March 10, 2019
A few weeks back, I was getting pretty ragged. I was exhausted, working on various projects, and hadn’t had a real break from anything in about 8 months. It also turned out that due to a scheduling thing at work, I could have a week off from work. It was at this point Rasa, my ever supportive wife, said, in essence, get the hell out! After debating for a bit, and looking at options, I booked a three-day getaway to London, where I could stay with my sister from another mister, Lin.
Of course, cheap flights always have various trade-offs and in this case, one of them was the flights left at 7 or so in the morning. So even though we now have a car, getting Monki up so Rasa could drive me to the airport didn’t make much sense. So options then included taking a cab, driving myself via Citybee, or asking a friend to drive me. That third option turned out for the best when Monika volunteered. In fact, when we were working out logistics, she was delighted I was flying from Kaunas and that she wouldn’t have to drive me to Vilnius, which is what she was expecting when she first volunteered!
So early on Sunday morning, Monika came and got me and away I went.
The flight itself was fine, no big deal and nothing unusual, but honestly, there should be laws against people who sit in the middle seat and spread out to overlap the seats on either side of them.
Anyway, landing at Stansted I rushed off the plane and into the queue for customs and immigration. Had an interesting question and answer with the police when I finally got to the front of the line and handed over my American passport:
Officer: Reason for visit?
O: Excuse me?
M: Fun! Just a few days of fun!
O: And how long will you be here?
M: About three days.
O (looking concerned): What will you be doing here?
M (still not getting there’s a possible issue): You know, seeing shows, hanging out with friends.
O: And who will you be seeing? How do you know them?
M: Just a friend from back home in Lithuania. See I’m from America but I live in Lithuania.
O (relaxing a bit): Do you have a resident card? (I produced requested card) Ahh… It seemed that you had traveled a long way for a 3 day visit.
M: Nope. Only from Lithuania.
O (stamping my passport): Enjoy your visit.
Once through passport control, I zipped past baggage claim (another “benefit” of low coast airlines is limited baggage for free so I only had my backpack) and made it to the easyBus I was going to take for about an hour to Waterloo station (yet another cheap flight benefit-flying in to out-of-the-way airports) where I’d meet Lin.
Once we met up, Lin took me to Covent Garden, near the theatre where she works, for breakfast, walking across a very windy bridge along the way. The weather was a bit rough the entire time, but that’s London, innit? The breakfast place we went was a greasy spoon stand tucked away in a corner of Covent Garden and the food was delicious!
We had a couple of hours to kill after breakfast until Lin had to go to work and I had the first part of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child to catch. See, since Lin works in the West End, she helped me organize some show tickets for each of my three evenings in town. I love theatre, always have. But living in Kaunas my options for seeing English productions is a bit limited. For a while I was going to see the Live From The Met series broadcast in cinemas, which was wonderful, but still, the opportunity to see some live shows was too good to pass up. The first on my schedule was the two-part Cursed Child.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is listed, rightly so, as the eighth book in the series, regardless of the fact it’s a two-part, 5-hour stage play. If you were to come into it blind, you’d be rather disappointed. The play, while having won 9/11 Oliviers (the British equivalent of the Tonys, of which it won 6/10) builds on premises and situations developed in the original seven books and, in my opinion, is weaker for it. It does nothing to bring new blood to the wizarding world and if you’re a casual fan, there are probably a number of jokes and references you won’t get. Add to that, if you do know the characters, there are several moments where they don’t feel like themselves.
That said, the staging is beautiful. It almost plays like a musical without songs as there are a number of sequences which are beautifully choreographed. The sets are delightful and the performers, for the most part, are great. My seat was in the 6th row, one away from the house left end, so I was partially obstructed from anything happening on far stage right but since the two seats next to me remained empty during the first act, I figured it was safe to move over during the intermission.
This also meant that for the second part, which would take place later that evening, I might get lucky and be able to snag that same seat. Of course, when I moved over, so did the young lady sitting next to me. We had exchanged pleasantries before the show and at intermission of the first play (so I guess, really, it would be considered act I of a four act play) she informed me this was not her first time seeing the show. Wasn’t even her second or third. Nope, it was her fifteenth. And, she explained, she had friends who had seen it a 100+ times. This is who the show is for. While I am a fan (and #ProudToBePuff), I can still see the flaws in the books, don’t really like the movies, and wish I understood why these stories had such a resonance with people that they would spend thousands of pounds to spend entire days in a dark room seeing the same story play out.
Anyway, between the two halves of the show, I wandered Soho a bit. I hit Foyles and reveled in a 6 story bookstore. To my great pride, I didn’t buy anything…then. (I did go back a couple of days later and pick up a signed/numbered first edition of Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James). I also grabbed a spot of lunch then settled down at the nearby Caffè Nero to do what I was in London to do: namely just chill and read and relax.
I ordered my coffee, found an empty seat near a wall plug so I could recharge my phone, and settled in. Of course, being a cafe in the center of London on a gray and rainy Sunday afternoon, a bunch of other people had the same idea so my chair shared a table with someone else who graciously allowed me to share her space. Then being me, I noticed she was reading Octavia Butler‘s Kindred (which I read about 4 years ago, although it seems much more recent than that). Needless to say, I immediately struck up a conversation with Bara, who is from Iceland, and was in town to audition at several acting and performance schools (so you should all send good vibes her way so the next time I’m in town, I can go see her in something!).
For me, this is one of the funnest things about travel. You can strike up a conversation with someone, who is from someplace completely different than you, who has a much different outlook and point of view, and spend a couple of hours just learning things about each other’s cultures and adventures (and in my case, sharing baby pictures because, well, that’s what we do, innit?).
As our conversation ended, we both packed up with places to be. I had the second half of Cursed Child to attend (had to find out how it all ended) and so we said good-bye, with a promise to meet up in the ether of social media.
With the end of the play, I once again met up with Lin and we headed home where I finally met her infamous cat, Cecil, who proceeded to spend a good bit of the evening wrapped up in the hollow behind me knees as I slept.