“Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” at Theatre Vertigo

Last night we were very fortunate to see Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at Theatre Vertigo. A tight, crisp performance in a tiny space.

The acting was uniformly excellent, with Mario Calcagno’s performance as Jekyll a standout; most of the rest of the cast plays one or two roles (several of them cast gender-blind) in addition to dividing the role of Hyde, a decision I questioned at first but which worked brilliantly. The production is highlighted by subtle, highly effective music and sound effects and sharp lighting, with every sound and light cue nailed. And the whole thing takes place in a performance space the size of my living-dining room, with one and a half rows of seats along the wall on each side; this intense production takes place right in the audience’s lap.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde plays through November 23 and I strongly encourage you to see it if you can.

My OryCon schedule

OryCon starts tomorrow! (How the heck did that happen?) Here’s where you can find me:

Friday 1:00PM-2:00PM, Hamilton: Gender and Writing
Rhiannon Held (M), Rhea Rose, Barry Deutsch, Mike Chinakos, David D. Levine
Gender free? Gender neutral? Stereotyping? How gender affects our writing. What writers do to write effectively in the opposite gender’s point of view and whether they really do get away with it.

Friday 3:00PM-4:00PM, Morrison: Effective Readings
Anne Bishop (M), Grá Linnaea, Liz Argall, David D. Levine, Sonia Orin Lyris
You may be a good writer but reading aloud is a separate skill. Learn to make your words on the page sound great.

Friday 6:30PM-7:00PM, Mult/Holl: Endeavour Awards
Nancy Kress, Jim Fiscus, Daniel H. Wilson, Laurie Frankel
2013 Endeavour Award: The Award honors the best SF/F book written by a Pacific Northwest writer.

Saturday 11:00AM-11:30AM, Lincoln: David Levine Reading
David D. Levine
I’ll most likely be reading from my novel Arabella and the Marsman.

Saturday 3:00PM-4:00PM, Roosevelt: Workshop: Story Outline in an Hour
David D. Levine (M), Matt Vancil, Jason M. Hough
Bring something to write on and write with. You’ll have an outline (or a good start) to a story by the end of this panel. Bonus–this would be a great head start to that creative writing class homework you’re ignoring over the weekend.

Saturday 5:00PM-6:00PM, Alaska: Ask Dr. Genius: Ad-Lib Answers to Audience Questions
Janet Freeman-Daily (M), Karen Black, Jim Kling, Guy Letourneau, Dan Dubrick, David D. Levine
No really they’re real scientists honest. Bring your science questions and if they don’t have an answer they’ll make something up and it might even be sort of right.

Sunday 11:00AM-12:00PM, Madison: Audiobooks
Annie Bellet, Mark Niemann-Ross, Phoebe Kitanidis, David D. Levine
Selling the rights ACX hiring a narrator or–gulp–doing it yourself!

Sunday 2:00PM-3:00PM, Morrison: Gay Lesbian and Trangender Themes in SF
David D. Levine (M), GuyAlan Holady, Theresa “Darklady” Reed, Keffy R. M. Kehrli
SF and F have long been a magnet for people with alternative sexuality and genders. How does literature and media compare with the political reality today?

Sunday 4:30PM-6:30PM, Powell’s Books at Cedar Hills Crossing: Sci-Fi AuthorFest 7
A starfleet of science-fiction and fantasy authors descends for one galactic booksigning event. Free and open to the public.

Brighton (2)

Friday 11/1: This morning we selected the Full English Breakfast, which was nummy, and met several other con people staying in our hotel including Wesley Chu. Then off to the con and a full morning of programming!

The panel on “what can we learn from the transition from the pulps to the digests?” was more of a historical overview and reminiscences about the good old days. The Neil Gaiman interview was delightful as always, beginning with a memorable anecdote about how he lost his shirt (and all his other stuff) at the Metropole when he was here for the Worldcon in 1987. The Style vs. Substance panel sounded interesting, but on the way I ran into Mary Robinette Kowal, who very kindly introduced me to her UK editor. Because of this I missed almost all of the panel, which I do not regret in the least. After that we ran off with Gordon Van Gelder and Geoff Ryman for lunch at the Greek place near the hotel. Fried feta with honey, yum.

The Terry Pratchett interview was disappointing. He was accompanied by two people who didn’t introduce themselves and talked about projects which they assumed we already knew about and/or could not divulge details of, which was confusing and frustrating. Worse, they did most of the talking, so we didn’t hear nearly as much from Terry as I would have liked. Perhaps they were working around his limitations, but although his speech was slow I got the impression he was still pretty much in touch with the world (more so than some of the more elderly authors at the con, in my opinion) and I wished the other two people would have allowed him more microphone time. After that the “how far can you go in YA” panel was fun, but was marred by an overly perky moderator who insisted on referring to the panelists and audience as “hoodlums” and “sinners.” Don’t ever let schtick get in the way of content, people.

Hung out with Ellen Klages in the “quiet” bar (hidden behind closed restaurant, and not very quiet at the moment because of a publisher party), then went out for a tasty and inexpensive Moroccan dinner with Lee Moyer, his friend Venetia(?), Shannon Page, and Mark Ferrari, returning in time for the mass signing, where I wandered around and chatted briefly with a lot of people. Several people asked me “why are you wandering around instead of sitting and signing?” to which I replied “no one wants my autograph.” Which isn’t strictly true — I did sign a couple of anthologies and several con program books — but not nearly enough to justify planting myself in one place just to make it easier for autograph seekers to find me. At the signing a well-known fantasy author told me how much she loved my blog, dealing with such tough subjects; I was disappointed to have to tell her she was thinking of Jim Hines (we do look rather a lot alike, if you judge by our LiveJournal userpics). She said “is there something here I can crawl under?” When the signing ended I tried the Tor party, but found it too crowded and noisy and went back to the room about 10:30 (feeling very wimpish for doing so, but also very tired after Barcelona and London).

Saturday 11/2: Breakfast: kippers for Kate, porridge for me. The “Next Big Thing” panel (Tom Doherty et al) was not really very informative, being mostly a reiteration of the standard advice “don’t try to follow trends, just write a damn good book.” The Agents panel (Meg Davis, John Jarrold, Ian Drury, Juliet Mushens, Barry Goldblatt, Joshua Bilmes) was more useful, and I talked to several of the agents afterward. I’ll have some queries to send when I get home.

After that panel I went to the Regency Tavern (right next to our hotel; not to be confused with the similarly named restaurant) to meet with Paul and Maureen Kincaid Speller, who came down from Folkestone for the day though they were not attending the con (cue horror stories about the Metropole, including the time they found their bed terribly lumpy and discovered that someone had put a door between the mattress and box spring without removing the knob). I was astounded to discover that the bartender (a 20something woman) had apparently never heard of porter (“Do you mean port?”) or stout (“You know, stout? It’s a dark beer?” “We have the X ale and the Y ale, the Y is a little darker, is that what you mean?” “Tell you what, I’ll have a cider.”) I also had a perfectly acceptable sausage and onion sandwich, though in the US it would have been served on a bun rather than between slices of bread.

Back to the con for the “ideas we never want to see again” panel. Apparently zombies are overdone (thank god) and many more people think they can write a literary fantasy a la Cat Valente than can actually do so. Also, no dinosaur erotica! (Far from the only dino erotica reference of the con. Apparently this is A Thing.) Then I took off from the con for a short nap, followed by a trip to the nearby shopping mall to look for Corgi cars (I collected them as a kid and still have fond memories) and fondle the new iPad Air. Finding no Corgis at the toy shop in the mall, I tried another shop nearby but couldn’t find it; apparently it’s folded. There was another toy shop not too much further away, but the weather was so grim (cold, rain, wind) that I turned around and headed back to the hotel.

The “Does SF have a future?” panel (Aldiss, McAuley, et al) was mostly reminiscences about the good old days by a bunch of old white guys and was literally drowned out by the raucous fantasy panel in the next room (Lynch et al). I fear that this does sum up the state of the field.

Looking for dinner companions in the lobby and bar proved fruitless, and we were just about to give up and go out by ourselves when Patrick Nielsen Hayden came by. He was amenable to returning to the Regency Restaurant (the second visit for both of us) for delicious fish. After dinner, I hung out in the bar with a variable crowd including Charlie Stross, Elizabeth Bear, Laura Anne Gilman, and an old friend I hadn’t seen in a few years who is now a different sex. This was, upon very brief reflection, not really a surprise, and they look very good in their new gender. To bed around 11:30; a satisfying evening.

Sunday 11/3: Breakfast today was muesli with yogurt. Breakfasts at Motel Schmotel have really been very good, and if the room had not been so small (which is no one’s fault; we booked a bigger room but Kate’s knee wasn’t up to the stair climb it would have required) and the weather not so awful it would have been great. We weighed our bags, to find out if we need to ship anything home (much easier today than tomorrow) but to our surprise we found out we were not over weight.

My first program item of the day was my own reading. About 10-12 people showed up to hear me read the pirate battle scene from Arabella and the Marsman. It seemed reasonably well received, though there were no questions after. Then I browsed the dealers room and (closing) art show and hung out with Marie Brennan until the “second book” panel, which had some good ideas and Snorri Kristjansson, the funniest person I saw on any panel at this con. After that panel, I walked past the long line of just about the entire con waiting to get into the banquet; it was like the big Right and Left Grand at the end of some square dances, which gives you an opportunity to say goodbye to everyone else at the dance. But we skipped the banquet — £50 for rubber chicken was just too much — and went for dim sum with Ellen Klages, Marie Brennan, and a friend of Marie’s whose name I did not catch (Alys something?). The dim sum was okay but a bit strange in places. Ordering was via a mark-sense form (like with the SATs, complete with #2 pencil) which was entirely in Chinese except for the item numbers. We ordered noodles with peanut and hoisin sauce, expecting Dan Dan Noodles, but got something that looked more like raw squid under melted peanut butter cups (tasted okay, though, but a bit too sweet).

After lunch, we had a brief nap, then returned to the con for the combined World Fantasy and British Fantasy Awards ceremony. But from the mezzanine, where non-banquet people were allowed to view the awards, we could neither hear nor see very well. I tried to follow the awards via Twitter for a while, but eventually gave up and went to the bar, where I latched onto a group consisting of friendly Armenian-Canadians Natasha and Nadine Kharabian, artist Todd Lockwood, and artist Jim Burns, a favorite of mine since the 70s and the first time I’ve met him. Also had a nice chat with Pat Rothfuss, my Writers of the Future classmate, in which we discussed Neil Gaiman, personal branding, and how no amount of fame can prevent a crisis of self-confidence.

Some time later I was dealing with one group of people (one of them via text message) trying to arrange dinner, and simultaneously with another group of people (also including one via text message) trying to arrange rides to Heathrow tomorrow, when I suddenly realized I’d hit the wall a little bit earlier and simply could no longer cope. With anything. We decided to get dinner at the hotel restaurant with Shannon Page, Mark Ferrari, Chaz Brenchley, Karen Williams, and Chaz’s niece (local, not a fan) rather than deal with the horrific winds in our sickly (Shannon and Mark) and brain-dead (all) state. The service was sincere, but rather slow and somewhat confused. Mark speculated that, this being low season, the hotel had ordered a truckload of Assorted Staff from Eastern Europe to handle the con. Dinner concluded about 9:30, and we went back to the room and fell over hard.

Monday 11/4:

Didn’t sleep very well, with the wind roaring outside and moaning in the chimney (plainly audible despite the fireplace being completely closed off). After our last Schmotel breakfast, of porridge with fruit, we packed up, got cash and stamps, got bus tickets using the hotel’s laptop and printer (European keyboard plus Windows 8 making it a very frustrating experience), checked out, left our bags in breakfast room, and headed out for a last bit of Brighton touristing. It was a beautiful sunny day, finally, though cold. We visited the beach, Brighton Pavilion, and the Lanes, had a nice vegetarian lunch at Ideya, and ended at the train station, where we caught a cab back to the hotel for our bags, then to the bus “station” (just a wide spot in the road; fortunately it was not raining). There we saw Laura Anne Gilman and her flat-mate get on the previous bus. With 40 minutes to kill, I went down to the Pier to smash a couple of pennies.

After a little confusion, we got on the proper bus for Heathrow. I spent the ride writing up my notes for Saturday and Sunday; I don’t think I left out anything significant. At Heathrow terminal 5, we caught a “Hotel Hoppa” bus to our hotel, taking about 50 minutes to reach a hotel which is practically on the tarmac, sheesh. We’re staying at the Premier Inn, a mammoth mall-like facility, where absolutely nothing is free (£1.50 per night for the in-room safe, coin-op luggage scale, etc.) but the room is spacious (huzzah!) and clean.

Being trapped at an airport hotel without transportation, we had dinner at the hotel restaurant. We ordered a pizza, and wanted to order a couple of small salads to go with it, but there was no way to actually order a salad. You could “top up your meal” with a selection of three sides for £3.45, so we chose two salads and corn. What we got was one salad, corn, and one order of slaw, I guess because they figured no one would order two salads. Each was served in a cup, not a bowl, the size of a large coffee cup. Very strange. The pizza wasn’t bad, though. Then I asked where to print out the ticket for our Hotel Hoppa tomorrow morning and was directed to the “business center:” three PCs, two of them broken, charging £1 for 20 minutes plus 20p per printed page, minimum £5. Fortunately the one working computer had 36p in credit left on it, which was just enough for me to log into my email and print the e-ticket. Then back to the room for packing, blogging, and sloth.

Our flight home tomorrow leaves at 12:45; we’ll probably head to the airport right after breakfast. Although we are definitely still in England (who else has such dorky game shows on the TV?), in some ways we are already in transit, or perhaps in limbo — it feels like we’re at the Hiltion space station in the movie 2001, awaiting the next shuttle to the Moon. It’s been fun, but it will be good to be home.

In the bar

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Who’s a good Elder God? Who’s a good Elder God? You are! Yes! You are!

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Reading from the pirate battle

Reminds me of the zero-gravity toilet instructions in 2001

Shingle. (Instead of sand.)

Ruins of the old pier

What I love about these pigs is that they have little seat belts

George IV has much to answer for

Shadows of the past

This used to be the stables

View from the surviving pier

London (3) + Brighton (1)

Tuesday 10/29: Breakfast in B&B again, with same couple as yesterday. After a few morning errands, we hit the Cutty Sark, where the exhibits and signage were sometimes kind of awkward but we got excellent info from the volunteers, such as the difference between a windlass and a capstan. However, even after many tall ship visits and all the research I’ve done, I have to confess that I still don’t quite understand exactly how it is that they make the ship go by pulling on all those strings.

Lunch at Heap’s, a very fine local sausage with mash & veg. After lunch I left Kate in Greenwich and went to the British Museum (via Docklands Light Rail, changing at Bank to the Jubilee Central line). I did NOT go straight to the Assyrians and Egypt, having seen them many times, but instead headed to Europe 18th-19th centuries for research. Unlike the massive objects in the Assyria, Egypt, Greece, and Rome collection, most of the objects on display for Europe were small decorative items (many based on styles of earlier eras). I spent a lot of time in the clock exhibit: two large rooms of clocks, watches, and small automata. I also looked at the India collection, but it was small by comparison, mostly Hindu and Buddhist religious icons. Okay, then I went and looked at the Assyrians and Egypt because I couldn’t not.

Heading back to Greenwich, at the Tottenham Court Road tube station I saw a small door for Circle Central Line and decided to take it rather than the escalator. It turned out to be a narrow spiral stair, filthy and crammed with pipes and wires, very much a backstage space, visually interesting. Took the Circle Central line to DLR to Greenwich, where we had dinner at the Rivington again. My veg masala was just okay, Kate’s pork chop much better, I should have stuck with local standards. A quiet evening of reading and TV (David Tennant in The Escape Artist, god how bleak); to sleep by 11:00.

Wednesday 10/30: Last breakfast at B&B; packed up; paid up. Considered calling a cab to the train station, but the Hailo app has a £10 minimum so we just schlepped it. For the tube we have various apps to help with routing but the national rail is more complex; fortunately there was a human ticket seller at this station, who sold us a a “split ticket” for Greenwich-Croydon + Croydon-Brighton, though the only place we actually changed trains was London Bridge. Whatever, it was inexpensive and the system really works; wish we had the like in our neck of the woods. I also noticed on the way out of town many office and apartment buildings with dramatic curves etc. which would be architectural marvels in Portland but in London are just another building (because London, duh).

Arrived Brighton, cab to hotel (Motel Schmotel — yes, that is its actual name), checked in. We took a smaller room on the ground floor rather than the larger room we’d booked (before Kate’s surgery) on the third floor. This room is even tinier than the one in Greenwich, I think, also kind of shabby, and the two-block walk in the tearing wind isn’t pleasant. I really wish we’d been able to book in the con hotel, but for some reason the hotel sold out before the con announced that rooms could be booked. Lunch at Mad Crush (steak & onion pie), nap, walked to the Metropole (the con hotel, also headquarters hotel from the 1987 Worldcon), had tea in bar with Colleen Cahill and Peggy Rae Sapienza. Several others passed through including the Jeters and Ellen Klages.

Registered for the con and got the bag of free books. Not very many by comparison with previous WFCs, but that’s okay, as we’re being extremely selective about what we bring home. Tried to assemble a dinner party but found little interest (Australians keen on the welcome reception at 7) so had dinner by ourselves at the Regency Restaurant (not to be confused with the Regency Tavern). A nice low-key place, prices not unreasonable, excellent grilled scallops, rapid service, friendly Albanian waiter. Then back to the Metropole for the welcome reception, where I chatted with Chris Garcia (who was constantly surprised by the rice crackers), a couple of friendly Canadians, an ex-Portlander now living in Ireland (we lived less than a mile apart for over 5 years, have friends in common, but never met), Charlie Stross (planning an expedition to the Apple Store tomorrow for the latest shiny), and James Bacon (keeping everyone’s wine glasses full and not quite understanding the concept “no wine for me “). Kate was not mingling much, because she couldn’t stand up much, so she left at 9:30. Shortly thereafter I got a text: her hotel front door key did not work, and our hotel has no front desk. I walked over and we found that the 2nd keyring they’d found for our room had two copies of the room key and no front door key. As long as I was home, decided to make a night of it.

Thursday 10/31: Breakfast in hotel: hot porridge with fresh fruit, quite nummy. Visited Brighton Pavilion, which was quite extraordinary: “Indian” outside, “Chinese” inside, but not authentically either, an English vision of a fantasy Orient. Kate thought the Green Vault in Dresden left it in the dust as far as over-the-top luxury but it was definitely quite something. Alas, no photos were allowed inside. Had a very nice lunch at the tea shop inside the pavilion, then walked back to the hotel for a nap. The weather was pretty nasty — clouds, drizzle, rain, continuing high winds — and Brighton is generally kind of shabby. We’re both hoping our mood will improve once the con really gets going.

After our nap we hit the con for the afternoon panels. The place is really hopping now, three times as many people as last night. Program rooms are more than large enough for the crowds even with Neil Gaiman on panels, but the bar is a real scrum (not quite as packed as the typical Tor party, but pretty darn crowded). We met up with almost all of the Book View Cafe members present for an extremely delicious and surprisingly inexpensive Indonesian dinner at Warung Tujuh. We ordered seconds on the lamb and chicken dishes, they were that good. Then we skipped the David Gemell Awards and took a cab back to our hotel for an early night (9:30), getting to sleep by 11:00.

I found this sign on the corner near our B&B in Greenwich charming

Rigging of the Cutty Sark

View down the length of the dry-docked Cutty Sark toward London

View down the length of the keel

A collection of figureheads. The name of the one on the far left is unknown but to me she is the S.S. Jane Austen

An automaton centerpiece at the British Museum. At a certain time it would roll down the table, ring bells, and fire its cannon

They don’t make ’em like that anymore

One of a very few surviving bronze sculptures from Greece. Most were melted down

“Secret” stairs at Tottenham Court Road tube station

“Secret” tunnel to Circle Central Line

View from our hotel room in Brighton. “Sunshine makes me high”

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Our hotel, Motel Schmotel, offers Schmotel Rock instead of a mint on the pillow

The Brighton Pavilion. Sadly, no photos allowed inside

London (2)

Monday 10/28: The weather forecast for today included “hurricane-force winds.” The wind rattled the doors, waking us up around 6:30, and took down one small tree on our block (and by “small” I mean really small — a sidewalk tree about six feet tall and three inches in diameter — actually, it might have been hit by a car) and also caused some transit disruptions, which we were able to avoid by taking different routes, so, although it was a substantial storm and did hit some people hard, it didn’t affect us much at all.

Breakfast at our B&B at 8:00 again. Our breakfast companions were a different couple, no kid, but like the couple from yesterday they were also visiting an adult child at Greenwich University. We did a load of laundry at the local launderette (not quite dry, but dry enough) then walked down to the dock to catch a ferry to Embankment (I had checked while the laundry was going that it was still running despite the weather, which it was except for the London Bridge stop) and then a tube to Baker Street. We had lunch at a place called Nourish, apparently new, where we each got a wrap with hot tandoori chicken and then your choice of items from the salad bar to complete it; nummy, healthy, quick, cheap. Then to Madam Tussaud’s to squash (“mangle”) a penny (a real penny for once, not a cent as usual) before waiting for Kate’s surprise at a nearby bus stop.

The bus was a little late, but when it finally arrived it turned out to be a double-decker plastered with Harry Potter billboards, which took us to the Making of Harry Potter Studio Tour at Warner Brothers London (where the HP films were, in fact, made, but which is actually about an hour’s drive from the city). I had not even known that this tour existed, and it was a fine surprise.

The tour was great — a very enjoyable visit to some of the actual sets (including the Great Hall, Gryffindor boys’ dorm and common room, potions classroom, Dumbledore’s office, and Diagon Alley) with many original costumes, props, models, and special effects on display (including the gigantic Hogwarts Castle “miniature” — approximately the size of our house — and an impressive animatronic griffin). Highlights included the prosthetics and practical effects department, with Warrick Davis and the effects guy on a large screen, clips from the film on a second smaller screen, and the actual gizmos on display and moving below them. One of the staff members who answered our questions had been an extra (not really a surprise) who told us that he’d been one of the students in the big welcome feast in the first film; the food had been real and had gotten extremely rank over the many days of filming. The extras were also encouraged to carve their initials in the tables for verisimilitude. The tour ended in a room decorated as Ollivander’s Wand Shop, where the walls were lined with wand boxes bearing the names of every single person who worked on the films.

We had dinner at the tour cafe, which was actually very good and reasonably priced (I had a “jacket potato” with chili), then took the tour bus to the tube to Docklands Light Rail and then home. To sleep about 11:30.

Tower Bridge as seen from the Thames ferry

Harry Potter studio tour entrance

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Me and Hagrid’s costume in the Great Hall set

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Kate on the Great Hall set

The house points counter (barely seen in the films). Apparently its creation caused a shortage of colored beads in the Czech Republic

Wig cart

Fleur’s hat and hat form

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Even without the initials RW, we’d know whose bed this was from the ghastly hand-knitted coverlet

Toast racks!

A small part of the very cool “graphics created for the films” display

The disembodied head of John Cleese

The disembodied head of Robbie Coltrane. This creepily realistic animatronic head was mounted on the shoulders of a 6’10” actor wearing built-up boots for full-body shots of the full-sized half-giant Hagrid

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Many of the original “white card” set models were on display

Kate in front of the enormous Hogwarts Castle “miniature”

A small part of the wall of wand boxes in the last room, showing the names of everyone who worked on the films

Barcelona (4) + London (1)

Friday 10/25: Woke up too early, washed some clothes, then walked to bar Centric for breakfast: cafe amb llet (Catalan for cafe au lait) and a “bikini” (toasted ham & cheese, so called after the Bikini Club which made it famous). Stumbled on a used CD shop, then took the subway (there were keen mosaics in the station) to Casa Batllo, which is apparently pronounced “bayo,” the T being silent. This curvy, organic apartment building by Gaudi has an underwater theme and was the most comfortable and livable of the buildings we’ve visited; Kate said she could move right in.

Got out of there about noon, walked to Lizarran, a Basque pintxos (tapas on sticks) place for lunch. After that, really brain-dead, took bus back to hotel and fell over. Then, after our nap, hit grocery store Carrefour, then the Boquieria market for juice, empanadas, candies. We were looking for a cafe, or even a bench, to sit and write some postcards but there was NO PLACE TO SIT DOWN! Many cafes, but no open tables…

After wandering for an hour we finally sat on some steps in the plaza outside Santa Maria del Pi. A couple of Americans, just arrived in country, were talking about getting Sagrada Familia tickets from the ATM and we offered them some advice. Wound up chatting for a while, nice people, nearly fannish; they shared some pintxos (things on sticks) with us and told us that the church would be having a choral contest, but we elected not to stick around for it (though this explained the groups of women in matching costumes that crowded the square). The pintxos were good so we went to where they’d come from, bar Irati, and had some more for an early supper (though the restaurant part of the bar was closed and there was no place to sit down, they brought out a chair for Kate).

Still hoping for a place to sit and write postcards, we headed for some cafe but wound up at bakery/cafe La Pallaresa, where the waiter came up with an expectant expression and we just ordered chocolate and churros (I had expected a menu or something but it’s just as well, that’s what we would have ordered anyway). The chocolate was thick and rich, maybe a bit too bitter, churros crisp but not as fresh as some. Wrote some postcards, returned to the hotel, checked in for tomorrow’s flight, synced and backed up photos, wrote these notes, to sleep by 10:30.

Even though I didn’t get a lot of what you’d call “use” out of my Spanish study (as most tourist professionals spoke English and much of the local communication was Catalan, not Spanish), I don’t regret it. I feel much better about my coping skills here than I did in the Czech Republic, where I did not have the local language at all. I think I would like to keep on studying with the Duolingo app, but I don’t know whether I’d rather keep on with Spanish or switch to French. Then again, realistically, with no deadline I probably won’t really keep on with it…

Saturday 10/26: Awake 8:00, breakfast in hotel, packed up, checked out, cab to airport. Brief moment of panic when I realized we’d been waiting in the place where you wait for your gate to be assigned as though we were at the gate, but there had been no announcements and I had not been keeping track of the time. But we got to our gate a few minutes before boarding started. Uneventful flight, decent chicken wrap snack on board.

Arrived Gatwick and walked about a billion miles to immigration, paused after leaving secure area for ATM and another meal (ate at Joe’s, not bad for airport food), because stupid and cranky. Decided to take the train to our Greenwich B&B because a cab would be awfully expensive. We had some difficulty finding our connection at London Bridge station but did eventually make it onto the right train with all our luggage (and off again ditto). It was only half a mile to the hotel from the Greenwich train station but we took a cab anyway, as just lugging our bags from one end of the station to the other was a schlep. Our B&B, “Number 37,” is a delightful little place with a charming host and a tiny little room (so small it uses an umbrella stand as a trash can) but tastefully decorated with a fine selection of books on the shelves.

After tea, graciously provided by our host, I walked to the TI for transit passes. I arrived just after it closed but did get to see Cutty Sark and the dome of the pedestrian tunnel under the Thames, neither of which I’d known were here. I must confess that the streets near the train station looked pretty bleak but now that I’d had a chance to explore Greenwich I was charmed. A fan of naval history could happily spend several days in Greenwich without visiting central London at all! Also stopped in a used record shop and a candy shop before returning to the B&B.

Greenwich has just about every kind of restaurant you might expect to find on a British high street. We wound up having Indian dinner at Mogul, recommended by our host: chicken with pulses (a sweet and spicy sauce), lamb with spinach, okra, all very good. We showed up at 6:45 and the place was half empty, but by 7 they were turning people away, so we were very lucky in our timing. After dinner walked around the area a bit, then made an early night of it.

Sunday 10/27: Awake 7:00 for 8:00 breakfast — clocks changed overnight; it wasn’t GMT here when we landed yesterday but it is now. A typical English egg-and-bacon B&B breakfast, but with homemade muesli and yogurt, very nice. The other guests were a couple from Yorkshire and their 5-or-6-year-old daughter Poppy, rather entertaining.

After breakfast we walked down to the TI but arrived a bit before it opened, so strolled the grounds for a while. Weather very blustery, with a big storm in the forecast; my hat blew off and got more than half a block before I managed to intercept it. At the TI, obtained Oyster cards and looked at some nice exhibits about the naval hospital etc., then proceeded to the Naval Museum, where we saw the orientation exhibit, East India Company exhibit, brand-new exhibit on Nelson, and the hall of ship models, leaving much more unvisited, but admission is free and we can theoretically go back. I bought the books of the Nelson and East India Company exhibits at the museum shop.

Lunch at Rivington Bar & Grill: venison & mushroom pie (with a ceramic pie bird in it) for me, Sunday roast beef with Yorkshire pudding for Kate, side of squash, expensive but very good. Visited the antiques market next door, then went back to the room for a nap, awaking too late for more touristing. Had a decent fish & chips supper at The Pier (since 1900) then back to the room for an early night of television and blogging. Feeling a bit blah, what with the weather (still blustery and cold) and Kate’s knee and all being a bit of a drag, but still having a good time.

Shop window on La Rambla

Beautiful Barcelona bakery

Mosaic of a submarine in the subway station

Exterior of Caca Batllo, aka The House of Skulls or The House of Yawns

Tiled interior light well at Casa Batllo adds to the “enchantment under the sea” theme

Kate with one of the delightful hand-carved doors

This is the servants’ quarters in the attic

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“Dragon” roof tile detail

Ham cone. Ham cone. HAM CONE!

Now we are in Greenwich. It’s different from Barcelona

Quote without comment

First known European painting of a kangaroo. Not from life.

The first letter Horatio Nelson wrote after losing his right arm. “You will excuse my scrawl.”

Nelson’s spark. (Okay, fork/knife.)

And, finally, the jacket Nelson was wearing when he died. You can see the bullet hole in the left shoulder

There was a whole room of these beautiful ship models

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Receipt said “deer pie.” Blackbird is just a serving suggestion

Barcelona (3)

Thursday 10/24: Awoke promptly at 8 for our 9-10 am timed entry to Sagrada Familia. Had breakfast in the room (yogurt, leftover pa amb tomaquet and cheese), then stopped at the ATM and a “cafeteria” (as they are called around here) for cafe amb llet (“cafe latte” in Catalan) on the way to the subway. The tickets we managed to get via Ticketmaster and the ATM yesterday worked as expected and we dodged the line, also avoiding the crowds later in the day.

Sagrada Familia is much less blobby and termite-like inside — truly amazingly light, airy, and clean. It’s still under construction (a holy construction site) but is fully roofed in, though some windows are still clear glass and many towers remain to be built. It’s hard to imagine this design being accepted back in the 1880s, it’s remarkable even today. Though, as with Casa Mila, it’s more similar to other Barcelona structures of its ilk than you might think from seeing it in isolation (e.g. other churches here have openwork stone towers). The crypt and a few areas behind the altar look more conventional, but the nave is organic and futuristic.

Gaudi was plainly a genius. He liked to work in plaster models and then translate directly to stone, without formal plans, and this work continues with a substantial plaster shop today, despite the availability of computers. Gaudi’s designs, with catenary and hyperboloid curves, were only an implementation of what he had in his head.

After leaving the church, we had lunch at nearby Rincon de Leon: spinach & garbanzos, pork chop with red wine sauce, patatas fritas, arroz con leche. Very simple, but remarkably good and cheap given that it’s one block from the country’s biggest tourist attraction. Then we took the bus to Casa Batllo but, alas, found it closed for a private function. We admired the exterior and some other buildings on its block, and stumbled upon ruins of some Roman walls being excavated, before taking the bus to the City History Museum, which includes an extensive basement full of Roman ruins and the hall where Columbus gave Ferdinand and Isabella his trip report. Then we wandered the Gothic Quarter in search of hot chocolate and churros, with a short detour into a torrone shop. We wound up at Caelum, a tea-shop-cum-old-fashioned-pharmacy which apparently specializes in foodstuffs produced by monks, where I had “chocolate deshecho” (just good chocolate melted in hot water, very very rich and not too sweet) and a pastry that tasted kind of like a grown-up Rice Krispies Treat. After that, we hit comics shop Continuarà, where Kate got a bunch of comics in Spanish and I got a little Tintin rocket.

Back to the hotel around 7:30, fell over until 9:00. We awoke not hungry and still footsore, so stayed in for the rest of the evening (dealing with photos, blogging, etc.). A very good day.

Not Hobbiton, this is Gaudi’s workshop on the Casa Familiar grounds, where he spent the last 14 years of his life

Note the quality of the light from the stained glass windows, which transition gradually from red to blue over the length of the nave

Pipe organ

Nave, looking back from the altar

The windows are abstract and contain a lot of text (there’s a lot of text all over this building)

Beams of light

Yes, this angel is playing the bassoon

The annunciation of the construction cranes

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Columns branch like trees, with an ellipsoid knot at the branch point illuminated with electric light

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Not all the stained glass is in yet

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The large central tower is just barely beginning to be built

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Casa Batllo and its neighbor

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Enjoying the lovely mosaics

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4th-century city wall

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Roman ruins beneath the city museum

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The hall where Columbus told Isabel and Ferdinand about his trip

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Dancing bear

Barcelona (2)

Failed to mention in last post: cylinders every few blocks on the street in pairs and threes are municipal garbage “aspirators:” basically they slurp the trash (or compost, depending on which one) away under the sidewalk like a giant vacuum cleaner or pneumatic tube. The chocolate “Minbari” in the photo was actually a monk of a certain order; chocolate is associated with these monks because for a time chocolate (with stimulating properties, but not a “food”) was considered okay to eat during fasts and they came to specialize in it. The chocolate museum was inside a school for pastry chefs, and included views of classes in session (airbrushing, writing with icing, rolling out marzipan) in a huge teaching kitchen with giant windows facing the courtyard.

Tuesday 10/22: Awake ~6:00, the more fools us.

Walked to Caravelle for breakfast ~8:00, but found it closed, so had coffee and a chocolate croissant at Forn de Betlem bakery. That was not enough, so we walked to Boqueria market for more. The market was just getting going for the day and featured stall after stall of truly beautiful vegetables, meats, fish. We sat at a stall called Kiosko Universal, specializing in seafood, where I ate tortilla (egg & zucchini) with pa amb tomaquet (bread spread with tomato and olive oil) while being stared at by sardines.

Next we took the subway to Sagrada Familia. The ticket machine insisted on a PIN for our credit cards, which we did not have, so we bought our 5-day passes with cash instead. We wound up taking a longer route than was strictly necessary because the shorter route would have involved going up to the surface, across the street, and down again to the opposite track and Kate’s knee is not happy with stairs.

Sagrada Familia is amazing, overwhelming, like a giant alien termite mound plunked down on the city… but we only saw the outside of it because the line was blocks long and the rumored shortcut of buying tickets from a nearby ATM could not be made to work (turns out the rules have changed, you can pick up tickets purchased online, but not buy them, at the ATM). So we bailed and went to Casa Mila instead, stopping at shop Vinçon on the way to look at clever and intriguing designed gizmos & housewares.

Casa Mila, aka La Pedrera (“The Quarry”) is one of Gaudi’s last projects, an amazing organic apartment building. Much of the building is still private apartments, but you can visit the roof, whose mosaic-clad chimneys and stairwells are famous; the attic with its catenary arches; and a top-floor apartment where some contemporary 1905 furniture shows just how alien this place was at the time it was built (it was compared to a quarry, a cliff inhabited by dragons, and a parking lot for alien spacecraft). But, on the other hand, nearby buildings have similar massing and fenestration (sorry, I lapsed into architect-speak, I mean overall building shape and placement of windows), bay windows, and coloration, so that, weird though it may be, in context it’s not as weird as it appears if you see photos of it in isolation.

We hit the wall hard around 1:30 and headed for a nearby restaurant Murmurs (not much connectivity on my phone, I saw that it had 4 stars on Yelp but little else in the way of details) but passed cafe Mauri on the way, and it looked good so we ate there instead. We had a 3-course lunch (vegetables, salmon, cake) which was merely okay, but it was pretty and served quickly in nice surroundings when we needed it. Took a cab back to hotel, where we found the heated towel rack had been turned on, as requested earlier, so washed some sox and underwear then napped until 4:30.

After some discussion about what to do with the time remaining until our show tickets, took the subway to a little magic shop, El Rei del Magica (since 1898!), then bus to Creps Barcelona for a very nice simple dinner of salad and crepes before the show: Pink Martini at the Palau de Musica! Kate had learned just a week ago about this show and when we found we could get tickets we jumped on it.

We arrived at the box office when it opened at 7, but was told to pick up our tickets inside at 8, so we had a drink in the lobby and admired the architecture. There was absolutely no signage about Pink Martini anywhere, but we spotted Thomas Lauderdale smoking and talking on the phone in the courtyard so we knew we were in the right place. Just before 8, I spotted an employee and asked where to pick up our tickets, and was told we’d have to go in the front door, so we walked around the building, but at 8 we saw a line form in the lobby from the door we’d just been turned away from. We were just about to schlep back around the building when the front door did open and we got in line behind all the other people. The line seemed interminable, but it was probably only about 20 minutes until we got our tickets. Where to go from there was unclear, but right then (8:30?) a bell rang and the doors to the hall opened. We were among the first in our seats, and the show started right at 9:00.

The Palau de Musica is a fabulous Catalan Modernist building, full of mosaics and glass — a riot of materials including brick, stone, and wrought iron, and an amazing stained-glass ceiling. The show, too, was fabulous, with Storm Large using the power of pure undiluted sex to have the audience eating out of her lap. Whenever I see Storm performing with Pink Martini I am reminded of She-Hulk’s tenure with the Fantastic Four — she brings such an amazing physicality to her performance, quite different from China Forbes’s cool intellectuality, though their voices are similarly powerful. She performed in a gold lame dress which covered her from shoulders to heels while leaving very little to the imagination, and won over the crowd by speaking in a mix of Spanish and English. Thomas, too, gave a couple of speeches in Catalan, and they invited every native French speaker in the audience up on stage (including a charming little Vietnamese girl) to sing along with the band for “Je Ne Veux Pas Travailler.” Cab back to hotel, got to sleep by 11.

The process of getting the tickets felt messed up and amateurish but, in retrospect, it actually went like clockwork. The problem was that we’d been told box office at 7, doors at 8, show at 9, but the reality was doors (to lobby to pick up tickets) at 8, hall opens 8:30, show at 9 so it all felt terribly disorganized and behind schedule. We also did not know that the hall was actually quite small and could easily be filled in half an hour.

Wednesday 10/23: Awake about 8, breakfast in hotel by 9, writing in our diaries at the table til 9:30. Plan for the day: Catalan history museum, obtain Sagrada Familia tickets for tomorrow, maybe a stitch-and-bitch at a local yarn shop at 5.

Getting those tickets wasn’t easy, but after great struggle, we managed to defeat the combined forces of Ticketmaster and La Caixa. You have to go to to order and pay for the tickets, then find one of the ATM machines of bank La Caixa that has the “print your tickets” feature (not all of them do, and the website that lists them is entirely in Catalan and covers the entire country), and then — this is the bit that took over half an hour to figure out — you must insert your card in the machine before doing anything else (you can begin the process by touching the screen, but if you do this you will not have an opportunity to insert your card later). The process is complicated by the fact that, although La Caixa brags about their multilingual ATMs, many key screens are only available in Catalan and there is considerable foofaraw around “mini cards” which will not fit in the machine. Also, the whole procedure has changed recently and will change again (maybe to go away completely) after January 15.

Having obtained the tickets, we took a bus to the Catalan History Museum, which is very well laid out and informative. We toured 3/4 of one floor (of two floors of permanent exhibition, never mind the two additional floors of temporary exhibits) before hunger compelled us to seek lunch. As we were right on the seafront, we wanted seafood, and though bar El Pescador (The Fisherman) was right there and got good reviews it had no seafood on the menu, so we proceeded to our second choice: Can Majó (on Almirall Aixada, which we of course called “Admiral Ackbar street”) for a delectable (though expensive) lunch of gazpacho, salad of green beans and ham, and paella. Everything was top-notch, but I think we are agreed that we don’t need to order paella again; it’s too salty, too fishy, and too difficult to eat.

Back to the museum for the rest of Catalan history. The museum was only about 8 blocks away, but we seriously debated taking a cab for the sake of Kate’s knee; we wound up hoofing it, but probably should not have. We learned a lot about the Catalans, including their predilection for backing the wrong side. They backed Carlos (vs. Felipe) in the Wars of Spanish Succession and for this they lost their independence for nearly 300 years. They also wound up on the wrong side of Franco, and many others, but they got self-rule back in 1980. And we got to stand inside a life-size section of one of the first submarines, a Catalan invention.

Done with museum around 4:00. Took the bus to Granja M. Viader, a cafe and deli famous for the local specialty of hot chocolate and churros (since 1870!). A nice reviving snack, but frankly I’ve had better hot chocolate; we will have to try some others. Also bought some yogurt for tomorrow’s breakfast. Back on the bus 2 more stops to the hotel, where we dealt with photos etc. and napped until about 8.

Not very hungry, we walked to nearby bar Elizabets for a little nosh of tapas before bed. A happenin’ place in a happenin’ neighborhood. I’m getting bolder with my Spanish, even though most tourist professionals speak at least some English and my Spanish is kind of approximate, it feels good to communicate in one of the local languages. We had pimientos al padron (mildly hot green peppers fried and salted), pulpos a la Gallega (tender, spicy slices of sauteed octopus tentacle), pinchos morunos (skewer of spicy, tender pork served with crunchy toast), and a plate of manchego cheese which, of course, came with pa amb tomaquet, all washed down with a bottle of cider. Probably more than I should have eaten, but so tasty. We did save some of the cheese and bread for tomorrow’s breakfast. Back to room for blogging etc. at 11:00; to bed around midnight.

Oh, one last note before the photos: the Catalan word for “market” is mercat (pronounced “meerkat”), and, of course, a supermarket is a supermercat. I keep thinking of Laura Anne Gilman.








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Barcelona (1)

Sunday 10/20: Arrived in Barcelona after an uneventful flight via Amsterdam. After checking into our hotel and a brief nap, took a walk to Plaça de Catalunya and down into the Bari Gotic (Gothic Quarter) where we saw some Roman sepulchres and stopped into a torrone shop for a sweet treat, followed by tapas at Bar del Pi (“I’m scared to go in there, which tells me we ought to do it”): anchovies, patatas bravas, empanada de verdura, champignons and a brief stroll through the hopping streets of La Rambla, getting to sleep around 10:00.

Monday 10/21: Awake for an hour in the night, but got back to sleep until after 9:00. Breakfast in hotel, where we learned that “macedonia” means “fruit salad” (not, as you might guess from the yogurt label, “coyote”), then to the local tourist office for various tickets and passes.

Decided to take the tourist bus around town for a quick orientation, but after obtaining our tickets we found that there was a huge line for the bus at Plaça Catalunya. So we walked to another stop nearby, with a detour into the FNAC department store book dept. in hopes of finding a Catalan phrasebook. We found one, but decided not to lug it around for the rest of the day.

The stop we walked to was for the blue line (we wanted red) but we got on anyway and took it a few stops to a place we could transfer, then rode the red line 3/4 of the way around to orient ourselves. Rather than the loudspeaker spiel I expected, this bus had multilingual audio with free earbuds. Dozens of earbuds could be seen on the roofs of the bus shelters, having been tossed there from the bus’s open top.

Before preparing for this trip, I had thought that Catalan was a dialect of Spanish (like Bayrisch in southern Germany) or a nearly extinct language (like Languedoc in France) but it is neither: it is a thriving independent language — in some ways closer to Italian than Spanish — with a strong regional (wants to be national) identity. Like Scots, it is a point of differentiation and rallying point for partisans who were swallowed up by a larger power over a hundred years ago. Like Welsh, it is given equal status with the conquerors’ language (signs at the airport were in Catalan first, then English, then Spanish). I don’t regret having learned Spanish before coming here, but seeing the amount of Catalan in daily use here is an eye-opener.

We got off the bus near the port, at Palau de Mar, the walked to restaurant Casa Delfín near the Santa Maria del Mar church for a late (2:45) lunch: tuna & tomato salad, grilled asparagus with Mahon cheese, bread with tomato, chickpeas with blood sausage & spinach, rice casserole de la casa (= with shellfish). Yum. After lunch it was 3:30, and the church was closed until 4:30, so we headed to the nearby Chocolate Museum. Got rather lost looking for it, but it was an interesting neighborhood to wander in.

The Chocolate Museum ticket was a bar of quite good chocolate. The museum itself, rather small, was notable for many amusing translation errors in its signage and for a story of the mythological history of chocolate that prompted Kate to comment “Even the story of chocolate begins with a woman in a refrigerator.” The museum also featured many marvelous sculptures in chocolate, including a bigger-than-life Komodo dragon, a pietá, Tintin on the moon, and a Minbari(?). How do they still look so good after being on display for years?

From there we walked to the nearby “House of Three Dragons,” formerly the zoological museum, now just a cool building, then back to Sta. Maria del Mar for a visit to the spacious and quiet church with some excellent stained glass. Then took the tourist bus back to Plaça Catalunya, followed by a quick stop at FNAC to pick up that book & some others. Upon leaving FNAC: gee, it’s getting kind of dark… Wait, how did it get to be 6:45? Back to hotel for a nap — we seem to have stumbled into a Spanish schedule.

Dinner (8:30) at Cachitos. Montaditos (tapas on crusty bread): crab & pineapple, goat cheese & honey, and foie gras & fig jam. Entrees: grilled squid stuffed with potato; macaroni with cheese & “Iberian meat.” Desserts: tarta de pera (pear cheesecake) and torrija (white bread soaked in milk and egg and caramelized on top, with ice cream). Back to the room by about 10:00; to bed (after messing with photos and such) around midnight.

That was our first full day. Tomorrow will be a busy one.

House of the Three Dragons

Civic garbage “aspirators” (they suck the garbage away like a giant vacuum)

Picturesque street scene

El Born, where we had lunch

Chocolate Pietá

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Chocolate Komodo dragon

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Chocolate Minbari (not really)

David and Kate with chocolate Tintin scene

Chocolate Tintin, Captain Haddock, and Snowy

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Me and a friend

Where I am, where I’ve been, where I’m going

I’ve been pretty much absent from all social media for the last month or two. Sorry about that. At the moment I’m at the Portland airport, headed for Barcelona. We’ll be there for a week, then half a week in London, then a week in Brighton for World Fantasy Con.

The plane boards in about twenty minutes, and I feel very unready for this trip. I have been studying Spanish every day for about two months, using the Duolingo app on my phone (which is marvelous) and the Pimsleur audio lessons, so that’s something. I know from previous trips that no amount of language study is enough, but anything is better than nothing. I have also not really made plans for what we’re going to do once we get there, but Kate the master trip planner has done plenty of research.

The main reason I have not prepared for this trip as well as I would like to have done is the same reason I haven’t been blogging: I’ve been finishing up a novel. Here’s the elevator pitch: “Arabella and the Marsman is a YA Regency Interplanetary Airship Adventure. Arabella is a Patrick O’Brian girl in a Jane Austen world — born and raised on Mars, she was hauled back home by her mother, where she’s stifled by England’s gravity, climate, and attitudes toward women. When she learns that her evil cousin plans to kill her brother and inherit the family fortune, she joins the crew of an interplanetary clipper ship in order to beat him to Mars. But pirates, mutiny, and rebellion stand in her way. Will she arrive in time?”

I completed the first draft just before the Worldcon, so that I could send it off to a bunch of other writers for their feedback at a novel critique retreat at the Oregon Coast called Coastal Heaven. I got some great feedback from them there, along with a lot of great writing and industry advice as well as great food and hanging out. I also got feedback from a number of other writers via email. Most of the people who read it really liked it!

Coastal Heaven was right after the Worldcon, and I really wanted to get the novel revised and into submission before departing for Europe. And I did it! I finished it on Tuesday and sent it off to an editor and an agent that very day. Both of them have responded with enthusiasm to the concept of the novel and promised rapid turnaround. I’m trying not to be too optimistic — I’ve had my heart broken before — but I really do think that this novel is a lot more straightforward, commercial, and dare I say salable than my previous two, as well as very entertaining, so I have high hopes.

I also have a bunch of writing-related news that has not gotten posted while I’ve been head-down on the novel, including: Old Mars, including my “Wreck of the Mars Adventure,” is now available for purchase, as is Mad Science Cafe, which includes a reprint of my “One Night in O’Shaughnessy’s Bar,” and the audiobook of my novella Second Chance releases on October 22 and is now available for pre-order.

So. That’s what’s up with me. I hope to blog extensively about the trip, including pictures and everything.