A Travellerspoint blog

day 3: stretching out our process

in which the Swampoodle actors prove their mettle on the imagination gridiron

overcast 40 °F

I write having made a long and unforgettable walk via the “short path” from Celbridge town to the Langley House. I’ve never experienced anything like that in my life. Acres upon acres of open land around me, light misting and the wind whipping through a night sky just bright enough for me to make my way over the curving, muddy and puddled path. (Swampoodle rehearsal, indeed!) Stopping every few moments to capture a new shot; the black silhouetted framing of the skeletal winter trees reaching toward the sky cutting through the dim light peeking over from the town. Each photograph requires I hold still as possible through the mud and wind for a good 4 seconds, and my camera catches the dull pinkish-gray light as orange. I’m not sure I’ve never felt so solitary on the earth’s vastness.

It’s hard to believe I’m already past Day 3 of the trip. Like the wind outside my stone hut, time is whipping by and it seems our 6pm rehearsal end time arrives approximately one hour after our 10am beginning. I arrived early and we picked up straight-away with our physical warm-ups from the previous day, including yoga poses, deep self-massaging ("find the poison points!"), and balance exercises, and today we added some vocal warmups led by Rachel.

What activities will they have in store for us today? Our first task is to assemble in groups of three and create staging for pages of text given to us by Tom. Sitting for a quick table-read with my partners Rachel and Chris, the language is already funny and cheeky and I’m loving the fact that though obviously there will be serious parts, we’re all getting the sense this show is going to be irreverent and entertaining. Since we’re allowed to use any location on the estate, we head outside and after a search, end up staging our text on the staircase of the main entrance to the estate. Our key word is “imagine” and we play with the idea of using the vast physical space in front of us, rushing from the field in three directions toward the “audience,” which we place on the top of the estate entryway. Given the lavish surroundings, the line “this once was a rundown parking lot” is a nice opposite. Our piece reminded me very much of assembling similar text-based pieces in Joy Zinoman’s Greek class years a few back. We start to build creative momentum, but only have a short time to finish our project in. The other two groups are funny and well-structured; one makes thrilling use of its location in a ladies room and the other deftly employs slapstick.

We continue with a group improvisation, exploring our own visions of what this piece might mean on an individual basis, then devolving into an all-out physical war between factions of the cast. (All in good fun, of course.) It’s cool to know that even if our impulses only generate a tiny portion of what eventually ends up in the piece, that it’s still our process this week which will help to set the tone; MJ would later refer to this as “spaghetti work” – throwing things up on the wall to see what sticks. (I should also state I’m learning a great deal about process-driven theater, which I hope will inform the OMG project we’re currently developing in DC!)

Next we’re given a video camera and split into groups to create short films which explore historical elements of the Swampoodle and the Uline Auditorium. Our piece centers on overcrowding; the other group creates a striking piece telling the story of anonymous census names through closeups of bare feet walking slowly by the camera. We then split off into other groups – a common question today was “who haven’t I worked with yet?” – and told to choose a photo for which we are to “recreate” a story of the moment preceding. Both groups pick domestic scenes ca. around 1910; the first group uses hilarious, Chaplinesque movement and finds some Duke Ellington to accompany, while our group “plays ourselves” before freezing in place uncomfortably for a good 90 seconds. (Long shutter speeds in those days, folks.) We end the day with music; two new groups are assigned texts (both giving poetic directions for areas of the Swampoodle, ca. the 1850s) for which we must compose and coordinate music. The first group lines up and bursts forth a tight, jig-like melody which ends up in a spritely round. When our group goes up, I make my debut in the Sean nos style of singing (or at least some version of it), improvising a melody in the flavor of the great singersI’ve been schooling myself on (it’s harder than it sounds!) and joined halfway through with a pub-style melody we came upon in the mere 10 minutes we had to assemble the piece. Have I mentioned how great it is to work alongside such talented, focused, and giving artists?

At the end of the day I catch a ride back to the stone hut, shower and change, and eventually head back out, making the 2+ mile walk “the long way” to get to Celbridge where pints are to be had at The Mucky Duck, our first gathering in the town. On the way I stop to take some shots of a rugby team practicing on a "pitch" close to our hut – dozens of fierce competitors yelling "lemon! lemon! lemon!" I assume in an attempt to get a pass? On the main road I listen to Luke Kelly sing “Raglan Road” and try to get the words down, and the walk in the chilly rain feels longer than expected.

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Pints are lovely with Adrienne, Stacy, Rachel, Chris, and Steph, and my plate of curry and chips hits the spot. It’s nice to unwind in the pub, though the place is overheated and mostly empty and we’re easily distracted by the Euro-trashy (etc.) videos playing on the big screen. We all depart after two hours or so, and I begin my long, incredible trek back to this place where I write from right now. I said to someone today that it feels funny to write and reflect on something while you’re still very much in it – I’m glad that I’m doing this daily writing of a rehearsal process but it’s not something I’ve ever tried in the past. Anyway, hope readers are enjoying and keep checking in!

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Posted by coolmcjazz 04:52 Archived in Ireland Tagged theater kildare Comments (0)

day 2: rehearsal begins!

where the actors bring Swampoodle stories to Irish soil

semi-overcast 40 °F

I knew I’d be overestimating the likelihood of my waking up early enough to run after jetlag and a 5-hour nap, so I forsook my planned run with MJ this morning and slept until an hour prior to our call time of 10am, which I’m still ever-so-slightly “feeling” as 5am. (Come March, this marathon idea may or may not happen.) After a Tesco-sponsored breakfast, MJ and I venture out to the rehearsal space, and quickly realize that a) this is longer than the 15 minutes we were expecting the walk to take and b) it is really muddy out here.

We get to the enormous Castleton House and a security guard takes us on our way. The group has just started physical warmups led by Jo and it’s really ice to have our first significant work be focused on physical awareness. After 30 minutes of stretching and kneading, we individually answer questions Jo has dreamed up for us: what do we love in theater, what do we hate, what frustrates us, what have we always wanted to do but haven’t ever been asked to do, etc., then we read our responses in a sort of free rambling monologue. Apart from the two new faces, the Irish actors Karl and Clare, most of the American actors know each other already, at least tangentially. Still, the responses help to set our knowledge of each other’s energy; it’s all positive and open, and one person makes a comment along the lines of “this energy that is in this room right now, is the energy that I want to carry with me in performance.”

Continuing on with work like this, we take lunch - without sandwich bags, my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches congeal in a giant lump in my 20 cent plastic Tesco bag - and the latter half of the day begins with dramaturgical exercises: dozens of newspaper articles, research pieces, and photographs on the Swampoodle area, stretching from its beginnings in the Irish famine of the 1850s are set before us, and we are instructed to select pieces which resonate, stick them up on the walls with gum tack, and explain what we liked about them. Everyone finds individually relevant and compelling stories, many of which are funny; the arcane newspaper writing style uses gratuitous quotation marks (the culprits give the cops “da bluff!”) and the characters are colorful. There are lists and lists of names representing lives and stories, the specific details of which we can only imagine. Many of the newspaper stories highlight the lawlessness, violence and widespread chaos of the neighborhood and time period, but I choose a simple daily journal by a mother, ca. 1911, recounting relatively ordinary events like the a first Communion and the opening of a store. There’s a photograph of this family, decked out in Sunday finery, and as I point to the characters I tell of a strongly felt kinship with my own ancestors of this period, who I know only from blank census records and indistinct expressions in dim, distant photographs.

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We continue on with improvisations, tasked with creating a collective piece made under specific character instructions, and although I find it difficult at times, a few compelling moments spring forth. This is a uniformly solid and talented group of artists, and it’s so refreshing to be back at square one in a rehearsal room, where anything seems possible for the future of this piece. It’s clear that though thorough research has been undertaken, the production team is just as open to finding out what the specific nature our Swampoodle will take. Next, we’re placed into smaller groups and work out mostly abstract renderings of some of the stories from the clippings, and its fun to see the radically different ways groups interpret them, especially given specific “styles” – ours was “ice hockey” – a reference to the Uline Auditorium (aka Washington Coliseum, where we will perform the piece in May. (See the shots I took outside it last Saturday night on in my Swampoodle pool on Flickr.) We conclude with easy readings of other stories from the texts, and we’re all playing with acting while music, microphone sound effects, and a standing lamp, are toyed with – all is a bit trippy and loads of fun at the end of the first rehearsal day.

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After posting my Day 1 entry, I initially have some difficulty finding my way out of the giant estate, but am eventually helped by a friendly security guard. I walk in the direction of the small lodges where the cast has gathered for food and revelry, and on the long walk I take a number of photos of the vast grounds falling under a light, refreshing evening mist. Though it’s dark, my camera is able to pick up quite a lot of the light and the sky looks just as orange in the shots as it did in real life. Everything here – indoors, outdoors – smells earthy, especially at night, and it’s usually having to do with burning peat or burning wood.

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At the small lodge, the cast bonds further over food and wine and a calming fire, and we seem to all be aware that experiences in the theater aren’t always this interesting or special. I insist on dissolving Rachel’s modesty by playing her Deep River album off my iPhone, and we all talk on sofas and comfy chairs. It’s the end of a satisfying and productive first day, and our process is off to a thrilling start.

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Posted by coolmcjazz 06:55 Archived in Ireland Tagged theater kildare Comments (0)

day 1: back on the blog - a return to mother ireland!

rain 34 °F

Hello again, friends! I write from halfway (thirdway?) across the world, having skipped the pond and plunked down in familiar, lovely Ireland, one half of my two ancestral mother nations. Some of you may remember that while I traveled solo for two weeks in Europe last summer, I kept this journal and found it a terrific way to “live things twice,” and now that I’ve returned to Europe far sooner than I would have anticipated (yay!), I figured why not dust off the website and share more experiences again. Also, I may try to get some double-use by cross-posting on the Solas Nua and Performance Corporation blogs (where I see I've already been beaten to the game!) As I write, images from last summer’s trip randomly swap around on my desktop; I love how photography allows for experiences “in the now” to fast forward to later reflection and rest assured I will take lots of photos again, and rather than upload all of them onto this site, will post anything worth seeing onto my Flickr account.

This trip presents to me a different sort of adventure from last summer – I’m here on the bidding of Solas Nua and Dublin’s Performance Corporation, involved in a week of rehearsals in support of the Swampoodle project, to be performed in DC next May. We’re rehearsing here in Castletown House, a gorgeous, sprawling, early 18th-century country estate, starting tomorrow morning (Monday) through Friday, then I have another week of travels in Ireland and southern France, culminating in my first trip to Spain before flying out from Barcelona on the 22nd.

Having just returned from a great feast, lying now in this gothic stone castle, and listening to, appropriately enough, medieval Irish plainchant, I find myself already trying to slow down the passage of time, what with experiences and places whizzing by this jetlagged traveler. After a mere 3 hours of sleep (anticipatory angst?) and an hour with friends on the frozen gridiron of the National Mall, I scrambled out of Silver Spring to catch the shuttle to Dulles, running into fellow cast member Stacy on the train platform, though oddly enough she was headed to catch her flight from National. Arrived at Dulles, began some initial hijinks with cast members Adrienne and Michael John (henceforth referred to as MJ, same as my mother? hi mom!)...

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...then finally met the rest of the terrific cast at JFK where we all boarded an already hour-long delayed flight, which itself sat for 2.5 hours for de-icing before leaping the Atlantic. On board, I found it difficult to sleep, but watched the entirety of an incredibly sad, gorgeous movie about the Irish Troubles in the 1920s.

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We’re picked up at the Dublin airport by Marketa, who we had only known via email as our Performance Corporation contact, doing a wonderful job planning our often complex travel logistics. As we’re leaving the airport I recognize where I am and have few wistful thoughts of my last trip here in the summer of 2008. We’re put in a van and make the 30 drive out to Celbridge, County Kildare, southwest of Dublin, and upon arriving we meet Jo and Tom, our Performance Corporation hosts and project masterminds. I had worked with both of them briefly when they came over during the DC Snowpocalypse, on a Solas Nua/Performance Corporation flashmob in front of the White House last Valentine’s Day, and it’s nice to reconnect. Jo gives us a tour of our three lodging sites: the Gate House, the Round House, and, the Batty Langley House, the recently renovated, two floor “mini-castle” which I’m sharing with MJ, which due to its whimsical flair was accurately introduced to us as “the fairy house.” Though our hut is about 15-20 minute walk from the rest of our people, it’s nice to be in a place with such a palpable sense of history. The sharp, woodsy smell of burning peat hangs thick in the air around the town. The windows in my room are circular with ornate medieval cross-stitching. Our castle walls are hard, cold Irish stone, and I feel surrounded by the presence of hundreds of years of days and nights spent between these walls. I fall asleep that night imagining what the exact number is.

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Jo and Tom bring MJ and I out to Tesco (local supermarket where I find out plastic bags cost 20 cents a piece here!), we settle in for a quick lunch and I conk out for a 5-hour catch up nap; certainly not recommended for curing jetlag, but my body doesn’t give much choice in the matter. At 8:00 we’re to be picked up for a group meal. Waking up in pitch darkness, I have no idea where I am, imagining it’s the middle of the night and I’ve missed the chance to eat with my friends. Thankfully, it’s only 7:30 and Marketa and her friend Tom pick us up and head out to nearby town Leixlip for a satisfying meal at Donatello's, a comfortable Italian restaurant where we settle in for wine and a few courses, including birthday wishes for Stacy. It’s the first time the full group has sat and relaxed together and the chemistry is instant and relaxed; there’s a buzz of excitement in the air that the lot of us will be creating something together which doesn’t yet exist, outside of a general idea that we’re making a theater piece about the first group of Irish settlers to migrate to Washington, DC during the famine, a concept whose specifics we still know very little about. In the car earlier, I jokingly asked Tom if he was going to be up all night writing a play for us and responded “no, that’s what you’ll be writing tomorrow!” Yikes. Anyway, the morning brings our first day of creative work so it's lights out for me. I couldn’t be more excited for this trip and hope I can tell a few good stories on the way!

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Posted by coolmcjazz 09:29 Archived in Ireland Tagged theater kildare Comments (0)

Days 13+14+trip post-mortem: Who Knows Where The Time Went?

sunny 75 °F

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!

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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!)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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...

Posted by coolmcjazz 12:47 Archived in England Tagged london Comments (0)

Day 12, Part II: London (Re)introductions

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The "chunnel" ride back to London takes around two hours (so, like three dollars a minute?), and during that time I write this entry and begin to steel myself for the last few days of my trip. Arriving at St. Pancras station in London at around 19:40, after the start of the-concert-which-I-still-don't-know-the-location-of, I mull my options. Returning to Des’s place would clearly be the sensible thing to do. Buuut... screw it!, I say, I’m on vacation and I’m taking a risk! (Why do risks always seem to be expensive?) I hire yet another cab – who seems to have a general idea that it’s in the Chelsea/Park Walk area – to take me there. The cab driver is a real character, speaking in a (what I later found out was South London) brogue so thick that I could only understand, quite literally, about 20% of what he was saying. Lots, however, about immigrants and how they’re taking all the jobs, and about football matches and about his friends in America. A really friendly fellow, actually, and I tell him about my trip. About 20 minutes in, however, I realize the meter is steadily approaching 20 pounds (close to $30 US!) and I ask if we’re close. “No, we’re only about halfway there – you’re looking at around a 40 pound ride.” This is way more than I had anticipated – my iPhone GPS had said it was only 3 miles away! Seriously bummed, I ask if he can just drop me at a subway station so I can make the familiar deflated walk back to Waterloo. “Tell ya what, mate – I’ll cut off the meter at twenty and take you the rest of the way.” A stroke of good karma! I arrive at the concert, conveniently, right at intermission, which allows me to change my continent-leaping clothes and settle in. Funny how things work out.

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I first heard Stile Antico on Bernard Gordillo’s excellent Harmonia podcast on Indiana University station WFIU, and coincidentally my father purchased their Grammy-nominated (one of their two nods) Music for Compline CD a few years back, so I’ve been following them for a few years now. We’re also friends on Twitter! One of the distinctive things about Stile is, at least from a marketing perspective, the fact that the members seem to be all in their 20s or 30s, and their record label (the excellent Harmonia Mundi) has done a terrific job distributing their music. The concert, as expected, was gorgeous, focusing on hidden Tudor and Jacobean gems composed during the 16th century meant for private concerts. I was familiar with some of the composers like Thomas Tomkins, John Dowland, Thomas Campion, and Thomas Weelkes – um, what's with all the Thomas's, guys? – but also heard some revelatory works by the relatively unfamiliar Robert Ramsey, John Milton (father of the famous poet), Giovanni Croce, John Amner and Martin Peerson.

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Singing without a conductor and cuing their own entrances, Stile Antico sings with an incredible amount of precision and tonal purity, and their intonation is perfectly centered. It’s so nice to settle into this music after such a hectic day, and though smaller than other recently visited spots, the church is quite pretty. In between some of the pieces, a few of the group members step forward and recite (with comic flourishes) short texts contemporaneous to the music. At the conclusion of the concert, I stick around for the reception in the lobby with the hopes of introducing myself, and start chatting with Kate and Helen, two of three twin sisters in the group, Kate's boyfriend Matt (doppelgänger? Tom Hulce in "Amadeus!"), Rebecca, Oliver, the solid low bass, and Carris, who runs the Stile Twitter feed. (Haha, thanks for the shoutout!) We hit it off well – I play the role of the ignorant American and jokingly inform them that they've misspelled two words in their concert title, "Tune Thy Musicke to thy Hart." Who can spot the tourist in the following shots? ;)

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I’m invited out for a few pints and we make our way to an authentic-feeling local pub, where a much-appreciated traditional British pint, low in carbonation, high in smoothness, is purchased for me. We discuss European football, traveling, early music, why these neighborhood pubs close so early (!), Matt does an uncanny impression of what he (quite correctly) imagined my South London cab driver to have pontificated upon during my earlier trip, and it’s all great fun; I confess to the group that “this is exactly how I drew this night up!” Oh, serendipity. Stile will be singing in Boston in October and I wonder out loud if I might plan a trip home then; at the least I’ll try to send my folks! After we close the pub, I’m tossed into a cab which Kate’s boyfriend Matt graciously covers, and ancillary group member James gets me situated on my train back to Waterloo. Now, if I could only get this group booked on an NPR Tiny Desk Concert in DC… hmm…

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Not quite dead yet, I return to Des’s place, catch up with old pal Will on my travels, and head out around 23:00 to see what I can see of London on a Friday night. Heading in the direction of a piano bar Des had recommended, I remember he had also mentioned I should check out the pub attached to the Old Vic, which is only about two blocks away. I pop in, and sure enough there’s a lively scene. I end up making a gaggle of terrific new friends here – May (a local actress – I’ve met my London Kate Winslet-type, at long last!) and her younger sister, a dancer named Lily, both of whom I spent time chatting with, interspersed with a loopy guy named Sebastian (who though it’s drippingly hot is wearing a “jumper”… I needed clarification from May regarding the meaning of this term), and May and Lily’s friendly and fun cousins Wayne (doppelgänger? Pete Townshend on a good day), Emily, and Suzanne. After closing down the Old Vic pub around 1:00 we depart in the direction of Des’s to a late-night dance club, where the next two hours are spent dancing our faces, tails, and anything else that will move, off. This was such a fun night all around, with the introduction of lots of cool, interesting people in London, and I hope to keep in touch with all of them! God bless Facebook. The new friends barter for a cab, head on their way, and I walk the two blocks back to Des's, collapsing around 4am. I'd say I’m making the best of my few European hours which remain.

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Posted by coolmcjazz 08:35 Archived in England Tagged photography Comments (1)

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