PART THE THIRD
Art and culture
If I dive deep on Berlin and Seattle, I’ll be here for months, and then I’ll never move on. So I shall very briefly glide through those trips, both of which I was so lucky to spend with good friends. I’ve been to Berlin a thousand times for work, but never actually spent very long looking at it. Crossing the river in the morning, grabbing a shot of the Fernsehturm before spending all day locked in a conference room was about as good as it got. With the girls we managed to see the Berlin Wall (all the more poignant with Trump’s election), Check Point Charlie, check out the Reichstag (but unfortunately not go inside) and the Brandenburg Gate, we took in the Holocaust memorial which was eerie and chilling and Potsdamer Platz which has it’s own history. Berlin is a lively vibrant city and it’s hard to imagine how divided it was just a few decades before. Hard to imagine, but the traces are very evident. That a city could be split like that is striking given how shattered our society is at the moment. It feels as though we are on the cusp of an upheaval and it may well be as angrily graffitied as the wall was.
Thinking about it now, Seattle was a complete change of pace. I was there is the days after the election and I’d been nervous about it beforehand. Seattle is a very modern liberal city, but I was nervous that the fear would take hold. I needn’t have worried. If anything, I spent more time moved by the community pulling together. I passed a church on the way into town with strips of fabric tied to the railings outside. I went to take a closer look and found a poster tied to the fence that said:
in the aftermath of Tuesday’s Election, you may be scared, you may be tired, you may feel hopeless, you may be angry, you may be triggered, you may be oppressed.
The notes here are from our church community to you. Read them and know that we love you. We need you. We will work for justice. We believe that racism, sexism, homophobia and any form of hatred is contradictory to the good news that Jesus taught us and asks us to live.
There are more ribbons and pieces of fabric here if you wish to tie one on the bars of the church as a sign of solidarity for anyone feeling vulnerable among us.
Peace be with you.”
There were hundreds of strips tied to the railings with messages. “We walk with you” “We welcome you” “I stand with you” “you are loved”
And I am not ashamed to say that I just wept in the street. I’m choked up now as I type that out. I don’t think I can delete that photo from my phone. What strikes me now is that I have no idea what denomination of Jesus that Church was. There was no Bible quote on that poster. There was nothing that anyone could be offended or prickled by. There was no preaching. There were no conditions. There was no mention of sinners or forgiveness. It was all love and support. Whatever you believe, or don’t believe, the message was inclusive.
All across the city, that’s what I felt. You are part of us. Shop windows had stickers saying “this is a safe space” for vulnerable people. Local businesses had Stand For Women posters in the window. National businesses had adverts out standing up for equality and diversity. There were posters on lamp posts inviting everyone to a peaceful protest gathering downtown.
I visited the Yves Saint Laurent exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum and a security guard had a chat with me about the pieces and how the museum attracts all kinds of people. I went to the Chihuly Garden and Glass and a steward talked to me about how the art had travelled around the globe and how Dale Chihuly had worked in some diverse landscapes. Everyone was very cognisant of the threat to difference and how it was an essential part of this world.
I mean, I also went to Nordstrom, got a coffee from the first Starbucks in Pike Place Market and ate chicken and waffles – it wasn’t all high brow, but it was all great and life affirming and delicious and thought provoking.
Despite travelling so much in the last few months, I did shoehorn in a good amount of culture. I’m on the Time Out London newsletter and it’s been the main reason that I’ve done so much. I have a terrible tendency to see a poster on the tube for something I would love to do, then put off organising tickets for it and then it’s over. The Time Out newsletter has offers for various events and I’ve learnt to just book things on the day of the newsletter, even if the event isn’t for months. This is how I ended up booking ballet tickets six months in advance and being pleased that I had a seat when it was sold out. Sometimes in life you have to prioritise the fun things when it’s inconvenient, otherwise you miss out on too much. I live in one of the best cities in the world, I want to take advantage of that. I haven’t experienced enough in my nearly ten years here – I feel like I should really make an effort.
To that end, I booked an on-a-whim ticket to Mike Massimo’s talk at the Royal Institution in October. You guys, it was amazing. As usual, I went on my own and then panicked about where to sit. I took a seat right on the end, right at the front, which meant I was basically staring at his ear all evening. I was beside tow lovely older people who quizzed me on my dedication to astronomy and I was suitably inspired to go to a lot more talks.
I’m a huge space geek. I will happily watch a documentary about the Apollo programme that I’ve seen a million times. I am fascinated by space, by space travel, by the people on the ground who make it happen, by the technology that genuinely allows miracles to happen and by the heroes that are the astronauts whether they make it into space or not. If you weren’t interested in space, or didn’t really care too much about it, Mike Massimo is the guy who would develop your curiosity. He’s an American who grew up in New York when the furthest anyone he knew went was between Brooklyn and Manhattan. He wasn’t so good at school, he didn’t have the perfect eyesight NASA required, he was a totally normal guy. He just tried really hard, was practical and always gave it a shot. He’s also really really funny. This is a guy you want to share a beer with. I was totally smitten and queued to have him autograph my copy of his book afterwards. He is so incredibly patient and fun. Good times. I wish my dad had been around to hear I’d shaken the hand of an astronaut.
The ballet tickets I’d booked months ago were finally collected. I saw The Nutcracker and Giselle at the Coliseum. Both sold out performance, both fantastic, obviously. I’d never seen the Nutcracker live and, while I was enchanted by the tiny children in the audience up past their bedtimes dressed in tutus, I realised it’s not actually my favourite ballet piece. I much prefer Gisele (which I’ve seen many times now) or Coppelia or the classic Cinderella. I think next year I’ll skip it, so that someone who really wants a ticket can complete their pre-Christmas festivities. Watching The Red Shoes dvd is more my Christmas tradition.
Cinema wise, I’ve been to see Rogue One (amazing, obviously), The Girl on the Train (bit unnecessarily gory, but there we are), Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them (stunning visuals, lovely story) and remembered how much I love the cinema. I generally go on my own, late in the run on a Wednesday night when the screen will be virtually empty (there were SIX people in the screen when I saw Rogue One. It was delicious) and I treat myself to a fancy sandwich and a nice snack during the trailers and settle down under my coat for the film.
To be honest, the cinema is an expensive treat in London. You get minimal change from a twenty pound note and that’s without snacks. It’s not something you can do every week, much as you’d like to, so I am very conscious of which films I see these days. It has to be something I know I’m going to love. I’ll skip La La Land and maybe watch it on DVD some day, because Hadley Freeman’s review made me think twice. I love Emma Stone and I love Ryan Gosling, but my patience for grumpy snobby men has run thin. I’d much rather spend my money on a female led film, than another romance that underlines the patriarchy. If I’m in the cinema, I’m giving it my full attention. The patriarchy doesn’t need my full attention.
On the book front, I did me a lot of reading. I spent a lot of time on planes and in airports and just…waiting around. While commuting can be excruciating, I love the dead time it gives me. I’ve deliberately chosen not to hook up to the wifi on the underground. I don’t want to be on my phone when I travel. I don’t want an excuse to extend my work day. I use that time for reading – twenty minutes of just me and a book. Sitting or standing, it’s the best thing for taking my mind off being hot, squashed and subjected to someone else’s morning breath.
I’ve just discovered that my library record doesn’t hold my loans history for more than a few months. I’d hoped it would remind me of what I’d borrowed, but now I shall just have to summarise. Wimbledon library has a great selection of feminist writing. I don’t know how, but we seem to have the latest Lady Books just hidden on the shelves. We’re less good on fiction, so I’d have to reserve those from elsewhere to get them through the door. We have an immense cookery book section, so I pick up cookery books to flick through before I sleep, even if I know I’m never going to make the recipes. Rachel Khoo and Mary Berry are always good for this.
I’ve also made a point of stacking all my To Read books on my top shelf and slowly reading through them. I’ve been Keeping Them For Good and 2017 is off to a pretty bad start. It’s cold, Trump is here (I’ll talk more about that when I can), the world is a disgrace. So I will read Alexandra Shulman’s Inside Vogue: A diary of my 100th year and revel in it, Cary Elwes’s As You Wish and be enchanted by it, Lynn Sherr’s biography Sally Ride – America’s first woman in space and be inspired by it. I’ve been absorbing other people’s worlds to handle my own.
On the odd occasion when I’ve been at home, I’ve been multitasking in front of tv. I adored the Gilmore Girls on Netflix – it was perfect. The characters are crazy and flawed and ridiculous, but perfect. It was just exactly what was needed for this terrible January. It was like going home. To a home where there is coffee and pie and warmth. I caught up with Sherlock and Martin Freeman once again reminded me how lovely he is. I love so much that his partner in life is his on-screen wife and that she is a fully developed female character. She’s the delightful balance to the odd masculinity in the show. I watched Elizabeth and The Crown and my deep respect for the Royal Family and the thankless job they do with such grace in the face of the criticism they face. You could not pay me enough money to do that. Also, how draughty must Buck House be? I’d miss my sofa blanket, for one!