Wednesday, May 31, 2006

state of the art

Here are some of my favorite pieces from the Tate Modern:

Whaam! by Roy Liechtenstein

Roaring Fourties, by Tacita Dean

Painting, by Joan Miro

Portrait of a Young Woman, by Meredith Frampton

Red on Maroon, by Mark Rothko

Composition B with Red, by Piet Mondrian

A Memory, by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy

Judi Dench, who, though not a piece of Tate Modern art, was brilliant in this evening's production of Hayfever.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Katherine, Anne, Jane, Anne, Catherine, Catherine

I went to Hampton Court today to see the palace of Henry VIII's six wives. I took my one wife along. It's nice just having one wife. It's hard to hold the hands of six wives when you are walking through the Hampton gardens.

As soon as we got to Hampton, the students spread out like red ants. It's hard not to at Hampton, where the grass stretches on and on, and every corner reveals another fountain or the world's longest grape vine. Lexi found a secret garden. Missy stole a rose. I tried to steal a Jazzy to ride around on, but the lady caught me. And when I told her that I had recently had back surgery, she wasn't having it! She asked for a 'credit card or something' that proves that I had just had surgery. Sorry, but who gives out special credit cards after surgery? I think she was making that up. She was a grouch. She didn't appreciate me trying to steal that Jazzy.

We went through Henry's palace, listening to the audio tour. Lisa and I made sure that we punched in the secret code at exactly the same time, just to be sure that we heard the same jokes in our headphones at exactly the same moment. We would look at each other and laugh, as if to say 'I really liked that joke' or 'What an interesting bit of information!' or, in the haunted hallway, 'Spooky.'

I have a lot of respect for Henry VIII because I played him in A Man for All Seasons at BYU. Everyone thinks of Henry VIII as this fat guy who beheads wives and gnaws on turkey legs. But did you know that in his day he was quite handsome and athletic? How do you think I got cast? His best feature was his legs. He wore a lot of tights. You should have seen the tights I had to wear in that show.

This doesn't have anything to do with Henry VIII, but I took Lisa to Mary Poppins tonight. One of the songs in it is called 'Practically Perfect in Every Way.' It's not hard, I think, to make the obvious connection to my date.

putting it together

Lisa and I painted the town something fierce today, aided and abetted by Adam and Loraine. You'll remember Adam and Loraine; they are British. But they are also American. It depends on who they are with and where they are at the moment. They are mostly British, but they talk really loud. So they are kind of American. We walked around London today, talking really loud.

We started at the Patisserie on Gloucester Road. The same one where I saw Raquel Cassidy my second day here. It's my neighborhood Patisserie. In walks Raquel Cassidy again! No big deal this time. I'm used to seeing celebrities walking around Kensington now (just wait to hear who I saw tonight!)We ate some breakfast and overstayed our welcome, which didn't bother us at all, because we were busy gossiping about YOU.

We took the double decker from there down to Leicester, and walked to Covent Garden. This being Bank Holiday (just what the English need; one more day to loaf around and drink) Covent Garden was packed. Lisa wore some ill-advised shoes. They were silver and new, but alas, they gave her blisters. I guess that's what happens when you "Pay less." So we sat on the steps of Covent Garden as she applied some plasters on her gaping ankle wound (plasters are band-aids.) Then we watched all kinds of street performers do special tricks.

I have a new obsession! Those people who spray themselves gold or silver and act like statues. I like to watch them, but mostly I like to pretend like I can do that. I did it for a few minutes in Covent Garden, and Lisa and Adam put money in my cap. When I get home I'll show you how good I am at the statue performance. Not to brag, but I am really good at it. I'm not hiding my candles under a bushel.

The weather was inexplicable. Hot, cold, sun, rain, nothing could be predicted.

We ate again at a place called The Stockpot. It's a diner south of Picadilly. We had a three course meal, and of course I went with the Bangers and Mash. We talked a lot at the Stockpot. It was sort of like a Village Inn, without the food poisoning.

Lisa, Loraine and I saw Sunday in the Park with George tonight, which happens to be my favorite Sondheim musical. I loved it. It was beautiful, and the set was thrilling. Much of what they did with it was computer generated, so walls shifted and dogs and monkeys jumped around the stage via projection. It was seamless, and the music, as always, was eclectic and tight. Lisa had never seen it, so it was exciting for me to watch her. We were on the front row. Spitting distance.

At intermission we saw Trey Parker and Matt Stone in the lobby. The creators of South Park! I told you I saw some big celebs tonight!

Sunday, May 28, 2006

sunday in the park with lisa

Welcome to London, birthday girl.

aint no sunshine

I would really like to tell you all about my day, but some bonehead at the computer next to me is listening to his ipod SO LOUD that I can barely hear the voices in my head. And it's this repetitive rap music. I would swear he has one song on endless repeat. I can hear the lyrics. Hang on, I'll tell you what they are:

Trying to get a talking to!
Yeah, I'm trying to get a talking to!

(drum solo. And not kidding, he's drumming along with a pen.)

Who needs to listen to their ipod so loud? What kind of monkey turns up their ipod loud enough so everyone can hear it, and then drums along with a pen? Oh, I am getting too old for student computer labs. It's nothing but instant messaging, pub stories, and rap music down here.

More lyrics:

Round and round, now write this down
Oh, baby go round and round and write this down!

I'll tell you what. I AM writing this down, and it's no great shakes. Certainly it's nothing worth losing your hearing over. I'm just glad the drum solo is over. For now, anyway.

Anyway, in brief. It's Saturday. You know what that means: PORTOBELLO ROAD! We trekked our way across the park to Notting Hill Gate and walked up and down the open markets. I've never seen so many open air markets in my life, nor have I seen so many slutty t-shirts and incense sticks. I liked all the fresh fruit and vegetables, and the flower stands were mighty impressive. We had crepes with hazelnut and chocolate on them. This lady shouted something at me, but I didn't understand her. She was really intense in this thing she was shouting at me. I felt lost and afraid. I asked her to repeat herself. Turns out, she was hawking raspberries. I think she screams at people all day to buy her raspberries.I was wearing some old cargo pants that I had cut into long shorts, and a man in the middle of the market told me that that was a "really good idea." I walked down the streets in slow motion and Mark and Lexi sang "Aint No Sunshine," while I pretended to be Hugh Grant. No sign of Julia Roberts, the blue door, or the Travel Book Shop, and the seasons didn't change. But I did buy a Django Reinhardt CD and a scarf for the world's most beautiful woman, who I will be seeing five hours from now.

Tonight after a fantastic viewing of The Crucible, (a comedy....tonight!) we walked almost the entire way home. It was a beautiful night. Warm, and full of big city energy. We walked through Leicester, down to Trafalgar, across to Buckingham, through St. James' park, and caught the tube for two more stops. We sat on the steps of Metrogate and chatted until late. There is something alive and refreshing about London on a Saturday night. There may be something appealing about getting madly drunk and dancing and hooting on a London fun bus, but I think there is also something pretty appealing about chatting with good friends on a warm summer night at the edge of the Trafalgar fountains.

Thursday, May 25, 2006


Despite being the Mormoniest bunch of yahoos in town, a big group of us went to St. Martin-in-the-Field church tonight and sang in the Ascension service. It was pretty glorious. We sang with the BBC singers, who did all the descant. And then the BBC orchestra played Mozart's Missa Solemnis, and the choir sang to that as well. There was this one lady who sang so loud that I saw a chandelier quiver. There was one part where we were supposed to greet the person next to us, and say "Peace be with you." You could hug them, or shake their hands. It was easy for me, because I was next to Mark on my right side, so I gave him a big manly hug. But on the other side of me was this old man, who also wanted a hug. But I put out my hand like I was going to shake his, and then we had that whole awkward "hug or handshake" dilemma. And then we sang more songs with the choir.

When I say that we sang with the choir, I mean us and the rest of the congregation. But we sang the loudest, because, well, we're Americans.

You can hear us here


o earth, I will befriend thee more with rain

Getting to see Titus Andronicus on stage is a little like getting to see a solar eclipse. Everyone talks about it, but it never seems to really happen. And you have to be in the right place at the right time. Trust me when I tell you: last night we were in the right place at the right time.

Widely considered to be Shakespeare's worst play, Titus Andronicus is easily his goriest. There are 18 deaths in the play, most of which happen onstage. And not only do people die, but Willy contrived to have them die in the most gruesome ways. A woman has her hands chopped off and her tongue cut out, and is eventually smothered. Two errant men are hung upside down and gutted like pigs. Later they are baked into a pie and fed to their evil mother. Another character is buried in the mud up to his neck and left to the elements. Sound cheery? You haven't heard the half of it. Nor will you, because if I were to ramble on and on about all the atrocities this play eschews you probably wouldn't believe me when I told you that this particular production turned the play into a black comedy.

Is there something comforting about laughing at death? A guy onstage got garrotted by a stick while holding two pigeons. We doubled over in laughter. In retrospect, I feel so Elizabethan. Nobody loved blood, guts, and bombast like the 16th century folk. Nobody could clap for vengeance, laugh at knavery, and anticipate murder like the Elizabethans, unless it's Christopher Clark's London Shakespeare class.

What's more, we paid to stand through the play. No seats. Standing for 3 1/2 hours. And none of us minded a bit. And it rained the entire time - poured on us and we were sopping and sated. I would do it again in a second. The actors clearly loved us as an audience; we cheered and booed and chanted along with them, and they tailored their performance to us. At the curtain call, they jumped into the crowd, grabbed several of us by the hand, and danced a jig with us in the audience. Eventually they tried to pull us on stage. It was communal theatre. Interactive and alive. Shakespeare the way it should be done.

We walked home afterwards, shivering and spent. We could have been miserable, but we were too excited to bother with that. A night at the theatre is special, but a night like last night is legendary.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

a foggy day in london town

There is a great movie out there called Before Sunset with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. If you've heard of it, you get 5 points. If you've seen it, you get ten, plus a back rub. It is a fantastic movie. Technically, it's a sequel to an earlier film called Before Sunrise, which was filmed in 1995. It's also great. But the point of me bringing the film up is that it's basically just Ethan and Julie walking around Paris for two hours talking. There is no plot. But the scenery is so beautiful and the conversation is so engaging that you don't really seem to mind. In both films they walk around a European city and fall in love, and you sort of fall in love with them along the way.

Strolling around London today with my boss Grant Skabelund and his wife, Sherry, wasn't necessarily romantic. There were no careless whispers or lengthy longing looks (that I'm aware of) but I did take them on a day-stroll around London. And I thought it was great. My feet were killing me by the end, but I felt like I had given them a real feel for one of the most incredible cities on the planet. So, because you missed out, and because I love you a lot, I'm going to show you the path we took:

We started here in our neighborhood, Kensington:

Next, we took the tube to Leicester Square:

Then we walked to the British Museum:

We walked to Covent Garden, so I could have another pork and apple pasty:

We saw a street performer riding a unicycle in Covent Garden Markets:

then we made our way to St. Paul's Cathedral:

We went to the top. I'm getting good at climbing stairs:

We crossed the millennium Bridge and walked down the Thames:

We walked across the bridge to Big Ben:

We caught the tube home.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

under the boardwalk

My friend Adam Boulter invited me to take a little jaunt down to Brighton, where he lives, for the weekend. Anyone who's anyone in England goes to Brighton for the weekend, especially if they are old ladies. Brighton is known for being one of England's sunniest spots, and has a famous pier and boardwalk. It's actually very nice, though the weather was pretty much crap. I just had this feeling that I needed to make some Brighton beach memoirs, though, so I hopped a train and was down there in no time.

Most of the time we were there Adam and I made fun of the Da Vinci Code movie, which is the most ridiculously boring movie in ages. But I know some of my readers probably loved the Da Vinci Code movie, and I don't wish to offend anyone, particularly really stupid people who enjoyed the Da Vinci Code movie. When we weren't doing that, we were walking around Brighton and looking at stuff.

I'm a big fan of looking at stuff, but you will be happy to know that I actually bought stuff on this trip as well. I actually made purchases, which is where you spend money on something besides fast food and Cornish pasties. I found an old, weathered Union Jack in a bric-a-brac store as well as an Irish fishing hat, which I actually wear. You should see me walking around with my Irish fishing hat. I give off a faint smell of Irish Spring and I look like your grandfather. Brighton is full of shops, open air markets, street music, and art houses. Adam, me, and my other old friend Loraine Edwards, in addition to Liz, Alexis, and Kristen from London, had a great time just moseying around, stopping only to eat massive English breakfasts. Seriously, six farm animals and three tomatoes died to make up one of my English breakfasts. Money well spent!

Mid-day, when the weather was at it's blusteriest, we decided like any rational people to go to the seashore. Walking down to the pier was like walking into a wind tunnel. We leaned into the wind at 45 degrees, and the wind bore us up. The waves were monstrous! Big, yellowy green waves smashing all upside the pier. The ocean was heaving. And so was I, after Adam and I rode a crazy twister ride on the boardwalk! 3 pounds and a twister ride is all it takes to make me happy. Kristen and Lexi and I played a game where we would inch up to the ocean wall and, just as a wave was about to crest it, we'd run back to dry land. We were not successful with this game, and got soaked early on. But that's the chance you take when you take on Poseidon. I felt like I was on the Downeaster Alexa.

That evening, Adam and I went to a Eurovision Song party. I don't know how to describe the Eurovision song contest, but give this a shot.

It's like this song contest where every country in Europe enters their cheesiest, most incredibly embarrassing pop song. It's a huge deal here. As big as the Super Bowl is in the USA. Everything shuts down so we can watch the Eurovision. People have parties and place bets. The presenters are awkward and their English is atrocious. You hear songs you never want to hear again from countries you've never heard of in the first place. Macedonia calls themselves MACEDONIAN FORMER REPUBLIC OF YUGOSLAVIA. How's that for catchy? Anyway. We went to a party with Adam's workmates, two of whom are Icelandic, one who was Italian, two who were English, and one who was Swedish. So the competition was fierce! As for the American, I ate a lot of mini-sausages and Doritos, and took a leak six times in three hours. A new personal best? Possibly.

In the end I felt like I won the Eurovision song contest, because guess who took home the prize?

FINLAND! My LDS mission!

And their entry? Well, they dressed up like satanic angels, grew wings half-way through their song, and shot fireworks out of their guitars! Seriously, what's not to like?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

i go out walkin'

When I tell you that I spent the majority of today by myself, you shouldn't feel bad for me. I needed it, and it was dandy. The thing is, most of the students have taken off for the weekend; one big group is in Ireland and another left for Spain this morning. There are a handful of students still around, but not many. So after teaching class this morning and a quick trip to the Theatre Museum, I found myself with time to kill and money to burn. And by money to burn, I mean about two pounds which was quickly swapped for a pork and apple pasty.

So today I walked. I was alone, I was handsome, and the air was bright. My first destination was the Thames, as it often is on days like today. Windy and overcast, but still warm enough to enjoy being outside. Jacket weather. I walked over the Embankment bridge to the south bank, and here are some of the things I saw:

Here are some of the tunes playing on my ipod, which I will likely forever associate with the river Thames:

I Found a Reason - Cat Power
Hide and Seek - Imogen Heap
Fix You - Coldplay
This is the First Day of My Life - Bright Eyes
The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades is Out to Get Us! - Sufjan Stevens

Here are some philosophical questions I had while sitting on a bench by the river.

Where exactly did Adam come from?

How can space be possibly expanding?

Why was that pork and apple pasty so freaking good?

Then I joined another London walking tour, this one called Apparitions, Alleyways, and Ale. I know, I know. You think I'm a big nerd. Well, the cat's out of the bag: I am a super big nerd. And I sure love two things: ghost stories and alliteration. What could be more perfect? Remember, I'm still alone and I'm still really enjoying it. You don't need to feel bad for me, at least until the tour took a pitstop at a ghostly old pub, and everyone starting drinking and chatting with their buddies. Seeing that I was enjoying my little cranberry juice alone, again - a super big nerd -, the tour guide, Russell, motioned me over to sit with him. So now my nerd quotient goes through the roof, because the tour guide felt like he needed to befriend me. Doesn't matter. Within about 5 minutes, I had a friend for life. We hit it off. Russell is an actor, about 50 years old, and is a master storyteller. He told me ghost stories that he doesn't tell the big group. And I told him my stories about Miles in Dawlish and the ghostly voices at my school in Exeter. After the tour was over, and we passed through a churchyard filled with the bones of plague victims and the occasional apparition of a legless monk (it's all on our way to the Tube stop) Russell pulled me aside and showed me a few more places of supernatural interest in an alleyway off the beaten path. So pity me not! I got a special tour, and all just because I was alone, a good listener, and apparently friendless.