Lovely Cadiz

Lovely Cadiz
Cadiz - my favorite place so far in the trip to Southern Spain

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Bloggo piccolo: A Sunday tourist in London

I have been so busy being a resident of London that I sometimes forget that I can still be a tourist.

But not today! One of my favorite roles when I was a (hardly) working actor was as the narrator/Noel Coward in a chamber theatre production of Coward's short story, "Ashes of Roses." It was directed by the excellent Peter Amster at Cortland Rep, waaaaaay back in the early 1980s. And one of my favorite monologues from this bittersweet tale of a great actress looking back at her first love, an affair with a rotter named Felix Mesurier, begins:

"There is much to recommend Hyde Park on a sunny, Sunday afternoon, particularly in the spring, when the grass is newly green and there is a feeling of lightness in the air..."
Dottore Gianni as Noel Coward
Full disclosure: I got no closer to Hyde Park than Hyde Park corner, seen briefly from the bus I was on. And this is hardly spring, is it? Early October in fact, though hardly autumnal. The grass, while not newly green, feels fresh in the recent beautiful strangely warm and summer-like days we Londoners (you see, I've adopted the city, whether or not it has me!) have been not merely enjoying but basking in. I might go so far as to say "luxuriating in." Coward would have liked that better than "basking" in any case.
So in spite of the fact that I was not in Hyde Park and that the season is all wrong, I have had a lovely few days. Friday morning, under the pretext of rehearsing the second part of my Dickens walk for my seminar, I headed southward instead of northeasterly towards Chelsea. My aim? To find my way from Harrington Gardens to the River. And I did! To Cheyne Walk, exactly, where I sat for a while in a tiny park (nothing like Hyde) chomping on an apple and looking at the Thames and the Albert Bridge, which alas is currently a construction site, as is much of London. 2011 has been forgotten as preparations for 2012 reach a fever pitch. I strolled along Cheyne Walk looking for and finding the historical marker that identifies the home of Dante Gabriel Rossetti,
Cheyne Walk, Rossetti house
then up into Chelsea searching for and finding Tite Street, in which Oscar Wilde lived at two different addresses at different times, ending at Sloane Square, where I hung out in the vicinity, and shade, of the Royal Court for a while, before heading back home.

Then yesterday...when love was just an easy game to play -- sorry, flashback to the Beatles walk (see my pics on facebook), again in blazing sunshine I went on another quest, to two train stations to pick up tickets for trips that my students and I plan to take. You can pick up your train ticket at machines two hours after you put in your on-line order. For one like Dottore Gianni, who needs everything planned out well in advance, this is a much appreciated and very simple chore. I took myself to King's Cross to pick up my own tickets for the trip I'll take to my beloved York in November; then a needless detour to the new St Pancras Station, where now the Eurostar speeds to France, for just a few pics of this massive space;
St Pancras Station
then to Marylebone, from which six of my students and I will head to Stratford-Upon-Avon -- yes, again, to see the first revival of Marat/Sade (a play required for my course) by the RSC since the brilliant Peter Brook production in the mid-1960s. I must say I did rather well, obtaining 5 pound tickets for the students (seated in the same area that I am, and I'm paying 35 pounds for my seat) and obtaining a 12.50 pound return train trip. Demmed fine, Dottore Gianni!


This seemingly easy trip to two/three stations was complicated by it being the weekend in London, a time in which mighty closures of tube stations are all too typical. I know from experience that this is the case in NYC as well, but the ENTIRE Circle line? Saturday AND Sunday? Anyway, the trip by rail became well nigh impossible, so I chose to hoof it from Marylebone to Oxford Street, a simple enough task had I gone in the right direction. However, age (I'll blame it on that, who knows what's really going on here?) is causing me to lose my sense of place. I strode off in directions I thought were spot on in three different instances, as a late morning passed into an early and increasingly warm afternoon. All of them exactly the opposite direction that I intended. After this comedy of erroring ways I finally got myself turned correctly around, and landed at Oxford Street.

This is not the smartest of moves on a Saturday afternoon, as on a street which at ANY given time of ANY given day is crowded, on Saturday afternoons Oxford St can be (and was yesterday) a nightmare. To exacerbate the circumstances, I decided that I would try a bus! I've not taken enough bus rides in London, as the system is complicated, but I know I could benefit from observing the routes of buses, in order to get a better version of the lay of the land in London.

Two number 74 buses had passed me in brief order before I discovered just where one should catch a number 74 - next to Selfridge's, not on Oxford Street itself, but on a street running perpendicular to it - and I waited...and waited...and waited -- nearly 20 minutes for another 74 to arrive - a bit like Ithaca's poor excuse of a public transport system.  I had long before realized that I could have walked the short distance to Bond Street and taken the tube, but no! I desired that bus ride, damn it! We arrived at one stop before Gloucester Rd, South Kensington, when the driver blithely announced that those of us proceeding west should get off now and take the number 73! I knew nothing of number 73 and knew I was close enough to Gloucester Rd that I could walk it, so got off, hoofed it home -- and that was the end of my second lovely summer-in-October day in London.

Brief pause: If you think I'm not having fun at this point, you could be right, as on portions of each trip I was decidedly not having fun, but all in all, and looking at in in that great old sight, hindsight, I was very much enjoying myself while at the same time becoming very much exhausted. The image of that awful picture of Jimmy Carter looking like he was about to drop dead after a jog surrounded by Secret Service men and women appeared in my head -- I was convinced I looked not a jot better than Carter had. Not a pretty sight!

OK - onto day three - today. This is when I began to feel real bliss. I had been somewhat blissful on Saturday, I promise, at certain times, and I was at very least very happy on Friday's outing. But today, Sunday ("...Hyde Park on a sunny Sunday afternoon, particularly in the spring...") I took myself to the West End, to once again remember that portion of my Dickens walk, but then wandered tourist-like, through much of the West End, including, yes, Covent Garden,
Covent Garden
headed next towards Embankment, at which spot I climbed the stairs to the Hungerford Footbridge and crossed to my favorite Bank, the South.







Food fest at South Bank Centre
Another gorgeous day, strolling around and through the South Bank Centre; walking through a food fest which at every booth presented a new and delicious-looking entree; passing the obnoxious skateboarders in their haven; through the used book market at the British Film Institute that's been there ever since I started visiting London; back to Foyles bookstore on the South Bank, where I bought an inexpensive map/guide to Copenahgen; on to the Royal National Theatre where I checked fruitlessly for returns for the show Collaborators, which examines Stalin and Bulgakov and their tense relationships. Simon Russell Beale is playing Stalin, Alex Jennings Bulgakov, so the sell-out houses are understandable.
The Royal National Theatre
Finally to Gabriel's Wharf, where I used to love to eat when I was here for a few days and a tourist, not a resident who needs constantly to make ends meet.
Gabriel's Wharf

Crossed back over Waterloo Bridge, no overcoat necessary (or in any way wanted) as it was in the film with Robert Taylor and I think Vivien Leigh, a short walk west again to Embankment, onto a packed District Line train from which all available air had been sucked away, finally getting off the airless tube train at Gloucester Rd, gulping deep breaths of probably stale but at least AIR still in the station, picking up a few supplies at Tesco Express (forgetting a few more essentials - damn!), and again finally heading back home to 35 Harrington Gardens, where I immediately began putting this blog together -- now nearly 9 pm and I think I'd better stop already!

So there IS much to recommend London, particularly in October, when the sun is unusually out and unseasonably hot and the citizens, even this temporary resident, are enjoying every bit of the late summer before the soon to come (Gawd, it should already be here!) autumn.

Time for Downton Abbey on TV I believe, so I'll leave you all now -- two weeks from tonight will be my last of four days in Copenhagen, then on to Stockholm and Oslo, so possibly more fascinating, certainly more exotic posts to come. But I hope you've enjoyed my bloggo not-so-piccolo about a resident/tourist's few days in the early October London sun.

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