Day 183: Went to the Victoria And Albert Museum, Had One of the Best Meals of My Life, Also Tried Prawn-Flavored Potato Chips

We found a small vegetarian restaurant in a plaza near our hostel.  I have a cabbage and aged cheddar pudding with heirloom potatoes and pureed parsnips and drank elderflower presse with it.  For dessert I had a chocolate and earl grey tea sweet pudding.  It was absolutely perfect–the flavors complimented each other and it was all perfectly proportioned.  Absolutely incredible.  I took one bite of the dessert and announced to the Husbandit that I was never going to leave my chair and that he would have to carry me out.

Day 182: Went to a Controversial Theatre Performance, Not Sure if I Did the Right Thing

So, the Husbandit and I bought theatre tickets to two plays at Shakespeare’s Globe.  They are at the end of a multilingual  theatre festival and we chose to see A Merchant of Venice in Hebrew and Hamlet in Lithuanian.  Both of us know that A Merchant of Venice is a problematic play (to use an overused word) and there are very few contexts I would be willing to see a production.  In Hebrew was one of them.  When we arrived at the theatre to see Merchant we saw a lot of security and reporters and people waving Israeli flags.  I wasn’t sure what the controversy was about–were they protesting the production of the play itself, being an anti-Semetic(ish) work?  Were they protesting that it was an Israeli company, country that has a wretched human rights record?  I was handed several flyers urging me not to boycott the production.  Oh.

I could think of of a couple reasons I would boycott.  I could also think of reasons why I wouldn’t boycott.  I would not boycott only because they were an Israeli company. I would boycott if the company participated in productions that promoted race-baiting or other encouragement of violence.  But, I had no access to the Internet or any information that would tell me why.  I needed to make a decision with the information I had.  And I would have to live with that decision.  I decided to go in the theatre.  I decided to go into the theatre because I knew of no other reason to not go in other than that the theatre company was Israeli.  For me, that was not a good enough reason not to go in.  For some people it would be.  For me it was not.   I also looked at the official season flyer I had been handed and saw that there was also a production of Richard the II in Palestinian Arabic.

I wasn’t allowed into the theatre until my husband brought out a ticket for me (we had booked online and he needed to go to the box office).  While I waited I listened to a man tell a reporter that he was going to the performance because he “believed art is art and politics is politics.”  I didn’t agree.  “Do I still want to go in?”  I asked myself.  I decided to go in.  I had to go through a metal detector.  I thought, “Well, this is a tiny fraction of what thousands of Palestinians go through every day just to get to work.”

We got inside.  We were both hungry so we bought sandwiches.  As we waited outside, I asked my husband, “Are you okay with going in?”

“Yes,” he said,  “Are you okay with going in?”

“Yes, “  I said, “But if there is anything hateful propaganda on stage, I’m going to leave.”

“I’ll leave too,” he said.  A group of people on a boat on the Thames waved signs that read, “End the Occupation.”

We went in.

Before the play started, the artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre welcomed us.  He stated that the people on stage were not politicians, were artists and the role of artists is to envision a better world.  He also said that the artists performing in Palestinian Arabic were treated with respect on stage and asked us to do the same.

The play started.  If you’re not familiar with a Merchant of Venice, here’s a quick and dirty summary.  There is a clique of Venetian noblemen, 15th century bros, really.  One of them, Bassanio, want to marry Portia, a wealthy woman.  He asks his friend Antonio to lend him money so he can woo her.  Antonio doesn’t have enough cash so he asks Shylock, a Jewish moneylender to lend him the money.  Shylock says that he dislikes Antonio but agrees to the deal as long as Antonio promises him a “pound of flesh” is he reneges on his debt.  Antonio agrees.  Fast forward, Antonio does renege, Shylock doesn demand the flesh, but is out-lawyered in court and is arrested for conspiracy to murder a Christian and is stripped of his wealth, forced to convert to Christianity and generally humiliated.  Shylock is portrayed as vengeful and money-obsessed, the Christians are portrayed as hypocritical and irresponsible.  No one is really a hero.  The play uses common Jewish stereotypes, but was unique in its portrayal of Shylock as human—he is vengeful, but he has also been mistreated.  The Christians claim virtue but break oaths and are decadent in their lifestyle with little regard for others.  But ultimately Shylock is cast as the evil Jewish villain—hence the problematic nature of the play.

The theatre company added a few scenes—the Venetians beating Shylock in the streets at the very beginning, and Shylock leaving Venice alone and impoverished at the end.  It definitely put all of the other action in perspective—the daily threat violence Shylock encountered as a Jew contributes to his obsession with vengeance and his sad leaving reflects his social isolation and lack of agency.  Not a bad production—but it took adding two scenes and a couple other facelifts to make it not a racist production, which says something.

During the production, above me someone unrolled a banner.  I couldn’t see what it said and they were escorted out of the theatre.  A man also shouted, “Has a Palestinian not eyes, if you prick us, do we not bleed?”  After Shylock’s famous speech “Has a Jew not eyes?  If you pricks us, do we not bleed, and if you wrong us, should we not take our revenge?” The man was escorted out,  some shouted “You!”  and a bunch of people clapped.  I was intensely uncomfortable then.  I had chosen to go into the theatre, but I didn’t want to be associated with people who mocked someone’s civil disobedience.  It felt like a refusal to think.  The rest of the play continued and we stayed.

I went home, got on the Internet and started searching for information on the theatre company whom I had just seen.  I found out this information:

  • one of the reasons for the boycott was that they had chosen to perform in Jewish-only settlements.
  • According to their website they perform in partnership with Palestinian actors and directors.
  • They are a national theatre company, but not an official state theatre.
  • Their performance at Shakespeare’s Globe was supported by the Foreign Ministry of Israel.
  • The Ashtar Theatre that put on the Palestinian-Arabic performance is based in Ramallash but travels to bring theatre to Palestinians everywhere.
  • The Ashtar Theatre company created and toured the Gaza Monologues that gives voice to children who died during the bombing of Gaza by Israeli forces  the Israeli Ministry of Froeign Affairs tried to stop the performance in Norway.
  • The Ashtar Theatre company was invited by the Globe to give a talk on the connection between art and politics ina panel discussion called “Theatre under Occupation.”
  • The Ashtar Theatre company performed Richard the II, a play that explores their artistic director Iman Aoun says explores the legitimacy of political authority and under what circumstances it is legitimate to resist authority.
  • When asked about the boycott of Habima at Shakespeare’s Glob, oun stated unequivocally that all the theatre companies represented by Ashtar’s members support the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS), and specifically cultural boycott.  Aoun addressed the idea that cultural boycott prevents communication between artists on different sides of a conflict. She agreed that art can build bridges and bring people together,  but she appealed for “a bit of sanity.” “At night Israeli artists want to perform with us and in the morning they serve in the army. What is the use of going on producing art when deep down they know they are breaking basic human rights by supporting the occupation and its apartheid regime and settlements? Israelis need to work inside their own society; changes have to occur on the ground in Israel for there to be real justice.”

So, I chose to go to the performance based on the information I had.  Now, with all of this new information, I’m not sure if I would again.  On one hand I will and have boycotted products that specifically support Israeli military action.  However, do I support a general cultural boycott of Israel?  If I had know that the company agreed to perform Jewish only, illegal settlements, I would not have gone to see the performance because I feel that choosing to do so supports the legitimacy of these settlements.  However—I don’t support a boycott of items or people base only on the fact that they are Israeli.  That feels dehumanizing, and it seems like most oppression starts with dehumanization.  But culture isn’t “pure” it’s embedded in everything else that takes place in a country, so it’s difficult to draw those lines.

In the end, I felt like the Venetian Christians of A Merchant of Venice.  Trying to be paint myself as virtuous, but with a deep suspicion that in the end, it’s just one more mask I wear.  Splitting hairs and telling stories to myself to try to explain why I do what I do—afraid that in the end it was just ego and ignorance.  I did make the best decision I could with the information I had and applying my principles, but I’m not comfortable and I don’t think I should be.

Day 181: Toured the Tower of London, Witnessed the Ceremony of the Keys

I’m exhausted from a day of walking(almost) the length of London and walking through the Tower of London.  It astonishes me to walk in a place that has been continuously used for over 700 years.  I didn’t realize that the yeoman warders actually live on the premises. I also didn’t realize that the Tower was one of the residences of the monarch of England for most of its existence.  Or that there were exotic animals on the kept on the grounds.

After we toured the living quarters of Edward the Confessor, we had a terrible time getting out of the Tower.  We kept trying to climb down steps and kept being shunted by ropes to yet another museum exhibit on some aspect of the the Tower’s history.  We were pretty footsore and hungry by that point and for some reason, everything smelled like baking cookies.  We joked that this was the current trend in Tower imprisonment and torture–make visitors tour exhibits and smell delicious food until they dropped dead of exhaustion and hunger.  Eventually we escaped, and headed off to eat sandwiches in a shop down the street.

Day 179-Day 180: Visited Parliament and Westminister Abbey, Ate Real English Fish and Chips, Also Some Reflections on Aging

Since I had two days mushed together via the wonders of jet air travel, it is difficult to sort out what event happened on what “day.”  Thus I will post about it all!

We are staying in a hostel, which had me a bit nervous.  My past experiences with hostel were youth hostels in Mexico and Italy.  I didn’t want to be in a communal room for my honeymoon since I’m not turned on by that level of exhibition and I was worried that we are too old for hostels.  Hostels are geared toward the young and the broke and while we’re still the latter, we’re less and less the former.  Some hostels allow only guests that are under 26 and that 4 years younger than me.  The Husbandit insisted that this particular hostel would be fine and it has been.  It’s not specifically a youth hostel though it definitely mostly caters to and serves the 18-26 crowd.  Not all of the rooms are communal and I’ve seen folks well over their 30’s and 40’s staying here.  It has brought up a thought that’s been recurring for a while though, “I’m not too old for this yet, but soon I will be.”

At 29 (and childless) I can still “get away” with a lot of 20-something stuff, trendy fashions, staying at hostels, some friends’ drama, drinking too much, dancing all night.  But I can see the point at which I won’t be able to in the eyes of the public around me.  And I’m already at the point at which I don’t want to do a lot of those things.  A lot of the those activities are ones that never quite suited me to begin with–I’ve never been a  frequent heavy drinker, I’m a gossip but I’m not attracted to drama, and my fashion sense has always been….eccentric.  I love dancing but I always felt a little out of place at regular clubs, like I was putting on a mask.  So, I feel a mixture of relief and nostalgia at the prospect of no longer having the expectations of being a 20-something.  Staying the in hostel has been a very telling experience;  on one hand part of me looks at the 21 year olds with their backpacks a little enviously, remembering the camaraderie of backpacking through Oaxaca with a group of other 21 year old women in college.  On the other hand, I think about how anxious and self-hating I was at 21 and I’m happy to be where I am now.  I think part of grows older joyfully is recognizing what you love and finding away to keep it in your life.  I want to keep dancing as long as I have legs (and after that I’ll be the old auntie popping wheelies in her wheelchair at weddings) and I want to go on trips with friends again.  I see no reason why either of those things shouldn’t happen.

Along with the navel-gazing I also did some nave-gazing (cue groan) at Westminster Abbey and went on a tour of Parliament.  Being in both of those buildings targeted what I’ve loved about London so far.  It is awe-inspiring to be in a place that has been a people place for over a millennium.  Standing in Westminster Hall and seeing architecture built by the Normans, standing in front of the tomb of Queen Elizabeth the I, standing in the undercorridors of Westminster where seeing the medieval masons’ marks–I find it inspirational just because of the sheer longevity of it all.

After a day of walking around and some…ahem…honeymoon activities, we went out for fish and chips and worked on a joint writing project.  It’s been a good day, thought I’m still dealing with some residual anxiety and tension for too much working and too little sleep.  I’m trying to make this experience like hitting a reset button.

Day 178: Entered Walking Contest, Completed Grant Writing Certificate, Embarked on Honeymoon

Instead of a traditional gift registry, the Husbandit and I did a honeymoon registry.  We planned a trip, calculated the costs, and used the Traveler’s Joy website to create an online registry to which people could donate.  Today, we got on a very large plane to fly to London to begin our honeymoon.  We will be in England during our one year anniversary.  The Husbandit likes to refer to the past 12 months as Marriage Year One:  The Gritty Reboot.  It has been quite a year.

I spent the last week scrambling to Get Shit Done before leaving.  Some of the shit needed getting done was the last work for my certificate in grant-writing.  It got done, somehow, and soon I’ll have a neat little piece of paper that says I am qualified to write neat little pieces of paper asking for neat little pieces of money.

Right before I left (and I mean right before, as in the hour before) I signed up for a walking contest at work, which means I get a fancy little pedometer.  So far I have walked three and a half miles while traveling through in airports and train stations the last 12 hours.

Three and a half miles walking to travel approximately 3948 miles from Chicago to London.  Not bad.

Day 177: Fired People.

It was awful.

It is an odd situation–because my workplace doesn’t have permanent part time staff, all part time staff are on seasonal contract.  That means that I technically wasn’t “firing” someone, I just wasn’t renewing their contract.  However, in my opinion, if you have a job and then someone made a decision that results in you not having a job, you are being fired.  Doesn’t matter if the process is called, “non-renewal” or “severance”, “semi-voluntary-we-told-you-to-look-for-something-else-termination”.  It feels like being fired.

I kept the meetings short and to the point.  I told them immediately that they were being fired instead of building up to it.  Then I told them exactly why they were being fired.  I tried to be kind and respectful.  There was no way I could make being fired not suck for each person, but I at least tried to make the process civil and professional.