May 28

Hello everyone from Colorado!

As you can see, our trip has now drawn to a close.  We made it through our finals, and (eventually) made it home.  Though we had to change our travel plans because of the volcano that erupted in Iceland, we made it eventually!

In our final days in London, we got to do some really cool things.  We saw Billy Elliot, which was one of the most fun shows that we went to the entire time we were in London.  I think every person in the theatre walked out with a smile on their face.

We also went to the Tower of London, which was interesting and very full of history.  There were a lot of old suits of armor that were worn by royalty in the past, which was really neat to see.  The place was really crowded, but we got to see the crown jewels of the United Kingdom and the other things that are associated with the coronation of royalty, which was ridiculously fancy, as well as amazing.  The crown must be so heavy on the queen’s head, I don’t know how she can walk with it on!

The Tower of London

The Tower of London

I went to my last choir rehearsal with the City of London Choir, which was very sad to leave!  I got to know several people in the choir pretty well over the semester, and I will definitely have to keep in touch.   If we were leaving just a week later, I would have gotten to sing in another concert of Mozart’s Requiem, which was unfortunate timing!

One of the interesting things that was happening as we were reaching the end of the trip was the build up to the British election (which will occur tomorrow).  The first TV debates in history happened, and the country was abuzz with discussion about the candidates, particularly Nick Clegg who experienced a huge surge in popularity after the first debate.  I went and saw the taping of a popular radio show called the “Vote Now” show, which comedically ran through all of the main news stories of the day.  A few of the references went over my head, but it was really interesting to see how British people were viewing the election, and how much they hated all three of the candidates.

Another fun thing that we did was go on a cruise up and down the Thames, where we got to eat fancy food and see all of the famous sights of London at night.  We went through “Greenwich Mean Time” going one way, and saw the London Eye, Big Ben, and Westminster Palace reflecting onto the water beautifully.  It was a very nice way to close up the trip.

Cheers,

Ethan

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Apr 12

Hello everyone!

It’s so close to the end of our trip!  Scary…

This post is about a tiny little town in southern England that I went to at the end of Easter Weekend.  It is called Brockenhurst, and it is a really, really small town.  There are several cottages in the town that have legitimately thatched roofs, which is really cool looking.  The reason I went down is that it is on the border of a National Park called the New Forest.

This forest is a huge area, known as a sort of recreational destination for hikers, bikers, etc. from the towns and cities in southern England.  It is a huge forest, and extremely secluded.  Though there were certainly areas in the forest that were crowded with various hikers and bikers, in many places it was absolutely silent and serene as I walked through the forest.  I made myself a little picnic lunch, sitting on a bench and admiring the beautiful setting around me.

One of the coolest parts about the New Forest is that it is full of wildlife.  On the train ride there, I saw several small deer, but while I was walking around, I ran into quite a few wild ponies.  They were extremely beautiful animals, a little bit smaller and scruffier than domesticated horses.   They were absolutely silent, just walking around, eating grass as if I was not there.

PonyAlthough there was not a lot of “stuff to do” in Brockenhurst, it was one of the most interesting and unique places I have been in the UK.  It is not a touristy place, so the people I met were normal English people, going about their daily business.  Their accents were intriguing and slightly difficult to understand, and I could tell that they were surprised to see an American in their little town.  I, however, had a wonderful time exploring it.

Cheers,

Ethan

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Apr 03

Hello!

I am going to use this post to highlight a really cool town that I went to visit twice in the last 2 weeks.

Arundel Castle 2

I first went to the tiny town of Arundel last Friday on a whim; little did I know it would soon become one of the most exciting parts of the entire trip to Britain for me!   Arundel is a very small, quiet place, full of old medieval inns and crowded shops.  It is framed by two enormous buildings: the Arundel Cathedral, and the Arundel Castle.

The first time I went, the castle was closed, so I walked explored the town instead.  The cathedral is gorgeous; it is one of the most prominent Catholic churches in all of Britain.  I also walked around in the Arundel Park, which is a vast swathe of grass through a forest.  On this path, I came across 2 old castles, about 30 pheasants, and 2 people, for about 2 hours.  It was absolutely one of the most relaxing and magical walks I’ve ever taken.

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After that, I went out for cream tea at a little coffee shop, which of course was absolutely delicious.

Today, I returned to Arundel, since the castle opened up on Thursday.

Arundel Castle

Arundel Castle

To celebrate the opening of the castle, there was a big Norman/Medieval festival going on, complete with a blacksmith, a pig being roasted on a spit, swordfighting, archery, and lots and lots of authentic costumes.  It was so amazing to see the fights, which happened at a very quick pace and were clearly not scripted.  The men knew exactly what they were doing, which is incredible given the uselessness of sword skills in the modern world.

Fighting

The inside of the castle was even more amazing.  Since the castle is still the home of the Norfolk family, it is extremely well kept.  It is furnished ridiculously lavishly, with swords, guns, crossbows, halberds, etc. all over the walls, not to mention the hundreds of family portraits from throughout the ages.  The furniture and furnishings are all intricately decorated, particularly in the bedroom that was created for Queen Victoria (which took 2 years to prepare for a 3 day visit!).

Basically, I am in love with Arundel.

Best Wishes,

Ethan

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Apr 02

I try to do something new in London everyday, but there are a few places that I just can’t seem to stay away from. Here are some of my favorites:

The Institute for Contemporary Arts

The door is tucked away in between the columns on the bottom!

The door is tucked away in between the columns on the bottom!

I came across  the ICA (Institute for Contemporary Arts) on one of my first free days in London and it has quickly become one of my favorite spots to hang out.  Basically what looks like a nonchalant door in central London–just a stones throw away from Buckingham Palace and across the street from St. James park–this super hip arts complex houses two galleries, a small theater, an art house cinema and a stylish cafe. I go there pretty often to do homework and have seen two exhibitions and a show there. My first artistic adventure there was an exploration on the ‘speculative nature of knowledge’ entitled For the Blind Man in the dark room looking for the black Cat that isn’t there. My favorites of this exhibition were Marcel Broodthaer’s 1970 interview with his cat on the art of painting and Bruno Munari’s slideshow Looking for Comfort in an Uncomfortable Chair, projected on a tiny screen near propped up on a box on the floor, appropriately requiring you to sit balled up in a nearby corner to view the piece. At ICA’s theater I  went to a presentation of the London International Mime Festival called USSR Was Here. This was definitely one of the most avant garde performances I’ve seen in London and while some of the physical aspects of the piece were really amazing, I think it was a little too abstract for me. Still I returned to the ICA last Thursday to see their latest exhibition on the artist Billy Childish. Childish is a contemporary poet, painter, filmmaker and musician and is a leader of the stuckist movement, which rejects conceptual art (the idea that a vacuum cleaner in a gallery is art because someone decides to call it that, not because they created it) and focuses on the notion of authentic and holistic art–art that requires kinetic skill and personal exploration. Childish’s work is interesting and multi-faceted and the ICA’s exhibition of it emphasized his many talents by displaying his Van goghy paintings in the lower gallery and his Bukowski-esque poetry, and anti-authoritarian music and films in the upper gallery.

The Battersea Arts Centre

Words cannot express how much I adore the Battersea Arts Centre. Located in south London, the building was erected to be the borough of Battersea’s  town hall in 1893. With a lovely large, open atrium and several small, cozy nooks, it continues to be a social hub for all kinds of get togethers even though the town council is long-gone. I stumbled upon the BAC when a friend on the program invited me to an event hosted by the London Word Festival. The event I attended was a little get together to discuss the project “One Hundred Days to Make a Better Person,” an initiative that challenged people to do one thing every day for a hundred days and keep a blog about it. It was pretty early on in the program and I was still having trouble actually communicating with Londoners (it was WAY harder to get used to peoples accents then I thought, not to mention the fact that most Brits I know talk at an incomprehensible speed), but I felt so comfortable at the BAC that I ended meeting some really interesting people. Afterwords, I was determined to come back for a show. I returned in march to see a piece of performance art called, “Something Very Quiet is About to Happen.”  This short little piece actually took place across the street from the BAC in the Battersea Public Library. Basically what it consisted of was the “performer,” in this case famed Canadian fringe artist Deborah Pearson handed me a list of books and gave me instructions to find each one, open it to the bookmark I would find in it and return the book when I was finished. I hunted through the shelves to find: an anthology of poetry by E.E. Cummings, a Batman comic,  a trashy romance novel, a catalog of Scottish literature and a very old copy of Jane Eye and within each one was a letter that the book had written about its life. It was oh so nerdy but I really loved it, I wrote a review about it for my Theatre in London class that you can read here.

The Royal Opera House

The Royal Opera House

You can’t be a singer…or a musician….or a human and not fall completely in love with the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden. It is not only a beautiful building (recently renovated and updated) but the home to so much music history: Handel’s first season of operas were performed there and Maria Callas, Joan Sutherland and every other major opera star have graced the stage. We took a tour of the complex, which retains the lobby and foyer of the theatre built in 1858 but also includes an enormous maze of rehearsal spaces, costume and prop building workshops and set storing warehouses. I also went to see Rake’s Progress and Cosi Fan Tutte there (which Ethan wrote about), but my favorite trip to Covent Garden was for a free lunchtime recital. The ROH’s young artist program hosts these recitals every Monday in a luxurious little chamber called “The Crush Room.” I went to one that was all Russian art songs sung by an incredibly talented young bass and it was completely free!

The Barbican

The majority of London is a haphazard conglomeration of really old buildings (Elizabethan) , semi-old buildings (Victorian) and stark, shiny contemporary buildings. However, The Barbican complex is one area of London that is completely defies this rule of pastiche. This lack of melting-pot architecture is definitely not because of a lack of history (Shakespeare once lived on the edge of the complex) but rather, the Blitz, a WWII operation of the German Luftwaffe that bombed the city for 57 consecutive days. The Barbican, completely destroyed by bombs, became the focus of the post-war optimism that stemmed a number great political and artistic ideas ( like Nationalized Healthcare). Architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon were commissioned to redesign the residential areas but decided to include a cinema, concert hall as well. In 1960 the Royal Shakespeare Company and the London Symphony Orchestra joined the planning team.

Now, The Barbican feels like a foreign planet with its super modernist architecture, but it is also an artistic utopia, housing a cinema, world-class concert hall, theatre, gallery and an amazing arts library. I probably go to sit in the Library at least once a week, they have an incredible collection of music recordings and sheet music, and two very nice digital pianos that you can play for as long as you want as long as you reserve the time! It may seem strange to be so excited about that, but really practice space is in very short supply here (actually, all space is in very short supply). I really really miss the nice pianos and practice spaces at Lewis & Clark, so its nice to spend an afternoon at the Barbican sifting through their sheet music collection and fiddling around on the piano. I should also mention that I’ve seen probably the most extraordinary concerts of my life there: The New York Philharmonic, The Vienna Philharmonic, The Brahms Requiem and the War Requiem (which I wrote my senior thesis on) and of course, Ethan’s performance of selected works of Beethoven with the City of London Choir, yes, our own Ethan Allred has shared a stage with some of the finest musicians in the world!
Cheers!

Emily

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Mar 27

It is spring break for us Londoners right now, the time when we all get to go off on our own little adventures to explore the rest of Great Britain that we haven’t seen with the program.  I intended to go to Ireland, but a snafu with the airline ruined that plan.  Instead, I went off to Wales with several of my friends from the program and a couple of friends who were visiting from LC.

We stayed in Cardiff, the capital of Wales (the welsh name is “Cymru”, pronounced “Kihmree”), which is a small city (about 300,000 people).  It is radically different from any of the other places I’ve been to in Britain so far.  All of the signs are in both English and Welsh, and though most Welsh people can speak English, you hear Welsh everywhere.  The countryside on the way out to Wales is absolutely stunning; there are rolling hills everywhere, with small forests around every corner.

When we first got there, we went down to Cardiff Bay, seeing the stunning Millennium Centre and the beautiful blue waters.  It rained basically the entire time we were in Cardiff, but we got used to it.  At the restaurant we ate lunch at, some Welsh meals such as “Welsh Rarebit” interested us, but we were too afraid to actually try them.

On Tuesday, we went to a smaller town away from the coast called Caerphilly.  It was a charming little place, known mostly for Caerphilly Cheese and the Caerphilly Castle, which we toured around.  The castle was absolutely incredible; it is enormous, with giant towers and a deep moat all of the way around.   We walked around the castle with basically the entire place to ourselves, meaning we could sing songs in the rooms that worked as echo chambers and climb around on the amazing battlements.

Caerphilly Castle

We all thoroughly enjoyed the castle, but we were tired afterwards, so we did the British thing and went and got tea and played cards to sit the rainy afternoon out.  After spending a couple of hours enjoying the relaxation, we headed back to Cardiff to cook dinner (Thai green curry a la Jon Wash) in our hostel.

Wednesday we spent exploring Cardiff, checking out the amazing indoor market, with butchers (one sold Zebra meat!), sweet shops, ribbon stations, and (most importantly) wig stores, which seemed to be everywhere!  We also walked through several of the arcades (which are sort of like malls, not video games), and then I went into the Cardiff Castle.  It was way different from the Caerphilly Castle; it was from a lot of different time periods, and was less one big structure and more several towers, a keep, and a house.  It was still very beautiful, though, and I got to go into some of the rooms that were decorated ornately as they would have been in past eras.

Cardiff Castle

Ironically, we had sushi for dinner, which ended up being extremely good, believe it or not!   All of the Welsh people we met were extremely kind, and it was really nice to be in a place that isn’t completely dominated by tourism.  Although there aren’t necessarily as many things to do in Cardiff, it was still a fun and relaxing place to spend part of my spring break!

Ethan

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Mar 11

Hello Everyone!

I want to use this post to tell a couple of funny stories about shows I’ve been to in the last week.

The first show was the Lion King, which has been running on the West End for years upon years upon years.  This means that it is very well established in reputation throughout the world, and also everyone in London has already seen it.  Therefore, the auditorium was packed to the brim with tourists speaking every language you could possibly imagine.

I squeezed into my seat, and put my headphones in to get rid of the intolerable noise.  When the show started, I assumed that the audience would quiet down, you know, so everyone could hear the music and all.  This audience, however, had other plans, and about 1/3 of the audience commenced to chatter, oooh, aaah, even yelp in amazement through the entire song of “The Circle of Life”.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, through the rest of the show, at least one person was talking at any given moment, and there was clearly audible surprise and glee among the audience.  And, they clapped their hands along with “Hakuna Matata”.

On that night, I declared that the company had purposefully gathered the most obnoxious group of people ever amassed, for some kind of “Guinness book of World Records” stunt or something, and I had just stumbled upon it.

Shakespeare was born here

Shakespeare was born here

The other show was an opera called “The Elixir of Love” by the Italian composer Donizetti.  It was put on by the English National Opera, which meant that all of the singing was in English.  It was set in an American diner in the 1950′s and the plot revolves around a sort of Music Man-esque traveling salesman who comes in with a magic elixir to sell to the rural folks at the diner.

The catch is, at the beginning of the play, a stage manager came out to make announcements, and said “I have some bad news.  The singer who is playing Nemorino (the main male character) is ill.  But that’s not the worst of it.  The understudy for the role is also ill.  After a lot of discussion, we decided that it would be better to bring in a singer who knows the words in Italian rather than have someone sight-read the English words with music on stage”.

So basically, what happened, was the entire opera was in English except for the main character, who was singing in Italian.  It made the already hilarious play even funnier!  There were many interactions between the main character and others where they would be speaking to each other in different languages, which was just a bizarre situation to witness.  Moreover, the salesman knew the Italian words also, so he sang in Italian for his duets with Nemorino, and would also throw in random Italian words into his singing (example: “Che muerte, Uncle Joe”).  Nemorino also said the words “20 bucks” one time, which was a hilarious juxtaposition of the folksy translation the rest of the characters were singing on his beautiful Italian lyrics.

Ethan

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Mar 09

Hello!

Here are a few bits and pieces from our trip so far! This  footage is from all around London, including a Scottish caleigh (folk dance) we went to in our first week and also our trip to Hampton Court (the home of Henry the VIII). Enjoy!

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-Emily

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Mar 05

Hello Everyone!

In this post, I am going to give a rundown of all of the wonderful art museums I’ve been to since arriving in London 2 months ago.

The first art museum I went to was the National Gallery, which houses many of London’s paintings from Italy and other classically styled works, the so called “Masterpieces”.   There were paintings by Michaelangelo, Raphael, Van Gogh (which British people pronounce “Van Goff”), and many other really famous artists.  This museum was entirely overwhelming; I barely made it to a third of the rooms in the museum in my time there.

The Tate Britain Gallery is an entirely different type of place.  Housed there are works that are prominently made by British artists.  The museum took us on a sort of historical narrative of British art, showing us the key players and movements, and highlighting interesting themes along the way.  One of the coolest parts of the gallery was the room dedicated to William Turner, who painted a lot of maritime scenes and hazy visions of old towns.

Tate Modern, a giant, industrial, ex-power plant building on the south bank of the Thames, was a very interesting place.  The first exhibit we went in was essentially an enormous, black box, inside of which each person had to explore their own way through the darkness.  It was a really strange experience, but I really enjoyed it.  The rest of the museum houses an immense variety of modern art, including giant palm trees, Salvador Dali paintings, and about everything in between.

Tate St. Ives was a smaller museum in the small town of St. Ives, which is known as an artists’ colony.  Though the gallery houses some works by the likes of Picasso and others, the bulk of the paintings were by Dexter Danwood.  The paintings were generally pseudo-collages, as in they were made to look like a collage but were actually painted.  They depicted modern rooms that were generally the locations of terrible events.  They were definitely interesting, but the idea of a fake collage seems a little bit contrived to me.

The Victoria and Albert Museum houses a really wide variety of historical relics, sculptures, and really just anything that seems interesting to the curators.  There are bunches of renaissance sculptures in a big courtyard, which is really beautiful.  There are also a lot of relics from medieval churches like stained glass windows, etc., that are really interesting and old.

The Sir John Soane Museum is probably the coolest gallery I have seen.  It is Sir John Soane’s house, which he basically filled to the brim with every kind of art and decoration, and then left to the city in his will.  There is one room that was two sets of walls that fold out to see more and more pictures inside, which kind of gives you a picture of how packed the building is with artwork.  He has a giant sarcophagus in the basement, which is a weird sort of crypt with lots of skulls and death related art.

So that is the art we’ve seen in a nutshell.

Cheers,

Ethan

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Feb 28

I thought I’d post some pictures from our most recent field trip. St. Ives is an old artists’ colony and supposedly has some of the best light in the world (according to NASA via our tour guide). I decided to go up a night before the group so I had lots of time to relax and walk around in the sunshine!

Cheers,

Emily

Graffiti

St Ives Beach 2

St. Ives Cemetery

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Feb 28

I’m definitely not the most patriotic American, however, there are some basic American principles I deeply revere: the protection of free speech, a bill of rights and a check on governmental power. I hate to admit it, but I think this reverence for American democracy impeded my initial understanding of British politics. When I first arrived here, I tried to keep an open mind, but now and then a tiny snobbish voice in my head would declare, “this is the tyrannical aristocratic body that our founding fathers broke away from! What would Thomas Jefferson say about this archaic monarchy, the blasphemous mingling of church and state in an obviously religiously diverse country and their complete lack of a written constitution!?” Luckily, as I fell in love with the city of London—the free museums, British humor and a strong economy (well, at least stronger than America’s)—I couldn’t help but fall for the parliamentary monarchy as well.

It started slowly with a field trip to the Houses of Parliament for our Fine Arts in London course. The Parliamentary estate is a huge complex on the bank of the Thames River with a colorful, nine hundred year history. According to legend, the site once supported a Roman temple dedicated to Apollo that was destroyed in an earthquake. The medieval Westminster palace was shaped by many rulers including Edward the Confessor, William the Conqueror and Henry III. Westminster Hall was the only medieval chamber to survive the Great Fire of 1666 and that is where we began our tour. The hall itself is magnificent, with a soaring ceiling of heavy timber and heavy stone walls that made it impressively cold, both figuratively and literally. I understand the history of this space and I think it is definitely interesting to marvel at the sites where people lost their heads, but this gigantic room seemed to have no purpose outside of its pomp. This concept of useless space or became a common theme as we traveled through the rooms of parliament. It seemed like every hallway was absurdly large and ridiculously opulent, thanks to the tediously detailed designs of E.W. Pugin. Pugin was one of the first ‘interior designers’ and the brains behind the Houses of Parliament’s over-the-top style. In art history he is well-known for his enthusiastic embrace of the Neo-Gothic method, which, ideologically, tries to evoke a return to noble ideals of medieval times by aesthetically reflecting medieval designs.  Pugin’s style is a little bit overwhelming, ironically much more so than the actual medieval architecture of Westminster Hall. Every single inch of every single room Pugin designed is painted or plastered or overlaid with something flashy, and the attention to detail—even in the carpets—was unbelievable. It seemed ridiculous to waste all of this energy and resources on rooms that are only used once or twice a year when the Queen comes to visit parliament, and this blind monarchial worship is something I found appalling. However, Pugin viewed his designs in a completely different way. While I see this pomp and luxurious excess as oppressive, Pugin believed his designs acted as an emancipation from the clutches of  cookie-cutter Victorian industrialism. He placed a high value on handcrafted work and argued that any decoration added to an object must not detract from its actual purpose.

When I started looking at Parliament from Pugin’s more radical perspective,  I started appreciating the  houses of parliament more as a center of government.  The House of Lords and the House of Commons are both fairly small rooms in comparison to the queen’s rarely used ceremonial rooms, and they are crowded with rows and rows of padded benches. This element of design is a nod back to the first British parliament meetings which were held in St. Stephens Church and the pew like structure of the houses is such a defining aspect of the space that Winston Churchill refused to change the design when he was given the task of rebuilding the House of Commons after it was destroyed in the Blitz of WWII, despite the fact that in the original building there were not enough seats for MP’s and no desks for them to take notes on. In explaining his position, Churchill stated famously, “We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us.”

I got to see this shape in action in my Contemporary Britain course, where we watched a clip of the weekly parliamentary event “Question Time,” where the minority party’s opposition questions the current Prime Minister’s political decisions. The majority party, lead by the prime minister of the day, all sit crowded on one side of the room and face their political opponents (the opposition) head on. There is a small table where the Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition (currently Gordon Brown and David Cameron) face each other in debate while the other MP’s are egging on their respective sides. These weekly meetings are not polite and full of carefully constructed arguments, but chocked full of direct accusations and cheeky (sometimes insulting) puns, interruptions and genuinely hot-blooded  political debate. The stress of events were clearly visible in the house of commons when we visited, I think my favorite part of visiting the house of commons was standing at the Prime Minister’s podium and seeing the brass corners worn away by a nervous PMs of the past and thinking how stressful it must be to face your opponents in such a head-on way and how brilliant it is for a political system designed with this sort of credibility! I have sense become obsessed with following British politics.

My obsession is directly fueled by the British obsession with newspapers. In London they love newspapers. On any block you can find shops full of newspapers that each cost about a pound and there are also three free papers published each day. Some of these have great art coverage while some focus on financial or political analysis, there are left-wing papers, tory papers, papers for the upper class and others still directed to the “white van man” (the British version of “Joe the plumber”). I started reading the free Evening Standard to get me through my evening tube commute, but the more time I spend here, the more I find myself splurging on The Times, The Guardian, or The Independent so I can fastidiously keep up on the current scandals and drama surrounding the upcoming election.

-Emily

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