22 June 2016

England Day Fourteen: Too Many Tourists

We all slept in far too late this morning. Two weeks of non-stop rushing around can take a toll on a person, and today that toll manifest itself in all of us oversleeping.  This left us with a slightly truncated tourist experience, but we still have plenty of time left to see what we want to, so it's all good. After we finally dragged ourselves out of bed, we went directly for the Tower of London.

The Tower has a rich history in Britain with origins in London more than 1,000 years ago. Located right off the Thames, it's a perfect location for many things. It began as a castle for Edward I. Eventually it would be used as an armory, a mint, and, most famously, a prison. The last prisoner held in the Tower was back during World War Two, but the prime of prison use was during the 1500-1600s. Back then, the understanding was that if you entered the Tower by river as prisoner, as many did, you would not leave. Many famous Englishmen (and women) saw their last days in the Tower, including two of Henry VIII's wives - Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard.

I hadn't been to the Tower in nearly a decade before today. I didn't really enjoy it the first time, so I didn't go on my last trip. That feeling more or less held. I feel like going to the Tower is a bit like seeing the Champs de Lise in Paris. You see it because that's just what you do in Paris, but you get there and the whole thing, while interesting and historic, is so overrun by tourists that it's not a very enjoyable place to be, so you just leave.  I've heard more American accents today since I got to London, and American tourists can be really frustrating after the orderly queuing you see from the Brits. (Yes. I know that I'm American, but I'm also a teacher and a firm believer in taking your turn in an orderly way.) So the Tower isn't my favorite place. It's expensive, but there are some perks. For example, the Crown Jewels are kept in the Tower. You get to parade past priceless jewels that are so enormous it makes you simultaneously sick with envy and disgust of extravagance all at once. One of the diamonds we saw is more than 3,000 karats. Another crown had more than 12,000 diamonds in it (at one point - they were all taken out? I don't remember why.) Such extravagance is hard to fathom. I was struck by the symbolism of the coronation ceremony itself. The process and ornaments that are used and tokens that are given are extremely similar to those in LDS Temples. Hugh Nibley (a Mormon theologian and brilliant scholar of history) talks about how all civilizations are, in one way or another, re-creating the temple, whether they know it or not.  It really was both beautiful and overwhelming to see.

We left the Tower in search of food and a change of plan. We'd stayed so long that our plan to visit St. Paul's would need to be postponed. Our substitute plan was to go in search of chocolate. I did some research on the best chocolate boutiques in London, and we settled on one that is run by a man named Paul A. Young. He is, according to what I read anyway, supposed to be the best chocolatier in London. The store was small but completely enticing. It smelled amazing and looked even better. I love the detail of design that gets put into really good food. When presentation matters, I assume that the product is worth my while. (You can totally judge a book by its cover. Be superficial!) I haven't been disappointed. So far I've had one of the four I bought (don't ask how much they were!) ((Ok. They were about £2 each.)) The one I tasted was kafir lime and ginger. If you haven't had kafir lime before, you're missing out. It's got a delicious tart flavor, but mellowed slightly and creamier. It was heaven.

Our show tonight was The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk at the Wannamaker Theatre (just behind the Globe). It was the "wild card" show that we picked. There is precious little to be found about it online - all we knew was that it had been performed with success elsewhere, that it was about Marc Chagall and his wife, and that it was produced by the RSC. We figured that even if the show was awful, the production value would be solid. We were definitely not disappointed. Truthfully, I don't know that I have words to adequately describe what it was to experience this show. The music (two live musicians playing klezmer inspired music) was beautiful. There are times when words aren't necessary (or even damaging) to the message you want to present. Theater is so often guilty of talking when words are unnecessary. In musicals they sing to fill these voids, but even then the words can trivialize the purity of expression. This show was a master class of stillness and patience in allowing and trusting the audience to follow the story, even when there aren't words to tell it.  The story of the life that Marc and Bella shared together was told through a series of vignettes interspersed with music - the whole night was mesmerizing and magical and lovely.  I'm dying to get my hands on this script. The last time I saw an RSC show in London, it was released on film.  Maybe the theater gods will smile upon me and release this one too so I can share it with others.  I'm so glad we went.

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