Sunday, August 12, 2007

A flowering day

I love Fridays - not only do you have the weekend to look forward to but usually people tend to take extended lunch hours together (a full hour as opposed to a hasty 15 minutes) or leave slightly earlier than usual (at 6 rather than 7 or 8), especially if the weather is fine. This Friday morning, M and I got off a few tube stops earlier at Russell Square and strolled through Bloomsbury before parting for our respective offices. This is a sweet, lovely habit I want to stick to.

Later, during lunch, we met up on Tottenham Court Road and popped into a few computer stores as we're looking to buy a new PC. The laptop we have, though just 2 years old, just doesn't cut it for all the iTunes downloading and home movie editing I want to do. 2 years of course is the computer equivalent of 80 human years! Then we popped over to Charlotte Street for a quick meal at Josephine's - the Filipino restaurant. M kept his Blackberry on the table as we tucked into noodles with prawns and chicken in peanut sauce with fresh coriander.

We'll definitely come back here for dinner - the menu was packed with fish and seafood dishes, plus many with black pudding which surprised me at first but then I remembered that the Philippines were once a Spanish colony. Even without the Spanish influence, some east Asian countries such as Korea, Taiwan and China have some variation of blood sausage. I've always enjoyed black pudding. This always grosses most people out, but one of my favourite food experiences in South Dakota, aside from the sublime fillet mignon - the Dakotas being cattle ranching country - was on the Cheyenne River reservation where a medicine man-cum-carpenter (medicine man by night and during holy seasons and carpenter by day) made me a savoury sauce of beef's blood to dunk my bread into.

Back to London... Charlotte Street was heaving not with tourists but with office workers. Restaurants, bars and cafes pack themselves into this street. The sun was blazing, everyone was smiling, making the most of their extended lunch breaks too. Last summer, I remember overhearing an American tourist walking down Oxford Street moaning, "There's nowhere to eat in London!" I should have pulled her by her brightly coloured rucksack and said, "Turn left into Soho or right into Fitzrovia and you'll find a diverse wealth of places to eat, you lazy cow!" All she had to do was to stray a little off the beaten track...

In the evening, we met up in Farringdon at the bratwurst cafe Kurz & Lang for beers and hearty German sausages with fried potatoes, sauerkraut and mustard. Perched on high tables and stools outside, we watched the City boys and girls try and outdo each other with braying banter and copious amounts of booze.

This would have been enough for an evening's entertainment but earlier this year I had booked tickets for John Adams' A Flowering Tree at the Barbican. I booked them because I was very conscious that apart from Philip Glass and Steve Reich, I know very little about modern classical music. I had always read about Californian composer John Adams and had heard snippets of his famous Nixon In China. And we had great centre front seats in the stalls.

A Flowering Tree is a modern opera influenced by Mozart's The Magic Flute and based on a 2000-year old Tamil story about the redemptive love between a prince and a poor girl who transforms herself into a flowering tree in order to shed her flowers for sale to support her aging mother. But the girl's jealous sister-in-law persuades her to transform in front of her friends and they break off her branches, leaving her limbless and unable to transform herself back into human form. Separated from one another, the prince and the limbless tree girl languish - the pain of separation unbearable. But eventually they are reunited by servants. The tree girl is nurtured back to health and humanity and their love is restored and deepened.

Highlights for me were the lighting, which pulsed through blood red through turquoise blue to iridescent green; the tree girl soprano's exquisite voice that sounded like undulations of crystal clear water coursing up and down and through my body; the dramatic mixed choir from the Schola Cantorum de Venezuela dressed in traditional rainbow-hued Indian dress.

I've heard that John Adams was once considered a minimalist, but I would never have guessed. This was an unabashedly rich and romantic, multi-textured and shimmering performance.


childwoman said...

Holy Moly!! I know that story, I has seen the Tamil movie in Doordarshan on Sunday afternoon, I was 10 yrs old, then. And it is still there in my fascinated me so much. It was magical. I never knew that anyone was aware about the movie..oh lord, I am so ignorant.. :) but still, you brought back so many memories. Thanks

Silent One said...

How cool.. this brought back many memories as my mother used to tell us this story at bedtime, when we were children..
Have you looked at the new iMac ?? its soooooooo cool.. released very recently...the entire monitor + hard drive is smaller than my flat screen...

Planethalder said...

Amazing that you both heard this story!

Silent - I get more bang for my buck with a PC so I will stick to that but our designers at work use Macs and they do look very nice (though so do the new Sony Vaios).