London, day one. The air was different when I stepped out of the airport and finally took in the atmosphere of another country. I had just traveled thousands of miles but the journey had only just begun. 8 texts, lots of excursions, miles of walking, dozens of tube rides, and an incredible amount of learning lay ahead of me. In that first day I realized that this trip could be anything that I wanted to make it. I decided that I would take advantage of every opportunity, engage with every text, and try my best to soak in the culture, atmosphere, and ideology of England.
I left New York with a few personal goals too. I wanted to be able to write every night to reflect on the events of the day. I wanted to take note of my feelings and any changes that I felt myself going through during the trip. I wanted to record what music would play through my head as I walked, or what song would lift my spirit in a coffee shop. Basically, I wanted to remember everything!
Song of day: London Calling – The Clash
The first text covered on that sleepy monday morning after a weekend of soaking in London was The Emperor’s Babe. This book made me so grateful to be in this century. Old Roman warriors and rulers of state, slaves, class order, oppression of women, power for the few elite men. Actually….it still sounds uncannily similar to the world today! Zuleika is the protagonist, and like me, has a journey that we are lucky enough to be witness to as we read her story. She is a girl (girl is a key word here) who has no idea what she is getting into when her family sells her off like a cow. She is sent off to an old man, an important man who shows his status by his girth. We all know the story, so I will tell you my story of engaging with not only this novel but with Zuleika herself.
Zuleika challenged me to analyze my own life and the society I live in. So often, we look back into the past and see murky waters, bad decisions, and we often disengage from it because it is not current experience. But, if I’ve learned anything from history and stories of the past it is that the only veil between us and the mistake of past is linear time. But, time isn’t always linear and the spaces of 211 A.D. are far closer to us than one may think. Albert Einstein once said, “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” This means that the only reason Zuleika isn’t here, in the present, is because lives have to be spaced out, timed out. But, she could very easily have been your, or my, next door neighbor.
In the book Zuleika says, “Like scales, she had to rise / so that I would sink. / The result? To weigh me down / or perhaps balance?” This small passage of reflection had an immense impact on me. I didn’t know how to digest it; I wanted to relate it to my own life. Are relationships, with friends, lovers, parents, family, all on a scale? When we are tipped up and have the higher ground, do our close ones get dragged down?
When we went to the Museum of London we saw the juxtaposition of the old world and the new. That tied together perfectly with the reading because even the language of the book was very modern and accessible. The Museum of London also made me wonder whether or not or protagonist would’ve been a suffragette is she had been in 1900’s London. In one passage of the book Zuleika is witnessing a brutal and common event, as popular as todays football games… The lines read, “The amphitheatre was a brazier. / it was too hot to look up at the sky, / the delirious crowds made me dizzy. / I wanted the band to play, / something loud, something heavy metal, / but they were quietly watching / as each woman was pushed into a cage. / I tried to put my eyes out of focus, / to witness and yet not, / as what had been human became chunks”. This witness of the brutal, disgusting mutilation and death of women makes me wonder is her pity for them and for herself as a women would’ve translated into action had she been in another century.
Song of the day: I Want To Break Free – Queen
Another day, another novel! Falling Angels and the suffragette display at the Museum of London made a big impact on me. Being so attached to character that are so developed and complex on the page and then to imagine them as I walked through the exhibit was a fantastic and heart wrenching experience. I began to learn more about women’s rights outside of the facts and figures. I engaged with the movement in a deeper way than I ever had before. “I have spent my life waiting for something to happen,’ she said. ‘And I have come to understand that nothing will. Or it already has, and I blinked during that moment and it’s gone. I don’t know which is worse — to have missed it or to know there is nothing to miss.’ Kitty made me look at myself, in London, in a different way. I think Kitty made her life into something that had ‘things happen’. For better or worse, she had a lively existence throughout the novel because of the choices she made.
Walking through London made all the texts come alive. I was able to see the layers of space, the sharing of space over time, and the interconnected nature of the human existence. I could look up into the London skies, see the stars, and myself if I engaged with them like Maude’s father taught her; cold, scientific, calculated. Or, do I walk through London with heart instead of head? Neil Gaiman always has something that sums up my emotions,“I can pretend that lives last longer than moments. Gods come, and gods go. Mortals flicker and flash and fade. Worlds don’t last; and stars and galaxies are transient, fleeting things that twinkle like fireflies and vanish into cold and dust. But I can pretend…” I enjoyed pretending that Kitty and Maude existed as I walked through the exhibit and even the London streets. Because, even if they didn’t exist, their stories have impacted many people.
Song of the day: 99 Red Balloons – Nena
Feminine Gospels! First off, I love the title. It made me want to raise my voice and sing! This collection of poems was another that engaged with the history of women of the past and transported them to our present audience. (I’m seeing a theme here!)
This text made me think about how women construct spaces, public and private, within their lives. I wondered about how women in London, as opposed to in the suburbs, engage with the world around them and how they change spaces in order to make movement within London easier.
Once I had these thoughts I took note of how the women around me, myself included, changed behavior and appearance once we stepped out into the streets of London and also how that changed depending on the time of day. I began to notice that I would always move aside on the sidewalk when anyone approached the other way. At night I would make sure to reapply makeup, maybe even change clothing. I noticed that the women around me all did the same thing. I always felt more ‘on my guard’ at night and I felt more freedom to not be on alert in the mornings. All these things are common place but it wasn’t until reading this text that I began to analyze why these things are ‘normal’. If we lived in a matriarch society would roles be reversed? Would the circumstances that appear because of gender be equal? Would women feel comfortable walking down the street late at night, alone, if society were different?
I don’t really have answers for any of these questions. But this course made me start thinking critically about, not only the questions, but why I have to ask the questions in the first place.
Song of the day: Sæglópur – Sigur Rós
The Mara Crossing was easily my number one favorite book from this course! Padel managed to cram a million facts about everything from whales to family relationships in under 300 pages! Oh, and she also included beautiful poetry to add the appreciation of the unbelievable facts in this book. I clearly was impressed by the book itself but I also found a new appreciation and understanding of just how connected we all are. “We compare ourselves with nature and see ourselves reflected in it.” Padel understands the spider web that humans, animals, plants, air, gravity, and the entire universe share.
I recently watched a documentary called, I am. When I watched it I realized how closely related it was to Padel’s book. It asked the questions, “What is wrong with the world.” And it proves that the answer that each individual should have is, “I am.”
This book, along with the trip to the Natural History Museum allowed me to engage with the world in a more connected way. I remember a moment when I was waiting to walk down the street between the Natural History Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. I saw people, old, young, one with a dog, one with bags, a lot with cameras. I also saw pigeons fighting over someones chips and I could see a worm trying to make its way off the sidewalk to a less hostile space. In that moment I felt a string that twist and wound itself around everything around me, even the trees and the grass, pulling us all together. Padel’s book and seeing all the history inside the walls of the museum made me feel closer to the critters swaying in the current that surrounds the Great Barrier Reef. It made me think about the monarch butterfly’s journey and the swallows and the animals of Africa. It, like all the other books, continued to add layers layers to my understanding of the world I live in and the spaces I inhabit. The shift in my understanding of the world is captured in a short excerpt from Padel’s book, “It moves you into a disoriented world which doesn’t add up in the way you are used to. You have to start putting things together in a new way.”
Here is a link to NASA’s migration site!
Song of the day: Fly Me To The Moon – Frank Sinatra
Going to the the Museum of the Docklands and seeing the area of the Docklands helped me to understand the significant role that its plays in the novel. I had trouble relating to Matthew, the main character, in a personal way but I think I used the book as an insight into how London works behind the scenes. Matthew allows the reader to see the city of London as its own living and breathing entity.
His daughter made me ask questions about space as well. She wants to know where her father is when he is not with her. She made me ponder what existence means in relation to the people around us. London is a city because of the people that inhabit it. Every moment that time progresses, London changes and moves with the people.
Walking through the museum was really interesting in its progression through time. We start where the docks started and as we walk through we get to see the change in the area and the development of capitalism. By the time I reached the exhibit that captured the protagonists world, I felt like I had enough history of the space to actually understand the importance of an architect walking through the city. He sees all these spaces up next to each other and has to try to picture a mark of his own. Walking through London streets made me realize that it is a city that has mastered a delicate balance of old and new. Matthew has to create with this doctrine is his mind. I think I can use these concepts to help me when I construct my own space. Respect for the old and for tradition, but the need for progression and change. Here is a link to a site that breaks down all the different types of architecture in London. It was really cool to browse this site after walking through London myself.
Song of the day: We build this City – Starship
Studying Patience Agbabi was a really incredible experience. I think that whenever people read a book they feel removed from the author. You connect with the story being told but you don’t think about the author during the process. Authors are typically stagnant to their readers; Agbabi is a tidal wave that keeps crashing while you read her words. She isn’t stagnant because her poetry is live, raw, and moving. She is constantly performing and has an active presence on the internet through her blog Telling Tales.
I have always been really moved by performance poets, I find that they engage with the current world in a very effective way. Covering her collection, Bloodshot Monochrome in class was very insightful. In Problem Pages she taps into the canon of literature and engages with the authors. Researching the great authors that she was referring to taught me a lot about why its effective to reach into the past to help with present questions.
Probably the most rewarding thing about the experience of covering Agbabi in class was when everyone took turns performing her poetry. Performing poetry is such a raw way of showing people who you are and I felt more connected to my fellow classmates after that experience.
Song of the day: Crayola – Esperanza Spalding
The definition of formerly is ‘at an earlier time’. Yoseloff’s collection of poetry captures former and present London. Meeting Yoseloff was definitely the icing on the cake in the study of this collection. Reading it back at home in New York was interesting but I wasn’t able to connect with it beyond the surface because I didn’t know much about London. Once I saw the city for myself, and even accidentally ran into one of the places that was captured in the book, I was able to truly appreciate Yoseloff’s and MacDonald’s vision.
These poems and the photography taught me how to engage with a city on a different level. I learned that the city is ever moving, never stagnant. And walking through London I could see why a poet and a photographer could fin inspiration from something as simple as an old storefront. I started to notice the little, hidden spaces that don’t seem important at first glance. The images in this collection are nothing like St. Paul’s or the Tower of London, they are just dirty, dusty, broken down places. But those places are just as filled with stories as the grand places of London. Maybe even more so because the stories are untouched, they are hidden under the weather worn buildings and the fallen down signs. I think I have come to realize that those hidden places can be even more filled with meaning because the memories are protected. Very few people probably found meaning in the old sign that read ‘duk of on’ at the side an awkwardly shaped building. But, Yoseloff and MacDonald did, and they passed on their inspiration to us.
Song of the day: maps – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Going to The Royal Observatory after reading There But For The was really helpful for my own understanding on the novel. I am still grabbling with the themes of the book but being in the area that it was set was useful.
“The fact is, a mystery clock is an old-fashioned sort of clock that seems to go by itself on its own without seemingly needing any winding or ever being looked after by anyone.” In the Royal Observatory I got to see dozens of ‘old-fashioned’ clocks. These clocks made me think of time and especially about the time and perspectives of the novel. In the book we meet Miles through the eyes of others. We see him through their own biased lens and many of their reflections on him occurred in the same moment in time. The spaces the characters occupied were the same, the time the engaged with each other were the same. But, the readers time and space is completely different. The clocks in those rooms made me question our perception of the passing of time, especially time within a novel or even a movie. Here is a link to an interesting article that covers a lot of different ideas about individuals perceptions of time.
Another concept that this book made me think about was what a mind remembers and what it forgets. Brooke brought this up part way through the novel, “Yes, but you can’t tell me what I’ll remember and what I’ll forget, the child says. / That’s true, Bernice says. But. The whole point is, we can forget. It’s important that we forget some things. Otherwise we’d go round the world carrying a hodload of stuff we just don’t need.”
While I was wondering through Greenwich I was pondering what I would remember about this trip. Would I remember the moment that stood at the prime meridian? And when I say, “remember the moment,” I don’t mean the literal image of me standing there at the longitude center of the world. I mean, will I remember what was running through my mind in that moment? I hope I remember a lot of things from my trip in London, not just the sights but the smells, tastes, and the feeling of the London air in my lungs.
Song of the day: Catch the Sun – Jamie Cullum
The city of London is the pulse of England. It brings pride to a nation and being their, in the city streets, was life changing. Being able to sit in Russell Square, reading novels set in the very same city, walking where Virginia Woolf walked, was so fantastically overwhelming. I learned a lot from just being in a new place. I had to force myself to learn my way around, to find my own comfort within a new city. London is a city that forces engagement with others, it was impossible for me to walk down the street without having an interaction with someone. This trip and these texts have contributed so my to my knowledge of the world. I’ve learned that critical thinking and active engagement are key to live a full life.
Virginia Woolf captures the busy, bustling, chaotic, and beautiful streets of London. “In people’s eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment in June.”
Song of the day: Hopeless Wanderer – Mumford and Son’s