Category Archives: Travel

Preamble to Parambulation

Union Jack

I recently read a piece by Alexandra Styron in The New Yorker magazine. In it she wrote beautiful remembrances of her father, and of her relationship with him. I was struck as I read the piece with how she seems to, I don’t know, define her father… No, not define him, but identify him, associate him, with places. Brooklyn, in this story, is hers, but it is also his, and it is his ties to it, so documented in “Sophie’s Choice,” which becomes a sort of talisman for her. She doesn’t read that book until he is almost dead. She doesn’t go to find his Brooklyn until he has passed. I got the impression that going to his Brooklyn, the Parade Grounds, was, for her, like sneaking into his room or going through his dresser. It was something that she was expected to do, she would even have been forgiven, but she seems to feel she is trespassing in a way.

I do not identify my father with a place, not really. I thought I did. I thought that England was his place, but I now see that it isn’t. My drive to go to England, I realize, is an attempt to find him. But he isn’t there. When I went there, to North Harrow, several years ago, it was my mother I found, that was her house. They only lived there for a few years and yet even in his own country it was she who I identify with that home. When I was younger I didn’t ever get the sense that the house, my mother’s house on Hackett, was his. It was hers, even when he was living. Even there, just now, I wrote “my mother’s house” not “my parent’s house.” He lived in that house as long as he lived anywhere in his life, but it wasn’t really his place. What I expect to find in England of him I do not know. Perhaps I will find myself.

I must tell you a story. This is the story of the day my father died. The story starts a short time before that day, however, in the Summer of 1976; the Bicentennial, an election year. I was thirteen years old, had begun to experiment with electronics and my brother Steve had been playing guitar for a few years. I suggested that we turn the old playroom in the basement, a room my younger brother and sister didn’t use, into a studio. I could explore my new interest in audio equipment while my brother learned about recording. We browbeat dad into letting us give it a try.

The first order of business was to clean the place out. We older kids had long since abandoned that space and it had started to fill with my mother’s “finds.” We hauled many of those up to the verge to be picked up by the garbage men. There were old toys as well, which we had to box up for posterity. We had made pretty good work of it when we heard the sound. It was a sound which each of us, in our own way, will always remember. There was a crash, some footfalls, and then a moan. The moan sounded like a cat growling, preparing for a fight. It still rings in my ears as I type this. I will never forget that moan.

The crash was mom dropping the dishes she was washing. The footfalls were her running out of the kitchen into the back yard. The moan was her collapsing to her knees next to dad’s crumpled figure on the driveway. She had heard him fall and ran to his side.

Steve and I were in the basement when we heard the moan. I made some lame joke about the cats and we let it go. Then it came again, louder, and we thought we’d best go investigate. Upon cresting the landing of the basement stairs and bursting into the yard, we knew something was terribly wrong. “What’s wrong?” we called to mom as she knelt next to dad’s prone body. “Call an ambulance, your father’s collapsed.” she replied, sobbing. Barely got the words out. Resumed her attempts at mouth to mouth.

The next is a blur. I was the one who ran inside, picked up the phone, dialed “O” for Operator as you see in all of the old movies and TV shows. “I need an ambulance!” I cried into the phone. “You need the Fire Department” I was told, “I can connect you,” said an obviously worried operator. There was a click and then some buzzing. When there was no more sound for a moment or two, I hung up and dialed the Fire Department direct. “I need an ambulance right away” I shouted into the phone. I gave the man the address and told him that my father had collapsed and my mother was giving him mouth to mouth. He told me to keep an eye out, someone would be there soon.

I went into the back yard, onto the driveway, and there mom was fretfully ministering to dad. I cannot convey, in words, the level of fright and angst that gripped us all at that point. Myself, my mother and Stephen were all there. Sarah, Sandy and Joe were inside and ignorant of the goings on. Dad had been loading up the VW minibus with heavy under-felting (for laying under carpet) which mom had garbage picked. This was just some of the stuff which was going in the big purge which our basement studio project had engendered. We’ll come back to this…

The ambulance was long in coming. I went out to the front; mom was frantic and I just wanted to make her calm down. I watched as an ambulance drove by, to the end of the block. I was waving my arms and jumping up and down in the street. I was about to go back inside to call again when the ambulance came back around. I waved them down, “It’s my father, he’s back here” and I took them back to the back of the driveway where he still lay still and mom leaned over him, trying, still, to revive him.

My typing has now slowed from allegro to andante … this is the hard part.

They all bent over him for a while, and then loaded him onto the gurney and parceled him off in the ambulance with mom riding along in the back. We kids milled about; I’m sure a neighbor lady must have come to see after us, though I cannot say so for sure. I remember feeling proud that I had called the ambulance, but ashamed that something had obviously gone wrong that they drove past us at first. This is a doubt that will haunt me forever. I have no idea what my brother Steve was doing this whole time. He was there as surely as I was, but just where I cannot say.

45 minutes later mom returned. We all gathered around her in the living room, she sat on her foot stool with Sandy, 5, on her knee and Joe, 8, standing next to her, and said “Children, you no longer have a father…” Her voice trailed off, and with it my childhood.

I’ve written before of the rest of that day. I will not dwell again, here, upon that. I will, however, revisit the under-felting which was still in the driveway, right were it was when dad collapsed. A week or two later Steve and I loaded it into the minibus and he carted it away to the dump. I hated my mother, then, for having foraged it. I hated her for having, in my eyes at least, caused dad’s death by her relentless frugality.

I do not know when, or if, I ever forgave her for that. When I held her hand as she laid dying, that last long day in hospice, I thought of that day in the driveway. I thought of that wail of hers, that moan that broke Stephen and I out of our revere and up the stairs to find that last, lasting vision of our father. And I thought of that under-felt, that damn under-felt, and how it ruined our family.

I was thinking about this as I finished Ms Styron’s piece and I realized that my father was a man of time, or times, and not of place. I think of him in a series of disjoint era; childhood, the war years, America and finally memory. My mother, though, is a series of places; her army-brat upbringing which she herself defined as a chain of abodes with an anchor in West Lafayette, then Bloomington, Madison, England, the house on Hackett, and finally her bench in Lake Park.

It is only her that I have a place to visit, at that bench of hers in the park. My father’s ashes are in my dining room as I type this, but I do not find him there, in that box. He is long gone, and has no place. Just a time, my past, where I can always go as long as my memory holds up, and find at least a part of him. Or inside, in my heart, where that strong and resolute man chided me to be my best, and showed pride when I achieved it and loving regret when I did not. It is a shame that is all I carry of him – strength, resolve, pride, regret. I wish I had more.

London Journal – Day 1

Looking north up Gloucester Place towards 191

Here I am in London, Marylebone, to be precise, 191-a Gloucester Place, NW1, to be really precise. So, if anyone from the UK reads this (and don’t think I don’t know you do), you know where to find me.

Looking south down Gloucester Place from 191

This is a basement, or cellar, apartment which is really rather cozy, I imagine a realtor would say. It is about 2 metres by 5, or 7 ft x 15. with a little extra space for the loo and the closet. This includes a working kitchen. There are two windows into a sort of air shaft cum sunken patio, also accessible by a door. I’ll shoot some interior photos tomorrow in the light.

But, I kind of like the place, so far at least… It is kind of like living in shambles on the doorstep of luxury, tho. Right outside are multi-million pound town houses and the like. Regent’s park is just a block or so away, with botanical gardens, ponds and streams, and a zoo.

Here are some initial observations, in no particular order…

**Right after arriving here, I dumped my stuff at the flat and set out to explore my neighbourhood a bit. I saw a cute little yellow convertible car with a bumper sticker which really took me by surprise. I snapped this shot quick as I could, but you’ll have to take my word for it when I tell you that’s n “Obama08” sticker on the boot!

** When I first visited New York City many years ago I came away with one clear impression: There are a lot of pay phones and they are all in use. That is no longer the case in NYC, cell phones have pretty much obsoleted the pay phone.

When I first visited London, just seven short years ago, I had a similar impression about pay phones: There are a lot of pay phones, and they are all plastered with adverts for phone-sex and the like. The phone booths were well past pornographic. They still are. They aren’t in use nearly as much as they were in 2000, but they are still there with all of their little pornographic ads. I suspect that they are only really kept there to hold those little advert cards.

** Amy Winehouse is everywhere! Well, not Amy herself, but her look. I have seen women and girls from all ages and walks of life with either Miss Winehouse’s trademark mascara, hair or both. I walked by Marleybone School as it let out for the afternoon, and saw all sort of high school age girl with the mascara. I saw the look in other parts of town, as well.

** Other noticeable fashion trends: Colored tights with short shorts or very short skirts; little black dresses are everywhere, and on a Tuesday afternoon; I was worried how I would look in my mismatched jacket and trousers — no worry there, it’s a prevalent look on the streets here.

** Milwaukee has a high level of disregard for public accommodations (think sidewalks, etc.) whenever construction is going on. Parts of the East Side right now require a pedestrian walking just a few blocks along Prospect Avenue to cross the street several times, dodging various construction projects. Many larger cities, such a Chicago or New York have a lot more construction going on at any one time, but they tend to require the builder to protect or temporarily re-route the public right of way during construction.

London goes a step further. Most scaffolding is, upon erection, draped with tarpaulin. Along with the tarpaulin (see the photo of construction next door to Madame Taussad’s) are signs apologizing to the city for the eyesore. These signs are of almost sarcastic earnestness, “Please accept our firmest apology for the works. We are trying to make London better to look at in the process…” and the like.scaffold.jpg

London Journal – Day 1 Part II

Okay, I guess I should really call this Day 2 Part I as it is about 2:45 am right now. Damn jet-lag… or is it the late night curry??
I am a little insulated from broadcast media right now, which is unusual for me. Granted I am an Internet animal, but I am also a regular old news junkie and I haven’t been getting good reception on the beeb, there’s no tele here, so all I have to go on is the printed word, either online or on paper.
I have just seen that the networks and AP are calling MD and VA for Obama, which is heartening. I knew I should have picked up an Obama08 button before coming over here. It may have served as a conversation starter…
I will need some of those. As I settle into this flat I am feeling a very distinct immigrant vibe. It may be because I recently read “A Face In The Crowd” in last month’s Vanity Fair (pg 124) about an Algerian immigrant and the housing he got, the insular life he lived, etc. The little flat I am in (see photos) feels like an immigrant’s flat. The only significant decor is a large Ganesha statuette on the coffee table and some vaguely Indian feeling wall hangings. Now I am making some assumptions here, but still.




So I figured since the big papers I want to read, the Independent, Guardian and Telegraph are morning papers I would wait for the Wednesday issues before buying any. On the street there are people hawking the free rags, so I grabbed a copy of thelondonpaper and read it over curry last night. Its very cheeky, and features a lot of interaction with its readership, accepting and publishing text messages, email, etc. Here is a snapshot of what is on the minds of the locals:
Of course there is the fascination with the tragedy of Amy Winehouse and Pete Doherity (of Babyshambles) and their respective bouts with drink/drugs. This takes on an almost schizophrenic quality, however, as shown in these excerpts:

Amy Winehouse’s mother has spoken of her pride at her daughter’s Grammy success and her hopes that the troubled star is on “the road to recovery”.
London Life & News, Entertainment, Culture Events | thelondonpaper

This is paired in the same issue with a reader’s comment:

Tempting Amy
Does no one else think that the Hawley Arms fire could have been started by friends or family of regular Amy Winehouse, eager not to see her slip up when she gets out of rehab? If that place is gone, she’ll have one less venue to go and misbehave in. And that’s got to be a good thing. It’s only what I’d have done if Amy was a member of my family.
Your London Forum, Comments, Issues & Pictures | thelondonpaper

As for Pete, the review of his recent performance at Brixton/Academy bears the slug “Pete’s spark has gone” and goes on to lament “A band doesn’t have to be trashed to rock — but if a singer’s reputation has been founded on unpredictability, it’s hard to be glad he’s acting more stable when he performs as if the fire’s gone out.” (Couldn’t find that online).

Other big news discussions center around more sober topics, like comments by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Anglican faith, on Sharia law:

He has been embroiled in controversy since Thursday for claiming the adoption of elements of Islamic legal codes in the UK “seems unavoidable”.At least two Synod members have called for Dr Williams to go and he has faced criticism from leading bishops, secular groups and government figures.

Tory former Chancellor Ken Clarke said of the Archbishop: “He’s just one of the most unworldly men I have ever met, together with being one of the most intelligent and plainly one of the most saintly and he has got himself into an absolutely classic British row and has angered a lot of people because they have all been persuaded that he has been talking about bringing back the stoning of women for various moral offences, and so on, which plainly he is just about the last person on earth to contemplate.”

Dr Williams defended himself on his website on Friday, saying he had made no proposals for sharia, and “certainly did not call for its introduction as some kind of parallel jurisdiction to the civil law”.
London Life & News, Entertainment, Culture Events | thelondonpaper

Prompting many responses such as this one:

We Left Sharia Behind
Regarding the Archbishop of Canterbury’s comments about the introduction of aspects of Islamic Sharia law in the UK: Dr Rowan Williams should understand that many Muslims and non-Muslims left lands where Sharia was practiced to be here. No one wants to go “backwards”. If people want to live under the Sharia, there are plenty of countries that will suit their needs. Those of us who have abandoned the Sharia-ruled lands have no desire for it to take root here.
L Raj
Your London Forum, Comments, Issues & Pictures | thelondonpaper

There are other serious topics such as the dreadful fire at Camden Locks last weekend. But one that caught my attention is a plan to be announced by PM Gordon Brown to invest over £200m (about $400 million) to make London’s South Bank an “Arts Capital” with, get this, an investment in arts education!

Enough for now. Ta!

London Journal – Day 2

After oversleeping (last night’s walkabout took its toll) I dragged my sorry butt down to the shops for an egg-mayonnaise (think egg salad) and latté, then got around to some general housekeeping chores: top up mobile, get Oyster card (travel-pass), and newspaper. Then a stroll around the swanky shops of Baker Street sipping my latté. Came across this interesting shop last night and went back to shoot a photo of it:
Then it was off to the area Tesco to get some groceries; don’t want to be eating every meal out. The reason for renting a flat rather than a hotel is to live here, not just visit. So, with veggies and such I returned to the flat. This neighbour seems to have a low opinion of the local newspapers
Then it was a walk in the park. Regent’s Park, that is, which is right next door. This is a lovely park, and I only saw a small portion of it. There are soccer pitches, ponds and streams, a zoo, café, and “dairy ice” stand. From the latter I got a chocolate-toffee cone and a cuppa. Here is the entrance to the park:
And another view from there about
Daffodils are abloom everywhere, which I just love
Due to my late start, the sun was starting to set
This little fellow was posing for another photographer, but I sneaked a shot

The sunset over the London Central Mosque
Leaving the park now, some schoolgirls scamper along the Regent’s Canal
An entry to the Regent’s Canal from further along
They seriously don’t want you to cycle here. (This guy resembles how I felt the last time I tried to cycle)
Some houseboats along the canal
I then ambled up to Church Street, and the many antiques stores along there. Oh my, watch out! I visited many shops, and in one got into a lengthy conversation with the shopkeeper. She asked where I was from, and when I told her that I lived in the US, but was from England and considering coming back, she said “Oh no, don’t do it, stay where you are!”
What followed was a long chat about everything she thinks is wrong with England, most of which has to do with immigrants. I won’t go into it all here, but the crux of the issue is that England is facing a struggle common to most European countries, which is that they all thought highly of colonization when they were the ones invading other countries, but now that people from other countries are invading here, well that won’t do.
More on that later. Now it’s time to venture out to find a nearby pub and get some supper.


A Headline I Wish I’d Written

The Rich Are Revolting

From today’s Independent:

Even The Rich Are Revolting As Republicans Abandon GOP
In the wealthiest suburbs of Virginia, a quiet revolution was under way yesterday as life-long republicans switched sides to vote for Barack Obama in the Democratic primary.So deep is the disillusionment with George Bush, so uninspiring the choice offered by the Republicans, that many life-long conservatives are abandoning the Grand Old Party to support a liberal black candidate.

Even Colin Powell, who served in two Bush administrations, has let it be known that he is considering voting Democrat. “Every American has an obligation right now at this moment in our history,” Mr Powell said at the weekend, “to look at all the candidates and to make a judgement not simply on the basis of ideology or simply on the basis of political affiliation, but on the basis of who is the best person for all of America.”

Laura DeBusk, 37, a “stay-at-home-mom”, is one of the refuseniks who turned out yesterday for Mr Obama across Virginia, Maryland and Washington DC. In the past two presidential elections she voted for George Bush in the belief that he could best protect America from terrorists. It is a choice she now bitterly regrets.

But she has been inspired by Mr Obama’s offer to bring together Americans from all political persuasions: “A friend of mine called me up after she heard I was for Obama,” she said. “She told me she was as well. ‘We’re the Obama-mamas,’ she told me. And it’s true. He is so inspiring we are going to volunteer for his campaign.”
Even the rich are revolting as Republicans abandon GOP – Americas, World –

When I last visited Great Britain the Supreme Court had just (wrongly) decided Bush vs. Gore and I proudly wore a Gore button so that anyone who saw me would at least not blame me for what had happened. Oh what innocent times those were, in retrospect. Back then the general view around the world was “We love America, we’re just not so sure about your leader” That has been a difficult position, full of cognitive dissonance, for people to maintain for the past seven years.

This time, as I wrote yesterday, I was confronted full face with just how much American politics matter to people all over the world when I saw an Obama08 bumper sticker on a passing car within 1 hour of my arrival here in London.

I have shared the sentiments with the home crowd via the Campaign08 blog at The Indpendent
(much excerpted from these comments)

A warning for my Hillary loving friends, that blog is just a tad hostile to her, as I am finding the populace here is.

A Salient Point, A Sound Voice

I have written before of the problems associated with trying to appease religious or social groups, in the context of tolerance or acceptance. I have never written with the clarity and eloquence which Deborah Orr has in her recent Op-Ed in The Independent.

It is always easy to pillory an unpopular concept by simply casting it in caricature, as happened to John Kerry in his well known “I voted for it before I voted against it” comment. In this form we readily ignore the subtle for the ridiculous contra-textual. His bigger point was that he did ultimately support funding the GIs after having voted against the larger bill in committee. But that was lost in the hype over his having switched his vote, having “flip-flopped” in the final vote.

In her piece today, Ms Orr takes on the conflict over the recent comments by Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, in reference to Sharia law. I made recent reference to those comments, and in retrospect I wish I had exercised the level of judgment and consideration Ms. Orr has.

Here is an excerpt:

…as many commentators have noted. Whatever the Archbishop may or may not have said, or may or may not have meant, he has done us a favour in drawing a storm of attention to the unpalatable fact that sharia courts are already operating in Britain.

Whatever else in his much-derided speech we may want to unceremoniously dump, though, it is important to think about how we can act on one thing that Rowan Williams said. He warned that even the level of “supplementary jurisdiction” this country already hosts “in some areas, especially family law, could have the effect of reinforcing in minority communities some of the most repressive or retrograde elements in them, with particularly serious consequences for the role and liberties of women”

Much retrospective attention, since last Thursday’s speech, has been paid to Masood Khan’s documentary film, Divorce: Sharia Style, which graphically displayed, in operation in Britain, elements of the discrimination against women for which the worldwide application of sharia has become notorious. The rule of law is already inadequate in protecting the rights of Muslim women in Britain, for precisely the unwelcome reason that Dr Williams pointed out. They are caught between the “stark alternatives of cultural loyalty and state loyalty”, whether we like this or not. The instinct of feminists is to “do something about it”. What we must consider now, is what that something might be.

This is not an easy area. One cannot simply tell people that it is all their own daft fault for being silly enough to be a devout Muslim, however tempting that might be. Nor, in reality, can we adopt the line promulgated by many in the blogging community – that people who want to live under Muslim law can go and live in a Muslim state and see how they like it. Not if we all really do want to “live under the rule of law” anyway.

This is as important as it is sobering. It is always far too easy to separate the ideal from the real. There is a reason that there are two different words for these concepts. Ms Orr does us all a favour to remind us of this. I recommend this column to all who, like me, would have too quick a response to the Archbishop’s comments.

London Journal – Day 3: Out And About

Another day in London and I find myself in Piccadilly Circus for the first time this visit. The first time really out of my neighbourhood, for that matter. Here’s an obligatory tourist shot of Piccadilly:


Then it was off Leicester Square to find the National Portrait Gallery. I saw an ad in Vanity Fair for an exhibition of portraits from the magazine’s first century:


Now where is that gallery?? I wandered quite a bit before I found it. Meanwhile, came across some interesting sights. Here is an incongruous image of Chinese lanterns hanging in front of The Crooked Surgeon:


Remember I commented on the over-courteous construction sites? Well, here is further proof of just how seriously they take it:


Finally found the gallery, and the show was a treat. Also got to see the “Photographic Portrait Prize 2007” show, which had some really sharp up and comers on display.

One of the odd things about Central London is how close everything is. From Piccadilly Circus to Leicester Square is just a couple of blocks, and then to the NPG is a couple more, then from NPG to Trafalgar Square is only a block or so. You just keep stumbling from one to another, whether you mean to or not. I didn’t plan on going to Trafalgar today, but took a wrong turn out of the NPG and found myself there. I’ll go back another day, but for today got another obligatory tourist shot (of tourists getting their own obligatory…)


At Covent Garden found mysterious queues of foreign kids in various places. They just as oddly dispersed, but I found another large crowd making all sorts of racket. Took me a moment to realize that there was a busker in their midst who was urging them on in competition with another large crowd getting the same treatment from another busker on the other side of the Garden. Quite a little shoutfest going there.


Now, why was it I came here? Oh yeah, the big heart:



The shops put this up to attract valentines celebrating folk to come and get their photos snapped under the pink boughs. Hopefully they’ll shop a bit too. Not far away a pub in St. Paul’s is advertising a “Sad & Single” event tonight, for the other half (or two thirds).

Then off across the Waterloo bridge (locals several steps behind me, “What bridge is this? Mum, do you know what bridge this is?””Wish I did.” Alas they were too far back for me to tell) to the Old Vic. Got an 11th row center seat to see “Speed The Plow” a week from Saturday, or Saturday week, as the locals would say. Ooh goody!

Back to the flat to rest up a bit. It has been a cold day for traipsing around, and it will be good to get back. Note to self: Regardless how easy it looks, never try to briskly ascend the staircase from the Bakerloo line into Marylebone Station! I felt like the guy on the “Danger of Death” placard.


London Journal – Day 4 – The Hallway of Heaven

Okay, I am finally in sync with local time (6 hours ahead for those of you who are wondering) and I got up bright and early to cook myself a breakfast of bacon and eggs and a pot of coffee. The eggs were a mess, as I’m not used to the “hob” (cooktop) or the peculiar non-stick skillet, but I got the job done and ate well. Then it was off to Camden Town to take a look at how badly damaged it was in last weekend’s fire. Today was the grand re-opening for those parts that survived.

Camden Town is off the northeast corner of Regent’s Park, and my flat is near the southwest corner, so I entered the park, grabbed a latte to keep my hands warm, and stalked off across the park. It was cold this morning, probably about 2 or 3° C, or around 38° F. Brrr

When I emerged from the park I found myself in a very different district than Marylebone. Camden Town is a depressed area, and it shows. It is very mod, and has that kind of feel you get in the Bohemian centers of many cities, such as Riverwest, in Milwaukee, or State Street, in Madison, or, well, the old Village in New York (before Giulianni/Bloomberg). I stopped into a “Fresh & Wild” which is the UK tradename for “Whole Foods”. I just had to see how it was. It was odd to see this modern icon of big corporate meets green wedged into a dilapidated building in Camden Town. I bought some truffles and left (they have the best prices on organic truffles).

Here is what I found as I approached Camden Locks, which is the former locks, stables and yards where the open-air/indoor market sprawls over an area roughly equivalent to about 12 US city blocks. The damaged area is about 1 or 2 square blocks:



The fashion mongers seemed to have survived the best. There are a mix of vintage, resale and new fashions, with a really wonderful, whimsical style. I liked this set of styles:


Here is the shell of the Hawley Arms, a pub very popular with the stylish set, Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse among them. The place was a total loss inside, which is a shame as the owners had decorated with a number of pieces of original artwork, which went up in smoke. They swear to rebuild.


After poking through the open stalls, I headed out. Many vendors were still loading in merchandise as I left. Some stalls are not secure enough to leave the product in them, others suffered too much smoke or water damage.

Next it was down to Leicester Square on the tube where I stood on line at the Tkts booth with a lovely couple from Toronto. I lucked out with another “single in stalls;” Row L again, to see Ring Round the Moon this evening. With fees and all it cost about $40US. Not bad for a West End show. With my evening booked it was back to the Northern line for a ride down to Waterloo/South Bank. The Hayward Gallery has a pair of shows that caught my eye: Alexander Rodchenko and Laughing in a Foreign Language.

Upon my entry to the South Bank Arts compound, I saw this placard up on the wall and just had to take a shot:


I really enjoyed both exhibits. Laughing is an interesting examinations of cultural differences in humour. Some of it put me off, such as a film which most struck me for the air of cultural superiority displayed by the filmmaker as he traipsed around through different cultures. Some of what he did was funny, but much of it just seemed insensitive. There were many video pieces, which were interesting, but some were just too long (one was 59 minutes!). My favorite pieces were a series of scribbles on a wall at the landing of a stairway (can’t recall the artist); “Born as a Box” by Shimabuku and “Wet Paint Handshakes, 24.01.08 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm” by Norwegian Rod Varra. The former is a simple taped up cardboard box which contains a CD player and speakers, from which we hear, spoken by the artist in English, “Hello, I’m a box. Just a box. Some people may think its a rough existence, but I rather like it…” and on, a kind of existential riff. Rather good really.

Handshakes was wonderful, I’ll try to do it justice here. What you see is a video monitor, a black tuxedo jacket the front of which is covered with white paint (and obvious hand prints) hangs on the wall above a pair of paint spattered black patent leather shoes. On the floor is butcher’s paper, a pair of large wash basins full of milky white water, an empty paint pail, and many drip marks. On the video we see the artist, a stoic 55 year old man, wearing the tuxedo. He dips his hand into the paint and then reaches it out. A visitor to the exhibit opening tentatively shakes his hand, and then proceeds to a wash basin to clean the paint off their own. The artist never cleans the paint off his hand, so the paint just gets thicker and thicker on it. As the later guests shake his hand you can watch as their grip sinks their fingers deep into the layers of wet paint on the artist’s hand.

No photos allowed. 🙁

Back out on the South Bank, I took these shots of the Jubilee bridge and the trees and other geometric objects surrounding it.



Before we leave the South Bank, here is a bit of scrawl from a bench. I hope Ivy appreciated this bloke’s apology:


The Jubilee bridge takes you to the Embankment and then spills out near Covent Garden. From there, with a stop for fish and chips (it being Friday, after all) brought me back to Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery. I didn’t spend long there, just long enough to enjoy the wonderful collection of van Gogh, Cezannes, Pissaro, Seurat, etc. All my old impressionist pals. That’s about as modern as they get. I think I’ll find more to enjoy at Tate Modern, maybe next week.

On the way back home from Marylebone Station, came across this little sign:



London Journal – Day 5 – Smoke From Sherlock’s Pipe

I had a wonderful night at the theatre last evening, The Playhouse Theatre, to see “Ring Round the Moon.” It was a charming twist on a drawing room comedy, taking place in a winter garden rather than the drawing room. I shan’t review it here other than to say that is was a nice way to spend an evening.

I was met in stalls by Glen and Vivianna, the charming couple from Toronto whom I met on line at Tkts earlier in the day. Neither of us had realized we’d be sitting together, but it was a pleasant surprise. We chatted before curtain, and during the intervals. They are only in London for the weekend. It was nice to make some new friends.

After the show it was back to the flat, and a couple of hours work.

This morning brought me out to Portobello Road to experience the market stalls and antiques dealers there. What a mass/mess of humanity:


Hundred upon hundred of people throng to the site to hunt for bargains. There are rough geographical boundaries from south to north, from antiques to fruit & veggie, flea market, and crafts. I am proud that I actually made it the whole way, tho I was pleased to duck out when I got to the overground tracks. Here is some of the more gimmicky new and repro stuff:




I did buy a small vase for myself, (shown here next to my iPod Nano)

and cherries, oranges and some spinach & feta burek for dinner.

Here is a little guy who just wanted to take a nap:


The crowd is a real mish-mash of nationalities and languages. I heard French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Polish, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese… I stopped into a butcher shop briefly and caught this exchange:

Overheard in London:
Butcher, holding up rib roast to show to older gentleman and speaking slowly: One rib is the smallest amount I can sell you sir.

Older gentleman is silent

Other customer: What language do you speak sir?

Older gentleman: I speak English, son, I’m just thinking about it.

I just couldn’t help but snap this shot, a kind of recursive camera thingy:


The trip back to the flat is circuitous due to a fire alert at Baker Street Station. I am on the Hammersmith & City, so this is a problem. No trains will stop at Baker Street. I get off at Paddington Station, which is one of the large stations of the system, along with Kings Cross/St. Pancras, Marylebone, and some others. These stations share the feature of connecting British Rail with the Underground. Paddington is huge and broad and a traveler like myself, one who is new to the station, can get easily frustrated by the lack of way finding signage, which is so abundant throughout the rest of the Underground. I find the Bakerloo line, finally, which gets me back to Marylebone station, which is close to home, closer, in fact, than Baker Street.

Updated with photos: 19:40 16/02/2008