Saturday, August 16, 2014

On the road again: London, day 8
WorldCon, day 3

In an amazing move due entirely to my having a reading scheduled at 12:30, today I for the first time took advantage of the free breakfast buffet that comes with the hotel room.  I see these things rarely, almost always preferring to sleep through them, so I approach them with the wariness of a jungle explorer encountering a new and oddly smelly breed of giant snake.

I'm happy to report that I survived the meal, even after sampling the eggs, floppy bacon, sausage, and cold baked beans; I had to approach the classic English breakfast. 

I'm even more happy to report that, to my amazement, people I did not know attended my reading.  In fact, the audience numbered 18, and I knew only two of its members.  I presented them with five very different options, and a few brave souls opted for my short story, "Reunion," so they carried the day and I read all of it that time permitted.  Those in attendance seemed to enjoy it, and I had a pleasant time re-reading it after not seeing it for multiple years.  All in all, as best I could tell, a successful reading.

In a small area on the edge of the dealers' room and not far from the art show, for reasons I don't quite understand, today the con featured a small exhibit of fancy breeds of pigeon.  I approached this exhibit with even less enthusiasm than the breakfast, but curiosity made me go.

I am so very glad I did.  Pigeons can be awesome!  The breeds on display were lovely and each completely different from the next.  In this shot, the curator is holding a bird whose feathers shimmered in the light. 

Click an image to see a larger version.

Most of my shots did not come out well, but this one isn't bad and should afford you a look at a few of the varieties.

In the back of the cage, you can just make out the Jacobin's head among its ruff feathers.

A few more variations.

And, really, who can resist species known as Almond Tumblers and Scandaroons?

Certainly not I.

After a bit more wandering about the convention, I returned to the room to work for a while, and then headed out to meet a group of folks for dinner.  That meal was at a nearby pub, where a group of soccer fans held sway and cheered loudly for their team each time it did anything at all interesting.  The food was passable and the conversation good, but then it was time to go see the WorldCon masquerade, something I've done at every WorldCon I've attended since my first in 1978.

This one featured 3 young contestants and 25 adult competitors.  The costumes were fun, though the presentations tended to run a bit long for my taste.

After a bit more wandering through the con parties, I turned in relatively early, my usual case of con melancholia hitting me rather strongly. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

On the road again: London, day 7
WorldCon, day 2

LonCon 3, this year's WorldCon, was in full swing all day today.  I had worked until very, very late last night, so I slept rather late today and missed all the morning activities.  I also spent a big chunk of the late afternoon and early evening working, but I managed to fit some con activities into the day as well.

Before I talk further about today, however, I have to show you Mr. Whippy.  (Don't blame me for where your mind just went.)  Mr. Whippy, a staple of multiple old British comedies, had a truck at the convention center yesterday. 

Click an image to see a larger version.

The product Mr. Whippy serves is somewhere between soft-serve ice cream and heavy whipped cream, reasonably tasty but lighter than most Americans would expect.

The ExCeL center, which is hosting this con, is enormous.  To reach some of the function spaces, you have to cross this enormous open area. 

Then, you have to go up this staircase (this shot is from its top). 

After that, you walk down a single long hall for a city block or two.  Amazing.

All the parties here happen in a common fan activity area, which I shot here from above. 

In Wednesday's post, I showed the main long hall of the convention center.  At that time, it was fairly empty.  Today, it was a bit busier.

In the course of today, I hung with several writer friends, attended the Chesley awards ceremony, went to the ASFA reception in the art show, ate a Cornish pasty, wandered by some of the parties (all of which were in the common fan area) for cities bidding to host future WorldCons, and talked with some young writers.

Not a bad day, though filled with way more work than I had hoped.

Tomorrow, more con!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

On the road again: London, day 6
WorldCon, day 1

The morning went to work and sleep.  Lunch was an alarmingly authentic meal at a nearby Chinese restaurant; I am simply not ready for the degree to which tendons and skin figured prominently in the various offerings.

The opening ceremonies of the convention revolved around a small play and were the silliest in my memory, though I confess to having missed many of these occasions.

I then wandered the dealers' room, which was refreshingly full of books, and the art show.  Both provided pleasant browsing and the chance to see some books and art not normally available in the U.S.

After a few hours of work, a group of us headed back into London proper for a marvelous dinner that I will cover later in its own blog entry. 

Though I had hoped to hit some of the con parties, work, rather than socializing, filled the rest of the day until now, when I hope to fall over and go boom.

Tomorrow, I hope to see more of the con!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

On the road again: London, day 5
WorldCon, day 0

Sleep and work and sleep and work ate the morning, and then it was off for lunch and a walk around Covent Garden.  In the course of this stroll, I ran across one of my favorite restaurant signs.

Click an image to see a larger version.

The image is for an Italian place, Polpo, at which I've never eaten.  I just love the image.

After lunch, it was time to change hotels and locations so I could attend the World SF Convention (WorldCon, this year LonCon 3) without paying enormous cab fares every day. 

After setting up in a new hotel, I registered for the con and then explored the ExCel Convention Center, the hosting facility.  Wow, is this place big. 

In this shot you can almost see the light coming from the doors on the other side of the place, a few blocks away. 

The docklands area has a predictably industrial vibe, though the convention center is quite upscale.

Tomorrow, the con begins in earnest!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

On the road again: London, day 4

Fatigue is leading me to keep this one short; I need some sleep after a short and very restless time in bed last night.

The highlight of the day was a long walk over to the restored Globe Theatre for a performance of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.  Simply getting to see the theatre was a huge treat, because I've read about it so many times over the years.  The folks there don't allow photographs during the show, but photos seemed to be okay before it, so here's how the place looked as they were finishing setup, not long before the show started.

Click an image to see a larger version.

As you can tell from the angle of the photo, my seat was in the upper balcony.  The view was nonetheless fantastic. 

If you know this play, you know that it's not the strongest of Shakespeare's, nor is it particularly happy, but I still greatly enjoyed the performance.  With the exception of a surprisingly weak Caesar, the cast was uniformly strong, with Brutus a particular standout.

Just as the play finished, the cloudy sky broke into a light shower, a nifty ending to a great show.

On the wandering walk back, the rain stopped in time to give all of us walking across the Millenium Bridge the treat of a rainbow in the distance past London bridge.

St. Paul's also looked lovely against the clearing sky.

I have no clue what this group is, and I don't plan to research it, because the name alone makes me giggle.

After some work, dinner was a pop 'round the corner (well, more than a corner, but you get the idea) for a curry at the Covent Garden Masala Zone.  I had a Thali, a large plate with a lot of vegetarian offerings and a bit of lamb vindaloo.  Each dish was quite tasty.

Tomorrow, I change locations and move to a hotel across the street from the World Science Fiction Convention, Loncon 3, which I'll be attending starting Thursday.

Monday, August 11, 2014

On the road again: London, day 3

Sleeping, working, and walking filled all but the dinner part of today.  I'll save the dinner for a separate entry, because the amazing meal deserves its own coverage, and there's little to say about the sleeping and the working, so let's focus on the walking.

I love walking in cities, particularly in old European cities, and London is certainly no exception.  Today's goal was simply to see a few of the lovely historic buildings and locations.  One of the first I photographed was the entrance to Downing Street.

Click an image to see a larger version.

Like our President's house, Number 10 Downing Street is no longer easy to approach.  I understand and appreciate the need for these levels of security, but I still find them sad.

Big Ben stood tall and lovely over the Houses of Parliament.

Having seen Doctor Who and other shows trash it so many times, it's always reassuring to see the clock still standing and working.

The Houses of Parliament were gated but still pretty.

The British flag was flying high, as it should be.

Nearby Winchester Abbey, seen here from the back, was absolutely lovely, though I missed visiting hours by just a few minutes and so wasn't able to go inside.

Gorgeous old trees lined the river walk in the park, Victoria Tower Gardens, adjacent to Parliament.

Did someone mention the Thames?

A bit farther into the park stood this odd little building, by all appearances a folly.

I quite loved it.  Upon closer inspection, it proved to be the Buxton Memorial, a tribute to the end of slavery and the British citizens, notably and by name Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, who fought for that end.  It had originally stood in Parliament Square, but in 1957 the government moved it here to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the 1807 act abolishing the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

For no good reason, I had the urge to pose in it, so here I am, scowling because slavery and its horrors were on my mind.

A short walk in a light rain brought me to the other side of Winchester Abbey, which was lovely indeed.

In St. James Park, part of which I walked on the return route to the hotel, for no reason I can understand beyond its beauty, this dahlia caught my eye and fascinated me.

A shop near the hotel proved to sell Jamon Iberico, which the shopkeepers were happy to slice from a full leg.  I bought 92g for afternoon snacks.

My favorite water and the world's best ham; what a delightful snack--enough to last several days.

Sometime soon, I'll tell the tale of today's amazing dinner.  Now, though, I must crash.

Tomorrow, another play, this time at the restored Globe Theatre!

R.I.P, Robin Williams

Well, damn.  Robin Williams is dead, apparently, all the news sources are saying, from a suicide.  A man who brought so much joy to so many is gone, possibly unable to find any joy for himself.


I've loved every Robin Williams comedy concert video I've seen, studied them all many times, and wondered if ever for a second on stage as a spoken word performer I would be half as good as he was at his worst.  I hoped to see him continue to grow and to perform for many years to come. 

Despite the accolades he received, he was an under-appreciated actor as well as a stone genius comedian.  In The Fisher King, in Dead Poets Society, and most of all, for me, in Good Will Hunting, Williams delivered powerful performances that showed glimpses of his character but that were ultimately excellent renditions of the characters he was playing. 

I never got to see him perform live, and I never met him, so I have only one personal anecdote about him.  One day, in a shop in San Francisco, I noticed a small, thin man in sunglasses and a track suit:  Williams, there shopping with, I believe, his daughter, and trying not to have to be the performer version of himself.  Everyone in the shop stayed cool, no one bothered him, he bought a few items, and he left.

Afterward, though, all of us were buzzing with our favorite Robin Williams bits.  He had made me laugh so much so many times, he had done that for everyone in the shop, that we all wanted to thank him, but none of us did, because we all wanted to respect the wish for privacy he so clearly had.

He mad so very many of us laugh so very many times, and now he's gone. 


Sunday, August 10, 2014

On the road again: London, day 2

I slept--fitfully, with frequent awakenings due to stress dreams, but still--for the better part of eleven hours last night, which was a huge treat.  After a shower and a quick lunch--the oddest imitation of a Cuban sandwich I've yet tasted--I headed to the National Gallery to spend the afternoon enjoying its many treasures. 

From the entrance to the museum, Trafalgar Square was a joyous collection of people enjoying a positively perfect London afternoon.

Click an image to see a larger version. 

As I was leaving the gallery at closing time, I couldn't help but wander by the square's big blue chicken and take a few happy snaps.  This one came out the best.

I was able to see the majority of the paintings in the museum, though if I had more time I could use another day to see the rest.  I studied many, many pieces from artists whose work I had at least some familiarity with.  I also found some whose work I did not know but now will seek.  Paolo Morando was one of the new painters whose work I enjoyed.  His Saint Roch caught my eye early in the day.

I was struck by this piece from Palma Vecchio, whose work I've seen many times before. 

Though Vecchio painted it in about 1520, it's easy to imagine it as a Rossetti piece from centuries later. 

Another painter whose works I know almost nothing about was Joachim Beuckelaer.  I was quite taken with his four large canvases depicting his take on the four classic elements.  This one, Fire, particularly struck me, but all were powerful, frank, and fresh takes on this old subject. 

I could go on and on, of course, because so much great art was on display, but it's late here, and I want to rest.

Okay, I have to show you Jan Brueghel the Elder's The Adoration of the Kings

and contrast it with Jan Gossaert's painting of the same title (sorry for the side angle; it was all the crowds made possible). 

Oh, hell, I can't skip these two amazing creations of Peter Paul Rubens, The Watering Place

and Samson and Delilah.

I've seen very little from Nicolo dell'Abate, but his The Death of Eurydice, particularly its fantastic (in all senses of that word) sky

has definitely whetted my appetite for more. 

Seeing two incomplete pieces from Michelangelo was also fascinating.  Here, he's painted all but the left of The Manchester Madonna

while in The Entombment he left blank bits here and there, as well as the large section in the lower right corner. 

The gallery's sign speculated, based on some existing drawings, that Mary Magdalene was to have been kneeling in that large open area.

I really need to stop this art tour, but I don't want to fail to include another painter, Francesco Pesellino, whose The Story of David and Goliath

and The Triumph of David and Saul

drew my attention for so long that I now will seek more of his work.  

Might as well toss in Botticelli's Mystic Nativity; it's magical. 

I absolutely must share with you Da Vinci's The Virgin of the Rocks

and his sketch, The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and Saint John the Baptist, which was stunning even in the dim light in which they had to keep it.

I'm making myself stop, but these represent only a fraction of the paintings I photographed, which in turn were a tiny fraction of the ones I had the privilege of seeing. 

The evening's entertainment was a different sort of art entirely, but one that I greatly enjoyed:  The production at the lovely Palace Theatre of the musical by Roddy Doyle from a novel and then a movie of the same name (though the novel was originally The Partitions), The Commitments.

The story was fun, though I knew it already, the cast was amazing, and the music, mostly soul, with a smattering of rock, was delightful.  I later learned from the program that understudies were filling several of the key roles in this performance, but I certainly felt in no way cheated; they gave incredible performances.  The show filled me with delight; catch it if you get the chance. 

Afterward, dinner took me to the L'Atelier Robuchon right around the corner from the Palace, where I enjoyed an eight-course tasting meal. 

This entry is already way too long, so I'll spare you the food porn shots and say simply that every bite of every dish was positively delicious.

Okay, twist my arm:  this strawberry pre-dessert was astonishing, light and flavorful and evocative of summer while perfect at its job of cleansing the palette.

On the walk back to the hotel, I had to stop and try to capture the lovely full moon hanging over London. 

Though this shot does it no justice, you may perhaps be able to glean a small sense of how beautiful it was.

A glorious day indeed.

Tomorrow, I begin trying to both work and tourist, so don't expect any more entries of this size. 


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