Saturday, September 24, 2011

Here there be Elizabeths

So...I left off about September 2.  Picking up from there:

We had our classes then were sent to find Regent Park, with some advice to stop by the art store on the way to get supplies.  Which, you know, if I'd brought my stuff like an intelligent person, I wouldn't have had to buy anything.  But I wasn't being as intelligent when packing, so stopping by Cass Art was a necessity.  I was walking with Sara, one of the first people I met.  Fun little adventure on the way there--we were walking along and I thought we'd left enough room that someone could get past us, but I may have been wrong, judging by the reaction of the...gentleman...walking behind us.  He got irritated and in a voice so loud as to be barely audible, said "Get out of the ***** way!"  Gee, thanks.  Sara didn't hear him, but I moved over to behind her and let him pass.  So he walked ahead, looked back, and suddenly slowed down.  Ah, I thought, a fine specimen of jerk.  But I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, so we kept going.  But when we caught up, sure enough, he was still going slowly and when Sara stepped to the side to go around, he stepped over, too.  Yep, thought so.  So I grabbed Sara's sleeve and nodded across the road.  We crossed over and kept going, until he looked back and noticed we weren't behind him, so he crossed the road, too.  I really didn't want to get into that, so we went back and found another street.  Ya know, most Londoners are nice.  Great people.  But there are kooks and rotters everywhere.

Anyway, we got to Cass Art--just in time, apparently; the one near our place was closing for remodeling for a month on the next day.  I got a sketchbook and pens and pencils and...ooh, it's all so pretty and I was very excited to go use them.  So Sara and I caught a bus over towards Regent Park.  That was where the other random people on the street incident happened--we were passing a crowd at the wax museum and I accidentally bumped a young man, probably somewhere around my age.  I said "Pardon me," or something, and he squeezed my elbow.  I was...confused.  Is that a normal thing to do when you bump into someone here?  Then he looked, said "Oh!  Um...sorry," and as I looked back while we walked off I saw him find his girlfriend.  I hope she didn't see him mistake me for her.  But I laughed.  We finally arrived in Regent Park.  It's beautiful.  There's a lake that stretches across a good amount of it.  Did I mention how cool the lakes are in the parks here?  There are all sorts of ducks in them.  In the States, we have about 90% mallards in public lakes and so forth.  At least, as far as I can tell.  Here, I've seen maybe 3%.  It's awesome.  There are all sorts of other ducks around here, and even the geese aren't at least 99.6% Canada Geese like in the States, but at least as mixed as the ducks.  There are swans, too, and the ones at Regent were black swans, and there were several herons, as well.  The waterfowl life intrigues me.  Not to mention the ubiquitous seagulls, starlings, and all sorts of other birds.  So we wandered around, and I tried my first chocolate in the form of a Magnum ice cream bar.  Oh, goodness.  So thick, so creamy.  Wow.  It was delicious.  I mean, really incredible.  But enough of that.  We walked further--they had some beautiful gardens.  Before long, I stopped to do some sketching.  Break out the pens and the new sketchbook!  Yay!  After about an hour, I think, we went on back home.  We thought of using the bike rental but ended up not doing so.

The next day was Saturday and I decided it was probably about time I dedicated some serious energy to finding good Sunday shoes.  I've been trying--I only had a few requirements.  Close toed, weather resistant, not too much heel/comfortable to walk in, preferably black, come up at least past my ankle, and not too expensive.  It's absolutely ridiculous how difficult it is to find shoes like that.  It felt like a pretty basic shoe, to my mind.  But no.  I'd been looking for a while before going to London, and fortunately finally managed to come across some in Primark.  I was very pleased with myself; I felt actually prepared for Sunday.  Turns out they really are comfortable, too, so yay.  Also stopped by Tesco, the grocery store, and found out that reports of the chocolate here are in fact not exaggerated.  Very much yum.  Oh, also, if anyone tells you Yorkie bars aren't for girls, I defy that statement.  Although the commercials are fun.  (Okay, maybe I got a Yorkie bar just because they say they aren't for girls, but still...)

Sunday--church was...a long way off.  It took us over an hour to get there via tube and bus.  They had Sacrament Meeting last and Relief Society first.  It was a unique experience.  First off, I'm not used to being part of the minority group, but that's really not all that big a deal.  But I guess it wasn't so much unique as wonderful.  I missed church the Sunday before and it was refreshing to be back.  The people are incredible.  They'd just changed the bishopric so it was interesting to see that switch.  There was a baby blessing, also, and the new bishop's wife is going to be having a baby soon, also.  Actually, she may have by now, I don't know.  I was actually only in that ward one week.  But anyway.  It was Fast Sunday so we got to hear the testimonies and that was very interesting.  I really don't know what to say about it because much of what they said is personal, but more than that, it doesn't translate because it's hard to bring the spirit of being there across.  Let it just rest at the ward was wonderful.  And after, they had a large table set out full of oh-so-tasty food to celebrate the new baby.  Which apparently is a common occurrence in that ward and makes me kind of sad to miss it.

The next week was pretty standard in the mornings, so it's the evenings I'll be telling you about.  Monday--the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall!  Walked in and was completely wowed by the surroundings.  The hall is enormous!  (Pictures will follow.)  It's called the Promenade concerts because they sell groundling spots for people to promenade about on the floor in front of the orchestra.  And while it wouldn't have been entirely comfortable in that crowd, I wouldn't have minded being closer to the stage.  We were up in the nosebleeds.  No, really, waaaay up there.  If you've been to the Marriott Center--the top seats there are more than twice as close to the ground than the back seats at the Royal Albert.  So while it was wonderful to be at a concert again, it took me a little while to fully be immersed in the music, because I've felt closer while listening to recordings since they' know, in my ears.  But once I did, oh, it was wonderful.  One interesting thing I noticed--they clapped forever.  There were at least 6 minutes of straight clapping at the intermission, and more than that at the end.  And they did a "slow clap" thing often.  That night, we had the bus adventure previously chronicled.  Exciting!

The next night was even better, if you can believe it.  We went to the Old Victoria theatre, which was quite a nice place.  (Both of these places had bars a-plenty in the building, incidentally, as a fun little factoid.)  And there, we watched an absolutely incredible production of Richard III.  The setting:  Fairly modern.  I'd say probably just after WWII, if we're putting it in a time period.  It started with a news broadcast on the wall behind a chair holding a distinctly disgruntled Richard, wearing a paper crown and with junk around his chair indicating a party that has wound its way into the ground, leaving just the one individual in the room who wasn't so enthusiastic about the party in the first place.  The whole play took place in that one room, with doors all down the sides and in the back. The back actually was taken off for the second half, revealing a longer hallway with more doors.  Each door received a large X on it from Margaret, who was very much portrayed as a witch in this version.  Her curse in the beginning was impressive and creepy as she stood in the middle of the stage, other characters petrified around her as she drew a circle on the floor with dust, holding her sticks in an x above her head.  The lighting was spectacular, as well.  And I think most of the cast were either picked for their skills in or trained in drumming, because there was quite a bit of that going on.  They also had a creative idea with Richard's pretended piety.  Instead of calling him out of the church, they showed him on a screen above as Buckingham urged us to cheer for Richard--and the weird thing was I almost did, encouraged by planted recorded applause.  But they showed him holding up his Bible as though in prayer, with, of course, the two monks there, and altogether it was a wonderfully staged scene.  The whole thing was brilliant, actually.  Magical, almost.  Richard--that twisted, evil, murdering backstabber of a fiend--Richard had the audience laughing!  He wooed Anne and cracked jokes about murdering her husband and father, and yet he'd won the audience over so completely that we laughed.  I don't know about anyone else, but I was almost horrified that I was laughing, but I couldn't help myself.  The last scene was incredible, too--they had the people who appeared to doom Richard and cheer on Henry sit at a table with each leader on either end, candles illuminating their faces, and they appeared again during the battle as drummers spread across the front of the stage.  It really was spectacular.  If I haven't mentioned that already.  Richard was played by Kevin Spacey, who I hear is famous.  They crippled him by means of good acting and a leg brace--oh, the irony.  At the end, when he was dead, they attached a leg hoist to his legs and pulled him up to hang upside down over the stage.  For the first time, his leg was straight.  Also, before his legs were in the air, it formed an interesting inverted cross.  For the symbolism.

So after that bit of incredibleness, a few of us walked about halfway back to the center.  London at night.  Wow.  I mean, the city's pretty.  A bit dirty, yes, but it's quite spectacular whenever you see it.  But at night...oh wow.  The lights are incredible.  Not to mention when we were crossing the Thames--the London Eye was lit up in blue, right behind Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, both yellow with a bit of green, shining across the water.  My pictures of that weren't spectacular, but I'll try to get them up eventually, as well.  Wonderful walk.

The next day...oh, the next day started out wonderfully.  We went to the Tower of London.  And, really, day after Richard...interesting day to go there.  I went through the White Tower--I actually didn't go through the torture chamber, sorry.  But I did go on the Beasts of the Tower of London tour.  It's new, so unless you've been there within the last month, you probably didn't go on the tour.  But yeah.  So the tour was a lovely gent showing us about the tower, or at least some of the tower, explaining why the tower beasts should be returned from the zoo in Regent Park (walked past it, didn't go in because it was, what, 20 pounds?  that I didn't have to spend at the time.  And it was a small zoo.) to the Tower.  The gent in question was from about 1853, the year they moved the animals.  He claimed to be a naturalist but was revealed at the end to be Alfred Cops, the last keeper, trying to keep his job.  Anyway, he took us back through time.  The actor was splendid--he was very personable and a bit over-dramatic in his every word and gesture.  I actually took a short video thereof because I wanted to document that.  He started off telling us about the animals.  There was a certain lady who was a bit of a detractor from his speech with whom he was rather disgruntled--she kept interrupting with inconvenient 'facts' to tell people why the animals should stay in the zoo.  Things like "But wouldn't it be dangerous to walk through a monkey house with the monkeys loose?"  To respond to that he had her close her eyes and take a virtual tour of the monkey house--"Here, feel this one!  See, he likes it!  He's smiling."  The child being made into a monkey in question was actually looking confused.  And the teenager so treated just looked thoroughly embarrassed.  And he'd only had something thrown at him once by a baboon who liked to throw things.  "Isn't that the same baboon who, on the trip to England, threw a cannonball at a sailor who died from it?"  But he brushed that off as irrelevant.  Assurances of safety, education, and entertainment all round, and he took us "back through time"  ("I always walk backwards when I go through time!") a few metres to the point where they had a model elephant head coming out of a wall.  We were in the medieval ages when one of the Louises gave a king an elephant.  Cost a whole 22 pounds to build its shelter!  Shocking prices!  And 4 shillings (pence?  Can't remember which) to feed it!  Per day!  When its keeper (who happened to be there) only got one a day as wages!  D'you want to see it?  Well, here's it's jawbone.  It only lived 2 years, after all.  Short-lived creatures, elephants.  Right?  We continued to a stage where they had the real animals.  Like--the crocodilian!  He sleeps in the winter months, doesn't move a muscle.  Of course.  And after he eats something, he cries as if he were sorry.  But don't be fooled!  They are but crocodile tears!  (It was, of course, stuffed.)  And next...a lady appeared from a later period to tell us about the bear.  Which was, incidentally, no larger than an average-sized human.  But, well, dangerous enough.  Had it not been stuffed.  And the lady, whose name I've forgotten, told us about how fun it was to watch bear-baiting and throwing small creatures to the bears and so on and so forth and seemed shocked when we didn't (well, we didn't really, although we may have laughed and joked).  Then proceeded to the fiercest of all--the lion!  (dramatic rawr)  And the lady who'd been interjecting got up to talk about it.  Told about the girl who took care of the beasts, grew up with 'em, thought of 'em as pets, and saw a lion sleeping one day with a paw outside its cage, and how she went to stroke its paw, and the pretty lion looked up at her with loving eyes...and swiped at her arm so they had to amputate and she died from it.  And then they ended the tour by telling us that the animals would stay at the zoo, so we wouldn't be bitten by anything larger than a raven.  (And stay away from them.  They do bite.)

So...on through the tower!  After seeing a raven wandering about, I found the White Tower and went through there.  Wish I could post all the pictures.  So many swords, armor from everywhere and everyone, a huge dragon made out of armor!  There were some ceremonial swords taller than me!  (No height jokes, please.)  I was very thrilled to be going through.  I think pictures would tell better than I can.

After that, took a quick swing over to the Tate Modern, crossing over on the Tower Bridge.  Pretty piece of architecture.  Wish I'd gone on the upper platform, kind of.  On the way over, we passed an interesting steampunk looking ship sculpture in a shopping center.  That one was odd.  That's another thing I like about this place.  There are statues everywhere.  I mean, along the Thames, there are pictures on big posts showing artwork by schoolchildren from across the world 'inspired by' rivers across the world.  I think the history of the rivers is also taken into consideration with the artwork, often.  Well, got to the Tate Modern, and our art professor, Peter Everett, was taking groups through but groups weren't allowed to be more than 10 people to preserve the experience, I believe, and I got to be one of the people who waited for the second group.  So I sat and tried taking a bit of a nap.  The wind was blowing slightly chillily, just enough to keep me awake, so I watched the pigeons.  They're blinkin' cheeky here.  I've seen pigeons fly onto people's arms to get food.  They're fat, they're lazy, they're worse than most I've seen.  It's really rather amusing.  Especially when you toss food and watch them begin to filter in from everywhere.  Hardly surprising the city supports a growing peregrine falcon population.

Well, about 45 minutes to an hour later, we got another group going through.  Modern art is interesting.  It's not my favorite, I admit, but it's really intriguing to try and see what the artist is trying to do, how well they do it, and so forth.  For example, we saw one person who just made tremendous sweeps with red paint.  They felt rushed, they brought out an almost angry energy with the glaring color on a not-quite-white background.  It was fast-paced, yet there had to be time because they had drips running down and they overlapped and so forth.  On the other hand, we saw different artwork that was much calmer.  It was also red, but it was a softer red, and the brushstrokes were calmer and smaller and the shape was more defined--squares.  The entire feeling was quite different.

Also, Thais made us fish and chips for dinner.  Yay!

And then...oh, then!
We went back to the British Museum.  And our professor whom I cannot praise enough arranged for us a small showing in their drawings room of what he determined to be the best sketches in their whole collection.  And how wonderful they were!  I made notes as Peter explained the sketches to us, and then took the rest of the time investigating.
Michelangelo--sketch of monument to Pope Julius that he made for a friend--pulled out of his notebook.  The roughest of the rough sketches.
--Adam being touched by God--torso, legs, arm, shows changes of drawing--some sketched fully, some not as detailed, but you could see the pose everyone knows taking shape--
--Haman--torso and legs--the torso was twisting and he was obviously trying to figure out how it worked with the rest of the body
Raphael--looked at surfaces, cropped, alternate legs, looked at tone more than modeling like Michelangelo--I don't know what the drawing was for, but he did tone and shading to give mass and focused on that more than on showing the underlying structure--I think it was just a variety of sketches.  But by Raphael, so hardly 'just' sketches
Reubens--Hercules--faster, less accurate detail--multiple positions for arms & legs.  And by multiple I mean at least 3.  Move it here, here, here--then there was a little bit greater detail on the leg he decided on.  You could definitely see it 'in process.'
Anthony Van Dyck--ink drawing--landscape, trees, some detail not all but some focused areas, detail imperfect--this one made me feel like I could draw well.  Even if it was just a sketch by Van Dyck, I felt like it was attainable, like I could achieve that, at least--it was an incredibly empowering feeling
Del Sarto--study, young John the Baptist looking over shoulder--I admit, at first I thought it was a girl.  But it was a bit more detailed than the last several, like smoothing for the final project
Rembrandt--landscape, variety in line, darkness/light, thick/thin--this was much more detailed than Van Dyck's landscape, but it was also rather rough and quick, but the control over his hand and his eye really stunned me.  Because it is ink, and you have to know exactly what you're doing because ink doesn't erase
Prud'hon--Don't remember what this was, all I have noted is "tone--beautiful shades, white=conscious decision"--wait, I think it was a female figure drawing.  It was probably not my favorite, but it was impressive
Peruzzi--woman, man's head, boy's head in pentagram sketch/study.  It reminded me of DaVinci's guy in the circle picture; figuring out proportions and so forth
Millet--gleaners--probably finished sketch, balanced, thought through--it wasn't incomplete or pieces of a thing like the others, it was detailed, not fully but enough; it showed perspective and depth and it was quite beautiful
Verrochio--face, very detailed, hair grows less so, paper makes more history (I have no earthly idea what that meant, but that's what I wrote at the time...more historical?  seem older?  Which is hardly needed now.)  But it was a beautiful face, and you can definitely see his influence in his student, DaVinci.  Rebekah, think Ever After.  Or anyone who's seen it.  But that one was probably my favorite.
Michelangelo again--only surviving portrait by him--student, Andrea Quaratesi--completed, given to him, negative shape taken into consideration--he apparently only made portraits of people he thought were beautiful inside and out--this one I can show you,_portr.aspx
I don't know, maybe the others are there, too.
Pieter Bruegel I--brown ink, Everyman, abt materialism--movement--figure to object, lighter touches and vertical layering give spatial impression--rhythmic, thought out=finished.  Like any by Bruegel, it was busy, busy, busy, but I kind of like it.  It's like classical Where's Waldo?  He's quite the creative mind
Claude de Lorrah--ink, gouache, mixed media landscape (can't say I remember that one well, either)
Van Ruysdael--city landscape, overgrown, light wash--it was an image of an old city, very light pen, thin & detailed
Durer--prints--Melancholie & Knight, Death, and the Devil--these are easy to find, but I'm impressed that he did this with his palm.  With his PALM!  And if you look, he's put cities in the back!  Cities!  Less than half an inch tall!  With windows and houses and detail and...with his palm!  The guy is stunning.
Rembrandt etchings--self-portrait, landscape--he used a different method than Durer involving acid and that determining the darkness of the sketches.  I'll just say they were really impressive, very detailed, a softer method than Durer's
Van Gogh--South of France, landscape of the countryside--didn't have paints at the time, fascinated by the vertical stackings, "gave himself over" to the French landscape--it was very interesting, he has the same feel with pen and ink as with the paint; like he just wanted to get it down and put the feeling there.  So no swirls or whorls, but lines and curves and very impressive.
So I came out of that with my head in the clouds, and I stayed that way for a good while.  In fact, just thinking about it kind of sends me back.  It was...incredible.  Beyond incredible.

The next day is the day I suddenly and randomly decided to draw film noir.  It took the rest of my day.  Literally.  And I have two sketchbook pages to show for it, but also a little bit of skill I may not have previously had.

The day after that was spent making sure I was ready for a trip the next week, by which I mean obtaining a rain jacket and an umbrella.  The rain jacket was coral colored and I say this because I only found the one that was solid colored and if anyone sees pictures of me in a pink rain jacket--don't judge me.  It's just that I'd rather not have the bright patterned ones.  (And if you judge me for reading that...well, I guess I signed up for that one.)  And I watched some Dr. Who.  Pretty cool stuff, in my opinion.

Then it was Sunday again and I went to yet another new wards.  That makes 5 Sundays and never in the same place?  So four of us went out there...and only one came back.  No, sorry, just kidding...  We went out to North London, still quite a ways out there and probably an hour's travel again, but it took longer than it should have because we got lost on the way or rather got off too early and followed a couple for a long way who were wearing a suit and a dress on the off chance they were going the same place we were, found a map eventually, found the church, and that couple actually was there, so yay.  I will be doing piano in Primary, which will take an awful lot of practice, but they need help because practically the entire Primary is being taken care of by one person because the rest of the presidency left, the piano player was leaving that week, and the teachers were irregular at best.  In Sunday School, there were some very insightful poems--Invictus and The Soul's Captain.  Read 'em.  They're good.  This church is great, this ward is wonderful, and I should get some sleep before I head there tomorrow.

And, in keeping with the title of this post...Yarrr.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Sing it with me! The wipers on the bus go swish, swish, swish...

You'd better be singing now.

And if you get that song stuck in your head, I not only take credit, but I laugh maniacally.

Anyway, I am not going to write a full narrative this time but just wanted to say thanks to the bus drivers around here.

On Sunday I went to church in the Stratford ward.  We have an Oyster card that gives us unlimited tube and bus rides, provided we stay in zones 1 and 2.  Most of the time, no problem.  Stratford in, what, zone 4?

So it cost 2.30 to take the tube to the Redwhatsit station where we got on a bus to closer to the chapel, which cost more because it's also not in zone 2.  I'd foolishly thought I had enough on my card to get me there and back but hadn't though it would cost 2.30 so one of the fellow ward-goers loaned me a fiver which I payed her back when we got home.

But the bus...

We walked out of church and it was starting to rain.  By the time we got halfway down the block, it was pretty steady and stayed that way.  So people were rushing to the bus when it pulled up (...I may have excluded myself intentionally...).  But the bus driver just waved us on.  So I was very grateful that he spared me the few pounds/pence for that bus fare.

Then there was tonight.

We'd just finished watching the proms concert, lovely stuff.  But we were trying to get back and they'd closed the park so we couldn't take the shortcut through there.  The two girls I was with wanted to take the bus, but that was kind of difficult for me since a) I hadn't brought my Oyster card because it was a 7 day pass that I got last Monday and b) I hadn't brought any money because I thought, since we walked there, we could walk back just as easily.  Again, another loan of a fiver which I paid back at the center.  The bus driver seemed mildly irritated that he had to wait for her to find it.  But we soon realized something...the 52 did go to our stop at Notting Hill, yes, but...that one was on the other side of the road.  By this time, we were most of the way to Victoria Station and the turnaround, so we stayed on, got off, were going to take the tube but it was 4 pounds and I wasn't fond of that idea at all, so we found the 52 going our way.  Lo and behold, same bus driver.  One of our group got on and asked, "Is this the right bus to get to Notting Hill?"  He looked at us...and laughed.  And said yes, it was, and waved me on without charging me another 2.20.

So I'm grateful for bus drivers who take pity on poor lost American girls on occasion, and that the bus system can get us where we need to go.

Round and round, round and round, round and round.  The wheels on the bus go round and round, all around the town....

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Saga Continues...

By the time I woke up the next day...the day was half gone.  It was noon and there were people arriving in droves.  Well, there were several more of them, anyway.  It was also the first day of the program, so we had class scheduled.  The class:  London Walks.  Yep, that's right.  The main coursework consists of walking, and the textbook is London.  (I'm not sure if it's the most or least expensive textbook I've ever had--I mean, the ticket was expensive! but London is, you know, right there...right outside the door.  I do know, though, that it's by far the largest.)  So we started our walk at Hyde Park, then went to Green Park, through St. James Park, and maybe another one.  You've got to understand, about 1/10th of London is green space.  (Can't find a decent map to show this.)  The parks are really nice, too.  Big trees, nice walks, beautiful gardens, big green spaces, great places.

Y'know, I'm just going to try to rush through this a bit and catch up to today.  So if you want more details, ask.  Don't hesitate.  So...that was Tuesday.  We hiked across a whole bunch of parks, ended up at Buckingham Palace, went a little further down and through arches and memorials (which are, by the way, everywhere), and came to...Westminster Abbey!  Again, yay!  So we hiked through there, up through Picadilly circus where all the theatres are (showing Much Ado About Nothing, The Tempest, Les Mis, Wicked, Phantom of the Opera, Lion King...yeah, you get the idea),  then headed back. Oh, but this was in the afternoon.  In the morning...well, you know, when I woke up, we had a different walk assignment to find handy-dandy places like grocery stores and tube stops.  Most of which I'd found on Monday...  But anyway.  My partner and I stopped for lunch at Khan's, an Indian place I'd had recommended by a guy at the financial center last time I called there and he found out I was coming here.  He also suggested Mando's for Brazilian chicken and Borough Market (in general, I believe).  Anyway, we split some chicken masala curry and garlic naan bread.  It was most excellent.  Came out to about five pounds apiece.  Ish.

Another thing--I don't know if it's the absence of taxes or that taxes are already worked in, but all the prices are exactly what you pay, which makes things so very much easier.  And if you're looking for postcards, the cheapest I've seen (which are the same quality as many of the more expensive, unless you're looking for place-specific ones like the V&A) are 5 pence.  Which I only found out after I got the slightly more expensive ones, but it was 15/1 pound vs 20/1 pound, so...not too concerned.

So we were all pretty sore from fast-walking across London, but there was a great dinner here (dinner is 5:30, with a small meeting/devotional/we meet and say a prayer at 5:25) of very thick stew.  Everyone collapsed in bed after that.

I lie.

I was up late.

See, there's this library here--it's great, really; we're staying in a 5-storey Victorian townhouse, or rather 2 combined ones, with pretty staircases, lots of dorms, several bathrooms, a studio, a dining room, a living room, a "servery"/informal dining, a classroom, and an office.  And all of the rooms are decorated and Victorian.  I'm in the dining room right now, and there are carvings in a geometric/organic design on the roof (I'm aware that makes no sense) with a gold chandelier dripping crystals and demi-chandeliers on the dark wood walls, as well as an enormous mirror with carvings above and around it in the center of the wall on my left over a fireplace that has carved marble.  That kind of stuff.  (I'll get pictures.  Maybe I'll show you eventually.) the library, there are shelves of books (shocker!) and a few piles of books on the floor...that are free...for anyone to take and keep....

So I picked up one and thought hey, I should see if I'll like this.  Flip open, start reading, consider putting down once or twice, finish at midnight.  ...Yep.  It may not have been the most spectacular reading this side of the turn of the millenium, but it was fun and adventuresome and kind of twisted and it had griffins and dragons.  Good hooks, in my opinion.

So the next day found me rather tired.

Breakfast is 7:30-8:00, cereal and yoghurt (see how I'm using all these British spellings?) and fruit and toast and such.  We finished that up and then had a meeting at 8:30 to describe what we'd be doing that day.  Did you guess we'd be walking?  Good job!  We had teams of 4, randomly assigned, and a route to follow.  Since we were all taking the same route, the teams of 4 thing didn't pan out for a while.  One of the assignments was to find a map of London (accomplished! Yay!) and to stop in an art store which was described as being like one of the shops on Diagon Alley but it was an art store.  So...even better 'cause it's real magic.  And it was kind of like Borgin and Bourkes or some such because it was old, kind of small, had stuff reaching to the ceiling, and was...fantastic.  Anyway, we went in with a group of 8 and four of us really enjoyed looking around and looking around and admiring and admiring and oohing and aahing and wishing and wanting and get the picture.  But four of the others weren't art enthusiasts, so they headed out earlier than us.  Which split the groups pretty well but shuffled them a tad, as well.  We left there and walked to the National Gallery, to make sure we could find it, apparently, then to the British Museum where they had sculptures from the Parthenon and other pretty impressive works.  Most, if not all, were, in fact, not British.  Ironically enough.  Then we went to the Victoria and Albert museum which had an impressive mix of paintings, artifacts and other really interesting things.  Samurai were not tall.  I could fit in that armor.  And kind of want to.  Also, one of our group had a brilliant idea--someone should make a waffle iron using the Indian wall decorations.  (I think the geometric ones would work better.)  We got back around 4, 4:30, tired again.  Lots of walking.  Dinner was rosemary and orange chicken that time, I believe.  Stayed up late again, different book this time, but mostly just not tired.  For some reason.

The next day was a bit more relaxed.  We're on, what, Thursday?  They'd decided we did too much the day before so they tried to make it (somewhat) shorter.  We had class first, actually; literature class was at 8:30, then our writing class.  Introductory stuff; got syllabus and books.  They weren't very long.  Although they weren't so short that that's all we did, either.  We talked English.  Because we aren't all fluent in another language.  Anyway, once that was over, we were all supposed to find our way to the National Gallery via St. Paul's and the Millennium Bridge over the Thames (where I got a wonderful costume idea from one of the street performers--he wore a suit with gloves, shirt buttoned over his head, and a stick behind it holding up a bowler hat that had glasses dangling from it--a brilliant idea perfectly executed), past the Globe and the Tate Modern, then further on but that's where things derailed as there was construction and some of us went back over the Millennium Bridge and some went around the construction and further down.  {Random plug to see who's reading:  Please comment!  I want to know what you like, what you want to hear more of, etc.}  We all somehow eventually made it back to Trafalgar Square (I assume) and to the gallery.  It's incredible, by the way.  I was standing in front of some of the art pieces I've admired for a long time.  Van Eyck, Renoir, Raphael, Van Gogh, Monet, Da Vinci...shall I just direct you to  I'm going back.  We were supposed to walk through quickly to orient ourselves, then spend a while in front of one piece and look at it for a while.  This is where the staying up too late caught up to me.  I only got a page down in half an hour or more sitting in front of J.M.W. Turner's Dutch Boats in a Gale.

One other thing I liked; while I was sitting there, a lady next to me was talking to her children about the "horse artist," which I assume was George Stubbs, artist of Whistlejacket, a full-sized image of a dutchess's racehorse made for her in celebration of the horse's victories.  They have a book about him at home, apparently (him the artist).  Then she asked them who the painting in front of them was by, and the girl who couldn't have been more than 8 not only knew that it was by Turner, but she almost knew his full name.  Why are there not more mothers like that in the world?

It was about then I headed towards the bus stops and home.  Double-decker buses!  So cool!  And...I'm pretty sure the only way they don't tip over every time they round a corner is having an awful lot of weight under the bus.  We had roast beef for dinner and there was a dressing with the salad that tasted almost like straight lemon juice.  Oh, the night before we'd had a meeting in the evening to meet the resident family at the center--Alvaro and Thais from the city of Sao Paulo.  They told us the rules around here and welcomed us.  She cooks all the dinners and never repeats anything.  Let me just repeat that--she makes dinner.  Every night.  For 30-40 students plus the professors and families.  And *never* repeats anything.  Except by request.  Color me impressed.  And challenged.  (Hey, how hard can it be?  Incidentally, that's why I'm mentioning all the dinners.)  Then representatives from the two nearby stakes came and assigned us to our new wards.  I'm in the Stratford ward.  (Well, actually, another ward wanted one more person and it might be easier (by which I mean cheaper) for me to go there and not spending a lot is something I want to do right now so...)

One more thing about Trafalgar Square then I'm hitting the sack.  Despite not catching up with myself.  There are 4 pillars at Trafalgar Square, most of which have kings or some such on them.  Except for the huge one that has Nelson in the middle.  (Never mind, only one of the others has a king, and they're plinths, not pillars.) Anyway, thanks to Wikipedia, I now know that the 4th had a statue planned for it but it didn't pan out for one reason or another, so they started putting artwork on it.  Currently it has a huge ship-in-a-bottle.  It's pretty awesome.  Also, first time we went there, it was exactly 1 year before the start of the Olympics in London.  They have a countdown.  They also have a Van Gogh-esque painting made in collaboration with GE.  Cool thing about it?  It's made of plants.  Again, pictures eventually.

There's also art classes--Vastu 101 for me.  See also:  Would have been able to be in mixed media if I'd been able to get one or two art classes at school after Vastu 101 which I already took but they either didn't fit in my schedule or were 5 people big or they changed the minor so none of the classes are even offered anymore! *fume*  But anyway...  More introduction to the course, although the blind contour drawing (look at the person in front of you; draw their face without lifting your pencil and without looking at the paper) was fun.  And had the entire front room cracking up.  Which is where we were having the class.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Someone turned me loose on London. How foolish of them.

It was about seven in the morning.  The sky was cloudy, but that was nothing unusual.  I knew I had to do something.  The building was brick--five stories tall and brick.  I sat out in front, leaning on the iron fence, and pulled a map out of my pocket.  Despite its rough trip from the airport, it retained a fresh appearance.  More than I could say for myself.  I had the sweat of a long plane ride on me, and my hair had begun to escape from its braid in a manner that might be called frizzy.  But I was far from done in.

Anyway, as I was saying, I went to the center and no one answered, so I decided to do something else.  And I happened to notice a few places on my tube map that I thought sounded...interesting... Anyway, I decided to see if I could find a phone or one or two of the other things I needed first.  So I trotted off down Queensway, about three blocks down, and found a lot of stores but none that really had what I wanted.  Oh, and before that, as I was walking up the block, a little old lady named Olga asked me to help her get to Cafe Diana.  She said it was 5 minutes away--it wasn't.  But not in a "she horribly underestimated" way; more of a "I turned the corner and we were almost there already" kind of way.  She was very kind, but I declined her offer of coffee all the same.  I guess I should have stayed and talked, but I didn't think of that at the time.  

Anyway, after exploring Queensway, I strolled into the Bayswater Underground station.  (Swiping my Oyster pass makes me feel very...less like a tourist?)  And headed...Oh, come on.  Where do you think I went?  On my own to explore London, can go anywhere I want, what is the first thing you expect me to find?  Of course the first place I went was 221b Baker Street!  I'd noticed a "Baker Street" tube stop and decided to stop by and see what I could find.  There were a few others I wanted to explore.  Including Tottenham Court Road, but I didn't make it there this day.  Well, as it happens, there was a quite lovely Sherlock Holmes museum in the townhouse at 221b Baker Street.  And if anyone ever happens to think it's just a flat, let me just say something--there were 5 floors of the place.  And the things they'd put there were quite impressive.  I mean, of course they had the hat and the violin, but there were things like his letters organized in Holmes' favorite method--sitting on the fireplace mantel with a knife through them.  And the more you knew of the Sherlock Holmes stories, the more you found to chuckle/be astonished at.  It was put together by someone who'd studied, that's for sure.  The top floor had some wax figures in life-size dioramas from some of the stories.  Red-headed league, Hound of the Baskervilles, so on and so forth.  I might have to find my way back to that museum before long.

Next place I went?  Westminster!  There was a man playing on the steel drums on my way out.  In fact, there are street performers everywhere.  So far, I've seen lots of people playing instruments, lots of the moving statues (some better than others--there was an impressive guy in all gold the other day who really freaked out a girl walking by), a Freddy Kreuger (creeeepy), a guy in a Queen Elizabeth mask (creeeepy), some hip-hop dancers/comedians, and so forth.  As I left the tube stop at Westminster, there was a guy playing Captain Jack.  Which was fun, but then I noticed he was standing directly below the statue of Boudicca.  Given the two, I think Boudicca would win in a fair fight.  Or an unfair one.  I then walked past the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben--really impressive stuff.  The stonework is incredible!  Wandered down past and on to Westminster Abbey, around the little park past the Houses of Parliament--they have the Burghers of Calais!  Not the original ones, but copies of.  I like Rodin's work.  Even a paper on his sculptures for an art history class didn't stop my approval thereof.  Blown away by the history here, I must say.  Everywhere, old historic houses, statues, stories reaching back to before America was a glimmer in anyone's eye.  But I began to grow weary--I mean, really, I'd gotten a few hours of sleep (if that), had been walking all morning, lugging a hiking backpack with all my clothes in it and another smaller bag that also had a pretty decent heft to it (see also: contained laptop), not to mention I'm not sure I remembered breakfast.  So I headed back to the center to see if anyone was there yet.

Got there (it's about halfway between Bayswater and Notting Hill Gate on the Circle Line track, which happens to be the same track Baker Street and Westminster are on) and it was probably in the whereabouts of 2 pm or so.  Rang the bell, waited a sec, turned to leave, and lo and behold, Professor Bennion was there! Well, he was there along with his wife and his son, Chris, who happens to be the only guy in our program.  (Poor, poor guy.)  They were about to head out to the Notting Hill Carnival.  Oh, did I mention?  I kept seeing signs for the Carnival on the tube, one in the airport, and some in various other places.  Turns out I got here just in time for Europe's biggest festival.  I think it was John/Professor Bennion who said it was the world's biggest after Rio.  I know little about it (for more info,, but I did see some of the parade.  How shall I say... It was fun, given a certain value of fun.  Lots of energy, certainly.  (Amusing side note--after the riots, the police/government wanted to say that yes, they were there and they were paying attention, so there was a police every few yards...sorry, metres, along the route.  Also, apparently all the major government leaders, around the time of the riots, happened to be out of town.  So lawlessness=not good, apparently.)  I will say this, though.  If you like people wearing decent amounts of clothing, have a problem with some...moderately suggestive dancing (more than Latin Ballroom), or don't like your entire body bouncing with each beat of loud music and the bass taking great care to realign your spine, the carnival is probably not for you.  If, however, you either like one or all of the above or can ignore it for the sake of the crowd, the energy, or the fantastic costumes, you'd probably like it.  From what I saw.  Let's just say there were several times when people with huge gauzy creations set me thinking of how you could make a fully-functional peacock costume.  We also got some jerk chicken.  Decently good.  Probably not quite worth the 7 pounds, even though it came with rice and chicken, because although it was, as stated, decently good, I've had better chicken, the rice was cold, and salad is...kinda difficult to eat outdoors.  Don't get me wrong, I had fun, and I am glad I participated, but I think I won't need to go to another.

Got back, tried to stay awake until, oh, 7, but there may have been a time or two I didn't quite make it.  The nice thing about being the first is I got to pick my bunk first and get familiar with the center before everyone showed up.

I shall work on getting another update on what I've been up to lately...but there's been a lot.  So we'll see.  (Hey, I've got all weekend!  Which'm only up late because tomorrow's Saturday?)