Entries Tagged as '2010 Emily'
September 21st, 2010 · No Comments
Probably Les Mis was my least satisfying theater going experience in London (and I did enjoy it: I enjoyed every play that I went to). It’s strange to say, because I had been wanting to see Les Mis for years. And don’t get me wrong: everything about the play, from the acting to the lighting to the music was top notch. But somehow, the nearly perfect production left me unsatisfied. My main problem with the play was that the plot was so full and neat that I had trouble being swept up in it. So many important and often tragic events happened in so little time that I found myself lagging behind emotionally. The ending was a little too neat to feel genuine; by the end mostly everyone is dead but the male and female leads (who of course end up together). I left wanting something more, although I thoroughly enjoyed the music.
39 Steps, while probably not very innovative, and definitely not deep or reflective, felt full of energy in a way that Les Mis was not. I think that this was because I did not know what to expect going in, and the play was hilarious and unafraid to make fun of itself. Probably the funniest moments in the entire production were those in which we were made very aware that we were watching a play: the use of windows an doors as props, and the scene on the train in which the actors responded physically to the train’s imagined movement. More interesting and funny surprises were in the staging of the play than in the plot. 39 Steps was as much as a crowd pleaser as Les Mis, though in a different way, and it felt more alive to me.
I even found the Habit of Art more interesting than both in way, although it certainly did not hold my attention in the same way. Risks were clearly taken, right down to the bright florescent lighting used throughout the play to create the feel of a rehearsal. Although I had trouble sympathizing with the characters, and had a negative visceral reaction to some aspects (like the urination in the sink, and the apparent stench of the apartment), but I guess that even my negative reactions were an accomplishment on the part of the play, since they were clearly intended. The Habit of Art stayed with me longer than the other plays we saw because it had me reflecting on why it was written as it was, and on the connection between the lives of the actor-characters and the lives of the two famous “artists” in the play within the play. So although I was not amazed at the end of The Habit of Art, I was definitely satisfied.
I am definitely glad that London is home to so much innovative theater, and that we had the opportunity to experience some of it. I wish that I had time to see more plays in London, and I look forward to finding out what the theaters in Norwich have to offer.
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September 21st, 2010 · No Comments
One of the most surprising and fascinating aspects of London for me was how international the city is. In most parts of town, when walking around looking for lunch, we are easily able to find restaurants serving food from five or six different cultures. In the East End, a single building was used as a church, then a synagogue, and now a mosque. Walking down the street, I have heard a number of different languages spoken, some that I do not even recognize. Perhaps the most fascinating opportunity we were given to explore the multi-cultural aspect of London was the chance to visit places of worship belonging to a number of different religious groups in London. I found it especially interesting that to observe the ways in which the religious groups attempt to bridge the gaps that inevitably exist in such a multi-cultural, multi-faith city.
The fact that most of our guides mentioned involvement in interfaith projects demonstrates that London’s various religious communities are all dealing with living in a multicultural cities by engaging and trying to understand on another (at least partially). I find it interesting that only the churches that we visited did not describe involvement in interfaith organizations. I am fairly sure that Christians actually do participate. However, all of the other religious groups are minorities in London, and it is likely that Christian groups (and specifically Anglicans) do not feel a need to advertise their involvement to visitors because they do not assume automatically that their visitors are from different religious backgrounds from their own. For minority groups, I think that talking about this involvement to visitors is an important way to express common ground by expressing connections with other groups that the visitors probably associate with or belong to. At the Hindu mandir, our guide also talked about a number of famous leaders from other religious groups who have visited the Mandir (again I think, to find common ground with us).
When we visited a mosque, as our guide told us about Islam he constantly pointed out similarities with Christianity and Judaism. Although these similarities are accurate, he clearly stressed them, because assuming that we came from Jewish or Christian backgrounds, he wanted us to be able to appreciate Islam by relating it to our own traditions. Although the effort probably could have been carried out better, and probably the specific tensions currently surrounding perceptions of Islam, the community at the Mosque clearly makes an effort daily to break down barriers.
Ultimately, I think that by welcoming us in to their worship space learn about their religions, all of the minority groups that we visited expressed a commitment to breaking down some of the barriers with other religious groups.
- The Mandir that we visited (from the Mandir’s website)
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September 21st, 2010 · 1 Comment
Since I’m most of my visits to pubs have been for meals, I’ll use my pub post to talk about the meal that I’ve ordered most often: fish and chips. George Orwell describes food as something that varies from pub to pup: to some extent, this is still the case, however, fish and chips is a constant, and in fact it is very similar from one pub to the next.
The presentation of fish and chips in pubs shows a definite lack of pretension. On the menus, the dish is usually labeled as just “fish and chips,” sometimes, “served with mushy peas.” And what you get on your plate is just that: fried fish, sometimes over the chips, and sometimes next to them, with tarter sauce, but no more fancy sauces or toppings besides those such as catchup and vinegar that are already on the table. Customers are free eat any of the condiments on the table with their fish and chips. My first time ordering fish and chips, I was not sure what mushy peas would be, but they are exactly what their title suggests, definitely mushy, and not very much like vegetables, served simply in a small container or on the plate with the fish and chips. At the Court, which much of our group has frequented, fish and chips meals are offered in medium and large serving sizes. This, as well as the presence of vinegar, catchup etc. shows that customers are familiar with ordering fish and chips, and have specific preferences.
After ordering fish and chips at a few restaurants that are were pubs, I realized that the quality of the same meal decreased dramatically. To be fair however, these restaurants were both in highly touristy areas, one by the British Museum, and the other in Bath. At both, I was served more hard breading than fish, and the fish itself did not taste nearly as fresh. Since the two fish dishes were so similar, I wonder if they got the fish frozen and already breaded from the same provider. The fish and chips at both of these restaurants also cost over seven pounds, as compared to the five or six pounds that I usually spent on the same (and better) meal at pubs. Clearly, the touristy restaurants do not need to worry about providing their customers with good food, because they get new customers who do not know where to find good food every day. The difference in quality demonstrates that people who know where to go, and are truly looking for a good meal go to pubs.
Something else that I noticed about eating meals at pubs, is that although the food is simple, they are certainly not designed for quick meals. After we order, food can take upwards of fifteen minutes to arrive. When I ate lunch with a few other students during a forty-five minute lunch break, we were left with only five or ten minutes to eat after our food arrived, and inevitably we were a little late to get back to class. I think that this is because pubs are truly places to hang out and to relax, instead of simply places to go for a meal. Whether going for an evening out or just a plate of fish and chips for lunch, customers are expected to take their time, and enjoy socializing with the people they are there with, instead of just eating and leaving.
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September 20th, 2010 · 1 Comment
I’m a slow museum goer. I like to read all of the text as I go through, and when at an art museum, I tend to find a few paintings to focus on for, say fifteen minutes each, looking closely, and then backing up again, trying to discover the secret to the artist’s technique in the brushstrokes. And so I’ve found the process of visiting museums in London frustrating for the same reason that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the experience: the collections at most of the museums I have visited here are just too expansive to see everything in a single afternoon.
The most extreme example is the Victoria and Albert Museum: each room is overwhelmingly full of objects, and almost every object is accompanied by a full paragraph of text. So fairly early in my visit there, I abandoned trying to read everything and even walked through some rooms without stopping, in order to use my time to really get a sense of the full extent of the museum. Not surprisingly, I really enjoyed the few exhibits were simpler, less cluttered, and more focused, such as the sequence of Peter Rabbit illustrations (which was a fun surprise). However, among the clutter I also stumbled on some amazing contemporary pottery within the Japanese exhibit, simply because it happened to catch my eye. In an entirely different part of the museum I saw some oil sketches by John Constable that looked surprisingly impressionist, compared to his typical, more realistic, complete landscape paintings. Over all, I was able to see plenty that I found interesting, despite skipping items and full exhibits along the way. However, the experience was somewhat stressful, since I knew that I had so little time to see so much.
In some of the art museums that showed mostly paintings I ended up needing to skim the collections as well. On my first visit to the National Gallery, I ended up looking at only the rooms that featured impressionist and post impressionist paintings since I love looking at paintings by these particular artists, and therefore spent a lot of time in front of each individual painting. (I discovered a new favorite Van Gogh painting, and a photo of it is attached to this post.) When I went back about a week later to see the rest of the museum, I still had to skip a lot of paintings and captions in order to get through see a variety. The skimming process inevitably led me to focus on finding the more famous paintings, such as Van Eyke’s Arnolfini Wedding Portrait and Hogarth’s Marriage A La Mode series, and although these were not all that I looked at, I wish I could have spent time looking at more of what the museum had to offer. It’s a strange trade off to be in a museum with a lot of amazing art, but to not get to see all of it because of the sheer quantity and quality throughout. My experience in the Tate Britain was similar, though to a lesser extent: there was an entire wing devoted to Turner paintings, many of which were truly breathtaking to look at, and I found it difficult to decide how to ration my time in order to move on to other parts of the museum.
Van Gogh painting (photo from National Gallery website)
Turner Painting (from Tate website)
The Sir John Soane Museum was an exception because it was much smaller than the other museums that I visited and included very little text. However, I had little access to information about what I was seeing, so I left feeling much less satisfied than when I left the larger museums. I definitely prefer a museum having too much on display that I want to see, rather than not enough. I still cannot figure out whether most museums in London are more text heavy than those in the States, or whether I just read very little of it here simply because there is so much to see. Either way, I think that I could return to a few of the museums that I visited every day for a week, and still have more left to discover there.
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September 20th, 2010 · 1 Comment
Probably because I get a little claustrophobic in cities, my visits to parks have definitely been some of the highlights of my time in London. I enjoyed the sense of space, the people watching, and the sheer beauty of much of the landscaping. However, I did pick up on a certain artificiality throughout London’s Green space.
First of all, the lakes, which are in most cases absolutely beautiful, provide variety in scenery, are home to so many (sometimes exotic looking) species of birds, and they also provide a fun and novel activity for those who choose to rent paddle boats. In St. James Park, the bridge in the middle of the long, central pond is carefully positioned so that visitors can view Buckingham Palace in one direction and the London Eye in the other. The sheer overcrowding of the birds (and their excrement), especially in St. James Park makes me slightly uncomfortable. It seems as though London attempts to make up for the obvious lack of wildlife in the rest of its urban environment by crowding high quantities into small, carefully designated areas. In the “wetlands” area in Regent’s Park, I noticed a rat basking by the water’s edge along side the usual variety of birds. It goes to show I think, that it is impossible to completely keep out the less picturesque aspects of the city.
The gardens that I visited, and especially those in Regents Park were absolutely beautiful. Signs pointed out over twenty different species of roses, and everyone who I saw seemed to walk through slowly. However, when I reflected on how often the grass must be cut, to keep it that short and the precise patterns in which the plants were arranged, the set up seemed more like a human achievement than natural beauty. Hours of work daily clearly go in to maintaining the gardens.
Playgrounds in London’s parks also seemed equally controlled . Every playground that I have seen so far is fenced in, and most do not allow people in unless they have children with them. These playgrounds, which are often large and colorful, must be a welcome refuge to parents who live in the city and are accustomed to having to constantly watch their children in all public places. They definitely reinforce my impression that London makes it a priority to provide leisure space, but only carefully controlled leisure space.
That said, anyone is free to walk into the vast majority of London’s parks. People from all walks of life go there, though it is not a place to interact with strangers. It is socially acceptable to be alone, with large groups of friends or family, or anything in between. In many there is enough space to talk loudly, but I was able to find somewhere quiet in Regents Park to sit and read a book. Maybe all of the control allows for a greater sense of freedom.
St. James Park (Personal Photo)
Hyde Park (personal photo)
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September 19th, 2010 · No Comments
As you all probably know, the Jewish high holidays, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur were over this past week and a half. The combination of these days and being in a new place has, along with making me more than a little homesick, made me curious to explore Jewish communities in London. I was lucky enough to encounter three very Jewish communities here: the West London Synagogue, which I attended for Rosh Hashanah services, the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, for Yom Kippur services, and The Central London Synagogue, which we visited as a group.
As with the various Jewish communities in the States, these three synagogues were drastically different from one another. The Central London Synagogue (where I did not attend a service), is Orthodox. I could tell the moment that we walked in, based on the layout of the sanctuary, with separate seating for men and women. The West London Synagogue is Reform, but I did not experience the type of Reform Jewish service that I am accustomed to at home: it was over all more “traditional reform,” with less music, and even less Hebrew than I prefer. The Liberal Jewish Synagogue’s service was easily my favorite, probably because it was the most like the synagogue that I grew up attending. There, the audience sang along with the choir and the rabbi. Some folk music was incorporated, and I heard and read along with more Hebrew than at the Reform service, although many prayers were still said in English. I finished a very personally fulfilling Yom Kippur by taking a walk in Regents Park and talking with my family on the phone.
But what struck me more than the disorientation I experienced as I explored the various synagogues, was how much felt familiar. Fundamentally, I experienced the same prayers, similar music, a few people conspicuously wearing mesh sneakers with their dresses or suits, so as not to wear leather on Yom Kippur, and many congregants greeting each other enthusiastically with “Shana Tovah,” (have a good new year). (Even many aspects of the Orthodox synagogue were very familiar, though I do not agree with much of the Orthodox viewpoint.) It made me think of what I was often told by adults when I was younger, but never gave much thought to: wherever in the world I go, I can find something familiar by visiting a Jewish community.
Despite (and maybe because of) the familiarity, I was startled near the end of the first service I attended to hear a prayer for the queen. I wondered if it was historically based, maybe something required in all religious services in England during a certain time period. But this added prayer turned out a difference that demonstrated another similarity.
Our guide at the Orthodox synagogue that we visited explained a stained glass window that honored the Queen by telling us that a prayer for the Queen is added because the safety of the Jews always depends on the safety of the country in which they are living. Therefore, the prayer for the Queen corresponds to the prayer briefly said at my synagogue at home for peace within “our nation.” So saying a prayer for “our Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth,” is just a very English way of following a custom that I have seen in services for my whole life. I wonder how many other differences in Jewish customs and synagogues worldwide can be traced back to the same ideas as one another.
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September 15th, 2010 · 4 Comments
Last summer, when I visited the Acropolis Museum in Greece with my family, I did not know much about the controversy surrounding the Elgin marbles. It was probably the most remarkable museum that I have seen (including those in London), with a transparent glass floor at the bottom through which I could see the walls and streets of ancient Athens, revealed by an archeological dig. As I moved up through the museum, I saw countless beautiful statues and painted vases.
However, the most strongly featured exhibit was that on the top floor: the pediments, metopes, and frieze from the Parthenon. The collection was arranged in the exact size, shape and orientation of the Parthenon. Pieces from each category of ornamentation were conspicuously missing: full size models of them were interspersed with originals, mostly marked with plaques that said “BM,” for British museum and a few that named other museums worldwide as the thieves in question. One of Greece’s goals in building the new Acropolis Museum was to make its argument for the returning of the marbles, and the museum provided many not-so-subtle hints throughout its exhibitions that they should be returned, (such as an animated video in which the Elgin’s men, dressed in black, climb the Parthenon, pick up the statues and other artifacts, and walk away with them). Indeed, it would add to the experience of seeing statues built to adorn the Parthenon, to see the Parthenon itself through the enormous glass windows that surround the top gallery in the Acropolis Museum.
Fast forward to the Parthenon exhibit in the British museum. Here, there are no windows, and the only representation of the statues outside of the British museum’s collection is on a television screen in a side gallery. Like at the Acropolis museum, the Parthenon display is set up in the shape of the Parthenon itself, with the frieze and the metopes along the perimeter, and the statues from the pediments at either end. The statues (and especially the metopes, in which relief sculptures of battles with centaurs are carved), are individually beautifully crafted and some are in excellent condition, probably both because Elgin removed the very best of the statues from the site of the Parthenon, and because some damage has come to the collection in Greece since. Despite the high quality and obvious effort on the British Museum’s part to display the marbles so that visitors can picture what they would have looked like at the Parthenon, the effect is simply not the same.
The British Museum makes a pamphlet available to visitors that outlines their argument for keeping the marbles. It explains that Elgin took the Marbles with the full permission of the Ottoman authorities in Greece at the time. However, I see this as a case of interaction between two imperial forces, not between Elgin and “Greece” as the political and cultural entity that it is today. However legal the transaction was considered by the few individuals involved, it is likely that the results would have been different if Elgin had negotiated with someone with a higher stake in Greece’s cultural identity than a foreign, occupying power. The pamphlet also claims that the marbles should stay in London because they represent the cultural heritage of the entire western world, rather than only Greece. However, what claim does Britain have to being the ideal place to display everything that makes up the cultural history of all of Europe? If the debate centers around the well being of the statues themselves, it will go nowhere, because both the British Museum and the Acropolis Museum now have more than adequate facilities to preserve and display the Elgin Marbles.
This debate seems to have no logical conclusion. However, after experiencing seeing some of the statues (and through the plaster models, the entire set), at the location of their original home, I believe that Greece has a stronger cultural and historical claim. I realize that beginning to return artifacts would not be in the British museum’s best interest. However, returning some famous artifacts (and only to those countries that can care for them), would begin to send a message to the world that Britain is willing to address the wrongs committed during its imperialist past. It would probably also free up some exhibition space for some fantastic artifacts that are currently sitting in storage.
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September 7th, 2010 · 1 Comment
As most of the group made their plans to attend Notting Hill Carnival, I was feeling a little tired of crowds. I like cities, but in moderation, and after about a week in London I did not feel up to spending an afternoon shoulder to shoulder with complete strangers. So I decided to go over to the Tate Modern, which I had been curious about since our arrival.
The Tate was a mixed experience. I enjoy certain modern art, but usually only when it portrays something relatively concrete, and when I can still see the artist’s method. I love looking at post-impressionist art from the beginning of the twentieth century, but I feel less inspired when it comes to newer “modern” art. So I had trouble connecting with the majority of what the Tate had on display, which fell into a more abstract category. Still, the museum managed to hold my attention throughout, partially, I think, because of the layout: I never knew what I would find in the next room.
When I was nearly ready to leave the museum, I walked out into the hallway between the exhibits, in which big glass windows overlook a central lobby area. Visitors were gathered around the windows, looking down at something. I found an opening between the masses of onlookers, and down through the window myself. I saw that the floor of an enormous space in the lobby that had been empty earlier in the afternoon was now covered in black and white shapes, arranged like an abstract painting.
I went downstairs and made my way through the crowd to get a better view. I discovered that the installation was actually an enormous stage for a modern dance performance, and I was lucky enough to find a seat near the perimeter. Upwards of fifty dancers moved across the stage dressed in black and white, to expertly blended electronic and rock music. I noticed however that while the dancers who were featured were clearly professionally trained, and mesmerizing to watch (one stood on her head with only one hand on a ballet barre for support while moving her feet through the air perfectly in time to the music), others who moved in large groups performed only simple dance steps.
I later looked up the performance on the Tate Modern’s website to learn more. I found out that Michael Clark, the choreographer included seventy-five non-dancers in the performance (while also including his dance company- responsible for the acrobatics). This explained the disparity in skill level within the performance, but I still marvel at how small an impression that disparity made on me at the time. The parts of the dance that included the non-dancers were beautiful because of the sheer number of individuals moving in unison, so I was able to gloss over (I guess as Clark intended) any roughness in the individual dancers’ movement.
I still question however, why Clark would make the effort to train non-dancers, when more dancers (who I assume he could find) could have performed the same piece with greater grace and fewer rehearsals. I guess the aims of modern art and explains how the dance performance fits with the Tate Modern’s collection. Modern art consistently challenges whatever conventions come before. When we look at works of art in the Tate Modern, we ask ourselves (among other questions like, what’s a black square on a canvas doing in a museum?) whether the ideas behind them are original. So following a long tradition of ‘challenging,’ Clark challenged the convention that only highly trained dancers should perform in a large scale, professional level performance. There’s nothing more modern than that.
Dance Performance (personal photo)
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September 3rd, 2010 · 2 Comments
Before visiting the National Portrait Gallery today, I predicted that while much of the museum would feature only the white rich and famous, the contemporary collection at least would attempt to capture the multi-ethnic character of England. In that regard I was disappointed. In terms of subject matter, the museum evolved very little throughout.
As I finished the final gallery, I gradually realized that this particular museum does not portray (and does not intend to portray) the faces of England as a whole. In fact, The “About Us,” section of the National Portrait Gallery’s website explains that the museum’s goal is to, “promote through the medium of portraits the appreciation and understanding of the men and women who have made and are making British history and culture.” This does not mean the day to day making of history and culture, accomplished by the people who make up its population. Its purpose is first and foremost to portray the individuals who have made it into the history book, and unfortunately, that group remains fairly homogeneous.
However, the Portrait Gallery does show change through the years in the art of portraiture. Throughout most of the museum, any given time period has a corresponding style. Clues are in the crafting of every detail, down to the folds in the fabric of the sitters’ clothing: for example, in any painting in the Tudor section, the fabric tends to look particularly stiff. Many of these paintings can be easily assigned to a time period, but much less easily to a particular artist. Since the main goal of portraiture for many years was to portray the sitter in a flattering, distinguished, and fashionable light, creativity was low in priority.
The newest paintings depart from this long tradition of conformity. One room contains numerous paintings of nearly photographic quality, among a few actual photographs of members of the current royal family. These look in a sense tradition to an extreme, since they so closely achieve the old goal of capturing exact but flattering likenesses of the subjects. However, the room around the corner features three Andy Warhol prints of Queen Elizabeth II, in which features are simplified in bright colors. In these, the queen is a pop culture icon first and foremost. Some of the recent paintings were so thick with paint or otherwise distorted, that painting style itself was more prominent than the famous individual’s features.
Probably not coincidentally, the contemporary section contained many more self portraits by artists. With creativity as a main focus of portraiture today, the artists themselves are ready subjects for their own experimentation.
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Today we were assigned to explore the Camden Street Market and the Stable Market. Four stops north of Goodge station we emerged into a neighborhood where London’s infamous punk culture is still thriving. Head shops, tattoo parlors, and jazz and rock bars lined the street as we made our way to the Camden Street Market. Residing in an empty lot designated for the market, the rows of tents provided the eager shoppers with clothing. After only a few minutes the group realized that most of the stands, which were run mostly by Southern and Eastern Asian immigrants, were hocking the same articles of clothing. Cheaply made summer dresses, sweaters, and tee shirts sporting ironic sayings and American pop culture icons were only a few of the items that we passed over and over again as we looked through all of the different tents. Although most of the garments did not have price tags on them, the proprietors were quick to offer “great” deals to us, which would become even “greater” deals after we had begun to walk away.
After emerging from the Camden Street Market we searched the neighborhood for the Stable Market. After around 30 minutes of searching (passing pubs with such colorful names as, “The Elephants Head,” “The Spread Eagle,” or my personal favorite “The World’s End”) we finally stumbled upon a crowd of people looking over the edge of a bridge. As we looked over ourselves to see what all of the fuss was, and soon uncovered the Camden Lock Market, and the Stable Market beyond it. These made up a sprawling market that seemed to run for miles. In the Camden Street Market, the shop keepers were mostly English citizens who made their living selling among other things, hand made crafts, art, clothing, and antiques. The shops at the center of Stable Market are housed in the dozens of old stables where over 250 of London’s horses were housed in the centuries before the automotive revolution. The market boasted as much diversity in its food as it did in its vast variety of vintage clothing. The mass of stalls prepared food from every continent (including Antarctica whose population of penguins eat mostly raw fish), which was perhaps, a vague reminder of the worldwide empire that was once ruled from London, as well as a sign of the how multicultural the city has become. After three hours of adventuring through the market we were unable to see all of it’s shops or follow every vein of the market. Some highlights we saw were a spontaneous drum circle that had sprouted in the middle of an African drum store, a stall that offered foot messages to customers by having them soak their feet in a tank filled with fish, and cup cakes so small and well decorated that they would have put anything on the food network to shame. After a quick meal by the little river that snaked through the neighborhood, we gathered the bounty of dresses and skirts the girls of the group had acquired and regretfully said goodbye to the market, vowing to return again.
For more information see http://www.stablesmarket.com/
And for Time Out’s guide to the Camden Markets see http://admin.timeout.com/london/shopping/features/8798/Camden_Market_guide.html
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