Friday, August 28, 2009

Peaches in the Name, Oranges in the Font

I imagine somebody has (hopefully with at least some mild irony) written of the deeper personal dismemberment that results from minute cultural differences, as contrasted with those of surprisingly less acute sting while in one utterly different, for their ease in being ignored and the corresponding immediacy of the former. Take a toilet. If somebody is used to a rather American toilet, more specifically one for which he must pull down the flush, he or she will be far more confused (and, perhaps even disgruntled) at a near identical toilet whose flush must be pushed up than one shaped like a spaceship, for the latter will hardly even be considered a toilet; it will be so foreign - in an array of ways - that it will only be admired or mocked, like a museum artifact.
While I don't really think this is necessarily true in all cases on either side, it is an interesting thing to think about, being in a country whose language is all but identical (bathroom->loo/toilet...yeah I think that's it) and whose cultures are adapatable both ways, not to mention mutually influence. And no, I haven't felt like the aforentioned imaginary person, I just was thinking about it. While not terribly disorienting culturally, London has indeed been nothing but eye-opening from the start. The pace is so fun. I have thought over the past year how I have enjoyed living in Seattle for its pace much of the time, and I love ending the day exhausted by the constant movement, which is simply everywhere. I think this will be even more fun once Alex and Brent get here, and even less exhausting, in an odd way. Either way, I've come back to my (very generous) host family (friends of friends from church) as late as possible all three nights, or at least as late as I feel comfortable without risking potential strandage.
A few highlights:
Wednesday, I wasn't really in any shape to go anywhere till around dinner, so I stayed relatively close to the Wolff's, heading off to Hamstead, as Noelle told me there were some good pubs out that direction. I managed to find - after some wandering, which led me unintentionally to the house in which Keats wrote "Ode to a Nightingale," among others (see below) - a cool quiet old pub near a vegetarian Indian place (no breaking under the unyielding(?) fish 'n' chips pressure yet!)
First beer in London, at the Duke of Hamilton:
Thursday, I slept in a little, and spent the whole afternoon in the British Museum. I generally enjoy museums, but don't normally have the stamina for that many hours, but had I not gotten hungry, I could have gone longer. The shear magnitude of it is incomprehensible in numbers, but even more so in site. Just the great hall is amazing, and that just composes a fraction of the museum. Afterward, I wandered about Soho, which is my favorite district so far, and ate/drank at a pub I'd read about in my (now lost) guide book called the Dog and Duck, which was also a great choice. Good food, very nice environment, and suprisingly uncrowded (plus, George Orwell went there all the time.)
Today was a buffet; I went all over the place. I started at Westminster Abbey, which I will write more on later, as I want to think about it more, but I'll at least say that what the British Museum did for grandness with museums for me, so did Westminster for churches. However, there are levels of the finery, the way it is portrayed, the fact that it costs money (while the museum doesn't,) the fact that you can't take photos despite the inextricable ties between church and state (i.e., why is it okay for it to be overwhelmingly focused on the crown, yet still be so revered as to not warrant layperson photography) that make the place off-putting in ways. Super important to see and glorious, but I'm not sure what it means. I can say that poet's corner was pretty incredible, particularly seeing as I saw original prints of most of the figures there at the National Portrait Gallery later in the day.
(Me there, the abbey from outside)

Afterward, I went in a totally different direction, visiting a photography gallery I read about in the same lost guide book, which proved to be fascinating. I fingered through tons of monographs in their extensive book store, looked at photos by André Kertesz in a series called "On Reading" (see below) and one on male fashion. They also had prints for sale (starting at £250...) and I found among these Vee Spears (among others,) whose work I really enjoyed. Her photo below and right was for sale there (click to see; it went off the frame against my will,) part of a great series called "The Birthday Party." I think I'll be back there at least once more, particularly if/when I come to London during the term, and the galleries change.
After this, I made my way to the National Portrait Gallery, at which I saw incredible original portraits of...just about everybody from Britain. All the famous images of writers and royalty were there. A couple of my favorites below, of William Blake andVirginia Woolf (the latter wasn't on display today) respectively left to right.
Finally, after dinner/Guiness in a pub, I perused the National Gallery for its final hour before it closed, which I thought wouldn't be nearly enough, and nearly was. It's not as large as I expected, but it had some beautiful Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, and Velásquez. I stopped back at the Dog and Duck on the way back to the train, and here I am, at 3:30 A.M., writing this...

In all these galleries, museums, and attractions, I've been trying something new, which has been working really well: I write down just about everything that interests me. Maybe all my teachers saying writing things make them sink in way better finally...well, sunk in, but it's made me remember things far more vividly, and when I look on pictures of things from the British Museum (I wrote the name and year of everything I photographed,) I can say what it is.

As for tomorrow, it will probably be a lighter day than today. I might walk around Kensington Gardens and read a little, or something else pleasant like that. Did I really just type that? This is still weird.
In one week's time, I'll be meeting the 50+ students in my program whom I've yet to meet. How exciting! Till then, I will continue to enjoy myself.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Hi all!
So, for those of you who don't know, I'll be living in the UK for the coming four(ish) months and studying at Oxford, and I thought this was a perfect time to start writing in my blog again, seeing as everyone's favorite thing is read the thoughts of people studying abroad...right? I'm already there, spending a little over a week in London and Dublin (mostly the former, two days in the latter) prior to embarking to campus for my studies.
While future posts will feature more in-depth thought, I'm tired, and will wait to post a couple pictures tomorrow from today (and any I take tomorrow,) all with comments.
Hope this can give you a window into my time,
PS To further emphasize this new era of blogging, in which I actually am I have renamed it for now, as I never liked "Musings," and I chose this (temporary? permanent?) name from a quote in Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, in which she talks about blind people receiving site for the first time, and how depth and seemingly intrinsic differences between objects and things don't yet exist. In trying to bring herself to such a point, she notes how our habitual vision is near impossible to return from, that she can't "unpeach the peach," and I hope that any writing/thinking we do is aimed at least in part at that very thing: taking seeming givens and letting them melt before our eyes.
Not sure what that has to do with consistency (I'll think of something tomorrow,) but principally it's a change.