Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Adventures at the Brixton Market

August 28th, 2010 · 7 Comments

On our trek to the Brixton Market, we encountered our first snafu with the London Underground. Upon entering the Warren Street Station, we learned that the Victoria Line was closed for the weekend. As a result, we had to change our plans and take the Northern Line to the Stockwell Station. As this stop was a few blocks from our market, we got the chance to observe the surrounding community as we made our walk to the Brixton area.

The area between Stockwell and Brixton is filled with a vibrant and bustling community. On our walk, we saw a skate park, brightly colored murals, and artistic graffiti. The neighborhood appeared to be populated by those of lower income, with lower end apartments and townhomes lining the street. However, the streets were packed with smiling people. You could not help but be absorbed by the energy radiating from the crowd. Walking further, we began to hear predominately British accents give way to voices with an Afro-Caribbean inflection. As we got closer to the market, the activity of the surroundings only got more vibrant, making us excited for what was ahead of us.

Upon reaching the market on the right, we found dozens of vibrant shops packed into a cobblestone street. One could find anything they need there, ranging from low-priced fruit to jewelry starting at ten quid. While the energy was high, people were very relaxed and walking around at a slower pace than we have observed in a good deal of London. Much like the streets we had just walked down, the market had a clear Caribbean flavor. Reggae-inspired music played throughout the first half of the market, and we came across many Caribbean food stands among the shops. As we walked further down the street, the music transitioned to the sounds of street evangelists shouting into megaphones. There were about 10 people standing around the main speaker, and the message was quite loud, but no one seemed to pay the evangelists any mind. Everyone was too absorbed by the other sights and sounds of this energized market.

As we left the market, we decided to walk down the streets opposite the way we entered the market. It was quite a dramatic difference from the previous sights. Only about half a block down, the architecture changed dramatically. We began seeing buildings that signaled much greater wealth, and a far greater number of fences. On our left we saw a luxury car that would have looked totally out of place five blocks down the road. In addition, there was virtually no one on the street. All the energy of the next door neighborhood was absent from these streets. In addition, the racial composition of the population was different from that of the market, as the neighborhood, from what we could tell, appeared predominately white. Everything seems quite peaceful now, but in the past Brixton was a site of violent racial animosity. Some further information on this can be found at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/november/25/newsid_2546000/2546233.stm

 We did not stay in this area too long, as there was nothing interesting to speak of, particularly given all the exciting sites of the market one street over.

After walking through the market one more time, we decided to get something to eat at a food stand called Cece’s Takeaway. The place was recommended to us by a CD vendor right across the street, and her suggestion was certainly validated. Our jerk chicken with rice was excellent, and Cece was a really nice guy. He asked us to recommend his stand to everyone in the future, which we certainly do. If you want some information on Afro-Caribbean food, you can check out: http://www.tropicalsunfoods.com

Upon making a few purchases, we left the market and headed back to the Arran House Hotel.

The Brixton Market was certainly more influenced by the community on the side of the Stockwell Underground station than by the upper class neighborhood on the other side. From its Caribbean-inspired stalls to the sheer energy of the place, the market was a great example of a distinctive culture in the city of London.

To view a slideshow about our trip, see below:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/BkFpLnrxOkI" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
Video in youtube
For more information about the Brixton Market, you can check out the official website at:  http://brixtonmarket.net/

Tags: 2010 Andrew · 2010 Melissa · 2010 Tyler

A lesson learned?

August 24th, 2009 · 3 Comments

Following another group’s visit to the Docklands, I had the advantage of advice. Based on their stories of their experiences, I knew to pay close attention to the part of the museum that focused on London’s role in the history of slave trade. The advice proved true as that was possibly the most interesting parts of the museum. Interesting only begins to describe the section, however. Nothing could have prepared me for the emotions the exhibit hit on. Opening with a list of numbers of people that were traded as commodities, the exhibit never ceased to be emotionally gripping as it portrayed the cruelty that came out of such trade. The photographs, video clips, personal accounts- everything on display made the reality of this blemish on all our histories keenly felt. The exhibit ended, for me at least, with a feeling of hope. Hope that we have learned that people are to be treated as just that- people. Hope that such mistakes will never be repeated.

Empire Windrush

Empire Windrush

Just a floor below this part of the exhibit, this hope was shaken quite a bit. Mixed in with videos of pretend interviews with the leaders of the dock strikes and boxes of exotic spices to smell, a small posting stands unassuming amongst the rest of the other relatively unimportant/of moderate importance posts. This posting mentions Windrush. As I have just visited Brixton, I knew the name to be an important one. Windrush had been a ship used just after World War II to bring Caribbean migrants over to England (advertised as “the home land” or “the Mother Country”) for the purpose of those migrants to work on the docks. To the world, this transportation of immigrants was advertised as a ‘multiculturalization’ (my word, but I think it works here) of England.

Arrivals off the Windrush

Arrivals off the Windrush

Let me start of by saying that yes, I recognize that this is in no way slavery. These immigrants were asked to come to London through job postings, they made the decision to come over, and were offered jobs, houses, and lives of their own once they arrived. But I cannot shake the feeling that there are striking parallels (or at least common threads) between these two acts. Firstly, referring to England as the Mother Country only harkens back to their days of imperialism. It would be difficult to convince me otherwise. Secondly, asking those from a country that has at any time been a colony to come to your country for the sole purpose of providing cheap labor and enticing them to come with the promise of cheap transportation seems to me like asking them to come and assume the role of someone just one step over what a slave might have been. Then to claim that this is the beginning of a multicultural society is an act that just seems ludicrous to me. Yes, these immigrants settled in community of Brixton which does bring diversity to London but to claim that this was the intent of the invitation to come to the country seems (again, this is a personal feelings) less than honorable. So while Windrush Square is in the process of being built as a community center in Brixton, I wonder if the community should feel such a strong connection to the name. Maybe using the word “should” is a bit vague. But I wonder why the name is used. Is it really honoring the community or placing a reminder of one’s place in society? Maybe I’m reading too much into things. But I’m not convinced that that’s the case. I would argue that if Brixton wanted a community center, it could be named the Brixton Community Center and no one would demand that the name have any more historical value. Again, maybe I’m wrong. I guess the hope is that I am.

Tags: Audrey · Museums

Reggae and Jerks

August 22nd, 2009 · No Comments

Students weren’t the only ones going to markets today. Lest I seem a heartless taskmaster, I set off on my own excursion. With the Victoria line closed today for engineering works (repairs) I took a circuitous route to Brixton. The first thing  that struck me was the massive flight of Aussies and Brits from the Oval Tube station for the second day of the 6th test of the Ashes series. My idea of a great day is not sitting in the sun watching “athletes” in sweaters swing a small boat oar at a croquet ball. OK, I just don’t get cricket, but I’m trying. I continued down from the tube by bus to Brixton Market. What a wonder of beautiful color (both skin and fabrics). Brixton is traditionally known as an Afro-Carribean neighborhood, but I think most people would be surprised by the number of Halal butchers and green grocers from the Middle East. The calls of, “Yes, plaintains” with an Arabic accent accompanied the rhythm of reggae beats flowing from the music stalls. After wandering around a bit and running into some of my students next to Windrush Park I found a wonderful organic baker and purchased 1/4 loaves of mango bread and apple/plum/oat bread. After drooling over all the wonderful food I decided to take the first bus I saw and follow  it anywhere it went. I ended up at Elephant and Castle (already known as “poop stop” to our group…see the earlier post). I walked from poop stop to Borough Market. What a juxtaposition (and you know I love my juxtapositions) to Brixton. Brixton as a handful of ethno-tourists, but otherwise it is all locals. Borough was nearly all white, seemingly wealthy, and numerous out-of-towners. Whereas Brixton had makeshift kiosks in the middle of lanes and small streets selling DVDs, CDs, cheap clothing and food, Borough Market has posh permanent stalls with overpriced produce, lattes, and gourmet items. Don’t get me wrong, the kangaroo burger I had for lunch was nice, but I should have gone with the jerk chicken. I continued onto to the Thames Walk through Clink, past the even more touristy Globe to Tate Modern (clean bathrooms!) and on to the National Theatre. Here I came full circle. Reggae Magic put on a great free concert as part of the NT’s “Watch tThis Space” series. Except now instead of the beautiful black skin, dreadlocks, and ubiquitous Jamaica shirts (remember, Usain Bolt just won two gold medals and set two world records) at the NT we had a nearly all white crowd that included two pitiful Elvis impersonators (one missing most of his teeth); a half dozen guys in green afro wigs, orange face paint, and white jump suits; and tourists, tourists, and more tourists. The music was fantastic and I found myself smiling for an hour straight. A walk over Hungerford Bridge to Embankment led me back to the hotel.

Such is the beauty of London. A lot of different peoples and places, and there is always something new to try. Music and food just happen to be my obsessions.

Tags: Markets · Professor Qualls