Thursday, January 20, 2011

London 30.12.2010: Dangling Galeros and Comedies of Error

Yesterday a blur of this and that.  But before I forget, I should mention the nice meal we had Monday evening.  We had seen a small Italian restaurant near the Earls Court tube station in our comings and goings there—Bistro Benito.  It looked inviting, and when I went online to read about it, I read reviews full of praise.

So we went and found it very good: home-cooked Italian meals prepared on the spot by a family.  The place is family-owned and –operated, and the people could not have been sweeter, in that Italian way of showing interest in you as a person when you’re their guest, and solicitude for you as you eat food they’ve prepared.

We had a simple meal—shared an artichoke vinaigrette, and then Steve had veal scallopini milanese with pasta, and I had scallopini in marsala sauce.  We shared a dish of spinach and I had a green salad.  With a glass of Italian red wine, it was a perfect meal, and the little glass of marsala our waiter brought as a gift at the end finished it off beautifully.

I liked the place—most of all, for the sweet people who own and run it—and would go back.  It’s also very inviting inside—warm, plain, slightly rustic, immaculate.  The waiters, uncles, cousins, sons, took time to talk to each table, so by the end of the evening, we knew something of everyone’s story, from the Mexican family out of Texas a few tables down to the New York man on business catty-cornered across from us.

Yesterday: we met R.C. at the Donmar at 9, to see if we could get tickets for the “Lear” matinée.   Not a chance: only 10 were to be had, and we were at least 20th in line.

An amusing scene with a woman several folks behind us, who realized we were buying three tickets and wanted to give us a tongue-lashing for greed—as if it were any business of hers how many tickets we sought to buy, and as if both she and we had any chance at all to get a single ticket.

I’d give my eye teeth to see D. Jacobi as Lear.  But it’s not to be, it seems.

R. teaches theater and is a play and film buff, and wanted us to see a play together.  So we then walked to the box office for “Les Mis,” and looked for tickets to their matinée.  The only seats available would have allowed us to see only bits of the play.  We declined them.

When we discovered this, R. suggested Xavier Beauvois’ “Of Gods and Men,” which he’d seen the night  before.  That was fine with us, and we went.

I’m very glad we did so.  I wrote a review today at my Bilgrimage blog.

An interesting area of London—south London, Regents Park tube stop on the Bakerloo line, I think, a sort of suburban area with a small, tasteful shopping mall in which the theater is located.  Nearby is a gay bookshop R. recommended, and we stopped there, and I became aware all over again just how many important gay-themed novels there are that I need to read, from Christopher Isherwood’s A Single Man to Michael Arditti’s Easter and The Celibate to an interesting-looking German novel called Missouri by a young German writer Christina Wunnicke.

Before this, we had gone to a bookstore with a large travel section, Stanford’s off Leicester Square, and I bought Colm Tóibín’s Tribute to Barcelona and Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver.  At Gay’s the Word I found an interesting-looking novel by South African writer Tatamkhulu Afrika entitled Bitter Eden, about the bonds formed by men serving in the military together.

After “Gods and Men,” we had time to kill (we had arranged a dinner rendezvous with T.W.), and R. suggested a visit to the Catholic cathedral and the Catholic bookstore beside it.

It was too dark to see much of the cathedral, and as Steve said while we walked around it, there’s always that ambiguous, even oppressive and very alienating legacy of the union of crown and altar in any cathedral.  I did enjoy the fascinating array of marbles of various colors and patterns used in building the interior, and the visit was worth it to see a cardinal’s hat dangling ridiculously down out of nowhere, hovering over nothing, in a side chapel.  (Well, it's apparently hanging over the tomb of Archbishop Hinsley, though that's not immediately apparent when one sees it.)

On to the bookstore, which was . . . strange . . . like entering the fane of some occult mystery religion—gewgaws here, shrines there, the occasional book, and a pitifully constrained, tiny assortment of theological books.  We were surprised to see there John Cornwell’s recent book on Newman, which R. very kindly bought as a present for us.

And then on to Soho to meet T., though, as it turned out, we were involved in an absurd farce of missed cues about the rendezvous point, since, while we slogged to Soho, he was on a train to Gay’s the Word, thinking we intended to meet him there.  While we understood the bookstore and address he’d named were in Soho.

Thank God for cell phones, since we could sort out the comic miscues and finally gather at a Thai restaurant in Soho where we had, if not a great meal, at least a nice evening of chitchat and theological musings. 

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