Thanks, Alexander Pope, for letting me steal your beautifully sentimental line: A Farewell to London. Yet, there is something vague about it, as if a farewell doesn’t mean BYE FOREVER LONDON!!! It’s more of a gentle parting…for now…until next time. And that’s just how I’d like to keep it. And luckily, thanks to all the wonderful people who have come along this journey with me, I definitely feel like I finished this week with a BANG.
Tuesday Arts and Crafts
For my last creative writing activity as a Ministry of Stories staff, we had to search the office for an “intriguing” item – a hint of a story, as Francesca from La Grande Fabricca delle Parole in Milan would say. I brought to the table a packet of hardware screws that had a stamped date of 2011 on it. But, then we were told to grab someone else’s intriguing object and write about it – either in a story or a detailed description of it.
This was mine…
Her knee was spiked with splinters, turning red like an angry hedgehog. Lula had shouted out something, but Roka hadn’t been able to make it out over the clamour of her own lungs pumping out breath. Her foot caught under a drooping vine, causing her to fall straight down upon a pile of wood chips. She rolled around, dazed and in pain. Are those fire ants making shelter on my leg? she wondered. Lula sped over, first to confirm that her friend hadn’t died. Then, she quickly turned her attention to an object gleaming just to Roka’s right.
‘Woohoo, over here!’ Roka whistled, her pain now taking the form of jealousy.
Lula waved her hand, ‘Yeah, yeah. I hear you. I’ve found something.’
Lula knelt down in the deadened brush and awed at the wonder before her. It was a black metal box with a key lock and a thin silver carrying handle. She had seen them before, mostly on the telly. Usually, the dad kept his gambling money or even a gun tucked away in the safe box that the mother would eventually find and the marriage would blow up or someone might even die.
She looked around the forest – even though she knew that she and Roka were the only ones in these parts, save for a few stirring chipmunks and jays. Why was she hesitating so to touch the box? What if someone had electrocuted it for safekeeping? A naughty part of her brain had the sudden urge to stick her finger into the key slot….
And time was up. It was funny how most of our objects turned into character sketches.
Later that night, I walked to the Angel area because I had bought a ticket to see a performance of the Bakkhai (Euripedes’ Baccae) at the Almeida Theatre – which specializes in Greek theatre and happened to be the place where I first snarfed down Ottolenghi takeaway.
But, Angel is only a 30 minute walk away from Hoxton and the show didn’t start until 8. As the rain began to fall, I hurried into the first teahouse I could find and was pleasantly surprised by the gem in which I discovered. Quick! Go to Piacha Tea Bar and treat yourself to a perfectly whisked and foamy matcha tea, served up in a classy glass tumbler upon an industrial wooden cutting board. I listened to the rain mix with the jazz soundtrack playing overhead and relaxed into the sofa. Piacha peace.
Thoughts on the Bakkhai:
I read Euripedes’ tragic play in my very first class of university: Great Books, which is also where I met one of my very best friends, so I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for the Baccae. Because it is a play known for being quite bloody, gruesome, and intense, I came in expecting to be a bit terrified and uncomfortable throughout, and I was ready for it, perhaps even looking forward to it in a very odd, psychotic way. Instead, the modern translation by Anne Carson seemed to mistake the word ‘tragedy’ for ‘comedy.’ Imagine Monty Python writing their own version of the Baccae, where women are possessed by a god who is obsessed with wine and sex, where political leaders are torn limb from limb by their own mother – and it is no surprise to you to picture a farcical, humorous parody on a classic. Oh, I love Monty wholeheartedly, and the Bakkhai was indeed funny. But in the way where the humor almost seemed forced, so as to please a wider audience.
Instead of focusing on the weird/disappointing/unexpected attributes of the play, I decided early on to appreciate the goodness of the performance. First, I admire how they kept with the Greek tradition to have the same three male actors play all of the parts. Their ability to morph their accents, inflections, and mannerisms to fit the various characters was incredible. Ben Whishaw, the star performer, was especially talented, in that he could go from an effeminate, jeans-wearing, Jesus-like Dionysus to a hunched over, agéd and blind Tiresias was so impressive.
Between acts, the “chorus” would perform a song. The Chorus in the Baccae is made up of the maenads, the raving pack of women who are Dionysus’ entranced followers. These women in the Bakkhai were beautiful singers, definitely not crazed. The harmonies between them were so pure that they shot right into your heart. They didn’t instill fear, instead they marked our ears with beauty.
I think that in some cases, to fully enjoy a performance, it is best to separate the viewed play from the written work (the imagined performance). You have to take them as separate beings and appreciate the talent of the actors before you.
Back to Back Nights with Unforgettable Friends
Can you believe that during my entire time in London, not a single chopstick full of sushi passed my lips? Well…that little problem needed to be resolved tout suite! My dear friend, Ithaka, who is a dedicated Ministry of Stories volunteer and just an all around wonderful human being, arranged a little get-together of other Ministry “vollies” to celebrate our time together. We sat, criss-cross and bare feet, on the tatami mats in the A-line attic of Sushi Waka in Camden, and enjoyed boats of sashimi and lots of green tea. (Well, I had the green tea. I think all the others were appalled that they couldn’t order their “normal” tea with milk there!)
The five of us chatted about all important things: what to do after graduating, 90’s pop girl band names, Donald Trump, favourite movies, and Freud’s stages of child development. Then they asked me how I was feeling about leaving. At that point, if I even thought about it, I got upset. London had become a sort of home away from home. I liked who I was in London. I liked how I ordered tea, I liked how I walked down the street, I liked how I was a regular in a few shops, I liked how I didn’t have to look at a map anymore to get from Hoxton Street to Trafalgar, I liked using my newly-found razor-sharp sarcasm every once in a while. How could it possibly be time to leave when I had just arrived it seemed? But my friends had an amazingly positive outlook on the whole situation. They said, “If you hadn’t known that an end date was on the horizon, you wouldn’t have made the most out of your trip. You would’ve put off the chance to go see the sights and do the fun things that you did.” And that’s true. The way I lived, rushing out every night to see and experience something new, is a downright impossible way to live for more than about two months. It was exhausting, but I did it, because I knew my time was short.
I’m so lucky to have found friends as good as these ones.
But wait there’s more!
My very, very last night was spent with my girl gang, self-titled “The Stroppy Madams” – our squad of one American, one English-Canadian, and two Aussies. We met at the Sherlock Holmes Restaurant – which given the name was not altogether “touristy” – it was more like dining in a 19th century version of Mrs. Hudson’s drawing room.
An altogether perfect last night with friends could not have ended any better. We realized on our walk home that we hadn’t been able to visit Abbey Road to take “the” Beatles-impersonation photo. So, as we walked down Fleet Street, we decided to take the free zebra opportunity to create our own album cover version. You may or may not be viewing the 60th try at our “faux-Abbey” flick, but the fun was in the act itself, not the result. Darting back and forth between dribbles of traffic are the kinds of risks you are supposed to take on your last night in England, right?
London has been über good to me this summer. But mostly, it has been the people I’ve met and the adventures that I’ll always remember that will always stay in my heart. They have all helped me to become the person I am today, still Cammie, but with a few new skills, a few new creative ideas, a few new friends, more than a few new memories, and a few new British words tucked up my sleeve. London has inspired me in so many ways – to keep writing, to keep believing in the power of storytelling, to stay curious, to keep your eyes open (except when you sleep), to take care of yourself, to believe in yourself, to believe in invisible cats (like the Monster Shop’s own Mr. Wells shown below) and to enjoy all the little things around us whenever we have the chance.
Thank you all for following along my own English Journey (how does it compare to J. B. Priestley’s, I wonder?). I hope you’ve been inspired in your own little way. Pip, pip, cheerio, and all that rot…for now! Who knows? London may call again soon.