‘He who tires of London has tired of life,’ wrote Samuel Johnson, and I dare say he had a point. Even in the dead of winter, when the bone-chilling cold really does chill every inch of bone in your body, the place has its pleasures provided you are suitably attired with hat, coat, boots, etc., breathe only through your woolly scarf and try to limit your time outdoors to the absolute minimum.
After all, buses, trains, shops and the tube are reasonably well-heated, and the pub is usually full enough of human bodies to generate sufficient heat to enable one to remove at least one outer layer of clothing. It pains me, though, to see the homeless people (mainly men) huddled in doorways, and probably literally freezing to death. I’m told on good authority (taxi drivers) that these people could find shelter through one of the government or charitable agencies that are prepared to help them, but they prefer to be free to come and go as they please. And for that they have to pay a price.
One of the chief delights of London is the theatre. I confess to being greatly irritated on the rare occasions when I go to the theatre in Israel. The actors do not speak clearly and, worst of all, have never learned to project their voices and rely instead on those odious little face-microphones. What do they think? That the actors in Shakespeare’s day used face-mikes? In England (and America, too, perhaps, but I’ve never been to a play there) part of the basic training of an actor is learning how to project their voice so that even the poor sods up in the gods (the highest, cheapest seats, often limited to standing only) can hear every word. Admittedly, our seats were quite near the stage and so we were in a particularly privileged position, but it was definitely possible to understand most if not all the dialogue on stage. And what a joy the two plays we saw (‘This House’ and ‘The Kite-Runner’) were, with clever dialogue, imaginative staging, competent acting and witty direction.
We left cold and rainy London for freezing central France and felt very sorry for ourselves as we huddled over log fires (me) or spent a lot of time and energy bringing logs into the house and getting fires going (him). The countryside was beautiful in its frozen state, but I’m afraid I didn’t see much of it as simply going outside required immense investment of mental and physical energy. We couldn’t even enjoy the view when we drove to Paris as almost the entire route was shrouded in fog. Can we call freezing fog frog? Let the froggies keep their frog, I say.
Our few days in icy cold Paris enabled us to enjoy an enlightening visit to the Musée d’Orsay to see the special exhibition of works by Frederick Bazille, an early Impressionist painter who was killed at the age of 29 in the Franco-Prussian war in 1870. What a waste! The few paintings he produced are extremely impressive, showing his ability to produce work of great sophistication and beauty.
The pinnacle of our stay in Paris was a stellar performance of Mozart’s Magic Flute opera, with first-rate singers and orchestra. The show ended late and we had to get up early the next morning to catch our plane, but it was worth it.
In Israel we were greeted by pouring rain, but consoled ourselves with the thought that at least it wasn’t freezing, foggy or froggy.