Entries Tagged as '2010 Dennis'
September 21st, 2010 · 1 Comment
We’ve visited five places of worship in our time here: the Swaminarayan Mandir, Central Synagogue, East London Mosque, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and Westminster Abbey. I include the Abbey with extreme hesitation, but ultimately do so because you have to pay if you visit like we did, but it’s free if you want to worship (look under “entrance fees”). Let’s break it down scientifically.
Mandir, Mosque, and Synagogue:
Confession (pun intended): before these three visits, I had never entered a non-Christian place of worship. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but generally found all three to be a pleasant experience. Part of me wishes we were able to go to a smaller place of worship and see a mandir, mosque, or synagogue that was strictly for research. But they probably would not be nearly as accommodating to a group of 27, and we also would have missed out on the community outreach we saw at the places that we went to. Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism are very different religions (although not as different as accounts of “religious” warfare would have one believe). One thing I saw that differentiated them as a group from the Christianity that I’m more acquainted with, though was the emphasis on serving the local community. In no way am I saying that these religions are more concerned with service than Christianity; all four religions are too massive to make generalizations like that. I am saying, however, that the Catholic churches that I’ve grown up with take collections for feeding and proselytizing faraway lands. BAPS, the Central Synagogue, and the East London Mosque were all very concerned with their very local community of believers.
St. Paul’s & Westminster:
Borderline places of worship. This did not devalue either place for me in the least; Westminster Abbey is just so mind-blowingly historic that I still haven’t figured out a way to synthesize what I saw there. And St. Paul’s remains a spectacular triumph of architectural design. Still, though, all I was able to pick up about Anglicanism in these two outings was through indirect encounters. After being in these two places, my gut tells me that the Church of England has been culturalized, that it isn’t about the faith. But I really, really wish I went to a run-of-the-mill Anglican church on a Sunday morning. Without having done that, I can’t add anything to the numbers that anyone can read.
Tags: 2010 Dennis · Churches and Cathedrals
September 21st, 2010 · 1 Comment
I’ve tried to keep my eyes and mind open in London, and I think in a lot of ways, I’ve succeeded. There have been a lot of experiences that wouldn’t have necessarily been my first choice, but afterwards I was glad I got involved in. Now that that’s out of the way, my inner fourth grader would like to make the following announcement: I don’t like museums. Never have. It would be pointless to try to present an argument justifying this, but I start out with it so the reader can understand the glasses through which I’ve viewed museums over the last four weeks.
The most striking feature of the British Museum has been the totally unearned and insane sense of ownership of foreign objects, particularly Elgin’s Marbles. When you go into the main exhibit containing the Marbles, here’s the first thing you see:
Here’s an answer key, I can save you five minutes that would have otherwise been spent reading that absurd leaflet.
Because the British Museum stole them!
Lord Elgin stole them and then ran out of money and sold them to the BM!
The Parthenon sculptures back, because you stole them!
Actually, that’s the second most striking feature of the BM. Despite my previously whiny comments about museums, I couldn’t help but be totally blown away by some of the objects. Within ten minutes, you could see arguably the most famous object in history (the Rosetta Stone) and the most famous human body in history (the Lindow Man). Unbelievable.
Back to the question of ownership, though. One of the prompts for this blog entry is “What does it tell you about Britain?” Every time that I’ve seen something that seemed out of the ordinary, I’ve tried to remember to ask myself “Is that different because it’s British, or is it different for a totally separate reason?” With the Elgin Marbles, I instantly attributed the hubris of that situation to Britishness. But the same exact problem exists in a Berlin museum (you have to go to the second page of that story), among others. And I guess if I learned from museums that I can’t automatically blame the Brits for being Brits, then I learned a lot.
Tags: 2010 Dennis
September 21st, 2010 · 1 Comment
While I did take an American theatre class this summer, it was at Villanova, which let’s face it, is no Dickinson. And anyway, I’m not qualified to the point where I could say anything valuable about the theatrical worth about the three plays we saw as a group, so I’ll try to stick to more tangential attributes of the three outings. (For the record, my rankings, from most to least favorite: 1. “The Habit of Art” 2. “The Merry Wives of Windsor” 3. “39 Steps”)
via Google Images
I did not find the backstage tour of the National Theatre particularly fascinating. It just struck me as a lot of inside baseball about producing plays; perhaps if I knew more about the nitty-gritty of theatre, I would have enjoyed it more. But as we walked through the facility, something slowly began to hit me: there is nothing remotely comparable to this venue back in the States. On top of it being spectacularly massive, the NT also receives substantial subsidies from the national government. I’m not sure if I’m willing to make the blanket statement that Britain is more willing to spend taxpayer dollars on fine arts, as the NEA at home is a great, strongly funded institution. There can be no question however, that when it comes to the particular art of theatre, Britain has a certain national pride in the craft that leads to much stronger support for it.
We’ve heard from both Rick Fisher and John The Tour Guide that the Globe is a silly endeavor, with Mr. Fisher going as far to call it “fake Shakespeare.” That said, it was undeniably cool to lean on the stage and pretend to myself for a minute that Shakespeare’s company performed in a similar setting in the same place. And there was an element of the Elizabethan audience (infamous for its rowdiness) as the Nalgene bottle full of wine belonging to the gentleman standing next to us slowly was emptied as Falstaff’s nefarious plot was uncovered. By the time “So Merrily” was performed at the end, our neighbor was literally punching the stage as he thought he was tapping in time with the song. So while I didn’t enjoy the play as much as that guy, I had a good time at the Globe.
via Google Images
39 Steps was my least favorite of the three plays, but I still enjoyed it. The number one takeaway for me was that British humor is simply different. I found the play funny on the whole; that said, there were multiple moments where I did not laugh at all and the Brits in the audience were rolling on the floor.
Tags: 2010 Dennis · Theatre
September 21st, 2010 · 2 Comments
Before I delve into in analysis of the pubs I’ve experienced in our short month here, I thought I’d start with my two favorite English pub moments. Then I’ll follow up with what I didn’t like, what I did, and a response to Orwell.
First, this evening while watching Tottenham-Arsenal at The Rising Sun, I was involved in the following exchange with an Arsenal fan we had been talking on and off for ~30 minutes:
“Hey, could you guys watch our bags while we go out for a smoke?”
“Yeah, sure, no problem.”
(in a patronizing voice) “Aw, see how nice these Americans are, looking out for us.”
“I mean, we’ve been doing it since World War 2.”
“That’s true, but if you don’t mind me saying so, you could have started earlier, we lost a lot of good coats and bags.”
Second, at the Punch & Judy in Covent Garden (where we ended up leaving sans drink due to logistical challenges) I was the only one in a group of five Americans to get carded. I was relentlessly mocked for this. I’ll remember this moment when we’re 40 and you all look 60, guys. Anyway, now for the actual analysis.
1) What I liked: the beer itself, the soccer, the aesthetics. It seems like an oversimplification of the question, but I honestly feel like it makes a difference in responding to pubs being “the center of British sociability.” In America, where the beer at bars (in my limited experience) sucks, it creates an atmosphere of just trying to get drunk. But if the beer is good, if you can genuinely just sit back and enjoy a pint, that becomes an end in of itself rather than just a means to get drunk and whatever that entails. Another thing that I was a major fan of was that physical beauty was valued at some pubs. While I agree with Mary that the Bank of England isn’t perfect, I was blown away by the architecture and thoroughly enjoyed the torches out front.
2) What I didn’t like: the naked corporate-ness. The menu, down to the font, was exactly the same at the Marlborough Arms/Rising Sun and Court/Rocket respectively. By itself, I don’t care about the menu thing. Pub food stinks no matter where you go. But somewhere deep inside, it bugged me that these pubs were just part of a syndicate and made no attempt to hide it. While on the topic of those four pubs, I simultaneously loved and hated the Rocket and Court. I enjoyed the vibe, the American music, and frankly feeling at home (each time we went to The Rocket, we bumped into a different group of American college students studying abroad). But I hated that I was essentially cheating on England in these places, that they were sucking the Britishness out of the pub for a few American dollars.
3) Orwell’s Ten Commandments of Pubs:
1. draught stout
2. open fires
3. cheap meals
4. a garden
5. motherly barmaids
6. no radio, no loud drunks, games secluded
7. children are allowed
8. china mugs
9. sells tobacco
10. Victorian architecture
It’s not my style to rip somebody, but George Orwell needs to be ripped for this article. Right off of the bat, Nos. 7 and 9 don’t fly with me. I hate tobacco, and because my summer job (which I do love) involves children, one could argue that at times the very purpose of going to the pub would be to get away from kids. Usually, using personal preferences to counter an argument means that your own argument is fairly weak. But in this case, it illustrates why I refuse to put “The Moon Under Water” on a pedestal: all Orwell describes is his personal preferences. There is a pub in London for everyone’s own particular peccadilloes, and in most cases, none is inherently superior to another; it’s just a question of personality.
Tags: 2010 Dennis · Pubs
September 19th, 2010 · 1 Comment
Note: much of the following appears, verbatim, in this Thursday’s Dickinsonian. The formatless-format is explained there, but the manner in which it is done there is incongruous with this blog.
As our syllabus eloquently says, “London is too vast—as both a place and an idea—to grasp it all.” Conveniently, it’s more my style anyway to tell a few short anecdotes and leave it to the reader to weave them together rather than give one lengthy narrative.
That said, here are a few random moments that I’ll remember well after we’re back in the states.
On a subway ride back from Westminster one Sunday, a large man wearing a suit and tie (although his collar was covered in food) came up ranting and raving to our group of four Americans. “That guy sitting next to me over there was [fondling] his girlfriend! I don’t care if you do it a hundred times at home, but not on the f**king Tube! I AM TRYING TO CONCENTRATE!” It should be noted that this man, allegedly deep in concentration, was not reading, working, or listening to music. He was simply “trying to concentrate.” At first, I found this hilarious. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought it articulated the philosophy of the stoic and silent Brits we see every day on the Tube. Many do not read, many do not listen to music. But all do not speak to or make eye contact with each other. They’re just trying to concentrate.
British women, or at least women in London, are really tall.
We’ve taken all kinds of tours. We’ve toured places: Westminster Abbey, St. Paul Cathedral, the University of Oxford, Greenwich, Bloomsbury, the East End, and Stratford. We’ve done tours with themes: Marx’s London, Roman London, Restoration London. As Pat put it, though, “I’d like to take a trash cans, bathrooms, and water fountains tour, as there are none of those things in this city.” You can walk for miles in Westminster and not see a single trash can; they have all been removed from the area around Parliament and the prime minister’s residence because of susceptibility to terrorist attacks.
Things in London close very early by American standards. Most restaurants outside of Burger King and McDonald’s are closed by 9:00 (or, as it’s known here, 21:00) and earlier on Sundays. So it was a major pleasant surprise when a few of us found a Subway that was open nightly until 5:00 AM. But it was extremely bewildering? Why this Subway, when four more from the same chain within two miles close around the usual London time?
This mystery was solved when it was realized that there was a strip club across the street that was open until 4:00 AM nightly.
Tags: 2010 Dennis · Uncategorized
September 17th, 2010 · 2 Comments
Dave Chappelle has an old routine where he talks about President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky: “I always wondered what it would be like to be that famous. Monica has a book out now, which made me think that nobody has a pickup line that good: ‘Sleep with me, there’s a future in it!’” Likewise, there are many writers whose work remains immortal. But only one is that famous that his childhood home is simply referred to as “The Birthplace”: William Shakespeare. It was cool to visit the place where Shakespeare (or, as one of the worst lyrics in the history of music refer to him, the guy who “wrote a whole bunch of sonnets”) was born and is buried. Nobody calls it Stratford, though. It’s always, in hushed tones, “The Birthplace.”
After a mere twenty days here, I can’t pretend to have a great feel for the national psyche of the Brits. But it seems that they have a special place in their hearts and minds for heroes. Other than Shakespeare, I’ve obliquely encountered two more people with massive social status in Britain: Winston Churchill and Wayne Rooney. A large group of us visited the Churchill Museum, which contains the Cabinet War Rooms that housed the British war effort during the Blitz. Despite the fact that Churchill was voted out of office nearly the second the war ended, he is treated as a demigod, repeatedly referred to (and we’ve heard this in other places as well) as “Britain’s greatest war leader.” A bold statement for a country that has been in many, many wars in its two millennia of existence. And then there’s Mr. Rooney. Just as we arrived, he found himself in the throes of a prostitution scandal. It did not help his cause that he employed said prostitute the night before he was to marry his pregnant wife Coleen, nor that he reportedly texted Coleen once she found out that it was “no big deal.” It seems easy to compare this case to that of Tiger Woods, but the difference here is that the mainstream papers (and not just tabloids) have relentlessly covered the case. And that’s the problem with heroes, in England, in America, or anywhere: they’re human, and when you find out, it’s a disaster.
Tags: 2010 Dennis
September 15th, 2010 · 6 Comments
When I first heard that the parks in this city were referred to as “London’s lungs,” I simply wrote it off (with no basis) to an inflated sense of self-importance. But now that I’ve visited five of the Royal Parks (Regent’s, Hyde, St. James’s, Green, and Kensington Gardens) I truly appreciate that these parks are giant green oases. Out of the five, I only stopped to walk around in St. James’s and Green; the rest I ran in, albeit many times. So there is a caveat that comes with my writings about Regent’s, Hyde, and Kensington Gardens. For a runner, how the workout went is inextricably tied to the perception of where the workout took place. I could be running in the most beautiful place in the world, but if I’m struggling to keep pace and then my knee starts to bother me, my memories of that place are going to be negative. With that in mind, here’s a quick breakdown, plus a note about the running culture I’ve experienced.
Regent’s Park: The park I have spent by far the most time in, and a place that I have fallen in love with. It seems like Regent’s is specifically intended for recreation, as there are massive open grass fields, some of which have rugby goal posts and soccer goals. Also, I have definitely seen more runners here than the four other parks. There is an element of the high society sense that is a bit more present at the other parks in the Inner Circle, which contains the Regent’s Park Boating Lake, some restaurants, and private land. If this blog entry were not already far too long, I would talk about how this is a classic metaphor for a center-periphery dispute.
St. James’s Park: Perhaps the polar opposite of Regent’s, but along with Regent’s, one of my two favorite parks, for its stunning combination of history and natural beauty. St. James’s faces Parliament on one side, and Buckingham Palace on the other. Additionally, St. James gained notoriety during the Restoration period as a center of debauchery, as immortalized in this spectacular poem. What makes it Regent’s polar opposite is the fact that there is minimal recreation there. Mikey, Luke and I picked up on this fact when we came to throw a rugby ball around and slowly noticed that we were the only people exercising other than people running on the asphalt path. Well, it turns out that we were committing something of a faux pas, as ball sports are banned in the park.
Green Park: Beautiful, small, directly connected to St. James’s on the Buckingham Palace side. Not much else to say here, but I did get some great pictures.
Hyde Park: I did one 11 mile run that was split between here and Kensington Gardens. While I was not blown away by Hyde, I wish I had gone there more often (and will try to in our last week here) because of the sheer history: Crystal Palace, Speakers’ Corner, and countless concerts and sporting events. The impression I got in my time there was that for a park, there sure was a lot of cement. I did enjoy the lake, which I later learned was called The Serpentine and is the formal separation between Hyde and Kensington Gardens.
Kensington Gardens: While I found Kensington largely unremarkable, one thing that I enjoyed that it was very green. Unlike Regent’s, it isn’t chock full with playing fields and running trails, but it’s a place where you can run around in the grass as you like. Or at least I think it was allowed.
Long distance running is convenient as your chosen sport when you’re in a new city for the first time, as running through a city is a great way to explore it. Trying to run through and around the massive crowds on the sidewalks on the way to Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, and Regent’s Park has given me a true appreciation for just how crowded London is. The runner also cannot resist comparing running culture in a new place to that of his home. Many things are different: as usual, you always, always, always keep left. Driving on the roads, walking in the stairwells at Tube stations, and especially when running or cycling on the trails, you keep left. Back in the States, runners crossing paths will sometimes wave or nod at each other, acknowledging their comradeship in pain, boredom, and abs. I have adopted the habit here of waving to every single runner I cross paths with here, simply because none will ever wave back. In fact, many will actually avert their gaze in embarrassment. This fits in pretty well with Kate Fox’s “social dis-ease.” Another striking difference is that on any given run in London, you are likely to see dozens of burly men running with backpacks on. There’s really no other way to explain that one. Finally, one of my favorite routes thus far in the city involves a part run alongside Regent’s Canal. The Canal is frequented by party boats full of drunken Spanish and Dutch people. While I don’t speak a word of Dutch, and my five years of Spanish classes tend to fail me in real life, the taunts screamed at me from the boats sound distinctly like “Run, Forrest, run” and “Nice shorts, loser.”
On second thought, maybe the running culture isn’t so different here.
Tags: 2010 Dennis
September 3rd, 2010 · 1 Comment
First, who’s not in the National Portrait Gallery? Minorities! Honestly, even without the prompt, it would have been a slow realization that as we walked through room after room of white faces, something was missing. There was one freed slave portrayed in the audience of an abolitionist convention, and that was about it as far as paintings of minorities at the Gallery go.
Second, and more broadly, working class people are not in there. This, to me, is less upsetting as it’s just a natural consequence of the fact that only the upper crust can afford to have portraits commissioned. Hours after visiting the Gallery, though, the lack of minorities still rankles, for one simple reason. If a black or Asian or Latino family came to visit the Gallery, and one of the children asked their parents “Why don’t any of these people look like us?” the parents would have no good answer.
We were supposed to pick one portrait that we found particularly affecting. As a political science major who has taken British History 244, though, I could not resist going with the dueling portraits of William Ewart Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli. Gladstone was the pillar of 19th century liberalism, while Disraeli was his counterpart on the right.
This is exactly how the two portraits (by the same artist, Sir John Everett Millais) appear in the Gallery. In the Victorian era, the two were the titans of Parliament, serving as Prime Minister six times collectively. There is much, much more on their epic personal and political rivalry here:
A favorite quote of mine on their lack of mutual respect, from Disraeli is “The difference between a misfortune and a calamity is this: If Gladstone fell into the Thames, it would be a misfortune. But if someone dragged him out again, that would be a calamity.”
Their respective portraits contain subtle and not so subtle bits of political imagery. First, Gladstone is facing to his left, while Disraeli is facing his right. The rest of what follows may be a bit of armchair psychology, but I believe it speaks volumes about both men.
– Gladstone has his hands folded, while Disraeli’s arms are folded in an aggressive posture. Disraeli was far more warlike as prime minister.
– Gladstone is looking towards the sky, while Disraeli’s gaze is a bit more earthward. This is in line with both men’s fundamental outlooks on life: Gladstone considered himself a great Christian moralist, while Disraeli preferred to concern himself with more earthly issues, considering Gladstone to be out of touch with the nitty-gritty of the world.
While the placing of these two portraits together obviously has an intended effect, that does not make the effect any less powerful. While standing in front of the two portraits, I felt like I could almost feel the hate flowing between these two great men, a great moment for a politics junkie like me.
Tags: 2010 Dennis · Museums
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Video on YouTube
After we got off the Tube at Covent Garden, we were a little disorientd so we asked a somewhat friendly-looking woman on the street for directions. In an eominous harbinger of our afternoon to come, she responded- in a dead flat American Midwestern accent- “Oh, I have no idea, it’s my first time here, too.” We soon realized the market was located just down the street. Within five minutes of entering, we found what the market was really about: a place for tourists and middle- and upper-middle-class locals to window shop and buy quasi-luxury items.
The first thing that surprised us about the market was the near total lack of ethnic food vendors. We actually only saw one food vendor, a fruit cart, despite the title Apple Market above the carts. Items for sale included handbags, jewelry, soaps, and other window shopping items. All of these were conspicuously advertised as “handmade,” creating a sense of authenticity for shoppers. Several of the vendors also sold paintings of the more traditional parts of London; items specifically for tourists. One vendor even had posters of American stars (i.e. Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe). These particular actresses are icons of higher class, which we felt reflected the classes that the market meant to attract. The area seemed to contain a lot of nouveaux rich items that would appeal to the middle- and upper-middle classes, as Fox suggests in Watching the English. The area seemed mostly designed for window shopping and watching free entertainment.
One of the entertainers, a melodramatic unicyclist, performed in front of St. Paul’s Church. There were two homeless men on the steps that most people seemed to be ignoring. The other historical area near the site was the Royal Opera House. To add to the artistic atmosphere, flags and various paintings hung along the market’s rafters.
We were surprised to find that most of the people in the area were white considering the amount of diversity in London. The people also seemed religiously neutral, compared to others we’ve seen elsewhere in London—we did not see any religious indicators, such as headscarves or yamoulkas.
The buzzword for the afternoon was definitely “homogeneity.” The market and its proprietors guarded the blandness of the place with extreme zeal. Ethnic restaurants (often chain restaurants) brandished flags with their countries of origin as if to make it obvious for tourists. A highlight of the unintentional comedy that this produced was a pub that hung a sign in the window saying: “Football colours are not permitted.”
The shops surrounding the market were equally lacking flavor. Many of the retailers were large American companies, such as: Oakley, Build-a-Bear, and Disney.
Amidst all this complaining about Covent Garden, it should be mentioned that the area felt extremely safe. We saw more young children in four hours today than we have seen in the fourty-eight hours we have been in London. The area was very family-friendly and also seemed to be a popular date spot for couples in their 30s and older. Also, the market was not totally soulless, as we had two fairly amusing encounters. First, we spotted a large group of men in rugby jerseys wearing obviously fake moustaches and Afro wigs. We felt compelled to ask them what drove them to do this, and the answer was that there was a rugby final at Wembley much later in the day. They came to the market to get drunk (although they seemed pretty well-behaved and claimed that they were neutral in support). Second, one of us gave in to the entreaties of a very haggard street salesman (wearing a lanyard with a card that said “WORKING, NOT BEGGING.” The card was not as unnecessary as it sounds) and bought a magazine from him. As he was clearly doing very poor business, we didn’t feel that bad chatting him up for ten minutes or so, a conversation dotted with some spectacular moments. The most memorable line was “You’re from the States then? You have Christmas, we have Christmas. But I have one big question: What the fuck is up with Thanksgiving? Seems like a bit of fraud to me.”
Tags: 2010 Dennis · 2010 Jesse · 2010 Mary · Markets
August 26th, 2010 · 1 Comment
This afternoon, we saw more of London than we bargained for. Our goal for the assignment was to visit the Kensington High Street (KHS) Tube stop; our navigational skills are clearly wanting at this stage in the game, as an 8 mile round trip took nearly two hours. The following is a recap of our jet-lagged travels.
We managed to go the wrong way out of the front door of the Arran House, as our goal was to take the Circle Line from the Euston Square stop to the KHS one. A genius plan, as we could cover the requirement to take a different route there and back by circumnavigating the Circle in opposite directions. Alas, that would have required making a left out of the Arran House. We made a right. We ended up stumbling on to the Tube at Tottenham Court Road, which could have been an only slightly shorter Tube trip. Fortunately, construction at the Bank stop thwarted our plans, and we took the Central Line all the way out to Liverpool Street before finally connecting to the Circle. Conservatively, this foray took 40 minutes. We took the simpler (and quicker) return path of the Circle back to Euston Square.
Unless it is indeed not as obvious as we think, the KHS station is named for the nearby Kensington Palace and Gardens. The Tube presumably stops there because the surrounding area is an upper class shopping district. The American supermarket Whole Foods, typically found in wealthier locales in the states, had a massive store right down the street from our stop. It is located in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
On our way to Kensington Palace, we stumbled upon a war monument dedicated to the men from Kensington who died in “The Great War.” The monument was situated just outside of an old church, St. Mary Abbotts. St. Mary is a Victorian building in the English Gothic revival style. (A church has been on that site since the 9th century.) Leaving, we got directions (albeit quite circuitous ones) to the palace from a church attendant. Our time was cut short in exploring the area around the palace and its gardens because of the rain. However, we did stumble upon the Romanian Embassy.
Who was on the street? Well, in our brief and informal survey of the neighborhood, there were a lot of pigeons, haughty rich people, tourists, and improbably, two policemen armed with automatic weapons and sidearms. (They followed us for almost two blocks). The area of the neighborhood that we walked in was largely a upper-middle-class shopping district; residences were not readily noticeable. The architecture was an eclectic mix of what appeared to be Victorian-era buildings and more modern stereotypical shopping centers.
Overall, it was quite an enjoyable adventure, despite the rain and the initial issues with the Tube.
Tags: 2010 Dennis · 2010 Stephenie