Monday, June 18, 2012

midsummer madness

Today was my second time at the Dennis Severs' house, but the first time taking a full group with me. Kate had never been there, so it was fun taking her and the rest of the students to see five floors of candles, cobwebs, carrots, and bunting. The Severs' house, I'd wager, is the most interesting "lifestyle" museum in London; it's a glimpse into the past in a way that no other museum can really match. You smell the coal and wine, you hear mumbling in the next room, and you sense that you have honestly stepped back in time. I can't describe it except to say that it's a full sensory experience. You hear, smell, and feel everything, and you're not allowed to talk. I love that place. I try to recommend it to people when they ask what to see in London. Unfortunately, the opening schedule is insane. Literally created by a madman. But for what it's worth, here it is:

6-9 pm Mondays
12-4 pm Sundays
12-2 pm Mondays following the first and third Sunday
Open whenever Robert Langdon is in town

(good luck!)

After this we hit the Northern Line and headed to Hampstead. Which I also really love. Going to Hampstead is like taking a giant breath of fresh air. You're still in London, in theory, but you're also hanging out with Keats and Shelley and Byron and eating crepes down on the corner. The houses have colored doors and everyone moves more slowly and has a friendlier sense about them. It doesn't feel like any London that I know, and I think that's the point.

We had lunch at the Flask pub, which was built in 1874 and still retains that Victorian feel. We all gathered around a giant oak table and ate our fish and bangers and sandwiches. Something about a pub is comforting and homey, and it always feels like there's a giant rainstorm happening outside, even if, like today, the weather is pretty balmy.

There was a shop outside the window from our table where we could see Judy Green's Garden Store. Nick, who can make me laugh on command, assumed the character of a really bored, lazy English woman named Judy Green who was not very successful at getting people to shop at her store. "We have some things here that you'll like," Judy droned, "and some things that you'll hate."

After this we were all stuffed (which you can only say in a blog and never out loud in the UK) and we sort of waddled down Hampstead High Street until we found the turnoff to Keats' house. Keats' house was closed, but no matter. We didn't need another museum today. We headed into the Heath, just in time to pass Jude Law exiting it. Of course I was the only one who recognized him. I jumped up and down and waved my arms like a silent monkey until he was out of earshot. Then I told everyone and they freaked out. He was with his kids. He was wearing a giant white Rasta hat.

The Heath was absolutely beautiful. Sunny, green, really so great. So nice to get out of the city. We wandered around taking pictures and singing the Lawrence Welk Merrill Sisters from SNL until I made everyone lay down in the grass to take a nap, though I think I was the only person to actually sleep. Because I'm the old man here. Ally freaked out from ants, Emily never actually laid down, Kaitlyn didn't appreciate my joke about snakes, and Topher snuck off around about the time I hit REM. But that was all fine; maybe the joy of Hampstead is exploring it on your own. That was my first introduction, and should be everyone's.

We met up for crepes downtown. I watched an American lady trying to corral her two daughters, and felt homesick for mine. And then we boarded the tube and headed two stops to Chalk Farm, where we had tickets to Twelfth Night at the Roundhouse.

I think Twelfth Night is my favorite Shakespearean comedy. I think it's close to perfect. And this production was a really wonderful version of it. The set and lighting design were stunning. Viola and Sebastian both entered the play through an onstage pool. Viola's emergence was a complete surprise to us, and Sebastian looked like a writhing octopus through the glass. This version, done in preppy modern dress and set in a worn down island hotel, was slightly more cerebral than I like (I want action, non-stop) but it also had some really funny moments and I thought Kirsty Bushell as Olivia was particularly good. I will never clear my head of Malvolio's cross-gartered yellow tights and naked bum, which we saw way too much of. Super funny and horrifying at the same time. The show looked and felt beautiful. This play is part of the "shipwreck trilogy" of Twelfth Night, The Comedy of Errors, and The Tempest which the Roundhouse is hosting. I'm excited now to see the other two! I hope they are as visually stunning and carefully rehearsed as this one was.

Late tonight I stopped at a hotel downtown to say hello to my jet-lagged friend Kevin Rahm, who is here for a few days. We'll be hanging out tomorrow, if I can keep him awake (caffeine pills.) It's great to see him. And I walked to the Westminster tube station just as Big Ben was ringing midnight. It's been a while since I've been there for that.

And further still at an unearthly height,
A luminary clock against the sky,
Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

-Robert Frost