Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Soles in Seoul Without Shoes

17 June 2014

 We went to the US Embassy, no major problems with the subway and transfers, got in and saw the agents or whatever, turned out we don't have to pay the expedited fee so things are less expensive than expected.  It'll take about a week, and then we pick them up - easy!

Turns out the embassy is in an old part of town, between a couple of old palaces and opposite the art museum, and on the side of an important square.  The palaces were closed of course, they're always closed on Tuesdays - so we'll try to see them another time.  But the palace against the mountain in the distance - wow, this is the Korea we were looking for!

There were a variety of statues, but since the signs are all in Korean, well, we have no idea who they are or why they're important.  We can only guess they're some former rulers of Korea.  Nice statues though!

And gorgeous flowers hanging from the lights.

There was a beautiful little pagoda built in 1902 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Gojong's enthronement - Gojong being the ruler or king or whatever he was called.  (There was very little English on the signs.)  This, 1902, was the 6th year of Gwangmu - NO idea what this means, except that this was Gwangmun Square.  So we don't know if Gojong was the Gwangmu, or if a Gwangmu is a dynasty, or what.  (This is rather symbolic of how we are perceiving Korea - we get some information and don't really know how it fits together.  We sit at a barbeque and know how to grill the meat, but don't know what the accoutrements are.  We seem to excel at partial knowledge.)

At any rate, it was an interesting and colourful little monument, and my first example of traditional Korean architecture.  Like many other Asian buildings, the eaves tend to be the most colourful and ornately designed.  

And the stone figures topping each post appeared to be the animals of the Chinese zodiac.

The square had some demonstration going on, and as usual, we had no idea what was happening - the signs were in Korean, and most people didn't speak enough English to explain.  There was quite a large presence of police, although we thought most of them looked like maybe cadets, barely old enough to vote.  Who knows.

But there was a wonderful photo op with a huge poster of the South Korean Football [soccer] team, at their match with Greece earlier in the year - so of course I had to pose with the team.

We headed on over to the War Memorial, which for some obscure reason is where the Michelangelo exhibit was displayed.

Now, I have to admit that as much as I love Michelangelo's art, the exhibit was a little disappointing.  Nothing was original art - I don't know what I was expecting, other than the fact that I saw the original "Pieta" in New York at the World's Fair in 1965 (and had a major epiphany and changed from loving making art to include a passion for SEEING art by the masters).

So seeing prints on canvas, or copies of frescoes, or plaster replicas that don't have the internal glow and vibrancy of the originals.  They are flat replicas and copies.  And yes, some of the genius of the artist is apparent.  But, well, they just are flat to me.

On the other hand, most people in Korea may never get to Italy to see the originals, so having visiting exhibits such as this, put together by the "Artisans of Florence International" are important in bringing Italian Renaissance art to various parts of the world - albeit copies of said art.

So, that said, it was an interesting exhibit.  Information mostly in Korean, so for someone who didn't know some of the specifics, well, they'd be lost.  For an art teacher, no problem.

But there were hordes of little kids visiting the memorial, and they were just too adorable posing for their teacher in front of Michelangelo's Creation - I tried getting them to act like Adam and touch God's finger, but, well, they were probably four-year-olds (or possibly three) and couldn't quite reach.  Nor did they stay put for long.  It was like watching someone do the proverbial herding of cats.  It was hysterical.  (And yes, I asked the teacher for permission first.)

So, a few examples of the REAL art by Michelangelo, and a few quotations that were on the walls:
“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”

“The best artist has that thought along which is contained within the marble shell; The sculptor’s hand can only break the spell to free the figures slumbering in the stone.”

“Carving is easy, you just go down to the skin and stop.”

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

And Giorgio Vasari, an Italian artist who wrote a history of the Italian artists and architects of his time (during the Renaissance) wrote:  
“This figure has put in the shade every other statue, ancient or modern …… To be sure, anyone who has seen Michelangelo’s David has no need to see anything else by any other sculptor, living or dead….”

So maybe my expectations were too high, and having seen the original Pieta and David, well, I have no need to see anything else.

Onward.   Richard enjoyed the museum for the war memorial much more than I did, and found a hat for Dad's hat to chat with - I think they compared war stories, although our dad was in the Navy during WWII, not the Korean War.  May have been here, though, I don't know.

We found a fun little hole in the wall kind of café for lunch - apparently this place, with barely ten tables available for patrons, is known for pork-filled gyozas (potstickers), fried pork served in a spicy and sweet sauce, and noodles with bean sauce.  No rice.  So, well, we had the pork and the noodles with bean sauce.  I thought the pork was great, Richard enjoyed the noodles and bean sauce more than I did.  The place was packed much of the time we were there, and apparently we were lucky to get a table when we did.  In fact, two men shared a table with one of the cooks who was making the dumplings - rows and rows and stacked trays of dumplings, at great speed and nonstop.

It was definitely a classic spot for lunch!

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