I'm a big fan of appreciating irony wherever it crops up in my life. It makes me laugh and keeps me at least slightly sane. It's a good thing since there seem to be just endless opportunities to recognize it. The latest instance being how it seems like I complained for eons of the claustrophobia of my very small hometown back in America and how a trip to the grocery store inevitably involves at least three to five conversations in the produce aisle, by the frozen foods, and again at check-out with very likely a friend, your former therapist, your kid's teacher, just to cite a few real life examples. It can be exhausting. But in other ways, efficient, as sometimes you see the person you've been meaning to call but never get around to it.
Quite to the other extreme, in my newly adopted English town, I couldn't throw a head of lettuce in the supermarket and hit anyone I know. And it's not for lack of trying. I'm outgoing, I talk to people in public places, and I smile a lot. But after three months of living here, I still don't know a soul. When we lived in Italy, and as I wrote about then, Italians can also be very difficult to get to know, but there the shopkeepers became my 'friends' and daily social outlet. But Italy has many more small shops where people can buy everything they need without ever going to the supermarket.
Here there is a cheese/wine shop, and the supermarket, which is where I must go for the majority of my shopping because the other shops, ie, the fishmonger and the hardware store, are so ridiculously overpriced as to be laughable that anyone would actually shop there unless the world were ending.
It is not very often that you can come across a place in London that people who have lived their whole lives here have never heard of. It gives the recently transplanted a sort of 'in the know' cache that is rather hard to come by. This happened to me recently when a friend and fundraising colleague invited me to an event at the St Bride Foundation and Library. This little known treasure trove of graphic and typographic arts, as well as bastion of history of the printing and publishing industry, is tucked away on a side street off of Fleet Street.
The evening was an opening reception for an exhibit of finalists and winners of a unique bookbinding competition featuring incredible purveyors of this artisan craftsmanship from around the world. The competition entrants were given the remit to design a book, from cover, inside layout, to cover, of a Shakespeare play of their choosing. The design needed to reflect both the title and storyline in some way. The results were stunning. I'd really never seen anything like it. The bookbinders used everything from incredible variations of paper, to other materials such as cloth, metal, and gilted gold. I was told that each would then be sold to high end collectors for anywhere from £5,000 to £30,000 each.
Despite having been around since the late 19th century, St Bride's has only relatively recently opened its doors to the public, suffering from what one can only assume was either over-protectiveness of their collections, or simply, British clubiness. Although with Reading Room hours only open from 11-6pm on Wednesdays, it doesn't seem that they are yet throwing open wide the doors. But if you do fancy a walk through some incredible history of the printed word, the library holds some 50,000 books, which include all the classic works on printing technique, visual style, typography, graphic design, calligraphy and more. There are 3,500 periodicals including all measure of typographic journals, and an incomparable record of artifacts that, according to their website, "bring the history of print culture to life." There are also wood blocks, copper plate and lithographic stones to exemplify the various techniques used to reproduce images. Plus, there are nearly 200 special collections comprising discrete groups of material, archives from trade bodies or companies, collections on particular topics, or specialized forms of material.
The Institute is also home to the Bridewell Theatre and Bar which features lunchtime and evening entertainment. The Foundation is embarking on a major fundraising campaign during which they hope to offer more printmaking workshops and training, as well as raise its profile with the public and make it much more accessible than it is now. And if you're wondering, no, I don't work for them! I just happen to think that finding anything off the beaten path in London with this much history, is worth passing on.
St Bride Foundation
Bride Lane, Fleet Street
London EC4Y 8EQ
T. 020 7353 3331
We are in London for the holidays and the other night we went to see the spectacle of “Slava’s Snowshow” at the Royal Festival Hall. It is no wonder it has been a hit in over 80 cities around the world. It truly transports every adult in the audience to a child-like state of wonder and glee. The kids don’t need any help – they’re already there. Slava Polunin is a Russian performance artist and clown who, along with his troupe of clowns, is the genius behind several other stage spectacles, including Diabolo, coined a “comical meditation on life, death and the beauty of the universe.”
What makes Slava Snowshow such a wondrous experience in simplicity and beauty is not only the humour in each skit, but I think the audience’s experience of becoming part of the spectacle itself. There is no dialogue throughout, but each segment is accompanied by any amazing soundtrack which is comprised of some familiar yet unexpected pieces – music from the film Black Orpheus, Paolo Conti, and Carmina Burana, for example.
‘Snow’ comes down on the audience, thick, tangly spider webs are passed back by the audience from the first row to the last, gusts of wind, light and snow are blasted at us in a climactic moment of Carmina Burana fervor, and finally, ginormous, brightly colored balloon-like balls are released into the theater and batted around the audience. The culmination of which turns the theater-going experience on its head as the clowns end, sitting on the stage, bemusedly watching their audience become children again and the auditorium is transformed into a joyous free for all where no one is left sitting down.
This might not appeal to everyone, but we certainly enjoyed it and it was oh so lovely to see L, who at times I can worry myself into thinking has become jaded by video games, swept up in awe and excitement at some good old fashioned theatrical spectacle.
actor-writer-director, improviser, mother, traveler, life renegade