Monday, August 13, 2007

Baked Brie

SATURDAY: Woke up late, showered (no push button!) and decided… TO HAVE A DINNER PARTY. Yes yes, cooking dinner in an apartment in Paris. Much Googling and French cook booking later, and we needed lunch. Picked up delicious sandwiches in the local bakery (tuna, lettuce, tomato on fresh baked baguettes) and walked to Luxembourg Gardens. Luxembourg is deLuxe: an old palace in which the senate now works and old gardens in which the plebeians now lounge. The weather has been odd in Paris – a nonstop confederacy of clouds just consistent and thin enough to completely eliminate the source of light while washing everything in numbing, nature’s-fluorescent white. We sat under that odd bleaching sky (next to an arrangement of pristinely manicured and ultra-bright flowers) and ate our sandwiches and Pim’s cookies while Cassie taught us a game. There is nothing quite like playing a word game with folks with large vocabularies and tidbits of arcane knowledge. We had a long lunch – apparently Paris is known for long lunches? – and then meandered through the Montparnesse Cemetery to the market street near Paul’s house. Some street produce and a supermarket later, and we were ready to cook. In an apartment in Paris. The full menu was as follows: Hors d’oeuvre: baked brie and raspberry preserve in puff pastry garnished with almonds (Cassie and Camille); Salads: red onion and tomato variety and green salad with gorgonzola, walnuts, grapefruit, pear, and raspberry vinaigrette (Sarah); Main Course: veal with tomato and fried eggplant on a bed of angel hair pasta (Paul); Dessert: chocolate mousse with crème fraiche, raspberries, and chocolate leaves (the last bit made by me, everything else by nature and the supermarket). There is really very little I can say here: everything was incredible. I think Cassie and Camille win for best simple dish that turned out to be an absolute and utter knock out (I loved it. Lurved it, even). For Paul’s: anyone cooking meat wins my admiration (the veal was actually gourmet), and Sarah’s salad with grapefruit was divine. Overall, everything was a resounding success.. except my French: Paul invited his Parisian friend Jen to dinner, and she and her boyfriend spoke little English and I much less French. So that was a bit awkward. I could occasionally nose out the subject and then how the group felt about it on the whole. Fortunately much of the time I was preoccupied with the baked brie, so… we cleaned up from dinner, said goodbye to Jen, then hit the town. We took the Metro to the Fleche d’Or (Golden Arrow for those of you speaking British), where a live girl band from Sweden – cheekily but accurately called The Models – were rocking hard. They were great. They were hot. It was terrific. Then the Euro-techno-Euro-trash dance music started: Smells Like Teen Spirit induced a mosh pit. Who knew? It was exceptionally hot and one had to buy several drinks in order to be able to stand anywhere cool, so after an hour or so we hit the streets for the walk and bus ride home. Bed around 4:30. Apparently this is the way to go.

SUNDAY: Woke up…. oh, that’s right, late, you guessed it. Got dressed and took the metro to the two lovely islands in the middle of the Seine. Right outside the metro exit we stopped at a small market that seemed to traffic mainly in birds and birdseed and cages and flowering plants. There were some stunning parrots in a cage – I think perhaps parrots are too smart to be in cages – and some parakeets – one of which was too smart to stay on my hand and moved to my hair. It was great. We then went to… L’As du Falafel (Falafel Ace, if you will), which was raved about by Paul, The New York Times (which did a feature on it), and Lenny Kravitz. We took our falafels to one end of the island and sat on the pier by the river, watching the tour boats go by and eating THE BEST FALAFEL maybe evah. To say that my falafel experience is limited is an understatement, but even so, I loved every second of consumption, and felt my heart leap into my throat when I accidentally dropped one ball of fried chickpea delight into the Seine. Some fish fed well, that’s all I can say. We walked to an ice cream shop and I had a perfect sugar cone with amandine glacee. Paul departed for a visit with friends, and Sarah, Cassie, Camille and I made our way up river to the Louvre for Round II. We walked past a series of booksellers offering everything from old pamphlets on venereal disease to posters of Al Pacino’ Scarface on Montana currency. Then the Louvre. It’s actually just a monster. We bought our tickets and had an hour and a half until they began clearing folks out of the galleries. There’s just not enough time or museum energy in the world: ancient Egypt, Napoleon’s Rooms, the Crown Jewels, and a walker’s digest viewing of the whole (or rather some small part) of French sculpture. As the museum closed we made our way out of the glass pyramid and through to the Tuilleries, where we could see storm clouds looming. About five minutes in, just as we were about to stop for coffee at a café, a cloud burst hit the garden, and we took refuge just in time under one of the umbrella tables. It was an absolute downpour: our waiter had to run from the restaurant area to the table so the cappuccino foam wouldn’t get wet. At one point it was raining so hard through distant sunshine that parts of the garden faded and disappeared, and our umbrella began to leak on our sugar crepe. It was charming in retrospect, but a little too wet at the time. We walked through sandy mud to the obelisk and from that spot could see the Arc du Triumph, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and the Tuilleries… pretty cool. We navigated the metro sans problemes, bought bread at the bakery down the street, and made it back to the apartment to dry off a bit and get ready for dinner. Walked to a nice restaurant of Paul’s choosing, then left because the main dining room, a central feature, was closed for renovation. When Paul’s disappointment registered with the waitress, she apparently immediately “understood” and let us know it was reopening tomorrow. Oh, oh. C’est la vie. We went across the street to a different restaurant, this one all red seating and paintings of naked women, and had a delicious dinner. I effectively had steak frites au poivre… an incredible pepper sauce and French mustard with the fries. It was delicious. We meandered home through Gaiety Street (an amalgamation of Japanese restaurants, small theatres, and strip joints) then bought crepes at a street stand before going home to cook and eat the second wheel of baked brie Cassie and Camille created. A lot of laundry, cleaning, eating (of course, though how is that possible?!), and some preliminary packing (including the leftover brie) later, and then sleep… for four hours.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

French Internet: This is the Titre!

TUESDAY: Class with Professor Roach and invitee William Gaskill, a man who was part of the founding of the National Theatre (you know, with Olivier) and who served as a director for the Royal Court when it was first producing some of the plays we are now reading as definitive moments in the development of Modern British Drama. He also directed the production of Calderon’s “The Great Theatre of the World” we saw last night, so we had questions for him. Oddly enough, he didn’t really have academic answers to some of them, i.e.: why did you do this play? “Because I like it.” Interestingly, the play made for some polemical discussion in class after Mr. Gaskill left – there was a pretty strong Christian bent, which is apparently totally neutralized in the eyes of most Brits (like Mr. Gaskill) because it’s just not an issue here in England – “no one is that religious.” Some Yale-in-Londoners felt it proselytized uncomfortably while others saw it as quaint and amusing and harmless, and we had a long debate about the merit of doing a play that may or may not translate well through 400 years, especially if one doesn’t have a reason better than “I like it.” After class we grabbed lunch at Marks and Spencer, took a tube to the river, and then caught a boat up to The Globe. The ride was short but nice – it’s an old river, and it feels nice to move about on it, especially while traveling to see Othello. The Paul Mellon Centre had purchased us tickets for seats, but I preferred to stand: the sitting spots all have some sort of restricted view and it is difficult to hear. Plus, how often do you get to stand four feet from actors with big swords and lovely costumes? Not very. The play was great – The Globe does a nice traditional rendition of all these plays, with actors in period dress and little scenery. Iago was pretty terrific, Othello was very good, and there was a nice Roderigo who actually stood out as notable. Desdemona is a difficult part to make compelling, but the smothering scene was pretty terrific – she actually fought back, and it was not as peaceful and willingly sacrificial as in other productions I’ve seen. The whole thing ended with a terrific jig, and we left happy. Stopped for Pimms at a nearby pub, then took a bus home to make tortellini and write our third review. I slept, and wrote, and slept and wrote, and hit the hay (what a great phrase! Of course there is no real hay, but what must it be like to actually hit the hay…) in the wee hours.

WEDNESDAY: Turned in my review, then took the tube with Sandy and Emmett and Ashley to for a field trip to Hampstead Heath, where we saw 2 Willow Road, the modernist house of modernist architect Erno Goldfinger. The house was “extremely forward thinking for it’s time” according to our very slightly David Brent-esque guide, and we did see neat things like sliding space saving doors and partitions and some of the first ever built-in closets, as well as a priceless collection of modern art that belonged to the family. After the tour, Ariel and Sophie and I strolled by the duck pond and continued on past the Keats house to a bakery where we bought mochas and ciabatta. Then the tube back to the PMC for some source material collection: I now know a bit about the area north and south of the Millennium Bridge… before the bridge was built. Great. Then home, napping, and the impromptu decision to see a BBC Prom. Sophie and Cassie and I caught the tube to South Kensington and joined the gallery queue at Royal Albert Hall. We bought our five-pound tickets and scored a spot peering through the narrow space between a pillar and a wall, pretty close to center. We were quite a ways from the stage, but once the music started, the sound was terrific. The headliners were John Dankworth and Cleo Laine, and the first act featured Dankworth jazz pieces that figured around lines from Shakespeare like “where the bee sucks, there suck I.” Then some Ellington (Take the A Train, etc.), some long jam sessions, and the interval. Post-interval, another woman came out, and she was charming, and she sang a little more Shakespeare and some terrific standards including an epically long It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got that Swing and a reprise of Take the A Train. It was long but great, and all those older big-band British musicians on stage sure could rock. We each bought a Proms tote bag, then tubed back to ye olde HPH to check Proms off the list.

THURSDAY: Class with Professor Roach and a lively discussion of “Othello” and the Polish “H of D” (Conrad’s Heart of Darkness) from a few weeks ago. I think we decided the former was objectively good and the latter objectively bad. Then lunch at the legendary Valparaiso Snack Bar near Hughes Parry, where Cassie and I shared that oh so delicious and nutritious tomato/onion/cheese fried omelet with chips. Then home to nap and pack and organize and try to plan for playing… and, er, working… in PARIS. Oh goodness. Some discriminating outfit choosing and tortellini later, and we were ready to go. Sarah and Cassie and Paul and I tubed to Waterloo station, and after a minor setback (Sarah accidentally left her passport in Hughes Parry, and Ashley the Saint delivered it by hand with time to spare), we were on our way. I think The Chunnel is cool? I mean, you can’t see anything as you go through, but beforehand the English countryside at sunset was lovely. On the flip side it had become dark, and all one could see were neon signs that read things like “Babou.” I didn’t know what they meant to advertise, but I felt excited because they were very clearly FRENCH. I do not speak the language, so we’ll see how this whole thing goes. I’ll just remember: S'il vous plait excusez-moi. J'ai un problème. Parlez-vous anglais? We arrived at the station, took the tube to Paul’s INCROYABLE apartment in the 14th Arrondisement of PARIS where we put our STUFF. Then some wine made by Paul’s GODFATHER. QUOI? Then we went out, because it was only 12:30. We walked. And walked and walked. And walked (in a meandering, Parisian sort of way) past things like Les Halles and the cathedral of St. Eustache (with a big stone head-in-hand sculpture and many birds outside) to a club called Tryptiche, where, despite the fact that it was 3 o’clock in the morning, there were many French folks. Several wanted to dance with Camille. One girl walked in carrying her motorbike helmet and also a rose. C’est joli. We were tired, so we found ourselves a bus for the way back and turned in at about 4:45 in the AM.

FRIDAY: Woke up late, got dressed like quick rabbits, and walked hurriedly to the market in Paul’s neighborhood, which apparently closes at noon. Paul had already bought a roasted chicken and it’s accompanying potatoes, and we found some lovely tomatoes and raspberries and bread and cheese. Then lunch in the apartment at the dining room table – the whole thing felt like some sort of Thanksgiving, with the roasted bird and the potatoes and the wine and the French radio. And also, the fact that we were celebrating an e-mail from Sir Professor Isenstadt that in no uncertain terms granted the whole Yale-in-London group a big fat extension on the architecture paper. Vive la France! After lunch, some lying about and planning, then a long, Parisian meandering past the Gertrude Stein’s house and the Louvre and the Army Museum/Invalid Hospital and the Ecole Militaire (ou mon cousin Pierre habite) and the Parc du Champ de Mars to the… EIFFEL TOWER. It is huge. I mean, you see post cards and what not, and it looks delicate and graceful, which it is, but it is also GIGANTIC and STURDY. We walked to it then under it then past it to the Jardin du Trocadero on the other side of the Seine. A man was playing the Godfather theme on an accordion while some small children raced their Eiffel Tower keychains down the stairs. Check plus. We then walked down the Avenue du President Wilson to the Palais du Tokyo, a modern art museum/community center/restaurant bar. Then to a small restaurant near a metro stop where we all had oeufs. Then to THE LOUVRE. We had an hour. Greatest Hits of the Greatest Hits: Winged Victory, the Mona Lisa (why this painting? I liked DaVinci’s woman with a black background just as much), then Venus de Milo (THIS IS CIRCA 2100 YEARS OLD. Not 16th century as I had thought for all my life… 2100 YEARS OLD). Then Psyche and Cupid – stunning – then Psyche and Mercury – stunning – then we got le kicked out. We took photos near the I.M. Pei glass triangle, and watched the “10 O’Clock Sparkle Time at the Eiffel” (the tower flashes and glimmers every night on the hour) from the Louvre driveway. Then a walk to the Palais Royal and its pristinely trimmed archway of trees to the metro, which we took to Paul’s favorite Parisian bar, communist themed Polit Buro. Some Sex Sur La Place later and we met friend Pierce near the Opera House for some wandering and vino before taking a bus back to Montmartre. Our walk back to Paul’s house took us past the neighborhood prison (“it’s not still a prison, right?” “er…there’s no tourist sign” “look there’s a light on!” “allons-y allons-y”) and back to the beautiful flat. It is the good here.

Monday, August 6, 2007

We Are The Hipsters!

SUNDAY: Just kidding, didn't actually go to church. Instead, Cassie and Emmett and Ashley and I crashed the Camden Market: bigger, badder, hotter, and way more crowded than Portobello (which is possible, incredibly). Between the stalls selling hanger after hanger of clever/edgy t-shirts (classy ones like "F the Gap" and one with the WB logo that read: "If you see the police, Warna Brotha") and the stalls selling pipes and cannabis lollies, we found a few gems. I bought a lovely skirt from an Australian woman (after visiting her website I discovered that she is/was an Australian soap star), and ate a Moroccan chicken kebab pita for lunch. It was delicious. Cassie and I hung about for a bit before wandering back towards our bus stop, at which point we succumbed to the siren call of... Burger King. WAIT, LET ME EXPLAIN. It was tres hot, we felt like ice cream, and suddenly the lure of the 99-pence BK Fusion (and it's advertising campaign) overcame. We had strawberry cheesecake, and I unashamedly say it was delicious and rather economical. Unlike the Burger King meals themselves, where a hamburger/fries/drink set would cost about ten American joke dollars. Strange. We boarded our bus and returned to Hughes Parry for dinner and to recover from the heat and excitement. Then eveningtime: Paul had cued us into the Shoreditch Festival, a free all-day concert in Shoreditch Park that Time Out London hailed as "the one festival you must walk into." So we took a long bus ride up to Shoreditch, disembarked, and suddenly were surrounded by an absolute sea of hipsters. THE skinniest, most skeletal jeans, THE most "casually greasy" hair, THE biggest sunglasses, THE most ostentatious Hello Kitty earrings, THE most incredible eyeshadow. And interspersed amongst said sea of sters were men in business suits, tatooed women in jumpers, punks with spiky mohawks and sparkly face paint. My favorite hairstyle was sported by one young woman in all black: her doo was spiky in the back and gave way to bangs molded into a seven-inch purple unicorn horn. Shoreditch Park was quite the scene: trash and people sprawled indiscriminately as far as the eye could see, grouped here and there around bandstands and carnival games. We meandered through the refuse and listened to a few talented groups, one with a great saxophonist and a lead singer who moved like Pete Townshend when playing guitar. As one band finished, we moved to the big tent where a headliner was performing - the songs were unfamiliar to us, but everyone else seemed to know the words. It was getting rather rowdy, and at one point, as one song had finished and there was a bit of a lull, the whole front of the tent erupted in a chorus of: "WE ARE THE MODS, WE ARE THE MODS, WE ARE, WE ARE, WE ARE THE MODS!!" I almost died. I chanted with them. Loudly. The Mods are alive and well, and we found them: apparently they just dress as hipsters now. MODS broke out a few more times, especially loudly when one concert organizer came onstage and told everyone to move back and calm down or the concert would be cancelled. Then it was particularly spirited. I felt great. Cassie and I got out before too much mayhem could go down and took a bus back to King's Cross, where we met up with Joel P. from Berkeley, whose family lives a little bit away in Hampstead Heath. We patronized the Marquis de Cornwallis, our local pub, and then went home. Camden, Shoreditch, Mods, Cornwallis. Great great great. SPECIAL NOTE: The Who's red circle inside white circle inside blue circle symbol is totally ubiquitous. It's everywhere, sometimes labeled, generally not, and in full force at Shoreditch. WAY cool.

MONDAY: Class with Professor Isenstadt, then the trip to the Design Museum, which was longer than expected and required two subways and a lovely walk across the Tower Bridge. Today was beautiful-day-in-a-row #3, and Cassie, Sarah and I grabbed lunch at the Picnic Basket Sandwich Shop just South of the bridge. Apparently it is "famous," and two funny Italian men made our sandwiches and doled out free and delicious tomato and lentil drinkable soup (which "Papa" was cooking in back). We met the group at the Design Museum for a tour of the Zaha Hadid exhibit with the curator of the museum. Hadid is pretty incredible - she has several major projects going on worldwide right now, but apparently still teaches at Yale one semester a year. We saw buildings, vases, chairs, tables, chandeliers, and a car designed by Hadid - one fibreglass chair was being sold for 7,000 pounds in the gift shop. After the Design Museum, Cassie and I took a bus over to the Barbican, an enormous and totally overwhelming concrete Brutalist structure that houses businesses and flats and a gigantic theatre complex. We were only able to wander through the huge pavilions and water features and elevated walkways for a short while, as we were tired and a bit creeped out - the entire Barbican was almost entirely abandoned. No people anywhere - it was like the film 28 Days Later, only the set was a large and ominous building experiment from the 1980's. We scurried away to the Farringdon tube station and took a train to King's Cross, then caught a bus to Hackney. We strolled through the neighborhood to a Turkish diner encouragingly called Ali Baba's, where we shared a chicken shish kebab pita (with some incredibly spicy sauce on the side) and chips in a pita. It was delicious, and we spoke with "Jim," the Turkish gentleman who was cooking and who had lived in England for five years. After dinner, we bought some incredible (but not as good as Mom's) Turkish baklava at the bakery next door. Apparently pistachios happen in Turkish baklava... mmmm. We then arrived at the Arcola for a performance of Calderon's "The Great Theatre of the World:" the script is old as Shakespeare but originally written in Spanish rhyming couplets. I was pleasantly surprised by the production: the everyman-esque play was generally very well done, with a great performance by the woman playing the Stage Manager/World. We had a very pleasant bus ride home with Professors Roach and Isenstadt, and Joe's daughter Kate. At the moment, a large contingent of adolescents is singing Oasis' "Wonderwall" nine floors down outside my window. It's rather charming.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Life's Not Fair, So Neither is Bingo

THURSDAY: Class with Professor Roach, then to the British Museum with Cassie for a tour of the "Americas" wing, which was small and generally uninspiring, perhaps because we'd seen much of it before? I don't know - the highlight was the series of large carved lintels that featured scenes of bloodletting (pulling a thorny rope through one's tongue, etc.). We walked home and had lunch/recuperated from the bloodletting trauma, and then I napped, showered, and bought a ticket to see the band Of Montreal at a Camden-ish club called Scala. One of the Time Out top 101 things to do in London was "get sweaty in Camden," so I thought it was worth it. Doors opened at 7:30, and Sophie and I got a prime spot in the back of the small theatre on a ledge, away from the mosh misery and with an uninterupted view of the stage. The ur-opening band (Wave Machines) was great, and the actual opening band (Pull Tiger Tail) was just alright. Of Montreal was... ODD. They hail from Atlanta, Georgia, and much of their act featured folks in masks running about with tapestries or crab claws or football pads or balloons filled with glitter that they would pop over the audience. They played music, too. I met two gentlemen standing behind us, who were rather vocal about their initial dislike of the band, which gave way to drunken approval by the end. It was altogether a happenin' scene, and I am satisfied to check Sweaty in Camden off the list.

FRIDAY: Laundry. Oh, oh laundry. It is never easy. New Haven, London - it just don't matter. What can I say, I think a little part of me loves the challenge. Like, come on 5-pence piece... make my day. So yes. Post-laundry, a trip to the National Portrait Gallery. I think I like it better than the National Gallery - there is something wholly engaging in studying other people, in thinking that at one time these great figures actually sat in that way so this artist could... get at them. A photograph of Virginia Woolf and her father, paintings of Sarah Siddons and Edmund Kean, portraits of the revolutionary British intellectuals that were members of the elite Whig Kit-cat Club. Just cool. After the gallery, a walk through Covent Garden to scavenge for dinner - I ended up being un-original and found myself an edamame and tuna salad at Marks and Spencer. It was delicious: sitting on the steps of the Covent Garden "actors' church," watching street performers of questionable talent, eating edamame. Mmmm. Cassie and I walked to our favorite area, the Southbank, and got our tickets for Maxim Gorky's "Philistines" at the the National. We then had some time, and watched the "Watch This Space" pre-show act, called "Funtime with Fluffkins." It was rubbish. I mean awkward and embarrassing and at times uncomfortably abusive/pedophiliac... we thought perhaps it would turn out to be ironic: maybe the Fluffkins were going to rebel and kill and eat their mean talent manager, but.... well. That just didn't happen. In short, not a good Watch This Space. "Philistines" followed, and... it was stunning. It is my favorite thing I have seen since being in London. Funny and philosophical and inspiring and crushing. All those things a great play should be, with some terrific one-liners popping up in all the best places. Just great, I am going to have to buy the script. And the set! The set: had a huge staircase, a main room and dining room, a long hall with a working bathroom at the end, and, out the back of the main room of the house, through the windows splashed with raining wet rain, one could see the neighboring household, and also... THE NEIGHBORS. They put the neighbors on stage. Here and there, just chillin. God Bless a theatre with money. After the play, we wandered back out to Watch This Space for... BINGO WITH MS. IDA BARR (actually man dressed as an aging English woman, innit?). Oh lord. It was just the most fun. Ida R&B rapped her way through the intervals between games, and called the numbers with clues like: "70, 1970, the year of my first hip replacement." and "Idi Amin, 15." In round two, all she would say was: "suck your thumb" and you'd best know that meant 51. Her Bingo calling was merciless, since: "Life's Not Fair, So Neither is Bingo," but at one point, to relieve the tension, she led the whole of the sizable Watch This Space mass in the "Okey Cokey." The Okey Cokey is similar to the Hokey Pokey, but with more movement and more group dynamic. This particular Okey Cokey concluded with a massive conga line - joyful mayhem like I have never seen. No one in our group won a Bingo round, but at the end of the night Ida shared a box of chocolates she'd confiscated from the prize table, which at one time also held a blow-up boat (for toddlers), some Linda Barker DVD's, St. John's Wort, and a small wall clock. We walked home, and talked the whole way about starting our own Watch This Space at Yale. We're gonna do it, and maybe we'll fly Ida out to kick the whole thing off.

SATURDAY: Early breakfast, then a tube ride to Notting Hill Gate for Portobello Road redux: apparently the market is best on Saturdays, and as I'd only been on a Sunday, today was the day. It was nothing short of cloudy with people. Also, it was 80 degrees for the first time since I've been here, and everyone was out enjoying that rarest of temperatures. We wandered up and down the stalls, and I bought a small cameo on a long silver chain. It was cheap, and I'm sure it will fall apart shortly, but I like her. I had a bagel with feta and lettuce and tomato for lunch, as well as some blackberries from one of the fruit stalls. We finished with Portobello, and then walked over to Hyde Park, napping for a bit near some fountains before continuing all the way across the park - it is massive, and much of the time the city is totally invisible. Just fields of alternatingly long and short grass and trees all around. We made it through to the other side, and walked to Harrods, a few blocks away. Oh boy. Portobello Road, but four square blocks and five floors high. Just people. Going up and down the Egyptian escalator (which today featured a woman singing opera live from one of the side galleries), walking past huge trilobite fossils and the neighboring $900,000 dining table, eating incredibly expensive gelatos in the main dining area, etc. We considered having tea, but thought better of it, and walked out past the rather creepy statue of Dodi and Diana, which is captioned with the words: Innocent Victims. Unsettling, to say the least. We had scones and strawberry tarts and tea at a small cafe, and then took the tube home. A Waitrose shopping trip, a tortellini dinner, and some cheese and crackers later, and it's time for bed, as I've got church in the morning.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Don't Leave Your Stick in the Water

HERE WE GO. So sorry for the delay!!

FRIDAY: Spent all morning and a pie slice of the afternoon finishing my Betrayal review, and turned it in at 2:30. Then a long shower, and then... a long bus ride back to Hackney. It was our second trip in as many days to the area (Arcola and our destination almost shared a bus stop), as we were going to see a Russian clown show titled "The (Semianki) Family" at the star-ceilinged, gilded, and totally ornate Hackney Empire theatre. Hmmm. What to expect? I mean, were they going to speak in Russian? Were they going to clown in Russian? ANSWER: IT DOESN'T MATTER IT BLEW MY MIND I'M GOING TO JOIN A RUSSIAN CLOWN TROUPE SOME DAY. It was simply amazing. The sketches were mostly wordless and, because they were totally impeccable and precise, infinitely expressive. The lead woman (the troupe was composed of 4 women and 2 men - who says the womens can't do physical funny?!) was simply incredible as the pregnant, powerful, flirting, scolding, tempting matriarch. Oh my goodness, ask me about the business with the chalk and the business with the rocking chair and the business with the phone and the pillows and the chandelier sometime, I will do my best to explain how it made me feel. INCREDIBLE. A long busride home from Hackney, then another bus over to the National Theatre to catch "H of D," a Polish company's riff on Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Let me just say this: after the surgical precision of the Russian clowns, these Polish experimentalists looked a little ridiculous. Or at least under-rehearsed: a naked man who was supposed to be dead nearly fell out of the dumpster he was being pushed into and had to correct mid-fall (awkward for everyone), some men in futuristic paintballing suits pranced about aimlessly on spring-loaded stilts while firing white smoke at fellow actors, and in the end, a big piece of fabric was set alight and bits of flaming cloth drifted casually into the audience. OUCH. It was quite the experience seeing one after the other. Thankfully, H of D was short, so we went up to the National Theatre's "Late Lounge," a neato bar area on the top floor with great view of the night-scene Thames. We closed the place down, then walked home to go to sleep.

SATURDAY: Woke up, then began scouring the internet for an afternoon activity - stopped by the Senate House library to pick up some neccessary books before trekking to the National for Tennessee Williams' "The Rose Tattoo." Zoe Wanamaker starred, and she was truly terrific. The set was incredible - an entire southern house on stage, which rotated, such that one had different views of the front and side porches, the main room, the work room, etc. Miraculously, the sight lines were always good - never did this suggestion of an utterly complete house prevent the audience from seeing the actors. In the background, a high wooden fence with vertical slats was used to particularly great effect: cars and trucks would pull up, and one could hear the approach as car lights swiveled through the slats and shone into the audience - way cool. The only problem was the occasional accent slip: I can't imagine being a British actor having to do a Southern-Italian-American accent: one line sounded like this: "Mahmah, ah'm ashaymed (Southern!), ah trrrried (SCOTTISH?!) tuh tell you (Southern again)." It was a rather unsettling to listen to at times, but I don't think the Brits in the audience noticed at all. After the play, I met Cassie at Russell Square, and we went to The Hare and Tortoise for dinner - H&T is cheap but good Chinese food, and it felt really civilized to eat a warm meal at a table. We then went to Waitrose, yet another fantastic grocery store, and went home to find a hoppin' nigth spot. We found a bar called FILTHY MCNASTY'S. Yes, FILTHY MCNASTY'S. Which was featuring an indie band fronted by a woman: FILTHY MCNASTY'S and some alternative music - what could be better?!? We walked the short distance to the pub only to find that it was neither Filthy nor McNasty, and not even that funky. Pretty run of the mill, actually. And the band turned out to be one mediocre girl singer and her guitar-playing buddy. We got out while we could, and met some others at a bar less well-named but which stayed open later. By this time it was raining rivers, but as it was time to walk home, Cassie and I, sans umbrellas, made the long, wet, puddle-plagued journey back to Hughes Parry with a self-sung soundtrack of rain-themed tunes. It was epic. Some drying off, then bed.

SUNDAY: Woke up latish and finally got outside to Regent's Park. Regent's Park is huge and totally lovely, and features large rose gardens with variety after variety planted and cared for and paintstakingly labeled. My favorite was the Wandering Minstrel rose, with the Sexy Rexy a close second. There was a great jazz combo playing in one of the outdoor theatres, and I sat on the lawn with some plays and suntanned and read and listened. The walk home was long, and Cassie and I made pasta for dinner. Then some architecture writing and researching, and bed.

MONDAY: Woke up for architecture class, followed by a quick and delicious omelette and chips lunch with Cassie at the local lunch establishment "The Snack Bar." We then made our way down to the newly-reopened Royal Festival Hall for a terrific private tour (during which we spent some quality time in the royal box). I wandered down to the Millennium Bridge to take photos and look around, then realized I'd forgotten my ticket for the evening's play, Pinter's "The Hothouse." A trek all the way back to Hughes Parry and then back to the South Bank frustrated my sense of efficiency, but thankfully "The Hothouse" was terrific: very funny and well-designed and generally well-acted. After the play, a small group of us went out to a nearby pub, where I had cider - CIDER IS GOOD. I have found something I like. Perhaps I like it because it tastes like Martinelli's sparking apple juice. Clearly my tastes are becoming more sophisticated. Another walk home and then... sleeping.

TUESDAY: A great discussion in theatre of "Torn" and "The Hothouse." In the afternoon interval I slept before making my way to the British Library for BL Round Two, which featured: the Magna Carta, the orignal Hallelujah Chorus musical score, letters from Jane Austen, Wilfred Owen hand-written poems, and SHAKESPEARE. Folios and first editions and little books o' sonnets published while he was alive. WHOA. Exhausting: I did not make it to the Historical Documents, America, Science, or Printing sections. Sheesh. Cassie and I walked down to the South Bank to see the British Film Institute's big-screen showing of "Apocalypse Now." The BFI center is yet another pearl in this strand: the South Bank is simply incredible. The National Theatre, the British Film Institute, the Royal Festival Hall, and the Tate Modern all within five minutes walking. It's sort of unfair, really. "Apocalypse Now" was great, and we exited the theatre just in time to see another performance of "H of D" taking place outside the National. Pretty interesting how one book can spark such different creative renditions. The walk home, which is becoming increasingly routine and in some ways very pleasing, then bed.

WEDNESDAY: Woke up for breakfast, then caught a train with Cassie and Jenny N. to Cambridge. The hour ride left us about a twenty-minute walk from central campus, where we met Marshall, who is spending the summer studying there through a really fantastic Yale program. He walked us through lawns which NO ONE WALKS ON and through lawns FOR CROQUET ONLY and lawns in which it was acceptable TO SIT ON THE EDGE. Ridiculous, but also utterly pristine. He sent us toward the river, where we lounged about while he finished a few things for class. We then reconvened and went to lunch, but only after Marshall had flashed his impressive "King's College pass" in order to get us in. Cambridge is odd: because it's such a tourist attraction, the colleges have very limited visiting schedules and charge admission. WHAT? Can you imagine Yale charging admission? To tourists? No way. I had my first (and perhaps last) run-in with fish and chips at the charming Copper Kettle cafe, and then... WE WENT PUNTING! King's College rented us a boat, which Marshall knew how to pilot, and off we went down the River Cam. Totally incredible. Cassie punted, and I punted, and by the end, I think I got the hang of it. The river was packed - young men sans shirts punting large groups of tourists, large groups of incompetent tourists trying to punt themselves, fathers who fell in trying to punt their families ("Don't leave your stick in the water"), etc, etc. Thank goodness Marshall knew what he was doing - I don't think we looked half bad most of the time. The river trip was actually sublime, and afterwards we had ice cream. Marshall had to go to a class, so we said goodbye and found ourselves a spot on a bridge to observe the river traffic. The sun and water and untouchable grass all came together to create a welcome change of scene. We strolled back to the train station through free-ranging cattle and free-ranging fields, and took the railroad home. Back to Hughes Parry once again, all Cambridged out.