A grey and damp day in London. The wind picks up and whips around corners, catching me by surprise,even though I know exactly what April in London is like. And then I look up to see the V&A Museum beckoning to me to keep going…come on in, I hear it say, welcome back!
My pace quickens as I climb up the stairs, past families and college tour groups, couples and “women of a certain age” (I guess I now count among them!) and travelers from the world over. They may be uncertain of what lies behind the massive front doors, but I know exactly where I’m going. I pass under the glorious Chihuly candelabra, its greens and blues shimmery even in the dull afternoon light, and stop to remember the first time I stood directly underneath with my three kids as they laughed and twirled and found their own way to interpret the exuberance of all that lovely glass.
I passed through the ancient Islamic Art exhibition, noting three new installations I would have to check out later, and then past the ancient Roman and Greek statuary. Stern senators and gods seemed to register their disapproval as I hurried past – who do you think you are, they seemed to be saying, rushing past without paying your respects? Finally, I reach the the glass doors and swing them open to reveal my first destination – the courtyard gardens. Even though it is rather cold, I find a table by the outdoor cafe and treat myself to a cup of tea. Fortified by its warmth, I sit for a while I look about … and remember.
My parents live in London, and for many years I would travel to London, all three children in tow, to spend three summer weeks. Day after day, we’d pack sandwiches and treats, and then set out to explore this fabulous city. Some days were park days – we’d picnic, explore every playground in view and play never ending games of hide and seek. Other days were museum days – we’d arrive with our maps and explore rooms where lots of other people also roamed around, and rooms where we were the only explorers (we loved those). Our favorite museum in the early years was the V&A. First, because they had this place:
Th kids ran around and made up stories about the statuary, I sat still for a bit and collected my wits about me. Sometimes there would be art installations to decipher, or musicians to appreciate. Looking around the courtyard, there were memories of the three Smith kids everywhere.
The second thing about the V&A was the fact that they had a serious art program for kids. We’d make right for the art trolleys parked at various points throughout the museum and collect these:
Each art backpack contained activities for various exhibits, and my kids would strap these on and march off to find a spot to begin. In this way, we’d make our way through exhibitions about tapestries, stained glass, Egyptian mummies and Roman vases. Some activities were arts and craftsy, some were puzzles and others were gizmos we’d have to assemble — there was no rush, no need to get things perfect, and we’d just take our time.
After my tea, I wandered through some of these exhibitions, and thought back to those long ago museum days. I remembered my kids and their enthusiasm – high at first, and then less so as the day wore on. There was always that point which I’d have to be alert to .. the “we’re done, it’s time to get back to grandma’s!” We’d put the backbacks in order and then return them to some cheerful young art student waiting at the trolley, full of enthusiastic questions about everything we’d seen and enjoyed.
Some time later, having visited both the familiar and the new, I prepared to leave. I thought about the many years of my life this building has witnessed, the many stages of my children’s life it has supported and encouraged. A building can be as warm and embracing as a friend – this particular building has certainly been so. And, for some reason (it being London and all…), this song came to mind:
(P.S. The enterprising fellow who posted this on Youtube also inserted an ad for himself…very tricky…but it doesn’t take away from the glory of the Beatles and their song)