Friday, June 5, 2015

The trip from Alex's perspective

As I was looking through the photos from our trip I discovered a strange peculiarity; I had barely any traditional tourist pictures.  Instead of being pictures of landmarks and amazing views, I have picture after picture of my group mates.  Upon discovering this I was suddenly frustrated, how could I remember the trip if I didn’t have any pictures of what I had seen? Yet as I flipped through picture after picture I discovered that, remarkably, I knew where each picture was taken.  It wasn’t that I remembered by seeing the setting, rather, I could tell from the emotion filling each face where we were.  As I saw Galen’s wide smile, silhouetted by his halo of blond hair, I remembered Buckingham Palace.  Christie’s calculating stare reminded me of the late night games of mafia, and Ben’s intense focus brought back memories of reading Shakespeare in the park. 
In these correlations, for me, lies the reason for the greatness of this trip.  Each of us was discovering England, discovering Shakespeare not alone, but as a group.  The trip was not only memorable for what we have seen, but also for the people we shared these experiences with.  I will forever remember Rainer waking up in the middle of the night to speak in satanic tongues, I will forever remember Christie and Lauren freaking out in front of the Globe, and I will forever remember the poor old lady I fell asleep on in the Tube. 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The trip (from Nick's perspective)

Seeing As You Like It at the Globe Theater was truly an experience to remember. The interaction with the audience by the actors was humorous and played well into the performance. They knew how to make people laugh, and even used the weather as part of their act. As rain periodically fell upon the groundlings, the actors would indicate the weather to add effect to their lines, and as the skies cleared up, the actors would use that as well. Their interaction with the audience and the portrayal of the play in such a fashion that I had in pictured was lively and entertaining.

Seeing The Merchant of Venice performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company was truly a sight to behold. The acting and portrayal of characters was creative and excellently done. Throughout the play were so many small elements that one could simply not enjoy from merely reading off the script. Combined, these elements spun a wonderful portrayal of William’s classic romance, and made for a night well spent at the theater.

The city of London was a beautiful centre of historical and cultural diversity. The high-quality foreign restaurants, ancient monuments, and celebrated buildings, combined with the rich mixes of types of people living there made for one of the most spectacular cities one could visit. The high speed of life in some parts of the city met peacefully in the mellow and steady preservation of traditional cultures, a rare occurrence in such a large place. This beautiful old city has an energy to it that one would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Photos: Day Five

                                                Turtles at the National History Museum

                                                       Our amazing guide, Shabby

                                                              Lauren... or Puck?

                                                                   Regent's Park
                                         Galen looking sharp in his new bowtie and suspenders

Photos: Royal Shakespeare Company Costume Warehouse

Day Five (from Nimaya's perspective)

Thursday dawned early and warm, beginning with our—by now—well practiced milling about the breakfast area by the hotel lobby, picking at muffins, croissants, and the occasional piece of fruit. After we had strewn the long table (and multiple others around the room) with plates, crumbs, empty cereal boxes, and glasses, the whole crew was counted and we made our way outside, followed by Shabby who mumbled a little sardonically, “I would hope you all know which way to go by now.” This comment was immediately responded to with a chorus of, “Shabby, I’m lost!”s and, with a dramatic eye roll from our dungaree-clad tour guide, we headed off for the Tube. 

After many awkward brushes with the Tube’s archetypal array of strange, unspeaking characters of many ethnicities and, shall I say, “styles,” and of course nine stops accompanied by just as many reminders by our automated female voice that this was “a Piccadilly line service to Cockfosters” and to “please mind the gap between the train and the platform,” we reached South Kensington. We soon found ourselves amidst a mass of very small people as at least four different schools had also chosen to spend the day at the Natural History, Science, and Victoria and Albert museums. We split off to peruse the grand buildings for a couple of hours. I first visited the Victoria and Albert museum (the most mysterious of the three as Shabby could only explain it as being centered around ‘design’) and found a plethora of beautiful pieces from paintings and statues, to clothes and shoes throughout history, to ornate iron keys and locks, to stately mirrors and old furniture. We cooed over the replica of the first ever standing bookcase and a massive hanging sculpture made of thousands of little, elegantly blown glass shapes. Most of the time was spent just standing in awe of the sheer age and beauty of the art preserved perfectly around us. 

With just over an hour we made our way to the Natural History museum and were struck silent and still by the majesty of the entry hall. With three large stone stair-cases, echoing floors, and staggeringly high walls ringed with gorgeous stained glass windows, the enormous dinosaur skeleton in the middle of the hall seemed rather dull by comparison. We spent a solid 45 minutes walking around the entrance hall and surrounding corridors, taking photos, leaning over the balustrades, generally commenting that J.K. Rowling would be proud to have this room in Hogwarts, and deciding that VCS’s remolding had better include little stone monkeys and huge columns. The rest of the time was devoted to examining Darwin’s pigeons, seeing a first edition of On The Origin of Species, exploring large exhibitions on sea mammals, and of course, the section on narwhals. 

We gathered together outside in the hot sun, burdened slightly with a variety of trinkets from the gift shops, including Henry’s new copy of A Brief History of Time which, while he claimed it was only “some light reading,” he was so engrossed in that he had read over a hundred pages by the time Bradley joined us. We walked briskly through town, stopping at one of London’s multitude of 'Pret a Manger's for sandwiches, and found ourselves in front of 221B Baker street beneath the plaque dedicated to “Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective, 1881-1904.” After getting over how fantastic it was that Holmes got the same blue plaque only otherwise used for important—once living—people, we headed on to Regent’s Park. We were immediately greeted by a beautiful crane, who was extensively photographed, and at last left to enjoy the river undisturbed. We made ourselves comfortable in the little white flowers that thronged  the sea of grass, and pulled out our copies of The Merchant of Venice. We were given our roles and read through two scenes of the third act, stumbling occasionally over the rich monologues, but making good way until we were cut off by a chorus of singing in the gazebo. A dozen girls around our age began what seemed to be a poorly rehearsed performance, including a mashup of songs, some halfhearted choreography a never-ending stream of rounds, and unintelligible lyrics throughout. After attempting to make ourselves heard over the din we moved off the find a more quiet space, and ended up at the ice-cream stand instead where we waited for the singing to end. Eventually we returned to the grass and finished our scenes. We decided to spread out and enjoy the park for a short while until leaving for the British museum, but after some quick math it became apparent that we may have missed our chance to get there before it closed. Ben, Lauren, and Alex had begun to toss a disk around, and a few others had long since disappeared to take photographs, so it was decided that we would stay to relax and explore for a few hours before going to dinner. It was around this time that it became apparent just how large the park was, beyond the immediate green grass field, winding river (attracting geese, ducks, cranes, and swans as well as tourists) and willow trees, there were enormous sections we couldn’t see including gardens and bridges, there was even talk of a zoo. I went off to see the Queen’s garden, which spread out expansively with fountains, more fields of green, hedges, benches, ponds, and beds of bright flowers. The sky was still bright blue, and hadn’t once threatened rain, in fact the shade was more comfortable than walking in direct sunlight. This was the first portion of the trip that felt truly relaxed, without limited time or too many destinations to check off our list. Everyone seemed refreshed and enthusiastic again when we reconvened. Lauren had made a crown of willow branches which was quickly titled “Lauren’s Laurels” and Bradley was eager to talk about seeing wild parakeets the size of crows, and to share his video of a non-native squirrel eating a non-native nut. We eventually left the peace of the park to follow Shabby through the shabbier parts of London, including backstreets that seemed quite like the place that comes to mind when someone says “you see someone coming toward you in a dark alley….” When we reached the other side and returned to the familiar, brighter bustling city, Alex (who had not stopped talking the whole walk) told Shabby that he was “scarred for life.”

We reached the restaurant, a little Italian place called “Bistro 1” which was furnished with only a few tables, and decked with ornate glass-sphere chandeliers, and warm-lighted candles in bottles, the wax of which dripped onto the table cloth. After a delightful meal of “bangers and mash” for the carnivores, and an unnamed, but delicious, eggplant dish for the vegetarians, Shabby presented Galen with a card and a gift, as today was his sixteenth birthday. He pulled out of the brown bag a brilliant red bow tie and a pair of suspenders (or “braces” as Shabby insisted upon calling them) to boisterous laughter and cries of approval. We finished with a hasty chorus of ‘happy birthday’ and slices of cake all round, then made our way back to the Tube for the long ride home. 

The night was sealed off with multiple games of Mafia in the boy’s room, in which I was killed off in the first round of every game, causing the town to unanimously vote to lynch Alex as my killer (although he never once was the mafia). This gave way to a the instantly popular phrase, “Keep Calm and Kill Alex.” In the later games Henry and Galen decided to use various forms of ‘logic’ to deduce the mafia’s identity and next victim, including Henry yelling, “I did psychology and I know it’s…” or “No, my psychology says it has to be…” despite his growing and utterly unhelpful rounds of wrong guesses. After Galen decided the mafia was either himself or Ben (by reason of the dead victims’ seats in relation to each other—although he chose to ignore those who didn’t align with his theory) and the town tossed a coin to choose which to kill before realizing that both Galen and Ben were innocent, Shabby spoke up. In each game Shabby watched shrewdly before coming, in an instant, resolutely to a culprit, and the rest of us soon began to notice that she never failed to correctly determine the mafia when she came to a conclusion. So, when she called above the din, “I think it’s Bradley,” the town immediately agreed. We hung, drew and quartered Bradley, thus successfully ending the game. Christie then reminded us of our early departure the following morning, and with many yawns and calls goodnight, we all dispersed once again to our rooms to catch what hours we could before heading off to Stratford bright and early the next day.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Day Six: Stratford and Merchant of Venice

Day Six: Stratford, and Merchant of Venice

            As I write, we are headed back to Hounslow for our final night’s sleep, having just watched an absolutely incredible Merchant of Venice! The bus was abuzz as we left the Royal Shakespeare Theater, as everyone discussed the details of the play, and what ideas the directors and actors wanted to leave us with.
            Before seeing the show, we had a full day in Shakespeare’s birthplace. We started with a Behind the Scenes tour of the RST, seeing up close what it takes to put on their impeccable productions. We saw backstage, the stage manager’s booth, and the doors of the dressing rooms (though unfortunately we couldn’t go in to check those out). All the while, the lighting crew was rehearsing cues for the play we were to see, and as we sat in the seats of the theater learning about it, we got a glimpse of the dark, brooding atmosphere we would encounter in the performance.
            After the tour, we met up with my former professor, Miriam, who had us all over for sandwiches and snacks in her garden. It was a joy to hear the students discuss Shakespeare with her… truly what I have been most looking forward to all week! She provided some fascinating insight into the play, and made us even more excited to see how this cast and crew would handle its complexities and troubling elements—chiefly, the treatment of Shylock, and the play’s overt portrayal of racist stereotyping.
            After our time with Miriam, we headed to the RSC costume warehouse for a tour. Here, the company keeps all of the costumes used in their many productions, grouped by time period. They rent the costumes out to local schools and community theaters, providing another source of income for the RSC. We could have spent a full day here and not seen all that this treasure trove holds. It sprawls over three floors, and the giant rooms are simply stuffed with costumes, crowns, suits of armor, hats, shoes, veils, masks, and jewelry. We all tried on our favorite pieces, and took many photos (some of which I am sure will turn up in the MME). After an hour, we finished the tour, wishing we had more time.
            We then met up with Shabby, who had come down to Stratford with us, and headed to Church of the Holy Trinity, the site of Shakespeare’s baptism, wedding, and burial. It is a simply beautiful church, one in which people have worshipped since 1210! We viewed Shakespeare’s gravesite, as well as those of other members of his family. It was wonderful to escape the bustle of the center of Stratford, and to find a place of quiet contemplation (though I imagine that during high tourist season, the church might not be so quiet.)
            After visiting the Bard’s grave, we headed back into town, where we had an hour to explore the various Shakespeare-themed shops and cafes, then had our final dinner together in a pub-like restaurant called The Golden Bee. It was soon time to head to the theater, and we were treated to what might be the finest Shakespearean acting company in the world. I will let the students tell you their thoughts on the production, but I must say, it has been an English teacher’s dream to hear their gleeful voices after both shows, as well as their wishes to remain in England so that they can see more Shakespeare.
            We depart our hotel tomorrow at 6:30 to make our 9:30 flight. I can’t believe the week is over! It went too fast, but I feel so lucky to have been able to share my passions with the students over these past few days.  


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Day Five: Natural History Museum, Science Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, Regent’s Park (…and Galen’s birthday!)

            Today was a bit more relaxed, as we wanted some free time before our jam-packed day in Stratford tomorrow. We started the day by heading to Exhibition Road, where one can find the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum, and the Science Museum. We had two hours to explore, so we split up to visit whichever one (or two, or three) we were most interested in. I spent my time in the Natural History Museum, looking at dinosaur bones, other fossils, and an exhibit on volcanoes and earthquakes. I then went to the Science Museum, spending most of my time on an exhibit on food cravings, which was fascinating. I would periodically run into other members of the group, noting that Bradley looked happier than I have ever seen him in the Natural History Museum, checking out, as he said, “dead stuffed things.” After our museum visit, we bought sandwiches from everyone’s new favorite fast and healthy food restaurant, Pret a Manger, and headed to Regent’s Park for a picnic and play discussion. Once again, we were blessed with a beautiful, sunny day. We settled onto the grass, and began reading two scenes of Merchant of Venice aloud, identifying a few themes and some of the questions that the play raises.  Other than being disrupted by some loud singers, it was a pleasant way to spend our hours in the park. We then had free time to explore. Some read in the sun, some walked through and photographed the park’s many gardens, some threw a disc around, and some watched squirrels eat coconuts.
            After our time in the park, we headed to the busy, eclectic region of Soho, where we ate at a Mediterranean restaurant called Bistro One, and celebrated Galen’s 16th birthday. Shabby bought him a bowtie and suspenders, which he promptly put on. We returned to our hotel for journaling, and of course, several rounds of Mafia.
            All of us are eagerly awaiting our day in Stratford-upon-Avon, which will be a fitting end to our week. We will have lunch at the house of my Bread Loaf professor, Miriam Gilbert, with whom we will discuss Merchant (a text she is an expert on), take a tour of the costume shop of the Royal Shakespeare Company, take a backstage tour of their theater, and then view the RSC performance of the play! Depending on time, we may also visit the Church of the Holy Trinity, where Shakespeare is buried, and I am sure we will also stop at a shop to purchase Bard-related souvenirs.
            We are sad that tomorrow is our last day, but glad that Shabby has decided to join us for it! 

             Until the next post (which may not be until Saturday, as we won't get back until midnight tomorrow night!)