Exciting Adventures in the English Language and Culture

Tag: British culture

Al fresco: a useful summertime word

British summers can be very disappointing, as it has been this year, but when it’s warm enough, sunny and dry, we just love eating and drinking al fresco, that is in the fresh air, be it in a pavement café, a beer garden at a local pub or the privacy of your own back garden or patio.

I had an al fresco lunch with my colleagues in Hyde Park.

Image by Hands off my tags! Michael Gaida from Pixabay

The phrase was adopted from Italian in mid-eighteenth century and has been in use ever since.

Funny enough, in its original Italian al fresco is a slang term meaning ‘in prison’, like the English phrase ‘in the cooler’. So if one day you find yourself in Italy in need of a table outside, to avoid confusion ask for one all’aperto. Unless you speak Italian, of course.

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The British Library by Theresa Shiban

The British Library

Originally part of the British museum, the British Library was separated from its parent in 1973 to become one of the world’s greatest cultural institutions in its own right. A quarter of a century later, it moved into its own home at London’s St Pancras.

The impressive modernist red-brick building designed by architect Sir Colin St. John Wilson caused a lot of controversy while it was under construction and continues to divide opinions to this day.

The King’s Library Tower at the British Library

One of its most spectacular features is the six-storey King’s Library Tower containing precious volumes from King George III’s collection that was gifted to the library at the British museum after the monarch’s death in 1823.

In her 2007 free verse (=poetry that does not have a fixed structure and does not rhyme) Theresa Shiban gives a vivid description of this colossal yet very welcoming temple of knowledge whose doors are open not only to students and researches but to every book lover.

The first thing you notice is what you don’t
it is not imposing
overwhelming
you are not made to feel insignificant
with monumental humility
it is the box the words come in
storey upon storey hidden below
not towering above
to impress or oppress
its exalted purpose democratised
grandeur and majesty achieved by an honest brick
A British Institution
wrestled down to size
to a human scale
and gifted
I am welcomed by the horizontals
elevated not cowed
the masses ennobled
by nothing more than literacy
or rather nothing less
a gentle spectrum
(reds browns whites blacks greens)
wraps around a space for meeting
a Lego tower points the way
I am invited in

* * * *

and enter into light
a cathedral space of secular worship
(in the beginning was the word)
vaults of them, below and above
a bank of words you spend and spend but never lose
I tread soft rounded stairs
handling marble leather brass
(material of privilege offered to the proletariat)
mirroring the gold embossed spines of a king’s library
more light
(where is it coming from?)
directed coaxed refracted toyed with
a conjurer’s trick of mirrors
made to bounce around corners
and softly illuminate the illuminated
verticals of stripy colour
alpha digit diamond dot
Volume 1
A – K
Volume 2
L – Z
a 6-storey jewel box
glowing

* * * *

I detour through Humanities
more laughing light
whites and warming wood
the visual rhythm of grids and open cages
(Someone let the words out again!)
multiples of plug-sized squares
magnified and morphed into the sculptural
ceiling above
a latter day clerestory for contemporary scribes
boxes within boxes within the biggest box of all
My work Is Obviously Important Look Where I Do It

* * * *

I continue up the familiar stair
to A&A and the desk I claim is mine
(8115)
safe
protected
cherished, even
in a room of one’s own
(my own)
(your own)
I sit and begin to work
to distil the great chorus of language treasured
within this building
into one simple word
gratitude

© by owner, provided at no charge for educational purposes 
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