Twelfth Night @ The Duke of York’s Theatre

This was a Royal Shakespeare Company production, and not just any RSC production, but an RSC production directed by Gregory Doran.  Doran is most recently famous for taking a huge risk in 2008 and casting Doctor Who‘s David Tennant in Hamlet, a move that apparently paid off in spades.  I obviously wasn’t here to see it, and I haven’t yet gotten my hands on a copy of the DVD, but I’ve heard good things (also, Patrick Stewart as Claudius? Daaaaamn).  Anyway, in addition to his Hamlet cred, in 2000-ish Doran put on a Macbeth that I think, despite its few faults, might be the closest thing to definitive we’ve got.  So I have a lot of respect for (and expectations of) Gregory Doran.

It really saddens me, then, to say that his Twelfth Night is not that good.

Which isn’t to say it is bad, really.  The word my professor used, and one that I think is most appropriate, is “patchy.”  The play stopped and started, came and went, and ended up feeling generally uneven.  Doran tried his hand at casting a TV actor in the meatiest role, this time famous (over here, anyway) grumpy old man Richard Wilson as the puritanical steward Malvolio.  Malvolio, as it happens, is not even a main role, but 12N is one of those plays where the subplot is more famous than the actual plot; Malvolio is the character people care about, and putting Wilson in the role was meant to draw more scrutiny, speculation, and (most importantly) audience members than any other aspect of the production.

Needless to say this is what most of the reviews focus on; in earlier stagings, apparently, Wilson wasn’t impressive.  This was his first turn on Shakespeare, but by the time I saw the play (it was very near the end of its run) I thought he was adequate.  A little stiff and hollow, perhaps, but that is probably the best way to describe the whole production.  During the first two acts, all I could say about it was that it was definitely Twelfth Night, with various actors playing various characters I know are in the play, all with the expected lavish RSC set design and high production values.  Aside from that, it was lifeless.

Things picked up in acts 3-5, following the interval, where it seemed like the entire cast had ducked into their dressing rooms and snorted cocaine before coming back on.  The actors weren’t any better, exactly — Viola/Cesario, Orsino, Olivia, and nearly everyone else was still pretty bland (Sebastian, by the bye, was bad and stayed bad) — but the smaller characters like Toby, Andrew, and Fabian seemed to really get into what they were doing, and everyone seemed more lively and happier to be on stage.

The two real bright spots of the production were Fabian, who is really a very small part but the actor had a good control of the character, and Feste, who was the only major character who seemed consistently on.  They really emphasized his songs (we’re talking entire dance numbers), which was odd, considering the actor didn’t seem to be a very strong singer to begin with.  But I give him points for getting out in front of people and singing, anyway, and I give him the benefit of a doubt since it’s cold season and he might have been losing his voice.

But aside from those two performances, the play was very flat.  “Oh look,” the actors seemed to be saying, “we are putting on a Shakespeare play.  What a thing to do!”  (The Olivia was especially guilty of this — also, they made her character a slut, which has its fun moments but overall is unengaging, especially when the player is Very Obviously Acting, as this one was.)

The sole moment of real almost-brilliance, in my opinion, was the ending, where Feste sings his famous bit about the rain.  Like the film version I just linked, it was played as a sort of montage of Feste singing while various scenes occurred on stage around him.  The key difference was that the song was much slower and the scenes were not of journeys ending in lovers meeting, but snapshots of all the characters who ended up on the losing side of things — Antonio the gay sailor, robbed of his bland, uninteresting boycrush Sebastian by an insane cougar, and Andrew Aguecheek, robbed of his insane cougar by a bland, uninteresting boy, and (this was kind of neat) Toby and Maria, who pantomimed a very bitter and angry domestic dispute.  Naturally this ended with Malvolio, the biggest loser in the play, and as Feste finished his song the two of them stood side by side on the stage, glaring at one another, the Fool and the Puritan — and the lights fell.

I actually got chills from that, man.  It suggests, I believe, a very powerful reading of 12N that could make a very, very fine production.

It’s too bad that Gregory Doran didn’t, you know, use it.

Richard III @ Riverside Studios

This was not a very good production.

The thing about R3 is that it works best when the title character is played as an over-the-top hilarious cartoon — a sort of evil ain’t-I-a-stinker Bugs Bunny.  What this means is that you need a Richard who is crazy, zany, hilarious, and carries the production on his hunched back.  Unfortunately, the folks at Riverside Studios decided to attempt deep emotional resonance, and while they actually achieved this to some degree — the Elizabeth was absolutely amazing, especially when Richard proposes marrying her daughter and she rips him to pieces, and the elderly Margaret (played by a man!) was quite convincing as a drunken, curse-spitting old woman fallen on hard times.  The guy playing Richard was actually good, spinning it as a kind of Crispin Glover thing.

Despite this, the play was just boring.  It was far too somber and therefore very grueling to sit through — the last third was nicely abridged, especially the procession of ghosts, but the first two-thirds were plodding.  Richard needs to be energetic and awesome in a love-to-hate-him way; the audience needs to know he’s unquestionably evil, yet at the same time really want to see him fuck people’s shit up.  It simply works better when it’s a crazy Marlovian spectacle.  My evidence: Ian McKellan’s Nazi-flavored 1995 adaptation, which plays hell with the source text (they all do, as R3 is ungodly long and sloppy) but it’s loads of fun and pretty damn stylish.

A more positive note about the Riverside production: Catesby was also very good.   The staging was a sort of modern multinational corporation boardroom setting and they chose to make Catesby a smartly dressed young female secretary with a clipboard and a constant uncertainty about what the hell was going on around her, and who slowly realized she was both in over her head and pretty much stuck in the plot for the long haul.  This worked.

On the other hand, both sides of the stage had this industrial scaffolding that, at various points in the play and for no specific reason, Richard would climb around on despite apparently suffering from palsy.  I think the idea was to make him sleek and dangerous, and the acrobaticsmaybe would recall the “bottled spider” remark Margaret makes about him.  A neat idea, kind of awkward in execution.  SPEAKING OF WHICH: the Battle of Bosworth Field was a dance party.  I am not kidding.  Both sides glowered at each other from across the stage, dancing slightly while techno music played and strobe lights went off.  Occasionally they staggered as if they’d been hit.  It was like watching a Final Fantasy battle screen, which again was pretty neat, but within the context of the play and production completely crack rock.

And that’s all I have to say on Richard III’s Jungle Gym and Rave from Hell.  On Wednesday keep an eye out for my thoughts on the RSC’s recent production of Twelfth Night. Here’s a preview: it’s also not very good!

I am going to be homeless for a week, let’s talk about plays

Going to put this on automatic update, just so I don’t miss another week.  See, my abroad program incorporates a week of “free travel” into it, which is supposed to be more or less equivalent to Spring Break back home.  A vacation, if you will, or a holiday as they are called here.

This is where we run into problems.  I’m not much for vacations, you see, and I didn’t have to read any Jamaica Kincaid or DFW essays about lobsters to make me like this.

There’s this horrid little neologism that’s made the rounds recently, the ‘staycation.’  That is, a vacation where you stay home instead of going out somewhere; the thing is, every vacation for me is a staycation, and it always has been.  It may surprise you, given my seething antipathy towards fun, good will, sunshine, and human beings in general, that I really, really dislike going out onto beaches or to theme parks and seeing various things/people/situations that only intensify my disgust and displeasure with life on this earth.  When I have time off I don’t want to fucking go anywhere, I want to lock myself in my house and sleep for twelve hours and read books until three in the morning.  This is how I relax, this is how I unwind.  This is what a vacation means for me.

Not for most other people, unfortunately.  The “free travel week” my program has is a bit misnamed.  You see, it’s a misnomer because 1) if it were truly a “free” week I could stay at my house and sleep, as would be my preference, or 2) if it were “free” in the pecuniary sense, it would be a lot more appealing.  As it happens, for seven days I am required to leave my house and travel either on my own or with friends and fend for myself.  My host family is not being paid rent for that week.  In essence, I am being kicked out.

My program, for whatever reason, thinks it’s a good idea to have a mandatory crash course in homelessness.

This all sounds a bit whiny, I’m sure, as I am a privileged young white male college student in an abroad program, which puts me a damn sight ahead of 80% of my cohort.  I’m in Europe, aren’t I?  I should be taking in the culture and traveling and seeing the sights.  If you’re thinking that right now, then I have an offer: you fucking pay for it.

I’m a goddamn scholarship student.  I’m only on this abroad program because I am incredibly, indescribably lucky — my tuition has been covered, thank god.  But on the other hand, I’ve had to pay for plenty of other stuff out of my own pocket — plane tickets, clothes, supplies, food, various other travel expenses such as cabs and trains.  My personal savings were drained by this trip, and supporting myself as an itinerant for a week will pretty much reduce me to nothing.

If I were the kind of person who read literature as being, in its heart, about class conflict, or if I were the kind of person given to screeching about systemic classist elements of any setup, I would have been bitching about this sort of thing long before now.  So while I normally don’t care about it, I’ve finally come into a situation where it really irks me.  (Enough to blog about it, anyway.)

To put it succinctly, I don’t have the money to live on my own in a foreign country for a week.  My family does not have the money to help me.  This is not something I can do.

But I’m doing it anyway, because I don’t have a choice.

Luckily I have some connections in Stratford-Upon-Avon who are willing to put up with me for a few days, though they’re in the process of moving so I can’t stay there the whole time.  My family back home has managed to get me enough money that I can stay in a hostel (as much as I hate hostels with all my soul they are cheaper than hotels) in London for the remainder of the break.  I’ve been living as a spendthrift over the last seven weeks, saving large amounts out of the grocery stipend I receive, so I have enough money to eat and buy various little stupid things I need, so I should be all right.

I’d still like to lock myself in a house and read all day, though.

Anyway, excitement: while I’m away I’ve used WordPress’s handy autoupdate feature to organize a series of short reviews of plays I’ve seen recently.  These should be popping up at various points during the week, digitally prepackaged and intellectually microwaved for your consumption.  It’s not going to be in the vein of the Psycho series, since there’s less for me to string together, so I figured it wouldn’t be bad for me to throw up all three reviews in a week.  We’re looking at a Monday/Wednesday/Friday thing here, so stayed tuned.

So foul and fair a day I have not seen

No entry last Friday because, as it happened, all that day I was traveling north.  I spent the weekend in Edinburgh, which was definitely the most awesome place I’ve seen so far in Britain.  While London is neat in its own way, mainly because it’s London, Edinburgh is really notable because it also has a lot of history, and most of this history wasn’t bombed to hell by the Germans and replaced with horrific 60s architecture.

The two panoramas I have here were taken from the top of Arthur’s Seat, and climbing it was probably 1) the coolest thing I did in Edinburgh, and 2) one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  It is one of the most marvelous things I’ve ever done, and the view was outstanding.  When I got to the top I began reciting “God’s Grandeur” by Gerard Manley Hopkins over and over again, and I’m not even particularly religious.  It was just that amazing.

And, of course, how could I have possibly gone to Scotland and to Edinburgh Castle, the ancient seat of the Scottish kings, without snapping this little beauty:

Good times are to be had in Scotland.

In other, almost entirely unrelated news, while on the train to and from Edinburgh I managed to read quite a few books.  This is because the train ride is damn long and I’ve apparently developed some sort of speed-reading capability, but since (as I’ve mentioned) there are  a million used bookstores around here I can pick up new material for cheap.  So I managed to reread Joyce’s Dubliners (good, of course), along with reading for the first time William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland (pretty okay, still need to find a hard copy of his The Night-Land since I’ve only read it online), and something like two dozen of MR James’s ghost stories.

I also read some in a classy little hardcover I picked up on a whim — it was only 75p and clocking in at just over 100 pages it has that “old-timey tiny hardcover” mystique, but unfortunately it isn’t that good.  It’s a collection of poetry and prose, but the stories are mostly plotless social realist vignettes that are sort of infuriating (when I finish it seems like nothing has happened, but I have the annoying feeling that the author’s played a trick on me) and the poetry is just sentimental and/or maudlin.  It’s called The Chameleon and is by a guy named Ignacio Muez Ajedra.  Yes, that name seems very Spanish, but the book is written in British English.  I don’t know if he was an immigrant or if the book was translated because the copyright page only says it was published in 1900 by Crane & Sons, as you will see, Google yields nothing on the man nor anything on his publisher.  There’s something a little neat, though, about having an old book that no one remember by a forgotten writer — kind of an Shelley’s Ozymandias vibe or something, or maybe I’m just a melancholy jackass.  At any rate, whoever Ajedra was, his name will now be forever linked with my blog once the Google bots start crawling over these words.  Sorry, man.

Also this week I saw a production of Measure for Measure at the Almeida here in London, and I have to tell you, it was superb.  I mean that as sincerely as I can, and I can’t relate to you how great this production is without sounding hyperbolic.  Let me put it this way: when I read Measure for Measure for the first time a few months back, I was pretty unimpressed.  The play seems sloppily written, perhaps somehow corrupted or even half-finished, and overall as a reading experience it’s very unsatisfying.  In the end it just doesn’t make any damn sense.  It is the job of a production, in my opinion, to find some way to fix these problems — not rewrite it or anything, coming up with fake Shakespeare dialog or whatever, but to find a way of staging it so that the audience is presented with a coherent and cogent reading of the play where the textual faults are levered as assets.

This production, suffice it to say, does that with flying colors.  I may write a whole entry on it later, when I have more time, but over the next few weeks I’ll also be seeing productions of Twelfth Night, Richard III, King Lear, and a recently written “sequel” to Macbeth called Dunsinane. If I can find some way to string my responses to all or some of these plays together I may put together a weekly series like my American Psycho exercise a few months back.  We’ll see.

On the tube

On a good day it takes me something like 40 minutes to get to classes, or to get back home.  On a bad day it can take an hour.  There’s really nothing to be done about this in the mornings — it so happens that I have to take the tube most days at a time when everyone else in the area is also heading to work, so the trains are packed.  Heading home in the evenings, on the other hand, is something of a crapshoot; the rush hour never seems to be very consistent in when it decides to happen, and usually my rides back are less cramped than my rides in.  I’m usually even lucky enough to get a chair!

Now, there are a few things people do on the tube to keep themselves occupied.  I’ve already mentioned reading, though a lot of people also listen to iPods and such things.  I do both or one or the other, but I’ve also devised a little game to pass the time during the longest stretch of my commute, when I get on the Northern Line at Leicester Square.  The game is called “Who’s Getting Off at Camden Town?”

Here’s how it works: you covertly assess everyone in the current train car and, based on their outward appearance and demeanor, guess who among them is going to get off at the Camden Town stop.  Every time new passengers get on in between your current stop and Camden Town, add them to the pool.  You start with a score of 0; for every person you correctly guess is going to get off at Camden Town, your score is increased by 1.  For every person who you think will get off there but who actually leaves earlier, your score gets -1.  The game effectively ends when you reach the Camden Town stop; if any of your picks remain on the train past the stop, your score receives no merit or demerit.

Obviously to play you have to be northbound and on the Northern Line, or sufficiently far out and southbound; the best times to play, however, are Friday and Saturday evenings, when the nightlife at Camden Town is thriving.  This is also the easiest time to play, because you’ll really pad out your score with a bunch of easy guesses.  However, if you want an extra challenge, try playing during the day or on weekday afternoons.  You’ll still get the very obvious ones, but not quite as numerous, and sometimes they’re heading to other places; you’ll also get some real surprises, like men in conservative suits and little old ladies who are going out to shop.  If you have a friend on the train, you can try to compete or gamble, and these hard-to-guess passengers really add an element of risk.

In other news, last weekend I saw an absolutely mediocre production of Macbeth, which in the end I am so apathetic to that I chose to blog about what the hell I am thinking on the damn Underground rather than try to say anything substantive about the production.

See you next week.

Not much to say today

Nothing groundbreaking to throw out this week, I was kind of a bum and didn’t go out much, plus classes are sort of kicking into some sort of midterm fever.  Took a trip to Lacock, a village a bit to the north where photography was invented and some Harry Potter scenes were filmed, and tomorrow promises a trip to Stonehenge (the most noble of all henges) and Bath.  Wandered around Piccadilly Circus some, found some “used and antiquarian” bookstores, bought some books I’d been wanting and impulsively some I’d never heard of, bought more than I should have because things were cheap, and life goes on and on and on and on.

Rag Time

Last week I sort of promised that I was going to talk about newspapers, and unfortunately for all of you I did not forget that promise.  So buckle up, guys, it’s going to be a wild ride.

I was once told that, contrary to the rest of the world, the UK (and perhaps specifically London) is one of the few places where people still seriously read newspapers.  I can’t say much to how true this is since I don’t give a damn about newspapers most of the time, but it certainly does seem like there’s a lot of newspaper reading going on here.  Most of it takes place on the tube, which is understandable: phones don’t have reception down there, so if you’ve got solitaire or something you can play that, and if you don’t have a phone or don’t like solitaire then you read a newspaper.  It helps that there is generally a newsagent stand right outside every tube station.

It also helps that there’s this little thing called the Evening Standard.

Most newspapers in London are really damn old; the Standard, a London local, has been running since 1827, for instance, and until recently was printed a staggering three times a day.  It’s generally right-of-center in its outlook, since newspapers are delightfully and blatantly biased in this country.  In October of last year, the Standard did something pretty crazy: it became a free paper.  It’s only printed once a day now, but every late afternoon outside the tube stop you basically have to fight to not get handed one by a roving newsagent.  These things are left all over the train cars, crumpled, forlorn, forgotten; I imagine if you wait long enough on the tube you’ll practically be swimming in the things.  Yet, since the paper was printed three times a day before and is offered for free now, you might suspect that the Standard is pretty influential.  You’d be correct.

But there’s been some controversy in the past year or so.  You see, in January of 2009 the majority of the paper was bought by one Alexander Lebedev, one of the Russian oligarchs and a former KGB agent.  This was a somewhat surprising development.  Not in and of itself, since Russian oligarchs love to buy the hell out of British newspapers and football clubs and so on; no, rather, it was surprising because it was a huge slap in the face to one Rupert Murdoch.  (I’m not even going to wiki-link that one.)

Murdoch’s media empire extends far beyond America and Fox News, which is something we in the States probably either don’t know or forget pretty frequently.  His biggest success here in the UK is the tabloid The Sun, which has a circulation rate that is (forgive the pun) astronomical.  It might be the most influential paper in the country, not because it’s classy (there are topless women on page three of every issue) but because it’s just sensational and obscene enough to pull in the key demographic of Guys My Age.  Unsurprisingly, The Sun also tends to be a bit right-of-center — I’d say it’s a paper version of Fox News with tits, but it’s not as blatantly conservative as Fox has been in the past, nor is it close to the very wacky, special type of neoconservative agitprop Fox currently peddles.

Anyway, Murdoch tried this free daily newspaper thing before with the stupidly titled thelondonpaper, and he carried it on for years and continually lost money.  Then Lebedev showed up last year, worked his evil Russkie magics, and made the Standard become a free daily paper.  Don’t ask me why it happened — perhaps it was a lack of tits, or a surplus of tits — but thelondonpaper folded in September of that year and the Standard (despite having no tits at all, none!) has thus far made the business model work.

People were quick to get suspicious.  Rupert Murdoch has a lot of money — like, a lot of money — and a lot of connections.  Could it be possible that for some esoteric reason he somehow goaded Lebedev — or convinced him, or made a deal with him — to buy out the Standard, then move in and consolidate his hold on London’s printed media?  The whole conspiracy theory is summed up here and seems to be kind of shot down by the fact that thelondonpaper folded.  Back at the time, though, it must have seemed pretty scary — even though in the Guardian, the most reasonable left-of-center paper, one Roy Greenslade published this editorial about why it was all just silly paranoia.

Here we are, several months after thelondonpaper died and the Standard went free, and it doesn’t look like the end of the world.

But.

I grabbed a copy of the Standard last week to read on the tube and, flipping through it, came across — of all things — an article on Rupert Murdoch and Fox News.  There are a few things going on in it that I think I’ll point out.

First, it opens by basically saying, “Man, those crazy Americans, their television news programs don’t have to be fair and balanced like ours, how do they survive, huh?”  I find this cutely ironic because, as I have said, despite however evenhanded the telly is required to be, their print media makes up for it all by being vociferously partisan.

Second, the article alleges that Rupert (as well as the rest of the extensive Murdoch clan) is actually quite embarrassed by the farce that is Fox News, especially considering the sort of farce it’s got going on now with Beck and the infamous Ms. Palin being given their soapboxes.  The article itself even looks down on the channel, saying Beck just isn’t very entertaining, for instance, and giving off a general air of disapproval.

The writer, near the end of the piece, admits that he was never so simple-minded as to think that Murdoch endorsed the opinions of Fox News — certainly he was embarrassed by it, only putting up with the whole mess to make money!  That’s understandable, right?  Rupert Murdoch, after all, is just a regular dude, a guy trying to keep his livelihood like everyone else.  Hell, he’s a dude trying to keep his livelihood and live through the economic crunch and make it through the death of print media!  And to do it, he has to let these horrible American trolls blather insane propaganda with which he does not agree at all, no sir.  That Rupert Murdoch, gee, he sure is swell.

Except, well, it’s funny, you know?  It’s funny how this article was written by Roy Greenslade — the same guy who wrote that Guardian article I linked a few paragraphs ago, explaining how anyone who thought Murdoch was orchestrating a media coup was just plain batty, a loony conspiracy theorist.  Of course he had to be reasonable, right?  He was writing for the left-of-center paper, so of course if he was defending the “other team,” so to speak, he was indeed being sensible.  Right?  Of course!  Even though… well, he also does write regularly for the Standard, which is r-o-c… and he was assistant editor at Murdoch’s Sun for a while…

Hm, well, I seem to forget where I was going with this.  Certainly I wasn’t trying to point out anything strange about Greenslade, or a media conspiracy, or that you can’t trust anything anyone tells you ever.  That would be crazy!  And I probably wasn’t trying to point out that Rupert Murdoch is a shady guy.  He’s actually… he’s actually pretty all right.

Disruption

So it’s Friday, getting on into the evening here in London, and I don’t have a blog post.  There is a good reason for this, as my internet was out most of the day and I was attempting to fix it, something I have finally achieved my tricking Blue Yonder into thinking my router is in fact my cable modem. This would have been no problem at all for someone who has experience with cable modems, but that I ain’t.

What I’d planned to write today was a hopefully amusing article on newspapers here in the UK, specifically a few operating in London.  I know that sounds about as exciting as a box of twine, or probably less so, but the way in which newspapers unabashedly take political sides in this country fascinates me.  I don’t blog about politics because it’s not a good way to make friends, plus I’m generally apathetic to the whole business, but it’s also interesting for me to see how different sides here view our sides back home; plus, something really hilarious (to me, anyway) popped up in the Evening Standard a few nights ago, so if I get time maybe I’ll do a mid-week update, or just save it for next Friday.  Usually I’d just write it tomorrow, but as it happens I’ll be going to Stratford-upon-Avon to meet up with some people, so blogging then is shot, but HEY, it’s Stratford so who cares.

I suppose I can rattle off a few words about my classes.  I have a history of photography class that, while not a roller coaster ride, keeps me interested because I like tracing the development and evolutions of artforms.  I also have a class on British culture, which seems like a general history/sociology blend and should be pretty easygoing.  By far my least favorite class deals with social welfare issues and their history here in the UK; I don’t dislike the class because I dislike social welfare, but I dislike it because it is run by breaking us up into small groups and having us discuss various problems (eg, multiculturalism) and then bringing the class back together to get some common points.  I’d much prefer a straight lecture-style class because as I see it this discussion is completely useless — for instance, we were most recently told to discuss the perception of the word ‘welfare’ in America.  I don’t know about you, but it’s blatantly obvious where this is going to go: every group will say that welfare has a negative connotation.

Well, they did.  After like half an hour of dicussion.

So then the prof told us — surprise! — that in the UK ‘welfare’ has a different shade of meaning, one encompassing basic public services such as ambulances and education, and is not necessarily as negative as it is in the States.  Woo-hoo.  Basically, as I see it, this class is going to be many, many weeks of us arguing ourselves in circles over problems that are essentially insoluble and end up being a big waste of time.

Of course, there’s also my Shakespeare class.  We’re reading Macbeth, which I am basically tickled pink over, along with Measure for Measure and Twelfth Night.  I’ve never read Measure (aside: abbreviating that M4M might seem like a good idea but it isn’t) but I’m glad to tackle Twelfth Night in a classroom setting since I also happen to enjoy it greatly.  How greatly?  Well, I only really like one of the other comedies, really, so maybe that tells you something.  (Of course, I haven’t read them all — maybe I’ve just read the boring ones first?)

Anyway, a few nights ago we went on a walking tour of “Shakespeare’s London” across the Thames.  Of course, Shakespeare’s London is a bit of a misnomer because when Shakespeare and the Globe and the bear-baiting rings were in operation there, it wasn’t really London, and most of it has fallen apart or burned down by now, so a Shakespeare-centered walking tour of the area basically consists of looking at places where things used to be.  Nevertheless it’s possible to look at the empty lot where the Globe once stood and then convince yourself you’re feeling a pseudoreligious sense of awe because you are literally oh my god really standing where Hamlet was unleashed on the world.

An addendum: last night I went to Piccadilly Circus and saw The 39 Steps at the Criterion, and it’s a wonderful show.  Mel Brooks tried his hand at Hitchcock sendup with High Anxiety, but in my opinion it kind of fell flat; this production, meanwhile successfully manages to parody Hitchcock while being a rather earnest homage to the man and his work.  It doesn’t help that it recasts the original story in sort of the style of a Cary Grant 1940s screwball comedy, which I admittedly have a soft spot for.

AtME: Connecting surges ‘twixt the nations run / Our Saxon souls dissolving into one!

Yes, it’s still Lovecraft’s poem.  God that man was hilarious.

Anyway.

Before this past week I had never flown before.  My preferred method of describing the experience now is that it is like a roller coaster that turns into a bus ride after the first five minutes and then it keeps going for seven and a half hours.  Unless, of course, there is a delay due to light snow and the bus ride lasts for eight hours.  And then you arrive at Heathrow after midnight and your cab you reserved has left and so you have to spend an arm and a leg on a black cab to take you to your house.  Well.

I have arrived safe and sound in foggy (or as it happens snowy) Londontowne.  I’m sure you’ll forgive me for missing yet another Friday, as I was out in Kensington all day for completely useless orientations.  That may sound petulant on my part but I mean it, they were pretty useless — my college is working in conjunction with an international education organization which provides its own dorms for students.  However, each program is also tailored specifically to the wishes of each college, and my college in particular wanted us to stay with English host families rather than in dorms.  It was made so.

Most of the orientations, then, turned out to be about how to live in the dorms, deal with neighbors, and so on.  There was also a bit on our eventual internships, which start in about seven weeks, and how we will have to travel; we were warned quite solemnly that we could expect a daily commute of up to 45 minutes, which I suppose might be somewhat harrowing for all the students living in the dorms, but the entire group from my school has to take a commute of 45 minutes or more just to get to the damn classrooms, so it wasn’t exactly a productive evening for us.

Don’t misinterpret that as me not liking the host family situation.  I’m actually enjoying myself so far — the family is very pleasant, and there are plenty of interesting shops nearby.  Of everyone in our school’s group, my roommate and I actually have the shortest commute into Kensington for class (we’re the lucky 45-minute bastards) and while that’s pretty cool, it also means we have to work a little bit to meet up with the other people we know.  Our first attempt at this was last night, when we all went out for drinks at a pub, and while the journey in was okay, on the journey back we ended up on the wrong bus line and rode in the completely wrong direction for a while before finally getting turned around and falling into bed at about 1:00 this morning.

Then we woke up at 8 today and, because it was Saturday and the tubes were running slowly due to weekend travel/closings we had to run about four blocks to catch a tour bus we were scheduled for.

The tour itself was neat enough; we briefly stopped by all the famous monuments, took some pictures, and nearly froze to death.

That strikes me as a good transition for talking about my strongest first impression of this city: the snow.  There is not normally snow here, which is not a fact I was previously aware of, but which I have been informed ceaselessly since I arrived.  An English friend of mine who I’ve known for a few years asked me: “Do you like how we all panic and flap our hands like girls when snow happens?”

Not only does this accurately describe the situation, I do in fact like it, in a weird way.  I come from the Midwest, where we have horrific winters pretty regularly.  I can remember missing more or less a month of school due to a sort of blizzard, and then a week (or a week and a half) one winter where the powerlines were so weighed down with ice they snapped.  We regularly have subzero temperatures in Fahrenheit.  So when I showed up with people completely freaking out about how this was the COLDEST WINTER IN 30 YEARS and it was ZERO DEGREES (in Celsius, these chumps!) I thought it was pretty hysterical.

During my first evening in, the snow came, and pretty much all hell broke loose.  The tube was off schedule, buses were off schedule, people were having snowball fights in the street (and while walking past the hospital, I saw the paramedics were having a snowball fight in the ambulance dock).  On the news that night some field reporter was completely freaking out over how much ice was on the pavement, then proceeded to stomp around on the few pitiful, brittle flakes of ice under her feet.

There is, of course, a downside to this.  Since people here are so unused to snow, they’re actually very unprepared for it — meaning, basically, that people don’t know how to shovel their fucking sidewalks, or put salt or sand down.  They simply don’t have the capacity for it, they don’t have the materials and the thought never occurs to them.  This has ensured that, outside of central London where all the snow is spirited away municipally, the pavements have degenerated into horrible inch-thick sheets of ice and packed snow that are murderously slick.

Today, especially, has been a rather bad day to be out.  It’s only about 30 F, which is of course a horrible shock to the Londoners, but the wind chill is ungodly; added to that, it was snowing last time I was out and for all I know it may still be going.  What I am getting at, I guess, is that if the weather doesn’t clear up soon then I will be stuck in an unfamiliar city with a couple million people dealing with an unfamiliar weather situation and we will probably all die screaming before the month is out.

That seems to be enough for a first damage report, so I’ll cut myself off here.  Classes start Monday; if I have time on Friday, I’ll write up my impressions of that, plus anything I’ve skipped over here.  Also I don’t blog frequently enough to link every new thing I find to be awesome, and I know it’s already been all over the internet, but I cannot recommend Two Gentlemen of Lebowski enough.