By that time, my bladder had grown rather swollen, and so, in one of travel’s inevitable though less glorious moments, I went about the task of finding proper facilities. If I had, to that point, resorted to generic coffee chains to relieve myself, I was no longer keen on leaving them two pounds for a coffee which would not get at the root of the problem. After a frustrated tour through the area immediately surrounding the Mount Street Gardens, I turned my steps north, a half-formed idea in mind to seek the Regent’s Park. At the least, its noble bearing suggested something in the way of services. So it was that I came upon the Wallace Collection with no aforethought.
Though I at first eyed the Collection’s entryway with healthy skepticism, closer inspection of the signage posted before the building made clear that the exhibition spaces and other facilities were open to the public, free of charge. A sense of urgency to which I would not otherwise admit quickened my step as I, at once, put in an appearance in several rooms on the first floor to the left the grand staircase and kept a sharp eye out for further indications as to the toilets’ location. Before portraiture from Gainsborough and Romney, I halfheartedly interrogated the sitter’s regard; confronted with Reynolds and Constable’s bold landscapes, I hastily combed the background for brushwork and underbrush.
At last, my eyes found what they sought: to the crude silhouette of a man were appended the letters “WC” and an arrow leading down a side staircase. By then, I felt confident in the knowledge that I had made enough of a show of interest in English Romantics, proto- and full-fledged, to avoid reproach from the few Collection employees circling and so gave myself over to more pressing needs than art. The facilities proved more than satisfactory, clean and brightly lit, and I emerged, if not content, more secure in my person than I had felt the entire morning. Not for the last time on that trip, the thought came to me that at least one travel writer or tour guide author should seriously entertain the notion of writing a work entirely on the quality of and feeling conveyed by the place’s toilets. It seemed a topic in which all would unanimously express interest.
Yet that day I took this first bud of a thought no further than that and resumed my tour of the Collection’s first floor, upon completion of which I returned to the ground floor. I found myself rather more taken with the latter, which contained, as best I can remember, a number of pieces certain to appeal to someone of my artistic bent: an intricate altarpiece, its spire-like structure held aloft by stout pedestal, its freestanding figures and carved triptych free of the gaudy colors so often found in the painted panels of its more heralded cousins; the 16th century field armor of Otto Heinrich, Count Palatine of the Rhein, the scale and complexity of the interlocking black plates and gold trim overwhelming the onlooker and this despite having been cobbled together from two separate suits of armor, conceived independently of the other though now composed in some semblance of truth; an alcove in Turkish tiles, the cascade of vegetation, blue, green and violet, repeating and flowing into itself across all iterations and, at the center of each, a leaf rather more like a blue feather, a hollow or white core running near its full length.
To each piece might I have attached a greater story in an effort to make it all the more my own. This would, however, have skewed the portrayal of their effect upon me on that day and, by extension, their transcription here from experience to exposition, a fault which I have already too often indulged in these pages.