Entries Tagged as 'Chelsea'
September 15th, 2009 · No Comments
Even though I haven’t yet tried it, it cracks me up that I, at age nineteen, can walk into a pub and order a drink. Additionally, I can take that drink in its glass outside, where I’m likely to smash, lose, or run away with a perfectly good glass, and at places like festivals and street vendors, I can order beer or cider and carry it around in an open container!
As a non-drinker, I was a bit worried about how I would handle pub culture, as well as how my peers, both American and British, would participate in it. I have to say, I’ve been more than pleasantly surprised. I think my newfound comfort with pub culture is both a function of the more laid-back attitude towards drinking in Britain, as well as appreciating the fact that most people I regularly hang out with in the group aren’t looking to get trashed. Additionally, however, I think I also appreciate the pubs themselves. Unlike George Orwell, I don’t think I’ve found my perfect pub, nor do I think I ever will, since my perfect pub would probably only serve soda, all meals would be slathered in cheese and decidedly unhealthy, the bathrooms would be Cloroxed on the hour, and the contents of my iPod would serve as the juke box. Despite not liking drinking or rowdy people, the permeating smell of beer-soaked carpet, or much of the music played at various volumes depending on the venue, I quite like the few pubs I’ve frequented so far.
My first experience in a British pub was on my first full day here. My friend and I popped into the Lord Stanley in Camden for two reasons: One, this is the pub my favorite band got their start in, and two, I needed somewhere to be sick. Despite not being in the best of moods (as well as being distracted by the fact that Coldplay used to perform right there on that piano…I am aware I’m a nerd), I was quite interested by the fact that the other patrons didn’t seem to think much of knocking a few beers back at lunchtime and going back to work a bit loud, as well as the fact that you could order a decent selection of full meals in a place primarily for drinks.
Since that day, I’ve mostly stuck to the Marlborough Arms and the Court with the other members of Humanities 309, as well as a few stops at the Fitzroy. I think we started coming to the Arms mostly because it’s the closest pub to the Arran House. It smells decidedly of stale beer, but the food is good, the bartenders put up with our Americanness, and the music is quiet enough so I can still hear it most of the time, but I don’t need to shout over it, either. Like many others, I enjoy the Arms when I just want a meal and a talk, though we’ve been permitted to get a bit loud in the corner when we so choose. The interior seems to be, as Orwell put it, “the solid, comfortable ugliness of the nineteenth century,” though perhaps the Arms isn’t as authentic as many of the other more historic pubs we’ve been in this month. The Court, by contrast, caters to a younger crowd by having louder music and pool tables, as well as a more modern-looking interior and a designer cocktails menu. In America, I probably wouldn’t go near a place like the Court simply because of its loudness and the fact that people spill out onto the pavement and carry the rowdiness outside, but I’ve actually had some of my favorite nights there, which is as much a credit to the place and the carefree yet still somewhat reserved behavior of the British drunks I’ve seen as it is to the people on the trip I’ve partied there with.
In Watching the English, Kate Fox spends one of her longest chapters discussing British pub culture and customs, which was one of my favorites so far. Because Grace did the finer points such justice in her post, and because I already packed said book deep inside my suitcase, I will simply state that I have yet to see some of the behaviors she outlines. I did once get yelled at for not minding the “invisible queue,” and I don’t think most of us have yet mastered the act of ordering a round for the group and then working out who owes what later (not to mention offering the bartender a drink as tip), but I don’t think I’ve seen any “regulars” that the rules don’t apply to, nor have I heard any ritual arguments and camaraderie between regulars and the bartenders. Perhaps this is because the pubs we frequent are in the center of London and move probably thousands of different people through their doors each year. But in Norwich, I think the pubs might have a slightly different flavor, and I hope to do some of my own anthropological observing in order to understand most of what Fox has written.
I told myself before I came that I was open to the idea of becoming a social drinker while I was here, since it’s part of the culture, but I didn’t expect to want to. Not only have actually enjoyed the sips of friends’ drinks I’ve tried (surprising, since my number-one reason for not drinking has been dislike of taste), but I find the attitude towards drinking so laid-back that now since I’m not pressured to drink or ostracized for not drinking (thank you, group), I’m willing to give it a go. Now I see myself ordering ciders or Pimm’s and lemonades sometime in the near future, but I think because I have little to no experiences with alcohol, I have to be careful how much even one drink would affect me. Either way, I’ve embraced what I’ve seen of the pub culture so far with open arms, surprising myself, and I’ve enjoyed going out to the pubs almost every night for either a meal and a chat or a bit rowdier of a time more than I ever could have expected.
Tags: Chelsea · Pubs
September 12th, 2009 · 3 Comments
I feel the need to pop the Blood Brothers cherry in the Norwich Humanities blog. Let’s just say I wasn’t exactly impressed, to put it lightly, nor do I think many of us were. Unfortunately, I’m not a great lover of musicals in general, so I already had a bit of a strike against me going into the performance, but I felt my mind was open enough. After the first number or two, I began to realize what I was in for, though I tried my best to take the play for what it was all throughout the first act. Unfortunately, what it was was an over-the-top, stereotypical fluff musical marred by samey 80’s inspired music, bizarre British superstitions, melodrama, sound mixing that was too loud even for me, and too many mentions of the name “Marilyn Monroe.” By act two I could barely keep it together. Every time the narrator/Greek chorus/God figure made an appearance onstage (which was about every thirty seconds), Sarah and I would start snarfing, and then the Bon Jovi-esque drums would come in, and it was all over for me. I think my lip is bleeding from biting it so hard, and the narrator man is going to haunt my dreams.
Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh, but some of my attitude is coming from being a bit punchy from working on my walking tour for too long. In all honesty, I thought most of the acting was quite good, especially given the fact that the actors didn’t often have a lot of character to work with. I also thought the story itself actually had potential to be interesting, even though it’s one of those stories you come across several times a lifetime (I was reminded heavily of the Prince and the Pauper and even White Teeth, though the themes are a bit different in the latter). The “nature vs. nurture” theme is an interesting one to consider in light of the class structure in England, since at the end Mickey laments that if only he had been the twin to go to the Lyons’ his life would have turned out very differently, without pain or struggle. This is an interesting note to end on without further exploration in the play, since the wealthier characters never seem to be happy with their lot, either: Mrs. Lyons was unable to have a baby, and when she finally got one, she lived her whole life in fear of anyone finding out what she had done, and Eddie was torn between two worlds, as well as struggling with his secret love for Linda. I understand that the play is supposed to be a tragedy, but I would have been happier with the ending if I got more of a sense that the characters (or the ones that were still alive) had learned something, rather than just crying over the dead bodies before the curtain dropped. And there was a standing ovation. There wasn’t a standing ovation at Pitmen Painters, but there was for Blood Brothers.
Frankly, I just don’t think there are many musicals out there that will ever grab me (besides Urinetown!, but the whole premise of that one is to mock musicals themselves). I also thought Blood Brothers suffered from a severe case of melodrama, cookie-cutter characters, overproduction (I mean, really, I don’t need a drastic light cue as well as an ominous synthesizer noise to tell me something’s about to happen)…and those damn 80’s hair band drum fills.
Tags: Chelsea · Theatre
September 10th, 2009 · 1 Comment
I have no idea what I’m talking about when it comes to classical music, nor do I have a musically creative bone in my body. I can pick out the right-hand parts to a few Beatles and Coldplay tunes on the piano and I can play a pretty mean kazoo, but my incompetence with the finer, mechanical parts of music has never kept me from deeply appreciating it. I’ll actually make sacrifices and bad life-choices I usually wouldn’t make to go see a live show, and I was very much looking forward to seeing Prom 70 at the Royal Albert Hall despite my almost complete ignorance of classical music.
I’ll admit that I was more excited to see anything in the Royal Albert Hall itself than I was about the actual program: so many greats have played on that stage, it’s an amazingly beautiful and historic venue, and I own a few concerts on DVD that take place in that very hall.
I’m not sure I even have the vocabulary to describe the concert we saw, so I’m not sure why I’m blogging about it if I can’t write about it, but I want to enthuse about how much I enjoyed the night’s performance (as well as the venue it was in). Besides purely enjoying the music and wishing the performance had been longer, I found myself wondering about the musicians, about their lives and motives, and what would possess a person to be so passionate about one random instrument that they would pursue it to the highest level of achievement and proficiency. I lack the dedication, talent, and all around aspiration to do anything like that, so I’ve always been attracted to people who know where they’re going and how they want to get there.
Additionally, I also found myself wondering about the whole “BBC Proms” program itself: the fact that the BBC can sponsor, fill, and finance nine weeks of almost continual classical music concerts for 115 years, as well as broadcast them nightly on television and radio, says a lot about the importance of the fine arts to London and Britain as a whole. The Proms program doesn’t strike me as one that would exist or even be attended by nearly as many people in New York, for example, which I now realize is a terrible shame, since it prohibits people previously ignorant of classical music, like me, to enjoy a night of the most talented musicians around for a good price in a historic venue and perhaps develop and interest in the finer arts.
I have been drawn to all things Hindu and Indian since I was about twelve years old. I’m not sure what sparked my interest, nor am I sure what has kept me captivated, but I was quite excited to visit Shri Swaminarayan Mandir.
My first impression of the Mandir was overwhelmingly positive: I fell in love with the architecture and design. I couldn’t help but stare at the elaborate carvings all the way up the walls in the main lobby and wonder how long it took to get everythingso perfect. While admiring the architecture, I also got a more upbeat, “fun” vibe from the entire place: when we waited in the lobby of the gurdwara, we all spoke in hushed tones and were worried about respect and protocol. The chanting over the PA system in the gurdwara as well as the quiet, sometimes hurried passing of Sikhs through the lobby gave the place a somewhat stern vibe, whereas the lobby of the mandir was full of people, loud voices, and movement. This automatically made me (and I believe others in the group) more relaxed, despite the high levels of security outside.
Part of my interest in Hinduism has always been because of the “honour[ing] the whole of creation, see[ing] the presence of God in everything,” as stated in the Understanding Hinduismexhibit and pamphlet at the mandir. However, despite feelinga connection to the foundations of the religion as outlined in the pamphlet and at the beginning of the exhibit, some of the things our guide said as well as the entire “SwaminarayanFaith” section of the exhibit didn’t seem to completely mesh with my previous experiences with and knowledge of Hinduism. Our guide was plain to us that all decisions, from interior decorating to finances, were made by the current Guru, and no one was allowed to question his choices. Additionally, much of the BAPS sect of Hinduism focuses on worshipping someone named Bhagwan Swaminarayan, who was seen as “the incarnation of the Supreme God” back in the 1800’s. If Hindus are supposed to be able to see the presence of God in everything and everyone, I have a hard time understanding why some people are allowed to be venerated and obeyed without question (and have paintings, wax figures, and marble sculptures adorned in gold and surrounded by food all over the mandir). I suppose this is a question I’ve always had about the faith in its entirety: the “ground rules,” so to speak, seem to be grounded in equality and the perception of the holy in everyone and everything, yet historically, women and members of lower castes have not been given equal status in Hindu societies, while some men are allowed to be venerated simply because they have done good deeds and have become ascetics. This leads me to the conclusion that all religions are fundamentally the same, for better or for worse: the basic ground rules and mission statements always promote love, seeking out “truth,” and doing unto others as you wish to be done to yourself, but in practice, these messages often get skewed and can end up in bloody wars, idol worship, and ignorance.
Shifting gears, however, I found the worship in the temple proper to be one of the most enjoyable and upbeat religious services I have ever attended. Though I would have appreciated a bit of a carpet on the marble floor (as well as equal seating status between women and men), the hymn was celebratory and beautiful, everyone was allowed to join in, and after the statues of various had been blessed by fire (at least, I think this is what waving the flames in front of them did), the fire was then allowed to be “enjoyed” by every member of the congregation. I loved the overall joyous mood, the celebratory and upbeat vibe, and the simplicity and general brevity of the entire worship. Some good music, some pyrotechnics, and a chance for everyone to get a bit of the love: that’s my kind of religious service.
The blog prompt asked us to consider the differences between Sikhism and Hinduism and think about how these differences make life in the UK easier or harder for the various devotees for the religions. Much like Anya said in her post, I feel somewhat reluctant to answer this question for several reasons: one, because we have nearly beaten this topic to death in class discussions, previous blog posts, readings, etc, and I feel like we are repeating ourselves and each other. Secondly, since we come from such different places, traditions, and experience and have only cursory knowlege of the religions and life experiences of the people we are observing. I feel a bit presumptuous in sayingthat the Sikhs may have a harder time acclimating to life in the UK because the markers of their religion tend to be worn on heads and faces and arms and their difference is not only marked by the color of their skin. Perhaps I’m not looking deep enough or I wasn’t perceptive enough while attending the gurdwara and the mandir, but I didn’t see much of anything else in the beliefs or customs or houses of worship that would concretely signify greater or lesser ability to adapt to British life between Hindus and Sikhs. When it comes down to it, both religious groups are groups of immigrants from India with different religions, skin colors, foods, customs, rituals, and lifestyles than the white Anglo-Saxons commonly thought of as definitively “British,” and I don’t necessarily think a common Brit judging the foreignness of a Sikh or Hindu would care about the religions’ specific dogmas: they would just see a foreigner.
September 4th, 2009 · 1 Comment
Even though I am one, I rarely feel like a tourist in London. Perhaps the fact that there are hundreds of other tourists makes me feel a bit less conspicuous when I snap photos of St. Paul’s and Big Ben, or perhaps it’s because I truly feel like I’m getting to know this city bit by bit (I have a good chunk of the Tube map in my head now, which amazes me). I readily call London, Bloomsbury, and the Arran House “home” in a way I adamantly refuse to label Carlisle and Dickinson, and when I helped an American couple from California find their way on the Tube the other day, they asked if I lived here, and I automatically answered yes but didn’t realize what I had said until ten minutes later. Despite the fact that we’re often looked at on the Tube or the street for being loud and having different accents, and even though we will probably all be known as “the American” in our various social circles in Norwich, I feel more at home in London than I have ever felt outside of my Connecticut bubble.
Yesterday, however, I felt like a tourist and an outsider for the first time in a while. Southall immediately felt foreign the second I got off the train. Perhaps this is because of my relative lack of experience with England outside of greater London, or perhaps it was because of the street signs and advertisements in Urdu, but Southall only felt more foreign the farther we got into it. Even just walking down the street, I felt that we were being looked at and wondered about much more closely and obviously than we often are around Tottenham Court Road, for example. From what I’ve paid attention to, many Brits will hear a bunch of loud young adults with American accents walking down the pavement, and they seem to give us a cursory glance when they’re sure we’re not looking before walking on. In Southall, on the street as well as in the gurdwara itself, people didn’t seem to hide their blatant staring at our group. This didn’t feel unfriendly, necessarily, or undeserved: Southall isn’t exactly an area that sees a lot of tourists, especially young, mostly white Americans, and I bet many were wondering why the hell we had reason to come to Southall. In the gurdwara, people didn’t seem to hide their curiosity whatsoever, but this time I felt a slight embarrassment: even though we were all being respectful and obeying their customs, I wondered what they thought of us being there and if they felt mocked by our curiosity, our sometimes comical scarf-wearing, and our close observation. I felt as though we might be intruding into their sacred space, perhaps one of the few places in Britain where they are among their own kind and NOT the outsiders, simply by being there and treating the gurdwara like it was another tourist stop on the tour of England and as a space that does double-duty as a museum as well as a space of worship like Westminster Abbey or St. Paul’s.
As we discussed in class today, for many of us, being an outsider is an infrequent and uncomfortable experience, but I wholeheartedly agree with such experiences being beneficial, educational, and healthy. However, after feeling like a complete outsider for the first time in a while, I found myself reflecting on how the gurdwara is probably one of the only places in the area where the Sikhs aren’t the outsiders and aren’t given strange looks for having turbans and beards. For the hour or however long they’re in the gurdwara, they are able to be themselves and focus on what matters most to them, but in the outside world, where they’re not even allowed to participate fully in the requirements of their religion (since they aren’t allowed to carry knives/swords, and in some professions, might not be able to have long hair or beards), they are constantly bombarded with strange looks and being “foreign” just because of the way they look. I wonder what this does to a Sikh’s identity, especially through the various generations and levels of devoutness. We have read several books on the concepts of being an immigrant and a permanent outsider in England, but since Sikhs can perhaps stick out even MORE due to the physical markers of their religion. I also think that identity varies from individual to individual, even though two might come from the same place at the same age and live in the same new environment, and I regret not asking our guide more about the Sikh identity in a secular, western community.
I’m going to be perfectly honest: I’ve never been a big fan of the theater. I’m the sort of person who will go see anything and be able to appreciate it or be critical of it for seemingly valid reasons, but I’ve just never really enjoyed live theater the way I do films: the choice of only one or two settings has always felt extremely limited for my wild and vivid imagination, I’m a bit hard of hearing and can’t turn the volume up on live actors, people don’t suddenly break into coordinated song and dance routines in real life, there’s a huge margin of error for mistakes and unwelcome variation between performances, and it’s much harder to blow things up and create huge messes on a stage. I’m a fan of realism and authenticity, and sometimes I just can’t suspend my disbelief with plays the way I can with movies.
All of this being said, I’ve always been fascinated by the production aspect of live theater. I was heavily involved with the production and tech crews at my high school, and I used to enjoy nothing more than Hell Week before opening night, sitting in the black box theater in the wee hours of the morning, flicking lights on and off, organizing props, and putting finishing touches on the set. After hearing Rick Fisher speak about his experience with the theater and taking the tour of the National Theatre today, I’ve started longing to go back to stage managing and tech production. I’m attempting to see as many plays as I can during our time in London in order to try to condition myself into enjoying being an audience member, but I think I will always prefer being a part of the action rather than watching it. I kind of wonder if this is a problem: enjoying working very hard towards an end product you don’t really care for.
I’ve never been an avid play-goer before this trip, but I feel as though the West End has a bit less glitz and a bit more pride than Broadway. Perhaps pride is the wrong word, and perhaps I’ve been seeing and hearing of the wrong plays, but I often think of many Broadway plays as being a good and expensive night out, but the West End seems to treat the plays as more of an art form and something that everyone should be able to enjoy and appreciate. If the advertisements on the Tube are any judge, the West End has its fair share of mindless plays based on popular movies, but the simple fact that there are cheap seats, student discounts, overwhelming amounts of Shakespeare, government funding, and seemingly many more British film and television stars on the stage as well as the screen (working for meager amounts of money) makes me believe that in England, the theater is more of a cultural institution meant for everyone rather than deep appreciation for few, or simple entertainment.
I grew excited last night upon learning that Arcadia was written by Tom Stoppard, who also wrote Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and co-wrote Shakespeare in Love. I seemed to have forgotten, however, that his work, while usually hysterical and thought-provoking, is also very dense and requires a fine-toothed comb to find all of the hidden jokes, references, and subject matters. This, coupled with the fact that I was inexplicably exhausted and that my hearing can be likened to that of a seventy-year-old man’s made me unable to completely follow much of the play, but apparently I wasn’t alone. I think reading it would make things clearer.
I’m foregoing the next performance at the Globe simply because I don’t know if my back could handle another few hours as a groundling, but I’m attending All’s Well That Ends Well tomorrow night in its stead in a valiant effort to see more plays, learn to appreciate the finished product rather than just the behind-the-scenes work, and learn to like Shakespeare.
Tags: Chelsea · Theatre
August 30th, 2009 · 1 Comment
Today Sarah, Chelsea and I made a journey to the Victoria and Albert Museum. Upon immediately entering the V&A, we noticed that it was going to be a hodgepodge of all sorts of items. The first room we entered featured various nudie sculptures that caught our attention. Then to our right we noticed the “Fashion” exhibit. The “Fashion” exhibit featured everything from a 1700s brocade ball gown to futuristic designs. Being in a girly mood, we decided to go to the jewelry section next, we can dream can’t we?
On the way, we stumbled upon an ironworks exhibit, gargantuan columns, and Asian textiles. One of the best exhibits, we thought, was the Theatre and Performance gallery. This exhibition housed anything from ballet costumes to miniature set designs and various recordings of performances. This kind of exhibit, we felt, was rare compared to the other museums we had visited.
Alli morphed by a gargantuan columnNo caption needed.
As a whole, we felt that this museum showed more socio-cultural exhibits than the rigid British Museum and National Gallery. The 20th Century exhibit showed anything from an iMac to early cell phones. It included a section about technology as an astestic, featuring a pink vacuum cleaner from the 1970s. This museum tended to show more “everyday life” items rather than royal jewels and strictly upper class items that are less easy to relate to. Even the jewelry exhibit included less elaborate pieces, such as funerary rings, that did not necessarily belong to royalty or a famous name. These items weren’t just “dug up from the ground” and put on display, but they were placed in a better context.
No caption needed.
Additionally, the V&A seemed to be more “British,” containing the most number of galleries dedicated to English artifacts and history. They had 13 rooms entitled “British Galleries: 1760-1900” whereas the British Museum only had 2 rooms and the National Gallery had 4. It is interesting that these two museums are considered “national” museums and yet they have the least amount of national artifacts.
Sarah and Alli drinking from the giant punch bowl
Tags: Alli · Chelsea · Museums · Sarah
Walking across the Millenium Bridge tonight (well, it was more like jogging to get out stiffness after three hours as a groundling), I was hit by one of those occasional yet profound moments of realization that I was in London. These moments are few and far between, but when you get a moment to step back and look across the Thames and the glowing lights of the city with St. Paul’s dome looming above you, for example, these realizations can hit you like a ton of bricks.
Similar and not unrelated to the “we’re not in Kansas anymore” feelings are the somewhat more frequent instances of understanding the true amount of history behind London and England themselves. In the past few days, I have seen Stonehenge, Roman baths, Medieval cathedrals, prisons, and fortresses, a Shakespeare play, the Jane Austen Centre, the Cabinet War Rooms, and the Tate Modern. The sheer number of years represented by those few landmarks and events is mind-boggling and can serve to disorient the visitor (especially when the visitor comes from a country that’s only approximately 200 years old). I find it interesting to note that I have an almost reverse levels of admiration for the feats and landmarks viewed: I found it utterly astonishing that ancient peoples were able to move stones weighing many tons across empty fields and then arrange them in circular patterns, but I was unimpressed and even disgusted by the artwork of Paul McCarthy digitally projected on a wall with cutting-edge technology at the Tate Modern. I found the stark, bleak nature of the Cabinet War Rooms and the hard work done there to show the strength and resilience of a country under siege, but I found the crown jewels and the grandeur of the monarchy, both past and present, at the Tower of London to be grandiose and over-the-top for a country that is notorious for a “stiff upper lip” and a “keep calm and carry on” sort of mentality.
I suppose what I’m trying to get across is that the sheer nature of hundreds and thousands of years of history (encompassing invasion, multiple great civilizations, and admirable resilience) on a single, small island weighs heavy on a mind that comes from a vast, expansive country with little history at all that can’t even get a healthcare system sorted out. As we now know, you cannot dig down in London without finding something Roman, Medieval, or even prehistoric, yet they still build on and up, layering the present upon the past, and preserving and commemorating as best they can. In my mind, England is a country that seems to be mostly defined by its past, whereas even though America has a shorter history, it seems mostly defined by its present, including its current political standings, fads and trends, and financial influence. London’s ever-changing face and composition always seems to have the same resilient heart, rooted in thousands of years of invasions, shifts in power, influxes of people, devastating disasters, and new technologies, and it appears able to carry on through anything.
Tags: Chelsea · Churches and Cathedrals · Museums
Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t start a major in social anthropology: I’m utterly fascinated by the tiny, perhaps insignificant intricacies of the way people live in Britain today. What interests me most is not necessarily the greater consequences of large immigrant populations or the history of the development of the city, but the subtle differences between British and American dialects of English and the life of a British school child.
After touring Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London today, I found myself wondering about the contemporary relationship between the British population and the Royal Family and nobles. From what I can gather, the main function of the Royal Family these days is to supply the tabloid newspapers with more scandals and fashion reports, and the real importance of the monarchy remains in the past. However, the fact that the monarchy doesn’t have any political role these days doesn’t keep the pomp and circumstance in check: there were millions of pounds of jewels and gold in the Tower of London which are still used today for official ceremonies. Of course, many of these jewels are from an earlier time, so it’s not as if there are thousands of British taxpayer pounds put into a Royal jewelry fund each year (I assume), though I do wonder what the average Brit thinks of all this formality that seems merely left over from an earlier time. Stereotypically, the Brits seem to have a reputation of being reserved, and the behavior I can see on the Tube, for example, confirms this. Yet the tremendous amount of money, glitz, commemoration, and ceremony put into these old traditions doesn’t seem to equate to the British stereotype. Every case in the Tower of London Jewel House sparkled and every inch of the wall and floor of Westminster Abbey was covered with inscriptions and monuments to royals, nobles, and academics passed. The British seem to like their preservation of history, which is all well and good, but I wonder about the origins of their apparent love of ceremony and honor as well, and how these traditions from ages past fit into the lives and minds of contemporary Londoners.
Tags: Chelsea · Churches and Cathedrals · Museums
Instead of perusing the Portrait Gallery along with everyone else, Sarah, Alli and I decided to chip away at the vast collections of the British Museum a short walk away from the Arran House in Bloomsbury. Because their collection is so vast, we were only able to manage the Egyptian and Southeast Asian exhibits in one afternoon, but so far I think it’s safe to say that the British Museum is my favorite of all that we have seen.
At every turn in this country, I am astounded by the amount of history and the age of buildings, artifacts, and communities on display both in museums and on the city streets, but the Egyptian section of the British Museum takes the cake for being the most impressive and mindblowingly old. As an American, when something is over one hundred years old, I usually find it quite impressive and worthy of special honor and delicate hands. However, many of the Egyptian artifacts at the British Museum are out in the open, which strikes me as almost irresponsible, since “PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH” signs usually don’t stop small children and excited tourists from running their hands all over these ancient hieroglyphs and pharaohstatues. Besides my worries about greasy fingers and eroded stones, however, I believe I have a new-found interest in hieroglyphics and Egyptian culture based on what I saw this afternoon. While I’m usually not a fan of dead things on principle, I particularly liked an exhibit in a glass case of a remarkably well-preserved man, buried and surrounded by various jars of important things he would need in the afterlife. The idea of preparing a dead person for the unknown with worldly goods fascinates me, and seeing the mummies up close and in person is something I don’t think I’ll soon forget.
Even though we didn’t make it to about 75% of the museum today, by glancing at the floor plan, it was immediately obvious that despite the fact this was the British Museum, there was very little having to do with the Brits in the exhibits. There were whole floors and wings dedicated to Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, Southeast Asia and Asia, and Africa, and seemingly most other continents and cultures besides Great Britain. The name “the British Museum” is certainly a misnomer, and I hope to find out the origins behind the name. If there had been a feedback section for visitors to leave their comments like there was in the Docklands Museum, I wonder what the patrons would have said. Because the exhibits I saw were not as politically charged as the slavery exhibit at the Docklands Museum, perhaps the comments would be less scathing, but I imagine that many tourists and visitors have arrived at the museum expecting a museum of British history and leaving without getting what they came for (many comments at the Docklands had been about “missing” components of British history and an imbalance of representation of thinkers and innovators).
Perhaps the name of the museum remains the somewhat confusing “British Museum” because of the elusive definition of “British” itself. Since Britain, specifically London, is such a patchwork of histories and cultures and traditions, perhaps making the British Museum focus on everything but the history that went down on this particular piece of land is actually fitting: each culture gets a historical representation in the broad strokes of the various African and Asian and European galleries, and together these collective histories make up the histories of the individuals who make up Britain.
Tags: Chelsea · Museums