Friday 7/5: The Last Night

Oh man, I’m sorry to not have posted everything I expected to today. We’ve been insanely busy, particularly with packing. (For the record: packing for a trip? Fun! Packing for the return? Not fun.) I will, however, be home tomorrow with no definitive plans for a week beyond sleeping and posting here. No guarantees that I’ll be up to the job tomorrow, but you can unquestionably expect a full report on the trip, including the days I’ve yet to chronicle, by the end of Sunday.

Again, guys, thanks so much for all your kindness and loyalty to this blog. And even though this trip has just about come to a close, I will be continuing this blog, so please stick around! I’m just getting started!

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Monday 7/1: Selfridge’s & Regent’s Park

Yesterday, I woke up at 6:00 (to drink tea and write!), ran two miles, took a shower, and hopped on the bus headed for Selfridge’s, where we would spend an hour zipping from floor to floor, reveling in the shimmering Shangri-La of 21st century materialism that is Britain’s most famous department store–in fact, so voted the “best department store in the world.”

Seriously, Selfridge’s was immense, glistening from floor to ceiling, decked out in chrome and crystal. It felt sort of like Oz–like I might pass from the dazzling shoe department into the Emerald City at any given moment. I had never felt so American here before, loping around in my Nike shorts and tee, gangly, disoriented, and endlessly out-of-place, my faux leather backpack slung limply across my back and my plastic water jug dangling from my crooked ring finger, rather than clutched in my fist, as if in a gesture of feigned daintiness. I have been assured, in the past, that I do not have an accent or, for that matter, any sort of “vocal extremity,” but in that moment I deemed my voice grating and riotously wrong. Nails on a chalkboard. A donkey braying.

A conclusion that led me straight to where other 16-year-old foreigners undoubtedly drown their sorrows:

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The giant candy shelves.

And, consequently, a “candy floss” machine, which invoked childhood memories of Angelina Ballerina and her wonderful mishaps at the country fair.

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The food hall (“It sounds so much better than ‘food court!’ Brandy laughed) had dozens of sweets shops and delicatessens set up, all advertising delicious-looking items in their glass display cases.

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After Selfridge’s, we trekked over to Regent’s Park, where we admired the flowers and ate lunch on benches, taking photos all the while. (We were in Queen Mary’s Gardens, an inner district of the park that accommodates more than 30,000 roses of 400 types.)

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(Yellow roses! My favorite!)

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We had some time before the performance of The Winter’s Tale, so we strolled around the park with no particular direction in mind.

Lots of birds–over 100 species of waterfowl.

(Several hundred years ago, these birds might have been targeted by hunters, whom King Henry VIII ushered in by appropriating the area as a hunting ground during his reign.)

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I’m not sure what type of bird this is, despite my (admittedly weak) attempts to identify it online later. But there were several in the pond, diving and surfacing continually. It was very cute.

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Also a few herons!

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Two people brought an entire loaf of bread solely for the purpose of feeding the geese.

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This pretty duck was just sitting on the pavement, unflinchingly, as we passed. Just goes to show how good birds must have it in these London parks!

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A swan was preening itself in one of the smaller lagoons.

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We also saw the home of the British ambassador to the U.S. Which was huge. Not a bad gig.

We made our way back to the Open Air Theatre–the only professional outdoor drama venue in Britain, and a widely acclaimed one at that–just before the doors were opened and the audience began spilling in.

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I was thoroughly impressed with the performance. I was somewhat hesitant about the whole thing, mostly because we’d been informed the previous day that it had been advertised as both appropriate and entertaining for children ages six and up. What? A Shakespearean play that’s fun for kids? But, yes, the cast and crew pulled this feat off spectacularly, incorporating (principally as interludes after exceptionally humdrum slices of the show) interactive songs, raps, dancing, and even a stuffed sheep-shearing competition between groups of audience members. Something I really liked was the free movement of actors in and between the seats of the theatre. They weren’t afraid to grab hats off heads, speak directly to individuals, sit on laps, etc.

So that was basically Monday. The weather was amazing–sunny, warm, absolutely perfect. Thanks for the read! Now, on to constructing Tuesday’s retrospection!

Sunday 6/30: Globe & Tate Modern

Sunday began with 2 miles around the track, breakfast, and a shower, as usual. Then we were off to London where, I belatedly discovered, we would be delving into the International Shakespeare Globe Centre & Theatre before having a look at the Tate Modern Gallery.

The bus ride was quiet and relaxing. I read a bit of my new book, Lucky Kunst: The Rise and Fall of Young British Art, by Gregor Muir. It’s an interesting find, and unique in that I kinda sorta bought it by accident; when I’d been picking out my final selections in the book shop on Friday, I’d actually intended to purchase “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” by Antonia Fraser, but by a lapse in scrutiny, I instead handed this one over to the cashier, underneath my other pick. Oh well. I am really enjoying it. It provides a helpful context for everything we’ve been learning in the past week. There’s lots of discussion of the economic climate of London (and even globally) throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s, and embellishment particularly on policies, politics, and revolution, through the critical eye of an artisan in the interim of a shifting creative era. I’m trying to read 10 pages a day; should take about 24 days, 20 as of now.

We arrived relatively early and killed some time on the pier, taking photos and giving our aching feet some brief solace. The sun on our faces and wispy clouds boded well for our rain-dreading American mentalities.

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Also some great shots of London from Bankside, across the Thames.

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So we entered with the promise of an hour of exploration, and I ambled along, reading up on as many exhibit pieces as possible and filing away the information in some distant corner of my mind, for when I could later cross-reference it with my authoritative Shakespeare: The World a Stage audiobook.

Currently under construction is the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse (so named after the project’s founder), an indoor theatre that will seat 340 and open on January 9th of next year with John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi. Loads of information available about this project in the exhibition, as the Centre is trying to up the hype, I’m sure.

On display was a timeline of Shakespeare’s written works, ordered by year of completion. Despite the noisy design, it was very interesting to see the historical events surrounding each.

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I was also captivated by this quote, as it seems to epitomize the true scope of Shakespeare’s influence:

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(There was a small-scale poster version of the quote in the gift shop, but the price was too high to appeal to my Oxford University sweatshirt-craving sensibilities.)

Shakespeare’s Will was also on display–lovely to see as I’ve heard a lot about it but never viewed it myself. My gaze flicked straight to his signature at the bottom right-hand corner; curiously enough, he signed this one under the name “Shakspeare.” This is one of only six discovered records of his penmanship, all of them nearly illegible signatures, and none of which are spelled in the “conventional” scheme with which we are familiar. This being said, funny that we should spell his name the way we do.

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Some other pieces in the exhibit that caught my eye:

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A model of the frost fair held in the winter of 1621 over upstream of London Bridge on the Thames when it froze over was exhibited. Climatologists called it the “little Ice Age” of the early 17th century.

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A few shots of the building…

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And then the tour. The Theatre was so cool. Of course, it wasn’t an exact replica–for starters, it’s located several hundred yards from the site of the original Globe–but as far as imitations go, it was pretty darn close.

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The stage was set for an afternoon performance of Macbeth at the time. The Theatre puts on shows every day from April through October. (And when the Playhouse is opened, shows will be available to audiences through winter as well!) I loved that the band came out and practiced during our tour, the traditional music really took me back in time. Also, the guide made sure to place special emphasis on the fact that, yes, it is possible to pull of Shakespearean productions with a stylistic twist–for instance, modern costuming or the use of a hip-hop soundtrack! I’ve seen one or two of these “New Age Shakespeare” productions before, and absolutely loved them.

Well, I’m very, very, very tired, so I’m going to sleep now. I will complete Sunday’s reflection tomorrow, along with today’s. Our plan for tomorrow is to visit Oxford University–fingers crossed for an affordable sweatshirt!

Thursday 6/27: Museum of London

Wow, such a busy day.

We kicked things off with a drive to the Museum of London, on the way to which I made sure to get a few photos.

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I didn’t like the look this duck was giving me.

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I’m obsessed with the architecture here. Charlotte’s certainly has some stylized elements, but this is a whole different ballgame.
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We passed Buckingham Palace at one point and saw the guard advancing toward us. Definitely one of those crazy “woah, I’m actually here” moments.

Oh, and look, you can kinda see the London Eye!
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Eventually, we made it to the Museum, my need to pee eradicating my capacity for any other thoughts.

…Except how adorable these little British schoolchildren were. I feel like all the students here have uniforms!

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Plus the accents make them a hundred times cuter. The diversity over here is crazy, they all sound so different.

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After I’d established a sufficient level of pedophiliac creepiness and endured inquiries in the vein of “Aren’t you cold?!” from my peers (I was in a T-shirt and Norts and, no, I was not cold, but I was prepared for the 66 degrees that the weather would summit later that day), we entered the museum in groups of two and three.

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I got a little carried away with reading student-authored poetry in the early Roman Empire exhibit, and was quickly separated from my group. On the bright side, this have me ample time to drag along at my own pace (that is to say, press my face to the glass and revel in every dust mite and dirt clod trapped in the exhibition cases).

The cool thing about the Museum of London (one cool thing about the Museum of London) is that the exhibits move chronogically, one after the other. So, you begin with a thrust back in time, to about 2000 years ago, and as you make your way around corners and down the stairs, winding through halls and walls and rooms and capsules and miniatures and models and artifacts, you bear witness to London’s growth and expansion during the Civil War, the Great Plague, the Fire, even through the 70s, 80s, 90s, 2000s. And it’s dynamic too. There are videos and buttons, rooms where holograms dance in perpetual, hypnagogic masquerades, a Victorian abbey complete with invisible, clopping horses and the distant groans of a bell tower. Although the sheer volume of information seems a bit submersing (after all, London’s history is a weighty one, and even a native or annalist can find themselves gasping for air), it proved my favorite location of any we’ve visited thus far.

So, without further ado… PICTURES!!!

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Above is a quote I liked. Still epitomizes the essence of London, I think.

Below is a miniature model of the Rose Theatre during building in 1587, which may have been the completion year, although some sources also suggest that construction was under way through 1592. It was the first theatre on Bankside, in Surrey (near where I am!), and resembled existing animal arenas. At only 72 feet in diameter, it was a cozy space for performances, and records show that it may have even had capabilities for double-leveled staging, the likes of which are called for in shows like Titus Andronicus. (I just like theaters okay?)

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Below is a representation of what would very well have been a 17th-century London merchant’s living room, complete with furnishings typical of that status of household. This would have been a pretty wealthy one, as indicated by the silver, pottery from Southwark, wall tapestries, rocking horse (which would have been painted), oriental carpets on the tables, and the like.

I really geek out over these room representations. They’re like open houses. But from, like, hundreds of years ago. Like… what? Think about how cool that is for a second. Just think about it.

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Here’s a quote about the Great Fire I liked. There was a whole portion of the museum dedicated to this event. I peeked my head inside one of its rooms and noticed that a video about the fire was running from an overhead projector, seeming to relay it sequentially, hour by hour, while a miniature of the city below the screen mimicked the fire with glowing red lights. I didn’t stick around too long because the room was packed pretty tightly but it looked awesome.

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“Wrap her stately head in clouds of smoke and sulphur.” Not bad, Evelyn, not bad.

Below is a description of the first exhibit downstairs, which focuses on international relations throughout history. I found it sort of poignant.

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I quickly rushed off to the masquerade room. (That isn’t what it’s called but the actual name escapes me.) This was really cool, if you’re interested in historical fashions like me, because it’s set up to resemble a foggy, candle-lit courtyard, with dark, faceless figures encased in glass and sporting traditional gowns and suits and other costume wear. However, some of the figures are, in fact, not encased in glass, and I nearly broke my leg fleeing the supposed advances of one of the exhibit’s “escapees.” Word to the wise: watch your step. Figures will emerge at random from the darkness.

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In one part of the museum, old prison walls had been removed from their original homestead and placed on display.

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I don’t know who this Edward Burk character is, but he’s got better penmanship with rocks on wood than I’ve got with actual pens on paper.

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The antique watches were a big point of engrossment for me.

Over the course of 30 years, by 1776, the price of each watch was reduced from £20 to £2 merely through the institution of “division of labor,” by which individual parts were passed from craftsman to craftsman before a final push to the finisher, and then the retailer.

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Nikes versus the classics. Who has the upper hand on fashion? Er, foot. Haha.

Please laugh, I spent like 10 minutes coming up with that.

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A musical clock by George Pyke that plays 10 different tunes by use of an organ within. The clock incorporates moving painted gears that, when activated, produce an elaborate scene involving a dog swimming after a duck, a water-wheel, ships, and three workmen engaged in heavy labor.

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This Spitalfields silk mantua belonged to Ann Fanshawe, and integrates 14 different colored threads and four types of wires. The designs represent her father’s trade as a merchant and brewer.

Silk weavers of the time were poorly paid and politically active. They often organized protests and riots, but those for whom they produced their goods (like Ann) hardly ever interacted with them directly, instead dealing with the silk mercers, so they were at least not well-aware of the struggles faced by their weavers.

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Ah, yes. After reading up on the fashion community, it was time for a little stroll through Victorian London.

First, I stopped by the merchant’s office.

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He wasn’t in.

I decided to take my money elsewhere. So, I plodded my way down to the Pawnbroker’s shop. I’d really been aching for a fiddle. Or a spoon.

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The door was locked. He too must have been away. Perhaps in the crystal showroom? I peeped inside.

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No one. This was absurd. Typhus was going around, I didn’t have a lifetime to wait around to be served.

I squinted into the window of a widow a block or two down from the pharmacy. (Could it be… a retro blogger?)

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I ended my investigation at the toy shop. Verdict: these creepy dolls probably killed everyone.

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After my adventure in Victorian London, I stumbled across an eight day regular clock from 1860, which displays the times of 8 different cities and was shown at the 1862 International Exhibition.

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Then, luckily, I bumped into Brandy, who had also become separated from her group (for similar reasons) and empathized with my desire to take everything in at a leisurely pace. And she also snapped a shot of me in front of a cool old-timey London carriage. (Hey mom, dad… new car?)

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We made our way through the decade collections. I was pretty pumped about the 70s installment.

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Groovy.

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Also, the Olympics volunteer dress for Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony: yay or nay?

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Regardless, I did appreciate the inclusion of this portion of British culture. I was one of those people who skimmed on watching the Games when they aired last year, so it was nice to go back and be a part of that today.

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…And then we were done! London’s history, beginning to end, all experienced in one culminating hour. More or less.

Up next: London, the Monument, and the Tower!

TOMORROW!

Absolutely can’t wait to meet (and say thank you 245335366956848874651 times to) my interviewers/selection committee again, and the other 2 CMS winners (just found out today in a letter from the BABNC that 3 of the 10 CMS finalists were chosen!). I’ve been looking forward to tomorrow since my parents surprised me with news about the trip last Thursday (in an absolutely awesome way that provided the basis for one bullet point on my quickly growing list of posts to make). I’ll be visiting the Governor’s Center tomorrow afternoon for that conference, and I fully intend on forcibly bear-hugging every person I meet there.

I know I need to find some new synonyms for the word “excited.” BUT I’M JUST SO EXCITED.

Gosh, I really, really can’t wait to talk to these people.