November 18, 2016
That was my favorite random sign of the day, Wednesday, November 16, maybe the week. Most of the day I spent walking anyway; no lifts required. It started sunny, like Tuesday it was mild, 15 or something. I stopped at an outpost of Bill’s (sort of the Australian Jamie Oliver) for scrambled eggs and bacon and sour dough which was immediately forgettable but the waiter was from, of all places, Prince Rupert. [caption id="attachment_4851" align="aligncenter" width="1008"] From the National Gallery terrace towards Big Ben[/caption] Late morning I went to the National Gallery for the Caravaggio show. First, I’ve never particularly liked the National. I think the outlook, so prominent, facing down (literally down) at parliament, puts it metaphorically on a pedestal. Plus, the “national” in the title gives it an all things bright and beautiful motif which prevents it from being as brilliant as it could be. Special exhibitions: Next door and down two flights please. Seriously! [caption id="attachment_4852" align="aligncenter" width="847"] The Taking of Christ, a work of staggering beauty, absolutely impossible to capture in a photo (NB: Caravaggio painted himself into the artwork, carrying the lamp)[/caption] The second thing about Caravaggio is that, if you care, if you care at all, you’ll never see anything sufficiently in a “show” as most of his work never leaves the apse where it was painted (probably in Rome). Anyone especially in awe of Caravaggio is not going out of their way for a Caravaggio show, they are making a pilgrimage. But who cares. This is a good show, an impressive show, a moving show. Crammed into seven small rooms, poorly lit (any dimmer and we’d be Ebeneezer Scrooge with an oil lamp), stuffy and with barely an inch to maneuver, it is from start to finish absolute gold. With fewer than a dozen actual Caravaggio’s, but many from Cecco, his servant slash student slash possible lover, along with a slew of those who followed or copied or admired him, it is start to finish dead impressive. [caption id="attachment_4853" align="aligncenter" width="1008"] Neal's Yard gets Christmassy[/caption] At some point in the afternoon, after ambling about the West End, Soho and Fitzrovia, I passed a Curzon showing Tom Ford’s latest, Nocturnal Animals, with a start time only four minutes hence. I ducked in. Well. Well, well. It’s a long ways to go for not too much return. In the style of this cinema, I’d prefer Nebraska; more laughs. But the Michaels (Sheen and Shannon) both shine, while Amy Adams does a scene without lipstick. Meow. Any more base on Armie Hammer and you’d have the George Hamilton Story Retold. Casting three Abercrombie and Fitch models as your hillbilly deviants shows a) little knowledge of film and character and b) that he’s never seen a Coen brothers' film, cast to perfection to within an inch of their lives. For Ford, everything has to be beautiful, even some poor uneducated rapist sap with a flush toilet on his front deck. [caption id="attachment_4854" align="aligncenter" width="969"] The umbrellas in the window of this shop are 245. That's 245 pounds sterling. Each.[/caption] The weather had changed after the film. Darker. London does that. Unpredictable. At one point I picked up new specs from Black Eyewear. Each frame they sell is inspired by a jazz artist. If you have the chutzpah, I’d recommend Dizzy or Miles or Duke. I went a little waspier. [caption id="attachment_4855" align="aligncenter" width="611"] Vanessa Redgrave in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, 1966, at Wyndham's[/caption] For dinner a set price affair in Covent Garden at Café Murano. After dinner, play five of six: No Man’s Land. Like the title of this post, lift not working, use other lift, that could be dialogue lifted from any Pinter work; sharp, ironic, pointed. The play is brilliant, cerebral, in a weird way haunting, and if you have the patience, rewarding. But to pull it off, to make it work, to make it worthwhile, it has to be over the top brilliant. Anything else is simply incoherent chatter. [caption id="attachment_4856" align="aligncenter" width="1008"] Wyndham's Theatre[/caption] This is the “hot ticket” play of the week, the only one which sold a full slate of standing room only tickets--on a Wednesday no less; in fact, I could have resold my ticket in the “royal circle” at a profit. Nobel laureate Pinter, the “Sirs” McKellan and Stewart, Damien Molony (not known in Canada unfortunately) and Owen Teale (yes, Game of Thrones Owen Teale). Stellar cast (better performances from Teale and Molony in fact). Sold out run. Going international with NT Live in December. Check, check, check. [caption id="attachment_4857" align="aligncenter" width="1008"] The Royal Circle looking up to the Grand Circle peeking up to the balcony at the Wyndham's[/caption] But the production is not stellar; the direction is predictable, the staging almost tired. You can only imagine, dream, of how magical Gielgud and Richardson would have been in the 1970s original; you cannot fathom why there is but one long static set of lighting, not much in the way of production, sound only at act’s end, and sections of near infinity where there is no movement only elocution. I felt sorry for the 20 per cent or so of those attending under 30, who felt alienated by the cryptic dialogue and metaphor, the lack of linear development, the inertia. But, still, they got their standing O. So it goes. [caption id="attachment_4858" align="aligncenter" width="725"] Two men who have seen their name in lights many times, over many years[/caption]
November 17, 2016
I had an affair with a tennis pro once. Love meant nothing to him. [caption id="attachment_4831" align="aligncenter" width="250"] The second round of entrance security...[/caption] It took me 45 minutes to walk to Waterloo, 15 more minutes to walk to the Jubilee line, 12 minutes to walk from the arrival platform to the 02, and another 47 minutes to get through the two security gates and to my seat once entering the stadium. But I felt safe. [caption id="attachment_4833" align="aligncenter" width="250"] Ex-Canadian Rusedski[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4834" align="aligncenter" width="250"] The rock stars arrive[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4835" align="aligncenter" width="250"] Thiem responds to Monfils[/caption] My double double date with the ATP started with a doubles match: Jamie Murray, Andy’s lesser known but (on the doubles circuit) equally accomplished sib, and Soares, against the Bryan brothers, who I saw play back in 2012. The Bryans are twins; you can tell them apart because Mike is the one who doesn’t look like Bob. That was a fun but straight set affair. The singles match followed: the balletic and sometimes neurotic but almost always entertaining Gael Monfils with the up and comer and potential heir to Nadal (?), Dominic Thiem. Thiem played the first set like he wanted to win; Monfils with his faux injuries and loopy drop shots capitulated. Monfils played the second set like the player he is and dumfounded Thiem. Then they played a third set of what’s commonly known as tennis and in the end Monfils dropped it all. But you know, he had a hot date and plans for the clubs later, so all was not lost. [caption id="attachment_4837" align="aligncenter" width="225"] Look up, look down. Which one has the urinal?[/caption] In the break between afternoon and evening, over two dozen restaurants that surround the 02 fill up, chock full. Dinner at 5 p.m.; I could have been in Vancouver. I had Thai at a communal table with: a Trinidadian woman living in London who has queued at Wimbledon successfully for seven years; a Russian woman who is going to every session (every session! Day and night! For a week!); a woman from Tokyo who was doing something similar to me, leaving her husband at home and hunkering down for the ATP; and a German couple who were bemused by our dedication to the sport but reticent to weigh in. Everyone laid down their cards (Federer fan, Nadal fan, Djokivic fan, etc.). A seemingly cranky, visibly limping, Boris B leaves the practice session: Through a different exit than Novak! I was mid lower bowl for the afternoon, row Q. Quite good I thought. For the evening I was in third row. Third row. In keeping with the title at top, the crowd was significantly different day to night. The afternoon session had a lot of men that looked like Jonathan Pryce and women that looked like Frances de La Tour; the evening it was more women that looked like Rachel Griffiths and men like Ray Winstone. With a pint. I came into the arena early to watch Novak hit the practice court. The evening session began with Dodig and Melo versus Mirnyi and Huey. Max Mirnyi. Great name. Treat Huey. Great name. Mirnyi used to play singles; at nearly two meters he was stunningly impressive in stature, but as with many of the tall boys he lumbers rather than lunges. The Brazilian and Croatian completely overpowered them. [caption id="attachment_4839" align="aligncenter" width="245"] Shakira's husband[/caption] A footballer with his kid came in and sat at the VIP seats next to us. This is how little I know about sport: He is Gerard Pique, plays for Barcelona, and is married to Shakira. To which I say you think he would have better taste in denim. The evening singles session, Novak and Milos, was spectacular tennis. Only two sets, but taut, well fought, over two hours, with umpteen opps for Raonic, but never was he able to capitalize. To see his 141 mph serve at eye level, well that’s a thing to behold. Did I mention I was seated in the third row? In the two pics above you'll see that the towel behind the ball girl for Novak is an official tournament towel and that Milos is using a generic white towel from the locker room. It started with Wimbledon, players stealing towels as souvenirs. Now official towels on the tour are limited, so the "newer" guys keep them as part of the trophy room but the old guys, with too much loot to display, don't care. Did I mention I was seated in the third row? [caption id="attachment_4845" align="aligncenter" width="712"] Oh and I finally got a half decent exterior shot of the Air BnB place.[/caption] The crowds dispersing after the match onto the Jubilee line, thirty wide, were staggering. I took the train the “wrong” way to Stratford, as it was near empty, then back into Holborn on the Central.
November 15, 2016
A trip to London without a stop at the V&A is criminal. So I waded through the Theobald’s Road traffic towards the West End and took the tube to SW10. Of the three current exhibitions, two appealed to me: A Brief History of Underwear (geddit?) and You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970. I chose the latter; as did half the people in the museum. [caption id="attachment_4809" align="aligncenter" width="1008"] The "soupy dress" is centre[/caption] In keeping with popular culture, the show was exhaustive. But a lot of fun. I found out that Mati Klarwein was Andy Warhol’s favorite artist. (My Warhol quote as the title of this post is better than what they used in block capitals, his comment that "when you think of it, department stores are museums" but I give it to them that as flip and candid as that remark was department stores have, perversely, become exactly that.) That Alan Aldridge did many of those exquisite illustrations for the Beatles. The Woodstock room (the film projected on three walls) included a shrine to Jimi Hendrix (instruments and “costumes”), and a drum kit that belonged to Keith Moon replete with adornments of Lily Langtry. [caption id="attachment_4812" align="aligncenter" width="1280"] Artwork by Mati Klarwein. Not as famous as Bitches Brew, I know...[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4813" align="aligncenter" width="1008"] Revolution by Alan Aldridge[/caption] A large section of the exhibit paid tribute to Expo ’67 in Montreal, another major alcove focused on the Whole Earth Catalog; that’s a blast from the past. [caption id="attachment_4814" align="aligncenter" width="1008"] The Woodstock Room[/caption] The emphasis fell mostly on the political, anti-Nam and free-love, freedom focus of the late 60s. But a quote from Bowie spoke more to my generation than The Who: “We never got it off on that revolution stuff.” If there was one omission, which I can’t unequivocally attest to, it’s that Guy Peelaert wasn’t anywhere to be seen. True, Rock Dreams came out in ‘73, but it was in more basements and hipster coffee tables than the WE Catalog ever was and encapsulated the previous decade as well as half the record covers the V&A had amassed. Which, alas, they weren’t selling as posters or wallpaper. [caption id="attachment_4815" align="aligncenter" width="1008"] The V&A is free. You walk in off the street...[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4816" align="aligncenter" width="641"] ...and this is what you see.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4817" align="aligncenter" width="1008"] For free. How great is that?[/caption] Afterwards I did "my standard" South Ken loop: walked the Fulham Rd past a litany of six figure parked cars and luxe shops with bespoke garments, down to the King’s Road, to Sloane Square, up to Knightsbridge then back to South Ken. [caption id="attachment_4818" align="aligncenter" width="774"] Damien Hirst anyone?[/caption] On the King’s Road I passed Vivienne Westwood’s World’s End, not much changed from the exterior in 40 years. How many mortgages, Cote d’Azur vacations and Damien Hirst’s has that shop pulled in? It was a great walk but if I saw one Donatella Versace lunching and shopping, I saw a dozen Donatella Versace’s. [caption id="attachment_4820" align="aligncenter" width="1008"] Tarte tatin with creme fraiche and a flat white[/caption] With a sliver of rain threatening I had salad and “pie” at a café near where Pucci Pizza used to be. [caption id="attachment_4822" align="aligncenter" width="1008"] Uh oh. In sterling silver. Some people just have too much money.[/caption] In the evening I went to The Red Barn, a new play at the National. It has quite the pedigree: Novel by Simenon, play by David Hare, a stellar cast of 14 (including Mark Strong, who’s probably best known for the Kingsmen movies but was in fact brilliant in Tinker Tailor next to Gary Oldman, and Elizabeth Debicki, the femme fatale in The Night Manager). The production design is magnificent; modern, creative, ingenious. The sound design excellent. Yet, if you Google the online chatter, there is nothing but moaning about how “cinematic” it is and why is it a play if they really wanted to produce a movie. Well, I say burn Robert Le Page at the stake. Once upon a time a curtain going up was radical. We’ve come to accept it. Instead of curtains rising and falling and sets rotating, the scrim contracts and expands to hone focus on faces, places, scenes. Conceptually, it’s beyond clever: We have a “Revolutionary Road” look inside upper middle class lives on the Eastern Seaboard circa Nixon’s presidency. A nice bookend to the V&A show earlier—this is the class of adults the baby boomers wanted to dethrone with their anti-war and free love ethos. And in order to provide a slice of this life, the literal use of a camera’s aperture, in the shape of the scrim, is widened and narrowed to frame scenes, end scenes, shift scenes, emphasize scenes. [caption id="attachment_4824" align="aligncenter" width="2600"] The snow storm at the start[/caption] If there is an issue, it’s this: I paraphrase a recent blog post by Sky Gilbert bemoaning plays without an intermission. I call it the 87 minute rule. The majority of theatre goers are older. And we need a bathroom break. No, seriously, we need a bathroom break. Who are these dictators directing plays that run two hours without a break? But in the spirit of getting young people into the audience, they need to check their phones. Two hours without an interval is more criminal than skipping the V&A. [caption id="attachment_4825" align="aligncenter" width="928"] The drama unravels...[/caption] Full house on a Monday; nearly 900 people. Not too shabby.
November 14, 2016
And just like that it was Monday. The weekend was positively somnolent. I put a load of laundry in and accidentally somehow entered in a code for the “childproof lock” which I solved after an hour on Google (and now that brand of washers keeps popping up in my mail ads; how boring these algorithms are). It was dreary Saturday morning, grey and drizzly and very London, so not difficult to read in bed over coffee and take a late start. I didn’t have a lot on the agenda but I did got one thing done: For much of the afternoon I wandered through Covent Garden and the West End, window shopping, stepping by, through, and even once over, mad crowds of other weekenders. [caption id="attachment_4797" align="aligncenter" width="1008"] Pierre Herme Christmas Window[/caption] I chose the worst possible weather for an exterior shot of the flat where I’m staying. The penthouse is a multi-level three bedroom. My studio, street level, is a decidedly simpler affair. In the evening I tried to get into a café in Covent Garden for a pre-theatre dinner, specifically a place with a bar for a single, but the shopping hordes had descended en masse, and eventually settled on a rather tony Italian place where the bartenders tried to match me up with two lovely single ladies. The Dresser has been remade more times than necessary, perhaps most famously with Albert Finney although the recent film version with Ian McKellan and Anthony Hopkins is especially good. [caption id="attachment_4802" align="aligncenter" width="756"] Duke of York's interior from stalls[/caption] I guess most people know Ken Stott from the Hobbit franchise, although he goes way back to the BBC 1986 Singing Detective in a supporting role; and I saw him in Heroes, in 2005, with John Hurt and Richard Griffiths. He is an exuberant actor on stage, well worth the price of admission. But the production tended towards the literal, and certainly lacked the heft of iHo the night before. Nevertheless, front row of the dress circle wasn’t too shabby. [caption id="attachment_4804" align="aligncenter" width="756"] Insert hyperlink to IMDB Simon Kennedy (V)[/caption] Sunday the sun shone and I met Simon in Hampstead for what was supposed to be lunch but turned into some pub hopping and an early dinner. The Roebuck, our first stop, had as many dogs in the pub as patrons. Simon specifically asked for 500 words on the blog. I thought I’d just reference/tagline most of the movies, TV shows, books and celebs we dished. Match the tagline or quote to the movie/show/celeb. No Googling. Worst episode ever. The most bizarre murder weapon ever used. Rough, tough Chuck Tatum, who battered his way to the top ... trampling everything in his path - men, women and morals! We are not alone. We are all born ghosts of uninvited accidents and fears. Warning: The nightmare has not gone away. See them all in a film about fantasy. And reality. And vice. And versa. From the moment they met it was Murder! A place beyond your dreams. A movie beyond your imagination. So you had sex with a lesbian. You gotta have sex with two lesbians, that’s the whole point. The movie too HOT for words. There was only one man left in the family, and the mission was to save him. The mystery, the suspense, the adventure, the call—that started it all. As the A-Troupe dancers prepare for the regional dance competition, relationships and loyalties are put to the test. Paul doesn’t like theatre. He’s film. Sometimes he wants to go to a film as long as it’s, you know, under lit, or overexposed, so long as there’s no pleasure to be derived. A neurological opera. Ever hear of Planet of the Apes? Er, the movie or the planet? The brand new multi-million dollar musical. And you are starring as the human. It’s the part I was born to play baby. Camp, deluded, and owner of a pet monkey, it’s [spoiler] meets Wacko Jacko. "I'd always heard that you had some talent." He replies: "That was last year. This year I'm trying to make a living." The following picture, also discussed, from a church in Rome, takes us well over the anticipated 500 words. Done.
November 13, 2016
Remembrance Day: Friday was set to be glorious. I dragged my sorry jetlagged ass out of bed and did something I’ve never done in London: Took the train to Hampton Court, then walked the Thames Path to Richmond. I was under the impression this would be a seven and a half kilometre walk, a breeze. I forgot, like pound sterling, the UK never fully adopted all the European “fashions”: The speed you travel here and the distance you travel? Miles. So three miles in I discovered it would be a little longer than anticipated. [caption id="attachment_4771" align="aligncenter" width="1008"] Welcome to Hampton Court.[/caption] The start is Hampton Court. (A mere 18 pounds entrance fee; too rich for my blood.) The path along the bank follows the Hampton Court Park which functions as a commons/golf course/deer pasture/duck sanctuary/dog off-leash park. It was at Kingston Upon Thames, where you cross the river to stay on the path, I discovered I was three miles into the walk, not kms. You can, if the signage is correct, walk all 29 miles from Hampton Court to Tower Bridge. [caption id="attachment_4777" align="aligncenter" width="1008"] What you can't see in this picture are the golfers, deer and dogs, all on the same plot[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4778" align="aligncenter" width="250"] Parks Canada would never endorse...[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4779" align="aligncenter" width="250"] Actual use of the word "ait" outside of a NYT crossword[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4780" align="aligncenter" width="1008"] After the mortgage there was only enough left for a dinghy[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4781" align="aligncenter" width="1008"] A Grand Designs monstrosity to be?[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4782" align="aligncenter" width="1008"] Although an idyllic corner of London, as anyone who's watched Wimbledon knows, LHR isn't far[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4783" align="aligncenter" width="1008"] Across the river at Marble Hill House[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4784" align="aligncenter" width="1008"] Teddington. Paddington's lesser known older brother.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4785" align="aligncenter" width="648"] Obligatory selfie.[/caption] After Kingston you walk through Canbury Gardens, Ham Lands (a 72 hectare nature reserve), Ham Lake, past Eel Pie Island, across from Marble Hill Park, along Petersham Pastures, through Buccleuch Gardens then into Richmond. At the end of it all lies the White Cross, a Young’s pub, some gold at the end of the rainbow. The day started cool. The day started cold: five degrees (Celsius, but, yes, there is Fahrenheit all over the place). I was zipped and grateful for packing a scarf. But by midday it was (according to the BBC) 10 degrees, although eating lunch on the deck of the pub with my jacket off it must have been hotter with the humidex… [caption id="attachment_4786" align="aligncenter" width="1008"] Richmond in the distance[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4787" align="aligncenter" width="1008"] Buccleuch Gardens, Richmond[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4788" align="aligncenter" width="1008"] Not a mirage[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4789" align="aligncenter" width="756"] Get thee behind me Terrible Thursday[/caption] After lunch I caught the train back to Russell Square intending for a nap but as with all things London I was out of time. People jokingly talk about doing one thing a day; London is the apogee of ensuring you suffer if you try to break it. The play I was seeing started at seven (7 p.m.!). There wasn’t much time to do anything but make a cup of tea and head back out to the tube. Tony Kushner’s iHo is a cerebral tour de force played exquisitely by an ensemble cast at the Hampstead Theatre (which is in Swiss Cottage). Despite the “generosity of text” (the first act is an hour, then an intermission, the second act an hour ten, then an intermission, then another 50 minutes--I mean it could be Wagner) it was emotionally riveting, even given the generally flawless Brooklyn accents which faltered only a couple of times towards the end. Kushner’s writing is a collision of metaphor with plot; you’re never sure if there is a story developing or just a lot of deeper meaning crammed onto itself like a heap of dirty laundry. He never seems burdened by offering too much exposition. Barbs aside, it was brilliant; but when Woody Allen exaggerates reality, in say Radio Days, with a whole family talking at once, the chaos is pure humour, pastiche. Wen Kushner actually develops character and plot together with seven actors in three different scenes all talking at once, that’s exhaustion, a passive aggressive taunt. (At least in Tamara, the 1981 play about the artist of the same name, you followed characters from room to room absorbing the plot how and when you wanted.) Still, sold out, two ovations, chillingly good. If you left on a sort of artistic high, as I did, then hit the tube, you were quickly deflated by the Scottish and English football fans celebrating (England) and drunkenly commiserating (Scotland) the World Cup qualifying match. All that said, after such a stupendous day, nothing could have been as thrilling, surprising and memorable as seeing one of the finest living UK actors sitting alone in the foyer. That tops seeing Mike Nichols at Heroes in 2005 (but not of course David Bowie in Chelsea in 1986). [caption id="attachment_4792" align="aligncenter" width="1008"] Whishaw fun fact: He was spectacular as a psycho killer called Baby in a play called Mojo[/caption]
November 12, 2016
...didn't get to bed last night." Flying is a drag. It doesn’t matter where you sit or what they feed you the human being is not meant to spend much (if any) time at 39,000 feet, let alone nine hours. Although seamless, and with a German crew that was so friendly and helpful it seemed they’d been work-shopped on managing Trip Advisor reviews characterizing them as cold and stern, it didn't matter; it was still, after all, an overnight flight in the wrong direction. A 747 today looks amazingly retro. What, just 20 seats upstairs? They have the look of 70s glam rock. It’s unbelievable there are still so many in the air. I was fortunate to be in the first row, alone, upstairs, but flying is flying. [caption id="attachment_4756" align="aligncenter" width="756"] Fog over Richmond leaving YVR[/caption] A starter of quinoa, beet, asparagus and feta. About the best thing they served. A salad drenched in mayonnaise, potato and fennel braised on the side and alongside a foreign body that was entirely unpalatable but was called beef with a gorgonzola glaze. Cheese (served with Premium saltines!) and fruit. I passed on the cheesecake. Then, in keeping with Terrible Thursday, declined the breakfast (an omelette with charcuterie and fruit) as well as a snack on the connecting flight (a crab salad, bread, cheese and a Lindt chocolates). Arriving in FRA: Frankfurt is as easy to navigate as a lab rat maze, smaller than Lichtenstein but not by much, with smoking bars that ventilate into the corridor and enough lighting for an elderly Handel to sketch out an oratorio. It took a full hour, no joke, to walk from the arrival gate to the tram to the next terminal to walk through security to stroll to the departure gate. Which was, perversely, locked behind glass doors. I was fortunate to be able to get into the lounge and take a shower and be somewhat refreshed. Clouds over the UK. The sun still shines on post-Brexit UK. Sort of. That white blob on the river is the 02 arena where the tennis will be held. The arrival was Terminal 2 at LHR. Terminal 2; I didn’t know it even existed anymore. Judging by the arrivals hall, neither did any other international carrier. Even the Heathrow Express doesn’t connect--you have to traverse a km trek to 3. The Air BnB flat is in Bloomsbury, or Holborn, around the corner from Holborn Hall on a mews. Small, unmistakably compact, but well-appointed in a new-build from the A+D Design firm. The first thing I did after unpacking was take a two hour nap. Sufficiently alert I decided I could add one extra theatrical entertainment to my breakneck pace and got a ticket to The Entertainer, which was closing the next night, and was Kenneth Branagh’s last performance with his theatre company. The cast should have been a draw. Greta Scaachi, of White Mischief and The Player, among many others, had memorized her lines, and delivered them it seemed without error. The niece was played by Daisy, the scullery maid from Downton Abbey. If you remember her voice as being slight, undecided and high-pitched you’ll know a) that wasn’t an act and b) it translated poorly off a soundstage. The heavyweight of the night was Gawn Grainger (who?), as the patriarch, a pre-Norman Lear UK 1950s Archie Bunker; but one strong pillar can’t buttress the whole she-bang. Branagh, probably a tad concerned about comparisons with Olivier who as the original lead more or less defined the role (sorry Michael Gambon), played it alternately like Jude Law and Hugh Grant, was nevertheless charismatic in the consummate actorly style. Still, start to finish, a lot of 33 and a third and not enough 78 rpm. [caption id="attachment_4765" align="aligncenter" width="1600"] THE ENTERTAINER, , The Garrick Theatre, London, 2016, credit: Johan Persson[/caption] The Guardian drew a comparison with Arnold Wesker’s revival of Roots at the Donmar in 2013. I just happened to be in London then and just happened to see it and, yes, the Wesker remount presented a grim, stark, and penetrating view of mid-20th century UK whereas Osborne’s play seemed a little forced and theatrical (in a bad way, not an ironic or satirical or sharply observant way). Branagh did tap dance though. Believably. Who knew? Even if the arts disappoints, there are plenty of diversions in my local(!)
June 18, 2016
"Walking out" was one of the customary amusements of society life in Madrid... It's also what we're doing today. Last day of the last leg of Euro 2016. The pic above, a few steps from our hotel, is the Palacio Longoria, an Art Nouveau building that verges on Gaudi. It currently hosts the Spanish Society of Writers and Editors. A gorgeous day. We got late checkout from the Urso, which suits our late flight, so we had a leisurely morning. First a snack, then to the Museo de Historia de Madrid. The old Royal Hospice Centre maintains its 17th century exterior but is completely gutted inside. What's really brilliant about the layout is that you go through the history of the city, of Madrid, with art, maps, royal and household items of the day, so you get a context of the history, the reasons why court oils were painted, an idea of daily life over the centuries, not just displays. An 1846 scale model of a bullring, since torn down. A woman's cockade with a spy hole from about 1810; she covers her face but can still see the goings on. And I thought it was an artifice of Moliere. A wonderful hieroglyph of Napoleon. Madrid fun fact: When Napoleon made his brother Joseph king, who was much despised, Madrilenos gave him a number of nicknames including Bottle Joe. A photograph of a square from 1857. Still waiting for the sewer system... A museum placard worth quoting: "The Madrid of the 16th and 17th centuries, with its motley blend of states, races, vices and virtues, languages, colours and odours, palaces and hovels, luxury and misery, intrigues and reputations, opportunities, hopes and failures, was perceived by Baroque contemporaries as the cosmopolitan, chaotic, confusing epitome of a "New Babylon." It was a city that prayed, worked, fought, begged, dressed up, laughed, traded, gossiped, plotted, loved and thieved in its plazas, squares, streets, markets, boulevards, taverns, gardens and gullies." The gem of the museum is a scale model, 18 meters squared, in the basement, constructed over 23 months, completed in 1830 by a military engineer at the request of King Ferdinand VII. The model was amazing. It reminded me of the Challenger Relief Map, the contour map of the whole of BC, which, as kids, we used to stare at when the PNE was on, but in true Vancouver fashion has been store-housed in a warehouse somewhere. [caption id="attachment_4744" align="aligncenter" width="784"] I found a copy on Reddit.[/caption] Afterwards, we went back, showered, packed, and took a cab to the airport. First leg, MAD to JFK on Iberia. We got to the airport in about half an hour, checked in, did the tax and customs business, then found out we had to take a train to another terminal. The lounge was huge. We were famished, and immediately dug into some sandwiches. If only we'd waited a mere ten minutes longer, to 2 p.m., when "lunch" starts, and a raft of hot food made an appearance. Doh! And, get this: They serve dinner in the lounge starting at 9:30 p.m. Compare that with Montreal, where AC shut down the international lounge at 8:30. We boarded about half an hour prior, seated together in the centre aisle. It was a very smooth flight, with a pretty good lunch (including gazpacho, first time I've ever had gazpacho on a plane) followed by some tapas an hour before landing. The JFK transfer was a hassle, writ large, going through passport control, waiting forever for luggage, going through customs, re-checking baggage, getting new boarding passes, then going through security (nearly half an hour in the "priority" line!), then a hugely busy BA lounge. I had a shower; travellers tip--carry a new pair of socks, underwear and a t-shirt in your carry on. Even when jet-lagged, a shower and a change is incredible. We boarded a little late but caught up in air. Despite the delay, Cathay Pacific is a great, great airline, overall, and certainly has the most comfortable biz class seat. They served us dinner then, despite our best efforts, we nodded off for an hour and a half. Arrival was smooth for us, luggage came down quick, and we were in a cab and home by two. YVR was crazy busy past one a.m. All the Asian flights lined up for Hong Kong, Taipei, etc. Night flight window shot. YVR International departure halls at 1 a.m.; standing room only. The short goodbye.
June 16, 2016
This morning was lovely but Vancouver cold, around 14 degrees, I felt like a Parisian at Roland Garros; sunny skies with fair weather clouds and a wicked wind. But it did mild up as the wind died down. We walked through old Madrid to the Royal Palace. I was feeling sort of palace-d out, and was only enticed by the Caravaggio exhibit included with the ticket price. The exterior is quite grand. Palatial I believe is the term. The church adjacent to the palace is equally imposing. Cathedral Almudena dates to 1879, but wasn’t “finally” completed until the 1980s. Exterior is neoclassical to harmonize with the palace. We didn’t explore the gothic interior (as it costs an additional six euro…). The view from the palace to the Campo Del Moro gardens. British royalty never had the foresight to buy up land and preserve a castle view! Wow. Madrid fun fact: Philip II created Madrid as the capital in 1561 when it was nothing but a backwater. Over 50 years the population went from 9,000 to 85,000. Madrid fun fact bonus: Madrid is the third largest city in the EU. VIP. His secretary is on her mobile, his bodyguard on the steps below. You can take pictures of the entrance, but not inside the castle. It is grand, as if I need to write that. There is a Stradivarius room. There is not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, but six Stradivarius's. Or is it Stradivaria? Accidental shot as we left the dining hall. Seats 140. Accidental shot as we left the chapel. If you've seen a palace, even if you've seen, say, the Hermitage, art aside, you think you've seen them all. But Madrid is one of those "beyond gilt" exaggerations of what it means to have both extreme wealth and power. Given that photos weren't on the menu, I didn't want to blog without including two of my favorite rooms; so I bought postcards. This is the porcelain room. Serious. It's 100 per cent porcelain. (Attached to lathe; very easy to dismantle and store if you're under attack.) Constructed between 1765 and 1771. And this room, built as an anteroom for one of the Charles', took 55 years to design, and so became known for its designer, Gasparini. Yes, 55 years to design one anteroom. This is an un-retouched photo! That's some lance Sir Lancelot. I like the cut of his jib. In separate rooms is the armory, a collection of armor, shields, artillery, saddles and so forth. As muskets were introduced, armor had to be built heavier, sometimes weighing as much as 40 kilos. The palace was sensational. The exhibit, so-so; there were two Bellini's and one Caravaggio. Although that one Caravaggio was a grandstand of expertise. Salome Holding the Head of John the Baptist. This is not the same as the Salome in the National in London which, to be a little unfair, is a bit "busy" but rather a simpler, more visually striking, and deeply nuanced version. We wound up our trip to the palace, wandered back into central Madrid, and took a tapas lunch at a recommended place called Lateral. A lot of the official buildings were flying US and Pride flags, post-Orlando. Oh-oh... Following lunch we headed to the Museo Reina Sofia, which is really a National Museum in the purest sense. Originally designed as a hospital, opened in 1756, converted to an art gallery in 1990. I would say the conversion has some strong points and some weak points. The central courtyard is a strong point. We've been thinking about a Miro for the cabin. Or maybe a Calder. A seven foot tall working metronome. After if was defaced at a Dadaist exhibition, Man Ray rebuilt it. As national gallery collections go, this is rather grand: Braque, Leger, Picasso, Miro, Gris, Man Ray, Dali, etc., etc., etc. The star of the show is Picasso's Guernica, and it is the star of the show, although you can't take a picture of it. But you can take pictures of the Dali's. Strange. The pic above is lifted from the web, on purpose; I couldn't see anything online, including HD video, that captured the nuance. It's a much layered piece. And, to be mean, there were times in his career when Pablo phoned it in. But not here. There is some substantial more modern art, Damien Hirst, Cindy Sherman, bla, bla, bla, but there is an absorption limit to this sort of activity. We hit our cultural tipping point sometime around 3:30, and began the trek back to the Urso. In case of fire, use the elevator. A "living wall" en route. Was originally a power station. I did the spa thing back at the hotel, but soon enough (or, in the case of being Canadian, not quite soon enough) it was the Madrileno's dinner hour, what in YVR we call night-night. In the architectural school there is a chic and inviting restaurant called Bosco de Lobos. The terrace spreads into a courtyard, the restaurant, all glass, hovers over it as the courtyard dips a level. We shared a Caesar, artichokes, then SS had a fabulous home-made pasta and I indulged in red meet. We've only scratched the surface of Madrid, but the only thing that would have made it better is, say, spotting Rafa getting into a limo.
June 15, 2016
Yesterday 29 degrees, today 21; beautiful weather but mainly a wind of “mistral” proportions keeping it temperate. Pleasantville in the sun, coolish in the shade. We didn’t add on (or need, at this point) a hotel breakfast, so were two Nespresso's ready to hit the road well before nine. We did what many, most, or maybe what all tourists do in Madrid: We went to the Prado. The museum opens at 10; there was already a very long line up for tickets well in advance. But we had bought our tickets from the hotel, so we avoided the line. Phew. Instead, we joined the next line-up, the line-up of people with tickets, waiting to get in. Then, once inside, we waited in another line-up, to see the special "El Bosco" or Bosch exhibition. There are no pictures allowed in the Prado so the blog won’t be littered with Samsung repros of old masters, but if you are the rare tourist to wander into the adjacent wing and up to the cloister, probably no one will notice if you take a pic. To list the masterpieces, Rubens, Goya, El Greco, Rubens, Raphael, Velazques, Titian, and even more friggin’ Rubens, is perhaps more tiring than listening to the audio explanations, as we did, over three hours in the AM then another in the PM. How civilized of the Spanish: You can leave the museum for lunch, then return on the same ticket. The Cardinal, by Raphael, is one of those pictures that when you finally see it in person you need to just soak it in. But there are also curiosities, Caravaggio look-alikes by artists in his circle, a Mona Lisa (brighter, happier and more colourful) by a pupil of Da Vinci, a Rubens where he modified a finished painting by adding extra canvas—and you can see the seam, and a very quirky Cano, the Miraculous Lactation of St. Bernard where a statue of the Virgin Mary squirts milk from her teat across the plaza to St. Bernard. The size, of the museum, the size of the actual paintings, mammoth to be exact, added to the volume of art, show that the Spanish court had a very close and enduring relationship with the finest artists on the continent for a very long time. We took lunch just in behind the Prado, at a lovely small café called Murillo. We started with some local cheese, bread and quince jam. Very persistent and brave sparrows flitted below our table for scraps. Ever seen a sparrow gorge on cheese? We returned to the Prado to finish the bucket list. The absolute over the top most amazing blow away part of the visit was the special celebration, in honor of 500 years of the life of Jheronimus Bosch, a collection of the most Bosch paintings and drawings ever assembled. Probably every pleb and their dog has at some time seen a poster, a t-shirt, a tea towel, with a reference to his The Garden of Earthly Delights, but to see his work, even his nominal sketches, up close, was beyond description. One painting, through laser tech, shows how Bosch painted over the patron to whom he was under contract to paint for, with a flesh eating plant. Mid-afternoon we left the culture behind and wandered into the old city. Just regular non-allegorical plants on view. Streets without tourists; compared to Prague, Madrid looks like a ghost town. The street signs in the old town depict what the street or neighbourhood meant. We wound our way up and down a number of narrow streets, until eventually we reached Plaza Mayor. Mayor translating, roughly, to main square. The building here, on the plaza, was the principal bakery for the city of Madrid in the 1700s, then became the central guild for all bakers, then in the 1800s became offices. The original frescoes deteriorated to such a point that a competition was created to repaint the façade. The current pictures, zodiac imagery, date to 1992. From Plaza Mayor we followed some pedestrian boulevards back towards our hotel. SS saw some spectacular snow globes—always on the lookout for his mum’s collection. Alas, he was distracted by some beautiful fans. Neither globes nor fans left the display windows. My mind was elsewhere: Iberico ham. On our route back we passed by the Museum of the History of Madrid, which we didn’t have the energy to face despite the fact that it was a) free and b) has a superlative Goya, but we believe was originally a hospital then a municipal building and had, as you can see, a spectacular baroque entrance dating to 1721. Back at the hotel we decided to use the spa. For guests, for anyone not booking a “treatment” for 200 euros, you can access the exceptional steam room and an unusual pool. Step one, call the elevator. Step two, figure out how to get all three doors open and closed, then relax on the two-seater. Step three, press “-1” not 0, which is the ground floor, not B as there is no basement. What did Europeans do before adopting negative numbers? The pool, such as it is, while therapeutic, is really a glorified hot tub, with jets and molded beds at either end. But it is incredibly relaxing (although the ceiling mirror belied the fact that I've totally gone off the so-called diet). We went out to dinner to a Wallpaper recommended place called Lobby Market. We shared a smoked burrata cheese with basil and tomato, ham croquettes, and two delicious mains. SS had a cod crudo marinated in orange with orange segments and pickled spring onion and peppers and pork rind. Despite the late hour, the city was very lively. Who knows what this is. This shot was taken at 10 p.m. Don't you love the days approaching summer solstice?
June 14, 2016
Our last day in Prague. We were packed, then down to breakfast, then running up the Fitbit steps before nine, to get to the Old Jewish graveyard. It was used for over 300 years, 1439-1787, but the land allotted to the Jewish community was never big enough. In fact, the area was so small it resulted in burial upon burial. Some graves are twelve deep. The pictures don’t do it justice; it has a beautiful serenity, in the centre of the Old Town, despite the ghetto backstory. Jewish gravestones tell a story, different images may indicate the character of the deceased or their profession. But for a goy like myself, discerning who was a musician, cantor or physician was “nigh impossible” to quote one web citation. We had a comedy of errors at first, splitting up, I was first in line at one ticket office, SS lining up then not having enough cash on hand at a different ticket office, but through the miracle of something called texting we sorted it out. I actually went to the Spanish Synagogue first. There is, on Trip Advisor, a review that reads “You must experience this experience.” I really can’t improve upon that. It is the “newest” synagogue in the old ghetto built on the site of the oldest. The design, which references the Alhambra, is as striking as it is detailed. Plus, bonus, I was the first tourist in. I was alone for about 15 minutes, immersed in this magnificent building. The existence of an organ in the synagogue caught me off guard, but according to placards on site the use of an organ to “inaugurate the Sabbath” dates back to the 17th century. Even the "lesser" intricacies in the stained glass geometric windows were astonishing. Beginning in 1942, inventory from "liquidated" synagogues was transferred to Prague "for safe keeping" under the auspices of the Nazis. Amazingly, these pieces are still in Prague, in one magnificent collection, on display. Mainly Torah crowns, shields, and other intricately designed silverware. We were back at the hotel and checked out just before 11. Although we spent five days in Prague and never took a tram, taxi or the underground once, we had booked a car for the airport. A spanking new tinted window leather interior Mercedes showed up. The driver had a client in the EU for which once a month he had to chauffeur him to Strasbourg. I like to feel like a rock star. Today's flight is PRG to MAD on Iberia. It was either Iberia or Czech airlines, and CZE didn't fly to Spain today. We checked in without much issue then went to the “lounge” which was small and eerily empty. In fact, half of the lounge was cordoned off. Three shots from the flight leaving the Czech Republic. (We didn't meet one local who preferred "Czechia.") Flying over the Pyrenees. Madrid's airport, picture worthy and groovy in a Matt Helm sort of way. A Stirling prize winner, I believe. Motion shot on the people mover. SS is checking his Fitbit! Futuristic arrival carrels. We are arriving in Spain on June 14. That means we missed June 13, the only day of the year in which the Spanish make Panecillos de San Antonio, small rolls marked with a cross, and, wait for it, Suspiros de modistillas which translates to Needlewoman's sighs, meringues filled with praline. So our loss. We'll make up for it with our hotel. This is the first "real" hotel of our trip, with door staff and desk staff and marked up mini bar. It's located in a renovated palace. "Not us, we live in a palace" I hear from an earlier blog entry. Our lovely second floor room (third floor in Canada) has hugely high ceilings, comfortable appointments, and a narrow balcony. This shot of the giant French door/windows is through the privacy screen. The bathroom isn't huge, but it has three components, the toilet (with a door), the shower, the bath. The marble staircase wraps around the archaic but gorgeous lift; stained glass runs along the stairwell. We went out for a long walk in the late afternoon heat (a whopping 29 degrees). The concierge recommended a close by neighbourhood describing it as having "the best shopping in Madrid" but what he meant was the most expensive: Tiffany's, Tod's, The Kooples. The Kooples? Iberico ham, wine, cheese, olives and olive oil. Western Europe is calling me. Oh dear. When will designers finally stop trying to get men to wear a short pants suit? It's the uniform of an Australian postie. That is, in case you're uncertain, a necklace. Comes with a warning of dowager's hump. Immediately we ran into the problem of any tourist in Spain: Getting hungry before nine in the evening (when restaurants open). As it was we stopped for tapas and that was more than sufficient. With the solstice approaching, we ended up back at the hotel by ten in a lovely dusk. Man in an expensive suit cycling. You know you're in Europe.