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TGR, Gutenberg, Rubric

March 2015

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TGR, Gutenberg, Rubric

Another day of sightseeing--London

Well, in spite of getting very little sleep until 5:00 this morning, I managed to rise at 8:00, have breakfast, and get out to do my day of sightseeing. Top of the docket this morning was Westminster Abbey. I caught the tube this time instead of spending 40 minutes walking there. Got there a few minutes before 10:00. It's £10 to get in (about $20), so I determined to take my time and get my money's worth. I think I was briefly in the cathedral when I first came to London in 1970, but I don't remember it at all. This time, I spent over two hours, reading the guidebook, and examining every monument in the place. So naturally I came away with a few impressions.

I'm not particularly religious. I've got a lot of background in religion and respect the beliefs of others, but don't quite get as excited about it all as I did 30 years ago. Westminster Abbey impresses me primarily as being a huge cemetery with a 102' vaulted ceiling overhead. Architecturally, I have to agree that it is an amazing work of art. The tombs as well are varied and are like walking through a sculpture garden.

In all, this was a place where people who could afford their own monuments were glorified. The bulk of those acts are things that today we consider somewhat less than glorious. Monuments to the principles of the East India Tea Company, to the generals who put down rebellion in the Punjab, to the inventor of the penny post, and, of course, to kings and queens, and knights, and noblemen, and their various wives (first, second, and third, in many instances). At least half--and I would guess the actual count would number two-thirds--of the monuments commemorated some military action, commander, or significant player. Thus was the glory of the British Empire.

Nor is the church consistent or apparently particular about who it memorializes. I was amused to see plaques for D.H. Lawrence, Dylan Thomas, and Charles Darwin among those immortalized in the floors of the Abbey. At the same time, some bits caught me by surprise. After Henry VIII's death, his eldest daughter, Mary ascended the throne and attempted to return England to Catholicism. She did this mostly by burning protestants at the stake. The her sister Elizabeth came to the throne. She reversed what Mary had done and forbade the Mass. Ultimately, the two share a single tomb. It is only Elizabeth's efigy on the tomb, but a plaque at the end of it says that each sister did what she did in service of the same God and that they lie now together in hope that people of all faiths might also learn to be together. Not an exact quote, but close.

Of course, when James I buried Elizabeth, he also moved his mother to the cathedral and built a much more sumptuous tomb for her than for Mary and her sister. His mother, of course, was Mary Queen of Scots, whom Elizabeth had had executed. James made sure that people understood what the right was by the size and glory of the tombs.

I followed some of the places where the DaVinci Code was purported to have taken place. Sir Isaac Newton's tomb and monument are the most prominent in the "common" area of the nave. Behind it is the choir, altar, and tombs of the kings. About ten feet away from Isaac is Charles Darwin. The Chapter House was open when I was there and it was perhaps the most amazing of the structures in the whole place. A single pillar in the center of the room supports the ceiling vaults in the basically round room. The tile floor is truly amazing.

Amusing were the number of memorials to wives of men who would never get buried at Westminster themselves. Typical would be one saying something like: "In loving memory of Mary, beloved wife of Sir Jeremy Houghton, Esquire, President of the Exchequer and Local Lions Club, and councillor to the King's second cousin." I'm certainly glad that Mary was memorialized. We might never have known about how important her husband was.

Of course, The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (WWI) is in the center of the nave and just beyond it, the tomb of Winston Churchill. Outside the cathedral, a low stone circle commemorates all the innocents who have perished by injustice and war.

Well, I went from Westminster Abbey thinking all along about the new story I want to write. The tomb of the unknown inspired a thought that I've recorded on my Noveling Notes blog. Is there an unknown soldier of the American Revolution? Hmmmm....

I went to the Burroughs Market and the crowds were intense. The market is open to the public Friday afternoon and Saturday morning. People came off their lunch breaks to eat at the market. The smells were incredible (good). I went to Vinopolis where the largest selection of wines and Scotches are available for purchase. I tried to take a picture on my phone, but somehow it got set to smallest size, so you can't really see anything from it. I bought a bottle of Scotch to take back and share with my Scotch-tasting crew. We'll see what they think.

This evening I attended the play "The Tempest" performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company, starring Patrick Stewart. He's also playing Mark Anthony in "Cleopatra" this season. He gave a stellar performance (what do you expect) and was not in the least Pickard-like. It is interesting to see the difference between the actor that you see in short scene cuts on television and the actor that is on-stage for nearly all of the two and a half hours of the play. I thought he was just a little uneven (tonight's was the second preview performance--they officially open in a couple of weeks), but at the same time Prospero is a raving lunatic and the unevenness can be credited to the unevenness of the character.

Of most interest, I had never seen Ariel played by a man before. There are references to Ariel in the script as a sprite and at one point Ariel asks Prospero if he loves him. But this Ariel was no featherweight. Dressed in black priest's robes and skeletal makeup, this Ariel was more closely related to the images of a dark angel of hell. The three female "goddesses" that accompanied him sang and created some absolutely amazing imagery among them. I really loved that. Caliban was great and the rest of the cast was strong.

All told, I had a great time, followed by dinner at a French restaurant. Now I'm sitting here at 1:30 trying to decide if it is worthwhile trying to go to sleep yet. I think it is a family with four children in the room overhead. I saw them this morning and I don't think the oldest is more than five. They were clunking a stroller down the stairs and the mother by herself was trying to get the four kids out for a walk. She had her hands full.

Well, I guess I'll see if sleep comes. I'd like to do a little shopping at Covent Garden before I have to pack up and head for the airport tomorrow. We'll see.
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Patrick Stewart also played Prospero in a Broadway production of "The Tempest" in 1995. That's still the only show I've ever seen *on* Broadway.

My recollection: The audience applauded in a burst of recognition when Stewart first stepped out on stage. But once he got going, he fit right into the role and I saw him as Prospero instead of a Starfleet captain. Beyond the emotion he was projecting at any given moment, he seemed extraordinarily relaxed and happy to be on a Shakespearean stage.
Yes, he was completely at home in the role of Prospero and had a delightful sense of comic timing. I didn't realize that he had actually started his career back in the 60s at the RSC and goes back periodically to perform there. The audience, however, was a little slow on the uptake at the end when he asked to be released by the clapping of hands. I was trying to applaud, but no one was willing to break the spell. The poor guy stood transfixed in one spot for a full minute before people finally figured out that the play was over and he wasn't going to move until we applauded! He's also doing Antony in "Antony and Cleopatra" this season. Wish I could go back to see that.
*sigh* i need to do more creatively and reading your notes makes me very jealous of your trip and of your ideas brewing. i still want to finish my novel from november, but have no motivation at the moment. :( bleh. anyway, i hope that i'll have more to write about/motivation to write about it soon... i just find i'm so zapped from my job, nothing flows like it used to. boooooo for that.
With your position in DC, you could always start feeding me historical context for my epistolary. As you come across mention of famous letters of the time, a grave of the unknown soldier of the Revolution, or anythign else, you might mention it to me.

Don't worry about having a spell where nothing flows like it used to. I went through a period where the writing I was doing for work so completely consumed my energy that I didn't write creatively at all. That period only lasted about fifteen years! It will come back. It's inside you brewing.