My Learning In London

Flying over Ireland

 

In retrospect sixteen days does not seem that long to be away form home, however it is impressive how much can change in such a short amount of time. This experience has provided me with incredible opportunity to meet new people, and widen my worldview thanks to the texts and excursions that we went on.

This was my first time ever really being in a city. I am from Hamlin New York, were there are more cows than people. In Hamlin people really don’t venture to far out from their yard, or cornfield. Before this trip the most time I had spent in a city was a couple hours in Rochester, which is not to thrilling. Except for a minus a few small hiccups, I now am able to accurately able to navigate a city, not only a city but an international one where there are people from all over the world occupying one space. I found that I loved the tall buildings and the crowded streets. I loved the sense of being anonymous, not having to wave at everyone as I drive down the street. After being in London for that amount of time it was actually heartbreaking to go back home and see the familiar scenes of tractors and corn.

Lauren at the British Library

 

Everything from the first day of arriving in London seems such a blur now, partially because it has been several weeks later and partially because of jet lag. So the first day I was pretty much dead to the world. We ended up having our first excursion, which was a trip to the British Library, this also served as a lesson in navigation. Lauren, Julia, Kate, and I had all made our way successfully to the British Library and waited everyone else to show up. Once everyone was there we did a bit of exploring for ourselves, and looked at the exhibit that housed some very impressive documents from history. This exhibit was the home of the Magna Carta This document was an attempt to limit the king’s power, this was an important first step in  the process of creating a constitutional government. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magna_Carta). For me the best thing about the British Library was the original copies of some of The Beatle’s songs. I personally loved seeing these copies that were hand written and had doodles all over them. Seeing the handwriting of some of the people, like Leonardo di Vinci and John Lennon made these people seem much more real rather than someone we read about in textbooks.

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The next day was one of our free days. A small group of us spent the day doing touristy things. This consisted of us venturing off to Buckingham Palace, which we got there in time to watch the changing of the guard. Traveling around the city was the first experience we had with figuring out The Tube. To me it seemed like it was going to be this big and confusing ordeal, I was very wrong. The Tube is very user friendly, which was very good for me considering that I had never really had to worry about public transportation too much before. After the day of exploring London and the Tube we all were required to meet back at The British Museum. The museum was one of the most impressive spaces that I had ever walked into. This location housed so many artifacts it would be impossible to see them all in one day. Here is where items like the Rosetta Stone, Parthone marbles, and several mummies are kept. This museum illustrates the power of the British Empire in its obtaining these artifacts and then the power it has to educate the people.

Day two began our classes. First we discussed Bernardine Evaristo’s Emperor’s Babe. This book is written in prose about Zuleika and her life in Londinium. The novel looks toward  life in Roman Londinium and some of the issues that arise because of the times, like forced marriage and slavery. I enjoyed how much I could connect with Zuleika as a character, the way she carries herself and her wit make her very enjoyable to read. One of the things that I found difficult for me to grasp was imagining what this space would have looked like. I only know a little bit about the Romans, and if I had more time I would have looked up something for me to get a better image in my head what life would have been like when London was under Roman control. This is one of the reasons that it was wonderful to visit the London Museum. The exhibit that they had of Londinuim I found to be very helpful in imagining what the space that Zuleika would have occupied to look like. Another thing that I found extremely helpful was the comparison between modern items and what the Romans would have used. As I stated before I really did not know very much about the Romans before reading this novel, and even afterward my knowledge was still a little shaky, so I found the exhibit to be extremely helpful. It was interesting to see how much of England’s history is based in empire and conquest. It began with the Romans, and you can still see the influence that it has throughout the rest of the city of London.

The other work that we discussed on the first day in McVicker’s class was Virginia Woolf’s A Room Of One’s Own. This was my first introduction to Woolf. Upon my initial reading it was easy to see that Woolf thought that being a women was a difficult fate for a writer and that women would need there own independence if they were going to have even the slightest success. Woolf stated that  to be a good writer that  individuals should write with an androgynous mind and not let sex play a huge potion into the process. After our class discussion, I noticed more of Woolf’s commentary on women in the public space.

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Day three we focused on my favorite novel of the course Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier. This novel depicts the shift in times form the Victorian period to the Edwardian era. On Tracy Chevalier’s website she stated that depicting this social change between the two times is what really inspired her to write this novel. (http://www.tchevalier.com). This novel ties in with the ideas that were presented to us the day before in A Room Of Ones Own about how women are allowed to move through and occupy space. An example of this can be seen in Kitty’s morning room in which she totally transforms into a space for the suffragettes, but in the house this is her own space in which she can fully express herself. In this case there is a lot more mobility for the children to move freely through space. An example is when Maude walks alone to see the prison where her mother is kept, “I was going home the other evening through a thick fog when I saw her walking just ahead of me. I’d never seen her in Tufnell Park before. She’s got no reason to come over here- her life goes in other directions, north and west toward Highgate and Hampstead, not east toward Tufnell Park and Holloway. That’s to be expected of a family of that class.” (Chevalier, 200). Between Our two classes we had our excursion to Highgate Cemetery. This allowed for me to get an image in my mind of what Highgate actually looks like. Upon my initial reading of the novel I had imagined a space that resembled Rochester’s Mount Hope Cemetery with everything spaced out and the gardening to be well maintained. Here that is not the case all of the head stones are in close proximity to one another and the grounds are overgrown in some areas. I found this to be interesting because in the novel Edith Colman has a fit because one of the gravestones near her family plot has ivy growing on it. Edith observes, “As an example of lowered standards I pointed out some ivy form an adjacent grave (not the Waterhouses’) that was creeping up the side  of ours. If nothing is done soon it will cover the urn and topple it. Kitty made to pull it off, but I stopped her, saying it was for cemetery management to make sure other people’s ivy doesn’t grow onto our property.” (Chevalier, 75). This provided some interesting thoughts on space and how the children were allowed to move through it once we actually saw the space. There are several ways that you could read into the children roaming throughout the city unattended, you could read it as they are a part of a changing time and therefore less restricted, or you could read it as bad parenting on allowing the children to roam free.

Later in McVicker’s class we discussed the Romantics, specifically Foucault’s “Of Other Spaces- Heterotopia’s.” A heterotopia is a real place that exists outside of known space, heterotopias also have a function within society. This reading also related to our trip to Highgate because cemeteries are considered a heterotopia. According to Foucault the cemetery is “The cemetery is certainly a place unlike ordinary cultural spaces. It is a space that is however connected with all the sites of the city, state or society or village, etc., since each individual, each family has relatives in the cemetery.”(Foucault, 2).  A cemetery is a place that exists within several different time periods. All over you see reminders of people who have passed on, and there is us as living people observing the reminders of these past people.

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The Feminine Gospels by Carol Anne Duffy was our first look at poetry in our Women Writers course. Even though I have taken poetry courses in the past, it had been  awhile since I last had to sit down and go through a poem for a class. I found it a little difficult at first to get the message of what Carol Anne Duffy was trying to get across. I enjoyed our class discussion that day because it tackled the poem that I had the most difficulty with which was “The Laughter of Stafford Girls High.” What really helped me was breaking into the small groups and tracking the progress that was made by our assigned character. This allowed for me to focus on one thing and not get to bogged down with all of the detail. When all came back together as a group and got to share our ideas about the character is was nice to see how all of these ideas fit together, and then we were able to obtain the larger meaning from our class discussion. In this poem the laughter was initially a form of rebellion. The girls of Stafford High were being trained to become the mother’s, daughter’s, and wives of England. This laughter in the end became a liberator for the teachers who had repressed their sexuality, ambition, etc. This poem questions where is a place that these women can occupy? Some of them found a space, but it confined because of their sexuality. Others reach the limit to their space and they either fall or they continue off into the water.

For our excursion on this day we went on our London Scenes walk. This walk touched on some of the places that Virginia Woolf had mentioned in her collection of essays The London Scene. The London Scene was published in good house keeping magazine and were six essays written for someone living in London to draw attention to the public spaces and make them aware on inner working of locations that they may not have considered in their day-to-day life. Our walking tour focused on three of the locations, St. Paul’s Cathedral, St. Mary-le-Bow, and St. Clement Danes. Previously, on our way back from The London Museum we had stopped by St. Paul’s but we did not go inside to get an idea of the space. When we came by again for the walking tour St. Paul’s was very overwhelming, there were people everywhere to see this space, and even when we got inside it was still a mass of people and never got quieter than a dull roar. In The London Scene Woolf states, “It is a commonplace, but we cannot help repeating it, that St. Paul’s dominates London. It swells like a great grey bubble from a distance; it looms over us, huge and menacing, as we approach.” Walking through London it becomes apparent that this is a city that has experienced several years of change. All throughout the city there are buildings that are extremely old and then right next to them would be buildings that would be brand new. In London the space is a combination of the old and the new, which was never really apparent until you start walking through it and pay attention. Along this walk we noticed the DUK OF ON sign that was originally the DUK OF GTON in Tamar Yoseloff’s Formerly. 

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The Mara Crossing had to be the text that I had the most trouble connecting with. While I may be a little rusty when it comes to poetry, it is nothing compared to my mental block with biology. While I sometimes found the text difficult to get through, our class discussions did really help me. I liked how again we spilt up the sections so we could focus on the smaller portion individually rather than as a whole. This allows for me to focus and not get overwhelmed at the amount of information that I am receiving, because this is a very information based book. Once you get past all of the facts and information that is being thrown your way The Mara Crossing is a story of both human and animal migration and the implication that this migration has on the rest of the world. Reading The Mara Crossing tied into our excursion that day of the visiting the natural history museum. This museum looks at the history of the world in a more scientific way and presents it to the public. This allowed for us to see items like a giant blue whale and dinosaurs. This excursion also tied in with our other reading of City of the Mind by Penelope Lively. In this novel Matthew takes his daughter Jane to see the dinosaurs. Page 77 states, “And so they passed from Permian through Jurassic to Cretaceous. The dinosaurs, roped off, spotlit, frozen in eternal postures, are like objects of reverence in some church or cathedral, past which file the decorous viewers.” (Lively, 77). This museum was very interesting, but it was not my favorite of the places that we visited.  There were too many people and small children running around to properly experience the space.

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In McVicker’s class that day we discussed Tess of D’Ubbervilles and how that novel was going to relate to our trip to Stonehenge. In the novel this is the location in which Tess and Angel are finally able to be together, at least for a brief period of time before Tess is captured and then executed. Being in this space allowed for me to experience what Tess did in her final moments. Sunrise at Stonehenge was a truly one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/stonehenge/

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City of the Mind by Penelope Lively was a very frustrating read for me. It was not particularly difficult read, I found the lack of plot very annoying. As well as the end of the novel felt very anti- climatic and just left me feeling frustrated. Our class discussion was useful for me because I realized this was not a book that was written for plot purpose. This was a novel that looked at space and time intersections. In class we picked out these moments and shared with the rest of the class. My favorite one of these moments in the novel is one that I already discussed in the paper earlier. It is when Matthew and Jane go to the Natural History Museum to see the dinosaurs. This is an example because has several different times all playing out in one space, the prehistoric with the dinosaur, Victorian Era with the museum itself, and modern with Matthew and Jane observing what is going on around them.

The Museum of the Docklands relates to this text because this is the area in which Matthew is helping to renovate in the novel. When I had arrived at the Docklands it was like nothing I expected to experience. Because of the novel I had known that the Docklands had changed since the time that Woolf had written about it, but part of me still expected to see the Docklands that Woolf had described, “The banks of the river are lined with dingy, decrepit-looking warehousing. They huddle on land that has become flat and slimy with mud. The same air of decrepitude and being provisionally stamps them all.” (Woolf, 7). When I arrived there that was not at all the case, instead I saw vast glass structures and men in business suits. Visiting the Docklands and the museum allowed for me to remove that image form my mind. This allowed for me to see that London has gone through quite a few changes, and probably will continue to go through these changes. The Docklands shows that London is a city of change and growth.

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Over the weekend we took a trip to Stonehenge that also included stops in Bath, Glastonbury, and Salisbury. Looking at these areas it was nice to see more to England than just London. Being in London sometimes you forget that there is the rest of the county to explore rather than just one small location. When we stopped in Bath you were able to directly see the Roman remains that were preserved in this city. This was amazing to see and to think back to The Emperor’s Babe back in the beginning of the trip. Allowing for me to actually to see the history of England and get a connection with its Roman roots. When we arrived the next day in Glastonbury we spent the day looking at England’s roots in myth. We hiked the Tor, also known as the gateway to the underworld. And also viewed the Glastonbury Abby, which is the final resting place of King Arthur. We did not spend much time in Salisbury. We briefly viewed the cathedral and then spent the rest of the time having our round table discussions. This allowed for us all to get a chance to speak and present our ideas to the rest of the class. While I found this to be a bit nerve wracking it was nice to hear what everyone had to say, and get a chance to present your own ideas to the rest of the class.

Bloodshot Monochrome by Patience Agababi was another collection of poetry that we read. I really enjoyed this collection of poetry. This allowed for us to see the diversity within the area of England in which Agababi was writing about. What I enjoyed the most about the class discussion on this day was when we each went up and read a poem. I personally enjoy hearing poetry read aloud, especially in this case when Agababi’s work has such a rhythm and musicality about it. This collection of poetry tied in with McVicker’s class on this day in our discussion of The Black Album. In Bloomsbury were we stayed there is diversity around, but not a lot. These texts that we read allowed for us to see the diversity that a city like London has. London is a place with a lot of people from all parts of the world and you should expect to see things that you are not similar with, like other cultures.

On this day we also went on our Mrs. Dalloway walk. Allowing us to explore the city by walking allows for you to notice so much more rather than taking the Tube. The walk had us experience the day that Clarissa Dalloway had in order to prepare for her party.  It is a truly great experience to explore the city and become familiar with the places that we stay. It is extremely important to at least have an idea of where you are and how to get there.

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The next day was our adventure to Oxford. While we were there we toured Magdalen College thanks to a Fredonia alum, Dr. Michael Piret who is the Dean of Divinity. One of the things that I took away form the experience of traveling to Oxford is that England is a diverse place, we have now ventured around the countryside, spent most of our time in London, it was interesting to see another city of England. The other bit that I took away from our trip to Oxford is that a pub is a great way to proof read work, and bond with your professors.

Wednesday was our discussion on Formerly. This was my favorite collection of poetry that we read. I enjoyed the concept of looking at something that was forgotten and giving it some recognition. In class we each read one of these short fourteen lined poems. It was nice to hear these read aloud. For me it allows me to slow down and actually pay attention to the poem when I read it aloud rather than just skimming it. What made this class discussion even more special was the fact that the author Tamar Yoseloff came to discuss and read some of her poems. This allowed for us to hear exactly what Yoseloff wanted us to know about the process of writing, publishing, and the inspiration behind Formerly.

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The final novel that we discussed in class was There But For The by Ali Smith. This novel focused heavily on playing on words, this provides extra depth to the novel when you are focusing on the word play. However, when I read this novel I read it originally strictly for plot. When we went through the novel in class and had the discussion on the choice of words, at lot of it was lost to me. The class discussion did point out several of the key things that I had missed, for example that part about Miles and his grandfather, “He said when he was small, Jennifer says, and his grandfather was still alive, his grandfather would have him to the tunes off the soundtrack record he had at his house of the Mary Poppins film.” (Smith, 166).  I must have read that portion of the novel when I was falling asleep or something because I definitely missed that part. Our class discussion pointed out the word play and the portions that I had missed, which helped me out so much.

The excursion to Greenwich Royal Observatory was our final excursion of the trip. There But For The focuses a lot of its attention to the observatory. When I was hiking up the hill my first thought was this was exactly how I pictured the space to be when I read the novel. Greenwich Park is described on page 57, “Mark went the long way, round and up through the woody place, to get to the Observatory, thinking it might be less steep. No, it was still notably pretty steep. He waited to get his breath back sitting on a bench opposite the place where one of the Astronomers Royal had sat down there under the surface, literally inside the hill, it looked like, watching the sky through a telescope.” (Smith, 57). There was so much going on at the observatory that it was a bi overwhelming. My favorite part of going on these excursions that often times the novels we have read take place there. I often attempt to imagine the characters from these novels in the space as it is now.

http://www1.rmg.co.uk/

It is amazing that in only sixteen days you are able to see so much, and change as a person because of it. I am now better at being outside of my comfort zone. London originally was a place that was totally unfamiliar to me, this forced me outside of my comfort zone. Even if this means navigating the tube, answering questions in class, or talking to people in a pub all of these things push me outside of what I am comfortable with. As I get ready to go back to Fredonia I hope that I am able to continue to push myself outside of my comfort zone.

Work Cited:

Chevalier, Tracy. Falling Angels. New York: Dutton, 2001. Print.

Foucault, Michel. “”Of Other Spaces-Heterotopias” Of Other Spaces (1967), Heterotopias.” SUNY Fredonia Angel. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Aug 2013.

Lively, Penelope. City of the Mind: A Novel. New York, NY: HarperCollinsPublishers,    1991. Print.

Smith, Ali. There but for the. New York: Pantheon, 2011. Print.

Woolf, Virginia. The London Scene: Six Essays on London Life. New York: Estate of     Virginia Woolf, 1975. Print.

 

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