Where in the World Wednesday

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regent street london england christmas

Regent Street, London, England; December 9, 2016

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How to Sing “Fairytale of New York” at Karaoke without Sounding Like a Jerk

The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl’s “Fairytale of New York” is obviously one of the best Christmas songs of all time. It’s a lively tune with a melancholy final verse (oh god that verse), the story of a couple that wonders if they have any good times left, a bittersweet look at the present compared to Christmases past. I sing along every time it comes on, even if that means I’m belting it out in a busy store, and it makes an excellent karaoke duet. But although it’s a perfectly crafted song, not all the words are winners. My mom came up with some alternate lyrics to one line so that you can sing without cringing, and I will now share them with you, my gift to you for this festive season.

Instead of “you scumbag, you maggot,  you cheap lousy f*ggot,” sing “you scumbag, you fungus, you cheapskate among us.” It scans, it keeps the idea of cheapness and vermin, and you cut out the slur. So go ahead, belt it out and Happy Christmas (your arse).

Film Club: While You Were Sleeping

There are many reasons why I shouldn’t like While You Were Sleeping. The entire plot is based on the thinnest of misunderstandings, even by rom com standards. Peter is the victim of a creepy, prolonged mind game by Saul and Lucy. No way anyone would believe that someone engaged to fancypants Peter wouldn’t have a giant rock on her ring finger, which should have stopped the plot dead in its tracks right there. Anyone who has lived in Chicago for even a month would know northside Peter supports the Cubs and not the White Sox. And yet, it’s one of my favorite movies.

the delightful family from "While You Were Sleeping"

Is this sight scary or heartwarming? Depends on your tolerance for meandering discussions of Guy Lombardo and Argentinian beef.

The chemistry between Lucy and Jack sparks right away, and any scene with the whole family is gold. Obviously, the movie pushes the idea that half the reason Lucy’s in love with Jack is because she finally has a family she can join. When I was younger, I never believed that Lucy would be as friendless and alone as she’s shown to be, but the more time I’ve spent trying to fit in to new cities, the more I appreciate just how difficult it is to get set up with new friends. And I have the Internet, with its Couchsurfing and Meetup and things, which is more than Lucy had, back in 1995. Lucy makes friends at work, but when your job is sharing a small booth with one other person collecting subway tokens, you don’t meet a lot of people. Besides which, she’s grieving her father, who died just the year before. It’s actually not surprising that she’s so isolated.

Meeting the Callaghans, who are marvelously open and friendly (perhaps a bit too much so, to a strange woman who claims to be engaged to their comatose son), would feel like coming home. And then you get to sit through dinners talked at such cross-purposes that in my family, when things are getting similarly ridiculous and rowdy, someone just yells out, “I never said he was tall!”

Of course it’s a Cinderella tale, and we can’t forget that Lucy would never afford that trip to Florence on her own, while the upper-middle-class Callaghans can shell out for it no problem. But I’m willing to go along with the idea that the real treasure Lucy gains is the love of a family, and their wealth is a nice bonus.

Other great things:

  • Despite her timidity in other areas of her life, Lucy has no problem cracking wise with her boss or putting the love of her life gently but firmly in place whenever he starts going off about whose type she is.
  • Jack tries to do the right thing by not sharing his feelings with Lucy and messes it up royally, which is endearing.
  • Peter is such a self-centered jag that you don’t really mind he’s the victim of a terrible mind game. Peter Gallagher does a great job of playing a guy so into himself he’s not even worried about being that into himself; he’s equally concerned about whether he sucks as a person or whether his outfit sucks (maybe more concerned about the outfit).
  • Joe Jr., a strange amalgam of Queens and southside Chicago, is a glorious punchline in every scene, and I hope his future involves strutting around in his own pair of high heels.
  • Lucy’s apartment is in my old neighborhood of Logan Square–I tracked it down on Logan Boulevard a few winters ago. Those buildings really are that gorgeous.
  • Perhaps most importantly, Lucy never once brushes her hair in this film and she is the heroine–god bless the mid-’90s.

And Elsie has the best answer to “would you like some more wine?” ever. She says, “Oh I don’t drink anymore.” Beat. “I don’t drink any less, either.” For a grandmother like that, you might fake an engagement to a man in a coma, too.

London at Christmastime

My love of the holiday season is no secret. I was fortunate to have happy Christmases in my childhood, full of family love and fun traditions. (I know that’s not true for everyone, so I feel especially grateful that this is my experience.) This year, I’m spending the holiday in England, and the lead-up here in London has been wonderful, as I’ve done lots of Christmas-y things.

Winter Wonderland

Winter Wonderland

Winter Wonderland

Winter Wonderland is one of those terrible/wonderful things, a giant carnival in Hyde Park. Liz and I went there a couple weekends ago, and we stayed for the perfect amount of time: long enough to see all the attractions, not long enough to get crushed by the crowds.

Fun fair

Fun fair

london christmas

We walked through the fun fair and the crafts market, past the ice rink and the inexplicable haunted house. We had brats and mulled wine, and we listened to a live band speed through a Stevie Wonder medley. All the rides had been done up seasonally, and there was one particularly creepy animatronic Santa who laughed maniacally at the passersby.

Clearly a repurposed animatronic 'come on the ride' caller, but he made for a really creepy Santa

Clearly a repurposed animatronic ‘come on the ride’ caller, but he made for a really creepy Santa

The market part of Winter Wonderland

The market part of Winter Wonderland

Mulled wine with Liz

Mulled wine with Liz

Winter Wonderland 'giant wheel' -- not sure why they don't call them Ferris wheels over here

Winter Wonderland ‘giant wheel’ — not sure why they don’t call them Ferris wheels over here

Oxford Street lights

Oxford Street lights

Lights and Windows on Oxford Street

After we had our mulled wine and share of crowds, we wandered down Oxford Street to admire the lights. Oxford Street is a major shopping district in London, and every year they string lights across the street, and across the side streets, so it’s delightfully lit up everywhere you look as you do your late-night shopping (or any shopping after 3:50, when the sun sets).

london christmas

One of the brightly lit side streets

One of the brightly lit side streets

london christmas

We admired the windows at Selfridges, dreamy and colorful, and had an unsuccessful hunt inside for egg nog (they had some unrefrigerated thing that I looked askance at).

Fancy indoors at Selfridges

Fancy indoors at Selfridges

Fancy outside at Selfridges

Fancy outside at Selfridges

Forty Hall by Candlelight

This past weekend, I went up to Forty Hall, a stately home on the very north end of London. My friend Dave directed a group of volunteers in a sort of tour/mobile theater event, so we walked from room to room in this wonderfully restored home and heard stories about the house in 1643, during the English Civil War. It was an interesting mix of tidbits about daily life at the house, and some of the ways the war affected households. We ate mince pies and drank hot spiced cider, and we each walked out with a sprig of rosemary–my favorite herb, and apparently a traditional favor in the 17th century during Christmastime. It’s meant to flower on Christmas Eve, thus the tradition.

Forty Hall

Forty Hall

Craft fair in the park

Craft fair in the park

Neighborhood Christmas market 

The neighborhood park had a Christmas market this Sunday, and although I didn’t buy anything, I enjoyed looking at all the crafts for sale, including those made by my talented friend Natti. More mulled wine and minced pie (notice a theme to celebrations here?) while a brass quartet played at the edges of the gathering and adorable children ran around. And then my favorite part, the carol singing. A small brass and woodwind band decked out in Santa hats got up in the bandstand and led us all in carols.

Mulled wine and mince pies ALL THE TIME PLEASE

Mulled wine and mince pies ALL THE TIME PLEASE

Nat's wonderful wares for sale

Nat’s wonderful wares for sale

Carols with a brass band

Carols with a brass band

The Royal Albert Hall

The Royal Albert Hall

Handel’s Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall

Finally, on Sunday I went to the Royal Albert Hall for a performance of Handel’s Messiah. This is one of my favorite choral works. I’ve sung it in a choir in Michigan, seen it done in a gospel style in Chicago, and now seen it sung by hundreds of people in London. The Hall is a beautiful setting, and even though my seats were “semi-restricted viewing,” I saw most of the choir and orchestra, and anyway the main thing is to hear it. It was a glorious performance: the choir was great, the trumpet for ‘The Trumpet Will Sound’ was perfect, and three out of four soloists were wonderful (the bass sounded like he was gargling marbles, but I find that to often be a problem with basses). I walked back to the bus stop with the sounds of joy and celebration ringing in my ears. I wouldn’t mind ending more weekends like that.

Hundreds of singers for Handel's Messiah

Hundreds of singers for Handel’s Messiah

Beautiful interior of Royal Albert Hall

Beautiful interior of Royal Albert Hall

Happy holidays!

Happy holidays!