Tuesday, July 22, 2014

beneath every history, another history

 Miles and I had lunch today in Hyde Park. Lisa told me that I needed to introduce Hob Nobs to him, even though I'm sure he ate them by the handful when he was little and we lived here. I guess it was more of a re-introduction. So we had lunch and Hob Nobs, and an aggressive squirrel came along and stole one. And ran up a tree with it.

We jumped on a bus to meet the group downtown at the National Portrait Gallery, my favorite museum in London. The bus was old-timey and sort of rickety, but fun to ride. I don't think I've seen another bus like this still in usage. It rattles along, huffing and stopping along Kensington Road, and a kind little Asian man comes and checks your oyster cards like a train conductor.

I loved the Portrait Gallery, because it's another reintroduction; you walk through the Tudor wing and remember the faces of these people you've been thinking about since you saw them last. Having spent the past two months immersed in Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, it's like going to a really dysfunctional and scheming family reunion. Here are the major players:

Thomas Cromwell, looking anxious and fiscal. He's the protagonist of the Mantel novels.

 Henry VIII, hands on hips, making his demands, expecting that they're met.

Anne Boleyn, her lips pinched, her eyes worried, and always wearing that Boleyn family necklace.

Katherine of Aragon, bloated and righteous.

The Portrait Gallery was also doing a profile on Vivien Leigh. What a fantastic actress. What a sad life. I know she's most famous for Gone With the Wind, but her performance in A Streetcar Named Desire is still one of the best on screen.

Since it was a particularly sunny day and since I've always wanted to do it but could never force anyone to go with me, I took Miles swimming at the Oasis Center. Miles is the best travel companion. As long as I feed and water him regularly he's basically up for anything. And who can complain about swimming on a hot summer day? In the middle of London, no less. This place is tucked carefully behind the summertime chaos of Shaftesbury Avenue and Endell Street; literally in the heart of the West End. So calling it 'Oasis' was particularly inspired. Not so inspiring were all the Speedos; so much junk, so few trunks. Miles and I swam for a bit and then dried off in the sunshine of a little garden alongside the pool. Provo Rec it ain't, but we were happy to cool down.

Miles has been fixated on a store called FOPP since we went there on our second day, and I promised we could go back. He's been saving his money to buy something special, even though he didn't know what that special thing was. He just knew he would know it when he saw it. And so, today, he bought a Wilco Summerteeth LP to play on our record player at home. I'm excited for that selection. I bought a Vampire Weekend album as well. We're both excited to go home and listen to something besides just the Momo Tabs singing "The Impossible Dream" from 1977, a record we kindly inherited from Lisa's Grandmother.

Alex joined us for dinner at the Stanhope Arms pub on Gloucester Road. We first tried the Hereford Arms, but that place was for fancy people and mostly about wine and people saying 'hooray' so we went to the Stanhope, which is all dark wood and cheap balloons and sticky tables and just our style. I had bangers and mash, and it's about time!

Tonight's show was Bring Up the Bodies. This is the RSC's adaptation of the novel I was telling you about earlier. Wow - what a show. The way they were able to condense the action of that tasking and intricate novel was pretty astonishing. It moved at lightning speed and yet, somehow, captured the essence of the novel. It's all about Henry VIII getting rid of Anne Boleyn and marrying Jane Seymour. The RSC also did a version of Wolf Hall which, sadly, we don't get to see. I'm not sure how the show will be received by audiences who haven't read the book (my sense is that my students who didn't read it were pretty bored) but for those who have: you won't be able to stop watching it. Or thinking about it. It's that good.

Miles and I stopped by Somerset House on our walk to the bus tonight. It was all lit up and the fountains were going. We ran through them like little kids.