Lights! Camera! Travel!

Two weeks without a post. Dearie me.

It’s been one heck of a spring so far, primarily consisting of familial highs and lows, and mostly just lows for running. First, my stepmother nearly died after surgery complications. That was three weeks ago. She’s still in the ICU, clawing her way back to normality. So that’s completely sucked. But I did learn a lot about my family and myself in terms of our personal strengths and weaknesses and how we all cope with disaster. That was interesting and useful.

Then I blew up in the Long Island Half and declared that marathons were dead to me. My feelings have not changed.

This photo needs no caption.

I spent the last week in England with Jonathan’s family, and that was a great time, although, like all travel and concentrated social time, kind of exhausting too. J.’s brother and his husband live in southwest London, while his mother and her husband live in the western cape of South Africa. We try to convene in one of our locales at least every 18-36 months. I hadn’t been to the UK since 2006. It’s changed in some ways but not in others. For example, while cars (and people) are getting bigger, their streets and parking spaces are not. This makes riding in a car a harrowing experience. I spent a lot of time with my eyes closed, worrying about my inlaws’ paint job and side mirrors.

Out and about...

We are active tourists. I think it’s really stupid to travel to a place and sit around inside, which is part of why I don’t care where I stay, usually, as long as it’s not diseased or dangerous. Fortunately, J.’s family is also up for lots of walking, tube-riding and ticket-buying, so our days and evenings were filled with interesting things to do. Highlights include:

A guided walk with London Walks, which has become a kind of tradition when we go there. This time around we did a square mile tour of the city’s center, getting a history of, among other things, Roman London, the Black Death, the births of the Stock Exchange and Lloyd’s of London, and too many buildings designed by Christopher Wren (the Michael Caine of historical London architecture) to count.

A memorial to victims of the plague.

War Horse, which has been playing in London for quite awhile but just opened in Lincoln Center and has gotten a shitload of Tony nominations. As previously noted, I’m not a theatre person, but I appreciate a creatively conceived and executed production in any media, and this delivered. Skilled puppeteers steered giant horses (and a tank) around a stage for two hours. The play’s a little long and overly sentimental (but that’s par for the course in almost any English treatment of WW1 and WW2 — that’s my sweeping, culturally insensitive opinion; go ahead and flame away!), but it was nevertheless impressive. The casting director gets Most Creative Casting award for putting a black man into the role of an embittered SS Captain. Not since seeing Charlton Heston playing a Mexican narc in Touch of Evil have I had to work so hard to suspend my disbelief.

Also, I noted that at play intermissions, English people rush out to the lobby to buy tiny containers of ice cream, which they bring back to their seatmates in huge stacks. Then they all sit there and eat it together, looking supremely happy and satisfied. This was a spectacle so utterly charming and weird that I was beside myself.

In one of a dozen pubs visited.

A massive Joan Miro retrospective at the Tate Modern, which I dragged J.’s family to, although I did not hear complaints. But they were probably being polite. There were 13 rooms of works spanning his career, organized chronologically and placed within the context of the Spanish Civil War and Franco’s Spain, which I admit to having known absolutely nothing about. Now I know almost nothing about those periods of history.

Sadly, I did not get to drink Piddle while there.

A long weekend in County Dorset, to the southwest of London, which is on the southern coast. J. spent most of his childhood and his early teens in this area and it’s incredibly beautiful. Friends of his brother’s have an apartment right on the beach in Sandbanks that they let us use. We had two memorable lunches: the first to reconnect with Jonathan’s stepfather, who we’d last seen circa 1993; the second to celebrate a major milestone birthday for his mother. We visited too many pubs to recall.

Saw lots of these...

The cultural highlight of that last venue was viewing the Eurovision Song Contest, an annual televised music competition that drew 125 million viewers this year. Each European nation puts forth its “best” song and performer(s) in a bid to win the votes of its peers (you can’t vote for your own country, nor are larger nations allowed to skew the numbers — everyone gets the same number of votes). If you have never seen Eurovision, it’s difficult grasp its level of sheer gaudy absurdity. The event goes on for hours, and it’s kind of like Star Search meets Top of the Pops meets Solid Gold. Fortunately, we have YouTube (see below).

...and lots of these.

Singers from nation after nation take the stage, usually with lots of non-singing dancers in tow, against a backdrop of often stunning visual effects. Then the voting begins and at that point you’re glad you’ve been drinking because it goes on for about an hour and half, with each nation’s vote doler outer (usually a tarted up woman, probably a local television personality) struggling to chatter coyly in broken English (Ha! Ha! Foreigners are so funny when they try to speak proper English!). The winning nation gets the dubious prize of hosting next year’s Eurovision, which is presumably a massively expensive proposition, so we found ourselves wondering if Portugal, Iceland and Greece might be sandbagging. Winning performers rarely go on to stardom, the exception being Abba, who won in 1974 with “Waterloo.”

I think my favorite part of watching Eurovision is the spontaneous reactions we all have. We can’t stop ourselves from saying things like:

“God, is everyone in Iceland that fat?”

“Wait a minute. Her name’s Kati? But that’s a man!”

“What is wrong with the French?”

You also get a real sense of what people in the various countries find sexy and stylish. It’s rarely what I find sexy and stylish.

I have never correctly guessed who will win. I’m never even close. This year’s winners were Azerbaijan’s Ell/Nikki, with an anemic, schmaltzy duet called “Running Scared.” I was banking on either Ireland, with its bizarre, poppy entry from twin brothers (and big fans of epaulets, hair gel and Devo) Jedward. Or Serbia’s Nina, who rocked the final with a stylish sixties vibe and, as a chunky-legged girl from peasant stock like myself, proved exteme bravery in wearing white tights on international television. But, no, all the bands I hated made the top 10. Special mention goes to Moldova, for its entry, “So Lucky,” which embodies the sort of demented eye- and ear-raping that you expect of Eurovision.

Azerbaijan: Cream-colored bland FTW.

Ireland: We don’t care if we win. We’ll charge it!

Serbia: Don’t worry, if we don’t win we can always get jobs at Target.

Moldova: Coneheads and unicycles! Thank you!

Jonathan procures pork pies at Borough Market.

Clearly, given the length of my Eurovision report, this was my favorite part of the trip. But I sampled a lot of English culinary staples this time around: black pudding, Scotch eggs, pork pies and my ritual fish and chips/mushy peas, this time from a decades-old childhood chippy that Jonathan was amazed to find still bustling despite everything around it having changed.

Fifty years later, while entire streets and buildings are gone, the humble chip shop still stands.

Unfortunately, since J. got the bright idea that we should all drink absinthe during this musical ordeal, I had a mild hangover the next morning and, while stumbling out for a walk along the beach, managed to bash my left foot on a gate. I’ve done something to it because after an eight mile run the next day my left hip flexor and adductor were iffy. My foot still hurts when I flex it. Kids, don’t drink and run.

Branksome Chine, where we did part of a longish run.

With the foot issue, travel stress and terrible nutrition (and almost no running) of the past week, I plan to jog rather than race the Brooklyn Half this weekend, mostly to collect my 10 points for internal New York Harrier scoring. I’m hoping I can redeem them for pistachio nuts or bobby pins or something at the end of the year.

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