Friday, August 07, 2009


Back in London, ready to roll. Today was kind of a biggie. Two massive landmarks in one day, and we spent solid time in both, proving that it can be done. First off, we went to St. Paul's Cathedral. I took a break from St. Paul's last year, so I was ready for it this year. I can’t visit St. Paul’s without climbing the 530 steps to the top. To me, that is the cathedral.

We didn’t immediately climb to the top. We actually took time to enjoy the cathedral, but after Paris we had seen enough churches to last a short lifetime, so after a nice seat, look around, and listening to some piano music, we headed up. First stop was the Whispering Gallery, about 259 steps up, where an angry French woman told me to not stand on the benches. I was standing on the bench to see if it was true that you can whisper something into the wall and it would be heard all the way around the dome. I have tried this trick so many times and it has never worked, but hope springs eternal. I stood on the benches in hopes that my sound would carry better and that Jason would hear it across the dome. But it didn’t work, and that French lady yelled at me. Then she yelled a poor little girl who was taking pictures. And then she told a man that he probably wouldn't make it to the top, because he was "too old and fat." Who hired that lady?

The view from the top was beautiful. The day was windy, but no rain. We completely overstayed our welcome up there, but it’s fun to play “get in other tourists’ pictures” and "spot that person" (red coat lady?). I love looking over the edge and pinpointing landmarks. If you go to London and you can’t afford a trip on the London Eye, do this. It’s the poor man’s Eye.

We all met up on the steps of St. Paul's and sat and joked around for a bit. It was a nice break from the climbing and churching. We took pictures. Most of them were of ourselves, but I did get this picture of a classic Englishman:

Next up, Westminster Abbey! The inimitable Fedra Jones told us that everything you need to know about London can be found at the Tower and the Abbey. I wanted to make sure both of our bases were covered. Luckily, we were given a tour of the Abbey by Jeremy Irons! On headphones. Jeremy told us about all of the dead bodies and made everything sound important and creepy. At the end of the abbey we sat in the choir seats and listened to a boy’s choir. Despite incredibly difficult (and often dissonant) chords, they were perfectly in tune. I thought it was amazing. I also enjoyed, as always, Poet’s Corner. I copied down this inscription from Lord Byron’s site:

But there is that within me which shall tire
Torture and Time, and breathe when I expire.

On the way home Levi, Jason, and I stopped at the Zetland Arms – it’s our neighborhood pub. In three years of staying at Manson Place I have never been there. As it turns out, it’s a pub! Pubs are basically the same everywhere, but there is something comforting about them. I always try to convince my students that pubs aren’t bars – they are meeting places. People of all ages come to the pub and stay and talk and watch the news. Usually my students come around to the idea that it's OK to come inside about the time we leave for the US. Oh well. We had a nice meal there; mine was sausage and mash. While there, I got a picture of my second great English face of the day:

Lord Byron re-emerged at tonight’s show. We saw Arcadia, by Tom Stoppard. Jeremy Irons re-emerged as well, or at least his wife Samantha Bond did. She played the lead character. Arcadia is an incredibly difficult play. It merges a modern story with a Regency story, and it’s all about math and determinism and chaos theory and fire and rice in jam pudding. You have to really listen and focus on it. Mostly I did. But the theatre was very hot. I think you can see where this is going. I had a pretty good nap through most of the first half. But the second half was great, and I thought the ending was particularly poignant.

On the way home from the theatre we stopped down an alleyway and I got a picture of one last great English face.
Recognize it?