Tag Archives: Art

On Ray Lewis, Jasper Johns and London…the last one 100/100

davSo here it is. The 100th post. I thought this project would take 2 years.  It has taken almost 3. But, as John Lennon is credited with saying, “life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” And wow is that true. For better and for worse. The world is quite a different place than it was 3 years ago. Terror, Trump, Brexit, Corbyn, North Korea, to name but a few. But no need reiterating the obvious, let’s get to 100.  But how? What could possibly be the topic of the final scribbling? This is London, so the possibilities are endless…but it has to be right. A clear finish, a final wrap up.  The universe, who keeps me on a short leash, got tired of listening to all this self-indulgent angst and said:  “OK.  You want a final post, well hold on tight. I will give you a weekend so full of experiences and thoughts and connections, there will be a cats cradle of interwoven threads when it is done.” And so it was. And here it is.


Several weeks ago the Cathedral asked if I would be the guide for some VIPs when the professional American football team, the Baltimore Ravens, came to town. Would I ever! Not because I follow celebrities, I am pretty clueless about most. And not because I know anything about American football, because I don’t. But because I love, feel it my raison d’etre, to show the Cathedral off to fellow Americans. Sure, I am delighted to show round any and all nationalities, but I especially enjoy the Americans. Because only the best of my country come to the Cathedral. The best of the best. It makes me proud. I have met amazing Americans. Of all ages, regions, ethnic backgrounds, interests and lifestyle cofchoices.  They are people whose existence I want to be reminded of as often as possible, particularly of late, when so much of not-our-best seems to be on permanent display. The one thing all these visitors have in common is curiosity. Intellectual curiosity. A dying virtue. So, on Friday, there I was. No surprise, the Ravens’ VIPs were terrific. Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis, Hall  of Fame players both. I took these lovely gentlemen and their sizable entourage on a tour of the American Chapel and the Quire, which they seemed to enjoy very much. But upon leaving the Quire, Bill Viola’s video art installation Mary caught Ray Lewis’s eye….and despite the efforts of the handlers, I had to speak. It had stopped him in his tracks, after all.  It is piece that I feel passionately about. The essence of human life, in cofsome ways.  As I gushed away about why this work is so relevant for us today, I could actually see the instant (it didn’t take long) when Mr. Lewis got it. I mean he really “got it.” That beautiful moment when you are talking about art and you see the spark in the other person. Not only was he charming, interested and curious, he got the Bill Viola. Honestly, I have the best job in the world. I floated out of the Cathedral.

And onto more art. Not ready to go home,  I popped into the RA for a preview peek of the Jasper Johns retrospective. Another American. And one who is without question one of the best of the best. At the first glimpse of his Target, I almost wept. It was the perfect carry on from the morning. Concrete, or rather paper and paint and objects, proof that not all is broken in my native land. That there is still greatness. And Johns is great. One of the greatest.  So much of his work is about seeing and, a rather loaded word these days, perceiving. How we perceive the world matters. Johns is a master at asking us to look at the familiar with fresh eyes. cofHis art invites us to look again, “let go of habits of perception and see things in a new way.” In today’s ever polarized society, these are almost fighting words. Oh yeah…and Johns is perhaps most famous for his American flags. A symbol, once again, mired in controversy. But that is Sunday….

As if Friday hadn’t been full enough I had one more engagement. Theatre. The Ferryman by Jez Butterworth. I have a  complicated relationship with Mr. Butterworth’s work, but this is a play about the cycle of  violence of the IRA (though they certainly don’t have the monopoly on this most damaging of issues.) The acting was excellent, despite someone walking off stage due to illness in the 3rd act and the understudy having a broken hand. Add a real but unhappy goose, a pocketed bunny, and an unusually placid baby into the mix and I admit I did wonder if health and safety had had a chance to look round. But the message of the play was clear. This world is a disaster thanks to our own doing. Ever thus. And on to the next.

davHaving just turned 49 I have given myself the challenge of running 50 races or running events before turning 50. Almost immediately I realised this was a challenge of dedication and logistics rather than athleticism.  Or so I thought. The first 5 races were rather fabulous. The 6th, Sunday morning, 10k in Hyde Park. The weather was glorious. One of those perfect, warm London autumn days. The location could not have been more beautiful. Hyde Park, in the sunshine. And the race, sponsored by a Crohn’s Disease charity, was well organised.  But my legs weren’t in it. They were tired and tight and every step hurt. Every very slow step. It is true that there is no run you regret. But there are runs that disappoint. This was one.  Alas.  Life often disappoints.

But a slow run is really not something to fuss about. I went home via Marble Arch, for a little trip down memory lane. Because it was here, just off Marble Arch that I lived for 3 months in the Winter of 1989 while attending LSE.  Art and theatre, theatre and art is davhow I spent most of my time. What had always been an ember burst into flame over those months. I was hooked. No wonder many, many years later, for reasons that have nothing to do with me at all except for exceptionally good taste in a husband, I was back. Art, theatre and everything that London has to offer. While revelling in nostalgia I noticed the new  sculpture, Celebration of Life, by Bushra Fakhoury. Dancing with naked, masked abandon. Yup, that is it. But I couldn’t linger for long as I had promised to take the kids to the Colourscape on Clapham Common.

Colourscape, an annual music festival “of unusual instruments and sound,” since 1989, the same year I first lived in London.  The wait was so long I sent my children to find conkers. Conkers aren’t just so English, they aren’t just beautiful symbols of Autumn, they keep moths at bay. I need them. Stephen and Katherine returned with two bulging mdesacks. Very pleased. But while alone in the slow moving queue, social media started to implode. Ray Lewis had dropped to his knees during the American national anthem at Wembley Stadium.  And people on both sides of the issue went wild. Insane. Out of their minds. With hate. So much hate. He seemed to have suddenly become the most reviled person in the world. No small feat these days. Everybody, from all sides, was baying for blood. Yikes. And the language being used, again, from all sides of the argument was unacceptable. Utterly unacceptable. Ugly, ugly ugly stuff. I was mulling over how much I would not like to be famous when we finally made it to the top of the queue. And those thoughts were put on hold.  We stepped into  Colourscape and time evaporated. We were literally cocooned in colour and sound. Strolling musicians at every rounded turn. So peaceful and beautiful. Yet the shifting colours made me feel unsteady. The experience, as lovely as it was, was unsettling, disorienting. Such is life, isn’t it. Unsteady even at the best of times. When I got home I switched on the television to watch the opening ceremony of the Invictus 10631274_949261878433867_4232479405504663826_o (2)Games, the Olympic-style games for wounded service people, an event close to my heart.  (see post #96.)  The overriding message, or series of messages, of the long weekend fell into place.  No one, Prince Harry reminded the audience, would have wished to be eligible for these games. Yet here they are.  The keynote speaker before him,  a man who had been attacked with an axe by the Taliban, said that no one thinks it is going to be them, until it is. And the competitors all spoke, after they crossed the finish line, of having made a choice, a choice, sometimes against all odds, to keep going. To keep going when life if horrifically, cruelly or even just irritatingly, interrupted. Real life happens as you’re busy making other plans.

davMy gorgeous, fabulous, wonderful sister in law, who I have known since we were teenagers, has breast cancer. The devastating recent hurricanes and floods and earthquakes. The seemingly unbreakable cycles of violence. The idolization of symbols and causes and slogans over the simple act of caring for one another. The hate. It is enough to set the Black Dog howling. And here I come with my tiny little banner of hope. Call me naive or even stupid, though I prefer the epitaph that a lovely elderly Indian visitor to the Cathedral gave me, “most excellently cheerful.” Perhaps that is why I was brought back to London. Because in this greatest of all cities I will never ever be lacking in things to inspire, to be curious about, to fill me with crazy, passionate joy. Not just the big stuff, and lucky me, I have plenty of big stuff, but the little moments too. Sharing a great piece of art with someone who gets it. Running, slowly, past a Henry Moore sculpture. An uncrowded art gallery. Conkers. A bassoon player appearing round a colourful corner. Theatre with friends and yeah, being followed round by photographers at St Paul’s cathedral is pretty great too. I love them all.

So, having reached 100, writing about my adventures has come to an end. What have I learned? I am very American, in all the best ways. I love London, really, really love London. I am the luckiest person alive. And having adventures, every day that I can, with enthusiasm and joy and passion, that is what I do.  My London Passion. Thanks for sharing it with me.



On Murder, Marching, Masterpieces and …Hope 76/100

dsc_0001_54Saturday. It was rather full on. So much so that I am still fitting it all together in my mind. Because it must fit together. Too many connections for it not to. But where to start? I suppose at the beginning….which would be shortly after 3 am when we were woken to police lights and screaming, lots of screaming. From directly across the street. The road was absolutely filled with police cars and ambulance vehicles. A girl was on the pavement, hand wrapped in something bulky.  Officers and paramedics were everywhere. Rushing in and out of the house. Controlled chaos. Eventually the screaming stopped but the police stayed. By morning it was quiet, though officers and their cars were still everywhere. The whole area was cordoned off, including my car, which was now part of the crime scene. Details emerged. Two men in their 20s, both with stab wounds, one dead, the other arrested. And the girl, only 17 years old, with wounds to her hands. Why was she there? At 3 am? The whole thing is so so so sad. And unacceptable.

dsc_0002_48Later that morning, but still early, just as the police were finishing marking the area with their blue and white crime scene tape, Taylor, the gorgeous Australian girl who lived with us in 2011 on her gap year, strolled up the street, for a 24 hour visit on her way to other cities. What could I say but “welcome back to SW London.” We didn’t stay long in the neighbourhood however, as Taylor needed some art and it was the day of The March. National Gallery and Trafalgar Square. Off we went. Arriving in the square hours before the march even set off, we wandered through the very crowded halls of the National Gallery. Such beautiful old old things. dsc_0005_45dsc_0008_30My addiction to art is well known, but you may also be wondering why I didn’t actually join the march, just waited for it to arrive. And that is because I didn’t know, and still not sure I do, what everyone was marching for. And when the first marchers arrived, I was none the clearer.  Vegans, Communists, Socialists, anti-nuclear,  anti-Brexiteers, Environmentalists, and lots of women holding slapdash signs with crude slogans using the word “pussy.” Not funny slogans, just crude. And herein lies my problem. I have never, ever been convinced that the way to equality is through ladette behavior. Proving that I can be as rude and unpleasant as any man isn’t the feminism I have believed in passionately for decades, nor is it the one that I have shared with my girls. Worse still, a group of very little girls, under the age of 10, were holding pieces of paper on which “I am a Pussy,” was written. Presumably by their mothers. Really??? Really?? This kind of things upsets me greatly. The sexualiziation of children does nothing to promote equal rights. It is one of the many reasons I loathe Taylor Swift with her baby doll clothes and little girl persona. A paedophile’s dream. But I will save that particular rant for another day. With all these disparate causes, there was no sense of fun or excitement or indeed purpose. Just lots of milling about.  And eventually dsc_0013_28we wandered off, back into the gallery, where we were joined by many many others who had taken place in the march. A protest of it own, if we take Churchill’s words about the arts being something worth fighting for as truth.

Since Saturday afternoon, my Facebook feed has been filled with friends telling me that their experience was completely different and sharing loads of photos of witty, clever placards. I am very very glad to hear this. I must have just been at the wrong place at the wrong time, delighted to have so many disagree with me. But still…

And then came the furor over numbers. The numbers at the inauguaration, the numbers at the march, fake news, dsc_0014_30real news….and into this discussion my wonderful, wise,  former NYC roommate and reporter offered the fact (a controversial word these days) that with news organizations cutting the number of actual reporters on the ground and increasingly relying on talking heads in studios just reading out stuff other people have cobbled together, it should be no surprise that into this gap has come the scourge that is fake news. Or, as it is now being described, “alternative facts.” For shame.

Then Saturday night, the theatre. The Kite Runner. I am going to assume you have all read it, so you know what a powerful story it is. And an intense two hours plus of  theatre. A tale, about, among other  things, weakness. The weakness of one boy and the loyalty of another. And the terrible, terrible price of this imbalance.

What was I to make of it all? A full on London day, if ever there was. And Taylor too, a young woman who slotted seamlessly back into the family after so many years. Suddenly, slowly, slowly it was all coming together. And I realized what I had missed about the march. It wasn’t so much about this issue or that one, or no issue at all just a general sense of disquiet, unease and anger, but rather the gathering of people, lots and lots of people, on a beautiful London day to say not just I AM HERE, but WE ARE HERE. We. You and me and all of us. A collection. A community. A community with different agendas and viewpoints and goals, yes. But a community nonetheless. Not social media, not phones, not political organizations, but an actual community of real people, talking to each other. Laughing with each other. Walking with each other. Looking at great art with each other. Murder, that is about as far from good community you can get. A peaceful march, even with fluid purpose, is good community. Beautiful community.

dsc_0014_31-2These are unsettling times. It is easy to be weak and cynical and belligerent. And therein lies the challenge. To hold onto the good. The people we care about, even if we only see them occasionally. The art and culture that need, not just support with words but actual bodies in buildings, bottoms on seats. Kindness towards those who are struggling with all the many many ways the world can be cruel. Patience. Understanding. All the hard stuff. But if we do it together, maybe it will get easier. Maybe we will all feel a little less fearful. So grab a friend, or several, an old one, better yet a brand new one, and go look at some paintings, listen to music, stroll through a park in the winter sunshine, talk to strangers, read that book you keep meaning to get to, or read an old favourite to a child, anything that lifts, inspires, gives hope, if only for a moment in time. Because my friends, hope and beauty, in all its variety and variation, is how we are going to overcome.