September 8, 2015

Observations from the Mothership: Day 7

The Day I Went to the Globe and Traipsed Around London

Nothing is more likely to make the average English major squee like a demented fan girl than a chance to go see a Shakespearian play at the reconstructed Globe Theatre in London, and I'm no different.  I mean, c'mon--it's Shakespeare.  Aside from being classic literature, I just like the guy.  He was a witty wise-ass well before his time, and I have mad respect for that.  Besides, his manipulations of the English language help me to justify making up words whenever I want because if it was good enough for Billy Shakes, then it's good enough for me.  Or so I tell myself, at any rate.    

Shakespeare's Globe

After a long, refreshing sleep to make up for the previous day's all-nighter, I threw on some slacks and a blouse, grabbed muffin and a banana on my way out of the hotel, and headed off to the British Library to meet my friend Alan who had graciously taken off work to squire me to the Globe for the matinee so I wouldn't have to go see the show alone.  I suppose it didn't hurt that Alan himself had never yet been to the Globe, and I took a perverse glee in being the American Yank who got to introduce a native Brit to the iconic theatre.

Once at the British Library, I sat in the open courtyard to enjoy the morning, indulging in some people watching while waiting for Alan.  Halfway through my banana he showed up and we set off towards the nearest Tube station.  This turned out to be a bit of a comedy of errors (see what I did there?) considering neither of us really knew entirely where we were going.  We both knew the Globe was on the south bank of the Thames, but I hadn't really bothered looking up the best route for us because I naively assumed that any Englishman would know how to get there, in spite of the fact that the Englishman in question didn't actually live in London and had never been there.  I know, I know...stupid American, right?  Anyway, after a few quality minutes with the magic of GPS, Alan figured it out and we took the Tube to the Blackfriar's stop.  So naturally I had to grill him as to what made one set of friars "black" as opposed to Benedictine or whatever, thinking perhaps they were originally Jesuits.

We unintentionally ended up taking the long way around to the theatre but eventually arrived at the Globe complex and picked up our tickets at the box office, after which we went next door to the very Elizabethan-sounding Black Swan restaurant and pub for lunch.   Once upstairs, an amusing man from with a vaguely Slavic accent came over to take our orders.  I love listening to the varying dialects in this country; they do diversity so much better than we do at home.  But I digress.  Alan and I ordered the same meal on the show menu, except for the starters; he got soup and I tried a terrine, mostly out of sheer curiosity.  I've never had terrine before, and was only vaguely familiar with the term because of a BBC comedy starring Lenny Henry called Chef.  But, I figured, "when in Rome..." so I tried it.

The terrine turned out to be a sort of pulled and then pressed pork with the general consistency and texture of a chicken or tuna salad, except obviously tasting of pork.  It was better than I expected, and I ate the whole thing while joking with Alan that I'd basically just come over to England and ordered Spam.  We them spent the next several minutes giggling over the requisite "spam, spam, spam" jokes, these aided by the micro-greens on my plate which clearly constituted a small shrubbery.  I'm pretty sure Billy Shakes would also have appreciated the silliness of Monty Python had they been around in his time.

We finished the rest of the delicious meal with gusto, enjoying conversation and the lovely view of the Thames and St. Paul's...as well as several giant construction cranes spanning the river.  Alan and I paid our bill and headed next door to the Globe, getting there with just enough time to grab our seats before the play started, much to the understated annoyance of other patrons seated on our row over whom we had to climb.  Americans would have been cussing us out, but the two nice older British ladies we dislodged just grimaced and dealt with it, making me wonder for perhaps the thousandth time this week why I don't live here already.  Alan and I settled in on our hard wooden bench in the middle gallery and listened to the usual admonitions to turn off cell phones and refrain from photography during the show, then the performance of Much Ado About Nothing began.

The Globe's stage.

The production was excellent; well-acted by the cast, particularly the acrobatic Benedick, it was also significantly enhanced by music both sung and performed by the cast members at several appropriately-placed intervals during the show.  The interaction between the cast and the groundlings was also very amusing, not the least when several became doused with water meant for Beatrice.  Because the Globe is essentially an open-air theatre, however, there were occasional distractions such as airplanes flying anachronistically overhead.  For the most part such distractions were quick and largely ignorable by both cast and audience, but at one point a couple of Blackhawk helicopters flew directly (and loudly) overhead; I confess to being very impressed by how smoothly the actors currently on stage were able to incorporate the disruption seamlessly into their performance--no mean feat with iambic pentameter, which tends to defy ad-libbing.

At intermission the stalls emptied as everyone rushed off to use the facilities; upon returning both Alan and I noticed and commented on the uneven distribution of pigeons perched across the roof covering the stage. Clearly British pigeons have no appreciation for symmetry; I can only assume this is why so many of them got eaten during the Elizabethan period.  We continued chatting about the action thus far until the interval was over and the performance begain again.

By the last act of the play the sun had dropped to just above the roof of the upper gallery, glaring viciously into everyone's eyes on our side of the theater and causing some 50 hands to shoot up in the air and shade eyes in sun-drenched and weirdly military-looking salutes.  When it became clear that the sun was not going to disappear behind the clouds for any length of time, the ushers took pity on us and began passing out paper visors to everyone in our section; they were surprisingly effective, but we all looked like we were wearing little white turbine fans on our heads.  Très chic.

"Heyyyyyy, sexy laaaaadyyyyyy..."

Alan really seemed to enjoy the show (as did I), and I had almost as much fun watching him as I did watching the show itself, for he spent most of the play leaning forward, eyes alight with the magic of the performance.  Afterwards we perused the gift shop, where we both purchased facsimile copies of one of Shakespeare's first folios like the good little book nerds we are.  Alan then walked me to St. Paul's so I could ogle the architecture up close; we took a selfie there for our friend Katie since the area by the Globe was far too packed with people to get a good one there.  Alan pointed out the Tower Bridge and the Shard as we walked, as well as several other things; I think he secretly delighted in watching me ooh and ah over everything and answering all my questions about the history of the buildings and other things along the way.  For my part, I very much enjoyed the beautiful day and my witty companion, never mind geeking out over all the art and architecture and history surrounding me and filling my soul.

The Shard in London.

The dome of St. Paul's.

After St. Paul's, Alan walked me down to Parliament and Big Ben, which I believe has now been renamed for Queen Elizabeth II.  Not that it will ever be anything but Big Ben to me, mind you.  Parliament turned out to be much farther down than originally anticipated but was well worth the hike; the walk alongside the Thames alone was lovely, in spite of my nearly being assaulted by an errant skateboard at one point.  Personally, I found the near-miss amusing because it was the most threatened I'd felt the entire trip, in spite of all my friends back home freaking the hell out because I had gone overseas alone (which isn't exactly a flattering endorsement of my abilities), as though that somehow guaranteed I'd be mugged or molested on every street corner.  Perhaps it was foolish of me to go alone; I don't know.  I just think it's more important to take chances and actually go out and live on occasion...at least it is for me.  Better to die doing something you love than live holed up in your house and alone and afraid.

Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament

After making it to Parliament, we next walked around to the front of Westminster Abbey which was sadly closed.  I didn't feel too badly, though, since I had been able to go inside it on my previous visit to London.  I was fascinated to see a giant statue of Abraham Lincoln in the square opposite the Abbey (at least I think that's where it was); I could have understood it being Benjamin Franklin, European playboy extraordinaire, but Lincoln??  I found the statue very unexpected.  Turns out there's another monument to Lincoln somewhere in Edinburgh; who knew Honest Abe was so popular over here?

Honest Abe, just chillin' in the middle of London.

Alan was very patient with my constant stopping for photos and indulgent of my endless (and frequently non-sequiturish) questions about the city, the buildings, etc.--basically whatever happened to pop into my mind at any given moment--answering each and every one to the best of his ability.  By this point my feet were starting to feel as if they were on fire, so I suggested stopping somewhere for some tea.  We found a nearby Starbucks and ordered, my "medium tea" arriving moments later in a bucket-sized mug.  We stayed in Starbucks chatting till they kicked us out for closing time.

A big teddy bear of a man and very professorial, Alan is both kindly-natured and clever, with a sneaky sly wit that frequently had me bursting out with laughter throughout the day.  I spent several very enjoyable hours with him both before and after the play at the Globe, during which we covered an astonishingly wide variety of topics.  After tea we both walked to Victoria station for our respective trips home.  I saw Alan off on his train before heading over to take the Tube back to my hotel.  Just before he left Alan told me that I was "exactly like he thought I'd be."  I pointed out this could either be really good or really bad depending exactly what he'd previously thought of me, but Alan just giggled in response.  I'm choosing to take that as a compliment regardless.

"I said, 'MIND THE GAP!!!'"

When I arrived back in my hotel room, my feet felt as though I'd been standing in hot coals for hours.  I suppose that's not surprising considering the 8-some miles I'd just walked, never mind the literal marathon I've walked over here thus far.  As a result, the blisters on my toes have now begun forming blisters of their own, forming a colony of subcutaneous contagion spreading across the top of my feet.  Pretty soon they'll start looking like the feet of a prima ballerina who's been dancing en pointe for 20 years.  Not that I would change a thing, though--this trip has easily been worth every searing step and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

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