Thursday, December 28, 2006

Christmas Cheer

But first a link to photos of the pre-Christmas holiday in Florida where we dived the Keys, ate far too much (hardly a new thing) and best of all, met the manatees! I'm afraid I'm not going to write much about it. But it was a really lovely if brief holiday -- I really liked the chilled-out Keys atmosphere, and the manatees were really something special. There are probably very few other wild animals you can just go and meet and they will come up and play with you. I made friends with one in particular who kept holding my hand (really!). Aww. It is sobering to know they are severely endangered though, mainly by habitat destruction and boat-related accidents.

After America I came back to ostensibly work for a week, a difficult task when Christmas holidays were very palpably in the air. Christmas itself I spent at my friend's house in Oxford, as she'd very kindly invited me when she found out I wouldn't have any family in the country over Christmas! It has been a really long time since I'd spent Christmas in the way that I did as a child and I had a lovely time re-living it. A 7lb turkey and compulsory Brussels sprouts, presents under the tree and even a stocking full of goodies from my friend's grandma! It was such a shame that some of the family came down with some sort of nasty stomach bug/food poisoning over Christmas Day -- so it wasn't quite as full a party as originally expected, but the rest of us soldiered on and I discovered that I am not bad at all at Absolute Balderdash (useful skills for a PhD student).

Since Boxing Day I have been in London meeting up with friends, hitting the sales (oof) and today I watched both the Royal Ballet's Nutcracker and Guys and Dolls. Dr Johnson knew what he was talking about. It has been a most pleasant day indeed wandering around Covent Garden and the West End between shows. I'd not originally thought of going to see the Nutcracker -- I had already seen this production twice -- but I am so glad I did really. The costumes and sets and production design in the Royal Ballet's version are simply gorgeous and there is so much going on it sometimes doesn't matter there is little drama and virtuoso dancing in it. Who needs pyrotechnics and tragedy when you have a giant growing Christmas tree? Marianela Nunez and Thiago Soares danced a lovely grand pas de deux, she was so happy and had such a stage presence I almost didn't mind the very slightly off-sync allegro section at the end of the pas de deux. And I enjoyed Ricardo Cervera's Hans Peter/Nutcracker very much -- I'm hoping to see him promoted to principal sometime soon! The Snowflakes were also simply beautiful and so effective -- all kudos to Peter Wright of course, who apparently choreographed all that based on original notes that went something like "waltz for 4 minutes". Guys and Dolls was less breathtaking, I'm not sure if it's the musical itself (weakish story) or this production of it (minimalistic sets but without the razzle-dazzle of Chicago to compensate), but it did have its (few) high points especially in some of the big dance numbers.

Walking home from Piccadilly after the show I plugged myself into my iPod. Is it just me or does walking with music make other people also feel like they are in a music video/tv show/film? Suddenly life has a soundtrack (in this case the Grateful Dead followed by Robert Plant and the Strange Sensations). It was also nice to be out in the cool night air (autumnal rather than wintry weather these few days) after the too-hot theatre, and enjoying the sights of the Christmas light up along shopping streets no longer insanely thronged with crowds -- now just the odd party, couples, singles like me wandering along party-wards or home-wards. I was just heading up pedestrianised South Molton Street, lit up with gorgeous blue and yellow fairy lit columns on either side, Robert Plant still loudly singing away, when I thought I'd perhaps stop and take a photo. So I did almost stop, turned to look around myself, and then somehow segued into realising that the young man walking down the street the other way had similarly turned to look behind him -- that in turning myself we had both turned to catch each other's eyes. We shared a smile. I turned back, took two photos up the street. Put my camera away, was about to continue up the street, but on impulse turned again -- he was still at the bottom of the street, watching, smiling. And as I turned back again, continued to walk home, Robert Plant made the encounter seem like, well, something out a film. I smiled all the way home.

So merry Christmas everyone and have a very happy new year.