Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Walking Tour of Covent Garden and 'Macbeth' on Screen

Saturday, July 20, 2013

            I awoke about 6. 30 with a splitting headache and decided I needed to do something about it. Two hours and two Tylenols later, headache was history and I was able to get out of bed at 8.30 and start my day. Phew!
            Spent most of the morning doing errands—began packing for my move to my next lodgings at St. John’s Wood. This took about half an hour. Next, I made gift packs for all my friends here who have ‘lent’ me their homes in which to stay.  Then I got on the bus to St. Paul’s to my friend Cynthia’s home so that I could leave my large suitcase at her’s and travel about London from one week to the next with a much smaller case that she lent me last week. Unfortunately, she was in the shower, so I did not meet her. Left the suitcase outside her door and returned home on the bus. I caught up on email and did some steady work for a couple of hours. I breakfasted on the last of my muesli and honey yoghurt and then made a sandwich for lunch and got dressed. By the time I left the flat, it was close to 1.00 pm. I took the Tube to Covent Garden in order to start my walking tour of the area following the route in DK Eyewitness Guides.

A Walking Tour of Covent Garden:          
          Holborn, where I am currently based, is dead at the weekends—which is a good thing if you live here as it gives you some respite from the constant buzz of the area that is highly commercial and profoundly legal. (The Tube stop is called Chancery Lane which, if you are a fan of Charles Dickens, you will know was the setting for his novel Bleak House filled with lawyers and the case called ‘Jarndyce and Jarndyce’ which went on endlessly).
          So when I hit Covent Garden, the contrast was startling. The area was jam-packed with tourists. There were thousands everywhere I turned. Streaming out of the Tube station in droves, they choked Long Acre Road and spilled into the Piazza at Covent Garden in such numbers, you’d think London was the only place in the world to which a visitor could go!
          I followed the route which took me into Neal Street to the charming little courtyard called Neal’s Yard. Here, buildings painted in bright and vivid colors are clustered around a small space filled with health food stores and restaurants. Everyone seemed to be doing a thriving trade with people eating on the pavements in café trottoir settings a la Paris. These were once warehouses that have been jazzed up to become exorbitant real estate in which only the fanciest shops and boutiques have their glass fronts.
            Just across the street was Thomas Neal’s—another warehouse building that has been converted into an indoor mall. It has a restaurant on the basement level and an interesting light fixture replicating giant light bulbs on the main level. I popped in, took a few pictures and walked out towards Seven Dials which was also packed. It is like a miniature Eros statue (I mean the one at Piccadilly) in the number of people that had congregated around its base. It stands at an important crossroads that is marked by a column on top of which are six sundials—the seventh is the point of the column itself. Although the original column dated back to the 17th century, this is a more contemporary replica.
            On through Monmouth Street I proceeded, to arrive at colorful St. Martin’s Court (previously Ching Court) also filled with eateries, the main one belonging to Jamie Oliver. Outside, there is Dishoom, the Indian restaurant with a difference—it serves Bombay street food and lots of chaat. It was packed with Indians having brunch. I stepped inside (as my friend Murali had blogged about it and I was keen to see it for myself) and found Bollywood posters from the 1960s as well as magazine pages from Eve’s Weekly and Femina which took me down Nostalgia Lane double quick! A really interesting restaurant that is worth a visit, I think.
            On I went towards Rose Street and Garrick Street to find The Lamb and Flag pub that has stood on this spot in a hidden corner since the 16th century. Parts of the interior have been untouched since that time. I was encouraged to try their own brew—New Frontier ale--and it was welcome on another hot morning—although I have to say being cloudy and overcast, it offered relief from the heat and humidity of the past few days. John Dryden was once seriously wounded in a brawl outside its doors in the alley because he had lampooned the Duchess of Portsmouth (one of the mistresses of Charles II) and there is a plaque to commemorate this shady event.
            As I walked towards Covent Garden, I spied Carluccio’s, an Italian restaurant chain that I absolutely love. It carries some of my favorite eats: their caponata and their lemon tarts are to die for and I never leave London without partaking of the genius of the chain’s founder, Antonio Carluccio. I popped in to look around and was rewarded with a few nibbles—sample olive oil served with focaccia bread and parmesan cheese and salami. Nice!
            By this time, I was close to Covent Garden’s lively Piazza that was fairly jumping with humanity. There were buskers galore all over the place entertaining the public with magic shows and musical offerings. I found Laduree, the French confectioner, has set up a tea room right on the piazza! How multi-culturall it is all becoming—Carluccio’s and Laduree only steps from each other. I love Laduree’s melange de maison tea (house blend tea) to which I had become introduced in Paris and I buy loads of it (now available in New York). I introduced my friends Michael and Cynthia to it when they were visiting me in Connecticut and now they are huge fans too! I stepped into Apple Market and into the many shops that line the market—once a famous flower market (setting for Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion and its film version My Fair Lady), today it does a brisk trade in all sorts of crafts. In neighboring Jubilee Market, there were more arts and crafts although on some days of the week there is vintage bric a brac (no more antiques—for those one has to go to the posh shops at Notting Hill or on Church Street).
            Circling around, I came to the corner that was once a coffee shop called Boswell’s (today it houses Balthazar, a restaurant). Dr. Samuel Johnson met his biographer Boswell in this space in the 18th century and the fact is marked with a detailed plaque outside that tells the whole story. This area was well frequented by Dickens who was a dedicated theater buff and who spent most of his evenings watching dramatic performances in them. There was once a Theater Museum here but today it is a Film Museum. The Theater Royal is not too far away on Drury Lane (where the Muffin Man once did a roaring trade, according to the old nursery rhyme).
            Past Bow Lane I went and into Floral Lane (there was once a big flower market here, hence the name) to arrive at the Royal Opera House which, I am ashamed to say, after so many visits to London and after having lived here, I had never been inside! Of course, that had to be remedied, so in I went with the idea of taking a tour—only to discover that they had just closed tours down as the afternoon’s matinee performance was about to begin. I browsed around the crowded gift store before venturing to the Box Office myself to find out about Day Tickets. I discovered that they do sell those—so I will be back tomorrow to try and get one for Puccini’s La Rondine. However, what I did manage to get was Cultural Gold:  a ticket to see the Bolshoi Ballet later in August. Although it is not the best seat, it was one of the few remaining and I snagged it immediately. I might not have seen the Kirov Ballet at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg in Russia, but here I was soon going to see the Bolshoi on at the ROH—it was just pure great luck!
            Ten minutes later, I was on the Tube heading home to shower and get dressed to go to Battersea to my friend Rosemary’s home. She had invited me to dinner before we set off for Chelsea-Fulham to see the National Theater’s Live screening of the final show of Macbeth coming from the Manchester Theater Festival starring Kenneth Branagh in the lead role. Roz had put together a light Smoked Fish (Salmon and Mackerel) Salad which she served with buttered bread and beer for starters. We set out in her car and drove into Chelsea (which has a very interesting and different look at night—I must explore it after dark, I think), parked in a small side street and entered the theater. Seating was free and we had our pick.

MacBeth on Screen in Chelsea-Fulham with Roz:
            The production was staged in a deconsecrated church in Manchester and the shape of the building dictated the design of the performance—the audience sat in the choir stalls. It was hot (I could see the audience fanning themselves) and the production was designed to take place in a mud pit. During the opening battle, they had rain pouring down on the mud making it a churning, slippery mess. The cast were dressed in thickly padded costumes and I felt for them in the heat. The opening with the three witches was hideous—God knows what the director did to them. They looked awful and sounded worse. Some of their best lines were lost in the sing-song manner they affected. Lady Macbeth was also a bit unappealing but Branagh as Macbeth and the actor playing McDuff were especially good. I am not sure it was the most orthodox Macbeth I have seen (and I have seen many staged versions) but this was memorable for its innovation and experimentation.
            It was 10. 45 when it ended. Roz dropped me to South Kensington Tube station from where I took the train and got home at 11. 20 pm exhausted and ready to drop right into bed after what had been a busy but very interesting day. 
          Until tomorrow, Cheerio!

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