Travel Log III
Have been in London just over a week, but had very sporadic internet access while here. I've now reached St Pancras, where they have free wifi while waiting for the Eurostar into Paris. So once again, before I head to France, go dark and start writing, a collection of thoughts and observations:
- Rain in England is very different; it can usually be expected, but few English carry umbrellas, many instead walking around with a surprised look on their faces; but then the rain itself rarely persists like it does back home, instead just drizzling on and off for hours.
- Running around Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park in London is gorgeous — massive green space set aside from the city, but doesn't feel as forced as New York's Central Park, perhaps because much of the city itself isn't so enclosed and oppressive — London City and the inner city boroughs are great to walk around.
- Rewatched the three Bourne movies; Identity is great for a low budget action flick — tight storytelling, well acted; Supremacy gets a new director and a bigger budget, amps up the style dramatically, but doesn't have much of a story; Ultimatum ties them together nicely — great storytelling, great style — its only shortcoming is that it relies on the previous two films to make sense, though it does so nicely, with the bookending scene of Bourne's body floating in the water, from Identity's opening.
- Caught a few episodes of Glee, and it appears to be a show I could get into — incredibly soapy with some great set pieces; none of the songs are as good as their originals though, and I'm not sure the concept could sustain more than 3-4 seasons.
- Saw a little of season two of Vampire Diaries and am similarly intrigued; I'd watched the first couple episodes of season one before and just been bored; the first episode of season two was similarly slow going, but revealed some interesting variations on the teen vampire drama I'd expected; it's still relatively low on my list of TV shows to watch though, so might put off watching until I can get through the first couple seasons in one hit.
- Spitalfields is a fascinating area — right on the fringes of the ever-expanding city, its few blocks full of conflicting meaning. Nowhere is this more obvious than the Spitalfields Market. The Market takes the space of a single block, and up until only a few years ago, was full of independents. But it was also a gentrifying factor, and soon the redevelopment came. Now the Market itself is full of chain stores and restaurants. Immediately to its west are shining, towering new buildings. To its east, council estates. The difference from one block to the next is striking. Meanwhile the independent market has moved just a block away, to the site of an old railyard and carpark, surrounded by indie retailers. The independent feel persists, but it's still far more obviously monied than the blocks surrounding it, and redevelopment seems inevitable.
- My own feelings about its transformation are as conflicted as the neighbourhood. On the one hand, I'm all for the organic growth of the city, and the provision of high density, efficient housing and infrastructure; but I also intensely dislike the displacement of people and the inevitable homogenisation of culture that comes with the removal of whole communities to make way for rich white folk. It's curious too to see communities that have largely survived the process without significant loss of character — London's Soho and New York's Greenwich Village have historical character where those same cities' Notting Hill and Lower East Side seem to have disappeared. I've a suspicion Soho and Greenwich are different cases because they experienced a sort of gentrification from the inside, rather than as a solely external force, but it'd take a much closer study of these areas' histories to really determine why they've worked out so differently.
- Read Edward Rutherfurd's New York; a fascinating read that richly illustrates the history of the city; helps to have some familiarity with the city — discovering little stories behind familiar places is interesting; much of it is just more interesting than entertaining though, and it's a long read.
- Most of my time in London has been spent picking a neighbourhood and wandering around it, and/or lots of eating and coffee; highlights include London City for the interesting mix of old and new architecture; Soho in general, if only for its character; Milk Bar in Soho for when one needs an antipodean-style milky coffee (though the coffee itself is rather plain); Fernandez & Wells in Soho for good coffee; Notes on St Martins Lane north of Trafalgar Square for great coffee; Fulham Wine Rooms (and presumably their sister bar, Kensington Wine Rooms) for food and wine; Story Deli in Spitalfields for pizza and coffee (with little else on the menu); Borough Markets for fresh produce (the weekday crowd is mostly local, but I'd avoid the weekend tourist crowd); finally the new Westfield at Sheperds Bush is very nice for a Westfield, but is still just a big shopping mall.
- Having seen most of the obvious sights previously, I'd avoided playing tourist too much; did see a few galleries, with the Saatchi Gallery just edging out Tate Modern for the highlight; also visited Westminster Abbey which, as well as being crowded full of dead famous people, is gorgeous in parts; the Abbey's audio guide is better than most too; was curious to see a couple of instances of centuries-old paintings on the wall, obviously painted over and relatively recently rediscovered and partially restored, go almost entirely unremarked, though they're stunning pieces of medieval art.
- Watched the London Symphony Orchestra perform Tchaikovsky's 1st Symphony and Shostakovich's 2nd Violin Concerto, the symphony was great, if a little simple, and the soloist for the concerto (Sergey Khachatryan) was amazing; it was interesting to compare their performance with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and I'm inclined to catch a Mahler performance in March so I can compare symphony-for-symphony; was curious though that LSO shows cost less than half what SSO shows cost, though the Barbican's Hall appears to be a similar size to the Opera House's Concert Hall; the LSO program does include an ad complaining that ticket sales don't cover the cost of performance though, which clearly suggests they're not charging enough, and given this mid-week performance was an almost-full-house, it's unlikely they'd have any problems selling tickets at a higher price; LSO/Barbican also have a cool little pre-show program that includes artists from the neighbouring Guildhall music school, tonight had recitals by a couple of student opera singers, both unpolished but talented.
- The Barbican is a great complex too, and full of ideas I'd wish the Sydney Opera House would follow; the complex itself hosts art, music, theatre, films, all very regularly, and ties ongoing events and membership together to create a real arts community feel; the film is simply one movie a couple of times a day for a week, before it switches, but they're great picks, some of them slightly in advance, and I could easily see myself going along to such a thing every one or two weeks; they top it all off with a canteen-style Foodhall that serves a variety of food, pastries and cakes, and good organic coffee; when it already hosts Sydney Symphony/Opera/Theatre and various thematic events around the year, the Opera House has most of the elements in place to serve a similar function, and if they could tie together a year-round all-arts membership (it needs to offer more than a behind-the-scenes tour, and should integrate or closely associate with membership/subscription to Symphony/Opera etc), they could develop a commanding position.
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- My Sydney Festival 2014 (27Jan2014)
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- 30 and Excited About (11Jan2014)
In which getting old is opportunity
- 30 and Tired Of (08Jan2014)
In which I’m getting old
- On Writing, When I’m Not (22Jul2012)
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- The Last Ten Thousand (13Aug2011)
In which the final chapters seem larger than those that came before
- Travel Log VIII (12Mar2011)
- Travel Log VII (01Mar2011)
- Travel Log VI (06Feb2011)
- Travel Log V (31Jan2011)
- Travel Log IV (24Jan2011)
- Travel Log III (19Jan2011)
- Travel Log II (05Jan2011)
- Travel Log I (04Jan2011)
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- Settling In, And A Withdrawal (02Apr2007)
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