Friday, August 10, 2007

life at the top

Climbed to the top of St. Paul’s again today, for what I think is my 5th time. It seems shorter every time, though I still get the shakes on the last 50 of the 536 steps. I get this crazy vertigo, and I’m holding on to the rails with both hands. The last trek is corrugated spiral staircases, and they sway a little. You don’t want to look down. Of course the view from the top is unbeatable. It’s 360 degrees of London, and every angle at the top looks like a post card. If it weren’t for all the fatties up there pushing and squeezing, snapping pictures and throwing tuppence over the side, I could stay up there all day. Here’s a question: how did all the fat people get up there? I barely made it. Is there a lift?

It’s fun to take students up there for the first time, though, because it opens the entire city up for them. Suddenly they make connections. They can see where Victoria turns into St. James, and how St. James turns into Westminster. The tube is deceptive, because you go down a hole and then come up a hole in a completely different area of the city. You don’t have any idea how things connect until you walk them, bus them, or map them together at the top of St. Pauls.

Inside St. Paul’s, by the way, we watched four girls and one dude doing some modern dance while some priests played instruments and howled in a microphone. It was really so artsy for clergy. I was impressed. This priest with long hair was singing old hymns and Christmas songs (?) while the dancers leapt around on a big tarp. Right in the middle of the cathedral. I liked it, especially because I know all of the terms. I would comment about the choreography slightly louder than I needed to, just to make sure everyone knew that I was getting it. “Oh, that’s a barrell roll” etc.

We stopped at the Creperie again for dinner. I am a weak man. Let us not speak of it.

Our show tonight was Saint Joan at the National, and what a powerhouse! It’s the story of Joan of Arc, as written by George Bernard Shaw. I was worried initially because I’ve read the play and it’s really talky. Everybody talks and talks, and I was worried that I might fall asleep, and what’s more, that my students would lynch me for making them sit through it. Sure enough, it was three hours long. But what an experience! It was funny, agonizing, tragic, and hopeful. It was also brilliantly staged. The star of the piece is Anne-Marie Duff, who played Queen Elizabeth in the BBC/Masterpiece Theatre miniseries. But the real star of the piece was Marianne Elliot, who directed it. She used powerful live music and movement to create a battle with slamming chairs, and a set that raised on an angle so that soldiers could slide down it during the war with the English. She took a play that could have been stodgy and dull, and turned it into something fresh, awake, and visually stunning. I had my batteries seriously recharged tonight. And best of all, my students loved it. There are few things more fulfilling for me on this trip then seeing my students transformed by what they’ve seen. It doesn’t happen every time, but when it does it feels like a little miracle.