Wednesday, May 23, 2007

London Can be Heaven

Back to London my old stamping ground - it was 40 years almost to the day since I first arrived (jobless, homeless, friendless) clutching a £20 note. In that distant era I stayed in a B&B off Kilburn High Road and spent the first night in an Irish pub watching Celtic beat Inter Milan 2-1 in the European Cup Final. This time I stayed in the Bonnington Hotel in Bloomsbury - small rooms, big breakfasts, wireless in rooms, great location (near Russell Square tube station and walking distance to the West End). On the whole I'd have preferred the stately splendour of the Russell Hotel but it was booked out.

First night involved catching up with old London friends - we met in the Lamb a fine old London pub (free of the ubiquitous tourists) off Aldbury Street behind the Russell Hotel . Next door was Ciao Bella a busy cheerful Italian restaurant that served splendid no bullshit food at reasonable prices - great service, great ambience and a great night was had by all. Nick sardonic, Dervilla talkative, Marietta probing, and Se avuncular and clubbable as ever. JP for once was hard pressed to get a word in.

The next day I started at Waterloo and walked along the South Bank to the Tate Modern - checking out the Rothkos there was my main aim. In truth there's not much else of note and the it contains 3 of the most contemptible pieces of 20th Century art: Carl Andre's bricks (the mundane trying to be significant ), Duchamp's urinal (a joke that has gone on far too long), and that great charlatan Beuys' detritus (flannel suits, blackboards, candles, twine etc.). The preponderance of flannel seemed apt as the ability to talk glibly and at great length about nothing seems his main talent. Little else of note except a dark and troubled seascape by Emil Nolde - an artist underrated due to his minor flirtation with the Nazis. The Rothkos have a room to themselves with subdued lighting - all the better to induce spiritual orgasms. They have a palpable looming presence that works even with the contagion of the throng.

Gormley's show is at the Hayward Gallery but it has spread itself to the roofs of dozens of nearby buildings. These are decorated with his life-size metal figures, slightly ominous and watching you. There's also one on Waterloo Bridge, brought down to earth and therefore less impactful. The show as a whole is playful and punter friendly - the kids will love it. You get to disorient yourself in a fog filled room; trip yourself up in a chamber of rods (one at a time please); walk tall amidst the skyscrapers; wonder at the giant delicately balanced Meccano-like construction; wonder at the well-wrought figures hidden in their metal cocoons; and admire mildly some delicate dark water-colours.

At the Apollo in Shaftsbury Avenue - starring the commendable Jessica Lange who relishes the part of the mother. It's a fine old Victorian theatre with lots of gilt and flourishes - it reminds me of a wider and brighter Gaiety. It's nice to bask in the sea of verbosity that is Tennessee Williams. Who cares if the mores are dated. No doubt these days the daughter would have hordes of "gentlemen callers" courtesy of the internet.