Posts Tagged ‘london’

For Christmas, I wanted to go on a day trip to London to see some favorite sites and a play that was starring some actors I’d had a longtime interest in.

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That’s the nice thing about living on the train line to London—one hour and you’re in the heart of things

We poked around the British Museum for a while, particularly my favorite Assyrian exhibits.

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I really like the detail and emotion in the lion's face

I really like the detail and emotion in the lion’s face

I booked a reservation at the newly renovated Court Restaurant to have lunch which was great as always.

bread and artichokes to start

bread and artichokes to start

We went by Harrods which was absolutely mobbed but fun as an anthropological insight on humans and marketing. I had an unfortunate moment as the thing I’d been waiting to get myself for Christmas had gone out of stock while I was waiting so I need to make another expedition later on with different goals. (Definitely a First World problem, but I’d been looking forward to it a lot and spent some extensive time picking the present out online because I never got myself a birthday gift before and this was going to be it finally.)

We walked around Covent Garden after that and wound up at Wagamama, an Asian noodle bar (I think that’s how you’d describe it) for dinner before the play.

vegetarian pad thai

vegetarian pad thai

"Ginny...did you leave your bok choy lying out?"

“Ginny…did you leave your bok choy lying out?”

The day before my employee had asked me very casually which theater our play was going to be in (the Gielgud) because there had been a huge accident at the Apollo the night before in which the ceiling collapsed in the middle of a performance and lots of people were injured (though no deaths).

Gielgud ceiling completely intact

Gielgud ceiling completely intact

Fortunately that wasn’t the Gielgud though so our tickets didn’t go to waste, thank God. I’d gotten third row seats on the aisle for Bear because he gets very cramped and uncomfortable in theater seats especially without enough leg room. Aisle was definitely the right call!

From the third row -- you could practically count pores on actors

From the third row — you could practically count pores on actors

The show was really good although, hard to believe, even darker than the original Patricia Highsmith novel. We’ve seen several different kinds of shows (a mystery and two musicals) but this was the first straight up drama and the acting was really excellent:

Strangers-1

Laurence Fox (of the acting Fox family, Inspector Lewis), Jack Huston (descended from John, Walter and Anjelica, Boardwalk Empire),

Laurence Fox (of the acting Fox family, Inspector Lewis) and Jack Huston (descended from John, Walter and Anjelica, Boardwalk Empire),

Miranda Raison (MI-5/Spooks) with Laurence Fox

Miranda Raison (MI-5/Spooks) with Laurence Fox

MyAnna Buring (The Descent, Ripper Street, Downton Abbey)

MyAnna Buring (The Descent, Ripper Street, Downton Abbey)

Imogen Stubbs (something of an obsession of mine since 1995—Anna Lee, A Summer Story, 12th Night, Jack and Sarah, on stage as Desdemona in Othello with Ian McKellan as Iago and eight zillion other productions)

Imogen Stubbs (something of an obsession of mine since 1995—Anna Lee, A Summer Story, 12th Night, Jack and Sarah, on stage as Desdemona in Othello with Ian McKellan as Iago and eight zillion other productions)

(l-r) Jack Huston, Imogen Stubbs, , Miranda Raison, Laurence Fox, MyAnna Buring

(l-r) Jack Huston, Imogen Stubbs, Christian McKay, Miranda Raison, Laurence Fox, MyAnna Buring

So I’m still on the question for my Christmas present, which is actually my birthday present from August that I never got, but I’ll find it in the end and maybe it’ll mean another trip to London. 🙂

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Since it’s only 15 pounds by train down to London and back, we staked out a Saturday to tour some of the major museums in the Kensington district.

The walkway over the tracks between the platforms at the St. Neots station

Happy Bear with his beverage and his window seat

We got there a good bit earlier than anything would open, so we walked over to St. Pancras and got the lay of the train station since we’ll be taking the Eurostar from there to go to Brussels in about 6 weeks. It’s much more like an airport than a train station and there are the usual book shops, cafes and other stores to let you pick up what you need for the journey.

After that, we took the Underground over and walked around the Kensington district, admiring the buildings. Mostly though Bear kept looking at all the extremely expensive cars. He didn’t call out their names though (Ferrari, Aston Martin, Porsche). Instead he would yell the sticker price, which is probably an extremely crass and American thing to do but it seemed to be his honest gut reaction.

Bear had picked out a creperie for brunch which I appreciated a lot since I like breakfast foods like crepes so much.

I picked hazelnut because Bear hates hazelnut. It’s honestly the only way I can protect my food from him. It’s also why I usually get salt and vinegar potato chips

Our first museum stop was at the National History Museum which featured some very nice dinosaur exhibits.

Tail end of Dippy the Diplodocus in the main hall of the National History Museum

The main hall

The mammal area (whale for scale)

Sculpture of a monkey made out of bullet casings — a good use for them I think.

An illustrated (practically illuminated) spread from a botanist’s field notebook.

All of the stonework trim in the different galleries ties in to the theme of the area (in this case, snakeheads for the reptile area)

Then we spotted my very favorite display and what I had been most excited to see. Mary Anning, a paleontologist from the first half of the 1800s had made many significant discoveries along the Jurassic Coast, the lower southwestern stretch of English coastline, including the first skeletons on record of an ichthyosaur and a plesiosaur. Unfortunately, her lower class status and her gender made it very difficult for her to be accepted in English scientific society but the value of her discoveries was indisputable even though she wasn’t accepted into their societies or published as she should have been. After her death, Charles Darwin wrote: “The carpenter’s daughter has won a name for herself, and has deserved to win it.”

Icthyosaur skeleton discovered by Mary Anning and brother Joseph when she was just 12

Mary Anning with her dog Tray who accompanied her on her fossil hunting expeditions. Sadly, he was lost in a landslide that nearly claimed Anning’s life also–I’d like to think that perhaps he warned her in some way so she was able to escape.

One end of the main hall–it was so beautiful, it was like an exhibit in and of itself.

An honest to God dodo bird

An entire tree of tiny taxidermied hummingbirds, and based on my moderate experience with taxidermy, those little guys would be pretty challenging to mount.

We went back to a sushi spot Bear had found that featured a very authentic little conveyor belt. We’re still not sure exactly what we had (mine had tofu in it) because we just kept grabbing anything that looked good as it went by.

Sushi-o-rama

The Victoria and Albert museum was across the street from NHM (very convenient in my opinion) and I confess that I had very little idea going into it what the collection would be like. I’m still not certain exactly what the governing principle was, except to say that everything there was really beautiful and impressive.

Something, I have no idea what, in the Victoria and Albert museum

A reliquary, possibly for a fingerbone, with tiny windows visible to see the relic inside.

Again, no idea

A cast replica of Trajan’s column in Rome which ironically I visited in early June. Yep, pretty much looks just like it.

In the central quad lawn of the V&A was a shallow wading pond where kids were playing and families picknicked around, which was really cool but it also made me sad because Bear is not a picknicker and gets antsy when I want to bring food along in place of going to a restaurant. There’s something really deeply embedded in his past that has to do with restaurants and I’ve never gotten the whole story out of him — I’m not certain he really knows for himself. The closest I ever got was talking about lunchboxes once and how I had a Hardy Boys lunchbox in 2nd grade (so did another friend of mine in Mrs. Grace B. Fitz’s class) and I was getting nostalgic when Bear had some kind of Tourettes-like outburst about lunchboxes and how he had one as a kid and the milk got left in the thermos and it all rotted and it was disgusting. If this was an episode of Criminal Minds, there would be some kind of flashback (shaded in browns so you know it’s a flashback) where some evil wizened female relative then made him drink it and eat the green rotting sandwiches and that’s why he hates packing food. But he says that’s not true and I admit that I can have a vivid imagination. Still, it’s a tiny bit abnormal to say I can’t bring food in the car to a church covered dish because it might spill and rot.

Happy picknicking families. No Munk or Bear.

We also headed over to the Science Museum also on Exhibition Road which was geared much more towards kids but it was definitely a great museum. One thing I really liked was a demonstration of Foucault’s Pendulum, which is also the name of a novel by Umberto Eco. I read it on a very long flight back from Latvia about 20 years ago (and it uses the word “sclerotic” somewhere around page 375 in the paperback version, which is a whole other story). During the time I was rooming with my friend Laura at UGA, it became a running joke that she had never gotten around to finishing the book but she always had a copy in the trunk of her car. I think I told her it would be good in case she got snowed in sometime. Anyway, imagine my surprise to find it out of her trunk and there in the museum.

Foucault’s Pendulum

We walked all the way back across Hyde Park then, wandering towards a metro station that would take us back to King’s Cross.

A monument to Albert, I think, that’s visible from the path before you get to the Serpentine River (which I’m not sure should really count as a river)

Hyde Park

When we, and our moderately aching feet, made it back to a metro station and up to King’s Cross we ducked into the very conveniently located Nandos there by the station for dinner before taking the train back to St. Neots. Definitely a great day down in London and we’ll go back again to explore other museums and try out some restaurants that we can’t get anywhere else–more sushi, please!

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After staying up honestly too late to watch the Olympic opening ceremonies (I do tend to like Danny Boyle productions, so long as not too many people die), we had to be on the train to London by 8:30. The problem with this was that we let Juliet out into the backyard to play for a little bit because we felt bad that she would have to stay inside the rest of the day. However. Being a smart kitty, she figured out pretty quickly that we were going to scoop her up and she decided to hide.

I asked Mom to film us chasing her around the yard because this might be our best chance to get a third-party filming of it and get to laugh at ourselves. This worked great up to a point (see the video evidence below).

Then disaster reared its head. While trying to continue filming, Mom stepped forward and didn’t realize there was a step down along the path, tripped and fell headlong onto the concrete. Amazingly, by the grace of God-given reflexes (and a little practice having falling in a few parking lots before), she caught herself on her shoulder mostly and the camera didn’t break into a thousand pieces (although that was truly the last thing I was worried about).

In that moment, all I really thought about was if Mom was OK so when she popped up pretty quickly and was still able to walk and smile s,o my face started to unfreeze and work again, although I did have little mini-flashbacks for the rest of the day.

Flashing forward to the next morning, this was Mom’s foot

We went on to the station, after a stern talking to Juliet about what happens when she’s a bad kitty and the trickle-up effect it had on her Grandma. We were on the express service to King’s Cross which only takes 40 minutes and drops you off straight in the heart of everything you’d ever want to see and do.

Official bus lane of the 2012 Olympic Games

We stopped for the obligatory PAC and coffee at Nero on our way out and walked over past St. Pancras to the British Library. As it turned out, just for the Olympics, the library is opening at 10 instead of 9:30 and they were not shy about telling you that.

Guys whose main purpose is to tell you it opens at 10 a.m.

We waited and got some more coffee and I frequented The Last Word where I obtained conclusive evidence that the British should never wear shorts (or at least do it more often).

At first I thought he was wearing thigh-high white stockings

I was unreasonably put out by the delay in the library opening (I had checked the website specifically about that just a few weeks before…apparently planning ahead has its downside) and  later actually asked someone what they were doing with the extra 30 minutes in the morning and she told us it was to allow the workers enough time to commute in with all of the Olympic traffic. I felt like a jerk.

I had booked tickets in advance for the Writing Britian: Wastelands to Wonderlands exhibition so we shot right into it. We had seen an exhibit before in February for the Illuminated Manuscripts and it was packed so I wanted to be in the first group allowed through (they stagger groups by allowing so many in per hour). However, surprisingly, the library was fairly well deserted and we had most of the exhibit to ourselves, even with the delay in opening.

The theme of the exhibition was to show the influence of landscape in writing, or at least how the landscape was portrayed and was a subject and affected writers. Alas, as usual, no pictures allowed (which did not stop me from stealing some from the Internet)…

The exhibition is divided into six different subjects which group the manuscripts according to aspects of English environment which served as inspiration to writers. This list is just a small fraction of what was on exhibit.

The exhibition is divided into six different subjects which group the manuscripts according to aspects of English environment which served as inspiration to writers. This list is just a small fraction of what was on exhibit.

Rural Dreams

  • J.R.R. Tolkien’s original artwork for The Hobbit – a full sheet watercolor painting of of  the hill at Hobbiton
  • Kazuo Ishiguro’s manuscript for The Remains of the Day (I never read it, but I saw the movie which counts even if my friend Laura who got me to watch it will say I’m still not qualified to present myself as having read it)

Dark Satanic Mills — from the early 19th century onwards through the Industrial Revolution and changes brought by the great wars.

  • George Eliot’s Middlemarch
  • George Orwell’s papers related to experiences touring a coal mine (which looked pretty hellish)

Wild Places—rugged wilderness

  • Charlotte Bronte’s manuscript for Jane Eyre (1847)

Cockney Visions – Representations of London

  • Robert Louis Stevenson’s manuscript for Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Apparently Stevenson did some editing to tone things down.

BeyCond the City—suburbia emerges

  • Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel, Beyond the City,
  •  J G Ballard’s heavily edited manuscript for Crash

Waterlands

  • The Seafarer from the Exeter Book
  • a chapter from James Joyce’s  Ulysses (and if you’ve read it, and no I haven’t, then you know which chapter it was–the one what caused all the ruckus)

Some of my favorite highlights were:

  • J K Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

I doodle in the margins of my manuscripts too, but you really can’t tell what I’m trying to draw. Even I’m not sure.

  • John Lennon’s handwritten lyrics to “In My Life”
  • Virginia Woolf, first edition of To the Lighthouse
    Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, 14th century – the earliest surviving manuscript of the medieval poem
  • Daphne Du Maurier’s notebook with plot and ideas for Rebecca (used in a court case as evidence when Du Maurier was accused of plagiarism – I told Bear this is why I have to save all my notes!)

I have stacks of notebooks like this, but sadly no one’s rushing to sue me for plagiarism

Also, Bear tells me that he remembers a hand written letter from John Keats, Wind in the Willows, Watership Down by Richard Adams, poems by T.S. Eliot, W.B. Yeats and W.H. Auden, a really gorgeous illuminated copy of Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne, Dracula by Bram Stoker (he’s Irish apparently) and 17 foot long mash-up piece of Virginia Woolf and Liz Matthews (“Thames to Dunkirk”).

It was honestly about 17 feet long

The exhibition was really nicely put together and we had a great time looking at the manuscripts and talking about what we’d read before and taking notes on books we want to look up later on. I was particularly impressed by any handwritten manuscript or corrected proof copy, just because of the literal human touch. I was deeply affected in high school by an exhibit I saw in Canada that my Mom took me to in a children’s library museum where they had a display of The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper along with the Newberry Medal she won. You could see all her hand corrections to the proof and there’s a picture somewhere of my just staring at it agog. (They also had a copy of Cooper’s Greenwitch on exhibit. The copy on display was the exact same hardback edition as the one I lost from the Leon County Public Library sometime around 1984 and fortunately I found it in the lost and found at church about 8 months later and they actually let me get my money back.)

By the way, Susan Cooper was really good friends with Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn, and when Tandy passed away a few years later she ended up marrying Hume Cronyn — it took me a while to wrap my head around that, but they have pictures to prove it.

It’s like two utterly separate childhood worlds colliding headlong — like waking up and finding out that Mr. Spock is a part of the Scooby gang.

We had lunch in the cafeteria there which is really nice and even though Bear doesn’t usually like cafeterias, he does like this one. We found a sandwich deal with fruit and lemonade that was tasty and we shared around. It’s fun to sit beside the huge stacks of books and visit, and what was most surprising was that the place was still practically deserted. Even the workers seemed really surprised too, but I certainly wasn’t complaining.

Floor after floor of books, all visible from the cafeteria

We walked the mile over to the British Museum then with a few detours along the way. After slipping in through the side entrance, we took Mom to see the Egyptian gallery and the Elgin marbles. They actually have a little brochure which explains, basically, why the British Museum has them, why they’re not giving them up, and which lamp the Greek government should rub to try and get that wish granted.

For some reason, just like at the British Library, there was almost no one in the museum. I should’ve been suspicious but it was absolutely wonderful to just walk up to the exhibits that are usually really packed. Last year at this time I couldn’t get near the Rosetta Stone without a baton and a riot shield.

Me and that linguistic Holy Grail, the Rosetta Stone

I’m weirdly partial to Assyrian sculpture and carvings

You can see the detailing of the musculature in the lion’s forearms.

Since I’d been to those rooms a few times before, I spent a little more time people watching this time. My favorite, taken surreptitiously while pretending to take a picture of Bear, was of a Greek young woman who was on the phone, reading a map, and chewing gum at the same time and whose fingernail polish and eye shadow perfectly matched her dress. You really have to work hard to maintain that level of coordination.

I swear he wasn’t really as tired as he looks.

We had reservations for tea at the Courtyard Restaurant, but again the place was nearly deserted  but it was nice to have had them.

Tea at the British Museum, always a highlight

After tea we saw a few more things, including the Sutton Hoo treasures which are relocated at the moment because they’re re-doing the rooms that the Anglo-Saxon items, and others from that period, and so they’ve been re-located.

From the treasure trove recovered in the mounds at Sutton Hoo

Pieces of the cloisonné decorated sword belt

The eyebrows and noseguard form something like a dragon in flight with garnets for eyes, which matches pretty stunningly with the other pieces recovered, like the sword belt.

The gallery says its being renovated with a donation from someone named Sainsbury which I think really has to be connected to Sainsbury’s stores, whom I like quite a bit because they carry more Quorn vegetarian products than anyone else.


We headed out then over toward the theater and Bear’s big surprise for the trip (although actually he had figured it out, like all surprises). One thing he really horribly misses about America is Mexican food. Me, not so much. In fact, I really can’t think of a cuisine that I dislike more (and I’ve eaten an awful lot of world cuisine). But since I found out that Chipotle, one of his favorite Mexican chains of all time, had two establishments in London and one of them was a stone’s throw from the theater, Mom and I agreed that we really needed to take one for the team on this.

Bear hadn’t seen this beloved sign since last December…

Bear couldn’t have been more happy to see his favorite soft tacos, and since he carried the bags for a lot of the day, it only seemed fair.

We got to the theater right as the lobby opened up and got settled so everyone could rest their feet. Mom’s ankle was doing pretty well but no one wanted to push it.

St. Martin’s Theater (as if the neon marquee didn’t clue you in)

I had gotten seats in the upper circle (i.e. nosebleed section) but since the theater itself only seats about 550, that’s pretty relative. We were on the front row of the balcony tier and couldn’t even see anyone else in front of us so it was almost like a private performance if you squinted just right. Bear did have a little trouble squeezing into the seat and he sat in the aisle for a while, but after a Coke during intermission he perked right up.

The Mousetrap is a dinosaur by theater standards, now in its 60th year, which is utterly unheard of for live dramatic productions. Adapted from an Agatha Christie short story, it first went on stage in 1952 and she stipulated that the short story not be published in the UK so long as the play was running, to keep the killer’s identity a secret. She estimated it would only run for about a year, maybe 18 months. 60 years later, the story still hasn’t been published in the UK.

So we were only there for one performance, like a drop in the bucket, but it was a fun drop nevertheless.

I had seen a production of it  when I was in high school but honestly couldn’t remember the outcome, so I was entertained the whole way through. When you’re putting something on in London, a major dramatic center, even if it’s not the hottest new show, you’re going to have good actors fighting for parts and the cast did really well. Bear has always disliked going to plays (and won’t) but he said he really did enjoy it and was glad we went. He did, I admit, guess the killer right away but he’s always been irritatingly good at this. (For his 37th birthday, I got him a custom made t-shirt with a specific comic strip from Get Fuzzy on the front. The package arrived, he took it from the postman, squished the package a little and said. “You got me a t-shirt. Oh, is it Get Fuzzy? The one with Planet of the Apes?” I couldn’t decide if I should cry first or hit him. I think I did both at once.)

Painting of the seating in St. Martin’s Theater

I had booked a cab because I really had no idea what things would be like with the Olympics in town, so I was really pleased that there was a line of cabs waiting and they quoted me a lower rate to get back to King’s Cross than if we waited another 20 minutes for the pre-booked cab to arrive (not being sure when exactly the performance would let out). The nicest blessing of all was that we walked into King’s Cross and on the very first platform was a train heading along our line and stopping at St. Neots, leaving in just 5 minutes so we made the earliest possible connection.

A very nice gentleman helped Mom get a seat to rest her foot and even gave up his own seat for me and later said he hoped her foot would feel better as he disembarked. I don’t know if that counts as a touching Olympic moment just because it happened at the same time, but it was very affirming of the decency of humanity and I could use that every now and then.

It’s just amazing how quickly you can get home with the right train and a few minutes later we were at the house and Juliet came tumbling down the stairs looking overwhelmingly relieved that we hadn’t died somewhere in the city. we reminded her that she had done her best to kill my Mom earlier but the whole thing seemed to have slipped her mind.

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Stage One of Bear’s Birthday Bash was to attend a Loreena McKennitt concert from the Celtic Footprints Tour at the Barbican Center in London. I had first heard LM’s music back in 199 when a friend sent me a copy of The Book of Secrets and it was love at first listen. I was working on a book about Robin Hood at the time and it made great working background. I kept picking up other albums, following the spectrum of her work as it made (to me) a perfect blend of traditional Celtic with world music influence, going eastward to the Celtic roots in western Asia and the silk road.

There was a gap in time between 1998 and 2006, following the death of her fiancé, when she wasn’t releasing any studio albums or appearing live very often so I kept replaying everything I had until I wore grooves in the CDs. Along the way, I discovered that LM was from Morden, Manitoba, a town I had actually been to for a week or two in 1987 although this was a few years after she had moved east to the Ontario, Montreal area, and  having been to Manitoba, I can understand why. Ironically, that same summer, my family spent a week in a cabin on the shore of Georgian Bay not too far from the place where her fiancée Ron Rees, drowned in a boating accident along with his brother, Rick and their friend, Greg Cook. I’ve been around that water and while it seems fairly calm, the wind can kick up and the water can be very cold even in the summer—hypothermia isn’t that many minutes away. I don’t believe it’s ever been explicitly stated, but the piece “Penelope’s Song” seems to be very much about someone who has lost their beloved and is pledged to wait faithfully.

Now that the time has come
Soon gone is the day
There upon some distant shore
You’ll hear me say

Long as the day in the summer time
Deep as the wine dark sea
I’ll keep your heart with mine.
Till you come to me

All of that to say that even apart from just really, really liking her music, I’ve unintentionally followed small parts of her life history as well. My parents are just lucky I didn’t know about her back in the 80s or I would have taken up the accordion probably instead of guitar and I don’t think anyone would have wanted that. (If we’d been lucky, maybe it would’ve been the harp.)

Over ten years ago, when I first met Bear, he had just bought a copy of The Book of Secrets also, so that was one of the huge votes in his Plus column and we’re a proud two copy family. I had gotten to see LM on her first real public tour of the States in nearly a decade back in 2007 but Bear couldn’t go. It was at the Fox Theater in Atlanta and I tagged along with Amanda DeWees and her mom. It was a perfect evening given that the musical theme was heavy on the eastern influences in McKennitt’s music and the Fox Theater is just perfect for that, decorated as a palace out of the Arabian nights.


The thing I walked away with that night was just how amazing her band is, if you can even call them that. It’s an ensemble of eight+ extremely talented musicians in their own right and they just happen to like her, as she puts it. Well, like her they must because they were all back for this tour and just as tight as ever.

I had gotten the tickets back in December before we even immigrated so the anticipation had been building up for several months. I even dutifully paid the congestion charge in advance and secured parking at the Barbican in their garage which is definitely the way to go. We got there early and had time to walk over to see St. Paul’s Cathedral before hand which is about 5 minutes away. It was just at the beginning of Maundy Thursday services so it was packed and we couldn’t stay long but it was beautiful and I’d love to go back. Maundy Thursday is one of my favorite services and one of my fondest memories of living in Athens, Georgia was going to the service at University Church and sitting at the tables in the main room in the manner of the Last Supper, listening to Dan Orme give the service.

Roman City Wall

On the way back, we walked along the stretch of the old Roman city wall that had been exposed by some of the bombing during the London blitz. When we got back to the Barbican, we explored outside in the terraced garden area where they have apartments overlooking the gardens and water.

Really wonder how much the rent is here.

When we got back into the Barbican itself, we walked all around the public library and there was some confusion as we tried to locate things, essential little things like the bathroom. The Barbican is the largest performing arts complex in all of Europe and was not in fact designed by M.C. Escher although that would be a very good guess.

Sure, it looks like the stairs are going down. That's what they want you to think.

We showed up a little early for our dinner reservations at the Lounge, a tapas restaurant inside the Barbican itself where we ate ridiculously well and for not very much all things considered, which was the perfect solution dinner and a show.

Birthday Bear

We went with feta stuffed chillies and a bowl of olives for appetizer, then I had pan seared scallops (approximately $12 for two scallops — must ask Dad to mail some from Florida) and Bear had chicken satay, plus bread with a mojito for Bear. We finished off with treacle tart and lemon curd and vanilla clotted cream ice cream which was unbelievably tasty and an Americano for me.


We had just enough time to pick up the tickets from the box office and find our seats. Bear had been asking about them and I told him truthfully that they were in the center. As in, they were aligned perfectly for the stage, not too far off to the side. What I had neglected to mention was that they were on the very last row. I mean, our backs were to the wall. In case of a fire, we would’ve been the first ones out—safety first! However as the hall is fairly small and only holds about 1,500 (and every one of them showed up) this was still really great seating. All in all, the average Loreena McKennitt concertgoer is not the wild, unruly type but lots of academic-ish people in their 30s and up, wearing comfortable clothes with a Celtic/Middle Eastern theme.

Why, yes, I own all her albums and two copies of The Book of Secrets, why do you ask?

Then came a moment that took me back to a time in college when a friend mentioned that she had been out for a walk and seen a guy coming towards her who was, for lack of a gentler word, really ugly. She tried not to make eye contact because he was coming directly at her. She made it past him though and turned to see that there had been someone behind her and that this woman had been headed towards him just as intently, and according to my friend they were a perfectly matched set. Isn’t it beautiful, she said, when two ugly people find each other? As awful as that sounds, it was very funny too and it made me glad that we can hope to find a place where we all fit and belong. The reason this popped into my mind at the concert is that there was a couple exactly like that a few rows in front of me and I didn’t take a picture out of respect but never have I seen two more awkward people who perfectly belonged together and looked so blissfully happy,

The set list for  the show is as follows, although I confess that there were some instrumental tunes that I didn’t know quite well enough to confidently identify and I was trying to write in the dark.

  • Two instrumental pieces without LM on stage yet
  • Bonny Portmore
  • Star of the County Down
  • The Highwayman
  • As I Roved Out (funky, bluesy underbeat to it)
  • Immigration Tunes (originally a piece she wrote as part of a one woman show she had worked on in the 1980s but abandoned)
  • Sally Gardens (remarks on how Yeats had been in love with Maud Gonne and possibly written this about her and how she had been an unusual, striking woman who dressed in black and traveled with monkeys, “Not so unlike this tour”)
  • Musician introduction
  • LM offered apologies to the left side front for the bad line of sight. She leaned over from the piano bench to wave at them and assured them that she was thinking of them even though she couldn’t see them. Overall LM’s mood seemed very light and excited to be performing and back in London.

Intermission

  • Wind that Shakes the Barley
  • Raglan Road
  • The Old Ways
  • Santiago (featuring extensive interplay between fiddle and clarinet)

Following Hugh Marsh’s frenzied finish to the song, LM remarked dryly “We’re still collecting for Hugh’s fiddle lessons.”

  • The Stolen Child (reflections on her own childhood in Manitoba in the outdoors and what childhood is like for many children now)
  • The Lady of Shalott (greeted with advance clapping)
  • Mummer’s Dance
  • All Soul’s Night
  • Never-ending Road
  • Beltane Fire Dance (entire hall was clapping along)
  • The Parting Glass (and if you didn’t know that was going to be the last song, you really weren’t listening to the album)

All in all, two encores (the song order got a little jumbled in my note taking) and a third for a curtain call. After the second encore, she asked lightly “Don’t you people have homes?” and I really think many of us would have camped out for another hour if she would have kept playing.

While I do really love her take on the traditional Celtic pieces, I confess that my favorites will probably always be the more Middle Eastern arrangements and the larger band pieces like “Santiago” and “All Soul’s Night”, so it was wonderful to see those included even though this tour’s emphasis is on the new (old) material and sparser arrangements with harp, piano, cello and fiddle. (The live version of “The Bonny Swans” takes on a really nice edge all its own.)

Bear gave it two huge paws up and we wandered out, happy little travelers to have shared a stop along the way with our favorite musical tour guides. According to the ‘net, her next stop is Paris and that’s exactly where we were headed also, leaving for the ferry directly from the concert. Great minds think alike. Godspeed until next time, Ms. McKennitt. We wish you all the peace, joy and happiness you have brought to us.

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