21 June 2016

England Day Thirteen: Nothing Unlucky About "The Play That Goes Wrong"

I love London. I love the energy of a big city. I love the history and knowledge right at your fingertips. I love the amazing restaurants and the feeling of being in a place where amazing things have and are and will happen. London is a dream.

Today we kicked off that dream by visiting the museums around Trafalgar Square. Trafalgar is one of the most recognizable places in London - the huge monument to Nelson, the National Gallery behind you and the Houses of Parliament visible in the distance - it's a crowded place, but a magical place all the same. I love this city.

The National Gallery was our first stop of the day. It's a rat's maze of a place that's fun to wander. Unless you buy the map (£1), you really don't know what you're going to find, other than a general era of artwork. I actually prefer it this way. When I wander an art museum I like to go in blind. I like to walk a gallery until something peeks my interest. If I find something great, I stop. If I find something really great, I can stay for ages. I don't know enough about art history to really critique a piece. I know the names of many great artists (largely thanks to my mother), and I know a lot of history, but in general, I go with my gut reaction. The National Gallery is really suited to an experience like this. There are so many brilliant artists on display that you can't "showcase" them all. Sometimes you turn a corner and find a recognizable piece on a back wall surrounded by works you've never seen or heard of. Or the piece is in a corner you'd never have noticed. The surprise of it all is appealing to me.

Today I was particularly taken by the works of Monet. All artwork is better in person, but I think Monet is especially so. I love getting so close that you can see the individual brush strokes. Up close (to quote Cher), Monet is a mess. I love taking a step backward, then another, then another, and so on as the painting comes into view clearly. The farther back you go, the more beautiful it is. I like that as a symbol of humanity. Sometimes I feel like I look at myself (or others) I only see the little pieces. It's when I look back on the whole of my life (or the lives of others) that the beauty becomes clearer. It's the same when I look at the experiences I've had or the places I've been led that haven't made sense. Viewed from a distance, their purpose in the grand design is clearer.

I'd like to say that the whole of my experience in the museum was profound and thoughtful, but I also really love finding doppelgängers for modern humans and looking at bizarre religious art. Oh, Medieval and Renaissance artists. Bless them. They weren't really allowed (at least legally) to study the human body, which means that much of their art is a disproportionate mess that gives me the giggles. It's undignified, but it sure is fun. Today I found a dead ringer for Mr. Bean, a baby Jesus that Mary certainly didn't give birth to (it was ENORMOUS) and some other great, if bizarre, works of art. Maybe you had to be there?

After the National Gallery we walked down to Westminster to tour, but decided against it. Ticket prices have raised to £20 a person (that's half a day pass to Disneyland) and we decided we'd rather save that £20 for Cursed Child swag. We are hoping to attend an evening service there on Sunday so that we can get a peek inside for free. (It probably won't be quite so busy then either.)  I've been before though, so it's all good. (I guess this means we've reached the part of the trip where yet another amazing and historic church is just sort of "meh". Bit sad.) We did have a look around the grounds, though. There are a few things on the grounds I like to visit, especially the statues dedicated to great world leaders. We didn't get to see them all today, but we did see a few. The Abraham Lincoln one is my favorite, partly because of the legend behind it. The story goes that America agreed to have a statue of Lincoln near Westminster, but only if he were placed on American soil. The statue, then, is on dirt that was (at least many years ago) shipped over from America. The great part of this is that, according to the legend, if you are an American in trouble with British law and you go stand by the statue of Lincoln, you are technically on American soil and the British can't do anything to you. I don't know if anyone has tried this.

One feature on the grounds today was a huge pile of flowers and a banner for the recently slain MP, Jo Cox. She was killed a week and a half ago outside the library in her constituency in an act of violence that has shocked the country - gun violence is really rare in the UK. Every news channel I've watched has been reporting on updates regularly. The more I've learned about her, the more I've grown to respect her. She seems like she was a truly wonderful woman who worked hard for her people. It's really impressive to see the different interviews of people in her district - they all seem to have great affection for her, and many have personal experiences or anecdotes about how she has personally influenced them (either directly or indirectly). She was heavily involved in causes of humanitarian aid. Many of the tributes on the flowers outside Westminster were personal cards from her friends within Parliament.

In addition to these tributes, there have been many tributes to the victims of the Orlando shooting and Oxford had a display in show of support to victims of sexual violence, many directed specifically to the Stanford rape victim. Walking down the streets here I see people of all races and languages and religions. It's striking to me how different societies that are inherently diverse have far more dominant attitudes about acceptance.  I'm sure that there are those who are on the opposite side of that - the murder of Jo Cox is proof of that - but walking around London reminds me that who I am, the ideas that I have, the place where I live - it's all just a piece of a puzzle that is much bigger than I am.  It really is important to look outside the microcosm of life you live in now and then and see the world from a different lens.

Given that Westminster was crazy crowded (and pricy), we decided to head back to Trafalgar Square to visit the National Portrait Gallery.  I love this one - it sounds a bit boring, but I actually really love the chance to see portraits (some familiar, some unfamiliar) of people I know about and admire.  My favorite of the day was a portrait of William Wilberforce.  He was the man behind the push to abolish the slave trade in Britain back in the early 19th century.  He campaigned tirelessly throughout his life for social reform.  He, to me, is a person who wore out his life in well-doing.  It struck me that his portrait was unfinished.  It suggests, as the plaque next to the painting pointed out, that Wilberforce led a life that was always in progress both as an individual and representing the work he strove to accomplish.

The show tonight was The Play That Goes Wrong.  It was compared to Noises Off, which is always a good thing, and it won the Olivier Award (British version of the Tony) for best comedy in 2015.  That was about all I knew about it going in - we were not disappointed.  After some dark shows (Faustus and 1984 aren't exactly sunny), this show was a breath of fresh air.  We laughed from start to finish.  Definitely a show to remember.  I bought the script so I can read it again (and convince some theatre back home to do it).  If you get the chance to see it, or if it ever makes it to the States - see it.  You won't regret it.

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