Royal Observatory

Chris Ciambor

August 12, 2013

It is common knowledge that for a time, England was the center of the world, a huge world power throughout the centuries, with a legacy that is felt to this day.  The Royal Observatory illustrates where England stood for centuries in the world of math, science and overall world dominance.

The Royal Observatory maps Englishness by showing the history of England as the center of the world.   The Royal Observatory made maps that made navigation easier. The brightest minds in existence worked to study astronomy and create navigational tools to assist England in world dominance.

There are also several references to Greenwich in City of the Mind. For instance, Matthew takes his daughter, Jane to a museum in Greenwich via boat. He goes here to find an image of a ship to put in a building. (pg. 46) There are also other references to different times such as that of the Blitz. (pg. 46)

Given all these references and the location of the prime meridian, it is quite clear that this location is a very important landmark within the city of London, and also one within the country of England itself. That is why I feel it is a good representation of Englishness and mapping Englishness.



Highgate Cemetary

Chris Ciambor

August 12, 2013

The Highgate Cemetery tour was very interesting to me. Before this, I had not had a personal tour of a cemetery, especially one with such amazing English and Egyptian influenced architecture.

I feel as though these tombstones represent Englishness as a form of remembrance. These tombstones mark not only place honoring the dead, but also act as sort of ‘snapshot’ in time. The tombstones remember the person, as well as their life and the life and times in which they had lived in. The experience was a bit strange: I understand the purpose of the tour and the connection to Falling Angels.

Touring the cemetery helped me understand the idea that those there buried have taken a piece of England with them, of the times in which they lived.  I am reminded of a quote from the poem “The Soldier” which was mentioned in class:  If I should die, think only this of me: That there’s some corner of a foreign field that is forever England.”


The cemetery tour also offered a view tombstones of the famous buried there.  Among the famous included Karl Marx, the author of the Communist Manifesto. I never saw a tombstone with a sculpture of the head of the deceased.  Also seeing Douglas Adams grave (author of “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”) made an impression on me. It was interesting seeing all these famous writers and political movers and shakers being buried all in one place. Visiting the Highgate Cemetery was an eye opening, if somewhat strange, experience.

In reading the book “Falling Angels” I learned about the Women’s Suffrage Movement in Britain. The families in the story had a real connection to Highgate Cemetery, and reading this book offered the class an opportunity to take the tour, something that visitors to London may not think of doing.



Chris Ciambor

August, 12 2013

The Museum at Docklands was one of the most interesting museums that I had visited. It had a much more modern feel than that of the other museums that we had visited. The museum delves into what life along the docks were   before and after things changed into a massive urban center. The museum shows how people felt and what they went through during times of strife, such as IRA bombings or the times they were essentially forced to move out of their homes to make way for construction.

What was also discussed was the darker side, such as the history of slavery and trade in the earlier times of London. Altogether, I believe that this excursion was one of the best representations of Englishness and the mapping of such. This shows the history of trade within London and commodities traded. It also shows the practices of slavery and the hardships that were experienced.  It also showed the more recent history of the people who lived in the Docklands and their culture. I never knew that people had grown so attached to the Docklands. The Docklands has deep to Londoners, which was expressed on a wall of post cards, relating personal feelings and experiences.  I originally thought the Docklands was just another urban area in London but I clearly learned that there is more history there that connects Londoners of today to their past.  The museum shows the essence of what the English Empire, how vast it stretched, how powerful it was.  The docklands acted as a world center of the British Empire, an empire that essentially ruled the world.  The world has changed, the empire is no longer there, but Londoners still have a strong connection to the Docklands, both negative and positive in nature.  Personally I believe that the urban development that occurred with Docklands is a good thing for London, avoiding urban decay.  

A history of the Docklands:


There But For The

Ali Smith weaves a complex narrative from the perspective of four characters and their individual interactions with the character MIles Garth who has locked himself in the spare room of a family he doesn’t even really know and then refuses to leave.

In this novel, the quintessential English dinner party serves as a launching point for a quirky story-line that offers a lot of absurdity, wit and humor. I guess some would describe it as what is often thought of as a dry English style humor.  Kind of subtle at times and often simple in the nature of puns or joke-telling.

So, there seems to be an underlying comedic element in this theme. The idea of someone sliding a piece of ham under a door to feed an uninvited guest is funny to imagine. The puns sprinkled throughout the novel add to this: “What do you give an elephant who’s cracking up. Trunkqullizers.” Some hard hitting social commentary disarmingly disguised as humor also appears: “Brooke is thinking about a joke about Madonna taking her babies that she adopted from Africa to Oxford Street so that they can be reunited with the clothes they made before she adopted them.”

The central theme of a guest who would not leave is a narrative that is a recurring theme in literature and media. The classic play and movie The Man Who Came to Dinner is representative of this genre  A recent South Park episode involving Tom Cruise locking himself in a closet and refusing to come out is another example .

When doing a little research on this novel, I noticed that among the significant amount of praise it received there was also a recurring theme in the criticism of those who did not care for it.  That was that the novel is plot-less, that it rambles along sometimes without direction and that it can lose a reader as a result.

There is a lot of narrative detail in this novel.   From my own experience, as someone who is not a literature or English major, I find the long periods of description, detail and digression here can sometimes take away from the telling of a coherent story.  There seems to be no central plot to the story.  A lot of stream of consciousness observations and memories come from the various characters.

However, I do find the idea of four people describing their personal view of a particular individual interesting.  If an individual is seen as a blank canvass and several people describe him to someone who does not know him, what would that picture look like?  I think this may be one of the key insights to Smith’s endeavor here.  We as readers are the interpreters of who Miles is through the eyes of the others.

While the premise is interesting and the narrative and characters sometimes amusing, the novel never seems to come to a full conclusion.  The disappearance of Miles in the end and the desperate need for some characters to pretend that he’s still there, to deceive the outside world, to make money off souvenirs and trinkets sold outside his window to the throngs gathered there, seems to speak to an avoidance of closure.

There are interesting elements to it though.  The puns and odd characters can be amusing.  Also, as I noted earlier, it can be seen as an exercise in viewing a character through the disparate and different eyes and viewpoints of the ‘others’ in his life. Each of these characters created their own Miles and in the end they refused to let go when he was gone.

Most recent Ali Smith Interview:


City of the Mind

This novel is very interesting as the story-line of the main character, Matthew Halland, is interspersed with stories of other people and other times.  He is an architect, which allows the story to be infused with a sense of place with intricate and heavily detailed views of London, its history and its people. You learn a considerable bit about the history of the city through the detail of this novel.

On the surface the novel would seem to be about Matthew’s failed marriage, his relationship with his daughter and ultimately finding a new love.  But Matthew’s wandering thoughts introduce other times and historic figures.  This novel tells the story of the city through this mindful observation of  an architect’s surroundings and the introduction of the history of space and place.  A historic view of London unfolds here.

Time and historical space/place drive much of what is written about here.  A deeper meaning involves the individual lives that play upon the various historical stages that are a living and breathing city that is constantly in motion.  Peopled by individuals who love, have ambition, strive for meaning and ultimately pass from the scene for the next generation to interpret a slightly different version of London.  A London that is a changed city but with history visible just below the surface.  Scrape off a bit here, and there is the London of the Blitz.  A little more there, and Queen Victoria appears.  Still more, and the leaning brick wall of a Georgian mansion reveals itself.

Here is a photographic comparison of old and new London:


download (1)

The historical references lead to an understanding that while an individual is mortal, a great city lives on, always with the next generation moving things along.  Particularly notable is the description of construction crews moving bodies from an old church yard for re-internment elsewhere.  That patch of once hallowed ground being re-purposed for modern convenience and usage.  The property is, no doubt, now too pricey to waste on the dead.

A quote from the thoughts of the main character, Halland, nicely sums up much of what this novel is trying to get at, I think: “For this is the city in which everything is simultaneous. There is no yesterday, nor tomorrow, merely weather, decay and destruction.”  I think this means that the various peoples of the history of London are players upon its stage.  That the city is always there and the people come and go.  They are always leaving a layer or two of history with every generation. The city they serve is seemingly immortal and their part is to keep it a going concern during their lifetimes and hand it over to the next generation.


Tamar Yoseleff and Vici MacDonald collaborate with poetry and photographs in the collection Formerly.  This poetry collection looks at historic areas of London that are disappearing as the modern city grows. Whitechapel  is one of these poems and an area of London I find interesting.

I did a little research and Whitechapel is that area of London on the East End that has housed the city’s immigrants for hundreds of years. In the 18th and 19th Centuries, it was home to very poor Londoners and immigrants from Eastern Europe and Ireland.  Prejudice and discrimination led to riots and violence in Whitechapel in the 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries. Today it is home to many immigrants from East Asia: Bangladesh, Pakistan and India. It is now reportedly changing again and becoming more gentrified with renovation of housing and offices with an increasingly upwardly mobile population.

Whitechapel is also, more notoriously, the place where Jack the Ripper committed his crimes.  He preyed upon women in this poor, slum ridden area of late 19th Century London.  It is believed he was responsible for 18 murders in this area. The locations of his horrible crimes are located on the streets of Whitechapel and there are ‘Ripper’ tours taking people to the locations of these murders.

So, Whitechapel has an interesting and tragic history.  Home to human misery via its poor and immigrant slums and to human violence and evil through its connection to Jack the Ripper and anti-immigrant riots and intolerance.

But it also has a more hopeful history and future.  The desire for a better life drove many immigrants to this area and generation upon generation has helped build London and made it a more vibrant, diverse and interesting city.

While I don’t usually do well interpreting poems, I’ll give this a try.  I think the poem that represents Whitechapel in this collection kind of reflects the history of the place. Phrases like “marrow of the dead” and “they carry omens” may refer to the dark times there.  There is reference to imprisonment and an inability to leave.  This may reference the poor population being stuck in immigrant slums of the last few centuries.  Finally, the accompanying photograph appears to be a mannequin imprisoned, motionless and cold behind the ‘bars’ of a grid of window panes. Does this represent being stuck in a cold, harsh space?

I think the poem Whitechapel was trying to lament the history of the place. While all of London has multiple layers of history, some parts of it seem to have more of it.  Places that have a lot of history often reflect a lot of tragedy.  I think the poem Whitechapel reflects that tragedy of this place.


The Mara Crossing

The Mara Crossing is a river crossing in Kenya where thousands of animals cross every year as part of a mass migration.  Some do not survive as the river is crocodile-infested. The book, The Mara Crossing is a collection of poems that explores migration, both of animals and human beings.  I discovered that the author, Ruth Padel is the great-great granddaughter of Charles Darwin so I thought it was interesting that this book discusses concepts of human behavior that are  part of our biological makeup.

In the chapter Migration Made the World the author maintains that humans have always been wanderers, that there is a push pull factor to migration.  Sometimes it is a result of getting away from something, other times it is in the pursuit of something better.

Starting from primeval slime, a simple cell developed and the spread of life occurred. I thought it was interesting how the author provides a bit of background information (how a cell multiplies, how the genetic code is passed on) and then offered poetry (First Cell, Dance of the Prokaryotes, Revelation).

If you want to learn more about the in the migration of animals, specifically birds you will find the chapter Go and Come Back of interest.  Again the author provides some background information about bird migration, that it is “the heartbeat of the planet”. The migration of birds has been studied for centuries and you read here about those that have studied it, specifically John James Audubon.  The poem, The Boy from Haiti: wherever he’s been he’s watched birds. ‘I felt an intimacy with them, bordering on frenzy”.

I liked how the author brings together science, history and poetry to tell the story of migration. The chapter History’s Push and Pull tells the story of human history as human migration. Human migration is not only about need but about want.  What motivates humans to migrate through the centuries?  War, trade and religion have been factors since ancient times, continuing to this day.  In Children of the Storm describes modern day migration and some of the dangers entailed, that sea drowns many real migrants.  These stories are not well publicized but are mentioned here:   asylum seekers as well as those looking for economic opportunities are crammed into small boats, and drown.

The author talks about how human migrations resemble those of animals, how that affects human behavior.  Like a robin that defends its territory against other robins, earlier immigrants of a country resent newer immigrants and try to keep them out.  The author relates some of the abuses that have been reported at UK detention centers (now known as Immigration Removal Centres.) The psychological effect if migration should also be noted.  Migration may bring new life but the trauma that occurs along the must affect the migrants and their new homes.

The book ends on a spiritual note, with the idea that humans migrate even after death.  Humans also migrate in the mind, “The Wanderings of Psyche”.  This affects human imagination and creativity:  “As the bonds in the DNA molecule are broken so that proteins can replicate the genetic code, and as cells migrate in the body to heal or to generate an embryo, so in the mind the drive to re-find and re-place what has been lost is the driving force behind both creativity and migration.”(p244).

How does this work represent “Englishness”?  The author talks about a house on Nineteen Princelet Street (in London) that has been inhabited by a succession of immigrants since 1719.  It is now Britain’s first Museum of Immigration.  It shows how a modern, multicultural Britain was made by migration.

River Mara Crossing