Friday, 3 December 2010

The Last Football Session, A Big Mall, Westminster Abbey, Shakespeare (Again and Again)

When I wrote the other day that the temperatures hovered in the single digits on our boat ride to Greenwich, I failed to specify, especially for American readers, whether those single digits are measured in Fahrenheit or Celsius, which, of course, makes a huge difference. Single digits measured using Fahrenheit is well below, indeed very far below, freezing, while measured in single digits Celsius the temps definitely rise above freezing, as high as the low 40s Fahrenheit. Cold, yes, but not as bitterly cold as some might have assumed.

The next morning, Saturday 29 November, remained cold, and portions of the United Kingdom--Scotland and Northern England, began to began to experience some snow. Nevertheless, Benedict wanted to play football that morning.

This is the bus stop on southbound Northfield Avenue outside the tube station and next to a branch of the Ealing library system. Many bus stops in London have these electronic signs informing commuters when the next bus will arrive. Out of the picture on the right is a column telling bus riders how long it will take for the each of the buses to arrive. I've been told that this system uses GPS technology to identify the buses and determine how long it will take, presumably based on their current locations, to arrive at this stop. Two bus routes meander up and down Northfield. When Benedict goes to school he'll jump on the E3 to Chiswick (pronounced with a silent 'w'; don't know why). To proceed to the football field we needed the E2 to Brentford, and then later the H91 along the Great West Road.

Before I forget, a note or two about the libraries. Each borough manages its own library system. In the case of Ealing, there is the large main branch at Ealing Broadway (the main local shopping district) and nearly a dozen smaller branches in outlying neighborhoods. Library cards can only be used within the borough it is issued. Interestingly, taking into account the borough's massive ethnic diversity, the Ealing system has books in many different languages, including Polish, Urdu, Hindi, Arabic, Somali, and others. This diversity of language offerings is not limited to Ealing libraries. Last week on my way to the National Gallery I stopped in on a library run by the Westminster council. This was off Leicester Square about a block from the National Gallery and St. Martin in the Field. There is a Chinatown near Leicester Square and in this library, which was not the main branch, contained many hundreds of books in Chinese. A few people sat around reading Chinese books.
This building holds the offices, changing rooms, and bar of the private 5 a side football club. On nicer days one can sit in the stands under the awning and watch the footballers play and practice.
Usually at least a dozen players, almost all boys, show up on Saturday mornings. But on this morning only four braved the low temperatures. Benedict's friend, Dominic, didn't make this morning.
The trainer divided up the boys into two teams, and the trainer played keeper for both sides. Here Benedict attempts a shot on goal. Adults played on a couple of other pitches that morning, including a couple of teams of men from either the Middle East or south Asia. This may be Benedict's last Saturday morning here, so a couple of pictures seemed to be in order. There will only be two more football sessions, and it is likely that we'll skip one or both of them. After this weekend, there will only be two weekends left before we leave for Germany.
That afternoon we went to the Westfield Shopping Centre in Shepherds Bush, said to the be largest indoor mall in all of Europe, or at least west of Moscow. Here is an indoor ice skating rink set up for the winter season. Several outdoor rinks have been set up here and there around London. We had to take two different tube routes to get there, and our intention was to see Megamind. We missed the first few minutes in a large crowded theatre (we didn't exactly get the seats we were assigned), but that didn't diminish our enjoyment of the film.
We hung out at the Apple store for a while and played with their gadgets. We wandered around and watched the hordes shop, eat, skate, and enjoy themselves.
Unlike the shoppers, who dressed in dark dreary colors, waiters and shop clerks wore uniforms of vibrant color.

Unfortunately it isn't clear from this photo that Benedict can see the completed Lego structure in the mirror based on some kind of code emitted by the box he's holding. Very cool.
Late Sunday morning we attended the Eucharist service at Westminster Abbey. This was partially a ploy to get into the Abbey without paying for it. We felt we at least had to visit the place where kings and queens have been crowned for nearly a thousand years (a thousand years! it's almost unimaginable) and where next April Prince William will marry the woman who will become his Princess of Wales. The upcoming event has the entire country, except for a few anti-royalists, excited and proud. The Abbey is spectacular, of course, and I may have to return to spend more time with the immortals buried there. We sat next to a pillar with a sculpted memorial to the visionary artist and poet William Blake hanging on it (we saw his tomb in the crypt of St. Paul's Cathedral) and across the way from a large memorial to the poet John Dryden. The Eucharist service itself was almost indistinguishable from a Roman Catholic Mass, though the choir included boys as well as men and there was more Latin than in an ordinary Sunday Catholic Mass. Several weeks ago (months?) we attended the Sunday service of the the Anglican church (also called St. Paul) up the street from our house, and the difference between the two services is quite dramatic. The High Anglican, nearly Catholic, service in Westminster Abbey contrasted starkly with the Low Anglican, almost evangelical service in the local church: Bach sung with great solemnity by boys and men in gowns versus a pop band fronted by a female vocalist/guitarist leading the congregation in singing rock-tinged songs with the help of lyrics displayed on a screen; everyone sitting stiffly and quietly in folding chairs versus worshippers bringing cups of hot coffee to their folding chairs and chatting brazenly with their friends while the kids skipped along to their own noisy Sunday school class; a formal procession at the beginning and end of the service to and from the altar versus getting things started as the mood saw fit; the celebrant and his co-celebrants dressed in colorful churchly vestments versus decidedly casually-dressed preachers who didn't seem too familiar with such inconvenient encumbrances as coats and ties; a learned and polished sermon read from the pulpit by one of the Abbey's canons versus an almost off-the-cuff-without-notes homily by the church pastor who made points using his own humble family life for examples; the solemn distribution of the Eucharist versus the off-hand announcement that there will be a Eucharistic service the next Sunday but not today.

Of course both passed a collection plate.
After the service we we bundled ourselves up and took the short tube ride under the Thames to the river's south bank. Good fortune smiled upon us as we possessed tickets for a brilliant production of 'Hamlet' at the National Theatre that afternoon. We ate our lunch in one of the cafes as we waited to enter the Olivier Theatre, one of the three theatres in the National Theatre complex. I suppose most people are more or less familiar with the play. But this production was a revelation. We're familiar with the issue of wondering why Hamlet procrastinates in revenging the death of his kingly father, and that mystery usually occupies the center of the previous versions I've seen. This production, however, also brings out the political issues, as the set of the play makes clear. Hamlet's Denmark in this version is a totalitarian state complete with spies, informers, machine-gun toting soldiers, emphasizing the distrust that the innately decent Hamlet develops as the rottenness of the state of Denmark reveals itself beneath its crumbling surface, and who sends his own friends to their deaths and drives the woman he loves to madness and suicide. Terrific. That night the actor playing Hamlet, Rory Kinnear, won the best actor award from the London Evening Standard.

We barely made it home that evening before the start of another tube strike. Monday morning complicated commuting expeditions with the addition of a sprinkling of snow on the ground. Temperatures, especially at night, fell below freezing. I remained at home that day working on this blog and Erika ventured to CAPA to get some work done there.

Tuesday there was more snow, though the tube strike was over. Erika went into teach her next-to-last class, and after Benedict came home from school we joined her at a Belgian restaurant near the Roundhouse Theatre for dinner. Jim and Susie were there, and Janine, who teaches a theatre class for CAPA, were also there when we arrived. I had a hamburger and a very nice Belgian beer, skipping several beers on the menu brewed at Trappist monasteries. We came together to attend the final Shakespeare production of our London visit, the sixth one for me. 'Romeo and Juliet' by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Again, fantastic. Vibrant, moving, romantic, violent, funny, and of course tragic. The actor playing Mercutio gave a remarkable performance, and every other member of the cast was wonderful.

I have been so impressed by the quality of the performances and the productions in almost every play we've seen, including the non-Shakespearean ones, that I am forever spoiled. We've seen at least a dozen plays while here, and there are dozens more playing all over the city. What a treat we've had!

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