Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Give me a good reason why not

September 15th, 2010 · 7 Comments

Within the overarching theme of  “Community” in our London course, we have talked almost ad nauseam about religion. Not only have we visited churches, a Hindu mandir, a mosque, and a synagog, but the topic of religion and its related issues come up daily in discussions amongst ourselves. (Completely unprovoked by Professor Qualls!) Several members of our group are particularly religious, and their world views and values reflect this. The strength of these individuals’ faith and beliefs fascinate me. It amazes me that people my age seem to have already got it all figured out, they know where they stand, when I haven’t even really begun to piece things together.

Religion has always been a topic of interest to me, because I have always struggled with it. There are just so many questions that can never really be answered in indisputable, concrete fact, not to mention so many faiths to choose from. Somehow, I always have a hard time… well, buying it. So for a long time now I have pushed religion to the back of my mind, I’ve tried to avoid the uneasiness and discomfort that comes with thinking about it. But now, in this environment, it is unavoidable. As a Jew (at least secularly) this is a particularly hard time of the year for me, as Rosh Hashanah has come and gone, unobserved by me, and Yom Kippur fast approaches. Since I have gone to college and it has been up to me whether or not I attend services for the high holidays, I so far have not. This does not mean, however, that I haven’t still felt pangs of guilt when I have watched the holidays come and go, no matter how hard I try to feign indifference. I feel deeply connected to my Judaism culturally, and I would consider it my ethnicity more so than generic “white,” but it feels decidedly half-hearted without the spiritual connection.

Since I’m already on the brink of pouring my heart out on a class blog, I may as well just tip the whole damn pot over. As some of you may have noticed, I became visibly upset during our visit to the synagogue the other day. I’m not sure what came over me, exactly. I was shocked that I reacted so strongly to something I’ve seen before. At every religious institution we have visited, we have seen very blatant physical manifestations of the subjugation of women. Although my synagog at home does not separate the men and women, and we have even had a woman rabbi, the fact that such discrimination (and for me, outright belittlement) occurs anywhere in the Jewish faith AT ALL deeply upsets me and creates an enormous obstacle for me to be able to come to full acceptance.

It’s not just the head coverings and other “modesty” clothing articles, even the separate seating I can almost tolerate, (separate is NOT equal, think back to the treatment of African Americans in the U.S. not long ago) but its the fact that women are denied leadership positions and the top level and most sacred aspects of the religion. (We have seen this in every religion we have looked at.) As Jews, we are taught that the Torah is the most sacred, wonderful thing we could ever experience. It is supposed to hold all of the information we need, all the rules by which to conduct ourselves, all the history of our earliest ancestors. In Orthodox Judaism, women are not allowed to read from the Torah, and they are not allowed to have a bat mitzvah, the rite of passage comparable to a bar mitzvah which marks a Jew’s transition from child to adult. (The rules vary from congregation to congregation, but I am speaking here of the most extreme, by the book, traditional interpretation.) If there really is a god as we are made to believe, I cannot accept that such a “perfect” being would condone sexism in any way, shape, or form. How is it at all logical, that something such as the Torah should be denied to half of the Jewish population? (as the orthodox see it).

Our guide at the synagog only increased my distress with his attempts to convey that Judaism is a matriarchal religion. It’s really not. Judaism is traced through the mother only because it’s always obvious who the mother of the child is, whereas the father was much dicier to verify before the age of paternity testing. At the synagog we visited, women are not allowed to read from the Torah. They may be bat mitzvahed, but it is a much shallower, lesser version. I tried to speak to our guide about this after he had given his long-winded, unbearable shpiel and he literally walked away from me. I have witnesses. It could have been that he just needed to catch up to lead the group, but instead of saying so and offering to discuss it further later, he simply ran away. I have tried to ask these questions numerous times, to many different people, and never, ever have I gotten a satisfying answer.

We have heard the argument that it is cultural rather than religious, but, looking at it pragmatically, culture should be adapted to contemporary times if there is no conflict with the scriptures. Why wouldn’t you move forward if nowhere does it say you can’t? Why do women put up with this? Open, institutionalized racism has been virtually wiped off the map, why hasn’t sexism?

People who believe that women cannot read from the Torah, or be rabbis, or become a priest, or the Pope, or an Imam, need to quit squirming around the issue and say outright the clear message they are sending: You are less.

Tags: 2010 Rachel

“You Don’t Have to Say Sorry”

September 15th, 2010 · No Comments

Last night, I had an experience that went completely against my understanding of one of the core pillars of Englishness as described by Kate Fox in Watching the English, namely the use of the word “Sorry.”  It all began when Stephenie and I decided to go the The One Tun to watch the Man U v. Rangers game, which they ended up not showing, favoring Tottenham v. Bremen.  We grabbed some fish and chips, and watched the game, while also playing pub trivia, which seems to be a weekly tradition there.  As we got up to leave, as often happens in any crowded place, a man bumped into me, and I automatically responded with a polite “Sorry,” just like Fox told me the English do.  This particular man was followed by a female, who I can only assume was the man’s girlfriend/wife.  This female character was the one that completely dismantled my understanding of English social interactions, because she said to me, and I quote, “We ran into you, you don’t need to say sorry.”  She was very polite about it (as is expected from an Englishperson), but it still was quite disconcerting.  What do you mean I don’t have to say “Sorry?”  This is England, for crying out loud!  “Sorry” is practically the national word!

After pondering this series of events over the last 24 hours or so, I have come up with several explanations for it.  The first of these is the fact that the woman seemed to be rather intoxicated, so maybe the depressive effects of the alcohol relaxed her normal English awkwardness so that she felt that “Sorry” wasn’t required.  However, I think it more likely had to do with the natural liminal properties of pubs.  Because the supposed English “social dis-ease” (which I haven’t experienced all that much in London), isn’t so severe in a pub setting, it might make sense that “Sorry” simply doesn’t apply as much, because the English are much less awkward around each other.  Even if this is true however, I am still terribly confused, and may not feel comfortable saying “Sorry” ever again.

Tags: 2010 MatthewM · Pubs · Uncategorized

V & A: Give them what they want?

September 15th, 2010 · 1 Comment

I know the “museum subsidization misrepresents history” discussion has been beaten very nearly to death over the past few weeks.  Believe me, I wouldn’t start it up again unless I thought I might be able to bring something new to the table.  So here it goes.
The collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum is a sight to behold.  Above the information desk there’s a staggeringly beautiful Chihuly chandelier that looks like some kind of giant hourglass made out of blue and yellow grapevines.  There are hundreds upon hundreds of ornate  crucifixes, rows of Classical and post-Classical sculptures, and dimly lit rooms lined with ruby brooches and diamond-encrusted scepters and ivory-inlayed lockets and 24-carat gold hair clips.  It’s impossible not to be blown away (if not taken aback) by the opulence of the spread.
Yeah, there’s also a bunch of East Asian art downstairs somewhere.
But wait!  You missed the coronation robe with opal and pearl sequins and the chalice with the eight-kilogram gold handle and the swords- God, those swords- with enough jewels in each to fund its own war.  I know I’m not the only one who left the V & A having already forgotten about the seemingly mundane artifacts in the Korean, Japanese, or Chinese exhibition halls.  There’s been a lot of speculation about whether or not curatorial decisions might have been influenced by government interests (in short, put a bunch of really colorful, sparkly British trinkets next to a bunch of boring, not-so-sparkly Asian trinkets to show off the obvious superiority of the Empire’s art) as a result of subsidization.  I’ll be the first to admit that I started out very much on the side of the cultural conspiracy theorists.  I think, though, that we might be approaching this from the wrong angle.  There might not be foul play here after all.
It all comes down to what we, as westerners, value in art.  The V & A is a huge museum.  It’s almost impossible to take in every last artifact.  So what are we drawn to?  We’re drawn to sparkle.  We’re drawn to lots of jewels and lots of gold, the more the better.  Westerners value sparkle.  We’ve been trained and conditioned to gauge an item’s merit in terms of carats, not craftsmanship.  The fact that we’re more likely to come away from the museum with a more awestruck reverence of a weighty saphire brooch than of a painstakingly lacquered Chinese wine jug isn’t a result of some sneaky government agenda.  We’re just intrinsically predisposed to like that sort of art more.  It’s an almost vulgarly simple idea, but it has been a defining aspect of western popular culture for centuries.  We would much rather see jewels than silk weavings, crowns than ceramics.  Eastern culture values harmony, simplicity, and order in objects.  Western culture values rarity and opulence.  This is no trick planned by the curators.  Even if the less immediately visually striking Asian art section were moved to the main level of the museum or doubled in size, it wouldn’t matter.  As long as there are jewels and golden scepters for westerners to gawk at, the V & A will always be a museum, first and foremost, fueled by the splendor of those artifacts.  This may or may not lead to a disproportional reverence of one region’s culture over another’s.  It’s not a matter of misrepresentation of art or history on the part of the museum- it’s a matter of a fundamentally skewn collective perception of what is or isn’t worthy of appreciation.

Tags: 2010 Patrick

A Little Moaning: Traffic, Firewalls, and Football vs. Quiz Night

September 15th, 2010 · 1 Comment

Since I’ve been here, I’ve witnessed several English moans, all ranging from the fact that Community Support Officers aren’t “real” officers to the weather to the sound being muted during a football match. The moaning doesn’t always bother me (unless I’m surrounded by it and find myself the only one who can find a positive), but the unwillingness to do something, or admit that there is something that can be done, does at times.

My first “moan-on” encounter was not traditional in any sense. Standing at a light waiting to cross the street in Piccadilly Circus, an elderly woman walked around us and started mumbling. I assumed it was something about tourists or Americans not willing to cross without a light unlike a true Londoner (in this case, even the most expert street crosser would have been hesitant!). After a few seconds of waiting, the lady decided that we were also annoyed with traffic and decided to engage us (being Matt and myself) in a moan about the Mayor’s Sky Ride that day. She admitted it was great, but the traffic was so backed up! She also had a rather ambiguous statement about the children being out all day on their bikes: who knows if this was a moan about children being inconsiderate bikers, parents not supervising their children, or if the lady just had something against children and bikes. Since then, I’ve noticed that if traffic is crazy or people are (im)patiently waiting to cross the street, no one strikes up a conversation. This hasn’t caught me off guard; in the US we don’t normally start up conversations while waiting at a street light with a strange. But it has made me wonder why this lady decided to engage us in conversation. Did we look lost? (We weren’t!) Was she lonely? Was she an exception to Kate Fox? (A sort of the exception proves the rule?) Or, did she just say to herself, “my powers of identifying Americans say those two are American! I wonder what they’re doing here”?

My next noticeable one was Monday night when everyone was trying to help set-up for the alumni presentation. If there was ever a time to enact the “Keep Calm and Carry On” phrase, this was it. My mac didn’t have the right hook up; the cord that fit my mac didn’t fit the TV; the firewall didn’t allow us to access youtube or facebook (even if I could get it to upload); I couldn’t get wireless because my computer wasn’t Barclay’s approved; the internet at Claridge’s was slow; the new d-son email system didn’t like the attachment; the Barclays IT guys couldn’t download the right plug-in to play a file created on a mac because of the firewall; the only blank writable CD in the building wasn’t actually blank and the information wasn’t erasable.  (I think that’s all of the problems.) Henrietta, the event planner, was amazing, very helpful, and continuously did a combination of the traditional English moan and apology. “I told the them we were working from a Mac. (Shakes head) ” “I’m so sorry about your presentation. I bet it’s ruined now!” “I’m sorry. I hope we haven’t messed up your presentation.” Even in the moment, I wanted to laugh because here was a perfect example of some of the ideas Fox explores. After a few feeble attempts to return the moans about the IT guys and the firewalls, as well as a few (seemingly unsuccessful) attempts to ensure her that our presentation was indeed going to be fine as I was quite sure we would think of something, I gave up in the co-moaning and just started suggesting plans to fix the problem. I’d much rather spend time debating ideas than dwelling on the fact our original, or billionth, plan didn’t work. Despite the moaning, Henrietta was still quite proactive in trying to resolve the problem and acted, it seemed to be, in the opposite way of the passive, go around that some of us have experienced elsewhere. The main IT guy, however, seemed less proactive, but that could have been because I was mainly a few doors down with Henrietta trying to upload and email the presentation. I was left wondering if working for an American for so long had influenced her aggressiveness.  (I’m not even sure if I would have the guts to go to one of the smartest places in London and “ask” to borrow their internet because we were in a tight spot.)  At the end of the night, despite the moans and technical glitches, the presentation came off okay. Apparently keeping calm and carrying on does work (if enough apologies are spread around).

My most recent and most amusing encounter with English moaning was last night when I went to the One Tun to watch a football match. Because it was Tuesday and Tuesday is the pub’s traditional quiz night, the sound on the TVs was turned off so that contestants could hear the quiz master (not that hearing him made the questions easier. I sort of think we would have done just as well without the actual questions…), which meant no football commentary. No one made a seen, but there was a complaint here and there. The best of which was a quiz team’s name: Turn On the Sound. It was a great passive-aggressive moan that got a few laughs every time the team score was announced. The sound was turned on- after trivia ended. Yet, by then, the game was over. (An annoying 2-2 draw between Tottenham and Bremen.)

I’ve enjoyed hearing the odd moan and I’ve really enjoyed seeing what people do to address the issue, especially when they get creatively passive. While every one is relatively good at keeping calm, the carrying on could use some work.

Tags: 2010 Stephenie

Pubs vs. Bars: The Ultimate Showdown

September 15th, 2010 · 1 Comment

Upon my arrival in the UK, I of course knew of the popular social aspect of life as a Londonian that is the pub scene.  I didn’t know much to expect, but I was sure to see a different perspective than the local Fast Edward’s or Alibi’s atmosphere we have in Carlisle.  We walked into the local pub on our first night here in London and I thought one thing, “This place is dead”.  It was about 10:00 at night and there were 4 or 5 various groups in people (mostly standing) in corners of the pub.  We almost immediately caught wind of the way that pubs work.  Being that as we have discussed, the Brits are very much devoted to their own schedule and seem to keep calm and carry on to their next location with their head facing the ground, terrified of conversation with complete strangers.  I feel like the pub scene is essential to the London lifestyle because it provides an opportunity for them to relax and to chat it up with co-workers, friends, etc.  The essence of pubs here is not based on the same values that a bar has in the United States.  You walk into a bar at 10:00 at night in the states and there is music playing, drunk sorority girls shamelessly ordering pitchers of “sex on the beach” at the bar on their father’s credit cards, and a collective atmosphere of smoke-laden air and silly (and often loud) conversation.  The bar is a place where Americans go to get loose (and I mean VERY loose) after a day of classes, work, what have you.  The objective more than often is to get drunk and shoot the proverbial shit with your pals, maybe even meet a girl.  The goal of pubs seems to be severely different.

Pubs in the UK serve as a place for social interaction and debate rather than drunken, slurred conversation.  The Brits, while on their leisure time seem to be more interested in spending time with and conversing with their peers instead of doing things like watching TV, going to the movies, anything in which you are independent and are relying on some kind of technology to provide stimulation.  The great phrase of a “pub argument” supports this argument in the sense that one of the most prevalent characteristics about a pubgoer is their ability to argue and defend their topic to the death, whether it be politics, class, or their favorite footy team.  It would seem like Pubs are more about the people, you grab a pint, sit down for a half hour or so nursing that pint, and discuss whatever topic seems fitting with your fellow Pubmate.  Most pubs also close before midnight, so they cut you off far earlier than any bar in the states.  Whereas in the states it seems like the point of pubs is to get loose (in some cases VERY LOOSE), and have a few drinks after a long day at work or at class.  It would appear that in America, bars are more about the alcohol, whereas in the UK, Pubs are more about the people.

And then there was the “Pub” that myself and a few other students went to last week.  We walked in, enchanted by the sign with fantastic drink specials and the time of closing: 2:00 AM.  Hook, line, and sinker.  Walking in, we grabbed some drinks and sat down, music playing in the background, somewhat lively scene around the bar.  Then we saw them: Americans.  We could spot them from a mile away in a large group, drinking and laughing (loudly).  We introduced ourselves and we felt at home.  Soon the live DJ came on and the numbers and past stories of debauchery were exchanged merrily around our little 3 table American Embassy.  We felt at home.  But that’s the thing; we were able to recognize how American this bar was, it clearly was made to appeal to tourists and the youth of London.  What I took away was this; the dancing, yelling, mixed drink indulging are all great and are good American fun.  But if you really want to sit down, enjoy your pint, and hold a healthy, meaningful conversation with your mates, head to the pub.  Cheers.

Tags: 2010 Benjamin

A Walk with History

September 15th, 2010 · 2 Comments

Unless you have previous knowledge of the museum beforehand, the John Soane Museum will initially confuse you. Expecting to see another massive and imposing building, the Soane Museum is actually just an inconspicuous house located amidst the London city chaos. Without much of an introduction, I wandered inside holding my purse in a clear plastic bag—the reason for which I learned later on—immediately into Sir John Soane’s past. I wandered through the intricate maze of tall and narrow doorways and winding staircases, coming across only a small number of plaques describing Soane and his belongings. I gradually learned he was an English architect, remembered most for his remarkable skill and his design of the Bank of England.

John Soane’s house was incredible. The detail in the architecture was intricate and the colors and designs were nuanced and distinct. Besides the building itself, the objects it housed seemed for the most part entirely out of place. For example, a large open room, extending from a stone basement to a glass roof, exhibits a myriad of ancient Greek stone architectural pieces. Apparently the room is intended for students to wander through feeling as if in Greece while learning about the architecture. Although I appreciated the museum by the end of my personal tour, I could compare it to another museum I visited in Boston and did not enjoy it nearly as much.

Greek Architecture Exhibit, John Soane Museum

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts is similar to the John Soane Museum in that it’s a personal home that displays the past owner’s invaluable possessions. Isabella Gardner was not an architect like Soane, but rather a remarkable art collector, patron of the arts, and philanthropist. Unlike the Soane Museum, the Gardner Museum offered a tour as soon as the visitor entered—something vital when there’s an apparent lack of plaques, brochures, and audio guides. Furthermore, the organization and presentation of the pieces in the Gardner Museum was more effective. Instead of a disorganized jumble, Gardner’s rooms centralized the visitors’ focus on one main piece and designed the rest of the art in the room to reflect and elaborate on the piece’s expression. For example, one room displays a striking, passionate sort of painting, while other sculptures, drawings, plants, and the room’s decoration further emulate the painting’s dark, mysterious emotions.

Painting in Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

In the end, I enjoyed the John Soane Museum as an exploration of one man’s architectural talent and creativity, the rare objects he collected, and his life in 18th and 19th century England. However, it became a challenge when I compared it to another somewhat similar museum that I much preferred over the Soane.

Tags: 2010 Mary · Museums

Effects of Government and Tourism on Religion in London

September 15th, 2010 · 7 Comments

After visiting several religious sites, including St. Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, and the East London Mosque, I have noticed two prevailing influences on places of religious worship in London: government involvement and tourism. Given England’s history of combining church and state, and the level of tourism in London, it is no wonder that one finds these influences, to varying degrees, in places of religious worship around the city. What is debatable is what effect tourism and government have on religious life and the worship within each of these buildings. In my opinion, churches, temples, synagogues, mosques, and the like may receive some benefits from tourism and a close relationship of Church(capital c, intending to refer to institutions) and State. However, on the whole, the influence of the government and the need to attract tourists lead to some troublesome trends in London’s places of religious worship.

By declaring a national religion, a country will very likely run into one of two scenarios. Either a small central government, such as a monarch, will use the national religion as a way to increase power and authority, and will persecute anyone who does not agree with their religious views. One can simply observe the history of the monarchy as they walk through Westminster Abbey, and see that this happened in England with the persecution, and massacre, of Catholics and others. This scenario has a horrible effect on religion, not to mention the human rights issues. If a ruler can influence the Church, then the Church’s message will quickly become distorted. Even if the ruler moves far away from the central texts and traditions of whatever faith is the national religion, there is no room for dissent. Historically, this situation has played itself out repeatedly.

The second scenario that can result from a combining of Church and State is what, in my view, is playing out in present day London. In this scenario, because the Anglican Church is the official religion for a nation that is increasingly secular and religiously diverse, the Church has become, frankly, bland. As a result, no one (or at, least, the intention is no one) is offended by the existence of a national religion. This also distorts the message of the Church, as governmental control has seemingly caused the Church to concentrate more on pleasing the masses than adhering to texts and traditions that could cause controversy. This “blandness” starts a vicious circle, as everyone involved in the Church sees no reason to attend anymore because it is no different than the world around them. This, in my view, is why when you go into St. Paul’s Cathedral or Westminster Abbey you don’t feel like there is an active faith community existent within the building. However, when we visited places like the Mandir or the East London Mosque one felt a sense of vibrancy and activity because these institutions are not as attached to the government. The lay leader at the synagogue suggested that combining Church and State has its advantages and disadvantages. Certainly, government involvement in religion has allowed students to become more educated in different faiths(Although exactly what they are learning and should be learning opens another can of worms) and governmental intervention allows the church to be funded, but is it worth watering down the principals of a major religion?

Picture obtained from http://www.mandir.org/

Almost as prevalent as the influence of government is that of tourism. Even the Mandir had a small museum you had to pay to enter (unless, of course, you had a London’s Visitor’s Pass-a card that also provides discounts at the gifts shops next to the crypt in St. Paul’s). From the perspective of the religious institutions, an influx of tourists allows you to share your belief system, but it’s a fine line between an educational experience and a money-making venture. At what point, and I don’t have an answer, does opening one’s place of religious worship become more about the cool architecture and less about the faith people are observing within the building? I am not saying any of the places we visited crossed such a line, but I know I am not the only one disturbed by the presence of gift shops in churches.

I am interested in seeing if Norwich’s places of religious worship, and in particular Norwich’s churches, differ from that of London’s. I do think we have seen people honestly observing faith here in London and I enjoyed many of the visits we made to these institutions. I simply think that they all, to wildly varying degrees, feel the effects, mostly negative, of tourists and government control.

Tags: 2010 Andrew

London’s Lungs

September 15th, 2010 · 6 Comments

When I first heard that the parks in this city were referred to as “London’s lungs,” I simply wrote it off (with no basis) to an inflated sense of self-importance.  But now that I’ve visited five of the Royal Parks (Regent’s, Hyde, St. James’s, Green, and Kensington Gardens) I truly appreciate that these parks are giant green oases.  Out of the five, I only stopped to walk around in St. James’s and Green; the rest I ran in, albeit many times.  So there is a caveat that comes with my writings about Regent’s, Hyde, and Kensington Gardens.  For a runner, how the workout went is inextricably tied to the perception of where the workout took place.  I could be running in the most beautiful place in the world, but if I’m struggling to keep pace and then my knee starts to bother me, my memories of that place are going to be negative.  With that in mind, here’s a quick breakdown, plus a note about the running culture I’ve experienced.

Regent’s Park: The park I have spent by far the most time in, and a place that I have fallen in love with.  It seems like Regent’s is specifically intended for recreation, as there are massive open grass fields, some of which have rugby goal posts and soccer goals.  Also, I have definitely seen more runners here than the four other parks.  There is an element of the high society sense that is a bit more present at the other parks in the Inner Circle, which contains the Regent’s Park Boating Lake, some restaurants, and private land.  If this blog entry were not already far too long, I would talk about how this is a classic metaphor for a center-periphery dispute.

St. James’s Park: Perhaps the polar opposite of Regent’s, but along with Regent’s, one of my two favorite parks, for its stunning combination of history and natural beauty.  St. James’s faces Parliament on one side, and Buckingham Palace on the other.  Additionally, St. James gained notoriety during the Restoration period as a center of debauchery, as immortalized in this spectacular poem. What makes it Regent’s polar opposite is the fact that there is minimal recreation there.  Mikey, Luke and I picked up on this fact when we came to throw a rugby ball around and slowly noticed that we were the only people exercising other than people running on the asphalt path.  Well, it turns out that we were committing something of a faux pas, as ball sports are banned in the park.

Green Park: Beautiful, small, directly connected to St. James’s on the Buckingham Palace side.  Not much else to say here, but I did get some great pictures.

Green Park

Hyde Park: I did one 11 mile run that was split between here and Kensington Gardens.  While I was not blown away by Hyde, I wish I had gone there more often (and will try to in our last week here) because of the sheer  history: Crystal Palace, Speakers’ Corner, and countless concerts and sporting events.  The impression I got in my time there was that for a park, there sure was a lot of cement.  I did enjoy the lake, which I later learned was called The Serpentine and is the formal separation between Hyde and Kensington Gardens.

Kensington Gardens: While I found Kensington largely unremarkable, one thing that I enjoyed that it was very green.  Unlike Regent’s, it isn’t chock full with playing fields and running trails, but it’s a place where you can run around in the grass as you like.  Or at least I think it was allowed.


Long distance running is convenient as your chosen sport when you’re in a new city for the first time, as running through a city is a great way to explore it.  Trying to run through and around the massive crowds on the sidewalks on the way to Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, and Regent’s Park has given me a true appreciation for just how crowded London is.  The runner also cannot resist comparing running culture in a new place to that of his home.  Many things are different: as usual, you always, always, always keep left.  Driving on the roads, walking in the stairwells at Tube stations, and especially when running or cycling on the trails, you keep left.  Back in the States, runners crossing paths will sometimes wave or nod at each other, acknowledging their comradeship in pain, boredom, and abs.  I have adopted the habit here of waving to every single runner I cross paths with here, simply because none will ever wave back.  In fact, many will actually avert their gaze in embarrassment.  This fits in pretty well with Kate Fox’s “social dis-ease.”  Another striking difference is that on any given run in London, you are likely to see dozens of burly men running with backpacks on.  There’s really no other way to explain that one.  Finally, one of my favorite routes thus far in the city involves a part run alongside Regent’s Canal.  The Canal is frequented by party boats full of drunken Spanish and Dutch people.  While I don’t speak a word of Dutch, and my five years of Spanish classes tend to fail me in real life, the taunts screamed at me from the boats sound distinctly like “Run, Forrest, run” and “Nice shorts, loser.”

On second thought, maybe the running culture isn’t so different here.

Tags: 2010 Dennis

Greece Lost it’s Marbles, and Wants Them Back

September 15th, 2010 · 4 Comments

Last summer, when I visited the Acropolis Museum in Greece with my family, I did not know much about the controversy surrounding the Elgin marbles.  It was probably the most remarkable museum that I have seen (including those in London), with a transparent glass floor at the bottom through which I could see the walls and streets of ancient Athens, revealed by an archeological dig.  As I moved up through the museum, I saw countless beautiful statues and painted vases.

However, the most strongly featured exhibit was that on the top floor: the pediments, metopes, and frieze from the Parthenon.  The collection was arranged in the exact size, shape and orientation of the Parthenon.  Pieces from each category of ornamentation  were conspicuously missing: full size models of them were interspersed with originals, mostly marked with plaques that said “BM,” for British museum  and a few that named other museums worldwide as the thieves in question.  One of Greece’s goals in building the new Acropolis Museum was to make its argument  for the returning of the marbles, and  the museum provided many not-so-subtle hints throughout its exhibitions that they should be returned, (such as an animated video in which the Elgin’s men, dressed in black, climb the Parthenon, pick up the statues and other artifacts, and walk away with them).  Indeed, it would add to the experience of seeing statues built to adorn the Parthenon, to see the Parthenon itself through the enormous glass windows that surround the top gallery in the Acropolis Museum.

Fast forward to the Parthenon exhibit in the British museum.  Here, there are no windows, and the only representation of the statues outside of the British museum’s collection is on a television screen in a side gallery.  Like at the Acropolis museum, the Parthenon display is set up in the shape of the Parthenon itself, with the frieze and the metopes along the perimeter, and the statues from the pediments at either end.  The statues (and especially the metopes, in which relief sculptures of battles with centaurs are carved),  are individually beautifully crafted and some are in excellent condition, probably both because Elgin removed the very best of the statues from the site of the Parthenon, and because some damage has come to the collection in Greece since.  Despite the high quality and obvious effort on the British Museum’s part to display the marbles so that visitors can picture what they would have looked like at the Parthenon, the effect is simply not the same.

The British Museum makes a pamphlet available to visitors that outlines their argument for keeping the marbles.  It explains that Elgin took the Marbles with the full permission of the Ottoman authorities in Greece at the time.  However, I see this as a case of interaction between two imperial forces, not between Elgin and “Greece” as the political and cultural entity that it is today.  However legal the transaction was considered by the few individuals involved, it is likely that the results would have been different if Elgin had negotiated with someone with a higher stake in Greece’s cultural identity than a foreign, occupying power.  The pamphlet also claims that the marbles should stay in London because they represent the cultural heritage of the entire western world, rather than only Greece.  However, what claim does Britain have to being the ideal place to display everything that makes up the cultural history of all of Europe?  If the debate centers around the well being of the statues themselves, it will go nowhere, because both the British Museum and the Acropolis Museum now have more than adequate facilities to preserve and display the Elgin Marbles.

This debate seems to have no logical conclusion.  However, after experiencing  seeing some of the statues (and through the plaster models, the entire set), at the location of their original home, I believe that Greece has a stronger cultural and historical claim.  I realize that beginning to return artifacts would not be in the British museum’s best interest.  However, returning some famous artifacts (and only to those countries that can care for them), would begin to send a message to the world that  Britain is willing to address the wrongs committed during its imperialist past.  It would probably also free up some exhibition space for some fantastic artifacts that are currently sitting in storage.

Tags: 2010 Emily · Uncategorized