“Knickers Abroad; a multiple journey”
Rose D. Kaye
For a complete list of chapters in numerical order please go to this page.
‘Let’s Meet at the Big Spider’
Saturday morning began with clear skies after several days of gloom. We got up late after a sleepless night, restless excitement on my part and an unfulfilled hunger in Brian’s mind. Not leaving the house the day before had left me feeling edgy. Diane and Ann had gone out shopping Thursday afternoon before Les Mis, but Brian and I had stayed in for two days in a row now. Diane makes handmade greeting cards with rubber stamps and other craft items and she had asked Ann to drive her to several nearby hobby stores. One thing that stood out to Diane was the differences in hot crafting trends between the two countries. Different products were being offered for sale in England as compared to America, and she had a great time browsing the shops. Diane and Ann also spent the time talking and discussing matters of personal importance, without us being present. I was able to write of course, but that was not satisfying when there was a whole country to explore.
Now on the twenty-minute walk to our local station, Diane and I rehashed the week’s events and I expressed my severe disappointment with my overall lack of activity. Perhaps I am being too hard on myself, but I really believed it would be different and I had done little so far on the trip for my pleasure. That was about to change as today was all about me. By email and then by phone I arranged to meet my friends Drizel and Jo at the Tate Modern by ten o’clock this morning. This was why I was so restless. The shops we passed by, the restaurants and the pubs all were a reminder of what we’d not done. Diane was disappointed as well that her health had deteriorated so abruptly preventing her from being more active. We found out after we returned home that Diane had been having a reaction to her medications causing her legs to swell and her doctor quickly resolved the problem.
Since we had used up our one-week Travelcards, I had to buy us both one-day passes and the ride to central London and St. Paul’s began once more. The ticket machines are very easy to use. You simply select cash or credit, then a single or an all-day pass by zone then quantity and the ticket(s) print out. Slide them into the gates, retrieve on the other side and pick your platform. My observations of the Tube as you know have been favorable. While expensive to ride and crowded during most times of the day and night, it has been quick and on time with regular and frequent service. Everyone takes the Underground, young or old, business or pleasure, every ethnic group from every strata of society. I overheard scores of different languages from residents and tourists alike. Although nighttime travel revealed fashions run amuck on the town, weekends and days were for the ordinary. There are thousands of random timelines crossing again and again in a beautiful dance of souls. But more than that, someone else is doing the driving.
Retracing our steps across the Millennium Bridge the skies, after a promising start, had been consumed by pale thin clouds. The temperature was cool but without rain the day remained pleasant. Over a century had passed since the last bridge over the Thames was constructed and the Millennium Footbridge was designed to be a showpiece linking St. Paul’s on the north bank, to the borough of Southwark. The eagerly awaited opening on June 10, 2000 was even more exciting than anyone could ever have anticipated. With nearly 2,000 people at a time walking across the 333-meter span, an unexpected phenomenon occurred when a critical mass of pedestrians began to subconsciously march in rhythm. This caused the bridge to begin a gentle side-to-side sway. With more and more walkers trying to compensate by matching the increasing sway, the result was a very serious lateral movement, ceasing only when enough pedestrians stopped walking entirely. This feedback loop was alarming enough to cause the closing of the bridge only two days after opening. Nicknamed ‘Wobbly’, the bridge remained shut while experiments were conducted into the cause of the lateral sway. Due to the local zoning restrictions in both height and width, the best engineering solution to control the horizontal movement was found to be the retrofitting of thirty-seven fluid-viscous dampers to dissipate energy. In addition, despite no reports of any significant vertical movement, fifty-two tuned mass dampers for any inertial energy were also added to the underside of the walkway. Similar in function to dampers installed at the top of skyscrapers that will move in opposition to wind and other forces, since the reopening in February 2002 of the Millennium Bridge, these dampers have successfully counteracted the naturally occurring frequency generated by the moving pedestrians.
As we had the furthest to travel I expected us to be the last to arrive and halfway over the bridge to the looming brick pile that is the Tate Modern, I was anxiously scanning the crowd for Jo and Drizel. The museum was just opening at ten o’clock so the patrons were still light, with more pouring in from every direction. I spotted Drizel first; she had her back to the Thames, leaning against the railing and her long red hair was a bright beacon of friendship. I also thought I saw Jo sitting on a bench at the far opposite end of the plaza but she was with another woman so I wasn’t sure. I raced off the walkway leaving Diane behind in my enthusiasm and over to Drizel. Her face lit up with excited recognition and we hugged, giggled and exchanged “luffies”. After introducing Diane to her I excused myself and we left them to chat and went over towards the woman we thought was Jo. Getting closer we were positive that it was she and making eye contact she also broke out into a wide and delighted grin. We hugged and I said hello and then she introduced her mother Marie. We weren’t sure how much Marie knew as she greeted Brian instead of me, so he popped out and whispered to Jo asking if her mother knew about Rose. She reassured us that ‘everyone’ knew and that’s why her mother was here.
We all came back together in the shadow of the big spider: Louise Bourgeois’ 30-foot tall spider called “Maman”. Created in 1999, the sculpture had been previously displayed at the Tate Modern in 2000 and 2004, sandwiched around a world tour in 2001 that included such places as Canada, Spain, New York and Russia. Born in Paris in 1911, Louise credits her artistic vision to her childhood memories and diaries. She was quoted as saying, “My childhood has never lost its magic, it has never lost its mystery and it has never lost its drama.” Certainly “Maman” is dramatic, but for me, a bit sad. Trapped forever in iron are her eggs that will never hatch.
After everyone had met and exchanged hugs and greetings I explained the ground rules. Unless someone asked a question of Brian, I was free to roam until further notice and the ‘face’ was hereby known as Rose. Since we were the only ones in the group to have visited the Tate before, the first order of business was seeing the ‘Crack’ again – “Shibboleth” – and Jo was enthralled. I don’t think Diane, Drizel and Marie were as enthused as we were, but we all used it as a backdrop for group pictures. It was very hilarious to watch everyone taking pictures of myself with Jo and then Drizel in turn. With the flashing of cameras and the calls to face this way and then that, I felt like a celebrity. A minor one to be sure, but my smile would have powered the former turbine once housed here where now we stood together in friendship.
The Tate Cafe on the ground floor provided a welcome place to sit and bond over tea and biscuits. I felt right at home talking about my life and goals and to meet girlfriends like these was a very liberating experience. Drizel and I clicked right away, as I knew we would, and she gave us both gifts. Mine was a wonderful and sassy book of poetry by Mark Haddon called “The Talking Horse and the sad Girl and the Village under the Sea”. She gave a book about South African wildlife to Brian along with two gorgeous hand-painted canvas bookmarks. I handed out cards that Diane handmade to Drizel and Jo including a sympathy card to Marie and Jo. Marie’s husband, Jo’s father, had passed away at hospice earlier in the week and they were using this outing as a means of healing. Their pain was fresh and raw though; we gave them what comfort we could.
We talked and talked about many different topics, poetry and blogging, writing and the frustrations inherent with too many ideas and not enough time. Drizel has a degree in Psychology so she has always understood me to be a woman and told me that she had to explain over and over again to her friends that I was ‘normal’. It’s interesting as I’ve grown and expanded how some people are attracted to one of us and not the other. Drizel and Brian have a brother and sister relationship and have felt that since the very beginning of their friendship. They call it, ‘siblings from another mother’. For me though, even before she moved from South Africa to England and then back again, she was a close girlfriend and she happens to be an extraordinarily gifted writer with a deep insight into the dark psyches.
Jo had found me through poetry blogs and instantly became my friend. She also had a book of poetry as a gift for me, “New Selected Poems 1966-1987” by Seamus Heaney. In her case she didn’t make the connection between Brian and I until much later so she didn’t know that much about him. In person, Jo turned out to be warm and caring and projected a sense of poise and fierce strength, presumably from her career in journalism and from living in many places around the world. She is a loving mother of two young boys and she reacted most strongly to me when I related our history and told her about Little Brian. The tears in her eyes showed the true depth of her compassion.
After we had exhausted all possible topics of conversation, we decided to take a quick tour of the exhibit floors before Jo and Marie had to leave. The 2nd and 4th floors house a wide variety of Modern Art. I capitalize this because art that desires to be called modern cannot make sense. I mean this in the most generous of ways. For an artist to be called modern he/she must be able to create something that looks like you’d buy it at IKEA and assemble it yourself. It must be strange, deranged even and many times incomprehensible to the untrained eye.
Here is where I part company with many folks I am sure. I loved everything about this museum and the works of art that adorned the floors and walls. It matters not a whit to me that the art is a large canvas with blotches of random paint. Or a series of videos of a dog tripping a man, each shot from a different perspective. Metal squares and painted blocks; translucent nudes and jagged iron sculptures reaching for a tortured sky. I didn’t understand many of the displays, but that didn’t matter. I understood enough to know that the artist had a vision. A vision that haunted their dreams and waking days driving them to create something that was real only to them.
“Welcome back everyone to ‘Flashing Knickers With Dewy’ and this chapter where we discuss Rose’s second journey to the Tate Modern. She’s written eloquently about the experience meeting her friends, but what about the museum itself? She promised back at the end of Chapter Seventeen that she’d talk about the time spent here. My first question for you Rose is based on the paragraph above. Do your visions haunt you as well?”
“You have no idea how much Dewy. The courage, the inspired madness that fuels art is what I strive for. My stories and poetry allow me to reach into that bubbling stew of human emotion and ladle out a helping of nonsense. I am haunted by what I feel and what I think. I write to provoke, to sooth, to touch my readers and show them a different way of thinking. For me being so young, the world seems fresh and untrammeled. I write about things that interest me.”
“This is for all of you to answer, starting with Ann. What did you like and what didn’t you like about the Tate Modern?”
“Dewy, sadly I wasn’t there on the same day as Jo and Drizel, however the previous Monday’s walk along the Thames had culminated at the museum. Surprisingly, I’m ashamed to say, I had never been to the Tate Modern before so was eagerly looking forward to the visit. I didn’t expect to be, but I was really taken by the ‘Crack’ because I wanted to see if it was all that it was cracked up to be… excuse the pun! I’d read loads about it in the press over the few weeks prior to opening. I really was more impressed than I thought I would be, mostly I think because of the sheer scale and in a way the audacity of it, but I couldn’t share the artist’s vision of what “Shibboleth” meant to her.”
“How about you Diane? Did you enjoy the two visits to the Tate Modern?”
“Let me think a minute Dewy. I was impressed by the variety of art, however the style was not to my liking. I spent most of the tour talking with Marie and we agreed on most points that the art was pointless. It didn’t strike a chord with me. I want to see something I recognize. Modern Art is too freestyle for me, too weird: no bearing on reality. I prefer art that depicts more real life settings, such as landscapes and portraits. I do love the Impressionists, Monet in particular, although I suppose he was Modern for the times.”
“Thanks Ann and Diane for your insights. At this time I’d like to introduce another special guest to the show. Please welcome to our discussion about the Tate Modern museum Rose’s sistah in flashing Traveled Jo. I’m sorry you couldn’t be here today in person Jo, but I understand you’ve got your hands full these days with family.”
“Thank you Dewy for having me, I’m thrilled to be here, even if it is by remote from England.”
“You are most welcome. Now Jo, getting back to Rose, this was the first time meeting her in person. Were you nervous considering you had only corresponded by email before?”
“Not at all Dewy, because I was excited about the opportunity to talk to someone I can usually only read. I did wonder if it would be difficult to engage with a person who is effectively inside somebody else, but from the second Brian came over I knew Rose’s voice – though for politeness sake I did check! We sat and chatted over coffee and for a few minutes it felt a little disorientating, like talking to a friend in disguise perhaps, but I realized quickly that the gestures, the movement, the essence were pure Rose and Rose, well she’s wonderful. Does that make sense, Dewy?”
“It makes perfect sense Jo, I think you’ve explained the feelings quite well. I know the circumstances were not the best at that time for you and your family, but did meeting like this with strangers help you in your grief?”
“It was a very difficult time Dewy, yes, my father had died and we were feeling very heart sore but the distraction was welcome – just to get on a train and physically move away from where it had happened was therapeutic. And Rose and Diane were so very kind and compassionate that it helped; I was particularly touched by the beautiful card which Diane had made.”
“You’re so very welcome Jo, it was a pleasure making it for you. I just wish we could have done more.”
“It was enough Diane. My mother and I appreciated your gesture very much.”
“I have to ask you Jo, after hearing Rose’s enthusiastic description of the museum visit, don’t you think she’s a bit over the top?”
“You’re asking the wrong person Dewy! I think that the Tate Modern is fabulous from the bricks up. The building was originally a power station and was dubbed an industrial cathedral because of the enormous central chimney, so it’s the perfect venue for cutting-edge art. And there’s something about being in a place so full of creativity; it gives you a spark. I’m just sorry this last visit was so rushed.”
“Ann I need to ask you here again about your visit earlier in the week. There seems to be a division about ‘the Crack’, but how did you feel about the rest of the museum? Did you get a chance to peruse the galleries?”
“I remember Dewy that after the pleasure and thrill of seeing the ‘Crack’ we headed upstairs to Level 3; Poetry and Dream. This surely was made for me… a dreamer with my head in the clouds and a wannabe poet, as I call myself. I really was excited and it didn’t disappoint, I was enchanted even though I’m no art maven. What little I know can be written on a pinhead, but you just know if something appeals to you or not. Here was an Aladdin’s cave of contemporary art. One particular piece caught my eye. I now know he’s a well known artist and apparently a painting of his sold recently for $1.6m, but I’d never heard of him, showing my ignorance here.”
“Oh come on Ann, you’re not ignorant. Tell us which painting drew your attention and fired your imagination.”
“The artwork was Francis Picabia’s ‘Otaiti’. If ever a painting exuded a vision of a dream, this was it. The central figure is a beautiful naked full lipped full bodied woman and then it is layered with other objects… from what I remember there was a hand, leaves, another face, a sheep, a fish, a violin. This piece spoke to me. They say a picture speaks a thousand words, well I felt it really was talking to me. You know Dewy, I’m learning you’re never too old to be open to new things.”
“I agree with Ann as well, Dewy. Both Rose and I liked this painting very much and had fun peering into the complexity of the design. What did you think Rose?”
“Yes Brian, I did enjoy the painting. It’s such a deep and layered work, that in the end you simply have to stand back and marvel at the talent. You see so many sights every second, but very few you actually retain. This was one of those works of art that needed no debate. It was Art.”
“Thank you Ann, Brian, Rose and Jo for your insights. At this time I want to welcome yet another friend of Rose’s. Thanks for joining us all the way from South Africa, Drizel. As you can see I have Brian, Diane, Ann and Rose here in studio and Jo is on video remote from her home in England.”
“Thanks for having me Dewy. Hi Diane and Jo, good to see you again. Hey Brian, brother from another mother; sorry we couldn’t meet in person Ann. Hey chicky!”
“Hi you. You’re looking good my Body and Soul sistah!”
“Thanks Rosie, you too. So what do you want me to share Dewy?”
“Well Drizel I would like to know what was your first reaction when you saw Rose in person?”
“Initially Dewy I was calm about it, I knew it would be a shock to me to see her in a man’s body as I think of Rose as a chick. So I think I kinda prepared myself to just not look shocked. But actually when I saw Rose I was not shocked. I knew it was her in every way and I knew that Rose was a chicky.”
“Thanks chicky, you’re one too. I was wondering why you were so quiet though.”
“I didn’t know what to say at first Rose, because you’re so smart and I can sometimes be a bit goofy so I just stayed quiet for a bit. Plus I was in awe of you and Diane. I met Brian only briefly and it was fun getting two hugs.”
“What did you notice Diane? When Rose went over to greet Jo, what did you and Drizel chat about while you were waiting?”
“Actually Dewy I spoke briefly about our trip so far and we shared tales of London. I knew it was Drizel as well when I saw her red hair from the vantage point of the bridge.”
“Overall on a sliding scale, how much did you enjoy the Tate Modern museum Drizel?”
“Tate Modern was something that blew life into me Dewy, I went there with friends after we were there; twice actually. The big crack still baffles me, but one person’s art is another’s junk. I loved the place. I kind of was starting to get into London life, but like everything in life things change with a blink of an eye.”
“Now that I have you all together, here you were, five women sitting around a table in a cafe talking as if you were old friends. I assume being across from Jo and next to Drizel had you fairly excited Rose.”
“That’s correct Dewy. Jo and I were chatting up a storm about blogging and writing. I thought maybe Drizel wasn’t having a good time because she was so quiet.”
“That’s not true Rose. I loved being in the coffee shop with you guys and I had to concentrate for my jaw not to drop open. I really have so much respect for you, Brian and Diane. I just really wanted to take everything in. Just seeing you talk and seeing the difference between yours and Brian’s handwriting was an eye opener.”
“What was so eye opening about Rose’s way of talking and writing Drizel?”
“As you know Dewy, I studied Psychology and in school they teach you the words. Never did I imagine I would have the honor of meeting Rose. We are all humans and perfection comes in different forms. I will always, always consider myself very fortunate to have met you, Rosie, as there is no one on this planet in your perfection. So if one sees it like that Rose, you are your own art, poetry and soul.”
“That is so sweet chicky. I miss you so much and I wish South Africa wasn’t so far away. Luffies.”
“Thank you Drizel for your time and I hope that you and Rose will be able to meet in person again someday. Jo before you go as well is there anything else you wish to add?”
“Just a few thoughts Dewy. I really loved when Rose read some poetry to us and it was a wonderful experience. She has a perfectly pitched voice that can really nail the rhythm of a piece. I think you should make a recording of some of your writings Rose.”
“Jo, I have actually recorded my voice before reading some of my poems and stories. It’s just one more of those things that needs time.”
“I also remember Rose you reading to us from your travel diary and this was so exciting, to listen to the first drafts – and I was amazed by how little was crossed out, I write from bare bones, with many drafts, your work seems to come out almost fully formed.”
“Well Jo, I spend so much time thinking that my writings do come out nearly fully formed at times. I do edit of course, but I seek to have the core intact before even writing a single word.”
“What about Rose’s personality Jo? Given that you had only a few hours together, what was the lasting impression you were left with?”
“Dewy when you meet with Rose in person, you are left with the sense that Rose is full of enthusiasm – for life, art, writing. When we were talking I felt that Brian’s chronic fatigue was a source of great frustration for her, though she did not complain. I find it frustrating having to fit my writing in around looking after my family, Rose has to share writing time with Brian, who works long hours – it must make for a difficult balancing act, but they are both writing great stuff so it is working! I would definitely like to get together again with Rose and have more time to talk over writing and art. This first meeting was too rushed, here’s to the next visit Rose!”
“Thank you Jo for all your wonderful love and help in making my dreams come true. I know there will be more books I’ll write and more visits with you.”
The museum was wonderful and I have vivid memories of the art that adorned the varied surfaces, but what made this visit so special was the friends who were there as well. Art may be in the eye of the beholder, but then so too are friendships. All different colors and sizes, friends make everything seem brighter and the world a better place.