Monday, June 14, 2010

London Saga: Part 7

Another wonderful day in London.

Before I begin, I have to say something about London and the weather. *Ahem*

So today dawned bright and beautiful and clear, so I pranced out to class wearing a long-sleeve shirt and shorts. But by lunch, I came to my senses and changed into jeans, which turned out to be a good idea, because the afternoon quickly turned cloudy and RAINY. But not just a downpour, which I can handle. It was this thick, drizzly mess that didn't come straight down, but rather blew sideways from every direction.

I love London, but I'm not sure if I could deal with the schizophrenic weather every single day.

Anyway, so after class, we went to the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea, which I really enjoyed -- strange, because I don't usually like modern art. The woman who was  giving us a talk about the art was ... well, she just talked so quietly I couldn't hear a single word. But I entertained myself by watching an impromptu soccer game in front of the gallery, so that was fine.

The current exhibit was called Newspeak (after the Orwell novel, yes), and while I didn't quite 'get' everything, I think I had an overall good experience.

Then came a walking tour of Chelsea, and we stopped in front of many of the houses that once belonged to famous Londoners. I think this would have been much more pleasant if it hadn't rained incessantly.

The tour de force of the evening, however, was Wicked. It took me a while to get into the play, but once I did ... wow. It blew me away.

The ending was really different from the original play, but I preferred this ending. (Won't give away anything here.) I highly recommend seeing it.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

London Saga: Part 6

Okay, so I didn't blog yesterday. But today will be an recap of my weekend in general. :-)

Yesterday, I did two main tourist-y things: the Tower of London and the British Museum.

The Tower of London was incredible. We took a tour with a beefeater, or a yeoman -- because yesterday was the Queen's official birthday, they were dressed in special outfits that was pretty cool. These beefeaters are tasked with 'defending' the Tower, and it's a pretty big deal to be chosen. They live on the premises, which means they get a house within the Tower walls -- how cool is that?

So we got a general overview of  the Tower and its functions, then checked out the Crown Jewels, which is opulence at its best. I was awed by the amount of gold and precious stones contained there. We also saw the torture rooms and the armory -- all cool stuff. I really enjoyed my time at the Tower.

My friends and I grabbed lunch at a nearby grocery store -- sandwiches on the go -- and headed to the British Museum. They have an incredible amount of awesome stuff in this museum; I felt like I could have spent days there.

We, however, made a beeline for the Rosetta Stone. Even the fingerprint-marked glass that hid the Stone couldn't really mask how incredible it was to see the thing in person. The Egyptian and Assyrian exhibits were especially cool -- go mummies!

We also checked out the Sutton Hoo treasures, and then we spent a good amount of time in a temporary exhibit on Chinese printmaking.

We walked back to Regent's Park (and got lost along the way), which was really nice because the weather was perfect yesterday. (Jeans and t-shirt kind of fare.)

Walking through Regent's Park was gorgeous -- there were people walking their dogs, impromptu cricket matches and little children running around enjoying the wonderful weather.

Once we returned to Regent's, it was time to watch the much-anticipated England vs. U.S.A. soccer (or should I say football?) match. I chose to watch the game at the College, which probably wasn't a bad idea. I heard that pubs were a bit crazy that night.

The game was really intense, especially during that first half. It was really interesting to hear the British commentary, because I'm so used to American commentary where usually the U.S. team can do absolutely no wrong. It was a bit strange to hear the other side of the spectrum.

Anyway, I think that I'm fine with a 1-1 tie, although a lot of the Londoners didn't seem too pleased with the results.

Today, I went shopping on Oxford Street with a couple of my girlfriends. We ended up in Primark, this giant confection of a department store with rock bottom prices. I bought a pair of shoes for two pounds.

As would be expected with the prices, the place was mobbed. The lines to the dressing room were out of this world, and I ended up trying on a lot of my clothes right near the racks. It was exhausting navigating around the throngs of people, but totally worth it. I was really pleased with my purchases. :-)

After stopping by Starbucks (hooray for American consumer imperialism), we returned to Regent's College to do some reading for class tomorrow and get ready for another week.

I got to Skype with my boyfriend and talked on the phone with my parents, which was really nice. And now ... now I'm writing this blog post.

So that was my weekend! Tomorrow, class discussion will center around a collection of poems about London that coincidentally was published by my press. (I remember doing the publicity for it.) And I think we are supposed to see Wicked tomorrow, which should be nice. I've read the book and enjoyed it, more or less. (This is more than I can say about Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister.)

Ahem. That's probably enough rambling for today ... onward toward tomorrow!

Friday, June 11, 2010

London Saga: Part 5

Not that you could tell from this picture, but this is me in Cambridge.

I'm an awful picture taker. I take photos of stuff (mostly buildings) from bad angles in bad lighting. I never actually appear in my pictures, and when I do, I choose awful backgrounds for them.

Cambridge was gorgeous -- we went punting down the Cam River, which was extremely pleasant. The weather was fabulous and the day was bright and sunny, which I don't think is particularly frequent for England.

After getting back from a wonderful daytrip to Cambridge, I had dinner at a little pizza place off Goodge Street, which was nice.

And now I'm writing this blog post, which will be incredibly short because I'm tired, and I have a full day of tourism ahead of me. :-)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

London Saga: Part 4

My throat is killing me.

And I don't think this is possible, but somehow, my ears are hurting like crazy as well. I feel absolutely dreadful in so many ways.

And here's the thing -- I was feeling so chipper today. I actually participated in all the activities, which is the first in a long time, and I thought that I was getting over this. But by nighttime, I guess my good health wore off and I was left feeling like crap again. Anyway, as a defense mechanism against my sudden lack of cheer, I'll recap the day.

In the morning, we had a very informative and interesting lecture on London's religious history; afterward came a lively discussion on the play After the Dance (highly recommended). After a quick lunch in the refectory, we took a walking tour of Kensington and the nearby parks, which is a posh neighborhood where such greats like Joyce, Henry James, Robert Browning, T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound have lived. It was also where the movie Finding Neverland was filmed, and there's a statue memorializing Peter Pan there.

Trivia fact that is also very sad: out of the boys that inspired Peter Pan's lost boys -- I think two committed suicide, and the other died in the war, all before the age of 20.

And A.A. Milne's Christopher Robin likewise committed suicide while he was a student at the university.

We also passed by the body of water where Shelley's first wife drowned herself.

Okay, yeah, I'm starting to get a little ... down.


On the brighter side, we then watched more of the Up series, but that wasn't exactly happy-go-lucky either.

Alright, this blog post is getting no where. Hopefully I'll be able to write a more fulfilling one tomorrow, after I get back from visiting Cambridge. (Very excited!)

Grumpy and sick,


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

London Saga: Part 3

I don't have the brainpower right now to pull up an alliterative title, so let's just go with 'A Day In Which I Slept Most of the Time, But Still Managed to Have Some Good Experiences.'

Today for class, we had an excellent lecture on London's architectural heritage by a man whose name I've conveniently forgotten, but he had a crazy hairstyle that reminded me of Einstein. According to one of our program coordinators, the lecturer has a different hairstyle every year, which is awesome.

But by the time the lecture was over and we continued our discussion of The Secret Agent, I began to feel so overwhelmingly tired again, despite the fact that I'd slept like 13 hours the night before. And I was coughing and blowing my nose and probably grossing out everyone within a three foot perimeter of me.

When lunch break rolled around, I decided to try to take a quick power nap before the afternoon session, but when my friend came to wake me up, I couldn't get myself out of bed. I was just so exhausted. So yay me - I ended up sleeping through the ENTIRE afternoon, missing a visit to an art gallery over in Rivington Place.

I woke up at 5 pm really irritated and groggy. I knew that we were supposed to watch a play at the National Theatre at 7:30 pm, but had no clue if everyone else had just stayed out or when we had planned to meet up. Luckily, I ran into a few other people from our program who got me up to date, and after eating dinner in the refectory (I love that they call the dining hall 'refectory'), we took the Bakerloo line to Embarkment and walked across the Thames to the National Theatre.

The outside of the National  Theatre really isn't much to look at; it's basically a big slab of concrete in the '60s Brutalism style that doesn't really do much for contemporary viewers. The inside, however, is gorgeous. A live band played Irish-influenced music; the colorfully decorated interior buzzed with Londoners dressed for a night out, each hoisting a glass of wine from the lively bar.

The play we saw was Terence Rattigan's After the Dance, perhaps his most brilliant - and underappreciated - play. (This is according to my program.) It was also directed by Thea Sharrock, whose former projects include Equus, which starred Daniel Radcliffe.

I'm not very familiar with Rattigan's other works, but After the Dance blew me away. I came into the theatre feeling under the weather, without a single idea what the play was about. And for you, my invisible reader, I shall recap:

In the late 1930s, the play follows a socialite couple, Joan and David Scott-Fowler, who are determined to drink and dance their way into revelry despite the changing social and political conditions of their time. David begins an affair with a younger woman named Helen Banner. She attempts to 'change' David for the better; in her simultaneously oblivious and cruel way, she destroys Joan and David's marriage.

The play is hilarious, darkly comedic, and incredibly poignant. And the production itself -- the set literally took my breath away; the acting was fabulous; the audience raptly involved.

During the intermissions, fellow viewers stopped me and asked what I thought; I had an interesting, thought-provoking discussion about the relevance of Rattigan's work today to generations unfamiliar with the decadence of the Roaring Twenties.

Did I mention that I love London?

Anyway, the play itself made me feel so heavy ... although I can't really pinpoint why. It's something that I keep mulling over in my head, something that I want to keep talking about, which means that it's meaningful in some way or another.

I've been thinking a lot about what artistic merit means, at least to me, and while I don't have the answer right now, I'll keep you updated on my musings. I think I'm beginning to believe that the text or work itself has no value within itself, or meaning - but that meaning is created by the dialogue interposed onto the text, and its effect on people ... a more liberating view of art than most would probably accept.

Ahem. Well, that's enough postulating for now. Amazingly enough, I feel tired. So long until tomorrow!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

London Saga: Part 2

I think I'll need to title each part of my saga with alliterative titles, much in the vein of Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events. If yesterday is 'Brilliant Beginning,' then today is 'Sucky Sequel.'

I've been feeling a bit under the weather for the past two weeks, but nothing absolutely unmanageable. But today, I woke up feeling awful. I couldn't breathe out of either nostril, my head felt like it was about to explode, and I was strangely numb and sore all over.


I muscled through class in the morning, but still felt really sick by lunchtime. I didn't feel hungry at all, so I ended up sleeping through lunch. In the afternoon, I dragged myself out of bed to get to class, where we watched a documentary film called Seven Up! To be more accurate, it's actually a 'series' based on the Jesuit quote "Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man." 14 British seven-year-olds from diverse economic backgrounds were chosen in 1964 to participate in the documentary. Every seven years, the documentary interviews the children to see how they progress through life; the explicit assumption behind the series is that one's socioeconomic class determines one's life. The latest installment was 49 Up, released in 2005.

The idea is simultaneously troubling and fascinating, and I thought that the series was well-done, even if the questions posed by the directors were a bit leading and the fact that the viewer was asked to judge the participants based on their answers to interviews when they were, oh, seven- or fourteen-year-olds is a bit ludicrous. Half the stuff I said when I was 14 would make me sound (mostly) crazy, and I certainly wouldn't want to be judged for any random comments I say even today.

After class was a literary walking tour through Regent's Park and up Primrose Hill - past the house where Yeats had lived and where Sylvia Plath killed herself. Unfortunately, however, I felt way too sick to do the tour, so I ended up missing it, which left me super, super bummed.

Since I hadn't eaten anything at all today, I forced myself to eat dinner. Having no sense of smell severely dampens one's ability to enjoy food, so I was basically shoveling tasteless stuff into my mouth, although my friends told me that the chicken and rice was actually quite good.

Because of the poor weather, the program coordinators decided to cancel a showing of Miller's Crucible that we were supposed to go to tonight. Everyone else is out and about - either watching The Prince of Persia down in Lester Square or at various pubs.

And me?


Since I thought that we had to go watch The Crucible tonight, I scheduled a chat with my boyfriend for midnight, when I was sure to be back home. But now that means that I'm simply sitting around and waiting for midnight to come ... and I still have four hours to go.

/ moping

Anyway, that was me unloading my woes onto you, the unsuspecting public. I really hope that I feel better soon - being sick is absolutely no fun at all.

Since I still have three hours until my scheduled chat with my boyfriend, I think I'm going to go take a quick late-evening nap, then return in a few. Farewell until then!

Monday, June 7, 2010

London Saga: Part 1

Before I start, I must confess that I am an absolute awful blogger. (Take a look at the date of my last blog post.)

But as a requirement for my program here in London, I'm required to journal every day. So hopefully, that'll keep me accountable, at least to an extent.

A few requisite facts about this thirty-part saga. The "prelude" or "prologue" to this saga would be my approximately 12 part journey through Spain, Italy and France. But that's for another day, or perhaps another blog post.

I'm studying at Regent's College in London, located inside the beautiful Regent's Park, which is filled with a bazillion variety of roses, many, many birds and squirrels that are too friendly for anyone's good. There is a cat on residence named Sooty, which is always a good sign.

Today was my first official day of class. We're working on Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent, and I must secretly confess that the last third of that book is kind of a blur for me. This is extremely strange when considering that the last third is when the most interesting events occur. We have a quiz tomorrow on the book, and I'm kinda nervous. I'm in summer, not classroom mode.

Because I forgot to set my clock up an hour from Paris time, I ended up waking up an hour earlier than intended. Not a problem - I took a wonderful stroll through Regent's Park and down Baker's Street. (I live right near Sherlock Holmes's house, where there is a very cheesy and very overpriced 'Sherlock Holmes Museum' that I have been advised to avoid.)

In the morning, we have 'class' in the traditional sense - a classroom, etc. Our afternoons, however, are far more interesting.

Today, after lunch, we went to St. Paul's Cathedral and explored the bowels of the magnificent building, including the crypts. I pretended to be British and honored the memory of Nelson and Wellington. Then I climbed the bazillion and a half steps to the top of the dome of the cathedral and enjoyed the most beautiful view of London.

When I was in Paris, I told a tour guide of mine that I was going to London. He promptly replied, "I hate London."

When prompted for an explanation, he told me, "London is so disorganized. In Paris, you'll see that all the buildings look at least somewhat similar. A city isn't a city if there's no coherency."

I could definitely see a complete lack of organization in the London skyline - a haphazard smorgasbord of buildings in architectural styles ranging from Gothic to '60's brutalism, expressionism to Classical.

I loved it.

Maybe I'm just inherently disorganized, or perhaps I simply feel awed in the face of such monumental and carefree chaos. Or perhaps I'm just a gawking American tourist who is amazed by all things British.

Oh, and as a side note - a few London things I love:

1. The WC, or wash closet
2. The phrase 'Adverse Camber'
3. The names of the Underground lines (Bakerloo,  Hammersmith & City and Jubilee, among them)
4. Rooms are not 'vacant' or 'empty'; they're 'vacant' or 'engaged'

Ahem. So anyway, after St. Paul's Cathedral, we walked across the Millenium Bridge  - yes, the one that was destroyed in movie version of Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince - and we went right to Tate Modern, which is an absolutely awesome contemporary art museum. We viewed an exhibit entitled 'Flux' with a wide range of art from Matisse to Picasso, Warhol to Rodin, and lesser-known names in between.

After that came a walking tour of the south side of the Thames from the Tate Modern all the way down to Lester Square. We passed Big Ben, Parliament, the Prime Minister's Residence, Nelson's Column and the London Eye. The best part? It didn't rain at all.

After dinner in an Irish pub called Waxy's (don't ask), we watched Les Miserables in all its dramatic, unadulturated, love-at-first-sight misery. Don't get me wrong - I loved the play. It's epic, sometimes too much so, but mostly all in the right places.

It was raining when we left the theater, so I enjoyed a pleasant walk back from the Baker Street tube station to my dorm room - and now I am updating my blog! :-)

Hopefully these posts will become less of rote recitations of my activities and more thought-provoking in the future. Despite the fact that this blog has been around for several months now, my level of activity still renders me a novice.

That's everything for today - I'm exhausted and ready to sleep. Good night!