Hello Still in London!!

Yes I’m still in London… been here about a month now…. SO, you MIGHT be asking where are the posts? Well… I’ve decided that rather than spending my days drafting posts I’ll just START to draft said posts, with a quick draft of my personal thoughts, etc, and then when, either the weather turns utterly miserable (so far it hasn’t), or I get back home to chicago I’ll finish said posts and put them up for reading… rather than spending my time in London doing that… makes sense, neh?

The weather in London has been unusually good… You know that song from the musical Camelot where it never rains till after sundown?

Well its been a bit like that… or more to the point the mornings when it does rain are the days I’ve slept till noon and by noon the sun starts peeking out at least intermittently (this is of course England).
SO… please forgive me dear readers while I live a life OUT DOORS and tell you about it once I’m stuck back at home with nothing better to do

The Thames tidal project… because I can

This is more for me than anyone… but since I’m staying a friend’s place that sits RIGHT on the thames, a view I seriously doubt I’ll ever enjoy again, I’ve decided to document it.

Every-time it’ll be about the same view of the thames and St. Pauls …  what will change is the light and the tides. The Easiest way to register the hight of the low tide is if you look at side to side width of the beach and which buildings it wraps around or doesn’t. For high tides you need to pay attention to how high up it comes (obviously)…

Also, Rather than wait till the end of the trip, I’m just going to add to this as I get more images till I leave this location.

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Day I arrived in UK: March 2, 11:29 am

Once upon a time when I was in my late 20’s I lived in a room in a shared SF house — my room was in the basement and only had windows at the very top of the walls to let in some light, no view…. but the living room and patio had the most amazing view ever, so I didn’t care. It was right across the bay from San Francisco with a totally unobstructed panorama from from all the way south to San Jose to Richmond which was on our side of the bay north of us. Every day we watched the smog roll north from San Jose which stung our eyes and throats at 3pm (going from clean air to city air all at once is kind of an eye opener), and in certain seasons we’d watch the fog roll in over SF… sometimes it’d hit us, but not always. And I never thought to visually document it — was too busy living my life and writing my dissertation.

[Note how big the beaches are here…. March 6 9:55 am — I haven’t seen it this low since]

While the changes of the Thames aren’t as drastic as the ones in I enjoyed in SF, I realized I could be watching the variations in the tide…. So like in the video above unbeknownst to me the tide around the time I got here was unusually low because a few days later I finally got to see a high tide where all the beaches were underwater and green algae on the sides of the walls was entirely covered (and I’m kicking myself that I didn’t grab my camera at the time), and then suddenly I became aware of the changing nature of the water and a few days later — when I never spotted it quite that high again, I decided to try to document it …. so that’s what this is.

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March 11, 5:50 pm, almost no beach

Anyone who watches enough TV about historic Britain sort of knows this… we’re constantly hearing characters talking about how they have to leave London by ship catching the outgoing tide, or at high tide… or “we need to wait for the tide.”

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6am March 13th, Rainy day, beach is exposed but no where near as much as in the video above

You can see from the photos it took me a few days to realize what I wasn’t paying attention to: for you guys, In fast it wasn’t till the 13th of March (two weeks after I arrived) that I really started to pay attention.

This image is the same day, where the one above is 6am this next one is around 9am — in fact I’m doing three from the same day here…

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March 13, 9AM, 3 hours later Rains cleared and beach is GONE, but not the highest tide I’ve seen

An hour later, 10am ….

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Still March 13, 9:58 am, if you look tide is just a bit higher here

below is STILL march 13, but at 1:51pm… compare this to 6am and you’ll see the tide here is lower that it was when I first snapped it in the morning…  the beach extends farther to the left and right

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March 13, 1:51pm

 

 

 

 

 

 

Progress: London is replacing the old black cabs with new electric ones

Updated April 19th:

The traditional Black cabs of London are in the process of being converted to all Electric Vehicles (EVs), but it is a change not without its problems. First introduced to London streets in 2018, there was some hesitancy on the part of the cabbies to make the transition; obviously, most wouldn’t be having to buy a new one till their current cab started falling apart; that said initially cabbies had a choice between the new EVs cabs and the older designed gas ones (not yet sold) and some, fearing the change, jumped to replace their cabs with a gas one before the new EVs replaced them in the marketplace, but that’s a choice that is no longer available. If they replace their cabs now it has to be with an electric one, or go without — a point I’ll get back to.

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Last time I was in London, in 2019 (pre pandemic) I don’t remember seeing a single electric cabbie nor any charging stations for them. Yesterday I spotted this when walking with an acquaintance through London’s Southwark neighborhood, and it made me very happy.

Anyone who knows anything about Electric Vehicles (EVs) know that this is a BRILLIANT choice and HAS to become the norm in the future, especially for things like cabs, busses and trucks which spend ALL their time on city streets, running more hours than not and polluting the air while burning up non renewable resources.

Add to that the fact the Europe gets most of it’s oil from Russia, and you see the problem. That said, while England does have some of it’s own North Sea Oil sites, they still supplement that with oil from Russia …  and with what’s going on right now over in Ukraine….
So let’s talk about why this HAS to happen:
Firstly, electric cabs run entirely clean, which will help reduce the horrible air quality in cities. London has some of the worst air of any city in the world, with 80% of that pollution coming from cars, and 20% of that traffic on London streets is just from the black cabs… so if all the cabs (let alone the busses and trucks) became electric that would be a big improvement in the city’s air quality right there.
And most of the old black cabs ran on diesel, which is even worse for air quality than normal gas. — blech!
Secondly while electric isn’t all that great on highways or really long drives, they are GREAT for short distance travel within limited areas (according to one of the drivers interviewed in the videos below, he recharges his electric cab at night while at home, and only rarely needs to top up at one of the currently rare charging stations around the city.
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Thirdly… and this is crucial… stop and go traffic, and the constant repetitive hard breaking that is the bane of crawling through inner city streets actually HELPS EVs to recharge their batteries — without having to pay for a top up at an aforementioned station.

That said, when they cabs were released in 2018 the drivers of black cabs, who tend to be traditionalists had to be convinced. To that end I found the following video from 2019 (While it feels like a news piece its actually an advertisement created by the company that makes the cabs) designed to look like a news piece… This is the sort of PR news submission from companies that lazy news stations will put on air as actual journalism, when they’re not; in it a woman talks about the cabs and interviews a cabbie whose been driving black cabs for 10 years before switching to this new car…

But the first major hurdle to the transition was the price. These new EVs cabs cost the drivers 60K (over $78K) to buy, which is about 25K MORE ($32K) than what they are paying for the old fashioned ones. And in 2018 they are NOT government subsidized, even though you would think they would have been (a problem now fixed by the way).

Also, there are other hidden issues I wasn’t finding in the videos but that showed up in the comments left below said YouTube videos.

So for instance, there’s been some complaints about the quality…

TXE faults reported by owner drivers 2018 — by a guy called Graham Grey (posted in 2020) responding to the previous video on YouTube
1) Software errors
2) Cracking windscreens
3) steering Bushes squeaking and need replacement
4) doors dropping
5) panels out of line
6) orange peel effect on paint work
7) steering box seals going … steering box replacement
8) vibrates over 65 mph
9) radio going off on its own
10) meter problems were its showing to much or to little
11) excessive tyre ware
12) broken charger plugs
13) unable to unlock centre seat in the back
14) door handles falling off
15) battery completely under performing from day one
16, can not use heater due to excessive battery drain
17) various intercom problems
18) anti roll bar bushes need replacement
19) charging issues
20) back door lock problems
21) fuses blowing if both front windows opened at same time
22) cab surging forward when applying the break (few accidents reported)

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And apparently above the obvious price difference there were also hidden price issues regarding the loans the drivers have to get to be able to afford buying them versus the promised savings to said drivers of the cost of running them:

“What they don’t tell you is the never ending payment plan that you are stuck on. The bubble payment after 5yrs is approx 19 grand, and the warranty on the battery runs out then also. Most of the drivers in London have the petrol range extender running all day, so the savings against diesel are not as good as stated. The idea is good, but with the current state of the trade. Stay well clear.”– Jumbo Mills (2019)
And then drivers found issues regarding the performance of these new EVs cabs:
“The electric cab does not do 80 miles on electric when u have air con and heater on it does 45 mils on electric when u turn on to to petrol u get 45 to the gallon the cost of buying is expensive u lose working time on pluging in for more electric so a lot of cab drivers run it only on petrol which u get 45 to the gallon so where is the savings it misreputation by the makers of the electric cab” — Jeff Rose (late 2021)
I then found a second video, this one from Fifth-gear, a British TV show devoted to cars enthusiasts. He talks first and foremost about the air pollution advantages, but also compares his experience of driving the old cabs, which were loud and uncomfortable especially for the drivers to this one which is quiet and according to him much more comfortable, even roomier in the back than the old cabs, allow customers to charge their phones and such while driving…  and easier to drive for the cabbie, etc.

According to him the “London Electric Car Company” which produces is the cab is part of the same company that owns Volvo, and hence the car has a lot of the same interior features. Where the last video had one cabbie talking about it, this one pulls in 3 cabbies who’ve never driven the thing before and take them for test drives in it to get their opinions. At the end 2 of the 3 drivers say they’d make the change with one having actually put in a order for one to replace his aging cab.

 So how has the transition been going? 

I found a Taxi industry newspaper article from January of this year saying that since 2018, of the around 15,000 black cabs on the road, 5,000 have been replaced with the electric option; this “total number” of black cabs seemed low to me and the answer for why it is true is a bit complicated, but in retrospect it made sense. According to a mid-covid 2020 article from the same industry paper, this number was down radically since 2015 when there had been 22,500 black cabs on London’s roads. There are two major factors at play… firstly over the last few years I’ve read numerous articles talking about how black cabs were losing out to Uber and Lyft in the competition for customers, making it less appealing to young people to jump through all the hoops necessary to qualify to drive a black cab, when they could just go work for Uber or one of the other mini cab companies popping up around London’s suburbs — although all of those must be ordered, and can not legally be hailed on London streets, something that’s becoming less and less important in the modern age. These taxis don’t use the iconic “Black Cabs” but rather look like a normal American one, and tend to be driven by recent immigrants who barely speak English, let alone have the intimate knowledge of London’s city streets for which Black Cabbies are legendary.

For those of you who don’t know, in London, to qualify to drive a black cab you need to pass a test called “The Knowledge” a somewhat legendarily difficult test to pass of all the best ways to get from point A to point B in London’s maze of one way streets, dead ends, and roads that don’t go for more than few blocks. The learning required to pass it isn’t unlike that of becoming a doctor or lawyer, but for a heck of a lot less pay. While this was invaluable in the low tech age, making London cabbies respected, if not well compensated … now, with the invent of GPS, every Uber and Lyft driver has the equivalent information at their finger tips, and as such one can begin to question if it’s still a necessary requirement (although black cab drivers know where they’re going and as such can focus their full attention on the roads while the former are distracted because they have to keep checking their screens. which makes them arguably less safe). As such, there was attrition in the profession as older drivers retired, and younger ones couldn’t see the point when they could just go drive for Uber, which was attracting more customers anyway.

This changed quite recently for a combination of two reasons, government regulation and circumstance. Firstly, those upstart/disrupter companies were forced by the UK government to raise their prices. The finding, on the part of authorities, was that essentially their prices were artificially low (yet profitable to the companies) because the they had been ripping off their workers who didn’t fully understand the TRUE cost of driving their cars all day (wear and tear, taxes, etc). As such, Uber and Lyft were able to charge customers less than it cost to provide the service, and that was making them anticompetitive with black cabs. Now that the price difference has been fixed. After that, the only true competitive advantage other than price that the high tech taxi firms still had over the tradition London cabbie, in my mind at least, also had been leveled — essentially convenience. Black cabs finally got a little bit high tech, and can now be called via an app from customers smartphones, just like they upstart competitors, and with all the similar features of being able to track it’s arrival, etc.

And that’s when Covid happened. Suddenly, the black cabs which have always been designed so that there’s a Plexiglass divide between the driver and the customers, and more than a 6 foot separation if you sit in the forward facing seats at the back, had an advantage that all the of the various taxi services that were using normal cars, suddenly could not compete with… causing the black cabs to have a resurgence in popularity with customers — but at a time when the market was simultaneously shrinking because no one was going anywhere. Additionally, as anyone who has tried to buy a car recently can tell you… You just can’t. Covid has entirely screwed up the supply chain, and the more high tech the car, the harder it is to get your hands on. SO, just as the demand for black cabs was seeing a resurgence, drivers who needed to replace their aging cars couldn’t do it. At the height of the pandemic disheartened drivers were leaving the profession at the rate of 160 cabs a week, which was worse then before the government steps in to punish the likes of uber.

That said, the turnover from gas guzzlers to EVs in the Black Cab industry is a done deal. Only time will tell how well they do going forward.

Edit: April 19th
My black cab heading home was one of the new ones so I took some pictures of the inside…
I think the sunroofs are a brilliant addition
You can pay cash, which the drivers prefer, or with a credit card that does “tap to pay”, or apple pay….
The control on the door is for turning on and off the intercom with the driver and includes a sound level control
Sits 6 people total, all with seatbelts — and the back and front are separated with plexiglass, which makes them way better during Covid
A light switch, in case you’re in the cab at night

Saw this yesterday behind the Tate Museum, London

Walked by this film crew yesterday on my way to the grocery store (Amazon’s high tech one) located south of the Tate Museum of art
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Excuse the Panorama distortions…. 
Apparently its for a TV show. I asked what show it was but they said they were not allowed to tell me as they had signed an NDA (non-disclosure agreement), so then I asked them “can you tell me what channel it is for?”
… and they kind of paused, and looked at each other nervously and said “can we? can we tell her?”, and then finally they whispered to me conspiratorially, “it’s for Disney. But don’t tell anyone we’re the ones who told you” —  I talked to more than a few staffers while there so I doubt the Big Black Rat (Disney corporate) will be able to identify which one squealed …

There seem to be a lot of people on roller-skates in brightly colored clothing, and other stuff that looked way more like clothing DisneyWorld cast members might wear rather than anything Londoners actually would … this one poor black woman extra was in an atrocious long fake hair wig (she looked generally miserable), and then there was this one little girl, who was maybe six years old was one of those skateboards with a pole attached to the front type things…. with bright colored streamers attached who kept having to push herself through the scene, but she looked like she was having a good time.

At a few points they kept coming over to me and saying “excuse me you’re not in the cast but your actually in our line of sight …. could you please move?” They were however very nice about it… apologized when it kept happening until the guy finally told me where to go stand … “you can be here, but you know… continuity issues”

Good morning from London! Getting here during covid & Streaming US TV while here

Good Morning from the UK!! (I write this at 3am while suffering jet lag)

After being in Illinois where everyone was vaccinated and masked (and even without the mandate most people neurotically continue to wear a mask indoors or in crowded outdoor areas), arriving in the UK was a bit of a shock. NO ONE here seems to wear a mask. Even in places like Borough Market at noon on a weekend, when the place is cheek to jowl with maskless people … most of whom are there because they won’t eat inside a restaurant, and are kidding themselves that because the market is semi exposed and not heated that means it’s safe… Dear lord people, music concerts and sporting events outdoors can be super spreaders… EEK!!!!

Anyway… After a bit of me going on about how I got here and where I’m staying, this blog post is started out intending to be about streaming American TV while in the UK, and do you need VPN? The answer in short is, probably not, but it depends who you’re signed up with back at home. For that bit, jump to the end….

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I’m loving the night capabilities of my new iPhone’s camera

After 2 years of being locked down in one place yours truly was starting to suffer the beginnings of depression. Just couldn’t do it anymore. So once the covid numbers dropped enough for me to feel the risk was worth it, I bought myself a plane ticket to the UK (like 2 days before flying — in an attempt to find the emptiest flight possible) and got the hell out of dodge.

With regards to the flight, I found if you buy a one way ticket instead of round trip there was no difference in price if I bought it for a flight this week or in a month from now. And the flight was in fact pretty empty. Ironically (or not), United’s business and economy plus zones were almost completely full. Economy basic was also kind of full, but United now charges an extra fee if you want to sit along the window sides rather than the center isle, and THOSE were almost completely empty. SO I bought a window seat in an isle where there was no one in the rows before or behind me, putting a nice buffer between me and most of the other passengers for the eight or so hours it took to get here, and I was able to lie down — go stuff it business class, which would have cost over a thousand dollars more!

I also found a place to stay with in a friend’s spare room. It’s in a truly stellar location, in fact it’s so central that if it were an Airbnb I’d normally avoid it because anyone with such a home is rightfully going to charge you just shy of what the local hotels would — because they can; and their mortgage payments/rent is probably obscene so they sort of have to. (If they didn’t need help meeting their bills they wouldn’t be offering up space in their homes to tourists.) If I’m going to pay THAT much for a place it’s often just a few dollars more for a hotel room. But this time I got lucky and hit up a friend with a spare room who agreed to let me stay for a few months as long as I chipped in for utilities and didn’t eat his food. … Granted those of you who read my page regularly know I normally stay at airbnb’s, because staying with friends for more than a week or so rarely works out, and when I do rent a place I never pay more than 2k a month if I can avoid it. But, because of Covid I needed someplace in London that was SO incredibly walkable that I could avoid rapid transit almost entirely after I arrived — and THAT you can’t find for less than 5.5k on airbnb. If he hadn’t offered I’d have probably ended up at a nearby hotel that rents out full apartments which was just a few bucks more than the airbnb’s I did find in the location I wanted (easy walking distance to the historic city).

That said, the trip from Heathrow Airport into the center of town via taxi is STUPID expensive, don’t do it unless you’ve got like a whole family you can load in  … A few years back I once flew from Tel Aviv to London for LESS than it cost to take the Taxi from Heathrow to where I was staying in north London, which because of highways is a much quicker/cheaper trip than the one into central London I would have had to pay for this time — traffic and infinite traffic lights even in the middle of the night which would have made taking the taxi from Heathrow to here even MORE expensive than the aforementioned flight. At the time I had no choice because the plane arrived really late, like 2am, just after the trains and bus options to Paddington Station had stopped running.

So unless you’re rich, accept that you’ll need to take the train from Heathrow to Paddington. To reduce covid risk I suggest the more expensive direct train, rather than the underground… also it is MUCH easier to get suitcases on and off of that train and there’s way more room to store them, and a significantly lower risk of someone trying to steal your bags… an all around win that makes the extra price worth it.

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View from the living room balcony of my friend’s place
That said I found a really choice location with a friend. It’s in a part of town that ironically I have spent almost NO time at all in during my 57 years of coming to the UK on a fairly regular basis (most of my family that I have any interest in staying in touch with lives in the UK so we came here almost yearly till the late ’70’s and I’ve come often since then — used to say I knew my way around London better than I did Chicago). The building (as you can see from the image above) is just on the Queen’s walk (an almost 4 mile promenade, built in honor of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, the runs along the southern bank of the River Thames between the Lambeth and Tower Bridges). It is also directly just across the river from St. Paul’s Cathedral and right across the street from both the re-creation of Shakespeare’s Globe theater and a bank-side pier where the ferries going up and down the Thames all stop.
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Bank-Side pier: Ferries by Uber and Tourist ones with guides stop here
I will write more about these later (once I’ve actually used them) but they’re ferries, that travel up and down the Thames like open air busses…. an ancient highway that during covid has become re-discovered by the city locals as a safer way to commute east to west. Business got so good that Uber bought a stake in one of the companies and you can now pay for it via the Uber App.
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From the Pier, my building (left), Globe Theater (center), Tate Museum (smoke stack)
I mean seriously… I’m only about a 30 minute walk from a huge swath of historic London… not the Victorian England side, which is where I’ve spent most of my life in, but rather the Roman/medieval & Tudor parts of London… the walled city part of Shakespeare’s time and before, which during the time of Covid means I for the most part can completely avoid rapid transit and still keep my days full — and it forces me to do a lot of healthy walking …. my weight this week has dropped from 174.5 lbs to 168.9 lbs.
ANYWAY… before I get completely off topic.. when I got here I was of course in Jet lag HELL; I didn’t sleep at all on the plane, and in Chicago my body clock had me falling asleep at around 11am and waking at around 7pm … which meant for the first few days most of my sleep was during daylight hours… (just yesterday I had my first day of being awake while the sun was up, but I then crashed at sunset, around 6pm … slept till about 2am and then started working on this post.

Anyway, this means since I couldn’t go out in the middle of the night I was watching TV on my computer.

This leads me to my discovery which initiated this post….

I’ve noticed that when trying to stream (WITHOUT installing the new VPN software I bought just before jumping on the plane) that I ran up against inconsistencies…
Your NETFLIX account works in the UK!! They just bump you from the US version of the application to the UK one, which means the content is different but overlaps. Pretty much all the Netflix productions on offer are the same, the difference lies in content they didn’t produce … so that’ll offer up new stuff not available in the US along with stuff that is… but some of the shows you might have been in the middle of binging might not be there.

Amazon Prime: basically the same story only they will NOT bump you to UK content. Instead you’ll be able watch their content, stuff they made for their network  … I just watched the new ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ episodes for instance … but not much else. BUT there’s a lot of that, so it’s not like you’re deprived.

HOWEVER, Amazon UK keeps trying to get me to sign up for a free 1 month trial of their prime membership, which I’m sure would widen what’s available there … and could be useful if you want to use Amazon fresh to have your groceries delivered so you can avoid going into grocery stores. You can still use Amazon fresh, or get free shipping from normal Amazon (rather than dragging my supplements I found most of them for sale on the UK Amazon, and when I got to the friend’s place, he’s a very tall guy and he didn’t think to buy any step stools and his closets are uncomfortably tall for me, so I bought a cheap step ladder and a bathroom scale — which is how I know I’m losing weight) without, but the amount of money you need to spend to qualify for free shipping almost doubles.

If I try to watch let’s say to watch Disney+ or HBO directly via their websites or apps I can’t do it, in both cases its says “you’re out of country” and tries to get me to sign up.

Interestingly Disney+ says, if you buy an amazon prime membership for the UK store you qualify for a full year of Disney+ for free… so again, it might be worth grabbing that trial 1 month membership (but read the small print… I have not as yet done it so I can’t tell you).

HOWEVER if I go to my Apple+ TV account, it also knows I’m traveling, but it STILL recognizes some of my other channels that I was watching through it when in the states on my Apple TV… It also allows you to watch shows that are part of Apple+
Even though I can’t watch HBO from HBO’s app, if I open it up via the Apple+ app I can IF its a movie I’ve already started, Ditto for Disney+ (I’m currently watching West Side Story). I was unable to start new movies but if I was 1/3 through or what have you they allowed me to finish. (Odd, I know).
this is NOT however true for HULU shows or Showtime or Paramount… that said, I’m wondering if it’s like on a timer where you get 3 weeks while abroad and then it says, “you’ve been away too long if you want to continue watching these other channels you’ll need to sign up for them in that country”
BUT… if you’re interested in the Paramount shows a lot of them, along with other US tv shows that wouldn’t show on back at home ARE shown in the UK on NETFLIX… so there’s that
ALSO, while here, download the BBC’s iPlayer it will allow you to watch the BBC live stuff plus the stuff they have available for streaming
IF you have VPN, which in this day and age you should (You’re going to want to use in hotels with unsecured networks, etc)… HULU will work… any other services you pay through VIA Hulu, (I have HBO, Starz, etc.) should work… I haven’t tried ALL of mine but so far HBO and Starz have both worked).

HOWEVER, Amazon prime seems to know full well that you are NOT in fact in the USA even if the server you’re connected through is… Hulu doesn’t care, Amazon seems to.

Theater Reviews for London’s West End: The night of the iguana & The Lehman trilogy

The goal, Covid willing — which it wasn’t — was for me to be in London this January of 2022, writing brand new posts. Instead, I’m catching up on the backload of half written ones that were waiting to be finished. Yes, I know, I’m seriously behind in these blog posts, as I’m writing this 2019 one over two years after the fact  …. Remember when we used to tell ourselves that if only we had a few weeks off with nothing to do how we’d catch up on all those tasks we never got to… yah it wasn’t that….

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One of the great joys of the London stage is that at some point or another, like broadway, the great and renowned actors of the screen will want to tread the boards, and this is where they often do it… but at a way that offers far more affordable ticket prices than in what you’d pay in NYC (let’s hear it for government subsidy of the arts!). A while back I talked about the play Sweat, which I saw in London in 2019 starring a lesser known but highly recognizable actress of American movies and TV, Martha Plimpton.

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While she may not be as well known as others, she represents the modern generation of a Hollywood royalty family that stretches back to the 1930’s.

In this post I’m going to talk about two other plays I saw in London back in the summer of 2019 starring famous actors that till then I’d only ever seen on the screen.

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On August 21 of 2019 I went to see Clive Own play the leading role in the classic Tennessee Williams stage play Night of the Iguana (later made into a film staring Richard BurtonAva Gardner, and Deborah Kerr)

E471B7B9-DBDE-451C-8957-02929837B7D3.jpgAnyway, Clive Owen… drool. Granted, he’s not one of my favorite actors but he has always had a sort of bad boy smoldering sexuality that is undeniable, and this was a great play for him to be in… because the lead calls for just that sort of character.

Overall the play was good, his performance was VERY good … although there were a few places in the show where I guess he got distracted or something because he dropped out of character and resorted to just delivering lines (what’s referred to in the business — I have more than a few professional friends who work in it — as phoning it in) but for the most part he was so good that I was able to forget I was watching a play, and instead felt I was watching events as they happened.

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When you first came in to find your seats there was a soundtrack of jungle noises playing in the background and all around us, and there was no fire curtain hiding the stage. Initially I thought that who ever was in charge of the stage design required a pat on the back, although I ultimately decided it wasn’t quite as amazing as they seemed to think it was (I’ll get to that later). The stage held a handful of broken down huts which we soon learned were hotel rooms in a jungle atmosphere, that was supposed to be located up on a mountainside overlooking the ocean. Those steps leading up from the orchestra pit, in the picture above, was how new characters, who had supposedly arrived by boat climbed up the side of the mountain from the beach to said hotel …. and we who sat in the ‘house’ were supposed to be the ocean view they spent most of their time looking out at when not looking at each other…

Before the show started, as those of you who read all my theater posts know that I regularly do, I was taking photos of the empty stage from the vantage of my seat — to show where I was seated and a sense of the theater space, when staff stopped me saying it was “protected”(??). Thing is, it was exactly the same stage shown in the advertising images located out in front of the theater… If my concern was the set design rather than where my seat was relative to the stage, I could have just taken photos of those ads … so I found this prohibition needless, and a bit bizarre (kind of like worrying about your daughters chastity when she’s already pregnant). Not to mention their whole approach of dealing with it was just “unfriendly.” There wasn’t anything all that AMAZING or innovative about the set, other than the fake rock cliff towards the back of the stage… in fact it reminded me a GREAT DEAL of the Louisiana part of Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney … so really nothing innovative of worthy of trying to protect. (And I wasn’t the only one they tried to stop… staff was running around and yelling at a bunch of different people who had taken out their cell phones to take a snap.)

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Anyway, As you can tell from the above photo my seat was VERY good, 7th row almost dead center relative to the stage… and… looking up you can see ….

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I was about a row or two in front of the balcony overhang, so there was no reverb issues with the sound as it bounced around hard surfaces. And this really good ticket was purchased last minute — as in the day before — at a discount from the Txts booth in Leicester Square that I’ve spoken about REPEATEDLY.

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Right before intermission a rain storm broke out as part of the show (the story being located in the tropics), and rather than it just being sound and light effects, there was actual rain falling all over the stage. And I’m not talking just a line of water at the back of the stage either … Clive Owen stood IN it and got drenched by it (yes objectification was real — did I not mention DROOL and how sexy he is) … during intermission I walked up to the stage and you could hear the water dripping off it… not sure how they pull that off without water damage to the stage or folks slipping…. THAT would be interesting to know about but there was nothing visible from the house to answer that question….

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The Next show I saw is one that I’m HAPPY to say is one of the first NYC productions to be reopening in the time of Covid — a limited run that will then travel to L.A. and then on to San Francisco…. and I STRONGLY suggest buying tickets for it if you can.

This was, The National Theater’s production of The Lehman Trilogy. Yep its about THOSE Lehmans, the three brothers who came to America to find their fortune and ended up creating the Lehman Brothers firm, the investment bank that became one of the leaders of the financial world, until it ultimately collapsed, and almost took the entire global economy with it….

 —– Tangent on the collapse of Lehman Brothers
As a former business school professor I think it’s important to note that the collapse happened after the three generations of family control had been handed over to a corporate bureaucracy. Anyone with an understanding of successful multigenerational family owned companies knows that this is a regular process. Companies of this sort are created by an individual — or as in this case a group of siblings, who then usually pass control onto their children. This only happens after he/or she, or they, have personally trained this next generation over the course of their childhoods to takeover the business… usually having them do odd jobs of increasing importance up through their adulthoods that are intended to prepare them and imbue within them a deeply understood awareness of how and why the business is successful. This 2nd generation however tends to not then go on to train their own children as deeply in the ways of the business — often because they resented what their own parents forced them to go through — and instead allow the kids to choose for themselves if they want to be involved — which usually they don’t… and these kids even if one or two of them DOES show interest, by the 3rd generation opt to hand over control to business school types — folks who almost never spent a day working in any factory, let alone choosing to train up individuals who came up through the ranks of THAT company — sending over talented employees off to business school for instance, with the understanding that they were being prepared for management positions (and even if they were they might not have the sort of FAMILY kinship required to keep them in the fold once so invested in). Instead, the heirs of the fortune tend to be disinterested, and prefer to just reap the benefits of the family money and hand over full control to business school graduates with no personal investment in the future prosperity of the company — and once that happens it’s fairly rare for the company to continue to be what it once was, so that at that point decrease of influence to the point of collapse becomes commonplace.  —– end of tangent

That said, the play is not about that collapse and how or why it happened, rather it’s about family, tradition, and legacy, and as such is far more Universal and meaningful. Because the brothers were Jewish immigrants to the United States, recently arrived from Eastern Europe, it helps to bring more depth to the story if you know a little bit about what those traditions are…. although it’s not obligatory. While watching the show I found myself explaining things to the girl seated next to me who was Asian and had no idea why they kept doing things like reaching up to place a kiss on a doorpost, or broke into some Hebrew (praying).

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My cousin, who used to work for one of the major theatrical charities in London, the Mousetrap foundation — they use the profits from London’s longest running hit (excluding a gap for Covid, it’s been playing nonstop since 1952), to introduce school groups from lower income parts of town to the joys of live theater, and as such she continues to stay up to date on what the best shows are in town, and she strongly suggested this one (although she warned they might be fully sold out). As such, I so wanted to see it that I did something I almost never do, and bought the tickets full price… (I tried to get them at TXTs but they laughed at me. I had to buy it at the theater’s box office, and was able to find a good single seat a few weeks out, the week they were due to close).

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I was about in the 5th row, in the center of the row

This left me worried at the time because the day before I was supposed to go London was in the low 90’s F (33.9ºC)  and the day I was scheduled to go was supposed to be as bad if not worse (in fact that day London and Orlando Florida were having the SAME WEATHER, that’s just WRONG). Thank you global warming …

This might not seem like a big deal to average American Theater goer, but the theaters in London, for the most part are NOT BUILT for hot days — especially the older ones — They have limited if any ventilation and most do NOT have any air conditioning. I am one of those people who is great when the temp is in the 60º’s but suffers horribly in anything above 75º — and these theaters with the lights and the people can heat up into the high 80º’s on a hot day; as such, I am incapable of ‘enjoying’ myself in an overheated room… especially ones with no ventilation… and these old historic theaters in London fall into that category. Normally, I buy tickets a day or so in advance, and know what the weather forecast will be, but in this case I had to buy it over two weeks in advance, so there was no way to know.

I took the tube to get there and that had been like a freaking oven, and then I was running late so I had to run to get to the theater, all of which left me radiating heat. So I was SERIOUSLY worried that the heat in the theater would make me feel so sick that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the show, so I was thrilled to discover that the Piccadilly Theatre in London has air-conditioning! Not only that but it was set to keep the room comfortably cool.  I could hear the system going on and off, and every once in a while the room would heat up just enough that I would start to feel uncomfortable, only to hear the fans comeback on and feel the temperature drop just enough for me to stay focused on the show instead of the sickening heat. (Unlike US theaters, they never over did it so that you wished you’d brought a sweater to the theater in the middle of summer.)

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I can’t remember why, but for some reason I was running really late, and was worried they wouldn’t let me in — British theaters can be sticklers about late comers especially if you were sitting front and center like I was going to be — as always I got a GOOD ticket, that put me just off center and maybe 7 rows from the state, but to my luck …. when I arrived there was a huge line of people standing outside waiting to pick up their tickets –even though the play was supposed to have already started, so I was just damn lucky. I arrived so late however that I wasn’t able to do my normal photo of me holding my ticket and showing the stage in front of me; the photo above of me in front of the theater was from after the show was over — hence why it was already dark. Again a photo I would normally do BEFORE the show started.

The Play is based on a Novel, by Italian author Stefano Massini, available in translation

All that said…. This was quite possibly one of the very best most amazing plays I’ve EVER seen in my 58 odd years of regularly attending the theater!!!! It was an acting Tour De Force … all of the 185 roles were played by three British character actors, excluding the final scene when the family no longer controlled the company and suddenly there’s a collection of faces we’d not seen before… Let me repeat that almost ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY FIVE separate roles, including men and women, which up until the final scene of the play are performed, by only THREE MEN …. and every single role is clear and distinct. If you’ve never respected the title of character actor, you will now. These are not movie stars who are basically the same character in every film or TV show you’ve ever seen them in, these are ACTORS. (This is why saying you need to be gay to play gay is kind of problematic, and diminishes the craft of acting… actually obliterates it. Keep going in that direction and from now on no one will have to develop their craft because you’ll have to be the thing in order to be allowed to play the thing.)

Imelda Staunton, Adrian Lester, Damian Lewis and more at The Lehman Trilogy  West End premiere | WhatsOnStage
Left to right: Ben Miles, Simon Russell Beale and Adam Godley   That said, this is NOT my Image, borrowed from: https://www.whatsonstage.com/london-theatre/news/imelda-staunton-adrian-lester-damian-lewis-lehman_49127.html

So the famous actors I got to see were: (left to right) Ben Miles, to be honest this guy sinks into his characters so fully that I totally didn’t recognize him till I checked his imdb. He’s one of those British Actors that Americans are less familiar with. Of all the shows he was in, I think we in the states would most easily recognize him as having played the part of Peter Townsend, the boyfriend of Princess Margaret in Netflix’s international hit, The Crown), that she was having an affair with, and who when he left his wife the corporation kept finding excuses to keep her from marrying him, until he finally gave up and married someone else.

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Simon Russell Beale (the guy in the middle & below) tends to show up in the sort of historical stuff the BBC is best known for, Americans would best know him as having been on the Showtime series Penny Dreadful and as the Baker’s father in the star studded movie version of Stephen Sondheim‘s Into The Woods, with Meryl Streep and Anna Kendrick.

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The actor to the right is probably the one most Americans will most easily recognize, although odds are you never knew his name. The man has been in a LOT of things, He’s currently the Archbishop in Hulu’s The Great, about Russia’s Cathrine the Great; He provides the voice of Pogo (the talking chimp) in Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy, he played Elliott Schwartz in the classic show Breaking Bad, was Nigel Nesbitt in the series Suits (best known as Meghan Markle’s claim to fame before she married Prince Harry), along with a bunch of other roles in popular shows and movies. In fact in the Lehman Brothers Adam Godley did a one character in a scene towards the middle of the show that I will never be able to forget and I wish I could hit the rewind to see over and over and figure out how he did it; the man aged right in front of us from young to a wizened corpse on the table, and did it so believably that the audience couldn’t but break into a standing ovation in the middle of the show.

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Anyway, if you ever have a chance to see this show, I strongly suggest it, even more if you’re lucky enough to see it with these specific actors.

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Kolaportið Flea Market Reykjavík Iceland

On the topic of… if only I had like a month of doing nothing and going nowhere, I would catch up on all my back log of blog posts that I haven’t gotten around to writing up…

HA HA HA HA

I guess that wasn’t it. We’re a year into Covid and JUST NOW I’m finally getting to this post… Was here September 28th, 2019, and its now August 2021… OOPS…

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The Kolaportið Flea Market in the old part of Reykjavík is, according to Wikipedia, Iceland‘s ONLY flea market.

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It is open on Saturday’s and Sundays (only), and is located inside a large warehouse type building across the street from the harbor.

457EBD16-E3FD-498D-8465-A39FAA67F4C2.JPGGoods sold include used stuff, from clothing to books, as well as brand new hand knit sweaters made by local artisans (intended I think for the tourist market).

I say this because once upon a time, back when I was in high school (almost 40 years ago) we had an exchange student from Iceland and according to her ALL the women in Iceland knit … and did so obsessively. In fact according to her this was so culturally normative that it was a matter of course that they were allowed to do so while in class listening to the teacher lecture — and she found the fact that American schools banned her from doing so off-putting. Without those busy hands she found it significantly harder to concentrate. Now granted, that was 40 years ago, but I doubt things have changed radically in the years since…  As such, I find it HIGHLY unlikely that locals buy these sweaters. In fact I’m pretty sure 99% of what is sold here (with the possible exception of things like the home baked pastries) is really only for the tourist market, and I’ll get back to why I think that that…2A833EC2-0B17-497D-8311-5E03FB1D4042.JPG

Well let me correct myself…. in addition to fresh baked stuff, locals who live or work close to the market might pick up some of the fresh fish type stuff here (which also includes traditional fermented shark — which has to be fermented in order to be edible — a dish so inedible that TV shows use it in food challenges) mostly because it’s convenient.

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BUT… other than those two sorts of things that are sold here, everything ELSE is really aimed at the tourist market… And the way you should know this is … if you were there long enough to do comparative pricing, you wouldn’t buy most of what is sold there. In particular, all the candies that tourists pick up to take home as gifts.

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I will say this however, this is a GREAT place to TASTE said candies, get an idea of what you like…. and then take a picture of the item (you can ignore the name or brand) and then look for the same said item in any of the minimarts and grocery stores scattered around town.

This might seem like an odd comparison but go with me on this… I compare it to buying mattresses in the USA. In the USA, no two mattress stores have the same items in stock (if you’re looking at brands, styles or item numbers), so that you can’t do price comparisons. Don’t believe me? Try it (with the possible exception of say Ikea mattresses and the foam mattresses). We had a close family friend in the business who first explained it to us, and then years later I became buddies with one of the mattress kings of the San Francisco bay area, and he confirmed it when I brought it up. They might all be the same brands… but when you then try to find that one style/item number in a different store… you can’t. It’s intentional to keep you from price shopping.

(Instead what you need to do is to get down the specifics … how many springs per square inch, what tensile strength are the springs, how much padding, what type, etc., all the info most people never pay attention to… and then go to other stores finding the mattresses that meet those specifications)

With regards to the candy sold at the flea market, it’s pretty much the same thing. They take the candy and ‘rename’ it and repackage it…. and then double or triple the price. It’s why they can afford to give it away as samples.

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So for example, the Puffin Eggs (black licorice covered in chocolate and than a white candy coating), which I totally fell in LOVE with and could not find anywhere else…. however, upon researching on line as to where else they might be sold, I discovered it was ONLY available in the flea Market and some gift shops (also aimed at tourists) — but that it was just like what I said about the mattresses. What they really are is a candy called Djúpur, which is common as dirt in Iceland, and you can pick it up at 1/3 the price at any normal food market or gas station in small single serve bags … it is also sold in massive bags at the duty free as you’re leaving the country (and even cheaper if you pit stop at Costco, which if you’re in Reykjavík is pretty much on the route to the airport — for those who don’t realize it, your membership is good world wide at ANY Costco, the only issue is which credit card they use which varies — also make sure to check in at the membership desk first where they might have to issue you a temporary card– again depending on the country).

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With puffin eggs (and the other candies of that sort) what you’re paying for is the picture of the puffins and cute name… which is heck of beans more impressive to kids than the actual packaging which is kind of plain.

Icelandic sweaters and products - Freyja Djúpur Liquorice and Chocolate Pearls (150gr) Candy - Shopicelandic.com

Returning to the flea market, if you chose to buy there keep in mind that most vendors only accept cash. There is an ATM located inside the market but the line can be quite long, so it is recommended to get out cash in advance

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One of the most popular restaurants in Reykjavík is a (mutton) Hotdog stand called Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur: Reykjavík Iceland

 

On any day in the historic part of Reykjavik (adjacent to the countries only flea market), you’ll find a LONG line of people braving the elements for a taste of one of the country’s favorite street foods. Bæjarins beztu pylsur (which in English translates to the best hot dog in town), first opened in 1937, and offers up what Condé Nast declared the “one dish to eat in Iceland“; this is a hotdog that is unique because it is made from a combination of mostly lamb/mutton (mixed with some beef, and pork) that is then covered in ketchup, sweet mustard, remouladecrisp fried onion and raw onion.

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The stand was made world famous in 2004 when former US president, Bill Clinton stopped there for a meal. Its a dog is considered so good that 2006 the UK’s Guardian newspaper declared it to be the best hot dog in all of Europe, and in 2014 Forbes Magazine noted that it was the economically successful hotdog stand in the world. And as such you’ll find a constant flow of visitors from all over the world lining up to get a taste… and even such famous foodies as Anthony Bourdain (RIP) make sure to go there when visiting Iceland.

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This Icelandic hotdog is unique in large part because it is mostly made of lamb/mutton (for those not in the know, mutton is what you call the meat of an adult sheep, while lamb is … well from lambs). But of course, this is Iceland after all, where sheep are the most commonly farmed animal and lamb/mutton is a staple of the local diet in the same way Americans eat beef.

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Now I’m from Chicago, where we take our hotdogs VERY seriously. Not only are we the former meat processing capitol of America, but we hold a claim to fame as the pivotal location for the developments of the dish. While the frankfurter began in Germany (although some dispute this and say it goes back as far as the Roman period) it was a dish traditionally served on plate that you ate with a knife and fork. It is generally accepted that the concept of serving said sausage on a soft white bun with condiments, as a roadside food that you can eat as you walk, is an idea that originated in Chicago at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition — sometimes known as the White City — when a guy by the name of Antoine Feuchtwanger, came up with the idea of serving it on a soft white bun — rather than a crusty roll that would leave crumbs all over your shirt … and even gave his customers white gloves (which were kept as souvenirs) to keep their hands clean. New Yorkers however dispute this and claim the idea of serving it on bun started in Coney Island, but we Chicagoans reject this. That said, the Chicago hotdog is deeply influenced by the Jewish community of the town, and is as such, 100% beef… and more than a few of the brands are also kosher certified.

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From that perspective, I found the presentation of the dog horrible (seriously, look at the thing) and taste of the dog to be a bit bland, and the texture a bit soft (the dog SHOULD be the star of the show) … when compared to a Chicago style hot dog. The selling point for ME (my opinion) was the toppings were amazing. The remoulade is sort of sweet (it tastes like there might be apples in it) and the mustard which is also sweet and brown … and then that is topped with these amazing fried onions which the locals call cronions, and were WAY crunchier than any fried onion I’ve had before so that at first I thought they were crumbled up fried pork rinds — because I was tasting pork, but now I think they are just onions fried in lard — but I’m not sure… which is then combined with raw chopped onion. The combination was REALLY tasty.

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London’s West End production of: Waitress (good, but not better than the movie)

Waitress has, since the movie version first came out in 2007, been one of my very favorite films — as in I bought the DVD and have watched it repeatedly. So when I heard that someone had revamped it as a musical I was both hopeful and skeptical. Back in its good old days, Broadway would turn books into plays, which then might be turned into musicals; nowadays its successful movies that tend to get the musical treatment. When I saw that it was playing in London (and pretty much daily available at a discount at the TXTS booth) I knew I had to see it.

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During this trip I saw more than a few shows that were based on movies… which seems to be the new broadway trend …. and for the most part while they’re all enjoyable… in pretty much every case … with the possible exception of maybe the production of Disney’s the Lion king … I think it’s safe to say that you should probably consider saving your money…

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For me, London is kind of like a second hometown to me. It was my dad’s hometown, and we used to spend most of summers there until I was about 12 years old…  and always for me, London has always been about going to the theater! My mom loved theater so much that she often took us to two shows a day, and occasionally crammed in three. So rather than posting a lot about seeing the town my posts from here are for the most about the shows I’ve seen. The second show I saw this trip saw: Waitress, a musical remake of one of very favorite films (I own it on DVD and have watched it repeatedly)…. but that said, while it’s a cute piece of fluff… the movie was MUCH better…

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That said … first rule of London theater, as taught to me by my parents…  is, unless there’s a specific show for which you’re willing to pay full price, you’ll want to start out by going to the Tkts Booth in Leicester Square…. London has a very competitive theater scene, just like New York, so anything showing in a major theater is most likely very good. On the way there you’ll pass any number of store front ticket booths advertising them as THE half price ticket booth… keep walking. None of them are. Their What’s on Sale screen, behind me in the picture above, will tell you what tickets they have that is on deep discounts (usually 30 to 50% off). You can also buy tickets for two days out… so tonight, tomorrow and the next day… but not farther out than that. You can check their website to see what’s available, but you can only buy the tickets at their booth. Half price tickets for the top shows are ONLY available either at the box office doors of each individual theater, where you stand in line on the day of up to time of seating, but with no assurance of actually getting a seat … or here at the TXTS booth. (How do you want to spend your vacation time?) Personally I haven’t got that much time. This way is easier, and profits from the ticket sales at this venue rather (than ending up in corporate or private pockets) go towards the Society Of London Theatre, which supports the theater community in a myriad of ways. (So you can feel good about your purchase).

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Kind of a cute thing: restaurant order slips were used for patron’s feedback after the show

In the movie starred Keri Russell as the waitress the show centers on, who is dreaming of trying to escape a horrible marriage, who finds solace, self esteem — and a possible exit strategy — in her love of and brilliance at inventing pie recipes.

[Going MASSIVELY off topic here… but bear with me]

Russell, for those who don’t know her, began her career as a child actor, and was one of the many members of The Mickey Mouse Club ensemble during the 1989 to 1994 years (alongside other such stars of today as: Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Ryan Gosling, Christina Aguilera, etc.). However, she is to this day most highly identified, not for that but rather, with her breakout title character in the US TV show Felicity, (which played from 1998 — 2002, 4 seasons, just like 4 years of university) a coming of age story about a top student who had her whole life planned out for her by her parents, and in an act of rebellion she at the last minute refuses to attend Stanford U. as a premed, in California, and instead chases cross country after a high school crush who is going to University in New York City, who when she gets there turns out to not even know her name. So of course the following four seasons were all about her growing up and finding herself, until she finally leaves University and begins an adult life. [If you do watch the TV show, pay close attention to the side characters. Whoever the casting director was, this person had a keen eye for talent; there’s a LOT of actors who would go on to be famous who had their first tiny roles in this Felicity.]

In it Russell became almost more famous for her hair than her acting, which based on the scuttlebutt of the day, if it is to be believed, bugged her to no end. At the time there were constant gossip stories coming out about how much she was wanting to be considered a serious actress, and hated the superficial fixation on her hair rather than her acting, to the extent that while the official story was that the producers came to her about cutting it… the leaked gossip was all about how she in fact had BEGGED the producers to allow her character to change her look.

This resulted in something of a NATIONAL SCANDAL if you can believe, and a bit of a dive in the ratings comparable only to the effect on Veronica Lake‘s career in WWII when she changed her signature peek-a-boo hairstyle in support of the war effort.

I’ve looked, and if you follow Russell’s relationship with her hair, since Felicity (1998– 2002), she’s never worn it natural again [link includes a hairstylist talking about how the first thing you down when working with Russell is to straighten her hair], all of which tends to support the leaked versions over the official ones (Russell hates her own hair) … To this day she’s ALWAYS straightens it. Seriously, am including LOTS of clips of her on camera and her curls are at the minimum relaxed in every clip; and its her refusal to wear it natural that in my opinion is what continues to make it a topic of discussion 17 years later. In the Waitress role (2007), a role that to be honest wasn’t ALL that different from her Felicity role — in fact she’s pretty much type cast (the sweet but super serious girl next door who’s seriously lost and trying to find herself), if you look at her hair you can sort of see a compromised semi straightened look. And if you look at all her roles between 2002 and 2013, she had a heck of a time shaking her Felicity type casting.

That said, its a look and character you’ll almost NEVER see in the role that currently has made her famous again, the long running FX spy thriller (2013-2018), which has won 18 Emmy nominations and four Writers Guild of America Award for Television: Dramatic Series award nominations for its writing (this is a GREAT SHOW, definitely a must see)… where Russell plays one of the co-leads of the The Americans, two deep cover Soviet KGB officers who pose as happily married couple living in the Virginia suburbs (near D.C.) by day while working as Russian operatives at night.

[Note in this 2019 Youtube compilation of her interviews for a famous US morning show, the editors STILL in 2019 focus on discussions of her hair and her Felicity character!!]

Her Felicity/Waitress character is almost completely absent from her role of Elizabeth (Nadezhda) Jennings, as in she only shows up in scenes of the character’s early life in Russia before she was trained to be a spy.  Russell’s character’s husband, Philip Jennings (whose Russian name is Mikhail, but goes by Mischa); in this new show is played by Matthew Rhys – who in real life is Welsh (with a thick accent) and is now Russell’s real life husband – they became involved (2014) and then married (2016) during filming

Returning to the film version of Waitress:

Alongside Russel was a woefully miscast Nathan Fillion in the role the obstetrician her Waitress character goes too when to her horror she discovers she’s pregnant. Their both married, but find themselves irresistibly drawn to each other and begin a torrid affair. Or at least that’s the story of Waitress. While I love Fillion, he just wasn’t right for that role, at least not when cast with Russell. In order for the story to really work, his character and Russell’s needed to have overwhelming sexual chemistry that was palpable even on screen, even if their sex scenes were supposed to be funny verging on ridiculous … but they just didn’t have that, so it all felt horribly forced. But for Russell’s performance, she was perfect in the role, the movie might have not done anywhere near as well.

[That said Fillion was PERFECT as Captain Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds on the cult TV show Firefly along its followup film Serenity,– a character which made him a nerd G-d!!!! Although cancelled after only one season there’s isn’t a nerd I know who has not watched it so many times that they have bits of it memorized.

One of the show’s major problems was the TV executives couldn’t figure out how to pigeon hole it. They sold it as drama, Notice the really dark feel of the preview above, when in fact had more of a dark sardonic comedic feel to it, along with a real sense of a tight knit and loving family among the crew-members of the ship — all of whom were led by Fillion’s character.

Like I said it was such a cult favorite that they were able to get the funding for the big budget film called Serenity, which finally put some closure on the story lines. Unlike Russell who seems to have spent a lifetime trying to escape Felicity, Fillion has described Firefly as the best acting job he ever had. He is also known to non-nerds as the title character Richard Castle, a modern day version of his Mal character, on the long running TV show Castle — which offered up A LOT of inside jokes for Firefly fans who all realized he was playing the same character again, just to prove that point of what a cult classic it was and how much Fillion loved that role.]

—> RETURNING TO THE LONDON PRODUCTION!!!!!

Initially part of what drew me to wanting to see the stage show in London was the fact that it was starring Katharine McPhee in the title role — a woman was the runner up on the 5th season of one of my favorite shows, American Idol,

who went on to be central character of another of my favorite shows, the ensemble series Smash (about the making of a fictional Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe),

where she plays an unknown… the epitome of the sweet and modest ingenue, who through sheer talent and stage presence becomes the co-lead in a musical when the producers ultimately can’t choose between a more experienced actress and the ingenue (spoiler: it’s a predicament they ultimately resolve by using BOTH actresses — who we come to love — to play different aspects of Marilyn — the character she created for the screen vs her internal more human reality)

HOWEVER, McPhee was only playing the lead during my first three weeks in London, a period where I was busy with stuff like getting re-acclimatized to being in London after many years — I have this weird relationship with rapid transit systems where it seems to take me a few weeks of being in a place before I’m willing to use them, and was focused on MUST do tasks, like renewing my British passport, catching up with family, etc., before want to do ones…

… BUT by the time I finally dragged my ass down to the TXTS booth the first time, her final performance in the role was already over — and when she left so did most of the other leads (in the video above). I’m someone who watches TMZ‘s podcast nightly (if it starts off with the Kardashians I’m asleep in minutes), so I knew that McPhee had quit the show in order to marry one of the world’s most powerful music producers, David Foster (who’s a good 34 years older than her) — they literally got married like the next week (it was all over the gossip news). So I didn’t get to see her on stage after all…. other than via the above videos.

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That said, when I first got into the theater, all excited to see the show, the level of ‘kitschy’ things going on in the waiting area for the show was kind of overwhelming, there were the aforementioned restaurant customer order slips displayed with comments from former patrons of the show

 

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And at the obligatory bar where there’s normally a variety of snacks and drinks, they had mini pies in glass jars for sale… I tried the chocolate and salted caramel pot which the girl working the counter said was the favorite of the staff… but I thought it was actually pretty nasty tasting… very super sweet and chemicals even though the ingredients promised it was all natural (except for the Oreo cookie bits)

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And then once inside the auditorium the fire-curtain had been designed to look like a cherry pie lattice and along each side of the stage were those rotating pie displays like you see at diners (imagine them rotating). Like I said, sort of kitschy overload.

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That said, my day of show purchased tickets offered me amazing seats, three rows from the stage and smack in the middle of the auditorium. The show was, as I said before, not AS good as the movie (although I think the guy cast the lead’s love interest was a way better choice than Fillion had been) but that said it was a fun little piece of fluff with a few good songs.

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At the end of the show they did something I had not seen before or since, they had staff members standing at the edges of the stage actually TELLING us we could go ahead and take photos of the standing ovations.  Other shows do NOT allow it, and some will even try to stop you from taking pictures of the stage before the show has even started…

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And then after the show was over, they provided an even MORE opportunities for taking photos as we were leaving, with staff posing as waiters at a diner alongside us… and … as you can see in the photo, were explicitly asking us to PLEASE post those photos to social media after we had gone home. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2f46.jpg

All that said, while it was a good time… I’m sorry to say that if you LOVED the movie you’ll probably enjoy the musical, but I doubt you’ll love it. If on the other hand you’ve NEVER seen the movie (and hold it in a warm fuzzy place in your heart), than you might enjoy the musical more than I did.

Bucket list item achieved!! Northern lights viewing: Reykjavík, Iceland

To paraphrase my friend who stayed with me for part of this trip, while people may come to Iceland wanting to see all the gorgeous geography, for those of us from more southern climates, what we are most hoping to see is the dancing lights of the Aurora (green lights) Borealis (Northern). In this post I’m sharing what I learned about your options for seeing them, if you’re based in Reykjavík. Firstly, unless you have a proper camera and tripod, you’re going to want to look on line for an app that tricks your smartphone’s camera into taking long exposure photos (I used an app called NorthernLights) unless you own one of the newest phones that already have that function built into them. And then you’re going to want to find a way to get away from the light pollution of Reykjavík at night — if you can’t see most of the night stars, you won’t be able to appreciate the Northern lights.

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Taken with my iPhone on my 2nd time out — during a solar storm

Over the course of my one week stay I went on two different $100 tours to try to see the lights. The first time, my first night in Iceland, was a total bust. This was partially because of partly cloudy skies — the nights before and after all the northern lights tours were cancelled because of rain. But also, and almost more importantly, because there was in fact barely anything to see that night — even if the skies had been clear. No dancing light, no brilliant green stripes. At best all the sun was offering up that night was a bit of light green haze that just lightly lit up part of the northern sky… it was there (enough that the tour company felt no necessity to follow up on their guarantee or a 2nd trip or a full refund if it had not been), but realistically it really wasn’t what anyone would have flown all the way to Iceland in hopes of seeing.

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Look closely, See the slightly greenish spot on the right side of this image? That’s it — taken with my iPhone

In fact, the high price tag we’d paid felt a bit like a rip off. When initially researching the prices for these tours, the prices kind of boggled my mind and initially I’d contemplated that it might just be cheaper to just hail a taxi and ask him to take us someplace dark… but in reality, as the week progressed, and after discovering just how insanely expensive taxis are in Iceland, the $100 round trip on a minibus seemed like a bargain. There’s nothing like Uber or Lyft in Iceland (i.e., more affordable taxis), so your choices are rent a car, take a bus tour (of varying sizes), or hire a taxi — which could easily run you $250 or a lot more by the time you’re done.

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“Go to Joy Iceland” was the name of the first tour company I took

The group shot above was taken of the 17 of us in the minibus on my first trip. I’m posting it as proof that the problem had not been because I was trying to take pictures of the Aurora with my iPhone… that’s me in the front row in the green coat/red hat, my friend who flew up to see Iceland with me is standing next to me wearing the purple coat and scarf … This shot was taken by the tour guide using his TOP of the line camera with a fancy lens, on a tripod, using a long exposure and with about 2 seconds of bright fill lighting flashed at us … see those slightly lit up patches on the right side of the image … seriously, that’s IT! That’s all we got that night. The Driver did his best and went to about 3 different locations, drove us around for about a full hour there and back — headed towards the middle of the island on the Golden Circle road, and we got to see lots of stars as he dogged the cloud cover, but mother nature just wasn’t helping him out with regards to the Aurora lights.

This is why, pretty much EVERY Northern lights tour you sign up for will start with a very LONG and detailed apology from the guide. This includes a lot of trying to explain scientific realities as to why you might not see anything that night and it’s not their fault. Be prepared for the fact that your fellow tourists may or may not grasp said science, and that they’ll end up wasting precious time asking questions that the guide has already explained, but they just didn’t grok it; the smaller the group, the less time wasted on said questions being one of the benefits of not taking a big bus. In fact I think half the job of the tour guide is to … if you get a night like we did that first night … make a really big deal about ANY Northern lights, no matter how pathetic, that might show up that night, just so that the company doesn’t have to take you out a 2nd time as promised in their guarantees.

As such, be prepared for the reality that you MIGHT have to go out more than once during your trip before you see anything. There is a cheaper $40 option, which means taking a huge passenger bus along with 120 other people. The major difference between opting for a minibus (20 passengers) over a full sized one (other than the aforementioned time wasted on explaining science to folks who have difficulty grasping it) seems to be that smaller vehicles are allowed to take dirt roads and take advantage of small concrete parking areas (big enough for about 2 cars max) that the Icelandic government has created for tourists on the sides of the roads. It’s important to remember that in Iceland the ring road wasn’t completed until the early 1970’s and even the ‘heavily’ traveled highway from Reykjavík to the international airport in Keflavík is only ONE lane in each direction… and not even a very wide single lane. AND NONE of these roads have large shoulders built into them to allow for pulling safety to the side. According to one of our tour guides, who spent a lot of time explaining how to drive safely in Iceland to us (while he was driving), the roads are so narrow that if a tourist stops anywhere other than one of these designated areas, trucks might just barrel through and run them off the road — and under the law, its the fault of the person who parked so as to partially block the road.

The big busses (clearly) can NOT take advantage of either dirt roads, or the tiny concrete lots on the sides or roads, and are by necessity relegated to taking you ONLY to locations that have big parking lots AND are out in the middle of nothing… of which there’s only a few within an easy drive of Reykjavík. If the sky is clear of clouds and the solar winds strong enough, the reality is that it doesn’t matter which option you take, you’ll see the show. HOWEVER, if that’s not the case — and the sky in Iceland is rarely clear of cloud cover, the smaller the vehicle you book the better the chance they can find a legal place to park that is both away from any light sources and where there’s a lot of visible stars, i.e., the best place to see the lights.

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That said, while we were waiting for our tour (the first one) this Minibus showed up, which was unlike any other we saw. It’s big wheels, and stood much higher than normal, and clearly was designed for off road travel. For myself, while I could see wanting one of these for a daytime tour, but I’m seriously doubting that the extra expense (I’m guessing it cost a lot more than our ~$100 per person), was going to be worth it… for all the reasons previously discussed.

The first time we went out (my friend and I together) was on the first night of our trip, a Monday night, and like I said … nothing. My friend didn’t stay as long as I did, and left on Friday at around noon. By that evening I found myself to be SO exhausted by the previous three days of tourism that I pretty much collapsed into my bed at around 3pm and couldn’t even go to get food. I survived on what was left in our fridge, some Icelandic yogurts (called Skyr — similar to greek yogurt, but with a milder flavor), and smoked lamb and traditional bread that had been gifted to us by our Airbnb host.

The next morning as I was touring around town, I kept hearing everyone raving about how intense the northern lights had been the night before, that the sky had been cloudless for the first time all week, and how the event had been so intense due to a massive solar storm, that you could have seen it from town if you just walked over to the bay and looked North. Let’s just say I was kicking myself. I went right back to my room and tried to book a tour for that night, but the company I had used the first night was fully booked, as were the next two companies I tried. So I got an idea and walked over the Aurora center (a museum near my rental, where you can see a fake Northern lights display and learn about the phenomena), and with the help of the staff found a ‘good’ (according to them) tour group that still had available seats for that night for about the same price I paid the first time.

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With the 2nd tour, which was led by a company called “BusTravel Iceland” we got picked up, taken to a parking lot, and then transferred to a 2nd bus of the same size (???) — this group killed about an hour of my time for no purpose, which I was not happy about, before finally hitting the road to our destination. Because of how intense the light show was expected to be that night, they only took us on about 15 minutes away from town on the road southwest towards the airport, and then only about three minutes along a dirt road on to the adjacent lava field (so that the headlights of cars wouldn’t bother us). Once there, lets just say that not only did I get to see the massive green stripes I’d been dreaming of, but even dancing lights were seen, where the you can see the strips moving around. We even got to see multiple colors as the lights danced, with bits of purple and pink flickering along the edges (unfortunately this wasn’t something my camera could pick up).

[Time lapse video of the Northern lights found on Youtube]

Initially my camera was failing me and causing me a lot of frustration. It would initially work, but then after a shot or two would stop. There was an Indian woman in our group who’d read something about how the automatic night shift feature in the iPhone interfered with the app’s software, and when we went into settings and turned that off sure enough my phone started working well. I had to restart the app after changing the settings, but then it was working again and continued to … the light show kept coming and going for about a half hour, and then stopped… we waited a bit just to be sure it was done… and then the driver said they probably wouldn’t be back till about 4am

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The next morning my friends who work in the computer industry were all complaining about the interference from the solar storm, and one of them posted this image, which shows what I’d been watching the night before.