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.