Saturday morning, at 7 a.m., my alarm sounded. By 11:30 a.m., I was walking through the streets of Dover with my friend Erin Kinchen, wondering where the heck we were exactly. Thanks to the generosity of some locals, we soon had a map and a plan. And then we had crumpets.
(For those of you who've never had a crumpet -- which is presumably the majority of you -- I'm including a picture. These are two toasted crumpets, with "lashings" of butter. Pretty good, but I prefer English muffins.)
Post-crumpet, we headed up a hill to Dover Castle, our main stop of the day. The entrance fee to the castle also allows you to visit a Roman lighthouse, an old Saxon church, and the secret tunnels under the castle. The four miles of tunnels were largely built during the Napoleonic War, but were enlarged and utilized during the World Wars. Since Dover is the part of England closest to mainland Europe, the tunnels housed important (and secret) military operations. We walked through them. It was awesome!
The propertyof the castle also includes the "admiralty lookout" -- a great place to get a good view the English Channel, as well as the classic white chalk cliffs of Dover. Check it out! I could even see France, although it's not visible in this picture.
(Several astute observers have noted that I "saw London" and "saw France" in one day, and they subsequently asked if I saw anyone's underpants. I'm sorry to report that I did not.)
Of course, Dover Castle also featured a castle, originally built for Henry II. Although Hitler's weapons on the coast of France were fully capable of obliterating Dover Castle across the 21 miles of the English Channel, not a single enemy bomb touched the castle during the war. There's speculation that Hitler was planning to save the castle, which is one of England's greatest, for his own use.
Erin and I climbed to the tippy, tippiest top of the highest tower and stared. We saw sheep dotting the idyllic green pastures. We saw sweet little sailboats scattered across the Channel. There are some things you just can't see in London, and those are some of them.
After about four hours of wandering through the castle's property, we headed down to the pebbly beach and watched the water -- one of my favorite pastimes. We met a drenched, swimsuit-clad Briton who was training for a Channel swim. (Drenched, half-nude Britons are another one of my favorite pastimes.)
Gorgeous sea shells were found, as was a crab's claw and a water-carved piece of chalk that resembled a skull. Deep breaths of sea air were taken. Time was lost track of.
Eventually, we ambled back towards town and grabbed a bite to eat. Then we wandered back to our bus station. Indeed, as it turned out, we wandered too slowly and missed our bus. But the kind driver of the next Dover-to-London bus, which arrived an hour later, let us ride even though our tickets were technically invalid.
And then we made it back to London and drank some delicious, fresh-from-the-farm, Dover-bought apple juice. And all was happy in the world, even though no underpants were seen. The End.
I arrived in London after five weeks of backpacking and staying in hostel dorm rooms. For the first few weeks, it was pure joy to stay put in the same room for weeks in a row, eating refrigerated food. I've gorged on yogurt, cream cheese, and eggs, which are not easy foods for a traveler to eat. Now I'm finally getting over my post-trip inertia.
Although (or perhaps because) we've been taking trips all over London during class time, when class ends it's all too appealing to sit in my apartment and revel in the joys of European leisure. That's no way to see a city, though! With the help of Time Out, a weekly magazine guide to everything there is to do in Lonon, my Hendrix classmates and I are slowly learning how to fully reap the advantages of living in London.
Wednesday evening, eight of us decided on the spur of the moment that it was a good night for clubbing. So we got dressed and walked down the street (about half a mile) to a club. That's a bit different than life in Conway, Arkansas!
Concerts are also much more accessible here, and I'm scrounging up all of the "You only live once" rhetoric I can to justify the whooshing sound of my bank account emptying. Manu Chao and Ani Difranco are worth it, though. I saw Manu at Lollapalooza in 2006, and it was the most energetic performance I've ever experienced. He's a short guy, and he spent at least two straight hours jumping up and down singing and thrashing his guitar, with nary a breath between songs.
I've never seen Ani live, but I've listened to her music since ninth grade. My sister and I like her songs so much that in we named our cat in her honor. Lame? OK, maybe. I fully expect that seeing her perform live will be a life-changing experience.
In general, I can't overstate how nice it is to live in London, and Bloomsbury especially. It's a safe, nice neighborhood near Soho and close to my classes. But it's also a truly epic place to be. The more I learn about the Bloomsbury group of artists and intellectuals, the more I respect them. (Call me a leftist and an anti-Victorian, and I'll call you a mind-reader.)
Despite the many charms of London itself, it's great to get out of the city for awhile. We have three-and-a-half day weekends every weekened, and they've been underutilized thus far. This weekend, though, four Hendrixers have headed off to Dublin, and four more of us (myself included) are taking a day-trip to see the white cliffs of Dover.
That trip begins in approximately five hours, so I'm off to bed now. I'll do my best to bring back good pictures!
I’m still adjusting to the once-a-week, three-hour-long format that most of my classes follow. Although it is incredibly difficult to pay attention for three hours straight, it’s impressive how much can happen within one class period. (To be fair, we usually get a 5- or 10-minute break mid-way through.) Here’s what I did this week:
British Art & Architecture
We took a fieldtrip to Sir John Soane's Museum, one of the cookiest and creepiest museums in London. Created in the early 1800s by a rather eccentric architect, the museum is full of bits and pieces of history, all hung helter-skelter on the walls of Sir Soane’s old house. Roman ruins, Grecian urns, and an Egyptian sarcophagus crowd the main room. (For a great virtual reality tour of the room, click here.)
The basement “crypt” of the house is dark and eerie, home to masses more artifacts, as well as the tombstones of his wife and son. It's the perfect place to shoot an intellectual horror film. From the staircase, you can see a skeleton hanging in an inaccessible room. In fact, the skeleton is composed of the bones of various bodies, both male and female. It was used by artists for sketching.
Because Soane conceived of the museum as a place to study classical art, rather than classical history, there are no descriptive labels on the items. Everything is out of context. The safe, sanitary, museum-y feel is also missing; it’s more like you just stumbled into the house of an eccentric old man. And in a way, that’s exactly what we did do. Thank God we made it out alive.
British Life & Culture
For the first time in three weeks, we had class in a classroom this week. We talked about the British class system and how it has manifested itself in the education system. We talked about George Orwell. We talked about Virginia Woolf. We talked about The Three Guineas. We talked about war, peace, and imperialism. We talked about feminism. We talked about the Victorian ideal of marriage and compared it with serial monogamy and open marriages. We even talked about the sex lives and dalliances among the Bloomsbury Group of writers and intellectuals. (They were famed for “living in squares and loving in triangles.”) At the end of class, the whiteboard was covered in words that seemed completely unrelated -- because they largely were.
It is absolutely remarkable how deep and broad a conversation can be had in three hours! My entire understanding of British culture was revolutionized within one class period. After class I visited the National Portrait Gallery, where I searched out portraits of and by members of the Bloomsbury group. (I should mention now that I live in the Bloomsbury area of London, so the history of those intellectuals feels especially relevant.) Victoria Bell’s painting of her sister Virginia Woolf was much more meaningful than it had been before. Likewise, looking at portraits of Lytton Strachey felt like looking at a friend, like being in on a secret.
We took our second and final trip to the Globe Theatre, Tuesday. Their production of Love’s Labor’s Lost was impressively enthusiastic, but the dialogue remained largely inaccessible because of the number of funny references that have since lost their meaning. Would you understand jokes about prickets and sores and sorrels? I thought not.
Nevertheless, the actors were very enthusiastic – an impressive feat when you know your audience doesn’t understand most of what you’re saying. One poor actor had broken his foot the week before, and he hopped around the stage with the assistance of “Elizabethan-era NHS-issued crutches.” Ha!
The next day, during our actual class period, we analyzed the play and the production. And then we spent an hour and a half on Macbeth! Did you know that "weird" is a Scottish word for "fate"? Did you know that Guy Fawkes's name was really Guido? Did you know that British tobacconists sell fireworks during October? Did you know that the celebration of Guy Fawkes Night (November 5th) is facing increasing competition from Halloween (October 31)?
In addition to being absolutely full of trivia, our professor, Gene, is brutally honest. "Don't bother reading the scene where Heccat starts a song and dance," she told us yesterday. "Shakespeare didn't write it, and no one performs it on stage, but they put it in all the books because it was in the First Folio." Well, then. You don't have to tell me twice!
By the end of most classes, I have a headache and pages full of notes. Although this class format is not for the antsy or the easily distracted, the amount we accomplish in one class period is remarkable! In comparison, Dr. Oudekerk's 105-minute Views of the U.S. class seems to whiz by. I laugh to remember the days when Hendrix's 75-minute Tuesday-Thursday classes seemed interminably long.
After three weeks living in London, we took a fieldtrip to Hampton Court, a palace on the outskirts of the city. The opulence of the palace is matched by the gardens that surround it -- acres of exotic and beautiful plants. Some of the gardens had paths to walk through; others were gated off.
My favorite part, though, was a rather small, plain, triangular field of grass, with one tree and one bench. I cut across the grass to take a closer look at the tree, and -- I stopped. What was this feeling under my feet? It was so ... soft! So cushiony. So unlike pavement! And that's when I realized that I haven't walked on grass since I got to London. Sand and pebbles, yes. (During a fieldtrip to the coast city of Brighton.) Cobblestones, asphalt, and cement aplenty. But not grass.
When I started to get really homesick for the simple, natural pleasures of the Hendrix campus -- the falling autumn leaves, the running water of the fountain, the park-like expanses of grass -- I wanted to be back in Arkansas. Thankfully, at least one aspect of London culture could confine it to the Bible Belt. The pubs close at 11. I repeat, the pubs close at 11 p.m.! The grocery stores stop selling alcohol at 11! Lots of city life just ends at 11! Oh, the misery! Oh, the joy? It's just like being in a dry county again. Home, sweet, teetotaling home.
P.S. Coincidentally, there is a London, Arkansas. Population: 925. It's rather near Conway. Roadtrip, anyone?
My little brother's birthday is coming up, so I went on a mad shopping run yesterday, trying to find something to get for the little punk. He's turning fifteen, about to get his learner's permit. Being an ocean away, I can only pray for the well-being of my beloved '92 Volvo, which he will certainly bump, scratch, and otherwise maim in his quest to master the art of driving.
But I digress. I was shopping in one of the traditional touristy stores, full of London themed postcards, T-shirts, mugs, thongs, stickers, magnets, posters, movies, and *key chains*. Having found the perfect one -- not too lewd, not too dorky, not too expensive -- I proceeded to the small checkout counter at the back of the store. As I forked over my £1.50 ($3), the cashier asked me, "Are you French?" I raised one eyebrow and said, "No, American." To my most jubilant delight, he said, "Oh, you look European. How long have you been here?"
Our short conversation ended when the next customer came forward to purchase her own tacky souveneirs, but the pride of looking European stayed with me through my walk back to my apartment. Dressed in black ballet flats; dark blue, boot-cut jeans; black sweater; turquoise pashmina; and silver earrings, I wanted to skip down the sidewalk and shout out in a sing-song voice, "I look Eur-o-pe-an! I look Eur-o-pe-an!" Moreover: I look French! I could be an artist, a wine connoiseur, a pastry chef!
In general, looking natural and fitting in are laudable goals. As they say, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. But fitting in can also serve as camoflauge, in an era when the United States is increasingly seen as a backwards, "politically underdeveloped" nation. Bush-bashing could compete with football for the title of favorite European sport. For those reasons, I was happy to learn that I didn't necessarily carry an aura of Americanness with me.
I fairly gloated all the way back home. But as I put the key into the lock of the front door, it hit me. Oh my gosh, was I not friendly enough? Why wasn't I friendly enough for him to assume I was an American? (As I'm learning in my Views of the U.S. class, Americans are famed for being generous -- if not genuine -- with their greetings, smiles, and small talk.)
My Americanness will definitely be a big topic to ponder over while I'm over here. Before leaving the country, I very rarely thought about the values and habits my American culture had instilled in me, aside from a penchant for gobbling McDonald's. I haven't come to any earth-shattering conclusions yet about what it means to be an American, but I'll let you know if I do.
I woke up Sunday morning, ate some delicious muesli, and did some homework. I worked on another blog post for my personal blog, ate some lunch, and rearranged the furniture in my flat. I did some laundry, hung out with some friends, and cleaned, ... until! at 9 o'clock we headed out to Blackfriar's Bridge to watch some fireworks. London celebrated the Thames River Festival this weekend with parades ("carnivals"), buskers, live music, dancing Hare Krishna, and hundreds of vendors' booths. And fireworks.
Standing among thousands of Londoners, and probaby an equal number of foreigners, my friend Whitney and I watched the show with our mouths open. The small child next to us probably took less interest than we did. I have to say it's nice to be in a town where one of the world's most spectacular fireworks shows is just a walk down the road.
This picture doesn't capture the full glory of the event, but it does show one of London's famed double-decker busses passing by in front of us. (That's the big streak at the bottom. But don't worry: I picked a slow shutter speed; they don't actually drive that fast.)
Before I jump into telling you about my life in the Hendrix-in-London program, I should tell you what the program is! Twelve Hendrix students, ages 19 to 32, all take the same classes and live in the same apartment building. Think of it as The Real World: London, except less psycho and more intellectual -- and more fun! One of the central principles of the Hendrix-in-London program is to get the students out of the classroom and into London. And boy, have we been out in London!
Monday, for our British Art & Architecture class, we walked to the National Gallery, where we took turns explaining and critiquing the some of the most important European paintings in history. Tuesday, for our British Life & Culture class, we visited to the Belgrave Police Station to meet local law enforcement officers and get their insight into British law and crime. Wednesday, my Shakespeare class stood just feet from the stage at the Globe Theater production of The Merchant of Venice. With all these fieldtrips, it's like elementary school again, but better!
On one hand, it's certainly nice just to get out of the classroom and into the London sunshine. (Who even knew there was such a thing? It hasn't rained a drop in the 18 days I've been here!) But I'm also astounded at how much I'm learning.
In particular, seeing The Merchant of Venice after reading the play really revolutionized the Shakespeare experience for me. The live show was often rioutously funny and embarassingly bawdy, with the actors throwing in more than their fair share of hip thrusts and butt pinches. Our professor, Gene, makes sure to point out in class the innuendo we might have missed in the readings. (A far cry from my high school teachers' treatment of the issue.) She also encourages us to see Shakespeare's works merely as scripts -- and fallible, imperfect scripts at that.
Here we don't blindly worship Shakespeare's work, and we don't put needless barriers between the professors and ourselves. Lizzie, Susie, and Gene expect us to call them by their first names, which is suprising in the more status-conscious British world. In fact, this London experience is a rather paradoxical one. Although the city of London is a bustling one, and my walking speed has probably tripled since arriving here, there is a sense of European calm overtaking my life. I have time for tea in the morning, and I get eight hours of sleep ... unless I've spent the wee hours of the night before discussing the meaning of life with my new friends.
At the same time, I'm doing more. This weekend, I wrote a big blog post, watched a movie, took a daytrip to the town of Brighton, attended a political action group's annual meeting, and wandered around at the Thames River Festival. I packed myself onto a rushour Tube compartment and I ate British apple pie. I made pasta and I made friends. And in between, I even found time for a nap. This really is like kindergarten. Only so much better.
For a sampling of pictures from the week (including some gorgeous ones from Brighton beach), click here.
My name is Katie Rice, and I am in London! I have to keep repeating it to myself, to assure myself it’s true. I’m here with the Hendrix-in-London program, and I couldn’t be more excited.
It’s odd to feel so giddy, because I’ve been country-hopping for the last five weeks. After a hot and helado-ful July studying with the Hendrix-in-Madrid program, I bought myself a rail pass and toured through seventeen cities in six countries.
To see an album of the best photos, click here. (It’s small, I promise, and I made it just for you!)
I moved into my flat here a little over a week ago, on Saturday, and the first few days were dedicated to the sweet drudgery of buying groceries and unpacking. I slowly adjusted to hearing English again, and to watching the cars drive on the wrong side of the road.
My one-room apartment is spacious (by student standards) and very near several nice parks. It's in the literary/intellectual Bloomsbury district. Bob Marley lived just south of my apartment, and Charles Darwin lived just north. I like to think my fellow Hendrix-in-Londoners and I will continue the tradition of greatness.
Although it was great to unpack, the real fun started after everyone got settled in and adjusted to the time difference. Tuesday morning we hit the nearby British Museum early for a two-hour visit before class started. Since then I've visited three other museums and a photo exhibition, walked to the Thames River twice, seen a musical, and watched the U.S. rugby team get stomped by England. This morning my classmates and I went to the enormous St. Paul's Cathedral for mass!
My classes are just as exciting. I'm taking British Life and Culture, British Art and Architecture, Shakespeare, and Views of the U.S. in Anglo-European History, Literature, and Media. (That was four classes, for those who had trouble counting. The last one is a bit of a mouthful.)
The first three are taught in three-hour blocks once a week, so that we can go on field trips! Coming up this week: visits to the National Gallery, the Belgrave police station, the Globe theatre, and a day-trip to Brighton. Whew! I have to stop and remind myself that this is school!
Throughout the semester, I’ll be keeping you updated on my classes and social life here in London. I’ll let you know, too, if I meet any cute Brits. Til then, cheers!