Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Oxford

Our friends invited us to spend the day with them in Oxford. We got up at 5:45 to leave the flat at 6:15 to take a 7:00 bus to Oxford. Yikes! And then there was no 7:00 bus because it's a bank holiday. 👌 Awesome.

Once we got to Oxford and met our good friends all was well. The town is beautiful. It reminds me so much of what Cambridge was like when I was a student. Stone walls, towering chapels, quaint shops, old bridges and punting.

Next we ventured to Blenheim Palace, where Churchill was born. What a spectacular site!

We took a "buggy tour" around the grounds along the river and heard sordid tales about the duke and his ignominious youth.

Here's the famous "Whomping Willow" from Harry Potter. And the lake that runs under the bridge:

Then we spent some time strolling the spectacular gardens.

We hugged our friends goodbye and made it back to Oxford just in time to catch our bus back to London.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Mirrored light, Traveling Light, and Candlelight...the perfect day

Jeremiah read about a Japanese artist (Yoyoi Hasami) exhibiting in London who does installations of small mirrored rooms. We decided we had to check it out! We took the tube to Angel, and an industrial part of London we'd never visited before, to the Victoria Miro gallery. There was a queue of hip, young urbanites outside the door that stretched down the block. We were in the right place.

Once inside we stood in yet another queue to go up the stairs, where were greeted by huge gold polka-dot pumpkins, and yet another queue to step inside the first room.

But it was definitely worth the wait! Her parents raised squash on a farm and she has loved them since she was a little child. She calls them a combination of humble and amusing. She also suffered from hallucinations of repeating patterns in early childhood, and these show up in her work, as you can see.

Next we went back downstairs and waited in another queue before stepping into this room:

She calls it "Candelier of Grief."

Outdoors there was a permanent installation in the water garden called "Where the Lights in My Heart Go."

There was another mirrored room on the patio punctuated with tiny holes of daylight. Inside it feels like you're surrounded by a starlit night sky. Upstairs was a huge gallery filled with a series of paintings she calls "Infinite Nets."

Next adventure: Abbey Road
We took the tube to St John's Wood and walked a few minutes until we arrived at an intersection filled with people taking photographs. First thought: what a let-down. It was just a small crosswalk on a busy street.

Doesn't look like much, but this is Abbey Road Studios, started by Sir Edward Elgar in 1930, and broadcasting source of the famous "King's Speech" in 1939. (Collin Firth spoke into that same microphone in the movie--which, by the way, is rated 15 and up in the UK, and is a must/see.) then four lads from Liverpool auditioned there and changed music history. "Abbey Road" was recorded in 1969, and the studio changed its name from EMI to Abbey Road a year later.

Here's a shot of Jeff and Jeremiah making the obligatory crossing while I risked my life in the middle of the street to take the photo. 😉 We decided Abbey Road was pretty cool after all.

For the final topper we went to St Martin in the Field--a small church adjacent to Trafalgar Square, and one of my favorite venues in London--to hear a candlelight concert of Mozart's Requiem by the Academy Voices. It was sublime. My favorite was the Lachrymosa. And a warm-up piece they did, "Ave Verum Corpus" that was so unbelievably gorgeous it brought me to tears.

Days don't get much better than this! Or end more beautifully.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Heroes: William Morris, St. Pancras, and Maximus

We visited the William Morris Gallery today. I have always loved his work, and his philosophy. His goal was to beautify the world, through both preservation and creation, and make fine art affordable to more people, so everyone could have something beautiful in their home. This work room is the studio of my dreams!

Next we stopped at St Pancras train station, where we caught the Eurostar to Paris last time we were here. You cannot believe how magnificent this architecture is! Photos don't do it justice! Curious about St Pancras himself, I checked out the fount of all wisdom, Wikipedia:

Saint Pancras was a Roman citizen who converted to Christianity, and was beheaded for his faith at the age of fourteen, around the year 304. His name is Greek and literally means "the one that holds everything". Hero.

In the evening we found ourselves once again in the majestic Royal Albert Hall, this time to see the movie Gladiator with a live orchestra playing the soundtrack. It was wonderful for our film students to see all the musicians involved in creating the orchestration. And Maximus is the consummate hero, a conqueror who was a humble family man at heart, sacrificing everything to save the republic ideal of Rome.



Sunday, May 22, 2016

Connecting the Dots

We took a fabulous day trip to Stonehenge and Bath yesterday. The ancient stone circle was as beautiful and enigmatic as ever, and the walk there through the forest and rapeseed fields was breathtaking.

It was a little cold and drizzly, but I wouldn't have missed this walk for anything.

The stones never disappoint. A mysterious prehistoric structure that took hundreds or thousands of years to build must have had an extraordinary unifying purpose, with a plan carried out generation after generation, sustained by a community of people working together.

Next stop was Bath. These are the Roman Baths discovered in 1880. It's amazing to think that Jane Austen would have been living and working here in the late 1700s and early 1800s, still with no idea this entire bath and temple ruins were there, 20 feet below street level.

One of the more fascinating parts was this section, where you could see entire layers of history marking the walls. You can see where the Rimsn bath was, and where the Norman monks built their own hot springs bath on top of it, then Victorian buildings atop that. The stains on the walls show the water level on the pump room in Regency times. It wouldn't be fully excavated for another hundred years.

From this vantage point we could piece together so much history in a way that all came together and made sense. It reminded me of the way the restored gospel helps us piece together eons of religious history and suddenly it all makes sense.

Bath is an utterly charming city and we wished we had more time exploring there.

One final observation on the National Health in the UK: On our way to Stonehenge, about ten minutes away, there was some heavy traffic and then we came to a stop. Probably 30 cars gave up and turned around and left. It turned out there was a bad motorcycle accident up ahead. Once all the cars turned around we were near the front and could see exactly what was going on. There was a guy who had been thrown off his bike and was lying face down on the pavement in the middle of the road. No one wanted to risk moving him for fear of a neck or spinal injury, so they stopped traffic and left him there. For TWO and a HALF HOURS. That's right--police got there after about an hour. They called for an ambulance, which arrived after two hours--just a little station wagon mini ambulance with no ability to move the victim. It took another forty-five minutes for a real ambulance to show up and clear the accident scene. The guy could have died!

I didn't mind waiting there--I had my sketchbook and the scenery outside was beautiful. But I was stunned at the slow response time by the national health to an "emergency."

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Ball is in Their Court. Literally.

Today we visited Hampton Court, and even though it was our second time here, it did not disappoint. It surpassed.

We were surprised and delighted to see a group of Tudor-era singers and minstrels come waltzing into the main court and invite us to join them in the great hall. They put on amazing reenactments of imagined moments in history--Anne Bolyn and Kathryn fighting over the privilege to see the king's shirts, spies discussing alliances in a downstairs alley, staging a production of Hamlet for King George, and more. The performances were superb.

We we spent the entire day there, watching the performers, touring the apartments of Henry VIII, George I, and William & Mary, then admiring the grounds and the gardens. We ate a picnic lunch on a bench lining the seemingly endless back lawn.

We had dinner in the flat and went to bed early while the newlyweds ventured to the West End to see Les Mis.


Friday, May 6, 2016

London Again: The newlyweds arrived!

We have been so excited to have Jordan and Austin join us here in London! We met them at the tube station, and walked them back to our apartment. We took them out to a Pub for dinner, for the real London experience on their first night here.


Jordan wasn't too crazy about the mushy peas that came with her fish and chips! But the Lamb Shank Shepherds Pie was delicious.
We walked to the south bank to show them the spectacular view from the bridge.
Then we saw a restored print of His Girl Friday, which was outstanding--such fast-paced, clever dialogue and a great story. Unfortunately it had been too long a day for our weary travelers and they slept through the entire movie. (No judgment here. I spent several comatose jet-lagged hours here myself. Our teenage son has the incriminating snap chat photos to prove it!)

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

London again: Sanctuary




After the Tower of London we stepped inside the oldest church in London, just a few steps northwest of the tower. We were met by the most charming and unassuming tour guide, who showed us the Saxon Arch (670 a.d.) and then the Roman floor (180 a.d.). He also told us wonderful stories, and the origin of ceremonies such as "beating the border," and delivering a red rose to the mayor annually in payment for the unauthorized construction of a bridge that has long since disappeared.


We walked just a few more blocks and discovered another church, designed by Sir Chrisopher Wren in the 17th century, that was bombed during WWII. Only the tower remains, and a few outer walls, but the church and the city have left it as a reminder, and turned it into the most peaceful garden. What could have been an ugly scar has been turned into a peace of refuge and contemplation in the center of a busy city.





After a lovely stop, we walked along the Thames to the National Theatre and saw "Les Blancs"...a very sobering and thoughtful play about race relations in south Africa. It reminded me of the book I read about orphanages in Nepal, where some of the charitable work we do as Americans actually ends up furthering and increasing the problem of child abduction there. Balancing our charitable impulses with real information and what will truly do the most good is never as simple as it seems.