First Adventures in London
I have been living in London now for twenty days.
At this point I can cross streets without fear of getting smoked by a black cab, I can successfully navigate the tube, I know how to walk from the dorm to work and to school, and I can fall asleep to the sirens and car horns on Marylebone Street. When I first arrived this was not the case….when I first arrived, the city of London hit me in the face with its noise, smell, bright lights, and perpetual motion.
“He expects to see, extending before him, a human landscape that is finally distinct, clear, without mists, where he will be able to move with precise confident gestures. Is this what happens? Not at all.”
-Italo Calvino, Mr. Palomar
The sprawling organism that is this 700 square mile urban center shrunk me to a pinpoint and pushed me around until I finally managed to find my feet once again securely on the ground. The thing I have found about London is that there is a calm center amid the noise, and the bright lights, and the smell. London exists in a chaotic hurried way but in the side streets, parks, markets, museums, churches, libraries and pubs there lies possibility for life without steel, asphalt, or car horns. The exciting bright humming exterior of the city is a wonderful thing, and one that is truly inescapable. Still, I am deeply pleased to discover quiet corners in what I thought would be the loudest semester of my life.
Until December I am living at the International Students House on the south side of Regents Park. While living here I am taking two classes at the University of Birkbeck (associated with UCL), the first class is Social Psychology and the second is London: Growth of a Modern City which is described by the professor as an exploration of London in the process of global integration, empire building, and deconstruction. (approx. 1550-2000) The idea is to build a picture of the development of the modern metropolis.
In addition to class I am a design intern at ARA Design, an international interior design and architecture firm that has firmly established itself in the upscale hotel industry. Here is their website: http://www.aradesign.co.uk/
So far at the internship I have been doing a wide variety of tasks, everything from reorganizing boxes of Israeli fabric samples to meeting with lighting representatives for a project in Jordan to building a Sketchup model of the bar area in a Paris Marriot Hotel. Needless to say, I am a very happy designer. ARA is fantastic and already has given me loads of experience and exposure to exclusive design events around the city. And to put the cherry on top of this sundae, ARA is a ten minute walk away from Birkbeck which in turn is a twenty minute walk away from ISH. Doing the math means that I can walk to work and school every day. Perfection.
The locations of my dorm, my school, and my office are all very central to the rest of London center which makes it very easy to get around to see different attractions.
On one of the first weekends Kathe (our advisor, and IA professor at UWSP) took us around on a tour of the area.
Walking Tour: A Short History of Regents Park to Westminster
One festivals held in the city that I had a chance to attend is the Mayor’s Thames Festival. This is 10 days of art, music, and participation events celebrating the river which takes place every September. On the 14th of September a group of my friends and I got all dressed up for the finale of this festival. This year it was called 1513: A Ships Opera. It was exactly as it sounds. A couple of engineers and composers got together and wrote/choreographed a piece of music to be performed by the bells, whistles, foghorns, sirens, cannons, an engines of a small fleet of historic vessels. For more information on the music and boats themselves I would suggest checking out this website: http://www.thecultureship.org/1513-a-ships-opera/
The final cumulating performance of the opera occurred between 7:45 and 8:45 in the Pool of London (aka the space between the London Bridge and the Tower Bridge) music played by boats was a very bizarre experience but still very enjoyable.
A few days later I happened upon the final of the World Triathlon in Hyde Park. Eye candy all around.
I have Mondays off every week. On one particular Monday I decided to do a tour of the parks close by. My saving grace in this city of light has been a park. More specifically, Regents Park. As I mentioned before, the window in my room looks directly out into the trees and grass across the street. Several times a week I run around the park, often up Primrose Hill. But while I run I don’t carry a camera. So with my day off I walked around Regents Park, then went south to Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. All told that day I walked for about 6 hours. Time well spent. In the morning it was beautiful: blue skies, warm breeze. By afternoon it had started to rain, and then hail a little bit. Welcome to England!
My London History class is extremely interesting. On the first day we started out by taking a short walk around the University. Mike Berlin pointed out a few astonishing things. Two stuck with me. 1) Viriginia Wolf lived a couple doors down from the University rooms at Gordon Square. 2) The building that George Orwell describes in his book 1984 as the Ministry of Truth is an exact description of the UCL library. This association was perhaps formed because of the building’s use by the Ministry of Information during the Second World War.
‘It is an enormous pyramidal structure of glittering white concrete rising 300 metres into the air, containing over 3000 rooms above ground. On the outside wall are the three slogans of the Party: “WAR IS PEACE,” “FREEDOM IS SLAVERY,” “IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.”’
During the second class we met outside of the Farringdon Station and went for a walk around Clerkenwell, an area of central London known in the past for political activism and now for design, architecture, and fashionable living. It has a fair amount of history centered around people being burned at the stake and/or executed in a variety of other ways. It would be hard to walk to work every day knowing that in that spot hundreds of years ago Catholics were killing protestants/protestants were killing Catholics (Depending on who was King or Queen at the time).
Although this is a brief explanation of my past few weeks, it may give you a snapshot of what life has been like across the pond. Currently I am in the midst of the latest adventure “The Tale of Two Biddies”, but that really deserves its own chapter. So I am here. In London, the great metropolis, listening to cars and lorries and busses, sirens and rain. In London I will wake up tomorrow and go to work quickly hurrying across streets in the space between the green man and the green light. In London I will navigate the loud and the bright, while seeking out the quiet and flowers and clear air. This city is unlike any place I have lived before. I have traded a skyline of trees, plains, and mountains for one of chrome and glass. In London I am learning to adapt, and perhaps, to eventually love this sprawling metropolis.
Until next time,