AS A SPECIAL TREAT when I was a young child, I was allowed to feed the pigeons on Piazza Signoria in Florence (Italy), a city we visited annually during my childhood. My parents used to purchase paper cones filled with corn kernels for my sister and me. We used to put a few of these in the palms of our hands and allow the pigeons to perch on our fingertips whilst they fed on the corn. Looking back on this activity, which gave me great pleasure, I am surprised that my health and hygiene conscious mother allowed what the former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, called ‘rats with wings’ to risk sullying our hands and harming our health.
Oddly, when we were kids, we fed the pigeons in Florence but never fed their cousins that flocked around Trafalgar Square in London. Today, the 25th of April 2022, my wife and I walked across Trafalgar Square and observed that nowadays there are signs that indicate that feeding pigeons is forbidden. However, this activity, which I enjoyed as a child on holiday in Florence, is not the only thing forbidden in Trafalgar Square. The lovely fountains in the square now contain signs in the water, on which the words “No Entry” are written. Yet another activity in the square is no longer allowed. There are signs to deter visitors from climbing on the sculptures of the lions that lie at the base of Nelson’s Column. So, when you next visit Trafalgar Square with plans of feeding the pigeons, or bathing in the fountains (even to celebrate New Year), or straddling a lion, do not realise any of them: they are all outlawed.
LONG BEFORE IT became the Apple Store on Regent Street in central London, I used to look at the colourful mosaics on its building’s façade. Running in a line along the top of the mosaics, which are above the four arches of the shopfront, are the names of several cities including St Petersburg. This used to intrigue me a lot in the years before Communist rule ended in Russia and the city was then called Leningrad.
The mosaics contain depictions of several coats-of-arms including and two lions, each resting a paw on an object. One of the lions has wings and rests its paw on an open book on whose pages are the words: “PAX TIBI MARCE ENVANGELISTA MEUS”. For, this creature is the lion of St Mark, symbol of Venice and its former empire. On both sides of the lion, there are depictions of streamers. One reads “DANDOLO” and the other “LOREDANO”. Both are the names of important patrician families in Venice. Two other crests also appear, one on each side of the winged lion and the two names. One is for the island of Murano and the other for the island of Burano. These two islands in the Lagoon of Venice, especially Murano, are known for their glassmaking activity.
The mosaics were originally installed when the Venetian glass-making company Salviati opened its store in this building, designed by GD Martin, on Regents Street in 1898. The business made both fine glassware and mosaics. Soon after the firm was founded in 1859, it began to be established in England. According to a company history (www.salviati.com/en/our-story/):
“It was also in London, on 21st December 1866, that the “Società Anonima per Azioni Salviati & C.” was established with the support of diplomat Sir Austen Henry Layard and historian William Drake.”
Fortunately, the lovely mosaic has survived and has been kept in good condition. I have always marvelled at it when wandering along Regent Street, but I wonder how many people rushing into Apple’s attractive looking shop notice it.