Posts in: EN225
When I wandered through the City of London museum, I was bombarded by the magnificence of a city that has survived and thrived after thousands of years and many disasters in the forms of plagues, fires, war, and mad monarchs. The sheer fact that London had existed before the birth of Christ and survives to this day as a focal point for commerce and culture is enough to classify it as one of the greatest cities in the world. Yet as I reached the end of the timeline of Modern London, one detail stuck out to me that caused me to lose respect for a city that I thought should have known better: a sign stating “2012: London hosts the best Olympic and Paralympic Games ever.”
While I do not doubt that the 2012 Olympics were nothing short of incredible, the fact that the museum stated that the games were the best ever without so much as a source, with the exception of Londoner’s tweets, aroused within me a feeling of disappointed anger. Instead of finding some source that stated that the London Olympics were the best, they blatantly used their own nationalistic opinion outside of the context of history. This was a moment where my respect for London dipped slightly, not because of arrogance, but because the exhibit chose to highlight nationalistic pride over international humility, something that goes agains the very grain of the Olympic Games.
As evidenced above, most of the art at London’s Tate Modern isn’t exactly what you might call “accessible”. I personally know very little about visual art (and even less about the nebulous sub-category of “modern art”); to see this world-renowned gallery from the perspective of the uninitiated was an experience that was both exhilarating and more than a little bizarre.
If you’re anything like me, visiting a place like Tate can be a humbling undertaking; I would see a piece I loved, but upon reading the plaque would discover that I had completely missed the artist’s intended message or symbolism. (In particular, I remember a striking set of paintings that appeared to be no more than huge, nonsensical swirls of red paint, but were apparently supposed to immediately conjure thoughts of Classical mythology. I was reminded more of, you know, big red spirals of paint.) Anyway, hit the jump to get a sense for what it’s like to wander into the waking hallucination that is Tate Modern.
One of my favorite parts about being in London is figuring out how to get somewhere. This has been my first trip abroad where I have been given so much freedom. However, I have discovered that for the price of freedom is the need of a good sense of direction. When walking down the street, I can’t help but stare at everything. This leads to me having no awareness of where I am or how I got there. This is why I am not surprised that I have been lost countless times. Figuring out how to get to the next destination is an exciting experience. I have learned a lot from it:
1.) Make sure that no one is starving. If they are, it’s probably a good idea to feed them or crabbiness will spread among the group.
2.) Don’t listen to Hershall. Whatever he says, do the opposite.
3.) You can always try asking someone for directions. If they ignore you, try again. If you are ignored again, try someone who looks nicer. If once again you are ignored, you must not be good at picking nice looking people. Find another plan.
4.) Don’t stop in the middle of the sidewalk to figure out where you are because someone will probably shove you out of their way and swear at you.
5.) Maps are your best friend.
6.) Actually look into every possible room and crevice in the restaurant when looking for your class who you think has deserted you.
7.) Don’t lose hope. You can always find a beer at the end of the tunnel.
Last night, I attended the National Theatre’s production of Strange Interlude by Eugene O’Neill. The play, which spans around twenty-five years, centers on Nina Leeds, who keeps several men in her life in her search for her idolized happiness. O’Neill’s characters use asides consistently throughout the play in a way that makes beautiful, sweeping sentences like, “Our lives are merely strange dark interludes in the electrical display of God the Father,” more believable and less affected.
I thoroughly enjoyed the production. The set design was marvelous and consistent with the play. Set on a revolving turntable—a choice that tends to give the impression that the characters are going in circles—the scenery represented both fragmentation and interrelation and at several points bore a resemblance to a spider web, as if Nina was bound to repurpose every man’s pursuit of her love.
The play’s questions are in line with many of the questions I have been asking myself recently. Nina tries to systematically approach happiness by acquiring all she wants from different people rather than simply doing the things that make her happy. She seeks to possess happiness, not to experience it, and because of this desire for control, she is always left wanting. If you, my dear anonymous reader, cannot see this particular production, then I highly recommend picking up a copy of the play. It is a remarkable, tender, and at times strange look into our lives.
The Globe Theater, located right on the banks of the river Thames, has not changed overmuch from its heyday in the Elizabethan era. The modern Globe being an accurate reproduction of the original theater, the experience of attending a show remains virtually the same. Here are two Globe conventions which help an audience member appreciate a performance, and which Globe-goers have participated in since Shakespeare’s life.
THE BALANCING OF THE HUMOURS
The preliminary act of responsible consumption, though not entirely necessary for an understanding of the performance, works to ease the viewer into the physical experience of enjoying the Globe Theater. Bear in mind that, as a groundling, you will be standing for the entirety of the play, an activity which requires both a strong constitution as well as a certain degree of stability, so refrain from overindulgence.
MAINTENANCE OF PROPER CARRIAGE
Since there are no seats in the general admission section of the Globe, it is absolutely essential to maintain a comfortable posture throughout the performance, or else you’ll wind up looking like this guy:
In order to avoid becoming “slightly overweight man in pinstripe suit experiencing back pain” one must simply remember to take the time to periodically stretch the limbs. Furthermore, the risk of fainting is a very real possibility, but one which can be avoided by slightly bending the knees to allow blood flow.
Dead trees in a giant, empty white room. They reach toward the ceiling, materializing out of two blocks of industrial wood. Their barren trunks extend upwards from their square bases. Short, cut branches poke out in all directions. A small plaque says that they were chipped out of huge planks, ring by ring, until the form of a tree, younger by many years, emerged from the deceased wood.
We interpret marble statues interpreting people from
the past in long hallways,
interpret the twitch of a lip and the murder of
an instrument interpreting the
words of a dead playwright interpreting people from
the past under the evening sunlight,
interpret images and jewels and dioramas and
and it all
from the past.
We interpret until we lose track
and end up seeing the people standing
next to us.
Being at Hampton Court was like traveling through time to an era when one-third of the population lived in poverty, the average lifespan was thirty-five years, there were no drains, sewers, and rubbish was thrown into the streets, and when beheading your wives was an acceptable practice. Walking into the same rooms the likes of King Henry VIII and his family occupied was surreal. This is where his kitchens could feed up to a thousand people in his court, his dear son Edward VI was born, and Catherine Howard, Henry’s fifth wife, was accused of adultery. Rumor has it her ghost haunts the palace where she begged for her life to be spared. Things obviously did not work out well for her.
It isn’t difficult to wax poetic about England. In fact, it’s disturbingly easy. Everywhere you turn, England presents you with a monolith of feeling and thought. We aren’t here for very long, but everyday has been crammed with important sites one after the other. It’s overwhelming, to tell you the truth. I’ve been joking with my friend that this is less a class on Shakespeare and more an experiment to see how many places I can cry.
Embarrassingly enough, my crying chronicles started at King’s Cross station when Steven Hayward said, “And this is where Harry was dropped off for Hogwarts.” I wish I can say that I feigned tears here, but that would be a lie. I started sobbing.
The same thing happened to me at Westminster Abbey when we got to Poet’s Corner. I saw the plaque for Dryden and lost it. I must have sat there blubbering for fifteen minutes (much to the concern of my fellow tourists…I’m sure they thought I was mentally unsound).
I even got a little misty-eyed on Millennium Bridge upon seeing The Globe (to be fair, that was a double whammy as the Millennium Bridge is also in a Harry Potter movie and The Globe is…well…The Globe).
It’s taken me a bit, but I think I’m starting to understand why London is having this effect on me. Why every day seems so packed and why I’m prone to tears. It’s all about origins. In America we have a sort of builder’s problem. If we want something, we tear something down and build something entirely new (I mean this literally as in construction, but this can be taken on a more metaphorical level if you so wish). In England, if something new is required they renovate and adapt. Train stations are in buildings hundreds of years old. Pubs from the 1800s are not uncommon. It doesn’t take long to realize that London is really, very old.
What’s more is that most of the things I care about (books, poetry, Harry Potter) come from England. I feel nostalgic for a place I’ve never been because it’s a home for my passions, a birth and burial place for people I’ve never known but whose work has made me love them.