Thursday, October 30, 2008

'Half-Term' Already! And and Evening with Aida.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

I held a class with a difference today in that I invited a Guest Speaker to address my students. Prof. Paul Montgomery, a second-generation Anglo-Indian who teaches English at Lambeth College on London's South Bank, presented a fascinating account of his mixed-race family in a presentation he entitled, "Call of the Blood". Using an overhead projector, photographs, family trees and precious heirlooms in the form of medals dating from the reign of King George V, he brought alive the complexities of racial ambiguity, diverse blood lines, migration and marriage in his family and traced it's journey through the world from Scotland to India to England with exactitude and sensitivity. My students enjoyed every minute and asked several pertinent questions at the end. It was a wonderful opportunity for them to meet a real-life Anglo-Indian in the UK and to listen to him speak so passionately about his attempts to write down his memoirs by tracing his genealogy.

A few minutes later, we stood in the bitter cold (for we have gone from summer to winter in the space of a few days!) at the entrance to NYU-London to pose for class group pictures. When we did return to our classroom, it was time for my students to take a mid-term exam (or "half-terms" as they say here), then say their goodbyes to each other and to me as they launch out on their discovery of Europe during our week-long Fall Break.

I spoke to Llew while munching my lunch at my desk and keeping office hours. He was close to boarding his flight to London and I was lucky I got him when I did. Kept hanging until the last minute as to whether or not his flight would have the anticipated 3 hour delay, we decided to remain flexible about our plans for tomorrow.

At 2pm, I taught my second class--Writing I at Birkbeck College--but clearly my students were exhausted, excited and frustrated, all at the same time. Exhausted because they are badly sleep-deprived having sat up all night for a week on end cramming for their exams, cranking out papers and handing them in. Excited because most of them are traveling to Europe during the break and can't wait to get the heck out. Frustrated because they received their graded papers back and they were none too pleased with their results.

I have realized that it is necessary to modify my own syllabus based on the large number of students in my class who really ought to be taking English as a Foreign Language. Having spent a few hours grading their portfolios, I have decided to scrap the final version and handed out an additional essay instead--which I shall read from draft to final stage. I had really intended to conduct my class today at the National Portrait Gallery where I was to give a guided tour. However, the fact that I have to rest my feet made me cancel the field-trip. Instead, I asked my students to visit the Museum themselves, then pick out any three portraits and write a research-based essay on them. We also had fun in class, taking our cue from Susan Allan Toth's book England for All Seasons. In one of the chapters entitled, "Listening in at the National Portrait Gallery", she imagines a conversation occurring between the various personages features in oils, water colors and celluloid on the walls. I asked my students to create a conversation between the three people featured in the portraits they picked out. It made for some hilarious efforts as Elizabeth I asked Admiral Nelson what detergent he used because his trousers were so white, Henry VIII made a pass at Emily Bronte while commenting upon her off-the-shoulder dress and Princess Diana told John Lennon that he badly needed a hair cut!

Then, it was time for me to close shop for a week and make my way towards the London Coliseum where Guiseppe Verdi's Aida was on at the English National Opera. I was delighted to discover that though I purchased a ticket for 20 pounds, I was able to move to the 50 pound seats as so many of them remained unoccupied. If there is only opera one can see in a lifetime, I truly believe it should be Aida for every element that constitutes classic opera is present in fullest measure. Take the plot, for instance. This one is full of intrigue and passion. Take the setting. This one is set in ancient Egypt. Take costumes. This one had a wardrobe designed by one of Britain's most talented contemporary designers, the flamboyant, pink-haired Zandra Rhodes. To say that they were sumptuous would be an understatement. Take stage design. This one was spectacular with turquoise blue and flaming orange dominating the color palate and repeated both in the props and the costumes. Take the music...Aida has some of opera's best-known melodies such as The Triumphal March and Celeste Aida and they were sung by virtuosos from Jane Dutton's stunning Amneris to John Hudson's Radames, from Ian Paterson's Amonasro to Claire Rutter's Aida. My favorite artiste was Jane Dutton whose strong mezzo soprano voice soared to the rafters of the ornate Edwardian hall with its plush boxes and its frescoed ceilings. What a treat it was to be able to listen to such fantastic music in such a lush production! It was nothing short of extraordinary!

Having used the bus to get to work this morning, I actually did walk home and was none the worse for my 20 minute trek (touch wood!). A good hot water Coke Bottle Roll Massage did the trick upon my return while I dined on toast with Nutella before I called Llew just as he was boarding his connecting flight from Raleigh, North Carolina, for Heathrow, relieved to discover that he did not have to twiddle his thumbs at the airport for 3 hours! I then called Ian to tell him that Llew's flight will be arriving on time tomorrow morning after all and that he should meet us at Leicester Square at 10 am where we hope to get good half-price tickets for another show.

Ian himself has been painting the town scarlet all week long. Last night, he saw Daniel Craig and the new Bond Girl at the premier of the new film Quantam of Solace at Leicester Square--definitely a highlight of his trip, he says--and today, he was at the stage musical Sound of Music! I am so happy to see how well he has spent his week in London.

I can scarcely believe that even as I type this, Llew is winging his way across the Pond and eating up the miles that have separated us for 6 weeks. To say that I cannot wait to be with him again would be another understatement!

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