatest victories over Napoleon. German artist Katharina Fritsch, who created the sculpture, said she wasn’t aware of the symbolism. As London Mayor Boris Johnson says (he’s the blond guy with the awful haircut in this video) it could mean a lot of things, such as the British victory in the Tour de France. At the very least, the royal blue hue ties into London’s recent baby boy mania.

The Huffington Post has more photos of the giant rooster.

Child on rocking horse is the latest statue on Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth

Trafalgar Square
The Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square has gotten its latest adornment–a giant bronze kid on a rocking horse.

Trafalgar Square is one of London’s most visited spots. In fact, it’s hard not to go there since it’s right in front of the National Gallery and is a nexus of several important roads. Three plinths flanking Nelson’s Column support statues of a king and two generals, and a fourth plinth, originally constructed to carry a statue of King William IV, is now used as a space for temporary installations.

This latest statue is called “Powerless Structures, Fig. 101″ and is meant to reflect a different take on the heroic equestrian statue. You can read the full artist’s statement here.

Trafalgar SquareAs a regular visitor to London I’ve always enjoyed seeing what’s coming next to the Fourth Plinth. Personally, though, I don’t think any of the statues have been as good as the very first, put up in 2005.

“Alison Lapper Pregnant” showed an English artist born with no arms and shortened legs. The giant marble statue, seen here in a photo courtesy Vards Uzvards, showed her nude and pregnant. It caused quite a stir when it went up, with some people saying Lapper’s condition was being exploited for shock value. I didn’t think so and, more importantly, neither did Lapper. Instead, it showed a brave woman who wasn’t afraid to get on with her life despite a terrible birth defect. That’s much more impressive than a cute kid on a rocking horse.

No public domain image of the statue was available at press time. This photo of a model is courtesy Loz Pycock.

Virgin Holidays gets ‘cheeky’ with burlesque show

Virgin HolidaysButtoned-up Brits in London‘s Trafalgar Square were loosening up their ties yesterday as Virgin Holidays launched a flash-mob style burlesque dance on the steps of the National Gallery as part of a play to break the world record for the world’s largest burlesque dance.

More than 100 dancers, many of whom are Virgin Holiday employees, participated in the routine.

Virgin Holidays marketing director Andrew Shelton said: “What better way to raise a smile on a cold January morning than to see a huge number of beautiful burlesque dancers?”

Hmm, we wonder if the stunt will be repeated in the U.S.?

Three Days in London

The cliches of constant rain and gloom are quickly banished when you visit London in the summer. While all the tourist favorites – Big Ben, Tower of London, British Museum – are open and busy, there are other exciting exhibits, West End shows and areas of the city ripe for exploration. If you have three days to spend in the capital this summer, here are some suggestions to keep in mind.

The Photographers’ Gallery is tucked away in a tall, narrow building on Ramilies Street, just a block from the Oxford Circus Underground station (or the Tube as it’s commonly known). Now through Sept. 19, The Family and The Land: Sally Mann, a retrospective of the celebrated American photographer is on exhibition. It’s not for the faint of heart. The show includes the controversial images of her three children in suggestive situations and oversized images of decomposing bodies from the Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Center. Between these two jaw-droppers are the haunting images of Civil War battlefields in the American South that retain scars from the fighting. For many of the photos, Mann used the wet-plate collodion photographic process, which involves coating a large glass negative with chemicals and exposing it while still wet, often in the back of her truck after a shoot.

Pro tip: Make sure to check out the gallery shop, which has one of the most impressive selections of photography books in the world, and stop for a sandwich or cup of tea in the airy cafe, which also hosts free talks and events at lunchtime weekly. Admission is free, but consider putting a donation in the box located in the gallery lobby.

For something completely different, take the Tube to Temple station and walk just a block to The Courtauld Gallery on the Strand. Located inside the circa-1875 Somerset House, the gallery has one of the most stunning collections of French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art in the world. In its elegant, high-ceilinged rooms, there is an iconic piece of art just waiting to be discovered: Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear; Manet’s melancholy A Bar at the Folies-Bergere; Gauguin’s Nevermore; and work by masters Rousseau, Degas, Cezanne, Toulouse-Lautrec and more. The upscale cafe offers an excellent lunch menu and a large outdoor dining area in the Somerset House courtyard. Admission to the gallery is £5 (about $8 at current exchange rates).

Hidden Treasures
London is full of parks, squares and streets with interesting shops that many tourists miss. Here are a few worth wandering off the beaten path to see.1.) Soho Square is ringed by some of the most-pricey real estate in the world housing some of the most noted companies, including 20th Century Fox and Bloomsbury Publishing. The shaded square itself, with its fanciful timbered garden hut at the center, is always full of picnickers and those just lounging in the dappled sunlight. Concerts are often held in the square and music lovers can stop by the bench dedicated to late singer Kirsty MacColl, who immortalized the park in her song “Soho Square” from her Titanic Days album.

2.) Victoria Embankment Gardens between Blackfriars and Waterloo Bridge on the Thames is another lush place to people watch, have a picnic or view the various sculptures along its manicured walkways lined with meticulously maintained flower beds. There’s a cafe in the garden serving ice cream and cold drinks and the Embankment Underground station has an exit right into the heart of the gardens.

3.) Charing Cross Road and Cecil Street are book-lovers’ heaven. Helene Hanff immortalized the former in her book, 84 Charing Cross Road, about an American literature lover who had a 20-plus year relationship with the staff of the Marks & Co. Bookshop. That store is long-gone (a plaque marks the spot), but Charing Cross and Cecil Street are lined with dozens of bookstores, selling new, used, antique and specialty books. Start off at Foyles, the London institution that sells the latest titles and often has free concerts happening upstairs in the cafe.

What’s For Tea?
London is an expensive city, but there are plenty of inexpensive – and delicious – options for dining, including one that offers a bit of history.

The Crypt Cafe at St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church in Trafalgar Square lets you have breakfast, lunch or dinner with the dead. The 18th century crypt is beautifully preserved and you literally dine on top of the ancient burial vaults of old Londoners. All dishes – try a quiche or a hearty bowl of soup with a fresh roll – are prepared onsite using local ingredients. The Crypt Cafe offers an excellent traditional English tea (£8.50) with sandwiches and scones and if you happen to be there on Friday, try the fish and chips (£7.95). Try dinner on a Wednesday night and enjoy jazz performances by local and international artists. The arched, brick ceiling provides amazing acoustics. The dead – I sat over a vault dated 1825 – have, surely, never been so entertained.

How about having your lunch or dinner with a view? The Tate Modern Restaurant located on the top floor of the Tate Modern museum, has arguably the best view in London, looking across the Thames to the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Even if you don’t want to see the exhibits (but you will, and the Gauguin retrospective opens Sept. 30 with one of the biggest exhibitions of his work ever assembled), the Tate’s home in the massive, disused power station has become a familiar landmark on the South Bank. The menu is not huge, but what counts is the use of fresh ingredients and local foods. Prices range from £12 to £16 for entrees, but there are plenty of smaller dishes, pastries and extensive wine list to choose from. If the char-grilled Cumbrian lamb steak is on the menu, I highly recommend it, and fresh fish is brought in daily. You’ll want to book ahead to make sure you get a table by the windows.

A Night at the Theatre

Two wildly different shows are on in London’s West End this summer, and both have star-power to burn. Joanna Lumley (Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous), David Hyde Pierce (Niles from Frasier) and English theatre maverick Mark Rylance are the leads in La Bête at Comedy Theatre, which continues until Sept. 4 before transferring to Broadway. A flop when it first premiered in New York in the early 1990s, David Hirson’s comedy written in iambic pentameter pits the head of royal theatre troupe (Pierce) against a self-aggrandizing street performer (Rylance) being foisted on the company by its princess patron (Lumley). Rylance chews the scenery in a hilarious monologue outlining his comic gifts, and while the last half sagged a bit, this trio of funny folks is worth the price of admission, which ranges from £25 to £55.

Over at Apollo Theatre, British acting legends David Suchet and Zoe Wanamaker have been wowing the critics in the revival of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons. It’s Wanamaker who walks off the show as the mother of a post-World War II family unraveling after its revealed her husband (Suchet) cut corners by allowing defective parts to be used in Air Force planes that ultimately crashed. The flashes of anger and devastation lurking just under her forced gaiety as a suburban wife build to a gut-wrenching crescendo as the secret is revealed. Miller’s dialogue and situations are a bit melodramatic, but director Howard Davies strips away the pretense and finds fresh undercurrents of emotion to mine. Tickets are £31 to £60.50 and shows are booking to October.

Collin Kelley just returned from Europe, where he traveled and guest lectured on social media at Worcester College at Oxford University. He is the author of the novel Conquering Venus and three collections of poetry. Read his blog on Red Room. The photos above are all courtesy Collin Kelley.

Ghost Forest brings attention to rainforest threat


A Ghost Forest is stalking Europe.

Giant trees from Ghana have appeared in Copenhagen, Trafalgar Square in London, and now Oxford. It’s called the Ghost Forest Art Project, and it’s an innovative way to bring the plight of the world’s rainforests to public attention.

Artist Angela Palmer wanted to share her concern with the public about tropical rainforests, which are disappearing fast. An area the size of a football pitch vanishes every four seconds, and most are never replaced. Not only does this reduce biodiversity and nature’s way of absorbing atmospheric carbon, but it leads to soil erosion and long-term economic problems. Since Europe is a major consumer of rainforest wood, and there are no rainforests in Europe, Palmer decided to bring the rainforest to Europe.

She hauled a collection of stumps from the commercially logged Suhuma forest in western Ghana all the way to Europe. Ghana lost 90 percent of its forest due to overlogging before the government got serious about conservation. Now the remaining forest is being logged in a sustainable manner under strict supervision. The stumps mostly fell due to storms, but three were actually logged. To offset the carbon footprint of shipping these behemoths hundreds of miles, Palmer contributed to a project that distributes efficient stoves to Ghanaian villages. These stoves use less wood than traditional stoves and reduce the need for cutting.

First stop was Copenhagen, just in time for last year’s UN Climate Change conference. This was followed by a visit to Trafalgar Square before the trees were installed in front of Oxford University’s famous Museum of Natural History. A fitting display for 2010, which is the UN’s International Year of Biodiversity. Next year will be the Year of Forests.

I’ve seen this exhibit in person and I have to say the stumps are truly awe inspiring. Their sheer size, and the realization that they were once alive, made me think about our place in this world. My four-year-old was impressed too, and I hope that some of these giant trees will still be standing when he’s my age.


Image Courtesy Ghost Forest.

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