The Two Tates.
Or Tâte-à-Tâte at the Shangri-La.
Act I: Regency Café
If you’re looking for an emphatically British start to the day then start your day at Regency Café. I’ve done everything I know to resist a Soup Nazi joke here, so I’ll make you a deal: no tiresome Seinfeld jokes if you just please, please show up to this local English café and then stand in line and order and be direct and polite. Don’t hold up the line. Just sit down and have your mind bashed with sausage and then slapped with ham and eggs and potato cakes and then like any good English person make your way out for the other diners.
The man running the show here has a job to do and that is to feed Londoners their start to a London day so that they can finish their London day. I’ve seen what happens to tourists who bluster around in here and if you aren’t taking this start to London as serious as everyone else in here you’ll regret it.
There are no toilets in here. That would only stall the British concord that is this café and anyway you won’t want to leave your seat or your plate that smells like victory over Napoleon for that long, but there is a cabbies toilet around the corner. Just head up north on Regency St and it’s at the next intersection. There. I just saved you having to stall the foreman at the counter. And if you do, don’t mention my name. You’ve been warned. The line that never really takes that long to get into this place is hit or miss, as far as that goes, but don’t worry about it.
What you should worry about through, if you’re looking for anyone to respond to “ma’am” called out repeatedly like cattle mooing for a waitress and then your orange juice to be refilled because it’s almost halfway gone and not ice cold the way you like it, is another place to start your morning in London. Of course, if this describes you, there are other websites to help you start your day in London, too.
Scene I – The Tate Britain
Oh yeah, the young, free spirited Tate Modern has an older sister who cannot only offer deeper, more mature conversation, but is just as beautiful as her younger sister and in fact is the one who showed her little sister how. Out of Regency Café, head east on Page St through the buildings that are checkerboards for giants and then take a right to head south on Marsham St and keep going straight as Marsham St becomes Herrick St and then you’ll come to a little park called Millbank Gardens. Yes, you can go in for a sit or an outdoor elliptical if you’re core is feeling a little stretched and loose after Regency Café and you’re looking to wrench it back into place with a pony tail swishing work out in a London park. Cross the garden and on the east side of the park (or you can go around it if you want but where’s the fun in that) there’s the back wall of the Tate Britain. Just take Atterbury St around the south side of the Tate Britain and there’s the river and the steps to the museum of five hundred years of British art.
So what’s fun here, because you really can’t find it anywhere else in the world that I know of, is their walk through time rooms. It’s British art from the 1500’s to today but it’s not organized in any of the lame ways that other big museums do it like having an impressionism section but rather it’s organized chronologically. It’s very Mary Poppinsish the way you jump into the 1500’s art here and don’t come out until the present day. The famous Ophelia is displayed here, painted from a scene in Hamlet and if you went to London and didn’t do anything else but returned to this free museum every day and stood in front of Ophelia, and just sort of rolled up your pants and took off your shoes and dipped your feet into the stream she’s lying in, it wouldn’t be a waste of a trip. It’s one of my top five paintings in terms of what it says to me because mainly like all great art she’s saying don’t say anything at all and just listen and trips are always better once you start listening.
In some museums it’s surprising when you have a room all to yourself, but in this museum it’s surprising when you don’t. Unless you consider the art student spread out on the floor doing a charcoal sketch as sharing. But sometimes that’s the best part of a museum so I don’t.
Then there’s Turner. The collection of Turners here is the largest collection of Turners in the world, which means this is the largest collection of people understanding modern art because the Davincis of the world had done their duty and Turner, as the father of modern art, offers the missing link to modern art and why art just had to go where it did. If you’ve never trusted modern art, take some extra time in this collection and allow me through it to argue in modern art’s favor. Turner paints enough of a remnant of traditional art to where you start to see that after a while a heroin addict isn’t necessarily looking for a high anymore but just getting back to normal and that’s why art had to change. Modern art is the next harder drug. Give it a shot. It’d be pretty cool to me if London got the credit for turning you onto modern art. How can you beat a trip that turns you onto another form of art? I wonder if that’s why they called him Turner.
Scene 2 – the Tate modern
It’s a good thing too that you’ve let Turner do the job that’s in his name and turn you onto modern art, because from the steps of the Tate Britain, cross the street and before you step into the Thames turn left on the walkway and in a minute or maybe less there is a sign for Millbank Millennium Pier. Go down to the pier for the Tate Boat, which runs every forty minutes between the Tate Modern and the Tate Britain. There is a kiosk where you can buy tickets with your credit card. It will ask you for your destination. You’re going to Bankside Pier. The boat will be there shortly. Or you can ask the people at the front desk at the Tate Britain when you get there about how to do this. They’ll know what to do and make sure you don’t miss your boat.
Your boat ride on the River Thames will backstroke you past things like the eye and Big Ben and etc. and etc. Arrive at Bankside Pier and off the boat take a right along the river and when you’ve come to Millennium Bridge (the one the Death Eaters knock down in Harry Potter) you’ve come to the Tate Modern.
The Tate Modern is a free museum in an industrial power building that used to power London with electricity and in my opinion and in that of the association of lame metaphor’s still does. Here’s where I narrow my eyes at you, though, because it never fails that somebody you’re with will walk into a modern art museum and say, ‘I just don’t get it. I mean I could do that.’ Do you remember in The Devil Where’s Prada when Andy scoffed when they were trying to pick out a belt and Miranda gave her that nice little dressing down about how her blue lumpy sweater that she wasn’t taking herself too seriously in was actually picked out for her by the people in this room. Same thing, except modern art didn’t start with a fashion designer. It started with Freud. So here’s my theory of doing modern art. Well, actually, it’s Albert Einstein’s theory, who said about relativity that ‘when you sit with a pretty girl for two hours you think it’s only a minute, but when you sit on a hot stove for a minute you think it’s two hours. That’s relativity.” And that’s modern art. The Tate Britain and its classical paintings is the pretty girl you spent two hours with. So now put your hand on the hot stove. I look for a piece to burn my subconscious in a way that makes me yank it away and prompts whomever I’m with to say, ‘Ooh, let me get you some ice.’ So whenever this happens, whether it’s your first painting and you question why the color orange extracted memories of your childhood, or if it happens on the fifth floor with a Monet’s Water Lilies, it’s time to go.
Head for the top of the Tate Modern (floor ten of the Blavatnik building), where an observation deck is about as close to a New York Empire State Building experience as you can get in London and is like the ice water into which you dip your blanched soul so that it doesn’t overcook in the boiling water of modern art. Speaking of boiling, on floor six of the boiler room building there’s also a café with a directly across the river view of St. Paul’s cathedral and with beer and coffee. Beat that in the world.
Act III: Tea at Ting Lounge of the Shangri-La hotel
Do you see where I’m taking you yet? We did traditional England at Regency Café. Then we did past England at Tate Britain. Then we did modern England at Tate Modern. Now it’s heading onward and upward but mostly upward to the 35th floor of the modernly designed Shard, the tallest building in the U.K., for London’s future at tea in the Shangri-La hotel. It’s getting hard to recognize London’s skyline year-to-year, and that’s London now but London is to England as New York is to America and you can either get out of London’s way or celebrate it up here with dry ice oozing over the table and a view of Tower Bridge and the Thames not returning your glance because it’s too busy sweeping London into the future whether you like it or not.
Up here, however, when the dry ice is poured and the smoke fogs over the table like a kiss concert, I’m soothed with one realization: I am a guest in a city that is on the absolute cutting edge (speaking of being in a giant glass shard) of the future of not England but of civilization. Speaking of relativity, England might be the pretty girl that spending two hours with feels like a minute, but here in London, they’ve settled into a nice big comfy seat on the burning stove. If you don’t want to be a part of that, the trains leave from London every few minutes, but remember, a hand on the stove makes a minute feel like two hours, and you only have so many minutes in London, which means a minute in London is just good physics. Try thinking that at tea anywhere else in the world other than at the Shangri-La.