I leave on Saturday. I am ready to go home. Suddenly caught a cold Monday. Hit me like a freight train on the way to class so I went straight home to rest and drink hot tea. We have no lemon or honey so it wasn’t as effective, but woke up this morning feeling better. Just a bit of upper respiratory discomfort lingers. I stayed in bed all morning yesterday just to make sure my body dealt with it. Left early to grab dinner at a locals diner and then saw Much Ado About Nothing at Old Vic, starring James Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave. It was splendid. It’s one of my favorite romantic comedies. And despite James tripping over his lines a few times it was really a very good production. Interesting set. It was set in 1944, with the Tuskeegees returning to England from a tour.
I lay in bed all morning today as well. Just to give my body rest before standing outside for 3hrs at the Globe to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This will be a terrific production with some great British thespians who are little known in the states. John Light, Matthew Tennyson, Michelle Terry, and Pearce Quigley. I just hope I can get a large hot tea to stand with tonight.
Met a very nice gentleman named James in Clapham Commons, a nice area with a large park that very much reminds me of Midtown and Land Park areas of Sacramento squished together. Lots of small shops and restaurants running along the high street leading to the west edge of the park.
I walked along a bit popped into a pub and then we went for dinner at a pizza/pasta place. Food in London is not as expensive as people say. Prices are the same before conversion so £9 for a small pizza equals $13.50, not that different from a decent place in the states, and there are much cheaper restaurants in London if you desire.
After Henry VI pt. 3: True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York at the Globe I met up with James again. We had some beer and talked about music. He is a lot like Robert in his tastes. James’s partner, Alex, is an opera critic so we got along well and I look forward to keeping in touch and learning more about opera. I do prefer German opera and so does Alex so I’m sure I could learn a lot.
I was feeling a bit melancholy Thursday night coming back from Stratford. Frustrated, angry, depressed. I wanted to get out and see London, not the touristy facades of London, but at the same time just needed a break from people. So Friday I made plans to hold up in my room and study, alone, all weekend. Surprisingly I heard back from a friend about hanging out Saturday and ended up going to visit Friday night. We spent the whole weekend drinking beer and watching movies and bad television, although there was much less beer Saturday as we were both hung over from Friday night. I got to snuggle with his pretty 9 year old black Labrador. It felt so great to get some much needed puppy love!
Russell made some very tasty chilli, which we nibbled on at random moments throughout the day to nurse the hangover. It was a relaxing weekend away from the bustling city. I left Sunday morning to do site research before Henry VI pt 3 at the Globe, but ended up in Clapham, just a few short stops from where I needed to be, and wandered the streets a bit. Had some very tasty beer and brick-oven pizza before heading to the show. Now I’m feeling recharged and prepared for the last week of class.
In Shoreditch there is a little closet of a bakery that specializes in beigels, German for bagel. They also have delicious custard bread, or bready cheesecake that isn’t too sweet. You can get your beigel as a sandwich, so I ordered hot salt beef. Salt beef is what we call corned beef, the hot is a reference to English horseradish yellow mustard. There was so much meat on the sandwich I had to pull some pieces out to make it small enough for biting. Such a great walk through Shoreditch, kind of like LA’s arts district before it became popular and expensive.
The Royal Shakepseare Company did a tremendous job at modernizing Hamlet just enough to blend the language with modern English and more contemporary dress. It was like watching a Hamlet set in post-WWI Denmark. The set design was simple. The gym room of Elsinore Castle. During the battle scene soldiers came out and removed the stage to reveal a patch of dirt circling a narrow walk on the stage. During Ophelia’s burial she is laid in the dirt at the end of the narrow walk, and rests there for the remainder of the play. This allowed for a beautiful moment between Jonathan Slinger and the body of Ophelia as he dies from the poisoned sword wound.
The most touching scene in the play is Ophelia’s returning of remembrances to Hamlet. There is so much passion in that moment I was moved to tears, when usually that scene is a bit annoying because of the way most Hamlets are demure and uncaring. Jonathan Slinger’s Hamlet is heartbroken and he returns the heartbreak through violent anger, after which Ophelia apologizes and returns his love. At the end of the scene when he storms out, she remains, crying and half naked, collecting the letters back into a box with tender care.
This production definitely highlights the physical passion in their relationship and suggests that they have consummated their love. During Ophelia’s mad scene she wears a wedding dress and veil, carrying a bouquet and transitioning between wedding day optimism and pure melancholy at the loss of her father and betrayal of her lover.
The productions focus on their relationship as something more than a teen crush is in line with my interpretation of the script, which made watching the breakdown of both characters all the more real for me. After the play I went to the Dirty Duck, a local pub, and conversed with several of the actors including Jonathan Slinger, Pippa Nixon (Ophelia), Alex Waldman (Horatio), Pollonius and Osric.
We caught the train Wednesday to Stratford. It was a two-hour ride through the country heading Northwest of London. The ride was beautiful when the train was above ground and the trees along the tracks were low enough to see beyond.
We arrived in Stratford just in time for lunch. I walked around town a but then sat down at the Rose & Crown for a pint and a burger of local beef with local cheese, local streaky ranchers (what we call bacon), and a fried egg over medium. It also came with a couple onion rings and hand-cut skin-on fat chips (or potato wedges). It was delicious. There really is nothing as good as the meats here because everything is raised more humanely and locally farmed. Even the McDonald’s, which I won’t be trying, is entirely local.
After lunch we toured Anne Hathaway’s cottage.
This was the Hathaway’s cottage, where Shakespeare’s wife, Anne, grew up. The gardens are beautiful. The cottage itself is remarkable. Some of it has been restored, but it is mostly original wood and brick/stone.
We began at The Old Bank of England, located just up Fleet street from the law courts of London. The site is located between the legendary Penny Dreadful story of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet St. In the story Todd’s barber chair drops his victims down a shoot into the basement of his building, then they are carted through a tunnel that runs beneath the bank to Mrs. Lovett’s Pie Shop on the other side, where Mrs. Lovett makes mincemeat out of them. The specialty of the bank, now a public house, is traditional English pie. Which are absolutely delicious.
After dinner at the bank, we walked to Cittie of Yorke pub. Cittie of Yorke is a gorgeous building where lawyers meet with their clients.
Our next stop was Ye Olde Mitre, one of the oldest pubs in London, which has stood since 1566. In Shakespeare’s Richard III the king requests the execution of Hastings, but first desires a feast of strawberries. Those strawberries would have come from the orchards that once grew at the site of the pub.
Cheshire Cheese is a famous tourist trap of a pub because of its connection to Dr. Samuel Johnson. The pub still has its original sign barring women from entering the main bar at the building’s entrance. Down the dangerously steep and low ceiling staircase the original brewing room has been renovated into a bar and restaurant.
Blackfriars is a recent edition to London pubs, but contains some very detailed marble and bronze sculptures and friezes. The literary connection here is a loose one. Blackfriars was the name of an indoor theater where Shakespeare’s later plays The Tempest, Winter’s Tale, and Henry VIII would have been performed. The term Blackfriar, comes from an order of friars who wore black robes.
Our last stop was The George, named for Saint George. It is a traditional coaching inn with a large yard where plays would have been performed in Elizabethan England, prior to the construction of theaters and playhouses designated for performing arts. Witnessing a production in an inn yard would have been very cheap and the group performing would have considered it practice for a performance before noble court.
The George gallery and yard during the day.
We left Cardiff at the crack of dawn Sunday and went to Bath to visit the Roman Baths and Prior Park Landscape Gardens. Both were terrific.
Bath Abbey can be seen just behind the Roman Baths.
The natural hot spring that feeds the bath.
The mansion and top pond at Prior Park Landscape Gardens.
The mansion at Prior Park.
Bath as seen from the mansion.
One of three palladian bridges in the world. The others are in Northern UK and Russia.
Palladian Bridge with mansion behind.
At the end of the day we caught sung Evensong service at Bath Abbey. Here is a photo of the inside of this medieval church.
Our second day started out at Castell Coch, William Burges’s fairy tale masterpiece.
This castle was commissioned by the Butes to be a summer house and ended up becoming a winery at the end of the 19th C.
It was built using ruined foundations from a medieval Norman keep.
The detail was designed by Burges, who went as far as to design the painted murals on walls and furniture.
After the castle we geeked out at The Dr. Who Experience, which was glorious! Followed by a nighttime ghost walk in Llandaff, which is a very active place. Yes we had ghost sightings. And bats.
We went straight to bed our first night in. When we woke up we walked out for a traditional English breakfast at a delicious and cheap diner packed with local construction workers, Imperial Cafe. After Cali finished her laundry at a nearby laundromat we walked through the Modern edge of City Centre and into the Georgian and Victorian neighborhood surrounding Cardiff Castle.
The National Gallery of Cardiff has some gorgeous Renoirs, Van Goghs, and Monets. But the jewel of the gallery is the historical section which contains some of the must realistic landscapes I’ve ever seen.
After the Gallery we hit Cardiff Castle. One of the most beautiful properties I’ve seen. And for it to have survived nearly 2000 years of war and redesigns is nothing short of miraculous. It was originally a Roman outpost, then Welsh uprising reclaimed the area, then Normans moved in, then English. It just kept changing, being destroyed and rebuilt. The property today is the culmination of the Bute family and William Burges, famous Victorian architect.