Monthly Archives: October 2014

Another Part of the UK

October 29, 2014

This past weekend, through IES, I went to Scotland. It was an amazing trip. Something about Scotland really grabbed me and I can’t seem to shake it off. The Highlands and the cities are beautiful; it doesn’t matter if it is cold or rainy.

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Our midterm break trip to Scotland involved petting and feeding reindeer, sailing on Loch Ness, going to a seaside town and finally making our way to Edinburgh. And every single place we stopped, no matter how different, seemed practically perfect. (The one complaint I have is that it was hard to find vegetarian meals.)

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I was struck by the fact that I was so comfortable in Scotland in such a short time. Perhaps if I had stayed longer, I would have found sides to the country that rub me wrong. But for now, I can idealize Scotland in my mind and memory.

It’s an odd feeling to return to London (the city in which I chose to study) after experiencing such a connection to another place. Plus, getting off the train at King’s Cross, I was struck by the difference in air quality. There’s no denying that, especially compared to Scotland, London air feels like you’re inhaling smoke.

However, none of this is meant to put down London. I do love it here. There’s so much constantly happening that you could never see it all. But you feel like you’re in the midst of something big. I feel like I really am a part of London. It’s just sometimes nice to experience a slower, cleaner, cheaper city.

London and Edinburgh are both part of the UK, and yet they are so different. I suppose you could say the same thing about any number of cities in the US, but Edinburgh has a completely different cultural feel to it. I’m sure many Scottish people would agree with me given the fact that I saw so many signs to vote “yes” for independence.

One major difference between London and Edinburgh is the level of preservation. I love seeing modern art next to a department store in a four hundred year old building next to a newly built structure in London. I find the contrast irresistible. But in Edinburgh, none of the buildings I saw looked modern. It made the city seem slightly sleepy. And that’s lovely too. Walking through Edinburgh, one is transported into the past. It’s no wonder that so many authors, including JK Rowling, chose to write there. What could be better for inspiration?

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I know it’s not being asked of me, but I think I would recommend studying abroad in London and visiting as much of Scotland as possible. London has so much – and can easily connect you to so much more – that it will have something for everyone. It definitely has something – actually, many things – for me.

Theatre Shifts

October 17, 2014

So far, I have seen six plays through my acting and playwriting classes. At the beginning we seemed to focus on new plays, often in smaller venues.  I thoroughly enjoyed these fringe plays, even if there were some problematic moments. These, mostly funded by the arts council, were supposed to be daring and able to fail. And they most definitely were. What a freeing way to develop art! In this way, the UK supports the arts far better than the US does.

Those plays, including the fringe ones, were very much about the UK, though focusing on very different parts of society. However, with our past two plays we seem to have transitioned to a different form of theatre. They may be new plays or new adaptations, but no one would call them fringe.

Last week, we saw Electra with Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra. I enjoyed the small details within her performance. When she flung herself on her brother, she held on with her toes gripping his calf. It was a startling choice that seemed to weirdly fit with her character. However, I know many people who were not nearly as impressed as I was. Then again, many members of the audience gave her a standing ovation. And here’s where the difference between American and British theatre comes in. In the US, it has now basically become an expectation that people will give standing ovations at the end of performances. In other words, standing does not mean anything in the US. In London, people do not stand unless the performance was brilliant. Before Electra, I had only seen the occasional audience member stand. It could be said, based on that information, that I was incredibly lucky to see Electra. But, talking after the show with students and professors, we seemed to come to the conclusion that some people stood because she was a star. She was good, but maybe not that good. Leaning toward this interpretation, I felt a little cheated out of my British theatre experience.

But that’s not being fair. I’ve been trying to look at things in a less pressured light. Really anything that happens to me here is part of my London study abroad adventure, even if it does remind me of home.

Last night, we saw The Scottsboro Boys musical, which is based on an American story. I was uneasy about this play given that the topic is so harsh. It’s definitely not a comfortable one to watch, but it shouldn’t be. I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about seeing this piece of American history turned into a musical while in London. I cannot wait to hear my British acting and playwriting professor’s opinion. I wonder if the play hit as close to home with her as it did with me.

However, despite being midterm time, theatre is not the only thing I’ve done recently. I did get out and explore more markets. I went to the Portobello Road Market. There were people everywhere – it was crazy.

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I definitely prefer Old Spitalfields Market because it felt less touristy. And I enjoy feeling more like a local here.

Home

October 10, 2014

I think I am truly settled in London. I feel comfortable here. I get on the tube or bus without a map or a phone with a GPS. Sure, I have to look at the maps around the city or ask for directions, but with my navigating skills, I will always have to do that. But the final sign that I am at home here is the fact that I haven’t done as much touring around as I should have.

Having lived in the Washington DC area my entire life, I have noticed a strange phenomenon that is at least applicable to my family. People travel from great distances, spending lots of money to get to DC and see the sights. I am lucky. All I have to do is hop on the Metro to get to those same places. And yet, because I live there, I don’t go and see as many landmarks as others. Recently, I haven’t gone and wandered around London, which I should be doing. So you see, it’s really like home.

I have to say that I feel like I’ve been constantly going for so long that all I want to do is sleep. So it’s not that I haven’t been doing things (I went to Dublin last weekend and midterms are coming up), it’s just that I haven’t really explored where I am as much as I should.

Sometime soon, I am going to take the advice many people have given me. I am going to hop on a random bus and ride until I stumble upon an interesting area. Then I’ll get off and walk around and see what that area of London has to offer.

Today, I went and truly explored Borough Market, unlike the last time I was there. It was wonderful. Each stall is appealing and much less repetitive than some markets, like Camden Market. Though Camden is good for other things. Simply walking around to see all the displays of fruits and vegetables is a treat. The layouts are works of art. If only I had brought my camera! I think it would be impossible to walk through without purchasing anything. Of course, once you sample the cheese you are done for. It’s all so good. Plus, they sell everything from pumpkins to sangria. You could probably find a more reasonably priced market, but Borough is too fun (and it’s right next to the London Bridge Tube Station).

Next week, my uncle (a Whitman graduate) is coming to visit. I can’t wait to explore more of London with him! I think sometimes you just need another person to explore with (and to motivate you to go, even if it’s raining).

Even though I didn’t really talk about it, I thought I should share a picture from Dublin. It’s a beautiful city.

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