Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

On Parks

September 21st, 2010 · No Comments

Parks in Korea are absolute crap – now that I’ve seen the parks in this gorgeous city. The day I went to Hyde Park, I had some yummy Alfredo fettuccine and red wine in my stomach. It was great. I gave bread crumbs to the geese and watched the sun set over the Serpentine. Meanwhile, Dave, drunk, frolicked on the grass. The vast space of Hyde Park and the more secluded areas of it, provide people with a choice: do I want to sit outside in the sun, in the open, or do I want to find a spot in the shade, amongst the animals. The experience was an unusual one, if only because I was not used to finding nature in between streets. Like everybody else, I found it amazing how a natural ecosystem  could exist within the artificial confines of the city. It didn’t make any sense (still doesn’t). The fact that a fourth of London is green space is a reflection on the aims of the government in providing people a safe haven from the hustle and bustle. Indeed, one of the more interesting things I’ve observed from Hyde Park and the others parks I’ve visited (St. James, Regents, Holland), is the number of people in suits sitting on the bench or riding a bike (Barclays, of course). Plus, having parks as well constructed as the ones we’ve seen in London keeps people of the street and into safer zones (not necessarily just crime but cars and other hazards). The more I think about the park, I realize it fits the British temperament of being calm and unperturbed. I may be stereotyping a bit here, but this is something I’ve felt since the first day Emily and I went off into Marylebone to orient ourselves with the city; the people seemed so relaxed. In Korea, at least in Seoul, it is the norm to bump into people without receiving so much as an apology; people seem more tense, even apprehensive. Someone commented that they’ve seen a surprising lack of recreation in these parks. I don’t think it’s a mere coincidence. Whereas in America, we see the parks and beaches dominated by people playing volleyball, basketball, soccer, and a variety of other sports, over here, the Brits seem more inclined to take a stroll or sit on the bench and sip coffee.

While we can say that Hyde Park and St. James is very similar, we know that Hampstead is much different than Regents. Its been fun visiting these parks and noticing the small differences and peculiarities. St. James has a beautiful course that surpasses both Hyde Park (even though Hyde is still my favorite) and Regents, while Hampstead is probably the quietest park I’ve visited. It may not boast the friendly wildlife of St. James, but Hampstead was one of the most pleasurable walks I’ve had in London; the scenery was absolutely beautiful, prompting me to take photographs at every turn in the road.

Parks are reminders that urbanity needs mother nature.

Tags: 2010 Sean

Holy holy places, Batman!

September 21st, 2010 · 1 Comment

We’ve visited five places of worship in our time here: the Swaminarayan Mandir, Central Synagogue, East London Mosque, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and Westminster Abbey. I include the Abbey with extreme hesitation, but ultimately do so because you have to pay if you visit like we did, but it’s free if you want to worship (look under “entrance fees”). Let’s break it down scientifically.

Mandir, Mosque, and Synagogue:

Confession (pun intended): before these three visits, I had never entered a non-Christian place of worship. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but generally found all three to be a pleasant experience. Part of me wishes we were able to go to a smaller place of worship and see a mandir, mosque, or synagogue that was strictly for research. But they probably would not be nearly as accommodating to a group of 27, and we also would have missed out on the community outreach we saw at the places that we went to. Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism are very different religions (although not as different as accounts of “religious” warfare would have one believe). One thing I saw that differentiated them as a group from the Christianity that I’m more acquainted with, though was the emphasis on serving the local community. In no way am I saying that these religions are more concerned with service than Christianity; all four religions are too massive to make generalizations like that. I am saying, however, that the Catholic churches that I’ve grown up with take collections for feeding and proselytizing faraway lands. BAPS, the Central Synagogue, and the East London Mosque were all very concerned with their very local community of believers.

St. Paul’s & Westminster:

Borderline places of worship. This did not devalue either place for me in the least; Westminster Abbey is just so mind-blowingly historic that I still haven’t figured out a way to synthesize what I saw there. And St. Paul’s remains a spectacular triumph of architectural design. Still, though, all I was able to pick up about Anglicanism in these two outings was through indirect encounters. After being in these two places, my gut tells me that the Church of England has been culturalized, that it isn’t about the faith. But I really, really wish I went to a run-of-the-mill Anglican church on a Sunday morning. Without having done that, I can’t add anything to the numbers that anyone can read.

Tags: 2010 Dennis · Churches and Cathedrals

Complete Opposites

September 21st, 2010 · 1 Comment

The British Museum. Bang. Zoomph! Woop. Boom! The biggest statues, the coolest marbles, the most languages per stone, a whole bunch of the Parthenon. Beowulf. The museum is like a pirate’s hoard. It is everything awesome that the Brits could find and lug back to their island, displayed in a massive ceiling’d amalgamation of rooms with entirely uncoordinated and impossible to follow numbers that follow no logical pattern. Doesn’t get much better than that. Cleopatra’s body is there! Things that just have no business being there are all just hanging out at the British Museum and it is like it’s no big deal. You wander through the museum, stumbling upon gigantic Egyptian and Greek statues portraying God’s and mythical battles.

This brings me to an interesting point that I am sure has been discussed throughout these blogs ad nauseum. It is this British idea that somehow these priceless objects belong in the British Museum and not, say, back in their respective countries of origin. I’ll refer here to a quote from a plaque in the Greek portion of the museum.

“The Parthenon sculptures in the British Museum were brought to England by Lord Elgin and bought for the Museum in 1816. Elgin’s removal of the sculptures from the ruins of the building has always been a matter of discussion, but one thing is certain- his actions saved them further damage by vandalism, weathering and pollution. It is also thanks to Elgin that generations of visitors have been able to see the sculptures at eye level rather than high up on the building.”

Okay, let’s ignore the last sentence as the Museum is clearly grasping at straws. Obviously, the sculptures could be at eye level in Greece. Instead I’d like to focus on the phrase ‘one thing is certain.’ So that is to say that it isn’t certain that the sculptures should be back in Greece. As if both countries have a legitimate claim to the sculptures and it is a matter of debate, instead of a simple matter of Britain not wanting to give the sculptures back.

The other museum that I found truly blog-worthy is called the Welcomme Collection. It was of interest for a number of reasons. First was simply the content. One of the major exhibits I explored was on medicine, exploring its history. But what really set this museum apart was the way it was presented. The first thing I saw upon walking into the exhibit was a massive plastic model of a person, entirely consumed by bulbous fat. It had no head or features besides legs. And then there was thorough analysis on the side. This wasn’t a museum designed to wow in the way the British Museum did. It was supposed to provoke thought. The exhibit pointed out how humans had evolved in an environment in which we had to walk considerable distances and could not eat very often. And that through technology we eliminated this need to walk while also increasing the availability of calorie-rich foods. And that many developments (such as a remote control, automatic can opener) were designed to remove any sort of exercise from day to day life. But at the same time, humans are inventing products such as stationary bikes to increase artificial exercise. In the next room I came upon three chairs in glass. Two were dentist’s chairs, one from 1900 and the other from before that. The third chair was a torture chair covered in blades and hooks from Ancient China. The plaque on the side did not explain the connection between the three, but it was a shocking exhibit all the same. The final thing of interest about the Welcomme Collection was the clientele. It was mostly young people, teenagers and mid-twenties, and a seemingly alternative culture. Girls with pink Mohawks and black leather jackets, that sort. Another really cool exhibit contained an actual metal chastity belt from centuries ago, which I did not realize existed.

These two museums are particularly interesting when juxtaposed. The British Museum needs no explanation. It’s exhibits are shockingly valuable and famous. The Welcomme Collection provokes thought and puts together interesting and obscure objects.

Tags: 2010 Michael · Museums

On Churches & Cathedrals

September 21st, 2010 · 1 Comment

St. Paul’s Cathedral is beautiful. I prefer it to the Westminster Abbey, which is too firmly Gothic, and thus too intimidating – even disheartening – for me to enjoy. The Mandir was beautiful, but its opulence was too demanding. Rather, I found the short service we were able to see to be the most pleasant thing about the visit. The mosque was simple but I felt nothing. The exterior of the synagogue wasn’t impressive, but its main service hall was quite a spectacle. The church, or space in which worship is held, is where religion meets art and the two become intertwined, rendering contradictions obsolete. As much as the theological aspect of our religious sojourn in in London was important, I want to emphasize just as much the self-evident, formal beauty of the physical structures that provide a spiritual retreat from the material world. Pater tells us to use our eyes in a most bare and sensuous way, to indulge in the uniformity of lines and colors of such beauty, holding nothing back in the appreciation of the aesthetic object as if one was a child.

St. Paul's, exterior

While Westminster Abbey and the Mandir may have a more impressive exterior, I think the interior of St. Paul’s trumps all. I liked the presence of large, unstained windows bringing in natural light; a nice counter to the overall grandeur. (Of course, the Abbey doesn’t use clear glass so the interior is dark and gloomy, just as its exterior suggests). Furthermore, the light in St. Paul’s has the benefit of moving through an expansive space. When you step into St. Paul’s, a sense of liberation overwhelms you, a sentiment I think that has much to do with the way in which copious space and light are joined.

St. Paul's, Interior, Nave

There is the question, however, whether St. Paul’s, Westminster and even the Mandir is an ideal place for worship, when there is a strong emphasis on exterior beauty. I’m not a catholic nor a hindi, but having experienced small cross sections of these religions, the question persists. Can art and religion co-exist? As some people have noted, these religious institutions have become hot tourist spots, so much to the point that the spirituality has diminished. These “landmarks,” however, achieve a certain iconic status not just through its historical relevance, but through its aesthetic power. People go to see St. Paul’s because it looks so damn beautiful.

First Photo, courtesy of London Pass
Second Photo, courtesy of St. Paul’s Cathedral

Tags: 2010 Sean · Churches and Cathedrals

Late Thoughts on the BM and Ownership

September 21st, 2010 · 1 Comment

I’ve tried to keep my eyes and mind open in London, and I think in a lot of ways, I’ve succeeded. There have been a lot of experiences that wouldn’t have necessarily been my first choice, but afterwards I was glad I got involved in. Now that that’s out of the way, my inner fourth grader would like to make the following announcement: I don’t like museums. Never have. It would be pointless to try to present an argument justifying this, but I start out with it so the reader can understand the glasses through which I’ve viewed museums over the last four weeks.
The most striking feature of the British Museum has been the totally unearned and insane sense of ownership of foreign objects, particularly Elgin’s Marbles. When you go into the main exhibit containing the Marbles, here’s the first thing you see:

personal photo

Here’s an answer key, I can save you five minutes that would have otherwise been spent reading that absurd leaflet.
Because the British Museum stole them!
Lord Elgin stole them and then ran out of money and sold them to the BM!
In England!
The Parthenon sculptures back, because you stole them!

Actually, that’s the second most striking feature of the BM. Despite my previously whiny comments about museums, I couldn’t help but be totally blown away by some of the objects. Within ten minutes, you could see arguably the most famous object in history (the Rosetta Stone) and the most famous human body in history (the Lindow Man). Unbelievable.

Back to the question of ownership, though. One of the prompts for this blog entry is “What does it tell you about Britain?” Every time that I’ve seen something that seemed out of the ordinary, I’ve tried to remember to ask myself “Is that different because it’s British, or is it different for a totally separate reason?” With the Elgin Marbles, I instantly attributed the hubris of that situation to Britishness. But the same exact problem exists in a Berlin museum (you have to go to the second page of that story), among others. And I guess if I learned from museums that I can’t automatically blame the Brits for being Brits, then I learned a lot.

Tags: 2010 Dennis

This Blog is like Religion to Me. I Recognize How Unfunny that Joke is.

September 21st, 2010 · No Comments

In this blog I’ll just give disjointed thoughts about the different places of worship which we have visited and then thoughts on our in class conversations regarding religion. First off, I really loved the Bath Abbey. It was tremendously impressive without the pomp of many of the other places we visited. It was not so heavily touted, there was no security. It was unimposing. It was geared toward humbled devotion to God rather than self-aggrandizing homage to England’s greats, and, therefore, to England itself. Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral are guilty of this fault in my opinion.

The Mandir was another great experience. Marble is one of my favorite materials both for its look and feel. The hand carvings were also astonishing and I liked that we were a part of the ceremony. It was, for me, the most moving of all the religious experiences we had. I think it was especially powerful for me as it provided calm in our hectic time in London. I would like to go out to the lawn by the bubbling fountains and sit and think. We were told that the building was constructed without the use of manmade materials and I don’t know if that was it but it was a relaxing, peaceful experience.

St. Paul’s was breathtaking, the most impressive of the buildings in my opinion. The way the dome construction opens up the whole building sets the cathedral apart from Westminster Abbey (not to hate on Westminster, which was lovely.) You can soak in much of the majesty of the building all at once. It is rather overwhelming, but extremely impressive.

The mosque and synagogue did not have the aesthetic appeal of the other religious buildings we visited. The mosque visit was unfortunately short although I believe it offered a valuable insight into the perspective of the faith toward Americans. It is a jaded perspective but not unjustly so. The short duration of the tour combined with the women who pulled down the shades when they saw us in the hallway speaks volumes about the wariness towards our presence. Not, in my opinion, a word about the Islamic faith in general. That is to say that I don’t believe the Islamic faith to be closed to the public any more so than other faiths.

This reminds me of a class discussion we had in which it was put out there that our guide in the mosque was defensive about his faith and toward the questions he was asked. The evidence which was cited to support this idea was his references to similarities between Islam and Judaism and Christianity. I believe it would be more correct to simply see Islam, Judaism and Christianity as three streams which come from the same river and flow into the same sea. Not to get too metaphorical.

Tags: 2010 Michael · Churches and Cathedrals

My Bit on Theater

September 21st, 2010 · Comments Off on My Bit on Theater

One thing that I appreciate about London is the accessibility to see theater without creating a dent in your pocket. Seeing shows on Broadway are the complete opposite, hence the reason why I’ve only been to a couple of Broadway shows although, my money has always been well spent. In London I haven’t spend more than thirty pounds to see a production, not to say that they’ve all blown me away. Les Miserables was my favorite and was similar to the style of production that I am used to seeing. Performance wise, everything was spot on- the acting, costumes, set, music, the list goes on. It took real skill for the actors to maneuver the rotating stage, which I’ve never seen before. The most unique experience for me would have to be at The Globe Theater seeing The Merry Wives of Windsor. Never in my life would I opt to standing for three hours to watch a play, except for in London of course. I’m not a fan of Shakespeare but I had some good laughs. The cast was very talented, and the transitions between scenes were very creative. I would say most of us liked the production, even though we all despised Professor Qualls for making us stand.


The funniest play would be The 39 Steps, in which there was never a dull moment. What I really loved about this play was their creativity and enthusiasm. This four- member cast created magic on stage, and engaged the entire audience. With limited crew and crops, they really encouraged viewers to use their imagination. While glancing at the audience during intermissions, I couldn’t help but notice how homogenous the crowds each play attracted. Being located in the West End could have been a reason for the very white audiences, however it’s not like ticket prices prevent anyone else from being able to see a show every now and then. Is theater going only prominent in white culture?  I also wonder if there is such a thing as the same show being better in the West End than it is on Broadway.  Somehow, I just can’t see it happening that way, probably vice versa (statement could also be very biased).  If its one thing, I wish I did set aside more of my time in London to see more theater.  I know this is something that I won’t to do when I get back to New York.  I find it ridiculous that now movie tickets are over twelve dollars each, which is the equivalent to a fifteen pound ticket to a play.  It is so unfair that Londoners have this choice!  I do hope to come back to London a couple times before my stay is over to further immerse myself in theater culture.

Tags: 2010 Melissa · Uncategorized

Some Thoughts on Theater

September 21st, 2010 · No Comments

Probably Les Mis was my least satisfying theater going experience in London (and I did enjoy it: I enjoyed every play that I went to). It’s strange to say, because I had been wanting to see Les Mis for years.  And don’t get me wrong: everything about the play, from the acting to the lighting to the music was top notch. But somehow, the nearly perfect production left me unsatisfied.  My main problem with the play was that the plot was so full and neat that I had trouble being swept up in it.  So many important and often tragic events happened in so little time that I found myself lagging behind emotionally.  The ending was a little too neat to feel genuine; by the end mostly everyone is dead but the male and female leads (who of course end up together).  I left wanting something more, although I thoroughly enjoyed the music.

39 Steps, while probably not very innovative, and definitely not deep or reflective, felt full of energy in a way that Les Mis was not. I think that this was because I did not know what to expect going in, and the play was hilarious and unafraid to make fun of itself.  Probably the funniest moments in the entire production were those in which we were made very aware that we were watching a play: the use of windows an doors as props, and the scene on the train in which the actors responded physically to the train’s imagined movement.  More interesting and funny surprises were in the staging of the play than in the plot.  39 Steps was as much as a crowd pleaser as Les Mis, though in a different way, and it felt more alive to me.

I even found the Habit of Art more interesting than both in way, although it certainly did not hold my attention in the same way.  Risks were clearly taken, right down to the bright florescent lighting used throughout the play to create the feel of a rehearsal.  Although I had trouble sympathizing with the characters, and had a negative visceral reaction to some aspects (like the urination in the sink, and the apparent stench of the apartment), but I guess that even my negative reactions were an accomplishment on the part of the play, since they were clearly intended.  The Habit of Art stayed with me longer than the other plays we saw because it had me reflecting on why it was written as it was, and on the connection between the lives of the actor-characters and the lives of the two famous “artists” in the play within the play.  So although I was not amazed at the end of  The Habit of Art, I was definitely satisfied.

I am definitely glad that London is home to so much innovative theater, and that we had the opportunity to experience some of it.  I wish that I had time to see more plays in London, and I look forward to finding out what the theaters in Norwich have to offer.

Tags: 2010 Emily · Uncategorized

Get It?

September 21st, 2010 · No Comments

For academic purposes I frequented a variety of pubs during my stay in London. In this time I noticed that small decisions made by the management go a long way in determining the atmosphere of a pub. At a favorite of mine, The Rocket, on Thursdays they lower the price of all their shots and have specials on mixed drinks and bottled beer. It was no surprise that on the two Thursdays in which I went to the Rocket we encountered a bunch of young people, in one case a large group of American Freshmen. At another pub I went to, there were no specials and no pitchers. There were, however, a lot of nice beers from around the world and on every table. The clientele, therefore, was mostly older men and was much quieter. I had another varied experience at The Bank of England. The difference in this pub was the high ceilings and grand décor. (Hardly a small decision I realize, but still.)  The atmosphere in this pub was definitely classier, and the high ceilings gave off a feeling that, despite the amount of people in the pub, one was never crowded.

One thing I noticed about the pubs was the lack of traditional pub games. I haven’t seen any darts and only been to one pub with pool. Pool was sweet though, despite a crushing defeat that I suffered at the hands of a girl. The only time I’ve ever lost to a girl throughout the entire course of my illustrious life.

Here’s another thought for you. I hate pubs/bars with loud pumping music and no dance floor. What is the point! To make conversation impossible and awkward?

I find Orwell’s remarks on pubs to be quite accurate as well. I find the idea that the perfect pub is impossible to find ties in well with my previous idea about atmosphere. It may be the one coherent thread in this post. For, you see, in my mind, the perfect pub would be both chill and cheap. But these two things are mutually exclusive! Because if the prices are cheap then lots of rowdy people will come and be drunk and order lots of shots and you’ll get that annoying loud atmosphere that completely clashes with the chill one that is ideal. And there you have it folks.

Tags: 2010 Michael · Pubs

Try as I might, I can’t think of a clever name for this RELIGION BLOG…

September 21st, 2010 · No Comments

Religion is something I always felt I should know more about, and this time in London has been an interesting opportunity to do so. I particularly enjoyed visiting the Hindu Mandir. Part of this is because I had never been to a Hindu temple before, and part was because, I think, of its presentation.

The volunteers at the Mandir were very kind and helpful, and I really enjoyed the Hinduism exhibit there. They assume, it seems, that most people who come to the temple do not know anything about Hinduism, and they are probably right. I didn’t really know much at all, aside from a few little details I have picked up over the years. I thought the exhibit was educational without being boring or preachy, and I thought it gave me a good perspective on Hinduism before the temple service. I think it is because of this attitude of openness that I enjoyed the Mandir the most.

I also enjoyed visiting the synagogue. I already knew some things about Judaism, but I still appreciated the crash course he gave us. I also really liked looking around a synagogue because I have only ever been in one once before. I think I benefitted from the interaction with our “guide” because he was interesting and earnest, and it seemed like he really enjoys teaching people about the synagogue. Plus, he’s had a lot of practice since school kids come there frequently for tours.

I loved the Christian buildings we went to, but we weren’t really there to learn about religion. With the cathedrals, abbeys, and churches, the tours were mainly geared towards the architecture and history of the buildings and the people buried there, rather than towards the actual religious ceremonies that take place there. At Westminster Abbey, we did learn a little about the royal ceremonies that occur and we did get to see Evensong at St. Paul’s, but, because the branches of Christianity are generally very well known about, it seemed as if the actual religious aspects of the churches were viewed as less interesting. It seems like the churches in London have become more secular than anything. They are burial places for great people and memorial sites for war heroes and the like.

The only religious building I was somewhat dissatisfied with was the mosque. This is not meant to disparage our guide or the religion in any way, but it seemed to me as if we were not welcome there. And maybe that’s completely fair. I certainly “didn’t belong” at the mosque, though I did my best to be respectful and non-threatening. But I don’t know much about the culture, so what I interpreted as stand-offish, defensive, or unwelcoming behavior may not be entirely accurate. I do wish we had gotten to learn a little more, though, because I still feel as if I don’t know as much about Islam as I would like. I did learn a little- and what I learned was very interesting- but it was mostly a refresher course, I felt.

I still feel like I need to learn more about religion in order to be a fully enlightened individual. I don’t like to be judgmental, especially without knowing all the facts, so I think I would definitely benefit from further study on the subject. But I’m glad we were at least exposed to these places of worship so that I can have a firmer grasp on the basics of these religions and so I can take stock of what I still need to learn.

Tags: 2010 Jessica