Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

The Beauty of Religious Spaces

September 22nd, 2010 · 1 Comment

As I and many others have mentioned in previous posts, examining religion and religious life in London has been a big part of our course. Central to increasing our knowledge and understanding of a number of religions has been visiting the various houses of worship. We have visited a few churches, a mosque, a mandir, and a synagogue. We have gone into these institutions with varying levels of welcome, and we have observed a variety of rituals, customs, and traditions.

Beauty has also been a recurring theme in the course. Almost all of the houses of worship that we visited had put serious thought and effort into the beautification of their buildings. The only exception was the mosque, but I think it is ok to assume that this was due to the financial circumstances of the community than lack of desire or appreciation for a beautiful space. In addition to all being beautiful, these spaces were all aesthetically very unique. The Mandir was extremely ornate, but not to the point of tackiness or fussiness. All of the stone and teak carvings were well executed and the building as a whole had a feel of luxury to it. The synagogue was a more simple, paired down building, but even as a more streamlined space, it still packed ample visual drama in the floor to ceiling red and gold mosaic behind the ark and tall, dramatic stained glass windows, which unfortunately had to be obscured by anti-terrorism curtains.

Comparing St. Paul’s and Westminster Abbey, aesthetically, St. Paul’s is the clear winner. Westminster Abbey is cluttered with tombs and plaques and statues, it is mostly dark and parts do look kind of shabby. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a place of great historical significance and cultural value, I’m not denying that, but on looks alone…. ehhh. St. Paul’s on the other hand, is light, airy, and spacious. It has a regal, elegant exterior and strikes a nice profile. The mosaics on the ceiling close to the WWII memorial were exceptional. As John explained to us, the tesserae had been set in at a specific angle, not flat against the wall, so that the sunlight reflects off of them just enough to allow them to glint and glitter. Perhaps over stepping here, but I think the visual atmosphere, the aesthetics of the particular houses of worship, reflect something of the character of the congregations who pray there.

Tags: 2010 Rachel · Uncategorized

The Role of Churches and Cathedrals in London

September 21st, 2010 · No Comments

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

Westminster Abbey

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

St. Paul's Cathedral

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

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

Tags: 2010 Benjamin

Is This Really a Church?

September 21st, 2010 · No Comments

               I’ve really enjoyed the religion component to this course.  Although I don’t believe in organized religion, I’ve never dismissed knowledge about other religious customs and beliefs.  However, when visiting famous sites like The Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral, which do attract large masses of tourists, I felt as if I was in a museum rather than a place of worship. Westminster Abbey did have the occasional moments of silence for visitors to remember that it was a religious establishment, however I still didn’t really feel the connection.  While I do understand that of course, these beautifully crafted structures are world renowned, if I was religious I would feel a little uncomfortable with a church being more of an attraction than anything else.  Visiting St. Paul’s and Westminster did not provide me with any religious education however, when I visited Bath Abbey they did hand out pamphlets that highlighted the importance of God in our lives and bible scriptures, which I appreciated and thought that the other establishments could have done the same.

            My favorite visits were to the Hindu mandir and the Islamic mosque because I really gained valuable knowledge.  Although the mandir also seemed like a tourist attraction, in addition to showing off the intricate details of their temple, they also made efforts to teach the public about their beliefs with providing the exhibition on Hinduism. The mosque wasn’t touristy, but our guide was helpful in explaining his religion and did his best to make connections between what we already knew and contrasted his views to some of our own religions.  What I enjoyed hearing about the most was how involved these establishments were in their communities.  I think it is great that they participate with people of other faith to reach out and service the community. The mosque’s involvement in TELCO (The East London Communities Organization), which has a commitment to “working together for common good and changing the way politics happen in London”, was one of the many ways that they contributed to their neighborhood.

                 I found the guide of the mosque to be the most interesting out of all of our visits because he shared something that I have never a representative of any religion say; he admitted that his people suffered from a lack of knowledge about other people’s faith.  He shared that there are some people who think they know all there is to know and don’t seek additional knowledge and in his opinion this contributes greatly to the barrier between the Islamic people and the rest of the world.  His honesty was admirable and I strongly agreed with him.  Something as small as seeking basic understanding of other peoples and religions really can go as far as changing the world one day.

Tags: 2010 Melissa

My Two Cents/Pence on Religion in England

September 20th, 2010 · 2 Comments

Most of you have been writing about the secular nature of churches in England, how they don’t really seem like a spiritual community, and how it is a bit disturbing that all of them come with cafes and gift shops.  While I agree with these thoughts, I don’t think that it is necessarily all bad, and I think that we need to consider that we are not seeing the entire picture.

I think that the secularism of the Anglican Church particularly stands out against our visits to the Mandir and the mosque.  At these places of worship, people go to pray every day and there are spiritual ceremonies every day as well.  They each have schools, child care centers, and service projects that reach out to the community.  I can see where we might wonder why we are not seeing the Anglican Church step up to its role as a spiritual and community leader, but remember that we discussed in our first ever class meeting how in these minority communities, religion is very much one and the same with culture, especially in Islam.  The difficulties they have assimilating into English culture are due in large part to religion.  Religious teachings and traditions have become well ingrained cultural traditions.  Anglicanism is a relatively new religion in comparison with Hindu and Islam, and does not play the role of being one and the same with culture like it does in the other communities.  And when you are the majority community racially, religiously, politically etc…it doesn’t need to be.

the Mandir, courtesy of it’s website mandir.org

The second point I wanted to make in this post is that Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s do remember their function as places of worship.  I was on the Westminster Abbey tour with the science group.  We were there at noon, and at that time an announcement came on that called for a moment of silence.  John reminded us that we were in a church, not a museum, and I noticed that nearly everyone visiting the Abbey at that time, tourists included, was respectful of this moment.  I also attended Evensong at St. Paul’s and thought that it was a beautiful and moving experience.  I think that they balance their two roles as best as they can, and hey, if my church had a café, I would use it.  Speaking of places of worship that balance spirituality and tourism, look at Vatican City.  No one can argue that this is not a deeply meaningful and spiritual place; Catholics journey from miles around to hear the Pope speak on Christmas, or at any other time of the year really, but it is also a huge attraction, complete with guided tours through St. Peters and rampant pick pocketing.

photo credit: Google Images

photo credit: Google Images.  All of these buildings were too big and beautiful for me to take a good picture of them myself.

Finally, the fact remains that we have not been to any small Anglican parishes in specific residential neighborhoods of London.  I’m sure that there are religious Anglicans in London who do go to church every Sunday and whose churches run community service projects and functions, but, similar to your local church at home, which also attracts no visitors, these churches probably don’t have history such as the Battle of Hastings and the Great Fire of London surrounding them.  We definitely are not seeing the whole picture here, which is why I cannot join in lamenting and expressing disappointment in places like Westminster Abbey or St. Paul’s, or the Anglican Church in general.

Tags: 2010 Kaitlin

The Protestant Purification Vs. Christopher Wren: A Love Story of Irony

September 20th, 2010 · 1 Comment

When Henry VIII split from the Roman Catholic Church in 1534 after he instated the Act of Supremacy he had no real intention of actually repudiating Catholic ideals (for more information go here).  He maintained the highly ornamented and ritualized structure of mass and design of churches and chapels.  However, after he died and Anglicanism came into its own under his son, Edward VI, churches were stripped of their decorations and a strict and Spartan design was adopted.  While throughout Anglican history the form of worship and the tenets evolved with the monarch, Protestantism has maintained a more austere stance on the level of decoration within a church.  Catholicism, on the other hand, is famous (or in some schools of thought, infamous) for its lavish decorations, rich priestly garbs, and overall sumptuous appearance.  The pinnacle of this over-the-top wealth is the site of the Holy See – the Vatican is a treasure trove literally overflowing with priceless paintings, sculptures, and breathtaking frescoes.  Just like the Vatican – the center of Catholicism – St. Paul’s Cathedral (a central symbol of Anglicanism) is overrun with artwork, statues, and mosaics dedicated to celebrating the life of Christ.

When I first walked into St. Paul’s I was struck with the irony that this great cathedral presented.  I had expected Westminster to be decorated past the usual point of Protestant sobriety, after all it did start out as a Catholic church, and the same went for the Abby at Bath; I did not expect this from St. Paul’s.  The current St. Paul’s Cathedral, built by Christopher Wren, was never a Catholic church and so does not have this excuse to pardon its grandeur.  Instead of adhering to the typical ideals of a Protestant church (a lack of idolatry and an overall more simple and modest atmosphere), St. Paul’s rivaled any Catholic church (with the exception of the Vatican).  I was surprised by the overall un-Protestant nature of the Cathedral.  Everywhere I looked, in every spare niche, nook, and cranny, was ornamentation of some sort.   This highly structured aesthetic was not contained in just the architecture – evensong was a series of highly ritualized acts.  From the initial procession in (scepters and all) through the singing to the end with the parade out, the structure of the ceremony was both beautiful and archaic.  While I was sitting there I reflected upon the fact that the service I was listening to was sung in the same manner it was 400 years ago (with the exception on the presence of female deaconesses).  It was both a humbling and confusing experience.

On the opposite side of the expectations spectrum, the Catholic mass I attended was performed in a modern and simplistic manner.  The chapel was just a little side room in the Newman House – a building that would have been easy to miss just walking down the street save for the flags put up to celebrate the upcoming arrival of the pope – and the actual chapel itself was noticeably bare.  There were small figures marking the Stations of the Cross, a small and ugly bust of Cardinal Newman, an alter, and one painting of the Madonna and Child.  This was a far cry from the reputation of ornamentation that the Catholic Church is saddled with as well as a telling foil for the overwhelming décor of St. Paul’s.

This comparison and its ironic implications got me thinking about what exactly the difference is between the Cathedrals and Abbeys of the Church of England I’ve visited and the Catholic service I attended mean.  It seems to me that Christopher Wren was not focusing on designing a building that was a place to worship God and to adhere to a particular brand of faith – he was more creating a symbol of England at its most lavish time (we learned all about the excesses of Restoration England on yesterday’s walking tour) that would call out to all who saw it how great, mighty, and powerful England was and still is today.  It is less a place of worship for God than a hall of worship for England.  I have not visited any Anglican churches that are used as community places of worship instead of as monuments and I am curious to see if the local churches in Norwich have the same level of ornamentation or whether they adhere to a simpler, more Protestant appearance.

Tags: 2010 Amy · Churches and Cathedrals

To the Father, the Son, and the Holy Offering Dish

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

The “Big Five” Themes

September 14th, 2009 · No Comments

Although I have blogged, to some extent, about most academic things I have done in London, I feel that I have a better impression of most things now than I did at the beginning of the stay.  Along this vein, I feel the need to revise, or just plain state, my opinions on the “Big Five” topics – parks, churches, museums, theatres, and pubs.

I have now been to five of the Royal Parks in London.  Green Park, Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, Regent’s Park, and St James’ Park are all very similar and yet very different in their own ways.  I found Green Park, situated very close to Buckingham Palace, to have the most unfriendly atmosphere of the five.  There is very little to Green Park.  There are trees, benches, grass, the ever-popular lawn chairs for rent, and beautiful ornate gates facing Buckingham Palace.  I think the reason I found the park so cold is that it was, well, too green.  There were no flowers or water features (except for one fountain commemorating the Canadians), just trees, grass, and benches. 

This is vastly different from the other four parks I visited.  St James’ Park, Hyde Park, Regent’s Park, and Kensington Gardens all were beautifully landscaped with brightly colored flowers, clean fountains, scultpures, and natural or constructed water features.  In Hyde Park, Regent’s Park, and Kensington Gardens it was easy to forget that you were in the middle of a pollution-filled city.  As I am not much of a city person, it was extremely refreshing for me to not be able to hear or see traffic for a while.  With Green Park and St James’ Park, I couldn’t shake that feeling.  However, I am a firm believer that parks, whether or not they are within city limits, always make people feel healthier.  For this reason and the sheer beauty that the parks portrayed in their different ways, I understand why I did not only see tourists, but the people of London as well. 

Gates towards Buckingham Palace from Green Park

Gates towards Buckingham Palace from Green Park

Churches and other places of worship are an integral part of societies throughout the world.  Throughout our time in London, we have been fortunate enough to visit Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral, a Sikh gurdwara, and a Hindu temple.  Of these four I enjoyed St Paul’s Cathedral the most from a purely historical standpoint and the Hindu temple most from a cultural perspective.  St. Paul’s is one of the most recognizable and interesting buildings in London.  It not only houses some of the most important military remains in the country (the Duke of Wellington and Admiral Nelson), but it was one of the most iconic images of WWII Britain.  I also found it to be less like a museum where I felt like hop-scotching around graves in the floor (Westminster Abbey) and much more like a place of worship. 

I enjoyed the Hindu temple for very different reasons.  Although there was a definite sense of it being a tourist attraction, with the gift shop in the lobby and the interpretive centre with tiny models of Hindu gods, the temple was still very obviously, well, a temple.  Before going there, I had no idea what Hinduism was like.  I knew that there are multiple gods and that one is an elephant, but I didn’t know about their dedication to peace and volunteer work.  What really struck me about it was that the intricate carving and craftsmanship of the facility was all done by volunteers.  I think that this cultural experience was only heightened by being able to observe a service in the sanctuary that was so unlike my own Roman Catholic faith.

St Paul's Cathedral - a symbol and a place of worship

St Paul's Cathedral - a symbol and a place of worship

I had very mixed experiences with museums in London.  Some, like the Victoria and Albert, I just didn’t seem to understand in the amount of time I spent there.  However, I think that if I went back and dedicated a day to the facility, I would appreciate how the seemingly-random exhibits link together much better.  (I did enjoy the items on display in the V&A, I just had an issue with the layout of the museum.)  Other museums, like the Museum of London and the Docklands Museum, were put together in a very fluid and informative manner that I enjoyed greatly.  My two biggest museum issues were with the British Museum and Sir John Soane’s Home/Museum.  Grace and I wrote extensively on our thoughts on the British Museum, so instead of repeating everything, I’ll just give a brief summary: why are all of these amazing artifacts that have no connection to Britain in the British Museum? 

The Sir John Soane Museum is a completely different story.  I appreciated that the museum was free and displayed an extremely eclectic collection, but please never make me go back there ever again!  It was the single most claustrophobic place I have ever been in my entire life with possibly one exception.  Call it a personal thing, I do not like it when random pieces of monuments are mounted on the ceiling directly above my head.  I am also not a big fan of walking into a room in a house and having literally hundreds of sculpture eyes staring at me from every surface around me.  I disliked it so much that I could not even finish going through it, and anyone who has been in a museum with me will know that I read and see as much as I possibly can.  I don’t understand why that creepy building perfectly-suited to be a haunted house at Halloween is called a museum.  (Please if you can attempt to explain it to me, go right ahead!)

Theatre is a subject I have talked about in a couple of different posts (Observations on Accessibility and Blood Painters and Pitmen Brothers), however, I have not discussed theatre in general.  I was lucky enough to see Troilus and Cressida, All’s Well That Ends Well, Arcadia, The Pitmen Painters, and Blood Brothers.  Each of these theatre experiences were extremely different, but all valuable in their own ways.  Troilus and Cressidawas shown in the Globe Theatre and we had groundling tickets that forced us to stand for the 3 hour performance.  The actual standing wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be, but the best thing about the show was being quite literally three-to-four feet away from the actors on stage.  (Actually, it was slightly amusing when Hector died and was lying 3 feet away in our line of sight for the last 20 minutes of the play!) The staging of this Shakespearian play was vastly different to All’s Well That Ends Well, which was put on in the National Theatre.  In the Globe, the sets are quite minimal because they have to perform four or five different shows on the same stage in the space of a few days.  The set for All’s Well That Ends Well was much more elaborate and specialized for the show.  Rather than the reliance on the actors and the costumes that the Globe used to tell you where the play was occurring, All’s Well That Ends Well used a dark set with elaborate staircases to add to the mood of characters and the dialogue.

Much like with Troilus and Cressida, the set for Arcadia was also pretty simple.  Although the play took place in two different years, it was set in exactly the same room with almost all of the same props.  This was a very effective way to stage the show and allowed for the writer, Tom Stoppard, to do some very interesting things with the characters from both time periods, like when he had them all in the room at the same time, oblivious to each other.  I particularly enjoyed the way that this play was set and how basic it was.  It was vastly different from the more complicated sets of The Pitmen Painters, which included projection screens, and Blood Brothers, which had lots of windows for the Devil/God character to peer creepily out of. 

This final subject I have not blogged about at all.  Pubs are an integral part of British culture.  That said, pubs are also an integral part of Irish culture, so I experienced pub life when I lived in Ireland.  British pubs and Irish pubs have a lot of similarities and differences.  In both places, you must push viciously up to the bar in order to get your food and drink, you have to be 18 to have alcohol, smoking must be done outside, and there are usually way too many people in the pub for you to feel comfortable.  Oh, and you always pay way more than you think you should for your drink.  I’ve been to a couple of pubs in London and have found that they are all fairly similar.  The bartenders are nice, but kind of frantic; the food is good, and usually relatively cheap; and the music is God-awful 1980s or techno playing at volumes that are way too loud.  The first two are cohesive with pretty well every Irish pub I’ve ever been in, the third is not.  Irish pubs play good music… or at least much better music than I’ve heard here!  There are a lot of pubs that have a band playing traditional Irish music in front of you in the pub for pints and there are also a lot that play modern music at volumes that make my ears want to cry – but at least the music isn’t a Cher and Meatloaf duet accompanied with the weirdest music video I have ever seen in my entire life.  (This particular musical masterpiece was played in The Court the other day.  I never would have thought of that particular combination, but oooooookkkkkkkkkk.)  Truth be told, I just want to find a comfortable pub with some good music and that will make me just as happy as George Orwell’s fictitious Moon Under Water.

Tags: Churches and Cathedrals · Kelley · Museums · Pubs · Theatre

On space…

September 6th, 2009 · No Comments


“You’re sacred space is where you can find yourself over and over again.” (Joseph Campell)

The concept of space, so immense, so undefined. As intriguing as one may be with the notion of sacred spaces, either physical or internal, it is difficult to grasp the full idea of what it means to feel a part of a specific space, to immerse oneself in it.

As we entered the Gudwara, internally, I had just opened the door to a room of confusion, although physically I was right where I was supposed to be. The ability to learn extensively in moments of discomfort is something I attempt to take advantage of,  but for some reason I was unable to keep an open mind. Throughout our tour, I felt a sense of indifference, not just because I am not a religious individual in any way, but also because I like to keep myself at a distance from spaces that with hold religious power over a community. Surprisingly, my experience at St.Paul’s was not in any way similar to the Gudwara’s. At St.Pauls’ I felt as if I was entering a museum, a sacred place of historical exhibition instead of worship. In comparison to Westminster Abbey, St.Pauls’ was less scary (maybe because there aren’t 3000 bodies buried there).   I think tourism has completely changed the dynamic of these sacred spaces, converting them into exhibits for the general public.

So what differs a museum from a place of worship? In London, I think museums as well as churches are both worshipped in their own ways. We have visited multiple museums and various churches in our time in London, where I have realized that it takes more than just a space to create a place of worship, it takes the masses, the worshippers, to raise a space to a state of “holy-ness.” When we have class at the Victoria Gardens at Regents Park, the patch of grass surrounding us, the space chosen for our discussions is our sacred space for that moment; when we enter it, we become a part of it, not just literally but also metaphorically.

When we entered the Gudwara, most of us were encountered with unknown territory, strange feelings awakened. Although, this space was not at all a tourist attraction, our presence in that place made it feel like another museum exhibit, like something to study, observe and take notes on for future reference… not a place of sacred worshiping. Isn’t it interesting how this concept of space dominates our everyday lives, yet it is so undefined.

Indefinitely, whatever you’re sacred space is, make it yours. Personalize it, love it, breath it, worship it… define it for yourself, in the hopes that you’ll continue to find yourself in that place over and over again.

Tags: Flow

The Ups and Downs, Smiles and Frowns

August 30th, 2009 · No Comments

As I continue to explore London more and more I realize just how vast and widespread this place is. Before our  class took a walk through Southwark on Friday morning I realized I had not even been close to where we were that day. There is so much to do here and it would take years and years to truly get a sense of what all London has to offer. Over the past few days i’ve been trying to conquer as much as London as possible. During Friday and Saturday I spent most of my time conquering museums and theaters. 

I’ll start with museums. On Friday after our walk of Southwark I headed out to lunch with a fairly large group of people. After our lunch I had a hard time shaking off a bout of sudden tiredness. I figured a trip to the Tate Modern would remedy this. I’m not afraid to admit that I was wrong. 

Modern art is an interesting beast. As much as I’ve tried still I have a hard time understanding it. Despite this statement in no way am I critical or judgemental of anyones work. As someone who has basically no experience/background with modern art I have no right to say anything negative about someone’s art, I simply just can’t grasp it. Walking around through the first few galleries of the Tate Modern I wandered, I sat, I stared, but still found nothing. I asked Brandon his opinion about some of the artwork and this helped. Talking to someone who has taken classes in the subject and is passionate about it was definitely a good choice and I learned a lot but after some more musings I still found nothing. Perhaps it was the drowsiness, perhaps it was the absurdly sexually explicit video I witnessed in one section of the museum but soon after entering I realized I had seen enough of the Tate Modern. 

Since many other people in our class had seen the Cabinet War Rooms and the Churchill Museum earlier in the week I figured the afternoon would be a great time to see both of those. This time I was right. From the moment I entered the doors I had a feeling I would enjoy walking through this dungeon of secrets. Although I would never want to be stuck down there for long periods of time I was amazed at how well intact the war rooms were.  As I walked through the narrow hallways I had an eerie feeling that I was sent back in time to the early 1940’s when Churchill used the space frequently during the Blitz to hold meetings and conduct secret business. My favorite part of the war rooms was the tiny room that Churchill put 11 secretaries in. According to the audio tour despite the close proximity to each other he expected immaculate work from every single one of these women and did not hesitate to fire them if they were not pulling their weight. 

After the tour of the War Rooms I spent a bit of time in the Churchill museum before my fatigue caught back up to me. I decided it would behoove me to head back to my room and rest for a little bit before preparing for the performance of “Troilus and Cressida” that we would be attending that night at the Globe Theatre

After getting off at the St. Paul’s tube stop and scurrying across the Millennium Bridge Brandon, Aidan and I made it to the performance about ten minutes early. Just enough time to catch our breath and prepare for the real ordeal: standing for three hours. Despite my concerns going into the performance in retrospect being a “groundling” was not that bad at all. My feet were certainly a little uncomfortable by the end of the night but being so close to the action on the stage certainly made up for that. I really enjoyed the performance overall. Matthew Kelly’s portrayal of Pandarus was phenomenal and Paul Hunter (Thersites) left me in stitches for most of the night. While reading the play beforehand I did not enjoy it all that much. It’s amazing how easily and completely transformed a play can become however once performed versus just read. My experience at the globe was great and I hope to go back and see another show before I leave London. 

Walking back over the Millennium Bridge that night to the beautiful view of St. Paul’s across the Thames I concluded a few things. The first being that London is even more stunning at night than it is during the day. The second being that i’m not going to enjoy everything I see here in this city and I have to come to terms with that. I have been lucky so far on this trip that very few things have disappointed me. I realize I have to be ready to be surprised both negatively and positively with encounters I have, places I go and  things I learn. Like everything else in life London is not perfect nor should it be.

Tags: Henry · Museums · Theatre

Loving… [caramel frappuccinos]

August 28th, 2009 · No Comments

Roman BathsDSC08209

Shakespeare once said: “I’ll say she looks as clear as morning roses newly washed with dew,” and when speaking of the city of Bath, of the experience of standing for three hours at the Globe theatre and of the sight of St.Paul’s Cathedral, I must repeat it. All the places above, in their own ways, masterpieces feeding the soul with a sense of warming delight. Almost like the whipped cream on my caramel frappuccino, never necessary but always crucial for the perfect execution of an unbelievable taste! The city of Bath, acting as the foundation of this reflection represents the coffee itself, the greater mass, as it was a playground for exploration. Troilus and Cressida at the Globe, definitely the unnecessary yet crucial whipped cream… and the cathedral, of course, the delicious caramel, without it the exquisite taste of my Starbucks caramel frap would never be the same. I think I have fallen in love.

White, red, pink, blue, green, yellow, only some of the colors of the flowers that adorned the historical and alluring city of Bath; the perfect place for a New York City girl like me who wishes to scape from the modernity and daily rush of a fast life. Upon arrival, the first sightings of a landscape unknown, beautifully impenetrable by human innovation as it was preserved, almost like frozen in time. To visit such a place right after visiting Stonehenge (a place I have always known of as one of the world’s greatest mysteries) is to think you have had good coffee to later learn that there is better coffee out there. Stonehenge was an amazing structure to observe, the feeling of standing in front of something so simple yet intricate, so brilliant, filled the space with a different spirit. This spirit of some sort followed our bus on our trajectory, reappearing within the walls of the remarkably well-preserved Roman Bath houses, following us through the brick lanes of the city of Bath. Yesterday I lived a feeling like no other, strange and surreal… definitely “morning roses washed with dew.”

Today, accompanied by coffee of my favorite kind, once again, a feeling like no other made its way through my pores, into the deepest parts of my soul. I do not exaggerate when I say that watching Troilus and Cressida was one of the greatest experiences of my life! Broadway does not compare to the feeling of standing in an open roof theatre for three hours, as it rained, watching a masterpiece of literature coming to live right in front of your eyes. Precious. I now see Shakespeare under a whole new light, a light almost as bright as the one’s lighting up the path that led us to stand in front of St.Paul’s as we crossed the Millennium Bridge after the play.

This morning, before heading out on our walk of Southwark we met up in front of St.Paul’s and standing there was eventful, but standing in front of the lit-up cathedral at around 10:40 p.m. was breathtaking. I’m not sure Christopher Wren, when envisioning this space during the 1600’s, would have imagined it to be the immaculate site that it now is. The sighting of the cathedral completed the night, and the words of Prof. Qualls who expressed his gratitude for taking part in these experiences along with his students came at a perfect time.

After evenings of overanalyzing the lack of “my type of art,” as well as “my type of history,” it was refreshing to be reminded of the good caramel frappuccinos I am capable of enjoying during my time in England. And with a Starbucks in every corner I will continue to enjoy the sometimes bitter coffee foundations, the delicious whipped cream and the sweet caramel, meanwhile reminding myself to sip slowly, to fancy every drink and to cherish every burst of flavor. I have fallen in love again with a caramel frappuccino not so different from the one I am used to, and as long as “she looks as clear as morning roses newly washed with dew” I will continue to fall in love again and again.

Some of us have never asked to experience these things, some of us still yearn to. Either way, believe Shakespeare when he notes that “Love sought is good, but given unsought, is better.” I am thankful for having given the chance to love.

Tags: Flow