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diary

Cast as Bendick in Much Ado About Nothing for the Elkins Shakespeare Festival, I set off the mountains of West Virginia.

 

Well, so here's the latest adventure.

After a bit of a shaky start, I find myself now ensconced in Elkins, West Virginia surrounded by some of the most beautiful country, Blue Mountains, lush green, beautiful nature, ever-changing sky, and clean air. Things didn't start too well:

I was met in Washington DC by Katie, who is playing Margaret, and who had very kindly said she would give me a lift the three and a half hours to Elkins. Unfortunately we missed our turning and only found this out when we had traveled some 100 miles further on After a panic phone call to her father, Katie proceeded to try and get us there across country. Somehow we managed to turn the wrong way and found ourselves back on the same stretch of road that we had left 2 hours earlier. As daylight slowly dwindled we hit the long bending mountain road, some 90 miles, which would take us to Elkins. It was then the storm hit. Bright flashing lightening that would have done Hollywood proud and pounding rain. We finally limped into the Davis & Elkins College at 11 o'clock. A three and a half hour journey had taken 8 hours!

Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse... I discovered that my room was in fact a dorm room in a student dormitory complex, with nothing in it except the very basics. There was no bed linen on either of the two single beds, no phone, no TV, no coat hangers, no kettle, no fridge, and I had to share the bathroom with my roomies, all hard drinking college boys, who had turned the communal area into an artist's experimental studio. I finally managed to borrow a couple of sheets and a blanket from Jen, the flustered stage manager, and crawled into bed. The following day, Saturday, we had to ourselves. There was no sign as yet of Pete Regan, our director. Unfortunate, as I had a lot of questions to ask him!! However I knew he would be arriving eventually, and so I proceeded to take a deep breath in and explore my surroundings.

I found myself on a campus that had been built into the side of a mountain. What always takes me by surprise is the amount of money American education establishments have. Some of the buildings are beautiful - the library where I'm writing this email, is brand new, built tastefully into the mountainside surrounded by trees - and with the peace and quiet, the mountains all around, the lushness of the early summer green, the rustling trees and the clean mountain air, I could take a leap of imagination and imagine I was in Rivendell in Lord of the Rings, or some up-market retreat. The day was spent exploring the town - it has a few basic shops, a library and about 10 churches - and the nature tracks in the mountains above the campus.
In the evening my young fellow actors - some students - all with an average age of about 22 - and I, all met up to enjoy a cook-out on the terrace of the Dorm building. Later we all climbed the steps to the hill above the dorms to watch a free firework display; a distant thunderstorm with yellow flashing lightening, some forked, that bounced with alarming force around the illuminated clouds and far-off mountain peaks. I decided that although, at that moment, things were not exactly ideal, the place definitely had an appeal... even if it was in the middle of nowhere.

That night I stayed up and watched a couple of the World Cup games in the communal lounge. I wasn't pleased to find that the Sweden v England game wasn't being shown live, but had a taped showing the next day in the middle of our rehearsal.

On the Sunday, and went with the vibrant Katie and CeCi, a beautiful tall black girl, who is playing the short fair Hero, to a local Episcopal church.. It's not that I'm religious, although I do believe in prayer or the power of the mind, but I enjoy meeting local people and getting a flavor of a town. The service was taken by a female vicar, so no communion, but this was made up by a lusty singing of eight hymns.
Finally in the afternoon we met up at the theatre, an old converted boiler house, for the read-through. Everyone was there except our Beatrice, who is working with the Washington Shakespeare Co till Monday. With a slightly passive aggressive energy, Pete Regan arrived. A man in his mid-thirties who used to be an actor, but is now the Assistant Acting Professor for Davis & Elkins College. The set is already half built and looks great. We are setting the play in New Orleans, 1892. Apparently I'm from Biloxi, so am working on the accent right now. I think it might be fun. Mark Rylance from the Globe in London played Benedick Northern Irish, so a southern Benedick won't sound that extreme...

So this will be a nice short job which I can use as a summer retreat, but also keep the acting wheels greased, and keep myself shape. It has a gym and a pool and a library, all five minutes walk from my room. The idea of a swim with a little work out, returning for a shower, and then either rehearsing or researching in the beautiful library, all in idyllic summer weather in the most serene and majestic of settings, playing Benedick and performing Shakespeare, seems like paradise to me right now. No, not a career move... but as Frank Langella said at the Tony Awards last night, an actor is at breakfast table and sometimes there are crumbs and sometimes there are wonderful feasts, but the trick is to keep yourself up at the table.

Time passes

There must be a script in this somewhere... a male of a certain age suddenly living in college dorms with young teen/ twenty-somethings. I seem to have been adopted as the wise guru and mentor by the dorm complex, and apparently am Mr. Cool. I have spent a lot of time in rehearsal trying to hold on to the wise part and struggling to keep my 'coolness'!

However the job is what it is, and I am enjoying saying the words and acting in the scenes with Beatrice, who because she spent time at Oxford, The NT and The Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, knows what she is doing.
So back to the dorms.
My suite, 100, seems to be the party suite. I share the suite with Jay, Lonnie and Seth; and for quite a bit of the time the rest of the twenty something suite inmates and some of the local teen/twenty somethings of the town of Elkins. I sometimes go out and mingle a little, just to show that I'm approachable and not an old stick in the mud - we're all young once - and then I'll disappear and put my headphones on or earplugs in and go into my own world. The head of the Shakespeare Festival told us off a couple of days ago for the antics at our suite. Apparently we're not supposed to party after two o'clock. I hadn't realized I was under curfew as well. This was the day when we had disco lights and a smoke machine in the lounge. I was operating the smoke machine and was trying to get a hazy effect with the lights, when all hell broke loose. The fire alarm kicked off and everybody dashed for cover. I ran as if I was seven years old again.

I had a message left on our service in New York. Johnson/Liff wanted to know which country I was in and if I had a green card. They are a big casting agent in New York, and had cast for Aquila as well as Mama Mia. It turns out they wanted me to audition for Yale Rep, a pretty good provincial theatre, for the part of Macbeth. But it came with a surprise. Apparently Yale had put Macbeth, Medea and Cinderella together and were intermingling the three. Doesn't sound like a barrel of laughs to me. Anyway I couldn't get to the audition, so I ended up getting Lonnie to video me in the theatre doing the 'dagger' speech, and sent that off to them. It was a nice bit of excitement.

Lori is now in San Francisco and on the West Coast until Xmas. This acting life is hard on relationships. Sometimes I feel like a ghost. Saw "Always" the other night with Richard Dreyfeuss playing a newly killed air pilot coming back to earth to see that his newly bereaved wife gets the handsome new guy on the block. I thought the whole picture was of questionable taste! Spielberg being indulgent. I wept buckets!!

Our Hero, Ceci, who is tall, black and beautiful was walking through the town, when a pickup truck passed her, slowed down and one of the locals leaned out and shouted: "Hey Brown Sugar..."

Katie (Margaret) said she's have to be white sugar...

I said I'd be 'Sweet 'n Low'!

Crept down early, 7am, for the England/Denmark game to find that ESPN had decided not to show it at that time, but later on tape in the afternoon. I was going to be in rehearsal and was absolutely furious. Spent the day growling about living in a third world country that wasn't interested in the biggest global event now going on, and seemed more interested in presenting baseball that has as much global significance as the Tanzanian film industry. Now that the USA has beaten Mexico (Hooray and congrats) and are in the quarterfinals, may be there'll be more interest. But I'm not holding my breath. I think they can beat Germany though. As for England... well I eventually managed to see brief highlights and am assured by my schedule that I will be able to see the whole game against Brazil. C'mon lads! Strange to think that I'm here watching it all on my own in a kitchen in the mountains of West Virginia, shouting and roaring them on in blissful isolation... rather than a pub with a big screen, full of my countrymen.

I got a bike today off the hire shop on campus. So I'm looking forward to exploring outside the campus some of the beautiful countryside. What with swimming and the gym every day, I should be very fit at the end of this job.

Benedick is a wonderful part. A man who was hurt in love early on and has kept women at arms length ever since. He and Beatrice met before and he flirted and was attracted to her, but when she returned his interest twofold, he ran for cover. Now he returns... and it is so obvious that they are both deeply attracted to one another... obvious to everyone except themselves. Only when he overhears the Prince, Claudio and Leonato state that she is suffering terribly by being so in love with him, has he the courage to allow his feelings to be released. The biggest moment for him in the play is after Claudio has left the church after denouncing Hero as a whore, and Benedick chooses to stay with Beatrice and Hero, rather than go with the Prince and Claudio... when Beatrice says she wants Claudio challenged, there is something deeply moving and noble about a man going against one of his friends and in the process risking his life, rather than lose his love. Ah... I have known this feeling; and it is like swimming against an undertow - unrelenting and totally pointless to fight.

I have a routine now... have I told you this...? up at 7.30... then walk up the hill to the Graceland Inn... an old mansion that overlooks then town of Elkins. Its original owner was Senator Henry Gassawy Davis and this was his summer home; a building of native sandstone reaching up to extravagant turrets, columns and varied roof lines. The interior has a mixture of indigenous hardwoods - birds-eye maple, cherry, walnut and the red-oaked, gloriously named, Mingo Room. The mansion is now one of the top hotels in the State and I arrive walking across the wooden veranda into the grand wooden lined dining hall. I have an oat bran cereal with coffee and orange juice followed by fruit, and a bagel. Usually I will sit in the sunroom in glorious isolation.
I finish at around 8.30, just in time to walk down to the library which is just opening. There, I can access the internet and my emails, and also browse though three levels of booked stacked shelves with a wondrous selection; again I usually am on my own, and can sit at one of the tables next to the window and get lost for a couple of hours.
Sometime in the day I will get to the gym... if I arrive in the morning, that too is usually empty, and I put in a favorite tape and put it up full blast and then proceed to attack the torture machines.. Hopefully it times out to coincide with the lap session in the pool, where again I may be on my own. You couldn't get a bigger contrast with Brooklyn if you tried, and it's this that makes the whole experience with all its flaws completely worthwhile.

We had a warning given out two days ago. A brown recluse spider had been seen in our suite. Apparently the little thing can kill you! Last year a black widow jumped on one of the young actresses in the theatre. I feel like Indiana Jones... "Spiders - why did it have to be spiders?"

Sometimes I feel like I'm in a Gorky play... a dark and slightly threatening actor from another country arrives in a small town for their Shakespeare Festival. The cast is mostly young and he has to share the dorm facilities. What does he think of them? How do they react to him? Where is the money? Will there be more visits by the black widow and brown recluse spiders? Who is the mysterious woman who stares unashamedly at the dark actor all through rehearsal? What will happen in the late night parties in Suite 100? What is the ice-cube drinking race? What is the story of the haunted house in Elkins? Will the audience arrive? What about the town inhabitants themselves? Will they embrace the festival or destroy it because of the stranger in their midst?!!!

So all for now... going to try a little bike ride and then back for run this evening.... of the play that is. We open on Wednesday...

Time Passes

Sundays in Elkins are a lazy affair, especially on a midsummer's day with a sky that is "quite quite blue" and a searing sun. After the ritual of breakfast at Graceland, it was off to an empty gym and pool. Usually the library is first port of call, but disappointingly it's closed at the weekends. The Festival had said they would feed me while I was here, but now it seems this is not happening at lunchtimes. At the weekends there is no food at all except for breakfast. I have however become adept at making do; and so for lunch I had the second half of my Subway sandwich - tuna, salad, covered in honey mustard - not the best combination. And at breakfast I surreptitiously hid a couple of bagels and muffins in napkins for later. Why making do? Well, payment is slow in coming from the Elkins Shakespeare Festival, it being run on a shoestring, and once I receive the checks I have to send them off to my roommate, Louis, in Brooklyn to deposit in the bank, as it is based in the North East. The rent approaches and I can see it being a close call with the cash flow. 'Twas ever thus!

Sunday afternoon loomed. I decided to cycle around the town of Elkins looking for a quiet place to think and read and enjoy the mountain air and sunshine. If you descend to the bottom of the hill below the college of Davis & Elkins - as I did with carefree abandon on my hired mountain bike - you arrive at the town's small central park... a meeting area is probably more accurate. Within its grassy confines are areas for the smallest children - sandpits, swings and climbing frames; and for teenagers - skateboarding and volleyball. Wooden slatted picnic tables abound, usually under the shade of the copious trees. Here and there are raised platforms - like bandstands in England - where family parties come to picnic with massive cool-boxes and grills. One such group was having a big group photograph being taken. I watched for a while and felt sad. My own family and friends are either in England or in San Francisco. Feeling this alone, without filial or friendly support, has returned again after a very long time.

Richard?

I was seven when I was sent away to a boarding school in Sussex; probably the last time I felt this isolated... Well there was the time living on my own for a year when I was 16 in a bedsitter in Clapham. It's something of revelation when I think about it.

Are you ok?

The feeling is not one of self-pity, but a curious examination of the workings of being by your self. Mounting the mountain bike I returned to the college grounds and finally settle on top of the hill, 3000 feet above sea level. I am now sitting on an elaborate iron-wrought chair at an equally elaborate iron-wrought table upon the huge wooden veranda of the Graceland Mansion. I come here for breakfast every morning, but now it is totally deserted. From here I can see across the town and its main street to the hazy cerulean mountains beyond...

Are you sure you're ok?

It's a lazy steamy West Virginian afternoon. Bear with me, I'm setting the scene.

Oh goody!

The college is tranquil. The visiting inmates of the upward bound group and the basketball camp have all vanished for the weekend. My young companions of the dorm have gone swimming in a local river. May be I should be with them, but at the moment I'm too fascinated in experiencing my own solitude...

Yes, and sharing it with me!

...with the help of a book on Marcel Proust and the sounds of unfamiliar birdsong. A bright red bird flies down from the trees and lands on the lawn in front of me. What's its name?

Now I'm getting worried.

It wears a vivid flaming red coat with a crest that stands proudly. I whistle at it and it flies about the garden and around the branches of the nearest tree. I like to think it's interested or confused. Anyhow it is my only companion at this moment. I discover from my book that Proust seems to have had a rather skeptical view of friendship: "a lie which seeks to make us believe that we are not irremediably alone." "Conversation, which is friendship's mode of expression, is a superficial digression which gives us nothing worth acquiring. We may talk for a lifetime without doing more that indefinitely repeat the vacuity of a minute." Statements that leave me as ..."as melancholy as a lodge in a warren."

Bloody hell... what the hell are you talking...?

However Proust had many friends on which he lavished his attention, compliments and money, but the friendships were superficial. Honesty within them seemed to be beyond him. He needed to be loveable and well-liked rather than express the many unkind thoughts he had of people. I miss my friends, and sharing feelings and ideas, being honest with each other - no-one to really do that with here; but I understand the notion of being more comfortable with writing rather than talking.

Richard, can I kindly ask you where we're going with this?

Because the tempo of conversation makes no allowance for dead periods, because the presence of others calls for continuous responses, you can be left to regret the inanity of what you have said and the missed opportunity of what you have not. Something I feel all the time when returning home to the UK and having the briefest of reunions with my closest friends. I often find it frustrating saying what I want to say in a conversation and being unable to revise my more inane utterances.

So why are you putting all of them into this journal?!

For our tendency I think is not to know what we are trying to say until we have had at least one go at saying it; whereas writing is an ongoing process of revision and rewriting, where bare inarticulate strands are enriched and improved over time.

I think it must be a college version of cabin fever.

As an actor, of course, I say someone else's words, which, if you're lucky, are perfect from moment to moment.

Very profound.

There is a moss-covered stone plaque on the path up to the mansion which bears the inscription:
I will lift up mine eyes to the hills from whence cometh my help.
This is exactly what I was doing when out first night loomed large over our young and inexperienced troupe of actors.

Thank God, we're back to the stories!

Our company is mainly made up of recently graduated students, a couple of professors and two professional actors. Despite the inexperience on stage, it is hard for Shakespeare's voice not to still come shining triumphantly through. I admit to feeling a little apprehensive for the younger members of the cast on that first night. Two weeks rehearsal isn't very long, and they hadn't received much help from a director who was wearing a lot of hats and trying to organize his own upcoming wedding at the same time. But it all went comparatively smoothly and I received the thrill, as with Prospero, of just saying the lines and hearing how they still work their magic on an audience.
The only slight hiccup came in the middle of the very dramatic chapel scene when Benedict and Beatrice are left alone together. Diana (Beatrice) had just declared her love for me, when she got up from her knees and walked downstage. At that moment she felt a breeze just below her waist. Looking down, she was horrified to see that her underskirt had slipped down... revealing her black lacy Victoria's Secret knickers. She spent the remainder of the scene with a distracted air, clutching her skirt so tightly that her knuckles went white. Benedict remained blissfully unaware of the whole drama and was trying to work out which way his leading lady was going with the scene.

We have two professors in the play. Bob, who plays the Friar (Preacher in our version) is a Shakespearean scholar having studied at Oxford with Jane Barton, wife of John. He is also called "Swimming Bob". Every lunchtime he races over to the pool and swims relentlessly for the full hour, doing over 100 laps. On the rare days that the pool isn't open on time, he races off to find the key and opens it up himself. Bob is 50 and is just about to get married for the first time to a local teacher. A brave man indeed.

"The whole art of living is to make use of the individuals through whom we suffer. Griefs, at the moment they change into ideas, lose some of the power to injure our heart." Proust again.

Oh God save us!

Diana (Beatrice) had her heart broken for the umpteenth time a few years back, and for fun went shopping in www.matchmaker.com - an Internet dating site. After submitting her details, she browsed through the available men, chose one with similar interests, met him, fell in love straight away, and is now engaged to be married.
Is this the way for partnerships of the future?


The Brown Recluse: Araneae: Loxascelidae, Loxosceles reclusa
SIZE: 1/4 to 3/4 inch (6.4-19.1mm) COLOR: Golden brown
The feature that most distinguishes the brown recluse from many other harmless spiders is a somewhat darker violin-shaped marking on top of the leg-bearing section of the body. The neck of the violin "silhouette" points towards the rear (abdomen) of the spider. Brown recluse spiders also have 3 pairs of eyes (arranged in 3 groups of two) rather than 4 pairs for most other spiders. The brown recluse roams at night seeking its prey. During the day, it hides in dark niches and corners, where it may spin a poorly organized, irregular web. Eggs are deposited in 1/2 inch long off-white silken egg sacs, often appearing flattened beneath and convex above. It is shy and will try to run from a threatening situation but will bite if cornered. People are sometimes bitten while they are asleep because they roll onto a brown recluse spider while it is hunting in the bed. More often the victim is bitten while putting on a shoe or piece of clothing which a spider has selected for its daytime hiding place. The bite of the brown recluse is usually painless until 3 to 8 hours later when it may become red, swollen, and tender.Later the area around the bite site may develop into an ulcerous sore from 1/2 to 10 inches in diameter. Healing often requires a month or longer, and the victim may be left with a deep scar. In certain cases bites can be life threatening.

I woke up on Thursday and saw a spider on the floor beside my bed. Fortunately it was dead, but I pondered for the rest of the day if I had inadvertently stepped on it during the night, and whether it was a brown recluse.
On Wednesday a huge spider dropped on the head of Steve, Diana's fianc as the three of us walked down the corridor outside the dorm.
On Thursday night, Seth (a huge Southern bass player playing Leonato) killed a brown recluse spider outside Katie window as he was talking to her. Katie was hysterical until he told her calmly that it was harmless and in no way a danger.
"I didn't think it was something she'd wanna hear, but you better look out for them, dude."
I am treating every spider I see as life threatening.

Great sadness on Friday. I actually persuaded some of the cast to watch the USA and Germany game at 7.30 in the morning. I thought the US team played with great skill and did their country proud and were very unlucky to have been beaten. I'd like to say the same about the England side against Brazil, but both my alarms failed to go off for the 2.30 am kick-off and I missed the whole extravaganza. The American commentator teased me for a few moments during the US/Germany game and was desperate for news on the earlier game: "England scored early and led Brazil. It was 1 -0 to England..."

long pause...

I raised my hands in triumph...

"...initially!"

I sank to my knees and howled, much to everyone's amusement. Eventually I was put out of my agony, told the score, and gloom descended. No one here is much interested at all about the biggest global sporting event. Instead we have baseball, basketball, car racing, fly-fishing, and hunting!

The party after the first night was quite a bacchanalian affair. The theme was New Orleans, our play being set there. Beads were given out for various tasks undertaken, which, as the night wore on, became more and more outrageous. I will draw a veil over the whole riotous affair...

Well if you insist... a glimpse...

if you had happened to walk by Suite 100 that hot moonlit night you might have seen toe-sucking, chest to chest, same sex kissing - of both sexes, tequila off a naked chest, the spanking machine. And much more. I left the party for the safety of my monastic cell when I felt too old and too embarrassed by what I was watching!! I will not say which games I played to win my beads... But I felt sufficiently guilty to clean the whole suite up in the morning!
I also find that I now have a lot of beads!

Now that's the Richard I know and love!

 

Time passes

 

I am coming into my last week, up here in my college mountain Shangri La. It has been a little bizarre to say the least, but I think the whole experience has been something of a special gift. I needed some sort of break after working practically flat out touring for the year, and I wasn't going to really get the peace and quiet I wanted in Brooklyn. So even though I am living in the college dorm suite that seems to have been designated the party joint, and even though there seems to be a party nearly every night, the peace and tranquility during the day, the surroundings, the mountains and the library have more than made up for the rowdy carousing of the early hours. And honestly, I don't really mind the parties. If I wanted to, I could always move again.

Last week the boyz took me camping.
We drove about ten miles north and then about half a mile down a dirt track before slipping on the back packs and trekking a couple of hours in the mountain woods following a river called Otters' Creek. Eventually we came to a green glade of long grass next to a swimming hole and set up camp. There used to be a shelter here, but it had been removed. Seth, huge and West Virginian said it was a shame because if it had been still standing: "we'd be shittin' in tall cotton!"
After hunting down our wood supply and making a fire we waited for Lonnie,(Claudio, tall, wiry and a writer), to cook the salmon and fresh vegetables. The other members of our fellowship - Jay(Dogberry, Don John, mephisto, extrovert and party instigator), Kerry,(intense and emotional talented artist and potter), and Seth(giant) - discussed hunting. Seth showed me the bear claw marks in a nearby tree.
Hunting is part of the culture here; a rite of passage for a father to pass on to his son or daughter. The deer can be hunted either on foot on the move, or by finding a hiding place in the bushes or in a platform high in the trees called a tree stand. There are seasons for doe and buck hunting. Bears can be hunted with a dog. The backwoodsman here hunt them with packs of dogs fitted with radio collars so they can track their whereabouts. Turkeys are the big challenge - the raptors of the hunting world - because they can see in color and have an instinct and intelligence it seems that the other animals lack. After they are killed, then there is the small matter of preparing the meat to be skinned and made ready for eating. The hunting part appeals, but pulling the trigger and the butchering don't.
It was dark by the time we ate our meal, the light of the fire shining on our 'umbered faces'. By this time a certain amount of alcohol had been consumed. I don't often get a chance for a group male bonding session and to be quite honest have never been comfortable with it. I find I am happier alone or one on one, but it was fun to hear stories from a mountain culture.
Later in the night we wandered around the meadow that was now lit up with fireflies, lightening bugs that communicate with each other and flash in a sequence. The glade became like Titania's palace. A sparkling display of glittering fairies.
At Midnight, and by this time wonderfully inebriated, we all swam naked in the swimming hole howling up at a Strawberry moon. The next day I came out of the tent to shafts of sunlight in our cathedral wood.
Spent the morning fishing for Craw Daddies, a type of Cray fish. You turn over rocks and pin them down to neutralize their claws. While breakfast was being cooked, I sat alone by the river at the bottom of a waterfall among the rhododendrons and wrote and drew in my journal. It was wonderful to be 'in the nature', - as they say in Norway.
On the way back we swam again, and Seth said that what we needed were some wood nymphs to join us. At that moment a troop of blond healthy girl hikers trooped along the path looking down at us in all our wet naked glory.
Seth grinned: "Ask and ye shall be given."
I could have spent a few days out there. Or even gone on a vision quest, which is when you go out into the wilderness for three days with no food and water. In the end you start hallucinating and - they say - get in touch with your animal spirit guide.
On the hike back, done at speed because Lonnie had a date - a deer leapt out in front of us. I was even more convinced that this Englishman could not pull the trigger!

On Saturday the 100 suite surpassed itself.
We had "a round the world' party. It was held in two suites with every room being a different country. Jay, for instance, was Russia. The air conditioning was blasting at full so we had the cold of Russia, Russian music was blaring and we had caviar on crackers washed down with shots of vodka after a suitable toast. Lonnie was Spain and had a bucket of Sangria. He was covered in body paint except for his loincloth and apparently was a walking Picasso. Seth was America and had mini cheeseburgers and Moonshine (lethal), quickly followed by Canada and Canadian whisky because his girlfriend is Canadian. There was also Germany, Scotland, Italy and Ireland. We covered the globe in about an hour.

I awoke the next day to a raging headache and 'jet lag' and remembered that I was reading the Scriptures at the Presbyterian Church that morning.
Why, I hear you cry?
Because Bob, the Friar and Shakespearean scholar, had asked me.
I decided that after this job I would have to go teetotal again. My whole being felt poisoned. In the church I was very pleased that there was a lectern to hang on to as I faced a packed and eager congregation. There was a bit of scary moment when I was thrown in a psalm to read at the last moment as I had difficulty focusing on the page, the atmosphere seemingly rarified when standing up, but I think I got away with it. My joke about feeling honored to read as a Brit in the week of July 4th raised a laugh.
I met the president of the college afterwards who seemed pleased with the play and with my readings.

Later I went to dinner party at Bob's and was a little startled to find that there were 'older' people there, but after a bit of a shaky start and feeling a little intimidated by the academics and philosophy and Shakespearean scholars assembled, I found that I hadn't lost the art of adult communication entirely. I found myself quite envious of them.
It must be comforting to have a lovely home in the mountains with work just a few minutes away in an academic world of books, study, and thought; all in a close community who look out for each other. I can understand how Pete (our director) gave up acting for it all. However at the moment I go where the wind blows me. May be one day I'll be able to finally take my books out of the boxes and put them on shelves again. They have been the only constant in my life.
One of the guests was an animal rights campaigner. Don was like one of those older American character actors you see all the time in films. In his sixties; tall, craggy, with eyes that tried to look into your soul. He lives deep in the mountains in a trailer while his home is being built next to him. His nearest neighbor is a mile away. West Virginia is obviously a difficult area for an animal rights campaigner. He felt hunting was an abomination.
"Why don't they call it killing? That's what it is. It ain't hunting. It's killing. That's what they're doing."
Towards the end of the evening he leaned over to me, his voice heavy and tired, his eyes still searching for my inner being.
"Do you think... do ya think that there is any point in trying to put over... put across something to people who don't want to listen... to hear what you are saying? Should we even bother?"
I quoted Churchill:
"Never, never, never, never, never, never, never give in."
The eyes flickered. But Don's troubled face remained unconvinced.

 

Time passes

 

Well... finally got back to Brooklyn after a 11 hour journey! To be in Washington on the way back was painful and a little surreal. Lori now not being there, but decamped on the other side of the country. The weather turned surreal too. The sun disappeared and a foggy gloomy haze hung over the East Coast. This turned out to be the effect of the forest fires now raging in Quebec. The wind has blown them all the way down the coast and into the States. People have been warned if they have breathing problems to stay indoors with their A/C. Alright if you have one! But I am an expert with the Washington Metro now.
I managed to get a seat on the train back to New York - a relief as some people had to stand for the four hours it took us. The whole journey took me 12 hours. No wonder Amtrak is struggling. New York is steaming, suffocating, hot, noisy and overwhelming. I'm trying to be brave and hit the ground running, but everything was just a little daunting at first... I am missing the peace of the mountains, and of course the seemingly always empty pool, gym and library. Brooklyn is noisy, boisterous and dirty in comparison.

Our apartment is in a district of Brooklyn called Park Slope. The name says it all. At the top of the slope is the beautiful Prospect Park - rolling fields, baseball pitches, lakes, woods, a wondrous botanical garden and zoo. As in England, the property and people nearer the park are more affluent than the people - and I mean us - who are at the bottom. Our district is more... realistic!

The Street is mainly Arabic and it can be quite disorientating waking up to the sounds of the guttural Arab cries. Sometimes I imagine that I have woken up in Cairo with the Bazaar outside... as it happens it more likely to be the "bizarre".
They of course all had quite a hard time of it after September 11th. Louis, my flat-mate or roommate as they say here had to escort our landlord, Abdulla, to the shops, as he was so nervous. The apartment itself is lovely. An airy light open-planned living-room, dining and kitchenette which leads out onto a balcony where we can sit out and watch the street- a theatre in itself - and soak up the sun in the afternoon and cool down in the evening. However I paid the rent and equity, paid checks into the bank, sorted out monies owed, saw my agent, wrote professional resume for temping, prepared photo postcards to send to casting people, and looked up the latest auditions happening in town. (Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf in Las Vegas being one.) And that was the first day ... despite the heat. No wonder people killed each other so readily in this city.

What life was like before air conditioning I can't imagine? I am missing the peace of the mountains, and of course the seemingly always empty pool, gym and library.

 

 

 

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