Gilt, Gilt, Gilt
Buckingham Palace is a gray square with a fierce brown courtyard, as if the building has been stabbed. It has been continually remade and is, like the Palace of Westminster, falling down. I came here, in 2004, as part of a press delegation to a garden party. I saw the Queen from a distance. She was brightly dressed, like a piece of candy, and safe behind a rope, far from rogue iconoclasts. Her fashion sense is, essentially, fog lights.
Any critical writer would struggle to describe the state apartments of a royal palace; they are designed to blind you, to silence you. There are mirrors, doors, chandeliers, paintings (particularly landscapes, for land, when you own it, is always interesting), sunbursts, pianos, chairs with initials for guidance, preposterous sculpture — for instance, Queen Victoria dressed as an ancient Roman. Awe is not a theme I can work with, but I do try. I list the Canalettos in my notebook. The massed royal portraiture is from some ancient copy of Vogue; that is, airbrushed to make the family better looking: I’m fairly certain that George IV, who is responsible for the general impression of walking through a brain hemorrhage, was fatter than that. The décor is unofficially called non-domicile Renaissance; spiritually, it is called, as it has always been, I have more money than you.
And it is poison to the eyes! Gilt, gilt, gilt — but something else, too, something fraying. Buckingham Palace is a theater in need of renovation. There is something pathetic about a fiercely vacuumed throne room. The plants are tired. Plastic is nailed to walls and mirrors. The ballroom is set for a ghostly banquet. Everyone is whispering, for we are in a mad kind of church. A child weeps.
Behind a wall of glass I find the generic office of a courtier. The palace is keen for us to learn what the Queen does. She does nothing, is the answer. She is Zelig.