Sunday, December 14, 2008

break a leg

You might as well hear the news straight from the horse's mouth, or so the saying goes and is going tonight: I was very happy to be flying under the radar of the flu/cold causing viruses floating around London infecting my friends. But my luck didn't hold. Those little pests found me. In an act of defiance at not wanting to let them ruin my last week-plus of London explorations (which they have been disrupting since Thursday), I accepted my friend Beth's last-minute invitation to join her for a bit of London theatre, courtesy of a generous friend of hers.

Cold or no cold, how could I say no to enjoying one of the very-London things I haven't yet partaken of these three months past? So I said yes. And am very glad I did (especially if I wake up miraculously mucus-free in the morning). Beth and I found our ways separately (her by bus, me by DLR) to a hidden gem of a performance space that would have been a treat in itself even if the play had been rubbish, which it wasn't, of course.

On tap was The Cordelia Dream, a production by the Royal Shakespeare Company. It's too late and I'm coughing too much to try to offer a review of the play, so I'll just say: it was interesting, intense, dramatic and worth seeing. And it was especially worth seeing at Wilton's Music Hall, a nearly derelict old space with a colorful history that folks are trying to keep alive. Far from the glitz and the suffocating, look-how-fashionable-I-am crowds of theatre central around Leicester (pronounced "Lester," just for future don't-sound-like-a-tourist tips when you visit London) Square, the hall is tucked inside a brick-paved pedestrian road called "Grace's Alley." As you walk down Cable Street in East London toward Ensign Road, there are no real clues that you're anywhere near a theatre. Which means you feel like you've been let in on a secret when you pass through its barnlike and almost miss-able main doors into the warm yellow glow inside. And perhaps you have. One of the best kinds of secrets.

the front doors

Grace's Alley

don't get excited. it's just rain, not snow. it's okay if you get excited about the theatre banner, though.

fyi: go to the right of the staircase to enter the main performance hall.

kitchen reflections

If I lived in London's City of Westminster rather than its Borough of Lewisham, I might have heard Big Ben chiming twelve as I returned from my theatre jaunt, but I don't. And neither did I hear any less famous substitute, as there don't seem to be chimes in this corner of London. Only occasional sirens that are more than occasional (think "very normal") during rush hour. Anyway, my eye caught this intriguing sight after brewing a cup of pre-bed tea (chamomile, vanilla and honey. Yum!) and grabbing a literal midnight snack. My camera was on hand and the lighting was sure to be different in the morning. It was a now or never moment. And like the worst storytellers, I won't leave you in suspence. I went with now.

You might call it "Still Life in the Kitchen."

You might call this "Alien causes flower stems to grow mysterious bowl of oranges. (No one has been able to get to the bottom of this yet.)"

Saturday, December 13, 2008

hot off the presses!

One of the things among many that I've loved about London is its newspaper culture. This is a city of not one, not two, but many major newspapers. And there's a way in which that gives life to a city, I think. Or maybe the city gives life to its newspapers.

I suppose it helps that London is a city of commuters who don't have to pay attention to their driving while they the travel to and fro and, instead, can pay attention to their news. But, even DC, which is also a city of commuters, never seemed to have the relationship with the newspaper that London does.

There's some thoughtful, witty writing in some of these newspapers. I especially appreciate that because my city's primary newspaper is increasingly hard to appreciate in terms of quality or coverage. And Nashville's not exactly a sleepy little hamlet with nothing going on. These London newspapers leave make me less resistant to being called a journalist (I prefer the term writer, as I think it has more depth and more possibility) because they actually showcase some excellent writing. (as does the New York Times, by the way)

From my new friend The Evening Standard, which comes out later in the day instead of in the morning, to the freebies London Lite and The London Paper that are distributed as the evening commute begins to the well-respected Guardian and Observer, newspapers and newstands abound. (and that's not all of them!) Most of them are also printed tabloid style which I personally think is much, much easier to handle and read than the broadsheet layout of most American newspapers (I think I got those terms right!). Maybe that's the reason for declining newspaper readership: give people something that's not so ridiculously bulky to manage, something you can still see around while you're reading it, something that doesn't require a table the size of a football field (American football, that is) to hold it when you read it while eating.

I also love living in a city where magazines I might want to pitch stories to actually have offices. Even if I never meet the necessary editors, there's something so hopeful in the possibility of not being dependent only on emails (which inevitably get snagged by over-zealous spam filters) or phone calls to plead your case. It's possible, if needed for some reason, to drop by the offices of these media mavens. It makes access to work for a freelance writer feel much more probable.

And for all the moaning and pontificating about the end of the reading culture, I still see lots of people reading books everywhere here and in lots of other places too, and those are just the public places where people read. Although I will admit that I also see lots of people with earbuds tucked inside their eardrums, a habit I have yet to appreciate. Do you really need music with you so constantly that you must drown out the rest of the world whenever you're in the midst of it? I want to engage with my surroundings too much for that, always watching for a chance to exchange a smile with a stranger or something. That's less likely to happen if the stranger's eyes are closed and their ears are plugged and beats are emanating from their body.

Anyway, that's the soapbox. The real point is "long live newspapers!" ;-)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

field trip

I'm not normally a fan of modern architecture or skyscrapers or anything close. I also don't really know what quays are except I think they're pronounced "keys." But tonight I took a field trip up the DLR (Docklands Light Rail) to a place called Canary Wharf/West India Quays. And I'm glad I went.

Though I left the house around 4:45-ish, it was of course already pitch black making it feel like evening when it was still late afternoon. So I only saw the quays and scrapers in the dark. Which is a beautiful, if probably incomplete (that whole thing about darkness hiding things) way to see them. The Docklands are basically across the Thames from Greenwich in the spot where the river twists down and back up in a deep capital "U" shape. The London guidebook I picked up in Bratislava's Next Apache used book shop explained to me (while I sat in a Canary Wharf Starbucks) that the whole area has been fairly recently developed away from the shall-we-say disrepair it had fallen into. Apparently the quays were (are?) part of London's shipping biz. I think they're man-made, but I'm not sure. Perhaps I should go visit Wikipedia, but I don't feel curious or awake enough for that right now.

Tonight the trees outside the high-end shops at the Canary Wharf DLR station and outside the high rise buildings housing offices of people who work late-ish trying to figure a way out of the world's financial free-fall, tonight those trees twinkled with subtle, elegant bluish-purple lights that I think are in honor of Christmas season but could be there all year for all I know. Either way, they're nice.

And unexpectedly, so are all those high rises with office lights mostly still on even as the offices emptied (I'm surprised they get away with that in environment-conscious London, but it would be less striking if they were all dark). It's definitely a different facet of London than the others I've visited thus far. Perhaps I'll make it there in the day time. Sometime before Dec. 23 when I will end this go-around of London life.

In other news, I've been discovering little tricks of the trade lately, little tricks that I'm learning about too late to take much advantage of. Like tonight, for example, I discovered that Lewisham station's DLR entrance boasts TWO ATM machines that are a good five minutes closer to my house than the one I usually go to to get my rent money and other cash. For WEEKS now, I've been walking FIVE whole minutes further (that's TEN minutes round trip of course) than I've needed to!!

Also, tonight in less of an annoyed tone I discovered that the movie theater (aka: cinema as they call it here, probably because this is actually a place that has lots of real theaters where live people perform so that saves any confusion) at West India Quay is actually pretty cheap as movie theaters go. PLUS it's only a cheap DLR ride away. And I've finally firmly concluded tonight that I like the DLR a lot. It just feels more gentle and easy and less grinding than the train I usually have to take to get to places like cinemas. For those of you who have no way to test my theory on this, just trust me. You would agree if you were here. I just know it.

So I concluded my field trip tonight by trying to catch up with my book group in Nashville that read The Secret Life of Bees for November and then went to see the film together. I've handled that book in book stores so many times but never succombed to purchasing it or checking it out from the library. Since I'm still finishing October's book group book and want to read January's book, I decided here was my chance to skip the book and just catch up by watching the movie. It's a good flick. And it was a good night for such a flick.

So there you go. Field trip done. On to tomorrow.