Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Rest of January: Taylor's Visit, Celebs, and Art

Teriann and I got a welcome 3-day break from our job-hunting/schoolwork this week as my good friend Taylor Morris came to visit. As you can see from the link, Taylor is something of a rockstar — he tours with a violin/fiddling/rock band called Barrage. Though he wouldn't admit it, he has 'made it' as a musician in a way I can only wistfully peer at through my graduate school cell bars. I knew him way back when, though, so when he had a few days off from Barrage's tour of the Netherlands and Belgium, he popped over to London to visit.

The first night, we saw a concert in Wigmore Hall. The concert itself wasn't very good (that's a subject for another day), but the venue is a landmark of the musical world, and I hadn't yet been. Plus I hadn't seen Taylor for quite a while — except for one quick lunch in December — so it was a fun night.

Over the next two days, we went to the National Gallery (more on that in a moment), and there are classic pictures of us feeding squirrels and swans (what else does one do in London?) in this facebook album, but a highlight for me was seeing James Earl Jones and Phylicia Rashad in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

James didn't want to take pictures, but Phylicia Rashad/Mrs. Huxtable was more than happy to. In addition to being a moving actress (she all but disappeared into her fat-old-lady walk and voice), she's a wonderful person: she was very nice to us, asking us where we're from and so on, and she exuded a kind of peace I find it difficult to explain. Composure mixed with wisdom, I think.

Back to the National Gallery: I've been there several times before, but on this trip I was particularly struck by a few particular images: a religious scene by Titian and Monet's painting of Westminster Palace. This visit also coincided with the book I've been reading this week, Michael Frayn's Headlong (I'm still on my string of winners — I can't recommend it highly enough), which is centered around an art historian, so art has definitely been on the brain lately. And Teriann and I also went to see the "Turner and the Masters" exhibition at the Tate this weekend — in fact, I'm just realizing how much my attitude towards art has changed over the past year and a half. How could it not, when I'm surrounded by art galleries? It's like music: the more you go to concerts (art galleries) and trace threads through the history of the composers (artists), the more enjoyable and rewarding it becomes.

Finally, so I don't have to post it separately, here's a list of some of the traveling we have planned for the upcoming months. As always, you'll be seeing pics soon!

February: Bilbao, Spain and Lisbon, Portugal
March: Istanbul, Turkey
April: The UK countryside with Louie & Suzanne (!)
May: Stockholm, Sweden and coasteering in Wales
June: Bled, Slovenia

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Waterworks

Well, I'm back to London. After a blissful month of doing no work whatsoever (thank you wonderful Phoenix people), I was thrown into the strange and stressful world of having to complete my piano concerto in a week. Outside, it looked like this:

but instead of playing in the snow, I could only huddle in front of my computer — check a phrase or two at the piano — back to the computer — and so on. My world was lit by the glow of the screen. After several coffee-riddled nights and bleary days, it is indeed complete, and I'm not entirely unhappy with it. We'll see how that opinion stands up to performance.

Despite the immersive week, I somehow managed to finish reading E. L. Doctorow's The Waterworks. I admit that I'm not unbiased — I'm already an avid fan of Doctorow. Still, I was worried at the beginning. The thing takes so long to get off the ground, I was starting to worry whether it ever would.

Having finished it, though, I'm so glad I stuck through the first 60-or-so pages. What a novel. Even with a plot that is less-than-blockbuster material, it doesn't matter because the writing is so pristine. Somehow the mediocre plot gives way to the most fully-formed characters I've ever read, and, more importantly, to an entire era. The 1871 of The Waterworks is somehow strangely more convincing than the 1871 of Mark Twain — characters wrestle with post-Civil War problems and debate the new scientific discoveries of the era.

In a way, it's difficult to sum up. It's a small book, 250 easy pages, but feels immense and complete. It deals with few characters, yet by the end a whole culture — including me — are caught up in its sweeping themes. It's not a masterpiece, but it's close enough that I still eagerly await my next Doctorow read.