"Too hot, too
From the play The Winter's Tale, spoken by the king, Leontes, when he (wrongly) suspects that his wife is having an affair. Used multiple times a day in reference to a variety of things, including the temperature on the Tube, as well as a euphemism for possibly awkward conversations during class about Shakespeare's romantic plot lines. Our everyday conversations became increasingly peppered with what we called "nerdy but great" Shakespeare references. Other popular ones: "kissing with inside lip" (also from The Winter's Tale), "Go to! Go to!" (from Romeo and Juliet and others, used in the sense of "let's go!") and, "Look, it's the pastoral space!" (a classroom term, used in reference to sheep and the pastoral countryside that Shakespeare wrote about).
I open this final post with a mild plea for the reader to bear with me for a bit. It's hard for me to not sound overly sentimental when I look back on my experiences in London and Stratford.
For one thing, I have wanted to visit England since 5th grade, so I can literally say it was a long-time dream come true. I knew, as a graduating senior from high school, that college would be my chance to study abroad, something that attending UCLA offers in abundance. And when I first stepped into Heathrow airport and minded my first gap on the Tube, I knew that I had to make everything count.
I achieved everything I wanted on my to-do list. I visited the big sites like Piccadilly Circus and Big Ben and slipped in my geeky inclinations at Platform 9 ¾. I brought home touristy souvenirs plastered with the Union Jack, took the obligatory pictures with the red phone booths, and perfected my impression of an English accent. I even snuck over to Paris for a day — when can I ever do that again?!
But there were also things that I didn't expect to happen that happened.
I didn't think I would enjoy Shakespeare as much as I did. I think that while in a lecture hall, staring at the words on the page, everything seems so dead — just a bunch of words some guy wrote. But when you can go see it performed, not just by some high school drama class, but by the likes of the theater company at The Globe and by the Royal Shakespeare Company, you realize that Shakespeare knew what he was doing as a dramatist.
I didn't expect to meet people who I know I will stay in contact with for, at very least, the rest of my time at UCLA. On campus, you're only together for three months every quarter, only a few times a week, so you really only have a shot to talk to a few people, maybe one or two of whom you'll add on Facebook.
Looking back on the trip, one of the best/worst nights was at The Globe Theatre, where it poured all through the performance of As You Like It. Here are some of my pictures:
I thought it would be entertaining to take pictures through my poncho before the show started at The Globe. Above is one of Natalie De Luna and Megan, looking like ethereal snow angels. While I was taking these I was hoping that the plastic in front of my camera's lens would make the images look like they were stills from those ghost hunting shows, but instead they just turned out cute.
Above is Jeremiah Choi, aka JereBear, in a rare moment in front of the camera instead of behind it. He looks amazed because his boat shoes are holding up surprisingly well in the downpour. We suppose that's why sailors wear them.
Time to share the top five "no-thank-you" moments. Don't get me wrong, England is a lovely place, but there were definitely a few things that took me a while to get used to.
1. The food. You have no idea how hard it is to find a sandwich without mayo. They put mayo on everything. Then there's the issue of meat-flavored chips. Take a walk down the snack isle and you'll find potato chips in a variety of unusual flavors including prawn, beef, and chicken. Lastly, there was the daily traditional English breakfast which includes beans with toast, mushrooms, eggs over easy or scrambled, assorted meats, and, of coarse, tea. It's hard to complain about the breakfast because it was free everyday, but I will say that I do not plan on bringing the bean and toast combination back to the States with me.
We all see it out of the corner of our eyes — the name begs us to give it a try, and our stomachs heartily agree. "The Globe," a quaint little pub tucked on a side street of Covent Gardens that shares its name with the famous Shakespearean theater, couldn't have been more perfect. We sit down inside, promptly ordering the classic fish and chips. As we wait, a stout, gap-toothed, friendly middle-aged man comes over. He introduces himself simply as "H.R.," the owner. We start to talk to him, how he left Bangladesh for London to take advantage of the better wages, with him adding in how much he loves Americans ("Americans. I love Americans — they the nicest people in the world!"). He asks where in America we're from, and we tell him Los Angeles. He points with a finger to a wall of pictures, one of with a signed picture of Hillary Clinton. "Hillary Clinton come here — I get her autograph. Senator from L.A. come here. That's picture of us." He flashes his gap-toothed smile. We all laugh. We continue talking with him — about LA, Washington D.C., Bangladesh ...
"We take picture, yes? I put you on the wall," he says suddenly, picking up one of Sarah's fries directly from her plate, munching nonchalantly on it. "I eat her old fish, no?" He chuckles, reaching over her shoulder again, picking apart a piece of her fish with his fingers and popping it in his mouth.
Highlights (in no particular order):
1. Open mike night at The Dirty Duck in Stratford. On one of our last nights in Stratford before returning to London, I went out (on the night before our exam) with some of the other students — Natalie, Megan, and Skandia — to see some live music. With Jojon (the actor who played Orlando in As You Like It) tap dancing to Mr. Bojangles and singing a song of admiration about Tom Cruise, actor Greg Hicks (who played Julius Caser) bringing his Mick Jagger persona to the harmonica, and the whole pub singing along to '90s classics, it was the highlight of Stratford (well, that and the RSC productions). We were sad to leave, but made our way back to The Duck the next night to hang out with our new friends — and, incidentally, become movie extras.
2. The Tube. The beauty of the Tube is that you can wander around London aimlessly for hours, get completely lost, and then get back to your original starting point in about 20 minutes. As soon as you see the Underground sign, you know you'll be fine because you can just take it back to your stop without any problems. The only real flaws in this system are a) swine flu, and b) not running 24 hour service.
4. The special presenters
Let's not forget about the actual learning taking place in class. In these four weeks, I had the privilege of seeing several members of the RSC and other theatrical geniuses speak about their craft. In a nutshell, they opened up an entirely new way for me to think about these texts: as plays meant to be performed, not books meant to be read. We spent a half-hour talking about how to voice the prologue to Romeo and Juliet, we asked actress Kate Stephens how she interprets Rosalind, and we have had a popular writer blow up our conceptions about reading Shakespeare, and replace them with thoughts about how to speak it.
3. The Palace of Versailles
Bigger, grander, more beautiful than anything imaginable. It's impossible to describe its majesty, but let's leave it simply at this: Versailles' horse stable is bigger than the whole of Buckingham Palace.
2. Learning through conversation
Even more important that the wonderful classroom knowledge I have gained, has been the cultural knowledge I will leave with. Much of this has come through simple experience, but the best has come from talking with random people. The hotel concierge from Nigeria, a British couple celebrating their 10th anniversary at the Dirty Duck after an RSC performance, and an Australian woman, with a son my age, taking six weeks off to travel the world are only a taste of the sorts of curious and pleasant people I've encountered. All of them helped me further realize my place — and my country's place — in this large world. It's probably the most important thing I could have gotten out of this trip.
The National Gallery
Located at the top of Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery houses a very impressive collection of European art dating from the Middle Ages through the Impressionist period. The Gallery is very nicely laid out, with the various wings arranged chronologically, and it contains a helpful resource center called ArtStart where you can peruse the gallery's entire collection on touch-screen monitors.
The National Gallery must-see:
The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan Van Eyck;
Venus and Mars by Sandro Botticelli;
Rain, Steam, and Speed — The Great Western Railway by J.M.W. Turner;
Sunflowers by Vincent Van Gogh.
Read on: The National Portrait Gallery (portraits!), Whitehall Banqueting House (ye olde royal party hall), The British Museum (the Rosetta Stone) and the National Maritime Museum (or how man crossed the ocean).