Friday, 16 November 2012

Return to London!

I’ve been enjoying Oxford and London a lot more this week. My friend Melanie and I made a day trip into London and took advantage of a few of the arts opportunities. We arrived into London around 11:00am and headed to the TATE Museum. This museum is well known for its modern art.

We checked out exhibits that ranged from sugar paper and powder to cut-outs of Korean manga.

 A huge sugar paper & powder exhibit!

The museum also had a great gallery full of JMW Turner paintings. These paintings elevated the importance of landscape artwork and his works prefaced impressionism.
After the TATE, we played London Tube roulette. Mel chose a random station and we boarded the London Underground (the ‘Tube’ or subway) and headed to Piccadilly Circus. Once we arrived we found a nice little pub called The St. James. I wasn’t sure what to order, so I went with the safety choice of fish and chips, it was definitely the right choice. After lunch we wandered around Piccadilly Circus and looked at shops. After a little walking, we ended up in the more scandalous part of town. We passed a few sex shops, gay stores, lingerie boutiques and even strip joints.  After taking in this ‘unique’ part of town we wandered back towards the heart of London.
At a pub in London

Mel with a typical window display in the Soho District in London.

After that we wandered to the Institute of Contemporary Arts, where the ‘Bjarne Melgaard: A House to Die In’ exhibit was on display. This exhibit was very abstract and included paintings and sculptures that were created in partnership with a group of artists who have no formal art education. Most had little or no connection to the art world (several of whom are in drug recovery, face mental or emotional challenges, or suffer from schizophrenia). Drug paraphernalia and genitalia were central themes throughout the exhibit.

We finished off the trip by going and seeing the West End production of Wicked at the London Apollo Victoria Theater. The production was absolutely fantastic, and the British accents made the show even more entertaining! The theater was really beautiful, and even though Wicked has been playing since 2006, the house was packed! After this excellent day we hopped aboard the bus and returned to Oxford. Needless to say, I love London!
West End production of Wicked! 

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

A Little Night Music & Art

This week I was able to take in some of the arts here in Oxford. I love that there are classical music concerts  as well as other musical opportunities every night of the week here! I attended a production of Stephen Sondheim's 'A Little Night Music' at the Oxford Playhouse. This community production was pretty well done, but the premise of the play was a little odd. The entire musical is about a group of aristocrats sleeping around in Sweden in the early 1900s. My favorite song was definitely 'A Weekend in the Country', seen below:

This weekend I also visited the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology with my friend Collier. This museum was the world's first university museum and opened in 1683. It's collection of Greek statues and Egyptian artifacts was really impressive! 

There are a slew of museums in Oxford including the Museum of the History of Science, Pitt Rivers Museum, University Museum of Natural History, Bate Collection of Musical Instruments, and the Museum of Oxford.

Here are a few of my favorite items at the Ashmolean:

The crook from a priest's staff

A Nordic Rune stone

Sword with a crystal hilt

Amati instruments

Early Virginal

 Apparently the Romans valued full figured women. 

It's been really nice to be surrounded by so much art and culture. Oxford offers so many opportunities to hear top notch musicians and the museums function off of donations rather than selling tickets. Visitors are also allowed to take photos in the museums here, which is really cool. The mentality is more about exposing people to art and history rather than selling tickets and limiting viewing. 
My voice lessons have been going really well while I've been in Oxford. My teacher is a counter-tenor, meaning that he sings incredibly high notes. He's awesome enough to have a wikipedia article (because nothing says FAME like a editable internet profile)! Here's a video of him performing a piece from Handel's The Messiah. He's really helped me identify and fix some of my vocal flaws. Laughing about differences in diction and pronunciation has also become common place during our lessons.
Nicholas Clapton- Counter tenor

Friday, 9 November 2012

Gunpowder, Treason, & Plot

"Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot..."

While some of you may recognize this from 'V for Vendetta', it is a quote that references Guy Fawkes' attempt to blow up the British Parliament on November 5th, 1605. Fawkes and a group of conspirators had placed explosives under the House of Lords in order to blow up King James I. Fawkes' plot was foiled before he could pull it off and from that point on, thankful people lit bonfires around London in honor of King James I's survival.
Guy Fawkes

Yesterday we were able to celebrate our first Guy Fawkes Day! We started out by eating curry and having a drink and then headed out to a pub. Our British friends led the way, and we enjoyed a few beers at the pub before heading off to the fireworks show. A bunch of people were gathered around in the open field watching the huge bonfire and watching the fireworks light up the sky. This was our first time experiencing this uniquely English holiday, so it was of course an exciting night!

Guy Fawkes Bonfire


Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Cross Cultural Cooking

So our flat has decided to have ‘family dinners’, where each of us cooks a meal for the entire flat. When my turn rolled around I whipped out this recipe for fettuccini alfredo that my mom taught me how to make. It’s the basic alfredo sauce with some diced garlic, the whole preparation just takes about 45 minutes. After making it the first time our British friends got a taste of it and really enjoyed it. I’ve since made it about 3 or 4 times. Chalky, our British friend, even cooked me and some other flat mates green curry in exchange for dinner one night. 

Preparing dinner with Camille, Justin, & Thomas.

Last week our French friends invited us over to their flat for fajitas (I was very curious to see how the French handled Mexican cooking). Yesterday we had them over for fettuccini alfredo to return the favor. We had a blast and enjoyed a night of good food, conversation, and hookah. Everyone we have met in Oxford has been very nice, but we seem to have made really good friends with Thomas, Camille, and Pierre. It would be awesome if they could come visit us sometime in the US.
All of my multicultural friends have made my psychology research project a little more interesting as well. Since I’ve been recruiting participants by hand, I’ve used most of my friends as participants. The project investigates the impact of semantic processing of song lyrics, which are in English. Including different participants from all over the world means that the findings will pertain to native English speakers and people who learned English as a second language. Recruitment has been slow as of late, but I’m sure we’ll pull through in the end!

I feel like all of my posts over emphasize cultural exposure and differences, but it really is an amazing thing. Our friends have been curious about everything from fraternity/sorority life to the prevalence of plastic surgery. We also have found a lot of questions about other cultures as we meekly admit that we are excessively ignorant. Mel and I joke that our view of French culture is based off of Disney's Beauty & The Beast and the following video:

The club scene is pretty popular among university aged students in Oxford. Since drinking is legal at age 18, clubs, pubs, and bars work harder to appeal to young audiences. Popular music preferences are very similar, but the UK seems to be a little behind on recent artists.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Halloween in England

So we returned from Paris and were exhausted for the next day of classes. After sleeping only 3 hours the night before, my only obligations were to attend choir practice and swim practice. I trudged through choir, but swimming didn't really happen. The music department at Brookes is in the basement of the arts building just like the music department at High Point. The coincidence made me happy.
The Chamber Choir is a little different here. The entire setting is more casual, and practices are only once a week. The conductor and group are excellent, but I kind of miss the HPU Chamber Singers. Either way, we've been working on a lot of Christmas oriented songs for the holiday celebration. My favorite piece is definitely this one by Arvo Pärt. The lyrics are a little repetitive and banal, but the harmony is beautiful: 

"Which was the Son of"- Indiana University Choir

Beyond that, we came home from Paris right before Halloween so we were all scrambling to find costumes and trying to figure out what we're going to do that night. I had a couple ideas for costumes, but it would be a lot easier if I wasn't a poor university student in a country that automatically diminishes my funds by 1.62. Lesson: Bring a Halloween costume if you're going abroad in the Fall. 
I managed to find a pumpkin to carve!

It was a bit depressing because I noticed that the Brits aren't as into Halloween as much as Americans. So, to make sure that the holiday was properly celebrated, we threw our own party and invited our new friends. One of my Australian friends was really excited because she had never really celebrated the holiday. Since Halloween is my 2nd favorite holiday I had to make sure this went well.

 Aisha, (2 girls I didn't really know), Tanz, and Gzm
 Collier, Bank, and Simon
 Thomas, Rag, Katie, and Bank
Sara playing water pong & me as Rambo Harry Potter...still don't know exactly how that happened.
Some of the HPU ladies!

Over all our party was a success. Even though Halloween was on a Wednesday, we had a pretty good turn out and everyone had fun! I had been worried because initially I wasn't able to find solo cups to play water pong. Most of the people we met were interested in anything that was related to Fraternities/Sororities so of course everyone wanted to play. After buying a pumpkin in the covered market I stopped by Moo Moo's milkshakes and they kindly supplied me with some cups.

Thanks Moo Moo's Milkshakes!

Some Observations

 It was wonderful to be back in England, and I officially had my first taste of Europe! By this time I was able to confirm a few differences between the USA and the UK/Europe.
A lot more people smoke, which I do not find attractive. It seems like the mentality behind smoking is more non nonchalant, then again I think that the people here are more mellow in general. In my opinion this has it's good and bad points, depending on your standpoint. It's not unheard of for people in Oxford can wear the same outfit two days in a row. It makes perfect sense because clothes don't soil in one day, but at first it seemed like an odd concept to the girls in our group. Religion also doesn't seem as important. A study in 1999 found that only 1.9% of the population attended Church of England (Anglican) services. While Christian organizations exist, they don't seem as prolific or as 'holier than thou'. People are more liberal in general here as well. When discussing politics (not my favorite or most well versed subject) you get a lot of interesting and  different opinions because of the various political stances. I mean some of these countries have actual socialist parties etc. The most annoying thing in Oxford and London is walking behind people...THEY DO NOT MOVE. You could be running up behind them and they just chug along like nothing is going on. It's almost comical unless you're in a hurry.
Being abroad has also made the differences among people in the US stand out to me. The northeast and the southeast are very different places in the US, and I don't even know what the people out west are like. I've realized that there really is no token 'American'. So yeah, there are a few of my opinionated observations.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Final Day in Paris

Our final day in Paris was a little stressful. We woke up and decided to just wander the city for a bit before going to see Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) at the Opéra National de Paris. I ate a Croque-monsieur (French ham & cheese sandwich) for lunch from a small shop and we packed up our bags. The plan was to leave our luggage at the opera house, walk around Paris, eat a fancy dinner, go to the opera, and finally leave France.

We were given directions from a nice older French lady and were able to check our bags in at a souvenir kiosk in the main lobby (we were only permitted this because the attendant was nice). We then wandered the streets of Paris and indulged in some gelato before locating 'Chez Oscar' for dinner. For my final dinner in Paris I started with a Kir. This is a traditional French aperitif consisting of white wine (traditionally Aligote) with creme de cassis (blackcurrant liquor). I then tried my first, and possibly last, escargot. It wasn't too bad,  it just had a lot of garlic. My main course was a delicious and simple lamb dish.
Escargot & kir
Chez Oscar (not very busy at 5pm)

We finished dinner and headed to the Opera Bastille, the modern opera house in Paris. This opera house was designed in order to make the arts more modern and accessible to the general public, it was inaugurated in 1989. The production of Le nozze di Figaro was outstanding and the acoustics were amazing! The opera by Mozart was sung in Italian and the subtitles were in French, which I could slightly understand. I had a copy of the libretto in English so I was able to read along with the performance.
Me & Melanie in the Opera Bastille
Justin, Melanie, & Me at intermission.

Seeing this opera was a big deal for me. It was my 3rd opera and the first time I'd seen a production overseas. I loved the performance and Melanie and Justin even told me that they really enjoyed it. After the performance we bolted to the door, grabbed our bags, and pushed through people to the exit. We had approximately 40 minutes to catch the subway to the train station to catch a train to a bus station to catch a bus to the airport.
After a peaceful and wonderful day enjoying fine food and culture we ran through the metro in posh attire and carrying heavy suitcases. We reached the train station with 10 minutes to navigate to our train. We found where the train pulled in, but encountered an impasse. The metro system would only take credit cards for train tickets. European credit cards have smart chips in them (a lot like cell phone SIM cards), and the machines in the metro would not accept our 'swipe' credit cards. So naturally we hurled our luggage over the 4' tall doors of the gates and climbed over them. This worked perfectly, but not 50 yards away from the gates we noticed 5 security guards and a guard dog. Fast forward past 1 train ride and 2 buses and we were attempting to sleep on the floor of the Charles de Gaulle airport, waiting for our plane back to London. The entire night this song from the opera was stuck in my head: Voi che sapete che cosa è amor (You ladies who know what love is, is it what I'm suffering from).