Friday, July 27, 2007

My First Gentlemen's Club

Two at a time number two!
Wednesday: Oh boy all day field trip. We were up and on the bus by 8:30, then on our way out to the Red House in Kent. A long drive later we arrived at Danson House, a beautifully preserved estate home on over 200 acres of park land. Honestly, these people did well. Danson was just a stop for fun because we couldn't all fit into Red House at the same time - my group went to Danson first (Danson Fools), and had to do a quick jaunt through the house and gardens in order to make our Red House appointment. It was tricky to get away though: the volunteer tour leaders in the house were very cute and slightly aged and very eager to make sure we knew everything, repeating some things several times when they deemed it neccessary. We made our escape and trekked to Red House, the widely recognized paragon of ur-modern architecture. Our guide here was equally sweet and thorough but somehow totally mindnumbing. The house was pretty interesting and featured neat things like guests' signatures etched on the front hall windows. Neato. We rushed back to the bus and started the drive to Scotney Castle. Flying along through the thick, green green forests of southern England was totally exhilerating. We arrived at Scotney and toured their pristine picturesque gardens straight out of Tom Stoppard's Arcadia. There is nothing more beautiful than acres and acres of surprise vistas of ruins and secret passageways through overgrown stone archways and hollows that open on one side to a lily pad covered pond. I might have to try for something similar when I begin to garden. We reboarded the bus and drove back to London. Then... it was Paul's 21st birthday. A few of us went out to a very lovely French restaurant somewhere in Sloane Square and had soup and ravioli, both topped with a suspicious but ultimately delicious rainbowy foam. Then we needed an after activity, and as we walked along through Sloane Square found ourselves outside a club called Mamilangi's. Apparently it's very posh and very members only, but Lola, Paul's London friend, inquired and got us in. It was sort of ridiculous - a good DJ and single man with a saxophone on a dais provided the music, and there were a lot of well dressed folks about. I felt slightly awkward, especially when dancing with a gentleman named "Benjy" who had long hair and rather unfocused eyes. I'm not sure that he wasn't on anything. We danced for quite a while (NOT with Benjy though), then skedaddled to a double decker for the ride home. We accidentally rode rather too far, then had to walk back quite a ways in the near-dawn to Hughes Parry. Arrived home around 4 AM in order to tuck in for a solid five hours of sleep. Mmmmmmm. Happy Birthday Paul.

Thursday: Woke up, put on a mandated skirt, and met at the Paul Mellon Centre for our tour of the very exclusive and very gentlemen-only Garrick Club. The club is very old and very male and very private, so it was pretty neat that we meek females were admitted for a tour. Seriously women are not allowed to be members, even though they are all over the walls and on pedestals - I couldn't believe such places existed. But apparently they do. They didn't let the Queen Mother into one of the rooms we were in last time she was there. Sheesh. I'm working on it. The collection curator showed us around, and did a really lovely job: the Garrick Club has one of the most incredible and extensive and uncatalogued portrait/drama collections in the world. For example, they have every playbill from every play in Covent Garden from 1700ish on. WHAT. Also, prompt books from Henry Irving's Covent Garden Hamlet - one can see "ghost music plays" and various notes on blocking scribbled at the top of one page. One could recreate a play just as it was two hundred+ years ago. It was just so cool, I was shaking. Too bad the womens aren't allowed. They're gonna regret that someday. After Garrick Club, we stopped at Pret for lunch, then meandered home and napped through some miserable weather. We then took the underground and a bus to the Arcola Theatre north of London. It was by far the farthest we'd been from the city, right in the heart of a thriving Turkish community. The play was Torn, a reworking of Romeo and Juliet based on the divide between black British folk from Africa versus black British folk from the Caribbean. The first act was really great, but the second act was long and self-indulgent and cliched. But it was a great early work for the playwright, who was also the lead actor and did a really nice job. We took a bus back to Hughes Parry, and I began writing my review on Betrayal. Then ate some cheese (!) and promptly fell asleep.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Third Rocker from the Sun

Oh dear: two-day update. Monday: Woke up and got to the PMC for class with Sandy - interesting discussion of our detail assignments, what we'd seen, and what we will see. Then a free afternoon! I went home to Hughes Parry to read (some of) In Celebration for the evening's viewing, ate a cheese and cracker lunch, then promptly fell asleep for two hours. Woke up, got dressed and Cassie, Jenny Mac and I took a bus through the rain to Trafalgar Square, where we fell into a Pizza Express for dinner. In spite of it's name, which sounds cheap and tawdry, Pizza Express is inexplicably the nicest chain of sit-down restaurants I've yet discovered. A good dinner, then the short walk to the theatre to see In Celebration, a revival of David Storey's 1969 play about a coal miner and his sons starring... Orlando Bloom. So the theatre was packed with young women. Thank goodness we weren't confused with fawning groupies... uh. Yes. The play was... er... not good. As in dead boring. And Orlando was an awkward middle school actor with straying hands and out-of-control eyebrows. It was his theatrical debut, and he thankfully didn't demand the biggest part, so I suppose I should have mercy. I'm sure he'll get better if he works at it. We then went to a pub for a bit before walking home to watch the YouTube democratic debate on CNN Online - it was really well put together, and featured some great questions and some great (and not-so-great) answers. Joe Biden kicked butt, and Obama didn't do badly either. It ended at 2 AM our time, so bed was next.

Tuesday: Woke up for class with Professor Roach - interesting discussion of The Pain and the Itch, Betrayal, and In Celebration, featuring the head of the Theatre Department at Warrick Univeristy, an old friend of Joe's. She said some good things. We were released at lunch, and Cassie and I wandered down to Covent Garden, where Joe was to meet us at 2:15 for a tour of the area. Pardon the reference and what it suggests about my degree of coolness: Covent Garden felt like Diagon Alley - full of new and strange and specialized shops ranging from a miniature theatre/doll house shop to a cosmetics store with wooden chests of glitter hanging on the walls. Incredible. We met Joe for his tour, which ended at the "Actor's Church" in Covent Garden, where the likes of Boris Karloff and Vivienne Leigh and Sir Charles Chaplin and Sir Noel Coward are memorialized. I said a little prayer here. We then had a few hours to kill before a talk with a Shaw expert at the National Theatre, so we meandered to Trafalgar Square and sat in the sun under Admiral Lord Nelson. We made it to the talk, which was pithy, and then stopped at a super market for dinner. On the way to said super, Paul and I walked past John Lithgow as he hurried to some performance or other at the National. He made sincere eye contact as though sizing us up and passed quickly on. He is very, very tall in real life. We ate by the Thames before going back to Hughes Parry to regroup. A few of us took the subway out to Camden for some underground rocking: five boys in skinny jeans and long hair performed for some minutes before the DJ came on, playing great tracks that ranged from The Who to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. All tuckered out, Ariel and I struggled to find a bus home, and made it safely, and now bed - a long fieldtrip day tomorrow!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Sun with Jekyl, Burn with Hyde

Woke up just in time to stumble to breakfast in tres chic glasses and track jacket before stumbling back upstairs with the idea of returning to sleep. That was short lived. Paul wanted to go to a park, and as I'd spent ninety percent of yesterday's daylight hours literally in my bed, it seemed a sound idea. We took the underground to the Hyde Park stop, and walked through the park itself along the Serpentine. There were ducks and geese and some gracefully mean swans, and we considered paddle boating but then reconsidered. The grass is lovely in most of England, so we tanned on the lawn near an Italianesque fountain and pavilion. Outside the park, artists were selling their wares, including one man with replicas of real pub/tavern signs. Among them: "The Man with a Load of Mischief Pub" (featuring a man carrying a woman on his shoulders) and "The Silent Woman Pub" (featuring a woman holding her own head in her arms...?). We walked through Kensington Gardens and saw some men and boys practicing archery before making our way to the ostentatious and slightly grotesque Lord Albert memorial. As far as memorials for loved ones goes, it was not as nice as the Taj Mahal. We then proceeded up and around Hyde Park to Portobello Street, famous for its outdoor market... on Saturday. Sunday is quieter, but the antique shops were out and on display: old skeleton keys and tea cups and even an officer's ship telescope in a maritime wooden box. Neato. We finally made our way to a bus stop, and rode in the front seats of the top level of a double decker all the way home to Russell Square. There are few things more nervewracking than riding in the seats we were in. One cannot see the front or sides of the bus accurately, so everything seems to disappear beneath the wheels: cars and birds and small children with their mothers scampering across the street, all indiscriminately run down. Other buses pass by the skin of their teeth, and the whole thing is just a bit too much like a rollercoaster ride and not at all like public transport. So actually, it was great. We met Cassie at Russell Square and searched hungrily for an open super market, a difficult feat on a Sunday night. Some cheese, bread, raspberries and sunflower seeds in Soho Square did the trick, and we walked back to Hughes Parry to start on homework. I feel asleep for two hours, then wrote about some Glasgow architecture, and will now fall asleep instantly attempting to do some reading. But only after I tend to my unexpected and misshapen Hyde Park sunburn.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Boy Who Lived 2.0

Woke up late to heavy rain, so Cassie and I decided to take advanted of the bad weather to see Harry Potter V. We picked a 1 PM showing, and arrived at the theatre just in time for a half hour of previews. Then... the movie. I actually thought it was great, probably because the book isn't fresh in my mind and I'm not upset about all the things that must have been left out. It was highly entertaining, and did an incredible job getting me in the mood for the release of the book later in the evening. We ate at Pret a Manger, then bought some fruit from a street vender, then went home to get ready for Betrayal by Pinter at the Donmar Warehouse. We walked over to the theatre and found our seats, and as we were sitting there in the tiny balcony of the intimate little space, I watched four women come in and sit together in the second row of the lower orchestra. The third woman in was Meryl Streep. YES. I may or may not have started shaking. Funnily enough, when the play began, I completely forgot about her and was totally taken in by Pinter's infinite pauses and loaded lines. The play was great, and though I did hear Ms. Streep laugh distinctively once, I was otherwise totally engaged in the performance. Afterwards, as we were leaving the theatre, she walked a foot from me to get to the car waiting for her just outside the door. We are about the same height. We walked to The Crown, a nearby pub, and then late in the evening made our way to the Piccadilly Circus to see the Harry Potter mayhem. It did not disappoint, as crowds below were marshalled aside to let double-deckers full of bemused onlookers drive past. The scene was incredible. We walked back to the Waterstones where we'd put our books on hold, waited in a very long queue, bought some provisions at a local super market and locked ourselves in for the long vigil. I only got to page 60 or so before I was out. I woke up at ten and began reading again at ten thirty. And. Er. Did not get out of my room at all until 5:30. When the book was done. So. It's all over. A chapter of my adolescent life closed. I showered and got dressed and we went to dinner and then walked (Cassie and I discussing Senor HP all the way) to a pub that supposedly had live music but did not in fact, and then walked to a cute pub/dance bar called the Backpacker and chilled. One female bartender was beautiful and had incredible blonde dreadlocks. We danced a little, then came home, and... well. It's late, I'm pretty happy, I go to bed.

GlasGow Go Go!

Alright… here we go. We left bright and early for Glasgow – as in downstairs ready to walk to a tube at 6 AM. We took the hour-long underground from Russell Station to Heathrow, and got off the train with many hours to spare before our flight boarded. We made it through check-in and baggage with no problems, then spent some quality sleepy time chatting and eating at the gate. Our flight took off a little late, but no matter - it takes about fifty minutes to pop over to Glasgow. We ate a complete omelet breakfast and saw some lovely cloud formations. We landed, collected our baggage, and took taxis to the Merchant Lodge in downtown Glasgow, but had only a moment there – we left the bags and began our first day’s tour, starting at the “Light House,” a city center of sorts that houses shops and galleries and The Doocot, a charming restaurant on the top floor. Viv Redhead scheduled a controversial semi-mandatory lunch here, which most of us ate, and fortunately it was very, very good. After The Doocot, we walked a little distance to the Glasgow School of Art: the weather was lovely – much nicer than we had expected and certainly much nicer than London. Also, Glasgow is hilly, almost San Franciscan in some parts, so it was a bit hot and we were all warmly dressed... We arrived at the School of Art and Cassie and I spent some time talking about the outside before the whole group was ushered in for a guided tour. The tour was thorough if perfunctory, and it was great to see all the Charles Rennie Mackintosh things we’d read about in three dimensions. We finished with the school tour and talked about the building a bit before walking back downtown for a tea break. A few of us hurried to a working reconstruction of the Willow Tea Rooms (Mackintosh designed the original), and had scones and clotted cream and jam and milk- it was great. After tea, we walked to the great and weird church built by Alexander “The Greek” Thompson. The church is a weird mix of columns and Egyptian symbolism and no Christianity. Very nice. We were led around by a student who apparently lives there as pseudo caretaker – he knew a lot about the church (his dad was at one time the minister) and the sad state it was in, and it was amusing and melancholy to imagine him running about alone on a rainy night, placing the buckets we saw in the gallery. We then finally returned to the hotel, everyone exhausted, for a quick half-hour turn around before going to dinner at Zinc. For some reason, the Paul Mellon Centre had seen fit to treat us to a very nice Glasgow dinner, and none of us were complaining: goat cheese, rocket, and caramelized onion appetizer, “chicken supreme” entrée, and brownie sundae for desert. Mmm. Then the PMC treated us to two types of single malt whisky (one glass of each for each group of seven/eight students), one very peat mossy and smoky, the other pressed under granite. I preferred the granite. All in all it was fun and great, eating and drinking with the whole group and Sandy and Gillon, our PMC chaperone. We made it back to the hotel for some well-earned sleeping. But then got up again, bright and early, to walk to a large medieval cathedral with the remains of St. Mungo in the crypt. Neato. We then walked to a much newer Coia-designed church, with interesting panes of colored glass through wooden cutouts instead of stained glass windows… also neato. The plan had initially been to walk through the city’s Necropolis with all its tombstones and monuments, but a gate was locked – nevermind! We scaled a “wee wall” and made it in for a quick walk through, before returning to the hotel to catch a bus to Culzean Castle. An hour and a half of driving through green fields of sheep and horses before we saw the sea, and then we saw Culzean. Oh. To live in this place. Acres of gardens and fountains and land, the castle itself full of circular rooms with panoramic views of the ocean oh. An utterly beautiful estate that made me wish I was born into it a hundred years ago. We had ice cream from the Arran Islands (a treat from the PMC), then boarded the buses again for the drive back. Arriving back home, we straggled to dinner, then met at Scotia, the oldest pub in Glasgow, before proceeding to a different and swankier piano bar somewhere else. A late-ish evening after a full day and we were knackered. The third day in Glasgow started even earlier – we were up and breakfasted and packed and checked out, with lunches procured, by 8:45. We took a bus out to the Hill House, a stunning private home designed from carpet to parapet by C.R. Mackintosh. It was pretty incredible, with brilliant and memorable little details everywhere. We had biscuits and coffee in their café, and talked about the house, and then got back on the bus to drive back to Glasgow – we stopped at a church designed by Mackintosh (paganesque carvings everywhere!) and then visited the Hunterian Gallery, which had a replica of the house Mackintosh shared with his brilliant artist wife, Margaret MacDonald Mackintosh. Then we moved on to Glasgow’s Museum with more Mackintosh artifacts and a disturbing arctic exhibit, and finally to the bus, and to the airport, and to the terminal. We once again had plenty of time, and shopped and ate and played cards until boarding. Another nice meal on the plane, and small bottles of wine, and Joy, a charming airline stewardess, and we were back in London, collecting bags and tubing home, tired and happy.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Royal Pain in the Itch

Woke up and hurried to the PMC for another great class with Joseph Roach: we talked about Kean and St. Joan, and it was clear that everyone was using what they’d written in their reviews of either show – it all made for some very interesting discussion. After class we had a quick break for lunch (cheese and crackers, mmmm!), then met again at two for our Glasgow briefing: Viv and Sandy gave us an enticing look at what we could expect, and the itinerary features everything from the Glasgow School of Art to Culzean Castle – it should be lots of fun.

After class we meandered home to get ready to travel to Sloane Square for the Royal Court Theatre’s The Pain and the Itch. We somehow took the wrong subway three times, and only very eventually ended up at our destination. But it was well worth it: the Royal Court does a great thing by having the programs, sold for 2 pounds, consist of the script of these new and exciting plays. It was so great to purchase the play with the biographical information, and one leading actor had quite the biography – Matthew Macfadyen played Mr. Darcy in the recent film Pride and Prejudice. He was not quite so sweepingly romantic in this role, but he gave a brilliant performance. The play is American, and is a scathing satire on politics and prejudice and family infidelity, featuring an adorable and precocious five-year-old (the victim of the pain and the itch), a totally hilarious and strikingly beautiful “eurotrash piece of ass,” and a sarcastic plastic surgeon brother and it was just about perfect.

The Royal Court also features an incredible bar in the basement, open all day and conveniently after shows. Their “vegetable root chips with aioli” is one of the top 101 things in London according to one publication of note, and Cassie and I indulged – they were delicious. Matthew “Mr. Darcy” Macfadyan patronized the cafe for a half hour or so after the performance, and some of the girls in our group took a photo with him. The Royal Court Café serves high tea, and it seems like one of the best environments we’ve found so far in London, so we may return soon.

After the chips came the long, long walk home. Six of us walked all the way from the Royal Court past Buckingham Palace past Piccadilly Circus past the West End and all the way home. It was a nice walk until we all realized we’re supposed to meet at 6 AM tomorrow morning to take the tube to Heathrow. Delightful. On that note, they'll be no posting until Thursday night, at which time I hopefully will have a big and bad account of Glasgow, Scotland in all its glory. Bed now!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Late Night London

Today was thoroughly uneventful, I'm sorry this entry is so short:

Cassie and I worked on our architecture report on The Glasgow School of Art, so that's done, which is great. Then I wrote my review of Kean, and the afternoon was punctuated by the loudest thunder I have ever heard: the sky sizzled then CRACKED. We all ran out into the corridor giggling and screaming. When it cleared up much later, six of us took a late night picnic on the Thames, how lovely.

Now my review is finished and I am tired.

Tomorrow will have mas cosas. I promise. G'night!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Great Globe Itself

Woke up, struggled more successfully through a shower, went to breakfast, then took a long and meandering walk down to the Southbank Area. Cassie, Paul and I crossed the River Thames, and strolled past some waterfront and the Tate Modern before arriving at… THE GLOBE THEATRE. Also known to my soul as Mecca and Jerusalem and all promised lands rolled into one. I just… yes. We went inside and stood in line to purchase tickets, only to watch the matinee of Love’s Labour’s Lost get crossed out in white chalk before our eyes, signifying a sold-out performance. Disheartened, we learned we could come back at one to wait in line for returned tickets, so we trudged George Michael-style to the Tate Modern lawn and tried to relax on the grass. It was too cold and windy, seeing as how it was 11:30 and the climate had another six hours before it would warm up. We bought ourselves some Cadbury chocolate to raise spirits (I had a delicious Cadbury Double Decker bar – nougat and cereal in chocolate) and sat near the theatre on the Thames in the sun. Around 12:45 we joined a queue, and waited about a half hour before securing three 5-pound groundling tickets ECSTASY!!!!!!! We proceeded to wait outside the theatre itself before magical doorway number 4 (the earliest opener) let us into “the great Globe itself.” Words cannot describe. I just… yes yes yes all of it was right. We found ourselves in a small triangle (only 25 people allowed into this area) directly in front of the stage. I could not speak. Musicians appeared about ten minutes before the start of the show, and played flutes and lutes and tambourines and bagpipes and a hurdygurdy… incredible incredible. THEN THE PLAY. Love’s Labour’s is perhaps slightly ridiculous in its subplots and devices, but the costumes were brilliant, the acting generally great, and the blocking terrific: actors literally leapt over my head and joined me in the triangle and delivered lines to me and threw torn up bits of clandestine letter at me (I have a piece of one such letter as a souvenir ). At intermission some of the actresses offered food from their royal picnic to the audience – our section got a jam tart. Yes yes yes.

We left three hours later and I was overwhelmingly happy. Just really happy. Evening was lovely, and we walked across the Millennium Bridge, stopping at a Marks and Spencer for some bread and cheese and raspberries and tomatoes, and had a picnic on the steps of St. Paul’s in the late afternoon sun. Meandered home by byways, accidentally stumbling upon the house and cat statue of Dr. Johnson of dictionary fame. Made it home for some reading and catching up, then went out briefly to a pub, then back home again for social hour and now bed.

One of the largest items on my List of All Things has been marked today, and as it was not in any way disappointing, everything seems sort of perfect. The end.

Friday, July 13, 2007


Had a bit of a lie-in before walking over to the Paul Mellon Centre with Cassie to do preliminary research for our Glasgow presentation on the city’s School of Art, designed by the celebrated Charles Rennie Mackintosh. We worked for a little while before walking down to Trafalgar Square, which is lovely and has large fountains and larger lions, and one heck of a big column topped by Admiral Lord Nelson. He Expects That Every Man Shall Do His Duty, so Cassie and I climbed the base of the statue and dutifully posed with his lions. We then popped into Pret a Manger (habit forming) for lunch before going into the National Gallery. We purchased audio guides, and spent a good two and a half hours looking at Rembrandts, Manets, Monets, Renoirs, VanGoghs, Seurats, Vermeers, Claudes, Gainsboroughs, Velazquezs, and some Michaelangelos. Wow o wow o wow. Too many paintings, too much standing, too much directors talk to go see. We left a little overwhelmed and walked down Charring Cross to a pub named for Inspector Sherlock Holmes. We then proceeded down to the National Theatre, walking through the book stalls underneath the Jubilee Bridge before going inside for the talk. The director, who surprisingly looks a lot like the actress playing St. Joan, said some interesting things, and we had our fair share of Inane Question/Comment Folks, only they had lovely accents. Professor Roach asked a good, short, Question question. Which was nice, but unfotunately somewhat poorly answered.

After the director’s talk we found a boulevard area full of cute shops (all closed by early evening – how do England shops survive?!) and fun places to eat. We sat in the central picnicking area, full of carved wooden chairs and tables and rocking animals (including a pair of elaborate pig/squirrel rockers) that apparently live there all the time. How neat. After dinner, a few of us headed to the Tate Modern, an art museum that is currently featuring an installation about ten of the world’s most dense cities (London, Tokyo, Mumbai, Mexico City, Sao Paolo, Los Angeles, Cairo, Istanbul, Johannesburg, and Shanghai). We were there for over an hour (the museum closed at 10), and saw only a fraction of the exhibit, as there were fascinating video installments and walk-in cubes for each of the ten cities. We walked home post-museum in a balmy dusk, which brings me to a SPECIAL NOTE: the weather in London is odd. It has generally been cold and gray in the mornings, before staying cold and gray all through mid-afternoon. At about 4 PM it begins to grow sunny and warm, and between 5:30 and 6:00 PM the daily high temperature seems to finally arrive. Then the evening is inevitably totally lovely. It all makes for some bipolar days: slightly sad mornings finished by elating evenings… I suppose we’re getting the hang of it.

We stopped at a convenience store for a snack on the walk home: I have decided to try as much English candy as I can, especially since the New York Times just proclaimed that English candy (chocolate in particular) is worlds better than the American kind. (Besides, I think I must be walking and standing everything I eat into oblivion.) Last night I had an Aerobar, which is bubbly crème-de-menthe filling covered in chocolate holy cow. Tonight was a Cadbury StarBar, a delicious caramel/peanut butter mix covered in Cadbury mmmmm. I feel as though the theatre variety is not the only thing that’s going to work out here.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Lloyds of London is a Coffee Shop

Woke up late after going to bed late and rushed over to the Paul Mellon Centre to meet the group for our trip to Lloyds of London. We arrived and were issued visitor’s passes, then followed an adorable, eloquent, older Lloyds representative to an antique room that was the library in the 1920’s Lloyds building and was preserved to serve as a conference room in the new building. Then to the elevators: the elevators run up the outsides of the building and are glass, such that depending on the elevator bank one chooses, one gets a different panoramic view of the city. How incredibly neat, especially when other elevators full of business folk rush up or down in the opposite direction. Then to a tour of the underwriting galleries, where hundreds of different insurance companies and literally thousands of brokers were doing business. Lloyds itself “insures nothing.” According to our guide, Lloyds is still a coffee shop (it started when one wily coffee shop owner, Robert Lloyd, added a business annex to house all the insurance men that had begun to do business in his shop). Lloyds merely manages and regulates, renting space to underwriting companies at 550 pounds per square foot. It’s all a bit complicated, just like the building.

Lunch happened in the cafeteria, where we ate delicious a la carte food surrounded by posh business types. Some of us decided we would jump out a window if we had their jobs, but it sure was fun to be amongst them. As we left Lloyds, Professor Isenstadt offered to show us some buildings around the area. He was a terrific architectural tour guide, and we looked at the British Bank, One Poultry Place, two interesting but different churches, and several design details that would otherwise have remained invisible to me. Jenny, Cassie and I took a bus back to Tottenham Court Road and walked to Hughes Parry, where we rested up for our second theatrical encounter, Kean, starring Sir Antony Sher at the Apollo Theatre. Cassie and I walked (briskly) to the theatre, and arrived to find that our seats had been moved into the orchestra as the show was far from sold out. And perhaps with reason: though Sir Sher was great in moments, I was unmoved at the end and couldn’t really make heads or tails out of the whole production. It proved excellent fodder for conversation later in the evening, as a few of us headed to pubs (The Queen’s Larder and one other) and then meandered back to Hughes Parry for more discussion. Late discussion, so Ima go to bed – tomorrow will hold research for our Glasgow trip, some fun activity near the Thames, a director’s talk for St. Joan at The National, and then… ?!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Private Event

Woke up late and skipped breakfast, ate some trail mix on the way to the Paul Mellon Centre for another delightful class with Professor Roach, which featured St. Joan-centered dialogue that got me excited. A few of us walked home through Russell Square, and stopped at the Russell Square Café for buttered scones. The café was unique in that it featured indoor and outdoor seating, the latter accessorized by tens and tens of predatory pigeons: signs around the café warned patrons that food should not be left unattended, as the establishment was not responsible for food tampered with by birds. There were some unattended dirty dishes on an outside table, and about thirty birds suddenly appeared, engulfing the entire table. A harried-looking employee rushed out to shoo them away, and they retreated slowly and cheekily.

Back home I caught up on some reading and straightening up, then showered and dressed for the theatre. We caught a double-decker bus and rode it the surprisingly short distance to the theatre. There was something essential about this trip: riding on the second level of an infamous red bus, crossing THE RIVER THAMES by way of Waterloo Bridge, which has a stunning view of Parliament, Big Ben, and the London Eye. We got off at the National Theatre Stop, and made our way into a lobby of the building, where a French folk quartet was playing to an appreciative audience. At 6:30 we wandered outside to a balcony overlooking the Astroturf courtyard, where two Australian women jugglers dressed as adorable airline stewardesses performed their act. We only saw the first fifteen minutes before heading inside to meet the class and take our seats: at seven, the play began. Parts of it were simply stunning: I thought most of the acting was superb, including Joan, who was young and energetic and proud and great. The stagecraft was unbelievable: the most striking sequence was the enactment of the Siege of Orleans, not written into the script, but performed here as a series of choreographed chair movements. As Joan beats a fierce rhythm, her soldiers drag and smash and tumble frail-looking wooden chairs. The entire National Theatre stage rotates and is able to tilt up, so the climax of the sequence began as the stage tilted to its highest angle, creating a steep slope. The face of the slope turned into view and the audience saw men’s supine bodies, which began to roll lazy and dead down the hill. Suddenly, men begin to appear at the top of the embankment, pulling Joan up to join them. She carried with her a blue flag of France, and the victory (after the chair brutality and body carnage) was electric. The play ended, and it was nice to have read and discussed it: at times I was able to tell when things were changed or omitted, and was able to look forward to the parts I liked best.

Afterwards, since it was opening night, there was a free "Private Event" reception at the theatre, featuring cheese, fruit, bread, beer, wine, and orange juice. Suddenly, all the actors were amongst us, mingling with their friends and eating cheese and bread. I was a bit star-struck. We ate on the verandah, where we could hear shouting and music: looking over the edge, we discovered that it was a performance of The Tempest. How much better can this place get? Juggling airline hostesses followed by St. Joan followed by outdoor Shakespeare? Or so I thought. It was not the traditional Tempest. It was something much different and not much good, though it featured an extensive pyrotechnic and water-fountain element. Something was almost always spouting or sparkling. One thing sparkled too much, and lit the elaborate bamboo set on fire, which was quickly extinguished by a center employee. The whole audience clapped. That was pretty fun. The show ended and we walked across the Jubilee pedestrian bridge and then continued the walk all the way home. Back at Hughes Parry, a few people congregated in my room for some socializing and youtube sharing.

SPECIAL NOTE: The theatrical offerings at the National (and in London) are incredible. The Rose Tattoo by Tennessee Williams is playing, and tickets for many of the shows are only 10 pounds. Tickets at the Royal Shakespeare Company are five pounds. And the theatre, as far as I can tell from tonight, is hyper world-class. I think perhaps this is a good place for me to be spending the summer…

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Satisfaction Guaranteed, or Your Mummy Back

Woke up and ventured once again into the medieval dungeon that is the Hughes Parry shower inferno. The water stays on for an average of 17 seconds before one has to push an eye-level knob to get more. Said knob sticks out two inches from the hot and cold water pipes which flank it on either side, which is unfortunate, because the water tends to run from the shower head straight down onto the knob in a half-hearted spraytrickle, which is much more trickle than spray. So in order to clear the shampoo from the top of one’s head, one must put one’s head perilously close to the brutal, bruising metal push button. If one hits one’s head and tries to comfort oneself, one runs the risk of scalding one’s hand, ear, or cheek on the furiously-hot hot water pipe. I may find myself in the floor “Bathroom,” which contains only a rusty bathtub, literal and lonely.

Breakfast was standard and fine, then to The Paul Mellon Centre for our first Modern British Drama class. Joe Roach is just sort of magical. He says things in a way that gives a large percentage of folks goose bumps. We talked about the nodes and paths of London, and about the incredible feeling of walking on history everywhere in The City. The second half of class was devoted to talking about John Osborne’s revolutionary “Look Back in Anger,” and the meeting finished with a reminder that we are seeing OPENING NIGHT OF ST. JOAN AT THE ROYAL NATIONAL THEATRE tomorrow night. I guess that’ll be fine.

For lunch Cassie and Jenny and I stopped by Pret A Manger, which is foreign to us and therefore still delightful, and returned to the Paul Mellon Centre for a quick tour of the PMC library. Then the whole gang trouped over to the University of London’s library, where we took a long and very thorough tour of different floors and computer catalogs. The British Museum was our planned activity for the afternoon – we entered a doorway guarded by a pair of impressive stone lions only to be informed we’d come in the back door and that it was best to start in the main atrium. Passing hurriedly and with self-imposed blinders through a few amazing exhibitions to the front entrance, we found ourselves in the magnificent, marbled, monochrome “Great Hall,” built as part of the Millennium Celebration of 2000. The Hall was incredible, and we decided to start our tour in the Egypt room. That section began modestly enough, with THE ROSETTA STONE. Just sitting there. Whatever. The exhibit continued, room after room filled with huge and stunningly ornate tablets, statues of gods and men and animals, basins and painted cosmetics jars, massively tall columns, and a mat made from human hair. Then the death rooms: the museum does seem to have a surplus of sarcophagi – section after section packed with decorative coffins, some with vacancies, others without. The cat mummies were in, but there was plenty of room elsewhere – I guess it pays off to be imperialists in the end, as there is a lot of free swag. We had all that we could handle with Egypt alone, but since the museum is free and extensive and just plain incredible, we’ll probably visit Iran tomorrow.

We came home and rested for a bit before heading over to the British Library, literally next door. The Library is stunning, and stunningly also boasts no admission charge whatsoever. The feature exhibit is “Sacred,” which profiles in detail the faith, living patterns, celebrations, leaders, chronology, etc. of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. The exhibit is incredibly well put together – the curators developed a gentle spatial flow and mellow/cool lighting design that creates a sacred space for the exhibit itself. The extensive and interactive background information was accompanied by an arsenal of holy books from the British Library – everything from Sultan Baybars’ gold-filigreed Qur’an to a piece of Dead Sea Scroll dating from 50 AD. And I thought the Gutenberg Bible was cool.

The exhibit closed at eight, and upon returning home, Cassie and I cooked penne with tomato pesto. It was not too shabby. Tomorrow is our class discussion of St. Joan, and potentially another day at the British Museum, followed by some… evening activity.


Monday, July 9, 2007

Indecisions Indecisions Indecisions

Woke up and dressed at what felt like dawn in order to make the narrow and early 8 AM – 9 AM weekdays breakfast window. Collected materials and supplies for the first day, and met everyone at the Paul Mellon Centre for our introduction to the beautiful house the centre calls home, located in the posh Bedford Square business area. The structural walls of the centre and most of the ornamental plastering have been left in tact, so one can imagine what the original house might have looked like. Centre director Martin Postle (recently of the Tate Britain) and Viv Redhead, the coordinator for and resident expert of the program, dispensed information and tips, and then released us for a two-hour lunch break. I went to Pret a Manger, an English chain that sells pretty darn tasty fresh sandwiches, fruit, and desserts for a price that is reasonable even when converted into American. After eating, I sat in the sunshine outside Bedford Square on a giant wooden sculpture that resembled an octopus. The octopus featured many square arms planted at sitting-height… none of which were completely level. As a result, I shifted my weight around awkwardly, watching men in suits and women in heels pass in the strides of the hyper-professional.

The return to the centre meant the first architecture class, in which Professor Sandy Isenstadt outlined some background and things to look for, and we all presented buildings of interest we had chosen. My architectural stunner was Denver International Airport, which is, after all, just plain neat to look at, and one girl spoke about the new Denver Art Museum. Clearly Denver is pretty important. We were also briefed on our Thursday field trip to Lloyds of London, which looks simply incredible. “Smart business attire” is recommended. Wonder how smart I’ll be.

After class we had a small “Welcome Session 2/Session 1 is Going Away” party featuring fruit, sandwiches, cakes, and some sort of diluted non-alcoholic cordial, all served in the ornate and very green library room. The return to Hughes Parry by way of a grocery for utensils was punctuated by heavy but charming English rain. Back home, a lot of indecision led to a slightly long-faced concession to patronize a very local pub, an experience that was charming if low key in the end. Cassie, Marjorie and I decided it was a “training pub” – a good place to experiment with libations and check out the scene before arriving at a pub that meant business. Whatever that might mean. At home Cassie and I tried to put together an itinerary of places to go and see, but that proved difficult. National Gallery or National Portrait Gallery? Llandudno or Cardiff? Paris or Rome? Bath or Budapest (flights to the latter from 17 pounds)? I think we’ve outlined through to this Friday. From there things are vying to make it into our schedule. There’s just not enough time.

Especially since there's... you know... SCHOOL.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Clotted Cream from Cornwall

Woke up early in an effort to get to St. James Palace for the start of the Tour DE France: unfortunately, a full English breakfast (eggs and oatmeal and toast and jam!) and some Oyster-accumulation and misdirection on the tube cost Cassie and me some time, and we arrived at St. James Park a half hour after the riders to see Tour Detritus like barricades and skinny wannabes in US Postal Service jerseys. We were in time to catch the Changing of the Guard over at Buckingham Palace, which was especially crowded with Tour Tourists. Wandering away, we went past St. James Palace (official residence of Prince Charles) and over to Piccadilly Street, where we checked in briefly at St. James Church during the singing Eucharist.

Piccadilly is home to many famous retailers, among them grocers Fortnum and Mason, who were under construction as they prepared for their tercentennial celebration. The first floor featured an extensive array of teas, jams, pastries, and a glassed-in display of chocolates that almost killed me. The basement held a meat and cheese shop, a wine tasting bar with caviar and champagne luncheons, as well as food accessories and oddities of every kind, including one brand of vodka with a real (and “completely edible!”) scorpion inside each bottle. My other favorites included the aged-for-sixty-years balsamic vinegar (which went for 60 pounds/tiny bottle) and the 117-pound foie gras. The full store reopens in September, and supposedly also carries clothing and accessories and has a café and restaurant. Even under construction, with three floors out of commission, this was the most stunningly well-equipped and arranged grocery/department store I have ever seen. The fact that the staff all wore tailcoats certainly did not harm my impression. I bought a large plain scone and some “Traditional clotted cream from Cornwall,” and Cassie and I made our way to the Royal Academy of Arts courtyard, where three large abstract bronze dinosaurs stood over springs that bubbled gently from the stone and ran shallowly down hill in different directions. The sound was terrific, and it was so pleasant to sit on a bench, eating a scone and clotted cream with water flowing all around. The installation is called something like “The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth, But Not the Mineral Rights.” I can’t tell how politically charged it’s supposed to make me feel, but it sure was fun to eat a scone there. Around two o'clock we wandered further down Piccadilly to the Underground, and rode it back to Euston Station, which is a very short walk from Hughes Parry. Back at home, I finished unpacking, looked through the packet we were given last night, and read a little of Dan Rebellato’s “1956 and All That.”

After a two-hour nap, seven of us went to dinner at Shah, an Indian restaurant off Euston Road. I had spicy chicken and naan, while flashy Indian music videos played behind me. One featured a large and very Catholic church and many flirtatious eyes and giggling smiles. A few of us stopped to get dinner for tomorrow night – pasta and tomato pesto! – and returned home to Hughes Parry for some reading and sleeping and showering and strawberry eating. Tomorrow is our first day at the Paul Mellon Centre: introductions, tours, and a little architecture.

SPECIAL NOTE: Tap water is irritable to waiters in restaurants. If you order it, you get one small glass, and one small glass only. I imagine foreigners suffer dehydration at purveyors of spicy foods on the regular.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Friday Morning, Saturday Night

Flying in First Class (scored by il papa on the flight from Denver to New York) is like going to a faraway planet where it is nice to fly on planes. Everyone is so kind and careful, and gets you a beverage the moment you sit down (no cart mind you! People with hands instead!), and one feels as though flying is an activity that could be enjoyed, like traveling by boat or limousine.

But hot-towel bliss was short lived: I disembarked at LaGuardia, retrieved my luggage, caught the shuttle to JFK, made it through the Virgin Atlantic check in, and arrived at the gate…. to wait for five hours. Jenny Mac arrived fresh from New Haven, and we waited together, scavenging sandwiches and reading material before boarding Virgin Atlantic Flight 4. I was in the left-hand window seat of the last row, and made instant friends with Harry and David (like the chocolates?!), sitting next to me and across the aisle, respectively. Harry is an art director in New York City and Dave is… Harry’s friend. They were loads of fun. We took photos of each other in our Virgin Atlantic eye masks and puffy neck pillows. It was late. We were delayed on the ground for two hours. Can you blame us?

SPECIAL NOTE: Best thing ever: Virgin Atlantic’s safety video. Sarcastic, at times risqué, and, above all animated. With rip-cracklin’ sound effects. Three-hundred points. Also a good thing: my eye mask which was printed with the words “beddy bye.” Honestly. Could they be any cheekier? No.

I slept for a bit on the plane, and woke up tired to ultra-bright and unsettling sunshine over clouds. We touched down at Heathrow, disembarked, made it to baggage claim and customs with no delays or problems, then caught the London Overground Express train to Paddington Station. The fifteen-minute ride was quick and clean, and featured yet another safety video, though not animated this time. At Paddington, Jenny and I hailed a taxi, who took us to Hughes Parry Hall – our driver was a gentleman with stunning blue eyes and an endearing cockney accent who advised us to leave plenty of time when planning to take the underground, as “the only thing that works all the time in this city are the taxis.” Sound advice. We checked in at Hughes Parry, and I did some basic unpacking, then ventured out into the city with Jenny N., buying a cute, cheap, functional pay-as-you-go cell phone, clothes hangers, and some grapes. After a deep four-hour nap, five charming Yale-in-London folks and I dined at restaurant Balfour. In a surprise maneuver, I ordered a spicy penne. It was delicious. Then we wandered over to the Paul Mellon Centre, and on and on through the theatre district (!) to Leicester Square. Desert and sundries shopping later, we arrived back at Hughes Parry. Where I am trying to put together an itinerary for tomorrow that will include the Tour de France, Wimbledon Men’s Finals, and three-hundred pages of reading.

Things are super, but I’m feeling ambitious: I want to interact and become intimate friends with some fascinating British folk. I guess I’ll try to work that in tomorrow, too.