Here is how some of our writers around the world are getting through it (and drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to share your own coping strategies). C.B.
The piles of fossils, shells and pebbles strewn throughout my house bear witness to a lifelong beachcombing habit. Over the years I’ve also done a spot of mudlarking, the quaint Victorian term for collecting objects of interest and/or value from the edges of the Thames.
Now that sea and riverside wanderings are off-limits I am greatly enjoying Lara Maiklem’s book Mudlark: Lost and Found on the River Thames, in which she scours London’s main waterway from the western reaches of leafy Twickenham through the center and out to the estuary, where river meets sea.
Along the way she illustrates the city’s human and pre-human histories with anecdotes thrown up by a wealth of finds. These range from a three-million-year-old shark’s tooth and Mesolithic flints to a Roman scabbard and Medieval pilgrim badges. She finds an abundance of ordinary but equally revealing objects: pins, coins, clay pipes, rings, children’s toys, an 18th-century Georgian dandy’s cufflink and contemporary terracotta Hindu Diwali lamps.
Maiklem’s Instagram feed, @londonmudlark, illustrates many more evocative discoveries. But my favorite mudlarking feed—and I wish he’d write a book—is that of @jasonmudlark, aka Jason Sandy, an American architect and eagle-eyed Thames mudlarker in his spare time. Beautifully photographed posts and lively captions not only reveal astonishing finds in their near invisible muddy situ before being cleaned up, but are also gems of potted history, with each object richly contextualized with additional accompanying images and information.
Nobody is mudlarking right now but I find great comfort in these lost-and-found treasures. They allow my imagination to wander beneath the surface of this shuttered, messed-up, indomitable city and are a reminder of all the communities, past and present, that make it so great. L.B.
Warhol and the Mortal Coil
I have a belated fondness for the Andy Warhol show at Tate Modern (“Andy Warhol”, scheduled to run until 6 September if or when it re-opens), which opened very briefly in mid-March: it was my last museum opening before lockdown. Curiously, a show that seemed to belong to a different time, when viewed in real life has gained more relevance in the post-covid world.
Tate Modern’s website offers an “exhibition tour”—in fact, seven minutes of lovely shots of the show with a discussion by Tate’s curators Gregor Muir and Fiontán Moran (inexplicably sat on the museum’s floor).
I learned new things about Warhol in the context of shock and trauma. He became “more nervous around people” after he was shot almost fatally by the writer and radical feminist Valerie Solanas in 1968, Muir explains. Moran then contextualizes the tremendous Sixty Last Suppers (1986) as Warhol’s take on men socializing “when surrounded by death”—in this instance the AIDS epidemic. Not such a different time after all. M.G.
Notice the Details
The 15th-century Ghent Altarpiece by the brothers Hubert and Jan van Eyck has been available to view online since restoration work on the panels began in 2012 thanks to a pioneering project funded by the Getty Foundation and the Gieskes-Strijbis Fund. The digital macrophotography of each panel before, during and after restoration allows for hours of up-close appreciation.
In December 2019 conservators uncovered a previously unseen area of the painting in the shape of a lamb’s face with “shockingly human-like features”. A virtual tour is nowhere near as magical as a trip to the real thing, but for now it will do. J.V.
One Man, One Woman
Theatre shouldn’t work onscreen but it is proving to be my favorite cultural pastime during lockdown. London’s National Theatre has launched free-to-view premieres of some of its hit productions on Thursday evenings—which are available on demand for a week—and I had a much-needed giggle through One Man, Two Guvnors, starring the inimitable James Corden—without the logistics or costs normally involved.
Also hilarious, and booked out in real life last year, is the Soho Theatre’s screening of the award-winning, one-woman production that inspired the hit TV show Fleabag. The small fee charged goes to benefit covid-19 charities.
It’s not the same as real theatre, of course. I would love to have seen the foot-tapping band in One Man, Two Guvnors (including cast members) play live, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s one-woman charisma in Fleabag can’t completely be appreciated through a screen. But the close-ups of her expressions are a bonus, while the National Theatre creates a sense of occasion with a livestream launch. And there is nothing to stop you dressing formally and having an ice-cream during the interval. M.G.
Garden of Earthly Delights
I am blessed with a London garden, which is greatly easing the experience of lockdown for me, the family and the dog. There is much inspiration and solace to be found in one of my all-time favorite books, Modern Nature: Journals 1989-1990—The Journals of Derek Jarman, by the late artist and film-maker, who from childhood was also an avid gardener.
In 1986 Jarman discovered that he was HIV-positive and decided to create a garden out of the barren shingle surrounding Prospect Cottage, his fisherman’s hut in Dungeness on England’s south coast.
Modern Nature is a vivid, erudite diary-chronicle of how a miraculous parade of plants was coaxed out of this unforgiving terrain in the shadow of Dungeness nuclear power station. The book spans the years 1989 and 1990 and, as well as being a classic of contemporary nature writing, is also an unabashed reflection on Jarman’s life, sexuality and illness, set against his relentless struggle to keep the garden alive even as his own health was failing.
The diary ends with Jarman in hospital, the names of the drugs he was taking replacing those of his plants. But before he died in 1994 there would be one last creative burst, resulting in his three late, great films: Edward II, Wittgenstein and Blue.
Since Jarman’s death Prospect Cottage has become a place of pilgrimage and—just this week—it was announced that both house and garden now have a secure future thanks to the success of an unprecedentedly large £3.5m crowdfunding campaign which, even in a time of global crisis, managed to reach its target in just ten weeks. But then, as Jarman’s stony garden confirms, he was good at achieving the seemingly impossible. L.B.
Contemplate the Great Beyond
Though mostly remembered for his empire-building, modernization efforts and urban planning endeavors, China’s first emperor, Qin Shihuang (259-210 BC), was obsessed with death—or more specifically, what comes after. The design of his mausoleum in Shaanxi province was first conceived when he was just 13, and its construction would take 38 years.
The emperor was buried with thousands of objects including chariots, jewelry, gold ornaments and a number of the actual craftsmen who built the mausoleum. In the high-res VR tour, you can zoom in on details such as the individual faces—which are all unique—of the emperor’s Terracotta Army. J.V.