Wednesday, July 25, 2012

London Calling

(Me at the Baker Street tube stop)

It's taken me a few days longer than normal to write this next blog post and that is because I am still blissfully exhausted from my adventures this past weekend. In the span of less than 36 hours I took a Megabus to England late Friday, arrived in London at dawn, proceed to explore every nook and cranny of the city I could, and then took a Megabus back to Edinburgh, arriving in the wee hours of Sunday morning. All in all, I spent about 20 hours traveling and about 14 hours in the city itself. So it was, as you can imagine, quite thoroughly exhausting. But it was so very wonderful.

(Olympic Park)

It is essentially impossible to see London, let alone any major city, in a single day. But I really tried my best to see as much as humanely possible, and then some. I started out the day with a journey to Olympic park. Since it was so early, the only people about were the Olympic Park staff and media. You know, the people that actually belonged there at 7 o'clock in the morning. I tried to get close to the actual stadium but it's pretty well blocked off. The best way to see all the Olympic structures is to go through the adjacent mall and find one of their viewing platforms. From there you can see all the different buildings. I had a sense of grateful nostalgia at seeing those structures. 4 years ago I was lucky enough to be studying in Beijing for those summer Olympics. And though the two Olympics vary greatly from one another, the magnitude of the event, of all that is stands for, is still an incredibly powerful and moving sensation. 

(All three major Olympic structures cloistered together)

After Olympic Park I passed through Trafalgar Square to visit the National Gallery. There's something very reassuring to me about art museums. The universality of the great painters and their masterpieces, they transcend borders. It doesn't matter if you see a Degas in Philadelphia or London or Berlin. The essence of the painting isn't beholden to a single geographic location. One of the National Gallery's most famous paintings is Van Gogh's Sunflowers. Van Gogh is my favorite painter of all time (excluding my incredibly talented grandmother). His paintings are the first and only ones that have literally moved me to tears.Wherever I see his work, my connection to that place deepens. Though Sunflowers is not my favorite of his works, it remains a stunning piece and it, once again, reminds me of why his work means so much to me. The reason I place Van Gogh above so many other talented artists is that his paintings do more than capture a single frame of life or create movement from stillness or exploit the subtleties of technique to create fragile illusions. His paintings are so much more than that; they are a living extension of himself. Now obviously I recognize that a painting is an inanimate object but, in a way, his aren't. 

(The National Gallery)

He was such a terribly lonely man. He saw the world in such a unique and beautiful way and all he wanted to do was share that. But no one wanted to take part. I can think of few experiences more isolating than to have this vision of beauty and joy that you simply want to share with someone, anyone only to have no one who would even try. I can feel that ache in his paintings, particularly in the thickness of his brush strokes, the way his paint will clump together on the surface of the canvas, adding an unexpected level of dimensionally to his work. It's as if by capturing his subject in a painting, he can revisit them time and time again. And if he can only just make them real enough, tangible enough, then maybe he won't have to feel so alone. Getting to see Van Gogh's work in the National Gallery reminded me that were all just people and were all just looking for someone to share with. It doesn't matter who that person is, friend, daughter, brother, uncle, whatever, it doesn't have to be a lot of people, in fact most of the time it's just one, but we all want matter to someone. 

After my emotional encounter at the National Gallery I zipped around the city. I visited baker street (the infamous address of Sherlock Holmes), ate in the cafe where they filled BBC's Sherlock (the modern adaptation of the novels--if you haven't seen it I absolutely recommend it), platform 9&3/4 at King's Cross Station (of Harry Potter Fame), the British Museum, RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts), Chinatown, West End (where I ran around from theater to theater, dazzled by the talent of the many legends that have passed through those stage doors), and so much more. 

(The cafe where they shoot BBC Sherlock)

But there was only one way to end the day; a walk along the Thames at sunset. I started by the London Eye, which is a truly magnificent contraption to behold, and wound my upwards, past the other amusement rides and the skateboard parks, stopping for more than a few moments to bask in the exquisite sight of the sun setting on Big Ben and Parliament, finally winding up at the spot I had been longing to get to since I set foot in London; The National Theater. 

(The London Eye at sunset)

It's difficult to articulate just how important that place is to me. The National Theater,  matched only by the nearby Globe theater, is it for me; when you walk out on that stage, that's moment you know you've done something right. I've only been able to see a few productions produced by the theater (and they've all been dvd or theatrical releases) but I am routinely astounded by the talent and the craftsmanship exhibited on those stages. This is the theater founded by the great Sir Laurence Olivier. And I was there. To perform on that stage, in the Olivier Theater (one of three theater there), it's my dream. And so far that's all it's even been, just a dream. But for a moment, standing at the bottom of the red velvet steps that lead up to theater, it felt real. For the first time in my life it wasn't just a place I pieced together from photographs and my imagination, it was a functioning, active, tangible space. 

(Me standing at the entrance to the Olivier Theater)

My time at the National Theater was very brief as I had to catch a train back to the bus station but it was alright because I know that's not the last time I'll see that theater. I can't describe the logic behind it, only the sensation, but I know now, more than ever, that that is the place I want to be. For me, performing at the National Theater, creating a connection between audience and actors, mattering to a group of strangers and having them matter to me, it's my Sunflowers. To illicit the emotional response that Van Gogh paintings illicit from me, but in the forum of the Oliver stage, even from just one person, that's one of my fundamental artistic aspirations. 


London was, in short, pure madness. It was a non stop whirlwind of places and people. It was the kind of adventure you almost wouldn't believe happened if you hadn't been there yourself. But, after all, aren't those the only kind of adventures worth having?

(The Thames at sunset)

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