Tuesday, December 4, 2012

. . . Now I'm 64!

Last week was my birthday. I have reached the marker set by the Beatles that says 64 is old age country. I read on Wikipedia that Paul wrote the words when he was 16, but he certainly got most of it right. I guess I'm kind of glad my grandchildren aren't named Vera and Chuck; Dave would be okay. And the cottage on the Isle of Wight every summer sounds pretty alright too.

Here in England, 1963 seems to be the year The Beatles made their splash. In the States we had to wait until 1964 for them to land and change our teenage world. What was it that made them so special? I guess because they were so cute — and of course never underestimate the power of an English accent, even in this case where the accent must have been Liverpool "Scouser" perhaps the nation's least favourite accent. Somehow there seems like some mystical symmetry between the dawn of the Age of the Beatles in 1964, and my being 64. Perhaps the mystery is just that never in my wildest dreams in 1964 would I have imagined I would be living in London when I turned 64. Living not too far from Paul in St John's Wood! There are always anecdotal reports of people seeing Paul on the bus so maybe I should pay more attention when I am on the 46 which runs between Hampstead and St Johns Wood.

My birthday was excellent. Besides the i-pad, Bob bought me the last two volumes of a series of books from Mainstone Press on a favourite English artist Eric Ravilious who is having a massive revival over the past few years. He died in 1942 when his plane was lost over Iceland while he was serving as an official British War Artist. There is all this wonderful British art from the decades between the wars, that seem to be completely unknown outside Britain, and hardly known here either. We, and the rest of the country, discovered Ravilious from an exhibition at the Imperial War Museum  nearly 10 years ago marking the centenary of his birth.

We met up with Susan and Cato at the South Bank Centre for supper — burritos from my favourite food truck. Mexican food is now very popular in London. There always were a few Tex-Mex places, but now there is a burgeoning number of places with "authentic" Mexican food. The dawn of trendy Mexican food was the opening of Wahaca — conveniently Anglicised to prevent mispronunciation! — by a young English woman who won the grand prize on a TV Masterchef competition and used the money to live in Mexico and learn to cook like the locals. I just read Calvin Trillin's New Yorker piece on eating in Oaxaca while visiting his daughter and family, including advice on the best way to eat grasshoppers (pull off the front legs). I doubt if our Wahaca serves grasshopper, but I can't say for sure. The American chains like Chipotle have recently moved in too — not sure if there is a Taco Bell.

England has also borrowed the German style Christmas Fair and the South Bank is lined with booths selling gifts and gluhwein and doughnuts, but no Lebkuchen or Potato Pancakes, so what's the point really.

Cato extracting a prize from a block of ice sponsored by Swiss Air.
He won a chocolate bar.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Thanksgiving Weekend

Thanksgiving Weekend which technically doesn't exist here because, well, because there is no Thanksgiving . . . but marketing is a globalised industry so Amazon.co.uk has been sending out Black Friday e-mail offers and promises the whole week long. My English friend Marian couldn't figure out why this was a good thing because didn't "Black Pick-A-Day-of-the-Week" events identify a day of financial despair — stock markets crashing, the English pound collapsing — that sort of thing. She still looked dubious at our explanation of fiscal health, "in the black" rather than "in the red" as the root of the expression.

My Black Friday was brightened by the delivery of my back-ordered i-pad mini in its bright red cover. My very first. Friday and Saturday were consumed with my new pretty toy. Of course its real use will be in the States when I take a thousand photos of my lovely grandchildren to flash around to everyone I meet here, there, and everywhere. Saturday plans were on hold because Bob came down with a 24-hour stomach flu, but the appalling weather of wind and rain meant staying home was the best plan anyway.  Around here, Saturday nights are special again because the latest Danish crime drama is back on the air. The Killing (Series 3) began last week, and we are already under the spell of Sarah Lund's new Faroe Island sweaters. The chevron is okay, but the traditional snowflake, in an untraditional white pattern on blue background, is my favourite. The kidnap/murder/political plot is pretty good too. We're here for the first eight episodes on four Saturday nights, but we will be in the States for the final two episodes! Canceling the visit to see our grandchildren is extreme, and we have great hopes that Barnz can wire something up for us.

Sunday dawned with sun for once, and our last chance to see the British Museum's Cultural Olympiad contribution on Shakespeare's Restless World which closes today.  Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, did an excellent 20-part series for Radio 4 last spring that I listened to on a free podcast through i-tunes over the summer. I'm sure it is still there to download and listen to. Each episode is only 15 minutes. Based on his History of the World in 100 Objects, which I was not a fan of, he used 20 objects from the Museum to describe what the world of England was like during Shakespeare's writing career which spanned the reigns of Elizabeth, the last of the Tudors, and James I, the first of the Scottish Stuarts.  The plays are full of topical subjects. Discussing Elizabeth's successor was a treasonous offense, but plays about long dead kings and their heirs or lack of heirs was simply historical drama. James was Scottish and terrified of witches who he thought were trying to kill him, but a play about a long dead Scottish king driven mad by witches was also historical drama. Plays about foreign people (Jews! Moors!) are set in Venice because Venice was the exotic city of the day. People lived differently there. They used forks to eat, for example. And looking forward, Shakespeare imagined what the New World would mean to the Old World in The Tempest.

Sunday was also the last day for the North American plant installation by Kew Gardens in front of the Museum. Kew has been planting a regional landscape at the British Museum every summer for a few years. Australia was first; South Africa was last summer. Despite the end of the season, there were some bright flower displays and a few yellow leaves on a kind of miniature maple to make us nostalgic for the autumn we missed in New England this year.

Returning to Hampstead, we discovered this year's Christmas Fair had gone into overdrive. Our High Street was imitating the 'Appy 'Ampstead fairs of another century with giant rides, midway games, a steam organ, and even a reindeer.