Roman Forum 2006

Roman Forum 2006
Foro Romano, from the Palatine Hill - a favorite photo from one of my favorite cities

Friday, February 28, 2014

Bloggo Su e Giù II - Ups and Downs of Dottore Gianni's Travels: The first journal: 1986-87, London and Stratford

Welcome back to the series Su e Giù! You've read about what Dottore Gianni is doing and why he is doing it, and you've read about his adventures and misadventures in Deutschland in the late 196os. You may remember that there was no journal kept for that trip, so we are now launching into the series proper, the su e giù of the good doctor's travels for which he kept a journal of events. 

I would note that I had promised myself (yes, yes, I write in first person starting here, starting now, for the most part, though I zealously reserve the right to switch back and forth to my alter ego now and again) that as soon as humanly possible I would return to Europe. Sadly, that "as soon as possible" turned into nearly twenty years later. As I like to put it, life took over - and my life was that of a starving actor for the most part, so there was little time, opportunity or cash to go abroad. 

The first travel journal was written from late December 1986 to early January 1987: Great expectations! Jack/Dottore Gianni/Doctor Jack visits London and Stratford-Upon-Avon in the UK. 

Nota procedurale: Any direct quotes from the journal will be enclosed in quotation marks " ".  I will comment on the quoted text within the quotations occasionally and when I do  I'll enclose those remark in brackets [ ]. Any passages not in quotation marks have been paraphrased and much trimmed by me. I also use (many would say OVER-use and Dottore Gianni might agree) parenthesis marks (ahem). When you see those in a quoted passage the words within them were written that way in the journal. Okey-dokey? Here we go:

I'll not trouble you with the days leading up to the trip, except to let you know, as the saying goes or used to go, "where my head was at." I began writing on 16 December and flew to London on Christmas Day. At the beginning of that time I was down in Florida, an actor scrambling for work and adjunct professor at Florida Atlantic University, broke 
The woman with whom I'd just split - names
omitted to protect the guilty 
beyond words. I drove to NYC, stopping in Washington DC for a visit with a woman I'd been seeing for four years and from whom I'd just had a heart-wrenching split. Once in New York I visited my best friends at the time, Will and Mary Osborne, but also saw another woman with whom, so it turned out, I would begin seeing not long after, from the summer of 1987 to sometime in 1990. I was not in a very good place emotionally, but I had 
made a commercial in Florida that made me $30,000 - 
On the left, playing Maggie the Cat (I was Gooper - I was
very good) is the woman I'd begin to see shortly after
the trip -
note that they are actresses - so was my wife - these
three, the only long-term relationships I've had, were
with performers...aaaah....
extraordinary, but that was the gross sum, and the money from it came to me in small installments, much of which I had to spend immediately upon its arrival. Because of the commercial I was more flush than usual, in fact it was the only reason that I was able to take this birthday trip, but on the visit abroad I had to be very frugal. I would embark on studies for my Ph.D. in a matter of months (September 1987 at City University of New York) and that adventure would cost all of the handsome sum the commercial had brought in, in fact it would cost much more. 

On Christmas Eve I wrote only briefly but happily about my trip across the pond: 

"Tomorrow at this time (and I am at this time already on the verge of tomorrow) I'll be in the air over the Atlantic. God I'm excited! I'll close now, to take a final look at my maps of London, then to sleep! Merry Christmas!"

I wrote at the airport on Christmas Day but was distracted by the people milling around me, and those people became the subject of a quite uninteresting journal entry...and then NOTHING in the journal until a longish entry on 28 December, when I caught myself up on the first few days of the trip:

"It's been three full days since I've been in London and I haven't had time (or bothered) to write a line! Just goes to show that when you're very active you don't really have time for a journal. It's only when you have too much time on your hands that you are at leisure to write, and then there's little if anything to write about!"

I had arrived at Gatwick Airport the morning of Boxing Day (26 December) and the London Underground was closed until later in the day, but the local buses were running so I 
Only a few of these are still running in 2014 - routes 9 & 15
took one in, "one of those wonderful double deckers, red ones that you see in photos [well, it WAS my first time there, after all]...I got my first look at the London suburbs, which at first glance seemed like the outskirts of any town in the US, until I looked again and saw an old, old church steeple in the distance, and then an ancient bridge over a creek not far from the road. I began to realize, though the thought had long lurked in the back of my mind, that if nothing else I would gain from England a sense of history, which I already began to feel as I rode the bus into London." 

The bus I caught happened to stop only a few blocks from my 
The Adelphi in 1986
hotel, The Adelphi on Cromwell Road (I've never found it since). I thought I'd have to leave my bags as it was too early to check in, but the woman at the desk directed me to my room, also telling me that once settled I should come down to breakfast (quite nice of her, as technically I should not have been allowed breakfast until the following morning. 

I did so, and found myself "in a warm room with five tables, two of them occupied. The occupants all turned their heads to me at once, I said hello, one or two grunted a response, then all turned back to their food. [Clearly I was a hit!] I knew I needed coffee and turned over the cup to so indicate, but it stuck to the saucer, then dropped, not breaking but instead clattering to the floor and shattering the stillness in the room. An older woman looked up, glared at me, and nearly said 'tsk, tsk' I'm certain. No further incidents occurred, but I finished breakfast as soon as possible, slunk out of the room, slunk into mine and almost immediately, despite my excitement, fell into a deep sleep. I awoke less than two hours later, had a bath (no shower available), left the room and started walking. THIS was exciting. I passed tube stops but didn't want to go underground, instead walked past Hyde Park and the Albert Memorial through South Kensington, and suddenly there was Harrods! After that I did take the tube to Leicester Square - decidedly dumpy - found the half-price ticket booth and found nothing at all that I wanted to see on sale."

"I ended up finding my way to the Royal National Theatre, 
The Royal National in 1986
with which despite its stark gray facade I instantly fell in love, and remain so until this bright day in February 2014. I bought a standing room ticket for that night to the Olivier. I was determined to see Anthony Hopkins play King Lear (I'd seen him and loved him in Equus in the 1970s), and I was sworn to do it, even if it meant having to stand on the night of what I call jet-lag hell day. I also bought an advance ticket to two one-acts by David Hare for the next night, then treated myself to a pot o' tea and a pastry in the lobby."

I strolled along the South Bank (a stroll I loved then and remain in love with today) passing still more London icons: St Paul's, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament - aaahh! Then in a drizzle I walked back across the Thames over Waterloo Bridge (no Hungerford Footbridges back then), and found the Theatre Royal Haymarket, where I purchased yet another ticket, to see Derek Jacobi in Breaking the Code

"After stumbling around lost for quite a while I made my way back to the National, dined on a ham steak with tomato, cucumber and lettuce, inedible cole slaw (all mayonnaise, no cabbage in evidence) and tabouli, which I washed down with two lagers. Then, completely exhausted but also elated, I 
Hopkins as Lear, with Bill Nighy as Edgar
stood for all three and a half hours of King Lear. Hopkins was brilliant, the production only so-so - weird costumes, too huge an empty space for the action, very spotty performing from the rest of the cast. But Hopkins holding the dead Cordelia - that's why I had come to London! Then I tubed back to South Kensington, and after one lager in the pub downstairs next to the hotel, I passed out. I was awakened from a deep sleep at 9:45 am the next day by the maid knocking on my door to clean the room. I'd missed breakfast!"

27 December: "Off to a poor start, which continued."  I left the hotel as quickly as possible, took the tube to the West End, and there I got out, "thinking I knew my way better. I did not, London's still a maze - every short cut I took proved completely wrong. But! I decided to try for a late matinee of 
Rickman and Duncan - intense!
Les Liaisons Dangereuses [the original production, played brilliantly by Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan], and booked a seat. I realized that I had the rest of the day, until 4 pm, to myself, so I headed to Bloomsbury, which was not as I'd imagined it, but I found the British Museum - talk about a sense of history! Greek and Roman - PRE-Greek - the mummies! God, thousands of years! I don't know exactly why seeing these artifacts should be uplifting - more likely it might make me feel small - but the Museum was exciting, vast, and brought to my mind just how long people had been making a stab at civilization..."


One of several ways in (James St I think) to Covent Garden, not far from the Ambassadors
Clearly this had made my day. I headed to the pub nearest the Ambassadors, the tiny theatre where the show was playing, "only to realize - no food or drink! It's after three and before six [in that era all pubs closed between those hours - not any more!]. So I hung out at the theatre until they let us in, placed my intermission order for a lager [wonderful tradition in England!], then headed to my seat, a terrible one, at the very rear of the stalls, but which wouldn't have been too bad but had not a huge fellow with hair frizzed out in every direction sat directly in front of me. I had to be an acrobat to see any of the action, but the play was brilliant. I took it to be a biting satire of the current day in an eighteenth century mode. If only I could have seen more of it!" 

I was to rectify the lousy seat by seeing it again when it played New York - both Rickman and Duncan were again featured, this time my seat was excellent, and ever since I have LOVED the play, though I've never since seen a production to rival the first.

But back to London! I had to dash back across the Thames in order to 'get me to the National on time' as "I was seeing the two plays by David Hare that evening: The Bay at Nice and 
Zoe Wanamaker (center) & Irene Worth in
The Bay at Nice
Wrecked Eggs, directed by the author, starring the legendary Irene Worth [with whom I had performed at the Kennedy Center in 1982] and the nearly as talented Zoe Wanamaker. But my head was splitting from lack of food, so I bought and bolted two ham and mustard sandwiches, which helped a little, and at intermission devoured not one but two ice creams, which helped a lot. The plays were excellent, each about commitment, the first set in Russia, the second in the U.S. On my way back to the hotel I bought a lager and some cheese and et them in my room before I fell into another deep sleep."

Sunday 28 December "was a lovely day, cloudy but almost balmy for a winter day in London - thus spake the authority on the city! I took the tube to Westminster, mistook Parliament for the Abbey [again, first time in London, folks], and walked along the Embankment, snapping some photos from Lambeth Bridge. As Big Ben struck 11 am I decided to walk towards Victoria and on the way a surprise - Westminster Cathedral [the Abbey is Church of England, the Cathedral Roman Catholic] where a high mass was nearing the Consecration as I entered. A wonderful a cappella choir sang, and the recessional was played by a triumphant organ."

"From the Cathedral I continued to Victoria Coach Station where I bought a round-trip ticket to Stratford - all set now! I am set to arrive there at 11:40 am on Wednesday - time just to check in to Nando's, my B&B in Stratford, and get to the matinee. Oh boy!"

Whitehall Palace, 1986
I was SO caught up in theatre, as well as history at the time. Yes. All, right, after the coach station I took a wandering walk, snapping some photos at Buckingham Palace, then on to Whitehall and the horse guards, from there to Trafalgar 
Trafalgar Square from the
National Gallery 
Square and the National Gallery of Art. Before going in I stopped at a pub, the Chandos, very near the Coliseum, home now to the English National Opera, and also near the beautiful church of St Martin's in the Fields. At the Chandos I had a ploughman's lunch and two pints of Samuel Smith bitters - whew! - a very convivial place! [more so after the second pint, perhaps?] Then to the National Gallery - lovely! [Lovely??? that's all you had to say about the National Gallery - oh, callow youth - relatively speaking]. Behind it, the National Portrait Gallery - what a history lesson! [not much to say about that one either. Oh well] I still had 
National Portrait Gallery
time to kill before I was to go to a film, Zefirelli's version of Verdi's Otello, so I took a walk that proved almost too long, from Charing Cross to Oxford Street, then to Regent Street and from there to Carnaby Street, after which I became thoroughly lost! Found Cambridge Circus, where the movie was playing, just in time. I was tired, but I loved seeing the opera on film, even cut to pieces musically as it was, more like 'highlights from Otello' than the full opera, but the highlights were grand."
English National Opera in 1986
St Martin in the Fields 1986 - it's been cleaned up substantially since then

"Out of the film at 8 pm, determined to eat at the Shakespeare Head Pub (visions of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding dancing in my head), but alas at that time of night it and the other pubs were only serving drinks and the odd snack, so finally, after getting lost yet again, I came upon 'a small, oppressively Italian restaurant in Soho' [a quote from a play I had been in], called the Romeo e Giulietta [how theatrical!]. There I had a very good meal, starting with consommé, then grilled veal with parsley, potatoes and peas and 'black paper' - at least that's what I heard the Italian waiter say - he was actually saying 'black pepper' - the misunderstanding made for quite a laugh. Finally a cake in cream with great coffee, which is probably why I couldn't get to sleep that night. Excellent meal! Twenty pounds worth...Excellent day - priceless! And then to bed."


Addendum to 28 December: "I forgot the story of my camera. First, I don't think the first roll of film I shot...took! [Many of my readers are too young to even remember a
Pathetic attempt at a "selfie" - a word not yet
in use in 1986, if I recall..
camera in which you must open the back, put a literal roll of film in on one end, thread it and wind it onto a spool at the other end. For some reason my camera was not threading properly and...well, more about that later
.] Second, I tried to take a picture of myself in front of the National Gallery, using the camera's timer and placing it on a flat surface about ten feet from me. Of course at the second it snapped a man walked in front of it - that'll teach me to not try the timer in a crowded Trafalgar Square. I tried for another...we'll just have to wait and see. Good night."


29 December: "I have been doing so much running around, often it seems for naught, missing proper pub times, therefore missing lunch, and so on and so forth. I'm ready to leave London temporarily. Not that it's not lovely, but my heart seems beating at an even faster rate than when I am in Manhattan, and I've got to stop it, or rather SLOW it. This is one of the reasons I am not charging out into the London mists as early as usual this morning."

A brief sidebar/confession, coming at you from 2014: As seasoned a traveler as I have become, in the many years between today and 1986, one aspect of travel I have never been able to balance is that stated in the paragraph above. I still become so excited by seeing a new place that I race around trying to see as much as possible, exhausting myself in the process, and becoming a tad depressed as a result. Ah well, in the coming years I will simply not be ABLE to rush as I once did, actually as I did just last September and October in Spain. Or will I keep trying, and will that be the death of me? Actually, I can't think of a better way to go!

Today was one of setbacks and rushes of delight [su giù?] as for instance when I got out at the wrong tube stop for a bus tour I wanted to join, then trudged along Hyde Park composing in my head the antithesis of Noel Coward's words about that park:"

"Coward's words begin: 'There is much to recommend Hyde Park, on a Sunday afternoon, particularly in the spring...'

My (per)version goes 'There's not much to recommend Hyde Park, on a dull and cold December morn, particularly in the rain...' etc etc..." giù!

"When suddenly on my trudge I spot the very tour bus I want, hop on, and for an hour and a half am shown the sights from the upper level of one of those great red buses! Excellent!" su!

One of the tour buses I'm talking about - on Trafalgar Square!

"After the bus tour out I leapt onto Oxford Street, the most crowded shopping street that I've ever been tangled up in! [It's only got worse over the years] The mass of humanity made it almost impossible to shop, though I did manage to buy an umbrella and Irish wool cap from Selfridge's [what the hell was I doing shopping in pricey Selfridge's?], both of which will come in handy today. As I was jostled to the breaking point I saw a sign for the Wallace Collection, to which refuge I dashed for peace and quiet. I received much more than that [this free art museum has remained one of my favorites in London to this day], from the plump nudes of Boucher to the frolicking folk of Fragonard to the bucolic gentry of Watteau - and that's just a taste of the artistic treasures within."

Immediately upon leaving the Wallace, however, I realized that I was very hungry, but that I'd never find an affordable lunch in this posh part of town. I headed to the Royal National in hopes of snagging a ticket for a play that featured Maggie Smith and Anthony Andrews, Coming in to Land - no such luck. On to the Barbican [at that time the Royal Shakespeare Co used that space when not in residence at Stratford] where I decided not to see any of the offerings, but where I did have a scone and tea in their cafe.

"Strange places, the Barbican and the National - both gigantic, imposing - the Barbican is the more attractive I suppose, but for some reason I'm more drawn to the monumental gray eminence and ugliness of the National."

Back to the hotel for a nap ahead of seeing Ghosts with Vanessa Redgrave and Tom Wilkinson at the Young Vic. Had a pub meal before it, friendly barman, but perhaps a tad too much to drink. 

"Never have that third pint [!] before a serious play! As to the play, I napped through a bit of the first act (partially bitters, partially boredom) - interesting translation, excellent performance by Redgrave and the Oswald, strange and interesting Pastor Manders but the girl was awful. Satisfying production all in all, but memories of the brilliant performance by Margaret Tyzack at Stratford Ontario are still strong in my head - unmatchable! Then back to the hotel and to bed!" 

Su e giù all in one sitting!

30 December - a very rainy day, so a slow slow start, but I did get to St Paul's Cathedral. "What a grand, beautiful church! And what views of the city from the base of its dome! I didn't get to the top, as I was being blown all over the place by the wind. I took loads of pictures that I concerned I'll never see because I do believe the camera, once again, did not load properly. I no longer think that it's my fault. I am a klutz, but I'm fairly certain there is a problem with the camera, and I can't afford a new one now..."

I took this photo from the National, looking across the Thames - St Paul's is one-third of the way from the right edge of the photo
"After St Paul's a really pleasant lunch at the Balls Brothers' Wine Bar, just across the street: a cheese plate with cheddar, brie and stilton, and two glasses of muscadet - excellent! However, while I et I noticed that my expensive cap from Selfridge's is already falling apart - no choice but to take it back."

"Before that, however, a trip to the Courtauld, which houses the best impressionists and post impressionists to be seen in all of Britain. BUT! almost the entire collection is gone, on a tour of - where else? The good old U.S. of A. So having paid a pound fifty I was limited to Dutch masters and Rubens Rubens Rubens! Too bad, but at least it's still raining raining raining!" Definite giù!

"Next stop Selfridge's where they're very nice about the cap, and I find a much better hat and pay only the two pounds sixty difference. Things are looking up! Then on to Harrods where I had an outrageous afternoon tea in their terrace cafe. Six pounds fifty, but it's worth it: first sandwiches, cucumber, paté, fish, and cream cheese; then scones, and finally a dessert of my choice - and my choice was a sinful chocolate cake! Then back to the hotel for a nap."

The tea at Harrods was sufficient dinner for me, so after my nap I headed straight for the Theatre Royal Haymarket, had a lager before the play, then sat down in a theatre in which performers had been on the boards since 1821. Watched 
Derek Jacobi in Breaking the Code, 1986
Derek Jacobi in a beautiful performance in an only so-so play, Breaking the Code. I'm of the belief that there are certain plays that are almost actor-proof in that they cannot be destroyed by actors of mere journeyman talent (or less), but that other plays should be performed only by actors of brilliance. Breaking the Code would have been incredibly dull, even though its ideas are excellent, performed by anyone less than a Derek Jacobi - his performance was such that it gave me chills, literally, when the curtain descended. It is very rare in London for the audience to rise in a standing ovation, and I hadn't seen one in any of the plays I'd attended so far, but if a performance deserves standing it was that one. Instead mine was only one in a seated chorus of bravos. 'That's what theatre is all about,' I kept thinking as I took the tube back to the hotel."

"I stopped off at the pub nearest the hotel and had a pub conversation with a man who'd gone to the Westminster School - when he had been there he had dubbed one of the roles in the film Lord of the Flies! He was now working for "the corporation that ruined the Rhine." To that remark I replied with a knowing 'Aaah,' though I hadn't even a vague idea what that corporation might be - but it was a fine conversation, though it took me three pints of bitters to get through it - and then TO BED!"

On the morning of 31 December I caught my bus to Stratford-Upon-Avon. We made a stop at Coventry, where there was a chance to get a quick look at its cathedral, bombed to smithereens in the war. Its ruins were left standing and a new, very modern-looking cathedral was built just next to it. A moving sight. Coventry, I discovered is also the town in which Lady Godiva made her famous ride on a horse.

The juxtaposition of bombed and new is an interesting case of
su e giù.

My comments re Straftord written on the bus can be summed up in this one: "Well, this is just VERY exciting!" 

When I arrived in Stratford I just had time to check in at my B&B, Nando's on Evesham Place - 

"tiny room, just enough space for bed, sink and dresser, bathroom down the hall. I dropped off the bags and hurried off to lunch at the White Swan - excellent: cream of cauliflower soup, steak and kidney pie (yum), potatoes, zucchini, cabbage, and for dessert a charlotte russe - wow! all washed down with a pint - wait, make that two! Then raced down to the Swan (of course I got lost, but not irreparably) to see a smashing production of Ben Jonson's Every Man in His Humour. Another lesson in what acting is all about - Henry 
Pete Postlethwaite - great face - died too young
Goodman turned a comic stock jealous husband into, I don't know exactly - life? and was hilarious in doing so. There were so many wonderfully FULL performances [I'm remembering as I type this into my blog another wonderful turn as a braggart warrior by Pete Postlethwaite - also just found out that Simon Russell Beale was in it too] - it was an example (as Jacobi had shown the night before) of what theatre should be - two in a row! I was on a roll."

Back to Nando's for a quick nap, then back to the theatre, where I made a luncheon reservation for the next day (first of 1987 - my New Year's present to myself) at its fancy restaurant. Having seen the amount I'd probably spend on dinner tomorrow I could not afford to pay much for supper tonight, so I ate at the much more modest buffet-style place downstairs - a very good meal: chicken, potatoes, carrots, spinach and of course a pint - god help me I've had five and a half pints today - then on to the next attraction: The Two Noble Kinsman, also in the Swan [two quick notes from the present here - first I drank even more then than I do now, second, the Swan was beautiful, and brand new that season - surprised I didn't take time to describe the space in the journal],which to be honest I've never even read! A very tricky play, it seems to me, and it was bizarre to see a play with so many references to Athens and Thebes presented oriental-style - but very well done. But no more on't now - to the Dirty Duck afterwards, and sure enough I bumped into and said hello to the person who was the best thing in the 
Imogen Stubbs as the Jailer's
show, as the jailer's daughter - Imogen Stubbs, on whom I had immediately developed a major crush - and another actor in the company. And then back to the hotel, where I spent probably the dullest new year's I've ever had. 'I grow old, I grow old, I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled...' [God, I was already doing the 'growing old' routine at 40!]. In fact, a confession - I spent the the New Year moment itself pissing, down the hall. I've pissed away another year! Ive properly 86-ed '86! Happy New Year anyway, and goodnight." 

1 January 1987 - "Happy New Year! I ushered it in with a walk in mostly drizzle/rain, snapping photos, finding most attractions, including Shakespeare's Birthplace closed for the holiday, alas. Still, a lovely trip (god it's been a long day). Found Trinity Church where Shakespeare is buried - truly beautiful, outside and in."

"Back to Nando's to find that this roll of film too has probably not got properly spooled - I think I may have NO pictures of London or Stratford!"

Looking back from 2014 I do believe I begin to see the makings of the worst giù of the trip!

"Then to lunch at the Festival Theatre - very tasty! Roast ribs of beef and Yorkshire pudding, carrots, spinach and potatoes - the spinach was perfect - creme brûlée for dessert, and a lovely chat with an older (and I think quite wealthy) couple from Bath (which they pronounced with a VERY broad 'a'."

"Next, to my first play of the day, A Winter's Tale, in the much larger, proscenium arch theatre. The play was beautiful to look at, still, not a great production. The focal point of the set was a huge mirror, which sometimes functioned as a mere mirror, but which also, at different angles, revealed things - in the mind's eye, so to speak. The costumes and the set were 
Jeremy Irons as Leontes
stunning - some performers were flown in, and the famous stage direction 'Exit, pursued by bear' was suggested earlier by a huge polar bear rug, then transformed in the mirror into a gigantic polar bear that does in Paulina's husband, whatzisname... [a name I'm not recalling in 2014 either! Just looked it up - Antigonus] Afterwards, Autolycus makes his first appearance also in the mirror, wearing a sort of polar bear coat! The performances were fine, but somewhat uninspired, and the music was tacky/modern in the rustic scenes. There was a very funny scene in which Autolycus strips the young shepherd of every ornament - well executed! But I wasn't moved at the end. Hermione and Perdita were portrayed by the same actress, which works up to the final scene, when a double played Perdita, and was forced to face upstage to preserve the illusion. Ineffective, in this production at least - [can't believe that I didn't even mention that Jeremy Irons played Leontes - not brilliant in it, unfortunately] - stunning look to at, however, despite its several flaws."

"Went back home for a nap before the evening show, then to the Dirty Duck for a pint of Flowers' Best and an awful sandwich, sad to say. After which, Richard II, also in the large theatre. This, to my relief, was very, very good. Michael Kitchen's Bolingbroke battered me! He played it like a Richard III without deformities! Jeremy Irons doesn't have the range vocally or emotionally for the the title role, [a note here - I had seen, more than once, the BBC TV version with Derek Jacobi, who displayed amazing range, so I was prejudiced] but there were many excellent supporting performances from older members of the troupe, and then of course there was Imogen stubbs - sigh..."

The set for Richard II, 1986
"The design was excellent: it was a bit toy castle, a bit chess set, both appropriate images for the 'games' that were being played out, also a great tower sort of affair in the middle, on an elevator, that becomes all sorts of locations throughout the action, including Flint Castle and Richard's prison cell. And the costumes? EXQUISITE and OUTRAGEOUS, with performers in them who KNOW how to wear them!" 

"Well...I have to leave tomorrow. I'm ready, I suppose, to complete the trip and get back to the real world, though the fantastical atmosphere of Stratford makes me want to stay and stay! Ah, for the cash needed to earn a degree from Birmingham and the Shakespeare Institute!"

"I must sleep - but, not a bad way to begin a new year!" 


On 2 January, after a final breakfast at Nando's, and trudged in the rain, carrying my bags, to the bus station, only to find out that the next bus wouldn't leave until 10:30! As it was just 8:30 this was depressing, especially as they told me they wouldn't hold my bags, and yelled at me because at one point I was, unknowingly, standing in a 'bus only' zone. This was all my fault because I thought the bus schedule had the departure at 8:40, and didn't bother to check when I was still at the hotel. [In these matters at least I have improved as I have become more experienced in my travels] Of course I didn't blame myself, instead I blamed England. Completely irrational of course, but there you have it."


"After wandering in the rain for a while I remembered that Shakespeare's Birthplace would open at 9 am, so I hotfooted it there and waited until opening, paid my one pound seventy and walked through, still carrying my bags as they had no checking facilities. I am so glad I did, for even though my time was short I could see how filled with history the house is, and history well documented, via plaques on the walls. There was a collection of costumes from the BBC Shakespeare series on exhibit, which was excellent."

So I suppose you could say that I ended my stay in Stratford a good bit more su than giù.

Sidebar: By now my readers have realized that one of, maybe THE greatest g in my trip was that most of the many photos I took were never developed, because the film never made it through the spool - one or two rolls did work, but NOT ONE of the photos of Stratford survived. Of the hundreds I snapped I have only nineteen left from the entire trip. Of course I've been to London and Stratford many times since and have many photos of the places I've been writing about here, but I chose to use only photos that I snapped during that trip for this post - that and ones of the plays I saw, those that I could find on line.

"Back in London I took a taxi to the Adelphi, giving the driver a wrong road name so the ride took longer than it should have - I'm such a bungler - and was shown to a less pleasant room than my last, but adequate for the short time remaining. I called the RSC and booked a ticket for Scenes from a Marriage for that night, ran off to explore some book stores - oddly disappointed at Foyle's - got a bite in a pub, cottage pie, ground beef covered with mashed potatoes, green beans and carrots. [Funny, I thought it was called shepherd's pie?!] At the pub I was talked at by a former trombonist who tole me more stories than I ever wanted to hear, mostly dishing dirt about the old jazz greats, as he'd got it from someone who'd played with the Glenn Miller Orchestra. Oi! It took a while for me to disentangle myself from this fellow. When I finally did I did some more last minute shopping and ran back to the Adelphi for a nap."

"Instead of eating out for supper I bought some bread, cheddar cheese, an apple and an orange, then went to the theatre. There was a very small audience for Scenes and I learned why quickly. The plays turned out to be unbearable! But at least I'd paid top price for my seat and the people next to me had paid a mere four pounds for tickets in the rear - they were asked to move down front. I left after the first two one-acts. It's difficult to get farce right, but after the other plays I'd seen by the RSC in Stratford...ah well! I consoled myself by buying two pints of bitters and a bit more food, et it in the hotel room, and fell sound asleep!"

3 January: "WHAT A BEAUTIFUL DAY! Cold, but beautiful blue skies (smiling at me?). A perfect day for exploring - and for snapping photos! So first to the National, where I snagged a standing room space for Maggie Smith, Anthony Andrews and Tim Pigott-Smith in Coming in to Land. I was getting a bit tired of standing by now, but standing room is better than no room, goes the old adage I just made up."

The Drury Lane in 1987
"Then a walk across Waterloo Bridge - I'm an old hand at it now - where I peeped into the lobbies of the Drury Lane and Covent Garden. On then to the tube, and off at Monument, back across the Thames in search of the bard! On the south side of the Thames I walked past Southwark Cathedral and on to the George Inn, the last galleried inn in London, dating from the seventeenth century. Photo opp! But alas I had run through a roll of film, so I had lunch - a delicious one, of beef and onions, potatoes, baked beans and two pints of Brakspear Bitters. Ah! Loaded more film..."

The lovely Southwark Cathedral, 1987

The George Inn, January 1987
"I may as well say it now to save suspense. Guess what? The roll didn't catch. I almost made a special trip to sink the damned camera in the Thames! So, all the photos - the Anchor Pub, the Bear Baiting Museum (closed for winter - drat!), the plaque that announced the site of the Globe (I felt a chill when I saw it, I was so thrilled!) and the site of the New Globe - all gone! The New Globe was supposed to have been started in 1985, but it's now two years later and still an empty lot - sigh."

G!!   For two reasons within one paragraph!

I did get a shot of the Tower Bridge while on the walk!
"I walked along the South Bank in what had turned from a pleasantly sunny day to a rainy one until I arrived at Blackfriars Bridge, crossed the river, then walked up into the City of London. There I intended to visit the famous pub Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, but it's unfortunately closed for the weekend. I had a quick look at Dr. Samuel Johnson's house very nearby - he was a regular customer at the above pub, then headed west, past the griffon that guards the City and onto The Strand. By this time it was 3:30-ish and I decided to tube to Sloane Square so I could get a glimpse of the Royal Court Theatre, where so much happened in 1956, which of course I discuss in theatre history. In their bar I had tea and an outrageously yummy cake which had the side effect of keeping me, how does one put it? gaseous? explosive? for the rest of the day! From Sloane Square I headed back to the hotel for a well-deserved nap. These naps are life-savers!"

"During the day I had walked a good walk, and that evening I had to stand a good stand. I fortified myself with two 
Maggie Smith & Anthony Andrews
Coming in to Land
Scotches and took my place for Coming in to Land. This was interestingly produced - a 'proscenium arch' was made of television monitors - the performers acted well their parts, [no more mention than that of Dame Maggie and the other excellent players? What was I thinking?] but the play itself needs more work. The author is onto a good idea, someone trying to get into a place in order to have a HOME, others not appreciating the HOMEs they have, but the piece is at least as vague as my pathetic description of it, which is too bad."

"So! I started my London theatre experience standing, and I end it standing. But it's been a full and fine experience - I regret seeing nothing on the fringe, but I have seen a lot of theatre. On the way back to the hotel I picked up two Fosters Lagers (to help me relax - medicinal purposes only, you know) and a hard roll. After I'd swallowed my 'medicine' I almost immediately fell asleep.

I wrote about my last full day in London, during the long wait at Gatwick for my flight, as it was delayed by three hours - I've had worse delays since then!

"January 4 was another rainy day, and I was feeling really exhausted, so after an early breakfast I made a late start. At about 11 am I finally got myself out of the hotel and into Westminster Abbey! First time this trip. It was free as a service was going on, actually mostly over. The interior is stunning, beautiful (insert other standard terms of awe), but we visitors were crammed into the rear of the crowded abbey and were ushered out promptly after, so alas no extensive tour - another time, I hope..."

"Off then to the Hayward Gallery at the South bank Arts Centre, for a Rodin exhibit, and another odd exhibit by the Boyle family, which the couple from Bath that I met in Stratford strongly encouraged me to see. The Rodin was extensive, arranged with attention to chronology, and his sketches of his work were on display as well as the sculptures. Upstairs, the Boyle family work together and deal in...polyester adhered to fibreglass, so the explanation of the exhibit claims. I must admit I found it po-mo madness. Members of the family were there to discuss the work, but I really didn't want to get into it. Even if I had I thought I'd be in danger of drowning, so out of my depth I'd find myself!"

"From the Haywood to the Tate, stopping on the way at a pub for roast pork, peas, potatoes, sage dressing, apple sauce and carrots...and a pint, of course. The Tate was far more inviting than had been the Hayward, to my taste. [I should note from times present that there was no Tate Modern at the time, the entire collection was housed in the old building overlooking the north bank of the Thames in Chelsea]. It is a really beautiful gallery, with an excellent collection - many, many British painters very well represented, particularly Blake, Constable and the pre-Raphaelites. I would have included Turner, but very disappointingly, all the galleries offering his work were closed temporarily. After my very pleasant visit I attempted to see what the shop at the museum had to offer, but it was such a mass of writhing humanity I gave it up, instead walked outside into the rain, where my assumedly reliable brolly failed me completely. So much for quality at Selfridge's!"

"My original plan for the rest of the day was to take in a film, but the weather was so dismal, I was so tired, my brolly so useless that I decided to make it a lazy day, go back to the hotel, read some Guinness [I had picked up Alec Guinness's excellent book Blessings in Disguise], have some cheese later, get to bed early. And everything went to plan EXCEPT for the food. I made the godawful mistake of dining at a place called Vecchiomondo, on the Cromwell Road - the WORST Italian restaurant I've ever come across! [I ate there once again, just to see, in 2011 - confirming it as the lowest of the low, I'm afraid.] It looks nice enough from the outside, but the only thing it had to recommend it was its proximity to the hotel. Red and green lights throughout the interior, the red on a tacky chandelier, the green highlighting tacky paintings, one of which was done by the proprietor of the place - a huge man with a belly even more huge, hair greasy and long - ugh! The soup wasn't too too bad - a homemade (that was the claim) minestrone. But it all went downhill from there. The bread accompanying the soup was stale, the wine Lambrusco-esque, the lasagne grease, noodles and meat, in that order. The had to pick through it, but a few of the pickings were still fresh, so it was worth the dig. Needless to say I did not stay for coffee or dessert. Then, as I was leaving, my humongous host insisted on helping me with my coat, saying in a tiny nasal, accented voice, 'It's raining out there my friend.' I walked out into the rain and couldn't help laughing aloud at my ludicrous last supper in London! Then back to my hotel to finish packing, watch a bit of telly, and early to bed, to be ready for my trip back across the pond."


On the morning of 5 January "I dashed back to the bookshop at the Royal National Theatre, where I quickly bought the lion's share of gifts for those back home and a few souvenirs for myself, dashed back to hotel, checked out, on to Victoria, where I boarded the bus for Gatwick. I could have caught a train, but I think the bus offered more of the landscape. I had a good look back at South London, Lambeth and Clapham (we headed south across the Chelsea Bridge), then to the countryside, where I was amazed at the masses of sheep in the fields. Shouldn't have been - the wool trade was vital to England, at least in the deep past of the country, don't you know."

You know already that the flight was delayed. During my wait I wrote again in my journal, about the mixed feelings I had about the visit. It had been thrilling, I loved the sights and much of the theatre, but I was also disappointed in my interactions with the British people, and I'll pick up the narration at the very end of the entries here:

"The friendliness that everyone had spoken to me of was very little in evidence. There was often very little patience with American tourists, at least this one. Of course there were wonderful exceptions, but...well, I'll come back another time and judge it anew, yes? I have mixed feelings about the trip. Should I really have traveled alone? Should I have left the city more than just on my excursion to Stratford? I don't think I'm able to sort them out now - a bit of distance is necessary...just don't wait too long..."

Alas, I never wrote that summation, but after my visit with my friends Will and Mary back in Greenwich Village, "in which I did all the talking, giving them details of every production I'd seen and so on, I began to realize just how much this trip has meant to me, how truly educational it's been, and how glad I am that I chose to do it."

That's where the journal ends. I hope you enjoyed the su as well as the giùI hope it hasn't bored the few of you that read it. I've really enjoyed looking back to that time, so I plan to write more - about the next trip abroad, again a few too many years later in 1996, with my mother, to Rome!

Bloggo Su e Giù I: Ups and Downs of Dottore Gianni's Travels: Preamble & Prequel in Germany 1967-68

Preamble: The two excellent students, Kelsey Burston and Jennifer Shaw insisted that Dottore Gianni begin this blog back in spring 2011 (whew! how the years fly by). The good doctor traveled abroad frequently during his 20-plus years teaching at Ithaca College, using the travels to personalize his theatre history lectures in general and to regale his students with amusing stories in particular. Young Kelsey and Jen decided that they wanted those stories to continue and sat with him to help him to put together the format of this blog. 

In other words, it's supposed to be about travel. Unfortunately, thus far in il dottore's retirement Pluto, the god of wealth, has become a stranger to him and he has been able to travel abroad (to Spain - ah!) only once thus far in slightly less than two years.

Spain - ah! Plaza Mayor, Madrid, September 2013
He has kept up the blog nonetheless, writing on lesser travels, from short trips to Florida, Charleston SC, Washington DC and New York City as well as day trips mostly into the mountains he took in the interim. But more frequently in the past year or so he has taken to writing about his visits to the Greenville Symphony, which while not uninteresting, have little to do with travel.

Two Meeting Street Inn, Charleston, SC, May 2013
Then, finding himself with an excess of free time at the beginning of 2014, and resolving (as who does not when each new year begins?) to do more with the original subject matter of the blog, Dottore Gianni began to look back at his travel journals. He has written these from the time of his second trip abroad, to London and Stratford-Upon-Avon, a present to himself on the occasion of his fortieth birthday in January 1987, to the day he started posting blogs about his travels instead. The good doctor had at one point thought to simply copy the text from his sloppily handwritten journals into the blog, but as he began reading he decided against. First, he cannot always read his own writing. Second, he wrote the journals at the ends of long, exhausting days as a hyperactive tourist, and frankly the entries are often as dull as dishwater. 

So he reached a compromise. He will in this series of posts preserve the flavor of the original journals and will quote directly where possible, in those isolated spots where any flavor is still to be had. But this series of posts will focus mostly on the high- and low-lights, the "su e giù" of his trips abroad. He hopes that his readers will enjoy them, and so he plunges in.

BUT! Before he begins, he has determined that a Prequel is in order: the doctor's FIRST trip abroad was courtesy of the 
Airman Hrkach, 1967
United States Air Force (USAF), which sent him to a small town in Germany (ever read the John LeCarre novel? Dottore Gianni has) for what was to have been a three-year assignment from late 1967 until his four-year enlistment as a Russian linguist in USAF ended in 1970. The good doctor enlisted solely in order to avoid being drafted for two years into the army or marines in the middle of the Vietnam war. Alas, the three years to be spent in that small German town, called Hof, in northern Bavaria, turned abruptly into less than eighteen months. First he was threatened with being transferred to what was classified as a remote 
The view from my barracks room, Hof AFB, spring 1968
assignment, to Trabson in Northern Turkey, a godforsaken outpost on the Black Sea (aka nowheresville on the sea). That order was, thank God, rescinded. But shortly after the nightmarish scare he received his second notice of transfer and reassigned to the National Security Agency (NSA), located, as it still is today, midway between Baltimore MD and Washington DC (also a form of nowheresville). Thus was Dottore Gianni dragged, kicking and screaming, to the U.S. In leaving Germany he lost a woman who might have been the love of his life, as well a chance to tour Europe. The woman, Karin Fritz, is described in his brilliant recent post Bloggo Reminiscentivo/Surrealitivo, so he won't spend time on her here (except to stop writing for a second to shed a brief tear or ten thousand). But the chance to tour Europe DOES figure prominently in his earliest travels abroad. 

The su? (or "up")? He had finally accrued enough leave to take a month-long tour of the continent with three of his best buddies!

The giù (or "down")? Shortly before the grand tour was to occur he was robbed of the opportunity, unceremoniously yanked out of Europe and consigned to go back to the US of A (think the Beatles song "Back to the USSR" - you don't know how [un]lucky you are").

Two of the postcards my pals sent - the front
His friends did take the tour, however, and he is still in possession of the postcards they sent him from wonderful cities all over Europe. As he was searching through his journals recently he came across the their cards as well. He has never solved the issue of whether these postcards were sent in the spirit of missing their pal, or if they were sent to rub it in - WE're on the tour and you're not - nyaaah, nyaaah, nyaaah! A question to be asked, but probably never answered.

And the rear of the two above cards
Of course if the good doctor had lost much of his first time abroad, the luxury of a year and a half in Germany is not to be sneezed at, particularly as he was paid to be there. He was severely restricted in his travel, but the nature of his work (shifts of four periods in one cycle: four evenings, from approximately 5 pm until 12 am; four "mids" - the midnight shift from that godawful hour until 7:30 or 8 am; four days, from approximately 8 am until 5 pm; and finally (hallelujah!) four days off. Then the cycle repeated itself, and so on and so forth. So instead of the usual two-day weekends the good doctor had four days away from work and was left to his own devices after twelve days on the job

Expressionist-style sculpture at Dachau concentration camp, near Munich, 1968
So he WAS able to travel short distances, and did so whenever possible. There was a trip to Munich with a friend named Lew, who Dottore Gianni remembers as bright and a fine companion. The su ? The good doctor and his friend 
were introduced to a great German city! The giù?  They spent one day of their four at Dachau, the WWII concentration camp. Some of you may not think of a visit there as a "downer" and it was not in the sense that the history of the place was a powerful and moving learning experience, but it was in the sense that it thoroughly depressed both young airmen.

The Rhine, 1968
He went with one of the few airmen who owned a car and two others on a trip to the Nürbergring, where the German Grand Prix was held, to see the famous race. The su? They drove along the amazing river Rhine, and spent a night at a tiny gasthaus, where Dottore Gianni ate one of the best meals he has ever experienced and had one of the best night's sleeps ever, in a featherbed. The giù? The meal did not agree with one of the airmen along on the trip, who became violently ill and the journey had to be cut short, as they hightailed it back to Hof  to get the fellow to the infirmary. They had seen the Rhine, but not the grand prix.

The German Alps, 1968
Another great trip away from shift work at the base was to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, deep in the German Alps, at an R&R area (unfamiliar with the term? stands for rest and 
The Zugspitze
recuperation) for U.S. troops, created post-WWII. There, in the shadow of the highest peak in the German Alps, the Zugspitze, was the opportunity for skiing, which activity was far too active for Dottore Gianni, who is a devout coward; drinking, much more the good doctor's speed, and gorging on great German food. The highlight was a day trip to two of 
Neuschwanstein - no, Dottore Gianni
did NOT take this photo
Ludwig II's (aka Mad Ludwig) wretched excesses, one a castle built in the late nineteenth century to look as if it had been constructed in the Middle Ages, called Neuschwanstein, and a Rococo-style palace called Linderhof, built at about the same time also to emulate an earlier era this time the eighteenth century. Also on that trip there was a stop at the beautiful Ettal Monastery and another at the charming town of Oberammergau (where every ten years a famous Medieval passion play is performed).

Linderhof - another bought slide
Come to think of it that trip was pretty much all su. At least Dottore Gianni does not remember much if any giù.

Shorter trips were embarked upon, day-trips, one to the nearby Kulmbach, which brewed some of the finest bier (beer) the good doctor has ever tasted - no giù there either!

Airman Hrkach at the Kulmbach Brewery, Germany
During the summer and early autumn in Germany there are fests everywhere! Of course the mother of all fests is the 
Herr Doktor-Professor Hrkach (yes, he used to call
himself that in those days) engaged in "research" at
the Hofbrauhaus, Munich much later, in 1999
Oktoberfest (much of which interestingly enough is held in September) in Munich - "in München steht ein Hofbrauhaus" - but almost all the small towns featured smaller fests of  their own. Even tiny Hof had one, and we attended night after night, drinking bier from huge steins, feasting on wurst, sauerkraut and potatoes, singing German drinking songs - in short, having the time of our lives. We also ran off to a few fests in nearby towns as well - aaaahhh!

Su? Eat, drink and be merry! G? The crawl up the hill to our little Air Force Base afterwards, completely potted!

Even though his time in Germany was cut short, simply being there should have been more than a pleasurable travel experience, and for the most part it was. But alas, Dottore Gianni never kept a journal back in those days. Actually, no - he lies - or forgot for a time. He somehow managed to write down the events of those four years - three years and nine months, actually, as he got an early "out" (discharge) for education (if you could prove you were accepted by a college they would allow you to be discharged a few months early) all on one side of a piece of paper. And he is very glad he did. He had little to say for the first year, approximately, then became more and more verbose! In fact he has kept that bedraggled piece of paper all this time - here's what it looks like - not sure you'll be able to read it, and that might be just as well!

Laughable, right? That he still remembers as much as he does, nearly 50 years later, goes a long way to proving that, even with its ups and downs, his time in Germany was much more su than giù.

Preamble and Prequel complete, next time Dottore Gianni will begin the blog proper, taking a look at the first trip AFTER his year and a half Germany - jump nearly 20 years to  December, 1986. If you're interested, stay tuned!