What will the next adventure be?
July 13, 2011 § 2 Comments
I was just on Facebook (shock! surprise!) and happened across a friends’ summer photo album full of pictures of the beach, et cetera. I found myself thinking “man, I don’t have any awesome summertime photos!” And then I was forced to give myself a mental b****slap because YES I DO. I may not have pictures at the beach, but I’ve got better than that; I’ve got pictures from Europe! How quickly adventures fade into distant memories.
As you may have gathered, I’m back in the states, happily trotting about dear old Beantown USA. I do love Boston, but I still miss London. At the moment, what I pine after most is the weather. It’s pretty darn hot and humid here in Boston, and I can’t help but think wistfully of the cool London summer. My last night in the city I was comfortably wearing a jacket. A jacket!!!
Along with being miserably hot, I’ve begun to feel rather guilty for hardly posting at all in quite some time. I’ve abandoned some excellent adventures to the land of the partially forgotten, it would seem. I’ll do my best to recreate them.
In my delight over Richard III, I seem to have forgotten all about the other adventures I had over the last two weeks of my trip. Wednesday of the first week (June 22) my class took a day trip to Oxford to visit Oxford University Press to learn about their Oxford English Dictionary Online and Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Online. OUP is an interesting and very historically rich place; one highlight of the visit was viewing a brief film made in the 1920s (is that possible? I think that is correct…) about how books were produced at the time. It was a great relic of an age gone by and a real pleasure to watch. Although I embrace e-books and throw-away-quality paperbacks, there is something really wonderful about a nicely bound book.
We also got the chance to wander around Oxford a bit, and we had lunch at the Turf Tavern. I guess in the past the class has gone to a pub where Tolkien and C.S. Lewis used to chill, but we were in a rush and needed faster service than they could accommodate for such a large party. Besides, the Turf Tavern is where Bill Clinton famously “didn’t inhale.” Oh, Americans.
After lunch, our professor took us around the university and to New College. All of Oxford is rich with old buildings and beautiful architecture, so it was lovely to walk around and explore. We also got the chance to meet a current Oxford graduate student from the US who told us a bit about the differences between American educational systems and British (or at least Oxford-ian). Most notably, in the US most people’s educations are less subject specific than are those at Oxford. This means that US people have a broader base of general knowledge but far less subject specific knowledge. Interesting, and for once I’m actually leaning toward the US’s method on this. Maybe I’m biased from my own experiences, but I place huge value on interdisciplinarity (and making up words).
On Monday, June 27th, we took another class trip to Cambridge where we visited ProQuest. ProQuest is working on a project that I think is super cool: Early European Books Online (EEBO). They’re digitizing every book they can get their hands on that was published in Europe from the beginning of printing (c. 1455) to 1700. By “every book they can get their hands on” I mean books that are held in the national libraries in England, Denmark, Italy, and… somewhere else that I’ve forgotten, as those are the libraries that have agreed to participate. Of course, funding is limited (as is always true about everything, ever), so the number of libraries involved is still quite small. They’re approaching more libraries, however, and with access to their collections the project should continue to grow. Unfortunately it is a subscription-only service available to institutions, so I’ll just have to find a library that has access. In Cambridge, we also visited Cambridge University (the alma mater of our Fearless Leader) and visited the library at Pembroke College, a tiny but beautiful space.
Cambridge was swelteringly hot, so toward the end of the day we all enjoyed pints on the river before heading back home. Perhaps one of my favorite traits of our professor is that he is always urging us to drink. It’s not that I feel that drinking all day is appropriate or necessary, but I do appreciate that he recognizes that 18 American students visiting London for two weeks will probably drink whether he condones it or not.
On Wednesday, June 29th, we had a “cultural day.” The planned day included visits to the Tate Britain and the Tate Modern with a boat ride up the Thames in between the two. I dutifully arrived at the Tate Britain as expected, but a pal of mine and I decided it wasn’t our scene that day. We struck off for Westminster Abbey instead in an effort to redeem our wasted Saturday that consisted of walking to but not inside a great number of destinations (we were foiled by timing, price, and hugely long lines that we just couldn’t stomach); our one stroke of luck was excellent timing at the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace.
Lucky for us, the line at Westminster Abbey was about a 10th what it had been on Saturday, so we happily bumbled inside and procured audio tours for ourselves. Who was our audio guide, you ask? Jeremy Irons, that’s who! The tour began with: “Hello. This is Jeremy Irons.” To which I responded, “Hi, Jeremy Irons!” and waved at the audio device. We can’t ALL be sane.
Mr. Irons provided excellent commentary for the incredible site. There is something completely awing about standing in the same place, walking the same paths, touching the same stones as a thousand years of English monarchs (OK, just shy of 1000… Westminster was built in 1066). All but two of the monarchs since 1066 have been crowned there, and a great many of the monarchs and other important historical figures are buried there. Can you imagine that I was standing next to the tomb of Elizabeth I? The actual tomb in which her body was sealed? I have no concept of decomposition, but for the sake of increasing the romance of the whole thing I like to think that her remains were right there, just an arm’s length away behind stone. In all seriousness, though, imagine the history there! Imagine what those surfaces have witnessed! There are just layers upon layers of history, of life!, in that building. In places, the stones of the floor are worn down into cups and pits and arches. My friend and I carefully stepped upon the most worn of the spots, I guess maybe to make our little contribution to history in some perverse way. Or maybe I was hoping some of the history would rub off on me.
We spent a solid two hours inside Westminster, although I was so completely engrossed and enthralled that I believed we’d been there for about 30 minutes when, in fact, we’d hit the hour and a half mark. It was a wonderful two hours. From Westminster we went in search of food and found ourselves at Wagamama on the south bank of the Thames. We got veritable troughs of noodles and took them to a park overlooking the Thames. We lounged in the sun for a couple of hours, eating and chatting and observing the other tourists.
Eventually we made our way over to the Tower of London. We only had about an hour inside, but we glided past the crown jewels and climbed up into the Bloody Tower, site of the incarceration and murder of Richard III’s two nephews. A fitting visit, as I was still riding the Richard III high of the weekend. We got the chance to wander along the walls for a few minutes before a kindly man in a funny outfit ushered us out. I didn’t know before visiting that there are people who actually live at the Tower of London. How way cool! So, when I move to London, I’ll be moving in there.
At the end of our Tower excursion, we met up with another friend from the program and went on a Jack the Ripper walking tour. Our guide was scruffy and gruff and wearing a long, dark jacket which I’m quite sure he loved letting flap ominously around him as he walked. The tour was creepy and gross and wonderful, just as you’d expect.
I guess I have London to blame for the plethora of reading material that seems to have magically appeared on my Kindle and on my bookshelves, including, but not limited to, a book about Jack the Ripper (will I ever actually want to read that gruesome and gory tale?), two books about the English monarchy, Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island, a history of London, and a Shakespeare biography. I’d best get reading. And, I suppose, I should probably get to work on my assignments for that UCL course…
Our last night as a group was spent eating and drinking in a pasta restaurant near UCL. We comandeered an entire floor of the place and spent the evening being loud, rowdy, and raucous. One of our Fearless Leaders even sang us a bawdy song about “the Bold Librarian.” It was a delightful evening. I only wish we could have stayed twice as long.