Thursday, July 31, 2014

45 Days in London: Day 38

Time Travel

Today is my late Grandpa W's Birthday...I love to remember him and his droll sense of humor, his big back-scratch hugs, his passion for family history, the loving way he restored furniture, and his fabulous gourmet cooking. What would I give to be able to travel back in time and spent an afternoon with him?

Jeff had been reading about a 19th-century British inventor and his Time Travel Machine. Legend has it that he built seven such structures, and two have only a mile from our flat, in the Brompton Cemetery.

The cemetery is huge and we had a great time just exploring the grounds. Didn't we choose a perfect, ominous-looking day for this graveyard adventure?

Look—I caught a dove in flight.

Eventually we located the Time Travel structure, identified by its shape and Egyptian-looking inscriptions. The architect's grave is nearby, and it has some matching inscriptions. Of course the filmmaker in Jeff is completely intrigued with this notion of time travel and the history surrounding it.

In the evening we saw War Horse. We had amazing seats for this one. But I think what really helped our appreciation of it was the fact that we had so recently visited the Imperial War Museum and many other events commemorating the beginning of World War I. It was like we traveled back in time. Understanding the historical background made the story richer. We had just read heart-wrenching quotes from actual soldiers talking about their horses, and how brutal it was for them to have to shoot them when they were injured.

Even beyond being immersed in history, every performance was stunning, from the acting to the puppetry to the sparse folk-singing. I also loved the projections and set design. This just may be the favorite production we've seen so far. It received our one and only standing ovation.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

45 Days in London: Day 37

This morning, Mr. Cool requested more shopping. (I think he wants his entire back-to-school wardrobe to come from London.) I'd much rather be outside seeing things than inside acquiring things.

But this morning I was glad we went, because we accidentally stumbled upon the London School of Economics, where my Grandpa B went to grad school right after he and Grandma were married.

In the afternoon we saw a brilliant production of Wolf Hall. Our friends Barbara and Jerry had given us a copy of the novel a few years ago, so we were especially excited to see this adaptation. It did not disappoint; but rather, made us want to try our hands at an adaptation of another book we've been reading. (More on that later.)

During the interval, we discovered that the author of the novel, Hilary Mantel, was in the audience. We chose not to take advantage of the photo op, and let her enjoy her privacy.  We went straight out and bought a copy of the play after the production.

We barely had time to change clothes and wolf down (pun intended) a little Waitrose shrimp pasta salad on our way back to the BFI. That shrimp salad always reminds us of Jeff's mom. It really hit the spot.

In the evening we saw "The Lady from Shanghai," a film noir starring Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth, about deceit and betrayal. The mirror sequence at the end is amazing.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

45 Days in London: Day 36

D-Neg, Selfridges, 39 Steps

I spent the morning once again doing...Laundry. Only this time I got the bright idea to hand-wash a few items, and only use the machines to dry. I also machine-washed a load of clothes, and hung them all over the apartment to drip-dry. Probably saved us twenty bucks!

This afternoon we got to tour an Oscar award-winning special effects house, called Double Negative. (D-Neg, to insiders). They are one of the biggest VFX houses in the UK, and Christopher Nolan uses them pretty much exclusively. One of Jeff's students, Keanan Cantrell, works there. He invited us and the students in for a look at their workspaces and their studio reel. some of it was top secret and we had to sign NDAs (non-disclosure agreements).

Check out this link to Keanan's own reel—you'll be amazed!

And you can see his credits here, most notably Avatar:

After that we did a little shopping on Oxford Street and Regent Street. We'd heard quite a bit about
Selfridges, London's other department store, and decided to take a peek. It's not as opulent as Harrod's, but almost as pricey. (The architecture reminded us of the flagship Marshall Fields store in Chicago. We found out later that Mr. Selfridge originally worked for Marshall Fields.) Selfridges is also made famous by the BBC drama Mr. Selfridge.

I have to add that Mr. Cool looks great in the lower left. Seriously, he could be a fashion model. (I'm not biased in the least.)  :)

In the evening we saw The 39 Steps, a spoof on a whole string of Hitchcock movies. I think I've seen this play a few too many times, because it failed to excite me the way most of the other productions we've seen did. Still, it was excellently done. And what's not to love about this theatre, this town, and Alfred Hitchcock? Plus, Piccadilly Circus is always a blast at night!

Monday, July 28, 2014

45 Days in London: Day 35

We started to panic last night–only ten days left in London!
But then I realized: most people who come here ONLY come for ten days...or even less. So if you look at it that way...we have a whole trip to England left...YAY!

One hundred years ago today marked the beginning of World War 1. We appropriately visited the Imperial War Museum and its new exhibit on The Great War. It was a stunning presentation—lots of audio/video and other elements. The overall sensation was very sobering. The grim reality of the ravages and atrocities of war was right there in your face. Quotes from soldiers about killing without mercy, about trying not to kill, then realizing it was their duty, and about watching their friends die. Weapons, masks, helmets, knives, bullets and bayonets. Uniforms and propaganda. I started to cry. It actually made me a little depressed. But then of course the Americans come in and save the day. (Better late than never!) I was still somber, but not depressed, by the exhibit's end.

From there we raced over to St. Martin in the Fields where we heard a small choral group, St. Martin's Voices, sing songs about WW1 by composers to wrote, fought, and/or died during the war.
It was the perfect follow-up to the war museum experience. We got so much understanding of the horrors and suffering from the exhibit, and then pure healing from the concert. The perfect blend of rich voices bounced off the ornate, rounded ceiling and enveloped us in nurturing sound. The songs brought evoked sadness, honor and solace, and were interspersed with brief readings of poetry by WW1 soldiers. The experience was sublime. Next we took a quick peek inside the wonderful underground crypt and the brass rubbings, and grabbed a quick lunch.

We went out for Indian food with one of the study abroad directors and a small group of students. We ate at Light of India, and the food was great. Lamb Korma for the win!

Then we walked over to the Royal Albert Hall for a BBC concert. I love the Albert Hall! I still remember so vividly going there as a student, and buying a standing-room-only ticket, clear up on the fourth balcony, to hear the Scottish National Orchestra perform Saint-Saens' Carnival of the Animals.

Tonight was no less exciting. The hall is grand, and our seats were looking right over the orchestra. The first piece was a world premiere symphonic work called GAIA—inspired by the theories of James Lovelock. Having just seen the Lovelock exhibit at the Science Museum this was especially meaningful. The piece was gorgeous—my favorite of the evening. Next was a Mozart piano concerto featuring a very passionate, energetic pianist. Then of course they have an entire salon dedicated to serving Haagen-Dazs ice cream, where half the audience floods during the interval. And finally Daphne and Chloe by Ravel, complete with chorus. It was a wonderful, rich, multi-cultural evening, wrapping up yet another perfect day.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

45 Days in London: Day 34

Day of Rest

It's hard to describe how much I value this Day of Rest when we're going at such an intense pace the rest of the week. Sunday is truly a respite and a refresher for us here.

We went back to the Clapham Commons ward today. The people were welcoming and wonderful, just as before. We truly feel like we belong here.

In sacrament meeting, a member of the London Temple presidency bore a sweet testimony that gave me pause. He said near the end, "Isn't it wonderful that Joseph Smith didn't just say, 'God speaks to me.' He said, 'God speaks to all of us.'" YES.

The very bright and capable Sunday School teacher, Karen, told a life-changing story about the power of the priesthood—too sacred to relate here—but it has certainly made me think about the priesthood, and how easily we take it for granted, or limit ourselves by not recognizing the very real power it is here on earth.

In the evening we visited the newly-remodeled BYU London Center. It is a beautiful, old Victorian building not far from Notting Hill. The gathering spaces are exquisite—stone fireplace and mantel, elegant woodwork and furnishings. There is a large kitchen where they eat as a group, a library/study area and a classroom. It was interesting to talk to the directors and discover how different their program is from ours—some aspects we envied, others we wouldn't trade.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

45 Days in London: Day 33

Chittock Walk

This morning we rode a train to Kent, where we met a wonderful old Englishman, George Chittock, for a walk through the countryside. He takes the study abroad students on this walk every semester. What a grand tradition!

Our first stop was Eynsford Castle, the ruins of a medieval stone structure dating back to the eleventh century. It wasn't far from the train station, and was a great place to sit on the lawn and eat our sack lunches.

Next we walked along the river for a couple of miles. There were families splashing and playing in the river, dogs, jumping in and retrieving sticks, which made it seem like a perfect afternoon gathering spot.

We gathered at a small visitors center, then headed uphill on a loop overlooking the valley. We saw fields and fields of bright lavender in bloom, and the students rode on a zip line when we got to the top.

We picked and ate wild blackberries alongside the trail. Meanwhile George entertained us with stories of living in London during the blitz of World War II, stories of growing up playing cricket, and more.

When we completed the loop we strolled a little farther along the river and stopped at a small farm and bought lavender ice cream. Oh, my goodness! It had such subtle flavor. Just delicious! And so refreshing after our long walk.

Last, we stopped into an old parish church, and just sat in the pews for a bit. One of the students played some hymns on the piano. Then we walked through the graveyard, and back to the train station. It was the perfect day--we were surrounded by both beauty and history, and it felt great to escape the hustle of London for a walk through the countryside.

In the evening we saw the fifth of our Chinese movies, called Hero. The story is an ancient legend about the unification of the Chinese empire. Once again, there were martial arts, but this one was more choreographed, and the use of color, symbolism and design were breathtaking. The filmmaking was exquisite! I was also surprised to discover what seemed to be some strong Christian themes coming from that part of the world—particularly sacrifice and atonement.

Friday, July 25, 2014

45 Days in London: Day 32

This morning first thing we stopped at the Blackfriars train station to purchase tickets for a couple of excursions. The man at the ticket window must have had some sort of...problem. He had this habit of SHOUTING—high-pitched, red-faced, veins popping—the simplest of statements:

Jeff: "We need three tickets for today to Watford Junction and tomorrow to Einsford."
Train ticket guy: "NOT TOMORROW! ONLY TODAY!"
Jeff: "Okay we need three tickets to Watford Junction for today."
Train ticket guy: "THREE PEOPLE?!?"
Jeff: "Yes, three of us, for today."
Train ticket guy: "LEAVING TODAY!?!"
Jeff: "That's correct. Round-trip."
Train ticket guy: " SAME DAY?!?"

At that point I had to turn around because I was laughing so hard at the absurdity of his fierce responses. As luck would have it, since he would only sell Jeff a ticket for today, it fell to me to purchase our tickets for tomorrow. I waited my turn in the queue, the people in front of us also alarmed and laughing about all the unnecessary yelling.

Hoping my charm could spare me some of his shouting, I greeted him with a big smile and said, "Good morning. I'd like to purchase three round trip tickets to Eynsford for tomorrow." Needless to say, I couldn't possibly out-charm my husband. I got the same shouting treatment, in response to the mildest requests.

Later, Jeff said he thought maybe the man had some kind of emotional disorder. That made a little more sense. Maybe I shouldn't have laughed.

Next we crossed the Millennial Bridge to visit the Tate Modern. It is housed in the coolest building...a renovated power plant. The spaces are amazing! What I loved most about the Tate Modern was the way they group the collection by approach and subject matter. Even for those who struggle with modern art, I think you have to come away with some understanding and appreciation. Listen to how the exhibits are grouped:

Level Two: Poetry and Dream (surrealism and the power of the unconscious)
Level Three: Transformed Visions (seeing in new ways, moving into expressionist abstraction)
Level Four: Structure and Clarity (geometric abstraction, cubism, and minimalism);
                     Energy and Process

For example, the figure section showed a huge variety of ways to interpret the human form. Genius.

Another example: In Transformed Visions there was an abstract expressionist painting on one wall, and on the opposite wall is one of Monet's water lilies. And you realize that the shapes and forms are essentially the same. Two different works from completely different time periods--one essentially subjectless, another with traditional subject matter and technique,—yet they were not just compatible; each piece enhanced the viewing experience of the other. On the third wall was an abstract geometric piece with strong blue vertical shapes that felt like sheets of water. So the entire room gave a feeling of serenity, but in three very different approaches.

{TURNER PIECE FROM TATE MODERN}In another room they have a Turner landscape grouped with other contemporary works, helping the viewer make similar comparisons. There were related connections and groupings throughout the exhibits. Pure genius.

From there we marched past the Old Globe, and on through the Borough Market. Then to the train station to travel to the Harry Potter studios. But it turned out the shouting ticket salesman had sold us the wrong tickets...much farther away and more expensive than we needed. They told us we had to buy a completely new set of tickets and try to get the others refunded. We barely bought our new tickets in time to board the train. Yowza!

But all the stress melted away as soon as we boarded the Harry Potter buses. Inside the studios, the sets were amazing!

We got to walk right into the great hall where they dined every night, walk into Dumbledore's office, peek in on Delores Umbridge's office, walk down Diagon Alley and so much more! What was especially fascinating was the way they incorporated every aspect of filmmaking into the tour. We saw props, met the prop-makers, watched how the green screen action worked for the quidditch matches, saw the original drawings by the concept artists, and so much more. It was probably the most educational film experience of everything we've done here so far.

At the end of the tour you get to walk around the actual model of Hogwarts they used for most of the exteriors. It was stunning! Nearly everyone gasped as they entered the space. The lights would rotate from daytime to nighttime, so you could see it under a variety of lighting conditions. But the design and the detail were astonishing. SO glad we got to be there!

After a long day and another train ride back to London, we spent at least another hour trying to get the original (wrong) train tickets refunded. Still waiting to see if we get our money back. Cross your fingers! It was a highly inefficient process.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

45 Days in London: Day 31

July 24 is what we'd celebrate as "Pioneer Day" if we were in Utah. I got an email from FamilySearch saying it found pioneer ancestors in my family tree, and I could see them if I clicked this link. So I did. I spent the next couple of hours poring over the list and the accompanying stories. It turns out I have 24 pioneer ancestors, one of whom was in the Martin Handcart company, another who was in the rescue party that went out in the winter to rescue the handcart companies, and one who walked alongside Eliza R. Snow in the Jedediah Grant Company. Their stories are so humbling. One was just baby—a year old, and another died crossing the plains at age 50. And one fabulous couple was married en route! Imagine!

We met a friend from Provo for lunch today, one of Jeff's former students. We ate at Pasta Brown, which was passable but not amazing. The conversation far outshined the food. It was fun to catch up with B and see the spectacular flat where she's staying, right in Covent Garden. The flat belongs to her sister's husband's parents...and it occurred to me that her brother-in-law is a pioneer too—his parents are atheists, and he has chosen to join and embrace the gospel, the first and only member in his family.

We invited one of the BYU study abroad overseers to our apartment for dinner. He has traveled extensively, is a linguist and an anthropologist, and we enjoyed having him over.  The conversation was stimulating and delightful.

Tonight we saw yet another Chinese martial arts movie: Drunken Master 2 starring Jackie Chan. Lots of Chaplinesque physical comedy, and some charming characters. The stepmother was hilarious.