Friday, January 31, 2014

Stonehenge and Bath; or, RoseE Gets Lost in Museums

Understand this: me getting lost in museums is not a new thing. It's been regular practice since I was about three. Quite simply, museums are more interesting than watching the people I'm supposed to be following. So I'll wander off, either unknowingly or with the assurance that I'll find them later because finding them right now would mean I'd have to stop looking at the museum.

So we got to Stonehenge. We were supposed to be split into two groups: one to see the museum first, and one to take the little shuttle-thing out to the site itself. I was in the museum-first group. Awesome! thought I. So I headed into the museum.

About ten minutes in, I noticed that I didn't know any of the people around me. Did my people all go to the restroom or the gift shop? Probably. They're silly like that. I went back to reading about cremation burials.

Then I ran into Jarom. "Hey, do you know where anybody else is?"

"I think they went out to the place," said Jarom.

As Jarom is, at least in my company, as taciturn as a really, really good lawyer, I was actually impressed I'd gotten that much vocalization out of him. Already gone out? We weren't supposed to switch for another fifteen minutes. And I wanted to read about the modern druidic sun ceremonies.

I read about them really fast, as a kind of compromise, and then went in search of anyone that I knew besides Jarom. The visitors' center was deserted.

So I hopped on a shuttle and went to Stonehenge, making Jarom come with me.

Gray skies are very fitting for seeing Stonehenge. It's . . . epic. It's solid, and permanent-looking, and epic in a "I'm going to be here when your children's children's children's birth certificates have crumbled to dust" kind of way. I didn't get to ponder the experience very much, because who do I meet on the way up but EVERYBODY on the way down. Of course.

I was kind of shocked how close the path came to the site itself. I thought it'd be one of those pay-a-quarter-into-the-giant-binoculars-and-be-grateful kind of spectacles, like many national parks I've visited. You can't walk up into the site, of course, but you get plenty close enough to be very impressed.

I was mildly annoyed that I didn't find a Pandorica, though. Or a centurion. Well, there's still the London Eye that needs to be checked under.

Anyway, I did a whirlwind tour of Stonehenge and hustled back down the hill to make it to the bus in the traditional nick of time. That's okay, though. Like Mount Rushmore, Stonehenge is cool to see, but truth be told it doesn't actually do much. So you can see it and be impressed and then be done.

Anyway, on to Bath!

In Bath we actually did manage to pull off the two-groups thing, one starting in the Jane Austen center and one in the Roman baths. I started with Austen. On the walk there, through the very cute, very Georgian streets of the town, I entertained myself and bored others with my jabbering about how Austen was a better novelist than anybody before the proper literary genre of novels was even a thing. Or, to put it another way: she mastered the form before the form had even been formed.

The Austen center was a little museum, so it was physically very difficult for me to be separated from my very large party. And despite my mild annoyance that Austen had to be commemorated in a town in which she hated living, I was impressed by the interactive nature of the exhibits. There were cookies to sample and clothes to dress up in and pens and ink to play with and books to read. The museum focused very specifically on Austen's experiences in Bath and her novels that are set there, which I appreciated.
Penmanship practice.
They also had a very cute collection of film-adaptation memorabilia, the cutest of which were donated by Emma Thompson.

Emma Thompson is pretty good at drawing elephants. 
I also rejoiced to stumble across this lovely old 1920s edition of a book Austen would have had on her own shelf, and which has become firmly ensconced as one of my favorites. It's a good thing this wasn't for sale, or I might not have been eating for the next month.

I was sorely tempted to just sit down on the floor and read the thing (and you know I'd have done it, if I thought I could get away with it), but Dr. C. required my company for City-of-Bath explorations.

The most profitable of these turned out to be a woolen shop, where I ransacked the 'As-Is' rack and came away with a lambswool sweater for five pounds. It was discounted because it has a hole in it.

The words going through your head right now are "What hole? Where?" That is what I said. It took me five minutes to find the hole. I will sew up the hole when I finish this blog post. This task will also take me five minutes. And then you will NEVER find the hole.

So, between the sweater and a pretty pair of earrings that were also five pounds because one of the backs was missing (apparently an earring back fetches roughly nine pounds around here), I made out like a bandit at the woolens store in Bath.

Then I went to see the actual Baths, the this-is-why-it's-called-Bath baths. Here they are.

This is a freaking fantastic museum. Fan-dang-tastic. Great collection from the excavations here, awesome interpretive stuff, and . . . the bath! It's still going! Not to bathe in, as we have out-Romaned the Romans in developing health and safety regulations. But the pool here is still filling with water out of the excavated channel, and is draining out of the excavated drain. It is still warm and toasty water. They're using it to heat the museum. 
Water comes in here. It is not this orange; the flash was weird.

Beyond this pool were the excavated (but not reconstructed) sauna rooms and plunge pools and exercise pools and changing rooms. At various points around the complex, projectors showed Roman people wandering around. Inasmuch as this is a bath house, these wanderers often sported naked butts, some of which were attractive enough to be worth the price of admission on their own merits.

In the midst of my delighted wandering through the bath house, temple, and museum (and stalking a bunch of Korean tourists, because it was delightful to hear this described as a Roman mokyeoktang), I looked around myself and discovered . . . well, wouldn't you know it. Alone again.


So I had to take a selfie of me taking the waters.

The waters are not very delicious. But I haven't gotten sick since drinking them, so who knows? Perhaps Sulis Minerva, or Jane Austen, or both, have blessed me.

Two more footnotes before I leave this post and go fix that sweater.

To bide my lonely time until the bus came back, I wandered into Bath Abbey, as is my wont, and had a nice time exploring it. People keep telling me that Britain is now a very secular, non-religious country, but I keep running into lots and lots of religious people. But I keep running into them when I'm ducking into churches to go exploring, so there may be a sampling bias there.

Truth, be told, the churches are all kind of starting to blur together. But here's a bit that stood out in this particular space:

This is the altar of the Gethsemane chapel. It took me a few minutes before I realized that the pretty silverwork on the altar cloth is not, in fact, pretty silverwork, but barbed wire, which heads up the curtain and also forms the candle stand. The chapel is set apart for prayers for the suffering and injustice of the world. It was humbling and heartbreaking.

And on a less solemn note, the day after this trip was yet another night at the theater, this time Henry V. I made it on time, despite sneaking in ten minutes of bell practice (and in contrast to Tuesday's performance of Othello, which was rendered nigh-unreachable by a traffic accident. We managed to make it in before anything really exciting happened, though, and because it was an edge-of-town community-kind-of theatre, they still let us in, late and wet as we were. I'd been given to understand that the ushers at Henry V would not be so merciful, so by a goodly sprint up the stairs I made it to my seat in the nick of time.

Jude Law was starring, which would be super exciting if I could remember anything else he's been in. I was more engaged in feeling righteously indignant on David Tennant's behalf, particularly when Henry does this whole prayer-justification about how much penance he's done for his father's having usurped King Richard. And there I am at the top of the seating, scowling and going "Yeah, you should be ashamed! Not that he didn't deserve to get usurped, but do you have any idea how sad he was? Sadder than you are right now about how your invasion of France is going badly, Mr. Whiney!"

It was, however, an excellent show. I loved the Chorus, who looked a lot like Mickey Smith, and I even cried a little at the St. Crispin's Day speech.

Program-mate Tyler ended up with a front-row seat (from besieging the box office at an ungodly hour) and was able to exchange pleasantries with another theatre-going Shakespeare fan . . . Kenneth Brannagh. I was actually glad I was up in the balcony, because the only thing I could have thought of to say would have been, "Yes, I'm loving the show. I'm actually liking it much better than your film version. Sorry. It's just . . . this is very much a 'Hey, look! Characters, and emotions, and drama!' kind of show, whereas yours was 'Hey, look! Kenneth Brannagh reciting Shakespeare!' That and the haircut. What a truly goshawful haircut. Who talked you into that? Oh, and when you next speak to Emma Thompson, tell her she's really good at drawing elephants."

However, for those of you who doubt my ability to mind my manners in front of famous or important people, tune in for our next episode in which I mind some elaborate and quite obscure manners in front of Thomas Cromwell, Anne Boleyn, King Henry VIII, and the fellow who tends the cooking fire at Hampton Court.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Aaaaahhh falling behind!

So . . . the Wind in the Willows.

'Twas a ballet. 'Twas enchanting. The set was built primarily as an attic full of old stuff . . . wardrobes and benches and chairs and carpets. The dancers made all of these things into rivers and trees and caravans and prisons and the front steps of Toad Hall. It was very much like being six years old again, and being able to see all the pent-up possibility in everything around you. Absolutely lovely. I haven't any pictures, so I keep forgetting to mention it, but it was lovely. Kenneth Graeme was the narrator, and the cast were just . . . splendid. Telling stories with their bodies. Such a fascinating idea. Such a lovely night.

So . . . bells.

Last Thursday was my first ringing lesson, with ever-patient instructor Billy. I got to pull half-strokes; he caught the bell every time I pulled it so I didn't break anything. I managed to make the bell 'stand' once. (For those of you who are not experts like me, this means getting the bell to come to rest pointing almost straight up. Getting a bell to hang out in this position is what lets you change the timing between rings, which is what allows change ringing to work at all. And I did it! Once.)

Here is a bit of change ringing, for those who have not seen it.

The lady on the far right, in a moment when I wasn't filming her, mis-timed the bell a little bit and, I swear to high heaven, got yanked four inches off her box trying to get the huge tenor bell under control. And nobody thought this was a big deal.

So . . . last Saturday was our run out to Canterbury. On the way, we stopped at this very pretty castle, called Bodiam, which we got to climb around like maniacs. 

Canterbury itself is a lovely little town, though our visit was rather disjointed. We were supposed to see both the cathedral and St. Augustine's abbey. We arrived too late to get to the abbey before our tour at the cathedral. I planned to just go to the abbey afterwards, but then I walked into the cathedral and this was happening: 

Messiah Rehearsal.
I sat and watched until the choir took a break, then actually looked at the actual cathedral like we'd come here to do. So here's the altar where St. Thomas Beckett was killed, by four knights (their four swords are all worked into the cross here: two in metal and two in shadow. I thought that was cool. Also the blending of Thomas's death and Christ's death over an altar where we lay our souls in sacrifice.)

And here's where Beckett's body was entombed until Henry VIII kicked him out and stole his church. Well, Tudors will be Tudors. 

And here's where Edward the Black Prince is entombed! Even Henry wasn't gutsy enough to try to kick out Edward. So there he still is, with replicas of his stuff hanging over him. (The real stuff is in a glass case around the corner. Yep, his shirt survived the Tudors AND the Roundheads AND the Nazis. Told you this guy was a boss.)

Don't Mess With Dead Black Princes.

And just when I was thinking it was time to explore elsewhere, the choir practice started up again.

They'd closed off the nave, in anticipation of closing time for tourists, so I sat on the steps leading up to the quire, behind the risers set up for the choir. (Choir: bunch of people singing. Quire: space specifically designed for the choir to sit in. This choir was too big to fit in the quire, so they were on risers in the nave.) I sat there for the better part of an hour, singing along. I have never heard the Messiah sound quite so magnificent. The basses, like the voice of God; the tenors, like heavenly warrior-angels; the altos like prophetesses; the sopranos as high and clear and bright as the stars. All of their voices were ringing off the stone in every direction. It was amazing. And I sang with them. I sang Handel's Messiah in Canterbury Cathedral. Sure, I snuck into it, but I sang it, aloud, with a full choir, and it sounded awesome.

Guerilla performance. The things I come up with.

I left the cathedral when I was very nicely kicked out, and wandered the dark town by myself for a while. I narrowly avoided being caught in a hailstorm, which was exciting, and had dinner in a little American-style diner while reading The Woman in White, which is also very exciting.

There we go. Updated. Tomorrow, with any luck, I shall tell you all about what happened yesterday (a mad chase to see Othello through some truly tragic traffic), and what happened today (Stonehenge, Bath, Austen, and an Abbey) and what will happen tomorrow (Henry V) and the day after (Hampton Court). It's a pretty exciting week, and it's not nearly done yet. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

London from Above and Within; or, Last Wednesday at Hyde Park Gate

Lady Justice presiding over London.
So, in an effort to catch up before another crazy week starts, let's catch up on what happened in the last one.

For starters, the above photograph was taken from the top of the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral.

It was a long way up.

This is only a little bit of the long way up, and some of the least scary.
Here is a hole in the floor, about a foot square, looking down into the middle of the chapel. And I wasn't even at the top yet.
Being, as you may know, no great fan of heights, I had to make the climb with three points of contact at all times and with my camera's wrist strap buckled into my watch. But I did it. And it was pretty amazing.

St. Paul's really is an astonishingly cool space. It's a beautifully balanced and planned structure, thanks to the genius of Christopher Wren, and it's full of magnificent stuff, but the magnificent stuff got put in after Wren was dead and couldn't protest "Wait! I had it all neatly arranged! It was clean and symbolic and orderly!" Nope, the Victorians just went and plunked the Duke of Wellington in between some columns because there was room for him, and tossed Admiral Nelson down in the crypt next to a handy bust of George Washington round the corner from a medieval Madonna and Child that no one could think what else to do with. And then there's Samuel Johnson's statue in the nave and another Madonna and Child (modern abstract sculpture this time) in the aisle and an enormous pompous grand high altar standing behind the regular, everyday high altar because eh, why not have two? It's part house of worship, part architectural masterpiece, and part National Attic of Stuff.

Included in the category of "stuff": this truly amazing staircase, with each stair supported only by the one below it. 

 So once we came down from the dizzying heights of St. Paul's, we headed off to the Museum of London, which really is an awesome museum. I would have appreciated it a lot more if my legs hadn't felt like tenderized meat by that point. But I managed to catch a nap in a convenient medieval peasant's hovel, so that was all right.

It's not that I couldn't feel my legs, mind you. It's that I WISHED I couldn't feel my legs.
I learned a bit more about Roman Londinium, through a cool exhibit that tied Roman life to modern with such cool things as Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis and Winnie Ille Pu, which kind of fill my geek heart with delight.

I also encountered a number of very charming hats. 
I even tried a few. Even if this is the rather demodé Spanish pointed, rather than French round, style. I always did like the pointed a bit better. 
A portion of my time in the museum was devoted to watching Dr. O. try to achieve having all of his children in sight at the same time. This was extremely entertaining. Here, he has corralled one of five and is standing in an extremely cool map of London, coded by socioeconomic status at the turn of the 20th Century.
Many children may have been misplaced, but fortunately I found the Lord Mayor's carriage, complete with six life-sized horses to pull it. The horses are replicas, but the carriage is not; they actually take it out for the Lord Mayor to ride around in. I assume they remove the windows, because if not, heaven only knows how they manage to squeeze that thing out of the building. 

So, RoseE, you ask, are we now caught up on your exciting adventures? Well, no, not actually. Stay tuned for (maybe?) tomorrow's episode, featuring RoseE's first bell-ringing lesson and her debut performance in Canterbury Cathedral, as well as a surprise hailstorm, a traffic jam, a good and proper castle, and a fervent resolution to never again leave the house without a scarf. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

The King and I; or, My Friend Who Tells Me Stories

“Thus play I in one person many people, 
And none contented: sometimes am I king; 
Then treasons make me wish myself a beggar, 
And so I am: then crushing penury 
Persuades me I was better when a king; 
Then am I king'd again: and by and by 
Think that I am unking'd by Bolingbroke, 
And straight am nothing: but whate'er I be, 
Nor I nor any man that but man is 
With nothing shall be pleased, till he be eased 
With being nothing.” 
― William ShakespeareRichard II

I saw an old friend tonight.

After some little trouble, I obtained a ticket to tonight's performance of Richard II (and, though it cost the earth, I do rejoice that it was quite the best seat in the theater, smack in the middle of the stalls and much more comfortable than standing in the back). After some more little trouble, I returned to the theater in the nick of time . . . thank heaven for Barclay's bicycles, or I'd never have made those last few blocks at anything like the necessary speed.

King Richard was being played by David Tennant. I knew this, of course; it was the main reason I tried for these tickets this morning, rather than Tom Hiddleston's Coriolanus. David Tennant is a Doctor. He is . . . well, famous and all that rot, et cetera, et cetera . . . but when he appeared on stage, I felt as though I'd come to see a show featuring a second cousin or old family friend.

He is an old family friend, you see. He used to come into my parents' living room quite often of a Sunday evening to tell us all stories. In my bewildering, semi-autistic world where names and faces mix together like sequences of random numbers, I know his face, and voice, and name, and step, with a reliable and comforting assurance.

And yet he was also Richard, King of England, so assured of his place in the universe that he never seriously entertained such far-fetched ideas as the rebellion of his nobles. And sometimes in his jumping stride, or some little bit of self-interruption, or in some action meant to wrong-foot and tease everyone around him, he echoed another friend I once had . . . with the same face and much, much shorter hair. (Seriously, that was a magnificent wig. And I only knew it was a wig because I know that he had short hair the last time I saw him, and that human hair doesn't grow that fast.) But this person was different . . . thrown off by the universe, too bewildered to be angry, too observant to be insane, grasping futilely at the empty air where all that love used to be. His death broke my heart. And Henry, now king of England with all the same forms of legitimacy so cherished by his unfortunate predecessor, finishes the play by looking up at his newly-won throne . . . and there stands Richard, barefoot and bareheaded, clad all in loose white, one hand on the arm of the poor rickety chair. This is no ghost of King Hamlet, howling for revenge, nor a forgiving angel. Just Richard, that once was king, solemnly haunting the throne on which Henry must sit for the rest of his days.

And then the lights went down, and came back up, and down the stairs to the floor of the stage sprang my friend David, nightgown billowing around him, smiling the heady smile of one who's just successfully completed three hours of Shakespeare without flubbing a line or stepping on any pieces of broken mirror and is riding that triumphant high even as exhaustion starts to make the edges of his vision go all blurry. I know that feeling, and smile and sympathize as I clap until my palms ache and he and all his teammates make their bows.

There is a crowd at the stage door, waiting with cameras and pens at the ready. I think about joining them, but decide not to. My friend David is probably tired, and wants to go celebrate with the rest of the cast or go home and brush his teeth and go to bed. And anyway, standing in the middle of a mob in the pouring rain is not a good place to catch up with an old friend. So I head for home, confident that when he's rested up from this long and grueling run (only one more day . . . hang in there!), he'll be back in my parents' living room to tell me another story.

Monday, January 20, 2014

What's in a Name? or, That Which We Call a Rose

Moving on to Saturday.

The plan on Saturday was to get a ticket to Richard II. This would have been much easier if I'd actually checked where the theater was before I walked out the door. But I didn't. And it turned out that the theater in question was NOT in the Leicester Square area, whither I wandered for a while, at all. And the tube line that went directly to the theater was down for repairs. So I did not see Richard II.

So I thought to myself, I'll go see the National Gallery. Been meaning to do that. I hopped on the tube and headed back down southward, passing some stops now made familiar by Friday's walk. And on the tube, I thought. Yesterday, we'd been introduced to the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, which is a brand-new theatrical venue built as a kind of sister site to the Globe. It is a Jacobean, rather than Elizabethan, theater, much smaller than the massive Globe. In the interests of historical accuracy, performances there are candlelit. I'd thought on Friday that such a thing would be a thing worth seeing, so instead of going straight to the gallery, I hopped off the train at London Bridge and retraced my steps back to the theatre.

On the way, I found one of the things we'd been looking for: the Borough Market. I bookmarked it for future reference.

I also found a little sign pointing me to the Rose Theatre. I bookmarked that, too.

I got to the box office and enquired if there were a ticket lying round anywhere for an upcoming show. To my surprise, there was one for the matinee in three hours. Because it was a behind-a-pillar seat, it hadn't sold. I took it, stuffed the ticket in my wallet, and retraced my steps back towards the market to get some lunch.

On the way, I found that sign for the Rose again. What the heck? thought I, detouring thither.

The Rose is currently a tiny little space tucked under an office tower: part archeological site in stasis, part visitor's center, part hipster art venue. It seems they unearthed the site when the land was renovated, and the size and quality of the find took everyone by surprise. But there was neither the time nor the money for a complete excavation, and the poor theater's foundations started to deteriorate when they were exposed to the air after four hundred years, so the site was covered up with sand and mud and plastic sheeting, and then just flooded over.

What you see at the Rose now is a wide, cool pit of black water that trembles subtly at your footfalls. It looks a little like the gates of Moria. The walls and stage of the theater are laid out in red lights that gleam in the blackness. While the Globe is a triumphant monument to History Rebuilt, the Rose is a tenacious embodiment of History Defiant, stubbornly refusing to be forgotten.

The plans for the space are really cool. Suzanne, the nice volunteer who gave me the run-down, informed me that if they can raise sufficient money by June, the government will match it and allow them to finish the dig they started. Then the plan is to preserve the site under a glass floor and create a kind of museum about the archeology thereof. Cool enough. But the last stage of idea-making is to re-build part of the upper theater, making a semi-reconstructed theatrical space for the works of Shakespeare and Marlowe, where the actors will play with the ruins of the old theatre visible beneath their feet. Cool, huh?

I had a nice chat with Suzanne, and she gave me her card so I can call her if I bully enough people into coming back to the site and getting a tour.

"Suzanne, right?" said I.

"Right," she affirmed. "And you're . . ."

"Rose," said I, automatically.

She did a double take, then laughed. Rose in the Rose.

After my splendid journey back through time, I continued on my merry way and finally got my teeth into the Borough Market. It was less like an ordinary farmer's market and more like the Minnesota State Fair, compacted and euro-fied. For instance, what's that extremely noticeable and not altogether pleasant smell?

It's fromage a raclette, bubbling away under long cheese-wheel-cross-section-shaped grills, of course.
 And what's that crowd of people jostling one another to get at?

Why, vegetarian pies stuffed with potatoes and cream cheese and smothered in red-wine-and-onion gravy, of course.
And what are the knobbly alien-looking plants tucked in amongst the other vegetables?

Only brussels sprouts in their natural habitat. 
 And . . . wait, you're telling me that hamburgers aren't made out of ham?

Yep. These are made out of springbok, and ostrich, and alligator, and (I kid you not) zebra.
 And why does everything smell deliciously of warm coconut milk and spices?

Well, because you can't simmer three-foot-wide vats of curry in an enclosed space and not make that space currilicious.
And don't even get me started on the cheese samples, the chocolates, the teas, the wines, and the stacks and stacks of crusty loaves of every kind of bread under the sun. Oh, and did I mention the cheese? The noises I made while sampling those cheeses were absolutely not appropriate for a public space.

At length, happily stuffed on pie, apple juice, cheese, and chocolate pastries, I returned to the Sam Wanamaker. I was early, so I hung out in the gift shop and read Romeo and Juliet in manga form.

The Wanamaker is SO COOL. Everything in it is wood . . . not smoothly varnished wood, but new, clean oak, rough to the touch but splinter-free. It's structured like the Globe, two round balconies stacked over a yard, although the yard is much smaller and fitted with benches like everywhere else. In deference to modernity, there are plain cushions on the benches and safety lights at everyone's feet, as well as windows letting in the fluorescent light from the lobby. But as the show started, the actors lit beeswax candles on the seven big chandeliers that had been lowered to the stage. The footlights went out, and wooden shutters were slid over the windows. (I didn't notice any of this for a while, because a hundred beeswax candles are actually plenty to see by.)

I was, as mentioned, sitting behind a pillar, but it was easy to lean around, or even against, so I was fairly comfy and could see the show just fine. I'd never heard of The Duchess of Malfi, and I just loved it. Great stories are made by great villains, and this show had some of the most fascinating villains I've seen in a very long while. The script was clearly written for just this kind of theater, as one part of it called for complete darkness . . .  something that would have been impossible in the Globe, with its sunlit afternoon performances. The darkness made for a great, and genuinely scary, reveal. A table tried to catch on fire at an early point in the performance, but the lead actress blew it out with a none-of-this-nonsense attitude and went on with her scene.

Great, great show. Great trip back through time. Great experience.

The Wanamaker is still fundraising for their last few hundred thousand, though their first season is already open. There are posters everywhere inviting those wealthier than myself to have their name put on one of the seats for a small 3,000-pound donation. As I did not have 3000 pounds handy, I gave this prospect a miss. But out of curiosity, I did look to see who'd sponsored the seat I'd taken.

Well, how about that.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

All the World's a Stage

The church of St. Mary Abbot's, around the corner from my house, has a bellringers' guild. I know this because their website says so, and I know that because I spent many a long hour last December Googlestalking Kensington instead of writing papers.

So Thursday night, I set out to find them. 

As you'll remember, I've spent quite a bit of time in St. Mary Abbot's, but finding the bell-ringers was a new experience entirely. Instead of the brightly lit chapel entrance, I headed around the building to a back gate to a narrow and creepy alley with a tombstone in it. The photo below I took on Friday morning, when there was light; the incident I describe occurred after dark, in the rain. 

Heading through this narrow alley, I found a dark and ominous, but unlocked and open, door. This led into a spiral staircase of such steep and constricted dimensions that I was fairly sure I was going to die. But up and up and around and around I went, with the bells reverberating above me. I was fairly certain I was going to get to the top of the tower and step out into the Middle Ages, which led to additional concerns that I was seriously underdressed. 

Instead of the Middle Ages, I found myself in a carpeted tower room full of people and covered in plaques. Ten of the people were standing in a circle, each with a thick rope in his or her hands, pulling and releasing in careful sequences. All of them were off in another world, staring unseeing straight ahead or standing with their eyes closed, grabbing the rope by touch.

I, having read up on bell-ringing protocol, sat my butt down on the nearest bench and didn't move or speak until the bells were silenced and the ropes were still. Then the zen-like atmosphere broke up, and the bell-ringers smiled and laughed again, and gossiped with one another, and got a cup of tea, and asked me if I was a ringer and if I wanted to learn. I answered no to the first and yes to the second, and soon I was getting three-minute lessons on the history of English bell ringing in between sets. The whole evening felt very much like a cross between a Zivio folk dance rehearsal and a Salt Lake Scots pipe band performance. I guess that volunteer community groups specializing in obscure arts are pretty much the same wherever you go.

When ringing practice was over, I was invited to go 'round the pub. I accepted, and one of the ringers kindly bought me a lemonade amongst everyone else's beers. So that's three goals settled in one evening: seeing bell-ringing, going 'round the pub, and having someone buy me a drink. I was exceedingly pleased with myself. Someone offered to buy me another, but I declined, pleading an early morning. 

And what had I to do in the morning, you ask?

Well, Friday is Walking Around London Day.

We started this particular walk at Tower Bridge, which you'll remember from last week. Here's another picture of it anyway, in case you don't know what it looks like yet. 

Walking along it, I discovered that there are apartments or offices or something inside the towers. There were lights on. Further investigation is called for. 

We walked over the bridge and along the south bank of the river, seeing many lovely and interesting things, including Southwark Cathedral, which is very pretty. It's also smack across the river from St. Paul's cathedral, so it's kind of like that one spot in Salt Lake with the two stake centers right next to one another. Because boundaries are weird sometimes.

What I found interesting, and a little hysterically funny, was that in this precious real estate, smack in the Thames river, pure solid tourist gold, was a semi-enclosed mall, and in the middle of this semi-enclosed mall was a large pit of sand.

Is it an art installation? A spa treatment of some kind? An archeological activity center?

Nope. Know what it is? It's a pétanque court.

A pétanque court.

A game that, by its very nature, is made to be played on any old dirt road or random spot of grass you can conveniently find, has its own custom-built pitch in the middle of the London with a million-dollar view of the Thames. The world is very strange.

I also stumbled across Sir Francis Drake's ship, the Golden Hind.

There it is. It didn't do anything interesting, like steal stuff from the Spanish, while I was wandering past, though. 
The ultimate goal of all this walking was this week's glorious tourist adventure: the theater. The Theater.

Yep. That Theater. 

Our guide was one of the most delightful storytellers I've ever heard. She recounted tales of the Globe, both then and now, with perfect deadpan and a steady rhythm of additions and pauses that never let my attention wander for a moment. I learned a ton, including that the Globe is the first London building constructed with a thatch roof since 1666, that it's acceptable to lean on the edge of the stage and try to trip the performers, and that at the theater's opening, an actress playing Elizabeth I rode through the groundling yard on a white horse to salute Elizabeth II, seated in the royal box, and to be saluted by her. The Queen and the Player Queen, the Then and the Now. Where does today meet yesterday?

In a box that's bigger on the inside, of course.
Waiting for a player to trip. 
I also learned that recently the Globe did a whirlwind series of the Complete Plays, each one done by a theater group from a different country . . . in that country's native language. A Midsummer Night's Dream in Korean, by a Korean team, played to a houseful of English Londoners without translation. Troilus and Cressida in Maori, played by Maori actors and dancers, in a precolonial cultural context. Julius Caesar returning to the roots of its roots, played in Italian. The delicious irony of The Merchant of Venice by an Israeli company in Hebrew. Venus and Adonis in a mix of five different South African languages.

The box office contained a series of photographs from the plays, as well as some of the sonnets translated into the represented languages. This one's for my dear friend Pania Matthews.

Stay tuned for Saturday, when, in classic Shakespeare style, the plot thickens.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

There is too much. Let me sum up.

Okay, so. Weekend. Guess what I went to see?

Yep, Lisa DeLong and I went to see the awesome immortalness that is Agatha Christie's Mousetrap. Here she is, to take a bow.

Whodunnit? I can't tell you. I'm sworn to secrecy.

Sunday was an adventure into the wilds of south-of-the-river to reach the ward to which I have been assigned. It's a long way, but not unmanageable. It did involve a bit of walking, which resulted in some hot spots, but no actual blisters or bleeding. So success! The ward is filled with nice people from all over. It was . . . odd . . . to be in an LDS congregation and feel conspicuous, not because I'm tall, but because I'm white. Odd, but kinda cool.
I was informed I'd be serving in the primary. My compatriot Jo was informed she was serving in Relief Society. We had a conversation, and then informed the ward leadership that we would be switching. And everyone was happy.

Here are my compatriots resting their tired feet on the trip home. 

Wednesday was our first official trip out of the city. First stop: St. Alban's Cathedral. My gosh, so gorgeous. The day was gray and misty, but never actually rainy . . . just soft and cool. And the church was extraordinary, both inside and out. 

I couldn't get a huge dramatic shot of the inside of the church, because there was SO much going on inside. So here are some little shots. Here, for example, is the little chapel at the very top of the cathedral, which was tiny and lovely and adorable. 

Here's Molly, lighting her very first prayer candle. This was something a lot of the students had never done.

And here's the actual shrine of actual St. Alban, which means that maybe sorta I've completed a pilgrimage now. I started in London, I went to the cathedral, I visited the shrine and said the appropriate prayer . . . that counts, right? I need a medieval Catholic friend to clarify these things for me. 

Oh, and here's St. Alban getting martyred.

After the cathedral, we walked through a lovely park* over to the Museum of Roman Stuff, which was extremely cool. It was a small museum, but was very well put together and quite clearly had an awesome collection of artifacts. These were my favorites: 


Also very cool was the mosaic-ness going on, pictured below: 

And here are a couple of my fellow travelers doing what the adage recommends for such times as these.

And on our way back to the bus, we got a lovely parting look at St. Alban's, above the green fields and below the gray mist.

St. Alban's explored, we moved on to Cambridge, where I grabbed a quick pasty in the market square because I haven't seen any pasty shops yet. They were YUMMY.

Pictured: All the pasties I didn't get to eat. 
Cambridge is a very bicycle town. The things were everywhere. Also, in the market I could have purchased a used but road-ready mountain bike, plus a U-lock to secure it with, for 45 pounds. I didn't, but I was tempted. 

Our charming tour guide, a retired teacher named Hugh, took us around Trinity College and King's College, giving us a run-down of the history and how the college/university system works on this side of the pond. Here he is telling us about Henry VII's mum, who is actually not in the niche above this doorway (that's just a very feminine-looking John the Evangelist). 

And here we have Henry VIII, great patron of the school, holding a royal chair leg because the students stole his scepter so many times the administration was forced to just leave it like that. 

Not pictured is the Wren Library, as we were not allowed to take photos. But it is a beautiful space, filled with beautiful old books. On display were, among other things, the first folio of the collected works of Shakespeare, a first edition of Newton's Principles, and the original handwritten manuscript of Winnie-the-Pooh. The only thing that could possibly have upstaged that for me was a copy of Sir William Cavendish's treaty on horsemanship. After spending so many months buried under mountains of research on Sir William and Lady Margaret Cavendish, to actually see one of their books nearly brought me to tears. 

Crown jewel of the experience was the chapel at King's College, which had quite the most dizzying ceiling I have ever seen. 

The only bit of actual sunlight we got was while we were in here, so the stained glass just lit up and covered the pillars in all these crazy streaks of color.

The windows (a full set of 25, all as they were originally designed and intended by the original craftsmen, telling one coherent story of the life of Christ all the way around the building) could have been upstaged only by something really spectacular. Like a Rubens painting of the Adoration of the Magi. 

That's the whole altar. No cross, not even a raised platform. Just a table, two candles, and the painting, under the blazing windows, surrounded by plain white limestone walls. Just lovely. 

We got to wander Cambridge for a couple of hours, and I caught one shot of the lawn in the middle of King's College just as the light was starting to fade. 

At the end of the day, we got to hear Evensong sung by the choir that was endowed by the house of Tudor and is still singing the services, in Latin and in English, every day. It was truly truly lovely.

And now, happy but spent, I leave you. 

*I spent fully five minutes in this park just watching a duck dive. The water was clear enough that I could see it all the way down to the bottom. It was immensely entertaining to watch.