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I Get High

Although it’s spelled haight (the t is silent, the Welsh is hwcyntha).


And someone said fashion was dead…
Wednesday.  The best part of the morning was that no one knew who won
the election.  Oh, and it was sunny.  Colder than Vancouver, proper November eight
degrees cold, and, weirdly, all the leaves are not only on the trees still but
they’re green.
It was exciting, even thrilling to be back in London and for
it to be gorgeous enough to beckon walking.
Headed towards Sloane Square then along King’s Road, coffee at Nero,
shopping, back towards Harrods, into the West End and then all through Covent
Garden.  Did not pay 345 pounds for a
Burberry cashmere scarf or a similar amount for Vivienne Westwood shoes.  Had lunch at Canteen, a sort of nouveau and
improved version of pub fare (warm roast pumpkin and chicken salad in a light
Dijon dressing, very tasty if a tad overdressed, although I think a pie or
pasty would have been the thing).  Asked
the Italian bartender Riccardo, who was across the street lifting stock
shirtless, if I could take a picture and he said “no time” although there was
plenty of time.  Frontline reported on
the Russian oligarchs taking over London, and while they are around, or at
least I should say there are many Russians in Aston Martins and with shopping
from Fortnum’s, in my particular hotel they are shadowed by equally rich
Arabs.  But while that’s a decidedly
obvious element, it seems the city is also littered with surly Italian servers
mispronouncing coffee and saying “afters” as a question.
Lamp standard on The Mall


City of statuary (look up)



Above and below: The building that was, once upon a time, the Texas embassy
Part of being high on London is simply getting re-acquainted
with neighbourhoods, sites and buildings that I still remember discovering
first time round, thirty years ago.  At
the same time, I learnt two new things about London today: One, the lamp
standards that line the Mall have, in reference to England’s naval past, ships
atop each one.  And, second, when Texas
was briefly a republic, it actually had an embassy here.


There is, believe it or not, a back seat; makes our shopping cart look Aston Martin-ish
Decided to catch a matinee and checked out the half price
booth which was four deep in undecided tourists and tix for the play I wanted
to see at over 20 pounds, so walked the two short blocks to the Comedy and
scored a day ticket, stalls, unrestricted view seat for ten quid.  The Comedy is a cramped little theatre with
pillars and narrow stairs.  Eric Peterson
brought Billy Bishop there in the early 80s, to critical acclaim but public
bewilderment.  I saw Joseph Fiennes in an
unmemorable production six or seven years ago.
I was hoping for better.  Both
with the Fiennes vehicle and the play today.
A Chorus of Disapproval is the sort of play that you expect
an A student drama PhD to write.  In
fact, many of Ayckbourn’s plays are sort of like that, as if he was voted the
most likely to succeed in his class, and did, but became not necessarily the
best of his class.  A strong cast in a
Trevor Nunn production but really, the reason you are there for is for Rob
Brydon (the second funniest man in Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip).  He truly is amazing, charismatic, spot on
timing and with a language skill adept at making even a contemplative sigh
hysterical.  In fact, he broke up a
fellow thespian in the first act.  Many
seniors (in the matinee audience) could be heard whispering “she’s very good”
and “he’s very good” whenever someone performed to the second balcony but
Brydon was so consistently good he defied the whisperer.  That said, start to finish, despite the many
laughs and a bit of scenery chewing from the supporting roles, it wasn’t quite
up to the splash of four star reviews littered across the marquee.  In a Google search afterward I came across the apt phrase that at the expense of breadth of story it lacked depth of characterisation.
The Queen’s Head off King’s Rd.  Many fine memories, including having our drinks collected un-drunk at time.


Bird lights


Pistorius claims they give women an unfair advantage


It’s a little Verd, a little Wagner


Disney London.  Downsizing after Lucas took $4 billion off their hands.
Onto dinner.  If you
Google “eat out alone London” you will get in the first page of hits a
suggestion to take dinner at Joel Robuchon’s Michelin lauded L’Atelier.  Which I guess is a good recommendation as
it’s certainly not the sort of place I would have ventured into alone without a
search hit.
The place is discreetly tucked away behind where Charing
Cross Rd meets Shaftesbury Avenue, sort of the nexus of the West End, Covent
Garden and Bloomsbury.  In glossy black
with red undertones there is the feel of something both elegant and Asian pastiche.  It has a sort of Interview magazine cover
feel from the 70s, faux oriental grandeur.
If you’ve seen the film that Yves St. Laurent’s partner made about YSL after
his death, you’ll know the style.  It’s
of an era.
Stock photo.  I did not have the courage to bring a camera.
There is a bar restaurant on the ground floor, a restaurant
proper upstairs and a bar proper on top of that.  The ground floor, with a kitchen about the
size of a bachelor apartment, with around 12 chefs “plus” all sautéing and
reducing and whipping and foaming, is a hive of regimental activity with many “yes
chefs” and quiet acquiescence. Although spectacularly expensive, there is
a prix fixe theatre menu from 5:30 to six.
A subdued and appreciative crowd surrounds the bar.
While thinking about what to order I had a Sardinian white Vernaccia
which was listed “in the sherry style” and although I am baffled by that
description it was indeed both dry and deeply interesting in that nutty, woodsy
way sherry is, although not for a second was it anything but white wine.
Not famished, and absolutely certain everything would be
scrumptious-ed up with butter and oil, I took the starter and main for 28
pounds.  It was no surprise to be served,
first, an amuse bouche of foie gras, port wine and parmesan foam.  The foam, the omnipresent high end restaurant
tendency towards foam, which has long outlived its welcome, actually worked
very well, as it cut the foie’s richness without detracting from it (but so
would any number of lightly bitter flavours, without the salt).  The port was sort of lost on me but swirled
together it was perhaps the most decadent (non-)milk shake I’ve ever had.
A starter of chestnut veloute, a celeriac puree and
chestnuts with the veloute poured over top.
Chestnuts are one of those enticing aromas that beckon you on the
street; you buy a bag; you bite into one; and pthhft—they’re absolutely
tasteless, dry, mealy and banal.  But
here, with the dimension of celery, and the richness of the soup, it all
combined nicely, with the mealy-ness of the nuts lost in the smooth richness of
sauce.  I felt there was a tiny hint of
cardamom in there to boot.  Trust
Rubuchon to make chestnuts delectable.  With
that a Touraine which was good, not a star.
For main a saddle of lamb, pan roasted, I watched the chef
finger it lovingly to test its doneness, served with roasted potatoes (the
anticipated lemony overtures were brief to nonexistent) and a side of buttered
root vegetables which were as good as homemade which is I guess a backhanded
compliment.  Overall, the dish was
excellent, but I can’t help but say the lamb was ever so slightly, just a
smidgen, too done.  Recommended was a
Cote du Ventoux.  In Canada, CdV has long
been an underappreciated value wine and I remember many good vintages back in
Toronto as a student, but I don’t think it had the oomph to stand up to the
saddle, it was a trifle too weak, and I think that is one recommendation that
just didn’t pair perfectly.  There was no
dessert, no chocolate with the bill (the French tradition, what a letdown!)
and, as you can see, I didn’t take one picture.
But everything I ate, and watched come out of the kitchen, was a work of
art.  Great dinner.
The joys of paying only 10 pounds for the afternoon were
tempered by having to pay full price for the evening, a remount of an RSC
production of Twelfth Night with Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry (the half of Fry
and Laurie most North Americans don’t know).
It was at the Apollo, where Stephen and I saw a remount of The Country
Wife a few years back, a wonderfully intimate theatre but with a centre aisle
in the stalls that cuts out halfway.
“Twelfe Night” plays in rep with Richard III.  God knows how the cast that did Richard at
2:30 then quickly turned it around for three hours of Twelfth later that day;
something of the dedication actors have for the craft I guess…  The theme, much lauded, is to replicate the
purity of a version from Shakespeare’s time.
Thus, all the roles are played by men, there is actual candlelight
(dripping, often, wax across the stage) augmented by artificial, period
costumes, there are two tiers of seats specially built for the sides of the stage,
and actors come and go through the stage and stalls.  Mark Rylance, not that well known outside of
the UK (think Prospero’s Books) was Olivia, but the over-achievers were Belch
and his sot pal Andrew.  Having actual
musicians, lingering about, and playing actual music when appropriate (on
period instruments) was genius.
Above: Fry as Malvolio.  Below: Rylance as Olivia


I was seated (excellent seats BTW, perfectly centred with a
spectacular view) next to a young man called Oscar who was taking notes and I
asked him if he was a theatre student and he told me he was the assistant
director!  The actual director, Tim
Carroll, did an amazing job.  So, all in,
it was the type of rare theatrical event that makes you want to return to the theatre
repeatedly, and encourage the art, it put me in a hugely upbeat frame of mind,
it was just that good.  Like fly into
London for it that good.  However, there
is this one little problem: Twelfth Night is not the best comedy.  In fact despite the gorgeous language and
many amusing scenes, particularly as it unfolds, there is something grossly
overwritten about TN–and as it hits the three hour mark you do wonder to
yourself whether a sincere edit (taboo to the purists, I know) was in
order.  Somehow, unlike say in The
Tempest or All’s Well, you don’t connect with the characters or their plight or
really care.  Even the subtitle, As You
Will, is like the lax and lamer version of As You Like It.  In the end, despite Fry’s performance, you
don’t have any feeling, good or bad, about Malvolio.  Worse, you don’t really have any concern or
interest about the mistaken identities coming to light and the glimmer of all’s
well that ends well to the thing.  It has
been three decades since I last saw TN and, truthfully, I think it fair to say
it will be my last.  Still: If you’re
going to do TN, you couldn’t do it better and this really is a runaway must-see
Laura Ashely Approved

The author of Here Hare has traveled to over 45 countries on six continents, and has lived in Canada, the UK and Australia.

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