I fell down and went boom yet again…

Back on September 22, a day before I was supposed to leave to go to Reykjavík in Iceland I fell down and went boom on the streets of London, yet again!

At the time I was staying in the Kensington neighborhood directly adjacent to Harrods (a world famous department store, now owned by the family of the guy that Princess Diana was in the car with when she died) and had been spending the morning walking around and exploring the museum district where the Victoria and Albert Museum is, while listening to an audible recording of a book. Yes I was very distracted and putting a lot of stress on my brain, which was still dealing with post concussive syndrome. I had already become aware of the fact that I was starting to mentally fatigue and had contemplated staying in place and finding a cab to take me home, but had rejected the notion thinking I shouldn’t be such a ninny, my body was still fine and I needed the exercise.

Suffice it to say that was the wrong decision.

One of the problems I’ve had ever since the major concussion (back in Australia about two years ago) is that when I start to tire the balls of my feet begin to drag.  this is a problem that I’m still dealing with today. Initially they had been doing it all the time, so that it felt like the sidewalk was reaching up to grab my feet as I walked; but after identifying the problem and some self implemented physical therapy — who knew that my childhood ballet lessons would ever serve some sort of practical use in adulthood; I basically made a practice (for a few months) of focusing my attention on what my feet were doing, and that solved the problem by 95%. That said, anytime my brain starts to fatigue my feet go right back to dragging.

Anyway I suddenly caught my foot on a not completely level piece of sidewalk, tripped and started to fall … But I guess because I was mentally fatigued my hands didn’t do what they’re supposed to do, which is to Jut-out in front of me to break the impact and keep my head from hitting the ground. As a result I landed pretty much square on my forehead.

The picture in the upper left-hand corner is what I looked like shortly after hitting the ground. I lay there immobile in a state of shock, but some very nice girls whose names I didn’t get stopped and helped me. Once they gotten me up off the ground they escorted me down the street to a local pharmacy which turned out to not be a real pharmacy. They then took me from there even further down the street to a branch of the Boots pharmacy chain, where there was a minute clinic type set up. 

The pharmacist was busy talking to some other customers when I waddled up and asked for help, with blood trickling down my face. First she said “please stand in line and wait your turn.”, and then looked up at me and said, “apparently you take priority!” The people she’s been talking to were not particularly thrilled with this until they turned around and took one look at me and agreed that in fact I did. She took me into the clinic area and cleaned up my forehead and put a bandage on it and then took me out to the street and put me into a cab and directed it towards the nearest hospital with an emergency room, namely the Chelsea and Westminster hospital.

I then got to experience yet another example of how by comparison to other industrialized countries the US health system is seriously fucked up. I went into the waiting room, had to wait for more serious patients to go ahead of me – – keep in mind my forehead had already been cleaned up and bandaged by the woman at the pharmacy. When they finally saw me — The room has been pretty full when I arrived and I had a wait of maybe an hour, they cleaned my wond up a little bit more and put surgical super glue over the cuts to help them heal (and keep more blood from escaping– as we all know head wounds are heavy bleeder’s). when I asked how much it was going to cost me, this visit to the emergency room … keep in mind that in the United States if I even step foot into an emergency room I am hit with a bill for $1000, and that’s before seeing the doctor. When I was in Australia they charged me $134 to walk into the room, $134 to see the doctor, $134 for the CAT scan, etc.… So at the very least I was expecting some sort of fee of a few hundred dollars. To my shock and awe they informed me I owed them NOTHING!!!

The second picture on the upper left top row is what I look like when I woke up the next morning. The day started out with a small black eye swelling in my inner tear ducts adjacent to my nose, and progressed rapidly over the course of the day, most of which was spent at the airport or on a plane heading to Reykjavík. The third picture starting from the left in the second row is what I look like the next morning waking up in Reykjavík, and from that point on every photograph was taken once a day over the ensuing days. By the time I left Reykjavík the bottom right picture all I had left were lines that made me look like a football player.

What was kind of funny is that in spite of the fact that my eyes were deep purple almost nobody said anything to me about them, other than my best friend who flew in from Chicago to spend that week with me. There was one exception, one elderly man who I met in the waiting area for the flight to Reykjavík said to me, “I have a bet with my wife, she thinks you’re just doing some sort of weird make up thing, but I said that you had fallen and hit your forehead and that you have black eyes as a result.” Apparently the same thing that happened to him as a kid.

What I was most impressed by, and my Best friend felt the same, was just how impressively balanced the swelling was. It really did look like eyeshadow I had applied to my eyes, So I can’t fault people for thinking that that was what it was.

Continue reading “I fell down and went boom yet again…”

Technology struggles

So my reliable mid 2015 15″ MacBook Pro started to break down a few weeks ago. First I noticed that the case was not closing completely, which seemed a little weird. But then I remembered that this might be because the battery was starting to swell-up. I took a good look at the curvature of the keyboard and sure enough it wasn’t flat. However because I completely lacked any sort of back up computer (my old one refused to bootup a few months ago)  I was putting off taking it in for repairs becausethe thought of being a couple of days without a computer terrified me; I’m currently on the road in Florida. But then, after a few days, the fan started to sound like there was a butterfly caught inside my machine, and it was a very unhappy butterfly… 

Last night I realized that if I didn’t do something soon I might find myself without a computer entirely, so I got on Facebook and asked my friends what I should do. The general consensus was rather than buying a new computer I should, since I did not currently own one, buy an iPad. Apparently with the new Mac operating system iPads now function as a second screen while using the MacBook. (Till now I haven’t had one because it’s far as I was concerned it was just an iPhone with out phone capability, and a much larger screen.) Also as a friend of mine pointed out to me I’ve been having problems dealing with legal documents while on the road because I don’t have a way to print them out, then sign them, then scan them and send them back to whoever sent them to me. she said that with an iPad and it’s electronic pencil I would be able to sign the document on the iPad and send it back very easily. Those two functions seemed worth it, and it might be able to act as a back up computer for when I need to take my computer in to be fixed without being simultaneously redundant. So I got online I purchased an iPad and had it waiting for me at the Apple store when I went to drop off my computer to be repaired.

The repair, thanks to the fact that my Apple care warranty was still up-to-date (just barely), is completely free but will require about 10 days for the turnaround. so I am for the first time in my life trying to do a blog post on the iPad. It’s a learning experience. I had thought that I could spend these 10 days catching up on blog posts. My first thought was that I would only be able to do the writing part and not the photos but actually the inputting of media on this application seems pretty intuitive. Not being able to have multiple windows open at the same time is kind of a pain in the ass but otherwise it’s pretty easy. So that’s the plan because I’m not gonna be able to play World of Warcraft on this Thing that’s for sure!

What I can’t seem to figure out how to do on the app is how to tag and categorize the blog posts.

Hello from Disney World!! Yet, AGAIN…

For anyone who reads me regularly (I have no idea if that animal exists) I’m still taking a vacation from my vacation. BUT, as I don’t actually own a home I have to be somewhere, and since it’s winter, I’m once again in Florida doing the snow bird/Disney World thing. I have rented a master suite in an apartment in the amusement park capitol of the world in the home of an Airbnb host I’ve gotten quite friendly with during previous stays (so it’s a bit like being at a friend’s home, but not quite), bought myself the obligatory yearly Disney pass (which makes economic sense after day 10) WITH the photo pass option, and have been going to the parks pretty much nightly. Regarding the pass, got talking with some other folks who I noticed were taking advantage of EVERY photographer in the park, and the father said he did the math and you need to have 8K photos taken before the extra cost of the photo option makes sense… I’m not sure I agree as most of my friends can’t take a decent photo and you don’t get the photoshopped in extras at home without a lot of work.

I’m liking my new Hawaiian style ears, the flowers look surprisingly realistic up close

Regarding Why go to Disney YET again, particularly since when I left here two years ago it was with a case of extreme boredom. Well… After all my recent falls, I don’t feel safe walking most places anymore. My right foot seems to start dragging whenever I get fatigued, and if the walkways aren’t level, which most city streets are not, I run the risk of tripping. The past 3 months I’ve been staying in places that were pretty suburban and I’ve barely gotten ANY exercise… and put on more than few pounds as a result.


Disney walking areas are VERY level, as in you could be inside a mall while outdoors, level. And just walking from parking (I tend to arrive in the evenings so I park at the back of the lot) to the park and one rotation around the park itself gets me 1 hour aerobic exercise according to my apple watch, and about 10K steps… takes me about 3 hours to pull that off, but it happens. I haven’t stepped on a scale but my belt has gone from the last hole to the 2nd one… so I think I may be loosing some of what I gained.

The line, top right, is for Jungle Cruise (a 5 minute wait), but you get the idea, as that queue is normally 45 minutes to an hour long

Got here about Jan 7 and for most of the week the parks were still pretty packed, but just this past weekend there was a visible drop in attendance which should continue till about Spring break (early April) … at which point I’ll head back north. So in otherwords the first few days didn’t get on any rides because I’m no fan of standing in line for more than 10 minutes … but just this weekend I was able to walk right onto (with no standing and waiting at all) It’s a Small world, The Haunted Mansion, and Spaceship Earth over at Epcot (all of this done at or around 7pm +, i.e., after the tourists have gone to dinner or home, or were watching the fireworks show).

That said, my mornings are still spent playing World of Warcraft while listening to books on tape, just like in the last post. The newest books include:

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States
By: Sarah Vowell

Sarah Vowell, whose voice on this audible book you may recognize if you were a fan of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (because Jon was a fan of hers), is a historian/comedian who with her squeaky/nerdy voice imparts a lot of wit, sarcasm and comments that had me full out laughing into her work that you might miss if you read it instead of listened to it. This is the sort of book where I want to now, having heard it, buy a paper copy, and listen again while underlining and highlighting the text — because she says some really insightful things about our history that at 55 and having been a history major I’ve never heard before and went, “DUH! that makes so much sense… why haven’t I heard that before?”

In the Shadow of the Sword: The Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire, By: Tom Holland

Was originally assigned this book for a class on Israel and the Arab nations, or some such, which I ended up dropping during the first week (could already tell the professor and I would be at loggerheads and I had over enrolled anyway … but a few years later decided that since the book was on Audible I’d get it and listen… I vaguely remember our professor had only assigned various chapters telling us the book goes WAY off topic, and boy does it. It almost feels like the writer knew a lot about Christian and Jewish civilizations of the period around the time of Muhammad, and wanted to throw all that in since what we actually about about the development of the nations under the umbrella of Islam is kind of sketchy other than there’s actual secondary independent historical evidence that the guy actually existed, which is more than you can say for Jesus or pretty much anyone in the old testament, let alone Moses. So, in short the book is hard to follow, and harder to remember because there’s so many details and no central storyline.

Jane Austen at Home: A Biography
By: Lucy Worsley

Fascinating book. I’m an Austen fan, have read most of the books, seen all the movies (and different versions of… including the modern retellings)… and have even watched any number of documentaries about the lady… and MOST of what was in this book was eye opening for me. For any serious fan of the lady and her work, this is a must read. That said, I listened, not read… and the reader is VERY good…. Worsley does the intro and the little extra bit at the end, and sad to say her writing is easier to take in when not read by her.

That said… am currently working my way through:

This book focuses on the British fascination with murder. Apparently once public hangings and the ability to trounce all over active murder investigation scenes was denied the British public, this morbid need was replaced with murder mysteries. Or at least that’s Worsley’s theory. She then goes through a history of famous murders and talks about how they worked their way into English Literature. Apparently for instance, readers of Dickens’ time would have known Oliver Twist was a crime novel based on the title, as a twist was slang of the time for someone who hung from a noose; and Austen’s Northanger Abbey wasn’t a romance so much as a sendup of the popular horror novels of her age (the heroine is a young girl who’s read too much of them goes to the abbey expecting ghosts and horror — as the world Abbey would be another keyword in a title that would communicate to readers of the time that this would be a horror book, only to discover more realistically disturbing issues, such as how many rich people of Austen’s time owed their wealth to slavery… something the Austen Biography I read just before this had also discussed). …. but like I said I’m not done with this book yet.

Travels of the mind… or what I’ve been doing the last 3 months (30+ book reviews)

So… this has been a very busy year travel wise. I was out of the country for pretty much nine full months: four months in Australia, a few weeks in New Zealand, a few months in Israel, two weeks in the French Alps in a town outside of Geneva (which I think I haven’t posted anything about yet — sorry), over three months in London, and a week in Iceland. Actually according to Google I was in 8 countries (USA, England, Iceland, Israel, France, Switzerland (mostly as a transit point), Australia, New Zealand) and 43+ cities this year…

When I got back I wanted a vacation from my vacation. After 5 years of pretty much non stop traveling all I wanted to do was curl up in bed and not move; I in fact wanted to play World of Warcraft (WOW) while listening to some of my huge backlog of audible books that I’ve purchased over the past 5 years but not listened to — I’ve got over 500 at this point.

(Didn’t even want to even think about the 150 or so blog posts about travel places I went to which I still have to write about — those will come later.)

WOW is a game I used to play obsessively, maybe 10 years ago (?) but stopped because I realized it was eating up my life and actually making me depressed. But, I realized I’ve been missing it and decided to start playing again; blew my mind, but when I contacted the company and when I mentioned that I had USED to play it 10 years ago, they asked me a few questions to confirm my identity, and they STILL had all my avatars on file on their servers and were able to reactivate them!!! And… yes, these are two things I do simultaneously (listen to books while playing video games). Let’s face it World of Warcraft doesn’t really require focused attention most of the time, and I avoid the parts  of the game that do anyway … I just need/wanted something to do while listening to my books other than driving (I fell down and went boom again, this time in London, while trying to walk and listen to books at the same time, so apparently I can no longer do that safely).

So in this blog post I’m going to now list every one of the 30+ books I’ve listened to since early October — in the order that I read/listened to them… and my book reviews of the same:

The first book I “read” was:

Anansi Boys By: Neil Gaiman

I’m a huge Gaiman fan… started this book while in Israel, but then stopped reading it in order to read some stuff about Iceland, and didn’t get around to finishing it till I’d returned to the USA. It’s in the same vein as American gods (possibly my favorite Gaiman book) and some consider these two to go hand in hand … but this time he delves into the world of African gods, with the Anansi (spider) and Tiger stories and the competition between these two archetypal gods… only like in American Gods they’re not dead, and Anansi has two sons (or are they) whose story this is

The Vikings in Iceland: The History of the Norse Expeditions and Settlements across Iceland

Finished reading this one on October 13th… and while it’s probably a book I should have read BEFORE going to Iceland, well … better late than never. It was pretty good and explained some of what I had seen that the tour guides hadn’t explained all that well. There’s really not that many books in Audible that you can listen to about Iceland, but this was pretty good and worth the time. So, interesting book, short and informative for those of us wanting some background on icelandic culture before traveling there, shame about the narrator, who could probably put you to sleep no matter what he was reading

Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English  by John McWhorter

Did the audible version, read by the author who’s a pretty well known linguistics professor. This guy reads his own work as well as Neil Gaiman does — which is gloriously well. The story is both utterly fascinating and impressively boring, as he goes over points of grammar and word usage in order to argue that the generally accepted ideas about how English evolved just don’t hold water in the light of new evidence (some of it genetic) which forces us to look again and consider other options… such as welsh and celtic which tend to be neglected because none of the academics studying the topic ever bothered to learn those two …. and other facts..

Crystal Singer By: Anne McCaffrey

This series is one of my favorite books. I’ve been reading it over and over again for over 20 years… so was thrilled to see it on audible, and then very sad to discover it’s abridged. All the major story points are there, but all the lovely details have been removed. The narrator talks FASTER than pretty much every other narrator on audible, but once I got used to it I realized it was at the same speed I read, and as a result I found it easier to drop into that film in your head sensation I get from reading that is usually missing on audible.

Killashandra: book 2 of the Crystal singer trilogy, again by: Anne McCaffrey

So like I said, this series is one of my favorite ones … so was thrilled to see it on audible, and then very sad to discover it’s abridged. Same issues as last time. That said, the SOUND quality on this recording borders on unbearable… there’s like a scratchiness to it, it’s embarrassing

Crystal Line (book 3 of the trilogy)

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE someone get the right from McCaffrey to re-record these things unabridged this time… and with better sound quality

Norse Mythology  by Neil Gaiman

Granted, I’d heard of the norse gods via comic books, vague remembrances of things I learned in grade school and from friends of mine who actually still practice that religion (or think they do), but my personal knowledge of the myths was limited, and having JUST returned from Iceland where there’s a lot of mention of these myths, I kind of felt it was time to brush up on it… and Gaiman, who I LOVE just released this book, so… that said: Loki totally isn’t who I thought he was, and Oden can be a bit silly, and Thor well… again not what I assumed based on Marvel comics … so it was good to learn more about them and of course no one reads Gaiman like Gaiman, so in general try to get audibles of his books that are read by him.

Peter Pan By: J. M. Barrie

Read this as a kid, decided to re-read it based on all the pop culture references (other than Disney) that comment on how Peter is NOT QUITE how Disney interpreted the story but having no memory of that from when I read it as a kid … That said,  it’s pretty much the same as the Disney cartoon in the broad brush strokes, but it’s the small details that are oh so different… Barrie makes comments about what’s going on … he doesn’t dwell on it and doesn’t emphasis it, but as an adult you’ll find your “well THAT’s NOT RIGHT!” antenna getting tweaked. Peter’s character really is pretty dysfunctional, and even for a little boy, he’s a fairly nasty piece of work…

Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook by: Christina Henry

I followed up listening to Peter Pan with a listen to this modern (totally different author) prequel of the history between Peter and Hook… a telling which is NOT appropriate for children by the way, this book was intense. Won’t spoil it for you but wow…. You’ll never look at either character the same way again… Henry takes all the subtle inferences from the Barrie classic and runes with them

Animal Farm By: George Orwell

Sure I read this back in high school … but that was 30 years ago. Time for a re-read so… Aimed squarely at Communist Russia, and other totalitarian governments etc, Animal Farm UNFORTUNATELY never ceases to be a disturbingly relevant book. Well performed, good sound quality

I’m someone who only ever gets the unabridged versions of things… but after slogging my way through this… well, of the 25 hours and 30 minutes of listening time, there’s maybe 8 hours that could have been edited out. In the first 5 hours you learn ALL about her family’s history and the founding of Pasadena. If the young Julia fell down while riding her bicycle it’s probably in there… I now know about every failed romance and part time job she ever had… and then … as you start to get to the end of the book … well you know that scene in in the movie “Julie & Julia” where the young cook whose been blogging about working her way through every recipe in Julia’s seminal work, The Art of French Cooking finds out that Julia knew about her blog didn’t like what she’d been doing it and the poor girl breaks down into tears… well lets just say the book makes it pretty clear that Julia in her 80’s could be quite the B*&ch and her response to Julie’s blog was consistent with that… and to be honest as someone who grew up watching Julia Child on PBS with my mother, I’m not sure I wanted to know that…

As to the performance, by the END of the book the reader had figured out how to bring some of Julia’s distinctive voice into the reading of her words, but it was only by about hour 18 that she started to do it… in the early chapters it was totally not there, distractingly not there… in fact this reader lacked ANY ability to bring distinctive voices to the characters whose ‘quotes’ she was reading… so there’s that

The Atrocity Archives: A Laundry Files Novel By: Charles Stross

Friend of mine started up a monthly Sci Fi book club, and since I was going to be in town for a few months I decided to attend, this was the book for October. Quite funny story… it’s a toss up of what’s more terrifying, lovecraft influenced monsters from parallel universes that want to invade our reality and kill us, or the mundane bureaucracy of office life. Reader did a real good job creating distinct voices, accents and personalities for all the different characters.

Below Stairs: The Classic Kitchen Maid’s Memoir That Inspired ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ and ‘Downton Abbey’ By: Margaret Powell

Delightful listen, I listened to the audible version and it was JUST so well read and fun. If you love those shows, you’ll want to read this book

A Game of Thrones  (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1) By: George R. R. Martin

Having LOVED the TV show I figured it was time to tuck into the original books as most of my friends had read them BEFORE the series came out on HBO. With regards to the audiobook… Honestly I don’t know what the reader was thinking!!! And it was borderline offensive… Tyrion has an irish accent, like a leprechaun!! NONE Of the other Lannisters have an Irish accent. One gets the feeling the guy didn’t actually read the book before narrating it… because as the book progresses he drops the sing song of it, maybe as he realized how smart the character was… not sure. But early on some of his best lines, some of which have gone on to be on Tshirts and the like, such as “all dwarves are bastards in their father’s eyes” get muddled and lost. That and it makes you appreciate how much Dinklage did with that character… Other than that the book’s great

A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 2) By: George R. R. Martin

Happy to announce that Tyrion lannister’s character no longer sounds like a leprechaun, as he did in the first novel… which improves the reading immensely. I am convinced the reader didn’t bother to actually READ the book before recording it… and then realized just how stupid he’d been at the outset. Also there’s all sort of stuff in this book that wasn’t in the TV show

A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 3) By: George R. R. Martin

so book 3… and while Tyrion no longer sounds like a leprechaun, like in book 1, the reader seems to keep losing track of what voices he’s assigned to what characters (which makes it very confusing) … and the lannister father sounds like churchill… and let’s keep in mind each of these books has been about 30+ hours of listening EACH…

A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 4) By: George R. R. Martin

Still a lot of overlap with the TV show, but this is where it diverges and things happen to some of our favorite characters that you won’t be prepared for and made me very sad. That said, I’m still NOT a fan of the reader, as I’ve made plain in my other reviews of the previous books. He doesn’t have a broad range of voices, nor can he keep straight which voice he used for whom. Considering what a massive hit the show was I wish they’d hire a full cast to re-do the recording… or at least a few people with more versatility

Hyperion By: Dan Simmons

Remember the book club? Well this was their November selection. Happily it was a book that was already on my to read list (I discovered it on some reading list somewhere of SciFi books you should read). It’s essentially Canterbury tales meets Alien (the movie) I suppose… well performed with a different performer doing each tale, with a woman playing the woman — like Game of Thrones SHOULD have been, very interesting, well written… what more can a girl ask for… but be prepared for an ending that leaves you hanging… guess I have to read book 2

Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders (a collection of short stories and poems) by Neil Gaiman

I love Gaiman’s work, and some of the stories and poems in this themeless collection are great, some no so much. It’s kind of like he had all of these short stories and an obligation to his publisher and just kind of threw them together. There’s really no central core to thing… but that said, there’s some really good stuff in there. I listened to audible version, read by him… and…. there’s no pause between stories. One ends the next begins and there’s no clear end (like an audible que… I listened to one audiobook that putt a sheep bahhhh sound at the end of every chapter) or pause so that if your not paying attention, well it can get very confusing.

A Moveable Feast By: Ernest Hemingway

I KNOW this is supposed to be one of the best books by one of the best authors EVER… but sorry, I don’t get it. Its one of those ones I had never gotten around to and figured I should…  Is it a book about fitzgerald or paris? So confused.

A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 5) By: George R. R. Martin

So I took a break from the series because I had to read that book for the book club, and then read a few other things before I could lug myself back to the last (so far published) book in the Game of Thrones series. Again, the previous ones were over 90 hours of listening… I needed a break! There’s some crucial differences between the books and the show… just saying. My complaints about this production is what I’ve been saying all along, the reader kind of sucks rocks. He seems to love doing Winston Churchill impersonations, and the voices for characters are inconsistent and his female voice are like fingers on a chalkboard… Am hoping that once the last book gets written, IF it gets written … they’ll redo the series with maybe a few different readers… or someone with more aptitude for voices

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

The actress Annette Bening give a well done performance of this classic novel. Mrs Dalloway was part of the modern movement in literature. It is one day in the life of the title character, a sort of shallow upper class london housewife, and a second wife, a woman who’s husband has come back from WWI a hero, with a severe case of PTSD. There’s no “story” as such, nothing really happens, but rather it’s stream of consciousness as the individuals go through their day — which for the most part is how Woolf liked to write

The Hours by Michael Cunningham

This is Prize winning book of those literary exercises writers like to do. Before you read this book I STRONGLY suggest you read — or as I did, re-read Virginia Woolf’s classic, Mrs. Dalloway FIRST. This modern book is based entirely on that classic one and you won’t really get what’s going on if you don’t know that book fairly well. There are 3 characters in this book, Virginia Woolf — it starts off talking about her suicide when she finally gave up on her life long struggle (her first breakdown was at age 13) with what is generally recognized today as having been bipolar disease. The other two characters are spread out over time, one in the 1950’s the third around 2000, during the height of the AIDS epidemic. All the stories are either about Woolf writing Mrs Dalloway and what she was trying to do in the book, or are lives that echo the book. This audiobook was read by the author (Cunningham) who does a fairly decent job of it — not all authors do.

Orlando By: Virginia Woolf

And finishing off my Virginia Woolf week, Orlando is one of my very favorite books. I was first assigned it in a freshman year in college literature class. I’ve since re-read it a couple of times and took the opportunity while in the UK (back in my 20’s) to go to the house that it’s about (it’s a day trip from London). That said, I recently decided to listen to it (don’t think I’ve read it in 15 years, and wanted a refresher). It’s very confusing and might be considered a fantasy until you realize that Woolf was talking in the abstract about the legal laws of inheritance in the UK; Orlando isn’t a person that never dies, but rather represents the title as granted by queen Elizabeth and passed down through the generations. In this case it’s Woolf’s girlfriend … which is why rather than doing her normal stream of consciousness the book’s got an actual story. The book is essentially a protest against the unfair laws of inheritance which bias towards the first born male and essentially disinherit women of their birthrights. . A fairly radical piece of feminist literature for it’s time. That said, the performance is good

Oryx and Crake (MaddAddam Trilogy, #1)  by  Margaret Atwood

Atwood sure does have a bleak view of our futures doesn’t she? From the author of A Handmaid’s tale, this dystopia is one where we’ve essentially bioengineered ourselves into extinction… really well written and fascinating, but oh so bleak. I listened to the Audible version, well performed. There’s a debate as to which of the books in this series to read first as Atwood jumped around in her timeline… but this is the book she published first, and it’s the one she wants you to read first. In fact other readers have commented that if you don’t, her next book doesn’t explain stuff you need to know because she assumes THIS was the first book you read — and here it is explained.

The Courtiers: Splendor and Intrigue in the Georgian Court at Kensington Palace
by Lucy Worsley

10 hours of nothing but court gossip, who slept with whom, nasty divorces (before people could get divorced), and people using sex and intrigue to get access to the king. That said, I prefer this sort of history to the boring old fashioned battles and politics focus. The Reader is very good and is skillful at different accents.

If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home by Lucy Worsley

A history of the British home, how it changed over time (the idea of dedicated rooms for instance) and varied by place in society. She talks about how social norms regarding the little things, bathing, eating, cost of manual labor, etc., impacted if and when technologies were accepted into the home (like is bathing a good thing? And should it be done with cold water or hot?) so that things we assume a house should have may or may not have shown up irrelevant of had someone invented the tech to allow it. Breakfast for instance was NOT a normal meal the 20th century apparently… brunch was. It makes sense if you think about the time and effort required to get a fire going and food prepared from scratch… and demanding food before then was considered immature… people stopped eating before the sun went down until electric lighting was developed., etc. I “listened” the audiobook version of this. At first I had a hard time with the reader’s accent (sounds a bit like Barbara Walters on a bad day) and she tends to drown on so that it’s easy for your mind to wander.

The Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England by Ian Mortimer

The sequel to Mortimer’s equally good guide to Medieval England, this history book is written as though Time Machines are a real thing, and you need, while getting ready to travel in one, a guide book to prepare you for your visit. It goes into all the little survival things you’ll need to know that were different back then, down to how to wipe your backside and what kind of things can get you in trouble with the authorities… as well as what years you might want to show up if you want to see this amazing play performed by the actors it was written for, or see that architectural wonder before it’s pulled down, not to mention avoid that plague, or horrible harvest. It’s a fascinating way to look at history, that includes not just the famous, but the everyday. I ‘listened’ rather than read it, and the performance is VERY good.

Evelina: Or, the History of a Young Lady’s Entrance Into the World by Frances Burney

If you’re a Jane Austen fan than you MUST read Evalina by Frances Burney (1778), which Jane declared to be her favorite book. In fact Burney is the creator of the sort of social commentary genre, that focuses particularly of women teetering on the edge of the British upper classes for whom a good marriage or a source of their own money was imperative. As a result these stories all include romance, but aren’t actually about them. Just like Austen, this book is VERY funny (in fact funnier and good bit sillier… but, I STRONGLY recommend it, and the book totally holds value 200+ years later (in fact it feels more modern than Austen in spite of being older), so I seriously wonder why it was never assigned to me in a literature class — especially considering the author was a woman! (One of my best friends who I’ve been telling about the book was a literature major and she’s scratching her head about that too, as she’d never heard of it.) That said, while it’s pretty clear that Austen’s Pride and prejudice (1813) was influenced by this book — you hear echos of it throughout, although this story crosses the line into soap opera and has some of the laugh out loud silliness later seen in Oscar Wilde’s “The importance of being Earnest” (1895). The titular character is beyond bland and its doubtful her story would be interesting except for she’s suppose to be quite the stunner and men fall over themselves as a result (I think that’s part of the author’s point in terms of how society values women) but is surrounded by some amazing characters. I “listened” to the audiobook version of this, the performances were wonderful.

The Astronaut Wives Club by  Lily Koppel

Kind of an interesting perspective on the space race from the point of view of of the wives of the astronauts. These women became very tight knit as they supported themselves not only through the obvious stress and strains of husbands who have dangerous jobs, but also the press obsession with them and how they had to present themselves as the perfect 1950’s housewives or their husbands wouldn’t be allowed to go. It’s a quick read, and I think worth it. I listened to the audible version and it was a good performance.







Theater Review: Education, Education, Education… a boring musical that’s probably only entertaining if you get the insider’s jokes

I love London. My dad grew up there and my family spent so much time there during summer vacations — not to mention my semester at London’s Royal College of Art — that I feel it’s my second home. So, growing up we did most of the MAIN tourist things… so when I go there I tend not to aim towards those sorts of things any more than I would in home Chicago. For me, London is and always has been about theater! (My mom loved theater so much that she often took us to two shows a day, and occasionally crammed in three).


One of the shows I saw this trip was Education, Education, Education


So… I’ve said this before, but in case you’ve not read that post… 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).


The Trafalgar Studios, while while being listed as a Grade II English Heritage building, is still a relative modern space by comparison to the Gielgud where I saw Sweat, a theater that like a lot of London is NOT handicapped accessible. The Trafalgar was built in the 1930’s and (as such) has an actual elevator for people with mobility issues. The space is split into two smaller venues that used to house television productions (hence the name studios), but currently tends to house new productions, which if they become major hits are then then moved into larger venues. If you look the picture above you’re seeing all the seating front to back. You can see how the seating was designed to host audiences viewing live TV productions, with a few more rows of seats now added at the very bottom where the cameras and staff used to be located. And it’s a very small space, so viewing is good for pretty much all seats

View of the stage from my seat, note how it tilts down at the front

The show, which only had the suspiciously short run of only a month, was described as a “whip-smart love letter to education in the 90s” that was “jam-packed” with the musical hits of the day … but that said, the show bored me — a MUSICAL bored me (the mind boggles). As a former educator I hoped it would appeal to me, and the girl who sold me the tickets promised it was a very good show… but I had a feeling in retrospect that its the sort of thing that you really have to be British in order to fully enjoy. I wasn’t and found myself getting irritated by the heavy handed cynical tone. I assumed that had been full of inside jokes (but didn’t hear a lot of other people laughing when I wasn’t) that you had to be very familiar with the state of education during the Tony Blair administration to understand well enough to “get the joke,” (he was the UK’s left leaning Prime Minister from 1997 to 2007, around the same time as Clinton and Bush Jr.,) as the show kept making references to expected increases in school funding. Upon writing this post I learned that even the title was an inside joke, as “Education, Education, Education” was how Blair had described his priorities when he took office, according to this BBC article, and in fact if you read their article pretty much all the points the show made there. Who knows, maybe everyone else in the theater was also a tourist and as such none of us were getting it, so to speak.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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…


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…


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).

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.]


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.


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



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)


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.


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.


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…


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.

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.

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.

“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.


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.


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


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.

London’s National Theater’s reimagining of the play “Top Girls”

Top Girls is a play in four acts written by Caryl Churchill who is considered by some to be the UK’s leading socialist-feminist playwright. Her works tend to explore topics such as gender construction (a topic that I’ve spent a lot of time teaching), sexual politics (a political theory named after a book that is obligatory reading for anyone studying feminism) and abuses of power. The production I saw was put on the London’s National Theater, and took some research to try to understand because of choices made by the director that resulted in confusion for people (like myself and my cousin) who had no knowledge of the play in advance.

First produced in 1982, and is set in 1980’s Britain, it is the type of show that tends to be done in smaller venues — or in US parlance, it’s the sort of off off broadway type of show that is intentionally NOT intended to be commercial, and as such in general will only appeal to hard core theater aficionados who like their shows to have a political message, and the actors performing the parts.


Anyone who reads my blog regularly knows I advise everyone to check out the Txts booth in Leicester Square as a matter of course. One of the exceptions to this rule is anything put on by the National Theater. Their tickets should be purchased either online or from their box office, because they’re already government subsidized and are never discounted further.

Sadly, I completely forgot to take any photos for this play or of the theater… not even my obligatory one of me holding the ticket. There are however no shortage of press release images of the production on google (follow this link). In my defense, at the time I was suffering a serious case of the dizzies, was staying at my cousin’s (from my dad’s side) place way out the suburbs, when a cousin from my mom’s side informed me she was in London and suggested I buy tickets for this play and we could meet up there. I knew NOTHING about the show going in. Because of the dizzies, going there alone from his place out in the suburbs was not in the cards, so I convinced him to come along and he drove. As luck would have it, my other cousin was nowhere to be seen, and didn’t bother returning any of my txts till well after the show when we were well on our way back home.

The first scene of the play I found quite compelling. It involves the central character of the play — a modern British woman, Marlene, who’s just been promoted to the head of her office at a job placement agency, who is throwing herself a celebratory dinner party and has invited as her guests famous women of antiquity. (One is forced to wonder if maybe she has no real life friends to turn to because she’s been so focused on her work.) So not only did the play delve into issues of gender construction and feminist issues, but did so on a backdrop of women from different points of history, and different cultures… so RIGHT up my alley so to speak.

Her first guest to arrive is Isabella Bird, a woman out of history that would be familiar to most of Churchill’s British audience members, as they’re most likely the sort of highly cultured and educated sort who watch history shows on the BBC and probably attended University (like I said, off off broadway). This second character in effect is setting the scene for all of the following characters that might be less familiar to the show’s audience. For those who don’t know her (lord knows I did not, but my British cousin claimed he sort of remembered who she was) Bird was an independent woman traveller, writer and photographer from 18th century England. She was a prolific travel writer with 28 titles to her name, which include: The Englishwoman in America (1856) — her first hit book which was based on all of the letters she’d written home about her travels, and was followed by other like works such as Unbeaten Tracks in Japan: Travels of a Lady in the Interior of Japan (1879), and Among the Tibetans (1894) — that were again based on her letters home. Most of Bird’s titles are still in print, and her A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains is even available as an Audiobook! This tells you relevant her works still are. Since her death, she’s had numerous biographies written about her, and has even has a series of Japanese manga about her called Isabella Bird in Wonderland, which focuses on her visit to Japan.

Her arrival in the play is shortly followed by the arrival of another historical figure, who is much more obscure, Lady Nijo, one of the Japanese Emperor’s concubines from 1271 to 1283, who later became a nun and wrote her autobiography. The book wasn’t a hit but had historical value, and as such one remaining copy (a 17th century printing) was discovered in the Emperor’s family library in 1940 and then republished under the titles The Confessions of Lady Nijo and also Lady Nijo’s own story; the candid diary of a thirteenth-century Japanese imperial concubine.  I searched Amazon and found these both of these titles still available for sale there, but no one biography.

The third guest was one I HAD heard of, Pope Joan. YES, you heard me, Pope JOAN (we don’t know what her actual name was)…  While the church denies that she ever existed, and to this day many historians discount her as myth, her story is well known and her possible existence helps to explain some weird things. Such as, there’s a VERY odd part of the Pope’s swearing in process — the existence of which makes no sense whatsoever, UNLESS she had existed. The story is that a woman fell in love with a priest, and was convinced by him to dress as a man and to join the church during the Middle Ages, so that they could stay together. Apparently she was so smart and capable, that she managed to rise to the top position (top girls anyone?), but had the bad luck to go into labor in the middle of religious procession. According to the character in the play, the robes helped hide her condition and folks just assumed she/he’d gotten fat. Her gender now discovered she either died in labor or was put to death, the play opted for killed. As a result, the whole path of that procession has been changed to avoid the street where she supposedly went into labor (one thing explained).  But the oh so odd part of the popes ritual swearing it helps explain, is that he has to sit on a contraption like a toilet seat with no bowl underneath, while he has his genitals inspected, to make sure they’re there… and more importantly, are of the right sort. Many people believe she was Pope John XX, which explains why this title is sometimes referred to as the missing pope (there’s nothing about that pope in the books, but the church has come up with a rationalization for the discrepancy)…

The fourth guest to arrive is, Dull Gret (also known as Mad Meg), a woman from Flemish folklore, who doesn’t have much to say, which makes sense as she’s a character from a 1563 oil-on-panel painting by Pieter Bruegel (the elder). In fact his painting of her, Dulle Griet, is one of his most famous works. Here she is depicted as a woman who is leading an army of other women in an attack on hell itself.

The final guest is another character from European folklore, Patient Griselda.  She was first written about by Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375) in his famous and influential work (I had to read it for a history class, it actually helped to spark a revolution) The Decameron. The story is by our perspective horrific. All British audience member should be somewhat familiar with her tale as one of the books Boccaccio’s work helped to influence was Chaucer‘s famous work, The Canterbury Tales, where she also appears. The basic story is that she’s a lower class woman married to an upper class man, attracted to her beauty, who over the years puts her through a series of horrific and mentally abusive tests of her patience and devotion to him… all of which she passes. At the end, her sufferings are rewarded. (It’s enough to make a modern woman gag.)

Once the dinner is over we are taken to the employment agency where Marlene works, and we meet her co-workers and some of the girls who are there applying for jobs. This scene is so incredibly different that it seemed like we were almost in a completely different play. It felt VERY disconnected. Later, after me and my cousin got home, I started researching the play and learned that in the original version, all the new characters that are introduced were SUPPOSED to have been played by the same actresses who had done the previous characters.

At this point the curtain comes down and the audience is released for an intermission. When we returned the next act, which at first seems to have nothing to do with what came before, and as such feels utterly disjointed. It’s two girls talking. And therein lays the problem with this production… Initially it was written so that the women who played the historical characters are then ‘re-cast’ into the modern day as other characters, and the fact that it’s the same actresses playing them helps to link the characters of the women we met before into these new modern day characters… Marlene is the only character that stays the same through the play.

In the later scenes we learn she is completely disconnected from her family. She and her sister no longer speak, and her sister’s child is biologically Marlene’s, who she had abandoned in order to become a “Top Girl.” All of which helps to explain the focused determination that got her there, but how that success had a cost in her personal relationships… which may be why when it was time to celebrate her achievement, her only companions were women from books and history.

However, because this production chose to expand the number of actors used, all of that subtext got lost. Both my cousin and I, who had never seen the original productions and knew nothing about the show going in, left the theater more than a bit confused. We debated it’s meaning the whole trek home to his place, and the next morning again over our breakfast. So if the point was to make us think, it was successful… but we both found ourselves independently going on to the internet to try to comprehend what we had just seen, because it was FAR from self evident based on the production.

To that end, while doing additional research for this article I found a BBC online University video that includes not just the entire play, but a preamble discussing it and an interview with the playwright. The downside of this video is that you don’t really get to enjoy the play and then hear a discussion of it, rather the ‘instructor’ inserts commentary right over the actors speeches…. which are hard enough to make out as one of Churchill’s favorite techniques is to use over-speaking…  multiple actors talking at once (the fact that she has the Japanese character doing this as well shows how little she understood Japanese culture, in my opinion).

I then found THIS 2nd rendition of it on Youtube, put on by a theater group in Seoul South Korea made up entirely of English speaking expats, of the ENTIRE play… all two hours of it.

But in this case it was recorded in a very low tech manner, so that you’ll need to strain to hear the actors … again.

Theater in London’s West End, The production of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize winner, “Sweat” and accessibility issues in the Gielgud Theatre

I love London. My dad grew up there and my family spent so much time there during summer vacations — not to mention my semester at London’s Royal College of Art — that I feel it’s my second home. So, growing up we did most of the MAIN tourist things… so when I go there I tend not to aim towards those sorts of things any more than I would in home Chicago. For me, London is and always has been about theater! (My mom loved theater so much that she often took us to two shows a day, and occasionally crammed in three). One of the many shows I saw this year was, Sweat (2017, Pulitzer Prize Winner) staring Martha Plimpton of the Carradine theatrical royalty family (getting to see your favorite actors live on stage is always an added treat).


So… I’ve said this before and I’m going to say it again … first rule of London theater is, as taught to me by my parents… 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). This show for instance had great reviews, but I was able to get the tickets at a discounted price, even buying them 2 days in advance.

Sweat: The Play — GREAT play, but in a bad theater space for anyone with mobility or hearing impairments 

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2f27.jpgSweat, the winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, was my first non-musical this trip. Its a fictional play based around economic dynamics in the town of Reading, Pennsylvania in 2011, when the United States Census Bureau, declared that because of the loss of heavy industry to offshoring, it had become one of the poorest cities in America. It is a show that is both funny, and highly disturbing.


I was looking forward to seeing it in large part because it was a chance to see Martha Plimpton, live on stage. I’d had the good luck to meet her (as in have an actual conversation with, back in 2006 while sitting on a tram at Disneyland waiting to go back to the parking structure — YUP, once again at a Disney park, there’s a trend here), and seriously enjoyed a lot of her large and small screen roles, but this was going to be the first time to see her on stage. That said, she did NOT let me down… granted, its the sort of role she tends to get cast into fairly regularly, a course working class girl or woman — so she’s had plenty of practice. This typecasting is ironic as she’s third generation acting royalty; her paternal grandfather was one of the best known character actors in Hollywood starting back in the 1930’s, the GREAT John Carradine. He was one of John Ford‘s go to actors, but was also in classics like the Grapes of Wrath and the Ten Commandments). Her dad is Keith Carradine (whose IMDB of roles in major films is as long as your arm) even those she chooses to go by the less known last name of her mother,  Shelley Plimpton (who is also a well respected actress in her own right) — probably to be better able to try to stand on her own merits. And, even her uncles, Robert Carradine, who was best known for his  Revenge of the Nerds series of movies, and the late David Carradine, who was best known for his lead role in the 1970’s TV classic Kung Fu, (and his ignominious death by autoerotic asphyxiation in a Bangkok hotel room’s closet in 2009) are/were both well known working actors. Even her aunt, Ever Carradine, is one of those actresses you instantly recognize even if you can not name her, and currently can be seen in Hulu’s major hit, The Handmaid’s TaleSo, like I said, Acting royalty.


I won’t spoil the play for you other than to say its got the kind of juicy roles in it actors love, and even though I tend to prefer comedies or musicals over serious plays with a political message, and a really disturbing ending.  I genuinely enjoyed and was moved by the performances. I was lucky because the play (which has bounced around a bit) was in the middle of a six week scheduled run at the Gielgud Theatre in London’s West End. Even though it was was very well reviewed, I suppose its serious nature turned away most London tourists, and as such I was able to get pretty good tickets at a discount. HOWEVER when I got there I found that the salesperson had screwed up a bit… I’m always clear about wanting to be in the stalls in FRONT of the balcony-overhang. When I got there I found I was well behind it, towards the back of the stalls. I HATE this because there’s almost always a slight reverb effect as the actors voices bounce off the walls, and you often end up listening to sound from speakers in addition to the actual sound from them… so I complained (the advantage of arriving to the theater early). I was HOPING they’d move me up in the stalls (there were plenty of better empty seats) but the Manager said if I wanted I could move to the balcony where they had some open first row tickets (at same price point), so I did that.

Two things about the theater the play was being shown in … Firstly… like a lot of old things in London, while the Gielgud is very beautiful, it’s also a complete disaster for anyone with severe mobility issues. While the UK has disability rights legislation on the books, implementing them has been a major issue as a result of the historic nature of most of the buildings. This one, for instance, was built back in 1906. It was originally called the Hicks theater, and then the Globe, before receiving its current name in 1994.


There are stairs everywhere, not an elevator in sight (there might be some backstage)… and they’ve NOT installed ANY ramps — not even where they reasonably could have, and GET THIS… the disabled bathroom is just through the doorway in the picture above, and you have to negotiate THREE steps to get to it… like I said, NO RAMPS … While there is a ground level door off to the side of the theater… even if you in through those side doors you STILL have to negotiate stairs to get to the handicapped bathroom!!! It’s absolutely imbecilic, and handicapped are relegated to the balcony as the stalls demand you negotiate a lot of stairs. The most recent refurbishment … when I assume the aforementioned bathroom was installed was in 2008, so you would THINK they’d have come up with a better work around for the disabled, but I guess not.


That said, while the theater offered a sound system for those with hearing issues, the sound coming out of it was actually WORSE than the sound from the stage. The Actors in the show aren’t wearing microphones, so they’ve got those hidden around the stage, and by the time the actors voices reach them, they’re distorted by reverb far worse than what you hear live.