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just a little white whale on the go

Stay with me here. Raffi is releasing a new album, which I found out about via this slightly odd Vulture article that fixated on whether he’s slept with any adult fans. (come on, it’s RAFFI. RAFFI WOULD NEVER.) I read this over Christmas and was plunged into a sea of feelings and memories about the song Baby Beluga, his big song. I remember being very young and really feeling what was going on with that whale – and especially seriously communing with the line ‘you’re just a little white whale on the go’. I WAS that whale and I WAS on the go! Specifically I remember waving my bottom around in what I felt was a whale-like way, so happy that a song had managed to capture my ME-ness so perfectly.

When I looked up the lyrics to sing the song to Ewan, I found these lines, which I had forgotten:

Baby beluga, oh baby beluga, sing your little song,
Sing for all your friends, we like to hear you

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The Acropolis and Acropolis Museum in Athens, with Context Travel

Disclosure: I had been intending to book a Context Travel tour when I found out a friend of mine works there, and the next time we saw each other I plied her with alcohol until she agreed to put me on a tour to review. So I didn’t pay for this but I was going to, and I’m booking another (paid) tour for my next holiday; it’s not something I only did because it was comped. I’ve also just realised how many Greek-related posts there have been here lately! It’s just been a Greek few months for some reason!

Acropolis Museum

The Parthenon gallery, Acropolis Museum, Athens

Like a lot of people, I watched what was happening in Greece this summer and went “gosh, that seems a bit not on?”, then “how can I help?” and the answer came: go on holiday! So in July I took a last-minute solidarity holiday (…holidarity!) to Athens. It was a spectacularly good time to go, both for weather and for politics, and left me with a mostly unearned sense of heroism – saving the world, one souvlaki at a time – and a very immediate desire to go back. So I booked another visit for September, and as above somehow persuaded my friend to put me on one of Context Travel’s tours.

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‘The Odyssey’ Live (Almeida)

It’s something you might do in college, if you had a certain kind of drama department, except it was with some of the best actors in the world and more people watching than just a few very patient boyfriends. The Almeida Theatre read through all of the Iliad in a day in August (starting at 10am, finishing around 1am), after which artistic director Rupert Goold presumably turned to his actors and crew and said, “Well, that was quite good, shall we do another one?”, because last week they also did all of the Odyssey in a day, livestreaming the whole thing both times so people could follow along at home.

The Iliad reading started at the British Museum, where a series of actors got up to read at a podium in the Great Court, and ended at the Almeida itself (in Islington, north London). It was fun clicking over to the livestream across the day, especially the energy pop every time a new reader took over and reminded that gosh, our actors are really good at acting! The main ones I remember are Tobias Menzies’ biceps exulting as Achilles taunted Hector; Hattie Morahan looking alarmed and tall as Odysseus tried to reason with the Greeks; and Adjoa Andoh letting her voice roll and luxuriate in Agamemnon’s persuasive list of gifts. Oh yeah, you kept going, this is why!

And the Odyssey was even more fun; instead of lots of famous good actors walking up to a podium, reading their bit, and walking off again, the production went on a trip around London. Starting on the roof of the Almeida at a sharp 9am, cameras followed actors in cabs down to the Thames, where the reading got on a riverboat (Stephen Fewell winning and holding an early MVP of the day, for flawlessly managing an interruption by an uninformed official – which also led to his winning saddest tweet), and on to the London Eye on the South Bank (for the bit with the Cyclops – geddit, geddit), onto an open-topped bus back across the city, up to Islington Town Hall, over to a building site nearby, and finally to finish at a bar on Upper Street, at an extremely enviable-looking party with most of the day’s readers and general Almeida people.

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Drunk Theatre: The Oresteia, Trafalgar Studios (Almeida)

Oresteia at the Almeida - poster

I was quite drunk the first time I ever encountered the Oresteia, Aeschylus’ family bathtub-drowning-revenge-stabbing-dynastic-betrayal-murderfest trilogy. For about ten years, every January a group of us would rent a big house in Derbyshire for a weekend and read through some plays. When we did the Oresteia, I was one of the chorus: it was the first play of the weekend, on a Friday night, and I may have wilfully misinterpreted what kind of libation, exactly, the Libation Bearers were bearing, like whether or not it was a raspberry daiquiri, and whether it was being borne to, say, Agamemnon’s grave or, for example, my mouth.

(During The Eumenides, the final play, when the chorus is the Furies, I mostly remember Athene, played by Kat, rapping her gavel very firmly and the lead Fury, played by the weekend’s organiser Catriona, repeating ‘Fury Two—‘ with the sharp weary tone of ‘wing commander, we’re trying to attack the Death Star here and you seem to be vomiting in your helmet’.)

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A Crypto-Jew’s Guide to Surviving the Spanish Inquisition

Hello! Gosh I had this ambitious plan for writing something for every day in October, though you can see how well that’s gone. So many things happened this summer that I’ve been keeping it all on the shelf instead of telling about it.

I did another History Showoff talk last week, this one titled ‘How to Survive the Spanish Inquisition: Practical Tips for Crypto-Jews’. I got the timing a bit better than the Fascist Romeo & Juliet one, when I had to cut about a third of it, and the venue (in a great scuzzy pub basement) was much more fun. However, the Photoshop work is much worse, as I did it myself, including this slide about New Christians (converted Jews) having to go to church even when they’re menstruating:

Sevilla Cathedral - bloody text

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Verona: ‘Romeo and Juliet’, fascism and authenticity

Last month I did a talk about Romeo and Juliet, Verona, tourism and fascism at History Showoff, a fun night where a bunch of historians get up in a pub basement and have exactly nine minutes to share something interesting with the audience. Although I am not a proper historian, the organiser let me have a go anyway (thank you Steve!), and I think it went well. There’s a video on YouTube (and below), although I could only watch 30 seconds of it before turning it off, because I hate hearing my own voice!

Here’s the gist of it, adapted from my notes, though I realised while putting this together that I didn’t really keep track of citations, since I wasn’t thinking past the presentation (see again: not proper historian). So there are some parts in the talk that aren’t here (mostly jokes about TripAdvisor) and some parts here that aren’t in the talk (mostly because I was nervous and forgot).

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Header art by Tod Wills.