Bailey Primm, freshman in Material Science and Engineering, will study this summer in London. During seven weeks in the School of International Education of Students (IES) she will study London Theater and Shakespeare. Her Shakespeare class will count as her second English class and the theater class as Culture and Civilization’s credit.
August 20, 2009
It’s hard to believe it has only been a little over two weeks since I have returned from London; it seems like months ago and just like yesterday at the same time. I greatly enjoyed my time in London. I loved everything from the museums, parks, and palaces to the overall daily lifestyle. London is a busy city, tourists and locals are always bustling about, and no street of buildings looks the same as another. My favorite moment in London, however, was a very quiet moment. I had woken up around 8 one Sunday morning and decided to go get some coffee on Kings Road, known for its busy and exclusive shopping boutiques. When I got to the street I noticed I was the only person present. I loved left and right and as far as my eye could see I didn’t spot a single sole. It was early enough that there was still the feeling of a foggy London morning, and there was a profound silence. It was possibly the most peaceful moment of my life. I was able to observe all the architecture and beautiful window displays that I missed when trying to keep up with the mass of walking people traditionally present. It’s always the small, insignificant moments in life that surprise you, and they seem to stay with you forever.
Being able to study abroad was an experience that has benefited me in many ways. As an honors student, I fulfilled my intercultural experience requirement. As an engineering student, I was able to take classes I traditionally would not have taken, while still getting general education credits that I would make an already challenging schedule even more difficult. My Shakespeare class enlightened me to the true brilliance of this famous British playwright. Not a single character in a Shakespeare play is insignificant, and I respect him for his great appreciation and honest portrayal of strong and influential women. My theatre class was equally illuminating. I was exposed to a variety of difficult and taboo subjects, but I was able to appreciate and discuss all the elements that make up a production. It didn’t hurt that I got to meet multiple A-list celebrities who were leading characters in these plays. Being abroad opened my eyes to a new culture and new places. It inspired me to want to go abroad again in the future and potentially in the very near future. It was an experience I will never forget and an experience I would repeat if I could.
Last week in London
July 31, 2009
My last week in London is bitter sweet. London has grown on me, and it’s hard to say goodbye. This week I had the privilege of touring Buckingham Palace, the White House of England. While not the Queen’s favorite home, it is the one you will find her at most often. She, however, has moved out for the summer and the State Rooms are open to the public. No pictures were allowed inside so it is somewhat difficult to explain the grandness of this palace. The ballroom alone, while I do not remember the exact square footage, is larger than my house. The palace has great history evident in the various decorative styles of various past monarchs. There are numerous secret passage ways, only one of which the public is privy to know the location of. In one of the sitting rooms, where the Queen often meets dignitaries and state visitors, is a large bookcase. The audio commentary notes that if you look very closely, there is a tall crack in the wall between the bookcase and the fireplace, and this is the private and secret entrance the Queen uses. After touring the palace, the tour ended in the 30 acres of gardens the palace walls encompass. The garden features a long walkway leading you through large open spaces of grass, a lake surrounded by willow trees, and flower gardens. After walking through such a beautiful area, you forget you are in busy London, so when you step outside the garden walls and are met with honking taxis and speeding buses, it is a shock to the system.
As a farewell to London, the program I was enrolled in gave a special afternoon tea in the Wallace Collection courtyard. All the program participants sat together under a beautiful glass ceilinged courtyard and drank Earl Grey tea, while munching on finger sandwiches and various cakes and sweets. This English tradition was the perfect ending to my trip in beautiful London.
July 24, 2009
Jane Austen is by far my favorite British author. I believe she was the original ‘chick literature’ author, and I adore many of her books. I took the opportunity to go to her last home in Chawton, Hampshire. It’s an hour train ride, a twenty minute bus ride, and a ten minute walk to her house. I would describe Chawton as the Mayberry of England. Everyone knew everyone, and everything about everyone down to their dog’s name. The home itself was much larger than I had imagined, since she, her mother and sister were all depending upon their male relations after the passing of her father. Inside I got to see her writing table, which was incredibly small; I would guess it to be about 18″ in diameter. The home was set up partially to show how it would have looked during her time, as well as, set up with glass cases to exhibit museum-like items. The exterior was extremely picturesque with a garden and lots of benches for reading a Jane Austen novel you could purchase from the gift shop. For me it was a kind of pilgrimage to see her home. As I walked around the countryside of the town, I couldn’t help thinking that Jane Austen had possibly walked along the same dirt, footpath or seen the same old parish church I passed. The Mayberry-like slow pace of the town was a great contrast to London, and I will admit it drove me a little bit crazy.
July 22, 2009
Since I’m in London and in such a close proximity to so many famous cities, I decided to take a weekend trip outside of England. So I took a nearly 5 hour train ride to Edinburgh, Scotland. Edinburgh (pronounced Ed-in-bra) is actually built around a dead volcano. During the Ice Age, a glacier eroded much of the area formed by the volcanic activity. The glacier, for lack of a better term, ran into the volcano and plugged it. The glacier, however, molded its way around the volcano, forming rocky crags on the west side and a tail of glacier material on the east. This accounts for the great slopping hill that the main Old City street called the Royal Mile runs along. Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and one of the most picturesque cities in the United Kingdom. It is also the only city in the world, a local told me, that in one day the weather can feature all four seasons. Upon my arrival it rained for a straight 48 hours. The only weather occurrence I didn’t see was snow. I stayed in the city the first two days, where I say Edinburgh castle, which sits atop the volcano, the Elephant House café, where J.K. Rowlings wrote Harry Potter, many of the sights that inspired Rowlings, such as the school Hogwarts is based on and the graveyard where she got many characters names from including Tom Riddle, as well as, the various museums and government buildings.
On Sunday, I took a tour of the Scottish Borders. I was absolutely stunned by the beauty of Scotland. No picture can ever do justice to the true natural beauty of this country. It is by far the most beautiful place I have ever been thus far in my life. Besides the countryside, I saw two well-known churches: Melrose Abbey and Roslyn Chapel. Melrose Abbey is sadly hardly in existence. Founded in 1136, the abbey was in use until 1590, during which time it fell under attack and was burned multiple times. Between 1610 and 1810, portions of the abbey were used as the local parish. After that time it fell into greater disrepair. Since 1996, when it was excavated, the abbey has been open to the public to tour. What does survive is extremely beautiful and impressive. A very small, spiral staircase still exists that will take you to the roof where you can see some of the greatest views of the town of Melrose and of the abbey itself.
My second stop, Roslyn Chapel, is well-known to many Da Vinci Code readers. While the theories of what is buried in the vaults below the chapel are unknown, it doesn’t stop flocks of visitors from coming each day. Many a visitor is disappointed to leave no wiser about the truth behind all the conspiracy theories than when they arrived. However, the stone masonry exhibited in the stone carvings of almost every surface of the church walls, pillars, and ceilings makes the trip well worth it. London and Edinburgh are polar opposites in architecture and lifestyle, but the two countries are united under one government, but with two Houses of Parliament.
I had another celebrity meet and greet, this time with a lesser known celebrity, Amos Lee. I got front row tickets to his solo, acoustic concert and was able to meet him afterwards.
That’s all for now. Cheers.
A day with Shakespeare
July 12, 2009
Could a city be any more different than London? Stratford-upon-Avon is about 100 miles northwest of London and is the birthplace and resting place of the great English playwright, William Shakespeare. The city is dominated by beautiful countryside. My first stop during my visit was Mary Arden’s farm; she was Shakespeare’s mother. The farm was stunning and peaceful. The only sounds audible were the various farm animals, which included owls, hawks, sheep, roosters, and goats to name a few. There were at least four gardens, some just for flowers others for small crops. The best part about the visit was the serenity of it. There were no cars, no cell phones, just nature’s noise, which is peaceful for a day, but for a lifetime, we modern day technology lovers would go crazy.
The second stop was Shakespeare’s birthplace. It is located in the center of town and is surrounded by at least a dozen tourist shops. It’s disappointing not to see what the town looked like during his time, but the home’s interior has been made to take you on a ‘blast to the past’ hundreds of years ago. It has been a place of pilgrimage since about 60 years after Shakespeare’s death. Everyone from John Adams, before he was President, to Mark Twain has visited his home. There is nothing overly special about it, but it is incredible to know that the stone floor you walk on during your visit is the very floor Shakespeare himself walked on. The home features a second and separate apartment, his father’s workshop for his glove-making business, as well as, a tavern around the back. It has a beautiful garden, which many wealthy families had, serving the purpose of beauty, as well as, a place to grow herbs for spices and medicine.
Next, we visited the home of Shakespeare’s sister. This beautiful house is much larger and grander than the Birthplace, since she married the town doctor. We moved on to the church in which Shakespeare would have been baptized, and the church where he is buried next to his wife, Anne Hathaway, and various members of his family. The trip ended with a performance of The Winter’s Tale at the Courtyard theatre. It was a wonderfully performed play featuring the Royal Shakespeare Company. To my misfortune none of them are well-known celebrities that I could catch for an autograph and picture opportunity after the performance. Overall the day showed me a different, quieter, less visited side to England than the London I am getting to know so well.
In London – like at home
July 9, 2009
This week for me in London has had a slower pace. I think it’s due to the fact that I’m getting used to living here. I no longer feel like a visitor; I feel like I belong. Sad to say, I actually get annoyed by tourists, which I do not consider myself to be; my professors call us ‘scholars abroad’- very different from a tourist. This week I got to go back to the Globe Theatre for a private tour and was able to sit in on a rehearsal for about half an hour. It took thirty minutes for them to completely rehearse about 3 minutes of a play. Everything was sorted out from when to start the music, where the actor should stand, how to prevent wardrobe malfunctions, and of course, how to say the lines. I was in awe of how much work went on behind the scenes. The highlight of the week, however, was yet another celebrity meeting! I went to see The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov and directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty). I was blown away by the fantastic acting, but I was a little confused by the play itself. Afterwards, of course, I headed to the stage door and was able to meet Rebecca Hall (Vicki, Christina, Barcelona and Starter for Ten), and Ethan Hawke. Meeting these stars was much more casual than my experience after “Hamlet”. This time there were probably twenty people waiting outside the door, instead of a hundred, and there were no ropes to prevent you from getting too close. It was a considerably more enjoyable experience.
A British 4th of July
July 7, 2009
My Fourth of July started by waking up at 8 a.m. to take a 2 hours journey to Brighton, located on the southeastern coast of Britain. The city is a place I instantly associate with Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, in which the silly Lydia follows the militia and finds herself in quite a lot of mischief. Throughout history, its pubs and hotels have been a popular haunt of writers, such as Dickens and Wilde. Today, it’s a beautiful seaside city that was once a commercial fishing town, but is more popularly known as the setting of The Who’s rock opera, Quadrophenia. During the 1960s, it was the setting for the violent climax of the rivalry between two British youth cultures-the Mods and the Rockers. Those days have long since past, but there is a local museum dedicated to the history of the conflicting cultures.
Brighton’s atmosphere is very different from London. Upon first arrival, I was reminded of Florida, except this beach doesn’t have sand. No, here sand is replaced by a combination of large rocks, pebbles that get in your shoes, and sea shells. Second of all, the water here is not your typical warm ocean. The water that touches Brighton’s shores is the English Channel, and on the day I visited the temperature of the water was approximately 15 C or 59 F– a temperature that will easily numb your submerged feet in a matter of minutes. The pace here is much slower than in London. It’s a great weekend getaway location with everything to offer from shopping boutiques to museums. There is even a palace called the Royal Pavilion, which reminds you of the Taj Mahal on the outside and China on the inside.
Back in London that night, there were unfortunately no fireworks. It’s my first Fourth of July without bottle-rockets, a cookout, and watermelon. I missed it, but I guess I couldn’t expect the country from which the US gained its independence celebrate its loss.
What one has to do to get an autograph from Johnny Depp?
July 2, 2009
This recent Monday, June 29, I had a brand new experience, one that I’m not so sure I want to repeat. I went to the London premiere of Public Enemies. If you know anything about the movie, you probably know it stars Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, and Marion Cotillard. And I had the great pleasure of meeting two of the stars, Depp and Cotillard. Now in order to meet them, I had to sit, stand, and wait in the sun and the shade for 9 hours. I got there at about 10:30 a.m. only to realize I was actually late. Many a crazy fan got there between 6 and 7 a.m.; therefore, I had to stand in the second row of people behind the barriers. Yes, they had barriers. To be more exact they had steel & bolted barriers. And it’s a good thing too because I would estimate over 2000 people showed up. In the process of waiting I learned that the British are very strict on what they term “queue etiquette’. Do not attempt to jump the queue, aka the line. You will get a sound, verbal lashing from the nearest British woman. Also be respectful of personal space, no one likes an elbow being dug into their shoulder. As I said before I was able to stand in the second row, but there were easily 8 rows of fans behind me. And when Johnny Depp and Marion Cotillard came near my section to sign autographs all 8 rows of people were on my back. In the end I guess it was worth the wait and the pain of 30 people pushing you against the people in front of you and over a steel barrier. At the end of the day I was dehydrated and covered in my fair share of bruises, but I successfully got an autograph from the two stars and fantastic pictures. Johnny Depp is extremely friendly and very happy to meet all his fans. He arrived at 6 pm, met with the various press for about 30 minutes and for easily another 45 minutes he signed autographs. Unfortunately in that time he didn’t make it to even half of the present fans. He was forced to leave and go inside the theatre to introduce the film but promised to return to the awaiting fans (including myself). About 30 minutes later he emerged and held true to his word. I think he made it to every fan whose picture or autograph book made it within his reach.
I have learned from this experience, movie premieres are not my thing, but it was a once in a lifetime experience I’m glad I was able to have.
Mission – Theatre
June 26, 2009
When I came to London, I had several missions in mind. One in particular was I wanted to experience the highly acclaimed and world-renowned London theatre. In the past week I have seen two theatre productions: “Wicked” and “Hamlet”. “Wicked” was unbelievable. The music was fantastic and catchy, the actors had breath-taking and powerful voices, and the set was sophisticated and elaborate. My only dissatisfaction with the play was the plot’s lack of depth.
“Hamlet,” on the other hand, was full of depth. Jude Law played Hamlet with such passion. I can’t even begin to describe how phenomenal I thought his performance was. The play also starred Kevin McNally, known best to most of us as Mr. Gibbs from Pirates 1, 2, & 3. The overall play was moving and memorable; it most certainly held up the reputation of London theatre.
The play has been a huge success here in London, nearly selling out almost a year in advance. Its popularity has attracted many a person, including celebrities. It turned out that I had been sitting about 10 feet away from Sienna Miller throughout the performance; a fact which I discovered at intermission. The night continued with my meeting yet another celebrity: none other than the play’s lead character- Jude Law. He was very gracious to the fifty or more fans waiting outside the backstage door for an autograph or photo op- both of which I got.
It was an extremely exciting and memorable night.
Classes, theatre and the Queen
June 21, 2009
It has almost been two weeks since I arrived in London, but I have only had one day of classes. I’m taking two courses: one titled Shakespeare: The Dramatist and a second called An Introduction to London Theatre. I made the choice to step away from the math and science focus of the engineering curriculum and try my luck at liberal arts courses. Even after one class, I have realized I am very privileged to have the teachers that I do. Each professor is an expert in his or her field of study, and more importantly, they love what they do.
My theatre teacher is very laid back, walking around the classroom in her bare feet. She, however, is very passionate about the theatre. She attended our first of six required theatre performance with me and seven other students that make up the class. We saw “Apologia,” a new play by Alexi Kaye Campbell. The theatre was located, of all places, over a pub. It was a very small venue called the Bush Theatre; I wouldn’t guess more than 40 people fit in the audience. Such a small venue is not what you expect when you think of the world renowned London theatre scene. The play, however, was moving and intense and held up to the standards of great London theatre. As a side note, I would like to mention my first London celebrity spotting. Sitting in the audience watching her husband in the play’s second public showing was Neve Campbell, known for her roles in the Scream movies. As I mentioned previously, I’m required (how awful, right?) to see six plays in total. Future plays will include “Hamlet,” starring Jude Law, and “The Cherry Orchard,” starring Ethan Hawke, just to name a few.
My Shakespeare teacher is an older gentleman, easily of 65 years of age. He is a quirky man, who reminds one of their grandfather, just with a very strong English accent that is sometimes indecipherable when he speaks too quickly. The first play of ten we are required to read is none other than “Romeo and Juliet.” We have yet to discuss the play in class, but I had the opportunity to see the play live at the Globe Theatre. I had the fortune of getting a standing ticket in the pit. While it may be the cheapest seat in the house, it is also the most painful. Standing for three hours is no easy task. The view, however, of the stage is not to be beat by any other seat in the house. The actors were fantastic and brought out a humorous, if not sometimes a little overly suggestive, interpretation of Shakespeare’s great work. The experience of seeing the play at the Globe is something I will never forget. Just like in Shakespeare’s time there was only the one set, and the only modern amenity in sight was the theatre’s lighting, but only enough so as to illuminate the stage when night had fallen. I’m hoping to see a few more plays there and take a backstage tour.
I went on a few more sight-seeing excursions this week including trips to Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, where I got the opportunity to see the Queen of England herself.
This coming week I will be going to another theatre performance, then a London musical, going on more “touristy” excursions, and attend two more days of classes. Expect more updates.
June 17, 2009
London, the World’s Capital, has turned out to be just that with 7 million residence, 3 million daily commuters, and 2 million tourists arriving each day. I don’t go a single day without hearing a minimum of 5 languages, many of which I can’t identify. The British cuisine options reflect this great variation in culture. There is the typical English pub serving fish & chips on every block. Right next door there may be a sandwich shop or an Italian café, and then not far away you can find your American fast food chains, such as KFC, Subway, Starbucks, and of course, McDonalds. The British have also become very fond of Indian cuisine, never going more than a week without having at least one curry dish. I have vowed never to eat an American meal while I’m here, and for the past week I’ve followed through.
London has been very comparable to New York City. New York has Times Square and London has Piccadilly Circus, though I’ll have to admit Times Square is much grander. New York has Central Park, but London has Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, St. James’s Park, Richmond Park, Greenwich Park, and dozens more located on various street corners and in city squares. The British love their parks, and they are great places to read and study or have lunch in the sun or shade with friends.
I originally chose London as a study location to avoid a language barrier, but I have discovered British English and American English are not the same. For example, American French fries are chips, cookies are crackers, chips are crisps, waiting is queuing, exit is, simply, way out, and food to go is take away. I also get called “love” instead of “ma’am”, which here only the Queen is called. The British people don’t seem to mind my misuse of lingo, but I’m learning to correct it. Brits are extremely friendly people. I have gotten lost on the tube more than once, and everyone has been more than happy to set me off in the right direction.
I’m greatly enjoying the lifestyle here, which involves a lot of walking, the average British commute of 50 minutes each way from my dorm to class, and relaxing at the end of the day either in a park, pub, or café. I’ve also done some of the touristy things. I’ve seen the Tower of London, where the Crown Jewels are located, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Cathedral, the London Eye, the British Museum, the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Hampton Court Palace, and many more. Coming up I’m going to experience the London theatre at performances of ‘Hamlet,” starring Jude Law, “The Cherry Orchard” with Ethan Hawke, “Romeo and Juliet” at the Globe Theatre, and half a dozen more.
London is full of history and culture, and I hope to discover more of it in the coming weeks. So for now: “Cheers.”