Sunday, July 19, 2009

Back in the U.S.A.

After a whirlwind week of sightseeing in London, we're back home and only slightly jet-lagged.

Although I'm a summerphile with a taste for heat (at least up to the mid-80s), London's weather was reasonably pleasant. There's seemingly a rule there that it has to spritz at least briefly every day, no matter how sunny it may look in the morning, but for the most part we had decent weather. The Underground is superior to the NYC subway in many ways - easier to use and with much more frequent trains (the tradeoff, clearly worth it for my money, is that it shuts down in the dead of night). The extremely long summer daylight hours (17+ hours at this time of year) are also exhilarating, although of course one pays dearly for this in the winter (I'm told the Sun pretty much disappears, between short hours and fog, from November through March).

There's lots of art in London that's either great or interesting - an example of the latter being my old favorite, the National Portrait Gallery, with its psychologically illuminating portraits of famous Britishers ranging from kings to poets. Though often averse to tack, I couldn't resist bringing home a Richard III towel, showing the famous painting in which he looks conscientious and careworn (the inspiration for Josephine Tey's delightful "The Daughter of Time"). But I passed up a Tate Gallery T-shirt I liked (saying "Your pizza is ready now") because the price was too high.

My most enjoyable read of the vacation was Tom Holland's "Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic," which turns the exploits of Marius, Sulla, Caesar, Crassus, et al into something at least on a par for excitement with "The Godfather." I gather it's historically sound if one forgives the rampant speculation about Romans' individual and collective beliefs and motives. Truly a compelling page-turner.

"Waiting for Godot" was predictably a bit too much to ask of our adolescents in tow (I declined to offer an advance preview of the plot, though it would have been easy to do in a sentence), but they greatly enjoyed "The 39 Steps" (enjoyable farce, though to my taste a bit too ready to rely on laughs that were easy but not enormously interesting).


Unknown said...

Rubicon sounds like something I'll want to check out. Good historical fiction can really take you there. I'm struggling with my (second) YA novel set in the same period.
Judith Geary (

Daniel Shaviro said...

It's actually narrative history rather than fiction. But one thing that got me to buy it was a quote on the U.K. book cover from Ian McEwan, saying that "it really held me, in fact obsessed me."