Saturday, June 24, 2006

war, war, what is it good for?

Well, for one thing it makes for a hell of a museum. Kate, in a spirit of generosity matched only perhaps by Lord Hamilton, gave me the day off today, so I suddenly found myself in the middle of central London with a travelcard and nothing much to do. I decided to take advantage and go see the Imperial War Museum, which is south of the river. I got there about one o'clock and was heartily welcomed by a Glaswegian named John who found out that I was there for the WWII and Holocaust exhibits and who told me, in the course of about five minutes, that Hugo Boss once designed Hitler's uniforms, Siemens supplied some of the chemicals used in the camps, the Nazis used IBM computers and if I went down to case no. 42 I could see a portrait of der Fuhrer painted with blond hair and blue eyes. I managed to extricate myself from the conversation about fifteen minutes later, only after John had told me the best way to visit Scotland, and that his sister and mother were going to see Pavarotti in concert a few weeks from now.

(Interesting note: When I got down to case 42, and was able to examine the aforementioned portrait in all it's history-defying glory, I was joined by a pair of Germans who had apparently not been warned about the sudden bleach job. Nor were they aware I could speak German and was listening with a half-grin on my face while they made disparaging remarks about der Fuhrer's attempt to live up to his own standards. At least I think that's what they said. Been awhile since Frau Smith's 4th year German class...)

The last time I was at the Imperial War Museum I hadn't planned on going either, I just kind of wandered in there with Andy Claude and proceeded to have a thoroughly horrifyingly educational time. This time I skipped "The Trench Experience" and "The Blitz Experience" and headed for the Holocaust exhibit. The exhibit is really thoughtful and thorough, starting after WWI and setting up the backstory for the Holocaust before hitting you with the reality of Auschwitz and the effects afterward. Throughout there are testimonials from people who lived through the experience, so as you are looking at photos and artefacts, these ghostly voices are following you, telling you about the ghettos, about being herded onto trains. I found it interesting to see how a British museum dealt with the delicate task of telling people about this time, without mentioning their own policy of turning away Jewish refugees or the appeasement that lead to WWII. Then again, I am working on a play that deals with this very issue, so I may be a little biased right now.

It took me about two and a half hours to get through the exhibit, and about halfway through I became aware of an excruciating pain in my left foot. It feels like there's an iron spike sticking into the heel of my foot and everytime I take a step it digs in a little deeper. I'm going to try and get a doctor's appointment but I'd have to leave rehearsal early, so it might have to wait until the show opens. Afterward I made a beeline for the cafe, which is nice, but the scones were a little hard. I was sitting next to a group of middle-aged Americans who were nattering on about the tanks. (Lest you think I eavesdrop on the entire world, they were nattering VERY LOUDLY in an obsequious manner) They were trying to figure out what to do next, and finally decided to go up and see the Holocaust exhibit. One of the women thought it very funny that "oh, look, they have Auschwitz in their Holocaust exhibit!" and I had to forcibly restrain myself from hitting them over the head and saying "Do. You. Not. Realise?" But I didn't have to--the photos upstairs would do it for me.

As I walked (limped) back to the bus stop to come home, I found myself being incredibly cheerful. Maybe it was the reproduction I had seen in the giftshop: "A Pamphlet for American GIs Stationed in Britain" that included helpful advice like "Do not think because they are English they are Panty-waists." Or maybe it was the fact that it is a gorgeous day. No--it must be because that in pure defiance of the fact that War and Genocide exist in this world, the sun still manages to shine in a pearl-blue sky, and people like John still manage to be cheerfully upbeat when pointing out instruments of war.


Laura said...

The only way to do the Imperial War Museum is to not have anything else to do that day. I spent 5 hours there on two seperate occasions (10 hours) both times I was late for my next class.

Ps. Ian McKellen is a patron of the Holocaust exhibit at the IWM.

Samantha said...

I'm sorry to have missed out on that museum both times I went. Ah well, like I needed another excuse to go back to London...