Saturday, September 27, 2008
So, to update you all on what has been happening since my last post...
I have made it safely and successfully to the University of East Anglia in Norwich. My first impressions of the campus? It's probably the safest place to go in the event of a nuclear attack. Even more so than ATS. The entire academic portion of campus and the two original residence halls (the ziggurats) are made of bland, grey concrete. Curse you, Denys Lasdun and your 1960s architecture.
Luckily, the campus is pretty well landscaped, which takes away from the harsh effect of the architecture, and the surrounding countryside is beautiful. Just past the academic buildings is the Broad, a gorgeous man-made lake surrounded by trees. Oh, and the entire place is overrun with rabbits.
I live in the University Village, which is about a ten minute walk from campus. Architecturally, it's not fabulous, but it's not all concrete. My room is small, but it's only for one person, so it's actually pretty good. There's a large desk, a good amount of shelf space, and a pretty sizable wardrobe. I even get my own bathroom, or "shower pod," as it's called. My one complaint would be, though, that my mattress is about half the thickness of a normal mattress, and therefore is quite hard. I normally prefer hard mattresses, but this is a bit excessive. It hasn't been that bad, but I suppose I could always get a mattress pad if it really starts to bother me.
In my flat there are six rooms and a kitchen. The kitchen is actually pretty nice. There's a large table, six chairs, two fridge/freezers, a large sink, six small cupboards and one large one, and a good amount of counter space. There's no oven, but somehow the microwave converts into an oven. We'll see how that goes if we ever want to bake a cake, but it's been working so far. There's a very small stove (or "hob" as it's known over here) which takes forever to heat up, and a grill, which is attached to the wall and looks more like a torture device than a cooking apparatus.
For the first two days, I was the only person in my flat. It was very lonely. On Saturday, four out of my five flatmates arrived. There's Kristy, a psychology student who's 22 and has been working at Cambridge for the past four years. The rest are 18 or 19. Corie, a bubbly, blonde business and computer science student. Matt, a tall, quiet English/Philosophy student who spends most of his free time playing guitar in his room. Adam, a slightly burly Math student from up north (his accent is a bit hard to follow at times). Then James came on Sunday. He's a History student.
We all get along (or "get on," as the Brits say) really well. Everyone's pretty respectful and willing to share. We all love curry and hopefully will actually have a curry night one of these days. We were hoping to do one once a week, but this week it fell through.
For the first few days, we went out at night to Freshers events ("Freshers" meaning Freshmen, and the events were social opportunities like themed club nights and concerts). We went as a flat, and it was always pretty fun, but for some reason we just naturally seem to split on a gender line. Not that we don't all get along, but the boys will go off to do something in one corner, and we girls turn around and the boys are gone. It's good, though, that they're getting close like that. Kristy and Corie have gotten pretty close very quickly, which is great to watch. I've certainly been spending more time with Kristy and Corie than with the "lads," but I haven't made quite the same connection. I'm not worried, though. I've only been here a week. I have had some good conversations with James, though, normally about food, and Adam is fun, too. Matt tends to keep to himself, but he's still a nice guy. In general, a lot of our conversations revolve around differences between England and America...specifically language, politics, and food. They eat the strangest things here, I swear. But I've learned some great British insults.
All five of my flatmates have significant others back home, so staying in contact keeps them all busy from time to time. Surprisingly, it's not awkward. Yet.
A brief schedule of my social outings this past week:
Saturday: a 90s themed party at the LCR (the on-campus club) featuring B*Witched (a 90s British girl group who had one or two hits in America, notably "C'est La Vie.")
Sunday: a Kaiser Thiefs (a Kaiser Chiefs cover band) concert at the LCR. It was really good.
Monday: the flat went to the Union Pub (there are four bars on campus) for a pint and I ended up meeting with all the Dickinson students I hadn't seen in days. It's almost like two worlds colliding.
Tuesday: It was Lauren's and my birthday. My flatmates were amazing and surprised me with a cake, candles, and a "Happy Birthday to You" sung in their adorable British accents. It was the first time we had really sat down to eat together, and it was really nice. Then we (my flatmates and I) met Chad, Leah, and Lauren and went to a "Fancy Dress" party at the LCR. A "Fancy Dress"party is essentially a costume party, except some people go absolutely crazy. This one was themed 999 (British 911) Emergency. The boys and I had gone out to Norwich Market to buy costumes earlier in the day, and they all looked fantastic in their flourescent construction vests and plastic fireman hats. Corie went as a police officer, complete with handcuffs, and Kristy somehow managed to find a stethoscope and was a nurse. I had originally planned to be really witty and go as someone's fairy godmother, but I chickened out and ended up being the most stereotypically American thing you could possibly think of: a western sheriff. Perhaps even sadder was that my costume was made up entirely of things that I borrowed from either Corie or Kristy. Oh well.
We stayed at the LCR for about an hour, but I people were supposed to come to my flat at 11:45 for a birthday party, so Leah, Chad, Lauren, and I left to change and get ready. The party went well and was blissfully incident-free, even quiet. Matt and Adam stumbled in for a bit and tried to set up some music, but my iPod died and so they just went to bed. I didn't see James the entire night and only found out later that he had come back before me and gone to bed. I kicked everyone out around 1:30 (I know, I've got no stamina). I wanted to read for a bit before zonking out, but Kristy came back having left her keys with Corie, and so we sat and chatted in my room before Corie came back, about 15 minutes later. Then they both stayed to talk (mostly to each other rather than to me) for a few more mintues before finally going to bed. By that point I was too tired to read.
Wednesday and Thursday I spent at home.
Friday: Kristy and I spent the afternoon shopping in Norwich. Most of the stores are a bit beyond my budget. The H&M here is about the same here as back home, except in pounds, not dollars, so it's actually twice as expensive with the exchange rate. Then there's TopShop, a very trendy place to shop, like an H&M but nicer and more expensive. Definitely out of my price range. My best friend has become Primark. The most expensive thing I saw there was a winter coat for 17 quid. It's fabulous. I was a bit shy of Primark because of the horrendous experience I had at the Primark on Oxford Street in London, but this one wasn't too crowded, and people were generally a bit more polite. I finally got a black dress (not quite what I wanted, but it was only 8 pounds!), a pretty blue cotton tunic, a small purse for going out, and a necklace, all for 15 quid. I'll definitely have to go back someday.
Kristy had to go back to the flat, but I had all day, so I took the bus further down to Morrisons to do some grocery shopping. Some places here charge for plastic bags, and I had forgotten my little environmentally friendly grocery bag back at the flat. But I figured that I could fit everything in my Primark bag, which I could...until the bottom fell out. Luckily, there was this nice Chinese girl sitting next to me on the bus who consolidated her groceries and let me use one of her bags. There are A LOT of Chinese students at UEA. On the bus ride back I learned that she is an enviromental science grad student studying here for a year. She immediately invited me to join her and her housemates for dinner sometime in the next week and told me to look her up if I was ever in Shanghai. This was all before we had even exchanged names. I am expecting to get a Facebook request from her, though.
Her house is near the Village, so we walked back together and happened to meet one of her housemates and a girl she had just met from Vietnam. The girl from Vietnam lived in the Village, too, and so we walked back together while the other two headed off to their house. They were all really nice.
In the evening James and I made an enormous amout of stir-fry. Matt was kind enough to run down to Tesco for some sweet and sour sauce (their preference, not mine. I prefer straight soy sauce), and the three of us and Kristy were all able to have a decent meal. Adam made his own dinner, and Corie had gone home to visit her boyfriend. I think it probably cost less than 5 quid in total, and we still had two servings left over so...we'll have to cook together more often.
I hung out for a while, until about 10, when I left for Chad's 21st Birthday Bash. His flat was packed when I got there, mostly full of drunk Dickinson students looking for an excuse to party. Chad was pretty drunk when I got there. I basically stayed in a corner with Leah, Tristan, and Lauren Martin, and sipped my Strongbow. Eventually I got tired and sort of bored, so I invited a couple people to come back to my room to watch Family Guy on my comptuer. I left to set it up, but it took every one else about twenty minutes to come over because Chad insisted on having a very drunken political debate with Lauren Deitz. Eventually, Lauren Martin, Tristan, and Chad made it over. We watched Family Guy and listened to Chad's hillariously drunken George W. Bush impressions. "Hell is reserved for gays and Democrats" is my personal favorite quote of the night. Everyone left around 12:30 and I went to bed.
Saturday: There were no social outings. In fact, there were no outings at all. I haven't left the flat all day. I woke up late, sat around for a bit, ate some left-over cake for breakfast, read A Midsummer Night's Dream for my Shakespeare class...I'm not sure what else. Talked to my flatmates on and off. James and I finished off the stir-fry for dinner. Corie came back with her boyfriend, Danny, who I've seen maybe once because he's pretty shy. I got out my juggling balls and hillarity ensued when Adam, James, and I tried to juggle in the kitchen. I brought my poi into the kitchen and we tried to get people to watch us though the window. I got a weird look from one of Duncan's flatmates, whose kitchen window faces ours, but other than that no one seemed interested in watching the Flat 17 Circus. Maybe after a few weeks in the Circus Society I'll actually have something worth watching. James has made it his mission to learn to juggle by the end of the year, though, and then we'll have a proper Flat 17 Circus. Oh joy.
I helped Kristy and Corie get ready for the Fresher's Bash, but have been spending the majority of my time online talking to Chad, Nathaniel, and Chris Eiswerth. It's 1AM now and I'm still online, writing this. Everyone sensible has gone to bed.
I guess it makes sense to add here that I've signed up for the Literary Society (LitSoc) and the Circus Skills Society. We'll see how those go. The first Circus meeting is tomorrow night, and there's a literary-themed Fancy Dress pub crawl on Monday.
I'll briefly describe my academic situation before crashing for bed. There is likely to be a heated rant to follow sometime tomorrow, so keep an eye out.
In addition to the Humanities 310 class that I have to take with the Dickinson group and Prof. Rudalevige, I'm in a Level 3 module (a final year seminar-style class) called Shakespeare's Moment, and a Level 2 (a second lecture/seminar) called Medieval Writing.
Shakespeare looks amazing. It's a historical look at the plays, and the professor and students all seemed interested and engaged. It will probably be about the same level of work as a Dickinson 300-level, maybe a bit less. The assessed work is certainly less taxing. My grade depends on two papers, one 2000 words and one 3000. Piece of cake.
My Medieval Writing lecture will probably be interesting enough for a lecture with 80 people and NO discussion. We're reading Chaucer and some others in the original Middle English, which will provide some mental stimulation from time to time. The seminar, however, will probably make me want to hurl myself out a window. At least the first one did. This will probably make my a good portion of my forthcoming rant, but for now just know that when when a seminar instructor has to define the word "vernacular" for a group of 15-0dd second-year literature students, the apocalypse is nigh.
So, that's it. Except for the academic rant, there's not much more to report. I'll keep you posted, though, on developments with the flatmates, gastronomic experiementation, and any attempts at suicide following a Medieval Writing seminar.
Monday, September 22, 2008
Today was our last day in London. We took the Overground out to Hampstead Heath and climbed up Parliament Hill. It was a gorgeous view of the city. I’m glad we went there last so that I could look over the entire city and be able to recognize everything and remember the time I had spent at each place. I really am quite sad to have to leave.After a while, we walked down the Heath to the village and were treated to lunch at The Holly Bush, a very nice, rather expensive pub. Then we had the rest of the day free to finish our trip in London.
I ran back to the Arran House to change for the Milton Evensong, then took the Tube to St. Giles’. The service was a bit awkward since everyone there knew the hymns and prayers, and everyone but me, it seemed, sang along with the choir. The music was beautiful, though. And the Archbishop of Canterbury gave a fantastic sermon. I wish I had copy of it to reference if I ever write another Milton paper.
Of course it was a very religious reading of the text (obviously), but basically he said that, even though Milton believed in the power of words to explain and influence everything, his later works show a resignation to God’s will, to just stand still quietly and wait for what is to come rather than wasting time with words. He cited the final line of Milton’s Sonnet XIX, titled “On His Blindness.” The line is “They also serve who only stand and waite.” This, he argued, was Milton’s acceptance of the fact that, though you want to try to influence the course of events through action, God’s will can sometimes be best achieved by simply standing quietly and awaiting the future. The Archbishop then reference the selection of Paradise Lost that had been read during the service, Book XII lines 485 to 504, in which Michael tells Adam of the coming of Christ who will save all people. The usually longwinded Adam here is speechless at the thought of his progeny being saved, even better off, because of his sin. Like Milton when considering his future, Adam has only to sit back quietly and wait for the Savior to come. The Archbishop made one more reference, perhaps his most poignant, to Paradise Regained, when Satan takes Jesus to the pinnacle and dares him to cast himself down and trust that God will break his fall. The climax of the piece, though, is Jesus’ brief reply: “Tempt not the Lord thy God; he said and stood.” Although he is quite talkative in earlier parts of the poem, here Jesus realizes that the best way to defeat Satan is to stand silent.
Milton, who strove his entire life to become a poet-priest and use his words to enforce God’s will, learns, like Adam and Jesus, simply to accept silence, thus explaining the style change between Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes. Although I read them, I’m not as familiar with the two later epics, but I remember them being very disappointing after Paradise Lost. Maybe the Archbishop is just trying to cover for Milton.
We leave for Norwich tomorrow. I’m very excited and also quite nervous. It’s going to be so different from Dickinson, even from this past month in London. I think that classes should be all right, but what I’m most nervous about is adjusting to the atmosphere of such a big school, and also the people. I want to meet people, but based on my limited and rather negative experiences with Londoners, I’m not sure how it’ll go.
So, to reflect on the past month…
I can’t decide whether I’m more surprised at how different things are or how much there is that I recognize. The aspect of London that I find most different is the people, which is strange, because I haven’t met any. Perhaps it’s a city thing, the same stereotype Americans hold of New Yorkers, but generally people I see in London aren’t really willing to interact with people they don’t know. They’re always in a hurry and expect you to be just as quick as they are, and they don’t have much patience if you’re a bit lost. That isn’t to say I haven’t met helpful people. They’re fine with offering directions, but no one goes out of their way to help. I was especially surprised to find that in big clothes shops like H&M or Urban Outfitters, no one once asked me if I needed help, and even looked affronted when I asked the simplest question. Again, I suppose this all most relate back to the idea of privacy. They aren’t risking invading my privacy by coming to talk to me, and, in turn, they don’t expect me to talk to them, either. I expect people to be a friendlier in Norwich, where there’s a bit more space and people can afford to be a bit more open.
Another thing I find interesting is they way “British” is defined. There’s the BNP member who defines being truly British against being a recent immigrant from Southeast Asia or Eastern Europe. Then of course, like America, Britain has pretty much always been a country of immigrants. So, on the one hand society practically deifies their royalty, and considers that there’s nothing more British than the aristocracy, even when their all from either Norman, Dutch, or German ancestry. England is also proud of its Roman heritage, considering itself the second Troy. Yet there is a large and valiant statue right off Westminster Bridge dedicated to Boadicea, the Iceni warrior queen who let an unsuccessful revolt against the Roman forces in London around 60AD. Even though the uprising was quelled and she, supposedly, poisoned herself in order to evade capture, she’s been a symbol for legendary British courage and strength since Victorian times. She represents the determination and courage of the British against invaders, which I can only imagine was particularly poignant during the Blitz. And yet the Norman kings are still considered very important to British culture, even though they were invaders just as were the Romans that Boadicea fought. Then again, as much as they respect the Norman kings, they hate the French.
That’s another aspect of British culture I find fascinating: general respect for the royal family. They might mock them, but since there is a separation between the queen as the head of state and the prime minister as the head of government, any dislike of the government is directed at the prime minister, and people generally love the queen. I remember in Salaam Brick Lane, when Hall is talking to his carp-smuggling friend, a man who openly defies the law but eagerly defends the queen. I wish I had met some more British people while in London because I would have loved to ask them their opinion of the queen. I once met a British woman on a plane and I remember her saying that most older Britons will have a picture of the queen somewhere in their houses, and that she herself will be “so sad when the queen dies.” I don’t think we have anyone analogous to this particularly type of celebrity in America. It’s hardly routine to have a picture of George Bush in your living room, and generally our anger at the government is displaced toward the current administration, although we respect the idea of a president. Pop icons have the same sort of following, but not universally. There’s no single person that the entire country can rally around. Here the queen is a source of national pride for many people, the embodiment of Great Britain and all she stands for. I’ll have to make sure to ask when I get to Norwich. I wonder if support for the queen varies the further you get from London. Or if it’s actually stronger the further you are away from the center of political upheaval.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in London. I’ve had so many experiences that no average tourist can claim, and I’ve even surpassed being a tourist because I feel so familiar with the city—its geography, its history, and some of its culture. Norwich should be a completely different atmosphere, and I’m curious to compare London to a smaller city.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
This morning I went to Harrods with Leah, which was an overwhelming experience. It’s just so big and luxurious. We only managed to buy lunch. I think it was all we could afford. We grabbed our food and took the Tube to Marble Arch to meet the Banksy group for their tour.
Banksy is a British street artist whose unique style, political messages, and intriguing anonymity have earned him widespread popularity. He’s kind of like a modern day Robin Hood, providing a voice for people oppressed by those in power, and laughing in the face of authority as he does it. One of his main topics of complaint is CCTV, or Closed Circuit Television, a network of security cameras that keep the majority of the country under constant surveillance. One of the elusive graffiti artist’s largest, most recent, and most famous works is a sixteen foot piece showing a small child in a red coat on a ladder painting the words “ONE NATION UNDER CCTV” while a police officer and his dog watch from the corner. The piece is on a wall just outside of a Royal Mail dispatch center in central London, a gated government building surrounded by security cameras— cameras that, ironically, couldn’t catch Banksy. Here Banksy is both poking fun at the government and the ineffectiveness of CCTV, while trying to alert the public to what he sees as a gross invasion of privacy. But does it work?
In 2002 a paper was written that estimated the number of CCTV cameras in the United Kingdom to be somewhere around 4,200,000, or about one for every fourteen people. Recently, researchers increased that number to one camera for every twelve persons. In London alone, one study estimates that you are on camera approximately three hundred times a day. You might think that there should be some enormous outcry, that British authority is just like Big Brother and that my month in London has been some sort of Orwellian nightmare. Don’t worry. I haven’t been hauled off to the Ministry of Love just yet. There’s been no outcry. In fact, the majority of British people don’t mind it at all.
All over the city there are signs that read “CCTV is watching” and P.A. announcements telling you that “For security purposes, this area is being monitored by CCTV.” The government claims that CCTV is necessary to help reduce the crime rate, an excuse that the public seems to buy into. However, more skeptical minds, like Banksy, fear what such extensive surveillance can do in the wrong hands.
So, all this got me thinking: Would people ever stand for this in the United States? My guess would be no. We are so attached to the idea of privacy and our right to privacy, and we have such an inherent distrust of the government, that the possibility of being on camera for the majority of our day-to-day lives would be an outrageous imposition on our civil liberties.
I remember when we brought up how bizarre we, as Americans, found CCTV, the people at the Cabinet meeting related it back to the American public outcry at government wiretapping. They found it ridiculous that Americans got so up in arms over something that, to a Brit, is routine and even to be expected.
Personally, I have yet to be bothered by it, but that could be because I’m not committing any crimes or planning to cause some sort of public disturbance that needs to be documented for security purposes. Or, as Banksy would argue, maybe I’m just jaded like the rest of Londoners and I need to be reminded by a sixteen foot graffiti painting. Either way, you can’t argue. The man certainly knows how to get a point across.
The group got some wine to celebrate the project being over. We all had a bit and got ready to see Billy Elliot. The show was good, but not great, and it will NEVER work in the U.S. I know it’s supposed to open on Broadway soon, but I think it’s too uniquely British. Aside from the slang, there’s the political history of Maggie Thatcher and the Mining Strike which Americans might not know. There are also the class issues, which are far more pronounced in the UK than they are at home, and the regional conflicts. It was simple enough to figure out, but the full gravity of the “backward” northerners against the “posh” Londoners might not make as much of an impact on an American audience as it does in the UK. I’ll be interested to see how it’s received on Broadway.
I was planning to go clubbing tonight with the Banksy group, but I got too tired...yet again. So I came back to do journals.
Tomorrow, though is our last day in London. I can hardly believe it. I’ve got the Milton Evensong in the evening, and then…Norwich!
Today began with the Sherlock Holmes Tour, led by Emma, Ben, Annie, and Sarah V. We started off interestingly enough, though not necessarily due to the subject matter. Right as we all met at the Sherlock Holmes statue outside of the Baker Street Tube station, a woman, followed by cameras, ran up to us and asked, “Which U.S. state is the surname of an actor from The Pelican Brief?” I don’t think any of us had seen The Pelican Brief, but we all guessed Washington for Denzel Washington. Then the woman ran off, cameras following, and a woman with a lot of legal papers and a headset stopped us and had us sign a release form. As it turns out, the woman was on a TV gameshow, and now we’re all going to be on Channel 4. Too bad I don’t have a TV. From the Tube station, we walked to the Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221b Baker Street and took a look around. From there, we took a quick stop at the Sherlock Holmes Hotel, which has no relation to the stories except the name, and then walked to where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had his unsuccessful medical practice. The next stop was Scotland Yard, and then to the Sherlock Holmes Pub. One thing that each presenter kept stressing was that London, and the U.K. in general, basically treats Sherlock Holmes as if he was a real person, he’s so important. In fact, some ridiculous percentage thought he actually was a real person. It sort of reminds me of the Harry Potter hype, and how Kings Cross Station put a little plaque for Platform 9 ¾. The Sherlock Holmes tradition, though, seems to go beyond that, or maybe Harry Potter just hasn’t been around long enough. In addition to the Sherlock Holmes Hotel and Pub that we saw on the tour, there is obviously the fact that someone thought to buy the correct house on Baker Street and decorate it as if Sherlock Holmes and Watson had lived there. Then there’s the tube station, which is decorated with tiles showing the famous silhouette. There’s also an international Sherlock Holmes Society. In 2002, Holmes was actually inducted as an honorary fellow into the Royal Society of Chemistry.
I can’t think of any fictional character so honored in America. No matter how much a part of the fabric of society they are, there’s no one I can think of who is commonly mistaken for a real person. I wonder if it’s because the British are used to respecting idealized figureheads (that are nearly fictional for their distance), and therefore they are more open to accepting fictional characters. In America, we have pop icons, actors and musicians, but in general we grow attached to people that we can relate to. Sherlock Holmes’s past is so enigmatic and his intelligence so difficult to match, that he really is a distant figure. Perhaps, like the gardens, fiction is even more of an escape for the British than it is for Americans.
After the tour, a much of us got lunch at Sainsbury’s. Then I went back to the Arran House and had a celebratory piece of fudge cake with my Peter Pan group. In the afternoon I went to Camden Market with Lauren Deitz, Zach, Emma, Juli, Meghan, and Tristan. It was really cool, and sort of overwhelming. I bought a jacket, finally, which I think I’ll be using quite a lot. Camden is a great place, full of punk/goth/alternative/new age market shops and stores. It’s crazy, but wonderful.
I ate dinner at a pizza place on Goodge St, then did laundry. About 9 I got a pint with Katie at the Marlborough Arms just a block away. Now time for more work and bed.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Today was not too eventful, although it was an absolutely glorious day. Leah and I went to St. James Park to enjoy the fabulous weather. We ate lunch beneath a tree and Leah wrote her journals while I practiced poi. We walked around the pond and fed the massive assortment of water fowl and pigeons. It’s a bird-watcher’s paradise.
Originally I wasn’t going to mention one incident that occurred, because it really did bother me, but, from an academic standpoint, it’s a point of interest. As we were walking along a path, I saw some fallen flowers, which made me want to go pick a flower. A little ways off was a patch of grass, not fenced in, with some flowers just scattered around. Since it wasn’t fenced off, people had been walking over them and many were trampled. Now, I know perfectly well that you’re not supposed to pick flowers from other people’s gardens, and I really shouldn’t have tried. But, at the time, my logic went, “Well, they’re trampled and going to die anyway. I’ll just take one.” Of course, this is the same logic that is causing the rainforest to disappear, but that’s another issue. In any case, I went over to the flowers and found one that had most certainly been trampled. I picked it, and no sooner had that flower left the ground then I heard someone shot from behind me, “What the hell do you think you’re doing!” I turned around and some man with his young son was standing behind me, and he looked absolutely shell-shocked. “Picking flowers from a park! I’ve just told my four-year-old off for doing that! What kind of a person are you?!”
I stated plainly that the flower had already fallen, and walked off. I didn’t want to deal with him.
As I walked away, I realized that I really shouldn’t have picked a flower from a park, that I had been taught not to do that since my Girl Scouting days. What bothers me, though, is not that I was called on my error in judgment. It’s the way he said it, as if he was scolding me or accusing me of murder. He could have just as easily have said, “Excuse me, you really shouldn’t pick the flowers,” or something like that.
Now, humiliating as this was personally, it does bring to light some interesting social issues. I was immediately reminded of something that I had learned in French class last semester. In general, Europeans (and I assume this, at least in part, applies to British culture as well) have no problem with scolding their children in public, because the humiliation helps enforce the adult’s authority over the child, and shows who is in charge to anyone watching. Apparently, they don’t have a problem with scolding other people’s children, either.
This also demonstrated something else I had heard about the British. They are very serious about their gardens. I remember in Salaam Brick Lane when Hall described the roof gardens and how, even in the dingy, urban East End, it is important to have just a small bit of greenery around. It’s easy to see this in London, since there are so many parks and it seems as if everyone has a garden or at least a flowerbox on their windows. I remember walking through the Barbican for the first time and marveling how beautiful it looked, despite the fact that it’s a mass of concrete, because almost every single flat had a flowerbox hanging over the side of the balcony. I can only imagine that this insistence on gardening must come from the fact that, in such a large city with such a limited amount of space to call your own, having a garden allows you to extend your reach a little, gain a bit more privacy, and have a little more control over life in such a busy atmosphere.
Moving on, I ate hummus for dinner and hung out with Chris, Alana, Katie, Jen, and Lauren. We all decided to go down to the Thames Festival, since we had missed it the night before. Chad and I got separated from everyone else, but still had a good time walking around and getting lost in crowds. Everyone else wanted to get drunk anyway, and Chad and I weren’t in the mood. Toward the end I stumbled upon a poi store, and across from it were two people spinning poi and other pyro-theatrics. We watched them for a while, until the fireworks started. That was quite an impressive display. Not necessarily choreographed in any particular way, but they were bright and loud, so I say they did their job. It was a good night, overall. I love London at night—it’s absolutely beautiful.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
This morning, Leah, Tristan, Lauren Deitz, and I met to finalize tour information and itinerary. We went to Kensington Gardens about 45 minutes early to eat lunch and admire the view. It was a gorgeous day. I can’t imagine anyone being more enthusiastic about their tour than we were. For days we’d been researching and simply spewing facts and throwing quotes about. We relished every chance we got to reference faeries or flying or pirates. I can’t say our audience was as enthusiastic as we were. We began with a brief history of Kensington Gardens and how it came to be known as a place inhabited by faeries. Then we walked to the Peter Pan Statue and Leah discussed the statue itself and public reaction to it, etc. Tristan took us across the gardens, using his Liberty Cap skills to walk backwards while enlightening our group about the Llewellyn-Davis family and J.M. Barrie’s relation to them. It took a bit longer than expected to walk across the Gardens, and still longer to get to the Tube station, and even then it took forever for the right train to get there. Finally, we reached Embankment and walked up to see Barrie’s house, which is uninteresting in itself but served as the perfect platform for Leah to explain about Barrie’s personal life, his upbringing, his psychogenetic dwarfism, and his failed marriage. From there we walked up to the Duke of York’s Theatre, where Lauren gave us a brief history of Edwardian theatre and of Peter Pan as a show. Then took the Tube to Holborn and walked to the Great Ormond Street Hospital, where I talked about Barrie’s love of children and his gift of the Peter Pan royalties to the hospital and the subsequent copyright issues that have arisen over the years.. We ran about ten minutes over our two and a half hour limit, but (except travel time) we filled the time with information. I’m not sure how to read the reaction. Everyone seemed excited at the outset, but the walking tired people out by the end and they just seemed like they wanted to get it over with. Prof. Rudalevige seemed unimpressed, but he also isn’t a terribly emotional person. We’ll see.
Our group went back to the hotel and rested after the long walk. Then I went with Tristan and Leah to Sainsbury’s to get food. We had to rush back, eat, and get changed for the National Theatre. It was cruel to make us walk through the Thames Festival on our way to the theatre and not have opportunity to stop and watch. At the theatre we saw “A Slight Ache” and “Landscape,” two short plays by Harold Pinter. They were good, in the sort of obscure metafiction school. The first play reminded me of a short story I’ve read called “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Stacy Richter’s “The Cavemen in the Hedges.” Both these stories, like Pinter’s “A Slight Ache,” involved some element of the supernatural which the everyday people treat as if it is entirely normal. In the play, an elderly village couple with serious communication problems invites in a creepy, semi-supernatural matchstick man who has been standing outside their back gate for, presumably, a number of months. The husband invites him in to finally find out why the matchstick man has been standing there, but both he and his wife end up making up their own stories about him, imposing their fictional identities on him. Eventually the matchstick man and the husband switch places, and the final scene shows the husband lying unconscious on the floor with the matchstick man’s tray on his stomach while the wife and matchstick man walk off hand in hand. You could tell that everything in the play was a symbol or something, and that it had something to do with communication between this married couple.
The second play was just as bizarre, although more for its structure than its content. The woman was sitting downstage in a chair facing the audience, while the man was upstage left at the end of a long table, for the most part addressing the woman. This, I believe, also had something to do with communication. From the dialogue (if you can call it that) you learned that this couple was married, but not happily. They were both reminiscing about the good times, but the man was trying to coax the woman out of her stupor, and the woman was addressing the audience, telling the story of how she met her love (who we can only assume was the man in his younger days). I enjoyed both of the plays, but I don’t understand them.
On our way out, we went down to the beach of the Thames, where it seemed like a beach rave was being held, but it ended not long after we got there. I really wanted to stay. Even with the music gone, there were a lot of people and it seemed like a lot of fun, but everyone else was tired and still had to work on their project. Oh well. I’ll go tomorrow night. I’m due for some fun.
This morning we went to the East London Mosque in Whitechapel, the seedy haunt of Jack the Ripper. Our tour was given by an American woman from Georgia who converted to Islam some years ago. Hers was a very interesting perspective, but she seemed to be too complacent about her place in the religion. She was very happy with it and had no real complaints. When we discussed the visit later, we all were curious what someone who had grown up with the religion would think, as opposed to someone who consciously chose it. Her husband also gave us a tour around the community center. They do a lot of good and it seems to be a great place for the community.
After our tour, Lauren, Chris, Katie, Jen, and I wanted to eat Indian food on Brick Lane, so we got lunch at a place called Brick Lane Cuisine. It was delicious.
We hurried back to the Arran House for a class session to discuss our trip. The basic consensus was that the East End as dodgy as we thought it would be. Through our reading and rumors we’ve heard from various people in London, the East End has always been painted as a place no civilized person goes. To be honest, we stayed in what have become the rather gentrified parts of the East End— the now-famous Brick Lane and Whitechapel made famous by Jack the Ripper. I cannot be entirely sure that what I saw is the “true” East End, or whether it has just been improved from its shady past due to recent interest and popularity. The sari boutiques, Indian restaurants, and Bangladeshi sweet shops certainly catered to the public, but there was a fair amount of tourists there. It was interesting to learn that there was a public outcry when the movie of Brick Lane was being filmed because East Enders felt that it did not accurately represent their community. I can’t blame them. When I was reading the book, I did not really get a sense of the community at all, only the disjointedness between genders, cultures, and generations. I wish that I had read Salaam Brick Lane first. I would have had a much clearer understanding of the community in which Nazneem was living. I think that the East End population would prefer Salaam Brick Lane if asked, because, probably by virtue of it being non-fiction, it gives a much clearer picture of the community, both immigrant and Cockney.
The East End is certainly not the London you think of when you envision Big Ben, St. Paul’s, and Harrods. It’s dingier, lower class, and mostly populated by immigrants, many of them Muslim. But, at least at the East London Mosque is working to balance individual culture with mainstream British society. It really does seem to be an immensely positive force in the community, focusing on the very specific needs of a marginalized and not necessarily appreciated group of people. Because it working to have such a positive influence on the community and a positive relationship with the rest of the city through its various service programs, education, job preparation, etc., it creates a safe haven for Muslims throughout the East End. With all the stereotypes and negativity toward Muslims, especially because of recent world events, all of this positive influence, I hope, will help foster a better understanding of Islam as a religion as the various South Asian cultures that have settled in the East End.
After our discussion, we were free for the rest of the evening. I wanted to go out and have some fun, but I ended up spending the evening researching for tomorrow’s tour.
Saturday, September 13, 2008
We were given today as a free day to work on projects. I made myself wake up in time for breakfast, then ran to St. Giles to get my Milton ticket. From there, I took the Tube to the Great Ormond Street Hospital to see what I could find out about Peter Pan. I don’t necessarily know if we’ll have much more to do there than see it. I think the archives are closed on weekends, so we won’t even be able to take a look at the Peter Pan Gallery.
I spent the afternoon wandering around central London with Leah, Lauren D., and Tristan. We timed and checked our route for the tour. It’s a bit long, but hopefully we can rearrange our stops to maximize time. We started at Barrie’s house on Robert Street, went to the Duke of York’s Theatre on St. Martin’s Lane, then took a long Tube ride to Kensington Gardens, walked past the Elvin Oak, past Barrie’s studio, and down to the Peter Pan statue. Then we took the Tube to the hospital. I think we’re going to cut the Oak. It’s not terribly relevant and it’s too time-consuming.
I think people expect it to be either a silly or uninteresting project. I hope we can prove them wrong.
In the afternoon we came back and ended up watching Finding Neverland on Youtube as part of our “research.” Then Lauren and I went out to dinner at a nice Italian place on Goodge Street. We came back and were hanging out for a while when we heard this banging on our door and Ben’s drunken voice shouting for Dwight, his roommate, to open the door. He thought it was his room. We shouted to him several times that he was on the wrong floor. Finally, we opened the door and told him he was in the wrong place. Rob came down, and we asked him what had happened (by this time Ben was lying on the floor, drenched in sweat). Rob said he’d be fine and would sleep it off. Lauren and I went back in my room and laughed hysterically. A bit later, Liza and Sarah came down looking for Ben, but seemed curiously nonchalant when we told them about his odd behavior. As they walked away, Lauren and I saw Ben run up the stairs in the hall and I said sarcastically, “Oh, well I guess he’s sober enough to run up stairs.” Lauren and I were curious at all this odd behavior, so we followed them up the stairs and heard hearty laughter coming from Liza and Sarah’s room. We got a bit closer and heard that they were mocking what Lauren and I had said. Thoroughly confused, we went back downstairs. Obviously it had all been a prank, but to what end? It was Ben who ended up looking like a fool, not us. Chad came to vent about how stupid everyone was being, and said that they were acting like the “cool kids” picking on the nerds. Maybe that’s true, but even with the tight cliques that have formed, I still never got the impression that there was a true cool kids/nerds dynamic. I would be offended, except that I’m too confused as to what they were trying to prove.
This morning we went to Mayor’s Question Time at City Hall. This meeting of the twenty-five members of the London General Assembly is held ten times a year, publicly, so that the members can ask questions of the mayor, newly elected Boris Johnson. I’ve never seen anything more hilarious. It was the least professional gathering of professionals I’ve ever heard of, in public, no less! There were a lot of personal attacks going on, usually across the room from one party member to someone of a different party. But even the Chair, who was listed as Labour but, I suppose, was supposed to act impartially, was making personal attacks at people who would not shut up or observe the rules of discussion. It was a madhouse at times, and certainly not politically correct. They discussed everything, from housing regulations, to market culture, to whether or not to restrict the minimum weight of models in London Fashion Week to avoid giving young girls a poor body image. The funniest instance I remember, though, was when it was the lone BNP member’s turn to ask a question.
The British National Party (described as the “anti-immigration party” by Prof. Rudalevige and the “Nazi Party” by Liberal Democrat Assembly Member John Biggs) was asking the mayor to suspend the Notting Hill Carnival (an immensely popular celebration of West Indian culture and diversity in general) because the “Notting Hill Riots,” as he called it, had been endlessly disruptive. He said he’d never seen chaos like that at any of the St. George’s Day Festivals he had ever been to (St. George, although probably Turkish in origin, is the patron saint of England and a symbol of British purity for the BNP). He threw out figures about how many people had been arrested, how many weapons were confiscated, how many police officers had been removed from their normal posts to cover the carnival. The numbers were high, but considering that the carnival is attended by over half a million people every year, I’d say it went pretty well. You can’t expect to put that many people in a single area, give them alcohol, and expect it to turn out without incident. In any case, the BNP member was a laughing stock. No one listened to him. The other members talked amongst themselves. The mayor didn’t look at the BNP member once. He sat with his head in his hands, shaking his head and once even making the “just shoot me” motion. The moment the BNP member had finished speaking, everyone in the room burst out laughing. It was really funny, and I’m glad to see that no one’s taking the racists seriously. I can’t help thinking, though, that if the same facts and figures had been presented by someone else, under different circumstances, that they might have actually been relevant. Perhaps there is a need for improved supervision at the carnival, or more regulations on how many people can attend. It’s amazing how much of a difference language. Had the BNP member phrased his request some other way, he might have had a different reception.
After watching Question Time, we had a brief meeting with John Biggs, a member from the East End for the Liberal Democrat Party and harsh critic of the Conservative Boris Johnson. He flat out admitted that he sees his primary objective as making sure that Johnson is never reelected. That doesn’t seem like the most constructive use of his time, especially with all the problems in the East End and planning the Olympics that will be held there.
We then went to the Tower of London. I forgot just how much I love the yeomen guards’ tours. They’re hilarious AND informative! I think it would fabulous to be a yeoman guard. You get to live in the Tower! What an address that would be. “Yes, I live at number 6, the Bloody Tower, Tower of London.” After the tour, I walked around a bit with Chad, saw the Bloody Tower. I think Richard III killed the princes. The evidence was convincing. We saw the Crown Jewels. They look the same as last time I was there. My favorite is still the massive golden punch bowl.
Chad was kind of enough to accompany me to Barbican to pick up my ticket from St. Giles, but it was closed by the time we got there around 5:30. We stopped at Sainsbury’s and I spent my last two pounds from my allotment of this week’s stipend. I put away forty pounds of the stipend at the beginning of the week and have been determined not to touch it. I just had to limit my costs today to two pounds, and I managed to do it. I would have had more of my personal allotment for the week, but I had to pay for the ticket to the Cabinet War Rooms and to Christ Church, so that was £13 I didn’t necessarily have to spend. I’ll get reimbursed for it, but it means I had less to spend during the week. Thank God tomorrow is stipend day. I’ve managed to save about £100 in the last few weeks, so either I’ll save it for travel later, or maybe I’ll splurge on a birthday present for myself. Lauren and I have plans to go birthday shopping before we leave for Norwich.
Chad and I returned to the Arran House, ate dinner, and talked for a while. I had intended to get some work done, but six people IMed me at the same time when I got on my computer, and then my mom called me on Skype. It was nice to talk to her, and to see my grandmother, with whom she is staying at the moment. Tomorrow I’ll spend the day working on Peter Pan stuff, and hopefully get my Milton ticket. I’d like to go out at night, too, since it’s been a while since I’ve had some fun.
The day started with a class session. We had a good discussion about WWII and the Blitz. There was some debate over whether the bombings of London built solidarity between boroughs, which had basically acted as separate villages beforehand, or did war force them into further separation with rationing and localizing? We had read several pieces on what life was like, and it appears that both are true. Especially interesting was Elizabeth Bowen’s article “London 1940,” which seemed to suggest how everyone who had survived the bombings could be said to have had a shared experience, and that the bombings even brought together the Londoners and Polish refugees, who had already been through bombings. Yet, at the same time, Bowen constantly mentions the boroughs as villages, neighborhoods virtually separate from each other, and that if one borough was bombed and another spared, then that caused more separation between them.
Another topic was the Empire. Most people seemed to notice what I noticed, which was that everything in the museums we’ve seen seems to have been taken from their places of origin during the Empire. The big question: Should these artifacts be given back? We used the Elgin Marbles as our starting point, and it was quite a heated debate. Can the original countries (Greece, for example) afford to take care of the artifacts better than the British can? What about artifacts that were gifts from one country to another? Does the giver have the right to demand that the recipient return the gift? My point was that many of the “taken” or “bought” artifacts from these former colonies have become just as iconic to the British as they are to the countries where they originated. Certainly it was unfair for the British to have taken them in the first place, but now, years later, they are such a part of British society and British pride that to take them away would leave a gaping hole in the fabric of British identity. Can you imagine the British Museum without the Rosetta Stone? What if Egypt demanded that the French return the obelisk that stands in La Place de la Concorde? Or, what if we gave back the Statue of Liberty to the French? I suppose the Elgin Marbles are a bit more complicated, since they are a piece of the Parthenon and should, ideally, be reattached to their original building, which still stands in Greece. In other cases, though, I don’t see why artifacts can’t rest where they are, held to one place but free to represent whoever wants to claim them.
Our afternoon was free, and I spent it in my room writing journals and researching for our Peter Pan tour. Overall, not very productive.
I decided to send emails to Moffat, Ness, and Johnston about receiving my ticket to the Milton Quartercentenary. They are, of course, the only three people who would actually care. All three sent back emails quoting Milton. I love the English Department.
Around 6p.m., Leah and I went out and bought cheese and bread for dinner. We were going, that night, to an event sponsored by the Dickinson Alumni Club of London and were told that there would be “heavy hors-d’oeuvres.” Not knowing exactly what this meant and, being vegetarians, we decided to stay on the safe side and eat beforehand. This turned out to be a good decision. There were vegetarian-friendly options, but there really wasn’t enough food to go around for twenty-five hungry college students, so we didn’t get to eat much. The reception was at a pub in Westminster and a handful of alumni actually showed up. I can’t say I did too much networking. I mostly talked with friends and tried not to get lost in the crowd of Conservative Party supporters who were in the room next door. Still, I was one of the last people to leave, talking with Will from the Science program and Abby. She and I took the Tube back to Goodge St. and, having nothing better to do, I went with her to Tesco so that she could find a very late dinner. I came back to the Arran House, talked to Fadi briefly online, and now I’m going to bed.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Monday, September 08, 2008
I’m feeling slightly better this morning. We got up early to visit the Hadrian exhibit at the British Museum, the new exhibit on the Roman emperor that the museum is so proud of. Before we were let in to see the exhibit (a ticketed exhibit), the museum provided us with coffee and tea, and we were given a presentation by the exhibit curator, explaining what each piece in the exhibit meant, where it came from, etc. I’m glad that we were able to see the curator’s presentation before we saw the exhibit, otherwise I think I would have been confused as to precisely what everything was and its significance. Basically the intention of the exhibit was to illuminate a bit more the life of Hadrian and his rule. Known mostly for Hadrian’s Wall, which separates England from Scotland, he was generally perceived to be a weak emperor, but recent archeological findings suggest that he wasn’t weak, just strategic. I think the exhibit was laid out well, although sometimes I thought that the mixing of general world history of the time period was mixed up too much with Hadrian’s personal life. There was also a LOT of people there, so I didn’t get to see things as long and as clearly as I would have liked to. I was particularly interested by the scraps of papyrus, the letters and Hadrian’s own autobiography, written in his own hand, which had survived since the second century. They were incredible. I wish I had had more time to look at them and fewer old British women to crowd my way.
After the Hadrian exhibit, I ran down to see the Cabinet War Rooms before our discussion of WWII Britain tomorrow. It’s not really my favorite era in history (I’m constantly stating how I’m not interested in any history past the 1860s), so I can’t say that I spent much time there. Also, I had trouble finding the damn place. The signs, for one, did NOT point in the correct direction. And, since the building was hidden under the Treasury, it was tricky to find the entrance to it. I did not spend much time there, although the simple fact that the most important and influential people were living in that bunker was terribly interesting. The museum was set up well, though, and gave a pretty good sense of what the living situation was in those rooms. What I did feel that it lacked, though, was the sense of urgency and danger that must have been tangible in that WWII atmosphere. I’m not sure if there would have been a good way to replicate that kind of tension. I don’t suppose they could have had flash bombs and an explosion soundtrack, but I think that would have inspired more panic than learning.
I ran to catch a Tube from Westminster to Marble Arch, where I met Leah to go shopping at Primark, which is sort of like an H&M, but a fraction of the price and twice the size. It was a mad house, and I was too overwhelmed to buy anything, even though I need a jacket. Hopefully the Primark in Norwich is not as busy. I have a feeling I’ll be going there a lot.
Leah and I stopped at Sainsbury’s to get some pasta sauce and bread and came home to make the remainder of our pasta.
In the evening, we went to the Charles Dickens Museum, which is in his house on Doughty Street, not too far from our hotel in Bloomsbury. We walked around, saw the museum, had some wine, and saw a performance of The Sparker of Albion, a one-man play about the life of Charles Dickens, including long excerpts from some of his novels. I thought it was interesting and pretty well done, if not a bit too long.
I got back to the Arran House and readied myself for bed, but, upon checking my email, received news that I have been offered a ticket to the Milton Evensong at St. Giles! I’m SO excited, I can’t even express myself. This is a service to celebrate the Quatercentenary of Milton’s birth. The description on the website reads
The Most Rev and Rt Hon Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, will preach the Milton Sermon at Evensong. Son sacred music by Milton's father John Milton (1563 - 1647) will be sung by the choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge. Reception afterwards by the kind invitation of the Worshipful Companies of Barbers' and Salters'.
I really am too excited for words. Leah can attest to that, how I ran out of the room into the kitchen to tell her the good news. Yet no one seems to understand.
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Not too much to report. I stayed in most of the day. About noon I ran out with Leah to get soup at Prêt A Manger, and then we worked on planning our Peter Pan tour of London with Tristan. For our final project for our London class, we have to lead walking tours of some aspect of London. Lauren Deitz, Leah, Tristan, and I are leading a Peter Pan/ J.M. Barrie tour of London. We’re going to visit his house on the Strand, the Duke of York’s Theatre (where the play was first produced), the Great Ormond Street Hospital (to which Barrie left the copyright of Peter Pan), the Davis’ house in Notting Hill (the family who inspired Peter Pan), and the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens.
I had a ticket to see The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Globe, but I figured standing in the rain for three hours would be detrimental to my already questionable health, so I didn’t go. I sort of regret it, because I did really want to see the play, and also because Chad and Lauren Deitz came back raving about how Andy Circus (the guy who played Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies) had been standing right behind them! I think I made the right decision, though. I needed a day to rest. I definitely still feel sick, but not as if I’m on death’s door, like I was feeling yesterday.
Chad, Leah, and I went to get Indian food for dinner around 6pm, hoping the spices would clear up our sinuses. Hopefully, if I keep taking LemSip and drinking 3000 mg of vitamin C, I’ll be over this cold in the next few days.
I’m sick. I feel like death warmed over. I was doing all right in the morning, but on the train to Oxford my body decided to hate me, and now I just want to sleep, so, despite what should have been a very exciting day, this entry will probably not be that thrilling.
It was muggy all day, and by the time we left Oxford, it was pouring rain. Thank God for my little yellow umbrella.
As for what I did today, it’s all sort of a blur thanks to this raging headache. We walked through the town, saw The Eagle and Child, which is the pub where C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien used to eat. We took a tour through all of the major colleges of the university, stopping particularly to look at Mansfield College, where Prof. Rudalevige’s parents met and were married. There was a general exclamation of “Awwww.” Also, you're not allowed to walk on the lawn of any of these colleges, not unless you're a Fellow...or, at least at Mansfield, unless you're playing croquet. Sadly, we were neither. We continued on our way, passing by the Martyr’s Memorial, the Sheldonian Theatre (yet another Wren building), and the Radcliffe Camera (home of the Bodleian Library). I remember being particularly intrigued by All Saints’ College, which Prof. Rudalevige described as “a professor’s paradise,” since there are no students. Professors there, by his reckoning, basically get paid to sit around, drink port and trade witty banter. Possibly do some research now and again. Sounds like a job I would love.
We walked to Christ Church, the most famous of the Oxford colleges, recently known for being the location for many of the scenes at Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies. It’s the closest to Hogwarts that I’ll ever be. In any case, the line to get in was very long, and most of us were very hungry and went to get lunch. I, however, stayed in line and eventually made it into Christ Church. It’s a beautiful college. The architecture is amazing. I can’t imagine students actually going to school and, for the most part, living a normal college life there. I saw the courtyard, the cloister, and the stairwell where portions of the Harry Potter movies were filmed. Not surprisingly, they don’t really look the same as they do in the movie. I did get to see the Great Hall, though, which my peers who came later did not get to see because there was a wedding reception there and it was closed to visitors. Again, it’s a beautiful room, but slightly disappointing. Nothing was as big as it seems in the movies, and, of course, the Great Hall scenes aren’t actually filmed there, but in a set inspired by it.
I left Christ Church and wandered around town for a while. I was hungry and tired and a tad bit lost. Being the genius that I am, I had left my map of Oxford at the hotel. I eventually made my way back to the center of town and found Blackwell’s, which is the oldest bookstore in Oxford. It was fabulous. And it had a café, so I got a Panini and wandered around the endless stacks of books. At some point Chris, Lauren, Katie, Jen, and Alana showed up and we all walked down to the river. There was a great variety of water foul there, but the grey geese took a particular liking to Chris. The swans were particularly friendly, too. They must be used to getting food. As we wandered around trying to find the train station, the rain started to pour. We took the 4:30 train back to London, cold and wet. They wanted to change clothes, get dinner, and go see The Duchess, but I was feeling awful, so I decided to stay in.
Thank God Chad texted me, asking if I wanted to go in on some grilled cheese and tomato soup, otherwise I don’t think I would have eaten dinner. I was too tired to go out. It was exactly what I needed, though. Lauren was kind enough to bring me back some cough drops and this stuff called LemSip, which the Brits love, and hopefully I’ll be feeling better soon.
The morning began with a class session with Prof. Margaret Hombreger, a professor from UEA who has worked with the Dickinson program before. She lectured us about Victorian social reforms, and talked a lot about Dickens’s social commentary, in particular. She talked about how Britain was the first industrial power, and then the positive and negative effects of that industrialization. Steam power, the Underground, telegrams, and, particularly the railways, provided new jobs, increased travel speeds, and more urbanization in general. Cities gained social power where it had previously belonged to the gentry class. The Victorians celebrated this power by building large parks, museums, shopping arcades, and department stores to encourage a new consumer culture. This, of course, was only for the wealthy. The Victorian working class did not get off so easily. For the other half, there was depression and poverty, pollution and chaos. Out of this, though, came some of the most influential social reforms of the age: universal male suffrage and the fight for women’s suffrage, eventual education reforms and reformation of the treatment of the insane.
Many authors, particularly Dickens, tried to make sense of the vast class separation in London. Going to the poor docklands in the East End was like exploring Africa. No one of class went there. There was a strange Victorian belief that poverty was the fault of the poor, not society. This resulted in an amendment of the Poor Laws, which, instead of helping the increasing poverty, established workhouses so that the lazy, poverty-stricken masses could learn discipline and improve themselves. Dickens hated the workhouses, as seen in his satirical description of them at the beginning of Oliver Twist, and his description, particularly that of the food shortage, made an impact.
We briefly discussed the Ragged Schools, which were charity schools scattered throughout London to teach the working-class children and keep them out of the workhouses. It was a place for them to receive a basic education, and often they gave out food and clothes. This discussion was particularly poignant, as we went to visit the Ragged School Museum in Mile End later in the day.
After class we had some time for lunch before we ventured to the East End. I went out and bought a lot of vitamin C because I’m getting a cold.
As a class, we took the Tube out to Mile End in the East End, No Man’s Land between the City and Canary Warf and the docklands. It is definitely different than west London. Most of the people I saw were either of Middle Eastern or South Asian background, and everything looked more run down, although not to the extent that it was in the Victorian era and even in more recent times. There’s been a good deal of refurbishment, turning old warehouses into trendy studio apartments. I know that Hall mentions this refurbishment in Salaam Brick Lane and how East Enders see it ruining the community and imposing on their East Ender’s pride. I wonder how much of it is pride and how much is fear that this new trendy-ness will force them even further away from the cultural center of the city as the culture moves spreads.
We went to the London Ragged School Museum and learned about the Ragged Schools for the poor in Victorian times. My impression of the museum itself was that it was largely designed for elementary school children in order to have them experience what it would have been like to live in the Victorian East End and to attend a ragged school. The museum guide still gave an interesting talk, even if it was designed for 8-year-olds, but I felt like I didn’t learn much that I didn’t already know. Well, that’s not entirely true. I learned that slate pencils and tablets are impossible to write on. I’ve never been more grateful for paper and pen.
I think a lot of the class-related issues that have surprised me in London stem from my general ignorance, idealism, and the fact that I’ve never lived in a city before, where so many social classes are present at once. Coming home from Goodge Street Station today, I noticed a street sweeper with his cart and broom brushing away leaves and rubbish from the gutter. It bothered me that I had never really given any thought to the street sweeping profession, and that my only real memory of ever having thought of it before was when I read Anthem by Ayn Rand in 9th grade. That book basically made the street sweeper into a ridiculous profession, where Equality 7-2521, a character desperate to learn, and Union 5-3992, a character who suffers from epilepsy and is referred to as “they of the half-brain,” are both assigned to the occupation. Obviously, in this context, Rand is making a point about individualism and writing against ideas of Communism. My only thoughts about street sweepers, though, have been colored by this description. Seeing this one man on the side of Gower Street, though, forced me to reconsider the fact that this is a real job that real people do. A strange thought to be had walking back from the Tube station, I’m sure, but I’m going to try and be more socially aware from now on.
In the evening we went to “Late at the Tate,” which is, as the name would suggest, a late-night opening of the Tate Britain. There was a live band, drinks and snacks, performance art and “interviews” with famous artists like Andy Warhol. It was all rather chic and I felt decidedly underdressed. Definitely a cool way to see a museum. I like this museum better than the Tate Modern. I saw many paintings that I remember from my Romantic and Victorian anthologies, particularly those by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Waterhouse’s painting of “The Lady of Shallot.” (There were many different genres of art, of course. I am just particularly fond of the Romantics.) One painting that caught my attention was “Chatterton” by Henry Wallis, which portrays the death of Thomas Chatterton.
It intrigued me, so I read the description. Thomas Chatterton was an 18th century poet who is famous for having written poetry under the guise of Thomas Rowley, a 15th century monk whom Chatterton made up when he was a young teenager. He was able to pass off his “Rowleian” poems as authentic, fooling even prominent Chaucer scholars. By the age of 15, he was a noted political writer and contributed to many magazines, arguing against the most famous political satirists of the age. At 17, Chatterton was writing political letters, eclogues, lyrics, operas and satires, both in prose and verse. But his finances were tight, and people weren’t as receptive to his works in London as they had been in his native Bristol. At the age of 17, faced with rejection and imminent starvation, he took an overdose of arsenic and committed suicide. He was really, as one fellow museum-goer noted, “the original Kurt Cobain.” I find the story very intriguing, and I want to read his works and more about him. If I can make sense of his poetry, I could see doing a thesis on him.
Leah and I visited the Soane Museum this morning. I didn’t know quite what to expect, but it is by far my favorite of all the museums I’ve been to. If authenticity has been my running theme for what makes a good museum, this one meets that requirement perfectly. Basically, this guy Sir John Soane was a Neo-classical architect who tore down three townhouses in Holborn to build his dream house. The use of light in the architecture was incredible, something I hadn’t seen in many other buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries. More interesting, though was his collection of…everything. This museum definitely beats the V&A and the British Museum for collection of all collections, even if it isn’t as big. In his house is Soane’s private collection of over 7,000 books, his paintings, architectural statues and pieces of various buildings from all over Europe. The best was the sarcophagus of Pharaoh Seti I, and one of the museum guides read the hieroglyphics for us, describing the soul’s passage to heaven, according to the Egyptians. It was fascinating. The most wonderful thing about the museum, though, is that the entire house has been kept in the same order as it was when Soane established it as a museum in 1837. It must be a haven for architecture enthusiasts, but I can’t imagine living in a house that is that crammed with significant artifacts. It reminded me of Hearst Castle (though not as obnoxiously grand) and, consequently of the final scene in Citizen Kane when they’re sorting through his collection of stuff and it’s all laid out in the foyer. Surprisingly, though, as much stuff as Soane had, the house didn’t seem cluttered. One of my peers described it as a pack-rat’s paradise, but I actually thought that everything was well organized and fit its space nicely. I can’t even fathom having that many artifacts. I’d be thrilled to have even one such item, and here Soane had an entire house full of things that belonged in a museum (which is probably why he left his house as one. Go figure).
In the afternoon we all went to 70 Whitehall, the Cabinet Office, and met with Robert Hannigan, Security Advisor to the Prime Minister, and members of various counter-terrorism departments to talk about terrorism in the U.K. and the 42-day detention policy. The fear of terrorist attacks is a lot older in the U.K. than in America, as we are consistently reminded, and, while no one denies the tragedy of 9/11, there seems to be a great British sense of “Oh, we’ve been through worse.” The Blitz is still very fresh in people’s minds, it seems, and the recent wave of terrorism is no worse than the Blitz or the IRA attacks. They made a point of stating, though, how different this wave of terrorism is, since they aren’t fighting a government but groups of radicals without national loyalties, and since these terrorists have no political agenda. They only want to terrorize and their goal is mass casualties, which is very different from past attacks. Because of this, the British government’s strategies have had to change. There’s a lot of anti-radical propaganda being distributed in the large British Pakistani populations, but apparently the Muslim population has been largely supportive.
I was most interested in the public relations aspect of these new tactics and the government’s attempts to limit racial profiling, since any targeting of the large Muslim population could be detrimental to the image of the government. They assured me that they keep in close contact with the Muslim population and use every opportunity they can to boost the government’s image. They told us that they recently had a case where a radical white Muslim convert had been coming to his mosque with burnt hands and arms. His imam reported him to the police, and it was discovered that he had been building a bomb.
We talked a lot about surveillance for safety purposes, and how CCTV wouldn’t work in the U.S. I think the immediate reaction at home would be that the concept of large-scale surveillance would be perceived as “Big Brother is Watching You!” Here, that fear of Orwellian authority is only in the event that CCTV falls into the wrong hands. We discussed how these measures only work if the population trusts the government. I think in Britain the people trust the government more than in the U.S., where we tend to be more wary of it and to constantly assume that it’s up to something.
Our other major topic of discussion was the U.K.’s 42-day detention policy, which is currently being debated in Parliament and is expected to be passed. Basically what it states is that the government, with sufficient concern, has the right to hold a suspected criminal for 42 days before a charge is given. They said that this is necessary because, in the case of a suspected terrorist, for example, it gives the authorities enough time to collect evidence to charge him. The nature of terrorism is changing, and with increased globalization and access to technology, evidence is more difficult to collect. This is in sharp contrast to both the U.S. and many other European countries. In the States, the maximum amount of time a suspect can be held is 2 days, and in France it is 4 days. This policy has become the center of a hot debate in the E.U. because of their dedication to standardizing human rights laws.
I guess this brings me to another interesting topic about British Government. In Parliament Square, across from Westminster Hall, Britain is building its first Supreme Court building. As soon as it’s finished in the next year, the Law Lords will move from their seats in the House of Lords into the new Supreme Court building, and, for the first time, Great Britain will have a separate judiciary. Much of this is due to the fact that the U.K. is now part of the E.U. and will have to make sure that its laws are in compliance with E.U. standards, which would be controversial if the Law Lords were left in Parliament, since the debates over the laws would occur where the laws themselves are made. Rather exciting for Britain.
So, although I’m not really one for politics, it was definitely an interesting day. Many of us were noting that, in the last two days, we’ve met more important people from the British government than we’ve even seen of our own. Not your usual tourist experience, and it really is amazing. After the meeting, Chris, Lauren, Jen, Alana, Katie, and I stopped at a café on Whitehall and got snacks. Later we got dinner at Sainsbury’s and ate in the Breakfast Room. We were supposed to meet at the Royal Albert Hall in South Kensington for the BBC Proms, but we hadn’t anticipated how long a walk it would be from the Tube station, and we ended up getting there 15 minutes late. We had to wait until there was a break in the performance before we were allowed to go up to our seats, which meant that we missed a good half an hour of the Elgar portion of the concert. The concert was beautiful, but it was the breaks between movements that were truly entertaining. No one claps between movements because the piece isn’t over yet, but everyone coughs. The minute there’s a pause, it seemed like everyone in the hall coughed. It was hilarious.
I wish I knew more about music so that I could accurately describe how wonderful the Elgar and the Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony that followed were...but I don’t. Just take my word for it.
Sunday, September 7, 2008
We began the day with a tour of Westminster Palace and the Houses of Parliament. This was the first time I’ve ever been in Westminster Palace, and I’m told that it’s actually somewhat difficult to get a tour. In any case, we had a wonderful tour guide. The building itself was gorgeous. Walking through the House of Lords was great because, for once, I actually saw gothic architecture as it was intended to be seen, covered in bright paint and gold leaf. Obviously, this wasn’t authentic medieval gothic architecture, but I think Pugin’s interiors were gorgeous anyway. If you haven’t discovered this yet, my historical imagination isn’t what it should be, and I enjoy seeing buildings restored and recreated (with the exception of Versailles, but that’s a different story). It makes me wonder why George Frederick Bodley didn’t incorporate color into the decoration when he designed the Washington National Cathedral. Ever since I learned that cathedrals were originally alive with color and gold leaf, I’ve been confused as to why the National Cathedral is simply plain stone. Perhaps this was Bodley’s attempt to mimic the style of the cathedrals in Europe, to make his cathedral look as old and authentic as those in Europe. I can’t imagine that, as an architect, he wouldn’t have known that cathedrals were supposed to be painted, especially since he was British and was an instrumental part of the gothic revival movement!
The Commons was not as well decorated. At first I thought that this might reflect a willingness on the part of the Commons to remain distinct from the Lords, some sort of pride in being “the people.” Unfortunately, it was a result of more money being spent on the Lords than the Commons. More stereotypical British class snobbery. Oh well. Either side would be a beautiful place to work, so I wouldn’t complain.
I’m concerned, though, by the fact that in Parliament (and Congress!), there’s never a day when every MP (or congressman) is present. There are not even enough seats in either House to accommodate every MP if they wall wanted to attend. Our guide said that sometimes there are days when only two people show up to debate a topic. I had this crazy idea that when you’re elected for a position like that, you are actually required to show up for work like the rest of the employed population. What, then, are the rest of our politicians doing? Is ALL that time spent dealing with lobbyists and making publicity appearances? What kind of government is it when the people who represent us aren’t actually present to do it? Please tell me there’s some sort of movement committed to making these elected officials actually do the jobs we elect them for.
Moving on, Lord Leslie Griffiths, Baron of Burry Port, member of the House of Lords, Canon of St. Paul’s, and Methodist reverend, met us in the original medieval part of the palace and took us on a quick tour of St. Stephen’s Chapel, which is closed to visitors. Like the House of Lords, the chapel was beautifully decorated and impressive, though small. Most of the excitement of being there was probably due to the fact that no other tourists get to see the chapel. We then walked over Westminster Bridge just as I was talking to him about poetry, and we recited Wordsworth’s “Composed upon Westminster Bridge” together (it was also on a poster on the bridge itself). He said he had been a medieval literature major as an undergrad and that he loved Shakespeare. I mentioned that I had recently gone on a pilgrimage to see Milton and how I had put myself on the waiting list for a ticket to his birthday evensong. Apparently Lord Griffiths had preached at St. Giles before, and he mentioned briefly that he might be able to get me a ticket. Unfortunately, that line of conversation dropped off before we could exchange any information, and I feel like it would be too much of an imposition to contact him and ask him now. Oh well.
Lord Griffiths was the nicest guy. He had the best stories and had something to say on every subject. I was particularly amused when he told me that he had actually met C.S. Lewis and they had some odd and short-lived conversation, the subject of which I forget. He made a point to have a conversation with every one of us, asking about our majors and our interests. He had the wonderful habit of pointing at things with his umbrella when he wanted to stop and talk about something. We were all too polite to mention that we’d already done a tour of Southwark and the South Bank. We stopped for lunch ad a pub right on the river, which was chilly and windy, but a nice enough day that we sat at tables outside. I got soup, so that helped with the cold. After lunch, we walked down Bankside, saw the Clink and stopped a while at the replica of the Golden Hinde, which was Sir Francis Drake’s ship. We then walked across the Millennium Bridge to St. Paul’s.
Once again, I have to mention how much I love St. Paul’s. For me, even more than Big Ben or the red phone booth, it has become a symbol of London. I’ve seen a lot of gorgeous buildings here—this city seems to be defined by its architecture— but I’m always drawn to St. Paul’s. I finally got to go inside the cathedral, and it certainly did not disappoint. My first impressions, in comparison to Westminster Abbey, were that St. Paul’s is very colorful and very…round. Westminster Abbey is gothic and therefore has the vaulted ceilings and pointed arches. Christopher Wren’s St. Paul’s Cathedral is in the English baroque style, so everything is either twisted or curved. The color came from beautiful mosaic work on the ceiling and gold leafing everywhere. I know it’s not as old as Westminster Abbey, but I got the feeling that the original design of the cathedral (well, Wren’s design, anyway) was better maintained at St. Paul’s than the original design at Westminster Abbey. It also seemed distinctly Anglican, probably because it was built after the creation of the Church of England and, therefore, it avoided having any Catholic influence. I don’t know if I can describe exactly why. The references to saints were minimal the decoration assumed to have a more literate population, since there weren’t as many stories being told in the decoration, as opposed to medieval cathedrals, were stories were told on any free space available. Also, since Anglican services are held in English, I suppose there wasn’t really a need for visual translation.
I walked up the stairs to all three galleries: the Whispering Gallery (99 ft. and 259 spiral steps), the Stone Gallery (173 ft. and 378 steps), and, at the very top, the Golden Gallery (280 ft. and 530 steps). I stopped at all three, although I couldn’t get the Whispering Gallery to work for me. The view from the higher galleries, though, was absolutely beautiful. I certainly got my exercise today.
At 5pm we were invited to sit in the Quire and listen to evensong, which was a beautiful service. I’d like to go to evensong at Westminster and compare, and I’m still crossing my fingers for evensong at St. Giles.
I took the Tube back to Tottenham Court Road and got a sandwich at Sainsbury’s. I ate dinner with Chris, Jen, Alana, Lauren, Katie, and Juli in the Breakfast Room. Then Chris, Jen, Alana, Lauren, Katie, and I went to the local patisserie for ice cream. I had the Ferrero Roche ice cream, which was an unexpected option, but delicious.
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
I woke up late and missed breakfast, pried myself out of bed to take a shower, and then went to The Jack Horner pub with Lauren and Alana for lunch. Not one of my favorites, but I did see the most interesting thing I’ve ever seen on a menu. Faggots with Bubble and Squeak. Interesting because I have absolutely NO idea what it is. The description said that it was “pork faggots,” which I can only assume are like hot dogs. What bubble and squeak are, Lord only knows.
We went to the British Museum for a while. What an overwhelming place. It and the V&A are competing for the title of “collection of all collections.” Walking through the rooms was a maze of eras and cultures. I would be in a room featuring artifacts from ancient Egypt, and the next one would be about American printing in the 20th century and feature pieces by Jackson Pollock. Of course we saw the Rosetta Stone, too. More than the V&A, though, the British Museum seemed like a collection of things that were probably taken during colonization. Of course, this theft became a central issue in the Elgin Marbles drama, where Greece demanded that Britain return the pieces of the Parthenon that they had taken. Obviously Greece has not gotten them back, seeing as they’re still in the British Museum. One way that the V&A seemed to get over this problem, was by taking plaster casts of what seemed like every architectural and sculptural masterpiece from all over the world. These were the rooms, in particular, that reminded me of that scene from National Treasure. When I first walked into the Cast Court, I didn’t realize that everything was a plaster cast, and I thought, once again, that the British had stolen some of the most significant architectural pieces of the Middle Ages. Thank God for the signs about the plaster casting, otherwise I might have gotten angry and indignant. As it is, the plaster casts present a wonderful way to see beautiful doorways, statues, effigies, columns, and crosses that, otherwise, you might have to travel all over the world to see…or Britain could just take them. The casts avoid those problems.
One thing that interested me about the museum was that they advertised, on the same signs that told you not to touch anything, that they lead a Touch Tour for the blind, and that only they are allowed to touch artifacts like Egyptian sarcophaguses and Grecian statues. Maybe I just have never looked at the signs long enough, but I think that such a tour would never be offered in an American museum. All of our artifacts are behind bullet proof glass and you have to maneuver and contort yourself in order to get a good view of anything. Once again, I’m finding that the British seem to be much more trusting of their history (and of other countries’ history, apparently), and that perhaps that reflects a greater respect and possibly appreciation in the society.
In the evening we found this nice Indian restaurant and had a wonderful dinner, then went back to Wild Times with Lauren, Jen, Chris, and Phil for swing dancing. It was fun and a bit more up-beat than last week. I thought this would be the time for us to finally meet British people, but instead we met Molly from Grinnell College, Iowa. Oh, irony. But no worries. She’s very nice and taught me how to Lindy Hop. I think we’re going to try to get together again before we leave for Norwich, maybe dancing again next week.
I’m exhausted now and should go to bed. I need to look semi-awake tomorrow for our meeting with Lord Griffiths, Baron of Bury Port.
At 10AM we had class in the Breakfast Room. We discussed the plays that we’d seen, and the reactions were surprisingly varied. After we had seen Her Naked Skin, I was under the impression that everyone had been as disappointed as I had been, but some people didn’t think it as that bad. We argued about whether the lesbianism played into a stereotype or if it was supposed to further emphasize the alienation of women from a man’s life. We discussed what we thought the main plot of the play actually was supposed to be: the suffragette movement or Lady Celia’s personal story. I still think that the play was first written as a suffragette story and then had these personal layers added on top. Others thought that it was just advertised incorrectly, and that it really was a personal story set to the backdrop of the suffragette movement.
I really enjoyed Let There Be Love, but some people found it just as unstable a plot as I had found Her Naked Skin. The discussion did bring about some issues that I hadn’t really noticed when I saw it. Alfred’s racism, someone noted, was so pronounced in the first few scenes, and then dissipated within one scene of meeting Maria. There was also the issue of lesbianism in this play, and of estranged family members, interracial marriage, and generational conflict. Thinking back on it, I wish that the interracial marriage of Alfred’s older daughter had been expanded upon a bit more, but I think the rest of the issues were handled well. I didn’t feel distracted by too many storylines, as I did with Her Naked Skin.
Most people seemed to really enjoy Timon of Athens. A couple people found all the bungee cords and the net distracting, but many people thought that it helped keep there attention during what, poorly directed, could have been a very boring play. Our issues of comparison between the other plays here were mostly about staging. I think that most people found the Olivier Theatre (where we saw Her Naked Skin) to be too big, too distant. I thought that the environment made the play very cold and…sterile, which, perhaps, was the intention, since much of it takes place in a prison/hospital. Maybe this was supposed to make the audience feel as alienated as the suffragettes or Lady Celia personally. Maybe this was completely a mistake. In any case, it resulted in my not being invested in the characters or the outcome of their struggles.
I don’t think anyone had a problem with the Tricycle Theatre. I think people liked the more intimate setting of the smaller theatre.
Some people liked being a groundling and having the play take place all around them (including overhead!). Others thought it was too distracting, and, since we were standing just at stage level, it was hard to see some of the action. But just as Her Naked Skin felt cold and distant, I thought the set-up and staging of Timon of Athens made the play inviting, engaging, and warm, despite the subject matter.
The biggest issue as far as the plot of Timon of Athens was Timon’s motivation for being so generous. At first reading, and upon seeing the production, Timon seemed naïve and genuinely generous. Some people, however, raised an interesting point by arguing that Timon was not doling out charity but making an investment, trying to buy his friends in case he ever did need them. I tend to think the former because of the scene where Timon pays for one of his loyal servants to marry the girl he loves. That character never appears again and would have no means with which to repay the favor in the future. I am, however, open to arguments.
We tried to find the similarities between the three plays. Power struggle seemed to be the link between Her Naked Skin and Timon of Athens, and the issues of torture and misanthropy that arise because of the power struggle. Although I definitely enjoyed Let There Be Love, I fail to see the link between it and the other two plays. Perhaps the generational struggle could be compared to the gender struggle in Her Naked Skin, but that’s a stretch.
After a quick lunch, I went on a solitary pilgrimage to St. Giles Cripplegate in Barbican to see Milton’s burial place. This year marks the 400th anniversary of his birth, and many places in London are celebrating, if you know where to look. St. Giles’s is celebrating with a special evensong service on Sept. 17, led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, during which they will sing songs written by Milton’s father, and there will be a reading of some of Milton’s works. Unfortunately, you need a ticket to get in. I went to ask about a ticket, and got a very strange look when, when asked if I was affiliated with the church at all, I answered, “No. I’m just a really big fan of Milton.” They were out of tickets, but I got put on the waiting list. I really hope I can go. It sounds like it will be amazing.
It was surprisingly a beautiful area. Strange, that this church is stuck in the middle of a rather modern flat complex in the business district. Reminded me a little of Lake Anne Plaza in Reston.
I really like the City. I always find myself drawn toward St. Paul’s. I’ve been going there a lot for the Tube stop, but I just really enjoy the atmosphere. I know that Wilson, in London: A History, mentions that it sometimes seems as if no one in London works because they’re always out and about, but I think that’s truer in Westminster than in the City. It was pleasantly quiet as I walked to St. Giles, and then up through the highwalks. The only people I saw, for the most part, were the occasional business men in suits, probably going to or from lunch.
From Barbican Station I intended to take the Circle Line down to the Victoria & Albert Museum, but something was wrong with it and it was only going to Baker Street, not the entire way around. It did, however, make a stop at King’s Cross, so I decided that this was the perfect time to find Platform 9 ¾. I had some nice Korean tourists take a picture for me, and then I jumped on the Piccadilly Line toward South Kensington to the V&A.
I’ve never seen such a collection of…collectables. I came in through the tunnel between the museums and the Tube, and the first room I encountered was titled “Europe: 1600-1800.” That one room I can only describe as the most luxurious Home and Design showroom I’ve ever seen (and I’d know, from all those years of following my parents around to showrooms). There were clocks, furniture, paintings, wall hangings, ivory sculptures, elaborately carved and inlayed boxes, whole rooms reconstructed. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see much of the museum because I had to rush back to Skype with Mike (who never actually turned up). The “Europe: 1600-1800” room was my favorite of what I saw, though. I felt more engaged with the way they set up the displays than in the other museums I’ve seen. I loved he reconstructed rooms, with the painted leather wallpaper and original wooden ceiling, or the ones that looked like they were plucked straight from Versailles. It gave me a far better sense for how certain pieces actually functioned in the homes of the people who collected them far better than the London Museum did in presenting the various artifacts found around London. Like the London Museum, things were presented in a rough chronology, but the London Museum lacked personality, I think. Just a collection of objects. The V&A’s exhibits created an environment. If someone asked me to pick one must-see site in London, I would pick this museum. In fact, if someone asked me to pick one place in the world to visit, it would probably be this museum. Remember the scene in National Treasure when the finally find the treasure and it’s this massive collection of artifacts from every possible era and area? Imagine that slightly more organized, but no less grand, and you have the V&A.
In the evening I was convinced to go to a gay club called Heaven, near Trafalgar Square, with Chris, Lauren, Alana, Katie, and Phil. We got there a bit early, so we wandered around and decided to stop at a pub. The one we ended up at was, ironically, called Halfway to Heaven, and was a gay bar. I wonder if they’re affiliated. I wasn’t in the mood to waste money, but everyone else had a drink. Phil was blatantly propositioned by a middle-aged drunken gay man, and we decided that that was our cue to leave. We wandered back to Heaven and got in line. After a rigorous security process, we went inside. The others got drinks and we sat down for a while, then we headed out to the dance floor. The music was a bit too loud, but good, and I’m a big fan of strobe lights. I was jealous when I saw people with glowsticks, and angry when I saw that they didn’t actually know how to rave. Next time I go clubbing, I’m bringing glowsticks and some shoelaces, and I’ll show them all. Phil, Alana, and Katie all managed to find partners at some point during the night. I started to feel a bit lightheaded from the lack of air, so I decided to leave. Lauren wasn’t feeling so well, either, and was a bit drunk, so together we managed to figure out the bus system and get back to the hotel. Last I checked, Chris, Phil, Alana, and Katie were still there. I texted them the buses they needed. I hope they get back all right.