Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tribute to Andy Griffith

This morning I was saddened to learn of the passing of Andy Griffith. I never had the pleasure of meeting the man, but he represented the Americana of my childhood. With him goes one of the last remnants of the first U.S. I can remember, a world in which my family watched Andy, and later Gomer, on the living room TV or spent summer nights at the drive-in, where we watched Andy in family fare like Angel in My Pocket. Like Andy, my dad sometimes sang gospel and was a member of the church choir. My little brother especially liked Barney, aka Don Knotts, in The Ghost and Mr. Chicken. (One summer we went to a matinee of Knotts’ The Incredible Mr. Limpet while on vacation in Daytona Beach, where, years later, I live and recall that movie each time I pass the place on Beach Street where the theater once stood.)

No matter how hard I tried—or how many times I was ridiculed for making a weird nasal noise instead—I never got the hang of whistling The Andy Griffith Show theme song. I did get the hang of fishing, and, just like Opie, I learned to fish with a cane pole and lots of patience (but my dad baited the hook for me). Even though my brother and I grew up in a good-sized city, our mother was raised in a more rural environment, and stories of her childhood resonated with the stories we watched of Mayberry. Years later, when I drove my mom from Florida to Ohio and Indiana to visit relatives, we’d stop at Mount Airy. Andy was never far from our conversations. The Andy Griffith tribute at the North Carolina welcome center became a rest stop we looked forward to, no matter how many times we’d seen the little exhibit. As recent as Memorial Day, my brother and I looked forward to hearing Jim Nabors sing “Back Home Again in Indiana” at the start of the Indy 500. Somehow The Andy Griffith Show has worked its way into many corners of our lives.

When I think of Andy Griffith—Andy of Mayberry, actually, not Andy-as-Matlock—I think of gentle humor that recognized the foibles of human nature without being mean, ice cream socials or picnics with family and friends, and evenings on front porches. In my case the “porch” was more often a green glider or a swing in a grandparent’s backyard, but the idea is the same: sitting in the evening with plenty of time to ponder the world and watch the fireflies come out.

But Andy was also the first to show me that not all families are made up of a mother, father, and two children. Andy was first a widower and single father; Aunt Bee, a spinster with really no place to go. They and Opie became a family that superficially might seem constrained by traditional gender roles, but I noticed primarily a blended family—one that grew over the years to include friends, spouses, and children or grandchildren. Andy was one of the first to show me that a nontraditional family was OK, as long as everyone loves each other. That, a reflection of my upbringing, was a good foundation when my worldview expanded in the turbulent ‘60s.

Of course, I romanticize my childhood, but it’s still good to fall in love again, now and again, with my past. And Andy Griffith is part of that. When I mourn his passing, I also mourn the loss of just that little bit more of my childhood. Maybe I can’t go home again, but I can remember what it was like when I lived there.

Monday, July 2, 2012

In an English (Definitely Not Country) Garden

Green spaces provide a respite from every other aspect of city life--and don't require a lot of green to enjoy (although I tend to like a glass of wine or an ice cream at a garden cafe after I hike and take lots of photos). In June I visited one of my favorite parks, Regent's Park (the fowl photos were taken there), as well as lots of Bloomsbury squares. The statues grace Tavistock Square, but I also spent a lot of time in Russell, Bedford, and Bloomsbury Squares and Coram Fields. Who would've thought I could relax with a book on a bench? (Well, it was easier because I was enjoying Caitlin Moran's How to Be a Woman, which made me laugh out loud sometimes. Maybe that's why I always had a bench to myself.)

Of all the many flowers in the gardens, yellow roses are special to me, and these offered a heavenly scent. My grandmother used to tend her roses so carefully, and the majority of her back yard was truly a garden. Although her roses lived in Indiana, they had cousins in London.

For my final blog of this trip, vicariously stop to smell the roses, but watch out for bees and lady bugs.

The statue of Gandhi (above) invites followers to leave flowers in tribute. A tiny votive's flickering flame surprisingly provided a great deal of illumination.

In a quiet corner, Virginia Woolf stares unflinchingly at passersby; she once made her home near the square.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

A Tourist's-eye View of London Landmarks

More than a year ago someone asked me if I liked visiting London. "I'm not really a 'London' type of person," I explained. "It's too big and busy, and I like smaller, more rural places." Granted, some of my favorite cities include Toronto (which is big but doesn't seem so much so, perhaps because I know the theatre district so well), Glasgow (in large part because of Kelvingrove Park and the university area), Edinburgh (I'm a sucker for the view from the castle--and it's a bus ride away from Leith, which not only has sunshine but the best fish pie I've ever eaten), Cardiff (whose clubs let in "mature" ladies like me, plus I can enjoy lots of green spaces and waterfront), and Wellington (which is surprisingly walkable, especially when I'm motivated to make a gelato run to Oriental Parade). So what's the big deal with London? I hadn't made it personal yet.

A few trips later, after lots more theatre and three memorable weeks in a Westminster flat, and I'm a bit more familiar than a first-time tourist but still carefully venturing out into neighborhoods and doing such mundane tasks as shopping, whether from the Tesco Express across from a tube station or the local Sainsbury's or a fruit stand. I still do all the touristy things, as you can see from my photos taken from atop a double decker--but I also like to do library and theatre archival research, with breaks at out-of-the-way cafes, head to a festival or two, this time on Southbank and in university screening rooms (for the Open City Docs Fest). I will always be a visitor and an outsider, but for days or weeks at a time I can gradually chip away at the city's "bigness" and find moments and corners (or Bloomsbury squares or Thames-side benches or theatre alcoves) that become mine.

So here are the famous places and sites seen from my perspective, as I was looking up and around from that bright red bus, walking along Marylebone, or walking off a great curry while enjoying the sounds and enthusiasm of a Southbank (Coin Street) festival.

When I can, I like to start the morning with a brisk walk to Somerset House, after which I can feel virtuous and lounge with a croissant and coffee inside the deli (above) or out on the plaza. It's also the perfect place to feel creative and pretend to be a writer.

When I take photographs, my gaze often homes in on details of architecture, and throughout the city's many styles and eras, there's a lot to photograph. With views to cathedrals (St. Paul's, Southwark), one of my favorite guard dragons, and spires, wings, towers, and even a possible vampire (you'll see what I mean), my eyes were never bored.
Between the Olympics (with the Rings placed on Tower Bridge soon after my arrival--how thoughtful!) and the Diamond Jubilee, flags are everywhere.

I love gargoyles! The creatures adorning churches, such as Southwark Cathedral, and towers, including Big Ben, fascinate me. I indulged.

The National Theatre is one of my favorite places--well, not architecturally, but as a meeting place (along with the nearby BFI, the setting for some of my most memorable conversations about film and performance). Outside there are plenty of places to sit and chat--including this summer's Propstore, made from props and sets.

On a lazy Sunday afternoon, after seeing Antigone, I wandered along the south side of the river (along with a cast of hundreds) to hear music, watch the dancing (too uncoordinated and self-conscious to join in), and enjoy curry, later admiring the daring and dexterity of skateboarders.

So much is eye catching, even for a fleeting moment. (We're both sexist, sister, but I'm right there with you.)

Traffic is usually terrible, but everyone has learned to queue.

I'm always surprised, especially when I don't pay attention to the guidebook and cut through a side street, only to find something miraculous--like the remnants of the Great Hall of Winchester palace.

Even a walk down Euston Road offers a surprising warning. I only hope it symbolically references a jogging lane instead of a tiny crime scene.

I traveled further, mostly by foot (mindful of joggers) or bus, than these images reveal, but perhaps this snapshot of one tourist's London will help you think a bit differently about a "big" city of ever-changing small details.

Taking It to the Streets: Filming in London

One of my joys in traveling is to stumble across location filming, especially when that location is on a city street. Watching a crowd form and observe a television series or movie being made is as much fun as finally watching a take. Street filming is also a great way for us non-industry folk to realize just how long it takes to set up a shot and how much standing-around time is involved before we hear "Action!" Last weekend I came across two actors and a small crew filming an indie in a corner of Russell Square. The little group was efficient and, during about a half hour, captured their scene and moved on. The title is I Hate Justin Bieber, in case you'll look for it later this year. (I really will.) The following photos come from an even larger, but unnamed to onlookers, production filming along Carlton House Terrace in Westminster one fine morning a couple of weeks ago. (Yes, it was a rare fine morning that should look gorgeous on screen.) It reportedly is an ITV production along the lines of Downton Abbey that will make its way to U.S. television sometime next year. I didn't recognize the actors--yet--but perhaps when the series finally arrives I'll have some wonderful shots of the series' stars in action--or standing along the street trying not to be bored between takes. Even if you're not a fan of period pieces, you might find the costumes and cars worth a second look. Here's my perspective on some recent street filming in London:
Sometimes the automobiles had to be pushed into place, but after the scene started and people walked down the pavement or crossed from one side of the street to the next, the vehicles rolled along and past the crowd. Notice the workers and the gentleman in a far more modern suit out of frame in the next photo. They provide a nice contrast between then and now, as well as the reality of street filming with the "reality" of the filmed world.
Capturing a tranquil scene filmed in a busy section of London on a summer weekday truly is movie magic.