Greetings from London, my dearly beloved Many Tens of Loyal Readers™. I have been remiss in posting regularly, and for that I sincerely apologize. It is no excuse that I have been working on a piece for The Political Junkies For Progressive Democracy, and have not yet had time to coherently assemble all of my interview and research notes, thoughts thereon, and related photos. Except, oh wait yeah, it sort of is an excuse.
Before I left, I had a general idea of what I wanted to write about on this trip. As a result of my endeavors here, however, my focus has narrowed to subject matter simultaneously more interesting and more treacherous than I originally envisioned. I need to think about this very carefully and write about it very thoughtfully, and thus it will naturally take time. This has proven to be especially problematic in light of the delightful distractions on offer in London.
The British Museum. The building itself is stunning, a fluid juxtaposition of modern and ancient, all soft palettes and diffuse natural light:
I saw the Rosetta Stone, a fragment of an Egyptian legal decree (from 196 BCE) carved in three different languages. Upon its rediscovery (in 1799 CE) by a French soldier on an expedition to Egypt, it was a key to deciphering ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. Egypt has been seeking the stone’s return since 2003. Meanwhile, it is the most visited object in the British Museum.
I also enjoyed Bubbles and bankruptcy: financial crises in Britain since 1700. Here’s part of the blurb for the exhibition:
The current financial crisis is not the first to have affected Britain, and it is unlikely to be the last. In this display you can find out more about the extraordinary stories of mismanagement, speculative frenzy, fraud and failure which permeate the history of finance. From the nation’s first major speculative bubble, caused by the South Sea Company in 1720, to the UK banking crisis in 2008–2012, the display uses original share certificates, prospectuses, banknotes and other fascinating objects to explain how, why and when financial crises have happened.
And by extension, it explains how and why —if not precisely when — devastating financial crises in underregulated capitalist systems operating in formal democracies will happen again. The financial crisis in Britain is significantly worse than the mess in the U.S., mainly as a result of massive injections of a toxic substance known as “austerity.” (In the U.S. we are being given a slower intravenous drip, so that like the frog in gradually warming water we will not realize we are doomed until we are well and fully cooked.) It’s so bad here that even Goldman Sachs — Goldman Sachs! — is telling the British government to knock it the fuck off. I have to give the curators credit: it’s an intriguing idea for an exhibit. And I was pleased to see a Guy Fawkes mask on display, but the exhibit itself was small in scope and light on content.
I regret that I will not be in London to see Ice Age art: arrival of the modern mind, which opens at the museum on February 7.
Here (pdf) you can see detailed descriptions of some of the pieces that will be on display, along with thumbnail images.
I am thinking of redoing the Palace gates in this style:
Discerning Loyal Readers™ will particularly appreciate the equestrian statuary atop the arch. (Also this awesome word: quadriga.) It depicts the angel of peace descending upon the chariot of war, or somesuch naive delusion. Designed by Adrian Jones, it is the largest bronze sculpture in Europe.
- Built between 1826-1830.
- Much of the intended exterior ornamentation was omitted as a cost-saving measure, necessitated by the king’s overspending on the refurbishment of Buckingham Palace.
- The arch is hollow inside, and until 1992 housed a small police station. It is open to the public and contains three floors of exhibits detailing its history; visitors can also step onto terraces on both sides of the top of the arch, for views of Green Park and Hyde Park.
- One half of the arch functions as a ventilation shaft for the London Underground. This causes on average three emergency calls each year to the London Fire Brigade from people believing smoke is coming from the arch when in fact it is warm air and dust from the subway.
The Palace’s proposed replica of the Wellington Arch will not be hosting a police station. Or tourists. Or, needless to say, a ventilation shaft for the E train.
Words cannot express the depth of my loathing for War Horse, but you know what? I think I should try. Okay: awesome horse puppetry, great staging, blah blah blah. Technical theatre craft at its finest. But the novelty wears off in five minutes. One is then left with a Very Special Episode of Lassie Come Home comprised of nearly every single cliched piece of dialogue and predictable plot device known to hackdom and lasting three excruciating fucking hours. The casual, thoughtless acceptance of the notion that going off to war in a foreign nation is noble, natural and just. The toxic narrative that a man’s character is forged in war. The abysmally small number of female characters, and those relegated to 2-dimensional, overwrought, emotional stereotypes. All of that wondrous theatrical magic deployed in the service of validating the simplistic fantasy world imagined by right-wing chickenhawks the world over. Blech.
Matilda, on the other hand, was fucking badass. Based on the 1988 novel by Roald Dahl, the music and lyrics are by Palace fave Tim Minchin. I loved Roald Dahl as a child, and treasured my dog-eared copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I never read Matilda, as it was written after I had “outgrown” children’s books — well, all of them except for Atlas Shrugged. (*sigh*). I only rarely see musical theatre in New York: for one thing it’s ridiculously expensive; worse, it’s frequently terrible. (Truefax: once upon a time, Your Humble Monarch™ received B.A. in Theatre Arts, cum laude, thank you very much, from an actual, accredited University. She is therefore eminently qualified to pronounce that musical theatre on Broadway is generally awful.) The last musical I saw was off-Broadway: last year I took my teenage nieces to see Carrie the Musical* (yes, that Carrie) at the Lucille Lortel Theatre on Christopher Street.
But Matilda? It was a raucous production. Though it was difficult to catch ever word sung, Minchin’s lyrics are excellent and the music appropriately dark, eloquent and powerful. The story is extraordinarily subversive, profoundly anti-authoritarian, an anti-anti-intellectual manifesto. The protagonist is a little girl trapped in a family of shallow, abusive @$$holes, but Matilda is by no means some sweet, hapless, innocent requiring salvation by a White Knight (though she does come to the happiest ending one could wish for her, considering her circumstances). Instead, Matilda is an unabashedly brilliant bookworm, a mischievous prankster, a fierce advocate for justice and fairness, and most refreshingly, angry. There is an unfortunate (and entirely unnecessary) recourse to the supernatural that bugs me, but at least it leans toward the occult as opposed to Jeezus.
In short, Matilda is joyous. In a departure from tradition, I plan to see the New York version, which opens in April.
*Believe it or not, Carrie the Musical was surprisingly good. Marin Mazzie, who lived right across the hall from me when I lived in Hell’s Kitchen, was amazing as Carrie’s fundy Christturd mother. The women’s duets in particular were something to behold, and I imagine the writers had a ball with the unusual task of writing such pieces.