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Cheerio, London

I never thought I’d say these words, but here goes: I am theatre’d out. Tonight I went to the Old Vic and saw the Jacobean tragedy “The Duchess of Malfi,” which makes “Hamlet” look like a merry romp. This afternoon, after an hour with “Time Out London” and checking on line, I discovered that once more, everything in the West End was sold out; “Malfi” just opened and had great reviews, and tickets.

Though in fact, I headed out intending to see “The Pitmen Painters” again, this time with the proper cast. So I marched along bravely, sure of my directions, only to get, as usual, hopelessly lost. Suddenly, I was at the Waterloo Bridge and there was a sign: “South Bank.” So I changed my mind and walked over the bridge, found the theatre, bought a fabulous seat half-price – 24 pounds – went to a pub for a glass of wine, and saw the play. The star, Eve Best, is indeed best, lively, warm, relaxed and fierce; I liked her a lot. The production – set, costumes, direction, acting – was brilliant. At the end, I thought, I have seen a definitive “Duchess of Malfi” and never need see it again. All those writhing bodies at the end.
The young man in the seat one over from me kept flipping open his phone or Blackberry during the show; suddenly there’d be a bright light. Finally, it blazed open during a particularly dramatic scene, and I actually leaned over, slapped his shoulder and hissed, Stop it! I don’t care if he wants to ruin the show for himself, but he’s not going to ruin it for me and others in our row. Honestly.
And then to the tube, and home across the river in what felt like minutes. Surely this must be the best transit system in the world, or close to it. Phenomenally well run, efficient, and wide-spread. We Torontonians should be ashamed. Don’t look at me. I DIDN’T VOTE FOR HIM!
First thing this morning, in the pouring rain, I went to the Covent Garden antiques market, with a particular quest – last year, I bought some old printing press block letters there. I have a few in a printer’s box at home, so bought a few more for my collection – but somehow, in unpacking, I must have thrown the little bag away. I never saw my letters again. So I was looking for more, but the letters man was not there. Next time.
Thence to the National Gallery, first to see the special exhibit about the influence of the French painter Claude Lorrain on the British painter Turner. I’m not a fan of Turner – too soupy, all those golden mists – but I am of Lorrain’s meticulous, enormous arcadian canvasses. A wonderful display. Several museums here have exhibits emphasizing the influence of artists on each other – at the Tate, the “Picasso in Britain” showed how Picasso influenced British artists (unfortunately for most of them, they’re on display next to the master; all except David Hockney come up short.) In another special exhibit at the Nat Gall, of Titian’s vast and gorgeous “Escape from Egypt” on loan from the Hermitage, the signs point out the foliage and animals filling the edges of the canvas, and surmise that Titian was copying Albrecht Durer, who’d arrived in Italy from Germany and was displaying his wonderful animal and plant prints.
And then I got hit. As I turned to the next part of the exhibit, a canvas by Bellini, “Madonna of the Meadow,” I heard myself groan aloud. It was so beautiful, it made me dizzy; I had to take a few deep breaths. Stendal Syndrome – being overwhelmed by art. With more to come – I went to visit my favourites, Vermeer’s strange women, both at the keyboard, both gazing straight out at us, Velasquez’s heroic figures, Leonardo’s stunning “Virgin of the Rocks,” and last, before I collapsed, Botticelli. I’ve written before about his “Portrait of a young man,” whose face haunts me, and whom I visit every time I’m in London. Staggered out into the rain.
Oh yes – and then I went to browse nearby in Liberty of London for the fun of it – what a store – and actually bought something, some pencils in a Liberty print, the most expensive and lovely pencils. And then, more realistically, to Marks and Spencer to buy a few gifts for my hosts and some nice, reasonable underpants for myself.
So now I take my leave of London and its hoards of treasure. How lucky I am, to have friends who lend me their flat in such a perfect location; to know how to make my way about this scrambled metropolis; to take such pleasure in what it has to offer. Despite its climate. I knew after my year at theatre school that I could never live here – the sky was too often hovering just above, too close to the ground. But what a divine place to spend a few days. I am grateful.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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