Saturday, February 27, 2010

London The Execution of Lady Jane Grey

Of my own free will, I got trapped in the Painting History: Paul Delaroche and Lady Jane Grey Exhibition on Friday, a pre-paid ticketed exhibition to prevent too many people entering the space at the same time. All of the rooms were empty when I got there. I set aside the day to be there, not something an ordinary visitor to London could do. Someone who has to see all of the sights of London in 14 days or less would be out on this one, but only because the major attractions are many.

I was alone for the day and when I am, my modus operandi is to take a quick walk through every room to get an overview of what I am about to see, and then to begin in earnest, the hard hours I know I am going to spend there.

First, I watched the continuous running movie to see how what the curators wanted me to know.

Next, I did a slow walk of the gallery with the audio guide, knowing that I would do the same thing with the audio guide at the end of the day, walk the gallery, listening to the text once more, to solidify what I had learned. I love the sound of the theatrical diction of the voices and the swelling of the music in and out of the clips on the audio guide.

Finally, I went back to the exhibit’s beginning, this time to check out every original and print that was not on the audio guide for only about 20% of them were described that way. I know that the plaque on the wall beside the pictures is packed with information, but I wear out reading it.

Read the text, step back a few paces to take a look, then going back to read it again. Given all of the other factors that make up museum fatigue, I could see I wanted to eliminate this one.

So I tested out the large-print guide. It is not so much seeing the text with large print that is good, but the fact of having the text in front of me and not having to return to the wall.

I can sit down, read the text and then do a number of pictures without having to refer to the words on the paper again.

As well, this exhibit was so intellectually exhausting for me that I began to take out another of my tricks to keep me going. I put myself in a position on one of the viewing boxes as though I were on one of the pews at church, and then drop my eye lids. I can be asleep in 30 seconds, only to wake when the pencil in my hand slips to the floor or when the book slides off of my lap.

At one point, sitting down, I was thinking of Leo always working with wood, because I sat on beautifully hand finished boxes lined up so that 3 to 4 patrons can sit in front of the painting at the same time. The wood is so beautiful that I run my hand along its edges and can feel a six inch strip of wood etching along both sides of the boxes. I quit look at the paintings to look at the details on the furniture. That is when I notice that the style of it exactly matches the trailing vines and leaves of white stencilling to the left of the explanatory text on the wall of each room as I have been entering it.

At a wall called the Shakespeare Gallery, I stop to look at prints: mezzo-tints, a grey/blue/brown wash over graphite, etchings and all hanging on the wall together, brought together by a theme. Boydell opened a gallery and wanted to found a school where painting was done of historical events. He was successful in that he published 2 books: one, an illustrated edition of Shakespeare’s plays and the second book was a folio of 100 prints, illustrations supplied by artists all across Europe. They were looking at dramatic and historical composition. Boring to other patrons, for they move quickly on by. Fascinating to me and I linger to see which of the Shakespeare plays were illustrated.

For a small break I go into the shop where I can buy a catalogue from the exhibition: £20, which is too much for me, though I doubt it is the price that is holding me back from the purchase because I really enjoy what I scan on the pages. It is just that I have figured out how many books I can read in the rest of my lifetime, and bought them already.

Pearls, medieval candles holders, a hand-carved Tudor rose to hang on my wall, a red moleskin book, so soft that I open it up and examine the binding of it and the grosgrain ribbon that is attached to it for a book mark. Still I buy nothing yet read a few more pages from the catalogue. There is so much interesting detail there that is not on the audio guide or on written the walls beside the paintings, but still I resist its purchase.

Paul Delaroche had a love affair with the model he used for Lady Jane Grey: Madame Annais, a woman who played ingénue parts in the theatre. Research for the exhibition brought the correspondence to light. A glass covered case in the middle of the room with two examples of the letters and a translation from the French to the English. I read the text there and wonder if anything was lost in the translation, so I try to check English translation against my basic and now rusty French. Looks good to me since I do know the word amour. Delaroche’s tender and playful letter to Anaiis Aubert give a sense of the relationship that was between them at the time when he was preparing to paint The Execution of Lady Jane Grey. The fact is that the letters are touching and I lingered over them, looking at his careful handwriting, re-reading his beautiful phrases to her, and looking again at her face as he had captured it on the sketches he did of her, preparing for the larger work, which I then go back to view.

I began to study the small print on the plaques, the tiny line that tells where each of the paintings came from: the British Museum; Gallery de Terrades, Paris; the Louvre; National Museum, Liverpool; Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh; Koninklyk Museum voor Schone Junisten, Antwerp; Musee National des Chateaux de Main Maison et Bois-Preau; Depot de Musee Carnivalet, Paris; plus many paintings gathered together with only the words, Private Collection. I start to become overwhelmed, for I know that in the lifetimes of those who have lived before me, they could never have seen such a collection of the world’s treasures. A world of travel to other countries and negotiations to get into private collections could not have revealed what I saw, and there, for the price of $20 and 5 hours of my time I get to drink it all in.
The frames that the curators have chosen catch my interest. I have a measuring tape – my hand. I know that from the tip of my thumb to the end of my baby finger is six inches. I get close enough to the paintings that I can measure the depth and width of the frames – one of them is 12 inches deep and twelve inches wide, gold, sculptured, the relief revealing flowers and vines. So I go on for a while, frame to frame, trying to get words to describe their differences.

Next, I am drawn to the picture of St. Joan being interrogated by Cardinal Bauford of Winchester. This print is from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. I have flashback to all I know about Joan of Arc – the George Bernard Shaw play of the same name, the movies where she was the star and I was young girl watching her, and I remember a few years ago, me as a mature student, studying Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), -- seeing the inquisitors pass by in that stunning long shot of the close-ups that reveals their wrinkles and warts. All of that seems to be mixed into the painting I am seeing in front of me.

I am getting tired and go for another of my power naps.

The audio guide promises a wrap up if I will push the play button once more. The text reminds me of Delaroche’s dramatic use of space and his careful attention to accurate detail. Further, the words remind me how he was a precursor to the visual culture of cinema with its moving frame that scans fields and draws the viewer into what is outside of the field of the frame.

When I leave the exhibition, there is one thing more I must do. A Delaroche painting, thought to be destroyed during one of the World War II bombings of London, has been unrolled, and the restoration committee of the Gallery are going to have it repaired. That will take a couple of years. But for now, it is hanging in Room 1, so that all can see the shrapnel damage to it, a painting called Charles I, Insulted. The interrogators are around him, one blowing pipe smoke in his face, others in positions mocking him. I stop by to observe for the text tells me to think about how this pose is a mirroring scenes from paintings where Jesus is mocked. I sit for a long time there before returning to the real world where I hop on the Bus 24 or Bus 29 and head home.



London Love Never Dies

Tonia saw Love Never Dies before she left for Calgary and kindly left her programme for us. We were reading it at lunch. A border along the bottom of the page traces some of the history of Coney Island” 1) the word coney means rabbit, since the early settlers found rabbits there; 2) one of the old posters advertized: 10 cents for ten hours of fun; 3) “mix bathing is frowned on” at Coney Island. And yes, is a great scene about public bathing, but no men get on the stage.

I thought he first scene was sinister, with warnings that disaster was about to happen, I thought referencing Tod Browing’s “Freaks” (1932). But the show did not go as dark as that movie.
Wyona saw the peacock motif right away: the brilliant eye seen in the centre of a peakcock feather in the dress of one of the circus performers, then in a costume that stretched from the floor to the ceiling, and again in a whirly-gig effect to the costume of one or the acrobats. Soon we were seeing elegant bird feather icons everywhere – on the plume of Christine Daaė’s hat, and in a bejewelled necklace during one of her stage performances for example. The proscenium arch also quotes a peacock feather with stylized feathers on the outside and in the viewing area, the shape of the centre of the feathers.

We saw the show this afternoon, a brilliant mix of genres: musical theatre, cinema, opera, Hollywood film music, with smoke, sleight of hand, a glass coach, acrobats, women on swings and a man on stilts thrown in. And when the show was over while the audience was leaving, the orchestra played a long reprise. Perhaps 5 minutes. Stay in your seats when the show is over. If you put your coat on and head right out,you will loose your chance to hear some of the best music of the show, tied up with a nice ribbon for you.

At the performance Tonia attended, the show stopped after the first 4 minutes and someone came on stage to tell the audience that a glitch that had never happened in the rehearsals had happened now. Then the show went on, none for the worse.

The most interesting song title in the show is called “Devil Take the Hindmost”, a saying I have never used. The title is a proverbial phrase indicating that those who lag behind will receive no aid. The line was first recorded in print in Beaumont and Fletcher's tragic/comic play Philaster, or Love Lies a-Bleeding, 1611:
"They run all away, and cry, 'the devil take the hindmost'."

I hope I never have occasion to warn anyone with the phrase. And I loved the touch of having the bad guy (Raoul) dressed in white and the good guy (Mr. Y) dressed in black. Nice reversal for those of us who like reading images.

Beautiful show. But no spoilers for you in this review.

Two and a half hours of musical and visual pleasure. A little bit of vaudeville, some amazing costume changes and some opulent staging set against scenes with the minimalist simplicity.

Since the Phantom has been running for 25 years, I think the sequel will be around for a long time. The show is also coming to the stage in Australia and in New York, so it will be at a theatre near you (or at least in one country close to you) before 2011 is over.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Started looking for places in France

So I have started the process of putting our house up for rent for the 2011 - 2012 academic year and put in an initial search in We are looking to move to France for Rebecca's sabbatical year and being a type A, I thought there was no time like the present to get started. We are looking at Paris or the south of France. It would be great if we could swap a house, but it will probably end up with a rental for both.

On another note, Rebecca is currently in Spain teaching for two weeks. This weekend she is off to Barcelona with her friend from Quebec City so I hope she can avoid being hit by any street cars (ala Gaudi) and can survive things being shutdown between one and five.


St Neots - Revisited

On Visiting St. Neots
February 25, 2010

“How did you find this place,” I finally asked Wyona.

“I was on-line,” she answered. “I looked around at what was selling at auctions and decided I would try St. Neots Auction. I thought I would have some fun out in the countryside. Tomorrow will be my second time there.”

She was looking at the price of a round trip train ticket the evening before. “Look, Arta, £19 for one way, £22.50 for a return ticket.”

“Must be a Shangri-la,” I thought. Apparently no one wants to leave St. Neots.

Twenty pound bags of turnips were auctioned off among the vegetables and large flats of flowers came next. Then tools and outside equipment. We spent some time looking at the lot numbers inside a covered building, writing down a top bid on each. At least that is what I was doing. Wyona had already hired Peter’s Moving Van to bring her stuff back to London in case she bought anything: a flat rate of £110 for the trip back to London, no matter what she decided to get.

A marble wash stand, double marble, a piece on the backsplash and another on the counter top was the item I saw many people look at – one woman examining the feet of the wash stand, and thoroughly measuring its every dimension with her tape measure.
When the furniture auction began it was just with the slight tip of the chin downward, a mere flick of the eyelid and that bid went up.

Afterward Wyona said to me, “Could you tell who was bidding against me, Arta.” I had the advantage on her, a casually by-stander, not feeling the stress of the speed of the bid going up and up.

“The partner of the distinguished looking man over there -- and she looks crestfallen.”

Another woman bought a gilded triptych 3-sided mirror and some framed pictures. Wyona went over to her and said, “I wanted that mirror.”

“How about if I give you the mirror for £4 of the £12’s I paid. It is the books I wanted”, said the successful bidder.

Coming back to London, there was only room in the cab of the truck for two people, the driver and Wyona. So at least my round trip ticket did not go to waste.
I have been wearing a coat in London that has no pockets. Last night I sewed an inner breast pocket into the left side of my coat, a pocket that will fit my map of the streets of central London. I stitched another pocket in the right hip side of the same coat – one that will fit a pen and larger papers I am always digging into my purse for. The new pockets came in handy today because this is my first time finding my way home from an unknown location an hour’s train ride away from London.
I was well prepared for being out on my own: a map, a pencil and a piece of paper. My kind of happiness.

The speed of the express train surprised me initially. I stood on the platform at St. Neots to watch the train go past and involuntarily reached out to a pole to steady myself, wondering if I was going to be suck under the train when it whipped by. There had been a voice over the intercom warning passengers that the next train was an express and wouldn’t be stopping and then “Woosh!” in less than 2 second it had come and gone.

Even the local train is fast and the underground is efficient. I was alone and taking all of the correct corners in the tube to get myself on the Victoria line going south. I was home 45 minutes before Wyona. Now that was fun. All alone in London and getting it right.

When Wyona arrived home, she called up to the apartment. The driver did not want to take the time to use the lift on the back of his truck to get the furniture out of his truck and to the street level. He was parked illegally. So with back breaking labour, she and I carried the 2 china cabinets, the 2 drop leaved tables, the marble wash stand and the hand operated tread sewing machines from the platform of his truck to the foyer. I was wondering if we shouldn’t buy a dolly of our own on our next trip to the market.

Two ethnic working class women, arms laden with package of their own and walking by on the street offer to stop and help us. It was beginning rain. It was beginning to rain and seemed better for at least two of the four of us to get our packages home dry.

Wyona paid Peter the Mover. We had everything into the foyer, safe from the rain. Two tall able bodied twentyish-looking guys who live in the apartments on the second floor keyed their way into the building. They saw us struggling to get the furniture into the elevator and said that they would take the stairs and leave the elevator for us. I know you can hear me laughing inside.

Tonia had done similar furniture moving on her own for Wyona’s last auction run. I was reminded of that today and I believed that two 60 year olds could accomplish together what one 30 year old had done alone. We got the 2 pieces of furniture finely tucked into the elevator and found that there wasn’t room for the elevator doors to close – only room in the elevator for two of the barley twist tables -- no room on the side of the elevator for either of us.

Even though everything is an adventure, I was getting tired. I took a Buddha pose and perched cross-legged on top of the table in the elevator. That seemed easier than running up four flights of stairs to catch the elevator doors as they opened on the fourth floor.

The apartment looks strangely the same tonight, even after bringing that furniture home. Wyona says she might make one more St. Neots run before Greg gives up his post here. Why not? The 3 foot high cabinet that the sewing machine is in, is a beautiful piece of furniture that she will use for an end table. The fact that it is a sewing machine is just extra.

The cost at the auction -- £2.



Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Audley

Just to remind you of the Audey, here is what they say about themselves:

This immaculate late Victorian pub fits perfectly into classy Mayfair. The exterior is clad in pretty pale pink terracotta tiles, its large arched windows in turned hardwood frames, are decorated with window boxes of vibrant flowers and tumbling ivy. Inside it is immaculate, more like a gentlemen's club than a pub, with dark wooden panelled walls, highly polished hardwood fittings and some delicate carving.

We went there for lunch with Greg.
Original crystal chandeliers hang beneath an ornate plaster ceiling. A long hardwood bar counter serves the two bar areas; one provides ample seating and tables for diners. The other has a series of U-shaped leather benches which run along the exterior wall. The screens that separate them once extended to the bar, dividing it into several small booths.

The four of us met Greg for lunch at the pub that is around the corner from his work. We mocked the space where we were to meet all of the way over there. Previously Wyona and I had to meet Greg there and we had to take a taxi to make it there on time. Unfortunately the taxi driver could not understand where we were going.

“The Audley. The Audley. Near Barley Square. You know, Barkley Square, near the Canadian Embassy. The Audley. A pub.”

Nothing Wyona said would turn on the lights for him and the taxi was not ye could get his pointed in the right direction. When the penny dropped for him he said, “Oh,you mean the ohohohdley, the ohohohodley at baaakley squaae.”

Monday, February 22, 2010

Pollaiuollo Brothers

Pollaiuollo Brothers and The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian
Feb 17, 2010

I am spending my day trying to figure out how to spell and then pronounce the Italian name of the brothers who created the altar hanging called The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian. Pollaiuollo. I can get the “polla” syllable and the “ollo” syllable, but I can’t make those 2 vowels work in between, though the presenter could.

This week, I am a regular at the National Gallery Theatre lectures now, so I hurry to take my place at the appointed hour. And when I am sitting there, I decide that I am never going home.

I went to the gallery early today to preview the paintings of the early 15th century artists but there was an announcement on the intercom that due to “industrial action” most of the galleries would be emptied. People couldn’t get back into the building until 2:15 pm. That is the moment when I saw how many people are really in the National Gallery at one moment, when they all try to stream out of the building at the same time. Rows of employees stood, arms outstretched, silently pointing to Exit signs.

“Am I going to miss the lecture at 1 pm,” I asked.

“No, just the galleries are closed. Not the lecture theatre,” one nodded.

The only person who missed part of the lecture was the man who startled me half way through the lecture – the loudest catch of a snore that I have ever heard in a public place. As well, he woke everyone else up who had nodded off.

I looked for the collective personality of people who sit waiting for a lecture since I am so happy to have found a group like this – like-minded people. My cohort.
l see the dyed white hair of women in front of me, sparse and thin, a raspy orange red color now, dry, frizzled at the ends and I am so happy for her. Still dying her hair. Crooked lipstick. A sparkling pin on her lapel. Coming to lectures and sitting with her friends. I want to be old like that.

A man in a flowing ankle length wool coat walks by, the hem of it fluttering against his khaki pants – a circle of baldness rimming the top of his head and the long hanging shocks of hair hanging down by his ears and along his neck.

Some of the people here are definitely artists. A woman wears her body as art, so beautifully decorated in old age. Another has on a finely knitted yellow sweater full of complicated stitches – the colour flashing somehow under the lights.

Another walks by and nonchalantly pulls off the obviously silk and flowing scarf, a Van Gogh pattern with the sunshine colours of sunflowers from his painting by the same name.

My contemporaries sit alone or perhaps they are with each other. No pre-performance chatting goes on between them. Have they said everything in life they want to say to each other, I wondered. One has a pen in hand and I can see the black ink from its nib filling in the squares of the crossword puzzles.

Another has the daily newspaper stretched out before him, slowly scanning the columns and then flipping the pages.

The lady beside me is eating grapes out of her yogurt container. She reminds me of a woman in a Greek painting at a feast, lounging on a velvet couch and eating grapes? It is the way she is picking the grapes out of the bowl or the leisure with which she raises them way to her lips.

After the lecture is the first time I see groups together talking, ... and eating, couples reaching into a bag that is placed between them. They sit on round benches, the backs of which or beautifully crafted into a long bow that takes the shape of the long curve of the alcove they are sitting in.

I am looking at my contemporaries: the ones who love what I love. Tomorrow I am going to take on a new regime. I am going to use that little bit of pre-noon hunger to work for me, the hunger that staves off an afternoon nap in the middle of a lecture today.

Wyona took Zoe to Jersey Boys for the afternoon matinee. I met them there. We had seats three rows from the front. When Moiya and Dave come next week we have seats mid-centre. The difference in the perspective of the different viewing places is amazing, since we are stating to have tried them all.

Today we were close enough to see the mechanical details that make the performance work. For example, there is a loud knock on the three separate doors which are slammed in his face, when Frankie Valli is trying to find producers for the group’s newest songs. I thought ouch, that must have killed the performer’s hand. He is going to die an early death of arthritis of the knuckles.

Wyona had seen this as well, but noticed hat he took a device out of his pocket and had it hidden in the palm of his hand, probably a microphone, so that when he knocked the sound was heard to the top of the third balcony. When the knock was over, he slipped the unit back into the pocket from which it had come in his trousers.

We saw where the microphones are attached to the wigs, how the costuming changes from jeans and a T-shirt to immaculate suits with silver bracelets on men’s wrists, exquisite silk lapels on tuxedos. We laughed at the capsule of fake blood in a cheek, ready to bite so it looks like the holder of it has been shot in the head.

Jersey Boys, an old show always new one to us.

A toasted cheese sandwich roasted in a Teflon pan for meal for Zoe – that was the full extent of our cooking when we got home. Later Zoe was invited into the front room with us to practise the dance steps we had seen at the matinee. Though she loves to dance when she is with her peers, she resisted, first shrugging her shoulders and then quitting long before Wyona and I could stop our feet from dancing.

Sometimes she just mutters and whispers to herself, “Seniors”.

When Greg came home from work our feet were still going. He sat down tired from work, to watch us and was soon interested in how that dip of a back step is made by using the first and third beat of an eight bar measure as the strong beats and not first and fifth. He was a good dancer in the old days as well. I can see his feet moving to the music but his body is not out of the chair, ... yet.

Am using dangling participles and half sentences today.

Too much fun here to write with real English.

Or to even tell all.



Sunday, February 21, 2010

London East Street Market on a Saturday Morning

Our plan for the day included six markets, starting with East Street. One of the watches Zoe bought there the day before didn’t work. I bought a two inch wide matte and shiny silver bracelet as well yesterday. When I spotted the bracelet in a glass case at the market, I thought it was beautiful. The shape of the beads reminded me of the shape of eye teeth of elephants.

Today I mean to wear the bracelet every day I am in London to remind me not to buy anything else like it. Over-the-top guaudy, eye-catching and useless, I bought it initially to stop myself from buying more watches at the stall that had attracted Zoe. Invest £1.5 to stop myself spending £30 pounds, I thought.

The merchants are clever with their chatter bringing the customers closer to their stalls. I was looking for a red purse, but didn’t say anything to anyone about it. However, I must have touched a couple of red bags, because in no time, every red bag the merchant had on hooks or tucked under the counter was in front of me.

The fellow selling watches to Zoe was having a harder time figuring out who his customer was. For one thing, she takes longer than the regular person to process whether she is interested in an object or not. After she has been asked a question, she may give the answer but after a 3 minute time lag. By the time she gives the answer, the merchant has already asked 10 to 15 more questions and it is hard to go back and figure out which of the questions this was the answer to.

I asked Wyona what the common denominator was for her when she had finally selected three watches. The colour pink or the shape of a heart or a combination of pink/hearts.

Wyona and I are so cold. Every day, we are cold. I layered up for the shopping trip: a t-shirt, a button up shirt, plus one of Greg’s over-the-head, zip-up-the-neck shirts, my wool coat and 2 scarves. Before I was half way down the market I had bought 5 pair of gloves – one of the pairs a much cheaper model than the same black gloves I bought a few days before on Oxford Street. I will just pick up this as a back-up pair for when I lose one of the first set, I thought.

A finely woven black and red shawl calf length coat caught my eye. I must have been cold. I paid and put it right over my shoulders. No bag for me. “Let me fiddle with this,” said the shop-keeper as she arranged it over all of those other layers I had put on in the morning. “The pin to attach this at the shoulder is free. No charge. Better to buy the cape from me, than at Harrods, and much cheaper,” she continued, all of the time interspersing our conversation with calls to other customers about the size or the price or under which pile to look to find another colour of the item they were looking at.

“Do you have a pin that matches,” I asked as she clasped one corner of the cape to my shoulders.

“Only in my knickers, and I am not giving you that one,” she replied.

Warm now, I walked ahead of Greg, Zoe and Wyona for a while, stopping to observe the underwear stall because I saw an old man there, carefully going through a beige cardboard box of bras, fingering a pink one adorned with red roses, sweeping his hand along the inside of the cup.

“I can’t tell which of these three men is the shop keeper,” I said to Greg, when he caught up. “Look, the two wizened old men behind the counter are lifting the knee length silky underwear, and letting it billow down to touch the table. And the other is interested in the bras. But neither act is attracting customers.”

I had just heard a black man shouting to a white merchant, “Shut up, you dirty black nigger.” I did a double take and had to look again to see who was black and who was white. When he shouted the same phrase again I thought there would be trouble. A younger merchant was sitting cross legged on scaffolding above his merchandise. He looked straight ahead as though he was unaware of the noise. “Looks like our friend has had too much to drink,” Greg said. “I saw him further on down the market.”

The market was also full of a lot of “Praise the Lord for the beautiful day” and “Thanks be to God, days not as good as last years, but still beautiful”. “Hey. man” and “Jesus lives” were antiphonal phrases, as well as a deferential, “Hello boss” to some customers.

One glove seller was singing along with the African music blaring from the next booth – the live singer had a rich deep operatic quality voice. A talent not really lost for he sang as he sold gloves.

Wyona showed me some small flashlights with batteries included in the package. “We need these at the lake. You should buy them for your grandchildren, Arta.”

“Now why would I do that? They are all so afraid that I don’t have one who would use a flashlight and go out after dark,” I answered.

Zoe was getting hungry by this time and she had been promised chips. Wyona stayed back buying pansies for her window boxes. Zoe looked through the window and into the House of Kebabs but they only sold Mediterranean food. At the shop called African and Caribbean Cuisine, I saw Zoe’s nose was pressed against their restaurant window reading the menu inside. The shop keeper opened the door and told her to come in. She saw the word chips on the menu. I saw the words gizzards, jollope, black-eye beans and rice, saveloy,and spinach and egusi stew. Looked like a place both of us would like to eat.

When lunch was finished and he asked, the proprietor told Greg where to find plantain chips, so we slipped across the street, behind the stall, to another store ... all out, but the shop next door had a large crate of cows feet for sale, and next door, for sale, large cows feet.

Greg said that the smell of Africa was in the House of Africa and suggested Wyona and I checked it out. Packages of dried anchovies, with 1000’s of eyes looking out of the cellophane package at us. Next to that, ground crayfish, -- a whole new world of ingredients to cook with. Greg was not up to carrying rice home in the 50 pound bags that were sold there, so we went on down the market.

On the bus, on the way home, there was the hum of international languages, none of them with the rhythm of any western European accents that I know. The bus lurches suddenly when the light turns from red to green. I was hanging onto the pole to my side, but my feet didn’t have a stance that gave me equilibrium, swinging me around the pole. Now I know where the idea of pole dancing comes from. Dramatic, but I am not that graceful yet.

Wyona and I dropped Greg and Zoe and the packages off at the flat and slipped up to Camden for the last two hours of the day. “Where you come from all the time,” the clerk in the Indian shop near the main entrance asked Wyona. “I see you every two weeks or so.”

The women on the second floor among the scarves said the same thing to her. “I know you. You come here often.” And when Wyona asked the price of the scarves, one of the clerks said, “Baal is not here today. He is at the market at Petticoat Lane, but he gives you a special price, so I will call him on his cell and tell him you are here.”

“What is going on with that?” I asked Wyona.

“I don’t know why they are saying that,” she said. “I slip in and out of these stores and I don’t want anyone to know me. These little merchants are working so hard to make a living in these stalls.”

I was in Camden with a purpose. I wanted to go to a shop that buys and sells gold. The sign says, We Buy your Old Gold, on the Spot. Cash.” I don’t have any gold, but the last time I was in Camden, in that store, I saw large seed pearls on a 48 inch string, a knot between each pearl. I know that when the necklace breaks, there will be one complete string on the floor and not the sound of beads running along the floor, everywhere. My friend, Dani Pahulje, took a course last year where she restrung some pearls of her grandmothers, and the course cost the same amount as the pearls cost that I saw in the store.

Still I had to go home and think about buying those. I am not one to buy on the spot, but ever since I saw the pearl markets in China I have been thinking about this. The seed pearls are the natural ones, not beautifully matched, and graded ones that you see in the strings of pearls in better stores. This string is full of irregular shapes, a beauty in the uneven naturalness of them, I think.

I have no idea where I will wear them when I get home. Maybe out to garden. And until I get back to my garden, I will put them on every morning and wear them under my coat as I sight see London. Wyona mocks me and asks me what I am thinking of. I tell her I am having my own kind of pleasure.

I was so tired when Wyona and I finally got home at night that I could hardly get a bite of a donut to my mouth. Wyona was the same. This morning, Greg asked us what happened to both of us last night. Two tired women absolutely disappear at the same time.

Today, Zoe and I went on a bus tour on our own. She was practising with her new camera – taking pictures of the celebration of the Chinese New Year at Trafalgar Square, shots at St. Paul’s Cathedral, walking across the Millennium Bridge and taking pictures of the tour boats as they passed underneath us, catching the British Telecom Tower and the Tate Museum in the same shot, a shot in front of the Horse Guard at Whitehall, a landscape picture of London Bridge as we were walking over the Thames, and a couple of shots of both of us at the top of the double decker bus.

We also travelled on one of the heritage Routemaster buses, one of those old vehicles where the driver is at the front, but you get on at the back. The ticket master stands at the open platform until everyone is seated and then comes by to check tickets as the bus is moving along. After all of that, the highlight was of the day for her was the chicken nuggets and fries meal at MacDonalds. Some menus work in every language.

I dropped Zoe off at the flat and went sight-seeing by myself, from the top of a bus #15. I touched in with my Oyster Card and then sat with a map on my lap, checking it often to see which of the sights were rolling by. Trafalgar, the West End, Aldwych, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London, and then residential districts as the bus went all of the way to Blackwall, where the Docks begin.

I was the last one on the bus at its terminal and the only one on the bus as it began its route back. The name of my favourite pub along the way was Hung, Dried and Quartered. If I drank, I would surely have stopped in there.



Saturday, February 20, 2010

Details for enrolling David in School

We tried to figure out what "catchment" area we are in for enrolling David Doral in Kindergarten in the Fall. No address we could recall or create worked in School District #83's transportation website.

According to BC Hydro we have a newly labelled physical address.

L3-1280 Bernie Rd,
Annis Bay, BC V0E 2V0

Our mailing address has been renewed to be

PO Box 1063
Sicamous, BC V0E 2V0

I spoke with the Principal at the Sicamous Elementary School called Parkview. He is pretty sure that North Canoe Elementary is where David should be enrolled. Then we can apply to cross school boundaries if we prefer to drive David ourselves to another school. On our list for alternative schools for David are:

-Parkview, Sicamous, full-time English Kindergarten
-Bastion, Salmon Arm, part-time French Immersion Kindergarten

We will be camping out on April 6th to get David on the waitlist for French Immersion. We hear last years camp-out was over 36 hours long and only 14 spots were available. Next week we begin visiting all the schools. What an adventure.

The lake is so calm today the sky and moutains are reflected in it. David said he wonders when it will be summer. He misses his cousins. I suggested he wear shorts around the house in honour of missing summer.

Winter harvest in the Shuswap

David Doral was invited to break through the frozen surface in Janet and Glen's garden to see if any of last summer's bounty survived. David unearthed a bucket full of potatoes, washed them, peeled them, boiled them (with help), and ate them for dinner. Each found potatoe was celebrated with a squeal of joy. The meal was served on Arta's finest china.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Tonia's Trip Down the Nile

Dear Family,

I am in Egypt and so far I have seen the pyramids, mephis, sakkara, citadel, cairo, aswan, khan market, boat ride down the nile, nubian villiage, sailing down the nile in a falukah with Captain Azu, Egyptian Museum with Tutankhamoun Golden King find of a full Egyptian burial site, unfinished obilisque, high dam, off to a sound and light show tonight and will start a three day cruise down the nile this evening. It is a mixture of the classic sites. In the markets we are a target for being sold things, people yelling at us, telling us we are beautiful and so far I have had two men tell me they wanted to marry me.

I am never coming home and will live here forever.

Your former Canadian daughter / sister / cousin / neice / aunt


London Heldenplatz by Thomas Bernard

London Heldenplatz by Thomas Bernard
February 13, 2010

As we knew we were going to see Heldenplatz, Wyona studied the night before, how to get to the Arcola Theatre. Greg helped her. As well, I was out on the internet typing in the “to” and “from” destinations into a London planner. We were venturing into unknown territory: Northern London.

The route was marked on our map, the tube stops and bus stations noted, and the planner estimated we would be there in 45 minutes. We left early – giving ourselves a full hour.

The bus didn’t arrive in the allotted 8 minutes at the Dalton Station. Nor fifteen minutes, nor twenty, nor thirty minutes.

“Buses run slower on the weekends,” a bystander told us.

When we got off the bus 40 minutes later, we were in a dark neighbourhood, at a bus stop, questioning other transit riders who were waiting for their rides, “Where is the Arcola Theatre”. Another young student was questioning other patrons on the side of the street as to where the Arcola Theatre was. In retrospect it was not a good idea to follow her. Why would we follow a woman with an American accent, when the fellows who live in the area had no idea where the theatre was?

We switched groups of strollers to follow, this time picking up with a woman plotting her course with a GPS. She was going to the Arcola as well and took us down a dark, narrow wet alley,-- only wide enough for one car -- and there it was – a backdoor theatre.

The woman with the GPS slipped into the entry with her tickets. Wyona stood in the line-up for our tickets were vouchers and her name was to be on a list at the door.

The thirtyish fellow who helped us climb over 2 foot high ramp that led to the back door theatre stood beside us in the line-up. I could hear Wyona dialoguing with the ticket taker. “We must be on the list. Look again. If not under Bates, then under Chai Chin.”

She was not having any luck getting into the theatre.

I could see around the corner into a space that looked like the Big Secret Theatre in Calgary. A cavernous room, a super high ceiling, darkness in every corner, a few area lights streaming down and under them people standing with cigarettes and drinks. One woman in a flaming red satin dress, standing on one hip.

“Would you like a partner for the night,” the young man beside me said.

I have no idea what I mumbled back – whatever the words were, it was not a script I have practised before. Wyona grabbed my arm, swung me around and pulled my sleeve behind her as she walked down the ramp, her saying to me, “We are looking for Arcola Theatre I. That was Arcola Theatre II.

“Wyona, I want to tell you something that just happened to me,” I said.

“I know. I heard. Why did he ask you instead of me? Probably because I was busy trying to sort out tickets at the box office,” she went on.

We whipped around the corner to Arcola I. There the ticket agent told us we were too late: we had to be at the box office by 7:30 to get the tickets we had vouchers for.

By this time I was laughing so hard I had to sit down among the people finishing their pre-show drinks, since the Arcola I was running two plays that night.

“We will just pay and go to Hens in Knives that is showing in 15 minutes,” she said. “Looks like there is some nudity, but we can do it.”

“How can you tell,” I said, having never heard of that play before.

“Just look at the poster,” she laughed.

The poster?

You have to be kidding me, I thought. I am just recovering from not being able to be picked up on the streets of London.

“Did you find the theatre,” a lip-pierced young woman on the bus asked Wyona as we were on our way back to the apartment. Wyona had queried that young woman where the Arcola Theatre was on our way to the performance ... on another bus Now we were sitting at the back of the bus in a seat next to her and her boy friend as we were going back home, not theatred out, for the second play had a full house as well.

Wyona had her bus map stretched full in front of her, her arms two feet apart, her nose buried in the map, trying to find the best way back to Oxford Circus. People in every seat around her were offering suggestions to her.

How does she do it? I watched in Brussels. I watched in China. I watched her as we went through Germany and France. Now in the back of a London bus, people coming treating her as though she is a close acquaintance – more than that, like she is a second-best friend to them all.

But only the people on the back of the bus were that amicable for the driver stopped, turned out the lights of the bus chassis and said, “Last stop. Eveyone out.”

General grumbling got louder as people stepped off of the bus. “They can’t do this. I am from Italy,” said one woman exiting at the back.

At the front of the bus there was yelling by two or three men, one banging on the driver’s window and another so abusive that the driver stepped out of his cage and yelled back at them in their own language, gesticulating wildly with both of us arms.

“I have seen this before in London,” said Wyona. “Only the other time the driver stayed in his seat, called the police and in an instant the Bobbies were there hauling someone off in their paddy wagon.”

Well. What can I say. A Saturday night with live theatre on the streets of London.

Yes, I am still having fun. And too full of adrenalin to sleep, Wyona and I watched a two hour television run on the British Royalty and practised throwing into our vocabulary, two words we heard on the special: ignominious and rapacious. Not easy words to toss off in every day conversation, unless one is in an argument.

Speaking of new words, the tour guide at the Wallace kept using a word that she pronounced inVENtor-ee, with the accent on the “ven”.

Took me a long time to figure out she was talking about something I love: making lists.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

London The Wallace Collection

London The Wallace Collection
February 14, 2010

Today Greg took Zoe to the Wallace Collection, a museum just at the end of Marlybone Street. I walked over with them, and then stayed until it closed at 5 and I am home at 5:10. That makes it a ten minute walk from here to a place that houses many of the treasures sold by the French to the English when Versailles was ravaged.

I remembered standing at Versailles in empty rooms and having the guide say that the furniture that belonged in these rooms was abroad and that they were trying to buy it back. Today I stood at the tour of the Wallace Collection and was told that when it was made a gift to the British people, part of the will of Mrs. Richard Wallace was that the collection was not to be separated – was always to stay there at Hertford Place.

How much fun was that, to have seen the room that the furniture sat in over there in France, and now, twenty years later, to have seen the world`s largest collection of Marie Antoinette`s furniture! She had four writing desks, and now they are all in one room. And beautiful chairs,reupholstered and sitting in a room with forest green silk wallpaper and magnificent window hangings. I was even looking at the details on the tassels that hold back the curtains.

Before the 3 pm tour of the collection began, I had worn myself out, picking up a Guide to the Paintings Hanging in the South Gallery. I was going from one master to the next, reading the text and searching through the paintings to find what the curator was alluding to in the painting. Rembrandt`s ``Titus``, and Fragonard`s ``The Swing`` just rooms away from each other and full of so much interesting detail.

I learned last week at the National Gallery that if I am tired, I can just find a chair and sit for a moment – rest my eyes and when I open them again, I am rested. Yes, it is fifteen minutes later but I feel a lot better. When I heard an announcement saying that a public tour was about to begin in the State Room, I joined about fifty other people to get an hour`s overview of the masters in the collection.

After the tour, I spent time look at paintings by Boucher, a master with the brush when it comes to the human flesh. Off the clothes of the model would come, for any reason, and Greek mythological figures are thrown in, mainly to give some message about the painting. Extra-ordinary light streams onto the human figures. The main focus of the paintings is on the beauty of the female form at that time – pert breasts and large bottoms.

When the tour finished I went back to explore the room where there are painting of Madam Pompadour. I wanted to cement again what I should be looking at in the painting. A couple stood in front of me for a while. I heard her say to him, when he asked her to come and look at Madam Pompadour and pointed out to her how small the foot on the model was, ``Yes, out of proportion.``

When he looked quizzical she said, ``Well, look at her hands.`` When he did, he had to nod in agreement to her that the hands were larger than the feet.

``And look at the dog, ... why is there a dog in the painting.`` They stood there in silence and I thought to myself, ``The dog represents fidelity – her fidelity to the king, even though he has now gone on to have many more mistresses``.

They looked back at me. I thought I was only thinking those word but I am sure now that I actually spoke them.

When I came home, Greg told me that the Wallace Collection is probably one of his favourite places in London. It is possible to explore 25 galleries in less than an hour. Wyona told me the same thing – just a small taste of so many different items are on display there.

I am going back to look at the cabinets full of Sèvres porcelain. The Wallace Collection contains one of the richest and most distinguished collections of eighteenth-century Sèvres porcelain in the world: vases, tea wares, useful wares, biscuit figures – I only have to walk down the street.

On Feb. 20th, there is going to be a celebration of Louis XV`s 300th birthday party – an opportunity to have a tour led by Madame de Pompadour, herself and a chance to dance in the Great Gallery. Odd to find all of this celebration about the French 18th and 19th century just a few blocks away from us in English Marlybone.

I know how lucky I am to be here for a longer time on this trip – a chance to look in depth at collections, when before I had to limit each visit everywhere.

I only slipped into the National Gallery last week for an hour – just looking for a rest between my exploration of London`s Chinatown and picking up tickets at the Coliseum. The Ed and Nancy Kienholz re-creation of a street in the red light district of Amsterdam is on display right now. I had time to look in the windows of the diorama and tried to skim some of the text in the catalogue that goes along with the installation. It is so hard not to buy the catalogue. I try to talk myself into the purchase thinking that I will have time to look at it later, ... which I know is not true. I spent my time instead looking at the brothel scenes of the 17th century Dutch masters held by the National Gallery and exhibited side by side with the Keinholz work.

Back to the Wallace collection -- they own the finest group of paintings of Delaroche held outside of France. But the National Gallery holds the famed Delaroche painting of The Execution of Lady Jane Grey and it is the subject of a paid exhibit right now at the National Gallery. I am going to go early tomorrow and get the audio tape and spend the day there – the whole day. I will probably listen to the tape over and over tomorrow ... between naps, sitting perpendicular, on chairs in the Gallery.

A lovely new talent I have.



Saturday, February 13, 2010

London Chinatown and The Elixir of Love

We just came back from buying tickets for Elixir of Love at the Colesium. I was remarking to Wyona that we were in the line-up at 4:30 and it was 5:30 when we walked back in the door. What I was thinking about is that first you have to scan the London Theatre Guides to see what is playing from drama, theatre, musicals. Then find out who can go on which day. Next make the trip to the theatre that morning of to get discounted seats, or try to pick some up at Leicester Square. Add to that, meeting there if you have to be there in person to get the cheaper seats.

The woman at the ticket wicket explained to us that she needs ID. Wyona and I were complimented that the woman think we looked that old. She explained that there are many concessions: those over 65; those who belong to the Actor’s Guild; students; the unemployed. How does a person have ID to show they are unemployed, Wyona asked. The woman said you get a card saying you are in that category.

Being unemployed and being able to pay£35 for a ticket to the opera seem like mutually exclusive propositions to me. For The Elixir of Love, Wyona and Greg got tickets in the dress circle. I was in the stalls – A22. How close do you think I was to the conductor? I could see his profile for the whole concert, the movement in his hands, the expressions on his face, his crouching, leaning, weaving, mouthing of the words. When I got home, I demo-ed some of the moves for Wyona and Greg for they were in the balcony. Yes, said Greg, I was watching the conductor as well.

“You have my husband’s seat,” said the older woman in a seat next to me. “I turned it in the day before last when I could see he couldn’t come. His mother is sick. Or says she is.”

“Too bad. How old is she?”


“I hope she has enjoyed many such concerts as these in her lifetime.” What else was there for me to say?

“Oh no! She would never come here. Thinks it is a complete waste of time and money.”

The music started. The curtain went up. The production was first done in Stockholm, created for their national orchestra. Rossini’s Elixir of Love, modernized. The story line is essentially the same but the text now in English; the setting 1950’s Texas; the costuming included hair rollers for the women and jean overalls for the men; the heroine’s wig was reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe’s blonde coiffure; the charlatan actually uses phrases from Elvis Presley’s songs and mimes his hip gyrations and foot work. The seargant chews gum when he isn’t signing. His jaw was still going at the end of concernt bows.

I couldn’t not stop laughing at all of this, though no one else on my row appeared to find it amusing. “That’s the British for you,” I thought. However the audience did warm up to other humour.

In the second act when scene was on the outside of the restaurant and the bathroom stalls were visible, a woman stood in the line-up to the toilets, crossing her legs and doing a dance as she waited her turn for the bathroom. After the first verse of a song by the chorus, the sound of a toilet rushing brought ripples of laughter. After the second verse, the same flush, and more laughter. By the time the third flush was heard, the audience was warmed up to the potty humour and loved the fact that the woman came out of the restrooms with her dress tucked up in her pantyhose at the back. Pointless lavatory sequence. That is what the reviewer called it. I am with the reviewer on that one.

Not fair to tell all of this, and not say the voices soared and the tenor’s love song brought a quiet hush to the house – a nice beginning for a Valentine weekend.



Thursday, February 11, 2010

We can get to Billy Elliott by taking the London bus #88 for one stop and the Victoria tube line for 3 stops – leave the house at 2:10 and be safely in our seats by 2:30 pm. Tonia has gone to Egypt, so for this week the set of four tickets has turned into events for 3: Wyona, Zoe and me.

Zoe and I took the C2 home. She stopped to pick up a pair of gloves that were in the middle of the road as we went to get on the bus. I was frantic, trying to move her along, telling her that someone else had dropped those gloves, and that we should leave them there. I was seeing cars whiz by us, and I was nervous.

As Wyona says when we run across streets, “Greg won’t let us live this dangerously when he is with us.”

a>Zoe’s mind couldn’t be changed. She picked up those gloves. I forgot about the incident until we were half way home. She had a look of utter amazement on her face when she was going through her purse and pulled out a second pair of gloves, just like the ones she had on. I didn’t think we had travelled over the area where she picked up the gloves, but she was right about one thing: they were an exact match with the gloves she does carry in her purse.

After Billie Elliott, we split up, Zoe and me heading home, Wyona heading to the Coliseum to get tickets for an opera tonight. Tonight Glen asked us on the phone how we are affording all of these West End Performances.

I asked essentially the same question to Wyona tonight when I asked her how long you have to live here until you feel that London is your town. “Oh, about 3 years,” she said. T

he truth is – sometimes the tickets are £2 pounds, and sometimes £20 pounds. If the tickets are more than that, we make blood oaths with each other never to tell the real price. Seniors get concessions 3 hours before the performance at the Colesium. At the Savoy, unsold tickets can be purchased one hour before the performance. Front row seats are available for £25 for Sister Act at 10 am the day of the performance. So much to remember!

Tonight, Wyona jumped the cue of younger people who were lined up for the seats that are sold to all, one hour before the performance. Seniors get the same tickets, 3 hours before the performance. So ... an around about answer to the question of where all of this money comes from – though an old memory from two years ago did surface for us tonight. The last time we saw Lucia de Lammermour, we got the tickets from the Colesium box office. When the clerk told us they would be £60 pounds each we choked. Both of us were shaking our heads from east to west, saying no, we couldn’t afford it, and we were whispering to each other, when will we ever get this chance again. We committed to never tell anyone the price of the tickets. We both remembered making that promise to each other.

Wyona and I are physically stronger now that we have been here 3 days. We are losing enough of our jet lag that we can do two shows in the same day now – without a bag of wine gums to keep us awake. I hate eating those little beasts, but they do stop a person from nodding off.

I was to study up on Donizetti’s Elixir of Love, the show at the Colesium. I made a date with Wikipedia and U-tube, where I get most of my information these days. So my research for the evening performance was done.

“I want my money back,” I whispered to Wyona after the first 3 minutes of the performance. She started to giggle.

“Arta, I was hurrying so fast I didn’t even look at what I was buying. I just said, give me two tickets for tonight and the woman at the ticket wicket showed me where they would be. At least I know that – those seats down there at the front of the dress circle are ours.”

When the hero began singing to the heroine and calling her Lucia, we knew we were in the wrong opera. Our heroine should have been called Adina if we were watching Rossini’s The Elixir of Love.

Our timing was two minutes off tonight on the way there. We had to sit at the back of the balcony until we could get to our good seats when the lights came up. Actually the timing was fine, it was the two sisters who were a bit off. We couldn’t run the same marathon with the same time that we had run at noon. Wyona was sucking air coming up from the tube at the Trafalgar Square subway – we just can’t run the escalators and the halls at top speed at 7 pm.

Juli McCue gave me a gift a couple of weeks ago, an RCA Digital Voice Recorder. What has taken me so long to get it turned on is that I needed personalized lessons to get it going. Having none, I have been reading the instruction manual that came with the gift. That was my morning’s – loading the Digital Voice Manager onto my computer, and figuring out how to turn on the record button and how to manage the files.

I have to admit, it is exhilarating to pull that machine out of my purse, speak a few words into it, and slip it back into its place – much faster than taking notes with a pen and pencil. I am not quite up to thinking of clever things to say into the recorder. Today I was practising saying the names of the bus stops into the recorder as Zoe and I rode on the top of the double decker bus home.

I was saying the names of the bus stops into the recorder?




London, Oliver

The Thrill of the Flight
February 9, 2010-02-09

I didn’t feel the surge of excitement about this trip until I went to the garage to bring in a large suitcase and its matching carry-on, at which point. Not thinking about a trip is a survival technique – keep my mind focused on what has to be done before the trip and don’t let a hint of anticipatory pleasure enter my consciousness. When I cracked the seal of that bubble by bringing in the luggage, my heart just started pounding and I was wondering if I was going to make a trip to the hospital instead over a heart attack. By the time Wyona and Charise picked me up, I was packed and calmed down.

I couldn’t find Zoe in the car because she was in the back of the station wagon, surrounded by suitcases – one to the left of her, two to the right and one on her lap, perpendicular. Obstructing her view to the front and my view to the back (and her) as well. I only heard a small high voice, “Hi, Arta.”

On the drive out to the airport Wyona called back to her, “How are you doing back there, suitcase girl.” She didn’t answer, which was later to cause us our first problem. Charise and I unpacked the car at the unloading zone, yanking out the 8 suitcases and Wyona putting them on three trolleys. Zoe was still in the back seat when that was all over. I couldn’t coax her out of the car. Neither could Charise.

“She called me names,” she said, head down and pointing to Wyona.

“Oh no,” I thought. “She is mad at her mother, this woman who is taking her to London and we haven’t even entered the airport. And all of this after her counting down, first the days and then the hours until we were to leave.”

Wyona and I are hoping this doesn’t portend a difficult holiday for us and on occasion we say to each other, “Where is suit case,girl?” but we never say it loud enough for her to hear.

Zoe made her displeasure visible, pouting, pushing the cart with one hand, pushing it sideways at a 45 degree angle, scratching at her scar -- and all of this was happening when we were in the elite line. I watch Wyona’s coping skill: eye contact to lay down the law, and then, appear to not notice until Zoe’s own mechanisms find equilibrium. The clerk checking us in followed Wyona’s suit.

When Zoe is not her usual self she sometimes needs food. Wyona headed to that most glorious of food facilities, an airport fast food court. Fries and chicken strips are Zoe’s ambrosia – or at least she that feast helped her to talk to us without pouting.

Having some time on our hands, and being curious, Wyona checked out the Elite Lounge. She has a new status on her Auroplan mile card, upgraded from prestige to elite. The Lounge was just to the left after we got through security. Wyona could take in one guest and the second one would cost $25. Zoe doesn’t really eat or drink anything that was in the lounge: the soup, the salad, the vegetables, the wine. They had no fries and chicken strips in there.

And to continue speaking of food, we had 3 choices for meals and between us we ordered them all. The vegetarian meal was a shot in the dark, an upgrade from a child’s meal for Zoe – and was delivered as rice and a dahl curry. The bun that had seen better days but was the choice Zoe made of what was before her. The beef -- an Ethiopian stew. I ordered the chicken which came with microwave pasta – a crime punishable wth a fine, if not a prison sentence. The salad was stone-cold peas and icy cubed squash fushion – not a piece of lettuce in it.

I can’t believe my kids used to complain about the food I would feed them. If only I could have known I could strike terror to their hearts, I would have threatened them, “Be nice to me or I will feed you flight food.”

The Coke was good. That is what kept me awake for the nine hour flight. I asked for red wine with my meal. I like to tuck it in my purse, to keep it for Janet when she joins us in London. Unfortunately the steward cracked the seal for me. He must have spotted that my arthritic fingers wouldn’t do it on their own. I hope the wine is still good when Janet gets here April 24th.

I was wide awake, long into the flight. In fact, I was the only passenger on the plane still awake. Me and a few crying babies, those poor little things who make visible the discomfort all of us feel when packed into a plane. The rest of the passengers had spread out over the empty seats and were sound asleep.

I was glued to the movies on the screen in front of me. I didn’t feel up to any dramas: this was a holiday after all. I looked through the menu for the comedies. Because I am an avid reader of reviews, I knew exactly what I would be seeing in the movies, even knew the spoilers and whether the movie had been reviewed as a good one or a bad one. New York, I love You (2009); The Graduation (2009) and A Serious Man (2009).

I didn’t know the last comedy was written by Joel and Ethan Cohen until I saw the credits roll by. Have you seen the movie. It opens with the most curious of Jewish folktales. Roger Ebert says
[b]eginning with a darkly comic prologue in Yiddish, A Serious Man inhabits a Jewish community where the rational (physics) is rendered irrelevant by the mystical (fate). Gopnik can fill all the blackboards he wants, and it won't do him any good. Maybe because an ancestor invited a dybbuk to cross his threshold, Larry is cursed. A dybbuk is the wandering soul of a dead person. You don't want to make the mistake of inviting one into your home. You don't have to be Jewish to figure that out.

Ebert’s is right about one thing – the prologue is a fabulous hook to the movie, and the reason I didn’t turn off the film and go to sleep.

Only one piece of luggage was leaking by the time we got to the elevator in the flat – not bad for the bumps they had taken along the way. I laughed outloud when I was at the top of entrance to the Picadilly Underground and Wyona was at the bottom. An elegantly suited man brought up a piece of luggage, left it at the top of the stairs, got eye contact with me and said, “The woman at the bottom of the stairs said to just leave this at the top of the stairs,” and off he marched to his board meeting.

We left the luggage at 96/100 New Cavendish Street, London and went to get evening performance tickets for Oliver. One short nap later, we were in the theatre – beautiful box seat tickets at same-day discounted prices. We have never been in the theatre with such an amazing view of the proscenium arch. Zoe got nervous quite a few times, starting with the boys in the orphanage not having enough food. Tears as sliding down her cheeks when Mrs. Sowerberry, the co-owner of the mortuary business sings, “It’s your funeral”. And when Bill Sykes kills Nancy, Zoe’s distress is manifest by sitting straight up, rocking back and forth -- with her hands shaking. Wyona knows to sit by her and squeeze her whole body when she sits up straight and and then takes her hand and squeezing them. Zoe responds by squeezing back with her beautifully manicured hands. And then by choosing the Oliver CD as the set of songs she wants to hear the next day.

At one point in the dialogue of the show, Fagan turns to the people sitting in the expensive seats in the audience and says, “There are the rich people who come to the theatre”, and he stretches his arm all across the length of the theatre where the costly seats are found.

“And then there are the poor”, he says, pointing to the second and third balconies, and again he stretches his arm along the length of the theatre to the people in the gods, the highest, cheapest seats in the theatre, occupied by the poorest of the poor.

He continues, “Then there are the ostentatious people who sit in the boxes. They are the bankers, ... the ones who got bonuses this year. They can afford to bring their families.” And he points to us. We are pleased that he cannot see through our disguise.

There are 48 children in the cast – a lot of children to manage on stage. And in that final scene, where Fagan, now penniless, retreats, the street urchins are still following him, the youthful actors at their best – loving the stage work and hamming up their parts to the last possible moment. Hard to let them go.

Wyona and I have been talking about the themes of the musicals we have been seeing – asking why some of them capture such dark moments of history – Oliver mirroring Dickens story of orphanages and poor houses; Les Mis with Victor Hugo’s view of the French revolution. And then at yesterday’s matinee we saw Wicked, Gregory Maguires’ alternate reading of an American piece of fiction. We wonder why it has the same attraction, since it doesn’t originate in a dark European past, or out of our collective histories.

Do you think its charm comes from thinking about untold histories? Like the movie, A Serious Person, do we go to the theatre to see what happens when we invite the wandering soul of a dead person over our thresholds.

I can’t put my finger on it, yet.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

London, Wicked

Because I Knew You / I Have Been Changed for Good
February 10, 2010

There were four women on the C2 double decker bus essentially going to Victoria Station, thugh heaed there at different times of the day. Tonia and Zoe split up with us, going more quickly totheir destination. They headed to get matinee tickets for Wicked on the tube – faster for them and they were going to get the £25 front row seats – first come, first served, one each, you have to present yourself at the ticket wicket in person to get a ticket.

Wyona and I headed out to the West End, to Aldwich, to get tickets for Lion King, so that Zoe could see that performance in the evening. And then we hoped on the Central Line to see if we could get Senior Tickets for Wicked’s Matinee.

Part of the travelling fun in London is watching the underground protocol of those who live here. On a two storied escalator, the more staid stand on the right and the walkers take the other isle, brushing the shoulders of those who are smoothly gliding up the 2 floors as we half-walk half-run up the escalator. I wondered how long Tonia would keep that pace for I could feel the burn on the back of my legs. She craftily slipped into a space on the right hand side and selected a position that has a place for me and for her. Two empty escalator steps. And then she laughs at my gasping for breath and said she learned that trick from Wyona...just move ahead as you are going up until you can find a comfortable place to slip in and stand for the rest of the way.

We met Zoe and Tonia later on Tottenham Court Road where there are blocks of stores all selling electronic equipment. How do you choose which store to go into and buy a camera when there are 2 blocks of such stores, side by side?

Sleazy looking,” said Tonia of the store in front of us. “But I have already checked it out.” She led us right in, and to the camera section. Wyona was driving the purchase, since she had told Zoe that this year we will not be doing a scrapbook of her London trip, but will be taking pictures to help remind us of where we have been. Tonia was busy testing the products with the salesman: asking if there is a wide-angle lens on the camera, does the camera do video, how big is the memory card, what is the difference in function of one camera over another. “My job was to remember that when Zoe picks a product to buy, if it is pink, it is better. The final purchase? A pink FujiFilm FinePix Z30.

The main event today wasWicked. I have guilt when it comes to seeing musical theatre more than once. Why would I see the same thing twice? Yet I don’t feel shame when it comes to participating in other events more than twice. Take church for example. Or going to watch a baptism. Or watching yet another episode of Law and Order. I am practising the next 5 weeks in London, trying to get to these theatres without twitching, without hearing that twinge of conscience that still comes as I am approaching the theatre steps, a still small voice saying, “Haven’t you been to this show once, you wastrel?”

I am using Tonia as my model for eliminating guilt. At the intermission today I asked Tonia to tell me how many times she has seen Wicked. Under 10, but over 5 she said. Wicked. I read the beautiful Wicked: the Grimmerie that is here in the flat. I looked at all of the products that you can buy as mementos of a Wicked visit. I walked to the top of the theatre at the intermission. But best of all is the moment that the curtains open.

I asked Tonia if she ever has a tear go down her cheek during some of the songs. She said not an all out bawl, though “Because I knew you” often gives her an emotional response:

I’ve heard it said / That people come into our lives for a reason / Bringing something we must learn / And we are led / To those who help us most to grow / If we let them / And we help them in return / Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true / But I know I’m who I am today / Because I knew you.

I don’t know what my favourite pick of tunes is – “Defying Gravity” or maybe “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished”. What I should do is go back to the Victoria Apollo Theatre enough times that I can make a definite choice about which is my favourite song. I need practise relieving my guilt about doing something twice.

Wyona is at the other computer tonight, trying to find a way for us to fly from Calgary to the lake when we get back in March. We can go directly to Kelowna for $69. But if we fly through Vancouver, we can go for $39. Add in the fact of her elite status and that means we can have an event together in Vancouver Lounge and fly over the Rockies twice on the way to Kelowna. Nice for me. I get to blog tonight and she plans future travel itineraries for us. The trip beats getting on the Greyhound for the same price.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Verdi's Simon Boccanegra

After doing all of the reading I could before seeing Verdi's Simon Boccanegra, I missed the performance.

This was not true of Moiya or Kelvin, who saw it in different venues -- one in Salmon Arm and the other at the Odeon Cineplex in Calgary. I heard some dialogue between the second and third act, and heard it on the radio as I was driving home Saturday evening. I also heard a few arias before my car drove up into the driveway. Nice, but nothing like what it would have been visually.

Moiya called a few minutes after I got in the house to say it was the best opera ever. I asked her, "Even better than Carmen". She replied, "Carmen is well known. This opera isn't, and it had the most marvellous tenor."

I replied, "The world's best. Placido Domingo. I have never seen him on the screen." Moiya hadn't caught his name, but she did catch the intensity of the singing and the complexity of the themes.

Kelvin didn't say much about his experience, only, "I am going again to the encore, March 30."

I guess that really says it all, except for Anthony Tommasini's review.


Thinking of going to the encore of Carmen Live at the Met


If you take your kids to Carmen, Catherine, tell them that the opera opens, well, before it opens there is the curtain, with a slash of lightening through it, red. Then in the last act, that slash of lightening is reflected again in the black lace dress that Carmen is wearing. Just beautiful.

As well, there is a procession of everyone who is in a bull fight and they all walk by and the crowd is waving at them. Again, just stunning.

And do they know about the crucifix. How it stands in for “religion”, and often for Catholicism, but it can mean any part of Christianity. In the last act, Don Jose uses anything in his disposal to convince Carmen to come back to him: religion first (while holding his crucifix, then he gives that up and begs her, etc.

A good link to refresh the story in your own mind.

As you can tell, I would love to be at the opera with them ... and you.

I smiled when you said that they picked up on terror of being in a coffin from watching Oliver. I was surprised that it was not the stabbing that hit them but the being enclosed in a coffin. A person never knows what causes terror. I watched for that scene with new interest when I saw Oliver in London last time. Tell Catie, Thomas and Rebecca that what I still have nightmares about is the scene in Disney’s ... can’t remember the name of it. The Headless Horseman.

Icabod Crane. That was one of the characters. I just went out to find out more, to see why I was so afraid.

Now I see others were afraid when I read that some theatres banned it.

Tell the kids that their grandmother was afraid of a cartoon!!


Arta – who thinks the Headless Horseman is the scariest apparition of all

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Creme Brulee-- with cream, from Catherine

I have been enjoying the blog posts about creme brulee. Try this one on for size.

Recipe: Berry patch crème brûlée

This dessert is packed with flavour from blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries.

A medley of berries gives a juicy flavor-packed taste to every biteful of this creamy dessert. A touch of framboise lends a delicious uplift.

2 1/2 cups mixed fresh blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries
6 large egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar, plus 6 tablespoons or 12 teaspoons for topping
1/3 cup mascarpone or sour cream
1 2/3 cups heavy (whipping) cream
2 tablespoons framboise liqueur

1 Preheat the oven to 275°F. Reserve 1/2 cup of the berries. Place six 5-inch-diameter flan dishes or 6-ounce ovenproof ramekins in a baking pan. Divide the remaining berries among the dishes.

2 In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks until pale in color. Whisk in the 1/3 cup sugar until dissolved. Whisk in the mascarpone or sour cream, then gradually whisk in the cream. Stir in the framboise.

3 Divide the custard mixture among the dishes. Pour warm water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the dishes. Bake in the oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the center of each custard still jiggles slightly. Remove from the oven and lift the dishes from the hot water. Let cool briefly, then refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 1 day

4 When ready to serve, place the dishes on a baking sheet and evenly sprinkle about 1 tablespoon sugar evenly over each flan-sized custard, or 2 teaspoons sugar over each ramekin-sized custard. Using a hand-held blowtorch, caramelize the sugar by holding the torch about 4 inches from the surface of each custard and moving the torch to brown the sugar evenly. Or, preheat the broiler and place the pan about 4 inches from the heat source; watching carefully, broil until the sugar turns golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. If the custards have been caramelized by the broiler, refrigerate them for 10 minutes before serving. Garnish the top of the caramelized sugar with the reserved berries.

Makes 6 servings

From the following book: Creme Brulee by Lou Seibert Pappas