Tag Archives: Bill Viola

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.

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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.

@mylondonpassion

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On Carrying On and the Westminster Horror….79/100

cofMy hurt, beautiful, beloved city of London. Such terrible, senseless, pointless misery.  Westminster Bridge is unnerving at the best of times, overloaded with tourists and selfie sticks and shell game con men, but it does have some spectacular views. Yesterday, the views were horrific, the stuff of nightmares. All those people,  all those children. A friend asked if it was selfish to think of one’s own children at times like this. “No,” was my response. Though I can’t. I can’t possibly, for even one moment, think that they might have been there. If I did, I would never let them out of the house ever again. But I haven’t stopped thinking about those French girls. And their parents. Oh, I can’t imagine what their parents are going through. I’ve also been thinking about the group of high school girls from New York City I had on my Cathedral tour on Tuesday. Their teacher did not want them to see Bill Viola’s video installation, Martyrs, that hangs on the end of the Dean’s Aisle. “They are not worldly enough for that kind of reality,” she told me. I am sure I looked incredulous (they were 14 and 15 years old!),  but moved them along, as she asked. Martyrs does, after all, deal directly with reality. The reality of a world that is filledDSC_6301.JPG with violence. I wonder how that teacher spun yesterday’s events? Hiding from truth doesn’t make it go away, it just makes it harder to accept. And the truth is that London has long, long been a favourite spot for terrorists. Yesterday’s attack came one day after the accused terrorist turned peace-seeking politician Martin McGuiness died. Before Islamic State sympathizers was the IRA and the Suffragettes before that. Perhaps this explains  why Londoners rose to the challenge on the afternoon and have remained sensible since. Keep Calm and Carry On, and all that.

 

cofI was on the Tube early this morning. The Northern Line was its usual sweltering crush of humanity. While there was intense competition to give the pregnant woman a seat, when the lady next to her announced that she too needed to sit down as, and I quote, “I don’t like changing temperatures,” no one budged. Kindness in crisis, certainly,  but there are limits. And that is the beauty of London. Brave, strong, unflappable, and fantastically matter of fact. So what were Londoners up to this morning? Changing their social media profiles to elicit sympathy?, penning pithy memes to share with the world?, engaging in some sort of cringey piggy backing on someone else’s grief?, group hugs? Like hell. They were getting on. Getting on, with a level of sadness and an even higher level of  admiration and  respect for the police and emergency workers and heroic passers by, without whom this tragedy could have been so much worse, certainly, but getting on. A quick glance at Instagram proved that my friends were clearly out and about in town…shopping at Borough Market, admiring a tree in bloom, creating something interesting, or, in my case, at the Royal Academy with a good friend, chatting and looking longingly at the Gary Hume prints (which are for sale!!!!). This isn’t to suggest we are heartless, quite the contrary. I think emotions are running deep, and tonight’s vigil in Trafalgar Square will be plenty weepy, but until that time, we will go about our  lives and let the Tube station announcement boards speak for us. Those “Thought for Today”  get us through the ordinary days, even more so on the extraordinary. My own station reminded us that we are stronger united than divided. Well, we were certainly united in not giving that climate fussy woman a seat.  Tower Hill  told us that the rarest and most beautiful flower is the one that blooms in adversity. Making the social media rounds (sodig don’t know if an authentic station sign) is a message politely reminding terrorists that: “This is London and whatever you do to us we will drink tea and jolly well carry on. ” The wisdom doesn’t stop at the ticket hall, however, as the platforms are plastered  with Cabinet War Rooms’ posters of  Churchill and his various empowering phrases, such as “we must not lose our faculty to dare, particularly in dark days.” Indeed, Mr. Churchill, indeed. So strap those boots on and go.

I may not have been born and raised here, but I claim London as my own. And I am proud. Shocked and saddened, but unbowed. And carrying on. As are we all.

Instagram: @mylondonpassion