video: by the cool, blue triangular water


it’s good to be the queen

72634611June 2 1953, Elizabeth II was crowned at Westminster Abbey in London. Six decades on, England is celebrating her 60-year reign with a range of events across the country, from river pageants and big lunches to concerts and a royal appearance by a miniature monarch. As if I needed another excuse to visit the UK, here are just a few of the celebrations fit for a Queen. The Coronation Festival, Buckingham Palace, July 11 – 14: This one-off event in the gardens at Buckingham Palace will see over 200 companies with the prestigious Royal Warrant of Appointment exhibiting. By day, visitors will be able to explore the Buckingham Palace Gardens, which will feature four areas showcasing the very best of Food & Drink, Design & Technology, Homes & Gardens and Style, Pursuits & Pastimes. By night, visitors will be taken on a musical tour of the Queen’s 60-year reign, with performances by the National Youth orchestra, the English National Ballet, Katherine Jenkins, Russell Watson, Katie Melua, Laura Wright and The Feeling. Rowing Regatta, Windsor, June 15 – 16: Her Majesty The Queen has given permission for a unique regatta to take place on the River Thames at Windsor Castle to celebrate the Coronation anniversary. Rowing crews will race side-by-side over a distance of 1,000 meters between Prince Albert and Queen Victoria bridges, and spectators will be granted entry into the normally private grounds of the castle to watch the race. This special event will be the first regatta on the Thames at Windsor for 44 years.


Mini Me, Windsor and Manchester, May 25 – 27, Windsor; May 31 – June 2, Manchester: The Queen of Miniland will put on her real crown jewels in Windsor before taking a carriage north for a guest appearance in Manchester. Visitors can watch the tiny 10 cm high LEGO model of Her Majesty The Queen, complete with a 48 tiny cut diamond encrusted crown, twinkle as she waves from the balcony of her miniature Buckingham Palace, alongside minute figures of the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry. Coronation!, Westminster Abbey, May 1 – September 30: A new exhibition of archive pictures of the 1953 Coronation is now on display at Westminster Abbey through the end of September. The Abbey has partnered with Getty Images to include some of the best black and white news pictures of the time alongside some never-seen-before pictures illustrating the pomp and magnificence of the joyous celebrations that swept the nation. Coronation River Pageant, Henley, June 2: To mark the 60th anniversary, the Coronation River Pageant will showcase 130 classic and traditional boats on the River Thames at Henley. The boats will be moored at Marsh Meadows and will travel upstream to Phyllis Court Club before making the journey back. Boats will be dressed for fun with plenty of bling, colorful characters and historic look-a-likes. Gloriana, the Royal Opera House, June 20 – July 6: Benjamin Britten’s Gloriana was commissioned by the Royal Opera House to mark the Coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953. This year marks the centenary of this great composer and to mark the occasion, Richard Jones is directing a new staging of the opera, which explores tensions between affairs of the state and of the heart.

Ox roast Brierley Hill 1927

Ledbury Ox Roast, June 1 – 2: In June 1953, the townspeople of Ledbury in Herefordshire rallied together to hold a huge Ox Roast to celebrate the coronation. Now, 60 years on, the community has come together again to recreate this special event. And you don’t have to be local to attend: everyone is welcome. The Big Lunch, Chipping Sodbury, Gloucestershire, June 2: Dust off your bunting and start packing your picnic as Broad Street in Chipping Sodbury prepares to welcome one and all for The Big Lunch. The market town also plays host to a three-day jazz festival from May 31 – June 2 to keep everyone in celebratory Coronation spirits.


red, red rocks

IMG_1750Red Rocks, the famous concert venue outside of Denver, was the reason behind my Colorado excursion and the capstone to this trip. (Click the bottom image for greater, groovy, detail.) The natural sandstone amphitheater has long been on my bucket list of places I need to see – and to hear a concert, of course. As a sensory experience and a spectacle it more than lived up to expectations. Firstly, you don’t just show up at the theater to hear some music: you park in a dirt field and then you hike. You hike up. And up and up and up. Red Rocks is set within the confines of a state park – the better to preserve its mystical aloofness. But what makes it so special is also what happens to make it rather inconvenient. An afternoon of steady showers did not help matters. Yet the rain let up just as I laid out ten bucks for a bin liner poncho, and the overcast sky cracked open with beams of sunlight. While the opening band played, the sun began to set and the sheer walls of rock on either side of the seating bowl radiated its flare. Once the stage lights outweighed the ambient light, the sandstone, lit from below, glowed orange, red, and purple. The atmosphere ripened into something otherworldly, like a concert on Mars: the lights of downtown Denver visible on the horizon, a deep blue sky lit up by stars, and the jarring and perfect summer sound of Vampire Weekend pulsing through space.IMG_1737


iconic nyc: apollo theater

apollo theaterThe world-famous Apollo Theater is more than a historic landmark, it’s a bastion of African-American culture and achievement. Built in 1914 as the New Theater, it started life as a burlesque house. And as at many American theaters of the time, African-Americans were neither allowed to attend as patrons, nor take the stage as performers. A campaign against the growing licentiousness of “the burly-q” in the early 1930’s led to its closing down, along with theaters across the city. After a lavish renovation, however, it re-opened as the Apollo, with the intention of exclusively showcasing black entertainment for the growing African-American community in Harlem. (The idea was more self-serving than altruistic: colored entertainers were cheaper to hire.) The Apollo grew to prominence during the Harlem Renaissance of the pre-World War II years. Billing itself as a place “where stars are born and legends are made,” the theater became famous for its Amateur Nights, launching the careers of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, James Brown, Diana Ross & The Supremes, Gladys Knight & the Pips, The Jackson 5, Patti LaBelle, Marvin Gaye, Luther Vandross, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Ben E. King, Mariah Carey, The Isley Brothers, Lauryn Hill, and Sarah Vaughan, who all, according to tradition, would touch the Tree of Hope to ward off “the executioner” – a man with a broom who would sweep performers off the stage if the highly vocal and opinionated audiences began to call for their removal. The Apollo also featured the performances of old-time vaudeville favorites like Tim Moore, Stepin Fetchit, Moms Mabley, and Pigmeat Markham, dancers like the Nicholas Brothers, Berry Brothers, and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, and jazz greats like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Thelonius Monk. In its heyday it could safely be said that you hadn’t made it if you hadn’t played the Apollo. Not one to rest on its laurels, the non-profit theater today continues to advance emerging creative voices, presenting concerts and performing arts, as well as education and outreach programs which serve the greater community.

tree of hope



One of the chief attractions at Carnival is the music. Mostly it’s ear-splitting, bass-thumping soca cracking the air from flat bed trucks piled high with amplifiers. But every so often along comes a steel pan band, which miraculously manages to make a raft of cut down oil drums sound like an orchestra.


in praise of bond

I love the James Bond films  – even the lame ones - for so many reasons: the geeky gadgets and kooky villains for a start. Then there’s the crazy chases and death-defying stunts and, of course, Bond’s bevy of double entendre-toting beauties. Plus, there’s all the exotic locales. In film after film, few heroes have given us wider license to travel the far corners of the world than Agent 007. Here are just a few memorable highlights.

SCHILTHORN, SWITZERLAND: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) took us to the mountaintop, literally: the 2,970-meter-high Schilthorn, which George Lazenby skied down at breathtaking speed with Telly Savalas as Blofeld in hot pursuit. It’s one of the great movie ski chase scenes, now documented in an exhibit at Piz Gloria, which doubled as the Bleuchamp Institute for Allergy Research in the film. Organized Bond-themed excursions start from the car-free town of Mürren, or you can glide up the mountain yourself on a 32-minute aerial cable car trip that originates in Stechelberg. For more Bond-style adventure, ski the mountain’s 15.8 km mixed-terrain Inferno course. Experienced skiers usually cover it in about 45 minutes; competitors in the annual Inferno Race – the largest amateur ski race in the world – can do it in 15.

ISTANBUL, TURKEY: Several locations in Turkey – where East meets West on the banks of the mighty Bosphorus – are featured in Skyfall, the newest adventures of James Bond. Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar has been a must-see since 1461. More than 550 years later, it attracts nearly a half-million visitors daily. Presumably few of them other than Skyfall director Sam Mendes envision its narrow, crowded aisles as a location for a high-speed chase. It is, however, an excellent place to buy local handicrafts and to engage all your senses as you immerse yourself in the city.

KEY WEST, FLORIDA: Licence to Kill (1989) kicks off with Timothy Dalton parachuting in with CIA pal Felix Leiter to Felix’s wedding at St. Mary’s Star of the Sea Church in Key West after some insane aerial maneuvers. Other scenes shot in the area include a car chase on Seven Mile Bridge, the segmented concrete (to make it hurricane-resistant) span you’ll cross if you’re driving to Key West, and a scene at the Ernest Hemingway Home in which M demands that Bond relinquish his “license to kill.” Hemingway, no slouch in the adventure department himself, moved to the house at 907 Whitehead Street in 1931. A guided tour shows off his writing studio as well as the descendants of Hemingway’s famous six-toed cats, who have unlimited license to roam the house and grounds.

THE BAHAMAS: Of Bond’s many visits to the Bahamas, the most memorable is Sean Connery’s 1965 Thunderball battle in the underwater caves of the Exuma Cays. They’ve been known ever since as the Thunderball Grotto. (Connery returned there in 1983 for Never Say Never Again.) Several charter companies, including Four C’s Adventures and the Island Routes 007 Thunderball Luxury Tour, will take you out to the grotto by boat and guide you on a snorkeling route to the inside of the caves, where the light streams in and colorful fish dart about below the water’s surface.

PARIS: With an “I’m too old for this stuff” look on his face, Roger Moore chased Grace Jones to the top of the Eiffel Tower in A View to a Kill (1985), only to watch her parachute off, land on a boat conveniently waiting along the Seine, and make a spectacular getaway in one of the film’s more memorable scenes. (It was almost as good as Duran Duran’s video for the movie’s theme song.) On a tour of the tower, you’ll learn about Franz Reichfelt’s tragic demonstration of his “parachute suit” in 1912, which should convince you that parachuting off the observation deck is not the thing to do here. However, if you’re feeling fit, climb the 704 steps from the ground to the second floor. From there, you can catch the lift to the top, where you’ll find a champagne bar with killer views of its own.

AUYUITTUQ NATIONAL PARK, CANADA: Nobody does it better, ahem, than the opening sequence of The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), in which Roger Moore BASE jumps off the edge of a mountain and – whoosh – a Union Jack parachute opens and glides him to safety. The mountain, with its distinctive twin flat-topped peaks at 6,598 feet, is Mount Asgard in Auyuittuq National Park on Baffin Island, Canada. Serious outdoors people find the 7,370-square-mile arctic park a haven of pristine beauty offering 24-hour daylight in summer. Accessible via the Inuit hamlets of Pangnirtung and Qikiqtarjuaq, which can be reached only by small plane, the park requires that all visitors attend a safety orientation before they embark on their travels. For this level of adventure, only experienced wilderness travelers — and MI-6 agents — need apply.


blame canada

Well, not quite. But you can’t expect a trip up here to not reference all their hockey hullabaloo (and that bitch Anne Murray, too) - one of the great movie songs of all time.  We must blame them and cause a fuss – before somebody thinks of blaming us!


st. george’s market

Stop me if I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but I can’t get over how things have changed. Today it’s St. George’s in central Belfast, where a Friday market has stood in one guise or another since 1604. I last wandered the late 19th-century red-brick structure maybe seven or eight years ago and was underwhelmed. The farm-to-table movement had yet to take firm root in Northern Ireland, so while the steel and glass interiors stood out as a well-preserved reminder of the great Age of Empire, the handful of sorry vegetable stalls and assorted tat sellers inside seemed remarkably out of time and place. What a difference a decade makes. Following a £4.5m refurbishment the market has become one of the most vibrant and colorful destinations this city has to offer. A raft of local producers trade in everything from Armagh beef, award-winning farmhouse cheeses, free range eggs from Limavady, venison, pheasant in season and organic vegetables from Culdrum and Millbrook Farms. The fish section alone contains 23 stalls and holds the reputation for being the leading retail fish market in Ireland. Plus, there’s live jazz and dozens of lunch options from freshly filled baps – the Belfast Bap is a floury sandwich roll and a source of local pride – and traditional French crepes to vegan Chana Masala and classic panini-style Cubans of roast pork, ham, and gherkins – dripping with swiss cheese. Dare I say this famously hermetic city seems to currently enjoy being just a bit worldly-wise?


at the theatre: evita

You let down your people, Evita. You were supposed to have been immortal. That’s all we wanted – not much to ask for. Ok, maybe quoting Che Guevara’s sardonic funeral oration for Argentina’s first lady is a bit misdirected. To my mind Evita is immortal – but that’s in large part thanks to Hal Prince’s seminal production of a generation ago,  not to mention the star-making performances of Patti Lupone and Mandy Patinkin. (Yes, I age myself – at this point it’s unavoidable.) The question remains: is it Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita that we should cry for in its first ever Broadway revival or is it director Michael Grandage’s shambolic production? Does the fault lie with Elena Roger, the tiny-voiced, diminutive Argentine actress in the titular role? Or perhaps pop star Ricky Martin, who as the de-politicized Narrator née Guevara looks wholly uncomfortable in his own skin. Even Rob Ashford’s usually reliable choreography must come in for a bashing: in one number, The Art of the Possible, Juan Peron deftly vanquishes one general after another to propel himself into power. How does Ashford stage this? By having them awkwardly enact a series of half hearted Greco-Roman wrestling moves. It’s symbolic: this production flirts with a number of interesting ideas that get neither fully developed nor wholly abandoned, they just lie there like so much stagnant water. It’s hard to squarely pin the blame on any one individual because across the board everyone is off their game here, save the suave and golden-throated Max Von Essen as tango singer, Augustin Magaldi. It’s difficult to not feel for the two leads, either: Martin’s lack of stage experience isn’t served by stripping him of any discernible character. (The shift from Che Guevara to an anodyne Narrator is inexplicable. Are we to blame the anti-Castro theatergoing lobby?) And Roger tries hard but she lacks the powerhouse voice the role demands. Ultimately what this pointless revival makes all too clear is that at the Marquis Theatre there’s a thin line between immortality and ignominy.


walking with giants

Staffa is another of the uninhabited Treshnish islands. Like Lunga it is home to hundreds of seabirds, yet it’s better known for the magnificent basalt columns which at first glance seem to rise out of the sea like pilings. The effect is almost overwhelming at An Uamh Binn, or Fingal’s Cave as it is more commonly known, which is formed completely out of hexagonally jointed basalt. In the 8,000 years humans have inhabited Mull it is safe to say that Staffa’s columns and caves have been viewed as something special, possibly sacred or mythical in origin. According to one legend, the Gaelic giant, Fingal, got into a quarrel with the Ulster giant, Finn McCool. (Over a lady giant, no doubt.) In order to fight each other they built a causeway between Ireland and Scotland. When the causeway was destroyed only the two ends remained – one at Staffa and the other at the Giant’s Causeway in Antrim. (Having visited the Giant’s Causeway several times, it is remarkable to see how both locations share an almost identical geology.) The truth of the matter, however, is much less colorful: as Britain and North America were being pulled apart by continental drift, huge amounts of magma rose up through the Earth’s crust, erupting as lava and volcanic ash on the surface. As the 1,200 degree molten rock cooled, it hardened, shrank, and fractured into a regular series of stone pillars. The caves came into existence as waves crashed against the soft layer of ash underneath the columns, slowly eroding into the formation we see today. Of the five sea caves on the island Fingal’s is by far the largest. It came to the attention of the wider world at the end of the 18th century as the Romantic Movement was spreading across Europe. With its emphasis on wilderness and natural splendor the island quickly became one of the must-see sights on the Highland Tour. Part of the cave’s appeal lies in the  remarkable symmetry of the cavern –  fractured columns form a crude walkway just above the high water mark, allowing easy exploration of the interior. Equally beguiling are the strange colors and sounds inside what is, in effect, a natural cathedral. If you’ve heard of Fingal’s Cave before reading this, it’s likely due to Felix Mendelssohn, who composed his concert overture, The Hebrides, following a visit to the island in 1829. His inspiration came from standing in the cave and listening to the roar of the waves.


at the theatre: once

With some shows it’s love at first sight – or sound. Others slyly creep up on you after the fact, infecting you like a virus. Still others out and out break your heart for one misguided reason or another. But most frustrating of all are the shows you want to love that wind up leaving you cold. So went my heart at Once, the slender new musical which seems to have lost its way in an over-produced transfer of the well-received production at New York Theatre Workshop. For anyone who hasn’t seen the moody and romantic film on which it’s based, it’s the story of a socially disconnected Irish busker and an immigrant girl who meet and over the course of three Dublin days enjoy a mutual love affair with music and – unconsummated - each other. Simple, spare and elegant, it’s a film about the power of music and the redemptive effect of having someone believe in you when you no longer believe in yourself. When the film’s two leads, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova – who had gone on to become partners in life as well – won an Oscar for Best Song (the hypnotic Falling Slowly) it seemed to bring the story full circle. What gets lost in the stage version is the Spartan elegance that lets you feel for the characters without being told what you should feel. Director John Tiffany relocates the action to a Dublin pub and suddenly we’re all pullin’ for pints, so we are. Feel free to go up on stage before the show and grab a drink. If that’s not twee enough for you, there’s a ceilidh band onstage to Oirish up the joint even more. (Don’t worry if you show up late, the whole noxious process will repeat itself at intermission.) Despite this annoying tendency to tart things up for Broadway – not to mention the now cloying trend of actors doubling as the band – there are a pair of wonderful performances by Steve Kazee and Cristin Miloti as – don’t choke – Boy and Girl. They share great chemistry  – and even better voices. If Once were built around their artistic collaboration this could be the stuff of fairy tales, as the title subtly implies. But Enda Walsh’s lumbering book skews the focus towards something far less interesting, another boy meets girl, boy loses girl story. A handful of barely sketched secondary characters make lame attempts at comic relief but it comes at the expense of dragging the story down to a leaden pace.  I’m wondering if the show ran with an intermission off-Broadway, too, or if what’s happening uptown is a just a bloated excuse to sell merchandise and drinks. Either way, a judicious bit of dramaturgy would have served this production well. If anything, Once highlights a problem specific to many a fairytale: let them go on too long and they eventually turn into nightmares.


live blog: if beale street could talk

As a teenager I discovered the writing of James Baldwin. His novels, plays, and essays fictionalized the fundamental intricacies of a mid-century America teeming with racial, sexual, and class distinctions. Individuals were placed in the context of complex social pressures which seemed to thwart their integration at every turn. Young and confused myself, I ate it up: Giovanni’s Room, Go Tell It on the Mountain, The Fire Next Time, Another Country, and Blues for Mr. Charlie – works saturated with outrage, unrest, and a melancholic disappointment founded on a promise left unfulfilled. Yet one book has remained on my bookshelf unopened for some twenty-plus years: If Beale Street Could Talk. I’m not exactly sure why it’s gone unread for so long but that’s going to have to change after this trip. Beale Street was once the lifeblood of Memphis’ African American community, a National Historic Landmark and Home of the Blues. To quote B.B. King, “When you walked down Beale Street, you felt you really had something. Because you could get work on Beale Street. You could get justice on Beale Street. You could get whatever was available to people on Beale Street.” Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination near Beale Street, however, and the unrest that followed hastened the street’s decline. By the early 1970’s a disastrous experiment in urban renewal cleared most of the area’s old buildings to make way for a projected renovation that never materialized. I can only imagine how Baldwin would have reacted to such a scenario. Today, Beale Street is at the center of an economic revitalization happening all around downtown Memphis. The juke joints are once again lively and the food is too. Blues fills the air like a trumpet of triumph, not tragedy; making me wonder all the more what tales this street might tell, if only it could talk.


live blog: going to graceland

If Disneyland can lay claim to being the happiest place on Earth I’d like to nominate Graceland as one of the most depressing. Full disclosure: I wasn’t expecting to enjoy Graceland. I went because that’s one of the things you do when you go to Memphis: you go to Graceland to observe the people who are making a pilgrimage to Graceland. You go to Graceland for the spectacle. And the irony. In that respect I was far from disappointed: a busload of Japanese tourists photographed absolutely everything in sight; two tour groups of Scandinavians stood slack-jawed over every pre-recorded recollection of the infanta, Lisa Marie; and a super-sized parade of the lame, the halt, and the obese reinforced everything I’ve come to abhor about America. So on the one hand, it was a roaring success. A lodestar of American overconsumption, Elvis’ estate is but the tip of the iceberg. For one, Graceland is – as everyone who’s ever visited is quick to point out – much, much smaller than expected.  It’s just a house. A good-sized house but a house nonetheless. It’s not Memphis’ answer to Versailles – though the extreme examples of 1970’s chic give it the feel of a too-groovy time capsule: the all-white living room, the carpeted kitchen, the basement pool room enveloped in a circus tent of fabric, the “jungle room.” A pair of out-buildings house Presley’s office and what was once a racquetball court – now home to a display of the infamous late-Elvis jumpsuits – before you come to a small swimming pool and the family graves. The entire self-guided tour takes an hour at most.  (Elvis’ upstairs bedroom and the toilet he expired on are off-limits.) Shuttled back to the central base station, the true assault begins. You can visit a museum dedicated solely to the King’s cars, tour his private planes, the Lisa Marie and Hound Dog, or shuffle down the block to Graceland Crossing, where the exhibits – and shopping options – continue:  Elvis on Tour, Elvis’ ’68 special, Elvis Lives. Of course if this is more than you can handle in a single day you can buy a multi-day pass and stay at the Heartbreak Hotel or Graceland RV Park and Campground, which are – you guessed it – down at the end of Lonely Street. Now I don’t begrudge Lisa Marie her legacy. And god knows, nobody wants her to put out another album. But Graceland is little more than an ugly exploitation of a man who – despite the caricature that may have marked the last years of his life – was one of the most influential musical artists of the 20th century. For all the coin Graceland is pulling in the artist is only vaguely in evidence. That man has left the building. What remains isn’t in any way a tribute to Elvis but an embarrassing example of our country’s collective inability to separate idolatry from shopping.


live blog: let the sun shine

A tour of Sun Studio is a Memphis-must, reflecting the diversity and vision of the talent that recorded on the Sun label as well as American popular culture itself. The Sun Sound began in 1952 when Sam Phillips launched his record company from a little studio on Union Avenue, Memphis, naming it Sun Records as a sign of his perpetual optimism. In a short while Sam gained a reputation for treating local artists with respect and honesty, providing a non-critical, spontaneous environment that invited creativity and vision. As a businessman, Phillips was patient and willing to listen to almost anyone who came in off the street to record. Memphis at the time was a happy home to diverse musical scenes: gospel, blues, hillbilly, country, boogie, and western swing. Taking advantage of this range of talent, there were no style limitations at the label. In one form or another Sun recorded them all.

Then in 1954 Sam found Elvis Presley, an artist who could perform with the excitement and unpredictability of a blues artist but could reach across regional, musical and racial barriers. He helped to form the beginnings of the Sun Sound by infusing country music with R&B. Elvis’s bright star attracted even more ground-breaking talent to the Sun galaxy. Listed among his contemporaries and lab mates were Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and the “Rockin’ Guitar Man,” Carl Perkins. These four soon became known as the Million Dollar Quartet. And right behind them came Roy Orbison, Charlie Rich, Howlin’ Wolf and a whole host of musical talents. All eventually sold on pop, R&B and country charts, creating music that has weathered the test of time.


live blog: walking in memphis


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