The Blue Cockerell

Today’s Pictures

Our march through Trafalgar square this morning toward the University of Notre Dame’s luxurious London campus (and previous gentleman’s club I might add) was tied in extremely well to the topics of our discussion.  John, our tutor, began not by talking about Shaw this morning, or about Major Barbara, but about the Blue Cockerell on Trafalgar square’s fourth plinth.  To those who are not aware, as I was not before today, Trafalgar square is a grandiose place with an extremely tall tower, and four statue plinths surrounding it.  Atop the tower and the plinths alike stand British war heroes, that is, of course, except for the fourth plinth, which for a long time, stood empty because there were no funds to finish the project.

We discussed the national-narcissistic nature of Trafalgar square and its monuments to these men who are seen by some as leaders of genocide turned heroics.  This discussion was of course not the first, as any British citizen will know about the infamous four plinth, for today there stands a giant blue cockerell.  It is not the first of its kind either, this statue was preceded by a statue of a pregnant disabled woman, a young man on a toy horse, Jesus Christ as an ordinary man, and a version of the plinth itself, but upside down.  The fourth plinth has been stage to many pieces of art in the past years, all of which have sparked either controversy, debate, or interest.

Trafalgar Square also was the setting of one of the teacher’s union strikes today.  I got a few pictures of this rally from the window of the building and in the square itself as we came back from class.  This was of course why our normal location from the Strand Campus moved for the day because the protests there were larger and to be avoided.  The protests at Trafalgar square seemed relatively docile, but well pointed and organized.  Emily, Margaret and I then headed to a Garfunkel’s for lunch and then decided to spend a good portion of our afternoon at the National Portrait Gallery.  I don’t have many words to describe how lively the portraits were.  I was taken aback at their tendency to leap from their frame.  Some of the most ancient portraits were the most alive.  I of course was obligated to take a picture with the portraits of King William and Queen Mary in tribute to my true Alma Mater, William and Mary.

We ended our day spectacularly with a cruise along the Thames river. The cruse lasted several hours, and we all got to see so much of London from what I argue is the best perspective I’ve had yet.  The bulk of my pictures for today are from that trip in particular.  It is impossible to look at Big Ben in the evening and not reminisce on Peter Pan and Wendy. The night was cool, the sights clear and beautiful, the people conversational, the music pleasant, and so we danced.

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The Invention of Heterosexuality

Today’s Pictures

This post, unlike the last, comes after my work for the evening.  Yesterday’s late night toils to finish Wilde’s ‘An Ideal Husband’ took a few hours of my precious sleep, but tonight, I planned and succeeded at reading the entirety of the Shaw’s ‘Major Barbara’ before tomorrow’s discussion. Our tutor was forgiving this morning however, knowing that many of us are still jet lagged and he queried knowingly if all of us were able to squeeze in the all the reading of Wilde’s work in the few hours since we’ve been here, to which many of us replied a truthful no. It will be my intention to do a full analysis of every work we have from this point on, and tonight I have set a good standard.

Today’s discussion, similar to the lasts, began with Wilde’s life and works.  Some may know of the tragedy and ‘scandal’ that Wilde lived and eventually died through as a result of his homosexuality. In class, our tutor argued that Wilde’s criticism for his queer behavior began not only the demonization of the homosexual, but gave the very populace the idea of a ‘homosexual’, separate, lower, sinful class of people that was simply not observed until this time period.  This of course, lead to the invention of the Heterosexual, and along with it the virtues it necessitated – marriage, faithfulness, and sexual scarcity.

Class was followed by a brief period of time where I was free to wander the city by myself.  I walked down a random road for probably 7-8 blocks and simply took in the sights.  I found myself at the school cafeteria and bookstore, and I bought myself a few King’s knick-knacks. I then made my way back to Strand campus to begin our tour of King’s official Library – a cathedral in its own right.  Between the round reading room adapted from the round reading room in the British museum and the Clock Tower, my lust to never leave the building grew. The pictures of that giant library, the 4-story, circular, glass-ceilinged, rowling-esque reading room, and the clocktower with study rooms atop it are all included in today’s post.  I can’t imagine I will find the time to utilize that space as it is so far away, but I would make sure that I would if I where here longer.

The tour of the library actually came early this week because a strike against the current principal and administration of King’s College is supposed to take place during our normal touring time tomorrow.  Our class decided not to cross a picket line in order to look at the library, so we ventured today.

The last moments of the day before descending to another library to study were spent a fantastic fish and chips restaurant, that claims to be the third in the world to ever serve the dish.  It was out of the way, but we left for it by recommendation from our tutor – it was well worth it.  It’s good to be a tourist sometimes.

Lift to 7, Stairs to 8

Today’s Pictures

Our first actual day of class upon us, myself and my fellow Fulbrighters headed to our official classroom on Strand Campus across the Thames for the first time.  Little did we know that the classroom we had, on the eighth floor from which one has to take the elevator to the 7th and a flight of stairs the rest, had the most spectacular view on London right outside the window. That view is included in the pictures above.

What followed was a 4 hour discussion and lecture on Shakespeare, his life in London, and Julius Caesar. What was most fantastic was as maps where pulled and streets named, our tutor simply pointed out the window to exactly the places she was referring to – it was all within sight! The intrigue of Shakespeare’s life was a welcome lesson, and we had a fun mock debate between the Brutus and Antony camps from Caesar.

This, of course, was all in preparation for our trek toward the Globe Theater, which I know now was originally built from the timbers of the actual first ‘theater’, which was actually called “The Theater” and hence the common namesake, to ever exist. The show was a spectacle, it was rowdy and dirty and impressive and loud and gleeful. We stood as plebians in the pit, but we by far had the best view of the show.

Tonight, I am to read another play, and in addition I will be doing a little bit of programming on the side for a friend – he wants me to create an algorithm rank his and his friend’s World Cup brackets. Appropriately, I will be doing this coding for him while watching the world cup with friends.  I have to be off now to get to work, and I look forward tomorrow.

Is Meat Equipment?

I don’t think there is a diamond as hard as I slept last night.  The morning light and traffic outside my window was a welcome help in drawing me from my bed, and it didn’t take much more convincing than the view of the London Eye from my window to get my day started.  We began by running over to the Franklin-Wilkins building across the street to get our identification, meal card and then sit at our official introduction.

I was initially a little concerned at the haphazard and structureless nature of the program thus far, but after the formal introductions today, I am much more at peace.  It turns out yesterday was hectic for everyone. Food was so expensive here in London that I was concerned that the 7.50 pound allowance for food from King’s would bankrupt me, but I was relieved to discover that meals at the cafeteria were heavily discounted for students.  This, in addition to the spending money that the Fulbright commission has afforded us should ensure that I leave here without too much of a dent in my pocket.  I also got a snazzy red backpack and notebook, both King’s themed.

After registering with the school and getting all of those details out of the way, we explored in pursuit of caffeine to kill the short time before our first class. In addition to finding the fantastic and equally hipster counterpart to starbucks about 4 blocks from where we were staying, we actually found a very welcome surprise – the filming of a blockbuster film! When we asked a very official looking man that was standing near the filming site what was going on, he very kindly and enthusiastically told us that he was filming a scene for an upcoming movie.  We recognized an older looking actor, and when we asked the official looking man the name of the movie, he responded “if I told you that, I’d have to kill you!” with a laugh. He then said, “I can tell you though, it’s pretty big bananas!”.  I’m sure he had legal obligations to respond that way but indications to what the movie was were all over the set.  The movie obviously takes place in the early 20th century because the set had rolled in quite a few older looking cars for it, and it was being shot in a very old looking part of town.  In these cars where notes saying that they were for the crew of the blockbuster movie “Legend”. More info here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legend_(2015_film). After looking at the photos of the actors on wikipedia, I know that I certainly spotted what seems to be the main actor of the film, who actually plays both of the films main twin brother protagonists, Tom Hardy. Photos of all the events will be attached to this post.

After sobering from that amazing experience, we headed toward lunch and our class in the same building from this morning.  After lunch with a very kind 27 year old Netherlands resident for lunch, we met our ‘tutors’ as they call them four our inaugural class. I was very excited for this moment because up until this point it was not very clear what we would be studying.  I am happy to say that the interpretation of the course name, “Theatrical London”, is very literal. Our second day, we are going to the globe theater to watch Julius Caesar, after discussing excerpts that I am supposed to be reading right now instead of writing this blog post.  We are also going to see The Crucible, Billy Elliot, and a tour at drury lane theater. The best part is all are at different famous theaters, and the tour is backstage! In addition to the shows we are going to see, we have to read an entire play every single night- not the worst homework in the world.  One of our tutors is a Fulbright Scholar herself, hence why we were placed in the course, and they were both extremely excited to be hosting us.  I can’t describe their enthusiasm and my optimism for the course a result of it.  These tutors are positively spectacular, and we only met with them for just under and hour or so before we had to head off to a meeting with the actual UK-US Fulbright Commission, based right here in London. 

The short trip across the Waterloo bridge to the absolutely magnificent Strand Campus (pictured in the bottom of the main photo for this very blog) was heavenly under a clear blue sky.  We entered to far side of the building with very modern conveniences, and made our way through a literal maze of corridors to our meeting room.  I cannot not over-emphasize how alike a maze this journey was. I suppose that is the result of several hundreds of years worth of construction on the same building. We met with all of our support at this meeting, and we received an extremely warm welcome.  The King’s College institute, one of the nine UK-US Fulbright institutes, is only one of two actually based in London, so those waiting for us were very excited to. The office was beautiful and centered in that gorgeous building, and we were got a great debrief on London life and the next three weeks schedule.  I won’t spoil it now as I’ll be blogging along. Amazingly, as we stepped outside from our meeting, the Tour de France was literally passing through London – on the doorstep of that very building!! We watched as the best cyclists in the world literally whirred past us, and I took a video of the event. Where else in the world could you casually stumble not The Tour de France! That tour was followed by another tour of the Somerset House, part of the aforementioned King’s Strand campus.  On the top level was a lofted cafe, and next to it, the most beautiful and ornate cathedral I have ever seen.

The night ended with a formal invitation the Waterfront Grill and Pub overlooking the Thames.  There, I met young men and women from the Ukraine, Russia, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and the list goes on.  All of these people were the friendliest and I taught many of them how to play pool.  Games of pool take a very long time when everyone is new to the game and the person who taught them isn’t very good themselves by the way. We left early to get to work on our first homework assignment, and as we left for the library, a Russian girl asked us if we had any cooking equipment for her to use in her dorm.  We regretfully didn’t, but as we parted, we heard as she and her less linguistically talented partner walked away discuss what the word equipment meant.  “Equipment, it’s like um, utensils. No? Okay, so you know how when you play football and you need shorts and a ball?  That is equipment.”  “Oh, so is like meat is equipment?” 

More Pictures

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Touchdown

I am writing this post from my beautiful dorm room overlooking Stamford Street in London, with the iconic IMAX Cinema in sight.  It is currently 3:00 pm here in London, and I haven’t slept since before my last blog post.  I’m barely awake right now, sweaty, dirty, and I’m writing this on a word document because I haven’t been able to get internet or phone service since I’ve arrived.  While all that has occurred and I am very tired, I cannot get over how beautiful this place is.  Every couple of moments it hits me that I am where I am!  I took a lot of pictures today that I will hopefully be able to attach to this post when I regain my internet.  After arriving in Heathrow at 3:00 AM (a student ambassador named Marta was waiting for me and had a sign with my name on it!) and picking up my Fulbright comrades, we marched into London.

None of us had gotten any sleep on our flights, but we were all too excited to care.  I’ve met three of the four in my cohort; Emily from Virginia Tech, Bri from Miami University, and Alex from Westpoint Military Academy.  Them being such intelligent and independent people, we covered a LOT of ground in the city in the few hours that we’ve been here.  We stopped first for an english breakfast on the river Thames, then a drop off of our luggage at the luxurious stamford street apartment dorms (slight sarcasm intended) and then we hopped on a double decker bus to explore the British museum!  We’ve all returned to our temporary homes for now to freshen up, and for some of us, to catch up on sleep.  I’m unpacking my things and staring out of the beautiful view from my 4th story window in the heart of London.  I’m glad to finally be able to take a shower, and I hope for some Wifi or a phone soon so that I can call my loved ones and tell them that I’m okay and that I miss them.

It really is incredibly hard to explain just how amazing this city is.  My head is still reeling from these past few hours, between my lack of sleep, jet lag, and a little bit of culture shock.  Hopefully the pictures I’ve taken can do my first few hours here more justice my words can.  I’m going to settle for a half hour more, and then the group is off to find a nice pub for dinner!

More Pictures

Stampedes

My entire idea of what the inside of an airport looks like is based on romantic comedies and the comedic musings of Jerry Seinfeld.  Between the actually decent beef burrito I am eating, the kind and quick service, and the overall pleasantness of it all, I’d have to say that the image I had in mind is a little less than accurate.

My first flight to Washington DC, though only 37 minutes in length, might as well have been to another nation already.  I can’t hope to imagine what first time visitors to the US think of us based on what they see here. Its a little bit like Las Vegas – bits and pieces of the most superficial parts of the US packaged up and shrink rapped for your convenience.  It is tempting to focus on all of these superficial things that are present at Washington Dulles airport, like the best buy vending machine and the three Starbucks I passed on my way to the terminal, but what really draws my attention is the people around me.

Diversity is a very popular buzzword nowadays, but if this airport has anything, that’s it. Between the CEOs behind their brushed aluminum doors in the ‘First Class Suite’,  the multiracial family of 7 across from me ready to board their flight to munich, and the absolute stampedes of red faced individuals, children and luggage loosely attached to their hands and sprawling behind them, I already feel far away from home – and I’m only a car drive away! I know these feelings are naive, but I embrace them because I only get to experience this kind of wonder once.

My flight is delayed a half hour because of air traffic, and thankfully it looks like Hurricane Andrew has taken no toll. I’m so thankful for all of the well-wishes and love that I am receiving from my family and friends, and I intend to keep them in mind on this trip.  Leaving my girlfriend behind this morning was far more difficult than I had anticipated, even considering the briefness of this trip. All that being said, I can barely contain my excitement.  Now I need to focus on somehow making myself fall asleep for this flight.

Independence Day

As fate would have it, my last day in the United States before I leave for UK is the Fourth of July, marking both the day of the US’s birth and emancipation from the English, and as well the death of my Alma Mater’s most famous alumnus, Thomas Jefferson.  The more I think about it, I start to realize how uncanny some details of this trip are.  When writing my application to the Fulbright Commission, I made sure to include references to King’s College London and the College of William and Mary’s shared heritage in the British Monarchy.  It is hard to ignore the parallels between the histories of these two universities across the pond from one another.

I often think about W&M’s deep history that dates almost a century before the nation in which it resides, and I am astonished at its journey and tribulations. I love to walk in ancient campus and imagine young Jefferson strolling the cobblestone alongside me.  I so often wish to pull him forward into this world that was so heavily influenced by his ideas.  I want him to see his campus as it stands now,  still dedicated to the pursuits that he cherished, and how those values have flourished in this New World.  It is only so appropriate that this summer I am going to be pulled into the roots of this institution and experience from where it all came.

I am still in such disbelief that I received this opportunity have my first international experience in the crossroads of the world and at one of it’s most prestigious institutions.  I can’t help but feel that I am somewhat of an impostor in this scenario, taking the place of someone much more deserving than myself. I am just going to keep my mouth shut and enjoy it as much as I can before someone figures out that they sent the wrong Nathan Owen to London.

My bags are packed, and Independence Day is tomorrow.  I am going to be leaving this country very proud of where I came from, with the intention of better understanding where it came from. I honestly don’t have any idea of what to expect, except, perhaps, fog.