Saturday, August 08, 2009

literary giants

If yesterday was busy, today was possibly busier. But you’re only young once. Or you’re old but depend on controlled substances. Ha, ha! I’m kidding. I don’t...drink…caffeine….ha….ha….

Anyway, it was a great day to go to Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guard. Well, great in terms of weather. If you want the ideal day to do this you should go on a day when the weather is bad, or threatening to be bad, because then you’ll get a good view. On sunny days you need to get there at least 90 minutes early. We did not. But we got a good view of most of the action. A lot of marching. Some tall furry hats. At one point, a brass rendition of the Star Trek Next Generation theme song. Some horse riding. A lot of tourists. But it’s worth it to walk through St. James’ park!

And then? The Globe. I intentionally schedule our Globe tours during matinee performances so we can’t actually go inside the Globe. We’ve been in there for two shows already, and everything the students need to know about the theatre itself I cover in class. But when there is a show going they take you on the Rose tour instead, and I think it’s far more interesting. The Rose tour takes in the original site of Shakespeare’s Globe, and then a visit to the remains of the old Rose theatre, a theatre which probably premiered Romeo & Juliet, many of the history plays, and Titus Andronicus. And probably many more than that. I’ve visited the Rose a handful of times now, but I always get a little shock of excitement every time I’m in there. It’s nothing but old foundation stones, but it feels important.

We were on a time crunch today, since we were seeing two shows. So we booked it after the tour to Drury Lane to see Oliver. Oliver is the pricey new feather in the cap of producer Cameron Macintosh, who also produced Les Mis, Phantom, Cats, and Mary Poppins. There was a very popular UK TV reality show where several actresses vied to play Nancy in this production. It has proven to be a very popular show over here – and the theatre was packed. You can definitely feel a difference in the type of people going to a matinee of Oliver. It’s not the Arcadia crowd, that’s for sure. But it felt a little more like the vox populii, and I liked that. Not much snobbery. And the show is possibly the flashiest show I have ever seen. I wish I could show you the way this set worked. I’ve never seen anything like it – it’s astonishing. The acting was fine, it’s pretty roadshow, and that’s what I was prepared for. But the design of this show captures Dickens' London far better than any show I have ever seen. It’s a joyous and entertaining production. If you are in London, and you want a night of flashy London entertainment, you should forgo Phantom and Les Mis – productions that have run themselves into the ground – and catch this one instead. You can see a clip of the show here.

Tonight everyone was on their own. I like free nights – I know everyone is happy doing what they like, even if it’s just staying home and catching up on emails. As for me? A London walk. If I ever get a free night and I’m not burning to see another play, I do one of these. Tonight’s walk was The Literary London Pub walk. Yeah, I know how nerdy that sounds. But it appealed to me. Our tour guide was Brian, and you can here what he sounds like here. Brian led us all around Bloomsbury, which is a famous area for London writers like Charles Dickens, T.S. Eliot, E.M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, Anthony Trollope, Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. It's great, because your guide takes you to all these spots and then tells you these ridiculously entertaining stories about these people. Here are some of the things I learned:

St. George's church in Bloomsbury has been called Satanic and absurd. It has this strange pyramid for a steeple, with a lion and a unicorn fighting on it. Look close and you can see them:

This church also figured into the background of Hogarth's famous Gin Lane:

Nicodemus Dumps was "a bachelor, six feet high and fifty years old: cross, cadaverous, odd, and ill-natured. He was never happy but when he was miserable; and always miserable when he had the best reason to be happy."

Queen Anne had 20 children, was 4'9, and weighed 280 lbs.

King George III suffered from "fustication" but may have also been accidentally poisoned by his own wife, who fed him sauerkraut and lemonade from pewter plates. We stopped at the Queen's pub, and my Coke Zero tasted like arsenic.

Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath married at this church. Later Sylvia committed suicide by placing her head in an oven. Hughes' second wife killed herself in the exact same way.

One of T.S. Eliots Cats ascends to heaven through the top of the Russel hotel, pictured here:

T.S. Eliot is an anagram for "toilets."

Eliot had a crazy wife. She would stand in front of the Faber & Faber building where he worked wearing a sandwich board which read "I am the wife of T.S. Eliot" on the front and "I have been abandoned" on the back.

Virginia Woolf described Eliot's wife as "a bag of ferrets."

Karl Marx write Das Kapital in the British Museum, and Gorbechev called the Museum "the birthplace of communism."