Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Entries from September 2010

Watching an Arsenal Game at the Rising Sun

September 21st, 2010 · 2 Comments

Of all of the pubs which I frequented during my one month stay, the Rising Sun was my favorite.  Now, you might ask why I would be interested in going to this tiny pub with limited outdoor seating, and frankly food which was lacking in sophistication and cooking skills.  Seriously, Dave got frozen peas with his Fish n’ Chips.  And the answer is, of all of the pubs I went to during a football match, the clientele at the Rising Sun were the only ones that I saw as being truely interested in the games at hand.  And I think that the smaller atmosphere of this pub actually facilitated this.

Tonites game was Tottenham Hotspur versus Arsenal.  From the reactions of the pubgoers to each of Arsenal’s four goals against the Spurs, they were vastly Arsenal fans.  When an Arsenal player was fouled as he brought the ball through the penalty box, the fans were outraged.  And the exitement of the sucessful penalty kick got the entire pub cheering afterwards.

During the second fifteen minute half of the extended time period, the fans would also cheer as a group whenever an Arsenal player gained possession of the ball or stole it from a Spurs player.  For example, if the Arsenal player avoided losing posession, a large contingent of the pubgoers in front of the bar would exclaim say “OHHHHHH!” in unison.  This actually reminds me quite a bit of the reaction towards gaining possession during football games at the sports bar I go to back home.  At many of the other bars, it seemed that the football matches on the flatscreens were more of an afterthought, and most of the customers were ignoring them.  However, that may be because Arsenal wasn’t playing in those games.

If you want good food and an excellent selection of beers and spirits, go to the Jack Horner.  The food is quite a bit more expensive than the other pubs, but the Fish and Chips are some of the best that I have had throughout my stay in London (and that is many a fish n’ chips).  I would also recommend trying the Fullers ESB.  Another favorite pub of mine was the court, mainly because they served Everards Tiger, an ale with light coffee notes.

Tags: 2010 Tyler · Pubs · Uncategorized

Fox-y England

September 21st, 2010 · 1 Comment

When I read Watching the English at home, I thought Kate Fox was mostly being funny. Now that I’ve spent a month here, I know she wasn’t. But there is one amendment I think she needs to make to her book: her analysis of the English seems to be mostly restricted to the older generation. I suspected this while I was reading the book, but I couldn’t be certain. It did seem strange to me, though, to imagine that young adults would be unwilling to tell people what they did for a living or to talk to people on the tube, for example. Even in America, it is rude for older generations to brag about how much money they make, but young people are allowed to compare notes about hourly wages and the like.

 A few weeks ago, Jesse and I overhead a young couple strike up a conversation with a similarly-aged man on the tube. Simply starting to talk to the man goes against the rules of Fox’s book. According to her, people just do not create conversation with strangers. Not only did the couple talk to the man, they wound up asking him what he does for a living. But some things Fox said still does apply to younger generations. The couple made sure to wait for the appropriate social cues before inquiring. The man mentioned his job and they reciprocated, asking him what he did.

But that isn’t to say that Kate Fox was wrong about everything. She helped me out of some right situations, making things less awkward for me. I would never have known, otherwise, that it is customary to buy your bartender a round instead of leaving a monetary tip, for example. And Kaitlin was astutely able to deduce that the neighborhood near Regent’s Park was upper class partly because of the unkempt gardens full of scattered lawn ornaments.

I’ve definitely enjoyed (and will keep enjoying) “watching the English” to compare my observations with those intimated by Fox in her book.

Tags: 2010 Jessica

Is that a yard sale, or is it the Victoria and Albert Museum?

September 21st, 2010 · 1 Comment

Museums in England and unlike any I’ve seen before. It’s absolutely incredible. I can’t believe how trusting the curators are. There will be an ancient Greek sculpture, for example- the original, mind you- on display with no barrier separating it from the museum-goers. There will simply be a sign nearby asking politely if the spectators please wouldn’t mind not touching it. At the Victoria and Albert, you can accidentally lean against some medieval sarcophagus without even realizing it.

Another amazing thing about the museums here is the wide variety of objects on display. I speak mostly of, again, the Victoria and Albert, where everything is wonderful yet nothing really seems to make sense. There are gigantic rooms filled with hundreds of objects, none of which really seem to fit into the same category. There is a Japanese teahouse in the medieval section, for example. In the fashion exhibit, hundreds of outfits were organized, almost nonsensically. At first, I thought they were chronological, and then I thought they were organized by the fashion capital they were designed in. Eventually I realized that both categorizing systems were incorporated into the design, but neither permeated the entire exhibit. The result was a very interesting yet scattered display.

The “Recent Acquisitions” room was my favorite. It was located off a hall that was filled with ancient Asian artifacts and next door to a room that contained miniature models of the V&A museum. The recent acquisitions apparently consisted of something like a ball of yarn, a strangely painted chair, and an ancient statue. They had absolutely nothing in common except for the fact that the museum had recently acquired them and did not yet know where to put them.

There were two large rooms- which were not available for viewing but were located underneath a walkway so we could see into them- that were filled with huge replicas of columns and gargantuan doors and enormous shrines. I could see no rhyme or reason to the organization of these rooms- they seemed more like storage areas than anything else- but they were beautiful and fantastic, nonetheless.

The organization of the rooms was so strange that it was rather difficult to find anything. This made it enjoyable in the sense that it made the museum visit seem almost like a treasure hunt; it made me look at things more carefully, to ensure I didn’t miss out on any exciting artifacts. I managed to find, courtesy of Amy, one of da Vinci’s note books tucked behind a wall, nearly hidden from sight in the Medieval and Renaissance section. The Hypnertotomachia Poliphili, a beautiful book from the 1400s, was practically stashed away in a drawer in the same area. In the Theatre section, I was able to see, amongst a vast collection of current movie posters and sketches of older plays, two patents for theatres from 1660 scattered throughout the less significant pieces.

Of course, not all museums in London are organized like the V&A. The British Museum and both the London Museum and the Docklands Museum, for example, are organized very logically. It is not hard, in these museums, to see why the curators arranged the exhibits the way they did.

But I am very curious as to why the V&A is organized as it is and, sadly, I do not have an answer. Perhaps there are just too many items from a broad variety of periods to be contained by conventional categorization. Or perhaps the curator just thought it would be an interesting display. My speculation will have to do for now, I suppose.

Tags: 2010 Jessica

Museum Musings

September 21st, 2010 · No Comments

The way I feel about England’s museums (BM in particular) is the same way I feel about Tom Brady. They are both morally flawed, but too beautiful for me to honestly give a damn. So in that spirit lets forget about the mistreatment of Greece and Bridget Moynihan and just admire the physical beauty and inherent cultural value of the objects themselves. Sure, the jewelry collection in the Victoria and Albert represents the opulence, indulgence, and filthy wealth of the upper classes and royalty, but look how sparkly those diamonds are! The intricate cloisonne! The colorful enamel! The gemstones! Don’t hate the tiara because a spoiled rich woman owned it, admire it for its elegant design and exquisite craftsmanship.

Hair ornament in the form of an orchid, made by Philippe Wolfers, Belgium, 1905-7. Museum no. M.11-1962. Image from the Victoria and Albert Museum website

I also must say, setting aside moral issues and countrys’ bruised egos, what is truly in the best interest of the objects themselves is for them to be left alone. Art and artifacts should be handled and moved as little as possible to avoid damage and the acceleration of deterioration. Professor Earenfight, who curates the Trout Gallery and teaches the museum studies course at Dickinson, likes to say that art and artifacts are like the elderly. They are set in their ways, used to their specific atmosphere, and the best thing for them is to disrupt their comfort as little as possible. The bottom line is, virtually all of the objects in London’s museums are priceless and definitely irreplaceable. The transportation of any of these objects across countries and continents is absolutely horrifying from an art conservation/curatorial point of view.

In any case, how great is it that we can get into all of these places for free? Sure, government subsidization lends itself to government censorship, but the fact that I can just wander in off the street, as I am, and walk right up to Jan van Eyck’s The Arnolfini Portrait, or Joseph Wright’s An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump, or the ship burial treasure from Sutton Hoo, or the Rosetta Stone and countless other treasures more than outweighs any negative aspects for me. London’s collections are among the finest in the world, and they are open to everyone. Now that’s beautiful.

Tags: 2010 Rachel

St. Paul’s: Cultural Icon

September 21st, 2010 · No Comments

England’s religious identities are many.  The influx of Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus over the past century has turned the nation into a melting pot of both cultures and faiths.  With the complexity of the social makeup of the city, it’s hard to pin down a “religious identity” for the whole of London.  That being said, I think that one place of worship certainly has to be regarded as the national symbol for faith and strength- St. Paul’s Cathedral.  While the religious denotations of the church are ever present, I don’t think the fact that it is a place of Christian worship is necessarily what gives it its majesty or its importance to Londoners across the metropolis.  It is, above all, a symbol of a culture; strong and resilient, huge and complex, beautiful in its intricacies.  There are two major times in London’s history during which the citizens of the city- Christian or not- have needed St. Paul’s.

Rebuilding after the Great Fire-

The Great Fire of 1666 ravaged the city whole.  It gutted the mostly wood-lined streets and left a smoldering heap in its wake.  The old St. Paul’s Cathedral (on whose ashes Wren’s St. Paul’s is built) was utterly destroyed.  Wren sought to bring a new, majestic design to the table- he wanted a Renaissance-style dome to crown his masterwork and to be visible for miles around.  While the design was initially scoffed at, his beautiful dome was completed and stood as the tallest structure in the city for three centuries.  The cathedral is a symbol of Christianity, to be sure.  But it is also, almost more importantly, a symbol of London’s rebirth from the depths of the catastrophe of 1666.  The visible and towering symbol of Britain’s strength most certainly gave Londoners hope that their city was not only being restored, but taken to new heights.

The Blitz-

In terms of pure physical damage to the city, the only event that comes close to the devastation of the Great Fire is the Blitz.  Nazi bombers annihilated much of the city in waves of attacks, night after night.  Much of the history of the city was lost in the bombing raids, but the most important symbol of London’s strength miraculously remained.  The iconic photograph of St. Paul’s, seemingly engulfed in flames but standing tall and true, is the embodiment of the church’s significance.  Wren built the cathedral from the ashes of one fire with the intention that it would be a symbol of the strength of God and the strength of the city.  The fact that the symbol itself resisted a second fire, an even greater test of resolve, is testament to its stature as the guiding light of London’s people.  Christian or Muslim or Sikh, it’s impossible for Londoners not to stand in reverence (or, at least, in awe) of this building.


Tags: 2010 Patrick

Reflections on Theatre in London

September 21st, 2010 · No Comments

Of all of the theater events we attended, 39 Steps was my favorite. The slapstick nature of it kept me engaged, even though I had no idea what was going on during most parts of the play. Also, the actors were able to change character quite easily, and they had to with only four actors on stage. Of course, these characters were completely static, and this play was certainly not the most thought provoking. Being on Piccadilly Circus, the Criterion Theatre was clearly one of the more touristy of the theatres in London, so obviously they were not trying to cater to an erudite British crowd.

The Habit of Art was far to confusing for me, I never really understood the purpose of the group of characters sitting off to the right side of the stage. Most of these characters had extremely minor roles, which was unnecessary to the progression of the plot in my opinion. It was also difficult to tell if the dialogue on center stage was the discussion of the production, or a “play within a play”. It probably didn’t help that I was near-comatose at the time, and this overt intellectualism was not welcome at the time. I think I would have been able to appreciate this play more if it was a matinee and I had been more awake at the time.

The Merry Wives of Windsor was the most difficult for me to sit through. I was pretty jetlagged at the time, and it didn’t help that my grasp of Elizabethan English was already tenuous. Also, standing in a crowd for two and a half hours after having walked over London, mye legs were killing me at that point. However, I though that the recurring innuendo on latin lessons was funny, especially considering my experience in high school latin was very masochistic as well.

Tags: 2010 Tyler · Theatre · Uncategorized

Ho hum Theatre.

September 21st, 2010 · 1 Comment


While in London, the thing I’ve been most excited about but under-utilized the most is the theatre. As we’ve all realized, there are terrific opportunities in London to see world-class theatre for reasonable prices. With tickets at the Globe for 5 pounds and many West End plays discounted from 70 to around 20 pounds just for students, even those on a student’s budget can afford to see a play every week or two. The globe is one of the most important sites in the history of theatre. The West End is home of some of the best drama and musical theatre being produced anywhere in the world. I love to see shows back home in D.C. but the prices are often prohibitively expensive. It would have been nice to see more theatre in London but I guess that just means I’ll have to come back.

During the past four weeks I saw two plays at the globe: The Merry Wives of Windsor and the terrible, terrible play, Bedlam. I was so impressed by the Merry Wives cast and even the staging was an impressive feat in such an old-fashioned theatre. I felt that flow of drama which really brings you to suspend your disbelief and become totally lost in a production. I love that feeling. I spent the entirety of Bedlam, however, trying to figure out what anyone behind the play or on the stage was trying to do. At the end of the first act the actors almost got into enough a groove to be believable but at the start of the second act they had slipped out of the authenticity of their performance and the entire play felt forced.

In addition, Bedlam was so full of plot wholes that we thought it must be missing scenes. It was certainly missing those scenes and points in a production when the narrative is woven together into a cohesive whole. On top of all this, the female writer of the script (the first play written by a female to be performed in the Globe) was attempting to achieve a period piece in a theatre famous for Shakespearian productions. The very idea of attempting this is befuddling. As we left the theatre that night, the only thing we could say we’d gotten out of Bedlam was material for jokes. And even those weren’t that good: “It certainly was BEDLAM!”… ha… ha…

On the opposite end of the spectrum I saw Les Mis. I’ve seen it before, at the Signature theatre in Arlington, VA but there’s nothing quite like seeing the incredibly well-done production on a revolving stage. Through their use of what amounts to a giant turntable, the director of Les Mis. was able to expand the stage and create an illusion of passing space and time. I was really impressed and entertained by this production, the songs from which we’ve still not managed to get out of our heads.

I also really enjoyed The 39 Steps, the Monty Python-style physical comedy we saw. It didn’t have the depth of narrative I usually like but it was endlessly entertaining to watch. If there’s one thing I have to come back to London for, it’s to see great theatre for cheap. I plan to come back when I can from Norwich and visit London throughout my life for this purpose.

Tags: 2010 Daniel

“Pubs,” or, failing that, “What the Hell Can I Say That 25 Other People Haven’t?”

September 21st, 2010 · 2 Comments

Before I delve into in analysis of the pubs I’ve experienced in our short month here, I thought I’d start with my two favorite English pub moments. Then I’ll follow up with what I didn’t like, what I did, and a response to Orwell.

First, this evening while watching Tottenham-Arsenal at The Rising Sun, I was involved in the following exchange with an Arsenal fan we had been talking on and off for ~30 minutes:
“Hey, could you guys watch our bags while we go out for a smoke?”
“Yeah, sure, no problem.”
(in a patronizing voice) “Aw, see how nice these Americans are, looking out for us.”
“I mean, we’ve been doing it since World War 2.”
“That’s true, but if you don’t mind me saying so, you could have started earlier, we lost a lot of good coats and bags.”

Second, at the Punch & Judy in Covent Garden (where we ended up leaving sans drink due to logistical challenges) I was the only one in a group of five Americans to get carded. I was relentlessly mocked for this. I’ll remember this moment when we’re 40 and you all look 60, guys. Anyway, now for the actual analysis.

1) What I liked: the beer itself, the soccer, the aesthetics. It seems like an oversimplification of the question, but I honestly feel like it makes a difference in responding to pubs being “the center of British sociability.” In America, where the beer at bars (in my limited experience) sucks, it creates an atmosphere of just trying to get drunk. But if the beer is good, if you can genuinely just sit back and enjoy a pint, that becomes an end in of itself rather than just a means to get drunk and whatever that entails. Another thing that I was a major fan of was that physical beauty was valued at some pubs. While I agree with Mary that the Bank of England isn’t perfect, I was blown away by the architecture and thoroughly enjoyed the torches out front.

2) What I didn’t like: the naked corporate-ness. The menu, down to the font, was exactly the same at the Marlborough Arms/Rising Sun and Court/Rocket respectively. By itself, I don’t care about the menu thing. Pub food stinks no matter where you go. But somewhere deep inside, it bugged me that these pubs were just part of a syndicate and made no attempt to hide it. While on the topic of those four pubs, I simultaneously loved and hated the Rocket and Court. I enjoyed the vibe, the American music, and frankly feeling at home (each time we went to The Rocket, we bumped into a different group of American college students studying abroad). But I hated that I was essentially cheating on England in these places, that they were sucking the Britishness out of the pub for a few American dollars.

3) Orwell’s Ten Commandments of Pubs:
1. draught stout
2. open fires
3. cheap meals
4. a garden
5. motherly barmaids
6. no radio, no loud drunks, games secluded
7. children are allowed
8. china mugs
9. sells tobacco
10. Victorian architecture

It’s not my style to rip somebody, but George Orwell needs to be ripped for this article. Right off of the bat, Nos. 7 and 9 don’t fly with me. I hate tobacco, and because my summer job (which I do love) involves children, one could argue that at times the very purpose of going to the pub would be to get away from kids. Usually, using personal preferences to counter an argument means that your own argument is fairly weak. But in this case, it illustrates why I refuse to put “The Moon Under Water” on a pedestal: all Orwell describes is his personal preferences. There is a pub in London for everyone’s own particular peccadilloes, and in most cases, none is inherently superior to another; it’s just a question of personality.

Tags: 2010 Dennis · Pubs

A Walk in the Park

September 21st, 2010 · No Comments

After having lived in London for a little more than three weeks, I am struck by two facts of the city. The first is that I am extremely excited about the accessibility of art in the city (mostly the theatre). The second is the expansiveness of London. As we’ve read, London was brought together from a number of smaller hamlets and towns. Like an amoeba, the growing London expanded, surrounded, and consumed each village it came to. A good deal of the land was owned by private individuals or the church and it too was eventually incorporated into this growing city. Since there was no real rhyme or reason to the expansion of London, the city is a patchwork of highly urbanized areas abutting parks abutting suburban sprawl.

Both of my parents are urban planners and if you were to ask them about London I’d imagine they would compare it to the big cities of the American Mid-West, perhaps akin to the infamous sprawl of Chicago. In their profession, the spreading of urban areas equals inefficiency, a definite negative indicator for quality of life. However, London doesn’t feel slow or congested as most cities with such long computing distances usually do. It has managed to succeed where Chicago fails: it is huge and efficient while maintaining its openness. Even more than any of this though, the thing which most impresses me about London, or rather, what London has most impressed upon me is how little I know about the world.

I’m sure that most of the humanities students would agree that we’d like to think of ourselves as well-travelled or at the very least, culturally aware. I know I would, but being in London has made it somewhat hard to keep up that delusion. I’ve lived in Israel twice, for three and nine months, respectively. I’ve been to Hungary and Uruguay. I attend a liberal arts school and I read books. However, the very fact that I was so impressed by London’s parks is an indicator that I do not have the global perspective—especially in terms of what quality of life is actually like in other countries—I’d like to think I do.

That’s not to say that London’s parks aren’t amazing, they are. However, I take for granted the fact that they must be exceptional simply because I have never really been exposed to anything like them. Central Park in New York and even the Golden Gate park in San Francisco and Mount Royal in Montreal are nothing compared to the biggest urban parks around the world, some even under my very nose, within the United States itself. A bit of research taught me that Phoenix, Arizona has a 16,283 acre park. Compared with Hampstead Heath at a measly 760, that’s massive. Stanley Park in Vancouver is 1,000 acres. Chapultec Park in Mexico City, Metropolitan Park of Santiago, and Phoenix Park in Dublin are 1,800 acres a piece.

A lot of factors feed into how citizens use a park: climate, accessibility, population age and ethnicity, security, and government promotion all play roles in this complex formula. Based on my limited knowledge, London seems particularly proud of its parks and what they provide for the citizens of the city. This is in large part due to something any critic of the class system would balk at. That is, the parks are and traditionally have been gated, controlled environments. Originally this was done to keep out the poor but over time, the rules were loosened and these ‘city lungs’ became much more egalitarian, soon available to all citizens and their livestock. But the gates allow the parks to be closed during the night, thereby keeping them nice for the day when criminal activity is less likely to take place.

Today, London’s parks provide to their citizens a natural place of pause in the midst of one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. They’ve also provided me some perspective on how people live in other societies. When Durden asked at our alumni event what we’ve seen in London that we’d like to take home with us and incorporate into our own lives, I replied balance. The parks have helped me to realize exactly the extent of the importance of balance between the urban and the natural world and what that balance can provide to a city like London.


http://blog.ratestogo.com/largest-city-parks/ http://matadornetwork.com/trips/10-cities-with-the-biggest-parks-in-the-world

Tags: 2010 Daniel

Theatre in London is Cool

September 21st, 2010 · No Comments

I saw five plays in my time here in London, and found the theatre to be one of my favorite aspects of the city. My favorite was Les Miserables, although I sat in the absolute back row and was very far from the stage. The music was tremendous and the acting spectacular. I especially enjoyed the spinning stage, which, although I recall hearing in our theatre tour that it is not altogether uncommon, I had never seen before. 39 steps, while not high theatre, was a lot of fun. The Hitchcock feel of the whole play was really enjoyable and the physical comedy was great. The use of only four actors had me feel like I got to know the actors, not only the characters. This was especially true for the two male actors beside the main character, they were extremely likeable and the four actor format helped foment that. Bedlam was a disastrous play but still a decent experience. From Bedlam I learned that the a bad play is a whole lot more fun than a bad movie, and started me to thinking that plays are a way I would like to spend my evenings. This is despite a complete lack of direction or solid musical numbers and a cast that became almost disinterested by the end of the performance. I also noticed that due to the Globe’s choice of lighting, in which the entire stage is rather evenly lit, the play was at times hard to follow, because it was impossible to know where exactly to look. Merry Wives of Windsor was funny, although I got quite lost at the end of the play unfortunately. After a long day of walking, standing at the theatre was particularly hard for me that day. The Habit of Art was an overall failure in my opinion. It took some excellent themes and fears and excellent acting and buried it in a clumsy and unnecessary frame. We had some genuinely moving scenes between Britain and Alden which could have been drawn out and extrapolated on, but instead we had a lot of little side jokes mainly based on the ‘play in a play’ format.

Overall, the theatre in London has changed my perspective, I’ve realized that a night out with a show is extremely enjoyable. If I had vacation time here I think I would see three to five shows a week. If I lived and worked here I would do the same. It’s very exciting, the theatre scene here and the fact that any night on a limited budget I can go see so many shows, both classics and experimental, new shows.

Tags: 2010 Michael · Theatre