Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Entries Tagged as '2010 Benjamin'

Museums of London

September 21st, 2010 · No Comments

The Brits pour money into their precious museums, further proof to my idea that the Brits hold their rich and storied history above all things in this fine country.  The Museum of London is probably the best example; a simply laid out but large museum with easy access to the public and several treasured pieces of London history contained within its walls.  Like the Museum of London, most museums are easily accessible and a majority of them are free to the public, however it seems like the museums they offer are catered to a good balance of Brits and tourists alike.  While walking through a museum like the British Museum or the National Portrait Gallery, it is common to hear a slew of accents from every corner of the room.  Italian, spanish, english, you name it, these people are in the museums.  Of course this kind of museum experience can only come from the British government pouring tons of money into these places, making them into a piece of history themselves.

The history on display in the museums isn’t only that of the Brits, however.  I am sure it took millions upon millions of dollars to acquire the historical objects contained in museums like the British museum.  Perhaps this is a testament to not only the Brits appreciation of their own history, but also of the history of the world.  London is without a doubt, one of the most international cities in the world.  Tourists come from all over to see the sights and people from all corners of the globes live tucked away in various corners of London.  All these points lead me to believe that Londoners also take great pride in acknowledging how they themselves are linked to international history and will pay big bucks for precious artifacts to be moved to their museums.

The museums themselves seem to operate like any other public establishment in the city of London.  The feeling of being pushed around from queue to queue is ever present, even in a place like a museum.  The result is that you kind of have to rush yourself from museums, or as a fellow classmate said in their blog recently you have to learn to “skim” museums.  It took me ten minutes just to get a good view of the Rosetta Stone because of all the people crowding around, and everyone seems to have you on a two minute timer to have your look and then move on.  Even in a place like the National Portrait Gallery, I got the feeling that if I spent too much time looking at a painting or sitting on a couch (the green leather was incredible) I was going to be the recipient of dirty looks from every direction.  Despite being invisibly queued up in most sections of museums, there is usually enough to experience for you to get lost for days.

Overall, the museums are definitely a great aspect of London and I believe that the fact that they are subsidized is a very good thing.  It keeps tourists coming and it keeps the English aware and proud of their history and their knowledge of others’.  The museums of London helped me to appreciate (like a good Londoner) the value of a trip down history lane.

Tags: 2010 Benjamin

The Role of Churches and Cathedrals in London

September 21st, 2010 · No Comments

We have been to our fair share of churches, cathedrals, and other religious buidings.  Looking up at the incredible painted ceilings and windows at these cathedrals, a visiting American would typically think, “My church doesn’t look like this”.  The churches of London have been constructed by world famous architects for hundreds of years.  The role of churches in London differs vastly from the purpose of churches in the United States (this we have discussed several times).  The main purpose of these churches is rooted moreso in the Brits deep pride and value in their rich history a bit moreso than the prayers and sermons that are uttered in the buildings.

Westminster Abbey

Since my time spent here I have noticed that the Brits care a lot about, and ruthlessly display their long, inspiring history.  I believe that these churches (St. Pauls, Westminster Abbey, etc.) serve as living pieces of history for the Brits moreso than places of worship for that reason.  Walking through Westminster Abbey almost seems like your at some sort of Rock N’ Roll hall of fame for famous people’s graves.  I can’t think of a better way of preserving and glorifying history than walking through a museum of dead guys with significant roles in the history of London.  The elegant layouts and statues where the heroes of London stand frozen in time give places like the Abbey almost a museum-type feeling.  I especially felt this way on our tours in the Abbey and St. James, where I felt like we were being ushered from exhibit to exhibit.  The basement of St. Paul’s was even undergoing work so that they could put an exhibition on display, not unlike a museum.

St. Paul's Cathedral

Of course, these churches do still hold religious ceremonies; I saw a wedding at St. Pauls one of the days we went there, and there was a moment of silent prayer when we were touring Westminster Abbey.  Our tour guides explained at several of the sites about how their regular services proceed as well.  These religious observations still seem to be playing second fiddle to the awesome, breathtaking history that the churches hold.  I am sure that more people attend tours than services on a daily basis at a place like St. Pauls or Westminster Abbey.  Along with the Brits’ pride and dedication to their history, these churches serve as spots that honor the unification of London and its people as a whole.  Hell, the entire country had a national religion in the Church of England for many, many years.  One country, the majority of which were a member of one religion, and the church for which all these buildings were constructed.  Our tour guide at St. Pauls explained how during the Blitz, a chaotic period that made the people of London fear for their lives on a day to day basis, that as long as they could see St. Paul’s church everything would be alright.  Quite a deep belief on the part of the people of London.  A belief reinforced by their nature of being proud of their past and their knowledge of it.  So, while these churches and cathedrals might appear to be some kind of religious museum, they remain some of the most well recognized and inspiring aspects of London.

Photos courtesy of: members.virtualtourist.com, lilacnet.net

Tags: 2010 Benjamin

A Ramble in Regent’s Park

September 20th, 2010 · 1 Comment

This afternoon myself and a friend visited Regent’s Park to have a bit of footy in the sunlight.  The day was beautiful, and the park was breathtaking.  Being my first visit to Regent’s Park, I can honestly say I could have spent days there. The major difference between Regent’s Parl from the other park that I have spent the most time in, St. James Park, was the awesome, gigantic field space used for sporting activites or “ball games”.  We spent time in both the large, sport dominated field area as well as the walking route among the gardens and fountains of Regent’s Park (I would have several lovely pictures for you all of our leisurely day, but sadly I left my camera in the hotel upon departure).  In comparing Regent’s Park to St. James Park there are a few key differences.

(Regent's Park)

(Sporting Area of Regent's Park)

Regent’s is divided into two sections, the “ball games” field section and the walking route (which has a few little subsections).  St. James only has the walking route.  Both are beautiful, St. James seemed a little bit more open in the strolling section, and had a little more to offer visually in terms of natural elements (it’s on that fantastic lake and has all those birds running around, it’s hard to beat the pelicans).  It seemed like perhaps more manmade work had been done in Regent’s however, the section that we strolled through had several beautiful fountains and well placed gardens, giving it a very tranquil and calm feeling (not as many people either).  I could go on for days about how beautiful and elegant these parks were, but I want to discuss what their purpose actually is in British society.

(St. James Park)

The Brits put a lot of pride in three things: museums, churches, and PARKS.  These parks all have had one or more notorious architects working on their designs and perfecting them over centuries.  They are signature landmarks of the UK, world famous Brits and royalty have worked through them over hundreds of years.  Why?  Like I said in my blog about the purpose of pubs in British society, it seems like when the Brits aren’t living the hustle and bustle lifestyle of London, in packed tube cars and crowded streets, they like to take a minute to value their time with others and the so called “simple things” rather than spend their time playing watching television or on their computers, like Americans.  The Brits are generally doing one of the following things during their visit to the park: walking their dog, chatting with a friend, having a picnic, kicking around the old football, or just having a stroll.  All simple, leisurely activities that you don’t need to pay a cover charge for.  These parks have so much money and effort poured into them because most of the population of the UK treat them as a national treasure and use them so much.  They are a significant part of the history of England.  Cheers.

Photos courtesy of: londonrelocationservices.com, yourlocalweb.co.uk, earth-photography.com

Tags: 2010 Benjamin

Pubs vs. Bars: The Ultimate Showdown

September 15th, 2010 · 1 Comment

Upon my arrival in the UK, I of course knew of the popular social aspect of life as a Londonian that is the pub scene.  I didn’t know much to expect, but I was sure to see a different perspective than the local Fast Edward’s or Alibi’s atmosphere we have in Carlisle.  We walked into the local pub on our first night here in London and I thought one thing, “This place is dead”.  It was about 10:00 at night and there were 4 or 5 various groups in people (mostly standing) in corners of the pub.  We almost immediately caught wind of the way that pubs work.  Being that as we have discussed, the Brits are very much devoted to their own schedule and seem to keep calm and carry on to their next location with their head facing the ground, terrified of conversation with complete strangers.  I feel like the pub scene is essential to the London lifestyle because it provides an opportunity for them to relax and to chat it up with co-workers, friends, etc.  The essence of pubs here is not based on the same values that a bar has in the United States.  You walk into a bar at 10:00 at night in the states and there is music playing, drunk sorority girls shamelessly ordering pitchers of “sex on the beach” at the bar on their father’s credit cards, and a collective atmosphere of smoke-laden air and silly (and often loud) conversation.  The bar is a place where Americans go to get loose (and I mean VERY loose) after a day of classes, work, what have you.  The objective more than often is to get drunk and shoot the proverbial shit with your pals, maybe even meet a girl.  The goal of pubs seems to be severely different.

Pubs in the UK serve as a place for social interaction and debate rather than drunken, slurred conversation.  The Brits, while on their leisure time seem to be more interested in spending time with and conversing with their peers instead of doing things like watching TV, going to the movies, anything in which you are independent and are relying on some kind of technology to provide stimulation.  The great phrase of a “pub argument” supports this argument in the sense that one of the most prevalent characteristics about a pubgoer is their ability to argue and defend their topic to the death, whether it be politics, class, or their favorite footy team.  It would seem like Pubs are more about the people, you grab a pint, sit down for a half hour or so nursing that pint, and discuss whatever topic seems fitting with your fellow Pubmate.  Most pubs also close before midnight, so they cut you off far earlier than any bar in the states.  Whereas in the states it seems like the point of pubs is to get loose (in some cases VERY LOOSE), and have a few drinks after a long day at work or at class.  It would appear that in America, bars are more about the alcohol, whereas in the UK, Pubs are more about the people.

And then there was the “Pub” that myself and a few other students went to last week.  We walked in, enchanted by the sign with fantastic drink specials and the time of closing: 2:00 AM.  Hook, line, and sinker.  Walking in, we grabbed some drinks and sat down, music playing in the background, somewhat lively scene around the bar.  Then we saw them: Americans.  We could spot them from a mile away in a large group, drinking and laughing (loudly).  We introduced ourselves and we felt at home.  Soon the live DJ came on and the numbers and past stories of debauchery were exchanged merrily around our little 3 table American Embassy.  We felt at home.  But that’s the thing; we were able to recognize how American this bar was, it clearly was made to appeal to tourists and the youth of London.  What I took away was this; the dancing, yelling, mixed drink indulging are all great and are good American fun.  But if you really want to sit down, enjoy your pint, and hold a healthy, meaningful conversation with your mates, head to the pub.  Cheers.

Tags: 2010 Benjamin

Beggars Can’t Be Choosers

September 14th, 2010 · 2 Comments

So the other night a few students and myself went out to grab a quick dinner and a pint following our alumni event, as the “Honey I Shrunk the Salmon Cakes” hors d’oevres could not fill our gullets for the night.  Donned in dapper suits and freshly purchased genuine leather kicks, we set out to find our destination.  Our first interaction with a Brit came in the form of a toothless, homeless woman with dreadlocks.  She approached us, our eyes met with hers and she approached us rather briskly, uttered some kind of local gibberish which we all interpreted to be “do you have any spare change?”.  One student obliged as the rest walked onward, glad to have escaped the incredibly awkward situation.  We came back from it, discussed it a little bit and walked on.  Upon finding the ideal pub, we sat down and sipped on our local brew, chatting and recapping the passing day.  Soon we had our second interaction; a homeless man with a torn shirt asked us for money.  One student offered him a little bit, the man mumbled something to himself, and he slammed the coin back on the table and walked on.  We were shocked, but the madness continued.  A third woman (who was far more well dressed mind you) walked up to us and explained how somehow her inability to get a bus pass meant that one of us had to give her a sip of our beer.  After a bit of debate with her (I gave her the germaholic excuse), she just nodded and walked on.

So what do these 3 interactions mean?  We discussed how the fact that we were all dressed in suits clearly had some impact on the surrounding Brit’s conceptions of our class status, since they seem to value appearance quite a bit in what we have seen so far.  I have to admit we were getting some looks from Brits other than the homeless population while we wandered the streets.  So clearly, we had people convinced we were some sort of businessmen judged by the first look.  Why then was this slew of impoverished people so willing to approach us and ask us for their money?  Maybe it has something to do with the fake politeness we have discussed concerning the Brits.  How far can politeness go though?  Do homeless people only go after the people they think can afford to give away a little money?  It could be that these class systems are so defined but have such big extremes that the lowest of the low may only think to ask the top dogs if they could spare it, sine they can read people so well that they wouldn’t think to ask anyone that wouldn’t afford a few extra pence.  What about the guy who rejected our offer?  He acted as if we were being smug to give him only 10 or 20 pence.  Maybe he had labeled us so that he thought we could afford more.  But then what happens to the idea of fake politeness?  This beggar rejected our offer of money, which wasn’t exactly the most polite of actions.  Don’t even get me started on the girl who only wanted to swipe a sip of our beer.  I can’t imagine that would be a polite thing to even ask.  There is no way that this politeness deal can only work from the top down.  The mystery of the British people continues to unravel…

image from: http://www.google.co.uk/imgres?imgurl=http://i602.photobucket.com/albums/tt107/1cafekko/soSadohitsasiggy.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.myspace.com/flick024&usg=__psJXwKxdeTiFNn1uwGOk3Uuoj1A=&h=350&w=468&sz=29&hl=en&start=18&sig2=A51TepoGJuwB75NWoPBhRA&zoom=1&tbnid=QhbbtLJlD50lWM:&tbnh=135&tbnw=164&ei=bviPTOSVH8OQjAew0OzpDA&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dcrazy%2Bhomeless%2Bguy%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26client%3Dsafari%26rls%3Den%26biw%3D1200%26bih%3D620%26tbs%3Disch:10%2C362&um=1&itbs=1&iact=hc&vpx=901&vpy=253&dur=519&hovh=194&hovw=260&tx=207&ty=102&oei=XviPTKz-HZuR4gbe07WQDQ&esq=2&page=2&ndsp=18&ved=1t:429,r:5,s:18&biw=1200&bih=620

Tags: 2010 Benjamin

My Kind of Play

September 14th, 2010 · 5 Comments

This afternoon we saw a production of “39 Steps” at the Criterion in London.  I had enjoyed the other required play that we had attended (“Merry Wives of Windsor”), but having been in Shakespearean dialogue there were a few things I did not pick up on in the humor of the production.  Not to say the story was excellent and the acting even better, it just didn’t have my sides splitting like I had expected.  Today was a bit different.  I saw things today that I have seen in many aspects of American comedy that I appreciate: raunchy jokes, innapropriate references, slapstick humor, and the ability to laugh at oneself extensively.  The play was incredibly engaging; I thought the use of the stage was executed to a T.  There were all kinds of props flying in and out in a chaotic yet entertaining manner.  My two favorite examples of use of stage had to have been the lamppost/window interaction with Henney and the two “police officers”, as well as the villain’s character looking for a place to sit and having an easy chair whisked onto the stage without warning.

The thing that I want to comment about mostly in terms of comparing this production to British culture is the sheer goofyness of the performance.  It seems like for the most part, Brits are wildly proud of their ability to put on an epic classic play (think Les Miserables or Romeo and Juliet).  Of course there is a decent amount of humor embedded in these plays but not as much goofy physical comedy or simple joking about concerning the very idea of the play.  I came away from the play practically thinking I had watched the twisted offspring of Seinfeld and Dumb & Dumber rolled into one.  In a freshly written script, 39 steps took on a classic Hitchcock film, with a few tweaks.  Ridden with slapstick humor, absurd accents, and quick witted naughty dialogue, 39 Steps appeared to break what the norms of British comedy appear to be.  The actors had the ability to laugh at themselves and the very idea which they were portraying.  Several times in the play, actors would jokingly pause (as written, I’m sure) and correct what was going on around them, chastising the other players for something they didn’t like or something that was seemingly not a part of the production.

Overall, I heard some classmates utter comments like “I don’t want to be snobby, but it was a bit lacking”.  I feel like you have to understand what you are getting into and go in with an open mind when you see a play like this.  I haven’t had much experience with the theater, I admit, but I have to say this play left me both rolling on the floor and very satisfied with the way it was portrayed visually.  For me, this spoke a lot to me about the nature of theater.  You don’t have to put on a 3 hour long, epic performance to please the audience.  I have a brief background in writing comedic stories and brief film screenplays and I know that a joke can kill moreso than a great dramatic performance in some cases.  Just because it’s a small scale production that does not pose some kind of grand theory on life does not mean it was bad.  Take it for what it is: The Superbad of theater.

image from: http://www.google.co.uk/imgres?imgurl=http://www.artsjournal.com/aboutlastnight/39%2520STEPS%2520POSTER.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.artsjournal.com/aboutlastnight/2008/01/&usg=__mErr-YlHCSPMp19L0HxD_gjzT2g=&h=430&w=305&sz=50&hl=en&start=0&sig2=2VM3v22hun95IRCuJoqICg&zoom=1&tbnid=ar-TOtjAu96bmM:&tbnh=123&tbnw=86&ei=uPePTPbrKsaD4Qat9YGzDQ&prev=/images%3Fq%3D39%2Bsteps%2Bposter%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26client%3Dsafari%26sa%3DN%26rls%3Den%26biw%3D1200%26bih%3D620%26tbs%3Disch:1&um=1&itbs=1&iact=hc&vpx=227&vpy=174&dur=922&hovh=198&hovw=140&tx=98&ty=78&oei=uPePTPbrKsaD4Qat9YGzDQ&esq=1&page=1&ndsp=29&ved=1t:429,r:1,s:0

Tags: 2010 Benjamin

National Portrait Museum Trip

September 3rd, 2010 · 1 Comment

Our trip to the National Portrait Museum was a fantastic experience, giving an eye opening look into famous icons in England dating back all the way to the 17th century. However, that was all it gave, was a look into the faces of rich families and celebrities in England. The museum itself began with elegant portraits of royal British families such as the Tudors and the Stuarts. Fancy galleries seperated by large arched doorways provided the backdrop for all these paintings of wealth. By the time one arrived at the section concerning 19th and 20th century portraits, the portraits of royal family members dropped slightly in numbers and the paintings became a bit more abstract. However, never did they shy away from only portraying the celebrity aspect of all these people. Needless to say, the common man did not receive a portrait. I would have liked to see at least one portrait that portrayed an everyday Londoner, but one can assume that just wouldn’t happen; either because the portrait costs a large amount of money to have done for you, or the artist did not find the common man interesting enough.

Amidst all the glory and wealth illustrated in the earlier portraits in the gallery, one practically leaped off the canvas at me for a different reason.

This portrait, amongst all the glorified, epic depictions of wealth and royalty, shows Paine in a very distorted and dark look, rather than the clean and pristine style of most royal portraits. It is inserted right smack in the middle of the 18th century portraits of Revolutionaries and Royalty. The portrait lacks definition in its lines and Paine’s body almost seems to seep into the background in an odd blend of himself and the darkness around him. In addition, the painting also seems to have a somewhat forboding feeling about it, which differed from nearly every painting surrounding it, where the environment was a large royal hall or a fancy room with the subject seated in a comfy chair. This portrait inserts Paine amongst the darkness, the unknown, something that makes you uncomfortable but fascinated at the same time. A great portrait amongst a great gallery. Cheers.

Tags: 2010 Benjamin

Shepherd’s Bush Market

August 28th, 2010 · 7 Comments

market video_0001

We spent the morning at Shepherd’s Bush Market in the area of Shepherd’s Bush, near Hammersmith. To get there, we took the Tube to Shepherd’s Bush station, a modern and pretty elegant-looking building. Once we were at the station, we actually had trouble finding the market. There were no obvious signs near the station, and the first person whom we asked had no idea what we were talking about. We took a wrong turn and wandered through a very new shopping and restaurant development in the same style as the station, but could not find the actual market. Someone did direct us, however, and we found the entrance.

When we entered the market, we readily realized why this place was little known.  The Shepherd’s Bush Market is no more than a narrow strip of walking space, about the length of a city block and no wider than an average road, jammed with shops on either side.  As we ventured into the market, inspecting the market’s goods and snapping photographs, we drew strange looks from shoppers there, who were invariably first generation immigrants, mostly from the Middle East.  Popular items in the market were the necessities, food and clothing accounting for over half of the market’s goods.  This suggests that, unlike other popular London market destinations, Shepherd’s Bush caters predominantly to the area’s immigrant community and their day to day shopping needs, rather than to tourists and day shoppers out for a bit of fun.  Of the food shops in the market, halal butchers were the most prevalent.  In immediate area surrounding Shepherd’s Bush Market, the same type of commerce thrived, with more halal butchers and restaurants and a few money exchange centers scattered about. Despite a heavy immigrant influence within the market, residential areas surrounding the area were largely native and seemed more affluent.

One aspect of the neighborhood that really struck us was the proximity of the local, immigrant-centered market with an enormous, modern shopping center. The Westfield Shopping Center, which opened in October 2008, is supposedly the largest shopping center in Europe. Inside we saw hundreds of people shopping at stores that ranged from Prada and Gucci to Nike and Adidas to H & M and other [slightly] more inexpensive stores. The mall was so big that there were several interactive map kiosks that would map out routes to certain stores for people. To read more about the mall, see Westfield’s website, http://uk.westfield.com/london/centre-information/about. Most of the shoppers here seemed to be white, probably native British. Both the shoppers and the elegant, silver architecture were a stark contrast to the colorful and cosmopolitan nature of the much smaller market. It seemed very strange that such a huge concentration of high-end stores was right in the middle of an area of so many immigrants. It did not match the streets around the market at all, but we noticed that there seemed to be more commercial development taking place on the other side of the mall.

Tags: 2010 Benjamin · 2010 Holly · 2010 Luke · Markets

Rachel and Ben Go To Barbican

August 26th, 2010 · 3 Comments

Upon departure from our safe haven at the Arran House, we attempted to navigate the streets of London to no avail. While aimlessly wandering, we stumbled upon such landmarks as the British Museum and the University of London, essentially touring the greater London area for a thorough hour. After questioning a few pedestrians and going in the wrong direction on more than one occasion, eventually we made it to the Euston Square Tube Station. We boarded the train and set out for the Barbican stop located on the Metropolitan Line.

The name Barbican was chosen for the train station in 1968 as an alternative to the former name of “Aldersgate”, renamed for the famous Barbican Centre, the largest performing arts centre in all of Europe.

The general feeling of the Barbican area of London was a sophisticated, high class, multi faceted slice of society in which the arts and business thrive. We visited the Barbican Centre, a beautiful achievement in the arts (among them, surrealistic modern art, dance, music, and theater). We briefly viewed an exhibit that was on display courtesy of John Bock. In the back of the Centre was a great fountain display accompanied by hipsters and coffee shop-goers lined with elegant churchlike buildings from the days of old. When we made our way further towards the Business and Commercial area of Barbican, we found many towering, glass company buildings. Even further down the road we encountered many shops before we embarked on the journey home via the Tube.

On the way back we enjoyed a scrumptious local Italian-ish dinner at a restaurant near the Euston train station. After the meal, we hopped back on the train and took the Northern Line of the Tube from the Euston station to the Goodge St. station, and returned safely home to the Arran House (in the pouring rain).

Tags: 2010 Benjamin · 2010 Rachel