an architect, a playwright, and even more art
Day three was going to be busy. I awoke super excited about one of the plans: seeing the Scottish Play at the Globe. *excited giggle* The day would be filled with other fun and exciting things, though. We started mid-morning (The rather late night on Thursday did not lend itself to early rising. haha) We began at the Old Street station which had a rather interesting, spread out exit situation due to the rather spread large traffic circle situated above. A few blocks down Old Street (And past the only gas station I noticed while in London), and we arrived at De Santis, an amazing Italian place, for some carry-out. (I will take a moment here to meet a comment I feel coming already: technically, I should've written "petrol station" and "take-away." :-P) This section of town felt rather suburban, actually. It was really the only section of London that felt particularly that way in all the days I was there--or at least like the typical American mid-city suburb. I suppose the presence of the gas station helped with that perception. Previously, I had only seen gas stations on the motorways, and then I'm sure I saw less than 5. At any rate, after gathering our to-be-eaten lovely carry-out, we traveled down the street and around the corner to Smithfield Market, London's largest and oldest meat market. Due to the sleeping in a bit, the market was done for business that day, yet, it was quite impressive. I failed to take any pictures, however, a fact I blame on the container of pasta I was holding at the time. :-) The Market is very large and very sophisticated, really. The Victorian design details are almost unexpected on such a pragmatically used building.
After Smithfield Market, we wandered over to the Barbican, a rather cold-war-esque residential construction a block over from the market. Apparently, it's the latest and greatest place to live if you're part of the nouveau riche. It's also ridiculously ugly. It also houses an art gallery, concert venue, and conference hall in its Barbican Centre. It's still ugly. I regret that I didn't take a picture of it from St. Paul's, then you could truly appreciate the molded concreteness of it all. At any rate, it is unique, and the area around it was worth the walk-through: odd little side-streets and circling lanes. And then: St. Paul's. Earlier in my posts and pictures, I mentioned the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford as Sir Christopher Wren's first design. St. Paul's is by far his most famous. First of all, it is absolutely huge. The building is both majestic and powerful, dominating the square in which it sits. It reminded me of the utter solidness projected by the York Minster only on a much more magnificent scale. The interior did not disappoint. Unfortunately, St. Paul's does ask that pictures not be taken inside, and furthermore a Eucharist service was in progress while we were there (a time most cathedrals ask for visitors to refrain from picture taking), so I have no pictures to show you of the interior. They can be found online, though, should you wish to see it. The interior was, frankly, ornate. There isn't really a word other than that to describe it. It was particularly interesting for me to see the difference between the nave, where the congregants worship (ornate in a plain way) and the quire/high altar/apse, where the clergy would sing/worship (visual-overload ornate). St. Paul's is certainly a testament to Wren's artistry and skill. Despite the high levels of ornate decoration, the entirety has a balance that a lesser architect would have failed to find. The massive size requires just the right amount, an amount Wren was able to get right. Of course, St. Paul's isn't known just for its incredible architectural beauty. Our next stop was the Whispering Gallery. At almost 100 ft. (about 10 stories) above the cathedral floor, this one is a little nerve wracking. Something about being that high up, inside a building, over the center of the floor makes your feet go tingly. The Whispering Gallery earned its title from the fact that whispers carry around the wall to the other side, over 100 ft. away. Impressive. This means that you can talk to more than just your neighbor during church. :-P I have to say that the Whispering Gallery definitely made me nervous; I certainly was feeling uneasy about traveling another 170 ft or so up the far-too-many steps to the Golden Gallery. We started up. The majority of steps to the Whispering Gallery were broad and wooden, the kind you almost have to take two steps on at the outside edge. The first set of steps to the Golden Gallery were not. These steps were narrow and stone, and unevenly worn by hundreds of years of foot traffic. Several sections up, I had a moment of panic. Now, it is important to realize that once you head up, there is no going back down; thus, whatever I was thinking at the time was not logically connected to the fact that I was essentially required to continue due to the nature of the stairs themselves. The thing is, my legs were tired, so going up that many stairs suddenly struck me as an impossible task that I would fail by clumsily falling backwards, and to boot, our destination was insanely high (nearly 30 stories). This all combined to a moment when I was sure I couldn't go another step. I said as much. Phillip said I could do it. I said I couldn't. Phillip won. I steeled my mind and quavering leg muscles and continued, secretly quite glad he had won. I didn't want this thing to beat me. haha. Then there was a section of several disjointedly connected spiral metal staircases. It's hard not to look down. Then more, ever tinier stone stairs, a dangerously low lintel, and out onto the Golden Gallery. (We bypassed the Stone Gallery.) Now, this was another difficult moment, mainly because Phillip did indeed try very much to get me to walk right out to the railing. I was having none of it. It's stupid high with just a neat little waist-high railing there. I'll be honest, for about a full minute, I was borderline terrified. I am not a fan of heights. This is something that I have tried to face when I can. This facing almost got the better of me. After a minute or so, I did begin to feel more comfortable. Comfortable enough to take a step away from the wall to take a picture; comfortable enough to begin walking around the gallery. By the time we walked around to the other side, I was feeling almost myself. I even stepped close enough to the railing to put my hand on it. haha. Yeah, I know, I'm a wuss. The view was magnificent. Worth every one of those painful steps. I would definitely climb them again. Then came the long climb downward by the other set of stairs. Down is much easier for me that up, mentally, for some reason. I suppose it's the fact that if I get exhausted and fall down them, at least I'll see where I'm going. haha. We took a moderately abbreviated walk through the crypt which holds several interesting tombs such as those of William Blake, Lord Nelson, and, of course, Sir Christopher Wren. It is a strange feeling not only to walk over the places where people have been buried, but also to note how the passage of time and humanity serves to wear away the names of those laid there. Such a memorial to the transience of life. Whitman would probably approve.
Following St. Paul's there was ice cream from an ice cream truck (oh so good) and a walk across the Millennium Bridge (yes, that is the bridge destroyed by Dementors at the beginning of Harry Potter VI). I particularly like this bridge. Like the Eye (really big ferris wheel in the skyline), it seems like it should be incongruous to the city: white and modern and almost ascetic. Yet, it's beautiful. In fact, in many ways, it reminds of a neo-Classical aesthetic brought into the 21st century. At the other end, more delicious food treats: sugared chestnuts. Oh. my. goodness. Firstly, I had somehow made it to this point in my life without ever eating a chestnut. Chestnuts are very good. Rather like a walnut and peanut crossed on steroids. (Don't you love my sophisticated description?) Then there's the sugary, roasted, caramelized yumminess added on. I liked them enough to look for recipes when I got home. Yeah. I won't be making them anytime soon. It takes about four days. I'm not kidding. They are delightfully good, though.
And now for the headline event of the day: *drumroll* a performance of Macbeth at the Globe. Please excuse me while I become a fangirl for a moment. I know that my fellow Lit and Drama friends/alumni will completely understand my absolute giddiness. Everyone else, well, I'll just point out to you that few things can actually make me giggle and gasp with delight more than once in the same day. Seeing one of Shakespeare's most brilliant tragedies in his rebuilt theatre as a groundling is definitely one of those things. This production was ingenious and enthralling. The stage was nearly bare for the entire play. The single permanent set piece was a huge iron wheel that rotated from the canopy. From the wheel was hung a large black sheer that could be drawn around or bunched in one place. I have to say, the director did a fantastic job utilizing the sheer to denote emotional changes, setting changes, and the interference of the witches. The costumes, the atmosphere, was dark as the director took the concept of the bloody play and flung it out to be seen by all. Then she did something quite unique that was incredibly powerful: she took this illustration by Gustave Doré from the Divine Comedy and built her atmosphere around it. For her, the Macbeths' descent into anguish and horror resulting from their terrible grab for power is a hellish thing. The groundlings became a part of the infernal audience watching Macbeth's descent. The dead spirits speak to Macbeth from the infernal regions, cloaked in the gore of their death. It was very simple and very powerful. The acting was superb. I was moderately unsure of Macbeth before the Intermission. He seemed to be a weaker man than I supposed he ought. This was to some extent due to the incredibly powerful and strong Duncan overshadowing him, though. And, as Macbeth grew through the play to his final brazen duel with Macduff, I felt that his weakness at the beginning was right. Indeed, Duncan was the stronger, more confident man: the great king to whom all willingly were loyal. Macbeth, though a brave and successful warrior, has no thought beyond thanedom until the witches prophecy thus. In the end, Macbeth won me over. Lady Macbeth was lovely to watch. She was younger and more fragile than I had expected, but this only served to amplify her grasp for power and her horrific break with reality all the more. I was drawn in by them; I felt a stake in the progression of events; I sobbed when Lady Macduff screamed at the loss of her children. In the end, I wanted Macduff to win, not because I knew it was coming, but because it was right. What better result can there be for troupe than to have their audience wish for the ending that's coming because it feels right? In all, the entire cast was a convincing unit, comfortable with the text, allowing it to inform their choices yet owning and conveying it through their performances. It was an amazing experience. Truly amazing. (Even though all the steps + three hours of standing = really sore heels. haha)
As if iconic architecture and astounding performance art wasn't enough, we then walked the short distance down the bank to the Tate Modern. The Tate is interesting not only because of the impressive collection it houses, but also because of the building in which said collection is housed: the former Bankside Power station. Not only does this lend to an interesting labyrinth of gallery rooms, it offers the unique exhibit area known as Turbine Hall. As its name suggests, this is where the generator turbines were housed when the building was a power plant. The huge amount of open space allows for unique art exhibitions, a great opportunity for fortunate artists who can exhibit there. There was, unfortunately, no installation there when I visited, but the room itself was impressive without anything in particular there to see. I don't remember if I've mentioned in a previous blog, but generally speaking, British museums feel different than American ones. That sounds like a very strange thing to notice, I'm sure, and I can't quantify the difference for you in words, but there is something in the way exhibits are displayed, placed, and lighted that is just different than American ones. The Tate Modern gave me this feeling far less than any other museum or gallery I was in, but even so, I noticed it here just a bit. I know it's very unsatisfying for me to toss out that observation without really being able to explain it. All I can say is, they feel different. But that the Tate Modern felt the most like what I expect a museum to feel like. In all, the collection was enjoyable. We didn't make it through the entirety as it became a matter of battling sore feet for authority. The feet won once they started teaming up with the stomach. One last thing to note about the Tate Modern: there was more than one gift shop (score for them having multiple places to entice buying haha), one of which had a significant section of art supplies and tools. This was really ingenious. It also rather went along with the implication throughout the museum that everyone should try art. You should try art. Even if you are terrible at it, it's fun and good for the brain and soul. This is the message that the Tate Modern wants to pass along to its patrons, and this is the message solidified by the presence of a good selection of quality art supplies in their shop. It was a good thing.
Finally, we headed to Brick Lane, found an Indian restaurant (ok, not so much "found" as "picked"), and had a really good dinner while watching the England-Algeria match. As we returned to the hotel, I knew my feet were going to have revenge on me the next morning. haha. Ah well. Every bit of adjusting-to-the-day foot pain in the morning was worth it. Day 3 crossed off--on to Day 4.
Once again, photos of Days 2 and 3.