museumgoer in London

Ai Weiwei's Tree 2010, Tate Modern

I spend my days layered in time and space as a part-time volunteer nanny, an official tourist, a houseguest, a cook, and all the while a cultural and dialect outsider in a place that feels both ultra-familiar (from a lifetime consuming British books and movies) and continually foreign—from the shape of electric sockets and plugs to names of common things in daily life (e.g., when playing a game, it's your "go," not your turn)—negotiating the intricacies of the underground system (average Tube wait time, maybe two minutes?), plotting free-museum routes with an outdated guidebook (though what does that matter when everything to see is multiple hundreds of years old and not subject to American demolition whims?), planning meals from fresh vegetables unwashed yet encased as sets of two or three in plastic (so much plastic!), washing and chopping said vegetables, and staying up too late talking with my overworked college-friend-turned-divorced-single-mom.

Tate Modern Switch Hall staircase

Tate Modern view #1

Tate Modern view #2

And amid all the mundane domestic stuff of life, there are all these languorous midday hours available for wandering through museums and walking ancient but new-to-me streets, grazing on whatever art and architecture I want—admittedly a middle-class luxury prepaid for with a rather high price. Thus I am taking more (inspiration) in than I have time to reflect on and transmit (exhale). But that is the nature of journeys: one leaves home for adventure, returning with the souvenirs of experience to be fondly handled in memory long after the acute period of travel has passed.

Note: This behind-the-scenes video of Ai Weiwei's earlier installation, Sunflower Seeds, is captivating.

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