Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Entries Tagged as '2010 MaryKate'

The Outsider’s Perspective of Theatre in London

September 22nd, 2010 · No Comments

Like some of you (but unlike many of you), I have never had significant experience with theater (re?) before our time in London. Well, okay, I was a penguin in my local theater’s production of Mary Poppins when I was in third grade, but other than that, I didn’t act, sing, or dance in school plays, high school or college, I was never on a stage crew or in a costume shop, and I didn’t make annual trips to Broadway as a fun family outing. There’s really not much theatre in my town. So, for me, the best theatre experience I’ve had in London was actually our crash course in West End shows by Dickinson alum Rick Fisher.

Rick’s story about his passion for theatre was inspiring, and I remembered it with every production I saw (Les Mis, 39 Steps, etc). I thought of him not only in an attempt to notice aspects of production I wouldn’t have caught before – notably lighting – but because after RIck spoke to us, I realized how many people go into a single production, even when the actual cast is, like in 39 Steps, quite small. Learning the differences between Broadway (from what I knew of it) and the West End was edifying as well, if only so I could feel slightly smarter for having seen a West End show. And while Les Mis was the most fun I had at the theatre, and I wasn’t a huge fan of The Habit of Art, it was nice to try something new, something of a more serious tenor, that I certainly would not have given the time of day in America. (The backstage tour of the National Theatre was definitely educational, but I really didn’t need that detailed of a background about what actually happens backstage – the “here is the revolving drum” stuff doesn’t appeal to me. What I liked was learning about the mission and history of the National Theatre, and looking at the actual venues to hear about why they’re designed that way.)

I didn’t come to London a theatre buff, and I’m not leaving London a theatre buff. But I like to think I’ve expanded my horizons by combining the more pedagogical yet also personal approach by Rick with the actual experience of seeing the plays. Without Rick’s background, I’m not sure I could have enjoyed the productions quite so much. It’s also helpful to be around people who are interested in theatre, and encourage discussion about it after the show (thanks, guys).

Tags: 2010 MaryKate · Theatre

Pubs and Authenticity in London

September 20th, 2010 · 1 Comment

Kate Fox really raised my expectations for London pubs, and I don’t think I’m alone in saying that. I expected pubs full of inside jokes and obscure ales, the kind of dark, smoky environs I can imagine Sherlock Holmes drinking in (and if Robert Downey, Jr was there, too, I wouldn’t complain).

So, after reading all the other pub posts, especially, it’s pretty clear that’s not what we found. In fact, I don’t think I went to a single pub that had genuine “regulars.” Kate Fox didn’t prepare me for impromptu American pop karaoke. She certainly didn’t tell me to develop a taste for Australian, German, Dutch, and even American beers, because there are more of those than real English ales in every pub we’ve been to. And she didn’t prepare me for waitstaff that often presupposes our touristy ignorance of British customs and acts a little confused when we offer “one for yourself.”

The Marlborough Arms - personal photo

But the thing about Fox is, she didn’t prepare me for almost anything about London. I’m not saying I haven’t had a great experience in British pubs – nights out on the town are some of my best memories. Ditto my experience in London. I’ve had a great time. But I haven’t had an authentically British experience here, just like I haven’t been to any authentically British pubs. Even the ones that feel a little more authentic – like the George or the Marlborough Arms – are just cleverly disguised franchises. Like Andrew pointed out, they all have the same menu – fish ‘n’ chips and sausage and mash, printed on faux-antique paper in calligraphy. They seem designed to give the facade of authentic Englishness, while adhering to a tried-and-true modern pub business model of franchises and imported lagers.

Again, I want to be clear that I’m not complaining about pubs or about London (although I’m glad we’re not spending the whole semester here). But when I reflect on my pub experiences, enjoyable though they have been, I don’t feel that I’ve gotten an authentic British experience, just like my time in London has felt mostly like America with accents. I’m looking forward to getting to Norwich and experiencing some more authenticity – and hopefully the kinds of pubs Kate Fox can help us out with.

Tags: 2010 MaryKate · Pubs

Protest the Pope?

September 19th, 2010 · 6 Comments

Thanks to so many of you for asking about my experience at Pope Benedict XVI’s prayer vigil in Hyde Park yesterday afternoon. It was profoundly renewing spiritually and I’ll remember it for the rest of my life. I don’t want to get boring, soap-box-y, or too personal, so I’ll leave it at that.

But I would like to start a discussion, if anyone’s willing, about the controversy surrounding the Pope’s visit. I think this was a bit of a missed opportunity in class – the past few days have been historic, marking the Holy See’s first-ever state visit to the UK, first visit of any kind in 28 years, and perhaps most importantly, the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman, an Christian theologian from the Victorian Era and an important English figure, historically, intellectually, and religiously. (The beatification – or the penultimate step on the road to sainthood – of Cardinal Newman has taken a kind of backseat to the “state visit” thing. Actually, Newman is the main reason for the Pope’s visit. To learn more about the Cardinal – and why he’s so important to England and to the Church – read here: http://www.thepapalvisit.org.uk/Cardinal-Newman)

The visit’s official theme – “Heart Speaks Unto Heart” – comes from the writings of Cardinal Newman. Although Newman was a theologian and a professor at Oxford, he recognized the importance of faith deeply felt. He found in the Catholic Church what he considered to be a perfect union of intellect and spirit, mind and heart. You can probably guess why Benedict wanted to emphasize this aspect of Newman’s life to believers in England- we’ve spent plenty of time talking about how secular today’s England is. In his homily at Hyde Park, in front of an estimated 80,000 he encouraged Christians to join with Newman and “radiate” faith rather than just accepting it intellectually. He also recognized that believers in England fight a bit of an uphill battle as they try to live their faith in a nation that wants little to do with faith. The Guardian reported quite fairly, in my opinion, on the Hyde Park vigil here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/sep/18/pope-benedict-hyde-park-speech

Waiting for Benedict in Hyde Park (personal photo)

What I’m driving at is that, in my experience, the Papal visit was tailored very carefully to fit the English character. The visit reflected a lot of what we’ve talked about in class, actually. He wanted to address secularism as well as a long history of religious strife – the altar at Hyde Park was set up, intentionally, very close to Tyburn, where Protestants and Catholics alike have been martyred. Benedict also, at other times during his visit, addressed the British tendency toward moderation – reminding them, essentially, to be moderate in moderation. He paid homage to the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain – pointing out that he was a child during the dark days of Nazi Germany, and expressing his gratitude for the sacrifices of British servicemen and women.

I mentioned the controversy surrounding the visit a little earlier, though. Although I’m sure most of us noticed the Scientologists protesting in their Guy Fawkes masks – a little paradoxically, considering that Guy Fawkes was Catholic, or maybe that’s the point – the main group protesting the visit is called Protest the Pope. Their official website contains a list of grievances against the state visit of Benedict XVI: http://www.protest-the-pope.org.uk/ Although they claim that 20,000 protesters came out to support their cause yesterday, the police can’t confirm that number and neither can I – really, I don’t know where all those people were hiding because we certainly didn’t notice them.

For me, at least, Protest the Pope’s arguments are flimsy. They’re essentially saying the Pope can’t have a state visit because he’s Catholic, as far as I can tell. And it seems to me that when 17.5% of your country accepts the moral authority of one person, the government has a vested interest in a good relationship with that person. Not to mention that the Holy See is an ally for the UK government on matters of worldwide poverty, healthcare, and education, of climate change and sustainability, of nuclear disarmament and peace.

There’s one last aspect to the religious controversy surrounding this visit: six Muslims were arrested in connection with an alleged plot to assassinate the Pope. Here’s some more information on that: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/religion/the-pope/8010002/Pope-visit-sixth-man-arrested-over-alleged-assassination-plot.html. The men have been released without charges. But I can’t help but wonder how this will affect Britain’s religious climate as well. Until these arrests, the conflict was between Catholics and secularists. Now, there’s a whole new dimension. Will the Muslim community react with anger and outrage? Will some Catholics resort to discrimination and hate? Will the whole story be forgotten by tomorrow? It will be interesting to watch this unfold.

Sorry for the length of the post – I just wanted to give some background on the visit and see if anyone has thoughts to share. I think this would be a good space to have a respectful dialogue about the place of religion in the British government.

Tags: 2010 MaryKate

London’s Parks and the Accessibility of Beauty

September 14th, 2010 · No Comments

Gordon Square (personal photo)

The accessibility of art in London has been on my mind lately. This isn’t just because we’ve been going to free art museums a few times a week since we’ve been here, and because we’ve gotten cheap theater tickets to see fabulous productions. Some other reasons to consider commitment to art accessibility as an integral part of London’s identity, for me, include the architecture (I don’t care what A.N. Wilson says), artworks on the Tube, the quality music we hear from auditioned buskers on the street, and, of course, the public parks.

Hyde Park (personal photo)

So far in London, I’ve spent time in Regents’ Park (right down the street from us), Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, St. James’s Park, Gordon Square and Tavistock Square/Peace Park. These spaces are radically different from each other – they range from wide open green fields to carefully manicured gardens to the small squares of Bloomsbury, veritable oases in the midst of the road rage and jackhammers we’ve gotten so used to. When life in the Arran House gets a little crowded, or when museum after museum starts to overwhelm me, I’m finding that a long walk in the park – just me and my iPod – is exactly what I need. And it doesn’t seem like I’m alone in that, either – literally, there are always other people, and when it comes to Regents or St. James, huge crowds of other people, enjoying the parks along with me.

Regents Park (personal photo)

So, yes, parks in London are pretty, and they’re frequent (and museums are big), but I think there’s more to it than that. When we look at these parks in conjunction with the free art museums and cheap theater tickets and Tube murals and buskers, I think a pattern emerges that’s really important to London’s identity: beauty should be accessible and egalitarian. It’s a priority to London’s budget that there should be green spaces and gardens in the middle of the busy city, to give us some relief from the fast pace. I know I appreciate it; it makes London liveable. Queen Victoria recognized this when she opened up Hyde Park to the public – so the laborers would have an escape from the suffocating smog, somewhere pleasant to go. London’s not the Dickensian hell-hole it was during the Victorian era, certainly, but I think the same logic holds today, and I think appreciating London’s public parks are key to appreciating the art and beauty that make this city so special.

St. James's Park (personal photo)

Tags: 2010 MaryKate

What museum gift shops tell us about museums

September 11th, 2010 · 3 Comments

As you probably all already know, I come from a really big family. For my time in the UK, that means SOUVENIRS. By the truckload. Seriously, I won’t be surprised if I have to check an extra suitcase just full of trinkets to bring home to my parents, siblings and cousins. Pretty much everywhere we go, I look through the gift shops to see if anything grabs my attention. So far, I’ve collected novelty mugs, decks of cards, pens, pencil sharpeners, magnets, Christmas ornaments…and I’m not even halfway done.

So after all this time spent in the gift shops, I’m starting to notice a few patterns. It goes without saying that the kitschier the gift shop, the more touristy the location. I mean, I doubt that many actual Londoners (outside of elementary school students on field trips) visit the Tower of London, just like I doubt many Londoners would want the beaded Union Jack change purse I bought my sister in the gift shop there. How many people who actually live in Stratford want overpriced chocolate with Shakespeare’s face on it when they could just go to Tesco? How many people who actually live in Bath want Christmas ornaments of Roman soldiers, or leather bookmarks with a gold embossed likeness of the baths on them? I think by this point we can all stop a tourist trap – or at least a tourist destination – a kilometer away.

On the other hand, we’ve seen some gift shops that don’t seem to cater directly, or exclusively, to out-of-towners. Take the V&A, for example. It’s full of fun jewelry and stationary and other knick-knacks that don’t scream “I WENT TO THE V&A.” A lot of the gifts focus on the art displayed in the museum, rather than reminding us of the museum itself. The National Gallery is the same way – greeting cards and tea pots with prints on them, coffee table books centered around a particular artist – Monet, for example – rather than the content of the collections. Its gifts, in short, aren’t just advertisements. The British Museum was the most interesting of all – it has sections for many of the nations the museum represents. I’m serious. You can buy sequined notebooks and pens from “India.” You can buy colored pencils in sarcophagus-shaped tins from “Egypt.” On the one hand, these items aren’t really “souvenirs” – nothing about them suggests that you went to England and all your little brother got was this lousy [fill in the blank]. This suggests that the museum expects to get a lot of traffic from Brits, if not Londoners themselves. (Could there be a class issue here, as well?)

As a sidenote, is it just me or is it a little disturbing that the British Museum gets to profit off tacky trinkets they designed after the priceless artifacts they’ve copped from the same countries they’re now selling these trinkets in the name of? Whatever. I guess what I mean is , it’s interesting to see which of London’s historical sites are at least as much for British citizens as they are for tourists. By my estimation, I’d say the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, the V&A, the Tate and the British Museum expect to cater to many Brits. Appropriate, since they’re all subsidized. And since they have the most valuable and, in my opinion, the best collections of any of the sites we’ve been to, I guess this is just more evidence that Brits have good taste.

Tags: 2010 MaryKate · Museums

Shopping on Oxford Street – English or just Urban?

September 9th, 2010 · 2 Comments

So I went through a few shops today on Oxford Street, and I noticed a few differences in fashion tastes between what I’ve seen in the US versus what I see here. I should also say – I’m from a relatively small town in central PA, and sometimes it’s hard for me to differentiate between what is a characteristic of a city and what’s characteristic of London specifically.

So in women’s fashion particularly, I noticed that both in stores and on the street, women seem to dress up much more. Skirts and dresses are very common, possibly more common than blue jeans (hello? winter’s on the way, ladies). I don’t see many sneakers. Fabrics for women are much more feminine – I tried on a few chiffon skirts, and most of the tops and cardigans are thin, clingy knits (again – WINTER). And where are the colors? Sometimes I’ll see a bright accent on a garment, but for the most part even the colors other than black, white and charcoal grey are muted. When we see prints in stores, they’re usually elaborate florals in muted colors – think 50s housewife. Professor Qualls told us yesterday that we might stand out as Americans when we get to UEA in our t-shirts and jeans…from what I’ve seen in London fashions, I think that’s true, but I can’t be sure when I’ve never lived in a major city before.

I’m wondering if anyone else has noticed this, and if it might mean something about English womanhood – are women here required to be more quintessentially feminine than we are in the States? Are urban fashions just more chic generally than the clothes I’d find in the Capitol City Mall, for example? Is it a combination of both? Anyone have any thoughts? Just thought I’d change up our blog topics to something a little less intellectual – hope no one minds 🙂

The first picture that came up in the women's section of uniqlo.com

Picture taken from http://shop.uniqlo.com/uk/store/clothing/cashmere/women/

Tags: 2010 MaryKate

The Least Religious Church on Earth

September 7th, 2010 · 7 Comments

Kate Fox told us that “the Church of England is the least religious church on earth” (354). I didn’t really understand how any organized church could fail to be religious until our visit to Westminster Abbey.

I mean, it’s incredible that most important aspects of English history and culture have fit into one beautiful building, dead bodies and all, from martyrs to scientists to poets to monarchs to the Unknown Warrior (which, just to say it, is the most beautiful monument I’ve ever seen). I’m impressed by Westminster Abbey. But I’ve never felt God more minimized. Other than a bland and generic “prayer” every once in a while, and the odd miniature stone saint or cross, the focus of Westminster Abbey is much more King and Country than God. I always thought Church of England was another way of saying Church in England; nope, this Church really is all about worshipping itself. Westminster Abbey is ground hallowed by history and culture, art and architecture, not by faith. I see why England wants to share this heritage with the world, but make no mistake about it – their concern is preservation of culture, not preservation of faith.

Westminster Abbey. Beautiful? Yes. Reverent? No. (personal photo)

You might respond to this criticism by saying that without opening the Abbey as a tourist attraction, we’d be denying visitors an important experience in English culture. You might also say that if the Abbey wasn’t so accessible to tourists, it would be difficult to raise the funds to keep it open and maintained at all (this may apply less to Westminster and more to other churches and cathedrals around England – Bath Abbey, for example, or Southwark Cathedral, which are less centrally located and famous).

Bath Abbey (personal photo)

I understand those points, but I have to wonder if, in this case, the chicken or the egg came first. Would parishoners be more prone to attend church as serious worshippers if the site wasn’t so wholly reduced to a tourist attraction or a history museum? I’m not an anthropologist or a religion major, but I don’t see how people can be expected to take their faith seriously if the church to which they belong doesn’t even take it seriously. Religion is part of culture, but to believers it’s much, much more than culture alone. To a believer, faith in God is literally a matter of life and death (and afterlife) in ways that food, clothing, music, and other aspects of culture can never be. The Church of England doesn’t seem to make any demands on visitors to its hallowed places – Bath and Westminster Abbeys spring to mind. (Any demands, that is, except incessant reminders that donations would be welcome.)

I’d like to contrast the Christian cathedrals we’ve seen so far with our visit to the Hindu temple today. This temple welcomes interfaith visitors, but only on its own terms, with the understanding that preservation of the Hindu faith and reverence for God are a prerequisite. The result was a moving religious ceremony to which I think we were all attentive, and a deeply reverent tribute to the Hindu faith, culture and history in the exhibition hall. I think if the temple let tourists wander in and out freely, messing with their audio guides, joking around, texting, taking pictures of the ceremony, what have you, the Hindu temple would be reduced to a cultural tourist attraction to check off a list rather than a spiritual experience. Also significantly, tourists like ourselves would feel like outsiders peeking in on someone else’s faith. Today, I felt like I was actively participating in a faith community. I felt like an insider rather than a voyeur. I think preserving this sense of reverence works out for the best for both visitors and believers, and I’d like to see more of it from the Church of England.

Tags: 2010 MaryKate · Churches and Cathedrals

Queen Mum

September 3rd, 2010 · 1 Comment

I can agree with Jessica that most paintings in the National Portrait Gallery are of men. I didn’t expect anything else – for most of history, or at least the history that’s been recorded, men have called the shots. But I was most drawn to the portraits of Stuart queens and princesses. For one thing, they looked more real than the Tudor portraits – I can’t imagine a real person looking anything like the portraits of Elizabeth I, for example. But I can imagine Queen Anne. She looks like I could reach out and touch her. The painting of her that I found the most compelling looks like this:


Queen Anne

I know a lot of this might have to do with fashion, but the Snow-White complexion, the sensual folds and materials of her gown, the emphasis on her… curves… even the placement of her hand all suggested to me a kind of softness, maternity, fertility. I can’t believe a monarch would allow herself to be presented in such vulnerability. She doesn’t look intimidating or powerful. She looks nurturing.

The caption below the portrait tells us that she was the younger sister of Mary, Princess of Orange, and that she experienced eighteen pregnancies without ever raising a child to adulthood. So this means that by the time this portrait was taken, in 1705, Anne had seen her father deposed and replaced by her sister. Her sister and brother-in-law had died. She had buried eighteen children. And then she had become one of the most powerful people in the world. I have to think you can see some of the grief she’s suffered on her face.

The portrait spoke to me because, I think, it made Anne someone real, someone for whom my heart can break. I generally don’t like the Tudor and Stuart era of British history because it seems like so many names and dates and Roman numerals and unnecessary bloodshed over highfalutin theological issues. But the women in this section of the museum brought it alive for me. Look at the resemblance between Mary of Modena, the queen of James II, and Mary of Orange, her daughter:


Mary of Modena

Queen Mary II


Different painters, different decades, and they could be twins.  I wonder how Mom felt about Mary and her husband replacing James. If it weren’t for the obvious likeness in the portraits, I might never even have asked myself that question. I mean, most moms would be upset if their daughters forgot a birthday. The paintings of men in the gallery, were, for some reason, less evocative for me. I didn’t wonder how James felt about Mary’s role in the Glorious Revolution. Call me sexist, but this was my favorite part of the museum.

Tags: 2010 MaryKate · Museums

Salaam, Whitechapel Market

August 28th, 2010 · 11 Comments

Whitechapel Market was in some ways exactly what we expected: predominantly Muslim and Hindu. There were Halal butchers, veils, saris and curry vendors on every corner.  Most shoppers had tan complexions and wore Islamic or Hindu clothing; however, there were also white, black, and East-Asian shoppers. There were some ways in which Salaam, Brick Lane and our other readings about immigration to the East End didn’t prepare us, though: we saw a handful of authentic-looking English pubs when we expecting corner-to-corner curry joints; when we had anticipated a rowdy, bustling circus, the market seemed so empty that at first we weren’t sure we were in the right place. We walked up and down Whitechapel Road looking for a more likely candidate, resembling the market of Hall’s Chalky and Mr. Ali. We eventually realized we were in the right place, but since this is the holy month of Ramadan, the market is a little more subdued than usual. We also noticed the stall-keepers were almost entirely male, and that many of the mannequins had pale skin and light hair. Among our favorite experiences: meeting a lifelong Londoner on a park bench and learning about the “decline” of the East End; being continually surprised by the various cultural characteristics and quirks of the East End population; and arguing about headscarves and religious tradition on a Bethnal Green picnic table. Hope you enjoy our pictures of the Whitechapel Market and the surrounding area – we really enjoyed our experience there, and we can’t wait to go back and see it after Ramadan.

Here are some links we thought you might like to check out:

This one claims to be the definitive website on Ronnie and Reggie Kray. You may remember these two gangsters from Salaam, and sure enough, when we asked our elderly informant about what he considers to be the “real” East End, the Krays were the first thing he mentioned. If you’re looking for a better idea of what the East End used to be like (and what some residents wish the East End still was like), take a look here.

See an informational website regarding Ramadan here.

The Royal London Hospital is located on the other side of Whitechapel road. There is a link here for more information about the hospital.
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/JMvSb8bVRQQ" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
The video on YouTube

Tags: 2010 Amy · 2010 ChristopherB · 2010 MaryKate · Markets · Pubs · readings

Matt and Mary Kate’s Piccadilly Adventure

August 26th, 2010 · 1 Comment

Professor Qualls assigned us Piccadilly Circle. The hardest part was figuring out what Tube station to start from – we didn’t know what was the closest to the Arran Hotel, so that took a little bit of aimless walking around Tottenham Court Road (not that we’ce complaining). It was the Goodge Street station we were after, and we think that being able to find it will be useful before long.

Matt spent the summer in New York City, and Mary Kate has used the New York subway on occasion, and neither of us has ever seen anything quite like the Tube. Its walls are plastered in colorful ceramic tile – untainted by graffiti – and the advertisements lining the walls of the railway promote opera and theater. In speaking of opera, the performers trying to make money in the subway seem to have a different repertoire here: we heard an opera singer and soft-rocker on a keyboard in our stations today.  The Goodge Street station also featured a winding staircase of 136 stairs – we were surprised when we expected to run down two flights as a quicker alternative to the lift.

We took Goodge to Tottenham Court Rd, and from there we transferred to the Piccadilly Line at Leicester (pronounced “Lester”?) Square. None of our rides on the Tube were longer than 90 seconds, and every time we found our platform, the Tube train was already waiting for us. (The instant train access was another thing we weren’t used to from American subway systems.) When we climbed out of the Piccadilly Station, named for the Piccadilly Circus, and into the City of Westminster, we felt a world away from Gower Street. “This is the Times Square of London,” Matt immediately remarked. Flashing lightbulbs, MacDonald’s advertisements (and stores), punk rockers with orange spiked hair posing for pictures (for a few quid), and plenty of traffic made us feel more like we were in an American city than we have felt yet. The architecture of the buildings , though– on the second level, above the franchise coffee shops and tourist-y clothing stores – reminded us we were in London: regal brick and stone with ornate facades, often topped with statues or domes lined the streets in all directions. Several tourists asked us to take their pictures in front of statues, and we spotted a few posing outlandishly in front of fountains.

Our favorite memorial statue in Piccadilly Circus was a little further away from the hustle and bustle surrounding the central fountains and monuments. We gravitated toward the Crimean War memorial. (Although it should be noted that actually getting across traffic to reach the memorial is much easier said than done.) It featured a statue of Florence Nightingale, where people continue to leave bouquets of flowers in her honor.

Getting back to the Arran House (even in our fog of jet lag), proved to be a snap. We took a different route – Piccadilly to Oxford Circus to Tottenham Ct. Rd. and a three-block walk home – and got to see a few pubs and store fronts we missed the first time around.

Tags: 2010 MaryKate · 2010 MatthewG