Saturday, July 10, 2010

"A thing of beauty is a joy forever" ~Keats (London)

Alrighty I'm here in England - finally able to make a post! It's hard to believe I'm already on Day Five! I suppose the most sensical thing to do is to give you a quick run-through of each day, with reflections . . .

Day One
I arrived in London around 7:00 in the morning. After waiting a horrendously long amount of time in immigration, I made it out of the airport. Finding the hotel luckily wasn't too tricky - it just took a long time. I was trying to push through on literally no sleep because I knew I didn't want to miss one moment unless I HAD to.

I was told that my room was ready at the hotel, so I decided to power-nap and shower, and then head on my merry little way. The room was teeny teeny tiny, but had everything I needed (air conditioning, bathroom, bed, etc.). It was also in a great area of the city that was relatively close to everywhere I ended up going.

I grabbed a quick lunch after freshening up and headed to the British Library. I was able to see Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte's early manuscripts written in their own handwriting. The library is also home to a writing desk of Jane's where her spectacles rest (the teensiest rounded metal-framed glasses you ever saw!). Jane's handwriting was controlled and linear, while Charlotte's was more compact with eloquent loops. There was a British high school English teacher there with a group of his students, and he was asking them to observe the changes in language from the ancient manuscripts to what we understand as "modern" English. Some students were resistant to the exercise, and very honestly admitted that they "didn't see the point" (an all too familiar phrase). Another student chimed in to defend his teacher, saying that we can't appreciate the development of the language unless we know its origin and changes. I couldn't help but think (even in my jet-lagged state), what a good reminder this was to read the classics with my students in order to reinforce the history of linguistic development.

After leaving the library, I headed to Covent Garden to see the home of Jane Austen's brother Henry, where she lived for a short while. It is, somewhat disappointingly, in the middle of the commercial hubbub of that area. It is now a business. I of course still enjoyed having the opportunity to see one of Jane's old haunts. Covent Garden is swarming with tourists, and I actually allowed myself to get a bit lost there. I'm a pretty controlled person by nature, and I thought it might do me some good to explore without a plan. The good thing about taking this kind of chance in London is that sooner or later, you'll find an underground station and there you'll be able to manuever a way back to what is familiar.

I have to admit that I made a promise to myself to visit H&M in London (a store possibly a notch up from a Forever 21). I discovered one in Covent Garden, and allowed myself two modest purchases - a girl has to do some shopping after all! I took a walk along the River Thames for a little while on that lovely and breezy night. I found a lovely park near the Parliament building that is home to Rodin's Burghers of Calais, and so I sat there for a little while pondering the meaning of life. I then succumbed to sleepiness, and headed back to the hotel.

Day Two
The jet lag probably hit me harder on this day than the previous day. It was very difficult to get out of bed, but I eventually made my way back to the River Thames. I was interested in seeing an exhibit there featuring Salvador Dali. England seems to be quite taken with all things Alice in Wonderland; because Dali illustrated an edition of that book, they devoted an entire exhibit to him. Upon arriving in the area, I found out that the exhibit closed because of funding issues. I was disappointed, but determined to go on to the next activity.

I then went to the replica of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. The orginial Globe burned down in a fire on the other side of the Thames River. I wasn't sure what to expect (because it isn't the original), but I found it to be a really enlightening experience. Our tour guide articulated the considerable amount of time and energy that were put into the project (30 years to research and four years to build). She also gave a very interesting depiction of the actors, theatre-goers, and writers of that time. Her description of the "cheap seat" visitors was pretty amusing: men who washed once a year, reeked of Spanish wine and garlic, and who heckled the actors when they made mistakes. The tour guide also referred to peoples' interest in "hearing" plays rather than "seeing" them (there wasn't very much emphasis on sets, costumes, make-up, etc.). I couldn't help but think how different things are today. I think that we all internalize what we see and hear; the visual image helps to solidify the story and message of what it is that we hear. Yes students - this is why I allow movies.

After leaving the Globe, I went to the British Museum. I wanted to see an exhibit there featuring sketchings of the great Renaissance artists (Michaelangelo, Da Vinci, etc.). After paying the suggested donation amount and checking my bag, I found out that you had to pay another 12 pounds to see the exhibit. I was too annoyed to pay any more money (I was still able to see a drawing by Michelangelo that was displayed in a "free" area), so I went to see the other exhibits that I wouldn't be charged for: Asian drawings and porcleain designs, exhibits on Indigenous people from different parts of the world, and an exhibit on coping with death and different approaches you'll find across the world.

After the museum, I went to meet a family friend of ours named Luca. We watched the World Cup semi-final between Spain and Germany in Leicester Square. The area was very busy and touristy; it is bordered by Trafalgar Square (home to the famous lions) and Piccadilly Circus (the area famous for its theaters - or theatres as the spell it here). After the game, people were running down the streets singing "Ole ole ole ole . . ." while waving Spanish flags.

Day Three
I met up with my friend Joe from college that morning near his flat in Hampsted (home to Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Winslet). We walked around the area for quite some time (I was consistently hopeful of a Kate Winslet sighting), stopping in at the Hampsted Heath, a famously huge park with many ponds and forest areas. Hampsted is a really cute and quiet neighborhood area of London. It's what you would imagine finding in an encyclopedia under the title of "cute and authentic British neighborhoods" - many older buildings and churches. It proved to be a nice break from the rush of busy London.

That afternoon we went to the home of John Keats, a famous British poet. He died unfortunately at the age of 25 in the home that we visited. The home is not in its natural state, but has been redecorated to mimic the time period it its arrangment of the rooms/furniture. It was a very quaint and pleasant little house, and I couldn't help but feel sorry for his sad fate: he displayed an incredible amount of talent at a young age and then didn't have the opportunity to flourish.

I returned to the city that night to have a polar opposite touring experience: I went along for the Jack the Ripper walking tour! Our tour guide took us to the sites where Jack committed some of his most terrifyingly grotesque murders of area prostitutes. The guide was very entertaining, and did voices for the different characters in his story. While the tour didn't actually provide authentic sightings (as many of the buildings are no longer there), the stories prevailed. I thought back to a course I took in college, when my professor constantly referenced the influence of the Jack the Ripper murders on British literature written around that time period (Dracula, Jekyll and Hyde, etc.). The fear of premeditated/unpremeditated - and often monstrous - brutal attacks on women was clear throughout those selections. Another reinforcement that real life guides the production of great literature, whether directly or indirectly. This is why we must always consider the context of the literature that we read.

Day Four
I met Joe for breakfast near Fleet Street: area frequented by Charlest Dickens, and consequently the inspiration for A Tale of Two Cities. Now it is overrun with business, and I couldn't help but admire the way the businesspeople dress in London! Everyone looks as though they've walked right off the pages of Banana Republic ads.

We stumbled across a lovely park down a side street, and read and chatted there for a while. One of the many great things about London is that there is a surprisingly large amount of green space. I was feeling as though I was in a giant overwhelming city, and then all of a sudden, there would be an oasis of serenity right around the corner or just down a side street!

Following our park visit, I headed to Kings College to meet with an English professor there. She had been kind enough to agree to meet with me to discuss my trip, along with my questions/concerns in my planning for the AP course. I found her to be fairly down to earth and understanding of students who come from diverse backgrounds. She expressed her efforts to be sure to understand where students are coming from in their understanding of literature and their writing abilities, so that she can appropriately instruct and assist them. She did say how important she thinks it is that students are able to reference the Bible and Greek history/mythology in order to appropriately analyze literature. While this is a major emphasis for the AP Literature course, it was a good reminder for me that I should also be sure to reinforce the importance of allusions in context.

After the meeting, Joe and I went to the National Portrait Gallery where we saw Cassandra Austen's original sketching of Jane. The reviews of it are varied: Jane's niece thought it only resembled her "pleasant countenance" while Sir Walter Scott thought that it was a good "likeness" of her. If it did in fact look like her, I'm sorry to say that Jane was not exactly a beauty; she did have interesting eyes (perhaps a not-so coincidental similarity between her and Elizabeth Bennett?). The Gallery also contains Bramwell Bronte's portrait of his three sisters; oddly enough he painted over himself in the depiction.

What I'm reading:
Northanger Abbey. It was the first book that Jane wrote, and it is actually pretty clear in her writing. The writing is good, and the character descriptions insightful and interesting, but there is a little bit of a distracted quality to the writing. She doesn't always follow through with sub-plots. There is a note to the reader at the beginning (written by Jane), that she doesn't particularly support her writing of Northanger Abbey - that she feels differently about the subject matter later in life than she did earlier in life.

I once took a Facebook quiz to find out which Austen character I was most like, and it matched me with Catherine Morland (of Northanger Abbey). I can certainly see some similarities: She tries very hard to do the right thing, and must consult everyone she knows to see what that might be. When she doesn't do the right thing, she frets incessantly over it. She secretly loves drama, and has a wild imagination. Sound familiar?


  1. Yay - I'm so glad to see an update!!! Sounds like you're having an amazing time. Hope you're taking lots of pictures. Keep the posts coming - some of us have to live vicariously through our world-traveling friends!

  2. Great post! I agree with Holly, it sounds like you're having a fabulous time! Can't wait to read more!! ~Alex

  3. You're seeing such amazing things: I wouldn't know what to do if I was face to face with Bronte and Austen's handwriting! Have fun hobnobbing with Gwyneth and Kate, and H&M is waaaaaay better than F21 so get thee there/make haste!

  4. I loved reading the update--it sounds like you are having an amazing trip! I can't wait to see pictures and hear about it in person in a few weeks. Looking forward to your next post (hopefully about the haunted hotel!) - Catherine