Back in the U.S.S.A.

After the fireworks we took a day off in our last B&B. This one was clean, tastefully decorated, located in a very scenic spot, but lacked breakfast. The hostess told us that there had been complaints, and the kitchen was upstairs, and so on, but the fact remains, it ain’t a B&B, it’s a B.

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Why are you staying indoors, when …..

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the view from the verandah, with chairs, is so nice? That’s Vancouver across the way.

The next day we headed south again to catch the ferry back to Anacortes. It was a beautiful day, marred only by the long wait to pass US immigration on the dock. At least they didn’t ask for our Social Security numbers and voting records. That’s months away.

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The Elwha arrives.

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Farewell to Canada.

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Lots of water and sky.

When we got to Anacortes it was time to put the foot down and get to Vancouver WA, just north of Portland, for the night. Then it was on to Ashland OR for one night and tickets to The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Trendspotting. Avid readers will recall our trip to the Globe Theater in London and Twelfth Night (link). It looks as if a trend is emerging – turning Shakespeare comedies into singspiel. This production of Merry Wives contained musical numbers drawn from the pop world plus cross dressing, and large portions of ham. The crowning ‘achievement’ was casting a small woman as Falstaff. The key here is “small”, not “woman.” It just doesn’t cut it when Falstaff is not, as the line goes, “two yards about” (72 inch waistline). She was bulked up, and had good (i.e. bad) hair and beard, and she played him as Bobcat Goldthwaite might have done, but just didn’t have the height or width needed to dominate. Oh well. Worth trying.

Much of the pop music meant nothing to us, although the younger audience members caught the references. All of us got the big first half close, with Mistresses Ford and Page singing Blondie’s “One Way or Another” as they planned revenge on Falstaff:

One way or another I’m gonna find ya
I’m gonna getcha getcha getcha getcha … etc.

That was definitely a hit. So, watch for this kind of treatment in the next Shakespeare comedy you attend.

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Slender being a perfect fool with Ann Page. Costumes were excellent.

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Professional singers. The regular cast members were good too.

On Wednesday morning we headed south to visit Quincy and Sarah in Brisbane (SF Peninsula). Our last photo taken in anger was of Mount Shasta.

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There’s a little bit of smoke/fumes on the north side, visible in binoculars. Beware, northerners.

We had a very nice visit to Quincy and Sarah’s new house, a bay cruise in their sailboat (the Mostly Harmless), and an ‘interesting’ dinner on our last night. Sarah and I ordered lamb kebabs: she got lamb and I got free-range mutton. Tasty but tough: un-swallowable.

On Friday, July 7th, we drove down the 101 and arrived home at last. Aside from a bit of mold in the bathrooms and the odd cobweb, everything was just as we left it. The automated drip irrigation system did not explode while we were gone. Our neighbors the Bakers gave us all the mail and we settled in to read, do laundry, and check out the starter battery on the Prius (late word – it’s dead; new parts ordered). We look forward to several days of inactivity.

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A Broadway Play

But first, an addition to yesterday’s visit to The Cloisters. The café at this museum is bad. Terrible. Minimal choice, third-class quality and way overpriced. Avoid at all costs.

Today we drove to NYC to see a matinee of “Present Laughter,” a Noel Coward revival starring Kevin Kline. It was superb. Noel Coward wrote well but requires exquisite comedy timing to deliver the goods. Badly timed dialogue kills the wit completely. Luckily for us every actor was up to the task. Mr. Kline as the ham actor star was perfect. He did physical comedy, played some Beethoven on the piano, and his tour de force was extracting a dressing gown from its box and after a 360 degree turn somehow was wearing it. When you get applause for putting on a dressing gown ….  and he did win the Tony for the role.

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We had 4th row seats and were able to see that his close-up interactions with the other actors were full of facial nuances that most of the audience would never see. He and the cast were really into the play – and they do this every day and twice on Sundays.

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Alice, Merion and Steve Stricker at the Intercontinental.

Afterwards we stopped at the Intercontinental Hotel down the street for some bar food which was excellent. We were back in Norwalk by 8:00 where we said goodbyes to cousin Merion and Katrin.

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Merion’s apartment view.

Thank You, Sam Wanamaker

Arrived in London yesterday and lucky us, no president*. Our hotel has extremely small rooms to prepare us for the QM2 on Wednesday. The weather is what you expect – rain on and off but mostly on. We spent our first evening on business with the engineering gang at the Litus Foundation. Everyone seems to be enthusiastic in difficult circumstances. Our fingers remain crossed.

Today we woke up to … rain. We went online to see if the theater had any appeal, and found a matinee performance of 12th Night at the Shakespeare Globe. Only two seats left! We got ‘em.

Breakfast was at a chain restaurant in Victoria Station: Café Rouge. It wasn’t bad. Croque Monsieur for me and poached eggs on hot sourdough for Alice. Thus fortified we went downstairs to the Circle Line and headed for Blackfriars. The rain was still falling, but there was more wind than water. We crossed the Thames and walked to the Globe.

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This recreation of the Globe Theatre where Shakespeare’s plays were performed was the brainchild of the late Sam Wanamaker. Thank you Sam.

I don’t know if the exposed beams above are structural or for show, but the shape of the building is real enough and the interior as authentic as possible.

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A model of the original.

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As you can see: nobs above, hoi polloi below and an open sky above those commoners who have to stand for the whole performance.

When we picked up our tickets, one of which was “obscured view”, we asked about tickets turned in and wow – we got front row, middle balcony. Only the back rows had backs to the seats; we had benches, but in the front row you can lean on the railing and it is quite comfortable.

Now to the play. It was an extremely free adaptation of 12th Night in that large bits were added, including an opening number aboard the soon-to-be-shipwrecked SS Unity: “We Are Family.” Later on the lyrics to “I will survive” slipped into the dialogue. At times we had to think twice about whether we were hearing Shakespeare or The Village People. And was this a musical or a play?

Nevertheless, the spirit of the original play was observed. Almost over-observed. You scholars will recall that the shipwrecked Viola dresses as a man to get a job with Duke Orsino. You will also recall that men played all roles in Shakespeare’s time – women included. One must accept cross-dressing or ignore the plays. In this production many men’s parts were played by women, Malvolio in particular, and she was a real hoot. Prominently forward was the part of Feste, played by a unique artist known as Le Gateau Chocolat. (Perhaps you remember the Zucker movie, Top Secret, in which the black resistance fighter introduced himself as “Chocolat Mousse.” I suspect a bit of borrowing here.)

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Here is Mr. Gateau. He first appears in the glitteriest gold dress I have ever seen, with an Afro wig two feet across. But the man is an incredible performer. His voice has a range from basso profundo (he could sing The Flea like Chaliapin) to high baritone, and it is a fine voice as well. I was blown away.

There are other castings that emphasized the We Are Family vibe, which was also one of the points Shakespeare makes. For instance, Sir Toby Belch was Tony Jayawardena, an Indian actor (I think, but could not find any biography), played as a golfing Scot with a perfect Scottish accent. The primary love interests were both inter-racial in the irrelevant sense that we use the term. In short, it was a United Nations of love and comedy.

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The shipwreck of the SS Unity. Both production photos stolen from the theater site.

In a theater-in-the-round with a mass of spectators right up against the stage, one expects some interaction. Yes, a few times the actors went to the edge and addressed happy members of the audience, but the highlight of this was when Viola (dressed as the man Cesario) is dazed by the encounter with Olivia who has fallen for the ‘man’ rather hard. Viola asks herself loudly, why did Olivia behave like that? A voice from the audience in a section occupied by primary schoolers said, “She loves you!” Audience collapses with laughter. Viola turns and points to the voice and says, “Right!” Good times.

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The student section is at the extreme right on the first level of seats. What with all the cross dressing and sexual innuendos we wondered what the little kids were doing there. They probably understood more than we did.

So the play was a great success and a very lucky find for us. Impeccable comedic timing, great dance numbers – Shakespeare would approve.

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Outside the sun had come out.

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St. Paul’s was closed because of services but the sun was perfect.

We had dinner at a pub: lamb shank shepherd’s pie (Alice) and fish and chips (me). It was fine, but not photogenic. Fear not, comestiphones, tomorrow we embark on the Queen Mary 2 and you will be deluged with pictures. They will probably be delayed because, I have heard, internet time is $50 an hour on board. But they will come.

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As we left St. Paul’s, we found another statue of John Wesley. The first one, you recall, was in Savannah. We had to take this one too.

Charleston

The A/C didn’t keep us awake (much) so we awoke ready to make an early assault on Charleston. The Inn serves a modest but filling “hunt breakfast” and we were out on the street before 8:00.

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The hotel atrium. Cool breezes and shade.

We instantly saw that compared to Savannah, there were lots of much older buildings. Ante-Revolution was not unusual. And, there were all kinds, from merchant storefronts to modest homes to show-off mansions.

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Above: a row of commercial buildings on Meeting Street. Below: a residence row on a side street.

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One could take and show endless photos of these houses. I picked this one because the verandahs were so sumptuous. Most large homes had these porches, aligned to catch the evening sea breezes, but they were typically rectangular. This one, built in 1810 and altered in 1890, has grand semi-circular balconies supported by Roman revival columns.

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I picked this one because I thought it just looked spiffy. It has wrought iron balconies, well-preserved shutters, and bright paint. In case you had not guessed, restoration work is going on all over. If you are an architect or a contractor, this is your time in Charleston.

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Many homes appear to be built with large stone blocks. Wrong! It is stucco over brick, with the artful addition of mortar lines.

The Nathanael Russell home (1808) is open. The house was restored and then filled with furniture authentic in design and origin to what would have been in the house. It’s really a museum of ante-bellum design.

Mr. Russell was in the shipping business. All cargoes.

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In comparison to other homes of the Rich and Famous, the exterior is modest.

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For glass fanciers, all the exterior windows were replaced after the Late Unpleasantness. They were all blown out in the war, according to our guide. This interior door shows how this old glass deteriorated after 200 years. Notice the pane at 1:00 in the rosette; it has become opalescent (the picture frame behind it is rather fuzzy). Sooner or late it will crumble, as have most of the panes here.

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Even rich men like Nathanael Russell could not afford to use mahogany everywhere. This interior door is pine, painted to look like mahogany, complete with faux-bookmatched panels.

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The elliptical and apparently free-standing staircase is the wonder of the house. This is not the greatest photo ever (camera on the floor and hope) but it does give a hint. It is only attached to the ground floor and the two floors above; it is extremely carefully built like a suspension bridge so that is seems to float between the floors.

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There were large oval rooms on the first and second floors. This is the formal dining room on the first floor. The table is solid mahogany, as are the Chippendale chairs, all made in Charleston around 1800. Today we would say they were in the Federal style as long as we didn’t say it aloud.

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On the second floor in this room the ladies would retire after dinner, and also would have tea with friends in the afternoon.

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Ceiling detail in the ladies’ room. All is molded plaster with gold leaf.

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Ceiling detail from the second-floor oval room, used as a music room. Again, molded plaster with amazing detail and paint.

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A final detail from the Russell home. This is a faux-lapis plinth supporting a column in the wall woodwork. It’s a very good imitation – it even sparkles.

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This is the George Ducat house (1740). Ducat was a shipbuilder. I guess you could call him middle-class – only two stories. Still, it had a balcony for that afternoon breeze.

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So here is Charleston in 1850. We walked down the main street in the center (Meeting St.) and poked around in the neighborhood for about 4 hours and it seems most of those buildings are still there.

Just for kicks, and because the car has A/C, we took a trip over the big bridge to Mount Pleasant where the USS Yorktown is moored. We didn’t have time to visit but wanted at least a look. Then we went to the local Malibu beach on Sullivan’s Island.

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These houses are huge. I paced the one on the left off: 140×40. That’s 5,600 square feet for each of two floors, plus the ground area under the stilts, plus all the porches and for all I know, part of the roof. Makes Malibu look like a set of cheap condos.

After dinner (same place, excellent food) we went to the Black Fedora, a funky theater where about 12 audience members are given scripts to help out. Predictable fun ensues. Actually, it was a lot of fun and for the price ($24) we would recommend it.

The 39 Steps

Friday, October 10, 2014

Today we visited Apsley House, home of Arthur Wellesley, aka the 1st Duke of Wellington, and still partially in the family. No photos allowed. The building itself is imposing, sitting right next to Hyde Park, but not exceptionally good looking on the outside. Inside it has large rooms on the ground and first floors. Above this are rooms where the family still has apartments.

What the house really has are (1) paintings, and (2) unbelievable amounts of silver and china. The paintings are mostly either portraits of famous people done by secondary artists or of historical importance: battles of Waterloo and gatherings of important people. But there are some good ones t0o. There’s a lot of Dutch Master work as well.

One of the stories we heard was about Wellington’s time in the Peninsular Wars. In 1813, Wellington defeated Napoleon’s brother, Joseph Bonaparte, King of Spain, at the battle of Vitoria and captured his baggage train, which he shipped back to England. In the baggage were 165 paintings that Joseph had liberated from the Spanish royal collection. Among them were two by Velasquez and a Correggio that the president of the Royal Academy said was worth fighting a battle for on its own. Wellington offered them back to Spain, but in 1816 the newly re-throned king Ferdinand said Wellington should keep them.

Indeed, the china and silver in the house is almost entirely gifts from grateful European rulers, post-Napoleon. I have never seen candelabras and plates of this size. For instance, the Portuguese sent a silver service that included a celebratory centerpiece. When I think of a centerpiece I think of an object that sits in the middle of a table. A vase or a flower holder, for instance. This centerpiece sits in the middle of a table that seats 36 people, and runs from one end of the table to the other. Here’s a diagram:

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There was a large staff at Apsley House and one is sure that polishing the silver occupied a lot of their time.

The play this evening was “The 39 Steps.” What a disappointment. This play won all kinds of awards in its first year and has run for seven, I think. I don’t get it. It’s a comedic take on the movie (which mutilated the book IMHO), with all the characters played by four actors. There are a few laughs in it, but overall it just isn’t that funny. I don’t think it was the actors, but if it wasn’t, what did the critics see in it the first year?

Final Play Score: 3-1. Not bad.

The Play That Goes Wrong

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Our excursion today took us to Whitehall and the Cabinet (or Churchill) War Rooms. This is where the minsters and military had their secret operations center, below ground and semi-safe from the Blitz.

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This is the cabinet conference room where only private parties are allowed today. We general admissions commoners get to look through the glass. This is where Churchill presided over meetings with generals, admirals and ministers.

The whole labyrinth of rooms was under a building but only 10 feet down. They filled the rooms above with concrete and reinforced the ceilings but later on admitted that it was possible for a bomb to do considerable damage if it came it at the right angle. Only a few knew this at the time.

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An Enigma coding/decoding machine captured by the Allies. For most of the war they could read German secret messages. What I didn’t know was, as a card said, “Polish Intelligence had already cracked earlier versions of the German Enigma codes before the war. Their knowledge, as well as captured machines, proved vital to the British code-breakers.”

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Prime Minister’s dining room.

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He also had his own kitchen which was about 6×20 feet, squeezed out of a hallway.

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This is one of many map rooms. I could not get close enough to show detail in the map on the left; there were pins marking every convoy in the Atlantic and there wasn’t much paper left. The telephones connected to the chiefs of various services and the ivory one on the far right to the Prime Minister.

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Churchill’s work and bedroom. He only slept here three times but he always worked at that desk and made some broadcasts from it as well. Note the chamber pot – sanitation in these rooms was primitive.

There is much much more. Even so, many of the rooms have been cleared away to give room to a Churchill Museum in which one could spend many happy hours trying to make sense of their multi-media time lines. Anyway, this is a must-visit place for history buffs.

The play of the evening was “The Play That Goes Wrong.” Like “Noises Off” it’s about what can go wrong putting on a play, Murder at Havisham Manor, but in this case the play is being put on by an amateur theater group. What goes wrong is due to the incompetence of all concerned.

It begins with various “stage personnel” wandering about in the audience asking if anyone has seen a dog. During the evening everything goes wrong. I can’t think of anything they might have left out. The audience, us included, was in stitches. We had bad acting, overacting, nervous breakdown, slapstick, people running into things, equipment malfunctions – the lot. I think the Brits are the best at this, as the French are with bedroom farce. Can’t think of what Americans are best at (roommate comedy?).

Highly recommended. We’re three for three!

King Charles III

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Didst awake betimes and after a simple breake-fast did hie ourselves to Somerset House.

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I refer you to the Wiki for Somerset House; its history is long and complicated. Fun fact: Edward Seymour, Lord Protector under his nephew Edward VI, began construction of the first version in 1549. Seymour essentially ran the country but overstepped in so many ways that the Privy Council had him arrested, and he was beheaded at the Tower in 1552 before the house was complete. (This is a highly condensed account.)

Today’s buildings (vastly changed, repaired and expanded) have some Admiralty offices and I believe some rooms remaining from the Stamp and Tax offices (predecessors of Inland Revenue), but we were interested in the cultural parts. The Courtauld Institute of Art has its gallery in the section that used to house the Royal Academy. They have a very nice collection of Impressionists, among other things.

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Route Tournante by Cezanne

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Still Life in a Major Key by Mikhail Larionov

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The Family of Jan Breughel by Rubens

Neither of us are particular fans of Rubens, but we really liked this family portrait. Breughel was a friend and collaborator and the warmth comes through here.

We had lunch in Tom’s Kitchen, formerly the Admiralty Restaurant (our guidebook is really out of date) and took the tube back to Tower Hill. I took a walk around the Tower in search of the poppy project. The official name is “Blood Swept Land And Seas Of Red.” The goal is to plant 888,246 ceramic poppies in the dry moat of the Tower of London as a memorial to all British and colonial military fatalities in WWI.

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There has been some controversy over how much of the money raised (buy a poppy for 25 pounds) will end up going to charity, but enthusiasm is undiminished, and it is certainly an impressive sight. Above you can see volunteers carrying on the planting. It’s to be finished on Armistice Day.

On a sunny day you can’t stop at the Tower, you have to go down to the Thames and ogle the Tower Bridge. It’s the law.

There was a strange little artist (Camille somebody – his accent was difficult to understand) on the embankment and for 50 pounds I thought this painting would make a good souvenir.

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Selfie at Tower Bridge

The play of the evening was King Charles III. It explores the question of what comes after Queen Elizabeth II, starring the immediate royal family (including the ghost of Diana). The acting was great and the story line took enough turns to intrigue us all.

It was Shakespearian, if Shakespeare-lite. There was a lot of iambic pentameter and humorous rhyming couplets and I was amazed at how much of the dialog I could understand (what with being a colonial boy and all). The themes were serious, if not ground-breaking: how does a royal have his/her own personality; what are the roles of royalty and parliament; how snake-like can a politician be; are women really running the whole thing; and so on. I won’t give details away but if you have a chance to see it, do. One of the London papers called it the best play running and it might be.