Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Thursday 1 January 2009

The artifice of eternity*

Well, I've done my patriotic duty, which is to say, I've more likely done my duty by international trade, since what I've bought in the sales turns out to have been made variously in Estonia, Sri Lanka and no doubt China, and any profits likely to be returned to the US and Japan as well as the UK.

To recover from all of that, I went to the Byzantium exhibition at the Royal Academy. I have been to Istanbul, and managed to see a few traces of the Byzantine Empire there, but much of this was new to me. To think so much fragile art survives from as far back as the days of Constantine himself: there are paintings and micro-mosaics, intricately-carved ivories and even textiles. Though much of the exhibition concerns the religious art and its legacy, there are some intriguing domestic items and intricate personal jewellery that attracted a lot of envious eyes. There's a lot of material on the inheritors, most obviously the Russian Tsars, but also the Bulgar, Serb and Armenian churches (I hadn't realised quite how far the mediaeval Serbian empire extended: that explains a lot), as well as the interplay with the Catholic inheritance in Italy. Most moving of all is the final room of pieces from the St Catherine Monastery in Sinai, whose artworks were saved from religious and political change in Constantinople by - well, the Islamic conquest.

After which degree of enlightenment and elevation, I emerged to a question of etiquette. If some passer-by has chosen to leave their empty coffee-carton in your bike basket (this was outside Burlington Arcade, mind - they don't do rubbish there, so there's nothing like a refuse bin) - what do you do? Put it in the basket on the next bike along, I'm afraid.

*"The artifice of eternity" is a quote from Yeats's Sailing to Byzantium. I'm not (yet) owning up to being "A tattered coat upon a stick".

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