Entries Tagged as 'Anya'
Today I visited the Great Hospital for the last time, for their monthly Coffee Morning, held on the first Saturday of the month. The event took place in the Mackintosh Room, a multi-purpose hall at the heart of the Hospital’s grounds. Having baked a batch of double chocolate biscuits the night before, I presented my offering to the woman manning the bake sale. She immediately recognized me from St. Helen’s and asked if I was “the young woman doing the project on the Hospital.” I told her I was, and she called over a few of her friends to meet me. Edna eagerly asked if she could get me a cup of coffee.
– Yes, that’d be lovely, thank you.
– Do you take sugar?
– No, just black. Thank you. [I thought the English were supposed to be tea drinkers.]
I shook hands with a few women who remarked how kind it was of me to bring biscuits, and how nice it was to have “a young person” around. I was invited to sit down at a large, rectangular table towards the back of the room, next to the ‘Bring & Buy’ table, a mini tag tale-type affair with donated goods. A woman, seated at the table, who had bought a gold-colored picture frame asked me:
– Are you American or Canadian?
– American. I smiled, nodding.
– Oh, I was just wondering because I’ve just bought this picture frame and it has ‘Canada’ stamped on the back.
– Ah, small world! I wonder how it ended up here. [Cargo ship, probably,] I thought. I wondered how many things on the table had ‘China’ stamped on the bottom.
I sidled up next to Ernie, a spectacle-wearing widower who looked to be in his late seventies. I introduced myself but he was reluctant to shake my outstretched hand, and, in fact, I didn’t get his name until half-way through our conversation. He warmed up enough to grill me on my Hospital knowledge, however.
– My project is on the history of the Hospital: the foundation, the functions it had and the services it provided, what it meant to the community and those types of things.
– So when was the Hospital founded?
– 1249, I reply, feeling absolved. Ernie nodded in quiet approval.
I explain to Ernie that another element of my project includes a modern look at the Hospital. The interrogation continued:
– So what have you found in your research so far?
– Hm, well, one thing in particular that I think is neat is the sense of community here. Since it’s so much larger than most other facilities, it almost feels like a small village, especially with having the parish community, here, too.
– And how do you account for those who don’t take part in the parish?
Thankfully, we are interrupted by Mary, who is struggling to return to her seat, now blocked by my chair. I scoot to allow her passage, thinking that Ernie must be an agnostic, and grateful for an excuse to evade his question. Ernie leans over me, introducing me to Mary. I shake her limp hand. She is disinterested in my presence.
Later, Ernie asks what I think of the male/female ratio at the Great Hospital, explaining that the population is comprised of 90% women.
– Hm, that’s a good question. You know, I hadn’t really thought about it too much. I didn’t think to look at it from a gender aspect. I turn the tables. What do you think, being a man?
Ernie argues it is more difficult for men to find social outlets at the Hospital. His neighbor jumps into the conversation, arguing in opposition.
– You all can go to pubs together and that sort of thing and it would be difficult for a woman to do that alone.
I ask Ernie if he finds social events like this to be helpful.
– Yes and no. He responds. When you talk to people at things like this it all ends being up very chatty. By this point, Ernie has warmed to me, leaning into me when he talks. He has even smiled and laughed a few times, revealing ivory-slick dentures, trying desperately not to display the loneliness he eludes to. I can see that he longs for deep connections, real and intimate conversation.
Mary gets up, brings her chair with her, and relocates to the other side of the table. She leaves behind her coffee and raffle tickets, so I get up to bring them to her. On the other side of the table, a woman seated near Mary grabs my hand.
– Are you the girl doing the project on the Hospital?
– Yes, that’s me. I sit down in an empty chair beside Ruby, putting my right hand atop hers that has already met my left. I explain the project to her and as she listens, I can see her glancing at the tattoos on my forearms. When I’ve finished explaining, and after she remarks at what a nice project it sounds like, she asks me about the tattoo on my right arm.
– It’s a Christian symbol.
– Yes, I know that. What is it?
– It’s called the Cross of Jerusalem.
– These four smaller crosses represent the four Gospels, and this, the Gospel of Luke, is highlighted in red because that’s where the Parable of the Good Samaritan lies within the Bible.
– Which is a parable I try to live my life by. And this one is a Judeo-Christian term: Shalom. Peace. I point to my left forearm.
– Well, those are lovely. What kind of church to you attend at home, then?
I tell her Methodist, explain that I was baptized Catholic, refused to be confirmed and ended up at my current church after a bit of “church shopping.”
– Are you Anglican, then? I ask Ruby.
– Oh, no. Salvationist. I only go to St. Helen’s because it is convenient. But, you know, I find the Anglican Church a bit too solid.
– Yes, I’ve found that, too. The services seem more formal, a bit rigid.
– Yes! Ruby retorts and makes me smile at her vivaciousness. Everyone’s sitting there like concrete. I’m not concrete. If, Jesus is alive, then we should be full of life, too!
I smile and tell her that I agree. I notice that her hands are trembling slightly, feel the nerves in her hands firing between mine, see that in her other hand, she clutches a cane. She reminds me of my grandmother, a devout Catholic with a rock-solid faith, despite being crippled by Polio at sixteen, blind, and, at one point, temporarily deaf.
The woman manning the bake sale returns:
– I’ve washed up your plate and put it in the bag for you.
– Oh, thank you!
– Just be careful because it might be a bit wet still.
– Okay, I’ll just leave it in the bag, then, thanks.
I get up, leaving Ruby, to return my plate to my bag. I see a man rising from my previous seat next to Ernie, and he pulls it out for me to sit once more. Feeling obligated to sit, I do, and introduce myself. I find out that he is Chris, Ruby’s husband, and that he and Ernie were once sailors, and had just been reminiscing about old times.
Suddenly, the room becomes quiet, and I become confused. Then, Charlotte, who I later will come to learn is 93 (and doesn’t look it) say:
– 997. Pink. Pink 997. [Ah, the raffle has started,] I realize, and in my absence, Ernie has bought me five raffle tickets.
A woman who wins a bag of chocolates sends the treat around the table to share, and two other ladies who win twice give their tickets to their neighbors who haven’t yet won anything.
– Isn’t this exciting? Ernie jokes with me.
I end up winning an enormous Cadbury bar, and Ernie a bottle of Chardonnay. Chris and Ruby win, too, but I can’t make out their prize from across the table.
After the raffle, at almost exactly 11:15, the room begins to empty and the residents shuffle out. I say my goodbyes to Ernie:
– Best of luck to you.
– Thank you. It was great meeting you, Ernie, take care.
– You, too, dear.
And to Ruby and Chris:
– Enjoy the rest of your stay.
– Will do. Lovely meeting you both. Take care.
– Take care.
– Take good care.
On the 25 back to UEA, I see a man seated two rows in front of me. He has propped his head up against the window and is sleeping. His jacket is dusty and he is wearing checkered chef’s pants and a baseball cap. The cap is ill-fitting, and reveals that his head is scabbed, the hair caked with dried blood and sticking to his flaking scalp. The woman sitting in front of him glances back at him several times, looking him over, sneering.
[Is he only pretending to sleep? Is he homeless? How did his head end up like that?] I think to myself. I wonder if he needs money. I can see that his right hand is open through a gap between the seats. I imagine myself slipping a five pound note into his hand while he is still asleep. [I wonder if I even have a five pound note.] I don’t even bother to look in my wallet. I don’t want him to be offended by my assumption that he needs the money. But I keep staring at his open hand. When the bus reaches my stop, I walk past him, see his closed eyes in my peripheral vision, and go home.
– These four smaller crosses represent the four Gospels, and this, the Gospel of Luke, is highlighted in red because that’s where the Parable of the Good Samaritan lies within the Bible, which is a parable I try to live my life by.
Today, 25 April, I visited the Great Hospital for the third time. I attended the weekly 10:30am church service at St. Helen’s church, which I discussed in my previous post.
This week’s service was again from the Book of Common Prayer, and was therefore nearly identical to the last one I attended, with the exception of new hymns, so I will forgo another discussion of the service. However, one detail of the service which I hadn’t noticed the first time I attended (I must have zoned out; it’s easy to do) I do feel bears sharing. One of the lengthier prayers includes a paragraph which specifically asks God to bless the Queen, her magistrates and other political figures, and to guide them in their civic duties. Perhaps England is not so secular, after all (Divine Right, anyone?).
After the service had ended and the parishioners began to slowly shuffle (literally) out, I stayed behind to speak to the priest, Judith Wilson, as did a dozen or so others. They exchanged “hello”s and “how was your holiday?”s and “how are you feeling?”s, etc, and when it was finally my turn to speak with the priest, I shook her hand, told her how much I enjoyed the sermon (surprisingly, I wasn’t lying, either) and asked if she had a few minutes to sit and chat. She obliged, asked me to wait while she finished her goodbyes and changed out of her formal garb.
I waited in the now empty church as a woman locked up and shut off all the lights. Several minutes later, Judith came from a room at the front of the church dressed in mostly (save for a white clerical collar) casual clothing. She invited me to her home for tea or coffee, and lead me through the hospital grounds to a wooden, gated fence. The gate led to Judith’s garden (which is maintained by the Hospital’s groundskeeper) and the garden led to Judith’s back door. Judith put on the kettle as we discussed pets (cats, specifically), holidays, and how convenient electric kettles really are (very).
After getting settled in the living room, I began our conversation by asking Judith how long she had been preaching, and how long she had been at St. Helen’s. Judith, originally from Tottenham, London, came to the Great Hospital in December of last year, and had previously worked as a chaplain in a nearby prison. She was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1995, but had been preaching in the Free Church since the 1980’s.
She enjoys working at the Great Hospital because it is unique and “forward-thinking”, and offers services that similar care facilities do not. She cited, in particular, the fact that the Hospital will follow its residents to the end: an eldery person can move into general housing for the independent residents, then to Prior Court when s/he becomes older and more frail, and finally to the Elaine Herbert house, which is a nursing house for those nearing the end of their life. This is unique because most other care facilities only offer one of the previously mentioned types of care.
She also mentioned that the Great Hospital is much larger than most other facilities, and because there is a larger population of residents, the Hospital feels more like a small village than an assisted living facility. It is also unique in that it has a spiritual community within St. Helen’s, and about one quarter of the population is a member there.
Having a spiritual element, Judith believes, is essential when caring for others. “Without Christianity, or any other faith, the world is in black and white rather than in color,” she said. She cited St. Augustine, who had said that those without God in their lives have a “God-shaped hole in their hearts.” Judith went on to tell me a story of a friend of hers who is paralyzed, and finds it difficult to maintain her faith in God now that she is “trapped do in a body that won’t do what she wants it to.” The woman was a schoolteacher for many years, who loved reading. “Words were her life, and now she can’t read because she has gone blind and can’t hold a book.” This story contrasts starkly with another one she told me, of a woman who was confined to a chair, and later her bed, but maintained a steadfast faith throughout her life. She was a matriarch of the community who consistently kept a positive attitude and relied on her faith. “That’s the difference,” she said. “Without faith, life is lacking a vital element.”
The conversation shifted, as I asked Judith a question about something she mentioned in her sermon: Judith had shared that her cousin once told her that she had wasted her life and all her opportunities by becoming a priest, and Judith claimed that his values were much more secular than her own. This idea of the shift from a spiritual England to a secular England has always interested me, especially for a country whose monarchical tradition is so deeply rooted in the principle of “Divine Right.” I asked Judith if she believed that England was, indeed, shifting towards the secular, and if she could mark a transition point.
“Yes.” She said. “Absolutely.” The time period which Judith identified as being the transition point was the 1960’s, when there was a “shift in values, outlook.” She also believes that Margaret Thatcher’s term in office exacerbated the effects, and “put the nail in the coffin.” According to Judith, she “bred selfishness and materialism” in the English culture, and led society away from God.
We ended our conversation with a discussion of Christianity’s role in present-day society. “Christianity is being put to the side. We aren’t persecuted, but we are ridiculed or ignored,” she said; an interesting observation.
My time with Judith was informative and interesting. She is a very warm person, and extremely welcoming and easy to talk to, and I look forward to further interactions with her and other parishioners at a Coffee Morning/Bake Sale next weekend.
10:15am – 12:30pm
Time: 2.25 hours
Total Time: 6.25 hours
This past Sunday, Alli and I attended a service at the Church of St. Helen, which was originally founded as a part of The Great Hospital, and remains closely linked to the Hospital to this day. The Anglican service was from The Book of Common Prayer, and is, I was told by Reverend Judith Wilson, a very similar service to what would have been conducted in the Church over the past few centuries.
The Book of Common Prayer Communion, as the service is known, is a regular service, and is offered on the second and fourth Sundays of each month, beginning at 10:30 am. Holy Communion is offered on the first and third Sundays of each month, also at 10:30 am, and when a fifth Sunday of the month occurs, a Morning Prayer is offered at 10:30 am. A Holy Communion is offered regularly – 11:00 am each Wednesday – in the Elaine Herbert House or Prior Court, both of which are located on the Hospital grounds. The Church also offers social events and programs, such as bible studies and a Coffee Morning which is held on the first Saturday of each month, from 10:00-11:30 am in the Mackintosh Room. A complete list of these services, events and programs can be found on the Church of St. Helen’s official website.
It might seem that, when looking at the impressive calendar of events and programs offered, the Church of St. Helen is still very much alive, but a very different story is told by the congregation itself: the body of the Church is made up primarily of the elderly residents of The Great Hospital. Aside from Alli and myself, none of the attendees looked to be much younger than sixty years of age, save for a young mother and her three small children who left halfway through the service. There couldn’t have been more than thirty parishioners total, and the overall emptiness of the Church was noticeable. Despite an impressive calendar of events which might suggest that the Church is thriving, it is obvious upon visiting that the truth is rather the opposite.
Regardless, those who were in attendance were a cheerful and friendly bunch. One gentleman who walked in, supported by a wooden cane, smiled at Alli and me and said warmly, “Good morning, young ones!” Several minutes later, the Reverend Judith Wilson greeted us personally and welcomed us to the Church. This welcoming atmosphere continues even after the service had ended. A woman who was seated a few ahead of us turned around and struck up conversation, asking us where we were from and what we were studying, etc. Several other women approached us, handed us fliers and leaflets, encouraged us to take a look around the Church and offered information about the building at certain artifacts and relics within it.
The friendly and personal tone was carried through the service itself, as well, as Reverend Judith Wilson delivered a pleasant, rather colloquial – and even humorous – sermon. This surprised me, as I was expecting – however ignorantly – to bear witness to a more puritanical and lofty oration. My expectations were met, however, by the choice in hymns and the language used in the spoken prayers. Some of the hymns were written as early at the eighteenth century – a far cry from the twentieth century “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey which the band at my Church in New York once performed. The songs were dated and joyless to my ears. The prayers, too, were dated. They were written in Early Modern rather than Modern English. Here, I got my fill of the ‘thee’s, ‘thou’s and ‘thine’s that I was fully expecting to hear.
Another aspect of the service which I found surprising was Holy Communion. Rather than receiving Communion at the front of the Church where the Reverend preached, Communion was received in the Lady Chapel at the right-hand-side of the Church, in front of a Georgian-style board which listed the Ten Commandments. Additionally, in lieu of forming a queue which advances toward the stationary clergyman, the parishioners lined up and kneeled before the board, and the Reverend moved down the line, offering Communion to each person. When that group had all received Communion, they stood and left, and a second group came, kneeled, and the process repeated.
A few moments of sheer boredom aside, I did enjoy the service at the Church of St. Helen. It was interesting to observe and participate in the service of a denomination of Christianity which is different from the one in which I normally participate, and it was truly amazing to meditate on the fact that generations upon generations had sought nourishment – spiritual or corporal – within the walls of the Church of St. Helen.
Hours Logged: 1.5
Total Hours Logged: 4
February 26th, 2010 · 1 Comment
Several weeks ago, Audrey, Kelley, Chelsea and I took a tour of the Great Hospital which was given by a member of the Board of Trustees for the Hospital, Pam Petersen. Pam, a vivacious elderly woman with a quirky yet endearing sense of humor, proved to be a wealth of information regarding the Hospital, medieval life, and fun, strange facts about Norwich and Norfolk.
The tour began in the Church of St. Helen, a small, modest church which was, at the time it was built, one of the most impressive church buildings of its kind in the city. As The Great Hospital, originally St. Giles’s, underwent multiple renovations and restorations, certain areas of the church were walled off and transformed into hospital wards. Pam pointed out several interesting features within the Church, including the elaborately decorated vaulted bosses in the chantry chapel, a special stained glass window and carved wooden bench ends. The bosses are all hand-carved, hand-painted, and depict significant biblical scenes. The stained glass window was donated from a church which was largely destroyed during the air raids on Norfolk during WWII. Amazingly, the window survived, and now rests within the walls of the Church. The bench ends were carved by John Hecker between 1519 and 1532, and are fine examples of medieval woodworking.
From the Church of St. Helen, Pam led us into Eagle Ward. Eagle Ward was formed as a result of the renovations previously mentioned, and was converted into accommodation during the mid-fifteenth century, and served as such up until the first part of the twentieth century. The ceiling of the Ward is adorned with 252 tiles, each painted with an eagle. The creation of the ceiling was to celebrate the coming of Anne of Bohemia, the wife of King Richard II, to Norwich. Today, the Ward serves as an exhibit and is preserved to look as it would have in the first part of the twentieth century, complete with tea cups, doilies, reading glasses, bed pans and other period artifacts that would have belonged to the residents who lived there.
We moved on to the Refectory, which is where the priests of the medieval hospital would have taken their meals, and where events, meetings and small banquets are still held today. The ceiling of the hall is supported by exposed beams which feature carved dragons, similar to those which can be seen in nearby Dragon Hall. An antique table stands at the back of the room and was cut from a single tree. The table is very unique and quite valuable, according to Pam. Among other artifacts, including banners and framed documents, the Refectory houses a slightly more grotesque artifact: a goose quarterer. St. Giles’s was known for their annual goose feasts, and even boasted its own swan pit. The walls of the Refectory are lined with photographs of feather-plucking – which was, according to one caption, a social affair – and charts depicting the various branding marks which would be cut into the beaks of the swans.
As we left the Refectory and made our way to the Ivory Room, Pam spoke about the current operations at The Great Hospital. Currently an assisted living facility, the hospital houses 126 residents and offers three different types of care: independent with no care, independent with some care (help with dressing, household chores, etc.) and full care. However, there is no nursing service offered by the hospital.
The Ivory Room, actually a house in its own right, was built and restored by the Thomas Ivory family, with whom the hospital maintained a close relationship. The building is quintessentially Georgian, and features Roman style murals and trompe l’oeil throughout. The Ivory Room is currently undergoing major restoration, but the grandeur of this magnificent building is discernible even through the scaffolding and littering of paint cans and toolboxes. In a room which faces the Norwich Cathedral, painted cherubs adorn the silk-lined ceiling, and the entire celestial scene is lined with crisp crown mouldings.
From this room in the Ivory Room, I looked out onto the steeple of Norwich Cathedral, slightly silhouetted against a pink-grey sky. It seemed like the perfect location – and ambience – in which to end our tour. Before wrapping up our tour, Pam shared with us a recipe for Swan, laughing all the while. We made small talk as she showed us back out to the road, and asked us where we were all from. We answered and Pam responded that the only American geography she knew she had learned from The Simpsons. We, laughed, thanked her and walked along Pottergate, under the Norwich sunset.
Length of tour: approx. 1.5 hrs. Total time logged: 2.5 hrs.
January 27th, 2010 · 2 Comments
Over a cup of hot chocolate and a fruit scone, Terenia Morrison and I discussed the inner workings of Age Concern, a charitable organization which provides services to the elderly of the whole of the United Kingdom. In speaking with her, I became immediately aware that Terenia, a project coordinator with Age Concern’s Norfolk branch, is passionate about her career, and well-aware of the challenges that elderly of the UK face on a day-to-day basis. She has noticed the elderly “are not treated well in this country” and that “our community spirit is not particularly good here,” but believes that Age Concern is doing their part to improve the quality of life for elderly peoples throughout the UK.
Age Concern provides many different products, programs and services to the aged of the UK, including: help with money matters; insurance information; assistance in obtaining energy subsidies; bereavement services; community development; out-reach posts; access to a care home database; and much more. Terenia mentioned two additional programs which I found especially touching. These were the Pabulum and call centre programs.
At call centres across the UK, like the one in Buckinghamshire which opened in 2007, volunteers ring participants once a week to chat and offer a fun quiz which keep the mind active and alert. Terenia stated, “experience tells us that old people want warmth, friendship, and nourishment,” and that the loneliness the elderly so often feel “is palpable.” The call centre provides the friendship that so many aged people long for, and assuages the loneliness they might have felt otherwise.
Pabulum is a program designed specifically for those elderly who suffer from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Pabulum frequently hosts “cafés,” themed, 2- or 3-hour sessions run entirely by volunteers consisting of music, lunch, and “reminiscence based activities,” according to the website. The closest Pabulum café venue can be found in nearby Costessey.
Three of my own grandparents have passed away: I was witness to my own grandfather’s gradual deterioration as a result of Alzheimer’s, until he finally passed away in 2007; I watched my other grandfather pass away, also in 2007; I was lying on the bed next to my grandmother, holding her hand, as I watched her take her last breath, in 2005.
Talking with Terenia was a very emotional experience, but one that was also refreshing. It is comforting to know that there are good people and charitable organizations that provide services that are so close to my own heart and my own experiences. Terenia Morrison and her fellow volunteers working with Age Concern are truly special people. Dedicating their time and energy to “improving the lives and providing… dignity to the people of Norfolk,” is a loving sacrifice which the most special people, and kindest hearts, are willing to make.
September 15th, 2009 · No Comments
Closed. Come 6:00 PM on a Sunday evening and this sign is sure to greet you wherever you go in London. As I’m from small town Ohio, closing around this time on a Sunday is nothing new to me. When my classmates pointed out their frustrations about this pattern, I just shrugged it off. After all, it’s Sunday and everyone is taking the day to go to church and be with family right? Maybe the later half but definitely not the former in regards to life here in London. Everyone will take the day off to be with family and go to the pubs. So, I guess I should revise my opening sentence. Everything other than pubs closes in London at 6:00 PM on a Sunday. What an interesting situation though. A city that boasts St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey as two of its most important attractions, London on the surface seems to be quite proud of its church-respecting and outwardly seeming church-going nature. Upon further reflection, however, the churches in London seem to be used for everything but that.
Upon entering Westminster Abbey or St. Paul’s Cathedral, two magnanimous symbols of the city of London, the agnostic tourist or devout Anglican alike are necessarily awe-struck – indeed, that was the effect intended by these buildings’ creators. Perhaps what is more staggering to the visitor than the architecture or sheer size of these spaces is the opulence of the details which adorn them. The ceiling of St. Paul’s cathedral glitters with thousands of gilt mosaic tiles; In Westminster Abbey, the spires, cornices, corbels and tiny arches build into a gilded backdrop to the altar is transformed into a miniature castle by the noonday sun; In both venues, the admirer can surely imagine just how many painstaking hours went into the woodcarving of furniture, panels and memorials.
It is this opulence which both infatuates and disturbs me. “How many mouths could all of this have fed?” I must ask myself upon entering a space like St. Paul’s or Westminster Abbey. Do the benefits – if one considers drawing people to an already corrupt church a benefit – of building such an extravagant structure outweigh the drawbacks, namely profligacy? Why are there dress codes? Didn’t Jesus Christ, the core of the Anglican religion, say “come as you are?” Why are there no homeless or down-trodden seen around these churches? It would be logical to assume that they are shooed away and out of sight, because, surely, tourists don’t want some anonymous, starving, sunken-eyed man blocking their shot of the beautiful gothic architectural detailing. This contrasts starkly with Luke 9:48: “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all—he is the greatest.” And the hypocrisy can still be seen today…
…The primary functions of Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral are no longer to serve as places of worship, but rather, to serve as tourist destinations and symbols of the city of London. It is ironic that the modernized and secularized London should chose religious institutions as their symbols. However, it could be argued that the Londoner no longer looks at these spaces as sacred – indeed, Londoners have bastardized them by building cafes, bookstores and giftshops within the cathedral walls – but rather, as opportunities for profit, an idea which will be more fully developed later.
As demonstrated above, churches today seem to be used for the revenue they can bring in- they seem to be machines for monetary gain. That isn’t to say that all churches fit this classification though. Smaller churches that hold much more modest services seem to still operate with their main goal being to act as a place of worship. It’s important to note here that these churches are not only few and far between but also are in need of some of the monetary attention given to the other more commodified ones.
The difference in monetary prominence and traditional religious practices between the iconic churches of London and the smaller churches can be easily seen in comparing St. Paul’s and Westminster Abbey with St. George the Martyr Church in the Bloomsbury area. The later like the other two does have a claim to fame in pop culture: Sylvia Plath was married there. Despite this rather important event in its history, the church continues on as a ‘normal’ one in that it holds modest services throughout the week and has open doors for anyone who would like to pray or worship on their own during non-service times. The walls are chipping, the ceiling is in need of repair, a few light bulbs could use replacing- the church isn’t a collection of bedazzling and impressive sights; quite the contrary, its simplicity characterizes it most thoroughly. The staff welcomes you with smiling faces to come in and have a look around but they don’t fuss over you at all. They don’t try to make you feel overly comfortable, they don’t make sure that you only look at the pretty parts of the church, they don’t make sure you have the most delightful visit of all time so that you’ll come back and bring all your friends. They do welcome you, allow you to experience the church on your own, and they leave the decision of whether you want to come back or not as completely yours. What I’m trying to get at but not saying incredibly directly is that they don’t try to butter you up to both take your money and have you spend some at the gift shop too. They don’t even have a gift shop. They have a place of worship to which they would love for you to come back on Sunday at 9 to join in their services.
We can’t make a generalization of how this pattern in churches speaks to the religious piety of the city nor is that something we want to even try to do. Mosques, gurdwaras, synagogues, many other places of worship are quite present in London. Our experiences with the churches of the city though have shown us that this type of presence alone doesn’t necessarily correlate to any felt sense of spirituality. We’re not here to analyze whether this is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. We are here to observe this and begin to process how this helps us examine the rather complicated London identity.
Tags: Anya · Audrey · Churches and Cathedrals
September 13th, 2009 · 1 Comment
I almost cried at the end of Arcadia, did cry during the Pitmen Painters, and wanted to cry after seeing Blood Brothers – clearly for different reasons. When London theatre is good, it’s incredible, but when it’s bad, it’s atrocious.
I’ve been to countless theatre performances outside of London, and never took much notice of the lighting. I am usually so wrapped up in the dialogue, sets, costumes – or, if it’s a musical, the song and dance – that I never took into consideration lighting as a component of the production. However, after talking with 2 time Tony Award winning lighting designer Rick Fisher, I made sure to pay special attention to the lighting during Arcadia. Once I was – excuse the pun – enlightened by Rick as to the intricacies of lighting design and how important it is to shape the mood of a show, I was amazed by how exactly the lighting did just that.
Tom Stoppard’s brilliant Arcadia is set at different times of day and those natural changes in the color and intensity of the ‘sunlight’ were recreated beautifully in the lighting. Morning was soft, dawn was blue-green, and midnight was obscure and the moonlight realistic. What really touched me, however, was the closing scene in which Thomasina and Septimus waltz around the room and their silhouette is flung against a wall lit with orange-pink light. The sight was stunning.
The plot and dialogue of The Pitmen Painters, as well as the themes they addressed, struck a deep nerve with me. My mother is an artist, one who has always been very insecure about her abilities, (and she need not be) just as Oliver was. The painters’ monologues about the value and universality of art touched me viscerally, and reminded me of my own mother’s struggles with identity. An effective play is one like The Pitmen Painters; one that is relatable and emotionally moving.
Blood Brothers was neither of these. This musical was undoubtedly the worst performance – not the worst musical, mind you, the worst performance, period – that I have ever seen. The actors (this term might be too kind) all wore microphones in a small theatre – a sign of weak singers. The sound mixing was terrible and only served to amplify the flaws in the voices: the inability to properly belt(maybe if ‘Mrs. Johnston’ learned how to open her mouth when she sings, she wouldn’t need to tape a microphone to her forehead); flat notes; narrow vibrato; no vibrato at all. The sets were lackluster, the costumes unimaginative, the score repetitive and the lyrics forced. The plot had the potential to be interesting, but it was poorly developed. And one final piece of scathing criticism: Now, I have no problem with the omniscient perspective, but Blood Brothers gives a new meaning to the term “intrusive narrator.” If you’ve has the misfortune of seeing the show, you’ll know what I mean, and those of you who have not, do keep it that way.
In conclusion, Brits drive on the wrong side of the road, call baked potatoes “jackets,” use way too much coinage, have great taste in plays and terrible taste in musicals. Just another cultural difference.
Tags: Anya · Theatre
September 13th, 2009 · 1 Comment
My idea of the “perfect public house” is not one with a fireplace (this is, clearly, a safety hazard) or China mugs or different bars (this is, clearly, a social hazard). My ideal pub is by no means quiet and I can always order dinner there (but one must consider that, on a student’s stipend, “dinner” oftentimes means “chips”).
Like George Orwell, I have yet to stumble across my own “perfect pub,” but I’ve come close. The Court, located on Tottenham Court Road, has the atmosphere I’m after. The music is loud, and usually American, but encourages no dancing (Andrew Russell and Megan Liberty – who will dance anywhere – are excluded). Customers stand out on the corner with pints and fags in hand, puffing and sipping away and enjoying the views of the bustling city that closes around 7 on a Saturday night.
Note: When in Londinium… talk to strangers in pubs. Bum a light or ask or just strike up conversations. You’ll find that “pissed” Londoners are generally much more amicable than sober ones (unless football is on, in which case you should avoid the pub scene entirely if you value your life). You’ll meet people like Pete – an unnaturally animated world-traveler with no regard for personal space – or Mikey – the green-clad, leprechaun hat-wearing music student who holds a stuffed duck (plush, not real) and finds endless amusement at squawking it in your ear.
Though The Court has the atmosphere, the people, and the music that I’m looking for, the food at The Marlborough Arms is superior, and their White Zinfandel is 25 pence cheaper. For the health-freak, vegetarian foodie, ordering the Meze platter at the Marlborough Arms is a must. For roughly 8 quid, you can sample: greek olives; warm, seasoned pita bread with oil and aged balsamic vinegar; marinated artichoke hearts; feta cheese; roasted red peppers and; an amazingly smooth hummous sprinkled with pine nuts. Not exactly the classic bar food one might be used to.
The history of the Museum Tavern pub, however, trumps all others. It is not a particularly memorable pub, though the Strongbow is good (but then, where isn’t the Strongbow good in the UK?) The atmosphere is dull, there is no music and no one speaks much louder than a completely inaudible whisper (Note: Loud Americans will receive dirty looks), but, alas, it is here that Karl Marx wrote his Communist Manifesto.
So if you find yourself in London again, or perhaps for the first time, do go out and experience the pub scene for yourself. It is an integral element of British culture, and a valuable source of entertainment, Squawking ducks, leprechaun hats and Andrew Russell’s dancing included.
Tags: Anya · Pubs
September 12th, 2009 · No Comments
This post is in response to the excerpt that Professor Qualls shared with us from his upcoming book. In this introductory chapter, he raises several key points which translate into our discussions about race, ethnicity and identification in London.
First, he uses the term “identification” rather than “identity.” I feel that this terminology is much more appropriate – even somehow liberating – in that it implies a choice and agency whereas the term “identity” connotes a sense of inescapability.
Second, Professor Qualls claims that “[a]s with memory, urban identifications are both internally and externally manufactured.” This can be seen in London, especially. The language barrier and cultural difference that immigrants inevitably experience coming to a foreign country certainly play a role in this “process of identification.” It is reasonable that immigrant communities would identify much more readily with a community that theirs their cultural, religious and linguistic traditions. It is the external forces, then, that cause problems.
Indeed, Qualls mentions that “[i]dentification can be either categorical or relational.” When outsiders (external forces) categorize or imagine relationships between immigrant groups where none might exist at all*, they are essentially “othering” those populations, isolating them from the rest of society and making it virtually impossible for any foreigner to feel comfortable here, let alone the possibility of “assimilation” – which I think is a completely ethnocentric idea to begin with.
It is not the responsibility of immigrant populations to adapt to the country in which they are residing, so long as they learn to respect that country. But this is a two-way-street. Locals must also learn to respect those immigrant populations which whom they share their space.
Particularly in London, these unique immigrant communities are what makes the city uniquely “London.” Or, to, yet again, quote Qualls: “maintaining past traditions was essential to the stability and happiness of the population, which in turn would reflect well on the central regime.”
*Some of you may remember the story Andrew Fitzgerald, Andrew Barron and I shared with you at the beginning of the course: At our market in Elephant and Castle, we witnessed an altercation between a darker-skinned customer and a white, cockney fruit and veg vendor. The vendor called the customer a “Paki” and obviously had no legitimate basis for determining this man’s ethnicity. Just because the customer had darker skin, the cockney vendor “related” him to a Pakistani. This is a dangerous comparison which only serves to fuel racism.
September 11th, 2009 · 1 Comment
The beauty hit us.
Like waves against
the stones of the shore upon which the fiddler, the architect, played.
It gave way to
and with each turn
of a page or corner,
we discovered that
only a new anguished horror awaited us.
Variably, precision melted,
into l e g a t o s l u r s
amorphous design. The crashing dissonance hit us,
poured over us and into our eyes and ears,
unwinding the tendrils
of muscle which control
perception and jamming
which regulate a finely-tuned, mechanical reality.
Amidst the breakdown stood a man. He stood
alone, crazed and removed
buildings and music and life in the midst of chaos.
This sound, this place, is chaos.
Can sound not be
? We were told that art is. How can you argue that
this is not art?
Tags: Anya · Museums