Since the island of New Penzance–invented for Wes Anderson’s 2012 summer hipster-hit Moonrise Kingdom–doesn’t exist in real life, I’ll settle for North Berwick. During Saturday’s trip to Tantallon Castle, I experienced this East Lothian town in a completely different way: by walking through its fields and along its highway. Since this twee trek inevitably evoked Khaki Scout adventures and soft guitar music, today’s post has been irrevocably infected by Anderson’s signature style (he is, after all, my favourite filmmaker of all time).
(For maximum enjoyment, I recommend putting on some 60s French pop/classic folk-rock/Benjamin Britten/indie tunes and assuming a monotone vocal timbre and neutral facial expression. Hanging out with Bill Murray (one-time Cornell marching band conductor) is suggested, but not mandatory.)
The year is 2013. We are on the edge of the North Sea, famous for the ferocious and well-documented puffins and gannets which, sources believe, are well on their way to challenging mankind for global sovereignty.
This is the coastline pathway to Tantallon Castle.
Three miles long.
Local flora and fauna includes stoats, seabirds, tall grasses, and mobile homes.
To the left is the North Berwick Law, a conical hill whose summit boasts the unexplainable presence of a whale’s jawbone. Deterioration of the original bones, potentially by macabre souvenir-seekers, has resulted in the installation of a fibre-glass replica.
The donor of this replica, though presumably considered a local hero, has yet to reveal his identity.
It takes approximately an hour’s very leisurely walk to reach Tantallon. At this point in the journey, trailer parks are supplanted by golf courses, complete with Scottish golfers attempting to bring back the newsboy cap. The golf courses are in turn replaced by rolling fields.
Crops currently appear to include dandelions and the afore-mentioned tall grass.
Admission to the castle costs approximately as much as six six-packs of Jordan Valley pita breads, a meal and a half at the Mosque Kitchen, or one-quarter of a professional Scottish haircut.
Tickets can be purchased within a demi-sized gift shop complex located a few minutes’ walk down the road from the parking lot. Souvenir guides, plastic knights in purple armour, and a rough estimate of seven differently packaged varieties of Scottish shortbread are also available.
The castle dates from the fourteenth century, and was originally the frequently besieged home of the Douglas clan.
Most modern visitors, however, are more interested in its entanglement in a 2009 ghost story controversy, in which a professor of psychology supplied the public with a year-old image supposedly documenting a phantom figure in period dress standing behind one of Tantallon’s more disturbing grates.
My recent investigation has so far provided not even a single neck ruff’s worth of tangible evidence.
I may not like pubs, ‘football’, or the cold, but there is one UK stereotype to which I am helplessly addicted: castles. Though I’ve visited ‘Iolani Palace and have some vague memories of a castle in Connecticut (Google informs me that it’s Gillette Castle I’m remembering), my fascination with ancient fortresses remained relatively latent until I came to Scotland.
After this weekend, my palace tally has increased to (a Tolkien-apropros) nine, and I plan to nearly double that before I leave at the end of May. Who wouldn’t want to explore ~15th century ruins for about the cost of frozen yoghurt, right? Even if all the masonry and empty moats start to look vaguely similar in a few weeks, I’m pretty sure I will never pass up a chance to see a castle.
I cross paths with Edinburgh Castle on a daily basis: it’s visible from Arthur’s Seat when I take walks, Princes Street when I’m shopping, and the top floor of David Hume Tower when I’m going to class. I was putting off the visit inside the castle for as long as I could, though–I’d been told by several sources that it wasn’t worth the hefty admission price. Still, since I believe in giving all castles a chance, I coughed up sixteen pounds and strode up the Royal Mile on a bright Saturday morning to see what all the fuss was about.
Well, like I said, I was warned.
In all fairness, I’m sure Edinburgh Castle would be amazing for military history buffs. There are several museums within the castle complex that chronicle the past few centuries of military activity in Scotland. Since guns, swords, and other instruments of war are rather my least favourite material objects, though, I wasn’t particularly moved. (I did learn one very fun fact: nineteenth-century soldiers were totally into needlepoint! The men were encouraged to take up handcrafts instead of spending all their free time drinking and gambling–and, for whatever reason, some did. Maybe I should try that technique on some college students I know…)
I hoped the interior of the castle itself would save my experience, but the restoration of the royal chambers didn’t impress, and the queue for the Crown Jewels was so claustrophobic and nightmarish that it made a trip to Disneyland in the middle of July with seven kids look comparatively relaxing.
Determined to improve the day’s castle sightings, I impulsively caught a train out of town to visit the stunning Linlithgow Palace. Unlike Edinburgh Castle, Linlithgow is no longer in use and is therefore considered a “ruin”–which basically means that children (and whimsical college bloggers) are free to explore its turrets and secret passages at their leisure. No guards, no queues, and certainly no awkwardly ‘conserved’ unicorn art objects.
If you’re a traveller just starting to get the hang of solo castle pilgrimages, I highly recommend Linlithgow as a first trip. The palace is about a three-minute walk from the train station, and the town itself is adorable and perfectly safe–nothing Glaswegian here!
Reaching Craigmillar Castle, my most recent conquest, is a bit more challenging. Craigmillar, located in the outskirts of Edinburgh proper, is best accessed via a ten-minuted bus ride to the Royal Infirmary from Old Town. After disembarking, intrepid tourists must sneak behind the University of Edinburgh’s School of Medicine to take a backstreet path up to Craigmillar Park, where the castle is surrounded by rolling fields which apparently contain an intriguingly named ‘Adventure Playground.’
Craigmillar’s halls and chambers were darker, smaller, and utterly more uncanny than Linlithgow. At the latter, I only feared a surprise attack from a small child pretending to slay dragons, while the former featured wild flocks of pigeons with no notion of fear. Still, the view of Arthur’s Seat–and from the one angle from which I had yet to see my favourite volcano, at that–was phenomenal!
Weirdly, I loved Linlithgow and Craigmillar because they were so unlike museums. Each room was labelled and dated with a simple plaque, but other than that, viewers were encouraged to discover the historical past through individual visual analysis and observation. Staring up at the random nooks in the stone walls, I could draw my own conclusions about how this building looked in its prime–which engaged me in a different way than reading or viewing a reconstruction.
Or that’s my professional justification, anyway. I really think I preferred them because I could put my hair in a vaguely Renaissance braid and dash up the spiral staircase pretending to be a rebellious princess on the run. Hey, everyone needs a break from the liminal weirdness of quasi-adult college life from time to time.
‘Norse’ has never been cooler.
As Tom Hiddleston and Chris Hemsworth’s Loki and Thor smoulder on the big screen, Norse mythology is currently hotter than a Viking ship burning. I’m no stranger to this trend myself–after all, my dachshund Loki carries on the mischievous (though not the malicious) traits of his mythological counterpart, while my young nephew is named for the mighty Odin.
My love for Old Norse (specifically Old Icelandic) increased exponentially, however, when I enrolled in LING 3315: Old Norse at Cornell during my sophomore year. If you love languages and want to take the most fun elective imaginable, folks, my vote’s for Old Norse. Think of how you’ll impress the guys/ladies/Vikings once you know how to mind your Þs and ðs!
When I found out last winter that the National Museum of Scotland was hosting an exhibition from the Swedish History Museum on the Viking Age, then, there was no way I could pass it up–even with a £7.50 admission fee. Honestly, I’m actually surprised it took me four whole months in Scotland to visit.
Note: All of the Vikings! photos in this post are borrowed from the National Museum of Scotland’s online archive–hey, that’s what happens when photography is prohibited.
Ditching stereotypes of bulky men and mugs of mead, Vikings! instead explores the quotidian world of the real people that modern imagination painted into a race of barbarians who came out of the womb wearing horned helmets. In addition to traditional exhibits on weaponry and the quintessential longships, visitors can also learn about the types of plants Vikings used to dye their textiles, what sorts of animals they raised, and their attention to personal hygiene and ornamentation. (Anyone interested in perpetuating the ‘dirty Viking’ myth need only take a look at the enormous number of combs and other toiletries they’ve left behind.)
Though it focuses primarily on the daily life of its subjects, Vikings! is by no means primitive. The exhibit is more like a theme park than a static gallery–’touch technology,’ ambient sound, and fascinatingly interactive displays all serve to immerse viewers in the historic experience. I was simultaneously amused and disturbed by a computer activity in which guests are invited to guess how to dress a viking properly– this ‘viking’, for the sake of modesty and androgyny, is played by a person dressed in a full-coverage body suit. Not even with a face showing, my friends. I guess that’s what the future looks like.
Vikings! also displays the objects themselves in extremely innovative ways. Bridles are carefully placed onto wire models of horses, swords glow in glass cases while the clanking sounds of battle project from a nearby speaker, and, most memorably, an entire collection of ship bolts hang from a wall in an eerie recreation of their original form.
Since I’m always blabbing about the importance of museums as an teaching tool, let’s wrap things up with a few more fun facts I learned during my visit!
- ‘Window’ is, like many English words, Old Norse in origin. It comes from ‘vindaya,’ which literally means ‘wind eye.’ That kind of romanticism makes you want to break out the Windex for your dusty louvers, right?
- On the subject of etymology and word history, the time we now know as ‘the Viking Age’ was only recently named such by 19th-century scholars.
- Calling all hipster fashionistas! If your friends make fun of you for tying rusty old keys around your neck because it’s vintage (…not that I would ever do something like that…), tell them that you’re referencing a time much older than whenever your dad broke that padlock to the shed door. Free women in the ‘Viking Age’ used to wear (& were buried with) their keys to symbolize their power in the household.
- And, finally, here’s your random Norse trickster story of the day! One time, Loki decided it might be fun to chop of all of Sif’s hair, and though Sif was probably happy because CollegeFashion said pixie cuts are so totally in in Asgard, her husband Thor was livid, and, as usual, wanted to play a round of punch-the-Loki. Instead, Loki convinced Thor that his bros the dwarves could make her some metal hair instead. Thor, thinking about how much they’d save if Sif switched from Garnier Fructis to gold polish, agreed, and Loki went down to chill with the dwarves Svartalfheim. Because he hadn’t had enough chopping for one day, Loki wound up making a bet with them, offering up his own head as a bargaining piece. When Loki lost the bargain, he pulled a Merchant of Venice and told the dwarves that they were welcome to cut off his head–as long as they didn’t touch his neck. Bothered by the complex philosophical matter of distinguishing between head and neck, the dwarves gave up: but not before they sewed Loki’s lips together as payback. Fast times in Svartalfheim, am I right?
Tune in next time on Keely Only Has One Month Left in Scotland, where we answer this pressing question:
“How many thirteenth-century castles can a girl possibly see without getting bored of the Gothic aesthetic?”
(Spoiler alert: it’s somewhere in the triple digits.)
The Cornell Abroad pre-trip handbook advises parents that their soon-to-be-international children will undoubtedly return “changed for life.” So far, I am happy to report that “change” does not, in this context, have the same sinister meaning it does in Pixar’s Brave–Scot or not, I’ve yet to transform into a bear.
Still, I have been reflecting upon how my studies have changed me, and I’ve come to one very surprising conclusion.
Before I left America, I really liked museums.
And now I like museums even more.
A week ago, I returned from my spring holiday in France, where I visited four towns and a sovereign city-state, along with (you guessed it!) an impressive number of museums and historic houses. All of these attractions were not only enjoyable for nerds like me, but also effectively used interactive technology to ensure that every visitor learned something. Aren’t museums the greatest, guys?
My trip began with a sunny demi-week in the French Riviera. Thanks to This Side of Paradise, I expected glitz, glamour, and tourists turning red on stony beaches. What struck me most about Nice, though, was its vibrant outdoor art and architecture.
We spent our first day at the Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain. I always loftily claim that I can’t abide art objects that aren’t at least a couple hundred (or, better yet, a few thousand) years old, but I was impressed by these artists’ use of colour and mixed media. Sometimes Mesopotamian clay fragments get a little dull, you know.
Twenty-four hours and several euros later, we were on a wild bus ride through the cliffs to Monaco. While most associate the city-state with Monte Carlo, the highlight of our day-trip was the Museum of Oceanography, an aquarium and wunderkammer that’s been sharing oceanic knowledge since 1901.
None of these museums, however, can hold a candle to Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, our next historic stop. This opulent estate was the pride and joy of my new favourite eccentric heiress, Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild. (Yes, I do have a list of favourite eccentric heiresses; Beatrice just barely replaced Doris Duke.)
Because I apparently never tire of rococo interiors, we spent our last day visiting two more historic estates, Palais Lascaris and Palais Massena. The former consists of a tiny seventeenth century residence featuring an impressive collection of old instruments; the latter was unapologetically Napoleonic and smelled of fresh paint. You win some, you lose some.
Five long days after we first arrived from Britain, it was time to pack up and fly over the Alps to Paris! Returning after my visit in February was a little surreal. I worried that the magic would be gone, and, indeed, the unfortunate amount of street harassment we endured certainly made my first trip look idyllic in comparison. Yet blue skies, Nutella, and the best museum I have ever encountered (no, not the Louvre!) cancelled out the catcalls.
Our Parisian museum adventures kicked off at the Opera Garnier, the real-life setting for The Phantom of the Opera (a.k.a. thirteen-year-old Keely’s favourite book/movie/musical ever). I didn’t find the Opera’s self-guided tour particularly well-planned–as there was little information available, guests mainly explored the grounds without context–but that didn’t quell my desire to start singing “Think of Me” from the top of that grand staircase.
Next up was the Cinematography Museum, which included a wealth of old clips, costumes, props like Norman Bates’ mother’s head from Psycho (who would want that?), and, most significantly for me, an exhibit on the life and works of Georges Méliès, a filmmaker recently reinterpreted in the stunning film Hugo.
If I could choose only one museum in which to spend the rest of my life, though, I would pick the Musee de la Musique. Hands down. With five levels of displays spanning centuries and cultures of music history, an audio guide to provide a literal soundtrack to the museum experience, and a good number of citterns, my absolute favourite instrument ever, what else could I need?
Sadly, the French immigration officers didn’t approve of my plan to become the live-in Opera Ghost of the Musee de la Musique, so I’m back in Scotland without a cittern in sight. My museum addiction, however, is in no danger. Since I’m now down to one month left in the U.K., I’m going to try to visit at least one museum/historical monument/natural landmark/tea shop each day.
Can I do it? Well, with classes done and only two exams and a paper–and four weeks to complete them-why shouldn’t I?
Ever since I left on holiday two weeks ago, I’ve been saving up pictures, anecdotes, and dorky Nice-related puns for my inevitable spring break recap update. When I turned on my computer two hours after arriving back in Edinburgh last Monday, however, I found my Facebook newsfeed flooded not with jubilant post-travel memories but with harried posts about the Boston Marathon bombing.
As it turned out, the incident took place while my friend Natalie and I were obliviously hanging out at the Charles-de-Gaulle airport, writing and napping (her) and reading F. Scott Fitzgerald and eating chocolate-covered popcorn (me). Since then, I’ve been trying my hardest to make my recap happen–but I don’t think I can, in all sincerity, write a comparatively silly post about my little trip without addressing the events in Boston first. I won’t pretend eloquence, originality, or profundity; I just need to throw my thoughts into the vacuum of the internet.
I don’t have any relatives in Boston, and didn’t know anyone attending the marathon, so I can’t even begin to imagine how people directly affected by the bombing must feel. Still, the tragedy obviously had a very emotional effect on me–one further exacerbated by the fact that I’m studying abroad.
While the Internet servicemen drilled a hole in my wall on Tuesday (perfect timing, right?), I waited in the living room, where my fellow American flatmate was watching the news. Hearing the BBC reporters describe the Boston events as though they were taking place in a foreign country–which was, in fact, true!–made me feel all the more homesick, alone, and estranged from my nation in its time of need.
There are other reasons why this attack is particularly disturbing, I think, for my generation. The now-captured suspect and I are both nineteen years old. We (along with most of the sophomore class at Cornell) probably attended elementary school at the same time. It petrifies me primarily because I literally cannot imagine anyone from my age group–someone who lost their teeth and hit their teens roundabout when I did–doing something so heinous. If he is truly is responsible for these atrocities, then this teenager kept Boston in a horrified standstill during the recent manhunt and, with his brother (who’s not that much older himself), orchestrated the murder of three innocents and the wounding of countless others.
And he was born in 1993 like me. Year of the Rooster.
Younger kids have racked up higher death tolls, it’s true, but I was six years old when Columbine happened, and didn’t really know it happened until six years later. This time, I’m old enough to understand and be scared, and, thanks to social media, have an entire world of terrifying knowledge–and even less desirable lies and misinformation–at my fingertips. Though I’ve spent most of my teen years bragging about my incredible desire to move to England and become a reclusive countryside writer, every single post, tweet, and news update only increases my need to be in America: if only for the sake of solidarity.
I think it’s time to pull the emergency break on this train of cliches and emotion, so I’ll stop with a little bathetic conclusion instead. Even in trying times, Scotland still offers simple comforts: a sunny hike at Arthur’s Seat, a phenomenal street guitarist in the Meadows, a recent restock on Kelkin brand chocolate-covered rice cakes at Tesco (before you think I’m really throwing on the bathos here, let me explain–those things are ambrosial), or an undiscovered health food store (run by a shy fellow who was just as happy as I was to carry out the transaction using only smiles and nods). Here’s hoping today’s London Marathon (which touchingly held a brief memorial to Boston victims) was a safe, enjoyable celebration of sport and fitness, and that all of the clearly many people who read my blog and their families are safe and accounted for.
Puns and pictures will resume next time.
This is not a blog post.
It is, however, the promise of many such posts in a little less than a week.
Impossibly, I have finished all my classes and am currently on holiday in the French Riviera. To optimize my experience in the sunny south of France, I’ve left my computer in the UK, and therefore cannot blog until my return. (It’s taking me forever to type even this brief note on my vaguely intelligent… I mean, smartphone.)
In short: when I return, expect ten million more pictures (naturally) as well as an argument for why Cornell’s foreign language requirements are actually really necessary (ha, you didn’t expect that, did you?).
Let me begin this post by saving you the trouble of reacting to it.
“Another post about your travels, Keely? Don’t you ever do any, you know, schoolwork?”
Oh, reader, I wish.
Anyway, to respond to your theoretical response: traveling, in fact, teaches me just as much–if not more–about art, history, and culture than any formal class I’ve taken (at Edinburgh, at least). Because my UK classes are somewhat less work-intensive than I’m used to, I have the freedom to fill my time with things like such educational journeys…and thesis research.
As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve officially on track for the History of Art honours programme, and I couldn’t be happier to continue my study of the portrayal of Pre-Columbian Latin American art in contemporary Western film. Although I jokingly brag that I’m writing my Serious College Thesis on Dreamworks’ animated masterpiece The Road to El Dorado, there’s really more to my work than close analysis of a dorky buddy flick featuring songs by Elton John and Tim Rice. I watched El Dorado roughly fifteen billion times as a child, and its representations of what I perceived as genuine ‘Pre-Columbian’ art stuck with me. All films both reflect and influence life (this generalization doesn’t even exclude Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, which I consider the most offensive and pathetic movie of all time), and therefore the stereotypes they express are fundamental to the understanding of ‘othering’ in our current culture.
Though touristic notions are by no means comparable to appropriation and misrepresentation of indigenous art objects, there’s still something to be said for all the stereotypes surrounding Scotland. I took my second Scottish bus tour last weekend (told you this was a travel post!), and this expedition through the West Highlands also featured destinations frequently exoticised by visitors.
But let’s step away for Scotland for a second and talk about England. If I say ‘England,’ what’s the first thing that pops into your head? Well, hold on, I don’t want anybody to say Dr. Who, so how about ‘British comedy’?
Let’s make it even easier. ‘Classic British comedy’?
Er…’pining for the fjords‘?
If you’ve never heard of Monty Python, I guarantee that you know at least five people who have, two people who’ve seen their sketches, and at least one proud soul who will simply stare blankly at you before screaming ‘NI!’ (That last person probably also tends to under-exaggerate any ‘flesh wounds,’ and therefore has a great potential career at a college health centre.)
Fans of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, however, might not be aware that the film was shot in Scotland, and the famous castle where French knights have charming, polite conversation with their British buddies is Scotland’s Doune Castle: our tour’s first stop.
The next ‘iconic image of Scotland’, the Highland cow (or ‘hairy coo’) is near and dear to my heart, and a little more obscure: although you can find hats, plushies, and calendars inspired by these bovines in every tourist shop on the Royal Mile, I think fewer Americans are aware of the glory of this ginger beastie.
Our ‘coo’ was Hamish, the ‘most famous cow in Scotland,’ who has spent his luxuriously long twenty-year lifespan being fed carrots and apple pieces by tourists visiting a rest stop at the so-called gateway to the Highlands. Sure, it was a little gimmicky, but I was cooing over the coo like everybody else.
Finally, we approach my very favourite stereotypical Scottish association of all–fancy castles! And by ‘fancy,’ I mean either super-elegant and rococo or totally ruined and falling apart on a hillside. My life is full of extremes.
Kilchurn Castle (apparently ‘the most photographed castle in Scotland,’ but the tour guides seem to say that about every castle) fits quite neatly into the latter category, although it’s in more of a swampland than on a hill.
Fulfilling the other side of this extreme, then, is Inverary Castle, the seat of the Campbell clan in Scotland and home to the Duke and Duchess of Argyll. Inveraray was also used as the setting for the Downton Abbey Christmas special, if you’re into that sort of thing. I was more fascinated by how insanely rococo everything was–and simultaneously embarrassed by how much I loved it.
When we disembarked the bus, the driver returned us to the Royal Mile, smackdab in the middle of ten thousand chintzy ‘tartan’ shops blasting bagpipe music 24/7: trading mostly accurate associations for commercialized nonsense. And that’s why I encourage thoughtful travel in addition to academia, friends. Travel not only interrogates internalized stereotypes, but also catalyzes future skepticism of sociological perceptions of other cultures.
In other words, if society asks you for the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow, don’t take their question as it is–challenge stereotypes and ask our gosh-darn world if they meant African or European.
When I visited the Highlands in late January, I was astounded by how much the rolling hills reminded me of the Big Island. While land-locked Ithaca couldn’t be more different from Hawai’i, Scotland has just enough natural, coastal beauty–and even a(n extinct) volcano!–to keep me from missing my birthplace too much.
I only have one more week of classes left, so I’m particularly keen to discover some inexpensive, nearby travel destinations with which to occupy myself during the next month before exams begin. A visit to North Berwick (a charming seaside village that has more in common with Waikiki than Western Europe) is my new idea of a perfect day out!
North Berwick is home to the Scottish Seabird Centre, a thirteen-year-old conservation institution dedicated to sharing the lives of Scotland’s many puffins, gannets, and kittiwakes with birdwatchers of all ages. The Centre is a bit small for its admission price (especially for skint students–I think it would be a brilliant time for children!), but at least the money funds an excellent cause, right?
The town is also the birthplace of conservationist John Muir, and is conveniently located near Tantallon Castle: needless to say, I will undoubtedly be back! To any prospective Edinburgh study abroad student reading this blog post in the near or distant future, here’s a travel tip–you can catch the hourly train that runs from Edinburgh Waverley to North Berwick if you fancy a little adventure for little more than a tenner.
If you’d prefer to stick closer to home, the Royal Botanical Garden offers a voyage through almost every ecosystem imaginable: all accessible via a quick bus ride from the City Centre. Since I didn’t grow up in a world with snow, I’ve been noticing over the past few years that winter weather and the lack of green leaves really does make me feel incredibly depressed at times, and I think the RBG’s massive maze of interconnected, heated greenhouses is a good cure for anyone with the seasonal blues.
Although those greenhouses would be a treat even in the coldest of weather, springtime makes the exterior gardens particularly wonderful.
Since I’m the daughter of a botanist, I’m expected to have at least a working knowledge of native Hawaiian plants, and seeing some familiar hapu’u (tree ferns) and pukiawe (a…plant with berries? I don’t know the Mainland equivalent!) made me feel much more at home. Any fantastic plant collection would not be complete without a titan arum–but unlike Cornell’s corpse plant, which bloomed last spring, the RBG’s specimen remained flowerless. Honestly, I think seeing one blooming corpse plant during my lifetime is more than enough anyway.
Somehow in the midst of all these getaways, I’ve managed to officially register to write an honors thesis for my art history major next year! Time to start reading up on film theory and Latin American art…if I can manage to stay inside long enough to do research…
Frantic travel plans may, on occasion, transform the learned voyager into a simple mass of likes and dislikes. After a whirlwind weekend in London, I can confidently assert two such preferences:
I like tea and museums. I dislike the cold.
The train ride from Edinburgh to London passed thrillingly close to the coast, and as I watched the waves, I hoped the wind wouldn’t follow me across the border. Unfortunately, all of Britain is currently dominated by a little March cold snap–conveniently occurring during the one week this Hawai’i girl was most likely to be out and about.
Still, that’s what museums are for! Once I triumphed over the Tube system, it was fairly easy to ride from place to place with minimal exposure to the elements. (And what better remedy for those frigid dashes from underground station to attraction than a cuppa?)
Our London museum tour began with the Victoria & Albert Museum in South Kensington–a visit we only made, I should say, due to a fortunate sighting of a subway advertisement!
The V&A focuses primarily on art and design, which, for my purposes, means lots of colour. Visitors are first greeted by a massive Dale Chihuly glasswork that dangles over the reception desk like some neon version of the chandelier from Phantom of the Opera. A blacklit discoteque-like gallery, on the other hand, houses elegant jewelry from the past few hundred years. My favourite display, however, had to be the towering rooms holding plaster reproductions of famous monuments and sculptural works–the institution was originally designed as a teaching museum, a fact which warmed my museum educator’s heart.
Our afternoon was supposed to include a visit to Baker Street and the Sherlock Holmes Museum, but the massive queue outside the attraction, combined with the miserable weather, drove us away faster than a sighting of a speckled band. I’m sure Sherlock will forgive me.
We decided to face the London fog the next day, and began our first more traditional (read: touristy) exploration of the city with a go ’round the London Eye. Although I dislike the crowds of the Westminister area, I am addicted to seeing cities from above, and the early hour ensured we bypassed most of the line.
Can you believe that the Eye is more than a decade old? I was shocked myself until I realized that I last visited London when I was thirteen: six long years ago. And this London Eye trip was probably my final one as a teenager…and as a college student…and…uh, let’s move on, shall we?
My advancing years are nothing compared to the ages of most objects at the British Museum. Like the Louvre, the British Museum was almost dangerously overwhelming in its scope, but we did manage to visit some of its greatest hits during an unfortunately short single afternoon. Although I pushed and shoved to see the Rosetta Stone with every other tourist, I found the collection of lintels featuring Lady Xok–pieces I cited in the paper that will form the basis for my honors thesis–most enthralling. Honorable mention goes to the library-like gallery devoted to the history of the museum, complete with a fake Rosetta Stone perfect for hands-on language learning!
If you thought I couldn’t possibly bear to spend three whole days looking at museums, please reconsider. Today was devoted to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, an architecturally gorgeous museum that somehow manages to hold even more gorgeous masterpieces within it.
Some fans come to London hoping to catch a glimpse of big BBC stars and return home without even a little Benedict Cumberbatch to show for their efforts. Since my celebrity crush is Jan van Eyck, I had slightly more luck–although the Gallery’s rules ensured that I couldn’t take any paparazzi pictures of the Arnolfini Portrait. I don’t know how I avoided bursting into tears when I saw Jan’s little potential self-portrait reflected in the Arnolfini mirror for the first time in person: I certainly won’t show such restraint if I ever see the Ghent altarpiece!
My brush with van Eyck makes me vaguely excited to return to Edinburgh & my Netherlandish art class tomorrow: but only vaguely. Once again, although I love Scotland, I’ve found myself wishing I were studying abroad in England instead. Is it simply a greener-grass situation? Perhaps I need to spend a comparable amount of time in England. For experimental purposes only. Obviously.
Dear [anyone who passed by 202 Appleton Tower last night],
Sorry for scaring you.
I can certainly see why you were alarmed. After all, it’s not particularly commonplace to hear five bold, very Scottish voices (along with one squeaky Yankee) shouting about glass eyes, raspberries, windows, bombs, and popes.
Not in a computer science building, at least.
When I came to Edinburgh, my one desperate dream was to get involved with the theatre scene. Sadly for second-term foreigners like me, most plays (specifically the musicals, my favourite) tend to cast their spring shows around September, and the few remaining productions with auditions this semester had performance dates that conflicted with my travel schedule. You can’t win ‘em all.
Yet ever since my fourteen-year-old self randomly received a starring role in a high school production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) after spending weeks moping about not making the final cut for West Side Story (such was my fate back when I couldn’t dance), I have unshakeable faith in the universe’s ability to give me a play when I need one.
This time, the universe’s response took the form of an email seeking volunteers for this semester’s performance by the English Literature Play-Reading Group. I eagerly signed up–even though I wasn’t particularly familiar with the play or this very elegantly titled Group.
Unsurprisingly, I misjudged them both. The play, Dario Fo’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist, sounded like a drama–or at least a dramedy–when I first heard its name. I also assumed that this mysterious band of performers would consist of other undergraduate English majors. Instead, I found myself starring as the sole ‘straight man’ in a dark, erudite comedy brought excellently to life by the talents of my fellow actors (who, as it turned out, were mainly faculty members).
In our unrehearsed performance, I played Maria Feletti, an incorrigible journalist who gets caught up in a manipulative farce the ‘Maniac’ has constructed for some bumbling police officers by disguising himself as a judge. Although she speaks constantly in tirades of media-babble, I empathized a great deal with Feletti. She has the burden of being the only woman, the only outsider, and the only vaguely competent human in the cast, and these first two attributes (but decidedly not the latter) could also fittingly describe my role at this reading. Still, I gained an even better linguistic understanding of the local dialects and finally found my first play for the semester–what more could I ask for?
Well, uh, some lovely weather would be nice. With the exception of Monday’s sunny afternoon (during which I took a jog/photographing expedition around Holyrood park to celebrate), Edinburgh’s seen some Ithacation that might be able to hold its own in a weather-duel against Cornell’s.
In cheerier news, new clues to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum robbery (a pet obsession of mine) may be surfacing, sunshine is predicted from Sunday onwards, and…I’m off to London on Friday! Don’t be fooled by this short(er) post: pictures galore will return this weekend whenever I get a break from museums, the Tube, and one inescapable giant clock.
(Hopefully pickpockets, my fear of crowds, and unfortunate Dr. Who references will be slightly less inescapable.)