Sunday, July 27, 2014

in brighton

After a nice start to the day at the Hyde Park Second Ward (which is a fantastic ward and very friendly but seriously needs to work at starting on time,) Miles and I headed to Brighton. Along came Maddy, Rachel, Brenna, Angie, and Chantel. We had a great day there.

The train to Brighton takes about an hour, and once we got there we headed to the Unitarian Church on Jubilee Street to meet Carlo, our bike tour guide. I've done bike tours in London, Paris, and Versailles now, so I can add Brighton to the list with much approval and satisfaction. Carlo was great. Very funny and clearly loves what he does. His job would stress me out. Getting a string of college kids across busy streets on bikes? That's ulcer town. NBD for Carlo.

We hit several of the Brighton hotspots, including St. Peter's Church in Preston Park, a Gothic-Style Anglican church with original murals of Becket on trial all over the walls. It was really intimate and cool in there. Here are photos.

We also explored a secret garden which doubles as a pet cemetery. I had to take a picture of the tombstone of Pickle the dog, because it dearly reminded me of Pickles the cat back home. (Not actually a cat, just a 6 year girl who thinks she is one.)

We climbed in the Preston Twins - the oldest surviving Elm Trees in England. Do you see how jaunty I look up there? Do you see that?

Later we walked through a field carpeted in poppies and cornflowers. Two more weeks, Carlo told us, and we'd miss it. It's all about the timing. Maddy and Rachel kept making up a musical called In Brighton. They created lyrics as we biked. The musical is about lonely American girls who fall in love with their bike tour guide (not Carlo) and they sing "In Briiiiiiiiightoooooon!" in an operatic style.

Here is the Royal Pavilion. Once home to Victoria and Albert, but for me it's way more famous as the Indian Palace the Snowman flies over in the Christmas cartoon.

Finally, we rode our bikes along the seaboard. Brighton was busy today with visitors from all over England, but the bike lanes were free and easy. It felt great to ride along with the breeze off the English Channel.

We said goodbye to Carlo around 5:30. He was a lot of fun, and there really is no better way to capture the essence of a city in a day. Nobody's feet hurt, and everybody looked and felt alive.

We ate dinner at Bill's, my favorite restaurant in Brighton. ("In Briiiiiiiiightoooooon!") I've only ever been there for breakfast, and the place is always packed. But early dinner is perfect; we were alone in there for a good chunk of time. And the dinner menu is fantastic. The food is always fresh, always hearty, and the ambiance is always colorful and energetic.

And then we walked to the seashore, making our way through the little lanes of Brighton. The sun was starting to set and the lamps were coming on all along the intricate maze of twisting alleyways. Eventually we found our way out and sat on the pebble beach as the sun went down. We were brave enough to get our feet wet, but that was just about it. That water was cold. Who were all those people swimming in it? Eskimos?

We sat for the rest of the evening on the rocks and had a great chat. Miles and I threw rocks at a can. Some seagulls watched us with interest. The waves came in and out and the night lights of Brighton came on.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

you'll find what you want

Portobello Road, Portobello Road
Street where the riches of ages are stowed
Anything and everything a chap can unload
Is sold off the barrow in Portobello Road
You'll find what you want on Portobello Road

What we found, mostly, was tourists. But I expected that. It is always thus. Portobello is crazy and crowded and noisy and confusing and it's also exciting and surprising and robust. There's an energy there that is oddly addictive and alternatively overwhelming. There's just so much to look at. And though we came with a giant group of the students, we were all separated within minutes. You can sorta expect that, too.

Today I found the secret recipe to enjoy Portobello. First of all, bring very little cash. Otherwise, you'll spend it. Secondly, walk the entire road - a good hour's walk - without buying anything. Then eat. You'll feel better once you eat. Then turn around and head back down the road. This time you'll know what you're looking for, you'll know where stuff is, and you'll know if you really want it. Amazing thing about lunch: it clears your head. I bought a leather motorcycle jacket - my first Portobello purchase in years of coming here.

There are also some fantastic side shops just off the road. The deals are just as great, but far less packed. Miles and I browsed the record bins at the infamous Rough Trade music shop, and then later we spent some time in the Spice Shop on Talbot Road. We smelled everything, and loved the fact that our hands smelled like pumpkin the rest of the day.

We also stopped at the food market and I told Miles he could choose lunch. He chose Bratwurst on bagels. They were fantastic. Packed with onions and relish and pickles and so big I couldn't finish mine. We sat under the bridge and sang "Royals" and "Ho Hey" along with a street busker. We watched a man put his head into a metal bucket and then stand on it. Miles joked that doing this must have been on his bucket list, which made me laugh out loud.

After lunch we went to the Museum of Brands, Packaging, and Advertising, situated on a little side street of Notting Hill. I've never been to this place; turned off completely by the worst name in museum history. And now I want to go back every year. It's packed - literally packed - with merchandise, advertising, and tchotchkes from the Victorian Era to the present. The woman told us it would take an hour at least to see everything and I scoffed at that. She was right. I need a half day to see everything. It's a cheery museum; funny, well organized, modern, and colorful. It's a prop master's dream. I loved it. So did Miles. It may be one of the few perfect museums in London for kids.

We started to head back to the flat for a rest, but stopped at the Churchill Arms on Kensington Church Street for a pint of Coke. We needed to get off our feet. This was an awesome place to do it. Completely covered in flowers. I've never seen anything like it. How do they garden all of that?

Instead of going straight home, we stopped in Kensington Gardens and read our books under a huge tree. The weather was perfect and the park wasn't nearly as packed as I thought it would be. Miles and I had the entire tree to ourselves. I fell asleep until a bug bit me. Or so I thought. It was actually a prickly weed I was laying on. Whew - spared again from Lyme disease or something.

Tonight Miles and I went our separate ways. Our first night apart! But he's a grown up boy now and I trust him on the streets of London. Especially since he was with Brian, Chris, and Kacey. They went on the St. Paul's ghost walk, which we did last year with Simon. Miles loved it. He told me all the spooky stories later that night. I was having a spooky story of my own. Alex and I went to see David Lynch's Blue Velvet at the BFI. Holy crap, that movie. I forgot how scary it is, and how campy. I'm never sure I totally get it, but it's always worth the ride.

Friday, July 25, 2014

garden in the rain

Despite what looked like impending rain today, Miles and I headed out to try to find the mysterious Kyoto Garden in Holland Park. Technically, first we had a hamburger, and then we went to find the mysterious Kyoto Garden. It was pretty easy to find, turns out.

 Holland Park is pretty amazing, with or without the Kyoto Garden. It's not far away from our flat at all and yet we rarely go there. It sort of gets eclipsed by Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, I guess. But I want to spend more time there. There are beautifully manicured sections, and then wild sections that stretch along forest paths. It's quiet in there, and feels a little like home in many ways. You walk along some hidden path and bump into a cow. Or a peacock. And it's in the middle of London.

We did find the mysterious Kyoto Garden, and it wasn't that mysterious but still very beautiful. It's a park within the park, full of koi fish and waterfalls and delicate little trees. It was built as part of a Japanese festival in the early nineties and then rededicated after the English assisted Japan in the aftermath of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011. Miles really liked it, as Miles loves everything Japanese.

After that, the rain hit. It was announced by some pretty heavy thunder, which gave us time to sit on a bench under a tree. We read our books until the storm passed on. And then we ran into Chantel, Angela, Paige and Ashley. We all emerged from under trees and coverings like birds after a storm. We explored the park for a bit, and then crossed the street to visit Leighton House. Leighton House is a museum and former home of the painter Frederic, Lord Leighton. It was beautiful inside. Full of Arabic tiles and stuffed peacocks and works of art, including some Millais. Miles got into a little trouble for swinging his umbrella around. Apparently he was 'of some concern to the alarms,' which we thought was funny. There was a Steinway upstairs that made my fingers itch.

We parted from the ladies after that, and Miles and I walked along the park to Notting Hill, where we stopped in a record store and Miles discovered the LP of his dreams, Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. He couldn't have been happier. He actually discovered two copies; but the one on the shelves was very worn and scratched. We left disappointed, only to turn around and see a second copy hanging in the window. This one was in perfect shape. So, we got it.

After that we rode our bikes around for a bit, but the rain came back so we headed home through the park, stopping only so I could get a picture of these rocks:

Tonight we met up with Alex and Topher to see The Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. I liked it mostly, though it's hard for me to connect with a monkey for long stretches of time. I couldn't remember the last one, so I kept wondering why all the apes could talk. But the special effects are fantastic. I may have fallen asleep for a few minutes, but was awakened by the lady below me texting. LOL and BFF on a bright screen in a dark theatre? Don't make me ask you to leave the theatre, lady, because I will!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

et tu, stansted?

You know what they say about the best laid plans. Or that thing about us making plans and God laughing. That was my day today. I don't want to go into it, because it's complicated and boring and doesn't make for good print. But I had some issues with Ryan Air today; big surprise, budget airlines. And no matter how I tried to get someone to help me on the phone, they refused. "You need to come to the airport," they kept saying. By airport they meant Stansted. It's 90 minutes away. "We'll help you there. But you need to come immediately." Immediately is not awesome. But I did, I came immediately. And I came in a cab because the buses were booked and the trains only ran much later. And the cab driver was super nice and great to talk to, and then his cab broke down.

And then Miles and I sat in a wheat field on the side of the M11 waiting for a tow truck and another taxi to bail us out. There were some bugs, some sunstroke, and some allergies. You can imagine all that. After an hour or so we found ourselves at a gas station up the road, and we had some Cornish Pasties which were a big mistake. And then we got to the airport, finally, and Ryan Air refused to help me at all. Just the most cursory, "Computer says no" kinds of responses. It didn't matter how many agents I spoke to. Woe unto thee, England! Thy customer service is the worst.

You know what made it all bearable? Miles. "What are you gonna do?" he kept shrugging. And he was right. Stuff happens. What are you gonna do? Later, when I thanked him for taking the grueling journey with me he said "us bros have to stick together." And it was completely in earnest. And I wanted to cry.

We made it back to London in time to meet up with the students in line at the Globe. And they could not have been sweeter to me. Hugs and jokes and pats on the back. What a great group of people. We shared some chips and sat in the waiting line and I felt like everything was worth it. And then we saw a puppet show which was meant to explain Julius Caesar to us, but chiefly what I remember is the puppets singing 'Tequila.'

Julius Caesar, I've often said, is my least favorite Shakespeare play. Aside from a stabbing, nothing happens. For three acts people talk about what they want to do, and for the next two they talk about what they did. I know it's rhetorical and political and full of intrigue, but those are also words to describe 'talky.' All the same, nobody knows how to goose a play like the Globe does, and they did their darndest tonight. There was so much about the play I finally understood, and I feel like I get the passion some people have for it. We were also spattered with blood from an onstage castration, so that's one for the diary.

She'll probably hate that I mention this, but Kailey burst into tears when we entered the Globe for the first time. And it was so sweet. And I remembered that feeling of walking in there for my first time, March of 2002. Who cares if a play talks too much, or your feet hurt from standing? You are in the Globe, and there's a magic there that sticks with you.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

in the giving vein

This morning I took a group to the London Design Museum, a hip little museum on a hip little street called 'Shad Thames.' Shad Thames is the definition of gentrification. You can tell it used to be a horror of a street in Victorian Times, sooty, babies crying, the smell of fish, murder, you know. But now it's scrubbed clean and is lined with Pizza Expresses and Prets and features a lot of dudes walking around with tight knee shorts and mustaches and nerd glasses (not me.)

The first exhibition we looked at was Louis Khan, an American architect who built everything in a grand, monolithic style. His stuff looks solid, weighty, and deliberate. Very modern. Lots of shapes. I loved it.

Here are Mr. Khan's drawing chalks. Something about the textures and colors of them grabbed me.

We next looked at some work by Daniel Weil called Time Machines, which was a series of melting clocks, or clocks in a bag, or clocks that looked like hanging mobiles.

Finally, we looked at the 2014 Design Competition, where we saw folding bikes, cars that run 100k on 1 liter of gas, Prada jackets with painted faces, 3D viewing masks, and everything else slightly terrifying and wholly futuristic.

 Here is a newly designed primer for Chinese Characters.

A lamp suggested by telephone wires.

More lamps, these built from recycled soda bottles.

We attended the matinee performance of Skylight, a David Hare play performed beautifully by Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy. There were no surprises in either performance; Carey Mulligan seemed to be Carey Mulligan, and Bill Nighy was definitely Bill Nighy (twitchy, mannered, rambling his lines with sudden stops and starts) and that's what I most loved about it. Instead of choosing a play that threw them into outer space or thrummed with African Masks, they chose a simple, quiet play about real people. Neither one of them looked overtly attractive or flashy. They looked and felt real. And the play was written so beautifully and with so much humor and meaning that I forgot, in some moments, that they were actors. It was just a real gem of a piece.

I should mention that, at intermission, I saw Jeremy Piven in the lobby. He was about 5 feet tall, wearing a leather vest and a newsies cap, looking about 20 years older and more weathered than he is, and smoking, I kid you not, a fat old cigar. He looked skeezy.

Then, tonight we were treated to Martin Freeman in Richard III at Trafalgar Studios. I think there was great anticipation from the group (who also spotted and stalked Steven Moffat in the audience) and Freeman didn't disappoint. His Richard was easily the funniest I've seen, if that was his goal. He lacked a little bit of the fear factor, though, and felt sort of teddy-bear cute throughout. But he's still really competent with text and super charismatic onstage. The production itself was arbitrarily placed in the round, and thrust into a late 60's office-style setting. Which functioned as some kind of UN counsel room as well. It was odd. And it was full of electric shocks and buzzing lights and terrifying sounds and old Queen Margaret lumping around on the floor. In a lot of ways this production wanted to be awesome; but being awesome can sometimes be exhausting. Keep it simple, stupid!

Kudos, however, to the great Gina McKee as Queen Elizabeth. Her scene with Richard, while literally duct taped to her chair, was riveting. Still a big fan from Notting Hill, Gina! You were my Steven Moffat tonight.