While living in the U.S., I am pretty sure I have made my share of Veteran’s Day jokes (usually along the lines of its stature as a holiday for which you don’t get the day off from work, and therefore, it follows that it’s unimportant). But one of the big differences between living in Europe and in the U.S. is how real and recent the world wars are in the UK.
For example, judging from its interior, the Victoria & Albert museum is a fully-modernized, attractive museum, but the building’s exterior has been purposely left sooty and riddled with big and small holes – reminders of bombings and gunfire during the Blitz.
In general, people in the UK seem to truly remember (and want to remember) the world wars, probably because being attacked by the Germans was a harsh reality for so long. I’m very impressed by how the simple act of donating money to veterans (and in exchange receiving a cheap lapel poppy pin), forces everyone to remember the human cost and sacrifice of war. Everywhere I look – on the sidewalks, on the tube – I see people wearing these red poppies on their lapels. It’s nice to think that despite everyday preoccupations, people take time to remember.
As proof of how quickly a person moves on from thoughtful moments, though, Jon and I went with Cathy and Bobby to see Avenue Q on Saturday, which just opened in London at the Noel Coward Theatre. The show was just over two hours long, and the theatre was cozy and ornate, which seemed an odd setting for a somewhat-edgy, dirty musical about 20-something college grads (including one earnest young fellow named Princeton) moving to the boonies of Brooklyn and going through the painful transition into “real life.”
At first, it took me a while to catch on to the fact that the humans directing the puppets were not characters themselves, but rather were extensions of the puppet characters. But the lyrics, singing and acting were so clever and funny that at some point, I stopped focusing on the human actors and instead I transferred the facial expressions of the human puppeteers onto the puppets.
I especially enjoyed how creative and ironic the show was. For example, songs about serious “adult” topics were accompanied by Sesame-Street-cheery melodies.
However much I enjoyed the show, I did wonder if many of the jokes were too American-specific for anyone else to enjoy. For example, one character, who is Japanese, sings about how offensive she thinks the word “oriental” is (“Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”), and here in the UK, oriental is the mainstream, accepted word for what we call “Asian” in the US. (In the UK, “Asian” means someone from the Indian subcontinent).
Then there’s Gary Coleman as a character in the show – a pretty funny touch, but I doubt Diff’rent Strokes was a big thing here in the UK. I guess I’m just curious how much the UK audience enjoys Avenue Q’s very American sense of humor. Luckily, everyone laughs at puppets performing sex acts. I was glad we went.
After the show, we had dinner at the Japan Centre, which has a Japanese restaurant on the ground floor, a Japanese bookstore on the top floor, and a Japanese grocery store on the basement floor. The shrimp tempura futo maki was fresh, but otherwise, it was just shrimp tempura and lettuce (of all things). So the maki satisfied my craving for tempura maki, but otherwise I’ve had much better elsewhere (such as at the Japan Centre-affiliated Yoshino).
The agedashi tofu, which we’d never had before, gets a shout out for being lightly fried with a crisp texture, and Cathy’s spicy ramen could have been good had it not been so salty. The ramen was fresh and al dente, though, so we’ll have to go back and try a different fresh ramen.
Jon’s udon soup was a little paltry, but he seemed satisfied. Our total tab came to £60 for three people, which is a lot for eating at a cafeteria-style restaurant, but hey, London is pricey. We will cope.
After dinner, we walked towards Green Park and had drinks at Fakhreldine (85 Piccadilly, W1J 7NB). It’s a Lebanese restaurant with a dimly-lit, attractively-sleek interior filled with lots of cozy banquettes and tables for gathering your friends together and chatting. We didn’t stay long, but I liked that it was a pretty place to sit and hang out.