The Bus Don’t Go to Hogwarts* (Day 6)

This morning Professor Armitage summoned us for an extra half class session.  Normally we will have no class on Fridays, but the professor wished to cram in some discussion of Julius Caesar (and hand out our tickets) before seeing the play.  Afterwards I and one of my flatmates, Kari, began a journey across time and space:

Home of many amazing books I was not allowed to photograph--which left more time for appreciating them.

Home of many amazing books I was not allowed to photograph–which left more time for appreciating them.

O.K., not much of a literal journey.  However, the rare books gallery (containing a Gutenberg Bible, the Magna Carta, and manuscripts of everything from Beowulf to Persuasion) was wonderful.  After an hour or so in the British Library, we walked five minutes down the road to King’s Cross Station, in search of a particular platform.  Once we had located Platform 9 3/4, we queued up for half an hour to take a couple of pictures with a trolley stuck partly in a wall.  If ever you are lucky enough to find yourself in London, move “pictures at Platform 9 3/4” fairly far down on your list, unless you’re planning to frame the picture and hang it on your wall.  Still, it was a fun way to spend part of the afternoon.

I'd hashtag this "house pride", except that Hufflepuffs don't really do pride.  House cheerfulness and loyalty, then!

I’d hashtag this “house pride”, except that Hufflepuffs don’t really do pride. House cheerfulness & loyalty?

On the return trip, we stopped at two of the secondhand bookshops we’d passed. The latter of these, Skoob Books, was a lovely place; I bought a paperback Complete Works of William Shakespeare (thus far I’d been using my Kindle edition) and a much older Vergili Opera.  As we were leaving, the manager mentioned that the store supplied all the books used as props in the current run of Doctor Who.  I’ll be watching the books more closely in the next episode.

Is that the TARDIS I hear?  Alas, no.  Perhaps another day....

Do I hear the TARDIS materializing around the corner? Alas, no. Perhaps another day….

This evening we crossed the Thames again for Julius Caesar in the renovated Globe Theatre.  I’m headed to Bath tomorrow morning and thus can’t review it properly now; suffice it to say that the play was amazing.  Our group had groundling tickets and arrived early enough to get close to the stage.  I’d sometimes wondered at how close the Montford Park Players get to their audience, but the stage at the Globe (which juts into the yard) was a new experience.  There’s nothing quite like being elbowed by the Soothsayer so that he can warn Caesar, who then stops his procession two feet from you.  Characters entered or exited the stage as frequently by the stairs leading into the audience as by the doors in the back of the stage.

The acting was excellent–I understood better than ever before why Brutus (at least in some ways) really is an honorable man.  In some ways, he’s the man that Caesar would like to be perceived as.  Caesar makes grand declarations about himself in the third person (“Caesar is not moved by fear”, or “Danger and I are brothers, I the elder and more terrible”–that one cracks me up), yet Cassius, Casca, & co. still ridicule and oppose him.  Brutus, on the other hand, is so honorable that Marc Antony, his enemy, treats his body with respect; so honorable that Cassius, who originally plans to manipulate him, grows to care for him as deeply as a brother; so honorable that it takes him ten minutes to find a subordinate willing to follow orders and hold a sword for him to run on; so honorable that he can sway anyone but the mob.

That mob was done particularly well; the actors playing unnamed Romans usually mingled in the yard, cheering for Caesar or heckling Antony at the beginning of his speech to them.  They displayed the exact same vehemence whether their cheers were for or against Caesar, Brutus, Antony, etc.

One slightly confusing aspect of the casting was that the same actors would play multiple roles.  Normally this isn’t too hard to understand; however, in this play, almost all the characters are Roman senators, with similar names and dress.  It takes a minute to realize that some familiar-looking person whose name you’ve forgotten is no longer Casca or Metellus Cimber (or was it Caius Ligarius?), but has instead changed roles.  The one instance in which this worked well was at the end: Brutus finally convinces one of his men (whose back is to the audience) to assist him in seppuku, so the man turns around–and is played by same actor as Julius Caesar.  Even though Caesar dies midway through the action, his shadow reaches over the entire play.

 

*I kind of cheated a little bit with this title (although I guess I make up the rules).  I wasn’t familiar with this particular Harry and the Potters song until today, but I found it looking for the lyrics of those I did know–somehow it seemed relevant.

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No Place Like London

I’ve been drinking plenty of tea while in England (at least a dozen cups since leaving the plane), but I’d yet to experience a full and proper British tea time.  So today my flatmates and I had reservations at Bea’s of Bloomsbury for afternoon tea at 2:00.  On our way to Bea’s, which is near St. Paul’s Cathedral, we stopped at St.-Martin-in-the-Fields Church in order to make brass rubbings.  I’m quite happy with my rubbing of St. George slaying a dragon, and might go back to make more rubbings–and to enjoy one of the free concerts held there several times a week.

View of Trafalgar Square, as seen from the steps of St.-Martin-in-the-Fields.

View of Trafalgar Square, as seen from the steps of St.-Martin-in-the-Fields.

 

To someone whose idea of teatime was just tea and scones, the meal at Bea’s felt extravagant. (The price also felt slightly extravagant, so I likely won’t repeat the experience this trip.) We were each served finger sandwiches, tea, cupcakes, scones with jam and clotted cream, and other various sweets. With the exception of the meringues–I don’t particularly care for meringues–it was all delicious. The marshmallows were surprisingly tasty.

Self-portrait outside Bea's.

Self-portrait outside Bea’s.

We took the walk from St. Martin’s to Bea’s at a brisk pace, to make sure we were on time. As we returned along the Strand and Fleet Street, however, we stopped to cross and re-cross the Thames, take pictures, and visit some of the shops. (I was actually stopped for directions by some anxious Briton who seemed to be running late for something; it was flattering to know that–at least before I opened my mouth–I wasn’t obviously a tourist.)

The author on Millenium Bridge, which has recovered marvelously from the Death Eaters' attack a few years ago.

The author on Millenium Bridge, which has recovered marvelously from the Death Eaters’ attack a few years ago.

St. Paul's Cathedral, as seen from the bridge.

St. Paul’s Cathedral, as seen from the bridge.

The Globe, where we see Julius Caesar tomorrow night.

The Globe, where we see Julius Caesar performed tomorrow night.

London skyline from the bridge.

London skyline from the bridge.

'Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd,' whose barber shop was on this block.

‘Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd,’ whose barber shop was on this block.

The British papers may have left Fleet Street, but their names remain (along with many storied coffeehouses and taverns).

The British papers may have left Fleet Street, but their names remain (along with many storied coffeehouses and taverns).

The original Twinings of London, where I purchased  some tea (surprise!).

Yes, that’s the Twinings of London, where I purchased some tea (surprise!).

My sympathies to the poor Brits, who’ve just lost to Uruguay in the World Cup.

Here Comes the Sun (Day 4)

This afternoon I visited two famous addresses: 221B Baker Street and Abbey Road.

Home of the world's only consulting detective, who was sadly not at home.

Home of the world’s only consulting detective, who was sadly not at home.

 

The Sherlock Holmes Museum, located at that address, is a painstakingly re-creation of Mrs. Hudson’s flats, complete with period furnishings, souvenirs from famous cases, and even statues of the buildings’ more famous residents and visitors. Touching of most props was permitted, although I’m not sure that Holmes’ violin was included in that.

That funny look on my face is partly because I'm holding Sherlock Holmes's violin, and partly because I'm nervous that one of the maids might tell me I'm not allowed to touch it.

That funny look on my face is partly because I’m holding Sherlock Holmes’s violin, and partly because I’m nervous that one of the maids might tell me I’m not allowed to touch it.

Watson's bookshelf.

Watson’s bookshelf.

Memorabilia of certain cases, including a medal from the French government--presumably not real?

Memorabilia of certain cases, including Holmes’s watch and a medal from the French government–presumably not real?

The chair in which Arthur Conan Doyle sat to model for a portrait of the detective.

The chair in which Arthur Conan Doyle sat to model for a portrait of the detective.

After leaving the museum and gift shop, we discovered that Abbey Road was a twenty-minute walk away. We decided that a trip was in order. Once we arrived, we found a dozen people gathered around the familiar crosswalk and–to my surprise and delight–a crossing guard who would happily (and somewhat safely) photograph tourists during the lulls in traffic. Drivers at the intersection seemed to expect delays and generally slowed down so as not to hit any overexcited Beatles fans.

One of the pictures snapped of my flatmates and I.

One of the pictures snapped of my flatmates and I.

Can anyone tell me why the Beatles chose this perfectly quiet, normal, residential street for their album?

Can anyone tell me why the Beatles chose this perfectly quiet, normal, residential street for their album?

I Ask to Be, or Not to Be (Day 3)

Tonight I and my flatmate ate at my first pub, The Swan, where I had a very English meal of steak, chips, tomato, and ale. We chose the place for its proximity to the Hammersmith Tube station.  The pub was lovely, but not at all crowded–not too many Brits begin dinner at 5:45.

The Swan, a pub where I and my flatmate ate dinner tonight before the play.

The Swan, a pub where I and my flatmate ate dinner tonight before the play.

'They come in pints'...which is too much for my first alcohol purchase.  I managed maybe half the ale over the course of the meal.

‘They come in pints’. . .which is a lot for my first alcohol purchase. I managed maybe half this glass of ale over the course of the meal.

The residents of Hammersmith are keen to establish their connection with Gustav Holst, who lived and worked in the area for years. (In fact, he even composed a piece of music named after the borough.) There were several pictures of him and his music hanging in the first story of the pub.

A portrait of the composer, displayed prominently at the Swan.

A portrait of the composer, displayed prominently at the Swan.

But of course the most exciting part of the day–even more exciting than riding the Underground for the first time–was the play.  Riverside Studios’ production of the classic was spare, dark, and violent.  The claustrophobic setting–a modern prison–was augmented by the intimacy of the theatre, which only had seven rows of seats.  (Presumably this was inspired by the conversation in which Hamlet metaphorically declares himself to be in prison.)  The prison adaptation, which mostly felt less like a gimmick than I had suspected, was maintained by added dialogue (most often modern slang) and implied positions for the characters: Hamlet and his compatriots as prisoners, Polonius as the warden, Claudius and Gertrude as visitors, etc.

Most of the small cast were excellent; Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy was particularly well rendered by the lead, lying on the floor of his cell.  Ophelia showed more backbone at the beginning of the play than I anticipated, making her descent into madness that much more dramatic.  Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, whom I remember little from the other version I saw years ago, were the most changed characters.  Instead of well-meaning tools of the king, they were brutal and obnoxious thugs.  In the first half of the play, the duo were used more for comedic effect (which was successful, I admit).  Later, however, scenes were added in which they beat up first Horatio and then Hamlet, scenes which make sense only in the context of the prison story and not at all in the original plot.  Maybe some of my fellow students will enlighten me tomorrow as to the significance of this particular change.

Gertrude’s acting was the greatest disappointment of the cast.  She faded into the background in nearly every scene in which she appeared.

Possibly my favorite part of the play was the performance of The Mousetrap, which was put on not by traveling players but by two prisoners who absorbed the roles of castle guards, courtiers, messengers, and probably a few others.

There’s more I could write about the play, but I’d better get to bed so I can discuss it coherently tomorrow in class.

Everything Is Awesome (Day 2)

First full day in London, and first class this morning!  Tomorrow night we see our first play, Hamlet.  After our orientation and class at Winston House (UNC’s base of operations in London, about twenty minutes’ walk from my flat), I went out to lunch and then to the British Museum with friends.  None of them had been before, so I repeated a few rooms (no complaints there).

This brick wall, which was excavated in pieces, was originally in Nebuchadnezzar's throne room in Babylon.

A brick wall, excavated in pieces, which originally graced King Nebuchadnezzar’s throne room in Babylon.

 

Confession: I can't remember exactly when or where in Mesopotamia this lyre was made.

This silver lyre was buried in the grimly named ‘Great Death Pit’ in the royal cemetery at Ur (modern Iraq).

This winged bull is from the palace of the Assyrian king Sargon the Great.

This winged bull is from the palace of the Assyrian king Sargon the Great.

 

A small statue of Ramses, proving that the Ancient Egyptians were Tar Heels, too.

A small statue of Ramses, proving that the Ancient Egyptians were Tar Heels, too.

As our teacher (Professor Armitage) recommended this morning, we also explored the galleries dedicated to the Elgin marbles, taken from the Parthenon in the 19th century.  These rooms contained some of the actual friezes and statues, as well as plaster casts of some that Lord Elgin left in Athens.  Most of the friezes depict the mythical battle between the Lapiths and a herd of frenzied centaurs (ah, the classics).  The centaurs seemed to be winning.

A centaur (head broken off) menaces one of the human warriors while holding a panther skin over one arm--not really sure why.

A centaur (head broken off) menaces one of the human warriors while holding a panther skin over one arm–not really sure why, but it’s cool.

By this point, everyone in our group of five was footsore and mentally saturated. As we were searching for the exit, however, I spotted a familiar name: Palenque.  (It ought to be familiar, as I wrote an entire research paper about the characteristics of a particular Mayan glyph at that site.)  I had to leave the Mesoamerican rooms for another day…which gives me time to review everything I learned about Mayan writing.  I took just one picture to tide me over until I return.

Mayan glyphs and figures from a stone at Yaxchilan, another Mayan city.

Mayan glyphs and figures from a stone at Yaxchilan, another Mayan city.

Bonus picture: Apparently this crystal skull is a fake, probably made in the 19th century, but it still belongs in a museum...

Bonus picture: The experts say this crystal skull is a fake, probably made in the 19th century, but it still belongs in a museum…

Leaving on a Jet Plane (Day 1)

I used to think that planes were cool, and that the longer I could stay on them, the more fun I would have.  I had ample opportunity to reconsider that opinion on my 8.5-hour flight from Charlotte to London last night.  Some of that time I spent listening to the cheerful and articulate four-year-old in the row behind me.  (Actually, my enthusiasm for flying was as great as his during the first and last fifteen minutes…just not at every intervening moment.)  I finally saw all of Casablanca, which was as wonderful a film as I had inferred from the parts of it I’d seen before.  I slept little, however, even though I set my watch five hours ahead soon after the plane took off.  (“3 a.m. London time?  I don’t feel tired yet.  5 a.m. London time?  I can’t get comfortable in these cramped seats.  7 a.m. London time?  Surely we’re almost at Heathrow…”)

I was so bored waiting to land that I took my first picture of the trip.

Tasty plane food!

After vanquishing the forces of Immigration and Baggage Reclaim, I and the other program participant on the flight took a cab to the office of our flat.  We ditched our luggage there, ate lunch at Caffe Nero, then wandered around the British Museum for a couple of hours.

The British Museum, beneath a characteristically cloudy sky.

The British Museum, beneath a characteristically cloudy sky.

I saw the Rosetta Stone (most of it, anyway; the crowd made it difficult to examine it closely), the Egyptian Book of the Dead, ancient pages from the Iliad and the Aeneid, mosaics from Pompeii, treasures from the Sutton Hoo burial mound, various ancient sarcophagi, and dozens of Greek urns.  Even so, we barely scratched the surface of the museum’s collections, and I’ll be happy to visit it again soon.

One of many examples of cuneiform--sadly not the one from the library at Nineveh.

One of many examples of cuneiform–sadly not the one from the library at Nineveh.