Friday, January 22, 2016

Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms

Monday,January 18, 2016
This tourist has been acting like a tourist this past  weekend.  Saturday night, I saw Hangmen, a very dark comedy set in 1965, just after Great Britain ended capital punishment.  Most of the action takes place in a pub in the north of England, and the combination of accents and slang blocked my access to about 25% of the dialogue.  What I understood was quite funny, so my advice to Americans is to definitely see Hangmen if the tickets are discounted at least 25%.

Sunday, David Brodie and I visited the Imperial War Museum, just behind the lovely 18th century Brodie home.  The museum, as is the case for many in Britain, is free.  Besides a variety of vehicles, uniforms, weapons, a Spitfire fighter plane, a V-1 rocket (resembling a current drone) and a V-2 rocket (much larger than I imagined), the museum gives a substantial amount of space to the Holocaust.  I thought that the exhibit was honest and the museum as a whole quite interesting.

Today, the three of us had lunch at the Capital Hotel, a small, elegant establishment in a row of Georgian buildings near Harrods.  This was at least the fourth time that I have eaten here over the decades, always treated more like Lord Alan of Pitkin than poor Alan from Pitkin Avenue.  I started with cured red gurnard (a white fish common to the eastern Atlantic), served in thin, quarter-sized rounds with small cubes of oranges and slivers of red peppers.  My main, as they say, was an excellent thick lamb chop, too small for this carnivore, but understandably so given the price of the meal and the time of day.  Dessert was a dense, dark chocolate ice cream concoction with fresh raspberries, raspberry curd and sugared almonds.  Just the ice cream alone would have been memorable.  David and I had three courses for £29, at approximately $1.50 a pound, while Katherine stopped at two for £25.  In retrospect, I should have ordered dessert nominally for Katherine and paid the extra £4.  

I was actually (slightly) annoyed with one aspect of the meal.  Two cups of coffee were served, although I alone ordered coffee.  The extra was returned, but, when the check showed two cups at £4 each, I asked if this was an error.  Nope, I was supposedly charged for my refill, an unnecessary gesture. 

Tonight, I went alone to see Mr. Foote's Other Leg, a comedy based on events in the 18th century; David and Katherine had seen it already.  This time, the combination of accents and historical references had me missing even more of the dialogue than at Hangmen the other night.  What I did understand was very funny.  The lead, Simon Russell Peale, was brilliant, in a role that would perfectly suit Nathan Lane.

Getting out of the theater (theatre) just after 10 PM allowed me to have a late supper, and I went into Yori Korean BBQ Restaurant, 6 Panton Street, right around the corner.  Aside from Cambodia, which has no restaurant in Manhattan's Chinatown, and Indonesia, which shares a menu with a Malaysian restaurant, Korea has the weakest representation in Chinatown among East Asian nations.  I found only three Korean restaurants in my six years scouting, one since closed.  True to its name, Yori had grills embedded in its tables, but I ordered simply, a spring onion pancake and jap chae noodles.  Each cost about £7, making them, like almost everything else in Britain except beer, theater tickets, three course lunches at the Capital Hotel, and bus rides with a transit card, vastly overpriced.  Cost aside, the pancake, really an omelette, was especially good; the noodles, cooked with yellow onions, green onions, carrots, and sesame seeds, were served hot, not cold, as I have enjoyed them before.     
Tuesday, January 19, 2016
Please seek out 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff, a touching memoir of the twenty-year correspondence between a New York widow and an antiquarian bookseller located at that address.  It will help you restore some belief in civility and friendship.  

David and I went to Charing Cross Road this afternoon to cruise the few remaining book stores where there used to be so many.  One had a basement full of books for £1 each; I bought four mysteries to add to the Brodies' formidable library (maybe giving me an excuse to return).  Charing Cross Road is the eastern boundary of London's Chinatown, so, of course, we had lunch at the Canton Restaurant, 11 Newport Place, a joint that I first went to in 1985.  Unlike my return to the Capital Hotel, this visit was disappointing.  We ordered modestly because we were having an early dinner before a 7 o'clock curtain.  We shared pan-fried chicken dumplings (£4.50 for 5) and ho fun (chow fun) with roast pork and roast duck (£7.50).  While the food was well prepared and tasty, the roast duck with the noodles was represented solely by big chunks of fat.  We were so hungry that I never paused to complain to the waiter; that's on me. London's Chinatown, unlike Manhattan's, is strictly confined by topography, yet it seemed vigorous.  It offered many choices and next time I won't be governed by loyalty in picking a place to eat.

Husbands and Sons, the play tonight, was quite interesting.  It is a new combination of three plays written by D.H. Lawrence just before WWI, set in the coal mining village where he grew up.  Like many of you, all I know about Lawrence is the dirty parts of Lady Chatterley's Lover.  Each of the original plays dealt with a crisis in a coal miner's family, dreary circumstances in a dreary setting.  The modern adapter has arrayed the three households as they might have been in the village, allowing you to view (through invisible walls) the action more or less simultaneously, an approach that Alan Ayckbourn has used successfully in more mirthful circumstances.  After seeing the play, I read several reviews in the British press and found sharply opposing views about combining the three established works.  I thought that it was a wise move.  Each family's crisis, standing alone, might have seemed a bit stereotypical, but, along side their neighbors', they blended into a montage of very hard times in a very hard world.  For better or worse, I understood almost all the dialogue.

The view of the Thames from Waterloo Bridge on Tuesday night.

Wednesday, January 20, 2015
In spite of a 50 minute delay before boarding, my flight home was pleasant and uneventful, with the plane no more than 2/3 full.  I had time to go through a free copy of Time Out London, which, like the New York press, gave a lot of attention to David Bowie.  My interest was focused on "The Ten Best Comedy Movies," derived from a survey purportedly among more than 70 comedians.

The list of contributors is decidedly Anglo-American, but contains many UnKnown names.  Yet, the collection of best comedies definitely tilts towards the New World.  See for yourself; it will make for some interesting discussions with your friends, if they have a sense of humor.  

I won't nitpick, but the complete omission of W.C. Fields, whether The Bank Dick or My Little Chickadee, from the best 100 is a serious flaw.  Additionally, while Woody Allen deservedly makes the top 10 for Annie Hall, the Marx brothers don't show up until #19 (Animal Crackers) and Mel Brooks #21 (Young Frankenstein).  And, are Pulp Fiction and GoodFellas really comedies?

Thursday, January 21, 2016
In 1996, January 21st was the third Sunday of the month.  It was the day that I met America's Favorite Epidemiologist.  We are celebrating 20 years together on Saturday with dinner at a fine restaurant, that is if the anticipated blizzard does not confine us to the Palazzo di Gotthelf.  

Friday, January 22, 2016  
It's good to be home with my own young bride, my own bed and my own DVR.  While the two David and K pairs live at almost opposite ends of England, come from very different backgrounds, and have differing views on many social and political issues (not even agreeing within each couple), all four people shared one consistent view: Fie on Downton Abbey.  Whether approaching from left or right, no one cared about the fate of Lady Mary.  Tally ho!

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