18 February, 2006

The theatre, and the Continent!

Prepare yourselves for a long message from me today!  Maybe read half, make yourself a cup of tea, and come back later.  So much has been happening here and there in our lives.

Last weekend we had the excitement of a day out across the river, and an evening at the National Theatre.  Since seeing it in several movies and television shows, I was really hot to cross the Millenium Bridge, a foot-traffic-only slimline affair crossing just past the Blackfriars Bridge.  So we collected Avery from her sleepover with Anna, and got ourselves bundled up to go out for our adventure.  We took a long tube ride to the nearest spot on our side of the Thames to the bridge, and then walked toward it, being totally surprised to find ourselves face to face with the enormous spectacle of St. Paul's Cathedral.  Part of it is under refurbishment, so in the typically clever English way, they have painted an exact architectural replica of the Cathedral on the canvas sheeting covering the scaffolding!  Odd, really, kind of surreal.  Avery was terrified of the bridge, for some strange reason, although it does bear a sort of insubstantial delicacy.  You can see forever from it, to Tower Bridge on one side and nearly to the Houses of Parliament on the other.  We descended finally, and I broke my vow of No Art and we all went to see the exquisite and massive Rachel Whiteread installation called "Unilever", a series of piled up plastic casts (as she always casts the inside of a negative space) reaching nearly to the ceiling in places, of this former power station, known as the New Tate Modern.  Really impressive and fun to chase each other around the piles, some random, some very precise and symmetrical.  It reminded me of the divine Tara Donovan show of some years ago at Apex Art on Seventh Avenue in New York.  Never forgot her rooms full of tar paper, tiny pencil cities, and drinking straws.  Loved it.

Then really super pizza and salad at a warm, cozy spot called, with a singular lack of felicity, The Gourmet Pizza Company, on the river as well.  We ended up at a booksellers' just closing up and snapped up a copy of the history of King's College, Avery's sister senior school!  Thence to the theatre, for "Once in a Lifetime," the famed David Suchet vehicle I had been hearing so much about.  Since we all love him as Agatha Christie's "Poirot," and John and I had fond memories of seeing him onstage in "Timon of Athens" our last lifetime in London, it was really something to ancitipate.  The play itself, from the 30s by George Kaufman, was over the top ridiculous with hilarious gags and extravagant costumes, but Suchet was worth the whole price of admission.  Gone was Poirot's precision and elegance, replaced with a sort of Anthony Trollope-ish wheeling and dealing business man, only set to music!  Loved it.

Then a short couple of days of vacation, spent mostly watching the Olympics and one daytime adventure, a skating trip at the outdoor ring in Canary Wharf, the new development across the Thames where Reuters is based.  It alternated foxy brilliant skies and raindrops, but hey: we were ice skating outdoors in London, so what could we expect?  Amazingly John was able to take out an hour of his busy day and join us, and afterward for hands-down the worst lunch I have ever tried to eat: hot tuna and sweetcorn in some poisonous bread.  UURGH!  Go there for the skating, by all means, but skip the tuna panini!

Home to make microwave popcorn (thank you Alyssa!) and watch the incomparable Audrey Hepburn in "Roman Holiday," in preparation for our trip!  Avery loved the film as I knew she would.

So crack of dawn Wednesday we were up in the dark to get to Liverpool Station for the train to Stansted airport.  Never heard of it?  Neither had I, but it houses a lot of the new budget airlines, one of which we were flying, Ryanair.  I was slightly disturbed to read big headlines the day before where Ryanair refused to comment on undercover investigations of their appalling treatment of staff and crew… but since I have so bravely got over my fear of flying, I threw caution to the winds.  Well, we get to the station, huff and puff our way onto the express train, feeling quite smug, only to realize that we had no… passports.  Oh, John had his, the experienced business traveller.  But it never occurred to me to ferret out Avery's and mine!  A last vestige of the baby wife, I suppose.  Nothing for it than to go home, put them in our bag, and wait till the next flight, hoping we could get on it.  Back out, on the train, and sure enough, with a little penalty we were OFF! 

Can you imagine that in less time than it takes for my parents to fly from Hartford, Connecticut to Indianapolis, Indiana, we were in ROME?  I couldn't believe it.  A very racy ride from the little Ciampino airport (where scary incompetent airlines are forced to land, what fun), to our hotel in central Rome, in the via del Mascherone, just off the Campo dei Fiori.  And there our adventure began.  We are about to land right now (on our way home, completely knackered!), so more tomorrow after a good night's sleep in our own beds!  Buona notte…

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