Posts in: EN225
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.
This past year was my first year of college. I did not have a typical first year of college. This is the last class I need to become a sophomore.
I began my career at CC last summer during C block, before I had any sort of orientation for college. I got off to a great start with that biology class.
I had been accepted to CC as a winterstart, so during my fall semester, I did a National Outdoor Leadership School semester in the Rockies. It was an amazing experience–challenging mentally and physically. Spending 90 days with the same people, in the remote wilderness, while learning technical skills, the essentials of survival, and how to be an outdoor leader and educator, was one of the most grueling and demanding tasks of my life. I cried a lot during that semester, and there were points where I was considering quitting and going home. But I stuck it out. I truly returned from that experience a changed person, with the skills to overcome any challenge and a new perspective of the world and my life.
January arrived, and it was time for me to plunge into the world of college with 30 other winterstarts, in the middle of the school year. Everyone knows being a winterstart is tough, and getting to know other people is quite a challenge. I had the typical first month of college experience: confusing, fun, intense, scary, and somehow exhilarating. The second month of school, the second half of my FYE, was not so typical.
At the very end of fifth block, I got very sick, made three visits to the ER in three weeks, and was unable to participate in class. I barely knew anyone at school, my parents were back in Boston, I was terrified, alone, and could barely get out of bed. I couldn’t take care of myself anymore. The last week of sixth block, I flew home to recover for a week. The stress of whether or not I would get credit for the first block of my FYE, during which I had worked so hard, pushed me over the edge.
I came back to CC for seventh block. My health was still not great, and I was somewhat traumatized by how my first college semester had begun, but I enjoyed my class and finished it successfully. Eighth block was a roller coaster. Some great things happened that block, as well as some scary things that were happening back home in Boston. I was ready for a much needed break; this was the last straw. I wish I could have put more effort and focus into my classes, but I did the best I could under the circumstances I was in. And that’s all that really matters, right? No one can ask me to do any more than my best.
I finally came home, both relieved and also in utter shock at everything that I had experienced within the past year. I had a nice break, but I was not yet a sophomore. I needed one more credit: this class.
Shakespeare: my favorite subject of all time. I was SO excited to study the Bard in LONDON with two professors that I had only heard great things about. I am glad I am here. I can’t even think about the fact that this course is almost over. I have made new friends and have gotten to know my professors very well. I have been submersed in Shakespeare culture and learned so much about England’s history. By the end of this week, I will have studied seven of Shakespeare’s plays, and will have seen even more productions. Thank heavens I can end my freshman year on a great note.
Sometimes I wish I could redo my freshman year because it was not at all how I imagined it might be. But looking back, I wouldn’t change anything. Of course I’ve left out many details of my story, but regardless of the little things, I have the option of viewing my freshman year of college in two ways: as a crazy, stressful year that did not go as planned and a time I want to forget, or as a year in which I hurdled an incredible amount of obstacles that made me grow stronger and more mature.
Neale Donald Walsch said, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” I guess my life began this year, and I’m glad it did. Now that I think about it, I hope every year pushes me beyond my comfort zone. Luckily, I’m at the right place to do that. I could not be at a better school with better people. I know that my peers and the block plan will never fail to challenge me.
So…Shakespeare in London: a reminder of how much fun I can have during college while furthering my education. The perfect end to an imperfect year? I think yes.
The poppy: a flower that I’ve noticed is very prevalent in England. In Millais’s famous Ophelia painting, the red poppies signify sleep and death. They’re so pretty, and yet represent something so tragic. These seemingly polar opposites, beauty and death (or life and death, success and struggle) almost always go together. My freshman year of college=the wondrous, stupefying poppy flower? Maybe…
- Always wash your feet upon returning home.
- Look up.
- Have class in a rose garden at Hampton Court.
- Have class beneath The Globe.
- Eat chocolate beetroot cake and twirl.
- Race through the glorious Regent’s Park to make it to a massively bizarre performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Open Air Theatre.
- Under the silver lime and oak trees, surrounded by green green green, picnic on cherry tomatoes, almonds, cheese and bread before aforementioned show.
- Look out the window.
- Get lost. You’ll see more.
- Walk whenever possible. You’ll see more and (surprisingly) be less sweaty.
- If you DO take the Tube at rush hour, embrace it. You’re going to feel some foreign bodies. It’s going to be hot and sticky. It will be miserable. So embrace it.
- Eat seafood and toast and pastries and eggs.
- Travel to Stratford-upon-Avon and drink a pint outside of Shakespeare’s supposed birthplace.
- Also, prance around like your little girl self through Anne Hathaway’s misty gardens and forest. Don’t hit your head on the low beams of her adorable childhood house.
- Bow down to your beloved writers.
- In terms of the weather, think of it as Colorado, but stickier.
- Stand on the right. Walk on the left.
- Don’t fall in the water.
- Think before you cross the street.
- Sleep in the moments offered. Love that sleep, cherish that sleep. Have twisting dreams in an opium din-like purple purple B&B room.
- Spot your professors in the crowd.
- Crack parts of your body so frequently that you’re caught on cameraduring the act.
- Lurk the Writing Britain exhibition in the British Museum, check out J.K. Rowling’s and James Joyce’s original manuscripts. Feel better about your haphazard editing tendencies.
- Develop an infection in a hand wound, make a visit to the Princess Grace emergency room, and swoon at the oh so oddly modern clean design of the hospital.
- LOOK AT ALL THE BUILDINGS.
- Buy a book that you could easily buy at home for, something native to the area preferably. Do it because you can and because you want to add more weight to your backpack and because YOU KNOW you will CHERISH it all the more because of where it was purchased.
- Try not to be obsessive about the exchange rate. You need to eat, which means you need to buy food. Get over it. Enjoy it.
- Strut around King’s Cross and pretend you’re Harry Potter’s BFF.
- And, of course, read Shakespeare.
Sometimes traveling I feel like life transcends reality. Today was one of those days as we made what our professor termed an “enforced march” out of town. In reality, it was a beautiful twenty-minute stroll through lovely fields. At this point, many members of our class, including myself, were unsure of our final destination.
We arrived at the back of a house and the class took a collective breath of amazement at a cottage with a garden that could have stepped out of Midsummer Night’s Dream. There was discussion about never leaving as we inhaled English lavender, while walking under verdant archways. This cottage we discovered was the birthplace of Anne Hathaway, the long-term wife of William Shakespeare. Inside we could see beautiful 15th and 16th century furniture, including a bench in the parlor that may have been occupied by the great playwright himself.
Making our way through the house the class encountered a tour guide who was incredibly well informed about the Hathaway’s and the history of the house. He entertained us by describing the etymology of words or phrases like curfew and room and board. More importantly, he had a romantic soul. He encouraged us to think about Anne’s role in William’s life as important and their marriage as a happy one (I am not sure how much I believe that latter statement.) Has he read any of Shakespeare’s sonnets? Then again, there is so much that we can only guess at. What would life have been like married to William Shakespeare? Coming to you from Stratford, England….
Today was another free day! We decided to see as much of London as possible. We left the hostel bright and early and walked to the National Portrait Gallery. Once we were “all-portraited-out,” we decided to walk to Buckingham Palace. After consulting the map, we discovered that walking along The Mall seemed like the easiest route. Yet, as we approached The Mall, our way was blocked by construction. We were very confused, wandering around trying to find an alternate route. As we were walking up a set of stairs, complaining that it was incredibly hot outside, we heard someone say, “would you like some ice cream?” Surprised, we turned around and asked for clarification. The woman, indeed, was giving us free ice cream popsicles! We thanked her profusely. “Where are you from?” she asked. We told her we were from Colorado. She, and the two younger people sitting next to here were from Lithuania! She then asked us what we were doing in London –”Are you looking for boyfriends?” We told her we were taking a Shakespeare class. She smiled. We thanked her for the popsicles and continued our journey to Buckingham Palace. Once we were out of earshot, we excitedly turned to one another. “We just met someone from Lithuania! And she gave us popsicles!” With new energy from the popsicles, we marched on and eventually found Buckingham Palace! Though Buckingham Palace is amazing, it was also our encounter with the Lithuanian family that made the day’s adventure memorable!
We all know that the only food London is really famous for is its fish and chips. Having recently found out that I am lactose and gluten intolerant, I wasn’t sure how easy eating in London was going to be. Here’s what I’ve found:
Eating out is actually fairly easy. Besides its fish and chips, London has an exceptional variety of international food. I’ve mainly been eating sushi, Indian food, and Mexican food. But if there is a different type of ethnic food you like to eat, you are most likely to find it in London. There is even an Italian restaurant that has an entire gluten-free menu.
When grocery shopping, however, I’ve found it a bit more difficult to find gluten and dairy free snacks and meals. I think this is just because the Sainsbury’s that is closest to our hostel is pretty small. Regardless, I’ve managed to eat, and eat well. But I do miss the fresh food from my town in Massachusetts and the fact that our grocery stores have soy ice cream…YUM!
It’s been hot here in London (but not nearly as hot as it is in CO!) and yesterday I was having “one of those days”. You know when something goes wrong, or you have a headache, or you’re super hungry, and then that something blows up to be everything? And now EVERYTHING is bothering you? Well, I was in a rut. It was kind of like that scene from National Lampoon’s European Vacation:
And then I remembered why I’m here…to enjoy Shakespeare!
I saw my first homeless person in London today. It broke my heart, more so than back at home. I think it’s because he was sitting in a tube station and hundreds of people were rushing past him, in their fancy suits on their fancy phones, talking in their fancy accents. He had his head hung, staring at the ground so I couldn’t even make eye contact with him. It was the worst feeling too, because I couldn’t stop and give him money because it was rush hour and I had to keep up with the class, I also had this sense that even though I wanted to give him money that it might not help much. I felt really helpless to be honest.
It got me thinking though about how privileged I am to be doing what I am doing, in the place that I am and studying what I am studying. It also put me in a bit of discomfort as well, I never want my education, I never want academia to make me inaccessible. Does it make us inaccessible because we are too busy thinking about ideas rather than looking at what is right in front of us? Or does it make us more accessible because academia reveals something significant about the human condition?
Is it more significant that I cried at the ending of a production of Romeo and Juliet or that I cried about the image of the homeless man in a tube station? Which is more important?
Something I am still figuring out I suppose.
Yesterday afternoon, before seeing King Henry V at the Globe Theater, another student and I went to the Hayward Gallery to see their Invisible art exhibit. It was an incredibly interesting experience! The various works of art on display were all very different interpretations of the idea of art as invisible. One display was a piece of paper that the artist had stared at for 1000 hours. Another was an empty room full of air conditioners. One artist had not completed a work of art he was supposed to have made for a different gallery, so he reported that someone had stolen the painting from his car. A police report was issued to help locate the “missing” art. It is now on display as part of this invisible art collection.
Many exhibits were photographs of invisible monuments and memorials that had been constructed across the world. One is an inverted fountain in Germany. It had once been an above ground fountain that the Nazis destroyed. After the war, it was reconstructed underground, as reflection of what it had once been. Another memorial is the names of victims written on cobble stones. The cobble stones pave a walkway with the writing facing the ground. Visitors to the area have no idea what they are walking on.
My favorite piece was an invisible labyrinth. In a large, empty room, we put a device on our heads that resembled headphones. Then, we walked through the room. Every time we hit one of the invisible walls of the labyrinth, the headset would vibrate. Slowly but surely, we made our way through the labyrinth.
One exhibit was a completely dark, windowless room that we had to walk through. Immediately, I grabbed onto my friend, fearful of the unknown that resided in the dark. I was worried that something would grab me, or that I would run into some unknown object or wall. Together, we found our way to the other side of the room. When we found the exit door, I was curious to see how big the room actually was. I began following the wall around the room, discovering it was much smaller that I had imagined it to be.
As I walked around this room, I thought to myself, “this must be what it is like to be blind.” I thought of the fear I had initially felt when I walked into the dark room. It was so uncomfortable because I couldn’t see, and therefore didn’t know, what this room contained. I can’t imagine how fearful I would be if every room I walked in gave me this experience. It must take so much courage for someone who is blind to walk around. Honestly, I don’t think I would be able to explore new areas, not being able to see what was around every corner. When I was in elementary school, we watched a cartoon in which a prince was asked if he would rather loose his sight or his hearing. I had initially thought I would rather loose my sight, because I love music so much. The prince answered that he would never want to loose his most precious possessions, his eyes. As an elementary schooler, I disagreed with him. Now, I understand him.
After leaving the dark room, I saw a couple standing together in front of another display. The woman was reading the information about the art to the man. Then I realized that he was blind. All I could think was that it was so interesting that a blind man would choose to see an invisible art exhibit. When people capable of sight go to an art exhibit, they primarily use their sense of sight to experience and comprehend the art. At this exhibit, however, they cannot use it as their primary way to experience this art. A greater part of our imagination must be engaged in order to comprehend this exhibit. In some ways, I was inhibited by my ability to see. Sometimes, I very desperately wanted to see something in the invisible art. I would search blank pieces of paper, wanting something more. Yet, the blind man, lacking sight and therefore this inhibition, would have been able to more fully engage his imagination and understand the art perhaps more than I ever could.