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Posts Tagged ‘London’

Too Much of a Good Thing

October 17, 2014 | by

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An ad by Mensing & Stecher, ca. 1870.

Fact: two hundred years ago today, eight Londoners drowned in a flood of beer.

I don’t know what else to say.

I guess I can tell you a little about it: how it began at the Meux and Company Brewery on Tottenham Court Road, where an enormous vat ruptured, unleashing more than a hundred thousand imperial gallons of beer; how the force of that gushing beer apparently caused the brewery’s other vats to rupture, thus sending some 1,470,000 liters of beer into the streets; and how that beer washed through a nearby home, killing a mother and daughter as they took tea. The Times reported that “inhabitants had to save themselves from drowning by mounting their highest pieces of furniture.” And the story goes that that the beer deluged right through a living room where a wake was in progress, killing a few mourners with intoxicating irony.

When I learned of the flood, my first question wasn’t “How many people died?” It was “What kind of beer was it?” And according to no less reputable a source than FunLondonTours.com, the answer is porter. Porters tend to be pretty strong, so anyone who managed to gulp down a few mouthfuls as he or she was enveloped by the beer wave … well, you can see where I’m going with this.

For more on the flood, check out Atlas Obscura.

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Inside Stories

September 3, 2014 | by

Quentin Blake at the House of Illustration.

SP46b_16 Twits (c) QB 2010

From The Twits

Clown - LP72a024

From The Clown

LP32015A Wild Washerwomen (c) QB 1979

From The Wild Washerwomen

LP90A_089 Danny (c) QB 1997

From Danny Champion of the World

Quentin Blake - Inside Stories

Inside Stories

LP122a007 Sad Book (c) QB 2004

From Sad Book

LP10004 Capt Najork (c) QB 1974

From How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen

LP40025 Dancing frog (c) QB 1984

From The Story of the Dancing Frog

LP79018 Clown (c) QB 1995

From Clown

SP46b_23 Twits (c) QB 2010

From The Twits

SP162 p75 The Boy in the Dress (c) QB 2008

From The Boy in the Dress

SP173_005 Candide (c) QB 2011

From Candide

Located somewhat improbably behind King’s Cross St. Pancras, the thrumming London tube and train stations, is the cheery House of Illustration, which opened in early July. The path leading to it is lined with illustrated panels, a showcase of the visual treasures to come: advertisements and poster art, medical and botanical sketches, children’s books and fashion illustrations. The center’s present exhibition, “Inside Stories,” features original work by the beloved illustrator Quentin Blake, one of the House’s trustees and now an octogenarian, whose drawings have enchanted young readers for nearly half a century.

Blake is perhaps best known for his work with Roald Dahl, but no matter who he’s collaborating with, his illustrations retain a buoyant, often impish air. His first drawings were published in the magazine Punch when he was still in high school. He began illustrating children's books in 1960, and taught for more than twenty years at the Royal College of Art. Since the nineties, he’s worked as exhibition curator, and has more recently created larger-scale works for health care wards and communal spaces.

Claudia Zeff, a publishing industry art director who has spent twenty years designing book jackets, curated “Inside Stories.” Zeff’s collaborative process with Blake was already comfortable—the two have worked together for more than a decade. The ideas for the exhibition “evolved quite gradually,” Zeff said. “Quentin came up with the idea of using the story behind the books as the theme … and expressed the different approaches/techniques he uses to illustrate to different types of narrative.” Read More »

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Kickoff

June 12, 2014 | by

The World Cup begins now. Jonathan Wilson and Rowan Ricardo Phillips will write dispatches for The Daily; here, they introduce themselves and the games.

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Jonathan Wilson, from London:

“All the new thinking is about loss. In this it resembles all the old thinking.” That’s Robert Hass, in the opening of his great poem “Meditation at Lagunitas.” The lines resonate: earlier this week, before departing for the World Cup in Brazil, the U.S. national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who is German, asserted, “We cannot win the World Cup,” and it didn’t go down well. At least one pundit suggested that he should “get out of America.”

In soccer-saturated London, where I arrived last week, Klinsmann’s remarks might have elicited a more sympathetic response. England hasn’t won the World Cup since 1966, and this year’s team is generally considered transitional, unformed, untested. However, with the kind of twisted logic that applies to soccer supporters worldwide, the dominant “not a hope” take on England’s chances has subtly transformed in recent days to a “well, there are no expectations, so the pressure’s off, so in fact that could translate into improved performance, so hmm, well maybe, just maybe…”

England’s manager, Roy Hodgson—who’s a bit grumpy, has interesting hair, is undoubtedly the most literary figure England has ever employed (The Guardian reported that he read Laurent Binet’s novel HHhH on the flight to Rio), and likes to rib the press about their obsessions with certain players and the hysterical pressure they exert on him to play them—recently succumbed to the dangerous new optimism. He announced that England was indeed capable of winning. Even so, (almost) all the new thinking is still about loss, and in this it resembles the thinking of populations in participating countries worldwide, unless you happen to be from Brazil or Argentina, or maybe Germany— although not so much now that their star midfielder, Marco Reus, has torn his ankle ligaments and is out for the duration.

This isn’t to say that Brazil or Argentina must triumph, although no team from outside South America has ever won the World Cup when it has been played there, but simply that when it comes to international soccer, American over-optimism is rarely in evidence except for, as you might expect, in the minds and hearts of Americans. Nobody, of course, who knows anything at all about soccer, thinks that the U.S. can win the World Cup, and to compound matters the team is in a group of death with Ghana, Portugal, and Germany. In the furor over Klinsmann’s remarks and his subsequent refusal to back down, I was reminded of the time that Ronald Reagan came on TV after he’d traded arms for hostages and announced that even though it looked like he’d done exactly that, in his heart he knew that he hadn’t. American hearts can be frequently, powerfully, and touchingly resistant to reality. Read More »

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Shakespeare, Heartthrob

April 23, 2014 | by

Reclaiming the Bard for the common man.

hiddleston coriolanus

Tom Hiddleston as Coriolanus in Josie Rourke’s production at Donmar Warehouse.

There was a time when attending a motion picture was not an occasion but an event. Most of the great movie houses that might remind us—the Roxy in Times Square, Fox Theater in San Francisco, the Loews Palace in DC—are long gone, but the Music Box remains. A local landmark on Chicago’s North Side, the theater still has its Austrian curtains, house organ, and even a hoary legend: the ghost of Whitey, the house manager who ran the theater from opening night in 1929 until Thanksgiving eve, 1977, when he lay down for a cat nap and passed away in the lobby.

The Music Box is an 800-seat theater, more than three times the size of Donmar Warehouse, another theater nearly four thousand miles away in London. What brought the two houses together was Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. A recent performance at the Donmar was beamed live, and later rerun, to cinemas all over the world as part of Britain’s National Theatre Live series. It was the first time the Music Box telecasted a production that completely sold out.

In Shakespeare’s canon, Coriolanus sits somewhere between rarely remembered plays like Pericles and Two Gentlemen of Verona and stock selections like King Lear and Romeo and Juliet. A story of pride and political intrigue plucked from Plutarch’s Lives, the play is a little like an olive: a bitter fruit from Rome and something of an acquired taste. Its title character is one of Shakespeare’s great creations—for an accomplished actor, a role almost as inevitable as Iago or Macbeth. T.S. Eliot called the play “Shakespeare’s most assured artistic success;” he admired it so much he wrote two “Coriolan” poems with an eye toward an unfinished tetralogy.

It’s unlikely enough that an art-house movie theater would sell so many tickets to a telecast of Coriolanus—but I should add that this was a morning matinee in Chicago on a frigid Sunday in February. When I arrived, then, I wasn’t exactly worried about finding a place to sit—but I was bewildered to discover a packed house where I expected an acre of open seats. Read More »

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On Knowing Things

April 14, 2014 | by

Lucy_and_the_psychiatric_help_booth

Photo: Allen Timothy Chang

Yesterday, I was one of several people manning a book-centric advice booth as part of a New York literary festival. For days beforehand, I was paralyzed with nerves. I couldn’t face the other, more legitimate advice-givers; I felt like a charlatan and an impostor. I had something of an existential crisis.

I have always wanted to be a maven. But my standards are high, because I once knew a true maven. She was not a know-it-all; she just knew everything. I met her when I was nineteen and my college boyfriend and I were traveling through London. Lise, who at the time was in her seventies, was a friend of his family, and she was the sort of hostess who welcomed friends, and friends of friends, and acquaintances of friends, to stay with her in her flat, south of Hyde Park.

She was an imposing sort of person, her already-deep voice further deepened by years of chain-smoking. In later years, she had a stern doctor and would periodically use some sort of early e-cigarette, but the Marlboro Reds would generally reappear on the kitchen table. As would the whiskey, the butter. She could speak Russian and German and French and had worked as a translator. Meals at her house lasted for five hours, and at the end everyone was drunk but her. Formerly involved with helping end theater censorship in England—and the widow of a spy-turned-diagnostician-turned-mystery-writer—she seemed to know everyone. Beckett and Pinter and Peter O’Toole would all turn up in her stories; other Sunday lunch guests might be Labour whips, or countesses, or just someone’s young daughter who had lost her way and needed a place to stay for a while. Read More »

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See London with New (Old) Eyes, and Other News

March 5, 2014 | by

venice shystone

Canaletto’s Northumberland House, 1752, juxtaposed against contemporary London by Shystone.

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