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
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