Wednesday, July 09, 2008

My Favorite Things: London Edition

*Heads up: this is a long post.* In the spirit of not focusing on the things that went wrong during my stay in England and the daytrip to Paris (where I not-so-conveniently found out that Discover card is accepted nowhere in Europe), I’m posting a few more pics and details about the things that stand out as my favorites.

The first represents one of the main reasons for the trip: the treasure trove that is the British Library. What a privilege it is to be able to take advantage of the resources of one of the world's greatest collections of human knowledge. To be able to walk in, register, and then be granted access to manuscripts dating back to 1695, to read the marginal notes left by one Elizabeth Ashley in her copy of a collection of plays, to see the material differences in the three different copies of a printed play that had, just one year prior to publication, failed so badly in performance that the theater briefly fucking cool is that? I never thought I'd do archival research. Indeed, as I sat in the Bibliography and Research Methods Course my first year in this program and listened to the professor explain how archival research is often little more than a matter of serendipity, I remember thinking, "Well, I know how to get around that problem: don't do anything that requires archival research dumbass!" But the dissertation takes you places you never thought you'd be, and so it goes that I fell in love with the British Library and, dare I admit it, with archival research. This statue of Isaac Newton trying to figure out the world with his compass stands outside the library. I still haven't figured out why he had to be naked....
The next item is my room at the Morgan House Hotel. A single room with a shower and toilet just down the hall cost 52 quid per night. Anyone who has travelled to London recently will understand that this is a pretty great rate for a place that’s very close to a tube station and located in a pretty happening part of town (Victoria). The room was typically small, but I was only there long enough to sleep every night. It’s one of my favorites because it was the place where I was finally able to rest each evening and get a decent sleep, despite having a room that faced the somewhat busy Ebury St. Honestly, this made the list because of one amenity the hotel room had hiding in the closet. A thing without which I can have no restful sleep. There was a fan! It was nothing short of a miracle I tell you. I’m a fan person. My mother is a fan person, and she put fans in mine and my brother’s bedrooms from the time we were infants. So, from the very beginning of time, I remember drifting off to sleep with the constant whirring and the light breeze of a fan on my face. The fan alone was worth every penny of the hotel room price.

Okay, technically the next thing isn’t really one of my favorites, it was just really damn cute. I mean, look at this dress! It is beyond gorgeous, and I’d totally love to see it on Eliza.* I was walking down one of the many busy streets in one of London's many shopping districts, and I saw this dress and stopped in my tracks to take a picture. The only thing better than this dress is the name of the store where it was being sold. It’s a high-end, childrens wear store…like Dolce and Gabbana for kids! The name of the boutique: please, mum? Isn’t it the cutest thing you’ve ever heard of?

The following goes without saying for many people who study British Literature, especially between1500-1800. Westminster Abbey was amazing, stuffed to the brim, and surprisingly beautiful - inside and out. I realize I'm a total dork, but I actually shed a few tears over Aphra Behn's stone. I just kept thinking, "I'm writing about you! You're important, you were a great writer and a super cool chick...for God's sake you were a freaking spy! How can they NOT have put you in Poet's Corner!"

Ahhh, the theater. Her Majesty's Theater to be exact. The original was built in 1705, and though it's been through several new designs since then, I got the distinct impression that it retains much of the 18th-c. theater elements. The physical space is nothing like any theater I've been in here in the U.S. The seats are small, crammed together, and the overall amount of space within the theater is quite limited. Intimate is the best way to describe it. I sat there watching Phantom of the Opera with mouth agape with childlike wonder and glee at everything about the performance: the sound of the soprano voices, the mobile stage pieces, the power of the music, the bodily presence of so many players on stage dancing, singing, moving like clockwork. My absolute favorite scene is the masquerade, as it highlighted one of the key cultural moments in the period I study. Bottom line, the entire experience brought to life major aspects of the plays I'm using in my dissertation. I felt, saw, and heard components of theater that are just as integral to stage productions now as they would have been in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, making the experience just as worthy as my trip to the library.

*Yes, that's my youngest daughter's name. I've decided to get rid of the alphabet-letter pseudonyms. My kids have names that truly match their personalities, and I don't feel that I'm putting either of them at any risk by using their real names. So, yes, my oldest daughter is Hannah, and Eliza is the toddler.

1 comment:

p-duck said...

So glad you had a nice trip! Watching my students' reaction to the museum at the British Library is something I'll never forget.