Friday, July 29, 2011

london, ten years later - Part 2 (or, Old and New)

Because of Kathy's work requirements, our hotel in London was in the City, which I might not necessarily recommend for a tourist, but which I quite enjoyed.  Staying in the City reminded me of one of my favorite things about London: the way it combines a rich sense of history with the unarguably and unapologetically contemporary.  It creates this sense of walking the same street as Queen Elizabeth, while simultaneously running smack into the 21st century.  These two pictures from my wanderings in the City will show you what I mean.  In the first, the building known as the Gherkin rises up from behind a row of buildings that are at least a couple hundred years old, on one of the City's twisty streets.  In the second, the Lloyd's building, built in 1986, is indisputably contemporary in architecture -- but look at the guard in the lower right corner, frowning at people in his long red coat.

My next stop as a tourist was St. Paul's cathedral, on Kathy's advice.  It's one of her favorite places to visit in London.   At St. Paul's, I decided to climb to the very top of the dome, up an extraordinarily narrow set of stairs.  For once, being on my own was an advantage, as Kathy is a bit afraid of heights, and there is no way in hell I would have been able to convince her to lean out over the edge and take pictures with me.  Which, as an aside, left me to take pictures of myself.  Resulting in this:

Yikes.  Try not to have too much fun, Erin.  Also, I look really tan compared to other people in London, or perhaps just other people in general after all my time on the beach this summer.  I promise, I wear sunscreen!

Anyway.  From the top of St. Paul's, I could see the whole city, including my own favorite place in London, The Globe Theatre.  Look at it, sitting over on the opposite bank of the Thames, just as it did 500 years ago.  Well, not exactly as it did, since it burned down and had to be re-created, and was finished shortly before my last trip to London in 2001.  But the recreation of The Globe is so exact that rumor has it they researched the age of the trees used to build the original Globe, and chose trees of the same age for the recreated Globe, so that the the wood grain would look similar to the way it did in the 16th century.  Suh-weet.


Perhaps the best thing I did during my last/first trip to London was to go see a play at the Globe.  I've never actually been on the tour (I intended to go this time, but suddenly it was time to move on and I hadn't done it yet).  Last time, when someone else arranged the tickets, I sat on the narrow hard benches of the upper gallery for around £30.  This visit, when I was in charge, I decided to stand, since groundling tickets are only about £5.  Anne Boleyn was running, which is not actually Shakespeare, but was still remarkable.  I showed up at 1:59 for a 2:00 pm show, and asked the doormen where the box office was.  "Around the corner," one answered, "but if you want to stand, you can come in now for free."  Since I did, of course, want to stand, I hustled in, looked up, and the play began.  It was perfect.

Some people might wonder why I like standing for 2 1/2 hours, craning my neck, outside in whatever fabulous London weather happens to be occurring at the moment, to see a play, rather than seeing the same play happily sitting in a "regular" theatre.  Or renting the Mel Gibson movie, or whatever.  I can't really describe it.  For a Shakespeare-lover like myself, there is nothing quite like standing in the theater that was in Shakespeare's mind as he was writing his plays (or the latter half of them, anyway).  And what is it about Shakespeare that is so enchanting anyway?  It's not just the language, or the fact that about half of the idioms in the English language can be traced back to Shakespeare.  It's that he, as a popular playwright, managed to choose topics so essential to humanity that they remain relevant, half a millennium later.  And still managed to get in a good sex scene or swordfight every now and then, which makes you realize really, how much and how little has changed.

(Millennium Bridge and St. Paul's Cathedral, seen from outside the Globe)

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