Liverpool Street, Old Spitalfields Market, Brick Lane
A friend of mine recommended Brick Lane which is not far from Tower of London. It is famous for its curry houses and arty markets. “There’s a lot of energy there,” she said. So I took the tube to Liverpool Street, which, according to my map, should be the closest station.
I emerged into a broad street lined by monolithic glass buildings. Grim-faced people in suits hurried past me. It was an office district, the last place I want to be during vacation. Getting out of there was easier said than done. I got lost. My map was oversimplified and I couldn’t follow the route I plotted. Then I spotted two policemen on bicycle, and they gave me detailed directions.
I wandered into a more secluded area, passing the Old Spitalfields Market and Christ Church, and reached a narrow lane where brightly coloured signs of curry houses decorated the red-brick faςades on the sides. This was probably Brick Lane, but I saw no market, nor much energy. I didn’t know the markets were only open on Sunday. The place had the vibe of Chungking Mansion, for obvious reason. It is as if someone had taken the building apart, and rebuilt it into a street.
I tried to find lunch at a pub. A sign on the door said “Smart dress only, no site gear allowed”. I had no idea what site gear meant, but my casual shirt and jeans weren’t exactly smart. No one reacted to my presence though, but then none asked if I needed anything. I know in a British pub you’re supposed to order drinks at the bar, as there’s no table service. I didn’t realise it also applies to food. I sat at a table and waited, but nothing happened. I couldn’t even find the menu. I should’ve just asked the staff, but I felt so out of place and awkward, and the anxiety took over. I left the pub with an empty stomach, and lots of confusion.
I retraced my steps back to Liverpool Street, and bought a pastry from a stall. I sat down at a nearby table, sharing space with a pigeon scavenging crumbs scattered among cigarette butts. The pastry wasn’t bad – the filling was piping hot – but no substitute for a proper meal. Several office workers came and started blowing smoke. It was a sign to leave.
From Tower Bridge to Shakespeare’s Globe
I returned to Tower Hill and crossed the Tower Bridge to the south side of River Thames. From there I walked a long way to Shakespeare’s Globe, passing the futuristic City Hall and HMS Belfast. The latter was a WW2 warship converted into a museum. Unlike a few years ago, I no longer had any interest in military hardware.
Shakespeare’s Globe is a reconstruction of the Globe Theatre, where Shakepeare’s plays were performed in the 16th century. There was still some time for dinner before tonight’s performance of Macbeth. The pre-theatre menu of Swan at the Globe was particularly enticing, but I had something else in mind.
Swan restaurant and Shakespeare’s Globe:
I paid 5 pounds for “Setting the Scene”, a pre-theatre talk in which scholars provide introduction to the evening play. This was helpful as my only knowledge of Macbeth is Akira Kurosawa’s adaption in Throne of Blood. Background aside, the speaker also discussed how elements in the play were transferred to the performance, like the use of trapdoor to symbolise passage to the “underworld”. There was no time for dinner so I grabbed a croque monsieur (which should be called crooked monsieur because it tasted vile).
The theatre had three floors plus a standing area called “the pit”, which is uncomfortable but right in front of the action. I sat on the second floor. Photography is not allowed so this is from wikipedia:
The Macbeth performance was special because the pit was covered by a black canopy, with holes where spectators can poke their heads out. When looked from above, it was like a sea of black with heads floating on it. Like the trapdoor, this was supposed to simulate the underworld. It also allowed some wicked tricks. For examples, “witches” emerged from the canopy with wallets snatched from the audience. “Blood-soaked” man moved into the crowd, causing people to squirm as they had nowhere to run.
I must admit my experience was hampered by my inability to understand the Shakespearean language, but even just visually the performance was highly enjoyable. There were plenty of surprises. For example, one of the characters suddenly appeared next to me, climbed over the ledge, and rappelled down the stage. What a way to make an entrance!
After the show I crossed the Millennium Bridge for the tube station. I discovered my clothes were too thin to withstand the cold wind of River Thames at night. As I shivered, teeth clenching and hungry, I said to myself:
“That’s it. No more takeaways. No more pastries. I’m gonna splurge on decent meals from tomorrow on.”