Friday, July 31, 2009

to eat or not to eat, and eat, and eat

Today our good friends Adam and Loraine came up from the English coast to spend a day with us. Adam came because he wanted to see some old friends, while Loraine came because she wanted “to get on the bloody blog.” So you can expect lots of pictures of Loraine, which will hopefully equal the price she spent on a train ticket.

I took the students first to John Soane’s house. Adam, Lisa, and Loraine wouldn’t go in, because it was a lot of trouble to check your bag in and they wanted to sit somewhere and be witty and European. So they did, and I went in the house with the students. I love this house, because it’s crammed with every artifact you can imagine. John Soane was a pack rat, but in the sense that he’s packing ancient artifacts. You never know when you will see a sarcophagus or a secret panel or a skeleton. It would be a wonderful place to play hide and seek and a terrible place to raise children. My greatest discovery this year is that there are four huge rooms upstairs! I had no idea. Were these there last year? With the yellow walls and the huge windows over Lincolns Inn Fields? I didn’t see them.

The students left for a tour of the British Museum, left in the hands of a capable London guide. Lisa and I went with Adam and Loraine to lunch. We wanted to go to Nando’s Chicken, but it was kind of a walk to get to Soho, and Loraine pretended like she knew where we were going. But we found it, with Loraine promising Lisa a trip to a specialty cheese shop afterwards. You said the magic words!

We had a great meal at Nandos, and stayed for almost two hours, talking and picking at chicken bones. Loraine talked a lot about this mysterious Oscar Wilde book she had been reading, and kept hinting that we should take an Oscar Wilde walk (which we didn’t.) We also talked about Coronation Street and the BBC Omnibus. Finally, we discussed facebook, and how you should never leave elements of your personal information blank, because then people just make giant assumptions.

As promised, Loraine took us to that cheese shop! Man it smelled in there. Wow.

We also stopped by this colorful bakery.

And then I was walking, and I heard marimba music, and a bus splashed me. Right there in front of Spex in the City!Our last stop was pretty fantastic. As an early birthday present, Loraine and Adam led us to the Marks and Spencer by Covent Garden and loaded up bags full of chocolate eclairs, lemon tarts, and about 2500 other pastries. And then we sat at the Actors’ Church across the street and ate them. ALL OF THEM. It was a wonderful way to spend my pre-birthday. All too soon it was time for their train, and we bid a sad farewell. Lisa and I wandered over to Trafalgar Square, already missing our friends.

Tonight we saw Hamlet with Jude Law. I wasn’t sure what to expect from a Jude Law Hamlet, but in the end I thought he did really well. He was very easy to understand and I thought he was fun to watch. The costumes were very contemporary, with everything in shades of black, white, and grey. Occasionally a giant red curtain would drop and make a dramatic WHOOSH sound, which I liked. It’s become klnd of a cliché in the theatre to do the black & white & red thing for a show, especially for Shakespeare, but it didn’t bother me. The lighting was amazing. I’m noticing lighting a lot on this trip. And I liked the live snowflakes, though it would have been awesome if they had blown the snowflakes out over the audience like they do in The 39 Steps. Ah, well, I guess you can’t have everything. And sadly for Anna Marie and several others, Mr. Law was unable to meet guests at the Stage Door tonight. He had a “prior engagment.” But last week he allegedly smacked some lady, and he’s all over the papers today for impregnating some new woman, so I think the whole “prior engagement” may have meant a stiff drink at some hidden pub.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

39 steps, and then some

Today we had a free chunk of time before our matinee, and Lisa and I were not going to waste it watching Big Breakfast and whatever else is on BBC1, though we easily could have. Because if there is one thing I miss about home, it's TV. There! And I'm not ashamed to admit it! But we set out on foot for a little stroll, a stroll which I knew would culminate in shopping. So I girded up my loins and off we went!

Here is Lisa in front of the Ritz. Someday we will stay here. Someday when I stop working for the state.

Here is Lisa and me in front of the Marble Arch, except you can't see the Marble Arch because we didn't know how to angle the camera. So we could have been anywhere, pretty much. What I meant to say is that here is Lisa and me in front of the Taj Mahal:

We stopped by Marc Jacobs, and felt special because the doorman opened the door for us, and we were basically the only ones there. We didn't buy anything, because as I mentioned, I work for the state (poor.) But we did walk through Hyde Park and had a nice lunch at the cafe by the Serpentine:

And then the aforementioned shopping happened, mostly at H&M, and I got some new trousers for my birthday. Two pair of trousers, though one of these pairs would later prove disastrous. Having Lisa there was really helpful, as she talked me out of buying some mustard colored trousers. This is why I should never shop without her.

And then we hit The 39 Steps, which has sort of become a perennial favorite. Our seats this time were on the very front row, which I thought would be annoying, but wasn't at all. Instructive, actually, since I was able to see what was happening offstage, and I could see the actors giving each other winks and having a jolly good time. So that was really fun. And I always laugh really loud when the dummy drops at the end (SPOILER!)

There was only enough time between shows for a little shopping, so we went up Regent's Street to Hamley's. It's London's famous toy store. It's kind of like a really huge Build-a-Bear with escalators and a cafe. We got stuff for our kids, but I won't mention what, unless they are reading this. (hint: math flash cards and celery root)

Our second show today was Troilus and Cressida at the Globe. I was sort of dreading this, because T&C is one of Shakespeare's least performed plays. And it's easy to see why. The love story is brief and awkward, it's a war play without any war, and Troilus and Cressida are barely in it. The whole thing doesn't gel when you read it. Luckily, it's much better on stage, and I think most of my students agreed. It's not the perfect play to stand three hours for, but I have to give the good folks at the Globe credit for making it funny, visually interesting, and even musical. There were a lot of tattooed torsos and billowing maps. And I think I've decided that all of my shows, from here on out, are going to end with actors banging on drums:

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Lisa and I set off after class today, and we actually ate breakfast! I don't eat breakfast. I'm usually not hungry in the mornings. Maybe I'll drink juice or something. But Lisa, who is a human being and not a robot, is hungry in the morning. So we stopped at the hummingbird bakery. It's just down the street from our flat, though I have never been there. And we didn't really eat breakfast food, but who cares? I had a red velvet cupcake and Lisa had a blackbottom cupcake with cream cheese frosting. We ate them on the tube to Knightsbridge.

Because Lisa and I are young and in love, we decided to go with the students to the Imperial War Museum. Nothing really says love and springtime like trench exhibits and WWII bi-planes. We didn't go to any of the special pay exhibitions, because we never do, but there is so much in the War Museum to look at that there's really never enough time. It was fun to show Lisa the Children's War exhibition, which I love to look at every year. And then we had lunch in the cafe. Lisa had macoroni and cheese in a gravy boat, and I had a chicken pot pie. Can you tell I'm hungry right now? Everything comes back to food. I can start talking about Hitler and wind up discoursing on sea salt and pepper kettle chips.

Then we crossed the river at the Lambeth Bridge and headed to the Tate Britain. The Tate Britain was pretty spicy this year! Like naked stuff. I always think of it as being really demure and classical of an art museum, but this year it was pretty hooch in sections. They have added a lot of modern art. I particularly enjoyed:

Nocturne: Blue and Silver, by Whistler

Ochre Still Life, by William Scott

Yellow Painting, by Patrick Heron

And in the museum we bought the following:

Since our shw tonight was at the Donmar Warehouse, we had to swing by Neal's Yard not to buy soap, but to take pictures in that colorful little nook. Here is my best attempt at being Justin Hackworth:

Tonight we saw A Streetcar Named Desire at the Donmar Warehouse. I love Tennessee Williams, and I love the Donmar Warehouse, and I love Rachel Weisz so I was bound to love this show. And I did. Both of us did. It's wonderfull to see this play, an incredibly difficult play to pull off, done with this much clarity and imagination. And the design was fantastic. Rachel Weisz made Blanche actually likeable, as opposed to the fretting, panicking, annoying portrayal you usually get. She really broke your heart at the end. It was by far my favorite play so far.

Lisa and I, living large, had a meal at McDonald's in Leicester Square after the show. I know, we're big spenders. But we're on vacation - and nothing is too good for my baby!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

she made it!

Normally Sunday is kind of a sleep in day. Church isn't until the afternoon, and it's a great time for catching up on emails and laundry. But I was up at 7:30, and hustling off to Gatwick airport to pick up Lisa Valentine! I was so excited. I woke up about 14 times during the night, anxious that I had slept through my alarm. But I made it on time, though Lisa's plane was 40 minutes early. So while I waited at the gate, she was waiting for me at the trains. But we found each other, and it was a sweet reunion. I brought her safely home to Kensington, and put her to bed. Then, operation Lisa jet-lag was underway.

Not letting Lisa sleep all day, and her being an incredibly good sport, we set out with a handful of students for the National Gallery. It was particularly packed today, though the rooms are, well, roomy, so you never feel that cramped. It's only in front of the Van Gogh's and the Seurat's that things get a bit tight. But it's always amazing to see them. For some reason I was really attracted to disturbing art at the National today. I like the clock that turns into a skull, I liked the Medusa head turning the soldiers to stone, and I really liked the painting entitled "Boy Bitten by Lizard." Yowza!

Next, we moved to the National Portrait Gallery, and guess what? Someone has a new favorite museum! I was crazy about it. I loved all of the Tudor portraits, but I was fascinated with the contemporary portrait contest, where I saw:

Tom, by Michael Gaskell

2, by Stephen Earl Rogers

Georgie, by Mary Jane Ansell

I also loved the Fabiola room. Francis Alys, over the course of 15 years, collected hundreds of copies of one painting. And the gallery filled three rooms with them. It was awesome. You would think that filling three rooms with variations of one painting would be tedious, but it was sort of hypnotic.

I bought postcards of these three portraits:

Dame Judi Dench

Michael Caine

Harold Pinter

Next, we discovered a hidden gem, thanks to a tip from Ms. Fedra Jones. At the corner of Trafalgar Square there is a secret garden. You go into a hotel, take an elevator to the top floor, and there it is - possibly the most amazing view of London. See for yourself:

It was wonderful being there with the woman I love.

Then we stopped by Westminster Abbey for an organ recital, though it was standing room only. It's amazing to listen to the acoustics of that organ music in a building so historical and so full of stories that it's almost overwhelming. I love it.

Lisa and I had a dinner at the Kensington Crepery. I had the Brittany, pretty much like always, and Lisa had something with cheese. I only remember that because Lisa ONLY eats cheese when she is in London. I've asked her what it was called, and she only remembers that it had some special cheese in it. But it was delicious. And for dessert, we shared a bitter orange crepe suzette, which may have been filled with alcohol, but we pretended that we didn't taste it because it was the Sabbath and also it was all burned out during the cooking process, right?

Monday, July 27, 2009

portobello, petya trofimov, and ponies

Up and out early, as we were beckoned by the sights and smells of Portobello Road! It's always fun to check out Portobello Road, even if I never buy anything. Well, actually I bought a Nutella and strawberry crepe. But I never buy anything substantial, because the last time I did it was a shirt that said Cuba and it shrunk in the wash. But the weather was perfect today and we set out to see what Portobello had to offer. Hyrum and I got quickly separated from the ladies, because the ladies actually stop to look at things. We set off on our own and spied a few interesting things, including the Electric Cinema, the UK's oldest working movie theatre with the cushiest leather seats. There are actually leather lounge chairs, for those of you who may want to stretch out during your movie. It's fantastic. I wish we had those at our movie theatres at home, though if we did, people would stuff all of their kids on one lounge chair to save money.

We continued up Portobello Road, stopping to look at the fresh food section, and holding our breath past the fish stand. At the end of the road Hyrum and I ran into a pub called the Fat Badger. As far as pub names go, the Fat Badger is pretty standard. Pub names can be basically anything. But we couldn't pass up the chance to have a Diet Pepsi in the Fat Badger, and it hit the spot!

We continued our little tour of Notting Hill by stopping in at All Saints Church, and then continued on past My Beautiful Laundrette, the site of a Daniel Day-Lewis movie I have never seen. Quaint little parks and colorful houses abounded, and I decided that a Notting Hill flat may just be within my budget if I sell that joint in Edgemont.

On our way out of Portobello, we ran into these gentlemen who were singing about going to a "cow party." What is that? A euphemism? I don't get it:

We saw two plays today, and both were fantastic! First up was The Cherry Orchard at the Old Vic. We made it by the skin of our teeth after Ms. Mandy Lyons was mysteriously separated from the group, and I found her - or she found me - just outside Waterloo Station. The Cherry Orchard is put on by the Bridge Project, a company Sam Mendes and Kevin Spacey have created to fuse English actors with American atcors. They performed The Cherry Orchard and The Winter's Tale in NYC last year, and are now performing them here as well. The Cherry Orchard is a difficult play, no doubt, but I loved the clarity with which they did it. Everything made so much sense, and they found the humor when they needed to, and Mendes (who directed) had some really wonderful ideas for the staging. I loved when Simon Russell Beale threw the chairs around the set, and I loved the creepy zombie peasants! Afterwards we met two of the stars:

Ethan Hawke, star of Gattaca, Reality Bites, Before Sunrise/Sunset, and Dead Poet's Society

Rebecca Hall, star of Vicky Christina Barcelona, and Frost/Nixon

With a few hours open, we walked down the river to the Tate Modern, which is always fantastic. If you've never been to the Tate, it's located in a former power plant. It still retains the feel of a power plant, if the power plant took some E and invited Andy Warhol over. I loved everything, well mostly everything (that giant anime lady was terrifying) but especially loved:

Snack Bar, by Edward Burra

Three Dancers, by Picasso

Marguerite Kelsey, by Meredith Frampton

30 Pieces of Silver, by Cornelia Parker

Our second play today was War Horse. If there was one show I was most anticipating on this trip, this was it. And it didn't disappoint. War Horse premiered at the National Theatre two years ago, and proved to be so popular that now it has a more permanent home on Drury Lane. And I can see why. It's amazing. The horses are created by puppetry - the most incredible, lifelike puppetry I have ever seen. I kept getting chills throughout. The humans were OK, but it's not really about them. When the horses are on stage you can't take your eyes off of them. Or that little goose. You can see a live trailer of the show here.

And if you get to London, you really have to see it.