Thursday, 25 February 2010

St. Neots, Cambridgeshire - Revisited

“How did you find this place,” I finally asked Wyona.

“I was on-line,” she answered. “I looked around at what was selling at auctions and decided I would try St. Neots Auction. I thought I would have some fun out in the countryside. Tomorrow will be my second time there.”

She was looking at the price of a round trip train ticket the evening before. “Look, Arta, £19 for one way, £22.50 for a return ticket.”

“Must be a Shangri-la,” I thought. Apparently no one wants to leave St. Neots.

Twenty pound bags of turnips were auctioned off among the vegetables and large flats of flowers came next. Then tools and outside equipment. We spent some time looking at the lot numbers inside a covered building, writing down a top bid on each. At least that is what I was doing. Wyona had already hired Peter’s Moving Van to bring her stuff back to London in case she bought anything: a flat rate of £110 for the trip back to London, no matter what she decided to get.

A marble wash stand, double marble, a piece on the backsplash and another on the counter top was the item I saw many people look at – one woman examining the feet of the wash stand, and thoroughly measuring its every dimension with her tape measure. 
When the furniture auction began it was just with the slight tip of the chin downward, a mere flick of the eyelid and that bid went up. 

Afterward Wyona said to me, “Could you tell who was bidding against me, Arta.” I had the advantage on her, a casually by-stander, not feeling the stress of the speed of the bid going up and up.

“The partner of the distinguished looking man over there -- and she looks crestfallen.” 

Another woman bought a gilded triptych 3-sided mirror and some framed pictures. Wyona went over to her and said, “I wanted that mirror.” 

“How about if I give you the mirror for £4 of the £12’s I paid. It is the books I wanted”, said the successful bidder.

Coming back to London, there was only room in the cab of the truck for two people, the driver and Wyona. So at least my round trip ticket did not go to waste. 
I have been wearing a coat in London that has no pockets. Last night I sewed an inner breast pocket into the left side of my coat, a pocket that will fit my map of the streets of central London. I stitched another pocket in the right hip side of the same coat – one that will fit a pen and larger papers I am always digging into my purse for. The new pockets came in handy today because this is my first time finding my way home from an unknown location an hour’s train ride away from London. 
I was well prepared for being out on my own: a map, a pencil and a piece of paper. My kind of happiness.

The speed of the express train surprised me initially. I stood on the platform at St. Neots to watch the train go past and involuntarily reached out to a pole to steady myself, wondering if I was going to be suck under the train when it whipped by. There had been a voice over the intercom warning passengers that the next train was an express and wouldn’t be stopping and then “Woosh!” in less than 2 second it had come and gone. 

Even the local train is fast and the underground is efficient. I was alone and taking all of the correct corners in the tube to get myself on the Victoria line going south. I was home 45 minutes before Wyona. Now that was fun. All alone in London and getting it right.

When Wyona arrived home, she called up to the apartment. The driver did not want to take the time to use the lift on the back of his truck to get the furniture out of his truck and to the street level. He was parked illegally. So with back breaking labour, she and I carried the 2 china cabinets, the 2 drop leaved tables, the marble wash stand and the hand operated tread sewing machines from the platform of his truck to the foyer. I was wondering if we shouldn’t buy a dolly of our own on our next trip to the market. 

Two ethnic working class women, arms laden with package of their own and walking by on the street offer to stop and help us. It was beginning rain. It was beginning to rain and seemed better for at least two of the four of us to get our packages home dry. 

Wyona paid Peter the Mover. We had everything into the foyer, safe from the rain. Two tall able bodied twentyish-looking guys who live in the apartments on the second floor keyed their way into the building. They saw us struggling to get the furniture into the elevator and said that they would take the stairs and leave the elevator for us. I know you can hear me laughing inside.

Tonia had done similar furniture moving on her own for Wyona’s last auction run. I was reminded of that today and I believed that two 60 year olds could accomplish together what one 30 year old had done alone. We got the 2 pieces of furniture finely tucked into the elevator and found that there wasn’t room for the elevator doors to close – only room in the elevator for two of the barley twist tables -- no room on the side of the elevator for either of us. 

Even though everything is an adventure, I was getting tired. I took a Buddha pose and perched cross-legged on top of the table in the elevator. That seemed easier than running up four flights of stairs to catch the elevator doors as they opened on the fourth floor.

The apartment looks strangely the same tonight, even after bringing that furniture home. Wyona says she might make one more St. Neots run before Greg gives up his post here. Why not? The 3 foot high cabinet that the sewing machine is in, is a beautiful piece of furniture that she will use for an end table. The fact that it is a sewing machine is just extra. 

The cost at the auction -- £2.


St Neots Auction Centre Link

Sunday, 21 February 2010

London East Street Market on a Saturday Morning

Our plan for the day included six markets, starting with East Street. One of the watches Zoe bought there the day before didn’t work. I bought a two inch wide matte and shiny silver bracelet as well yesterday. When I spotted the bracelet in a glass case at the market, I thought it was beautiful. The shape of the beads reminded me of the shape of eye teeth of elephants. 

Today I mean to wear the bracelet every day I am in London to remind me not to buy anything else like it. Over-the-top guaudy, eye-catching and useless, I bought it initially to stop myself from buying more watches at the stall that had attracted Zoe. Invest £1.5 to stop myself spending £30 pounds, I thought. 

The merchants are clever with their chatter bringing the customers closer to their stalls. I was looking for a red purse, but didn’t say anything to anyone about it. However, I must have touched a couple of red bags, because in no time, every red bag the merchant had on hooks or tucked under the counter was in front of me. 

The fellow selling watches to Zoe was having a harder time figuring out who his customer was. For one thing, she takes longer than the regular person to process whether she is interested in an object or not. After she has been asked a question, she may give the answer but after a 3 minute time lag. By the time she gives the answer, the merchant has already asked 10 to 15 more questions and it is hard to go back and figure out which of the questions this was the answer to. 

I asked Wyona what the common denominator was for her when she had finally selected three watches. The colour pink or the shape of a heart or a combination of pink/hearts.

Wyona and I are so cold. Every day, we are cold. I layered up for the shopping trip: a t-shirt, a button up shirt, plus one of Greg’s over-the-head, zip-up-the-neck shirts, my wool coat and 2 scarves. Before I was half way down the market I had bought 5 pair of gloves – one of the pairs a much cheaper model than the same black gloves I bought a few days before on Oxford Street. I will just pick up this as a back-up pair for when I lose one of the first set, I thought. 

A finely woven black and red shawl calf length coat caught my eye. I must have been cold. I paid and put it right over my shoulders. No bag for me. “Let me fiddle with this,” said the shop-keeper as she arranged it over all of those other layers I had put on in the morning. “The pin to attach this at the shoulder is free. No charge. Better to buy the cape from me, than at Harrods, and much cheaper,” she continued, all of the time interspersing our conversation with calls to other customers about the size or the price or under which pile to look to find another colour of the item they were looking at. 

“Do you have a pin that matches,” I asked as she clasped one corner of the cape to my shoulders.

“Only in my knickers, and I am not giving you that one,” she replied.

Warm now, I walked ahead of Greg, Zoe and Wyona for a while, stopping to observe the underwear stall because I saw an old man there, carefully going through a beige cardboard box of bras, fingering a pink one adorned with red roses, sweeping his hand along the inside of the cup. 

“I can’t tell which of these three men is the shop keeper,” I said to Greg, when he caught up. “Look, the two wizened old men behind the counter are lifting the knee length silky underwear, and letting it billow down to touch the table. And the other is interested in the bras. But neither act is attracting customers.”

I had just heard a black man shouting to a white merchant, “Shut up, you dirty black nigger.” I did a double take and had to look again to see who was black and who was white. When he shouted the same phrase again I thought there would be trouble. A younger merchant was sitting cross legged on scaffolding above his merchandise. He looked straight ahead as though he was unaware of the noise. “Looks like our friend has had too much to drink,” Greg said. “I saw him further on down the market.”

The market was also full of a lot of “Praise the Lord for the beautiful day” and “Thanks be to God, days not as good as last years, but still beautiful”. “Hey. man” and “Jesus lives” were antiphonal phrases, as well as a deferential, “Hello boss” to some customers.

One glove seller was singing along with the African music blaring from the next booth – the live singer had a rich deep operatic quality voice. A talent not really lost for he sang as he sold gloves.

Wyona showed me some small flashlights with batteries included in the package. “We need these at the lake. You should buy them for your grandchildren, Arta.” 

“Now why would I do that? They are all so afraid that I don’t have one who would use a flashlight and go out after dark,” I answered.

Zoe was getting hungry by this time and she had been promised chips. Wyona stayed back buying pansies for her window boxes. Zoe looked through the window and into the House of Kebabs but they only sold Mediterranean food. At the shop called African and Caribbean Cuisine, I saw Zoe’s nose was pressed against their restaurant window reading the menu inside. The shop keeper opened the door and told her to come in. She saw the word chips on the menu. I saw the words gizzards, jollope, black-eye beans and rice, saveloy,and spinach and egusi stew. Looked like a place both of us would like to eat.

When lunch was finished and he asked, the proprietor told Greg where to find plantain chips, so we slipped across the street, behind the stall, to another store ... all out, but the shop next door had a large crate of cows feet for sale, and next door, for sale, large cows feet. 

Greg said that the smell of Africa was in the House of Africa and suggested Wyona and I checked it out. Packages of dried anchovies, with 1000’s of eyes looking out of the cellophane package at us. Next to that, ground crayfish, -- a whole new world of ingredients to cook with. Greg was not up to carrying rice home in the 50 pound bags that were sold there, so we went on down the market.

On the bus, on the way home, there was the hum of international languages, none of them with the rhythm of any western European accents that I know. The bus lurches suddenly when the light turns from red to green. I was hanging onto the pole to my side, but my feet didn’t have a stance that gave me equilibrium, swinging me around the pole. Now I know where the idea of pole dancing comes from. Dramatic, but I am not that graceful yet.

Wyona and I dropped Greg and Zoe and the packages off at the flat and slipped up to Camden for the last two hours of the day. “Where you come from all the time,” the clerk in the Indian shop near the main entrance asked Wyona. “I see you every two weeks or so.” 

The women on the second floor among the scarves said the same thing to her. “I know you. You come here often.” And when Wyona asked the price of the scarves, one of the clerks said, “Baal is not here today. He is at the market at Petticoat Lane, but he gives you a special price, so I will call him on his cell and tell him you are here.”

“What is going on with that?” I asked Wyona. 

“I don’t know why they are saying that,” she said. “I slip in and out of these stores and I don’t want anyone to know me. These little merchants are working so hard to make a living in these stalls.”

I was in Camden with a purpose. I wanted to go to a shop that buys and sells gold. The sign says, We Buy your Old Gold, on the Spot. Cash.” I don’t have any gold, but the last time I was in Camden, in that store, I saw large seed pearls on a 48 inch string, a knot between each pearl. I know that when the necklace breaks, there will be one complete string on the floor and not the sound of beads running along the floor, everywhere. My friend, Dani Pahulje, took a course last year where she restrung some pearls of her grandmothers, and the course cost the same amount as the pearls cost that I saw in the store. 

Still I had to go home and think about buying those. I am not one to buy on the spot, but ever since I saw the pearl markets in China I have been thinking about this. The seed pearls are the natural ones, not beautifully matched, and graded ones that you see in the strings of pearls in better stores. This string is full of irregular shapes, a beauty in the uneven naturalness of them, I think. 

I have no idea where I will wear them when I get home. Maybe out to garden. And until I get back to my garden, I will put them on every morning and wear them under my coat as I sight see London. Wyona mocks me and asks me what I am thinking of. I tell her I am having my own kind of pleasure.

I was so tired when Wyona and I finally got home at night that I could hardly get a bite of a donut to my mouth. Wyona was the same. This morning, Greg asked us what happened to both of us last night. Two tired women absolutely disappear at the same time. 

Today, Zoe and I went on a bus tour on our own. She was practising with her new camera – taking pictures of the celebration of the Chinese New Year at Trafalgar Square, shots at St. Paul’s Cathedral, walking across the Millennium Bridge and taking pictures of the tour boats as they passed underneath us, catching the British Telecom Tower and the Tate Museum in the same shot, a shot in front of the Horse Guard at Whitehall, a landscape picture of London Bridge as we were walking over the Thames, and a couple of shots of both of us at the top of the double decker bus. 

We also travelled on one of the heritage Routemaster buses, one of those old vehicles where the driver is at the front, but you get on at the back. The ticket master stands at the open platform until everyone is seated and then comes by to check tickets as the bus is moving along. After all of that, the highlight was of the day for her was the chicken nuggets and fries meal at MacDonalds. Some menus work in every language.

I dropped Zoe off at the flat and went sight-seeing by myself, from the top of a bus #15. I touched in with my Oyster Card and then sat with a map on my lap, checking it often to see which of the sights were rolling by. Trafalgar, the West End, Aldwych, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London, and then residential districts as the bus went all of the way to Blackwall, where the Docks begin. 

I was the last one on the bus at its terminal and the only one on the bus as it began its route back. The name of my favourite pub along the way was Hung, Dried and Quartered. If I drank, I would surely have stopped in there.



Monday, 15 February 2010

Play: Heldenplatz by Thomas Bernard in London

As we knew we were going to see Heldenplatz, Wyona studied the night before, how to get to the Arcola Theatre. Greg helped her. As well, I was out on the internet typing in the “to” and “from” destinations into a London planner. We were venturing into unknown territory: Northern London. 

The route was marked on our map, the tube stops and bus stations noted, and the planner estimated we would be there in 45 minutes. We left early – giving ourselves a full hour.

The bus didn’t arrive in the allotted 8 minutes at the Dalton Station. Nor fifteen minutes, nor twenty, nor thirty minutes.

“Buses run slower on the weekends,” a bystander told us. 

When we got off the bus 40 minutes later, we were in a dark neighbourhood, at a bus stop, questioning other transit riders who were waiting for their rides, “Where is the Arcola Theatre”. Another young student was questioning other patrons on the side of the street as to where the Arcola Theatre was. In retrospect it was not a good idea to follow her. Why would we follow a woman with an American accent, when the fellows who live in the area had no idea where the theatre was? 

We switched groups of strollers to follow, this time picking up with a woman plotting her course with a GPS. She was going to the Arcola as well and took us down a dark, narrow wet alley,-- only wide enough for one car -- and there it was – a backdoor theatre. 

The woman with the GPS slipped into the entry with her tickets. Wyona stood in the line-up for our tickets were vouchers and her name was to be on a list at the door.

The thirtyish fellow who helped us climb over 2 foot high ramp that led to the back door theatre stood beside us in the line-up. I could hear Wyona dialoguing with the ticket taker. “We must be on the list. Look again. If not under Bates, then under Chai Chin.” 

She was not having any luck getting into the theatre.

I could see around the corner into a space that looked like the Big Secret Theatre in Calgary. A cavernous room, a super high ceiling, darkness in every corner, a few area lights streaming down and under them people standing with cigarettes and drinks. One woman in a flaming red satin dress, standing on one hip.

“Would you like a partner for the night,” the young man beside me said.

I have no idea what I mumbled back – whatever the words were, it was not a script I have practised before. Wyona grabbed my arm, swung me around and pulled my sleeve behind her as she walked down the ramp, her saying to me, “We are looking for Arcola Theatre I. That was Arcola Theatre II.

“Wyona, I want to tell you something that just happened to me,” I said.

“I know. I heard. Why did he ask you instead of me? Probably because I was busy trying to sort out tickets at the box office,” she went on.

We whipped around the corner to Arcola I. There the ticket agent told us we were too late: we had to be at the box office by 7:30 to get the tickets we had vouchers for. 

By this time I was laughing so hard I had to sit down among the people finishing their pre-show drinks, since the Arcola I was running two plays that night.

“We will just pay and go to Hens in Knives that is showing in 15 minutes,” she said. “Looks like there is some nudity, but we can do it.”

“How can you tell,” I said, having never heard of that play before.

“Just look at the poster,” she laughed.

The poster? 

You have to be kidding me, I thought. I am just recovering from not being able to be picked up on the streets of London.

“Did you find the theatre,” a lip-pierced young woman on the bus asked Wyona as we were on our way back to the apartment. Wyona had queried that young woman where the Arcola Theatre was on our way to the performance ... on another bus Now we were sitting at the back of the bus in a seat next to her and her boy friend as we were going back home, not theatred out, for the second play had a full house as well.

Wyona had her bus map stretched full in front of her, her arms two feet apart, her nose buried in the map, trying to find the best way back to Oxford Circus. People in every seat around her were offering suggestions to her. 

How does she do it? I watched in Brussels. I watched in China. I watched her as we went through Germany and France. Now in the back of a London bus, people coming treating her as though she is a close acquaintance – more than that, like she is a second-best friend to them all.

But only the people on the back of the bus were that amicable for the driver stopped, turned out the lights of the bus chassis and said, “Last stop. Eveyone out.” 

General grumbling got louder as people stepped off of the bus. “They can’t do this. I am from Italy,” said one woman exiting at the back. 

At the front of the bus there was yelling by two or three men, one banging on the driver’s window and another so abusive that the driver stepped out of his cage and yelled back at them in their own language, gesticulating wildly with both of us arms.

“I have seen this before in London,” said Wyona. “Only the other time the driver stayed in his seat, called the police and in an instant the Bobbies were there hauling someone off in their paddy wagon.”

Well. What can I say. A Saturday night with live theatre on the streets of London. 

Yes, I am still having fun. And too full of adrenalin to sleep, Wyona and I watched a two hour television run on the British Royalty and practised throwing into our vocabulary, two words we heard on the special: ignominious and rapacious. Not easy words to toss off in every day conversation, unless one is in an argument.

Speaking of new words, the tour guide at the Wallace kept using a word that she pronounced inVENtor-ee, with the accent on the “ven”. 

Took me a long time to figure out she was talking about something I love: making lists.


Saturday, 13 February 2010

London Chinatown and The Elixir of Love

We just came back from buying tickets for Elixir of Love at the Colesium. I was remarking to Wyona that we were in the line-up at 4:30 and it was 5:30 when we walked back in the door. What I was thinking about is that first you have to scan the London Theatre Guides to see what is playing from drama, theatre, musicals. Then find out who can go on which day. Next make the trip to the theatre that morning of to get discounted seats, or try to pick some up at Leicester Square. Add to that, meeting there if you have to be there in person to get the cheaper seats.

The woman at the ticket wicket explained to us that she needs ID. Wyona and I were complimented that the woman think we looked that old. She explained that there are many concessions: those over 65; those who belong to the Actor’s Guild; students; the unemployed. How does a person have ID to show they are unemployed, Wyona asked. The woman said you get a card saying you are in that category.

Being unemployed and being able to pay £35 for a ticket to the opera seem like mutually exclusive propositions to me. For The Elixir of Love, Wyona and Greg got tickets in the dress circle. I was in the stalls – A22. How close do you think I was to the conductor? I could see his profile for the whole concert, the movement in his hands, the expressions on his face, his crouching, leaning, weaving, mouthing of the words. When I got home, I demo-ed some of the moves for Wyona and Greg for they were in the balcony. Yes, said Greg, I was watching the conductor as well.

“You have my husband’s seat,” said the older woman in a seat next to me. “I turned it in the day before last when I could see he couldn’t come. His mother is sick. Or says she is.”

“Too bad. How old is she?”


“I hope she has enjoyed many such concerts as these in her lifetime.” What else was there for me to say?

“Oh no! She would never come here. Thinks it is a complete waste of time and money.”

The music started. The curtain went up. The production was first done in Stockholm, created for their national orchestra. Rossini’s Elixir of Love, modernized. The story line is essentially the same but the text now in English; the setting 1950’s Texas; the costuming included hair rollers for the women and jean overalls for the men; the heroine’s wig was reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe’s blonde coiffure; the charlatan actually uses phrases from Elvis Presley’s songs and mimes his hip gyrations and foot work. The seargant chews gum when he isn’t signing. His jaw was still going at the end of concernt bows. 

I couldn’t not stop laughing at all of this, though no one else on my row appeared to find it amusing. “That’s the British for you,” I thought. However the audience did warm up to other humour. 

In the second act when scene was on the outside of the restaurant and the bathroom stalls were visible, a woman stood in the line-up to the toilets, crossing her legs and doing a dance as she waited her turn for the bathroom. After the first verse of a song by the chorus, the sound of a toilet rushing brought ripples of laughter. After the second verse, the same flush, and more laughter. By the time the third flush was heard, the audience was warmed up to the potty humour and loved the fact that the woman came out of the restrooms with her dress tucked up in her pantyhose at the back. Pointless lavatory sequence. That is what the reviewer called it. I am with the reviewer on that one.

Not fair to tell all of this, and not say the voices soared and the tenor’s love song brought a quiet hush to the house – a nice beginning for a Valentine weekend.



Thursday, 11 February 2010

Musical: Billy Elliot in London

We can get to Billy Elliott by taking the London bus #88 for one stop and the Victoria tube line for 3 stops – leave the house at 2:10 and be safely in our seats by 2:30 pm. Tonia has gone to Egypt, so for this week the set of four tickets has turned into events for 3: Wyona, Zoe and me. 

Zoe and I took the C2 home. She stopped to pick up a pair of gloves that were in the middle of the road as we went to get on the bus. I was frantic, trying to move her along, telling her that someone else had dropped those gloves, and that we should leave them there. I was seeing cars whiz by us, and I was nervous. 

As Wyona says when we run across streets, “Greg won’t let us live this dangerously when he is with us.” 

Zoe’s mind couldn’t be changed. She picked up those gloves. I forgot about the incident until we were half way home. She had a look of utter amazement on her face when she was going through her purse and pulled out a second pair of gloves, just like the ones she had on. I didn’t think we had travelled over the area where she picked up the gloves, but she was right about one thing: they were an exact match with the gloves she does carry in her purse.

After Billie Elliott, we split up, Zoe and me heading home, Wyona heading to the Coliseum to get tickets for an opera tonight. Tonight Glen asked us on the phone how we are affording all of these West End Performances. 

I asked essentially the same question to Wyona tonight when I asked her how long you have to live here until you feel that London is your town. “Oh, about 3 years,” she said. The truth is – sometimes the tickets are £2 pounds, and sometimes £20 pounds. If the tickets are more than that, we make blood oaths with each other never to tell the real price. Seniors get concessions 3 hours before the performance at the Colesium. At the Savoy, unsold tickets can be purchased one hour before the performance. Front row seats are available for £25 for Sister Act at 10 am the day of the performance. So much to remember! 

Tonight, Wyona jumped the cue of younger people who were lined up for the seats that are sold to all, one hour before the performance. Seniors get the same tickets, 3 hours before the performance. So ... an around about answer to the question of where all of this money comes from – though an old memory from two years ago did surface for us tonight. The last time we saw Lucia de Lammermour, we got the tickets from the Colesium box office. When the clerk told us they would be £60 pounds each we choked. Both of us were shaking our heads from east to west, saying no, we couldn’t afford it, and we were whispering to each other, when will we ever get this chance again. We committed to never tell anyone the price of the tickets. We both remembered making that promise to each other.

Wyona and I are physically stronger now that we have been here 3 days. We are losing enough of our jet lag that we can do two shows in the same day now – without a bag of wine gums to keep us awake. I hate eating those little beasts, but they do stop a person from nodding off. 

I was to study up on Donizetti’s Elixir of Love, the show at the Colesium. I made a date with Wikipedia and U-tube, where I get most of my information these days. So my research for the evening performance was done.

“I want my money back,” I whispered to Wyona after the first 3 minutes of the performance. She started to giggle. 

“Arta, I was hurrying so fast I didn’t even look at what I was buying. I just said, give me two tickets for tonight and the woman at the ticket wicket showed me where they would be. At least I know that – those seats down there at the front of the dress circle are ours.” 

When the hero began singing to the heroine and calling her Lucia, we knew we were in the wrong opera. Our heroine should have been called Adina if we were watching Rossini’s The Elixir of Love.

Our timing was two minutes off tonight on the way there. We had to sit at the back of the balcony until we could get to our good seats when the lights came up. Actually the timing was fine, it was the two sisters who were a bit off. We couldn’t run the same marathon with the same time that we had run at noon. Wyona was sucking air coming up from the tube at the Trafalgar Square subway – we just can’t run the escalators and the halls at top speed at 7 pm. 

Juli McCue gave me a gift a couple of weeks ago, an RCA Digital Voice Recorder. What has taken me so long to get it turned on is that I needed personalized lessons to get it going. Having none, I have been reading the instruction manual that came with the gift. That was my morning’s – loading the Digital Voice Manager onto my computer, and figuring out how to turn on the record button and how to manage the files. 

I have to admit, it is exhilarating to pull that machine out of my purse, speak a few words into it, and slip it back into its place – much faster than taking notes with a pen and pencil. I am not quite up to thinking of clever things to say into the recorder. Today I was practising saying the names of the bus stops into the recorder as Zoe and I rode on the top of the double decker bus home. 

I was saying the names of the bus stops into the recorder? 




Musical: Oliver in London

The Thrill of the Flight
February 9, 2010-02-09

I didn’t feel the surge of excitement about this trip until I went to the garage to bring in a large suitcase and its matching carry-on, at which point. Not thinking about a trip is a survival technique – keep my mind focused on what has to be done before the trip and don’t let a hint of anticipatory pleasure enter my consciousness. When I cracked the seal of that bubble by bringing in the luggage, my heart just started pounding and I was wondering if I was going to make a trip to the hospital instead over a heart attack. By the time Wyona and Charise picked me up, I was packed and calmed down. 

I couldn’t find Zoe in the car because she was in the back of the station wagon, surrounded by suitcases – one to the left of her, two to the right and one on her lap, perpendicular. Obstructing her view to the front and my view to the back (and her) as well. I only heard a small high voice, “Hi, Arta.”

On the drive out to the airport Wyona called back to her, “How are you doing back there, suitcase girl.” She didn’t answer, which was later to cause us our first problem. Charise and I unpacked the car at the unloading zone, yanking out the 8 suitcases and Wyona putting them on three trolleys. Zoe was still in the back seat when that was all over. I couldn’t coax her out of the car. Neither could Charise.

“She called me names,” she said, head down and pointing to Wyona. 

“Oh no,” I thought. “She is mad at her mother, this woman who is taking her to London and we haven’t even entered the airport. And all of this after her counting down, first the days and then the hours until we were to leave.” 

Wyona and I are hoping this doesn’t portend a difficult holiday for us and on occasion we say to each other, “Where is suit case,girl?” but we never say it loud enough for her to hear. 

Zoe made her displeasure visible, pouting, pushing the cart with one hand, pushing it sideways at a 45 degree angle, scratching at her scar -- and all of this was happening when we were in the elite line. I watch Wyona’s coping skill: eye contact to lay down the law, and then, appear to not notice until Zoe’s own mechanisms find equilibrium. The clerk checking us in followed Wyona’s suit.

When Zoe is not her usual self she sometimes needs food. Wyona headed to that most glorious of food facilities, an airport fast food court. Fries and chicken strips are Zoe’s ambrosia – or at least she that feast helped her to talk to us without pouting. 

Having some time on our hands, and being curious, Wyona checked out the Elite Lounge. She has a new status on her Auroplan mile card, upgraded from prestige to elite. The Lounge was just to the left after we got through security. Wyona could take in one guest and the second one would cost $25. Zoe doesn’t really eat or drink anything that was in the lounge: the soup, the salad, the vegetables, the wine. They had no fries and chicken strips in there.

And to continue speaking of food, we had 3 choices for meals and between us we ordered them all. The vegetarian meal was a shot in the dark, an upgrade from a child’s meal for Zoe – and was delivered as rice and a dahl curry. The bun that had seen better days but was the choice Zoe made of what was before her. The beef -- an Ethiopian stew. I ordered the chicken which came with microwave pasta – a crime punishable wth a fine, if not a prison sentence. The salad was stone-cold peas and icy cubed squash fushion – not a piece of lettuce in it. 

I can’t believe my kids used to complain about the food I would feed them. If only I could have known I could strike terror to their hearts, I would have threatened them, “Be nice to me or I will feed you flight food.”

The Coke was good. That is what kept me awake for the nine hour flight. I asked for red wine with my meal. I like to tuck it in my purse, to keep it for Janet when she joins us in London. Unfortunately the steward cracked the seal for me. He must have spotted that my arthritic fingers wouldn’t do it on their own. I hope the wine is still good when Janet gets here April 24th.

I was wide awake, long into the flight. In fact, I was the only passenger on the plane still awake. Me and a few crying babies, those poor little things who make visible the discomfort all of us feel when packed into a plane. The rest of the passengers had spread out over the empty seats and were sound asleep.

I was glued to the movies on the screen in front of me. I didn’t feel up to any dramas: this was a holiday after all. I looked through the menu for the comedies. Because I am an avid reader of reviews, I knew exactly what I would be seeing in the movies, even knew the spoilers and whether the movie had been reviewed as a good one or a bad one. New York, I love You (2009); The Graduation (2009) and A Serious Man (2009). 

I didn’t know the last comedy was written by Joel and Ethan Cohen until I saw the credits roll by. Have you seen the movie. It opens with the most curious of Jewish folktales. Roger Ebert says 
[b]eginning with a darkly comic prologue in Yiddish, A Serious Man inhabits a Jewish community where the rational (physics) is rendered irrelevant by the mystical (fate). Gopnik can fill all the blackboards he wants, and it won't do him any good. Maybe because an ancestor invited a dybbuk to cross his threshold, Larry is cursed. A dybbuk is the wandering soul of a dead person. You don't want to make the mistake of inviting one into your home. You don't have to be Jewish to figure that out.

Ebert’s is right about one thing – the prologue is a fabulous hook to the movie, and the reason I didn’t turn off the film and go to sleep.

Only one piece of luggage was leaking by the time we got to the elevator in the flat – not bad for the bumps they had taken along the way. I laughed outloud when I was at the top of entrance to the Picadilly Underground and Wyona was at the bottom. An elegantly suited man brought up a piece of luggage, left it at the top of the stairs, got eye contact with me and said, “The woman at the bottom of the stairs said to just leave this at the top of the stairs,” and off he marched to his board meeting.

We left the luggage at 96/100 New Cavendish Street, London and went to get evening performance tickets for Oliver. One short nap later, we were in the theatre – beautiful box seat tickets at same-day discounted prices. We have never been in the theatre with such an amazing view of the proscenium arch. Zoe got nervous quite a few times, starting with the boys in the orphanage not having enough food. Tears as sliding down her cheeks when Mrs. Sowerberry, the co-owner of the mortuary business sings, “It’s your funeral”. And when Bill Sykes kills Nancy, Zoe’s distress is manifest by sitting straight up, rocking back and forth -- with her hands shaking. Wyona knows to sit by her and squeeze her whole body when she sits up straight and and then takes her hand and squeezing them. Zoe responds by squeezing back with her beautifully manicured hands. And then by choosing the Oliver CD as the set of songs she wants to hear the next day.

At one point in the dialogue of the show, Fagan turns to the people sitting in the expensive seats in the audience and says, “There are the rich people who come to the theatre”, and he stretches his arm all across the length of the theatre where the costly seats are found. 

“And then there are the poor”, he says, pointing to the second and third balconies, and again he stretches his arm along the length of the theatre to the people in the gods, the highest, cheapest seats in the theatre, occupied by the poorest of the poor.

He continues, “Then there are the ostentatious people who sit in the boxes. They are the bankers, ... the ones who got bonuses this year. They can afford to bring their families.” And he points to us. We are pleased that he cannot see through our disguise.

There are 48 children in the cast – a lot of children to manage on stage. And in that final scene, where Fagan, now penniless, retreats, the street urchins are still following him, the youthful actors at their best – loving the stage work and hamming up their parts to the last possible moment. Hard to let them go.

Wyona and I have been talking about the themes of the musicals we have been seeing – asking why some of them capture such dark moments of history – Oliver mirroring Dickens story of orphanages and poor houses; Les Mis with Victor Hugo’s view of the French revolution. And then at yesterday’s matinee we saw Wicked, Gregory Maguires’ alternate reading of an American piece of fiction. We wonder why it has the same attraction, since it doesn’t originate in a dark European past, or out of our collective histories. 

Do you think its charm comes from thinking about untold histories? Like the movie, A Serious Person, do we go to the theatre to see what happens when we invite the wandering soul of a dead person over our thresholds. 

I can’t put my finger on it, yet.