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!

19 days until the flight! Just a reminder

Aside

19 days until the flight! Just a reminder that, even if you think I’m a hyperactive blogger now, you haven’t seen anything yet. Especially if I manage to get my hands on a camera between now and then…

On another note, my grandpa suggested today that I look into Alison Weir’s “The Six Wives of Henry VIII.” I guess the question is just whether or not that will be possible anytime in the near future what with me falling dangerously behind on my reading of “London: A Biography” in favor of listening to “When You Are Engulfed In Flames” on audio now that final exam week is here. Maybe I could SparkNote it?

Speaking of biting off more than I can chew, I checked out a few things from the library yesterday, including a biography about Shakespeare by Bill Bryson on audio, and a (thankfully) picture-heavy book called “Sherlock Holmes’s London: Following the Footsteps of London’s Master Detective.” It sort of retraces Sherlock’s adventures through photos and information about the sites he investigates in the series.

We’ll see if I can permeate the hypnotic powers of David Sedaris and actually knock these things out.

Anyway, have a great Tuesday everyone!