On the Road:

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

There was not one empty seat on Lufthansa’s flight 413 to Munich, no legroom, and no sleep to be had. But when they said it was snowing in Germany, they really meant it; what looked like  two feet of the stuff blanketed cities, fields, and trees. Munich was like fairyland and Dessau, where I went to visit the Bauhaus (by train) remained unshoveled. But—hear this, New Yorkers—it also remained white!

On the train to Leipzig (it was actually late!), dozens of academics were poring over last-minute presentation edits before disembarking for a big congress. The best news (hear this one): cellphone users are required to leave their seats for the vestibule while calling! One young professor became livid when the caller in back of him conversed in what we would consider a whisper, insisting that the miscreant follow the rules. With downcast eyes, he made the remainder of his call behind glass. I wanted to stand up and cheer.

In Dessau, the Bauhaus looked like the icon it is; clean, restored, tech rooms humming with electronics and post-graduates trying to solve the problem of shrinking cities. The Masters’ Houses shimmered with their original dense wall colors, discovered under decades of flat white, adding a new element of design. The canteen was full of students studying, imagining, eating drinking and talking. Can they do it again in a way that counts for now? They are certainly trying. The winter is cold and quiet, but tourists will be coming as soon as it warms up, hoping to catch a bit of the original fire.

On to England, where the standout was a stay in Oxford with my co-blogger, Mel Cooper, and a visit to the newly refurbished Ashmolean Museum, England’s oldest (1643). In its lower-level tutorial rooms, England’s best and brightest have invented thrilling ways to present mankind’s epic climb from the primordial slime up into civilization, and to lead you inexorably into the collection itself. I cried. It’s a must! (P.S.: the shop has booty from all over the world. My favorite: a purple pencil with the museum’s name, capped by a silvery miniature eagle with SPQR on its base (₤1).

Then, to London and the Austrian Cultural Forum for an exhibition of Wolf Suschitsky’s life work. He’s now 98, and his photos of landmark events and personalities cover the walls and most of the 20th century. The Forum’s low-key (but hip) director, Peter Mikl, showed me through the building’s recent makeover. Its elegant 19th-century Rutland Place mansion has been modernized, but well and truly understood; they’ve kept the luscious rugs and furniture, the contemporary art, painted everything white, and removed the walls between its adjoining front and back stairs—rendering the old upstairs/downstairs class system literally (and slyly) transparent. The Forum hosts and co-produces a wealth of terrific programs within, and all around London. Be sure to check their Web site if you’re planning a trip. www.acflondon.org.





A Day at the Young Vic, a Night at the National Health

Finally, looking forward to the premiere of I Am Yusuf and This Is My Brother at the Young Vic, (it’s reviews were enthusiastic), Mel and I found our own real-life drama on a different stage. Mel fell just before curtain time, tearing essential ligaments and muscles, and causing excruciating pain. The theater staff produced tea and sympathy, found a wheelchair, and called a nearby hospital. A paramedic came almost at once with a medivan, helped Mel into it, and we sped to St. Thomas’ Hospital as guests of the National Health.

First of all, the emergency room (as at any private hospital in the US) was crowded, mandating a certain amount of triage. Unless you’ve sustained gunshot wounds, a heart attack, a stroke, or have been run down by a bus, you will have to wait. But there all comparisons ended. The emergency room was also calm and quiet, and as soon as Mel had been asked if he was allergic to any medications, the nurse gave him painkillers (without the allergens). This made the wait infinitely more endurable.

We landed eventually in the orthopedic quarter, where Mel was put on a gurney to rest until a doctor could be summoned to order an X-ray. Meantime, Nurse Helen introduced herself by saying (cheerfully!) “How can I help?” She and her colleagues did everything to make the wee hours less tedious; when I asked if there was any nearby takeaway,  she said, “Oh, we have sandwiches. Not a huge selection, but they’re not bad.” There were four kinds. When asked what we owed her, she explained that the hospital kept them on hand for staff and patients at no charge. We chose two to share (they weren’t bad)! An hour later, Nurse Helen took a coffee break, and asked if she could bring us anything. We chose tea. It, and she, returned ten minutes later. Question: When was the last time you were in an emergency room that was quiet, or where a nurse offered sandwiches and tea?

Eventually, the doctor arrived: a lovely young woman from the sub-Continent with a luminous smile. She wheeled Mel to X-ray herself. Soon she reappeared with the good news that nothing was broken, that Mel would be given crutches (and some practical tips on how to use them from Nurse Helen), more pain medication, and the promise of visits from a nurse practitioner and physiotherapist at home until he was mended.

We took a taxi back to Oxford after nine hours at the hospital, and a burning need on my part to ask why, exactly, so many Americans refuse to believe (without a shred of evidence) that a Public Option run solely to minister to the sick (rather than to make the biggest profit possible from their misery) is also run much more humanely? Not to mention the fact that it is entirely free. And that we are, in fact, the only country in the Western world without a national health plan.

And One More Thing…

Given the sorry programming at BBC America, riddled with commercials, I couldn’t leave England without tuning in to the mother lode: the BBC itself. What a difference! Caught Part One of an extraordinary documentary: The Legacy of Lawrence of Arabia. Not done on the cheap (and every pound visible on the screen), it was a reality check on the enormous gulf for English-speaking TV viewers that is the Atlantic Ocean.

Legacy weaves together current deployment, the testimony of several high-ranking Arabists, Lawrence’s saga, clips from the feature film with Peter O’Toole, and some archival footage of key players of 90 years ago–with lessons in Arab culture and tribal structures. It is amazingly lucid and gripping, as well as a paradigm for what can be accomplished with skill, will, and talent.

Presented by the protean Rory Stewart (a scholar, epic hiker, Tory candidate for Parliament, and perhaps contender for Prime Minister in the long run), Legacy is probably too smart and too controversial for broadcast in the US. But there is a ray of hope: Brad Pitt has bought the rights to produce a film about Stewart, starring Orlando Bloom. “That’s correct,” says the elfin Stewart,” but I’d have been better played by Danny De Vito.”

Then there’s the no-holds-barred Q.I., Stephen Fry’s weekly romp with a panel of sharp-tongued panelists, that asks questions and has a marvelous time riposting with the answers. Not only brilliant, but very, very funny. And, like Legacy, with no commercials. There is a Utopia… And it has just laid off 25% of its staff.

Back home, caught Donald Margulies’ Time Stands Still on Broadway—wonderfully literate and up-to-date, with standout performances by everyone in the cast: Daniel Sullivan has directed with his usual perfect pitch for modern dilemmas. And speaking of perfect pitch: also caught the newest cast (the third) in Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage. Director Matthew Warchus shares Sullivan’s gift, and has been blessed by the God of Comic Timing. The play’s sharp edges and antic physicality are now being deployed brilliantly by Dylan Baker, Jeff Daniels, Lucy Liu, and Janet McTeer.


3 Responses to “On the Road:”

  1. Fordiebianco Says:

    You came to London and you didn’t tell me???

    Btw, “Elvina” ‘s entry is comment – spam.

    Significantly pissed off,



    • apollosgirl Says:

      I wasn’t “In London” — I was in Oxford. And, as I learned, it wasn’t exactly
      around the corner; two hours plus, each way. I was actually “in London”
      part of a day and night (see post) and for lunch-only the next day.
      Will call, if you’ll answer. Best to Birgit.


  2. John Branch Says:

    Lovely notes of other worlds in this post. (Which I read as one of those you recently recommended to me.) The pencil in the Ashmolean gift shop with the eagle and SPQR at the top: I don’t know whether everyone who studied Latin in high school came away with a fondness for that emblem, but I did and still have it, despite developing later qualms about Rome. Rory Stewart: I read a New Yorker profile of him within the last week, written by Ian Parker, but I don’t recall that it mentioned his presenting the Beeb’s program on Lawrence. A protean figure indeed. Your visit to the NHS: it called to mind stereotypes of the British, admirable ones, such as “brisk, efficient, civilized.” Your story was almost… piquant compared to what one will likely find in American emergency rooms (which I haven’t seen in years, thankfully).

    Your final remarks on that experience, ending with “we are, in fact, the only country in the Western world without a national health plan,” reminded me of a Facebook discussion I had recently about the provisions of America’s new plan. One of the participants, unable to restrain herself a couple of times, more or less declared that it was the start of a secret plan for a government takeover of health care. I didn’t get around to saying in my responses, “And about time!”


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