sanura: (Default)
( Aug. 22nd, 2014 06:05 pm)
Iceland is a strange and cold place.

It is beautiful, definitely, even in the small distance between Keflavik and Reykjavik, but it is cold enough that it's hard to sleep in the car without blankets (especially when there is still water on the floor), and I suspect my impression of it is more affected by my sleep-deprivation than anything else. It did seem vaguely magical and implausible. Even the language.

We drove in to Reykjavik around 8am looking for interesting things one could do in a day, before our evening flight home, and I ended up hailing the National Museum of Iceland as the most plausible. It was indeed interesting, full of the settled history of the island (began in 873 AD, before which it was uninhabited), beautiful medieval and renaissance artifacts and fragments of architecture. I took pictures of several Viking-related things for my knight marshal and his house, as I do know several very Viking-interested players.

It was a big enough museum that it took most of the morning, as my mom slept in the car. We then retraced our steps through Reykjavik (it's a weirdly homogenous town) to find the Viking Museum, which was on the way back to Keflavik before the airport, though there was a singular mountain (I'm sure it was a volcano) standing before a wall of its fellows, looking very Erebor, on the way.

The Viking Museum is full of excellent artifacts and a reconstruction ship that was actually sailed to Newfoundland and back by historians. There is also a very cute audio-guide tour through an exhibit of brightly-colored Norse Mythology, as well as a diorama of the Norse settlement found in the New World. As if that weren't enough, nearby there is a tiny demo farm, with goats and cows and chickens and rabbits, all absurdly adorable. It made for a good afternoon.

Since there wasn't time to sit down for traditional Icelandic fare before heading for the airport, I laughed at the Icelandic menus at the Domino's we ordered from as my mom filled up the car. That language is visually hilarious, though probably only to native English speakers.

We made it to turn the car in and board the plane on time, and it was back to Boston for us.
sanura: (Default)
( Aug. 20th, 2014 07:03 pm)
So, the last events of England to record are the visits to fantastic castles. After A&C and Noel Fielding (but before the V&A and Julius Caesar), on the day between the two London showstravaganzas, mama and I drove around in the southeast and saw Leeds Castle, which is huge and majestical and contains absolute miles of fascinating history, being initially fortified by Henry II (yes, the Henry who married Eleanor of Aquitaine and had sons called Richard and John that are inaccurately portrayed in both the Disney Robin Hood movie and the new Globe production Holy Warriors). Not only does it have endless grounds and gardens and a good medieval fortress, it was last owned by Lady Baille, an Anglo-American heiress, who was interested in Deco and Nouveau decoration, so some of the shoe collection and the onyx bathroom and the Chinese screens and the abalone-inlay chests-of-drawers put me in mind of the tastes of my family. It was an unbelievably cool castle, permeated with both history feels and aesthetic feels. I picked up a goose feather to bring back.

A little way down the road, further south and west, was Sutton Valence's little St. Leonard's Tower. It is only a tower, and it is more to my taste of ruins, but its surrounding paths are covered in blackberry brambles and heavy plum trees and elderberry bushes. You wouldn't starve there, now. I looked in the keyhole and saw a proper grass-covered floor with vines up the walls. And the sunset was beautiful on it.

AND THEN! After the marvelous day of V&A and Julius Caesar, after the evening of wonder that was Holy Warriors (and let me tell you, even if it was trying very hard, it was still an evening of wonder, not least because the frankincense was constant and completely overdone), was the day we spent exploring the castles in the furthest Southeastern reaches of the isle.

We set off from Chatham and our lovely homestay intending to see Dover Castle, as we knew (from both our hosts and the internet) that they were having a melée there that day. And it was a little bit of a drive, with a little bit of navigating, but we pulled into the overflow parking lot and goggled in wonder at the silhouette. The castle on its defensive hill, high-ramparted and perfectly towered, was visible in complete array from the neighboring hill where the car park was. I took the little bus up to the castle, and spent hours and hours exploring.

They had rebuilt the main keep to the standards it would have maintained in the time of Henry II, its founder. There was a cellar, a kitchen, a great hall, a throne room, bedrooms, arrowloop corridors, and myriad labyrinthine edges all furnished with period-style furniture and tapestries, and I have never seen such a grand fort-castle so accurately and completely appointed. I loved it dearly, more than the wall-external museum with its explanation of the Henry II-Eleanor-Richard-John relationship, more than the vast and lavish gift shop, more than the battlements and the barbican, more than the medieval escape tunnels. It was amazing.

And there was a melée! Four teams, named for the cardinal directions, fought each other (attempted to knock off their opponents' captain's magnetic helm crest) over the course of the afternoon. The marshal was clear and made good calls. They were selling flags and shirts with their heraldry, and I don't even remember who won, but it was pouring by the fourth and last bout, and I was among the last of the crowd to leave the field (I had my plastic Globe poncho and was unaffected by the downpour).

I did a few more circuits of the bailey and acquired a couple presents for various friends at home, and admired the SCA event-style camp the armies and the camp supporters had set up. The whole place had the feeling of an SCA event held in a place that actually contained the history we try to recreate. The musicians, a piper and a cittern player, were friendly enough when I asked them how one gets this kind of gig (one is invited), and I was sad to leave Dover Castle, glorious as it was.

There were two more small castles up the coast from Dover; Walmer, first, is now known as well for its gardens as for its Tudor artillery. Henry VIII built it to defend the coast, and it is adorably round and cannon-housing, but it is completely overgrown with vines and friendly English plants, and it sits directly across from the gorgeous shore. I stared in the wrought-iron gate at the formal gardens, and there was lavender and rose and apple and everything lovely.

Deal, second, was also built on the order of Henry VIII and heavily fortified as a border castle on the southeast coast, but with smaller lands and fewer trees, it still looks mildly defensible. It's shaped like a pile of adorable short, fat cylinders, even more so than my favorite South Welsh castles, which I suspect has something to do with its origin as a set of gun towers, but never mind; it's incongruously cute, sitting there on the shore with its moat (full of pear trees) and its drawbridge) covered in vines).

It was a beautiful drive back to the homestay, even if it was a little sadly final. Tomorrow was fir the airport and Iceland.
sanura: (Default)
( Aug. 17th, 2014 11:24 pm)
It was one thing to go to the V&A, which I didn't realize was free, in the company of another history enthusiast and fellow fan. She shepherded me, or we shepherded each other, around the ancient, medieval, and renaissance exhibits, around the jewelry collection, and through the silver and glass corridors to the secret members' tea room, which was beautifully tranquil and had lunch available. She got me a lovely tea and gave freely of her painkillers (apparently we synced over the internet before meeting), and we sat and talked for quite awhile before I gathered the wherewithal to get to the Globe.

We arrived just as the doors were closing, barely in time for the opening lines of Julius Caesar. It was spectacular. I can't even begin to explain how much more important the Globe practice of entering and exiting through the audience becomes for a play in which the most important character is the Roman populace.

Brutus and Antony were both crying messes for at least half of their impassioned speeches, respectively, and it was perfect.

I went to the Swan to get some iron content in my stomach and he and half the rest of the cast wandered in and dispersed through the bar about 20 minutes later. The girl who had been standing near us in the yard came and sat down with me and talked to me for awhile, then encouraged me when I mentioned I was gonna go say hi and good show.

So I went over after I’d finished my pie, and told him how much I’d cried. He said he hoped they hadn’t been tears of boredom! No, we were congratulating him on his performance. It was a sad play! We talked about how not only were empires falling and politics grinding but also how tragic it is to see friendships breaking up, especially deep friendships like that between Brutus and Cassius.

We spent a long time talking about how important humanity was in Shakespeare and how much he loved the play and this was the part he’d wanted when he first read it and sometimes it can get to be about ideas instead of people and I was like “but Romans are people too” and he was like “exactly!” and we dorked out about performance and character. He did comment on how basically straightforward it was to do with this material, as you have to say the words and think them, and I agreed as how there’s probably a reason we have this theatre that’s for the sake of the one playwright, but even considering the greatness of the text, you have to say the words and think them and I have to believe them. And that what is great about the Globe is that I always believe you.

He noted I must have been to the Globe before so I told him about Scottish Play last year and Antony & Cleopatra two days before and how mind-blowingly awesome they were and he asked where I’m from so I told him my Massachusetts-California-Houston spiel. We talked about how LA is hard to live in unless you know people because he’s been doing a couple plays there over the past few years and then the girl who came up with me for moral support (who had been talking to the lady Brutus was sitting with) mentioned how London’s not much better, and we talked about living in big cities and friendliness. Everyone had been pretty friendly to me, I said! But he thought LA was easier to make friends in, which surprised me.

He complimented me on my hair and scarf and so of course I told him Fry had said that and he said “aha, that means I have good taste” and asked if I’d seen Fry in Twelfth Night and I explained I’d seen it on Broadway and also cried even though it wasn’t sad and he said well but even the comedies have a kind of melancholy to them and we talked about how humanity contains melancholy, even comic characters like Malvolio.

I explained how I’d been floored by not only Fry and his tragic Malvolio but also Sam Barnett and his exquisite Viola and he said he and Sam were in the same year at RADA! And we talked about how awesome Sam is, and I asked if that meant he knew Jamie Parker, and he did! Not in the same year, but he actually knew him before RADA because of school in Edinburgh. I told him I’d gone to see Jamie in Guys & Dolls in Chichester last week, and he asked how it was. I told him it was previews, so it was just a tiny bit rough, but I don’t even particularly like that show and I loved it because Jamie was genius. He (though he loves the show) agreed how he thought Jamie must be perfect for Sky, since despite his natural bounciness (someone who knows Jamie Parker well agrees he has natural bounciness) he is so good at playing bleak, and there is a bleakness to the character that has to come through if it’s going to be good, if it’s not going to be *jazz hands* “its a musical!” (and he actually did the jazz hands, it was charming). I agreed, and said that as much as I love musicals, for me to be invested it has to be at least marginally Real. And that brought us back around to character and performance and how awesome the theatre is. I told him I was trying not to be weird, as I do perform and I know it can be weird, but he was very sweet and said as how it wasn’t weird at all, but very kind, and he really appreciated talking with me and how lucky he was to be here doing this.

And I took my leave and he charmingly introduced himself as Tom and asked my name and we shook hands and I ambled out with the girl who came up with me for moral support. (We went the wrong way, but it was all right).

So chalk another actor up in the ranks of proper dears who will enthuse with you about the things they’re doing. His name’s Tom Mckay. Keep an eye out for him.

sanura: (Default)
( Aug. 15th, 2014 12:54 pm)
So last night I got back around midnight from a day in London seeing shows.

I love shows.

I started out going through the Globe's exhibition, which is marvelous and vast and has miles of history exhibits and props and handmade costumes and techniques and even a pair of actors learning fight choreograpy on display. I loved it, and would go again.

At 2pm was the Globe production of Antony & Cleopatra. I knew Eve Best would be fantastic, and she was so far beyond it that she was the most compelling thing in the show. The Antony was great, the Caesar was hilariously whiny and pompous, the handmaidens were very charismatic, but it was Cleopatra's show and we all knew it. I teared up every time anything didn't go her way (which, as you might expect, was a lot of the time), and she pulled us all along with her in the best way. The Best way.

It drizzled intermittently throughout the first half, but it thickened into a good downpour by the end, and the amount of dialogue in this play to do with weather is sufficient that there were a lot more jokes than usual. And Eve Best, upon one of her regal entrances where she came to the front of the stage and out from under the roof, became a hilarious sympathetic pantomime of apologies to us groundlings standing in ankle-high water with buckets coming down on our heads; she came out in the slightly chilly wet with us and gave a speech about crocodile hunting and selected her prey and hooked a guy in the mouth with her finger and it was just the best thing. She's amazing. And I cried like a baby through her commiseration with the dying Antony and her own death scene. It was amazing.

And the whole experience was heightened by the downpour, and also by the fact that the guy standing next to me (and whom I had to ask for stageside space because he was leaning on it so far away from his friend) was a dead ringer for David Hewlett.

I took my nicely washed but achy feet off to the London Bridge tube station and made for Highgate, where Noel Fielding's show was going to be at Jackson Lane.

We got there ludicrously early, and I was so shocked to walk into the venue, go up to the ticket desk, and see Noel Fielding sitting abstractedly at a table 10 feet away with a couple of his people, that I could only grin encouragingly and try not to meet his eye as we got wristbanded. I then had to march right by him to go to the bathroom, though he had gone into the studio door by the time I got back.

So my mom and I sat on the nice leather lobby couches and read books as I tried to air-dry my rain-soaked clothes, and think about what a first-show Noel Fielding standup gig would be like. People started arriving about an hour after we got there, and it was packed by the time the house doors opened, about an hour after that. We filed in, all orderly, and though we weren't among the first through the door, there were two seats left open at the edge of the front row, which I was happy to take.

The show was ludicrous, unfinished, surreal, and charmingly underproduced as only Noel Fielding can pull off. He kept remarking (in the middle of jokes and all) about how strange it was to start a show with this bit, how he was 40 years old and was really doing this, how this was as far as they'd got with this piece, how he'd forgotten in the middle of writing this one that it was a dream and he bet you forgot too, how This Is Happening, and being sidetracked by interacting with the audience. He complained about how the biggest laughs are always from the stuff you don't write, and kept interrupting his own jokes by giggling helplessly, and he's the only comedian I've seen for whom that not only works, but enhances the actual funniness of the joke.

His brother Michael was in the show too, as well as his friend Tom Meeten, and sometimes the show would be interrupted by his just chortling gleefully at how funny he found them, which would only make a feedback loop of chortling with the audience. He makes the fourth wall into a kind of broken screen that he lifts when he finds it inconvenient, and sometimes forgets and walks right through.

It was rough, but in a kind of conspiratorial audience-inclusive camaraderie, with all the charm and very little of the annoyance of watching a seven-year-old put on a show he hasn't quite thought all the way through, in the front yard under the clothesline curtain.

I laughed harder than I usually laugh at his comedy, and I can't tell if that's because it was funnier or because there is nothing like his contagious giggle at himself live. In any case, my face hurt and I was exhausted even while I was asking the theatre staff to give him a tiny tree (I wrote a note to go with it, explaining how one of my dearest ambitions as a musician is to be just famous enough that no one knows who I am when I go on Buzzcocks), before the long trip back to the homestay.

Today I suspect we will be seeing a couple castles, and tomorrow is the meetup with historymiss for tea at the V&A and Julius Caesar at the Globe and then Holy Warriors on my own in the evening when she's got friends coming to her place. SO MANY SHOWS. If I lived in the UK, I would constantly have no money because I would spend it all on traveling to see shows.
sanura: (Default)
( Aug. 13th, 2014 09:17 am)
Yesterday was a day of magic.

You might think it's because we took Talitha southward awhile and looked at three 700-year-old castles including one by a lake with swans, and I knitted in the car and finished off the purple yarn she gave me when I asked for something to make. And that is part of it, because there really is nothing like climbing around a landscape and considering that people climbed purposefully around it and made a life here and fought and baked and slept and admired these fat walls and the view across the lake and generally went about being humans. So long ago.

Or you might think it's because the Roman settlement we visited that afternoon were just as inhabited, with more evidence and more archeological finds and coins and leather preserved in the anaerobic clay for 2000 years. I can hardly believe it. We spent several hours looking at both the Roman Army Museum at Vindolanda and the actual dig that had its own museum. I saw tablets and a collection of facsimiles with the only female handwriting in the British Roman settlements, inviting her friend to a birthday party. I've always loved Roman history, and the combination of Roman history and what amounts to pre-English history is like nothing else. Celtic triskelions and Roman eagles and thatched half-timber houses with Roman bathhouses. It's fantastic. It's like a fantasy.

The trip down to Chichester was a different kind of time. For awhile, all was well, but at the end (before the last, blessedly quick stretch of 12 miles), we spent 3 hours going 30 miles and I thought we might not make it and I cried harder than I meant to. And my knees were so tense from the stress of the traffic that sitting still was especially difficult despite the need.

For there was need. We made it with half an hour to spare before the show started, and I was determined to catch everything about it. The dancing was thrilling from the very beginning, and I knew the ensemble would be perfect. Peter Polycarpou's singular Oklahoma character was perfectly at home as Nathan Detroit; it was like he was born to play this part and has been waiting for it. And from Jamie's first whistling, ambling entrance, he was perfect, too. He does a very good NYC accent, and looks ludicrously charming and at home in his high-waisted 50s suit trousers and hat.

The choreography throughout was stunning, but the Havana moves were particularly amazing, with the protagonist couple weaving through the dance at cross purposes, bumbling, smoothly intercepting each other's attempts at making any kind of progress... it was its own kind of dance, and I didn't realize until later that it wasn't all choreographed.

My tears didn't fall in I've Never Been In Love Before, but only because I couldn't stand the thought of missing a moment of the view. Magic. Magic all the way through the show, through the climactic misunderstanding through Jamie's manically compelling Luck Be A Lady through the happy ending.

We went to wait at the stage door, having asked the interval ice cream ladies where it was.

Two girls arrived to wait for autographs shortly after us, and we all waited about half an hour. All the ensemble and the other leads were charming as they signed the girls' programs, especially Peter Polycarpou, who stood and talked with them awhile about their acting studies. One cast member came out to his bike only to find he had a puncture, and spent most of the time we waited fixing it with the help of another staffer.

Claire and Jamie finally came out, to the nervous enthusiasm of the girls asking for autographs. They were very gracious, and Claire asked what to get Jamie at the pub as she finished the autograph for the second girl and he realized he'd forgotten something inside. He went back in the stage door and had to yell to be buzzed back in (it was adorable) but he assured the girls he'd be back. And so he was, and he signed their programs and was walking out.

He recognized me in the dark and immediately hugged me and kissed me on the cheek (it was a much less stubbly kiss than last year). We told him how lovely the show was, though he said it was scrappy and that we had been kind to their second preview. This initiated a bit of back and forth about the show. I mentioned balance issues and how the orchestra was really high, which seemed to surprise him. When we said we had been sitting on opposite sides, asked what we thought about how the sight lines were, so I admitted it was particularly hard to see him over the surrounding levels of ensemble in Luck Be A Lady. He grimaced a bit, which I understand, because it's hard to have dynamic staging in a 3-quarter surround. My mom mentioned a weird echo (he said there should be an echo during the sewer scene, but she didn't think it was that). I told him I didn't mean to just critique the show, but he seemed happy to have the feedback and said this was stuff they needed to know, as this was what previews were for. And he said he fell over in the Havana scene. I hastened to assure him I thought it ws intentional (I did, it was very smoothly done) and that it fit right in with the fight choreography but he insisted it was an accident. Apparently he falls over onstage frequently; it's what his twitter profile's about, after all.

I gave him the tree and explained I make trees sometimes and that it was a silver birch because I asked him what his favorite tree was. He was touched, and hugged and kissed me again. He admired the tree thoroughly and said it was delicious and it would live in his dressing room. So that was gratifying.

He asked how long we'd been here; I said three weeks, with a week left to go, and he seemed surprised it was so long a trip. I explained we had a course and this show and that was why I was here, which got a smile. He asked what course, so I explained a little, saying basically the same as last year, the International A Cappella School. He remembered we'd said we had a King's SIngers thing last year. He asked how it was and I answered honestly that it went well for the amount of preparation we had (I think he understood what I was saying). I mentioned we'd also been in Edinburgh and he asked how it was and I said it was delightful except for the parking and he commiserated, saying affectionately that it's impossible to park in "Old Smokey, Old Spooky", which are adorable names for Edinburgh that I've never heard.

He apologized profusely and said he really did have to go, but stayed for a picture (despite my foolishly forgetting the flash for the first attempt) and to say hi to Meg when I asked him one last thing. But, the silly man, he didn't say hi. He made sure the camera was rolling and then started nonchalantly, "Meg-" and then immediately interrupted himself yelling "BOO!" I laughed pretty hard.

He had to go but he was very glad we'd been there and wished us safe travels as he strode out and picked up into a jog across the car park.

Our travels were safe, but long, and we made it to our homestay in Chatham an hour later than we'd planned, partially due to the difficulty of navigating in the dark, and partially because of the wait at the stage door. I'm not sorry.

It was magic.

sanura: (Default)
( Aug. 8th, 2014 09:19 pm)
Stirling Castle is delightful.
sanura: (Default)
( Aug. 3rd, 2014 12:43 pm)
We spent most of yesterday (the moments we didn't spend talking or checking out the Jamie Parker episode of Endeavour that Talitha borrowed especially because she knew we were coming) at a tea-tasting party thrown by her friend who is the only UK importer of some of these special Sri Lankan teas. It was a lovely time, trying all the different kinds and eating probably more cake than we should have, and then after everyone else had gone we stayed and talked and ate more cake and drank more tea and ended up buying several kinds. We got along with them very well, and it was one of those very small social engagements that, despite it being with people who were initially strangers, was hardly draining at all. I liked them a lot, and sitting around talking while Talitha got inspirations for her singing-and-spinning gig (the tea importer spins, and we talked about sheep and poodle wool) was fun, and the cake was excellent and we took the extra home and had it for breakfast today.

Talitha's filming her indiegogo pitch today, so we went through it a few times last night for feedback after watching the Endeavour pilot, and I think it'll go well.
sanura: (Default)
( Aug. 1st, 2014 11:42 pm)
Yesterday was a day of extremes. Shrewsbury Battlefield 1403 gave me possibly the strongest history feels I've had since realizing explicitly that Henry V was a real person who might actually have said and felt some of the things Shakespeare put in his mouth. It was barely a hill, with a ridge in the distance, and some information; not a building, not a ford, not a river or anything, just a field where many people (for the age) died and we remember some of their names.

And then a drive to Worcester Cathedral, where there was a decent antique shop and a King's Singers concert. Here follows their program:

Sing Joyfully - Byrd
O Lord, Make Thy Servant Elizabeth - Byrd
Hard By A Crystal Fountain - Morley
Come Again Sweet Love - Dowland
Now Is the Month of Maying - Morley

A Lover's Journey - Libby Larsen
-In the Still Garden
-Ophelia's Song
-Will You, Nil You
-Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day

Songs & Sonnets from Shakespeare - George Shearing
-Live with me and be my love
-When daffodils begin to peer
-It was a lover and his lass
-Who is Silvia?
-Fie on sinful fantasy
-Hey, ho, the wind and the rain


Who Is Sylvia? - Schubert
Wenn ich in deine Augen seh - Schumann
Mandoline - Fauré
Comme tu dois avoir froid - Auric (from the Brahms film score)

Cheek to Cheek (L'Estrange)
Steal Away (Chilcott)
Sweet Lass of Richmond Hill (Lightfoot)
O My Love Is Like A Red, Red Rose (Carrington)
Little David, Play On Your Harp (Roberts)

At Last (L'Estrange)

And we stayed afterward to talk to the boys and apparently Paul has moved past the emotions of leaving (not everyone else has; there were no few tears upon his feature in the encore).

It's hard to describe the effect of the cathedral on a King's Singers concert. Or on the hanging-about afterwards. It was good to see them all, though.

The drive up to Edinburgh was an extreme in the other direction; so much time, and in the dark for once (we'd avoided it so far on this trip), and some tractors blocking the roads, and going the long way to avoid small roads and roundabouts. It was good to arrive and see Talitha and talk and sleep.

Today, on the other hand, has been oddly level. It was fun to see a formal kilt and tux jacket in the grocery store (uniquely Scottish), and to go to Talitha's Renaissance Dance club/class. The instruments were of course charming; they had a lute and a rebec and a gamba. I got to dance a bit more this time than I did last year, and I think I did pretty well. It was fun, at least. And the company was good, at the small meal-hangout afterwards. Some of them even remembered us.
sanura: (Default)
( Jul. 30th, 2014 07:51 pm)
Shrewsbury is kind of magical. We spent way too long trying to figure out where to stay, and then a long time trying to find both the abbey and the castle, but the Tesco we'd been looking for was right on the road to it. It was good to have a stockpile again; we got a block of cheddar, a quart of milk, some sausage rolls, 4 cornish pasties, some trail mix, a pair of chocolate milks (my mom needed the wide-mouthed bottles), and a set of three sodas: ginger beer, mango sparkle, and orange sparkle. Of course, we couldn't forgo the roadtrip tradition of ice cream, so we had a few ice cream cones as well. And the original reason I had needed to go to Tesco, a backpack, was ameliorated (mine is broken beyond function), and my mom needed some hydrogen peroxide, so we accomplished all the goals on tap.

The Abbey is easiest to find when driving haplessly through Shrewsbury, and it has unbelievably tranquil grounds for being in the middle of a reasonably sized city. It had some beautiful trees, most of which I'd love to either draw or take with me, but I made do with photos. Blows my mind every time I come across one of these, which is not infrequent in these isles: it was founded in 1038 as a Benedictine monastery. I walked all the way around it, and admired its crumbly red sandstone. It made me think of Redwall, that way, and I considered the fact that it was indeed a red-walled abbey, where monks might once have made dandelion-burdock fizz and held feastdays, and I slipped forth another level in my understanding of the British Isles mythology permeating its children's books. There was also an even older-looking monument across the street, though I couldn't tell what it was, and it was in a whiter stone and had crumbled much further.

We also happened upon the Shrewsbury Cathedral in our search for the castle, and though I don't think it's quite as old, it's also beautiful in light gray stone, with walled gardens and their resident cat. She was sleeping in a corner, but looked up when I said hi to her.

On our third try around the unnavigable one-way morass of downtown Shrewsbury, we found a spot in front of the castle, close enough that I could walk up the switchbacks in front of the curtain wall and see it up close. It's made of the same red sandstone as the abbey, and there are a couple remnant walls on the streetside in the neighboring high street to make me think that either the castle extended further in the past or the bailey village was made of the same stone. It looks like a defensive castle proper, except that it's got wide gothic windows cut into it, but they might not have been there originally.

Still, it's a charming castle, and I'm glad I got to see it despite the effort it took.

Tomorrow's the King's Singers concert in Worcester.
sanura: (Default)
( Jul. 29th, 2014 09:18 pm)
We started the day with Oswestry castle, where we met a darling old lady who was very surprised to see people from Houston, and who led us on the walk she was taking with her neighbor's dog Jessie (a very sweet brown terrier of some kind). She showed us the changes they made in the churchyard, how they took all the gravestones off the yard and lay them down in one spot very weirdly, and we considered that for awhile before heading off to Chirk, the next castle on the list.

It was a big-deal one, with hundreds of acres of land belonging to it, a view to kill for on top of a high hill, but it didn't look very defensive, with its big wide windows. I didn't learn as much about it as I might have, because the admission was £10.75 or something, so I just walked 3/4 of the way around it and looked in the garden gate and the drawbridge. It was beautiful, as was the little road on the way down from it.

We stopped in Llangollen to see if the hotel we'd stayed in 4 years ago still had the Zsolnay glass cat my mom had lost there. It didn't, and we could barely find the Abbey Grange Hotel (not for want of wandering around the tiny roads in the mountains surrounding Llangollen; we spent maybe an hour more than I expected, but it was a pleasant detour. Pity the Prospect Tea Room at the top of the mountain's not open on Mondays or Tuesdays). We did eventually make it back to the medium-small road, instead of the one-lane gravel mountain switchbacks we'd been navigating, and find the Valle Crucis Abbey, which had a very helpful shopkeeper in the gift shop who told us we'd just another 200 yards to go before the hotel.

So we left Llangollen somewhat disappointed, but we had more castles to see! And a tiny historic chapel, which was closed, but which I could see the outside and garden of anyway. The map of the way we were going also contained a word which I was extremely curious about, and suspected I'd enjoy if it had anything to do with its derivable meanings in English: Glassblobbery. And it was exactly what it sounded like! A glass crafters' shop with lots of tiny borosilicate figurines, and a friendly, punny glass crafter giving occasional demonstrations. Needless to say, we bought some glass.

Unfortunately, the next one on the map was a long shot; Pentrefoelas Castle had a name on the map, but not a little castle symbol. We puttered around through various peoples' cow and sheep fields, up the roads the map indicated might be closest to the castle (in fact the road closest to the castle petered out into a dotted line on the map, which looked ominous). So we didn't see it, but we did find our way back to the A5, having seen more calves and lambs than we might otherwise have seen.

All we had left on the map before the hotel was the castle in the hotel's town, Dolwyddelan. The river valley we crossed to get this far was uncommonly beautiful, and the Welsh tree tunnels are second to none, and this castle was well-labeled and near the road. A far hike up, and it was closed for the day, so I didn't sneak up there but a third of the way, but I took a couple pictures from the bottom of the hill before we started the quest for accommodation in earnest. It took two separate direction-askings, but we made it to Lledr House (a very nice hostel run by a Californian man) and our two-person room, and now I am sleepy enough to crash.
sanura: (Default)
( Jul. 28th, 2014 09:12 pm)
This morning I found a tumblr message from wobblytime saying she was going to Flint and Chester castles, so we sprinted off from Shrewsbury area toward Flint and found her sitting in the castle tower like a princess. Spent the day together hunting castles, including Ewloe, which is hilariously indefensible and even the heritage signs don't know why they built it there in 1257, because it's in a valley in the middle of a forest. We also saw Hawarden castle from the edges after a nice walk (it was hard to get through the door at the front gates, as they were closed for all but the second and fourth sundays of the month, but someone came out). It was surrounded by barbed wire and someone was mowing, so we didn't go up, but we did see it from two sides.

Then we went to Chester and saw the Chester castle from the outside (University of Chester owns it apparently and the sneak-through-able gate had CCTV and walked along the Roman wall. We also found Halton Castle on the way through Runcorn to take wobblytime back home. It was a castle she could see from her house, the highest spot around, and she had childhood memories of visiting it, but it's been taken over by a pub, so we walked around it and didn't go in.

We did go into the Priory grounds near her house, though they were closed; the receptionist let us go into the room with the 900-year-old statue of St Christopher carrying the child Jesus and watch the interesting little looped presentation they had from the statues point of view, and, hilariously, he was voiced by Brian Blessed. So she told us a story about how one of the productions she assisted on almost broke Brian Blessed (it's a good story).

Her neighborhood was easily found with her in the car, and we dropped her home with thanks for a lovely castle-hunting day, and then pulled into a services area with an internet to see if we could find a hotel. We could, so we're in Oswestry with plans for at least two more castles tomorrow, and maybe Shrewsbury.
sanura: (Default)
( Jul. 27th, 2014 10:50 pm)
We said bye to Katie in the morning, as she peeled off from our merry band to visit cousins.

Martin, on the other hand, walked all over Coventry with us (once we found it). The Coventry cathedrals, old and new, are right next to each other, and are a pretty strange experience, only made stranger by the change-ringing that was going on (it's Sunday, after all). The new one is glass and brick, with etchings of disturbingly thin and wide-faced angels all up the very tall front. The old one (built in the 1300s, I believe) was bombed out, and Martin had goosebumps considering that. It is now open to the air, with some WWII memorial pieces in it, and a few pieces of glass remaining in the tops of the windows. We also went into the Guildhall across the street from it, which is much nearer its original state. The side windows were apparently broken out during an election riot in the 1700s, so they put in reproductions from records discovered in the 1900s. The only difference is, now the windows' portrait, heraldic device and name labels of the important people from the 1400s include their death dates.

Martin and I also walked the extra block to the Trinity church right next to the cathedrals, all the while hearing some inoffensive jazz guitar. The church was apparently closed, so we came back around and rejoined my mom. We had a lovely afternoon tea, a long conversation about friendship and assumptions, and couldn't even finish our tea cakes.

We had gone to Tesco, and so on the way to the Birmingham airport Martin left us a whole pasty and a plethora of sandwich cookies and some maltesers from before the course. It was hard to let him go, especially since the airport was constructed so we couldn't even drop him off at the passenger terminal without paying a pound. So we pulled into a little arc where he'd only have to walk across a couple parking lots and a road, and he consolidated his stuff as much as he could, and we hugged him bye till an attendant came menacingly upon us and we had to escape.

I miss him. But we are going Walesward!
sanura: (Default)
( Jul. 26th, 2014 10:46 pm)
We went to Warwick Castle, with Martin and Katie in the car and Rüdi and Andrea following. It was different, much Hollywoodier than last time I as there, but apparently it was Warwick's 1100th anniversary or something. So it was full of kid games and small pavilion presentations, in addition to the joust (decent) and the swordfighting demo (not excellent) and the trebuchet launch (very good) and the conservatory garden full of peacocks( yay).

I did finally find the bowman, who doesn't have a predetermined schedule or a usual spot. It is a different bowman from the one I originally knew, Kevin Hicks, but he was just as charismatic and just as good a shot, and I watched him for quite awhile. It was a long day, on feet already beat to bits, but a good one.
sanura: (Default)
( Jul. 26th, 2014 03:15 am)
The concert was both glorious and a trainwreck.

The party, equally.

I gave Stephen his tree. He liked it.

The recording sounds interesting, especially the first track Rüdi showed me, with the mic in front of the basses mixed high, because Magnus thought he was terrible and really he was excellent, and he was directly in front of the mic, so I could hear him, so I dragged him into the room to hear it.

And he dances, and we had a conversation about gender performance and Rocky Horror and queer cinema and acting that Katie joined and he basically dragged me down to dance after we finished our castle bookings.

He grinds like a pro. I don't.

Martin is a sweetheart.
sanura: (Default)
( Jul. 24th, 2014 11:42 pm)
The rehearsals today were a few shades of 2009 or 2010 frustration with lack of progress, but I had several conversations with Stephen that may have contributed to the slight cooling off of his temper and the introduction of a couple new strategies (or attempts at strategies), and the rest of the day was full of pretty sincere camaraderie. I sat with the Germans at dinner, with Magnus across from me, trying not to pay too much attention to him and his ridiculousness, and having enjoyable conversations with Jan. The sopranos pulled it together for a sectional rehearsal after dinner, but I am only a soprano in maybe 4 of the 19 pieces, so I was in and out, mostly out, watching the recent Munich performance of the Brahms on the one computer that still had Youtube unlocked.

Eventually, the sopranos were done with the pieces that included me, and I went to the basement where it turns out Jack was running a kind of bass-baritone occasionally-tenor tuning rehearsal going on, and they seemed glad to have me. We went through the entire repertoire fairly efficiently, and as more people arrived, it started over and turned into a kind of marking review session, and then a few people left for bed and it remained as a social gathering that acquired a few interesting arrangements (Martin) that we might like to try. So we sang through the KS arrangement of Billy Joel's Lullabye, and were not entirely terrible by the end.

I do love singing with people who care as much about the pursuit, and the communal 8-person experience in the basement has made up for the moments of frustration punctuating the official rehearsals. It's such a rush to all be concentrating to the same degree on something that produces such a tangible result. Teams, yay.

For about 15 minutes after we decided we were going to bed and started climbing the stairs, we hung out in the living room where Jack was playing some pretty hard-swinging jazz on the piano with somebody else improvising alongside him, and I broke out into a dumb little inconspicuous dance, while Magnus started a full-on head-bobbing Walk Like An Egyptian kind of swagger, declaiming it was how he felt right now. He was not the only one. But soon after teaching Martin the truism Friends Don't Let Friends Clap on 1 and 3, we really did retreat upstairs, Magnus wiggling in front of me all the way to my door.

Tomorrow's the concert.
sanura: (Default)
( Jul. 22nd, 2014 11:41 pm)
Rehearsal was long and grueling, but there was some kind of game afterwards on a beautiful pitch. The sunset glanced off the church like a painting. I was in a baddish mood, and I sat on the bench on the pitch with the Canadian girl, Katie, for whom I ended up drawing some pictures. Still, there was a game, and I had rather dance.

No dancing, but Magnus had a long ipad-skype conversation in the living room with his girlfriend, and Martin and I looked for the Cantique he had tried to print, and had a whispered conversation about why I was inexplicably discontent.

And then we went downstairs to listen to Seena, because he noticed he had it on his phone, and  we kept listening to things, and Magnus eventually came down and listened with us, and then went to go practice, and we all were crashing pretty hard, so after the excessive bass-balance of the speakers got through with Rufus' Waiting, we left.
sanura: (Default)
( Jul. 14th, 2014 10:23 am)
Tomorrow night, we arrive in Boston. I may jaunt over to NYC for a day or so, but I need to spend a significant amount of time with Tony, as it's been ages and we have things to discuss. I'd also like to get a few hangs in with Joelle, and maybe record some bassoon for Backstage of the Universe. And nostalgize about Boston.

Saturday, we're off for England. So far the list of things we're definitely doing includes:
IAS in Cheltenham, July 20-26
Taking Martin to Birmingham after the workshop's over, possibly going to see some awesome stuff on the way, including Warwick, which is pretty thoroughly on the way, and some castly stuff Wales, which is also close
King's Singers concert in Worcester Cathedral at 3pm, July 31
Guys And Dolls at Chichester Festival Theatre at 7:30pm, August 12
Noel Fielding's work-in-progress show in London at 8pm, August 14

I'd really like to see both Globe shows, as Antony and Cleopatra and Julius Caesar are on pretty much every other day, and Lear is touring in the UK while we're there. I suspect my mom doesn't want to be a groundling, though, so we'd have to work it out. There's also a Tallis show by The Sixteen in the new indoor theatre, to which there are a still couple tickets left. I think it'd be cool.

And of course we'll likely spend a week or so with Talitha in Scotland, though I'm not sure exactly what she has going on when, but there are two weeks between the 31st and the 12th, so there's time to both see Scotland with her and drive around in Wales as we love to do.

We'll see, but I expect it to be indescribably awesome.



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