Friday, January 10, 2014

London. Time out

A night at the opera

We treat ourselves to seats at the Royal Opera House; good ones, in the balcony. We treat ourselves to a glass of chilled Sauvignon and a plate of smoked salmon sandwiches too, which we savour in the Floral Hall while watching the audience gather before taking their seats. It's a fairly smart crowd - everyone does seem to have Made an Effort - although a night at the opera is no longer the dressy occasion that it was once perhaps. But no matter - it does feel rather special to be here and were I slightly less weary I would be doing a discreet 'happy dance'.

Once in our seats, the orchestra tunes up, the lights dim - and there is applause as the conductor takes his place. Then comes the overture - and this being Carmen I am transported to the heat and light of Spain. This is Carmen on a grand scale - huge cast, huge set and internationally renowned voices.  I wish I were more knowledgeable regarding the technicalities  of singing and music. (I'm fairly undiscriminating - it has to be pretty bad for me not to enjoy it.) I've read mixed reviews but as some of the main roles here are shared by a number of singers on different nights it's a bit of pot luck who one actually ends up hearing given that tickets/travel/hotels/kennels/hen-sitters must align and be booked so far in advance. Our thoughts were that the singing was a little lack lustre in places (we later learn why) but the tumultuous applause at the end indicates that was not the case. Roberto Alagna (Don José), we learn, was singing with a chest cold and it was something of a miracle that he managed to sing to the end at all.

A great evening of utter bliss which flies by. However, it seems one can take the girl out of the country but not the country out of the girl. There's a donkey - look there's a donkey! On stage. Little spindly legs and panniers. Bless. As good as gold. Then our torero Escamillo comes on, on horseback. Magnificent. And somewhere too, amongst the crowd who gather in the square, part of the whole but only a bit player is a woman with a basket of hens. She carries one under her arm too. I wonder how on earth said hens have been persuaded to stay put - are they tied in? stuck down? It appears not because one is having a fine time scrattling and pecking at the straw which lines the basket. I know for certain that my hens would have fled squawking to the 'Gods' even before the conductor lifted his baton. I'm thinking about this 4 days later and still don't know the answer.


Food glorious food...and too much of it. But hey, we were on our holidays. A meal at Ottolengi's Nopi in Soho with the eyechild. Good food and good company. Good honest ingredients, layers of flavours. Things I would not have the time or temperament to try at home. The humble and often maligned rice pudding soared to new heights and even the Glam Ass (who must have been put off rice pud sometime before 1950) came back for more.

If you are able, book a table. (Doggerel, sorry)

A fairly humble lunch at La Fromagerie off Marylebone High Street was a pleasure. Simple foods; bread, cheese and meat and well made coffee. Then an tempting away of cheeses to buy...perhaps we can store them on the hotel's windowsill for a couple of days. Yes, we'll do that.

We explored Borough Market and sighed over the delights on offer there. Such choice - we sadly never see that like in Welshpool and even a trip to Ludlow fails to offer that variety. I picture tomatoes just because the colours were so good on a grey day....and did we have some grey days? Yep. Far too many.

Finally to Jamie's Italian at Canary Wharf where we met up with my brother and his wife. Great fun. Good scoff. We should do it more often. Interesting that in one of the world's biggest money districts and sitting in the shadow of Barclays tower, the chip and pin machine was down and to pay the bill we had to resort to old technology - a rickety machine which takes an impression of your card.

I always feel like I'm in a sci-fi novel when I'm in Canary Wharf - always on the q.v. for one of those little flying space age cars from the Jetsons. Didn't spot any. Shame. Perhaps next time.

An 'ord.

We visited the Museum of London for a look at the Cheapside Hoard - London's lost jewels from the 16th and 17th century, discovered under a cellar floor by workmen in 1912.

Apparently this was an age when, were you wealthy enough, you wore jewellery aplenty as portraits from the period testify. All rather dainty, chains and filigree work; many rubies, pearls and semi precious stones too. 

This image is from the Museum of London's website:

A wonderful thing to find in the course of a day's work - a gleam of gold and then treasure. The finders, workmen, took it the following day to a pawnbroker who notified the authorities and who was instructed to buy the men out. I wonder if, in the meantime one or two pieces weren't kept as momentoes. The temptation must have been great.

...and talking of treasure 

....or rather treasures. We stayed once again in a hotel at the side of the British Museum, home to things precious, large and small. The BM must be one of my very favourite places. Anywhere. Ever.

I lay in bed and thought that if I were a super-hero I could, with a small leap and a bound from my window be across the road and into room 65 and amongst artefacts from ancient Sudan, Egypt and Nubia. So tantalisingly near. It occurs that if I did actually have super-powers then my super-vision would probably let me spy out hoards and treasure anyway, anywhere.  There was only time for a short visit but how good to know it is there for next time, for free and open to all.

Then home by train, in the sunshine at last. How still it is here on the top of our low mountain, hardly a man-made sound. The new hens have started to lay in our absence - perhaps a sign that the days are gradually lengthening. I must just go up to their pen and do a few auditions. It may be that some of them would like a career in opera.


Frances said...

it was delightful to read this post. How well you described your London stay. Recognizing some of the places you visited from my own London trips made it even more fun to read.

I am regretting that I did not find time to see the London Hoard exhibit on my own London visit last October. The entire story is intriguing, the jewelry is rather terrific. I would love to be able to wear it, wouldn't you?


Cro Magnon said...

I probably sound like a heathen, but I do prefer my opera recorded rather than live. It always seems as if the few 'arias' are surrounded by hours of dross.

I'm more jealous of your visit to Nopi. Mr Ottolengi certainly has a refreshing attitude towards his craft.

Twiglet said...

A good read! Sounds like a perfect city trip -especially all that lovely food! Oh and the opera of course. -Jo

Pondside said...

This post was a treat - you are in good form Mountainear! Opera, good food, beautiful things to look at and good companions - all the right ingredients for a good getaway and a lovely post.

Mac n' Janet said...

We're in the middle of plotting, eh planning, our trip to England for later this year and for the first time in a long time we'll be staying in London for awhile (it wears us out so the past few years we've just stayed in a cottage out in the countryside), your trip sounds wonderful

Chris Stovell said...

Ah, that was lovely - I very much enjoyed your trip to London. I do agree with you about opera audiences now, and dress codes. I also smiled at your comment that it has to be pretty awful for you not to enjoy the singing. I feel like that too. We've been given a voucher for the Millennium Centre from our children and your post has really whetted my appetite to select a treat from the menu there.

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

The perfect Winter Break !
Though I'm never sure about the safety of going to the opera ... how does one stop oneself getting carried away and singing along ?

Elizabeth Musgrave said...

Ooh, Ottolenghi. Would love to eat there. It seems such a long time since we did anything like this. Must not lose it, repeat, must not lose it....