September 25th, 2009 · No Comments
**Like Andrew Russell I have had this post lying around since my last day in London, but I had no internet so was unable to post. I’m not sure if anyone will read this but I wanted to post it anyway.**
We have now been in London for 27 days. Why then in the last week were we all struggling to rush around and make sure we had written 14 blog posts? It wasn’t for lack of things to write about. We explored the city high and low during these 27 days, visiting museums, churches, parks, and theaters (and a few other things along the way). We were even given prompts of sorts for the majority of the blogs we needed to write. However we all find ourselves locked up in the Arran House during our remaining days and evenings here.
As a note, this post is not intended to simply complain about the blog, but it is to look at why we all find ourselves frustrated with it as this moment.
When I think about my time here I remember the initial fear and excitement I felt. I was walking around a foreign country, by myself, and seeing sights that I secretly thought were only in movies and could not possibly exist in real life. As the weeks moved on I was finding that I enjoyed spending time by myself—wandering around a museum, going over to Watch this Space to see a performance, even going for a run down towards SoHo and ending up in Camden—I loved it all. When I would arrive back at my home sweet home, Room 27, I would discuss my day with my peers. We would argue, debate, and discuss things that we had seen throughout the day and I must be honest, some of the discussions I had were more valuable and educational than actually visiting some of the sights during our visit. After discussion we would figure out how we were going to spend our evenings, sometimes at a pub, a club, or just staying in to cook—but we were always doing something. They have been long days, but always full of something to share. So why have we all been struggling with these posts?
I think it is because we were constantly trying to make the most of our time in London we packed our days full with things to do, barely taking a break to eat sometimes. The best time for us to post blogs would have been in the evening after we finished our activities for the day (and sometimes that’s exactly what we did). But seeing London during the day is one thing, and experiencing it at night is a completely different thing, and we did not want to miss out on this education. As a result blogging was postponed. As we all went through our checklist to make sure we had all of the required posts completed, and began reading our classmates blogs we began to run into a problem—because we had previously discussed these topics with each other someone beat me to writing about that! Nobody wanted to repeat what someone else had said, and so we would then sit around trying to come up a new spin on the same topic. We ended up with some amazing blogs and great reads because of it, so in the end it is really hard to complain, but the process leading to the final masterpiece was sometimes quite the journey.
I think the concept of blog posting is excellent (I have my own personal blog because of it) however, even that blog was not updated as regularly as I thought it would be. I thought that everyday I would go online write a quick update for my family and friends back home and be set. Instead I would jot a few lines in my journal by my bed “Good day went to the V&A”, “Explored Southwark some more”, and then crash out of pure exhaustion. I think that we were all able to take advantage of everything the city had to offer, and as a result some of our posting was delayed. But now we can all look back at our blog and remember the amazing month we spent living in London.
September 14th, 2009 · No Comments
After spending a month in London and visiting a plethora of museums, they all are beginning to blur together in my mind. I have an easier time remembering specific pieces included in the museums that I loved rather than the overall museum itself, but I’ll try to relay my general sentiments of my final two destinations, the Sir John Soane and the Victoria and Albert Museums.
I felt that the Sir John Soane Museum was fascinating, but was distracted by how much was packed into such a small space. I wasn’t able to fully enjoy what I was looking at simply because I got a bit claustrophobic. On the flip side, though, it certainly was impressive how much was packed into the equivalent of three townhouses. One of my favorite aspects was the collection of clocks included in the house, because it reminded me of our trip to Greenwich and the importance of early timepieces. His particular collection stuck me because it really showed how clocks were once a symbol of status, specifically that which was made for Christopher Wren by Queen Anne.
Although the Sir John Soane Museum had interesting artifacts and art, I much preferred the Victoria and Albert Museum. My favorite section was the sculptures portion on the ground floor, and I spent a great deal of time exploring there. I enjoyed reading the captions to each, for example, a plaque under a bust of Albert Einstein stated that he was a culmination of “the humane, the humorous, and the profound.” Another statue, a monument to one Emily Georgiana, moved me in saying “I who dreamed wildly and madly/am happy to die.” The writing on that statue seemed simultaneously inspiring and sad, and I’ve thought of that quote often since reading it for the first time. My favorite actual work was a bronze piece created to hang above a fireplace depicting a nude man and woman entwined while being watched by a shocked and disgusted crowd. Made by Charles Sargeant, “Scandal” was interesting to me because it showed not only a couple in love (as many works do) but also the rarely shown negative reaction of the surrounding community. Lovers in art are so often isolated, so seeing a different perspective within the work was certainly interesting.
To summarize my previous blog entries regarding museums, I was unaffected by the British Museum, disliked the Tate Modern, moderately enjoyed the Cabinet War Rooms and Churchill Museum, and loved both the National Gallery and the Victoria and Albert museum.
London is a city where the past is constantly present. What do I mean by that? Different countries maintain a dialogue with their history in a different way. Some countries are older than others. For example, in Argentina, where I come from, there are some plaques and monuments, but not so many as in England. One of the obvious reasons is because Argentina is a much younger country of only 200 years, and therefore has less history. But I do not think this is the main reason. In London, I get a feeling that time is cyclical, and that history comes back to us in many forms and shapes. We see it present on the street, in houses, in museums, in pubs and in its people.
During our trip, Prof. Qualls has been using the word juxtaposition. Indeed, in London we have found that not only architecture presents juxtaposed old and new buildings, but also different situations, like the helicopters during our play at the Globe theatre. I want to use a more complicated word which I am not sure if I made up since I am translating it from Spanish: trans-textuality. By this I mean the dialogue between two texts or two authors. While this is common in literature since most texts have their foundations on previous texts, it is a technique that is most common in Shakespeare and that I’ve been founding in London in general. This idea that if we build a new building, we will find the remains of others. Like we saw on our Roman walking tour. If a family moves to a new house, they will probably discover who lived there, like we saw in our Bloomsbury walking tour, and the many plaques saying the personalities who lived in the different houses. If I go see a play, trans-textuality is always there. It can be Troilus and Cressida, a story built inside another story (the Trojan war), or Arcadia, by Tom Stoppard, which also dialogues with the past and real life English characters such as Lord Byron.
Being in a city as old as London makes me constantly question about the past, from who has lived in what we now know as the Arran House Hotel, to what will my mark be, as the story of London progresses.
London is home to one of the most vibrant and varied theater districts in the world. So far, I have been able to experience three different performances. First of all, Shakespeare’s Globe may be a Disney version of its former glory, but I still enjoyed the experience. Upon entering the groundling area and positioning myself as close to the stage as possible, I had a great spot for Trolius and Cressida. Although I did not enjoy the play while I was reading it, I found the performance extremely entertaining, and much more comic than I expected. While my feet were aching by the end of the play, I intend to return for another show. Friday night we traveled to the Duke of York’s Theater to see Tom Stoppard’s, Arcadia. I was familiar with one other Stoppard play (Rosencrantz and Gulidenstern Are Dead) and I was excited to see how this would compare. The play was the perfect blend of wit, science and emotion. Although some of the concepts were hard for me to understand (chaos theory?). I really enjoyed the fast-paced dialogue and the relationship between past and present. One of the main characters, Septimus Hodge, says, “We shed as we pick up, like travellers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind. The procession is very long and life is very short. We die on the march. But there is nothing outside the march so nothing can be lost to it.” This quote really made me think about the future. What if someone finds an article of mine… say my travel journal. What will they think? Will they try to uncover my story? Granted, I’m no Lord Byron but does that make me less important? Will I even be remembered? Will I make any sort of significant impact on the world? I probably sound selfish, wondering about how people will think of me (if they do) but I’m curious.
My most recent theater experience was yet another different feeling. While the Globe and the Duke of York were both smaller scale and more intimate, the Olivier Theater at the National Theater was grand and hi-tech. Earlier that morning I was able to take part in a backstage tour of the Theater and therefore had a greater understanding of all the behind the scenes work that goes into a large scale production. Shakespeare number two of the trip, All’s Well that Ends Well has often been considered one of his “problem plays” because it is hard to classify as a comedy or tragedy and the viewer is conflicted as to what to think. Personally, I couldn’t make up my mind as to whether Helena was silly and submissive girl or a clever woman who refused to give up. Although I found myself believing Helena was more of a ‘doormat’ more than a heroine. Ultimately, I believe that all did NOT end well. Both Helena and Bertram are still unhappy… but now they have a child on the way. Despite the ending, I thought this play had some brilliant acting (I especially enjoyed Conleth Hill’s portal of Parolles), incredible sets and wonderful lighting. It was a great way to spend an evening in London. Also, as I was not able to procure a regular ticket and had to rely on the “student standby” system. I simply arrived 45 minutes early and asked if there were any available seats. If you are willing to take the risk, you might end up with a great seat for only 10 quid. I was lucky. The room was packed and I was wonderful to see all the different people who came to se Shakespeare. Even in my own row I had a sampling of almost every class in London. I am very excited to return to the National Theater for The Pitmen Painters.
How wonderful is it that the theater is actually affordable here? If I had this opportunity in the States, I don’t think I’d do anything else. I love that spell the Theater puts on its audience…. We become so absorbed in this little world on stage that we are able to forget who we are, whatever problems we have and just live in the moment. If you’re anything like me, the imaginary world is the place to be. I can just exist in my own little seat and leave everything else behind. It’s a great escape.
Tags: Grace · Theatre
September 1st, 2009 · 1 Comment
Since the first day that we arrived at the Arran Hotel, I have been grappling with this concept of time and the need for humans to categorize everything. Humans have become completely reliant on categories, words, titles, definitions, labels etc. It is has been completely imbedded in us to put a title on everything, whether it is clothes, race, gender, sexuality, measurements, concepts, and what I realized today, time. Even time is broken down into different categories, years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, seconds and so on and so forth. As I tell you of my endeavors today, and do my best to inform you of my epiphany and how to dissect the concept of time, try to imagine a world where time did not exist, instead think about just being. If that even makes sense.
Today I traveled not only the world, but back in time. I began my day in London as I walked with friends to grab brunch before beginning my adventures. We decided that Subway would be a satisfying and well balanced meal before leaving the country and our present day. We ate a quick bunch because we were eager to see what the rest of the world had to offer. Once our bellies were filled with double turkey and cheese (literally we all had the same thing) we headed out.
Our machine that would transcend both countries and time was guarded by a huge gate. The name of it was the British Museum and as we entered people of all different ethnicities, and classes were leaving and coming from their own journey’s. The vast time capsule greeted us and as we traveled up the stairs we had already decided our first destination would be Egypt. We passed through time and space at the speed of well, us because the stairs were quite numerous, but once we arrived we were greeted by Egyptian royalty, and mummies. The exhibit was gorgeous and the mummies, plenty, but as I stared at the mummies, I could not get the concept of time out of my head. Dancing in my mind was the fact that at one point these mummies were alive, and now thousands of years later here I am looking at their preserved corpses. I soon was able to focus on the beautiful pieces in front me and tried to push the ideas in my head aside for future analysis. We saw many other exhibits, including one on Japan, and another on North America. Each exhibit shared both the culture and the history of its people. Thinking of the past present and future of the many different cultures of the world quickly brought me back to this concept of time, but for the sake of time, I decided to visit another museum.
We headed back to the hotel to pick up a few more “time travelers”. Once we everyone was ready we headed to the tube station. As a topic of conversation one of the students asked what was everyone going to do there next blog about. I shared with them that I was trying to center mine about the concept of time. Then one student shared their idea that “time is a social construction.” Now being an American Studies major I am all too familiar with the concept of social constructions, but for some reason the fact that time was a part of that list was something I never connected with. I continued the rest of our journey to the Victoria and Albert museum trying to dissect this sudden epiphany.
Now of all the museums I have visited since arriving in London the Victoria and Albert museum is by far the most amazing in my opinion. Once departing off the train the group and I walked down a vast tube like path and at the end was an entrance straight into the sculptures section. Immediately I was blown away by the detail that each of the pieces consisted of. Each sculpture portrayed a message or told a story of some sort which struck me, seeing as how before they were created they were nothing but stone. I next made my way through decades of fashion, paintings, and the history of numerous cultures, and with each one I began to appreciate not only their art but their history, their story spanning time for thousands of years.
I learned today how reliant mankind is on time, and the fact that time doesn’t really exist. Before men and women even came up with the concept of time, things just existed, lived and died, were created and destroyed. There was no dependency on time, but now it has been imbedded in our culture as something normal. Thinking about it I love the whole idea of time, but I do find flaws in it as well. The fact that life has become a series of planned and scheduled events disgusts me, the fact that we count the years as we all age, and how we mark the days as they go by. Time is such an unnatural concept, something that no other species on this planet is aware of. I appreciate time and the moments I share with people but when discussing the true reason for time and its creation, I am finding that I am displeased with this invention of man.
Tags: Anthony · Uncategorized
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
August 24th, 2009 · 1 Comment
Up until the day we left the US, we could go to our 24 hour grocery markets, convenience stores, and cafes. It never crossed our minds that this would change. We thought that the 24 hour 7 days a week mentality was an attribute of the modern world, not one that would be characteristic of the United States. So yesterday it was startling to find all the stores and restaurants, excluding pubs and Starbucks, closing by 6 pm. Six o’clock on a Sunday evening back home typically would translate to dinner with the family and all preparations for the coming week. This would include trips to the grocery store, gas stations and other last minute errands. Here, though, it seems that Sunday is still more so a day of rest, especially in the sense of shops and restaurants having shorter hours. Back home Sunday is the day of catch-up, which requires shops and restaurants to remain open.
At six o’clock after our walking tour of Bloomsbury, we attempted to go to Tesco’s to purchase some pasta and bread to cook our own dinner. Unfortunately, they were closed and upon further investigation we found the only places to still be open were the pubs and Starbucks. Over our dinner at the Marlborough Arms, we discussed how a chain store like Tesco’s back home would have longer hours on a Sunday. It made us realize that the perception of time is something that is different here. Perception of time is something we have been thinking a lot about since we visited the observatory and Prime Meridian at Greenwich and had to start considering time differences in talking to our families.
Something that wasn’t a consideration other than making sure we got to our classes and appointments on time has become a huge part of our daily lives and now we’re dictated by time and how it is perceived by the British.
On a side note, cookies for whoever understands the reference.
Tags: Kimberly · Mara · Uncategorized
Having traveled to Embankment Station, and having ridden on a Thames cruise that left us quoting Titanic as it powered backwards away from a dock, we arrived in the London suburb of Greenwich. After powering up both a painfully steep gang plank and an equally inclined hill we came upon the famous Greenwich observatory and the international dateline. The obligatory photograph followed, and we were turned loose on the museums. The exhibits featured not only the history of the Greenwich observatory, but stretched a few years further back to the beginning of time itself. If one chose to enter the space museum, one could choose from a variety of interactive exhibits explaining how our universe is created, and of course giving the usual “apocalypse in five million years” speech. One thing that interested me was the idea that watches weren’t invented until about two hundred years ago, and though hour glasses have been available for much longer, the idea of knowing the exact time was not something that was really needed. A person simply woke with the sun and talked about things like distances in terms of days, not hours. The humans of the past were much more in tuned with nature than we are today. They let the requirements or even the inconveniences of the world control them, rather than trying to control it. It’s a bit hard for someone like me to imagine a world without an idea of organized time. My brain can’t really wrap itself around the concept. However, it was an interesting trip nonetheless, continuing on with a jaunt through the “snogging park” and ending at Greenwich market, which made me wish that I had a limitless bank account.
The rest of the day was spent in a trip to Camden, but being the foreigners that we are, we didn’t realize that markets here tend to close at a reasonable hour, so the whole town was shut up when we arrived. We still had an entertaining walk through Camden however. Our first attempt at dinner failed when the kitchen was closed, and the place we ended up eating left us feeling like we had entered the Temple of Doom, complete with giant carvings and statues, and even a matching soundtrack. After we made out escape (feeling rather shaken) we returned to our hotel, having had a most informative, and interesting day.
August 21st, 2009 · 1 Comment
Today started out bright and early with a trip down the Thames toward Greenwich. The ferry ride offered spectacular views of the Tower Bridge, the London Eye, and many other popular attractions everyone expects of London. The Royal Park was beautiful and made me wish I could just picnic and read there all day. I’m glad we got to the top of the hill and the Prime Meridian before all of the crowds. I took the stereotypical picture with one foot on either side of the the Meridian as this is probably the closest to time travel I’ll ever experience. Afterwards, I explored the museum and really enjoyed it. Working in exhibition development this summer helped me to appreciate all of the effort that goes into desiging a museum. There are two things from the museum that particularly stick out in my mind:
1. In the exhibit about time in society where they displayed the evolution of clocks and wristwatches, I noticed that they included a cell phone. I thought this was great social commentary that might not occur to someone right away because recently many people have stopped using wristwatches even and rely only on cellphones for the time (especially younger people, myself included).
2. I appreciated how the museum displayed the comment cards that asked people to share their experiences of “When stopped for me…” I thought this added a more philosophical tone to the exhibit and made the point that the way people notice, remember, and live time in different ways.
After lunch, Alli, Mara, Kim, and I ventured into the Greenwich Market and explored the variety of shops and vendors. We all got henna tattoos and I had a short, but nice conversation with the artist about the significance of henna in South Asian culture. Henna is used to stain the skin in intricate and beautiful designs and it is very popoular for woman to get hennaed for special occassions, especially weddings. In the artist’s words: “An Asian bride is not complete without henna.” She explained to me that hennaing is meant to be a very calming process; therefore, the bride, her sisters, and cousins will have hennaing parties before the event in order to calm the bride’s nerves.
We then ventured beneath the Thames and wandered into the neighborhood on the opposite side of the river. We found Millard Park and stumbled onto a farm just beyond it. There were horses, sheep, goats, chickens, llamas, and one pig. At this point, one of my favorite things about London is the fact that many of the attractions are free to the public. It seems that the city tries to keep culture and recreation much more accessible than do many American cities (or at least the ones I’ve visited).
We journeyed home on the Docklands Light Rail. It was nice to travel above ground on the train. It was faster than the bus would have been, but we also were able to see a bunch of different neighborhoods that seemed to vary in class.
[[On our way out from the Greenwich Observatory we sat down at the steps and had a short discussion as a group where Professor Qualls spoke on the concept of time, and how we can use it as a tool to observe as well as analyze the different communities we were to explore in our time here. And that is just what I have attempted to do today.]]
Time. I moved slowly.
As a group, we took a somewhat speedy boat ride through the Thames river in order to get to the Greenwich. This boat ride was… fascinating. We saw various popular spaces such as Big Ben, The London Bridge, The Tower Bridge, The Globe, St. Paul’s Cathedral, among many others. The whole time we were on the boat I only moved if necessary, to get a better view for instance. I was mostly touched by the breath taking view of Big Ben, finally the sight of one of the London’s most popular icons, the one I have always associated with the city. Just yesterday I had only seen the sight of Big Ben in pictures, three thousand four hundred and forty miles (a 6-hr flight) later I am here facing the marvelous structure. It was a slow moment of glory for me.
Time. We moved fast. They moved slow.
After arriving at our final destination Greenwich Pier. We walked through the Royal Park to get to the Greenwich Observatory where the Prime Meridian is located as well as an Astronomy Museum and a really cool clock exhibit. We left here and walked through town a bit, where we saw various interesting places including the architectural marvel of the University of Greenwich. Then went to eat and to a cool market where I purchased earrings made of Chandelier crystals for only 1 pound. All of this was done by approximately 2pm… we were moving fast.
They people in Greenwich moved slow. Since we visited many popular (touristy) locations, mostly frequented by tourist, people moved slow, at their own rhythm. People sat peacefully at the Royal Park, they paced calmly through the museum and through the University. People moved slowly.
Time. People moved fast.
I went to Camden town, a cool funky place filled with young fast moving people. Everyone had lots of energy. There were people everywhere chatting with friends, shopping and eating at various local eateries. For some reason, I was a little surprised to see a few well-know stores from the U.S. such as: The Gap, Aldo, H&M and American Apparel. I liked this place a lot, time went by pretty quickly. People moved quickly and I moved at my own rhythm.
So far, the concept of time in the different communities I have been to has definitely been an interesting variation, influenced by numerous factors such as the location of the community and people’s purpose for being there. Time, whether it goes by slow or fast impressively projects certain truths I have been previously unaware of, I now see time in a different way… and I am glad for my timely lesson. Thanks professor!