Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Observations on Accessibility

September 2nd, 2009 · 3 Comments

One thing that I have been noticing a lot about London is the accessibility and services available for people who are disabled or handicapped in some way.  Much like what you would tend to expect from American cities, there are handicap accessible entrances, ramps, elevators, and automatic doors leading to many of the major museums and tourist attractions around London.  However, I have observed less-than-wonderful wheelchair-friendly services in the Tube stations. 

Looking at the Underground map, there are only 9 stations within Zone 1 that have step-free access from the platforms to the outside world.  Now, I grant that the map shows that the bigger stations or those with rail stations attached tend to have wheelchair accessible facilities, but there are still a number of problems.  First, there’s the gap to mind, which while it is not beneficial to the elderly or buggy-pushers, seems to be a very large potential problem for people in wheelchairs and using crutches to get over.  Secondly, with the current construction projects occurring at many of the major Tube stations, some facilities that would normally be easier to maneuver around are currently out of order.  The only saving grace of the transport system for those movement-impaired seems to be the bus system.  From what I have noticed of the buses, the majority of them are fitted with a hydraulic system that either allows the bus to be lowered curbside or a platform for a wheelchair.

Despite my criticisms of the Tube as a vehicle of transport for people in wheelchairs, London has managed to greatly surprise me in the leaps-and-bounds of services for other handicapped peoples.  When I was at the British Museum the other day, I noticed a sign that mentioned that there is a Touch Tour for people who are blind or visually impaired.  I’ve never encountered anything like this before, but think that it is a brilliant idea!  This tour allows them to touch specific objects in certain sections of the Museum in order to get an idea of what the art from that culture “looks” like.  Accompanying these objects were plaques in Braille explaining the object they were “looking” at. 

Scarab from the Egyptian section of the Museum - on the Touch Tour

Scarab from the Egyptian section of the Museum - on the Touch TourSign for the Blind Touch Tour

I was struck again by the services provided for disabled/hard-of-hearing peoples tonight at the performance of All’s Well That Ends Well at the National Theatre.  One of the last things I was expecting when I entered the theatre was to have a closed captioning screen for the play!  Despite this service being aimed at those deaf/hard-of-hearing people, I benefited greatly from being able to see some of the dialogue I missed either by zoning out or simply not being able to hear.  Although I did find the screens slightly distracting at times, I think that it was a brilliant idea that should be implemented at many more theatres in the world.
Overall, I am finding London to be a very mixed city of accessibility and services for people who are disabled or handicapped in some way.  I think that the Tube stations need some work, but as construction is constantly being done on them, I know that they will be improved upon eventually.  On the other hand, I think that the Touch Tour and the closed captioning in the theatre were both wonderful ideas that should be implemented in the States and around the world if they haven’t already.  Any thoughts or observations on services and accessibility?

Tags: Kelley · Museums · Theatre

The Past is Always Present

September 2nd, 2009 · No Comments

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.

Tags: Azul

Date in London

September 2nd, 2009 · No Comments

Although this is not a post about our sightseeing, I wanted to share with everyone my first date in London! I went out to have dinner this week to a great Italian restaurant on a street full of pubs and places to eat, called Exmouth Market. I took the Metropolitan line in Euston to go to Farringdon station, where I walked down a beautiful area from where you could see St. Paul’s cathedral. My date was waiting for me at Wilmington Square, a residential area with charming flats, right next to Exmouth Market. I could tell that the whole area was very posh and trendy, not only because of the people that were there, but also because it was so crowded for a weekday! Not that I don’t like Bloomsbury, but if I had to choose where to live in London, I would definitely choose around Exmouth Market!

Tags: Azul

Applying some more Museum Studies theory

September 2nd, 2009 · No Comments

I had already been in the British Museum. This time however, I went in very aware that I was walking into a “universal survey museum”. In my Museum Studies class, I read an extremely interesting article by Alan Wallach and Carol Duncan (1980). These neo-marxists authors analyze particularly the Louvre Museum in Paris. Universal survey museums such as the Louvre or the British Museum, have become icons of the cities in which they are located. The author’s thesis is that these museums are the “secular temples” of present day. Museums render cult to knowledge. They represent rationalism and enlightenment. These Museums themselves are built as if they were Greek temples. The British Museum has barely anything British in it. Its collection is one of the biggest universal surveys in the world in that it contains the most valued items of different civilizations. What best example of rationalism than the Rosetta Stone, the icon of literacy, to understand the importance of this museum?

Furthermore, paying a visit to the British Museum is almost a touristic ritual nowadays. I carefully observed this ritual as I sat down on the bench inside the amazing and very impressive main hall. First, the tourists go inside and look in wonder at the magnitude of the main floor. Then, they get a brochure at information desk which is easy to access. Their first “must see”, from hearing to their conversations, is the Rosetta stone. 

While the tourists -and I- are inside, we look at the objects, maybe not knowing so much what they are or why they are important, but feeling a sense of importance to the whole experience. This again, is part of the ritual. And looking at rituals from an anthropological point of view, we must look at them as “in between” moments, from one state of being, such as being ignorant, to another, being enlightened. We look at paintings in the National Gallery, sculptures at the Victoria and Albert Museum, the graves in Westminster Abbey, as if we were having a dialogue with those ancestors who lived so many years ago. When we leave, or at least when I leave, I wonder, do I feel more enlightened? In my case, I know most of the times I learn much more from looking at people that are just looking at something else.

Tags: Azul · Uncategorized

Life is Short, Go to the Theater!

September 2nd, 2009 · No Comments

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

Finding myself in the walls of the V&A

September 2nd, 2009 · No Comments

dress, shoes and carpet

So maybe my culture is not represented here, but as I roamed the Victoria and Albert Museum I realized that some of my interests definitely are. I am a person who highly values artistic performances, self expression through the arts is really important to me, and the Victoria and Albert Museum does a fantastic job at incorporating multiple artistic forms into one beautifully organized building.

Some of the artistic presentations take the form, but are not limited to: sculpting, painting, photography, fashion, design, carpentry and even poetry. I started by observing the sculpture display, made my way through the Japanese and Chinese exhibits of preserved objects, then slowly encountered an interesting section on “Islamic Middle East.” At the “Islamic Middle East” section I was specifically intrigued by a huge carpet laid flat across the floor inside a glass box, it slightly lit for ten minutes on the hour and on he half hour to prevent the colors from fading.  This carpet goes by the name of “The Ardabil Carpet” (dated to 1539-40) and is one of the “finest” and “largest” islamic carpets in existence. I was most amazed by its size and the way it was displayed. The chosen form of display majestically asserted its importance. You can tell this carpet took an extensive amount of work to create and so I sat in front of it, and took a moment of my time to appreciate its intricacy.

With infinite excitement, I then proceeded to the fashion exhibit! I had heard about it from one of my peers who visited the museum a few days ago and I was really excited for what was in store. I’ve lived in NYC for about eight years of my life, so I can’t help but to be interested in fashion (as weird as that may sound). The dresses in this exhibit were like paintings, pieces of art work designed with precision, colored with care and story tellers of their own history. As I roamed, I stopped at a window displaying the evolution of the shoe. Suddenly, I thought back on something professor Qualls said at one of our most recent class discussions: “Progress can be good, but for who?” I was observing the evolution of the shoe, the progress of this everyday item, this extremely useful item that some of us filled our suitcases with. But who’s shoe is evolving? Who wore these fancy shoes, who’s progress was this? What about the people without shoes? I asked myself. From that moment on I knew my own questions would prevent me from enjoying the rest of this exhibit so I left this part of the museum. I stopped by the fairy tale furniture exhibit as well as the heaven and hell, quickly perused the small pathways until I realized that it was time for me to gather with the rest of my peers.

I entered the garden on my way out, where I was mesmerized by the peace I suddenly found there, although short-lasting it was very filling. As I reflected on the things I saw at this museum I realized that, slowly, I am finding the “me” in the streets of London. At the museum I found many of my interests and soon, as we do more learning and exploring I am confident that I will find more parts of who I am in the parts of London we have yet to explore.

Tags: Flow · Uncategorized

Tourist. Tourism.

September 2nd, 2009 · No Comments

Tourist-a person who travels for pleasure or culture, usually sightseeing and staying in hotels (Webster Dictionary). 

Tourism. I am a tourist. A tourist in England, specifically in London. 

For the past two weeks it has been an interesting feeling to be identified as a tourist, especially because I have never had an experience or ever held a title of “a tourist.”  And upon arriving to London and feeling comfortable in this big city, I felt like I was exploring a borough in New York City. Tourism.  Although throughout time people like to shed the idea and a title of being a TOURIST I, on the contrary, have been acknowledging and embracing my expedition. Let me explain…

My journey towards loving being a tourist began upon our entrance to the Westminster Abbey. The fact that I felt like a tourist might have been due to all of the other tourists surrounding me, gazing at all of the famous philosophers, artists, writers, politicians laying in their tombs beneath our feet.  This visit has definitely imprinted itself in my mind. When again will I be able to stand close to Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens, T.S. Eliot, Elizabeth I, Charles Darwin and many others who have had made such amazing impacts on OUR civilization and MY world today. I wonder what other “tourists” felt when they were taking each step across the tombs. Whether they have realized how much history existed in one structure.

Tourism. I am exploring another culture, visiting exhibitions, museums and parks that are only accessible to me on this visit to London. I am amazed. 

Visiting the National Gallery was another experience where my temptation to touch the art work of Leonardo Da Vinci, Claude Monet and Van Gogh reminded me of my “touristy” ways. As I stood close to pieces of never repeated art I was staring my privilege right into the eyes . I am one of the lucky ones who gets to witness such creations. Discussing our visit to the National Gallery, my friends and I were speechless and grateful. Knowing that I was the only one in my family who actually had a privilege of not only traveling to England but also visiting museums such as National Gallery for free is indescribable. But once again I was wondering what everyone else was thinking who surrounded me? Did they realize where they were and what they were witnessing? I guess I will never know but being a privileged  tourist that I am I made sure to take it all in. To completely immerse myself in art, in Da Vinci, Monet, Van Gogh, and Van Dyke. Wishing that I could feel the art with my fingertips in order to make sure it is real. 

Visiting the backstage of National Theater yesterday, I came to a realization that for our continuous stay in London, I will remain a tourist. I am a person who is staying in a hotel exploring culture and my surroundings. Not only am I astonished by the things I am allowed to view but I am trying to take as much as I can in. National Theater has left me speechless, with a view of what goes on backstage, the props used, the spaces that surrender the actors when they are not on stage, the testing of the lights and music. Once again I am ecstatic to be a traveler, a tourist, an individual who is allowed to invade spaces that most do not get to see. As long as we continue to explore, I will continue to call myself a “tourist” and loving every moment. 

Tags: Jeyla · Museums · Theatre

“The Theatre is Irresistible; Organize the Theatre!”

September 2nd, 2009 · 1 Comment

Mr. Arnold:enthusiastic about theatre AND a pair of mutton chops to die for

Mr. Arnold: enthusiastic about theatre AND a pair of mutton chops to die for

So said poet Matthew Arnold, more than eighty years before a National Theatre largely subsidized by the government, to which he referred, would actually come about. Last night I saw a good, fairly ambitious staging of All’s Well That Ends Well at the National Theatre for 10 Pounds. I, too, am wondering why this institution which serves as both promoter of theatre to the wider public and patron of the fringe and experimental, wasn’t part of British life sooner.

The last few days have truly been remarkable. I’ve gotten to see great, well acted productions of Stoppard and Shakespeare for free (for me at least). I’m fairly sure there’s nowhere else in the world that this could be done (without a great deal of generosity). After last night and tonight, I’m particularly regretful that I won’t be able to see many more great plays (because of time constraints) even though I’m spending a whole month in London and I might be reimbursed for it.

Anyway, I really did enjoy Arcadia, even if I’ll need to read it, see it again, and then read it again to even get a whiff of what Stoppard ultimately meant. I had the same feeling on reading Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead only one time through (oh, and Travesties was the other play I was thinking of the other day).

All’s Well That Ends Well, despite being a sometimes infuriating play in terms of theme and (ironically) the ending, was also a valuable experience. Mr. Fisher would be happy to hear that I made a conscious effort to consider the lighting as part of the storytelling for probably the first time ever. In retrospect, the lighting went a long way towards creating a feel of a dark, imperfect fairy tale that I think this production was going for. The set design, which frankly is what really got me interested in coming back to see the play, was even better than I imagined.

Although one might expect a national theatre to put on spectacular stagings of Shakespeare in spaces that fit upwards of a thousand, the thing that struck me on our tour yesterday was that the National Theatre also devotes resources to creating and staging experimental work even if it will not appeal to the general public or bring back much money. Creating three spaces to fit the needs of very different plays when the Theatre was created is evidence that the Theatre is devoted to both offering inexpensive access to great productions and helping to foster a wide range of plays and playwrights.

Stunning Photo of the NT at night

Stunning Photo of the NT at night

I wonder if Brits are aware of how spoiled they are compared to Americans in terms of having fine art subsidized and made somewhat affordable for them (maybe this is why they wear jeans to plays). Judging from the crowd at All’s Well (a near sellout on a Tuesday night three months into the production), they are appreciative of the National Theatre and want to support it. I can’t help thinking this is a great example of how a governmental investment in the fine arts can truly pay off, and how the United States should consider a greater investment in such artistic institutions which are beneficial to society in more ways than one.

While I don’t know if an institution exactly like the National would be feasible in America, I do know that seeing multiple great, professionally produced plays in the US often means going only to New York and spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars. While people spend that much in London, too, Mr. Fisher mentioned that the more innovative and ultimately worthwhile theatre is generally done by the cheaper, subsidized theatres. Also, although this might be hard to sell to constituents who understandably have government money in mind for other purposes, it’s just in a country’s interest to support the creation of great art. It’s great to see that this seems to be understood in Britain.

Tags: Aidan

enjoying the show

September 2nd, 2009 · No Comments

The Notting Hill Carnival was amazing; done. The smells were what did me. The blend of jerk chicken, sweat, and cannabis were overwhelmingly wonderful; a symphony for the nostrils. Each note sliding through your mind yet blending harmoniously. Needless to say, coming at 930 was not necessary at all, but it quickly picked up in volume and entertainment.  The scantilyclad women didn’t grab my time or attention as much as it seems others did, and I didn’t really even check out of the parade that much. What I did love was the competing food stands and street dancing. Each stand seemed to be family owned and operated, which is something I’m seeing more and more of in England.  It is also something that I didn’t see a lot of in America. Back to the Carnival.  I am still on the fence about one thing though: the overbearing shroud of alcohol.  Many of the parade groups had very overt sponsorship from alcohol companies, and it seemed like they were trying desperately to get people drunk. 

Then there was the play. Everyone looked so wonderful, and it was so great to get dressed up. Then we got to the Theatre. The seats were tiny and there were tons of people wearing jeans.  I will be the first to admit that plays often mean nap time for Andrew. But I’ve really liked the two shows we’ve seen and stayed awake for both of them (the globe was a tricky one to fall asleep in). Arcadia was really cool.  The story was ok, but I really liked the execution. The lighting changes and the minimalist scenery also tied things together well. I really liked the scene where the two time periods overlap at the end, neat effect to do on stage. The concept of historians getting something completely wrong because they are looking to become famous is a message that is often times downplayed.  We are lost in the pursuit of knowledge, allowing ambition and hope to guide us where discretion should.  But then again, that’s the trick about history: unless there are direct records, it’s all just speculation. And no matter how much research you attain, you can never get rid of you bias. Anthropology and Archeology are more slaves to this than other humanities. We look at a few sherds of pottery, and we “know” quite a bit about the culture but too often we forget the interpersonal stories.

The stark contrast between the theatre we saw Arcadia in and the Globe theatre is aparent the moment you step into each. The Globe is as some many have already said was quite “Disney” but you know what? I liked it. The open air and the huddling together– it worked really well, and it helped to blend the worlds of reality and play together. On the other hand, Arcadia’s theatre kept you firmly planted in your world. The boxed theatre and cramped seating as well as the drastic lightings were firm reminders of the wall between the actors and viewers.

Tags: Andrew R

Yay for historian John

September 2nd, 2009 · No Comments

We have been lucky enough to not only focus on the history of this city but to also have the opportunity to gain knowledge about the peoples and their culture. More specifically, I have to come to be quite fascinated with the different religions of London. Not only is this a immigrant filled city, but it is extremely diverse group of organized religious views.

Today we had the amazing chance to visit Saint Paul’s Cathedral. I can only speak for myself, but I have yet to see a building radiate such an enormous amount of beauty. First of all I had no idea it was such a large cathedral. I had only seen the back end closest to the tube entrance, but when we walked around to the front, I was overcome by its stature and grace. I was so happy to know we would be guided by Mr. John again. I think he adds so much excitement to history, and his passion for his country really shines through.

Walking through the church, I was utterly amazed by the detail, and the sparkle. You don’t know me well unless you know I love anything pink, princessy or sparkly! This in particular fell well under the “sparkly” category. While writing this post, I still am not capable of comprehending how large and how ornate each aspect of the cathedral is. It is truly a work of art.

I was very grateful for the chance to go to the top of the dome. Beautiful, gorgeous, incredible; these words do not come close to describing how mesmerizing this view was. We have covered so much space, so many museums, and so many feelings, but now, at the top of a monument so dear to London, we realize how much of the unknown still awaits our arrival. Can we possibly learn to understand this city in only a months time?

After our tour, a few of us decided to stay for the nights Evensong. What an incredible expereience. I myself have always enjoyed religious related musical performances, but this was unlike anything I have ever seen. We were unable to clearly hear the words, however the building and organ created such a lovely atmosphere it was almost impossible to not feel overcome by emotion.

I feel very lucky to be able to view these churches, and embrace the different religions of London. I can’t wait to go to the Mosque.!!

Tags: Patsy