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.
At this point in my trip to London, I still can’t quite believe we’ve only been here for six days. For whatever reason, time has slowed down – although I think that’s due primarily to the jet lag, which is exactly as bad as I had heard it would be. Thankfully, my circadian clock caught up to London time a few days in. The best advice I can give is to stay awake the day you arrive, although that’s easier said than done – I fell asleep more than once when I arrived at my hotel.
Seeing the sights, even the most mundane ones, has been an entirely new experience for me. This is my first time ever setting foot outside the United States, and getting on the Tube at the airport was a passage to a new world. I come from a more rural area, and I can only point to one other time when I’ve been on a subway (and that was in Washington, D.C.). When I stepped into the Tube at Heathrow and found myself compressed into a crowd of strangers, I was baffled by the number of people. I know London has a population of over 8 million people, but actually experiencing the feeling of being one of millions is jarring – but in a way, very cool.
Thank you for reading this short bit – I’ll try to post more of these micro-blogs, because I still have so much more I want to write.
I’ve been to London twice in the past six months. The first time I went with my family and absolutely abhorred the experience. After visiting every single possible tourist location in all of England, we rented a car and drove four hours to the ‘Dr. Who Experience’—which is some sort of strange hybrid museum/amusement ride that really wishes it were in a better place than a fishing port in Cardiff. Once we finished our “interactive journey” through the museum, it was another four hour drive back to the hotel. The good news is that I saved the world from vacuum cleaners. (I think fans of the television show prefer the term ‘daleks.’)
This time around, I’m here with a college class. I’m not saying that things are great—approximately four-fifths of our waking hours are devoted to studying Shakespeare—but London is definitely easier to appreciate when you’re with people your own age. For instance, a few of us went to a high-end club yesterday where I somehow managed to trick two girls into dancing with me! Then again, both of them stopped after suffering about fifteen seconds of my pitifully awkward ‘moves.’
Now, coming with my parents did have its advantages: free meals, free lodging, free souvenirs, etc. But even though I love my family very, very much, there’s something strange about vacationing with them. It’s less of a trip and more of a guided tour. Oh, and not that I’ve been drinking (because I haven’t been drinking), but if I had been drinking, what I would say is that beer tastes disgusting.
My mother and I join the ranks of the evil dolls at the Dr. Who Experience.
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.
“One does not simply wait for pedestrians. One runs them down so as to herd them and remove them more quickly from the path of a car.” If there was an adage for London drivers, this would be it. If walking is scary (because from personal near death experience on many occasions it is safe to assume that a London driver would run you over and keep driving without a second glance) than running is frankly terrifying. The drivers have already trained themselves to think that pedestrians will move out of their way if they stomp the pedal, but when running you appear in the road with no warning and frequently gasp into the oncoming headlights of some pissed British cabbie. It’s really only a matter of time before I get squashed, just like its only a matter of time before I remember to look the right way before crossing the street. Come to think of it, the latter may prevent the former.
Another thought on pedestrians: when people tell you about London, they comment on the politeness of the British people. They must not have walked through the airport or a tube station or ever entered a crowded metropolitan area. Pedestrians don’t say excuse me. Rather, like the cars, they move you. More than once I have been directed by two hands on my shoulders out of the way, like a dog being moved from the feet. I think as long as I don’t get crushed by the tube doors again, I can let it go.
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.
As a part of this course, our professors wanted us to get lost in London and learn about the city’s history, culture, and people. A small group of us did get lost, but probably not in the way Re and Steve anticipated.
The night we were to see our first show of the block, The Alchemist by Ben Jonson, the class was supposed to meet at the George, a pub by the Rose Theater (where we were seeing the show). We all had to find our way ourselves, which really wasn’t a big deal. One of the things I love about London is how connected everything is by the Tube, so all we had to do was get off at the right stop. The Tube ride was busy, but simple enough, and eventually we found ourselves at the London Bridge station.
The next move is where we made our big mistake. Instead of turning left, we turned right out of the station and proceeded to power-walk in the wrong direction for some time. After realizing that we should have hit the pub earlier, we started checking the convenient maps placed at corners of the city streets. We figured out that we must have gone in the wrong direction and went back the way we came.
After trying in vain to ask for help from some locals, we finally found the pub. But where was our class? Most of the group went inside to check while I stayed outside so I could have enough phone reception to call Re. Everyone came back outside and said that they couldn’t find our class. This led to the next round of searching.
Eventually, after placing more phone calls, scouting out restaurants, and even more power-walking, we got a call from Re. She told us that the class was actually in the pub, but apparently the first time we checked we couldn’t see them. We ended up being an hour late for dinner, but we managed to quickly scarf down some delicious pub food. The show was quite funny and our class seemed to enjoy it, but I don’t think those of us who got lost will forget our little delay any time soon.