Monday, October 15, 2012

I See London...

English author Samuel Johnson* once noted "When one is tired of London, he is tired of life." England's capitol is a very large city and was once the center of the largest empire in the world, though the country has come down a ways from 19th century imperial glory. It's still big - I had a forty minute train ride and a fifteen minute walk to get from the center of London to my friend G's house in one of the suburbs.

I left Cardiff on Wednesday at the crack of 9am and traveled three hours by bus back to London. Once there, the first stop was my absolute favorite musical, Les Miserables, at the Queen's Theatre in the West End.

My heart, it aches.

In additional to be a stage favorite, Les Mis is a very long book by Victor Hugo, of “Hunchback of Notre Dame” fame. It’s a beautiful story of redemption, with questions of grace, justice, and goodness, as well as pretty pretty songs. My seat partner, an Australia post-doc on his way to Duke University to start a job studying vision in lizards, noted that multiple scenes gave him shivers up his spine. I quite agree. If you haven’t seen it, I can’t recommend it highly enough. (There’s a Les Mis movie coming out at Christmastime, for which I am cautiously optimistic. No matter how it turns out, I’ll likely buy it. Just doing my part to support the film industry.)

I also got to talk with the tech people because I was sitting in the back – their board is very high-tech and the number of different faders and pages they have to keep track of is dizzying. There was a little bobble with one character’s mic coming on a few seconds late, but otherwise the sound was great, even with such a large number of mics on stage. That’s a tricky balance.

Wednesday evening I made the aforementioned journey to my friend's house outside of London, where his family was very kind and welcoming. Thursday morning we made the forty minute trip back into London to go to the British Museum. I’d been to the museum two or three times before, but it’s so large I’d only ever gotten to a few of the bottom floors. This time I went up to the special exhibition to learn about “Drinking in Asia” – rituals and beliefs associated with alcohol, tea, and water in various Asian countries. The similarities between India, Nepal, Mongolia, China, Japan, Korea, and the Phillipines were interesting, but the differences especially so, because I’m guilty of lumping all of Asia together and assuming their cultures are basically the same. Even when they did trade ideas, materials, religions, and ceremonies, each has their own distinct cultural mark. India has a very distinctive liquid-carrier made out of a hollow gourd (and later metal in the shape of said gourd) that is vaguely pear-shaped, where Korea’s liquid carrier is much more round. Both, however, have spouts out of which you can drink. I don’t recall if one gave it to the other. Tea ceremonies in China and Japan are totally different – China traditionally used a powdered tea whipped into a frothy drink in a specially shaped glass, while Japan developed an elaborate tea ceremony. Things like that.

A man making a funny face/"In intense religious devotion"

Very shiny 12th century sword that will kill you.
London is known for its architecture, both modern and ancient. I don’t particularly like the more modern buildings and I really dislike the height of their newest one, but I know the city has to grow upwards now that it has no further room to grow out.

A building I don't like so much. It's called the Shard.

A building I do like very much. It's called the Gherkin.
On Friday I went to Greenwich, home of the median line that marks the center of the world for time.
Greenwich is also home to part of the Olympic stadium and several lovely houses. The town of Greenwich boasts a lovely little market, the Royal Navel College, and the restored tea-ship the “Cutty Sark.”

Center of time, right here.
This little thing made the crossing from England to India and was one of the fastest ships in its day. I can’t fathom that trip in such a small vessel.

The Cutty Sark

Former Royal Naval College, now a museum.
On the grounds of the formal college, I saw the lovely “Painted Hall” as well as a very Baroque-style chapel.

Very ornate.
And to finish, one of my pictures from the Doctor Who Experience:

Saving all of time and space. That's right!

*(Samuel Johnson's quote comes to me by way of a friend from college back in the States. J is witty and very intelligent and studying at Princeton, so I would be be doing her a disservice if I didn't cite my source material.)

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