london

Look at the Harlequins! Tour, Part 1: London

I scheduled a long, long day for myself when I booked a show in London for the day of my arrival from Portland.

A month later, I sit at home coughing and blowing my nose as I write this blog. Since I left New York a week ago, I’ve been sick — for several days with a fever. I can’t remember ever being sick in June/July. (The only time that comes to mind is when I was born, because I had congenital heart disease. So, I was pretty sick in July when I was 0.)

So, did three weeks of burning the candle at both ends finally catch up to me? Maybe.

But did I have a fantastic tour? YES. Did I live it to the fullest? YES.

Book against standard airport carpet.

Frankly, I maximized the shit out of this tour, and it started even before I left. I found out that you can order books to pick up at the Powell’s airport bookstore, and since my friend Peter’s partner Ocean Vuong’s highly-anticipated novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous was hitting bookshelves on the 4th, I decided to select it as my tour reading material.

Ocean’s book was so brand spanking new that it was hand-delivered in a paper bag 30 seconds after I asked for it at the Powell’s counter. (Had I realized they delivered books to the airport one at a time, I might have just picked it up for myself at Powell’s on Hawthorne. On the other hand, three weeks later I saw the book on display in a bookstore at JFK. Butterfly effect? You’re welcome, Ocean.)

As we took off, a Killdeer flew alongside the plane. Bye, Portland!

Birding in Jack’s backyard.

I read a third of Ocean’s book on the plane, and it is a mind-blowingly great novel.

At this point I want to take a moment to thank the person who sat next to me on that direct flight from PDX to Heathrow. I was in the window seat; they had the aisle. They got up at regular intervals to use the restroom, which relieved me of the discomfort of having to ask to be let out, like a dog. I appreciated this.

Ah, London! What a lark! What a plunge! I made it to my friend Jack’s house and hung out in his backyard for a while, watching birds. There I saw my lifer Common Swift, a Eurasian Collared-dove, and some Rose-ringed Parakeets — perhaps some of the same birds I’d seen on my previous European tour in 2017.

Weirdo Victorian megalosaurus.

When Jack got home, we headed to the Crystal Palace area to hang out before my show. At Crystal Palace Park, we saw a collection of bizarre Victorian dinosaur sculptures. Then we navigated a fun/confusing Victorian maze. At the same time, I became reacquainted with a number of Victorian birds — or Eurasian birds, anyway. Most exciting to me were the baby Eurasian Moorhens!

Crystal Palace ruins.

We also walked among the ruins of the Crystal Palace itself, weaving through some kind of fitness boot camp that was taking advantage of some old palace stairs. Life goes on!

Show at the Library of Things. Photo by Jack Kennerley.

My show at the Library of Things went well. My energy was starting to wane, but it was still a lot of fun, and everyone was so sweet. I should play more shows in libraries!

Ship of Fools by Kehinde Wiley.

The next day, Jack and I braved the drizzle to do lots of fun touristy stuff. We went to Greenwich and saw, first and foremost in my mind, Eurasian Magpies who proved very difficult to photograph. We also went to a 16th century mansion-turned-museum called the Queen’s House, where they had some amazing contemporary artwork by women and people of color juxtaposed with all the typical colonialist stuff. For example, in one room there was a bust entitled Olaudah Equiano: African, Slave, Author, Abolitionist, 1745-97. In another, an enormous painting, Ship of Fools by Kehinde Wiley, occupied almost an entire wall. (From the museum label: “Kehinde Wiley inserts figures from marginalised communities into settings that echo famous paintings of the Western tradition.”) There was also a series of photographs showing diverse young women of Greenwich, a project by Bettina Von Zwhel in response to the Armada portrait of Elizabeth I.

I’m a magpie paparazzx.

We trekked up a hill to the Greenwich Observatory and stood very near the Meridian Line, but not on it because that costs money. (While everyone else in the world admired the view of London from the hill we’d just dragged ourselves up, I finally snapped a pic of a Eurasian Magpie.)

Afterwards, we crossed busy, blue Tower Bridge on foot and scored free tickets to the Tower of London from Jack’s boyfriend Nick. Having been raised on YA/middle grade historical fiction about Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey, I was especially thrilled about this visit.

We’d heard there was a baby raven at the Tower… but we saw this baby pigeon! Even better!

Strolling around the castle grounds, I imagined my Quaker ancestors quaking at the sight of the Tower in the distance as they paddled down the Thames on the raft that would ultimately carry them to the New World. Perhaps they even caught a glimpse of one of the Tower’s six ravens.

One of the six ravens.

“Legend has it,” I told Jack and Nick, “that the kingdom will fall if there are ever fewer than six raisins at the Tower.”

Nick: “Did you say raisins?”

Outside the Charing Cross Theatre.

In the evening, Jack and I went to the penultimate performance of Amour, an under-appreciated Broadway musical I’d been obsessed with in high school. On Broadway it lasted maybe two weeks before being shut down, and its West End debut suffered a similar fate. We originally bought tickets for a performance later in June, but the run was cut short. Thankfully Jack was able to exchange our tickets.

Amour playbill.

As I described in my Instagram post after the show — it was pure magic. Having waited 16 years to see Amour, it was almost too much to handle. I was elated to see how everything was staged, and to hear songs that weren’t on the original Broadway cast recording. I cried at least three times, not because I was sad, but because it was everything my teenage self had dreamed of and more. Afterwards, I met every cast member I could and told them all the same thing: that seeing this show fulfilled a long-held wish, and this memory will be special to me for the rest of my life.

Graylag Geese, or Here Comes Everybody.

On my last day in London before heading to Winchester, Jack and I went to Walthamstow Marshes and Reservoirs. The wind there was just unbelievable. Nonetheless, there were birds aplenty! We saw oodles of Common Swifts feeding over one reservoir, along with at least one Bank Swallow and a couple of Common House-martins. (I think I saw my lifer Common House-martin from Jack’s backyard that morning or the previous day.) Along the rim of the reservoir, I finally saw my first Graylag Geese! Unfortunately they were very friendly, in a way that means people must be feeding them. Boo! Don’t. Feed. The. Waterfowl.

We also saw many Tufted Ducks, Great Cormorants, miscellaneous gulls that I couldn’t identify at a distance (particularly in such a mighty wind). My favorite part was seeing a couple of Eurasian Coots building a nest. One partner remained on the nest while the other one sought and retrieved nesting material. Then they’d help each other place it, which was the cutest thing ever. But most readers won’t have to take my word for it, because I got video!

#MuralOnTheMarsh.

On the way out, we passed by this fantastic #MuralOnTheMarsh. Hoorah for public art! The mural runs along either side of a paved multi-use path and features Gray Herons, Great Cormorants, Great Crested Grebes, Canada Geese, and (for fans of mammals) Red Foxes.

That night I watched “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too” (the Miley Cyrus episode of Black Mirror) with Jack, Nick, and their friend Jésus, over vegan fish and chips. And the next morning, I left for Winchester!

To be continued!