my trip to jolly olde England

I spent part of the week before last in Cambridge, UK, which is a very different town than Cambridge, Mass., although it has some of the same problems with (for lack of a better term) local deformation effects in the street mappings. Another point of similarity is the density of bookstores, although I have to say that I prefer the ones here a bit, because some of them specialize. I was particularly tempted by a music store which had Eisler’s score to Mahagony and some nice Purcell collections and…

But I digress. Some unfortunate things I missed — punting on the Cam, any and all May Balls or Garden Parties (although if they think I’d shell out 500 quid to go to some poncy event at a college in which some of the boys have the gall to show up in a black suit with a bow tie rather than a proper tuxedo they’d have another thing coming), and a day trip to Oxford that had to be cancelled at the last minute (sorry, Jeff!).

I did manage to meet up with my ex wife for a pint and a somewhat languid production of Alan Ayckbourne’s Bedroom Farce, which was spot-on in some moments (with some pretty effective physical comedy) and churned in place for others (long pauses for laughs that did not come). I should read the play to see how much Ayckbourne writes in himself and how much he leaves to the director. Some of the characters are quite brilliant. Perhaps it’s because I now know some married people that I can see the types a bit better — the last time I saw a play of his was in high school I think. In particular, Trevor is a real piece of work. “I’m a destroyer,” he says, trying to puzzle out why his relationships go sour.

I’ve been staying here with my friend Tony, who I hung out with last year in Seattle before ISIT 2006. Perhaps next year he will be close to Toronto for ISIT 2008, but I somewhat doubt it. We get to have fun arguments about Bayesian statistics and other light topics. On Friday we managed to make it into London, where we got 5-quid tickets to see The Merchant of Venice. It was a period production, and I think part of the appeal of going to the Globe is to get a historicized experience of “what it was like back then.” The ushers are pretty ridiculous — there was plenty of room to sit in the “groundlings area” but they would not let you sit down at all. Because if was trying to be more “authentic,” the production did little to tone down the Jew-hating in the script or contextualize Shylock’s position, which I found quite problematic. The audience brings its own cultural context to a production, and to present a play as a cultural artifact outside of its original cultural context is misleading, I think. The audience should be alienated from its own cultural Gestalt in order to get a critical perspective on a “historical performance.” But maybe that’s just me blathering on a bit.

After the play we went to the Tate Modern (just next door!) and saw the Global Cities exhibition, which was pretty awesome. They took a number of major global cities and compared them, asking tough questions about whether better urban planning can really solve our problems. We also got to see an exhibit on Surrealism and its influence, which was pretty cool. I saw a few minimalist pieces that I remembered from the exhibit at the MOCA in LA. We didn’t pay to see the Heitor Oiticica exhibit, but they had a few of his other pieces outside (perhaps to entice you to pay?) which I thought were pretty cool in the “uses motors and so on in a fun way.”

All ln all I enjoyed my time in England, even if they don’t know what to do with vegetables and a “salad” to them is “grated carrots, sauteed mushrooms, two slices of tomato, and pickled cabbage.” Perhaps the next time I come back I’ll see more of London, but Scotland also seems quite appealing…

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