Another Harriet Walter Weekend

My only duck-n-cover move for the next X years is: find some friends & never stop laughing, and every once in a while toss in Dame Harriet Walter.

Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.

Xth annual Dame Harriet Walter Weekend

The Dame Harriet Walter Society has been observing Dame Harriet Walter Weekends for almost six years now, since before Harriet Walter was even a dame, but for this one:

  • We dragged our carcases out to St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn for the all-female women-in-prison Donmar production of Henry IV starring—you guessed it—Dame Harriet Walter;
  • Arrived 30 minutes late for the matinee thanks to a scheduling snafu and the goddamn motherfucking MTA, which led to
  • Being seated in stealth fashion in a completely different section than the one we were originally ticketed for, which meant that
  • We were sitting "literally" (literally) at Dame Harriet Walter's feet when she emerged from the backstage scaffolding to give her big "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown" speech.
  • It was very exciting! 
  • We had to crane our necks up and back in order to see her, although I couldn't hear a word she was saying because I was too aware that this was Dame Harriet Walter spouting Shakespeare while standing close enough for you (me) to grab the hem of her dingy sad old man's bathrobe, and during the course of this speech she spit not once but multiple times on SarahB, which in the end is exactly the sort of visceral, once-in-a-lifetime event that live theatre is all about if you're a particular kind of fan (spoiler: we are particular kinds of fans. I hope this is not news to you.).
  • p.s. at one point Dame Harriet Walter played the flute. In high school I played the flute. This means nothing in the context of anything but it was also very exciting.
  • Post-game we repaired to the wilds of DUMBO (ugh) for happy hour and candlelight pasta at AlMar (topnotch! delicioso! mangia mangia),
  • Followed by ice cream, Cheetos, and a late-night viewing of—obviously—Have His Carcase; i.e., the one with all the tweed, short pants, quarrels, and Haviland Martin the murthering pony.
  • This morning we woke up early to watch Gaudy Night and plot our next DHWW-related adventures, both international and domestic.

To paraphrase Ann Patchett in Bel Canto, certainly I know that Dame Harriet Walter isn't for everyone, but for everyone I hope there is something. 

London for Thanksgiving

Random Vacation Notes

It was very cold. 

Our hotel was the Base2Stay Kensington at 25 Courtfield Gardens. The towel racks were heated yet nothing spontaneously combusted. Crazy!

I was lucky to be traveling with three ladies who love posing for pictures, there's none of that "For fuck's sake, not again" exhaustion or even feigned exhaustion, they are all good fakers and complete hams even when they're truly exhausted. And so pretty! If you stacked the two things Sarah loves best—laughing and being photographed—on one of those justice scales, it's tough to tell which side would pull her down first. She would hire her own private paparazzo if she could.

Also, this was Chelsea's first trip to London—in fact her first international trip ever—and although she rejected all of our suggested nicknames, I would say she passed the test. 

Day 1

We had Thanksgiving breakfast at Balans. For the record I will trade a turkey dinner for the full English anytime.

Thanksgiving's big activity was a ride on The Eye, which I've wanted to do for ages and ages. I guess it's a little like going to the top of the Empire State Building or visiting the Statue of Liberty, but I love those things, too. I mean, let's call a nerd a nerd.

That afternoon we spent a lot of time on the Golden Jubilee Bridge at near-twilight, being loud and American. Oh, but I repeat myself!

Thursday night, Roxie and I saw the other two off to the prom (opera), then went for dinner at Bumpkin in Notting Hill. We split a bottle of rosé and enjoyed a long lovely chat, and that is all I have to say about Bumpkin in Notting Hill.

Day 2

Friday was our Gaudy Night field trip to Oxford. There are 39 separate colleges spread out through this little town and we passed maybe 10 of them, most of which are closed to visitors. You would need 18 pairs of legs to see everything in one day.

Day 3

Saturday morning Sarah and I had lunch at the Tate, which was the best part of the Tate aside from Rodin's The Kiss, which I plan to follow around the world. I enjoyed the slow-cooked pork shoulder sandwich, the view from the restaurant on the top floor of the Tate, and Rodin. I ate a lot of pork on this trip; it was an almost exclusively piggy week. Nobody knows why.

In the afternoon I strolled around Borough Market and then headed east towards Tower Bridge and then north to  Brick Lane where I strolled right off the map and feared I'd have to pee in a corner until finally I stumbled upon Liverpool Station. Stop and think before you decide to walk everywhere alone, that's all I'm saying.

Day 4

On Sunday we wandered through Bloomsbury searching for the ghost of Dorothy L. Sayers and found her just where we thought she'd be, on a quiet little street in a tidy little building watching cable TV.

At least one of us has a copy of Gaudy Night with her at all times. You would call it a talisman, I believe, which according to some dictionary is both a lucky charm and something called a "juju," which is essentially witchcraft. I can't really argue with that. Roxie brought her special carryalong version, which she can never toss because I made her underline all the good parts.

We found the actual street where Harriet Vane lives in Gaudy Night, or would have lived if she were an actual person (which let's face it she kind of is). In modern times Harriet Vane would ride the Swamp Rat, still dressed in her cozy tweeds and little cap and Magical Blouse of Vulnerability. 

On Sunday afternoon a girl we passed on a deserted street in Bloomsbury pointed us in the direction of a local pub and we followed the direction of her pointing down an even more deserted street and at the end of it was The Duke, which is how I came to spend Sunday afternoon with three friends in a corner booth in a corner pub in Bloomsbury drinking a glass of cider and watching the room turn gold as the sun fell around us, and I got that feeling I always connect to my family, of being happy and safe and home, no matter where we are, and a couple of times it came at me so intensely I thought for sure it would shoot right out through the top of my head. Yet I managed to hold it in. This was my Thanksgiving.

First annual Harriet Walter Weekend

I haven't yet come up with a proper way to describe this weekend, during which we paid tribute to Dorothy L. Sayers, Jane Austen, and the great Harriet Walter. HEY, HARRIET WALTER! Who has become both adjective and verb, both exclamation and censure. Not only my favorite thing about the summer but quite possibly the year—it amazes me to trace back the tally of riches that blossomed from one play, and one actress, and one book, and one author, which led to another and another and another and grows still, in twenty directions at once, with dear good friends to share them, and in one fell swoop renewing my faith in lucky stars.

Our weekend? Part pilgrimage, part reading group, part movie marathon, part food fest, part cocktail hour, part slumber party, and all decidedly, deliciously, wickedly gaudy. And now we have the book bags to prove it.

Oh SarahB & RoxieZ, what marvelous fun! I can't wait to polish up those monocles next year, and do it all over again.