April 2009


I just went to see Romeo and Juliet at the Globe Theatre, fully expecting to roll my eyes every fifth line, as I have for even the best film adaptations*. I was also expecting to get tired of standing for so long in the yard, but on both counts I was surprised, and I no longer mind that I will be seeing the production at least twice more.

The Globe itself is an experience with its two-storey stage, zodiac roof, and vertical amphitheatric construction. That you can lean right up on the stage for the whole performance is a dream, and the actors periodically mix with the crowd in the yard just to stir things up a bit. The acting company being among the best in the world is another undeniable thrill. Granted Juliet occasionally gushed or rushed a bit, but that was more her take on the character. Juliet’s all of 13 in the script, and Ellie Kendrick captures that age with all its graces and fumbles. It’s certainly the first time I’ve seen humor read into the balcony scene, and that was a fantastic change.

Now, this has never been my favorite Shakespeare play in large part because one can only take so much of swooning, doe-eyed men in one sitting. My personal limit is 5 minutes, and this play is 24 times that. Invariably some young Percy Bysshe Shelley gets cast as the hero and proceeds to have a 2-hour wilting contest with Juliet. Thus, my favorite character has always been Mercutio – wag, scoundrel, and classic English wit (even though he’s Italian). This production’s Mercutio was modeled less on Ariel, though, and more along Hamlet lines, with an edginess I never expected. He pinballs between dirty humor, hauntingly lyrical insights, fury, arrogance, and Renaissance punk affection. Now Mercutio has a backstory, and I wish I knew it.

Though Mercutio was the best I’ll probably ever see, he was surpassed by Romeo, who quickly, and for the first time, became my favorite character. Adetomiwa Edun gives him intelligence to match the romance, and there is considerably more bite and play to the words than usual. In his take, Romeo is tangible and more a youth than a retrospective idealization of youthful passion. He has the incredibly handsome face and lovelorn sighs, but alongside wit, humor, and the grace of a cat in a duel. The tragedy is as much the death of the individuals as the death of the lovers, and that transforms the play.

So blow me down, but I can’t wait to go again!

*Which are few. I don’t consider the Leonardo DiCaprio remake to belong here, but our 9th grade English teacher did, so I dry-retched every two lines for that one. On the other hand, I know all the words to ‘What is a Youth’ from the 1968 version (which the same teacher fastforwarded through because of the “hanky panky”), so I leave you to judge my taste.

Deck the halls with books of science
fa la la la laaa la laa laa la
‘Tis the season for revision
fa la la la laaa la laa laa la
yawn we now are tired of reading
fa la laa la la laa laa laa la
troll the ancient scrolls of learning
fa la la la laaa la laa laa la.

To be honest, though, I have had a few adventures lately, such as hitting the town for the convergence of St. George’s Day and Shakespeare’s birthday (there was a dearth of sausages inna bun, but I did get a lemon ice and a ticket to the Globe tomorrow), but all of us have been spending an inordinate amount of time in the library or elsewise swotting. I actually lost track of the days of the week because they were beginning to look the same. I guess I do now have a stomach of galvinized steel, though, since I realized over lunch yesterday that I was reading about Opisthorcis while eating fish pie. Today’s lunch break was less ironic but just as picturesque, as I was going over notes on geohelminths and filarial nematodes. Today the cafeteria had cottage pie, so at least it wasn’t Taenia saginata or scrapie, right? Still, nothing like a good whipworm hyperinfection photograph to whip up that apetite.

which is more impressive: the piper's trunkhose or the scholarly wrought iron mole?

which is more impressive: the piper's trunkhose or the scholarly wrought iron mole?

More pleasant adventures have been wandering out and about now that the weather’s bucking a bit. It was gorgeous all last week, but yesterday we had rain, and overnight the city exploded. Now I pass several small jungles on the way to Waterloo where I could have sworn there were clear courtyards not long ago.

strolling on St. George's Day outside the Tate

strolling on St. George's Day outside the Tate

Before the rains came, fortunately, the morris dancers and jesters had their turn, and I took most of the day off to watch them and wander around on the strand, picking up more pipestems, geodes, and pot shards. I gave up on the bones, because there are just too many, and a number are more recent than I’d like to think about. Still, it’s always good fun to go muck about under the bridges or along the flood walls and see what’s there. Incidentally, the doodads in the header are all things I brought back from an excursion last week. I’ll probably have to leave most things here when I go back to the states, but I have plans for a few pieces.

Thingfinders

In the course of doing and avoiding work, I’ve also discovered that I can give a pretty decent haircut (can’t speak for the back, since I only have one mirror, but the front looks good) and that part of the Strand campus sits on an old Roman baths. I don’t usually get lost in buildings, but the Strand campus is a special hive of missing signs and dead ends, but one could learn as much getting lost there as spending a day in the Library. Personally I’m a huge fan of the DNA window in the chapel.

The baths are just to the right of the workman. All else is a mystery.

The baths are just to the right of the workman. All else is a mystery.

Well, perhaps this past week hasn’t been quite so mundane as I thought. I’ll let you know how the Globe goes. I suspect I’ll need it after the protein review lecture.

And the season opens! I’ll be out all day doing bardish things and possible getting a sausage inna bun, then joining the plebian throng for the first performance of Romeo & Juliet, if I can score a spot to stand.

Theatre Lizard

Although the third Globe is not on the foundations of the first two (another strike agains Cromwell – imagine that), I would like to think that Shakespeare would have had the lizard, cormorant, wolf, and other critters on the gate.

This came my way today:

Lugar Introduces United States Science Envoys Bill

U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar today introduced a bill establishing “United States Science Envoys” to highlight our nation’s commitment to scientific research and education, as well as our willingness to collaborate with other countries to promote advancements in these fields throughout the world.  Science Envoys will serve not only as good-will ambassadors, but help reinforce links between U.S. academic and scientific institutions and their international counterparts.

“Science and technology provide non-controversial avenues through which we can build relationships that will strengthen not only our institutions, but foster greater understanding between our nation and the rest of the world,” said Lugar.  “These Envoys will be recognized world leaders in their fields of expertise and will demonstrate that the United States is serious about engaging other nations in issues of mutual benefit and concern in science and research.”

The United States has produced more Nobel Laureates than any other nation in Chemistry, Physics, Medicine and Economics. Recognition of U.S. expertise in these fields is reflected in consistent international opinion polls that show even those nations that disagree with the United States on certain foreign policy issues, admire the United States for our leadership in education, science and technology.

Scientific cooperation served as a means to engage with the Soviet Union throughout the 1970s and 80s and with the People’s Republic of China before official diplomatic ties were fully established.

Lugar’s legislation establishes the Science Envoy program and directs that it be run by the Department of State through its Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.  Envoys will be selected by the Secretary of State.

Have I mentioned how much I love my country lately?

Tonight was yet another where it reached 9:30 before I realized that a handful of raisins and an apple wasn’t supper, and headed for the kitchen. I dumped a yam in a pot with some sugar, but remembered that the fruit in my room hadn’t ripened yet, so I should probably make breakfast, too. Since I only bought flour and baking powder on Saturday and have no conventional measuring tools, baking is more like an extension of organic chemistry lab right now but, since the experiment with the apple doodad worked out palatably, I decided to try for something scone-ish. It turned out to be really, really good, so I thought I’d share. Feel free to laugh at the method of preparation.

Borough Biscuits

Turn the oven to 220ºC. In a slightly damp mixing bowl (cleaned because you don’t know where it’s been, but you didn’t have any towels to dry it) combine:

1 3/4 or 2 cups flour*
2 small pinches crushed sea salt
round about two pinches of baking powder
a few spoons of dark brown sugar (about a quarter of a cup, max)
a dash of nutmeg

Mix it all together with your fingers, making sure to break up the sugar clumps. And try to make sure not too much sticks to the damp. Cut in about 2 Tbl of salted cold butter to slightly smaller than peas and mix again. Then add the wet stuff:

1 egg
a good dollop of double cream (whatever the measurement is for the end bit of a ladle I can’t claim to know)
enough water to make a good dough

Mash it all together with a fork until everything is wet, adding the water as necessary. Now flour your hands and your flatmate’s baking sheet and separate the dough into six lumps. Shape the lumps into small rounds and flatten a bit. Place them at least an inch apart on the tray and stick in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes while you do the dishes and put everything away. By the time you’ve made tea, they’re lightly brown  and oh so savory. Goes really well with Yorkshire Gold ’round midnight. Mmmm.

*a cup being one of those cheap plastic cups from the local supermarket. I think it might translate as closer to 3/4 cup, but I can’t test it. Sorry ’bout that.

Also, I’m addled for sure, but now that I have the flat pretty much to myself, I sing whenever I’m in the kitchen. Most people do this in the shower, or the car, and usually in their own language, but there’s not much else to do in the kitchen either. Except to think. As noted, I’m an idiot, but I came up with this while my hands were busy:

Skritch scratch Jimminy Thatch
the harp is on the moor.
The mockingbird is in the trees,
the piper on the shore.

Quick, back to Mr. Black,
the raven’s in the hall,
the shepherd boy stands at the gate
the swallow’s in the wall.

Trip, tap, and doff your cap
the lark begins to sing
the morning light is drawing near
the little birds take wing.

Pick pack and watch your back
the eagle’s eyes are gold
the forest grows two mighty trees
the morning mist is cold.

crick crack down Hunter’s Track
the thrush is trilling loud
the harper’s silent on the moors
the noon without a cloud.

rip, wrap for Mr. Black
a crow the raven joins
the owl is waking in the loft
the magpie nests on coins.

Click clack no looking back
the hawk is at the door
the sheep have hidden in the yard
the mouse beneath the floor

Skritch scratch, Jimminy Thatch,
you’ve played the day away
the shepherd boy sleeps in the fields
and night has come to stay.

Honestly, this poem is not quite as nice as it sounds, and I’m not sure whether it should be have hidden or are running in the penultimate stanza. Perhaps I’ll add in another stanza either before or after. Edit: I’ve interpolated two stanzas right before that, and it may sound a bit better now, although it lacks the magic of the kitchen. Now in the last line changed to and, too. Second Edit: trick track down Mr. Black changed to crick crack down Hunter’s Track. Sorry, but the kitchen witch compels me.

In other news, JRR Tolkien has a story being published for the first time in just 10 days! Guess where I’m going to be on the 30th/1st? That’s right, sleeping in the air ducts of Waterstones so I can drop down from on high to spirit away the first copy. Fortunately that’s a few weeks before my first exam, although if he retold the entire tale of Sigurd and Gudrun, I may have to put it off until I’m back in the States. Dang, that’ll be awhile.

I’m being a bum and not doing anything right now. After the past few weeks, not moving is kind of antithetical, but my body preferred the 22º sunny weather of Vienna to the 9º rain of London, and I figure I should chill for a bit before going out and facing people who actually speak my language. Truthfully, I think I’m experiencing adventure withdrawal. To give myself something to do, then, I went over and set up a gallery on Atpic. So far just the Snowday and first day of Berlin are posted, but I’ll put up at least a few pictures each day until they’re all up. In the meantime, you can check them out here (the link will also go up on the links page).

First of all, a shout-out to my brother, who just graduated bootcamp. Awesome way to go!

That also puts a much nicer spin on today than there has been for the past two years, although I’ll never forget that, even when I’m in a country where I don’t speak the language, helping a few guys put up festival buildings. What better way to remember a tragedy than to help bring about future joy?

crest from Hofburg

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