Sunday, August 27, 2006

Friday: Pimms No. 1 and The London Symphony Orchestra

The picture above shows the view of Canary Wharf just outside the office, a popular gathering place with many lively pubs and restaurants. After work on Friday I was invited to join my London colleagues for an end-of-the-week beer at a pub called The Slug and Lettuce, just out of view on the right side of the picture, behind the trees. After socializing over a pint of Guinness, I went back up to the office to make a few phone calls to my New York colleagues who were all still hard at work due to the time difference. I finally called it a day around 8:40 pm (as you can see by the clocks in the picture).

I discovered the London Symphony Orchestra was doing an outdoor concert in Canada Square Park, just behind me as I snapped that picture. The concert was half over by this time, but I wandered over anyway. Even though I was tired, I couldn't resist hearing just a few pieces.

Intermission was in progress so I decided to get something to drink before the music started. The makeshift outdoor beverage stand offered only two (alcoholic) choices: Budweiser and Pimms. Well, I had not come all the way to London to order a Bud, so I ordered the Pimms. I thought it curious that the bartender put ice and fruit in the glass before she filled it from the tap. It looked like beer, but was it? The taste was... well... not at all like beer. Almost sweet. And one of the pieces of fruit was actually a cucumber! I drank a pint of the stuff and never did figure out what it was! Thanks to the internet, I can now tell you that Pimms No. 1, as it’s called, is a gin-based drink which consists of a slice of orange, lemon, apple, cucumber, and a sprig of mint -- all placed in a glass of two parts lemonade to one part Pimms. Apparently it’s as British as tea and is only drunk in the summer.

Canada Park was crowded, but I found a little place on the edge of the grass (on a curb, actually) where I could see the conductor on one of the big screens as well as the bandshell through the trees to my right. The "picturesque" crane in the background served as a reminder that Canary Wharf in the Docklands was an industrial area before it became London's ultra-modern version of Wall Street.

As soon as I settled in with my Pimms, the second half of the concert began. As if just for me, the London Symphony was performing a program of American music.

Now Bernstein, Barber, Gershwin, and Copeland are all serious American composers, and Richard Rodgers always makes good summer fare. But John Phillip Sousa??? What was he doing with that lot? But never mind. Sousa was last on the bill, and I planned to leave before then. I'm not very fond of Sousa, probably because I played Sousa marches ad nauseum in my high school marching band.

The concert was lovely, and it was nice to sit out in the cool summer air. As the program progressed and the orchestra launched into the first Sousa march, I got up to leave. However, the audience reaction to the music stopped me. The British obviously found these marches much more exciting than I did. People were clapping in rhythm and cheering at the chirping piccolos. I decided to stay and observe the crowd. Then I began hearing the marches through their ears, so to speak. It was an amazing experience. By the end the crowd couldn't stop applauding. They gave the orchestra a huge standing ovation and were rewarded with an encore.

I left before the encore ended. I needed to get back to the hotel and pack. Maurene and I had a big weekend ahead. In retrospect, though, I must say that I have a whole new appreciation for Sousa marches. They will always make me remember the enthusiasm of that Canary Wharf audience and wish for a Pimms No. 1.

(P.S. All the photos in this post are mine.)

© 2006, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Thursday: Theatre Royal Haymarket

I had been waiting with great anticipation for Thursday night because Maurene and I were to see Dame Judi Dench in Noel Coward’s Hay Fever. I am a HUGE Judi Dench fan, and I was very excited about seeing one of her live performances.
The night started off on a more positive note than yesterday's tourist adventures. I was relieved that the package I left in the Beatles Store had been found, and better yet, that Maurene had retrieved it for me on her lunch hour. After work, we met at her office, pictured below, which is located in a beautiful area known for its Victorian architecture.

Photo by Maurene Miller

From there, we walked to the Theatre Royal Haymarket. Although it is one of the oldest theatres in London (built in 1720), it was renovated in the 1990’s and air conditioning was installed. Another good omen. We were both thankful that we wouldn’t have to sweat through a performance as hot as yesterday's Prom concert at the Royal Albert Hall.

Like last night, there was not quite enough time to eat so we settled for a nice glass of wine before the first act. After ordering our intermission refreshments and purchasing programs, we headed for our seats.

Here is perhaps a good time to note two distinct differences between conventions at cultural events in London and in NYC. The first difference is that snack bars allow you to place your order and pay in advance for intermission refreshments. While the first act is in progress, your order is set out on a counter in the snack bar area. At intermission, you simply look for your name card and start sipping and munching. Quite civilized, wouldn't you say? The second difference is that theatres and concert halls charge for programs. The programs are much nicer than the free ones we get here in NYC. The British programs contain many glossy photos on beautifully laid out pages with lovely artwork as well as extensive background notes. However, you have to pay. We paid 4 pounds per program at the Royal Albert Hall and 5 pounds each at the Hay Market Theatre. One pound sterling equaled $1.85 USD at the time of my visit, so those programs were not exactly cheap!

Getting back to the play, though, it was a jewel. Just BRILLIANT. It seemed to take Judi a little while to warm up her voice, but we can all forgive her that. She is 70, after all. She projected great energy throughout, and her comic timing is that of a consummate pro. It was a treat as well to see Peter Bowles (from the British comedy series To the Manor Born) who played opposite Judi Dench. Actually, the entire ensemble of eight actors were equally talented, which is what made the play such a delight to watch. I felt Noel Coward’s drama, set in 1925, held up well. (The Times review of April 22, 2006 agrees.) Being in London for the week intensified my awareness of the play's nuances as Noel Coward poked fun at the British upper class. However, the intrigue of family relationships holds the same fascination today for audences everywhere.

Afterwards, Maurene and I went across the street for a proper dinner in an Italian restaurant. The food was very good, and we were both in fine spirits. It is not often that one can experience such a wonderful performance of a well crafted piece of writing followed by good food and wine, all enjoyed with a friend you don’t see very often. Indeed, it was a very special night. Definitely the high point in my trip so far!

© 2006, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Wednesday: Beatles Store and Royal Albert Hall

Wednesday I left work at 5:30 pm and dashed across London on the Tube, from the Canary Wharf stop on the far east side to the Baker Street stop on the west side. I was determined to get to the Beatles Store before it closed at 6:30 pm. Remembering this store from our family trip to London in 2000, my son had requested a Beatles calendar and a Zippo lighter with a Beatles logo.

photo taken from the Beatles store website

After making my purchases (I paid an outrageous USD $60 for the lighter), I took a walk around the neighborhood. The little B&B where we had stayed in 2000 still looked good, as did the pub where we ate several times. At the Marylebone Station (seen in the Beatles’ movie “A Hard Day’s Night”) I realized I had left the Zippo & calendar in the Beatles store. ARGH! I ran back, but it was locked up tight. Upset though I was, I had to put it out of my mind for the evening. I would call them in the morning.

Photo by Linda Mason Hood

Next on the agenda: Royal Albert Hall. Before leaving NY, I had purchased tickets for Maurene and I to hear a concert in the annual summer Promenade series. Since we had no time for dinner, we went to the little snack bar inside the Hall. The couple before us got the last sandwich, so we made do with a glass of wine and a small container of ice cream each, plus a large cookie and a package of nuts which we shared.

Permission to copy granted under GNU Free Documentation License

It was REALLY hot in the Royal Albert Hall. We sat very still, but even so, the sweat poured off us as though we were under a shower. Nevertheless, the concert was brilliant. The program of Prom #17 was entitled The Great Venetians and included music of Gabrielli, Monteverdi, Grandi, Rigatti, and Cavalli. We heard the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists as well as an instrumental group called His Majesty’s Sagbutts and Cornetts, both conducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner. This review from the Sunday Telegraph conveys the magic of the music we heard.

Photo by Linda Mason Hood

The concert, which didn’t start until 10:15 pm, ran past midnight. Rather than make a mad dash for the last train, Maurene and I opted for a cab. After the anxiety of the lost lighter, the lack of dinner, and the heat of the Hall, riding in that spacious black cab and seeing London's night-time sparkle was a real treat.

I arrived back at the hotel around 1 am and didn’t fall asleep for an hour. Still jet lagged, I guess, because 2 am is only 9 pm in York. I went to bed with a cup of peppermint tea and a biscuit and read a bit more of the program notes. It seemed the perfect way to wind down from my Wednesday night after-work adventure.

© 2006, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Tuesday: Brick Lane

This photo was taken by Justin Cormack and is licensed under under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License

After sleeping off my jet lag on Monday night, I awoke on Tuesday with renewed determination to see something of London besides the office and the hotel. My London friend Maurene suggested we go to Brick Lane, also called Banglatown, and eat Indian Food. Before dinner we walked the entire length of Brick Lane checking out restaurants. Just like on Sixth Street in Manhattan, young men stood outside the restaurants trying to entice customers. Over and over, we heard: "Want a nice curry, ladies?" Finally we settled on a place of our own choosing, not being persuaded by any of the restaurant hawkers’ sales pitches. We had a lovely meal, some good Indian beer, and a very nice time.

© 2006, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Struggles with Jet Lag

I’m not very experienced with jet lag. I expected the flight from New York to London, across five time zones, to make me feel awake or tired at the “wrong” times. I have learned, however, that jet lag can manifest itself in a variety of other ways.

I arrived at the Britannia International Hotel on Sunday 7/23 at about 3 pm London time. In this picture you can see the Docklands Light Rail train (referred to as the DLR) which stops very near to the hotel.

(I took all these pictures, by the way.)

Since I had slept about five hours on the plane, I felt pretty good. I met my London friend Maurene near the Tower of London. Walking around its perimeter, I remembered what fun I had with my family when we visited London together in 2000.

Maurene and I walked along the Thames River. We were fortunate enough to see the Tower Bridge, a drawbridge, being raised. Very cool!

We had a beer on the porch of the Dickens Inn and then went up to the dining room for dinner.

It was after dinner (by now it was about 10 pm) when JET LAG STRUCK. For a split second I felt jolted – everything stopped abruptly just for an instant. Not wanting to sound like a drama queen, I said I was feeling a little tired. We finished up and I headed back to the hotel, a mere six stops on the DLR. At the fifth stop I was awake and alert. Also at the eighth stop. The stops in between don’t exist in my memory. Unlike when I doze on trains and buses in NYC, I wasn’t conscious of falling asleep or having been asleep. I literally blacked out.

Missing my stop was not a problem. I just went to the other side of the platform and backtracked on the DLR, being careful not to sit down or relax too much. That strategy got me back safe and sound.

On Monday, my first day in the London office, I kept noticing a set of clocks that show the time in five cities around the world -- NYC, London, Sydney, Singapore, and I forget the fifth. It disturbed me to see that it was 4:30 AM in New York when I went for my morning tea. As I went to the 11 AM meeting, I noticed it was 6 AM in New York. Looking at these clocks was becoming painful, and I vowed to keep away from them til afternoon.

About 12 people attended the 11 AM meeting. My role was to observe and learn more than to participate. Thank goodness, because about 30 minutes into the meeting I began experiencing some very strange things. First of all, my vision blurred. Thinking I might fall asleep, I drank my tea and moved about in my seat. No, I was awake enough. Just had blurred vision. I chalked it up to jet lag. As the meeting progressed, I found myself seeing all the participants as having only heads, no bodies. The heads were talking in rhythm. Suddenly I was aware that if I spoke, my flat American speech patterns would disturb the flow of the British English surrounding me. I imagined vowels and whole words colliding as the stress was placed on differently on syllables within the same word. I avoided speaking for a bit. This was trippy. Who knew what I might say! Then, as quickly as it descended upon me, it passed. My vision cleared and the talking heads became whole people again. I concluded this was one of the stranger manifestations of jet lag.

Around 3 pm I started feeling absolutely GREAT. I became an extrovert and enthusiastically participated in all conversations, asked good questions, and zipped through my email to the NY office. I realized it was 10 AM now in NYC – the time my brain starts to work on a normal workday. Hmmm. Jet lag again.

I did not go out on Monday night, choosing instead to get a bit more sleep so that my jet lag symptoms would subside. And it worked. Tuesday really was better. I had a recurrence of the blurry vision after lunch, but it didn’t last long and didn’t include the weirdness of the Monday meeting. The sleep helped, yes, but equally important was the fact that I avoided those clocks until mid-afternoon.

© 2006, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement