Sunday, August 31, 2008

Lesbianism is Not a Necessary Part of the Suffragette Movement

Friday, August 29, 2008

We started the day off at Trafalgar Square and walked down Whitehall to Westminster Abbey. Walking along Whitehall was more of a tour of military and political monuments than government buildings, which is what I thought Whitehall was mostly famous for. I remember passing the Departments for Scotland and Wales, but we didn’t stop to talk about them. Interesting, though, was Prof. Rudalevige’s little talk about Charles I’s and Oliver Cromwell’s statues, one at each end of Whitehall road, having a starring contest. It’s funny, the hidden significance the positioning of monuments can have. I guess that’s like our discussion of who gets into the National Portrait Gallery. I figure that money decides who has his portrait painted, but who decides which portraits actually make it into the gallery, and who decides where each one will hang? What if you put two people next to each other who hated each other in life? Does this emphasize the relationship for the viewer? Does it disregard it?

Not being one for military history, not many of the monuments interested me. I did appreciate the monument to the women who fought in WWII, the only monument to a female on the whole of Whitehall. Sadly, it was only erected in the last five years. I guess we know one more important condition for having a statue. You have to be male. I also liked the monument to “The Glorious Dead,” and the fact that the UK actually celebrates Veteran’s Day. I’d love to come back for that, but I think it would be a madhouse.

After our walk down Whitehall, we toured Westminster Abbey. Even though I’ve been to London twice before, this was the first time I’ve ever been inside the Abbey. It is spectacular to see something that old and that significant. And what other place do you get to see the tombs of famous monarchs, politicians, scientists, and authors? It was incredible. I can’t even remember how many tombs and memorials I saw. Certainly the memorial to Newton, one to Shakespeare, and a bust of my beloved Milton. I saw the tombs of Edward the Confessor, Henry III, Edward I, Edward III, Richard II, Henry V, Edward V, Henry VII, Edward VI, Bloody Mary and Queen Elizabeth I (who are buried one on top of the other, strangely), James I, Charles II, Mary II, William III, Queen Anne, George II, Anne of Cleves (Henry VIII’s fourth wife), Mary Queen of Scots…and those are just the monarchs! Let’s see…who else? Sir Robert Peel, prime minister who created the police, or Peelers. Apparently, that’s where we get the phrase “keep your eyes peeled” for the police. I saw the tomb of Charles Darwin. Then there’s Poet’s Corner: Robert Browning, Rudyard Kipling, William Congreve, Thomas Hardy, Dr. Samuel Johnson (!),Edmund Spenser, Charles Dickens, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and even Laurence Olivier. I got to spend a heartfelt moment with Geoffrey Chaucer (the first poet to be buried there around 1400).

It was a long tour, and we were asked to stop twice during our tour, on the hour, for a prayer. Someone would get on the PA system, ask us all to take a moment, remind us that Westminster Abbey is still a place of Christian worship, not just a tourist attraction, and read a prayer. I forget the first one, but the second prayer was curiously by St. Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits. Our tour guide expressed how the Church of England sees itself as a very cosmopolitan, inclusive religion. When we were outside the abbey he had us look up at the west façade, a newly added feature. Above the door were ten statues of modern martyrs of different faiths, nationalities, and ethnicities. In the middle was Martin Luther King.
I find it strange that the Anglican Church proclaims to be a universal faith when it used to persecute Catholics. I suppose that’s the beauty of modernization and secular society. Seeing all these churches and cathedrals still in operation makes me wonder how so many of them survived the secularization of British society, seeing as such a small percentage of citizens is actually practicing. I wonder if the percentage is so much higher in the U.S. because we began with Puritanism, instead of the religious instability that England has experienced. And then we have so many immigrants who come to the U.S. seeking religious freedom (the Puritans themselves), that, since they are free to practice their religion, they do so often.

I was starving after we finished the tour of Westminster Abbey, and I think I nearly killed Leah and Chad dragging them around Oxford Street, trying to find The Marlborough Head, the pub Bonnie took me to last time I was in London. Just as we were about to give up, we found it and had lunch. I still really like it. Good atmosphere, nice décor, and it is bigger than other pubs I’ve been to.
We came back to the Arran House to work on journals. No matter how much time I allot to work on them, I never seem to catch up. I IMed a couple of friends and was bitched at by Chris for not going out. Well, je m’enfiche, Chris. I’m happy.
Leah and I made the rest of the pasta we had and ate dinner.
At 7:30, we dressed up and went to the National Theatre to see the play Her Naked Skin, a play about the British suffragette movement written by the first woman to ever premiere at the National Theatre. A historic moment in the history of theatre. Too bad the play was awful. The acting, music, and sets were good. Even the dialogue was good in places, witty and lively. But the plot was fragmented and too ambitious. The story of the suffragette movement was overshadowed by a completely unnecessary lesbian love affair between the two main characters, the relationship between who was never truly established until their affair began half way through the first act. There was a lot of gratuitous lesbian making-out and sex. In fact, far too much sex in general. It really distracted from the history of the suffragette movement and it trivialized the idea of female solidarity. There were also several subplots that really never led anywhere. The main character, Lady Celia, would repeatedly say how she didn’t want to talk about her children, even though one was getting married. That never played out into anything. There was a doctor training under another doctor who gave the forced feedings, and this younger doctor would always express misgivings about the “procedure.” I thought that perhaps he would become part of the suffragette movement, or at least the movement to stop forced feedings, but nothing happened with that, either. Nor with the nervous nurse who seemed so stocked after her first forced feeding. I thought she would join the movement, but no.
I didn’t really learn anything about the specifics of the British suffragette movement versus the American one, either, except perhaps the role it played (or didn’t play, as the case was) in Parliament. Other than that, the scenes of forced feedings, prison life, and picketing were pretty much the same things I’ve seen before in my American History classes. The force feeding was disturbing, though. I would never have imagined seeing that on stage.

We all exited the theatre and, at least among the people I talked to, there was a general sense of disappointment. I’m glad I saw it, but I can’t imagine it going very far. The Russian acrobats performing outside the theatre were far more entertaining.

Lots of Old Rocks

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Today was quite a day. We left London at 8a.m. together with the science kids and took a coach out to Stonehenge. I have to say, driving through rural English countryside is a lot like driving up to Carlisle, except on the wrong side of the road. And there were a lot of sheep. Leah and I have plans to kidnap one.
I was sort of taken by surprise when we pulled off the highway and there was this big stone construction on the field, just minding its own business. Not quite the approach I had imagined for my visit to the famous henge. I must say, I was a little underwhelmed. Especially since the stones were roped off and we couldn’t walk amongst them like Tess and Angel. Honestly, is Hardy the only author to write about Stonehenge? I walked around with one of those audio tour things, and the last lecture ended with a quote from Tess of the D’Urbervilles when Hardy describes Tess and Angel’s first impressions of the stones as the sun rises. Such an old monument, such a famous one. You’d think someone would have come up with something more significant to say than what Hardy wrote. They’re at Stonehenge for, what? One chapter, maybe two? Maybe I should write a book about Stonehenge, one that actually deserves to be quoted in the audio guide.

As for the actual stones, they weren’t quite as big as I had imagined, and, for some reason, all of the pictures and documentaries of the site had always made the circle look more complete. Oh well. At least I saw that documentary on the Discovery Channel over the summer. It gave the visit slightly more significance. I agree with the druids who were protesting outside the gift shop. Their banners said things like “Set Free The Stones!” I’m not sure if they were arguing for the complete abandonment of the Stonehenge tourist industry, or if they, like many others, want the government to build an underground tunnel for the nearby highway so that the structure can regain some of its original peace and sanctity. In any case, they are trying to give some of the mystery back to Salisbury Plain. Why not move the highway, and any tourist who wants to see Stonehenge will have to trek through the open fields (well, it was wooded 2000 years ago) just like everyone else who wanted to go there throughout the years.

From Stonehenge we drove to Bath, about three hours west of London. The bus dropped us of in front of Bath Abbey and we were free to talk around and get lunch before our tour of the baths. A bunch of us wandered downtown. The city is so beautiful, and surprisingly well preserved. I guess because it used to be a resort destination, they kept it quaint, but it really did add to the tranquil mystery of the place. Not a lot of businessmen in suits running to the office, nor busy tourists running from one tour to the next. There were tourists aplenty, to be sure, but the pace was slower and people were content to simply wander the streets, walk through the Royal Victoria Gardens, and do a little window shopping in all the shops. I don’t know if I can compare it to London, necessarily. It’s smaller, certainly, and not as busy, but there was just a general pleasantness. Maybe this was just because it was a gorgeous day. And prices were generally lower than in London, which always makes me happy.
Leah and I broke off from our group to stop at a small café where we bought our first pasties. Delicious. I guess the best way to describe a pasty is a like an apple turn-over but filled with vegetables, meats, and cheeses. Leah and I both got one filled with onions, potatoes, and cheese, and it was absolutely fabulous. Who says the British have bad food? I haven’t had a bad meal yet.
We ate our pasties, stopped at a pub called the Huntsman for a glass of lemonade, and walked through a few back-streets. After wandering around for a while with Leah, drinking in the beauty of the landscape, we headed back toward Bath Abbey for our tour of the Roman Baths.

I was wonderful to see well-preserved Roman ruins for once. In London, everything’s so built up and even the remains that we saw on our tour of Roman London were scarce and rather time-worn. The Baths were incredible, and just to look at the level of thought and engineering that went into the place…it’s awe-inspiring how advanced the Romans were, and how far civilization fell after they left. The building that housed the baths had an arched ceiling made from hollow tiles. They had plumbing, running water, and heated floors. After the collapse of Rome, Britain didn’t have decent plumbing until, arguably, the 19th century. Even today they’re still replacing old Victorian pipelines in London that aren’t functioning properly, when the lead pipes of Bath have been working for almost two thousand years.

The waters of the springs, perhaps due to their mineral content or perhaps due to mystical powers, are still considered to have healing and cleansing properties. In the Pump Room, a very expensive restaurant and tea room at the baths, you can buy a glass of water from the hot springs (it’s been treated!) for 50p. I did. It tasted funny.

A little history of the hot springs at Bath: They were discovered by a Celtic prince named Bladud somewhere around 860 B.C. Unfortunately, poor Bladud was a leper, and he was banished to become a swineherd (pig farmer). One day he was herding his pigs near the hot springs. The pigs went for a bath in the springs and (to quote Prof. Rudalevige), “when they emerged Bladud swore they were the most beautiful swine he had ever seen.” This is why there were painted statues of pigs all over the city (like Cow Parade). Bladud decided to try the springs for himself, and was magically cured of his leprosy. To celebrate the power of the spring, he built a temple to the goddess Sulis, the sun goddess who kept the springs warm. Bladud returned to his father’s court and, in time, was made king. Later, a Celtic cult to Sulis grew up around the springs. When the Romans arrived in Bath in about 60 AD, they identified Sulis, who was also the goddess of wisdom, with Minerva, and built a temple to the combined goddess Sulis Minerva. In fact, the Romans called Bath “Aquae Sulis,” or “the waters of Sulis.” Thus, they easily won over the Celts and began to build the baths around the hot springs. But Aquae Sulis collapsed with the fall of Rome, and the baths fell into decay until 675, when King Osric set up a monastery there. King Offa rebuilt the monastery about a hundred years later, and, in 973, the Saxon King Edgar was crowned in Bath Abbey. The town began to develop a serious reputation as a spa and resort town during the Georgian era, and now the baths are the major tourist attraction in one of Britain’s most historically significant cities.

One of the other major tourist attractions in Bath is the Jane Austen Centre on Gay Street, near to where Jane Austen lived while in the city from 1800 to 1806. After the tour of the Roman Baths, we had the rest of the day to explore Bath, so I wandered up that way. I was disappointed to learn that, not only was the Center NOT Jane Austen’s actual house, but that they were charging ₤5 for a tour that basically consisted of rooms decorated as if they were from the 19th century and a collection of recreated 19th century clothing. I’ll just watch the BBC, thanks.

I walked up to the Circus, a round-about surrounded by expensive, posh Georgian townhouses built by John Wood. That’s where my favorite pig is. There’s a clown painted on it, and a ribbon that reads “Ceci n’est pas un cochon.” For those of you who don’t speak French, it means “This is not a pig.” Which it isn’t. It’s a statue of a pig. The joke comes from a painting of a pipe by Magritte which reads “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.” “This is not a pipe.” And it’s not. It’s a picture of a pipe.
I then walked to the Royal Crescent, also a line of spiffy Georgian townhouses designed by John Wood. I tried to find Leah and Chad and ended up walking over to Royal Victoria Park before I found them. Meghan met up with us and then, as we were walking back downtown, we ran into Sarah and Abby. We all decided to get some tea, and we sat on some benches and chatted for a bit. Then everyone split up. I went downtown to continue window shopping. Actually, there were some nice sales going on, so I might have bought something, but, even with the sales, and even being outside of London, things were still too much for me. I’m stingy. I did, however, find some gorgeous boots for ₤16, but they didn’t have my size. Pity.

Finally, it was getting late, so I walked back to the abbey to wait for the bus. I met Tristan in the courtyard, and we talked about Eddie Izzard for a while. “Building a henge, are we? That sounds like a fantastic idea!” Anyway, the bus came and we drove back to London. The end.

Friday, August 29, 2008


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Professor Rudalevige took some of us out on our walk of Bloomsbury, the neighborhood of our hotel, this morning. To be honest, we saw so much that I can’t remember it all, and the batteries died in my camera, so I don’t have pictures of everything. I couple things of note, though. I really liked the squares and gardens. I didn’t realize that the Arran House was so close to so much. I also didn’t realize that a noble family still owns the land and that everyone in the neighborhood pays a lease on their house or business. The thought of one family owning an entire neighborhood, a prosperous neighborhood, is a bit unthinkable in the U.S. Or, maybe, once again, I’m simply showing my ignorance.
Moving on—It seemed that nearly every building in Bloomsbury had a little round, blue plaque on it that said “So-and-so born here,” or “Thus-and-such lived here,” etc. Many important literary figures lived here, though. Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster. The Bloomsbury Group, for instance, came from here. Huh, fancy that. We saw the publisher where T.S. Eliot worked as an editor and the building which became the basis for George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth in 1984. Toward the end of the tour, we saw the Great Ormand Street Hospital, to which J.M. Barrie left all the royalties of Peter Pan. I’m sure they’re doing quite well, nowadays.
We stopped for lunch at the Museum Tavern, and Prof. Rudalevige bought us all drinks. I ordered falafel (yum!) and drank a Pimms and Lemonade, a traditional summer drink here in England. I haven’t been to many yet, but I have to say that I love pubs. Not because they sell me alcohol. Stop stereotyping. It’s because the atmosphere is just very laid back. Every pub has its own personality, but all of the ones I’ve been to (the few) have just been very pleasant in a uniquely pub-y way. I don’t think bar culture in America is the same. I’m going to miss pubs when I leave the UK. I suppose that’s even more incentive for me to go to more of them.

A bit later we had tickets to a show in Kilburn, off toward the North-West of London. We all got a bit lost on the way to the Tricycle Theater, but eventually found it. The play was Let There Be Love by Kwame Kwei-Armah, a playwright of Caribbean descent, and it dealt with issues of immigration and prejudice in Britain. Basically, the plot surrounds Alfred Morris, a bitter, elderly immigrant from Granada who has lived in London for many years and who resents the recent influx of Eastern Europeans taking jobs away from “real Britons.” His relatively estranged daughter hires a newly arrived Polish immigrant Maria to take care of him, and, though the relationship is strained at first, they form a bond over the immigrant’s plight and jazz music. Maria becomes the daughter Alfred has always wanted, and eventually she helps reconcile him with his family. She convinces him to visit Granada one last time before he dies of cancer, and, upon arriving back him, he asks Maria to help him commit suicide before his love of life dissipates again. Click here for a review of the play by the Times.
It’s not a play I would ever have thought to see on my own, but I really did love it. And not just because Alfred was played by the guy who played the butler on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air (Joseph Marcell). The dialogue was good and the relationship between characters was heartwarming. Although people disagree, I thought he play was well balanced between the personal issues of the characters and the broader political and social issues that it addressed. Emma mentioned that it would be interesting to do the same thing with African-Americans and Mexican immigrants set in the States. I think it would work.
After the play, I went with Jen to Sainsbury’s and got dinner. The other day, Abby bought this bottle of Elderflower water, which is, as the name suggests, water flavored with elderflower. I haven’t the foggiest idea what an elderflower is, but it does make the water taste pretty good. We got back to the Arran House and ate dinner, entertained by Chris and Lauren going back and forth about Pepys and Pretty Witty Nell. Samuel Pepys is known for the careful diary he wrote during the time of the Great Fire, and you hear his name everywhere. Nell was one of Charles II’s mistresses, and her portrait in the National Gallery shows her slightly…exposed…and, of course, this did not escape the notice of my friends. So, from now on, “Peyps” and “Pretty Witty Nell” are going to be the inside jokes of the program, or at least our little subgroup. I’m sure Christopher Wren will make it in there, too. He always does.

At Least Three Counts of Heresy

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

We met this morning at Trafalgar Square again and were instructed to look around at the various statues that stand in the square. The main monument, of course, is the enormous pillar with a statue of Admiral Nelson on it. The others were also of various Napoleonic War era military types, and one statue of George II. There was also one formerly empty space known as the Fourth Plinth, which was supposed to house a statue of William IV, but it was never built. Instead, it is the site of a rotating exhibition pieces. So, out of place amongst all the military heroes was a brightly colored Plexiglas model for a modern hotel. I’m not sure how this earned a spot on this coveted platform, because I don’t think this hotel will ever be built, and it doesn’t exactly match the aesthetic of the square.
In any case, we met by the fountain and discussed the qualifications for getting a bust or statue in the square, and then in the portrait gallery behind us. I loved the National Portrait Gallery. We began in the 16th century, and I saw many famous Tutor portraits (a beautiful one of Catherine Parr, an impressive Henry VIII, several famous portraits of Elizabeth I). I saw the famous portrait of Shakespeare, which nearly made my heart stop. I had to go back and see it twice before I left. Chad made sure that I saw the portrait of Milton, but I’ll admit that it was not the religious experience that I thought it would be, since the portrait was of him as a teenager and it didn’t have quite the same impact. In the Romantics room I saw the same portraits of Shelley, Mary Shelley, and Byron that I remember from my textbooks. The room dedicated to Charles I certainly did its job. I was truly moved by all the different depictions of the trial, execution, martyrdom of the king. Poor Charles. It reminded me of depictions of Jeanne d’Arc and all of the depictions of her story I’ve seen over the years.
I then moved on to the more modern paintings—a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II done by Andy Warhol, a couple paintings of Prince Charles, and then even some contemporary portraits of pop culture icons and sports heroes.
In trying to answer the question “Who gets to have a portrait?”, I found that the portraits basically follow the money, and show the change in power from monarchy to church to politicians to pop culture. In the Tutor era, the portraits were all of royalty or their favorite noblemen and statesmen. A little later, the circle opened to include the notable artistic and literary minds of the time. The next room had more religious figures than secular statesmen and royalty. During each age, the circle of influence seemed to shift and expand. By the time I reached modern day, there were fewer portraits of royalty and more of actors, singers, and pop icons like Twiggy, Tilda Swinton, David Bowie, and David Beckham. The styles also became more modern, making the pictures more about the artist and technique than the subject (One example was a very minimalist cartoon of the artist, but the picture was on a screen and, if you watched, the picture was breathing). I did, however, like the “portrait” that was made of spots of the “artist’s” DNA. Cheeky.

After walking so long through the museum, we got hungry. I walked around the area with Leah, Chad, and Liza trying to find food and eventually ended up at a pub called The Blue Post. The décor was standard “pub,” but the food was really good. I ordered a Jacket Potato with Vegetable Curry. Think baked potato covered in curry. It was heavenly.
Then we went back to the Arran House, and Leah, Chad, and I decided to get our rail passes and British Library cards. Getting our rail pass was easy, although I did freak out a bit when I couldn’t find my passport photos and thought that I would have to get yet another set taken. But it all worked out, and now I will be able to get on the train to Oxford!
The library cards, however, were not so easy to acquire. The building of the British Library is nothing to stare at, although it is very big. However, when I walked in and saw the King’s Library collection, I nearly passed out. It is a three-storey glass room with the book bindings facing outward. It was beautiful. It gave me such high hopes for the place. Unfortunately, the idiotic bureaucracy of the Reading Registration Office made the process far more complicated than getting a library card ever should have to be. They basically tried to deter us from getting a reading pass. In order to get a pass, you need two forms of identification, one showing proof of address and the other an example of your signature. Then they make you go to a computer and jot down examples of the types of books you would want to look at. This requires you to have at least a vague idea of what you want to research. After you find a few titles, you have to fill out an application on another set of computers. Then you are given a number, and you have to wait until your number is called so you can meet with a representative who asks you questions about why you need to use the library, for what research, how long, etc. Then, after taking your picture and reviewing all of your information, the representative is required to go over all of the rules about how to use the reading rooms, how to request books, etc., even though all of this information is posted on large posters on the walls of the waiting area, and you are pretty much forced to read them because there is nothing else to do for the fifteen or so minutes you are waiting there. Finally, after all of this nonsense, you are given your card, instructed, one more time for good measure, about the importance of keeping it with you.
Ok. I understand that is not your standard community library. It is a research library designed for serious work. But how can Britain consider this the “national” library if they don’t want people using it? Sitting in the waiting room, I saw several people get turned away from the application process because they “didn’t really need to be there.” One woman was an art student who wanted to some research, and the secretary told her that she’d be better off going to some other library. They have stacks of pamphlets and several wall posters advising people to try the “public” libraries. It shouldn’t be that hard to get access to the most extensive collection of books in the country.
Leah, Chad, and I consoled ourselves by seeing the public exhibit. Upset as we were by the bureaucratic nonsense we had just endured, this exhibit definitely made us forget our woes. We saw letters from Elizabeth I; a diary entry by Edward VI; Shakespeare’s First Folio; Jane Austen’s journal; a hand-written copy of Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles; a few pages of Da Vinci’s journal; beautiful medieval illuminated manuscripts; scores by Mozart, Handel, and Chopin written in their own hand. There were gorgeous pieces from all over the world—beautifully illustrated Buddhist texts, guilt Hindu pieces, ancient Korans. I can’t even remember how many amazing pieces I saw. I was, of course, most moved by Milton’s Commonplace Book. I nearly cried, and spent a good five minutes just staring it at it. I’d like to think it stared back at me from behind the glass. I managed to make out some of his 17th century scrawl and found it very funny. He was writing about the way French monarchs seem to be elected, and he kept moving seamlessly from English into French and vice versa. I found this amusing.
The highlight of the exhibit for me, though, even more than Milton, was seeing a Gutenberg Bible. Here, Leah and I both wept, and Chad bounced up and down like a kangaroo. I honestly can’t describe what it was like to see the most important book ever made. And it was just stuck in the middle of the “History of Printing” cabinet, between 9th-14th century examples of Eastern block printing and some other early Western works. No reverence, I tell you! Just another old book. Yes, I realize that there were things in that exhibit that were far older than the Gutenberg Bible. Yes, I realize that printing went back hundreds of years earlier in the East before it ever reached Europe. But as someone who intends to make her living off of publishing, and as someone who swoons not at the sight of Brad Pitt but at that of a room full of old books, seeing that book was basically a religious experience. Leah and I even waved goodbye to it before we left.
Oh yeah. We saw the Magna Carta, too. Take that, England. See how it feels when someone belittles documents important to you?

On the way out, we stopped at Marks & Spencer and bought pasta, sauce, and salad. The we returned to the Arran House, made and ate dinner. Which reminds me, I owe Chad money.

Later that night, Lauren, Jen, Katie, Chris, and I went to a swing dancing club in Holborn. It was different in than the Green Door in that people didn’t seem as willing to switch partners, and we were basically the awkward Americans in the corner. Also awkward because I was the only one who really knew how to dance. Some nice old men asked Katie, Jen, and Lauren to dance during the night (this is not as creepy as it sounds). At one point, I did ask some random guy to dance. At home, you strike up idle conversation, so, I told him my name, and he told me his…but that was it. He looked at me like I was weird for trying to talk. So, I basically danced with my friends the whole time, teaching them what Jeremy taught me at camp. Luckily, everyone seemed to have a good time, or at least told me that they did. I think if we go back it might be easier, especially if we bring more guys. There was a lack of males there. If we go again, maybe people will actually talk to us.
I’ve been loving my time here, but what I really want to do is meet Brits. I want to get out of this Dickinson bubble and experience the culture from an insider’s point of view. I feel like I’d feel more…here…once I start talking to Londoners. Maybe I should go out more.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

London High and Low

Monday, August 25, 2008

The morning began with a class session where we discussed our impressions of the previous few days, and looked at several poetic depictions of London: Blake’s “London” and “Pillars of Gold,” Wordsworth’s “Composed upon Westminster Bridge,” and a more modern poem by Peter Reading titled “Lost Ones.” Wordsworth, we noted, has a selective view of London, looking out over the Thames, remarking its peace and beauty, but leaving curiously absent the noise and hustle of city life, the stench of a sewer-ridden Thames, and the corruption of the elite. In “Pillars of Gold,” Blake similarly idealizes the city, describing it as a new Jerusalem through which Jesus walks. And, like Wordsworth and most Romantics, he describes the scene almost exclusively in terms of nature and pastoral setting. Then, as Prof. Rudalevige so aptly put, Blake has a bit of a bi-polar shift and completely tears apart the city in “London,” a poem which presents the poverty, despair, and hypocrisy that runs rampant throughout London. Reading’s poem, though written almost two hundred years later, makes the same point about hypocrisy, describing a performance of Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony in the Festival Hall, and the sounds of a dying homeless man in the concrete pit underneath it. The idea of having varying depictions of the city returned later, when we went to the Guildhall Gallery to see various paintings of London produced over the years.
Before our trip through the gallery, we were supposed to meet at St. Paul’s Cathedral for a walking tour of the City (City of London proper, not to be confused with Greater London. Confused? Get a map.). I got to the Tube station on my own, but I must have walked the wrong way around St. Paul’s because I couldn’t find our group and had to call Leah for directions. When we finally did all assemble outside of St. Paul’s, we began our tour of the City, which was basically a tour of Wren churches and a few other sites of note. (Christopher Wren designed and built 53 churches following the destruction caused by the Great Fire in 1666. We saw so many that I pretty much figured that any church I see in the City from now on was built by Wren.) Some highlights of the walk were the site of William Wallace’s execution, the only statue of Henry VIII in London, and Fleet Street. Sites with slightly more significance for the curriculum were the Old Bailey Courthouse, St. Bartholomew the Great, St. Bride’s of Fleet Street (the steeple of which inspired the tiered wedding cake), and St. Mary-le-Bow. It is said that if you could hear the bells of “The Bows,” you could consider yourself a Londoner (as in, resident of the City of London), and, specifically, a Cockney.
We then made our way over to the Guildhall Gallery, which stands adjacent to the gothic medieval structure which once housed the meetings of the guilds, representative merchants and tradesmen who went there to ensure their interests in the local government. Some individual guilds still stand in that area—for instance, we passed the Chandler’s Guild at some point.
Inside the gallery, there were many paintings of London, notable for their artistic and historical merit. Like the poems we read earlier in the day, the tone of the pictures varied, depicting both blue skies over the Thames and grey haze surrounding the East End docks. My favorite painting wasn’t actually of a real place in London at all. It was a painting from the 1970s of a proposed replacement for the feeble 19th century London Bridge. The painting showed two parallel bridges flanked by semi-circular terraces at either end. Obviously this design was never built, perhaps because of expense, or maybe it just took too much space. Whatever the reason, it really is a shame, because the current London Bridge is sadly disappointing and underwhelming.
I eventually made my way back to the Arran House and wasn’t feeling very social, so I sulked around my room for a while, talked online to a few people, and did nothing productive. I made dinner and ate alone in my room. Eventually I figured that I should get out and talk to people, so Jen and I went exploring. We intended to go up to Holborn to find a swing that someone had set up inside a bus stop, but, when we tried to get on the bus to take us to that bus stop, it started going the opposite direction and we ended up in Waterloo, on the other side of the Thames. So we didn’t get to see the swing, but we weren’t too crushed. The banks of the Thames were lit up and everything was so beautiful. After walking around for a while we decided to head back to Tottenham Court Rd. and find The Court, the pub Chris told me about. It was a bit empty, as far as I imagined pubs to go. But the music was good and it was nice to just talk for a while. After a drink, we decided to head back to the hotel.
I guess as far as varying impressions of London go, mine is still positive. Everyday I’m here I just can’t believe how much I love this place. I only wish I could afford to live here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Today, after breakfast, I went with Leah, Chad, and Tristan to Covent Garden Market. It was exactly as I remembered it, and it reminded me that I should probably go somewhere else next time. Not that I dislike Covent Garden. On the contrary, it’s really quaint and very entertaining. But I was looking for something more like a flee market or street fair, so I think I should go to Camden or Portobello Road next time. Right when we arrived, we stopped to watch a street performer juggle, ride a unicycle, and tease small children. It was all very entertaining. Then we walked around the covered market and admired the crafts and such. I wish I had had more time to look around, but my fellow market-goers seemed more interested in just having a look and moving on. It’s not like I would have bought anything, but I do like to browse.
I love the market culture here in London. It’s something I don’t really see in the U.S. We have a garage sale and flee market tradition, but I think they’re generally stereotyped as being frequented by old women in flowered stretch pants who haggle over the price of a two dollar toaster. But everyone goes to the markets here, and they cater to everyone. I think there are supposedly 19 different markets in London that run throughout the week, and some are strictly produce, others a mix of crafts, antiques, second-hand items; even a flower market (I think this is the one Hall writes about in Salaam Brick Lane. I’d love to see it for that alone.). I definitely plan on going sometime in the near future. It’s an amazing way to see some pretty cool stuff, and also to see an interesting mix of people. Not just grannies in stretch pants.
After leaving Convent Gardens, Tristan decided to go back to the hotel, so Chad, Leah, and I made for Notting Hill to attend the Notting Hill Carnival, a massive two-day festival celebrating West Indian culture. We went on the “slow day,” and it was still packed. There were whistles and horns blowing everywhere, trucks with enormous speakers blasting reggae through the streets, and kids and teens in elaborate costumes dancing through the streets. Everyone was in such high spirits—it was a really positive atmosphere. And it smelled amazing because of all the curry, jerk chicken, red beans and rice that were cooking on every street. We kept walking for a while, trying to find the cheapest stall that we could. Many restaurants, shops, and even residences had put tables across their doorways and were selling drinks, food, and whatever else they could persuade people to buy. Finally we came upon this one stall that was selling vegetable curry, which worked well for Leah and I. But the curry wasn’t ready when we got there, and, though we waited for several minutes, it didn’t look like it was ever going to be finished. So, Chad ate his chicken curry, Leah got a plate of red beans and rice, and I kept waiting until, finally, Leah offered me her plate and I just forwent the curry. I wasn’t that hungry anyway. I just like curry.
It was getting pretty crowded around 1p.m., so we decided to head back to the hotel, but the Notting Hill Gate Tube station was blocked off for people wanting to leave Notting Hill, so we had to walk to the next stop. I normally wouldn’t have minded, but we were so tired and our feet were so sore that we grumbled the entire way back.
I spent the rest of the day sitting around, and then, at six, headed out to the garden for a barbeque that the folks at the Arran House were kind enough to put on for us. Not terribly vegetarian-friendly, but I made due. Reconfirmed my dislike of wine. Sat and chatted with Chad and Sarah, with the occasional input from Tristan.
So, my thought for the day is, I’m told, the same subject that we will be undertaking when we get to Norwich, which is: What is “British?” Or, in Norwich, I think we’re looking at more “English” versus “British.” But what I wonder is, after having witnessed this massive display of West Indian pride (attended by all walks of life, though), do the immigrants and ethnic communities in this country consider themselves British? I would assume so. In America, I think we have the tendency to over-categorize things and people. Someone is an African-American or an Irish-American, etc., which, in my opinion, further factions a population already given to segregation. If you are born in this country, you are American. If both your parents were born in this country, you are American. The only true instance of an “Irish-American” would be if one parent was a citizen of Ireland and the other American.
Maybe I just haven’t been listening enough, but I really don’t hear anything similar being done in England. Obviously every place has its problems, and maybe I’m just looking through rose-colored glasses, but I there seems to be a great since of “British-ness” amongst everyone who lives here. In several of the books I read for this class, I remember the author mentioning that racism is definitely present in London culture, but that it’s nowhere near as strong as in American with the Ku Klux Klan or France’s Front National. And I’m sure it is here, but so far I’ve seen little evidence of it. Maybe I’ve just been lucky, but I’d like to think that, maybe, things actually are better over here.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Crossroads in Time

Saturday, August 23, 2008

This city is the strangest amalgamation of old and new, historical and modern. That is what I noticed most today as we went on our walking tour of Roman London. Right outside the Tower Hill Tube station was a piece of the original London Wall that used to surround the city under Roman occupation. It was just there next to the station, and then later over by the London Museum, where it was slightly more protected. In the U.S., these sites would be guarded by four foot Plexiglas walls and have guards at every available entrance. I compare especially to Washington, D.C., where the monuments all have their own separate space, a good distance from anything else and surrounded by a lawn. The modern city has grown up around the historical sites, so buildings from every possible era in this city’s history are thrown together. The best example of this was definitely Leadenhall Market and Lloyd’s of London. Here, a well-preserved Victorian market arcade stands right next to Lloyd’s of London, a building vaguely reminiscent of La Musée de Pompidou in Paris for its inside-out architecture, but, unlike the Pompidou, which is very brightly colored, Lloyd’s is a steely grey and looks like something out of a sci-fi dystopia movie.
I generally get the impression that, in America (or at least in the D.C. area) we try to coordinate architecture, form some sort of homogeneity. Not here. A couple things were fenced off, in their way. The remains of the Temple of Mithras, for instance, had a very low railing around them, and the large portion of the London Wall had a walkway built around it, but the security was minimal. Many of the sites we saw, however, are churches, which aren’t necessarily preserved as historical sites in the sense that we think of them because the building is still in use. Far from suggesting that the British have no reverence for their history because they don’t protect it, I think it shows that they have enough respect for history NOT to damage it. All of the important sites we’ve visited so far have been free of graffiti and any visible acts of vandalism. I remember when I went to Paris that so many of the cathedrals and monuments had graffiti on them. I was shocked. But here, I guess people respect their history more. Or London just cleans them more often.

Speaking of history, we spent a good bit of time at the London Museum, which had a collection of artifacts arranged chronologically from Roman times to the Great Fire of 1666. It was interesting seeing all the archeological finds, but what I liked the most were the recreations of Roman dwellings or a Renaissance bedroom, etc. I love seeing the artifacts, but I often have trouble imagining how they fit into daily life at the time when they were used. The recreations helped to situate everything for me. It makes you realize how little things have really changed since Roman times.

I came back to the Arran House after the museum and took a nap. Then a group of us wandered down to Chinatown to get dinner. We found a place that was relatively cheap. The portions were significantly smaller than what you would get in an American Chinese restaurant, but far from annoying me, I found it refreshing. One reason we have an obesity problem in the States is because we eat so much more and so much faster than the rest of Europe. It was nice to be given just enough, and not risk overeating. It was good food, too.

We headed over to Trafalgar Square, where the Trafalgar Square Festival was going on. There was an enormous screen behind Nelson’s pillar, which was showing coverage of the Olympics, and a whole crowd of people watching. We stayed for a while, but then headed over to St. Martin’s-in-the-Field to hear Mozart’s Requiem. It was a beautiful church, and the music was amazing. I wish that I hadn’t been so tired so that I could keep my eyes open. I know that music is really meant to be heard anyway, but I had this very uptight British lady sitting next to me and I felt like she would be personally offended if I shut my eyes.
After the concert, we went back to Trafalgar Square, where the Olympics had been replaced with the most bizarre modern dance/performance art that I had ever seen. It was freezing outside, but there were these men and women dancing in the fountain wearing only vinyl bikinis, and then they put on dog collars and crawled around on the ground while some guy in overalls led them all by chains…it was truly odd. I don’t understand. Then again, I guess it does fit in with the rest of London. A tradition as old as the Olympics, followed by something bizarre and modern, like interpretive dance. I can only imagine what will be built on top of that.

I decided that I was too tired to go out tonight. I know that I need to get out, get to know the people I’m here with, and really use this time to experience the city. But I get tired so easily from so much walking around. My excuse is that I want to go to the markets tomorrow, and those start early. Should be fun.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Welcome home.

Friday, August 22, 2008

I’m amazed at my lack of amazement for being in London. These past two days, I find myself continually saying, “Oh my God, I can’t believe I’m here!” But the truth is, it hasn’t hit me yet. There’s no sense of wonder, no glee when I see a landmark or tourist attraction. Appreciation, yes, but none of that customary tourist awe. At first I wondered if it was because I was too tired to truly understand the gravity of my situation. I’m living in London! Today, though, I woke up and spent the day walking all over the city, and I was still never hit with a powerful sense of “I’m here!” Maybe it’s because I don’t feel like a tourist. I think it’s because I’ve been here before. Visiting Bonnie two summers ago has helped me a lot. I know how to navigate the Tube, and I can point out landmarks. And at least a year’s worth of watching the Travel Channel, reading books, and just accumulating general knowledge about London and the UK in general has really prepared me for being here. I’m constantly spewing knowledge about the best Tube routes to various places, all the good sites to visit, pointing out obscure buildings that have some significance (today I pointed out MI-6…not everyone understood). I was afraid I would be sorely under prepared for this experience, but at times I feel like a walking tour book. I’m sure this is quite annoying for my fellow students, but it’s making my time here easier.
Lauren, Leah, and I woke, went to breakfast, and joined some other students on the way to the Embankment Tube station, then walked over to Westminster Pier for our boat tour of the Thames down to Greenwich. It was our first view of Big Ben, Westminster Palace, and the London Eye, so there was much touristy picture-taking and general merriment. Maybe I’m not awe-struck at being in London, but I will say this: I couldn’t help but notice the beauty of standing at Westminster Pier. With Big Ben behind me and the Thames, City Hall, the London Eye, and the eastern view of the Thames in front, it really was wonderful.
The boat tour was also wonderful. Unfortunately, there were two very small, very noisy children on board, so I couldn’t hear all of what the tour guide was saying, but he often mentioned things that were very interesting or very strange to hear as an American. I’ve been noticing a general sense of relaxed censorship here. The tour guide would said a few things that were a bit racy and/or morbid, like a detailed description of how prisoners were tied to posts beneath Execution Pier as the tide came in, and the judge would go across the Thames to a pub and watch you drown. Or how tourists are able to climb up the towers of Tower Bridge, get a great view, take pictures, or even jump to their deaths, if they like. I also noted a disability insurance advertisement in the Goodge Street tube station that shows a bunny in a wheelchair and reads, “It’s not the wheelchair that keeps me from sex. It’s other people’s narrow minds.” Or something to that effect. I’ll know it by heart sooner or later. It’s hilarious, but I doubt that kind of humor would fly in America. It wouldn’t be P.C.
We got off the boat tour in Greenwich, right in front of Greenwich University, which is in the old Royal Naval Hospital. We walked around for a bit, saw the Painted Hall, which was interesting on many levels. First off, this gorgeous building is the University’s dining hall. I think I need to write a request to President Durden. There’s not even a mural on our Caf. ceiling. I enjoyed “reading” the mural, which featured King William and Queen Mary, surrounded by angels, crushing a man who looks suspiciously like Louis XIV and whose crown has fallen off, lying next to a fallen papal crown. This particular part of the painting was symbolizes Protestantism’s triumph over Catholicism following the Glorious Revolution and flight of James II, the two religions personified by William and Mary and Louis XIV, respectively. But, beyond this main focus of the painting, there was the running theme of water and the navy (of course, seeing as we were in the old Naval Hospital), and, more specifically, the navies of England and France, it seemed. On one end of the ceiling was painted the stern of a British boat, flying the Union Jack, and on the opposite end was the stern of a ship flying a flag of fleurs-de-lis. I suppose this could have been another British flag, but it seemed more likely that it was French, since the fleur-de-lis has been the symbol of the French monarchy since the twelfth century. Prof. Rudalevige mentioned that the English have a strange obsession with the French, and I’m seeing it more and more.
We ate at the Admiral Hardy Pub. I had fish and chips, which was surprisingly filling and not too terrible. I think I might actually be able to adapt to chips with salt and vinegar. Give up ketchup? Gasp, I know, but it can be done.
On our way up the hill to the Royal Observatory, we walked through Greenwich market, which was nice, but I’m more excited for the Sunday markets at Covent Garden and Camden.
We climbed the hill to the observatory, which was arduous but provided a lovely view of the eastern part of the city, including the Millennium Dome (now called the O2 Dome). This domed building was built to celebrate the millennium and provide a showcase for modern Britain to show how it was going to enter into the new era. It was considered a failure, and I couldn’t agree more. It’s hideous. Eventually O2 (a phone company) bought it and turned it into a concert venue, which is currently pretty popular. But it’s still ugly.
We went quickly through the observatory, because the main attraction was in the courtyard outside. Yes, the Prime Meridian, 0° longitude, the namesake of Greenwich Meantime, off which every other time zone in the world is based. We took pictures, acted touristy. Then it started to rain, our first British rain. It wasn’t particularly exciting. I’m just glad that my umbrella is small enough to fit in my purse.
Then we visited the Maritime Museum, which was not the most exciting thing for me. Maritime history just doesn’t really lie within my interests. What I did find interesting, both within the exhibits and just as around Greenwich in general, was a sense of global community. There was an exhibit in the Maritime Museum which detailed the history of trade and travel across the Atlantic, between American and Britain. But this, along with a few smaller exhibits on global trade, plus the multitude of foreign tourists that had come to Greenwich, really drove home the point that London is very much a global city, and seems very proud to take on that role, celebrating the connection it’s had to the world for so long.
We took the train back to Goodge. Chad and I decided it would be cool to get dinner in Piccadilly Circus. Unfortunately, there aren’t many restaurants over there, so we kept wandering down various streets, trying to find the cheapest restaurant we could. We ended up in St. James’s Park, considered eating pigeon, and continued up to Buckingham Palace, where we saw the closing up of the Visa 2012 Party, a promotional party for the 2012 Olympics. It’s four years away, but there are posters and banners everywhere, and several of these promotional parties have been held throughout the summer.
We wandered almost all over Westminster, eventually coming to the Abbey and finally deciding to stop at Pizza Express, which is like a high-end Pizza Hut. It was pretty nice, actually. Perhaps more expensive than I would have liked, but we were starving and quite tired by that point. After dinner we made our way back to the Arran House. Long day.

So I don’t feel crazy excited to be here, not in the touristy sense, I suppose. I am very happy to be here. Very excited and grateful to be given the chance to live in London, which has always been my dream. But my excitement is more of a comfort, an ease with the city and myself in it. Walking back from dinner, I just had to smile to myself, knowing that I was in London. I got this sort of warm, fuzzy feeling, like I belong here, that this is where I’m supposed to be. I don’t get that feeling often, and certainly not in cities. Maybe this really is the place for me, then.
On the boat tour, when we passed by the burial place of the Mayflower’s captain, the boat guide explained about the history of how the Puritans left for America on the Mayflower, and said, “So, to all you Americans on board, welcome home.” My family didn’t come over on the Mayflower, but what he said really meant something to me. Right now, at least, this does feel like home. I could certainly live here.

If there seems to be an unnecessary amount of academic reflection in these entries, it is because this blog is also doubling as my trip journal, which will be graded.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Welcome to London

Thursday, August 21, 2008

We landed at Heathrow this morning at around 10AM. I was exhausted, having not slept on the plane, and my bags weighed a ton. I must say, though, that Virgin Atlantic has the best in-flight entertainment I’ve ever seen. Took a coach from the airport to the Arran House. As I usually do when change location, especially to England, I was struck by how small the place was, how cramped. But I know that it’s just an adjustment period, and by tomorrow it will all seem perfectly normal and manageable. In America, the bigger the better, but here they conserve space, and rightly so. The room especially looked cramped, with a double bed, a twin, and a spare twin all shoved together. I hear we have one of the bigger rooms, but, today at least, it’s looking a bit snug. Like I’ve said, I know it’ll be better by tomorrow.
After lunch at the Arran House and a meeting, at which we were given all of our guides, papers, money, and our Oyster Card, we were split up and told to go research a Tube station. So, Leah, Lauren, and I went off to Hyde Park Corner and walked around Hyde Park, which is even more beautiful than I remember it. It’s just a great place to come and relax, walk around, rent a paddle boat. It seemed to me, also, that most of the people there were locals. At least, not many people stuck out as tourists. I don’t consider this a terribly busy or overbearing city, but I’m sure that many Londoners come to Hyde Park just to relax after a busy day. It was gorgeous out, too, so I’m sure many people were trying to take advantage of the fine weather.
After finishing at Hyde Park, we went to Tottenham Court Road so that Leah and Lauren could by mobiles. It seemed like every American in the city had come The CarPhones Warehouse to get a phone, and it took forever for Leah and Lauren to get theirs. Lucky for me I already had mine. Thank you, Laura Baker! After they had successfully gotten a phone, the three of us went to Sainsbury’s and bought some packaged sandwiches for dinner. I know I’m going to have to work on cooking in a group in order to save money. I’m looking forward to showing off the mad stir-fry skills that I developed this summer.
We got lost on the way back to the Arran House and sort of walked around in circles until we finally came to Gower Street. I can’t wait until I stop looking like a senseless American tourist.
I remember one of the reasons I adore London so much. It’s so easy to get around. The Oyster Card is certainly my best friend. And it’s easy to see landmarks here, since the buildings aren’t so tall. And the streets are clearly labeled. People generally seemed willing to help with directions, too.

I promise more interesting and thought filled entries to follow. Now, I’m exhausted and I have to get up tomorrow to go to Greenwich.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sibling Rivalry...or Something

Well, since Chad now has a blog to chronicle his study abroad adventures, I figured I should have one, too.
I've never been good at keeping diaries. On my bookshelf now I have several diaries that I've kept at stages throughout the years, ranging from age five to about sixteen, I think. None of these diaries are full. I always thought it would be a wonderful thing to have diaries chronicling every day of my life, so that I could leave some sort to of legacy behind me. Unfortunately, I apparently do not have the patience for diary-writing. And to my utter dismay, most of the entries that I have managed to write are quite silly and embarass me when I read them over. If I ever reach my goal of ultimate fame and fortune, I will have to have them burned.
I've also written blogs in the past, also for very short periods of time. I wrote one on Myspace the last time I went to London, which was the summer of 2006, and I haven't written anything since. If you go to my Myspace now, the most recent blog entry will be from that trip. Then I started a LiveJournal account just this summer, wrote a few entries, and stopped. Maybe this one will work out for me, though, since so many people will be relying on it to make sure I haven't died or run off with a dashing British naval officer. Or pirate.

As some people may know, I had a bit of trouble getting my visa. There was a period of time when I didn't think I would get it in time for my August 20th departure. The pessimist in me decided that this would be a lovely time to have second thoughts about the whole going abroad idea, and I got more nervous by the day. Then my visa came, and now I can't wait to leave this country. The only trick is making sure I can fit everything in my suitcases.

I'm very lucky that I'm going to England with so many of my friends. We can even have mini Writing Center parties. Proofreading and Pints, anyone? But I have been thinking, lately, about how strange it will be to come back to Dickinson after being away for a year. Thank God for the internet, but, really, how will it be to see my friends after a year away? How much will I change in the next year? I mean, I've changed just over this summer. How much will they change? Will be we as close or will we have to work up to it again?
And what about the Writing Center? I freely admit to being a nerd when I say that the Writing Center comprised a good portion of my social life last year. And it was wonderful. I made so many friends and had such a good time in that environment...and it's the type of environment that changes every year. By the time I get back senior year, it will be completely different. I know it has to happen, but still...I'm nostalgic.

All of that aside, I'm very excited about all of the opprotunities I'm about to encounter. This will be a really good way for me to grow up and figure a few things out. This summer I've encountered a few things about myself that I want to fix, and England is going to be the place to do it. Wish me luck.