Nov 10 2014

St. Michael’s a jerk and other paintings at the National Gallery

The National Gallery in London holds oodles of amazing paintings across many centuries, from the medieval religious works (including a piece by Leonardo Da Vinci) through to Renaissance to some expressionists (with some works by Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gough). But here are a few paintings I found amusing beyond the quality of the art. I admit that this post is partially inspired by Women Having A Terrible Time At Parties In Western Art History, which is far more hilarious than I am capable of being.

Saint Michael Triumphs over the Devil (1468), painted by Bartholomé Bermejo, in which Saint Michael comes off as something of a dick.

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Nov 9 2014

All the World’s a Stage

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Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

It’s been a busy day in London, visiting Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the Tower Bridge Exhibit, and the Tower of London (including just about everything but the armory exhibit in the White Tower); taking Thames River Cruise; walking by Big Ben, Westminster Abby, St. James Park, and the Buckingham Palace; and then finishing up at London Bridge Experience.

My Favorite Bit of the Day: The Globe.

The Globe is as close of a replica to the original Globe theater as possible, considering there is not much beyond the information provided except in the travelogues of visitors. This is actually the third Globe. The first burned down only fifteen years after being built due to the genius idea to fire a cannon out of the attic as part of a special effect, which causes some of the burning cotton to set the roof aflame, though no one died. The second was rebuilt and closed down about 30 years after it opened, when the Puritans finally succeeded in closing all of the theaters.

This, the third Globe was rebuilt by Sam Wanamaker only 200 meters from where the original stood. Before starting the tour, an exhibition provides some background on the history of the Globe and how the replica was built, as well as including modern costumes designed to look like Elizabethan originals and recordings of famous monologues from Shakespeare’s plays.

Standing in front of the stage, learning about the tricks and understanding by being present really enhances how I feel about Shakespeare’s work. As the guide was speaking, just at her normal level, I could hear her voice reverberating off the rafters — the acoustics are amazing. Being there made me want to pick up and read some of his plays that I haven’t read before, or maybe just binge watch some of the movies.

The Globe is a working theater, too, putting on performances in (mostly) the old style with no electrical audio enhancement or special effects. The only lighting used is during evening performances, but it is used merely to allow the stage and audience to be lit to simulate the daytime experience, in which the audience and actors can see each other. In addition to Shakespeare’s plays, modern plays are also performed.

I would LOVE to have been able to see a performance at the Globe, but since it’s an outdoor theater, performances are only in the summer.

Fortunately, as an alternative, there is also the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, which is designed to be like an indoor, candle-lit Elizabethan playhouse — where they will be playing John Ford’s Tis a Pity She’s a Whore. Ford is a contemporary of Shakespeare and this is a play I read in college, which makes it doubly exciting. Tis a Pity is a story about incest between a brother and sister, which ends in a terrifically violent and bloody fashion in true Jacobean manner. Should be uncomfortably fun.

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Side view of the Globe, showing where the groundlings stand and other audience members sit.

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The heavens above the stage, where there’s a trap door for gods to descend.

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A happy traveler and Shakespeare lover.

The next leg of my travel will be work involved in an industrial city nearby and, thus, in a sense, slightly more mellow. So, I’ll be using the next few days to catch up on my London posts.


Nov 8 2014

A post about London

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I was un prepared for how crowded and busy London was going to be, but it was a good kind of crowed and only certain spots. I mean, I was a pain to maneuver a suitcase or an umbrella down the sidewalk sometimes, but it was also wonderful to be able to listen to the many different languages (French, Spanish, and other languages I couldn’t name).

Tonight when I came out of the National Gallery, the rain was falling heavy. I pulled out my umbrella, but my shoes and pants were still getting wet. I was cold and could feel the water wanting to seep into my shoes, but I stopped worrying about it and just loved the rain. It felt like London blessed me (even though I know it rains here all the time).

Later, as I walked away down quieter streets to the hostel, with the lights reflecting off the wet streets, I was struck again by the absence of people after the earlier rushing crush of bodies.

And that’s about all I have the energy for in this post. I visited the National Gallery and the Tate Museum today, both of which had me thinking thoughts (one particular set of thoughts likely to turn into a very long post), but at the moment, the jet lag and exhaustion have caught up with me.

Good night.


Nov 7 2014

The post in which I’m waiting at the airport

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I am at the airport. Waiting for my flight to London via Chicago.

Will be boarding any second now. Any second.

Excitement is present beneath the tedium. I’ve never been to the UK (Well, actually, I spent three days in Ireland, so that’s not entirely true). First time in Britain.

Since this will be a work trip, I’ll have just a little time to visit and check things out. In the day and a half I have in London, I plan to visit:
– the National Gallery
– the Tate Modern
– Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
– a Thames River Cruise
– the Tower of London
– the Tower Bridge
– the London Bridge Experience (a horror history tour)
– and walk around a whole lot, seeing Buckingham Palace with the changing I the guard, Big Ben, and plenty of other stuff, I’m sure.

I’ll have another half day after the conference, but I haven’t planned that out yet. Expect many London posts over the next week.

So, yeah, still waiting.

I should pull out my laptop and Nano for a bit, because I promised myself I would use the waiting while traveling to write.

So, here I go: waiting and writing.


Nov 6 2014

Autumn

Acer near Birch Walk

Photo: Derek Harper (Creative Commons)

Out strolling, I learn how
the ocher yellow birch leaves tremble
against a robin-egg-blue sky. In a fairy tale,
a man finds a grove of trees
with leaves of gold, and here, now,
I believe it to be true. He could have plucked
these very leaves
as proof of the world’s wonder.

* * *

I have lived in Northern California most of my life. There are few birch trees, if any, and few trees that even bother changing color with the coming of Autumn. The seasons are less defined, blending one into the other with little differentiation. The first signs of Fall came only a few weeks ago with a noticeable chill to the morning air, a few sporadic grey-skied days with light rains lasting no longer than a day.

I remember piles of leaves, brown and yellow and golden, covering lawns. The rustle and crunch of them beneath my sneakered feet, sweeping huge piles into the air with one sweep of my feel. I imagine these memories attached to my younger years in Alaska, but more likely it would have been California — making my nostalgia misplaced. Perhaps this is in part due in part to my present longing for a true Autumn, a true Winter, at the very least a week of storms and rain.

* * *

I don’t much care for the hero in the story of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses“, who stalks the ladies down into the forests of gold leaves and silver leaves and then ruins the party.

Though to be honest, no one comes off well in this story. The king is sending men after his sleeping daughters and chopping heads off when they find nothing. The daughters blissfully drug the men, knowing they will die for their failure.

Still, I put my sympathy with the daughters, who seek adventure and dancing and joy. Though the hero brings them home and helps their father tether them to hope, I imagine each girl, one by one, shucking off the cords and wandering away for new adventures. The door to the magic lands may be closed, but their feet are strong and the world is wide. There is enough gold in the sun and silver in the clouds to give them joy, as they discover new shores and ensnare new friends into the freedom of dancing.

* * *

In fairy tales, everything — gifts, tests, friends — come in threes. They say that about deaths, too. When celebrities die, we count them in groups of three, create a grouping of deaths and call the curse down when the third falls. As though folk tale superstition can stop the flow of time, can hold back and make sense of the chaos of daily life. Summer becomes Autumn whether we like it or not, and we all must cross the threshold of Winter to reach the Spring.

* * *

Look what has become
of my heart, the husk of a brown leaf,
hold it in your hand, watch
it crumble to dust
and feed the earth,
wait, wait,
in the cold, in the dark,
see the tender shoot
of its feeling
emerge.