Monday, August 20, 2007


Well, I'm home now. I'm also jet-lagged, which is why I'm writing this at 6:00 am. I'm going to be adding a few pictures to this blog as they roll in, but for the most part I'm going to shut this site down for another year. Thanks for keeping up with me - it was a fantastic trip. A couple of details, more for me to remember than anyone else:

The Group:

Mark Pugh (TA), Wes Tolman, Cara Wright, Susan Boogard, Rick Priddis, Liz Christianson, Jason Hackney, Melissa Stevens, Jaclyn Hales, Alex Ungerman, Chelsea LeSeuer, Ashley Erekson, and Aurora Borjas.

I read:

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer
The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss
The Horrible Histories of Edinburgh, by Terry Deary
Mary Queen of Scots, and Her Hopeless Husbands, by Margaret Simpson

I listened to:

The Suicide Handbook, by Ryan Adams

People I met:

Phil Mode & Michael MacKinney, the confused barwench at Janet’s, Tom from Sussex and his Aunt, the “jumper” lady, Ben from Cambridge, Tim, Vicky, and Yvonne at the B&B’s, the little boys at the Diana Memorial, the tour guide who told us dirty stories about London, Jason the bus driver, the waiter at Nando’s who said “I have some beers for you," the weird lisp guard at St. Paul’s, the scary B&B ladies in Edinburgh who actually turned out to be nice, Zandy from Hong Kong who looks like my Grandma, the BBC reporter, the guy at MofV who looked like Marc Shaw, Shane from the Theatre Museum, and John & David, coming home from Soccer Camp.

Quotes to remember:

"Oy, David. It's me fava!"
"And what will YOU be having?...and what will YOU be having?...I guess I'm just a little confused...."
"How many feet in a meter?" "Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh....."
"It's a jumpa! The current pulls you right unda!"
"Guess what? It's Summertime!"
"When I was leetle boy..."
"Poppea, I want to be Pop-payee-a"
"I don't wanna CHANGE KEYS no more"

My favorite shows:

The 39 Steps
The Drowsy Chaperone
Henry IV, Part One

Pretty darn good:

Car Man
The Bacchae
Under Milk Wood
The Hothouse
Merchant of Venice
Love's Labour's Lost
Saint Joan
The Philistines


Carmen Jones
The Rose Tattoo
A Midsummer Night's Dream

Avoid at all costs:

The Threepenny Opera

Movies I watched:

The Simpsons Movie

DVD's I watched:

Rome: Season One

TV I watched:

So You Think You Can Dance (via Youtube)
Big Brother
That fill-in-the-blank game show
Richard Is My Boyfriend

I think this completes my account. Until next summer, Cheerio!

fare ye well

Our final day in Edinburgh, and I thought it was the best one so far. A good one to end on.

I’m not going to lie to you. I spent money today. I dropped coin. I’ve been really good, but today I went on a spree and I’m not feeling too bad about it. I’ve been trying not to be an impulsive shopper, and I’m getting good at it. I saw my purchases in town days ago, but held off to make sure they were exactly what I wanted. And today I got them. And they are all for the people I love. Sue me. I love people. Five people, actually, and almost six. She got something, too.

So I wandered around and the weather was beautiful. It’s jacket season, as usual, but the sun was out and there was a breeze that came and went. I loved walking around by myself.

Eventually I bumped into Cara, Aurora, and Susan, so we all took a hike up to the Royal Mile to finally walk through the Castle. The views were spectacular. We saw the crown jewels, which look exactly as fake as the British ones. Lots of Germans today, too. What’s up with the Germans?

Dear Middle-aged German Women:

Please stop cutting your hair really butch and dying it with henna. It’s not a good look, unless you are a lesbian.

Love, Christopher

Also at the Castle we wandered through the Military Museum, though it’s nothing like the Imperial War Museum in London. I’m just amazed by the Castle, though. Walking up the winding paths to the top feels like something out The Return of the King. I try to think of the severed heads on pikes, burning witches, and blood trickling down the cobblestones just so I don’t over-romanticize the place. But it’s hard not to. It’s just a spectacular piece of history, and today was kind of a perfect day.

After the castle I parted with the girls and walked down to Prince’s Park, which runs along the foot of the North Cliff. I sat on a park bench and read my Horrible Histories book on Edinburgh, and sat underneath the very Castle where all the horrible histories happened. It sounds a bit gory, but it was actually fun for me. I like the story about the cannibals, and also the story about King James blaming bad weather on innocent people and killing them for it. What a jokester!

Tonight at six we all headed to the park up the street and watched the students perform their Shakespeare pieces. They have been rehearsing them since they’ve been over here, and tonight we got to finally see them. They did a fantastic job. I told them that if they forgot their lines they should just say “to be or not to be,” but nobody really needed to. Alex murdered Jaclyn with a pillow. It was disturbing. Some teenage girls wandered over and cheered for us, and then showed us a really lame dance they made up to a Hairspray song. But everybody got to share.

And then we walked down to Starbucks on Prince’s Street, ordered some hot cho and pastries, and ate them in the park while the bagpipes played, the drums sounded, and the fireworks exploded from the castle above us.

Friday, August 17, 2007

many miles away...something crawls to the surface...of a dark scottish lake...

Up early today to for another mysterious trip up the river to Loch Ness. I was determined to see Nessie this year, and I knew that if I was really positive and hopeful that I would. I think I was even using the Secret.

The weather had turned drizzly this morning, but by the time we hit the Jacobite boat the sun had broken through. Here are some interesting facts I remember about Loch Ness:

1.It is 22 miles long.
2.It is 1.5 miles wide.
3.It is over 750 feet deep.
4.The water is black because it is filled with peat.
5.(and this is a direct quote) “There is enough room in Loch Ness to fill it with the entire world’s population three times over, with a little room left over for some mysteries and legends.” (read that statement a few times out loud. it gets more and more ridiculous.)

We trouped around Urquhart Castle, and I thought about how cold it must have been to live there. Mark and Jaclyn broke the rules by climbing down to the water. Even though there are signs everywhere saying not to. I wasn’t angry with them, just very disappointed.

Never saw Nessie, just lots of German tourists.

I hopped the bus alone at 1:10. I came back early because I had work to do in Edinburgh. The bus coming home was much better than going up, despite being on my own. I listened to my ipod and read my book, and the Scottish heather was purple and growing everywhere along the hills and fields. It was pretty stunning countryside.

Tonight we saw The Bacchae, starring the one and only Alan Cumming. I was nervous at first because his first entrance was him being lowered naked from the top of the proscenium. Classic bum shot. But after that there was no nudity (ala Poppea.) They had really jazzed up this version of The Bacchae, which is an old Greek tragedy. Alan Cumming was wearing a gold lame dress and make-up, because he was playing Dionysus. Then he had 12 black women in red dresses as his back-up singers. They were tight. There was wine pouring all over the stage, giant flames flaring at strategic moments, and this enormous wall of lights that flashed in our eyes every time Dionysus appeared. Pretty dramatic stuff, and pretty campy. We enjoyed it. It was also pretty short, so I think everyone was really happy. We liked the part when the mom literally ripped her son's head off, because it reminded us that sometimes moms really aren't kidding.

meanwhile, up north

Off to Inverness, and on a sunny day. Mark worried that the weather would change once we got all the way up there, and that we would be leaving Edinburgh on the only sunny day it would get. Ultimately, he was kind of right to worry. But we made the trip anyway. Mark, Rick, Wes, Cara, Jaclyn, Ashley, and myself.

We took the bus up which was, for me, sort of a novelty. Last year I took the train. It goes much faster and costs a lot more, and now I know why. The bus is kind of a trial of my patience. It stops in every little village along the way, and you have to sit by odd people. I sat by this old man while we waited for some passengers to alight in some little burgh. He hadn’t responded much to my conversation until this point.

“Looks like someone’s lost a dummy.” He said. I wondered if he meant me. I looked at him, and said “Sorry?”

He pointed out the window. There was a pacifier on the ground. Pacifiers are called “dummies” here. I thought it was strange that this was the big conversation ice-breaker for him. Sadly, that was our last exciting interchange.

Inverness is a beautiful city. We walked along the river, which is black as ink, and watched men fishing for salmon right in the middle of the city. We walked down to a little island I found last year, which you get to by crossing a series of bouncy suspension bridges. We took pictures, and there was a lot of talking about hair and hairstyles, if I remember correctly. We also found the old log carved like a snake.

We had dinner at Hootenanny’s, the most Scottish restaurant in town serving the best Thai food. I always love Hootenanny’s because I remember our hoe-down last year. This year the music was more sedate, but the food and conversation were superior. We told funny stories.

After dinner we had a craving for ice-cream, so you know we went to McDonald’s for some soft serve. I had a hot-fudge sundae. So we sat and talked more. I realized that it’s fun sometimes to do nothing. To sit in random places and enjoy each other’s stories. We also saw a creepy picture of a man with bunny rabbit face-paint on. Why was he wearing that face paint, and why would he take a picture of it and post it upstairs at McDonald’s?

Mark took us to his favorite graveyard, where we saw some teenagers chasing a homeless crack dealer. What a charming sight! Like a postcard. I talked to the teenagers for a while. They were super funny. When I told them we were from the US they asked me all sorts of questions about the ghetto and Tupac. They told me how awesome they were the whole time, and bragged about how they had been chucked out of school and for what. I told them to not do drugs, and they told me about the “Glasgow smile” which is a kind of torture. Ah, the innocence of youth.

We headed home. The air was brisk. We shared a room at the hostel with two Spaniards.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

the beautiful, the bad, and the beautiful

Our first full-day at the International Festival, and everything is feeling very Scotch. Lotsa bagpipes, lotsa kilts, and lotsa people dressed up like they are in a Steven Groo movie.

The Royal Mile is where all the action is, so I took the group up there nice and early to get a head start on ticket sales. The thing about the festival is that there are thousands of plays happening, and you kind of have to zero in on what you want and then hope you can get a ticket for it. The tickets are really cheap, like a couple of pounds, and the plays range from the truly inspiring to the paint-peelingly bad. We had both today!

Our first play was Under Milk Wood, which is based on the Dylan Thomas poem. It’s the story of a day in the life of a little Welsh town. Six actors playing over sixty roles. I really liked it. I thought it was charming and had a great energy. They did a lot of physical movement, and used chalkboards to create the set. I thought it was really inventive. It’s the kind of thing that turns a lot of non-theatre types off; because it’s very simple and very creative. It’s not hitting you over the head with spectacle. The Phantom of the Opera it aint. But I’ve know how hard it is to finance plays, and sometimes you just have to be innovative on a budget. The shows are usually better that way anyway.

The second play we saw was called The Threepenny Opera. I’d love to tell you about it, but it was put on by high school students, and that may be all the description you need. I would also love to tell you the plot, but I was too busy poking my eyes out with dull pencils, pouring Drano in my ears, and curbing myself to make the time go by more quickly.

Tonight’s performance was a real opera, and I pretty much loved it. It was L’Orfeo, performed in Italian by Spaniards. It moved at a snail’s pace which initially freaked me out, but then I clicked into opera mode and went into my special place. The music was beautiful and the set was incredible. It was the finest example of forced-perspective I have ever seen. I felt like I was watching something at the Paris Opera House circa 1700’s. It was so elaborate. You have never seen The Underworld, the River Stix, and God himself coming down on a fiery steed until you’ve seen this particular L’Orfeo. And chances are you won’t, so take my word for it. It was pretty awesome. I also loved making some new friends at intermission. I’ll tell you about them later.

On the way home we stopped at Frankenstein’s and had plate after plate of nachos. Wes busted out his best Michael Jackson dance moves and Chelsea, Alex, Mark, and Aurora gave us a floor show. I especially loved those nachos I was telling you about.

a shot of scotch

Thanks to the prayers of many, we made it Edinburgh surprisingly smoothly. I say surprisingly because traveling with a giant group is usually a huge headache, and I always sort of dread it. But everything fell into place without anyone’s suitcase zippers popping open, any passports accidentally checked on with luggage, and no emotional breakdowns outside the Victoria Coach station.

The only drama came on the bus to Luton airport, when a pleasant young lady sat in the seats in front of Mark and me with her kindly old grandfather. And then started to make-out with him. So it either wasn’t her grandfather or they are just super European. I looked out the window the whole time, but Mark was forced to watch all the nuzzling, careless whispers, and secret smooches.

Outside the bus was Bedfordshire, one of the most beautiful pastoral counties in England. Rolling green hills, yellowing fields, and little villages here and there. Of course I’m partial to Bedfordshire because the man I’m named after, Christopher Layton, came from there. And according to my genealogy, so did the majority of my ancestry. I understand why I was so captivated by the countryside – it must be ancestral voices.

But back to Edinburgh. We got here fine. It rained on us a bit, but cleared up in time for some fireworks. We’re here for the Edinburgh International Festival, where all sorts of different countries submit plays and hope that you like them. Unfortunately, we did not like this evening’s performance of Poppea, submitted by some Viennese Opera singers. The reason we did not like it was not the opera music, which was fine, or the random Cole Porter songs that kept popping in and out, but rather the nudity, simulated sex, and people drinking blood that sort of turned us off. You will be happy to know that most of us left at intermission. Especially if you are our ecclesiastical leader. There was one part where this crazy lady in a lime green, low-cut dress and bride of Frankenstein hair zipped around the stage like a crack addict singing “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” I’m sure this is exactly what Cole Porter had in mind. Needless to say, the London papers are all calling Poppea a masterpiece. We called it Poopea.

So instead we took a walk around the Royal Mile, which was amazing as the sun set. Edinburgh is a pretty incredible city when it isn’t raining. Even then it’s pretty awesome, you just have to take refuge in the local Subway and have yourself the Sub of the Day.

But the best part of the night was the 11:30 showing of Xanadu at the local film house, sponsored by the Scottish Bad Film society. You have to bear in mind that I’ve seen Xanadu possibly 16 times, but never on the big screen. So Cara, Aurora, Alex, and Jaclyn and I ventured out. No sooner were our tickets bought than I was being interviewed by the BBC and referred to as a “Xanadu expert.” Not to brag or anything, but I AM a Xanadu expert. So tonight ended on a beautiful note: leg-warmers, Australian accents, tiger shirts, roller-skates, and a cartoon love scene. Take a note, Poppea!

Monday, August 13, 2007


Sunday. The Sabbath. We rested. Kind of. Here are a few things I restfully did.

Church at the Hyde Park Ward.

Brunch at the Orangery. Don't judge me!

Carmen Jones at the Royal Festival Hall. Don't judge me!

Evening in Hyde Park.

Lost? Confused?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

beautiful, crowded, and strange

Another busy Saturday. More of the beautiful weather, though there were constant batches of clouds, and 56% chance of rain. Winds were in the East, and Nannies were blowing up and down Gloucester Road.

Blowing up and down Portobello Road were the Wolverines, prowling for cheap things we could stuff in our suitcases and give away to family and friends as exotic European presents. I love Portobello Road, because it always makes me feel like a bald, red-state Hugh Grant. No one in our group had seen Notting Hill, so nobody got any of my Portobello allusions, jokes, and thinly-veiled references. Their loss! I'm not going to tell you what I bought on Portobello road, because it might be for you! But I did buy a t-shirt that says Cuba for myself. And someone please explain to me why I did that. Portobello was packed today, which meant we trotted up and down the road like lemmings, but it was still fun to see all the antiques, the flea market, and the fish stands. One man got mad at Mark and me for touching his magnifying glasses. Another man gave me a free head massage. In retrospect, was that a good idea?

I saw a matinee of Harold Pinter's The Hothouse today at the National. Wow. Crazy show. Really spooky and funny. Social realism. It's all about a care center which may be a rest home, which may also be an asylum. The set was amazing - it looked like the interior of a really crappy concrete 1950's loony bin. The architecture was all ragged mid-century modern, and the walls all looked like cinder blocks and deterioration. The play itself went a hundred miles an hour, and I thought Finbar Lynch was a knock-out as Gibbs. Really smooth and really spooky. Spooky because he's a serial killer, and also because he looks exactly like Adam Levine.

After this we had time to kill before Merchant of Venice, so we went to the Tate Modern where I particularly enjoyed, and was properly guiltified by, the overcrowded cities exhibit. I also enjoyed these works:

Broadway, by Ellsworth Kelly

Girl in a Chemise, by Pablo Picasso

Workshop, by Wyndham Lewis

Also we saw a fountain made of statues peeing and throwing up, and a giant compost pile that sang Cyndi Lauper's Time After Time. Art is alive!

Finally, more Shakespeare. Back to the Globe for our final dance with the Bard. This was the best of all three. It was funny when it needed to be, tough when it needed to be, and a little randy when it needed to be. Let it never be said that the Globe shies away from sex. But MofV is a snappy play, the plot moves and there's not a lot of pontificating (until Portia's mercy speech.) Standouts for me were Dale Rapley as the miserable love-sick Antonio, Kirsty Besterman as the quick Portia, and the fantastic Craig Gazey, who made Launcelot Gobbo one of the laziest, east-endiest, thick-skinned servants I've ever seen. He was hilarious.

We walked home over the Millennium Bridge for the last time this trip. St. Paul's was lit up, and everything was a little nicer, a little cleaner, and a little more exciting than ever before.

tu-whit; tu-who: a merry note!

Today was a Shakespearean double-header, and my feet are feeling it. That made six hours of standing today. It's ridiculous to buy seats at the Globe when you can stand for a quarter of the price, until you are 90 minutes into a three and a half hour Othello, and then you think maybe buying a seat isn't so bad. Fortunately I know the in's and out's of the Globe, so I snuck into an empty seat for the second half, safely out of the view of the Nazi floor patrol who won't let the groundlings sit. Ever. Even if they are dying. And by the end of Othello, a lot of people were dying, onstage and off.

I thought Othello was just OK. Iago was played by Tim McInnerny, who I recognized from Notting Hill. I think he was sick during our performance, because he coughed a lot and his voice sounded raw. To his credit, though, he kept the energy up. Eamonn Walker was good but not great as Othello, but I thought Zoe Tapper was a fantastic Desdemona. Mostly because I like anyone named Zoe Tapper. Seriously! Oh, you do too? Great! Let's start a club!

Love's Labour's Lost was really fun, and I'm glad we got to see it. Nobody ever does it, and it's usually because the language is really difficult. It's not a really accessible play. Also, as I mentioned in an earlier post, it's super dirty. This performance featured mating deer, and the naked bum of a 65 year old man. They played up all the dirty jokes, and we laughed like we were at Scout camp again. Michelle Terry was a really great Princess, and seemed to handle the physical humor as well as the verbal. She was much funnier in this than she was in The Crucible last year. Go figure. She just didn't get the hilarity that is The Crucible, I guess. Trystan Gravelle was a funny (Scottish) Berowne. I'm giving these people props in case they google their names and find my blog. What? It happens!

I'm including this picture to prove that, in this play, one character gave another character a titty-twister.

Another thing that happened at this show was that a mysterious eastern european girl was hell-bent on eating Alex's hobnobs. Here's how it went down. Alex had some hobnobs, which are these chocolaty graham cracker cookies, and he was disbursing them to the rest of our group at intermission. Liz had one and had taken one bite, when this mysterious blonde eastern european girl asked her if she could have the rest of it. So Liz obliged, even though that's really weird. I was in the toilets. When I got back, this mysterious blonde eastern european girl grabbed my arm and said:

"Yessss, excuse me? Cood you ask yoor friend eef I could hove anoter cookie, pliz?"

So I asked Alex if she could have another one, but they were all out. She seemed really crestfallen, even though she had already eaten Liz's. That's pretty much the whole story. But don't' you think that's strange, that this girl randomly asks for people's cookies? And don't try to tell me that she was poor or homeless, because what is a mysterious blonde eastern european homeless girl doing at the theatre? I don't buy it. Save yourself the 5 pounds and go to Burger King, Natasha! That's my advice.