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Archive for March, 2011

Leroy and Mariah were both in town visiting. We were at a pub looking through our travel guides  and trying to decide what exactly it was we wanted to do with our week. The contrasts were stark.  Husband was completely embarrassed by our public display of tourism. Mariah, ever the planner, had her wheels spinning. Laid-back Leroy was agreeing to every suggestion without too much enthusiasm. That is, until we mentioned visiting a few monoliths. The Discovery Channel buff in him suddenly perked up and Mariah and I knew we had to make it happen.

Since Stonehenge is a little cliche and Mariah and I had already been there, we decided to visit Avebury. Word was that it was better and the oldest stone circle in Europe. The stone circles are multiple in number, more accessible and integrated into the town. In fact, the town is built inside these massive stone circles.

Luck was with us as the sun was shining for our drive out to Avebury. We parked the car and quickly found the main attraction: strategically placed large stones. Although Avebury does not carry the iconic image that Stonehenge has blazed in our collective consciousness, the sheer number of stones and organization was much greater than that of Stonehenge.

Avebury

After a bit of walking around the stones we headed into the museum. I needed context for what we were viewing. The staff at the museum was a breathe of fresh air. Tourist sites have a tendency to make one feel like cattle. The people at Avebury seemed generally excited to have our company. It was a bit like dating the sister of the prom queen.

A walk through the stones.

Let’s consult Wikipedia for historical background.

Constructed around 2600 BCE, during the Neolithic, or ‘New Stone Age’, the monument comprises of a large henge, surrounded by a bank and a ditch. Inside this henge is a large outer stone circle, with two separate smaller stone circles situated inside the centre of the monument. Its original purpose is not known, although archaeologists believe that it was most likely used for some form of ritual or ceremonial usage. The Avebury monument was a part of a larger prehistoric landscape containing several older monuments nearby, including West Kennet Long Barrow and Silbury Hill.

In the Late Mediaeval and Early Modern periods, locals destroyed many of the standing stones in the monument, and a village was built in the centre of it. The antiquarians John Aubrey and William Stukeley however took an interest in Avebury, and recorded much of the site before its destruction. Archaeologists proceeded to excavate at the site in the 20th century.

It’s wild to think about someone chopping down this ancient stone arrangement to build onto their house. I guess it felt silly to go in search of new raw materials when these had been delivered right to your doorstep. Plus, the historical nature of the stones may not have been widely understood or respected in the Late Medieval and Early Modern times.

Stone Marked Road

One thing about Avebury that I absolutely can not recommend is the Red Lion Pub in the village. The service was more than atrocious, it was comical.  The food was just plain bad. They were out of half the menu. I don’t know how you mess up fried food that badly but the chips were terrible. We were treated like an annoyance by the kid behind the bar. They forgot to bring our dessert. They were out of coffee cups. Not out of coffee, just out of vessels (for there or to go) to hold it in because they had a rush of visitors a few days earlier. Not that morning. Not yesterday. A few DAYS earlier. Yeah, it didn’t make sense to me either.

Do not eat here.

Constructed around 2600 BCE,[1] during the Neolithic, or ‘New Stone Age’, the monument comprises of a large henge, surrounded by a bank and a ditch. Inside this henge is a large outer stone circle, with two separate smaller stone circles situated inside the centre of the monument. Its original purpose is not known, although archaeologists believe that it was most likely used for some form of ritual or ceremonial usage. The Avebury monument was a part of a larger prehistoric landscape containing several older monuments nearby, including West Kennet Long Barrow and Silbury Hill.

In the Late Mediaeval and Early Modern periods, locals destroyed many of the standing stones in the monument, and a village was built in the centre of it. The antiquarians John Aubrey and William Stukeley however took an interest in Avebury, and recorded much of the site before its destruction. Archaeologists proceeded to excavate at the site in the 20th century.

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It’s difficult to deal with the stress of a death in the family. It’s downright insane to deal with a talking semi-estranged dead father whose body needs to be transported back to his war-torn homeland. Shore portrays this situation with a balance of sincerity and humor.

We witness the main character, Wilfrid, undergo rapid maturation after making a blunt revelation about his heritage. Despite the stark subject material of death and suffering, the play remains light and enjoyable. Wilfrid’s psyche’s comical manifestations and a few tricks of Wajdi Mouawad’s playwriting style reflect a sense of how we deal with tragedy as humans. All too common in a life changing situation, we are forced to stop and laugh at the absurdity of it all.

This is all complimented by an obvious drawing on Wajdi Mouawad’s personal cultural divide. He draws on his Lebanese roots and western experiences to create this commentary on heritage and responsibility that labels neither as good nor bad. It’s just what is.

In the end the play feels unlikely and sappy and yet at the same time honest and funny. I recommend this performance to anyone. I especially recommend it to those seeking something a bit deeper than the likes of Sadler’s Wells’ Shoes, wanting to see a well-run show in a cozy intimate environment, or just interested in seeing a nice looking man start off the show in his boxers.

Wilfrid. Picture courtesy of Arcadia Productions.

As an added treat, you can stop in and hang out at Riverside Theatre cafe and bar. The night I popped in the atmosphere was buzzing with great music, conversation and a nice selection of adult beverages. Food is available as well although I did not have a chance to try any.

Riverside Studio's very happening cafe.

Shore runs through April 16th, 2011 Contact Riverside Studios for exact showtimes. Tickets are £15 (£10 concessions).

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This is the time of the year when the Texas Highway Department forgoes all mowing and the roadsides become covered with fields of bluebonnets. The long car rides between Texas cities don’t seem so dreary anymore. You have more to look forward to than a kolache at the Czech Stop in the small town of West.

On Saturday and Sunday afternoons you see cars of couples, families and friends with their children and dogs pull over to the highway shoulder and begin snapping away with their camera. Everyone who grew up in Texas has pictures of themselves in a field of bluebonnets somewhere. If they say they don’t, they are lying. Or maybe an orphan.

I remember the year it rained continuously and the next spring was a shocking blast of early blue blooms. Standing in front of the sea of blue, sunshine warm, weather still cool enough, it’s hard to think of things that could make you happier. Probably because it’s hard to think of anything else at all.

It’s a symbol that the days are fleeting. The short but gruff winter is over and there is a promise of halcyon outdoor days  before the brutal summer turns water side activity into a necessity. Winter and the corresponding Seasonal Affective Disorder is now so far away. All things are right again in Texas.

 

Texas summer survival.

“My fervent hope is that our homes, roadsides, parks – both community and industrial – and public spaces will provide a home for our wildflowers and other native plants where they can provide economic benefits and add to the eye and spirit of their beholders.” – Lady Bird Johnson

Lady Bird Johnson, picture not mine.

That’s former first lady of the United States, Lady Bird Johnson. She’s a Texas hero of mine. I image if there was an afterlife that her and former Texas governor Ann Richards would be hanging out swapping stories of Texas politics and having a damn good time.

 

The incredible Ann Richards. Picture also not mine.

Lady Bird was responsible for the Highway Beautification Act of 1965. It’s intent was to control outdoor advertising and junk on the side of the road. It was met with a lot of opposition. Today Texas roadsides are obviously a compromise but it is a sight when the bluebonnets come out.

I was bummed when I realized I was going to miss out on the wildflowers this year. This was before I knew about the daffodils. I was walking through Green Park one day and all of a sudden they were there. Little yellow buds telling me  winter was nearly over. Now the daffodils are everywhere. People stop in the park to have their photos taken with their friends, families, children and dogs.

 

Daffodil Portraiture, Exhibit A

Daffodil Portraiture, Exhibit B

It’s even more stunning when nobody warns you that they are coming, they just appear. It’s a symbol that the days are fleeting. The long and gray winter with it’s cabin fever, roast dinners and endless cup of teas is coming to an end. There is a promise of a short but halcyon summer surrounded by a cool fall and spring. All things are right again in London.

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My first experience of Battersea Park was in July of 2009. I was in London for a day and looking for something to do. I didn’t want to go to a typical site like the Tower of London or Buckingham Palace and the weather was too nice to spend inside a museum. I was craving an authentic London activity, something that a Londoner might actually attend. I ended up at a Bastille Day celebration in Battersea Park. A party in the park to celebrate another country’s independence day? Sounds perfectly London to me. Plus there was French food, wine, sunshine and music. Sold.

 

Bastille Day 2009

My next run in with Battersea Park was when Husband and I were scouting potential homes. We found the most lovely place overlooking the park with loads of natural light and a rooftop terrace to die for. Husband’s commute to work would have been atrocious and there’s no way we could afford the place, but we were starstruck.

Thankfully we came to our senses before our rental bid was accepted and settled for a much more sensible but extremely nice garden flat elsewhere in London. It was still close enough for frequent visits to Battersea Park.

With the weather as great as it has been this week, I made some time to spend at Battersea Park. Many London locations tend to be swamped on sunny afternoons, but understated and overlooked Battersea park was perfect for finding solitude amongst others.

 

 

Brown Dog

Anti-vivisectionists commissioned a bronze statue of this dog as a memorial to a University College London controversy . A brown terrier was illegal dissected with questionable levels of anaesthetia in front of an audience of 60 medical students. The statue was taken down in 1910 due to political pressure. A replacement memorial was placed behind the Pump House in1985 only to be taken down in 1992. The replacement statue was put back up in 1994, but this time it was hidden away in the Woodland Walk near the Olde English Garden.  I guess it gets less notice and therefore less controversy there.

View across the Thames from Battersea Park

Peace Pagoda

I took some time to meditate near the Peace Pagoda before leaving. Cliche, but I couldn’t resist.

If you are looking for something to do this weekend, Battersea Park hosts the Affordable Art Fair March 10-13th. Tickets run from £8 – £15. 120 galleries will be exhibiting art all under £4,000.

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If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that I’ve been wanting to see Shoes since my first Sadler’s Wells experience, the Electric Hotel.

Judging from the reviews out there, people really hate this show. I hoped that Shoes might be more than a nod to Sex and the City, but I was well prepared for a fun mindless girly few hours if it was not.

The show was made of different sketches. Some were funny, some weren’t meant to be. Some promoted consumerism, but not all were label and shopping focused. The impracticality of high end blister inducing shoes and enormous wads of cash spent chasing them was given more than a fair nod. A great scene focusing on trainers highlighted the sporty practical side of shoes. Jesus, Imelda Marcos and your mother all make an appearance in the show, as does Kate Miller Heidke and her operatic voice. The choreography was mostly fantastic with a few skits that I wasn’t into.

Did I enjoy this performance as much as I enjoyed Electric Hotel? Maybe not. Electric Hotel was more intellectual. Did I have any regrets? Yes, sitting too close to the stage. I had to sit up extra tall to see the stars of the show – the shoes. Other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed it and left with a very large grin on my face.

A little bit too close to the stage.

As they say in the opening number ‘If you don’t like shoes, it’s going to be a very long evening.” Heed that advice or enjoy.

Shoes runs until April 3rd and plays at the Peacock Theatre in London.

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789 Wandsworth Rd
Lambeth SW8 3JQ

020 7498 5630

Has anybody noticed the glut of car repair shops over in Wandsworth? It seems there’s an entire row of them. I took the car to Wandsworth to have the oil changed. The man told me it would take an hour and a half. The hour and a half ended up being three and a half hours. I stopped into The Roastery in North Clapham to kill some time and manage the extreme appetite I had not initially planned for.

The sign outside promised brunch and coffee good enough for a Clapham coffee snob. The small cafe is fun and welcoming with free wifi and really great music. The barista was friendly as she let me down gently. Brunch is only served Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Panic, then acceptance. “Well, what is that girl in the corner eating?”

The barista pointed to the most lovely looking bagel sandwiches. She described what was in them but all I heard through my hunger was “deliciousness, deliciousness, deliciousness.” Context clues told me that one was vegetarian and one was smoked salmon.

“Great, I’ll take that one. And one of these baked goods? Afghan cookie made with cocoa and cornflakes? Yes, please. Oh and a Latte.” I was fully aware that my eyes were much bigger than my stomach but I was beyond any notions of self control.

I found a seat and relaxed into it. No telling how long the car was going to take at this point, but this was a place I could happily chill at for a while.

Afghan Biscuit

Interesting enough, Afghan biscuits are not from Afghanistan at all. They are a traditional New Zealand treat. The menu and condiments at the Roastery subtly incorporate  the owners’ Antipodean heritage.

 

Latte served with brownie treat

Bagel sandwich

The barista brought out sample Spirulina smoothies to try. The other patron looked at the glass of bright green with curiosity but I dove right in to the algae laced drink. The sweetness of banana overpowered any flavor that might be mistaken as slightly too healthy. I slurped up my tasty and refreshing smoothie while eyeing the price board. For more than £4 a smoothie I hope it is a large serving size.

Afghan biscuit + bagel sandwich + latte = £8. A little pricey for Clapham, but for a cozy place with wifi and friendly staff, I would definitely come back.

The Roastery on Urbanspoon

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“Some people dream their entire lives about going to Italy” I tell Husband. We are unenthusiastically packing for a weekend jaunt to Milan and I want to be reminded of how amazing the phrase “weekend jaunt to Milan” actually is. Don’t get me wrong, we are happy about going on this trip. We just have so much else going on as well.

Access to so many cultures. This is why people dream about living in Europe. When it gets integrated into everyday life it may start to feel blase.

I had a conversation with my neighbor about the sites and history we live among in Central London. He found it odd that people he met traveling were so enamored by his proximity to world heritage sites. “I mean, they live around great stuff too. You know, like in America they have the Grand Canyon.”

“Except people don’t really live at the Grand Canyon. It’s in the middle of nowhere,” I point out.

I walk past Buckingham Palace a few times a week on my way to the studio where I practice yoga and sometimes work. Because it’s me and because it’s London, I am usually late.  I should be enjoying my surroundings but instead I feel frustrated. The area is jammed with tourists. One can only stop and let tourists set up their next Facebook profile photographs so many times. I have been this tourist. I have been this tourist in London. My impatience is practicality, not malice.

I wonder how many holiday photographs feature a rushed me in the background.

I pause sometimes to contemplate the gravity of my scenery. A place I heard about but never knew if I would see is now a part of my everyday life.

I took this quick photo while dodging tourists during one of those sudden contemplations.

Just another stroll past Buckingham Palace

Gotta go, I’m late for the studio.

Don’t get me wrong, we are happy about going on this trip. We just have so much else going on as well.

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