Monday, June 25, 2012

the air is humming

Yesterday we woke up to the seagulls, but this morning even they were  drowned out by the insistent bells of the Chichester Cathedral, who were more than hinting that we, and all of southern England, should come to church. As you can see from this picture, the Travelodge where we stayed was directly next to the cathedral, so it was sort of hard to sleep through it. The bells were the typical pattern you get all over the UK on Sunday mornings, except once they finished a cycle of scales and arpeggios they went surprisingly double time. It's gotta be the most exhausting bell job of all time. Crazy, crazypants bell ringing. Rob suspected that the bell ringer was on some kind of illegal stimulant, and I would have to agree. But then the bells went silent, and it seemed to work: the streets of Chichester were empty and eerily quiet. I ran into Rob and Steven down on the corner, and Jena and Kaitlyn on a different corner. Topher, Alayna, and Lauren were having an English breakfast in the pub. Everyone else, apparently, was at church. Kudos to you, psychotic bell ringer! Mission accomplished.

I also had a breakfast. A massive, huge breakfast. The lady asked me if I wanted regular size or large size, and I asked for large. And that's what I got. And I ate it!!!!

Before long we were back on the train headed home. The fields were green and I got one more great look at Arundel castle through the window before the rain started streaking the glass.

London, however, was sunny. Which was really nice to come home to. For lunch, I met up with my buddy James, who lives in Chalk Farm. We had a croque monsieur and then James gave me a little tour of his neighborhood and Primrose Hill, which is on the outskirts of Regent's Park. It's where Gwyneth and Chis live, you know. We hiked to the top of Primrose Hill and had the best, most unobstructed view of London from there. James waxed philosophical:

while I was busy looking at this cloud in the shape of a rooster:

After saying goodbye to my pal, I walked back to the tube stop through Primrose High Street, which James proudly told me "has no Starbucks." I caught the tube, but there was some construction (always, always on the weekends) and had to wait at Camden Town for an inordinately long time.

On the way home I stopped at Knightsbridge to see one of my favorite London things: the Harvey Nichols windows. I like working out a narrative for each window. For example:

"This colorful, stringy wig is so heavy. So heavy I turned upside down. Luckily my mylar pants are filled with helium!"

"Is that a lady-tiger? Yikes! I'm out of here. Good thing I'm wearing track shoes."

"Help! It's a giant leopard made of string!!! Where are my tangerine trousers?"

Shelby did a backflip. At almost the same moment, a giant pony crashed through the wall.

"We were just there, you know, minding our own business. Then this enormous fish from the Emerald City came out of nowhere and bust through the wall! I wish I got a better picture. It was banoodles!!!"

James recommended that I see West Side Story at Royal Albert Hall, so I snagged a ticket on my way home. I changed clothes into something classier (this is, after all, the Royal Albert) and headed back over. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the film, the Royal Albert is projecting the movie in high def onto a giant screen. Then, the royal philharmonic plays the entire score along with the film. So the original vocals and dialogue are there, but the music is entirely played live, with a full orchestra. To say it's powerful and moving is maybe an understatement.

I know my mother-in-law Shauna Valentine may disown me for this, but I've never really loved West Side Story. It always felt so hokey and dated to me. And the thing is, it is hokey and dated. The Jets all look like they are thirty, and their "gang" clothes look like they came from Forever 21. The Sharks are just white guys with a lot of pancake makeup. It took me a long time to get accustomed to the "dancing for fighting" motif, and the language is so dated and ridiculous. Nothing in it feels dangerous to a modern audience anymore. But all that aside, there's no getting around that Leonard Bernstein score. The syncopation, the rhythms, the frantic, racing energy of that score is like nothing else. And played live? At full volume with a full orchestra? It's a masterpiece. The light pulsing strings at the top of "Something's Coming" were incredibly beautiful. And the full force of the dance music at the gym pushed me into the back of my seat. And these sounds, coupled with Jerome Robbins' choreography, reminded me that, despite it's flaws, West Side Story is an incredible work of art. It's rare that a 50 year old movie still manages a standing ovation, but when names like Robert Wise, Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim come up in the credits, it's kind of hard not to stand for that. Absolutely amazing.