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Daddy's home

It has taken some time since returning from London yesterday evening to sluice off the dried travel sweat, unpack, delete more than a thousand messages from the work e-mail, and get a little sleep after twenty-four waking hours. But now I am prepared to give an account of our travels to those who have been waiting breathlessly.

Those of you who find other people’s travel accounts excruciatingly boring would do well to skip this post, In a day or so, I will resume posting on language, journalism, politics, haberdashery, and the other topics you find excruciatingly boring. (Yes, I’ve read the comments you posted while I was away, and I’ve taken names for your Permanent Records.)

Rather than dwell on the sausages of the full English breakfast at the President Hotel in Russell Square or other morbid elements of the trip, I offer some highlights.

* A splendid production of The Rivals by Sir Peter Hall at the Haymarket, with Penelope Keith as Mrs. Malaprop and Peter Bowles as Sir Anthony Absolute. Letter-perfect timing and exquisite delivery. It would be hard to imagine Sheridan done better.

* Rory Kinnear’s athletic Hamlet at the Olivier Theatre. The production is in modern dress, with Claudius the model of the bureaucratic dictator, which enables the play to emphasize elements of spying and surveillance as well as the revenge motif. David Calder’s Polonius has nice touches of the sinister beneath the canting.

* An evening of Bach and Vivaldi at St. Martin-in-the-Fields with the Belmont Ensemble. The Four Seasons has been done so often that I no longer listen when some ensemble saws through it on the radio, but Helena Wood delivered a performance on solo violin that combined great passion with absolute precision. St. Martin’s exquisite acoustics were a help, even to us seated behind a pillar.

* Choral evensong at Bath Abbey, with a large choir, half of them boys, doing the Psalm in Anglican chant. Magnificent fan-vaulted ceiling.

* One of Kathleen’s best ideas: high tea at Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair: warm brown wainscoting, plaster medallions in the ceiling, a piano player, a quietly attentive staff steadily replenishing the tea, the finger sandwiches, the scones. No better way to sped two hours on a dark gray rainy afternoon.

* Pub lunches at the Swan in Bloomsbury (meat pies) and the Crown in Oxford. Late-night pints and snacks at the Marquis Cornwallis, also in Bloomsbury.

* Another of K.’s best ideas: a walk through the Borough Market in Southwark on one of the days it is open to the public. Food of every imaginable kind, both raw and cooked. And exploring the adjacent Southwark Cathedral, I was able to pay my respects at the tombs of John Gower, the first great poet in English, and Lancelot Andrewes, one of the translators of the Authorized Version of the Bible.

* Walking across the Millennium Bridge, with an incomparable view of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

* Exploration of the Cabinet War Rooms, preserved since 1945. A claustrophobic warren from which the British war effort was coordinated. Little rooms that must have reeked of tobacco smoke as the Nazi bombardment of London roared overhead. Maps, typewriters, log books, all preserved.

* Twenty minutes in Blackwell’s in Oxford, limited by the scheduled departure of our coach. That’s all right; any more would have been dangerous. I did snag a secondhand copy of a selection of Hazlitt’s essays.

Oh there was more: Stonehenge, the British Museum, Christ Church at Oxford, and the Birthplace Museum at Stratford with its inane videos and a walk of fame that puts Leonardo DiCaprio (!) on a footing with Lord Olivier. And a compressed one-day trip on the Eurostar to Paris to lunch with Robert Youngblood and Ursula Liu, who left The Sun for the International Herald Tribune. We had time to see Notre Dame de Paris and a little of the Louvre.*

Didn’t make it to Westminster Abbey, the British Library, the original Tate (though we walked through some of the Tate Modern as museum fatigue began to overtake us). But no regrets. It was grand. The weather was British: chilly, cloudy or rainy, generally depressing. Our stamina was tested; one day K.’s pedometer registered more than 17,000 steps, many of them on stairs in the Underground. We both came down with colds, as did just about everyone else of the College of Notre Dame party. But no regrets. It was grand.

 

*Let me advise you, if you admire the Mona Lisa, to buy a postcard or poster rather than attempt to see it at the Louvre. You are, first, kept as such a remove by a barrier that the painting might as well be a photograph on newsprint, and you will additionally have to fight your way to the front through a crowd of frenzied tourists taking photographs, usually with prohibited flashes. Among the things I will not miss: the filth of the Paris Metro, souvenir shops of all descriptions, and mobs of tourists snapping photographs of every object in sight. 

 

 

Posted by John McIntyre at 3:48 PM | | Comments (23)
        

Comments

Blimey. Sounds bloody marvellous. Glad you enjoyed yourself. You can hardly have been expecting acceptable weather or acceptable sausages. And to think I own all that stuff! But a pseud's warning: you ain't supposed to say Christ Church College. Mr Waugh and his mates would have been huffy. Christ Church.

See any sport while you were here?

"Christ Church" duly corrected, Picky, with thanks.

And no, no sport at all. I loathe the lot of them.

Damn. Not supposed to say that out loud.

Isn't Christ Church the College with the enormous carp in the College pond - or is it pool?

Yep, in Tom Quad. But you're banned from mentioning angling on this blog.

Welcome back Mr. McIntyre, your trip sounds just wonderful. Hope you are well-rested.

It is a wonderful city. We spent four months there in 2007. Stonehenge and Stratford have lost their luster. I'm surprised you didn't make the Imperial War Museum, but you probably have seen it before. One my favorites. Thank you for the nice memories!

Would "Lord Oliver" be "Lord Olivier"?

What is this with Middle English poets being "the first"? If you don't count Caedmon as a great poet, the title of the author of Beowulf must be secure enough.

Though I admit it would be hard to pay respects at his grave, save by accident.


"Daddy" McIntyre,

May I be one one of the first of your blogger regulars to welcome you back to familiar, native shores. I hate to admit it, but you WERE missed.(HA!)

Sounds like you and your better-half, Kathleen, had a jolly-good, rip-roaring heck of a time galavanting across the Pond, despite the predictably gloomy, gray, chilly wintery British climes.

You folks appear to have taken in a goodly assortment of classy cultural theatrical and musical performances of the decidedly 'classic' bent (no 'raves', or hip-hop marathons for the McIntyres HA!), and found some delightful eateries (I'm a sucker for a decent high-tea, as well), and watering holes to sustain yourselves , despite your nagging colds. Find any bangers-and-mash, or toad-in-the-hole? Their meat pies, as a rule, are quite scrumptious, as well. Are fish-and-chips as big in England as in Scotland, where they appear to be almost an eat-in, and take-out restaurant staple.

I fondly recall my first visit to the famed, cavernous Louvre (way before I.M. Pei's sparkling courtyard steel and glass pyramid), back in the mid-'70s. Talk about major museum fatigue. If I had seen even one more pre-Renaissance liturgical piece on board, or an early Flemish religious tryptic, to be more precise), I think I could have died on the spot, only to have been magically resurrected, a second wind, of sorts, by a spectacular, fleshy Rubens, or a placid impressionist Monet, w/ his enchanting water lilies.

Yet even back then, prior to the annoying array of later-day protective barriers (a bullet-proof glass cage, for one), and their decades-long inane 'you-better-keep-your-distance' policy, I found my La Gioconda (Mona Lisa) experience pretty underwhelming; despite the fact that it is viewed as perhaps the most famous, most recognized painted masterpiece in history. Frankly, I was disappointed at its modest size........ although in the realm of painting, size isn't everything.

I doubt the famed regionalist painter, Iowan, Grant Wood's ubiquitously reproduced, and parodied original "American Gothic" (w/ the dour rural couple, w/ the bespectacled dude clutching a pitchfork, and his plain-Jane spouse looking not to amused), is guarded to the hilt, like Da Vinci's Mona Lisa. Not really sure where this particular Wood work resides. Likely somewhere in the Mid-West.

(Sorry, you anonymous neolithic-era (?) guys who painted and drew those fabulous black, white, and sanguine wild beasties on the ancient cavern walls at Lasquex (sp. ?) and Altimira. IMHO, your incredibly evocative, mysterious, and amazingly sophisticated and refined animal imagery is just as powerful, and just as significant in the entire schema of human creativity, as Leonardo's most famous work, aside from his Last Supper fresco. Perhaps even more so.)

Frankly during my Louvre trek, I was more blown away by the incredibly immense historically-themed canvases of the masterful neoclassical-style French painter, Jacques-Louis David. I remember my vain attempts to photograph, individually, his famous Oath of the Horattii, and Rape of the Sabine Women--- two powerful, broad, horizontally-formated works-----and was forced to step back from the paintings, as far back as possible, and still was unable to get a full-frame, complete one-shot image of either one.

Now David's somber, yet beautifully painted, and composed work, The Death of Marat, depicting a very recently deceased, (stabbed), Marat lying prone in his bathtub, w/ quill pen still clutched in his very dead hand, is a much smaller work than the aforementioned 'gargantuas', so it was no problem capturing a full-frame, total image w/ my, as I recall, trusty Minolta SLR.

I was also surprised at the relatively small dimensions of French painter J. D. Ingres' well-known, erotically-charged painting, I believe titled, The Turkish Bath, which appears in the art history texts to be large-scale, yet in reality, up-close-and-personal, was to my amazement, less than 2X3 feet, but an engaging, marvelous piece, nonetheless-----nary a brush stroke to be seen. An Ingres signature trademark.

Just curious, what "Parish" in 'The City of Lights' has a "filthy"...... Metro? A house of worship, i.e., parish, w/ a subterranean, actual metro. Now that's got to be one humongous church. HA!

And we thought the Roman catacombs were something else.

OK, Mr. Mac, the jig's up.

I'm just pulling your chain here, to remind you why you tried to get away from the madness of 'the paragraph factory' for a bit, and totally distance yourself from us picky, smart-ass bloggers.

You clearly meant the PARIS Metro.(Dah!) Obviously a little unwitting typo there. But that dastardly little lower-case "h" just had to find a way to horn in, and attach itself to "Paris", and catch the jaundiced eye of Nitpicky Alexo. (I'm back, folks. HA!)

ALEX

Thank heavens! The soothing voice of reason has returned to blogdom.

Although not a Parisian (Bath, actually -- glad you liked evensong) I can't say that to me the Metro is unacceptably dirty, particularly the whizzy new line 14 which has the additional attraction of being driverless so that you can sit at the front and see the tunnel ahead. More to the point, the level of step-less access, by escalators and lifts, is much better on the Metro than the London Underground; whilst this is, rightly, provided for the benefit of those physically unable to manage steps, it's greatly appreciated by those of us who have burdened ourselves with massive wheeled suitcases and, like Daleks, find ourselves stymied at the first staircase.

Penelope Keith as Mrs. Malaprop??? Whatever else you may have had to endure, the trip was worth it for that alone. The Boss and I are howling in envy!


Hi John Cowan,

I too spotted Big "Daddy"'s "Lord Oliver" miscue, w/ the absent additional "i", knowing full-well he meant the incomparable actor Sir Lawrence Olivier.

But I figured I'd just let it pass, thinking Big "Daddy" might feel, coupled w/ my earlier "Parish" Metro dig, that I'm unwarrantedly 'piling-on' ---sadly a sports term---American football, to be exact--- basically meaning an excessive number of players from the defense side literally, en masse, jumping on, and crushing a downed offensive-side, ball-carrying opponent. (Very unprofessional, and unsportsmanlike. HA!)

John, initially, I had this weird mental flash of a totally armored Lord (?) Oliver Cromwell pressing his massive ham-hock hands, and pudgy sausage-like digits into the wet cement of Stratford on Avon's seemingly lame "walk of fame", (right next to say Tom Cruise's tiny hand prints)------ kind of a deranged fantasy, grant you----- but was suddenly jolted back to some semblance of reality by the knowledge that the historical Cromwell was never really acting when he carried out his vicious reign-of-terror, but was actually the real-deal----- no walk-of-fame-worthy thespian, HE. (HA!)

Although, ironically, if I'm not completely off-base here (yet I likely am), I believe Sir Lawrence, (or Larry, as his intimates called him), up there w/ the dashing young actor Leonardo Di Caprio, no less, may, indeed, have played the dastardly and vengeful Cromwell on either the silver screen, a BBC TV period drama, or perhaps on the live stage.

I'm really too darn lazy to even look it up on Wiki, or Google ("Jeopardy" is coming on), but I'm sure some of you informed, and astute bloggers out there will set me straight on that one.

But folks, it really does feel like we're back to normalcy w/ the return of our blogmeister, Mr. McIntyre. I for one, look forward to his resuming his corny joke-of-the-week videos, introducing his crackerjack, novel, rarely-seen words, and of course his thought-provoking, rarely dull, yet sometimes pedantic, article postings.

Do I sound like a suck-up? What can I say? Big "Daddy" combines the best qualities of a benevolent curmudgeon, (is that an oxymoron?), a great teacher, and a mensch.......... and as far as I can guess, he isn't even of the Hebraic persuasion.

Enough said.

ALEX

What I best remember about Bath Abbey is the Jacob's Ladder just outside the main entrance. Seen from street level, it is possible to see only little carved rumps ascending - no one has a sense of humor or architecture like that now. As for the Mona Lisa, it is possible to see a DaVinci without going to Paris. The National Gallery in Washington has the "Ginevra" which can be seen close up. The Gallery guards are very proud of her. And I find her much more interesting than the rather vapid Mona. (Who, underneath, is a portrait of the artist. Odd.)

Lawrence should be Laurence, I think.

Which reminds me that anyone who tires of the posh architecture of Bath can pop over the Wiltshire border to Bradford on Avon to see (among other lovely scenes) the little stone building that was hidden among a cluster of cottages until it was discovered in the 19th century to be a Saxon church - possibly built on the foundations of St Laurence's, a church founded by Aldhelm. A wonderful 1000-year-old palate-cleanser after the splendours of Bath Abbey.

Penelope Keith? She was in To the Manor Born> and The Norman Conquests on PBS> Cool.

You managed to have food highlights in a country not generally known for its culinary endeavors.

Clearly Kathleen is a wonderful traveling companion. I envy your trip.

"Although, ironically, if I'm not completely off-base here (yet I likely am), I believe Sir Lawrence, (or Larry, as his intimates called him), up there w/ the dashing young actor Leonardo Di Caprio, no less, may, indeed, have played the dastardly and vengeful Cromwell on either the silver screen, a BBC TV period drama, or perhaps on the live stage."

you might be thinking of Richard Harris, who played him in the eponymous film of 1970.


Steve,

Thanks for that Oliver Cromwell film role portrayal clarification w/, as you've pointed out, the late Brit actor Richard Harris once playing the controversial, almost bigger-than-life, English 17th-century politico and military man, some forty years ago.

Sir Laurence (Olivier), i'm sure could have tackled the film role of Cromwell w/ his usual consistent aplomb and believability, if he were summoned to do so.

I believe the fine veteran actor Richard Harris' final major movie role-of-substance before his passing maybe three years back, was in one of the latter blockbuster "Harry Potter" films. Since I didn't actually catch that particular movie, I can't give you its title, or Harris' specific part.

I'm sure Harris nailed the role, as he usually did over a career spanning maybe some 50+ years. (interestingly the actor on the hit AMC cable TV series, "Mad Men", who plays the rather officious, very English in-house comptroller, and one of SDPC ad agency's managing partners to boot----a Mr. Pryce------happens to be the son of actor Richard Harris. Who knew? HA!)

In point of fact, the ever-ambitious Oliver Cromwell turned out to be a "Lord" of sorts, all-be-it, the 1st Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland from 1653-1658. Yikes .......... with a "protector" like the sanguine and over-zealous Cromwell, who needs enemies. HA!

Always thought Sir Laurence was at his cracking best, firing on all (acting) cylinders, as it were, playing the fiendishly sadistic Nazi dentist, Dr. Mengiles (sp. ?), w/ Dustin Hoffman as his unfortunate dental patient/ victim in this spin-tingling film. Sheer tension you could cut w/ a knife......... well in this case a dental drill bit. HA!

Olivier, and Harris were of a especially talented mid- 20th-century, depression era, then World War II generation of incredibly gifted, serious British actors, including O'Toole, Burton, Guiness, Stamp, Bates, Jacobi, Caine, and the like, who really set the bar for the next generation of aspiring young thespians to come along. Most had classical British training doing Shakespeare till their tights burst-at-the-seam, or their codpieces fell off (oops!), but that early stage discipline and rigor, IMO, stood all of them well as they embarked on their silver-screen and theatrical careers. And as they say......... the rest is history.

Why even veteran actor William Shatner's (not a Brit, but a proud Canuck) first paying acting gig as a fledging thespian back in the 50's at Ontario's famed summer Stratford Shakespearian Festival, was a none-speaking minor role as a spear bearer in one of the Bard's plays. Still going strong after over half a century in show-biz, Capt. Kirk, (Oops!)........ i mean Shatner has never regretted those formative few years plying his classical, rough-around-the-edges, stage craft back home in Canada.

Now old 'Pa' Cartwright of "Bonanza" TV fame, in actuality the late Canadian-born-and bred actor Lorne Greene, had a classical acting background as well, and started out, w/ that sonorous basso-profundo voice of his, working as an announcer in radio, at one point for CBC radio, in their news department. Only later did he venture down to the States, and seal his celebrity w/ the TV role-of-a-lifetime as the stern, but loving pioneering patriarch w/ three motherless sons, 'Pa' Cartwright.

Talk about drifting off on tangents. Yikes!


ALEX

Don't bother seeing the Mona Lisa if there are guys like this around http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PG8xe1zzGFM

While we are on tangents, Alex, your mention of "The Rape of the Sabine Women" reminded me of the time one of my junior high school teachers asked the class "What do we think of when we think of the Roman Empire?" After getting predictable answers such as "gladiators" and "circuses" I piped up (in all innocence) with "the rape of the Sabine women." The teacher quickly changed the subject.


Dahlink,

That was a neat personal anecdote you shared from you junior high-school 'daze' (HA!). Clearly the word 'rape", in the context of ancient Roman history, French neoclassical art, or otherwise, is always a touchy, loaded, emotional button-pusher, so I can appreciate why your likely totally embarrassed, and caught-off-guard, JHS teacher "quickly changed the subject". But darn it, it's ART, no?

Hmm...... whenever I draw on my admittedly slightly fuzzy, hardly substantive knowledge of the history of the Roman Empire, I often envision that rather odd mythic origin tale of "The Eternal City"--Rome--- and those twin infant brothers, Romulus and Remus being suckled by the compliant she-wolf.

Sadly, legend has it, in accord w/ the earlier Old Testament Biblical precedent of fratricide set by brothers Caen and Abel, that Romulus was to have allegedly murdered his brother, Remus, (thankfully not Uncle Remus HA!), but at that juncture the wheels of history had been set in motion, and the basic fundamental structural and cultural foundations had been laid for Rome's almost inevitable flourishing, and then later its infamous precipitous decline. (Could that dude Nero REALLY play a mean fiddle? HA!)

I am also intrigued by the fact (some historians have reservations about the veracity of these claims), that back in the day, at the height of Rome's opulence and global omnipotence (w/ early signs of its ultimate fall, in evidence, no doubt), the powers-that-be had conducted amazing simulated sea battles, w/ scaled down versions of mighty warships manned by clad-for-battle actors, actually within the Roman Coliseum (Huh?), attended by thousands of the city's weekend rabble---plebs and dignitaries alike. Naturally, the massive Coliseum would somehow have to have been filled w/ hundreds of gallons of water to pull these ambitious maritime simulations off, w/ any degree of believability.

And we thought they went to huge extremes w/ the whole Super Bowl Sunday over-the-top hype, wardrobe malfunctions, and the whole nine (ten? HA!) yards. The de rigueur post-game Gatorade showering of the winning-team's coach does NOT compare. HA!

Actually, on my one-and-only visit to the Roman Coliseum, back in the early '70s, all I can vividly recall is that it was in a rather sad state of repair, was immense in its physical, architectural scale, and was most memorably overrun w/ a plethora of feral cats roaming freely thru its ancient marbled nooks and crannies. (Meow!)

Maybe that was entirely appropriate, considering the storied history of faithful Christians being ritually fed to the lions, as essentially a sanguine weekend entertainment for the Coliseum's
blood-thirsty crowd of gathered pagan citizenry, or the spectacular exhibitions of bravery exhibited by enslaved gladiators versus ferocious big-cats on the pounded dirt 'killing field'.

Of course these man-killers of old Roman times were BIG, still wild, 'pussycats', not today's scrawny little feral felines, who frankly treat this once-sacred, glorious public venue as one giant circular-shaped, marbled litter box. HA!

(Back to that ubiquitous sports drink. Hmm.......... picture, if you will, the Coliseum filled to the brim w/ lime Gatorade. Now folks would pay big bucks to see that........ but it ain't gonna happen, no how. HA! Of course PETA would be up-in-arms 'cause of all those darn pussycats running loose---- potential drowning victims. Mini-life jackets to the rescue!!!!!!!! Hmm...... on second thought, corralling all those errant tabbies would be quite the challenge. HA! Never mind.)

I wonder how today's fantastic Cirque de Soleil troupe(s) would have played in ancient Rome-----say at the Circus Maximus? Actually, as I recall, that famed venue served as more of a grand sporting arena for contests of speed and strength, and of course, those marvelous chariot races, as opposed to a modern-day "circus", per se, as the ancient appellation would imply. Go Ben Hur!

More realistically, perhaps the Coliseum would be a better setting for today's incredible Cirque de Soleil ensemble to do their thing................. if they could just avoid those darn kitty cats running amok, hither, thither, and yon. HA!

Well, enough about ancient Rome from this jaundiced perspective.

I know all roads, as the saying goes, supposedly eventually lead to Rome, but about now I think i'll just take a wide detour, much closer to home, and head out to Surf City U.S.A.----Huntington Beach---- to visit my girl friend and catch those crazed surfers off HB's very cool, elongated pier.

Surf's up, folks!

ALEX

Alex, your mention of your visit to the Coliseum brings back another memory. One of my friends from junior high school (and beyond) visited Rome while in college. Her group saw the Coliseum by moonlight. Very romantic and atmospheric, no? No--she stepped backward and fell several stories. She spent the next several months in a hospital with a broken pelvis and other broken bones. At least she really learned some useful Italian vocabulary.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at john.mcintyre@baltsun.com.
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