Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Entries from September 2009

Operation: Acclimation?

September 15th, 2009 · 1 Comment

This past week I have been reading ” Watching the English” by Kate Fox. Now I am not very far into it, but I am very intrigued with the topic. I feel as though I have found a way to observe a typical day for an average London tourist. This observation has led me to realize,  we don’t fall under this category, however we have succumbed to a few minor mistakes, making our nationality quite obvious. Now, my point in  this post is to address the American’s tendency to stick out. kinda?

One: The Tube
Depending on how large the group is, and depending on who is in the group, the moment the doors fly open we begin to fluster and annoy everyone on board. We, unaware of our high tones, are excited about what we’ve seen or where we are going, so why wouldn’t we talk about it? At this point I am unable to recall how many stares and glares our group of 27 have been flashed, and I personally have felt tense knowing everyone is horrified by our tones, but what is wrong with a little excitement? Why is it taboo to talk to each other on the train? Then again why are American’s so darn loud?

Two: Eating Too Fast (Food in General)
As of now, I have only sat down to eat about eight times. I enjoy my meal, even though it costs more when you choose to sit down, and then I leave. Why is it that they tack of a few pence and say “take away” every time you order? Why is it a different price? And why do all Americans say your dinning out and then sit anyways?  If your in a restaurant where you dine in, and have a waiter, it becomes a completely foreign experience for most Americas. I don’t know about you guys, but when we eat out at home, we go in, sit down, order right when the waitor comes up, eat, pay the bill, and leave. What is the rush? Here in London the service want’s you to take your time. When Amanda and I finished our meal at an Italian place down the street and asked for our check, we were asked a stream of questions including “did you not like it?”, “Are you in a hurry?”, “Why don’t you want dessert?” etc. Why do we rush meals, and why do the British dine leisurely?

And why do we have to ask for the check? I always forget about that!

Three: The Theater
This may be just a “me” complaint, but what happened to the glamour of going to the theater? Bright LIghts, fancy clothes, classy cocktails, beautiful people? As of now we have been to quite a few theatrical and musical performance and I can not help but notice how relaxed the event has come to be. When I was younger I remember every Christmas getting all dolled up to see the Nutcracker with family and friends. I also remember my first NYC Broadway performance, and feeling as though I needed to look beautiful just to enter the theater. Today the theater is the last event on a busy tourists agenda. So, dressed in jean shorts and cotton tank, shopping bags in hand they strut into the theater. Glamour-less? sad.

I guess I wanted to realize the obvious. As much as we attempt to fit into this culture, everyone will notice where your from.  We will always stand out. Our voices, our clothing, our eating habits, and our on the go attitudes; only to mention a few. We are different, and there is not way of hiding it. We cover this up, and ignore it, because were having fun and were happy, but think about it. Were foreign. We can judge the way the English think and act, but really, were the odd ones. I guess the question is, should we learn to conform in this upcoming year? Are we subject to lose our identities for the sake of fitting in?

All this talk of acclimating, now is it our turn?

Tags: Patsy

Bring me..a PUBBERY.

September 15th, 2009 · No Comments

After spending a month in London, I’ve come to understand the vast importance of pub culture, but I’ve also learned that the pubs fall far from my original expectations.  In my mind, I’ve always equated pubs with American bars but have found the comparison to be entirely false.  In my hometown, very few people go to bars at all. When they do, the point is to have a drink (usually after work, and often by yourself) and then go home.  In my opinion, the bars are rather dirty looking and dimly lit.  They don’t attract the most upstanding of people, either.  There is no entertainment within, and the bar countertop itself takes up the majority of the establishment.

In complete contrast, the majority of the pubs I’ve been to throughout the past month have been busy and flourishing.  Different bars cater to different age groups (the Court for university students, others for businessmen, etc.) but there often seems to be a mix of people regardless.  They’ve all been reasonably clean and large, housing pool tables or jukeboxes for entertainment in addition to a wide variety of drinks.  The sheer number of tables makes clear that the pub expects you to stay for a significant chunk of time, and I have always felt comfortable in doing so.

To me, the pub scene here is most similar to the coffee shop scene near my home.  People go to socialize, meet with friends, chat, and relax.  As a barista, I know that people make connections with their servers and occasionally become close friends.  Attending a pub in London or a coffee shop in New Jersey has very little to do with what you’re drinking, but everything to do with the people you join.  As we learned on the pub tour, different bars specialize in different ales or brewed beers.  Likewise, I’ve worked in two different coffee shops that pride themselves in roasting their own particular beans and there are countless others in the area that boast of original, unique flavors as well.  The only difference is the rich history that bolsters the pub community, whereas coffee shops in northern New Jersey don’t tend to have a long standing historical context.

My favorite pub was the Jack Horner, which was recommended to me by a friend who lives in London.  It’s often overlooked by tourists, so I met a lot of awesome people who live in the nearby area.  Being at tourist-attraction pubs is certainly fun (albeit filled with some sketchy individuals) but I prefer the less crowded ones, as they feel more authentic to me.  Overall, it was fun to explore an aspect of British culture formerly so foreign to me.

Tags: Amy

Protest clashes and Immigration Issues

September 15th, 2009 · 5 Comments

I don’t know how many people have been keeping up with the London news, but I thought I’d share a bit of info because it seemed relevant to the class. Over the past week there has been an ever growing tenuous situation. Firstly, we narrowly missed a 24 strike from the RMT. But secondly, and more prevalently, on September 11th near a Mosque in Harrow there was a clash between the Unite Against Fascism (UAF) and the Stop Islamization of Europe (SIOE). The protest had been led by the SIOE and was meant to mark the 8th anniversary of the Twin Tower attacks. I would like to pause for a moment and ask how many Americans have ever shown a demonstration for the 7/7 attacks, let alone escalate to violence over it? The apathy of our nation comes in handy for once. 

Seven people were arrested on September 11th, and a week before, on September 5th, 90 people were arrested when a disturbance broke out in Birmingham. These clashes between anti-immigrants and Muslim/leftist groups have been going on as far back as May; however, they have had little in the way of collateral damage.

As mentioned above, America and UK handle protests and outbreaks very differently. While I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s a hobby, England does have a tradition of riots and violent protests. They enjoy a good scuffle, and it seems to alleviatetension at least to some degree.  Our history with national conflict has been rather limited. The British on the other hand are amazingly efficient: they pack a protest with more police than protesters and basically encircle the people, an amazingly intimidating deterrent for your average protest. The majority of the 1.6 million Muslims in the UK are situated in England, and now with the rising conservative/anti-immigration tide approaching it will be interesting to see if small scale scuffles will be enough to satisfy the hunger of  protesters. This also brings into question the over-asked question of what is an englishman? When are you no longer an Immigrant. And more importantly does being a member of organizations like UAF automatically make you a target for anti-immigrant scorn? One thing that I did find interesting also was the idea of leftists and Muslims teaming up together, this idea leads me to believe it isn’t necessarily an immigration problem, but rather a non-immigrant one.  Guy Fox, IRA, SIOE: for a nation who preaches secularity, they sure love their religious fights.

Anyway, cheers

Tags: Andrew R

The Final Countdown

September 15th, 2009 · No Comments

Like many of my classmates I decided it would be worthwhile to summarize all of my discoveries this month in London. During this post I will focus on six main themes found within London: Parks, Churches, Pubs, Other Religious Institutions, Theatre and Museums. 


Each park that I visited had its own distinct characteristics that separated it from any other. Green Park was the first I visited and after perusing a few others, I realized there was nothing that exciting about it. Located right across from Buckingham Palace, Green Park certainly provides a good place to go and take a break from the busy atmosphere of the area. Besides this however there is not much going on and I would recommend that potential park goers walk the extra distance over to St. James Park.

In addition to the large number of waterfowl heckling people for food which offers consistent entertainment St. James offers some picturesque  flower beds throughout and various monuments along the way. It has the relaxing atmosphere of Green Park with a bit more excitement sprinkled in.

Regents Park offers a completely different feel from Green or St. James. Located in a separate area of London, Regents Park has a history of being used by a higher end crowd. I could tell this immediately from the feel of the park. The decorative shrubbery and elegant architecture throughout gave me a feeling that Regents is not as well used as other parks.

Since I was one of the members of the Parks group that gave a walking tour of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens I could go into a lot more detail about these two green spaces but I will choose not to in an effort to be concise. In summary Hyde Park is the largest green space in London and is often used for larger events such as concerts, festivals etc. It also contains a large number of monuments throughout including the 7/7 memorial and the Diana Memorial Fountain. Kensington Gardens is home to a variety of key monuments but is not as well trodden as Hyde. Overall it makes for a quieter atmosphere, more conducive fo reading or “snogging”.

Regents Park were my two favorite green spaces in London. Regents, is both beautiful, and extremely large and I continually felt the need to go back and explore. Kensington Gardens appealed to me in that it was quainter than Hyde Park but contained a like amount of history and monuments throughout. Although I would be content spending a length of time in any London green space Regents and Kensington would be my top choices.


Overall I enjoyed going to the theatre on so many occasions. What better place to do so than in London after all? Here I will discuss my favorite performances and theatre venues.

All in all I enjoyed all but two of the performances we saw. The two Shakespeare productions at The Globe Theatre were fantastic. Although I did not particularly enjoy reading Troilus and Cressida it made a huge difference to be there so close to the actors. The fantastic drum chorus at the end really sealed the deal. As You Like It was probably my favorite show I saw here in London. Although it is one of Shakespeare’s simpler plays the actors really made it jump off the page. Being down it the pit was fantastic because of all the ad-libbing and constant interaction with the crowd. I even felt traces of Touchstone’s saliva on my arm at one point.

The other Shakespeare performance I saw, All’s Well That Ends Well, was lackluster. Although the Olivier was my favorite performing venue (this is what an auditorium style theatre should be like…why can’t Dickinson have something like this?) the play itself was odd and ended on an abrupt and odd note.

The other play we saw at the National Theatre, The Pitmen Painters, was fantastic. Although I was dozing a bit because of the Benadryl I took right before the show, the actors kept my attention and I appreciated that the play was based off of a true story. 

Easily the oddest play we saw was Arcadia. An extremely intelligent performance the play juxtaposed two different periods in time and created a singular storyline in which the plot was based. Overall it was an entertaining performance that made me think early and often.

Finally there was Blood Brothers. The lone musical I saw produced feelings of disbelief, anguish and held back laughter. The ridiculous 80’s sound track and creepy narrator just didn’t do it for me. I think it’s safe to say that I was not the only one from Humanities 309 who was a bit surprised to see just about everyone in the audience give it a standing ovation.

I had a very positive experience with the theatre here. I would go back to the globe again and again. I loved being that close to the action. I would also enjoy seeing another show in the Olivier. There really is so much to choose from here. It’s simply a matter of figuring out your tastes and saving your money so you can see a lot of performances.


From Westminster Abbey to St. Paul’s Cathedral we saw most of the major churches/cathedrals during our month in London. St. Paul’s was easily my favorite. From the fantastic crypt to the hundreds of stairs up to the tower it had so much to offer in the way of history and mystique. Westminster Abbey fascinated me primarily because of all the literary figures that had been buried inside as well as the room that was dedicated to “The Order of the Bath”. Other churches that I really enjoyed taking a look at were: “St. Martin in the Fields” which sits just outside Trafalgar Square and Nicholas Hawkesmoore’s “Christ’s Church” which is located in very close proximity to Brick Lane.

Other Religious Institutions

Overall the Sikh Gurdwara was my favorite place that we visited. I appreciated the simplicity of the religious doctrine as well as the conviction and honesty with which our tour guide, Mr. Singh spoke. The morning was capped off with a fantastic sit down meal together in which everyone was served the same food and drink.

I had different feelings about the Hindu Mandir. It was clear to me from the very beginning that the Hindu religion is not nearly as modest as Sikhism nor are they trying to be. From the extremely decorative prayer room, to the museum located right in the center of the Mandir I never felt particularly comfortable inside.

The only religious institution I wish we had gotten a chance to visit is a Mosque. I had been to one many years ago but I did not remember a whole lot from my experience. I wonder how much more lively the East End, and all parts of London would be if Ramadan were not taking place during our time here. 


I could go on and on about museums so I will attempt to stay as concise as possible.

The British Museum was massive, convenient since it was so close to the Arran House but a little one dimensional at times.  One of my favorite exhibits at the British Museum was a special exhibit on Living and Dying that drew information from all different time periods and cultures.

The National Gallery was fantastic. Although I have a hard time appreciating some visual art the gallery kept my attention for a number of hours. Seeing so many famous works of art was phenomenal. 

The Tate Modern was my least favorite museum here. Although I am trying I have a hard time understanding modern art. After about 45 minutes in this museum it ended up being too much for me.

The Cabinet War Rooms/Churchill Museum were two of my favorites. The realization that I was standing in one of the most important places in World War II history was unbelievable. The War Rooms felt so authentic. I really felt as though I had been taken back in time to the 1940’s while inside.

The Victoria and Albert was easily my favorite museum in London. There was so much variety inside and so much to see. I could have easily spent a few days inside. Two of my favorite exhibits were the silver and jewelry exhibits. I’m not sure what this says about me as a person but I found it unbelievable that individuals could even own such treasures. I also enjoyed the laid back atmosphere of the V&A staff. At most of the other museums I visited I felt like I was doing them a disservice simply by being there. Although I understand that taking pictures of an object in a museum doesn’t do it  justice I like to be able to have the option of doing so.

The Sir John Soane museum interested me but it wasn’t really my cup of tea in the end. It also had a stuffy atmosphere to it that I didn’t really appreciate. 

One thing I can draw from my experience at museums here is that each and every one has something that distinguishes it. With so many museums I thought that it would be impossible to avoid some overlap but I never really felt that. Cheers to London and its museums.


Finally we have pubs. What would London be without it’s public houses? In some cases pubs are the true museums of London, designating what an area was like in the past and what type of clientele it attracted. During my month here I had a chance to visit a few pubs and get a general sense of what some possible differences could be. It is clear to me that each pub brings something different and unique to the table. The Marlborough Arms was convenient being so close to the Arran House and was a great place to enjoy a pint over a meal with friends. The Court was conducive to socializing in a different way. The music was louder, the people louder and the drinks cheaper. Other places I visited offered other things that made them stand out as well. One thing that i’ve learned about pubs is that it’s hard for one to please everyone. Since everyone has different tastes and desires when it comes to pubs you are better off going to one with a small cohesive group.

To conclude this novel I would just like to say that I think we saw a lot of different faces of London this month. I realize there is much more to see here but between walking tours throughout the city, trips to major monuments and museums and individual exploration I have learned a ton about London, it’s history and where it is going. I look forward to more London explorations in the future but for now, ON TO NORWICH!

Tags: Churches and Cathedrals · Henry · Pubs · Theatre

Tonight: Miles Davis @ St. Martin-in-the-Fields

September 15th, 2009 · 2 Comments

I have lost count of the number of churches in London. Yet, I would not be surprised if there were double (or triple) the number of churches I have seen in the city. Though numerous, I have not yet found a church packed with a local (or visiting) congregation. Sundays, according to tradition, mark the closing of many stores, leaving most streets barren and still. Though Sunday marks a day of rest in the United States as well, one essential difference remains – massive crowds can be seen going to pray at their respective place of worship. (I will mention here that Sunday is not the most important day of the week for many other religions. For the purpose of this post, I will remain largely within the Christian faith, which marks Sunday as a holy day or, at the very least, a day of worship.)

So, the expression “Put on your Sunday best” may not directly apply to my encounters with British Christians. I cannot speak at length to the prevalence of secularism in the country, but from my reading (see the BBC’s site on Athiesm here; see the National Secular Society homepage here) I can note its prevalence in the country. Even our tour guide noted at one point in his presentation of Westminster Abbey that the British are much less religious than Americans.

Regardless, I have come face-to-face with churches and cathedrals – sprawling and small, centuries-old and recently renovated. I have about 40 pictures of churches taken from the same angle looking upwards at the columns or Gothic style or high steeples that sweep the façade of these buildings. One that grasps my general impression of churches in Britain (thus far) could be St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Though the primary reason for visiting the church was to see the E.L.F. Trio, I was immediately impressed by the simple yet elegant design of the building. This was before our visit to Westminster Abbey or St. Paul’s, mind you, so my impression of London’s churches was limited. I remained thoroughly impressed with the church until we went into the crypt. What some consider a modernization of the crypt, I immediately saw as a cheapening injustice to the integrity of that part of the building. As a person of another faith, I was shocked. As a History major, I was appalled. As a tourist who had been in London less than a week, I could not have been more surprised.

I saw tomb markers dating from the 18th century, faded and worn down to bare stone. Well, I should say this carefully, for I did not see all of the tomb markers, for steel chairs and tables prevented me to see many of them fully. The church has recently converted the crypt into a Café in the Crypt – a restaurant that provides a true British dining experience among the dead buried throughout the building’s history. (For music connoisseurs, try out the British jazz scene at the church’s “Jazz Night” in the Café in the Crypt.)

Something about seeing this crypt transformed into a tourist attraction bothered me, but I am not sure if I really have a legitimate reason. (I am a history major, so I would rather see these stones preserved, for instance.) By the same token, I understand that the church has undergone a massive renovation project (which continues to this day) in order to bring new life to the building. It remains a symbol of charity, community, and worship to many people – religious or otherwise. I understand this…yet I would still rather see a commemoration of the people who were buried in the crypt rather than an art display or a jazz musician.

Reading Peter Ackroyd’s thoughts on churches in the city in London: The Biography brings some better understanding to the subject. He describes, in part, neighboring Westminster Abbey as a “city of the dead” (39) and as a monument. The nature of Christianity has changed in London, he argues, and is not as fervent as it was at other points in the city’s history. It is not “lost,” however, for though holy sites across London have been transformed, destroyed, or renovated, they can never really lose their history as holy places (40-43).

I may never get used to the notion of flinging an identifying feature of a place of worship (e.g. a crypt) into the 21st century. Of greater relevance, I do not think I can quickly agree that, as Ackroyd argues, only the face of these sites changes, leaving the heart of the holy site intact. Since visiting the church, I can begin to appreciate their efforts to provide for the surrounding community some other outlet besides worship – such as music and art venues. St Martin-in-the-Fields does plenty of good for the surrounding community, and I would be interested to see how this project succeeds in continuing this tradition.


Tags: Brandon

Get Up On Your Soapbox

September 15th, 2009 · 1 Comment

Parks is a topic I know all too well, considering that was what my group project was about. I thought that this blog post should be the easiest because of that fact, but actually it has been quite difficult trying to figure out what aspect of parks I should talk about. Parks, as I learned through research, are more than just aescetically pleasing. They can serve a purpose of immortalizing people and places or even as a place of national pride. What I was most interested in when I was researching parks though was the use of parks as a public space, in the sense of the public being able to use it as a place to proclaim their beliefs, where they could be ridiculed, praised or even arrested.

In Hyde Park, the park I have studied more in length, seemed to have the most to do with free speech. The first example of this was with Edmund Beales and his Reform League in 1866. They protested in Hyde Park on the 23 of July, 1866 over male suffrage and the representation of the working and middle classes in England on the ballot. Fighting broke out between the Reform League and the police, and there was much consideration on banning these demonstrations. The Prime Minister at the time though soon allowed such demonstrations to continue “unchallenged…since 1872” when Speaker’s Corner was sort of informally born.


Speaker’s Corner is found on one of the far corners of the park, and today is relatively unmarked so that walking by you wouldn’t even notice it was a place of importance. Since 1872 people have basically had the “right” to speak on whatever topic they so desired on any given Sunday, so long as no profanity or violence be used. Many famous people have come here to speak such as Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenon, and George Orwell to name a few. There is really no law that states that this place is the only place of free speech here in London, but police will allow those who wish to speak their mind (granted they follow the very basic rules as mentioned previously) to do so.


One of the most famous events of free speech in the park was Women’s Sunday on the 21 of June, 1908. The Women’s Social and Political Union decided to hold a “meeting” at Hyde Park featuring suffragettes from all parts of the United Kingdom. They all rallied to obviously prove the point that women should be allowed the right to vote. It attracted a crowd of at least 300,000 people and it was one of the largest single demonstration of that time. Women were advised to “wear the colours” which were white for purity, green for hope, and purple for dignity. Although the demonstration was successful in proving its point, it ended in many women’s arrest.

It is strange to think of the limits on free speech, coming from a country where it is allowed (within reason). The importance of these green spaces to the history and heritage of London and England as a whole can be seen through such events of free speech and demonstrations. These places hold a sense of national pride to England’s history, and I am glad that people are still allowed to get up on their “soapboxes” today and speak on whatever they so believe in. That is the beauty and power of history.

Tags: Alli

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

One Last Call for Alcohol

September 15th, 2009 · No Comments

Even though I haven’t yet tried it, it cracks me up that I, at age nineteen, can walk into a pub and order a drink. Additionally, I can take that drink in its glass outside, where I’m likely to smash, lose, or run away with a perfectly good glass, and at places like festivals and street vendors, I can order beer or cider and carry it around in an open container!

As a non-drinker, I was a bit worried about how I would handle pub culture, as well as how my peers, both American and British, would participate in it. I have to say, I’ve been more than pleasantly surprised. I think my newfound comfort with pub culture is both a function of the more laid-back attitude towards drinking in Britain, as well as appreciating the fact that most people I regularly hang out with in the group aren’t looking to get trashed. Additionally, however, I think I also appreciate the pubs themselves. Unlike George Orwell, I don’t think I’ve found my perfect pub, nor do I think I ever will, since my perfect pub would probably only serve soda, all meals would be slathered in cheese and decidedly unhealthy, the bathrooms would be Cloroxed on the hour, and the contents of my iPod would serve as the juke box. Despite not liking drinking or rowdy people, the permeating smell of beer-soaked carpet, or much of the music played at various volumes depending on the venue, I quite like the few pubs I’ve frequented so far.

My first experience in a British pub was on my first full day here. My friend and I popped into the Lord Stanley in Camden for two reasons: One, this is the pub my favorite band got their start in, and two, I needed somewhere to be sick. Despite not being in the best of moods (as well as being distracted by the fact that Coldplay used to perform right there on that piano…I am aware I’m a nerd), I was quite interested by the fact that the other patrons didn’t seem to think much of knocking a few beers back at lunchtime and going back to work a bit loud, as well as the fact that you could order a decent selection of full meals in a place primarily for drinks.

Since that day, I’ve mostly stuck to the Marlborough Arms and the Court with the other members of Humanities 309, as well as a few stops at the Fitzroy. I think we started coming to the Arms mostly because it’s the closest pub to the Arran House. It smells decidedly of stale beer, but the food is good, the bartenders put up with our Americanness, and the music is quiet enough so I can still hear it most of the time, but I don’t need to shout over it, either. Like many others, I enjoy the Arms when I just want a meal and a talk, though we’ve been permitted to get a bit loud in the corner when we so choose. The interior seems to be, as Orwell put it, “the solid, comfortable ugliness of the nineteenth century,” though perhaps the Arms isn’t as authentic as many of the other more historic pubs we’ve been in this month. The Court, by contrast, caters to a younger crowd by having louder music and pool tables, as well as a more modern-looking interior and a designer cocktails menu. In America, I probably wouldn’t go near a place like the Court simply because of its loudness and the fact that people spill out onto the pavement and carry the rowdiness outside, but I’ve actually had some of my favorite nights there, which is as much a credit to the place and the carefree yet still somewhat reserved behavior of the British drunks I’ve seen as it is to the people on the trip I’ve partied there with.

In Watching the English, Kate Fox spends one of her longest chapters discussing British pub culture and customs, which was one of my favorites so far. Because Grace did the finer points such justice in her post, and because I already packed said book deep inside my suitcase, I will simply state that I have yet to see some of the behaviors she outlines. I did once get yelled at for not minding the “invisible queue,” and I don’t think most of us have yet mastered the act of ordering a round for the group and then working out who owes what later (not to mention offering the bartender a drink as tip), but I don’t think I’ve seen any “regulars” that the rules don’t apply to, nor have I heard any ritual arguments and camaraderie between regulars and the bartenders. Perhaps this is because the pubs we frequent are in the center of London and move probably thousands of different people through their doors each year. But in Norwich, I think the pubs might have a slightly different flavor, and I hope to do some of my own anthropological observing in order to understand most of what Fox has written.

I told myself before I came that I was open to the idea of becoming a social drinker while I was here, since it’s part of the culture, but I didn’t expect to want to. Not only have actually enjoyed the sips of friends’ drinks I’ve tried (surprising, since my number-one reason for not drinking has been dislike of taste), but I find the attitude towards drinking so laid-back that now since I’m not pressured to drink or ostracized for not drinking (thank you, group), I’m willing to give it a go. Now I see myself ordering ciders or Pimm’s and lemonades sometime in the near future, but I think because I have little to no experiences with alcohol, I have to be careful how much even one drink would affect me. Either way, I’ve embraced what I’ve seen of the pub culture so far with open arms, surprising myself, and I’ve enjoyed going out to the pubs almost every night for either a meal and a chat or a bit rowdier of a time more than I ever could have expected.

Tags: Chelsea · Pubs

The British Museum: Why I Want to be Cremated

September 14th, 2009 · 2 Comments

Yesterday I had a absolutely HORRIBLE experience at the British Museum.

It started off ok, as soon as I entered I got a map and began walking through some of the exhibits. I began my adventure in the Living and Dying Exhibit. I then began to climb up the stairs and headed into the Chinese Ceramics Exhibit. As someone who has practiced throwing pottery for seven years, I have a GREAT respect for ceramic technique and craftsmanship. However, I was not pleased with the woman who had answered her phone in the middle of the exhibit and was having a VERY loud discussion on her mobile. This irked me but what happened next sent me over the edge. After looking at the ceramics I went to the Mummy room. The room was packed with people and screaming children (not that I could blame them because I also felt like screaming). As I began to walk around the room in effort to see the mummies and read the panels next to them people, people were bumping me and pushing me out of the way to take touristy pictures with the sarcophagi. This completely disgusted me; these people have absolutely no respect for museums, the dead, history, nor their fellow museum goers. When my corpse is hundreds of years old I do not want it to be on display for people to take pictures with while they hold their thumbs high in the air. If I were those Egyptian pharaohs, commoners, etc. I would haunt those fools. By the time I left the room I felt as though I was going to have a panic attack: my heart was pounding, my head spinning, I could not focus on anything, and I was beginning to regret the coffee I had right before. The rest of the museum is a bit of a blur, I vaguely remember seeing people leaning on ancient statues. Most of the time I was at the museum I felt as though I was heading against the crowd. The only thing that I distinctly remember after that was almost getting run over by a large group of Asian tourists on my way out the door.

Something needs to be done to the layout and the security of these exhibits to improve the safety of visitors and of the artifacts the museum houses. Photography should not be permitted on the premises and a walking path should be constructed (especially in the Mummy room) to make it smoother and easier for every visitor to see and appreciate the artifacts. The use of mobiles in the museum should be restricted and enforced. There should also be more security protecting the statues and patrolling the area. I would not mind paying an entrance fee to the museum if it meant the museum would change these things.

Tags: Rebecca

All the World’s a Stage

September 14th, 2009 · 1 Comment

During our time in London we’ve had the opportunity to attend many theatre performances. As I chose to see the optional plays as well, the total count comes to 6: Troilus and Cressida, Arcadia, All’s Well That Ends Well, As You Like It, Pitmen Painters, and Blood Brothers. Although I could probably write an entire paper on each of the plays, I would actually like to discuss the three Shakespeare plays I saw, especially the differences in the theatres where they were performed: The National Theatre and Shakespeare’s Globe.

The first Shakespeare performance we saw was Troilus and Cressida. To be honest, I wasn’t all that excited about the story when I read the play over the summer as it was not as engaging as his more famous plays I was familiar with already. Therefore, I wasn’t too excited to stand for three hours through a play that I thought would be rather boring. The experience at the Globe was exactly opposite of what I was expecting, though. I loved being so close to the actors that I could see every minute facial expression. Seeing the live performance was also much more entertaining than reading it and I learned that you really must see a Shakespeare play to truly appreciate all of the subtleties that are often lost in the text.

All’s Well That Ends Well was performed in the Olivier Theatre of The National Theatre.  The Olivier seats about 1200 people and is styled after a Greek amphitheatre. During our tour of the National Theatre, we learned that this semi-circular shape allows the actors to maintain a connection with the entirety of the audience.  While this may be a better set-up than the raised stage in the front, especially for Shakespeare, one still has the experience of the lights going down and watching the events unfold from afar. I definitely did not feel a personal connection with the actors and at many points I could barely see their faces or expressions. Overall, I felt kind of far away and uninvolved. I found the play to be mediocre. It had some funny parts, but none were all that “laugh-out-loud.” I don’t necessarily think that this play was any worse than Shakespeare’s other plays as it is such a well-known title; I simply think I felt disengaged with the performance.


The Olivier

As You Like It proved to me my love for Shakespeare’s Globe. This performance was so incredibly interactive I enjoyed every second of it. At first, I regretted opting for the groundling ticket as I had just come from giving my walking tour, but I later came to realize it was the best place to be for the performance. During the play, the actors walked through the audience and even acted out the wrestling scene in the front of the groundling section. There were numerous points during the show when the actors made side comments about the audience that could not be heard from the seats farther away.

The Globe

The Globe

The style of the stage at the Globe is the way Shakespeare intended his works to be performed. We’ve heard some criticism about the Globe, especially from A.N. Wilson, because of its links to Disney, its appeal to tourists, etc., etc. I don’t necessarily disagree with such observations, but I do think the Globe deserves some justification. There are few venues where one can see Shakespeare’s plays performed in this manner, and frankly I feel this is the best way to see these performances.

Tags: Sarah · Theatre