Monday, May 28, 2012

Hath Not A Palestinian Eyes?

Shylock reaches down to grab his knife to take his pound of flesh from Antonio, and from the yard someone yells "Do Palestinians not have eyes? Do they not bleed?" The actor, bent over clutching the knife, emotionally stares into the audience. The actor could take that knife and cut the tension with it. We hear rustling and yelling as the Globe security guards drag the man away. "Piss off!" someone quips at the protester. We all laugh. The actors don't move--stunned. "Keep going! We're with you!" encourages someone from the right of me. The actors take a deep breath, and the show withe the show.

This sums up my experience at the Globe Theatre tonight. What play could cause such a raucous? The Merchant of Venice performed in Hebrew by an Israeli company. When they announced this play, I knew I had to go. When I arrived at the play tonight, there were police men around the Globe and Palestinian and Israeli flags waving at opposite ends of the street. Before I could enter the building, a newspaper reporter asked me a few questions.

Reporter: Why did you come to this play?
Me: I studied for four months in Jerusalem. I also bought a ticket to see the Palestinian production. Reporter: Oh wow.
yada, yada, yada...
Reporter: Can I get your name and a picture.
Me: No....

Yeah, I don't know if they will use me or not for their article. Oh well, I felt important answering her questions. I like feeling important. Once inside the Globe, usually a free and easy place to get into, you went through metal detectors and had people rummage through your purse. Before the play began, the  current director of the Globe Theatre appeared on stage to address the audience about respect for artists and to not shush or attempt to capture any protesters during the performance. And there were protesters throughout the production. People began chanting thing, some held signs, etc. At one point, one of the noisy groups were taken out by the security guards so they put tape over their mouths and stood up for the first part of the performance making peace signs. Like I said, it was one of the most tense performances I have been to. Want to know the interesting thing? None of the protesters were Palestinians. I saw the audience file in for Richard II--the Palestinian production for the Globe--and there is a Palestinian community in London.

The company performed a solid play with interesting steam punk/Elizabethan/white costumes and a few excellent performances by individual actors. As expected, the production portrayed Shylock as sympathetic as possible. I don't begrudge them this decision, but I hoped for a less expected interpretation of the Venice Jew. Everyone gave them a standing ovation for just getting through the play with protestors yelling at them throughout the play.

So I would call tonight an interesting evening. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Midget Fighting a One Legged Man

I made a last minute decision to spend travel week in Rome, and because of the last minute nature of my choice, I could not get a seat on the same flight or a room in the same hostel as my friends. It was my first international flight by myself, and I had to get to Victoria Coach Station at 2 AM to take a coach to  airport. I did not have access to a printer, so my coach and plane ticket were not printed. I tried calling a cab but they refused to pick me up because I did not have a UK phone number. I could not find the coach and there were people sleeping around the deserted, locked coach station. I consider myself a well traveled, level headed person, but I was terrified. Then this hysterical Russian lady came up to me telling me how she missed her bus and she is stranded in London without any money. Not completely sane at this point, I thought to myself "what if I miss my bus too! I will be like this hysterical Russian: penniless, helpless, and stranded in London. I will have to sleep on benches and wash dishes at a chinese restaurant that deals drugs in the back alleyway." I forgot for a moment that I could have stayed in my London flat, and that I had access to money. No sleep, freezing weather, stress, and hysterical Russians is a recipe for an international travel disaster. I am glad to say that I made it to Rome safely.

I had been to Rome before, but if there is anything that I have learned on this trip is that you can never "check off" a place; there is always new things to learn and explore. (Yes I know that last statement sounds like a fortune cookie.) I visited the Colosseum again on the first day in Rome. What did I learn on this second rendezvous?

  • Rome exceles in recycling building materials. For example, the Colosseum's stones--that housed the slaughtering of thousands of christians--were used to build St. Peter's Basilica. 

  • Warm up acts during gladiatorial games included women gladiators and a one legged man battling a midget. I'm curious to know the statistical outcomes on the latter match-up. I should give SNL this tidbit so Stefon can incorporate it into his upcoming visit on Weekend Update. Honestly, the Colosseum sounds like one of Stefon's wild parties: New York's hottest new club is Vini. It has everything: tigers in diapers, armor filled with jello, christian martyers break dance fighting, vestal virgins, vomitoriums, Bill Murry impersonating Socrates, and a midget fighting a one legged man.

  •  Speaking of vomitorium, that is the Latin word used to describe the hallways in the Colosseum. 50,000 people exited the building with in 15 minutes. Impressive. Too bad Italians no longer have that same efficiency in public transportation--don't get me started on escalator use in the metro. 

  • Gladiator's acknowledged the vestal virgins on their way in. Actually, I just wanted to say vestal virgins so I had an excuse to post this picture. Confession: I thought it was "vessel" virgins, and after writing a description of this picture on facebook, Abby corrected me. "They are not the Virgin Mary!" They are both revered religious figures that are virgins: same difference.

  • I recalled a line from the "historically" accurate Gladiator when imagining 50,000 people in that mammoth structure: "Rome is the mob. Conjure magic for them and they'll be distracted."  (Much love, Derek Jacobi.) We were reading Julius Caesar while in Rome, and while reading the play those words and the Colosseum continually came to my mind. We are seeing an RSC production of Julius Caesar set in Africa. I watched a short video where they discussed how contemporary western society does not have an equivalent where the people, the mob, changes the course of politics, but Africa governments are overthrown quickly by the people. Needless to say I'm extremely excited. But I digress...  

After a day of hysterical Russians, midgets, the Colosseum, veal with peas in a white wine sauce, and a shower, I still glad to be back in Rome.

"The Cliffs of England Stand; Glimmering and Vast"

When the bus pulled up to Dover, I was underwhelmed. The cliffs were not as grand as I expected, and the town of Dover was not your coastal seaside destination--it's an industrialized, gritty coastal city. But a few hours later, I decided the white cliffs are one the most magnificent natural spectacle I have ever seen. It just took a few miles of walking to get there.
Dover Castle & Operation Dynamo

The structure of Dover Castle is not too impressive, but it's military history makes for an incredible experience. Dover Castle has protected the shore for over 20 centuries, and more recently it served as a defense against Napoleon and Axis Power in WWII. Apparently I have a very American perception of WWII, because I know little about WWII pre-American declaration of war. Dover is famous among Brits because it is the site of Operation Dynamo: Rescue from Dunkrik. If you know the story, collect a pat on the back and move on to the next paragraph. For those of you who are not familiar with it, it is a moving story. Soon after Britain declared war, they went over to France to help keep the Nazis out of France but all of the allied troops were out maneuvered and pushed back further and further until they were surrounded and stranded on an French beach. They destroyed all their ammunition and weapons--so the Nazi's could not take it--and they sat defenseless on an open beach. Operation Dynamo evacuated over 300,000 of these men over ten days. When the British Navy could not afford to lose any more ships to Nazi bombers, a flotilla of local Dover boats went over to bring their men home. If you ever get the chance, I would take a look at this new exhibit; it utilizes technology in some pretty fantastic ways.

The Cliffs of Dover

We originally wanted to take a boat tour to see the cliffs, but the boat tours were canceled. It was the best thing that could happen to us because instead of the boat tour, we climbed along the Cliffs of Dover. You could say that we had a more intimate experience with the cliffs you climb. As you rounded the corner or hill, a new view of the cliffs would appear. It was gorgeous.  The sun shone and you could spy the outline of the French coast. Yada, yada, yada...I don't want to reveal how inarticulate I am or be accused of pretty I will skip the "beauty gushing."  

I think that climbing along the Cliffs of Dover is one of the highlights of my trip. There were even wild horses wandering around. Yes, real wild horses. And as the title of my post suggest, we read Matthew Arnold's poem "Dover Beach"; we experienced it like all English majors should experience it.  It is an interesting poem to read in light of Operation Dynamo. Here a few experts for those readers feeling enthusiastic (cough, cough...which is none of you, I am sure). 

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night

Oh, by the way. Be careful walking along the cliffs. There are some sneaky little holes along the path; I about broke my ankle stepping in a hole up to my knee. Luckily my ballet training made for a graceful landing

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Terrorized by Jack the Ripper Walking Tour

I didn't know much about Jack the Ripper; now I know too much. A few nights ago, Abby and I took the London Walks' for the most interesting cold case in English history. While it sounds like a pop culture/brainless tour, it was one of the better guided tours I have taken. The interesting bits were not the gruesome details of the murder, but the insight into 1880s East London slums and police procedure.

The Jack the Ripper tour provided more insight into that seedy world that we often overlook during the Victorian era. In fact, the Victorian Era is the perfect time to have a gruesome unsolved murder. Four years ago in London, I attended a Q&A with contemporary British mystery authors, and one of the writers worked in the Victorian era. She explained that she strategically choose the time period because of paradoxes of identity during this time period: It was the best of times (e.g. hiding furniture limbs because they were too provocative), and it was the worst of times (e.g. the highest number of prostitutes soliciting in London's history). This paradox often led to the theme of concealed identity; no one is who they appear to be. Similar, we cannot pin down Jack the Ripper's identity.

He was a tricky one, that Jack. During the murders, Jack the Ripper played off rival police boundaries in London. At this time, you could not differentiate the difference between human or animal blood, and fingerprint technology did not exist. Basically, to be convicted someone had to witness him in the act. In other words, we will never really know who he is. (Side Note: This "never will be solved" reality eluded one of the older men in my tour group. He continually asked our tour guide questions as if he were cracking the case right open. "Did they consider this?" etc. He seemed assured that he could turn up new insight with his tour knowledge in two hours time.

Beyond being educational, it was down right creepy. I must admit, the tour scared me more than a goosebumps book/TV episode. Let's just say that the Ripper puts the sociopaths on Criminal Minds to shame. As the nigh progressively got darker, the crimes became more twisted/sinister, and I became more unnerved. The description of the last murder made me shiver and gag all at the same time--great party trick. Suffice to say that my roommate locked our bedroom door, closed our curtains, and slept with her bedside lamp on.

Gore seems to have stalked me this week in London: after visiting the Bloody Tower, Abby and I attended a explicit Polish produciton of Macbeth, and then we did this walking tour. Violence as entertainment. Ironically enough, Brits seem less okay with violence portrayed in movies and theatre than Americans. I must dash. It is getting dark, and we need to lock our door, close our curtains, and sleep with the lights on. 

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Windsor Castle

The Castle
I thought visiting Windsor Castle would just be a tour of massive rooms furnished with expensive things. For this reason, I went to Windsor with moderate expectations. To a certain extent, a good deal of Windsor is rooms with nice furniture, but it is also one of the more brilliant things I have done in London. To begin with, it is a castle--I never really processed the "castle" bit of Windsor Castle. I expected a building like Buckingham Palace. No, it is a legit castle. It has a moat, arrow loops, 30 meter thick walls, murder holes, etc. While the moat never held any water, they put it to better use as a gorgeous garden. A castle with a garden-moat? I understand why the Queen prefers to spend her time here.   

Fancy Interior
I could care less about the lavish furnishing, but the history of the rooms and the paintings were fantastic. Okay, there was one room that I did not enjoy. The Queen has a "doll" room that is filled with dolls and their elaborate palace. On the audio guide it said that the Queen likes collecting miniature things. 1. The collection of small things is a slightly disturbing hobby. 2. Who knows they like small things enough to consciously collect them? Most girls will "ahhh" at a small coke bottle, but no one ever makes a shrine of small things because of it. I think I can safely assume the Queen of England will not read my blog, so I do not feel remorse labeling her hobby as disturbing. 

One of my favorite rooms, conceptually, was the "Napoleon Haters Room." They built the room after they defeated Napoleon and memorialized all the people that helped defeat him (non-English included). I also enjoyed the china room that displayed all of the Queen's china. During my entire visit to the china room, I wondered how they can replace the china from the 1700s because I'm sure some servant or young prince--my money is on Prince Harry--has dropped a plate or two. The best part was the art. You would walk into a room and see a Rembrandt, Van Dyke, etc. At one point I turned the corner and I was standing a foot away from the famous Henry VIII portrait.  

St. George's Chapel
But this--the fine building bellow--made this excursion incredible. We almost skipped it because we didn't realize what it housed. As far as aesthetics, it is one of my favorite cathedrals because it has the most gorgeous fan-vaulting I have ever seen and original stained glass windows.

Then we walked into the Chapel of the Most Noble Order of the Garter. 

These seats are for those who receive the Order of the Garter; they have their family flag flying above and a sword half drawn--ready to defend their country. As we began to walk out of the room, I abruptly stopped everyone--I made quite a scene--and  loudly asked "do you know who you just walked on?" Abbey replied, Jane Seymour. Hang Jane Seymour! You are walking on Henry! Yes. It was Henry VIII. Why hello Henry. Fancy meeting you here. What is guy like you doing in a chapel like this? Well he actually was buried there as a temporary place of burial. He had elaborate plans for his shrine, but he has yet to make the move. Not knowing what was inside this chapel, and discovering the Garter room and Henry VIII's grave created one of my most unique experiences in London. 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

London Tower Raven Attacks Tourists

Preventing Disaster from Befalling London, or Causing it?

Mayhem struck London's most famous tourist attraction today as a raven attacked two American tourists. One of the traumatized victims, Abbey Pace, relates how the event began, "I was sitting there eating dried mangoes, and I felt someone stroking my hair. What I thought was an affection caress turned out to be an aggressive raven." Pace barely escaped loosing a full head of hair to the black talons.  Now this was not just any bird--it was one of the prized Tower ravens. Many English are familiar with the Tower of London raven superstition: Charles II prophesied that if the ravens left the Tower of London the White Tower will crumble and a great disaster will befall England. To save England from a nasty disaster, six ravens live a sumptuous life at the Tower of London.While Pace only lost a few strands of hair, events escalated to a massacre as the raven plundered a neighboring tourist's lunch. When the tourist attempted to retrieve it, the bird attacked the tourist--Alfred Hitchcock style. But what caused the raven to behave violently?  Pace blames it on the over-indulged life style: "It has been fed its whole life by old men in funny looking costumes, so it felt entitled to try to eat my hair." Whether it is over-indulgence or simply a psychopath raven, this problem must be addressed immediately. With the summer around the corner, the Queen Jubilee, and the Olympics, the most visited site in London cannot afford to have Tower ravens attacking visitors. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Tea and Cake

Kensington Palace Orangery
After class today, we stopped to have tea and cake.

Not to brag, but we seemlesly blended into our posh surroundings. My friends' accessories--BYU study abroad backpacks--announced our membership into the royal club. Little known fact: BYU study abroad backpacks are like a ID scan card for all royal institutions, dinners, and ceremonies. We are too intelligent to make the silly mistake most American do. For example, we did not ask for afternoon tea three hours before the traditional hours of afternoon tea. Because we all know that calories only appear next to food items on a fast food menu, no one asked which cakes had the least amount of calories. When our steaming tea arrived, we knew exactly what to do with the tea instruments. No one needed to sneek glances at what our neighbors did with their strainer-thingy. Who needs a strainer anyway? Everyone knows that tea is best consumed without teabags or strainers. Twigs and leaves are a delicacy. Only ignorant and rude American would slyly spit out the twigs and leaves, or even attempt to unsuccessfully remove the debris with their spoons. Once we finished our tea and cake, we did not make a fuss by taking photos. Taking photos would surely lead to ridicule. Could you imagine taking photos outside and seeing the waiters pointing and laughing at you through the window? All I can say is that I'm glad I can drink a cup of tea without bringing shame on myself or my country.

Mad for Ludwig and Bavaria

When someone mentions Bavaria you think of green rolling hills, the Alp, and Neuschwanstein Castle. Bavaria did not disappoint. All the natural beauties were there, but there was one beauty I did not expect: Mad King Ludwig. I never expected to find a person with the epithet of "mad" to be...well...kind of hot. It just sort of happened. I was taking the tour of Hohenshwangau, when a portrait in the corner caught my idea. Hey that man in the corner is quite fit. Who is it? Mad King Ludwig? With the nickname "mad," you would expect an unkempt person with crazy eyes--perhaps I am thinking a little too much of Mad Eyed Moody here. I am not going to be prejudiced and deny his attractiveness because of a creepy obsession with Wagner and poor ruling skills. If the man is attractive, the man is attractive. Wagner creeper, or no Wagner creeper. 

Oh yeah, here are those natural beauties I mentioned above. 

You got to admit, Ludwig has a knack for building castles. Even Walt Disney acknowledged that. 

Ludwig's more tasteful version of Versailles. 

Water coming out of flared horse nostrils? Best fountain ever. 

The alps are different from any mountain I have ever seen. They are angular, jagged, and jut straight up from the ground. They are quite fantastic. Almost as fantastic as our Wagner loving king.