30 May 2009

A London Walk and a London Temple

This week the sun shone solidly as a diamond on black velvet. It was a fair thing, because most of my activities were al fresco. On Tuesday our group went to the London Mormon Temple to visit the grounds, eat lunch, and perform some ordinance work. The London Temple is not only beautiful on the outside, but as is typical with most temples, it sits on a tremendously well manicured garden. These Temple grounds, however, were the most extensive of any I have ever seen. There was a koi pond with attached canal, and footpaths all along the grounds inviting users to stop and smell the roses and to ponder all things eternal, and temporal. Included in the Temple trip was lunch at the cafeteria- an experience I couldn't fail to mention. It was inexpensive, of a quality nature, and above all, delicious. True Ambrosia. Wednesday was nap day (yes, those are necessary even in London), and Thursday was likewise necessary. We took a train and went to Kent/Shoreham to indulge on a "Country Walk" that got us lost, separated, miss two trains back to London, and above all, have an absolutely delightful experience. On the country walk we ate lunch at an abondoned Roman castle, waded through a stream, went to a beer hop farm and an oast (the walk sort of turned into a beer tour), walked through a driving range while dodging golfballs, frolicked in a field of flowers, and enjoyed the forest. We also went to a little farm where they sold, of all things, beer. The countrified walk was well worth the wet dog that went into the stream and then shook on all of us, that's for sure.

24 May 2009

Somewhere Over the Rainbow is Dublin

I have just about wrapped up this four part mini-series on Ireland, but no account would be complete without a reporting on the hostel and the Ryanair flight. I was impressed with Ryanair and many of their cost-cutting strategies, such as exorbitant fees for checked baggage, non-reclining seats, and no seat-back pocket. I was less impressed with their cost-reducing iniatives that included "The brand new wingless plane!" a fee for using the loo; the original pilotless plane, wherein they bragged, "We didn't pilot the idea, but we did come up with it first!" and the depressurized cabin. Needless to say, my lungs were killing me after we got off. My flight was humourous and full of interesting people. The two people across from me started out as complete strangers, but 1 beer, 3 chardoneys and 1 pinot noir later they were the best of friends. The two people directly next to me couldn't restrain their purchasing power. When the newspaper cart came by, they bought one. When the drink cart came by, they bought one. When the candy cart came by, they bought one. When the scratch ticket steward came by, they bought one. When the Picasso auctioneer came by, they bought one. What a hoot. After we landed, but while we were still taxing, everyone got up and started collecting their belongings until the Cap'n told them all to sit down. As we were unloading they started to refuel the plane, and the Irish couple next to me commented that they wouldn't be surprised if Ryanair took off again before everyone got off, just to make up for lost time. What a hoot. While in Dublin, I stayed in a twelve man dorm. My roommates were mostly middle-aged men who looked like they lived in the hostel. I said Hi to two of them, but the only think anyone ever said in return was "Howdy." I caught one of my roomies eating straight up canned tomatoes. At least I am assuming they were tomatoes, as opposed to extra-large bouncie balls or shriveled watermelons. One more thing to note: You know you are not considered a full grown man in the eyes of the world when the old lady sitting next to you on the aeroplane offers you some chocolate. Yea, that happened to me. I was very grateful, don't get me wrong, but at the same time I couldn't help but to feel a little bit like a schoolboy.

23 May 2009

Irish Pubs

Irish Pubs are known the world over for their cascading beer, disemboguing music and laundering leprechauns. I may have made that last one up. While in Dublin I went to an Irish pub, Oliver St. John's Gogarty, and ate bar food and drank from a Guinness pint. I dined on Shepard's pie and the P.H.A.T.test fries I have ever had. Each chip was like a little hotdog, without the meat or curvature that is usually associated with a dog in a bun. My Guiness pint was filled to the brim several times, each time with "vokda on the rocks- shaken not stirred- but hold the vodka and the rocks, but add water." The bartender was confused at the initial request, but after three pints she had me figured out like a model on a diet. :) That was a Wallace original. The music was the most entertaining of all, however. We heard two groups perform live, the latter having a fiddle, guitar, accordian, and some sort of strange Irish drum. It was high energy and full of imbibing. One of the guitarists downed six pints of beer during his two hour set. I don't even think I could drink six "vodka on the rocks- shaken not stirred- but hold the vodka and rocks, but add water" in one evening without feeling a little loopy. I suppose only an Irishman could drink six pints of Guinness and still strum coherently. For those of you who really know me, you will be shocked at what I am about to disclose. I stayed out at Gogarty's until 00.30! The music was so great and I figured it was probably the only chance I'd have to chill at an Irish pub in Dublin, so I made the most of it. It was a splendid evening.

22 May 2009

Ye Ould Irish Countryside

My weekend-in-the-middle-of-the-week trip to Ireland has concluded and I am back in the land of fish, chips, Tamil protestors, and Pounds (£). Gone is the Euro, pubs, ultra-friendly people named Patrick O'Casey, and medieval castles. There is much to say about our island neighbors the Irish, so don't expect to get a comprehensive analysis of island culture here, now. Yesterday we took a 14 hour tour, leaving Dublin at 6.45, going to Limerick, Moneygall, the Cliffs of Moher, the Burrens, and Galoway Bay, arriving back in Dublin at 19.45. If you aren't familiar with Moneygall, and you are American, and you voted for Obama, you will love what I am about to tell you! Moneygall is the home of Obama's great-great-great grandfather! I saw the house, complete with an American flag and "Obama" and "Change" posters in the window. In fact, there is even an "Obama Ancestral Tour" offered here, which was tempting, but we opted for the "Lucky Charms Factory" tour instead. I will never buy Marshmallo Mateys again- there is no substitute. The Irish countryside is absolutely breathtaking. The rolling, agrarian hills are smooth, green and lush, dotted with sheep and cows and horses. The Cliffs of Moher, or as I call them, The Insane Cliffs of Moridor (said in a low, jazzy, Hispanic voice meant to strike fear in the ears of all who can hear) were steep and stunning. At the cliffs the ocean and the earth meet in a violent and uncivil manner as if each pounding were meant to divide the Earth asunder. Also on the tour we witnessed several castle ruins, rock walls, and the Irish coastline. Driving up the coast was a little like driving up Highway 101 in California, except in Ireland the roads are as narrow as a paperback book, the brown is replaced by green, and there were no Sea Lions. Also, replace Hearst's Castle with Medieval Castle. My favorite part of the driving foray was seeing the ocean. I miss the ocean in London, and it was a relief to know it's still there. The Irish countryside is green and ould, and I love it still.

20 May 2009

The Luck O' De Irish

My European travels have brought me to Dublin this week. Actually, Ryanair brought me over here; my European travels are inanimate. I only arrived here this morning so I don't have too much to say, except that I have already been to several pubs, Trinity College, Dublin Castle, and the Chester Beatty Library. Oh yes, lest I forget, we also visited the Revenue Museum. For the non-Irish, the Revenue Museum might not make sense, but allow me to relate it in terms that a Russian might understand: Vlykostra puokli dyztrovs yiddosh astragnerky. If the Revenue Museum was in the United States, it would be called the IRS Museum. It was all about people collecting money and protecting money. The pubs we went too were very Irish, but unfortunately none of them served food on Wednesdays. Some sort of Hump Day discrimination that's been going on since the 60's. Trinity college was old, and the Dublin Castle was older. The highlight of the day was the Chester Beatty Library. It was hailing at the time and the biblioteca was a welcomed respite from the rain. They had an exhibit on Islam and Christianity that was enlightening and inspiring. I think I might convert to Islam. Just kidding. I did gain an awesome appreciation for their beliefs, however. Now I want to go to Saudi Arabia. But not anytime soon. Speaking of travel, I am going to Paris, France (as opposed to Paris, Poland) and Greece, Greece (as opposed to Greece, Australia) when I am done in London. If you have been to either of those locales, and have some suggestions for me or my Athenian bust that I will be taking with me, please make a comment. If you do so, be sure to specify if the suggestion is for me or the Athenian bust, just in case its not clear.

16 May 2009

Notting, not Nodding nor Knotting, Hill

Did you know Notting Hill was named after a man with the word "NOT" in his name? Back then-you know the time period I'm referring to- 'ing' meant 'owns,' and Mr. StephaNOTolus used to own the land. The hill portion can be attributed to the gradient.
Did you know a man was hung for a crime he didn't commit in the Notting Hill region, which led to the abolishment of capital punishment in England?
Did you know that Annie Lenox, who lives in the Notting Hill region of London, takes her own trash out?
Are you agog and slightly stunned at my knowledge of Notting Hill? Would you like to ask me why? I went on a London Walk of Notting Hill and Portobello Market! I wouldn't say we were inculcatated with Notting Hill knowledge, but the walk/tour did cover some extreme facts and was just lovely. The area we visited was off the beaten bath (I meant to say path, but the aliteration was just too good to pass up) and our tour guide, a barrister by weekday (not a 'banister' or 'barista,' there is a difference) was funny, in-your-face, and charismatic. I would rate the walk as informative, humorous, bucolic (but not really), and fuzzy. After the walk I window shopped at Portobello Market, but everything was double-paned and probably wouldn't fit into my window frame anyway, so that didn't last long. The crowning event of the afternoon followed, which was afters at The Orangery. 'Afters' is British for 'desserts.' The Orangery is in a palace and was a swanky affair (not a skanky affair). The restaurant looks like a museum, is priced like each item is a museum artifact, and the staff are dressed like they were museum artifacts. (That last part was a lie, but it would be sweet if they were!) I ordered the Apricot Tart and my friend got the Orangery Cake. They orange taste on the cake was ripened to perfection, and the apricots on my stocky piece of pie were draped in whipped cream. Oh divine. The Orangery was an experience never to be forgotten.

15 May 2009

A Week of Self-Guided Education

The British Museum is absolutely incredible. I have been to several museums in London, but this was by far my favorite. It had dead people, live people, still people, and active people. There were mummies, sarcophagi, the Rosetta Stone, instruments, coins, armor, statues, thousands upon thousands of live school children (they were not officially on display), an Indian garden, a bubble roof, and much, much more. My favorite was the Egyptian section. The history behind the artifacts is baffling, both in terms of time and reasoning. I am just glad the brain has developed to where it is now because some of the logic behind their motives was... subpar to our standards. One thing I learned about History from the British Museum is that every culture that creates beautiful statues seems to then consistently destroy some body part off their work of art. Here are the rules I observed in regards to this strange practice: The body part to be destroyed can't be just any body part, such as a a back molar in their mouth or the ossicles- it must be prominent so that everyone can admire its absence. The second rule is that you can't destroy a body part that another culture has already claimed for their own destruction. The Egyptians were partial to the nose, so the Asians chose the hands (see above). In addition to the British Museum, I went to the British Library this week. Therein lays the Magna Carta, an original copy of Handel's Messiah, some of Mozart and Hayden's originals, a notebook of Leonardo Da Vinci's finest, a Guttenberg Bible, a philatelic exhibit, lots of books, cafes serving coffee (equal to the number of books in the library), and hand sanitizer at the door. I saw and or experienced them all. There were also floors labeled "Upper Ground Floor," "Ground Floor," "Lower Ground Floor," "Basement" and "Floor 1." That was especially exciting for me, second only to the hand sanitizer. The British like their alcohol, and the disinfectant was no exception. I also visited the Winston Churchill Museum and the Cabinet War Rooms, took a backstage tour of the National Theatre, and learned a thing of two about Shakespeare and the theatre.

12 May 2009

London Vernacular

The English speak English, and the Americans technically derive much of their culture from the British. And yet, there are some things that are as markedly disparate as the spelling of "United States" and "United Kingdom." (The emphasis being on the latter half of those words.) The biggest difference that came to my mind first, obviously, is the color of the bark on the oak trees. It's a much darker hue here in Britian. But besides that, there are some very different words and phrases between the two Western nations. For example, at the Victoria and Albert museum this week one of the curators told me she needed to look at my ruksack. I didn't quite know how to interpret that, and only after twenty minutes, a very awkward moment, and a translator, was I able to get "backpack" out of "ruksack." Another example came during Church. I am working with the youngsters in the nursery. Asking what one child's name was, I heard "Kite." I thought that was a strange name, but then again so is having a Queen protected by stiff guards with fake guns & tall, furry hats, so I just accepted "Kite" as an acceptable name. Afterall, who am I to talk? I want to name my kids Malachi, Jamal, Ezra, and Surfboard. I called this poor little now-traumatized girl Kite all afternoon until I saw her with her American mother who called her "Kate." Woops. Not my Bad; I was told her name was Kite. But the greatest vernacular difference of all came that same afternoon when the head mistress asked me, "Brother Bennett, would you please take Daniel to the loo before he wee-wees in his trousers?" I nearly wee-wee'd my own trousers when I heard that phrase! There are certainly many differences between the Americans and the British, but at least we both have only one 'r' in the spelling of our nationalities, something we can build on. At least it's a start.

11 May 2009

Palacial Pastries

My London life leaves little to be desired. My father flew into England this weekend and spent a lovely Saturday with my brother and I. In the morning we jogged in Hyde Park among the horses and swimmers, and then, after a a matudinal meal, meandered more towards the Hampton Court Palace. We munched on French pastries as we rode the train through the London countryside and toured the entire palace inside and out. The palace sits on 60 acres of lushious grounds that made for good perambulating and excellent meditation. I chose to meditate about the pros and cons of using the title "Doc" verses "Dr." for my future pediatrician. "Dr." won out, but only narrowly. The palace was fascinating becuase not only was it an entire civilization within the walls, but there was also informative information about Henry VIII and his six wives all over the place. Maybe he had amnesia or something, so the placards were there to help remind him of where he was to worship and how many kids he had. For example, did you know that Henry VIII's nickname was "Hank the Tank," and that he was known for his exotic collection of collectors' spoons? Apparently that's how he wooed his wives and impressed his enemies. We wrapped up the afternoon with sandwiches in the castle cafe, the same one where Henry VIII was infamously denied clam chowder in 1578 because the cook proclaimed, "No soup for you!" After touring the palacial grounds we gained some vim on the train ride back into town and ate Indian food. Indian food in London is legit- too legit to quit. Then we did what all Londoners do on a Saturday night in May; we celebrated Buddah's Birthday in Leicester Square! Gelato was present; we spent the early evening eating in merriment. At the conclusion of the gelato, we went to Sunset Boulevard. Not the one in California as you may have been prone to think, but the Andrew Lloyd Weber production by the same name. Oh, such a well rounded day. Obviously the highlight was spending time with my Papanwa, and frankly I'd recommend London with my Dad to anyone. He's pretty cool and he knows the city well.

07 May 2009

Cinco de Mayo!

My days in England are packed like Londoners on a Tube train at rush hour, and hence I have not had as much time to write as I would like, to write. Here's a straightforward list of the past week's activities:
  • Running in Kensington Gardens/Hyde Park
  • Attending a production of Alphabetical Order at the Hampstead Theatre
  • Visiting the Science Museum and the National History Museum
  • Eating Gelato (some might not see this as note-worthy. I, of course, do.)
  • Visiting the Victoria and Albert museum
  • Attending the Museum of London
  • Attending the Banqueting House
  • Atteding Trafalgar Square
  • Attending the private opening of an art show at "Eleven;" the artist being a friend of mine
  • Seeing Big Ben (the real one this time. I knew it was real because it gonged on the hour)
  • Visiting Parliment and witnessing MPs debate a finance bill in the House of Commons and witnessing the House of Lords debate a health bill
  • Visiting St. Paul's Cathedral
  • Visiting Westminster Abbey
  • Attending Camden Yard
  • Attending the Table Tennis Masters Tournament at the Royal Albert Hall
  • Attending class

And it's only Thursday... It really is hard to pinpoint what my favorite thing was all week, but it was Parliment. The building was absolutely majestic, everyone was friendly and British, and the sessions were quite entertaining. Since this was a bit of a dry, torpid post, and not of much interest to anyone except my stalker Julia, then I will end it with some puns. Perhaps that will restore your faith in me. On second thought, it probably will not. Here goes: A dog gave birth by the side of the road and was cited for littering. A hole has been found in the nudist camp wall; the police are looking into it. No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationary.

03 May 2009

Romeo and Juliet

Wallace, Wallace, Wherefore art thou Wallace? wrote William* whilst watching wilfully. Actually, I wrote that while listening to Twelfth Night. But it was an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet performed at Shakespeare's Globe, which I attended on Saturday. It was very authentic and very well done (at least from an easily amused, left-brained, non-theatre affionado's point of view, who is also American). If you have never been to the Globe Theatre, and you take pleasure in standing in the sun for extended periods of time, and you like cool paper hats, then the Globe is for you. And you. And you. The Globe Theatre is a circular stadium-style theatre with a courtyard for standees and seats for seat-ees. We were standees, or 'groundlings,' at this occassion. As my first Shakespeare play seen in production, I was deeply amazed and impressed. By deep, I mean I was about 20 people deep-away from the stage behind the guy with tight jeans and a handlebar moustache. I only got to see the moustache once, when he turned around to ask my why I was throwing shortbread at him (answer: I wanted him to turn around so that I could see his facial artwork). There was good audience/actor interaction, such as Juliet's egress upon faux death. Six pallbearers took her off the stage and through the audience. It was the first time I almost got run over by a dead woman. Well, this wasn't much of a comprehensive review of the production, but I thought it was pretty dang good. Don't forget, this was only the first of my productions. I should be a pro by the twelfth...
*William Shakespeare

01 May 2009

The Tower of London is NOT Big Ben

I went to the Tower of London today and I was completely taken back. There was no tall tower with a clock at the top! Turns out all this time I thought Big Ben was the Tower of London! And by all this time I mean since yesterday, when I first heard of the Tower of London. Perhaps I am not as British as originally figured. Please excuse my ignorance and just realize that I excel in other areas, such as freestyle walking and eating cabbage. (I eat it like a champ!) As you would have it, the Tower of London is a tremendous castle-village right in the middle of the city, complete with a grassy knoll/moat, a torture chamber, a church, ravens, a dungeon, some towers and a large clock. Everything you'd expect from a castle! I was in great company all afternoon and had a dreadfully delicious day. In the prison tower there were inscriptions from the prisoners kept therein, from roughly 1590. One of the plaques spoke of the captivating carvings and described certain well-behaved inmates as hiring masons to come in and carve things for them?! I'm just not so sure how that would go over today. I can imagine the call would go something like this:
Prisoner Pete: Hello, I'd like to order a mason to come carve my wall for me.
Mason Mac: OK, and what is your address.
Prisoner Pete: Would you like my current one or the one I hope to be at when the stonework is through?
Mason Mac: Hmmm, how about the one where you would like the Mason sent?
Prisoner Pete: Great, that will be the Tower of London Jailhouse. And could you ask him to come sometime after dark and before sunup?
Mason Mac: May I ask what type of brickwork this is going to be?
Prisoner Pete: Oh, nothing rococo. Just boring work. The sooner the better!
For some reason, I just don't see that flying. The Tower of London was not was I thought it was, but it was still a spectacle and a great attraction in the heart of London. It was worth going through "The Rack" for. Plus, I am now four inches taller and can finally dunk a basketball!
P.S. Here is a list of the puns you may have missed in this post: "Captivating carvings" meaning they were engaging, and created by captives. "Stonework is through" meaning the work is done, and the work is through the prison wall. "Just boring work" meaning a mundane task and boring a hole through the wall. Can you tell I am enrolled in a Shakespeare class over here?