September 13th, 2009 · No Comments
If I knew one thing about England before ever setting foot on its soil, it was that drinking is practically the national pastime. I say that with only the utmost admiration. Pubs are one of the most entertaining and social places ever invented. There is hardly a street corner you pass where there is not a pub; they are literally everywhere. What is amazing about pub life is that almost every pub is aesthetically pleasing and different; historic or modern, the sheer amount of pubs means that you can find one that suits you. Yet what all pubs share in common is that making friends involves just striking up a conversation. Whether meeting recent graduates at the Marlborough Arms or a student with a Brazilian flag tied around his neck at The Court, pubs are bound to show you a good time.
As I mentioned before, the variety of pubs in London is amazing. I would talk about the Marlborough and The Court but I think the vast majority of us have been to both. So, if you want to go historic there are plenty of pubs with rich history all about the city. Check out the Ye Olde Mitre hidden down an alleyway on Hatton Garden if you would like to get a true pub experience. This particular tavern was built in 1547 but was rebuilt after being demolished in 1772. Interestingly, if you ever saw the film “Snatch,” you may notice that a certain pub in the film resembles the Ye Olde Mitre (because it was filmed there).
For a simply beautiful pub you should check out the Black Friar. This pub was built in 1875 near a 13th century Dominican Priory. As a result, the pub was designed to look like a monastery. A large monk stature greets you from above just before you enter. Inside are spectacular scenes of monastic life with incredible amounts of detail.
If you like to dress up in business attire check out the Viaduct Tavern just after working hours. Almost everyone is dressed in a suit, so if you want to stand out jeans and a t-shirt are recommended. Though the Viaduct is a fancy looking place, inside it is a bit small. Nonetheless, the Viaduct is actually a “gin palace” so if you would like a variety of gin, this is the place for you. In the end, if you want a historic pub or even a “modern” one, London has whatever suits your needs.
Tags: Andrew F
September 13th, 2009 · 4 Comments
My trip to the British Museum was determined by one goal, to see the Parthenon Gallery and then move onto the rest of the Ancient World exhibitions. This goal formed during my junior year of high school when I was taking an AP Art History course. When we began the section on Greek Art and Architecture a main point of our discussion sessions focused on the British Museum’s collections, particularly the Parthenon Collection. I remember vividly the heated debates we had concerning the right of the British Museum to keep the statues taken from the Parthenon. My teacher’s advice on the subject though was to withhold on our final judgment until we could actually view the Parthenon Gallery at the British Museum. So this had me more than just a bit excited to see this exhibition and what else the museum had to offer.
As I entered the Parthenon Gallery, I was struck by the beauty of the friezes, metopes and pediments. The way they are arranged is to show them as they would have appeared on the Parthenon. The metopes and friezes are organized into their appropriate sections and the pieces placed in their original order. It is a unique opportunity to see temple friezes, metopes and pediments from the ground as they were meant to be seen. Yet there is equal beauty in being able to walk along these elements of an ancient temple and being able to view their details at eye level. This exhibition is simple in how it presents the sculptures, but it is the most effective way for the viewers to appreciate the beauty of the Parthenon sculptures. I found myself very appreciative of the gallery and was able to look past the controversy concerning the rights of the British Museum to the ownership of the sculptures.
The question that the museum poses in the pamphlet it printed in response to the controversy is one of not ownership but one concerning the protection and display of the sculptures. It states that the Parthenon was being destroyed at the time when the sculptures were taken by Lord Elgin. It was for preservation of the sculptures that they remained with the British Museum. Moreover, they are part of a collection on the Ancient World, which Greece and the Parthenon were very much part of. So it seems to me, that these sculptures are preserved, protected and appropriately displayed within the British Museum. It is only this preservation, protection, and respectful presentation that persuades people to support the British Museum’s right to keep the statues. Also, there are sculptures from the Parthenon in Greece, at the new Acropolis Museum. If there were no sculptures left to preserve and present in Greece, then my opinion would be different, but since there is preservation and appropriate presentation of them here in London it seems better for them to remain.
September 13th, 2009 · 6 Comments
This post has no topic and was not required.
It is simply for all of you…..
I hope we all have similar feelings about out stay here in London.
September 13th, 2009 · No Comments
“The great surprise of the Moon Under Water is its garden. You go through a narrow passage leading out of the saloon, and find yourself in a fairly large garden with plane trees, under which there are little green tables with iron chairs round them. Up at one end of the garden there are swings and a chute for the children.”- Orwell
Green Space and Pub Culture? How my brain thought I could make this comparison is beyond my knowledge but, just for a moment, think about it…..
London is a city of continual urbanization. Despite its growing population and continual reconstruction, London has been able to preserve almost 5,000 acres of Royal Park. These parks are a significant characteristic of London, and quite an amazing gift from the Royal family. They are routinely kept, and always monitored; taken care of as if they were children.
Now, I’m from Arizona. I am from the desert. The desert; the hot, sweaty, dry, brown, sandy desert. Green space is something you don’t often come across, and when you do, you must know, that it takes approximately 1,000 gallons of water to make it look like that.
Wandering through the parks of London has shown me a completely new world. I love the way you can immediately escape the rush of a city, to find complete serenity. However, regardless of their beauty, why do they take such great care of these areas?
Why spend the money, time, attention to maintain the area?
When thinking about the social scene in London, I am automatically reminded of pubs. It seems as though pub culture has become a staple activity for those who visit London as well as those living here now. Since going on the Pub Tour, I have come to understand that Pubs are multi-purpose structures first known as town Inn’s and now used for happy hour and parties.
I have never had a fake ID and I don’t drink. That said, till now I had never even entered a bar.
I have seen a wide variety of pubs since I have been in London. Some cater to business clientele, others to locals, and finally those that focus on college and teenage groups. Now that I know the history of pubs, its interesting to notice those with traditional structure and others that are completely modern. Each pub is different, but does this mean they remain a symbol of British culture?
Why renovate, preserve, and promote buildings that have transformed into an incorrect representation of London pub life?
These two pieces of London are comparable because they are both obvious traits of London. Not only are they well known to the tourist population, but they are continually appreciated by those that live in the community. The people of London are preserving both their parks and pubs simply because they are beautiful pieces of culture. Both pubs and parks act as a form of relaxation. Like in George Orwell’s Moon Under Water, the perfect pub would be alongside a garden; a place of peace.
London will always watch over pubs and parks, not only for a form of relaxation, but to hold on to an always deteriorating sense of nationalism. Britain will continue to evolve, but by saving certain parts of the city, it will remain unique and deeply historical.
September 13th, 2009 · 1 Comment
I had hoped that the Victoria and Albert would be something like the British Museum: large, but manageable. I was wrong. Entering the museum via underground tunnel, I was immediately confused as to where in the museum I was. Rather than the simplicity of rooms surrounding a central courtyard that all connected to each other, I was thrown into a maze of staircases, staff rooms, and an entire wing devoted to a cafe which took me several attempts to navigate around. By the end of my visit I was nearly too exhausted to make it back down the tunnel to the tube.
Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy the museum. The fashion exhibit was, on entering, immediately next to me and it served as a good jumping off point, if not as amazing as I had been led to believe. However, a jaunt around the medieval section soon cheered me up quite a bit. The three story high room filled with plaster casts of ancient and gothic architecture made me particularly happy, especially the cast of Trajan’s column. I’ve studied this column, and I’ve seen pictures, but nothing is as amazing as standing next to it (despite the fact that it wasn’t the original). The sheer size and attention to detail made me dizzy. I had to consciously restrain myself from touching it. After drooling over it for a few minutes, I attempted to enter the other room of casts (in which was housed what looked like a cast of the Colossus of Rhodes), but was thwarted by scaffolding and a sign saying “observe from third floor balcony”. In my search for this mythical balcony I ascended some stairs and turned some corners and got lost. Very lost. So lost that I rounded a corner thinking “how will I ever get out of here and where the hell am I supposed to go next”. Luckily the gods seemed to hear me and deposited me in a safe haven for people like me: the Theater exhibit.
I loved the theatre exhibit, especially the dress-up box of costumes to try on (yes, I’m a geek, but what can I say, it was COOL!). The miniature set models were so well done, and the model of the Theatre Royale at Drury Lane almost sent me into convulsions. Its attention to detail was fabulous, from safety posters to the raked stage, to little men being raised through little trap doors. It gave a wonderful history of theater in London from about 1900 onward, and the exhibit was so interactive that I spent a good 45 minutes in it, and it’s really not that big. However, I eventually found my way out.
It then, however, took me another half an hour to find my way back to the subway. As much as I did enjoy the experience, the museum is trying to do too much at once. Instead of focusing on one type of exhibit or one time period or one country, it has crammed them all into a maze of rooms, leaving the visitor with the feeling of being beaten over the head with a textbook (albeit an interesting one) upon leaving. I think it would be a much more effective museum if it divided its exhibits up into different buildings. It has already separated the Childhood museum from the main one, so why not do it with more? They have enough exhibits in there to house hundreds of museums. Why cram it all into one?
Interestingly, I didn’t find the British Museum exhausting (or at least not as exhausting). Perhaps I find the way the rooms are organized more understandable, or the fact that most of it is linked to archaeology (or in the case of the Parthenon Marbles, stealing in the name of archaeology). The British Museum is not as large an amalgam of ideas as the V&A. The exhibits on ancient Rome and Greece, Assyria and Egypt, and even North America, they are all connected under the tent of archaeology and anthropology. The only problem I have with the museum is its questionable acquisition techniques (most of which have been pointed out to me by Professor Maggidis, so perhaps I am a little biased in favor of the Greeks).
However, I think the hodgepodge of artifacts in both these museums parallels the mishmash of cultures living in London brilliantly. The names “British Museum” and “Victoria and Albert” evoke very nationalistic images, but house such a variety of things, much like modern London. While neither museum specializes in Bangladeshi artifacts or Jewish culture, the fact that they do house so much of non-traditional English stuff shows just how diverse England would like to be. Its next step is to realize the abundance of cultures it already has, and perhaps show those off a bit too.
September 13th, 2009 · 1 Comment
I almost cried at the end of Arcadia, did cry during the Pitmen Painters, and wanted to cry after seeing Blood Brothers – clearly for different reasons. When London theatre is good, it’s incredible, but when it’s bad, it’s atrocious.
I’ve been to countless theatre performances outside of London, and never took much notice of the lighting. I am usually so wrapped up in the dialogue, sets, costumes – or, if it’s a musical, the song and dance – that I never took into consideration lighting as a component of the production. However, after talking with 2 time Tony Award winning lighting designer Rick Fisher, I made sure to pay special attention to the lighting during Arcadia. Once I was – excuse the pun – enlightened by Rick as to the intricacies of lighting design and how important it is to shape the mood of a show, I was amazed by how exactly the lighting did just that.
Tom Stoppard’s brilliant Arcadia is set at different times of day and those natural changes in the color and intensity of the ‘sunlight’ were recreated beautifully in the lighting. Morning was soft, dawn was blue-green, and midnight was obscure and the moonlight realistic. What really touched me, however, was the closing scene in which Thomasina and Septimus waltz around the room and their silhouette is flung against a wall lit with orange-pink light. The sight was stunning.
The plot and dialogue of The Pitmen Painters, as well as the themes they addressed, struck a deep nerve with me. My mother is an artist, one who has always been very insecure about her abilities, (and she need not be) just as Oliver was. The painters’ monologues about the value and universality of art touched me viscerally, and reminded me of my own mother’s struggles with identity. An effective play is one like The Pitmen Painters; one that is relatable and emotionally moving.
Blood Brothers was neither of these. This musical was undoubtedly the worst performance – not the worst musical, mind you, the worst performance, period – that I have ever seen. The actors (this term might be too kind) all wore microphones in a small theatre – a sign of weak singers. The sound mixing was terrible and only served to amplify the flaws in the voices: the inability to properly belt(maybe if ‘Mrs. Johnston’ learned how to open her mouth when she sings, she wouldn’t need to tape a microphone to her forehead); flat notes; narrow vibrato; no vibrato at all. The sets were lackluster, the costumes unimaginative, the score repetitive and the lyrics forced. The plot had the potential to be interesting, but it was poorly developed. And one final piece of scathing criticism: Now, I have no problem with the omniscient perspective, but Blood Brothers gives a new meaning to the term “intrusive narrator.” If you’ve has the misfortune of seeing the show, you’ll know what I mean, and those of you who have not, do keep it that way.
In conclusion, Brits drive on the wrong side of the road, call baked potatoes “jackets,” use way too much coinage, have great taste in plays and terrible taste in musicals. Just another cultural difference.
Tags: Anya · Theatre
September 13th, 2009 · 6 Comments
I am very sorry that I am constantly bugging about anthropology, but I think the field has very interesting things to say about class, and it can help to understand class in London.
After seeing The Pitmen Painters at the National Theatre, a play I enjoyed very much although I could not understand some of the things the actors were saying, I thought how important cultural capital is. Cultural capital is the knowledge that most of us in the course have, because we attend a college, but that so many people do not have. Knowledge is capital, because it can take us places beyond our imagination and change us in many ways without us realizing it. The problem is that most of the times, the elite or canon will decide which kind of knowledge is valuable. Why is it important to know about Van Gogh, and not other painters? Why is there a way to speak proper English? Why do we have to behave a certain way in a museum, or in a restaurant? Because someone decides what “proper culture is”, and as we saw very well reflected in the play, many people do not have this “proper culture” or cultural capital. The pitmen painters, did not have cultural capital, because after all, they were pitmen. Nobody ever taught them how to appreciate art because they never needed that knowledge to work at the mines. What is heartbreaking about the play, is to see that in the end, the pitmen are so alienated by their condition, that they cannot pursue what might have been their true nature as artists. After all, is any of us born to work in a mine?
This thought made me think on how lucky we are that we have the cultural capital needed to understand the museums which we visit, to appreciate the classical music at the BBC proms, to know have connections through Dickinson, that allow us to have a talk with a top executive at Barclays. And yes, how lucky we are that we do not have to work in a mine.
September 13th, 2009 · No Comments
In case my portmanteau skills are just too much to handle, this post is a combined reflection of my overall museum experience here in London. I am splitting it into two parts so Karl doesn’t fall asleep 1000 words into the post. Enjoy!
Cabinet War Rooms
I have never been one for history class, since the present and future have always been much more interesting to me than the past. I do appreciate how important it is to learn and understand the past because I believe that time is cyclical in nature (another topic for another time, probably a class on Nietzsche). My experience in the Cabinet War Rooms turned my opinions upside down. Never before have I been so enthralled by the events of yesteryear. The museum did a fantastic job of immersing me into what truly felt like World War II era Britain. Because the bunker was so impeccably preserved, it really felt like Prime Minister Churchill was actually working, chain smoking cigars a few rooms down from me while top-level officers made encrypted phone calls to top secret locations. The sense of urgency was palatable. Beginning in 1940, the Germans started working on Operation Sealion, a full-scale invasion of the UK. Looking into the rooms where crucial decisions were made gave me a real sense of anxiety. Will the invasion really happen? Will it be next week, or even later today? How can we prepare a country of millions against one of the most powerful forces in the world? All these questions were dealt with directly exactly where I was standing. It’s hard to fathom how much pressure was felt by Mr. Churchill at any given time throughout those six, unbearably tense years. Remarkable.
What made me happiest was the sense of humor Churchill and crew managed to maintain throughout the war. Take the map room, a very sparse and serious quarters where some of the most important decisions of this country’s history were made. Right smack in the middle of the Pacific Ocean away from all the action (and any landmass) was some bored officer’s caricatured sketch of Adolf Hitler. I wish I hadn’t forgotten my camera, because it was such a hysterical juxtaposition of absolute seriousness and absurd humor. In another important room was a huge clump of multicolored telephones that the officers endowed with the appellation “The Beauty Chorus.” Instances like these support my philosophy that there is humor to be found in every situation, but again, another topic for another time.
Victoria and Albert Museum
The V&A is exactly the type of museum I can’t stand. Again, the past tends to bore me in the face of the present, and looking at minutia such as plates and vases from X number of years ago is about as exciting to me as, well, you get the idea. This museum was stuffed to the gills with the riff-raff of ancient civilizations. The layout didn’t help very much either. Each civilization has its own section, ranging from the vast, sprawling “17th Century Europe” section, to the disappointingly diminutive Korea exhibition, brought to you by Samsung.
After some mindless wandering, I decided that the best way to overcome my ennui was to immerse myself in a culture totally unfamiliar. I chose Japan on the basis that samurai are really cool, admittedly. After about an hour of exploration, I found myself to be pleasantly surprised. They had an interesting display of Noh garb. Noh is a form of Japanese drama popularized during the 14th Century. It is most interesting because of its parallels with Zen Buddhism. It complies with Zen’s principles of “restraint, understatement, economy of movement, and frugality of expression,” as noted by the exhibit. The minimalistic plays involved very little movement on the part of the actors, few if any props, and absolute austerity. In stark contrast to the scant nature of the acting, performers wore Noh masks. Each mask represents a different emotion. The following masks were on display (All images from www.nohmask.com, except for Okina, found at http://www.artsci.wustl.edu):
Hannya, a woman turned demon representing jealousy.
Waka-Onna, a young woman symbolizing beauty and nobility.
Shikami, expressing violence.
Uba, who represents a once beautiful woman.
Okina is most interesting. He is the oldest representation in the Noh repertoire. He symbolizes agricultural fertility, and is the only mask that actors don after entering the stage.
Overall, the Japan exhibit was the only one that piqued my interest. Noh is fascinating and is definitely worth further researching.
Stay tuned for part 2, featuring the British Museum, National Gallery, and more!
Tags: Andrew B
September 13th, 2009 · 1 Comment
I have been given further thought on the issue of identity in London. After reading Prof. Quall’s thoughts on the rebuilding of Sevastopol, I asked myself, how does London reflect its people’s identity, if it does at all. I am a firm believer in materialism, and in that ideology is reflected in every building and site that surrounds us. The sites that we visited, those that are known as “religious”, like St. Paul’s, the Sikh Gurdwara and the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, will articulate the ideology behind the religion. By this I mean the myths of origin, the “imagined communities” of the particular ethnic group we are looking at. For example, at the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, we could appreciate pictures from every temple there is throughout the world. This is a clear connection to Benedict Anderson’s concept of “imagined communities”; the idea that every person from a certain ethnic group or religion is in a way interconnected, when in reality, they might have different cultural practices. We could also see the clear claiming of the myths of origin and “official history” of Hinduism by the museum or gallery which described the history of the religion. At the same time, the Hindu temple made me, the visitor, feel the tension between the Us/Them. For example, at the end of the visit, the young man who accompanied us throughout the visit asked me: “What do you do to show respect for your elders?” I thought about it for a second and replied: “Well, I show respect to my parents by saying thank you for the things they give me and maybe also by clearing the table after having dinner every night”. He looked at me and said: “Well, I kiss their feet”. At that point, I felt the vast breach among us; two human beings expressing gratitude but through such different cultural practices.
Prof. Qualls deals with the re-construction of a city as a way to construct identity. By the way, since we are on the subject, I read parts of a great book that I’m sure Prof. Qualls knows, called “The Political Lives of Dead Bodies” (1999) by Katherine Verdery, who deals with destruction instead of construction by describing how Russian identity is being reshaped through the destruction of statues and burial sites.
Like the people in Sevastopol after the Second World War, minorities in London need places of identification at a “local level”. Maybe that is the reason why minorities built places of congregation in the first place, because they are not identified with the culture at a national, higher, or following Marx’s thought, the superstructural level where ideology is manifested. I believe that this is also why minorities maintain strong boundaries, what defines an ethnic group. Boundaries with food (Halal, Kashrut, Vegetarianism, etc.), exogamy, clothing, and the fear of assimilation, are generally reinforced when outside their countries of origin.
However, ideology is present not only in temples. Our visit to Canary Wharf made me think of how businesses have a trend of their own. The spectacular glass buildings of this area, all the men dressed up in suits, the after-office venues, the news headlines written down on boards at the tube stations, even the very tube station being much more modern than the others in the city, these are all characteristics of the “business culture” that is practiced each day by men and women that work in Canary Wharf and The City. These are “City people”. Secular, maybe, but having capitalism very present as their everyday religion.
Every London borough has its own identity and cultural practices. We tend to think that we can only find “culture” in a museum or what for us is an exotic temple, but if we think harder, we can understand that cultural practices are all around us, and therefore identity will be articulated in every building and every corner in London.
September 13th, 2009 · No Comments
My two drafts for legitimate topics seem to have evaporated, so instead of writing about something that might help my grade I’m going to talk about something that has made England a thousand times better: pasties. My family visited today, and it turns out it’s a Russell tradition to like pasties, and historical facts. Pasties most likely were created in Cornwall in the Tin mines. (as a note, Tin mines have always been a crucial aspect of Britain’s appeal, even back to the days of the Romans). The idea behind them was that they had a big crust. The big crust was there because tin miners weren’t able to get to the surface for a lunch break, so they needed to have something to hold onto with their dirty mits without contaminating their food. Pasties would often have meat and potatoes on one side and apples or some fruit on the other– main course and desert all in one. Mines got quite cold, but pasties did not, which also made them ideal for miners. The crusts were thrown into the mines as alms to the nefarious spirits, known as Bucca, in the mines. Pasties have remained a great way to cheaply, yet efficiently, feed people. The tradition of pasties carried over with the Cornish miners into Pennsylvania. In the late 1800’s it would be brought west with the gold rush. There the pasty’s English history would meld with the local flavors of Mexico. Stories of Bucca’s also followed with the pasty into the new world, taking roots in both Pennsylvania and the West coast. Don’t worry, some boring long post will be sure to follow.
It got me thinking about the history of a food though, what goes into the design of something. I eat the crust, dirty hands or not, but it once served a dire purpose. I know I’ve already written something about the Pitman Painters, but I can’t help equating this wonderful food to them. Like the painters, the pasty caught on in popularity with people beyond the mining communities; it became one of those “authentic” things you eat when you go to a place, and it thus lost a large portion of its original purpose and meaning. Of course the closing of mines in England didn’t help its cause, but I wonder what other foods have interesting histories that have been lost to time. I won’t be silly enough to ask some existentialist rubbish about the meaning of life found inside a pasty; a pasty is nothing more than it sets out to be. Sure the insides are a surprise, but it is nothing more than bread filled with something to keep you going even in the blackest of tunnels. In that simplicity and innocence, it finds perfection. So may be I have found the meaning of life in pasties, there are worse places to find it.
The info that I didn’t already know came from my father Rex Russell, and a pasty salesman named Henry who worked in Victoria station. Thanks for the info and the good pasty.
Tags: Andrew R