29 June 2013

Ruminating After News of a Young Man's Death

"However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light." - Stanley Kubrick
I've written here about the death of an acquaintance a friend and a brother. Now a former student. Dante died yesterday of cancer at the age of 22.

Come on seriously? 22 years old is next to nothing. My younger daughter is that age. In fact she was a classmate of his in elementary school so I knew Dante as a little kid well before he was a teen in my middle school classroom. Oldest daughter and Dante's big sister are good friends. Dante was a kind of a dorky kid who during high school suddenly became -- according to older daughter -- cool. I saw him at his high school graduation. He was tall and handsome and athletic. He had beaten cancer. The first time.

I've known several people who've beaten it once. But part twice can be a different matter.

When I found out a few months ago that the cancer had not only returned but that Dante's condition was terminal I wrote a former colleague who'd also had Dante in the classroom. This bloke is a christian. He said that he'd pray for god to comfort the family. If god were really interested in comforting the family, why the fuck did he give him inoperable cancer in the first place? And what kind of god needs to prayed to before he comforts the bereaved? Shouldn't this just be automatic for an all powerful deity? And how the hell do you comfort parents when they lose a son? What comforts them? Christians really piss me off sometimes. The god they have created out of whole cloth is a capricious bastard and why anyone would worship him is beyond me. And praying to him is just a way for people in a powerless situation to feel like they're doing something.

Okay I'll cop to the fact that I'm dealing with some anger here. I have a pretty good life right now. But I've seen some real nasty unfairness done to others like Dante. You can't follow the news without seeing all manner of injustice being perpetrated on people either by other people or the forces of nature or by killer diseases. And my goodness a cursory look through history...wars torture slavery famine oppression and don't get me started on the holocaust.

It is a crazy angry cruel world and people are constantly getting their hearts ripped out and fed to them. If people want to pretend there's some higher power at work in all of this they are certainly entitled. I'm not going to debate with them and I respect their right. I'm just damned sick of hearing about it. I'm especially fed up with those zero intellects who want to impose their old testament values on the laws of the land. Using Leviticus to make laws is a slippery slope at best. If you're going to use it to argue against gay marriage (we're talking people in congress) you ought to be ready to employ the rest of that biblical book and ban planting two crops in the same field garments made of two different kinds of thread males cutting the hair around their temples the touching of dead pig kin and eating shellfish. Why just pick out homosexuality? Because you find it icky? (You do realize many of the loonies who tout the bible are some of the same assholes who tout the NRA. The scriptures and guns are strange bedfellows but then war and violence have been freely employed by bible thumpers for centuries.)

Yeah so I'm pissed off that Dante was snatched from friends and family at such a tender age. Just as I was when a favorite student -- Gabe -- died of cancer. He hadn't even finished high school. Hug your children. Hug your parents. Hug your friends. Hug your pets. Life is fragile. Savor the good times. Cherish them and those around you. If you really feel prayer will help others or yourself -- go for it. I just don't want to hear about it.

23 June 2013

Method and Madness in Cassavetes' A Woman Under the Influence

A funny thing happened to me on the way to adulthood. My mother was schizophrenic. And alcoholic. This made my childhood "interesting." Actually what it was is something that modern educators would refer to as "challenging." I faced "challenges" like not feeling I was to blame or not feeling traumatized or worrying that she'd have a manic episode when I had a friend over or worrying that I inherited whatever she had and would go starkers myself some day (jury still out).

It's been several decades since I was a kid and mom died almost 12 years ago and I've had a string of shrinks to recount my experiences with it and I've 12 stepped and learned all about letting go. So yeah I'm fine now. Maybe better than fine. Maybe so full of recovery and insight and introspection and personal re-inventions that I'm far wiser than your average Joe or Josephine. Then again maybe the post traumatic stress disorder from my youth will never go away and my eccentricities will only become more exaggerated and I've become something of oddity straddling the worlds of sanity and insanity with the dexterity of a 12 year old gymnast. Who am I to judge.

All of this preamble is for purposes of relating to you that earlier today I watched for the first time John Cassavetes' A Woman Under the Influence (1974). I think it's a good thing that it was this late in the proverbial game before I saw the film because it was difficult enough today to watch the story of a loony wife and mother (Gena Rowlands as Mabel). Been there done that and not ready for a repeat performance.

Sat through it today I did but not without looking away a few times. The power of the film was all the greater because Mabel's husband Nick (Peter Falk) was quite the headcase himself. (My dad was a paragon. Except he never could sort out what to do about ma.)

I'm a relative newcomer to Cassavete's and I've to to say he's aces in my book. AWUTI is another huge point in his favor. It's difficult to write about -- at least for me based on my own experiences -- but I can affirm that is a rich and wonderful experience being not so much a slice of life as a big dripping chunk of it complete with seeds.

Mabel is a housewife. She smokes, she drinks too much and it's not that she marches to the beat of her own drummer so much as she conducts unseen drummers with a flick of the wrist. What at first appears to be idiosyncratic behavior quickly blends seamlessly into madness as she wanders into a bar and picks up a stranger who she takes home. Our Mabel does not act out of nymphomania or vitriol against her husband or out of neglect for her three children. She just acts. Social conventions are best ignored in her mind and any moment is rife for a party. A father drops of his kids to play with Mabel's and she insists that he join in their fun which includes a spontaneous party and her dancing and whatever whim pops into mind. The dad decides to take his kids home. Its hard to blame him.

Nick is the foreman of a construction crew so can easily afford their middle class home in a bucolic LA neighborhood. He is variously apologetic and sympathetic and enraged by his pixilated wife. Nick is prone to rages of the very scary kind and has little impulse control. While Mabel is safely tucked away at an institution for treatment he spontaneously yanks the kids out of school and with a co-worker takes them to the beach where he is most insistent on their having fun. Perhaps to assure this, he lets them sip from his beer on the way home.

Anyone familiar with Cassavetes will know that though he writes the screenplays the films seem largely improvisational and, outside the leads, most of the actors are not professionals. In AWUTI Cassavettes utilized his and Rowlands's parents to play the in-laws. There is a rawness to films like AWUTI. It is not a documentary style because actions and characters have a stylized reality which allows them to put subtle exclamation points throughout the film. Pacing is at times strained and some scenes seemingly drag until one sees where they end up. The long focus on the mundane gives special meaning to the unusual as when Mabel looks into the mouth of a man singing at her dining room table.

Cassavetes films are intoxicating for the manner in which they punctuate life. There is to me a sense of reality and fantasy about his pictures. By refusing to follow such film conventions as good and bad guys and by heaping on piles of ambiguity Cassavetes in films like this forces viewers to think for themselves and draw their own conclusions. For the more pedestrian movie goer this can be frustrating but I find it liberating and exciting at the same I am discomfited. Particularly when the film recalls my own turbulent childhood.

And it is not an oh by the way to point out that Rowlands' performance is of the once in a lifetime category.

17 June 2013

Screaming at the Bus Stop A Morality Tale That Includes Web Surfing Chaplin Gershwin and...More!

This is the very worst wickedness, that we refuse to acknowledge the passionate evil that is in us. This makes us secret and rotten. - D.H. Lawrence

I saw a man yesterday screaming and flailing away at bus stop. His beard was wild. Clothes tattered. I do believe he was on to something but I cannot say what. He had come to some basic understanding of life and was expressing his feelings in a correspondingly appropriate manner. Its a wonder we all aren't screaming at intimate objects that we all aren't hairy unbathed messes that we bow so deeply to convention.....

I saw something interesting on the internet. I am always seeing something interesting on the internet. The internet is overflowing with interesting articles tweets blogs videos photos cartoons and historical documents. We can spend all day sending one another links of the cute the obscene the fascinating the beautiful the thought provoking and the stimulating. There is no end to it. So much of human thought and invention and innovation and art a mouse click away. We dash through so much so fast because there is so much more and we don't want to get bogged down on this one thing. The beauty of the 140 character tweet with links and photos. We can browse a universe of ideas in minutes.

Provided we don't stop and think.

The internet s not conducive to stopping and thinking. It is for grazing. It is a party where we mingle never stopping to get into an depth conversation. We throw all manner of trivia up about ourselves. Likes and dislikes. And breeze through other people's trivia. She liked that? Hey I like that too!

Quick and easy. Fast food for the mind full of empty calories. Gorging on tidbits. Never sated. There may have been something we missed. There may be an update. There may be a new comment. A response to our comment. A new tally in that online poll. More more more. Sometimes in some ways the internet can make watching TV seem like a deep intellectual exercise.

But its here and like TV its not going away. Its going to get a lot better and a lot worse and a lot more. I saw a statistic -- on the internet where else? -- that 42% of college graduates never read another book after graduating. Imagine what the book reading figures are for non college grads. Also saw a statistic that over 50% of Americans read at an eighth grade level or lower. Oh well.

Time to scream at a bus stop.

Watched my Criterion Edition of Chaplin's The Gold Rush (1925) Friday night. Had only ever seen the 1942 version so I thought it wise to watch the original. Heard it was better. It was. Is. in '42 Chaplin added his own narration in lieu of title cards and removed a few scenes including a lengthy kiss at the end. On the one hand this version is excellent on the other hand the original is far superior. The narration adds virtually nothing to what we can see and infer. The edits slight Georgia (Georgia Hale) who is the Little Tramp's love interest.

In any case The Gold Rush is great Chaplin and there is very little in entertainment better than a good Chaplin let alone great. Our hero is up to his usual hijinks this time while searching for gold in Alaska in the dead of winter. He battles the elements a hardened unrepentant criminal and his own insatiable desire for the lovely Georgia.

There are laughs a plenty and a strong love story along with a modicum of action and adventure.  Criterion has prettied it all up and it my it looks gorgeous. This is peak silent era Chaplin in a feature length film.

Saturday went to a play with the missus and oldest daughter -- Gershwin Alone at the Berkeley Rep. Hershey Felder plays Gershwin -- alone -- and does so superbly. There is much more singing and piano playing than story telling but when the crooning and ivory tickling are this good who's to complain? Gershwin died before he was 40 but still managed to leave behind two lifetimes worth of great songs. Summertime. Rhapsody in Blue. Fascinating Rhythm. Someone to Watch Over Me. Embraceable You. They Can't Take That Away From Me. I've Got Rhythm....I could go on.

Mr. Felder has been performing Gershwin Alone for years and has created a polished and entertaining show that caps off with an audience sing along. I left wanting more which is one of the higher compliments I can think of.

Also watched The Gladiator (2000) for the first time since its original release. On IMDb's 1-10 scale I give it a five. Right smack in the middle. That makes it just about right as an Best Picture Oscar winner. There is nothing so much wrong with the film but there is nothing particularly compelling or new or interesting or intellectually stimulating about it either. Like a lot of recent Oscar winners it's just there. Nice to look at with solid performances from its cast and a story that moves along nicely but altogether ordinary and unoriginal. Right around Argo and Slumdog Millionaire territory just above King's Speech and the odious Crash.

Better to watch Family Tree on HBO the latest from Christopher Guest. Now that's entertainment. Even better than watching a homeless man scream at a pole.

11 June 2013

So Many Films So Little Time I Try to Catch Up After My Vacation

"I paint objects as I think them, not as I see them." -- Pablo Picasso.
It would be impossible to catch up. Three weeks one film watched. The addict looks to fill the cinematic void in his heart by binging before returning to work. A dozen movies in five days. Here they are sort of recounted. Sort of not. But duly noted. For sure.

Melancholy piano jazz and not able to read because the anxiety adrenalin pumps frantically and heart. Beat. The crows so noisy are they angry or confused or distraught or partying and when will my heart calm the fuck down and how many times will I think of that unsent email. Tendrils of it creep toward my brain and -- conjunction -- there is little left to do but sit in my own think. Let the mind stew. Sort itself out while I whisper

of other times. They just up and go don't they.

I watched movies because this is what I do. The familiar story unfolds but how I see it and what I see of it and what I make of it changes. Rearranges. The great films are multi multi multi dimensional. Often on sunlit evenings of burgundy moons where the stars fall precipitously and clowns linger on the front lawn while I wonder what

here's the period you wanted -- .

Chaplin's Modern Times (1936) watched the day after Lang's Metropolis (1927). The oppression of the worker. The de-humanizing of humans. If they thought they could get away with it they'd bring back slavery. Practically have. They. Appeals to me as a leftist. Such intelligence in their making so great a concern for the what and how of their telling. Modern Times a particular favorite as Chaplin charms and prances and makes us chortle and the stunning Paulette Godard as the Gamin. Yup.

Then there was Frankenheimer's The Train (1964) -- I'm going in a sort of reverse order here of what watched and leaving some out and dancing metaphorically. The ultimate enemy. Nazis. The ultimate good. Fine art. The ultimate hero. Burt Lancaster as a Frenchmen. People just doing they're jobs and their jobs include life risky acts of sabotage. The pacing the editing are superb and The Train is worth a gander now and again. The action evokes something of Bresson. Methodical. Purposeful. But with 'splosions none gratuitous.

Europa (1991) from van Trier and The Seventh Seal (1957) by Bergmann. Vikings direct and how do they. What else would I call these films but masterpieces. I could go hide in them everyday. (Max Von Sydow is the star of one and the narrator of the other. Huh!). So different yet they both have me asking questions and not worrying about answers. Therein lies the rub. The act of questioning is crucial. Answers are just trivia.

Moonrise Kingdom (2012) from Wes Anderson. Second viewing and I think that this is what filmmaking should be all about. The sheer cleverness. The spirit of invention and caring and creativity and color and attention and eccentricity of it. Anderson comes off as a director (story teller) who cares passionately about his art and in having great fun with it takes it seriously and thus transmutes work into  our fun. Recycling. Its a movie to indulge in.

Speedy (1928). A Harold Lloyd film I'd not seen before. I didn't discover Lloyd until a few years ago. Oh what I'd been missing. The bespectacled star of great silent comedies. Adept at the broader elements of physical comedy but specializing in the more subtle ones. What a great way to have fun.

Chaplin's Limelight (1952). Nice moments but...overly sentimental. Scenes that drag, pacing off. It's like he didn't have time for brevity. The edge gone replaced by pap. Not many directors wind down their careers with their best work. Often the opposite. Like this.

Hitchcock's Sabotage(1936) Simple story of a spy in London foreign born chap (Oscar Homolka) with a wife (Sylvia Sidney) who he seems to have a platonic relationship with. Her kid brother lives with them. They don't know he's a spy. They run a movie theater. He is a saboteur manipulated by bad people. British government is on to him and have a dashing good guy working next door and he loves the woman and maybe its not so simple after all. It's a very dark film. Not so much the subject matter as the lighting. Which is just what it should be and that's Hitch for you. It is not a hopeful nor necessarily despairing film. It is. And I appreciate the passive verb of its nature.

You may have heard of a film called Citizen Kane (1941) directed by a lad named Orson Welles. I reckon it had been at least five years since I last saw it. It's better than I remembered it and I remembered it as a classic. I now noticed not just Welles the director but Welles the star. It is enormous. I refer to the magnitude of the performance and not the later girth of the man. Epic stuff portraying a complicated character over the course of a lifetime and giving it such genuine life we don't notice. Blends.

Now I'm back to the old grind which is okay in and of itself but has a lot less Paris or Venice or London in it and somewhat less film watching. (There's a song from the '80s called True by something called Spandau Ballet that includes the following lines:

I bought a ticket to the world, 

But now I've come back again 

Why do I find it hard to write the next line? 

Oh I want the truth to be said 

I admire the hell out of that. Imagine the cheek of someone writing a song struggling for a line and then using that struggle in the song itself. I'd like to see that in a novel: Why do I find it hard to write the next chapter -- oh screw it -- Tom and Mary left the hotel separately hoping not to be seen.....) Like I was saying I'm managing the world as it is with all its people things events sleep and pure terror. But enough about me.

08 June 2013

Notes From The Undergrounded Mind --or-- A Day in the Strife

"Stopping at every station, a local train conveyed me sedately into Sussex. Local and sedate, likewise, were the workings of my brain, as I sat in an empty compartment...." - From the Complete Memoirs of George Sherston by Siegfried Sassoon.

Three weeks ago today I was in Paris.
Two weeks ago today I was in Rome.
One week ago today I was in London.
Today I had huevos rancheros at a Mexican restaurant.

I am the sum total of my experiences.

The body aches from exercise. The good soreness of new muscles being formed. Better -- of the surety that I've looked after myself. Taking care of the temple of my soul. While I write the cat slumbers on the footrest. No empty lap has availed for her. More the pity. The wind blows on this cool overcast day. Erratic weather all over the world as climate change turns from threat to reality. But here today we have typical Bay Area Summer weather. Hunh.

I chronicle. I tell of my little deeds. Not the noted diarist just the unnoted blogger. Yesterday I watched this and thought that about it. Thank you for your kind attention.

Stephen Fry the British actor writer comedian TV host revealed recently that he tried to commit suicide last year. He suffers from manic depression. What fuckery is this that turns a person's mind so black with despair that life seems unworthy of continuing with. A class to be dropped. An assignment not to be completed. A job to be quit. Even for the rich and famous. Depressed to that point. THAT point. Where all seems futile and horrible and un....Un what? Un everything I suppose.

--- yesterday at the gym there was man doing his exercises while showering I wonder did he after go to a weight room and bathe --

The mind can turn your world upside down and you you have done nothing to merit such treatment. Not a drug ingested. No chemicals infested. But the brain bested. By terror. Oh I've been there. My own form of skewed viewing. And the mind goes yikes! and then you "look to find a reason to believe."

If I don't type the house is so quiet as to be cacophonous. A car door closed and that is all I hear for seconds. Then a faraway child's screech. Then a movement in the house as a daughter or my wife stir momentarily.

I try to make sense of what I'm not doing. More than I do of what I am doing. I have films to watch. Emails to write. Book (singular) to read. I must read and fast as I have a shelf of others that await. There sit James Joyce and Jack Kerouac and Richard Ford and David Foster Wallace and Fyodor Dostoyevksy and Cormac McCarthy and Robert Graves and other white men with so many words waiting wiling while I witlessly wander and wonder the whats and wherefores of alliteration. Causin' a new sensation.

Am I still the teenaged boy who listened to The Who with such belief that they spoke for me? With so much ardor? Such love of the idea of being rebellious and of pursuing mad love and passionate kisses? Am I not still him or have I become the grumpy old -- as younger daughter puts it -- geezer that I couldn't have imagined as a young man?

Am I he or is he me?

"Still I look to find a reason to believe." For that teenaged boy had a Rod Stewart poster on his bedroom wall and when he went to Wales met a Maggie who he called Maggie May like in the Stewart song. And there was then confirmed the idea that rock songs could come true. I lived that life for an instant. Swaggering and staggering and managing to believe that I could be forever young and sexy and deliriously happy and it all mattered so greatly what I thought and did and felt and loved.

But I took it too far.

Do you know that I spent years decades being the middle class man the middle school teacher the middle minded father and husband and broke free one day to soar where I go now. Heedless and happy and wondering when I can get back to Paris.

05 June 2013

European Vacation Epilogue - Home Again Home Again Jiggity Jig

Omaha Beach Normandy.
Life flows like a river. We're back from our trip but never left, were never there and will always be there and here and wherever else we've been and we'll go. Don't try to divide life into portions. It is all of the same.

I am refreshed. Rejuvenated. I could have stayed another three weeks or three months or three years. But it was not possible. Not this time. Now I am part of this part of the Earth in this time doing these things. Work beckons next week and as a labor of love I not only won't resist but will go willingly and happily.

Other people.

I saw.

I saw places where the great and famous and the infamous and the awful once lived or walked. I felt their shadows. Hemingway, Hitler, Dickens, DaVinci, Fellini, Mussolini, various kings and queens and popes and dopes. How many living people did I see? I forgot to count.


Beaches once red with blood. Shadows of the ghosts of those whose intestines spilled out as they writhed in agony struck by bullets as they served god and country and their comrades. The stillness there today.

The view from the Arc De Triomphe. Seeing how magically Paris was laid out by some wise men centuries ago. Soaking in the beauty of the city. As if that city was a living being lovelier than all the rest.

Porto Venere.
Lunch in a cavernous restaurant in La Spezia. Most people know one another. An older man holds court at the table next to us. There is no menu. Our choices are told to us. They are limited. The meal is sublime. The atmosphere enhances the delicious. Yes it does.

Porto Venere Italy at the end of a peninsula on the Ligurian Sea. Magnificent views from  thousand year old structures towering from the rocks. Then an espresso.

The Trevi Fountain found after a long meandering walk. It was near midnight. It was raining lightly. I visualized Anita Ekberg. Then I just enjoyed being there with the love of my life. Then a gelato.

Cinema. My wife said I am a film geek. I accept. The cinematheque in Paris. Cinecitta in Rome. The cineteca in Bolgona. The sites where Midnight in Paris (2011) La Dolce Vita (1960) Rome Open City (1945) Gangs of New York (2002) were filmed.

Oldest niece and her lovely family. Meeting the baby and learning of the success of Germano's latest film. Bravo! Can't wait to see it.

The great meals. Pasta with sea food. Pizza with anchovies. Salmon. Sea bass. Classic English fish and chips. And of course the gelato.

Trains. Take note USA. Train travel within Italy is affordable efficient and fast. Subways in London Paris and Rome do not require 20 minute waits.

Tower Bridge in London.
Walks along the Thames and through Hyde Park.

Seeing Helen Mirren and a great supporting cast live on stage in a wonderful play.

Coming home to see my darling daughters. Being the father of two such women is evidence that I have not been a failure in this life.

But the number one highlight was my travel companion. She is far far more than I ever have or will ever deserve. Putting up with me is a difficult task and she carried on with nary a complaint. My wife is an amazing woman.

So. Back in Berkeley. Jet lag not a problem. Already been to the gym. Have a lot of films to watch the next few days having seen but one the past three weeks. Better get started. Oh and...

I miss Paris.

03 June 2013

European Vacation 16 - A Sunny Day in London Town?

Inside the Tower of London
When you come to London you expect to get and generally do get its famous fog. It comes with a side order of rain and chilly temperatures. If you are in London for any length of time and such weather is not provided you’ve every right to go to the London Chamber of Commerce and lodge a formal complaint for you have been denied the true London experience. All that being said London is absolutely glorious on a sunny day and we’ve had two in succession.

I have literally not seen the sun come out in London since my first trip here in the Seventies (that’s the 1970s to all you wiseacres out there).

Some people rave about cloudless days. Boring. When the sun is out I think the sight of big puffy clouds in the distance is quite striking. I’ve noticed some gorgeous cloud formations on this trip. Thank you Mother Nature. Clouds have been in evidence these past two days but have stayed out of the sun’s ways. Thanks again Ma Nature.

Sunday we made straight for The Tower of London a must stop for any visitor. There is more history within its walls than in entire countries. You’ve got Henry VIII Lady Jane Grey Queen Elizabeth I Richard III and Rudolph Hess just to name a few historical figures of note who have trod the grounds. It’s a remarkably well preserved site and contains all manner of historical relics. The crown jewels alone are worth a look see. Then there is Sir Walter Raleigh’s study and weapons galore a chopping block and corresponding axe if you are up for a beheading and -- as they say -- more. Much more.

From there the missus and I took a walk along the Thames. This was as pleasant a jaunt as we’ve had on our journey. The river is remarkably clean -- quite in contrast to its status as a veritable flowing cesspool through the mid 19th century. The Thames is crossed by many bridges including the Tower Bridge which is majestic beautiful and fits perfectly with the modern London skyline. Eventually we crossed the Millennium Bridge which affords some magnificent views.

View from the Millennium Bridge
Once across we strolled pass the Globe Theater a re-creation of the setting for many of Shakespeare’s play back in the great bard’s day. We then kicked ourselves for not thinking to book tickets for a play there. Well we couldn’t have done everything imaginable anyway. From there we popped into the Tate Modern. Though I don’t care for some conceptual art there was a lot there to admire particularly -- to me -- the works of Rene Margitte Paul Delvaux and most especially John Heartfield.

There followed a stroll to St. Paul's’ cathedral which is much more restrained and thus to me much more beautiful version of the garish churches of Italy. We capped the evening off with a fish and chips dinner at an eatery that opened in 1871 and is renown for their fare. It was quite good.

Yesterday I returned to the British Library while the wife went to buy goodies at the Nordic Bakery. I paid good coin to see the propaganda exhibit called Power and Persuasion. It was worth every pence and I could take up an entire post writing about it.

The better half and I met at the Library gift shop -- my goodness I’ve been to a lot of gift shops these past three weeks -- and planned our next move. That move was a walk to one of London’s top-rated bookshops where I found a copy of Siegfried Sassoon’s three volume autobiography written as the fictional autobiography of a bloke named George Sherson. Now I’m set for the plane ride home.

Hyde Park
We rode the London Underground to the stop nearest Hyde Park. Whether London, Paris or Rome we’ve not had a wait as long as five minutes for a train and most waits have been around 60 seconds or less. Amazing. Speaking of amazing: Hyde Park. Londoners do not get a lot of sunny days so they take full advantage and Hyde park is an idea place to enjoy clear skies. The park is immaculate, filled with trees, waterways, ducks, geese, swans, tots being pushed by nannies in strollers, lovers sunning together, flowers and people licking ice cream cones. This made two idyllic walks in two days for us. We then took in the Prince Albert Memorial and Albert Hall followed by Kensington Palace -- though neither the Duchess of Cambridge nor her hubby the future king of England popped out to say hello.

Our trip was symbolically capped off with an excellent dinner at a little bistro called Savoir Faire where I had a delicious sea bass.

Yummy meal yummy days.

European Vacation 15 - In London We’re in the Audience for The Audience

Started Friday in Bologna where I visited their Medieval Museum. I loved it. While there were more of the religious art I’ve grown accustomed to seeing on this trip there were also swords, rifles (not exactly medieval but what’s a few centuries between friends?) and day-to-day objects. Plenty to gaze and wonder at. So many objects that were in use before the United States were united or their shores were even invaded by Europeans.

We said arrivedercci to Italy. I hated leaving behind the espressos, the gelatos, the pizzas, the pasta, the pastries, and the fresh fruits and vegetables. I was glad to be away from all the cigarette smokers that infest the country. You’re hard pressed to walk a busy city block without encountering a dozen or so Italians puffing madly away heedless of lung or throat cancer or heart disease or the annoyance of their habit. At the Milan airport we noted a glass encased room for smokers. It was sad, it was funny, it was ironic and it was oddly appropriate to see smokers relegated to a room and on display for others to gawk and mock. The US has done a good job of marginalizing smokers. It’s a filthy habit and non practitioners shouldn’t have to be exposed to it. I speak from experience having smoked for many years and then going through the very difficult process of quitting.

The train service in Italy was excellent with the exception of our final experience. We were waiting in a Milan train station for the train that would take us to the airport. Dutifully we watched the board for the platform number. It wasn’t up 20 minutes before the train’s scheduled departure. Or 15. Or even 10. Or even 5. (And what is with the great secrecy the last second announcement of the platform? Can’t they sort this business out in advance?) Finally two minutes before the train departs the platform number goes up. It’s the farthest one away from our central position meaning for one thing that we must go downstairs. When we get downstairs we have to go up some stairs. We’re running. I get on the train with the missus twenty yards behind. I stand in the door which tries to close. I have to fight it to keep it open while my wife struggles on board. The second she gets on we pull out of the station. I was livid. Hey Milan train station! What kind of bullshit is this? An elderly couple would never have made it nor anyone with a small child or a person with a disability. If you’re going to announce the platform at the last second don’t let the train leave immediately.

From Bologna's Medeval Museum
We arrived Friday night in London for the second time on this trip. Only this time we’ll be staying a few days. The first full day is today Saturday June I. Of course this will be posted later because the wifi at the hotel we’re staying in is not working. I swear wifi has been the bane of this trip.

Wifi notwithstanding, what a day we had. First the British Library and a look at the Magna Carta. I’m guessing you’ve heard of it. They also had the Beatles original handwritten lyrics for a number of songs such as Yesterday Ticket to Ride and Help. One written on the back of an envelope another on a birthday card another on scratch paper. We saw a lot more and there was much more to see but we had a theater to get to and will make it back to the Library later in the trip.

The play was The Audience starring Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth at the John Gieguld theater. It was directed by Stephen Daldry and written by  Peter Morgan. The play primarily consists of the Queen’s Tuesday evening meetings with Prime Ministers from Churchill through Cameron though oddly Tony Blair is omitted -- though frequently mentioned --  one of a handful of the 12 PMs during Elizabeth’s reign that is not depicted. To be honest I was prepared to be bored. In retrospect I don’t exactly know why. In any case I was enthralled. To watch great acting live and in person is a moving and thrilling experience. There were laughs a plenty as well as insight into the life of a monarch (particularly those who ever asked for the position) and British post WWII. As other reviewers have noted  Richard McCabe  as Harold Wilson is a scene stealer. It was also a treat to see Edward Fox as Churchill, having seen him in so many films for so many years.

We also went to the National Portrait Gallery which had a wonderful exhibit on Native Americans. The obligatory trip to Buckingham Palace was made after a walk along the traditional route from Trafalgar Square.

This evening was capped by a delicious dinner at an Indian restaurant. And now I’m quite tired.....