Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Surviving Record-Breaking Heat on First Day of Colloquium plus Sensational Audra McDonald at the West End

Tuesday, June 21, 2017

First Fruitful Day of Colloquium and Sensational Audra McDonald playing Billie Holiday at the West End.

            After spending a virtually sleepless night (I stayed awake till 3.30am and then took a pill to lull me to sleep), I awoke at 7.30 am.  Having reviewed my presentation last night, I felt thoroughly wired for more than half the night and wondered how I could possibly make my presentation with no sleep.

Light Brekkie and Departure for Colloquium:
            Shahnaz suggested I eat some yogurt before leaving and I crumbled up a granola bar into it, downed a cup of decaff coffee, dressed and left by 8. 15 am.  I needed to do some urgent work at a PC in the Faculty Lounge at NYU-London before the Colloquium began at 10.00 am. It took me less than ten minutes to walk from our hotel to campus. I got a lovely warm welcome from the porters (Dave and Mark) before I ran into Ruth who also gave me a hug. Her husband Joe was with her and it was great to see him again too.
            Then I was down in the basement where the Faculty Lounge is located and where I found a PC. I managed to get my work done quickly enough (although it took me forever to figure out where the @ key is on a British keyboard—I had forgotten how to find it!).
            By 9. 45, I was upstairs in the room where coffee and cookies were laid out. As conference participants came trickling in, we greeted each other and continued getting acquainted. By10.30 am, Welcome Remarks were made by our Dean and the panelists began making their presentations. From the get-go, each presentation was very absorbing indeed and I found myself fully engrossed in them.
            We stopped for Lunch at 12. 30 (the platters of tiny finger sandwiches which is what lunches are all about in the UK at Faculty meeting have not changed), did some more socializing and discussing of the presentations we had heard and then returned for the afternoon session—which was when my panel was scheduled. My colleagues Kevin and Peter presented before I did—and then it was my turn and I was off and away. The focus of the colloquium was Politics and the Classroom—and indeed we have so much to talk about and think about in terms of this topic that there was no dearth of items to dissect. I have to say that I enjoyed presenting information on the tools and techniques I have used to balance discourse in the contentious classroom and going by the questions and feedback that followed, the entire panel was very well received. I was pleased to find out that a lot of my colleagues use role-playing as a technique in different ways and that it seems to work for all of them.
            The final sessions of the afternoon followed after a break for tea and cake. Again, everything was deeply stimulating and participants got into the spirit of the colloquium with great enthusiasm. 

Hottest Day in 34 Years in London:
            As it turned out, today was the hottest day in 34 years and the United Kingdom was sweltering. People were wearing practically nothing and for the first time in my professional life, I made a presentation in a T-shirt and sandals as I had brought the wrong wardrobe altogether for this befuddling heat wave. One of my colleagues was telling me that this is the most informal outfit in which he has ever seen me. But almost everyone was dressed in like manner (so I was in good company).
            Outside, on the street at Bedford Square, when I got out of our building at 4. 30 pm, it felt like walking into a sauna after spending the entire day in blessed air-conditioning. I walked towards my hotel at Holborn, stepped briefly into Sainsbury to buy a new Lebara SIM card and top up my phone, called my Dad in Bombay and then got to my room for a cup of tea and a biscuit and a good helping of Tiramisu which is one of my favorite things to buy from Sainsbury. I ate a huge helping of it and got rid of my craving in one go.

Off to Leicester Square:
            Not too long after, I left the hotel, walked to Holborn Tube station that was mobbed as commuters tried to get into the tunnel during peak hour rush. The trains were so packed and so hot that it was like walking into an airing cupboard. In ten minutes, I was at the Wyndhams Theater at Leicester Square where Shahnaz was waiting for me. She had managed to get into the queue at 10.00 am to get us tickets to see Audra McDonald play Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill which transferred from Broadway to the West End only a few days ago. For 20 pounds, you could not go wrong and it was thrilling to be able to see this sold-out show in this city.
            Both of us were too full to go out in search of a bite—so we decided to postpone it until after the show. And because it was so hot, we very gratefully escaped into the theater to cool off.

Watching the Inimitable Audra McDonald at the West End:
            Shahnaz not only managed to get us day tickets, but they were actually on the stage itself as the set was a reproduction of Emerson’s Bar and Grill in Philadelphia where Billy Holiday made her lasting reputation. I had no idea what to expect—but for the fact that one of America’s greatest live performers was the star of the show, Audra McDonald, I knew nothing about it. So I was delighted to discover that she would be playing the One and Only Billie Holiday. And was she phenomenal! The life of ‘Lady Day’ that she spelled out through her blues performance was so sad, so moving. McDonald was simply splendid in the role. That she is a sensational singer, I had taken for granted. But that she could act as well as she did simply took me by surprise.  I had no clue that for most of her shows, Lady Day was drunk as a skunk. And yet she charmed her audience night after night by the sheer power of her talent. And McDonald got it just right. There was not a false note—and I do not mean literally. I mean her emoting was just spot on—neither overplayed nor underplayed. It was just perfect. Her accompanists were a pianist, a drummer and a double bassist and between the three of them, they were a fantastic counterpoint to her monologue. What a great night at the theater!

Dinner at Busabu Ethai:
            We walked past Leicester Square for dinner at Busabu Ethai—a chain I have been meaning to check out for a long while. So I was quite pleased that Shahnaz suggested it. We decided to split a bottle of Thai Change beer—with the weather being what it is, we could drown in chilled beer—and an order of Classic Pad Thai. This was probably the worst Pad Thai we had ever eaten. It was insipid and served cold—such a terrible disappointment! However, the beer was refreshing and as we went over our day, we decided that despite the let-down we suffered at dinner, each of us had a very satisfying day indeed. (Shahnaz spent most of her’s at the Victoria and Albert Museum where she studied Kalighat paintings in the South Asian section).

            Until tomorrow, when the heat will, hopefully, wave goodbye, cheerio…                 

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