Please forgive me, Europe blog, for I have neglected you. It has been a month and a half since my last confession and in that time I have not wanted to release the tethers on you. I’ve been back in DC for three times as long as my trip was, yet I still get a kick out of people who I haven’t seen for a while saying “welcome back!” (Happened just last night, in fact!) When you go far away and write about it, it seems everyone gets to share in some part. That’s been one of the great revelations of my having taken this trip, and keeping this blog – which I actually set up in the very same coffeeshop where I’m presently writing – has been, and most likely will remain, a definitive element. Looking at my stats, as of September 3, this blog received 6,853 individual hits – obviously way more than I might’ve expected. Somewhere on the trip I saw a quote from Anais Nin which reminds me of my process of keeping this log: “As writers, we get to taste life twice: once, in the experience, and another time in the retelling.” And to think, the retelling is free! So thanks for following along, friends.
Why have I waited so long to compose this? Ha! Well, I left my last day to write about and for weeks afterward I told myself and others that I could still pretend I was on my trip so long as I hadn’t finished the last entry. But with Fall, 2010 steadily approaching (it’s awfully chilly in here, and I’m wearing jeans and a long-sleeve), the days starting to get shorter and the dog days waning, I think that time has come to say goodbye gracefully to one of my seminal life experiences. And for the record there was a portion of intentionality in waiting so long to compose my last entry. I’m interested in how memory gets reshaped over time, and especially the memory of travel, where stimuli are constantly being taken in, where everything is new and unfamiliar. Much of that can be retained over the days which follow being in a certain place, but how much can I recall after almost two months hence? I should admit that I do have photographs to help jog those memories.
My final day in Europe prior to departing London, began, as many others did along this trip, with a late start, due to the previous evening dancing adventures with new London friends. (Who I’m happy to report I’m still in communication with via Facebook!) I have no memory of leaving Des’s place, although I’m sure I had a vague feeling of a soon-to-expire clock hovering above me. I remember having the feeling in the last few days of the trip that being in the “lame duck” period of the trip meant that I felt as if the trip was already over, and it felt continually surprising that I’d walk out the door and still be in a place like London.
I walked over one of the Thames bridges (probably the Waterloo) and found my way to Covent Garden, an area I hadn’t yet explored. It was a Saturday afternoon and the area felt overrun with tourists, food and drink vendors, and pedestrians lolling about. I was struck by the sound of a folky street musician singing in a sort of "British James Taylor-style" voice. I stopped and took in a tune, then during a song break went up to purchase a CD from him. In a quick plug, Terry St. Clair told me he had a song featured on the Kevin Costner film The Upside of Anger, and after asking me where I was from, mentioned that he had recently toured through Connecticut. I’ve really enjoyed this CD at home; it’s so nice when happenstance does all of the work of uncovering a hidden musical gem who I certainly never would’ve heard otherwise. I also stroll past a large crowd watching a street performer attempting to knock a match out of a young man's mouth using a yo-yo!
I haven't posted any other videos from the trip (I took a few, and may get around to posting them on earlier entries... the beer-soaked Germans and their football win over Argentina ones are pretty awesome), but here's one of Terry St. Clair singing in Covent Garden:
I continued walking through Covent Garden and made my way through the old, grimy streets of London toward the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, which I’d seen but hadn’t yet been inside. On the way there, I stop into a cute vegetarian restaurant on Neal St. called Food For Thought, which had been recommended to me by John, way back on the flight to London. After a tasty lunch and a quick stop into a coffeeshop for an iced mocha, I continued on toward the museum. Walking over a curb, I took a nasty spill over a curb and landed with my camera crashing down to the ground. Thankfully, outside of a cosmetic dent on the lens filter, nothing seems awry. (Also, I enjoy the peace of mind that the 3-year full warranty I purchased would have covered any damage anyway. Thanks Colin!)
Sadly for my current memory bank, photographs weren’t allowed inside the National Gallery, so I’ll have to try to piece together what I remember enjoying. (Although I did get a few in before being made aware of this, and I've got the notes I took in my iPhone to jog that memory!) This is an enormous, impressive place – perhaps not as massive as the Louvre (what is?) but still, the sort of museum one could spend hours and hours inside. There were three works by Caravaggio which I sought out, and I was happy to add these to the list of the great master’s works I’ve seen around the world. I particularly enjoyed Parmigianino's The Madonna and Child With Saints, Boilly's A Girl at a Window, and da Vinci's The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and Saint John the Baptist; the description tells of da Vinci's use of sfumato, "a subtle blending of light and soft shadow, featuring changes in light, facial expression, and emotion." Also, the late 19th century collections seem particularly impressive; lots of Van Goghs (like the famous "chair" painting below), plus a heavy emphasis on Impressionists and other modernists: a few which made an impression (so to speak) were Pissarro's The Boulevard Montmartre at Night, Eduoard Vuillard's The Earthenware Pot, Seurat's The Bathers at Asnieres, plus others by Monet, Renoir, Gauguin, and a detailed presentation on the influences of Seurat's pointillism.
After spending only around an hour here (I’ve mastered this drive-by style of tourism!) I exit and head toward the water to check out the restored Globe Theatre, which numerous people had told me not to miss. On the way, I weave my way through street vendors selling old books and maps of London and the Thames, which feels apt since I happen to be walking right by it. I also pass by a statue dedicated to Edith Cavell, whose name rings a bell, and the emblazoned dedication really sticks out: “Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness toward anyone.” I make a mental note to investigate further later on and I find out that Edith Cavell was a British nurse who was executed by the Germans in 1915; her martyrdom was used as a rallying cry for Great Britain as it entered the first World War.
I arrive at the Globe just prior to the opening of Henry IV, Part 1, and as I pass by the thatched roof performance space, the actors are shouting at people to enter and find their seats. Obviously the concept of this replica of Shakespeare’s theatre, built in 1997 close to the location of the original Globe, is to present the Bard’s works in a historically “authentic” manner, which is such a refreshing change from the fussy, didactic way his works are often presented in the US. As I get up to the ticket booth, however, I’m disheartened to find out that all of the “groundling” (read: cheap standing room only) tickets are sold out. I do my best to talk my way in at the gate, telling a nice older woman that I actually only wanted to take a few photos, but she advises me to hang out in the lobby. Eventually the ticket rep finds a 5 pound ticket for me and I enter the theatre, joining loads of other tightly packed audience members surrounding the front of the stage. Along the back and sides are hundreds more higher-paying patrons, and its so cool to feel something approximating what it might have felt seeing theater in Shakespeare’s time. I watch about 40 minutes of the show, which is excellent, and feel guilty in scrambling out, yet I know time is of the essence and there are a few more things I want to squeeze into my final day.
On the way out I stop into the gift shop and pick up a few tokens for a few Shakespeare lovers in my life, as well as a pocket sized copy of Romeo & Juliet which I imagine might come in handy on the subway someday. I leave the Globe, and come to realize that my camera battery has died (a problem I had yet to run into during the while trip!) so I resort to capturing my trip's final European sunset, gorgeously cresting over the Thames, with my iPhone camera. The remainder of the photos I took that evening, obviously, were taken with my phone.
The Tate Modern museum came highly recommended, and I enter at 6pm, with an hour before it closes. (Both the Tate and the National Gallery were free, so I feel less guilty about these brazen drive-bys!) Not surprisingly, the Tate is starkly different from the National; I really enjoy how modern art museums are forced to think outside of the box in terms of design and presentation in order to appeal to an audience which probably contains more skeptics than traditional museums. There’s work of famous artists like Picasso and Miro to be found in the Tate, but I also enjoy the quirky work of unfamiliar names like Barnett Newman, Hermann Nitsch, and Arnulf Rainer.
After stopping into the impressive gift shop to buy a few postcards, I leave the Tate well in advance before it closes and walk along the river toward the direction of Borough Market, where Des’s roommate Will had recommended. (About 15 minutes into the walk I realize I’d left my bag of Globe and Tate postcards in the bathroom at the Tate and make a mad dash back to pick them up. Thankfully they hadn’t walked off!) With the evening having passed into darkness, I pass by the ruins of Winchester Palace, Southwark Cathedral, church of Chaucer and Shakespeare, and the infamous Clink prison, now a popular bar! I take a bit of a detour toward London Bridge, if for no other reason, to take a photograph of it and Facebook post it with the byline: “Contrary to popular belief, London Bridge is not falling down.” (Done and done.) Burough Market, apparently an outdoor street fair held on weekends, is closed by the time I pass by it, so I resolve to add it to my next visit, whenever that may be.
The next too-large chunk of time is spent walking in the direction of the piano bar Des had recommended I drop into, which is along the opposite side of the river back in the direction of Westminster Abbey. It takes me a good 45 minutes to walk that far, but walking along the banks of the Thames is pleasant, and I finally find it, settling in with a pint. Talking up strangers, I resolve to not-give-a-damn and to throw social caution to the wind on the final evening of my trip. (In hindsight, I feel this uninhabited quality in social situations clearly cultivated over this trip has stuck with me to this day – since I’ve been back I seem to have collected quite a few new friends!) The bar picks up after an hour or so and the music is grand. There’s something soul-charging about the energy of an entire room of people singing familiar songs which I remember from my days working at Mimi’s in Dupont Circle a few years back, and its nice to experience that again, even if I did find this place a bit more challenging to meet friends. Toward the end of the night, a few solo singers take the stage to sing renditions of “Over the Rainbow” and “Get Here,” a song I’ve been slightly obsessed with ever since. I love the experience of discovering songs which I was familiar with without realizing “how good they are!” (It only later dawns on me that the Eva Cassidy arrangement of “Over the Rainbow” which is approximated by a young singer was a song that had figured into my evening in Amsterdam at the beginning of my trip.) The piano player (a friend of Des’s) at long last fulfills my request to play Billy Joel’s Piano Man, and I sing out the challenging high G’s of the melody with all my soul. It’s funny how good singing can feel when you’re focused on the joy part and not the professional, performance part. That said, a few weeks ago at the Tuesday night “Live Karaoke” at Wonderland Ballroom in DC, I fulfilled my desire, initially instilled at this London bar, to perform this song. Suffice to say the house was brought down and the high Gs remained clear as a bell!
As the bar winds down, I end up befriending two musicians who had performed in Bernstein’s Mass earlier in the evening, a concert I had seen posters for and considered attending. The “Over the Rainbow” singer is embroiled in some sort of gossipy, internecine quarrel regarding what she may or may not have said regarding another member of the choir, and the “Get Here” singer is overloading her with unsolicited character-improving advice. It’s sort of interesting to stand there and unintentionally eavesdrop, but I’m not a part of this social circle and my adrenaline is almost running out. Danilo, a friendly young classical guitarist, myself and the “Over the Rainbow” girl walk back toward Waterloo, and we stop to sit on a bench along the Thames, where I’m instructed to try out my British dialect. Suffice to say the girl’s American is better than my British! We keep walking and pick up some late-night grub from a food truck. We say goodbye and I amble back toward Des’s, then realize I’ve yet again left my bag of gifts and postcards somewhere, this time at the food truck. I sprint the half-mile back and arrive just as someone has picked them up. After reclaiming, I walk back and cap off a sort of anti-climactic final night, knowing I’ll have to wake up in only a few hours in order to make my train and flight out of Heathrow.
The following morning goes off smoothly, and without very much that sticks out, save for one fortuitous event. My cheapo plane itinerary has me flying from London to Ottawa (over Greenland! check out the photos below!), then Ottawa to Washington, and on the second flight I end up sitting across the aisle from a young woman who opens a book on Shakespeare. I strike up a conversation and it turns out she and her boyfriend had also been to the Globe in London. She’s a successful young documentary filmmaker and I think to bring up the grant I recently received through CuDC to produce a work based on “images of God.” Since that time, Yael has joined the OMG team as a full-on creative collaborator, and I chalk that chance meeting fully up to happenstance. Also, I recently found out that my new friends from Stile Antico will be performing one of the Tiny Desk concerts at the NPR offices in Washington, based upon a connection that I passed on. Add it to the list of synchronicitous events which came about as a result of this trip!
How funny – the coffeeshop where I’m completing this final entry is playing Judy Collins’ gorgeous recording of “Who Knows Where The Time Goes,” and I can’t think of a more poignant and fitting musical conclusion to this log of coolmcjourneys. (Haha, usually they play punk here, so it’s really out of character!) Though I see no need to post anything else regarding this trip, I’ll certainly know where to turn to keep a record of future travel, which I am now mandating as a required condition in my life. I learned more about myself than I might have imagined on this trip, heard stunning music, saw thrilling art, fulfilling some crazy ambitions to see this chunk of the world, and did it all by myself, on was was basically a whim of a dare in a bar. What were lived, in-the-moment experiences now become framed photos on my bathroom wall, a daily reminder of the trip, though I’m reminded that any day can be a “frameable” day if we find the right beauty. I don’t know where the time went, but I know I enjoyed almost every second of it. London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, and Paris, and all in two weeks time - who woulda thunk it? Thanks for checking in this last time, friends (and reading this far!). Cheers and safe travels to all until next time. Hmm… Barcelona and the south of France, Summer 2011? Now that sounds just crazy enough to start looking into...