Saturday, February 27, 2010

Thoughts On London

Having grown up in Chilliwack, British Columbia, London was merely an idea for me, colored by medieval literature, popular films, and reruns of As Time Goes By. Now, after living in Vancouver, New York, Montreal, and Toronto (in that order), I thought that I'd be prepared for this city. I was very wrong. Here are some things that I discovered on my trip.

Crowds. London is a busier city than New York, if that's possible. Being in Times Square did not prepare me for visiting Piccadilly Circus on a weekday evening. You have to move fast to dodge swinging purses and flying elbows, as well as those bloody rolling suitcases that travelers always seem to wield with total impunity, as if they had all the space in the world behind them. Dude, that's my foot you just rolled over.

The Tube. Cleaner than the Manhattan subway by far, and you can actually breathe in the stations. But watch out for the weekend, when they arbitrarily decide to take 6 lines out of service and only open one ticket gate. It's like being stuck in a packed football stadium.

Food. It's expensive, and not great. But if, like me, you're a fan of potatoes, you'll find all sorts of crispy, fried, and cheese-enrobed varieties. I suggest Subway. You can get a sandwich, crisps, and a drink for 4 BP, which is pretty much the best you're going to get.

Beer. Simply better than anywhere else. Every pint I had was amazing.

Waterstone's Books. If this chain ever invades Canada, it will put Chapters out of business in a heartbeat. Only in the UK, however, could they get away with a section called "Black Interest."

The British Library. Astonishing. After dreaming about Chaucer and Sir Gawain for so many years, I can't describe what it felt like to suddenly behold a manuscript from the 13th century. The gold leaf was so bright, and the paper was so old, but it still smelled good, and the inks were so dark and pure, and the pages were brittle but surprisingly strong at the same time. I knew that this book would outlast me, just as it had outlasted its scribe by over 600 years.

The British Museum. I kept thinking: is this really free? Staring at the bronze helmet from Sutton Hoo (which has graced the cover of many an edition of Beowulf) is quite surreal. I was disappointed to miss the Staffordshire Hoard exhibition, although the museum did manage to hold on to a few microscopic pieces of jewelery that were impossible to photograph.

The Guildhall Library. A gem of an archive, with very helpful and efficient staff. Within 15 minutes of arriving, I found myself staring at a broadside from 1707. They had tavern records, bawdy poetry, and much more.

The Rose Theatre. It sits on the site of Marlowe's original Rose, which is 2/3 excavated, but they need 4 million BP more to complete the process. This was my first time watching Macbeth at a venue without heat or washrooms, where the actors were less than a foot away from my chair. It was incredible what they managed to do without a big budget (or any budget at all).

The Tower of London. The only attraction I paid for, and it was well worth it. Although I didn't care much about the crown jewels (aside from Queen Victoria's charming baby crown), the architecture was stunning. Roman foundations, medieval battlements, and a gift shop whose lovely Tudor trinkets melted even my cynical, New Historicist heart. Plus: Scotch Pies!

National Portrait Gallery. Oscar Wilde, Richard III, Quentin Crisp, and a bust of Virginia Woolf. Enough said.

The Haymarket Theatre. I saw Waiting For Godot, and I don't generally like Beckett, but this production was lovely. It probably helped that Ian McKellen was playing Estragon, but Rees, Kelly, and Pickup were excellent as well.

Oxford Circus. A bit exhausting, but man, there are a lot of pretty people in London, and they know where to buy great shoes. I felt like I'd just woken up in a ditch.

Portobello Market. Need an 18th century print, a first edition of The House At Pooh Corner, a fried chicken sandwich, and novelty earrings? You'll find them all here.

Double-Decker Buses. Yeah. They're more fun than regular buses.

Rain. A constant presence. But Vancouver prepared me for this. Don't bother with an umbrella, it will only slow you down. Just duck, leap, and dart along alleys and passageways.

Candy. Why is a Yorkie bar "for men only?" What is Curly Wurley? Some questions are best left unanswered.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Hanson article

David Hanson has an interesting article in The Chronicle on welcoming gay faculty.

Read in full

LA Gay and Lesbian Center

(From The Advocate Feb 2 2010)

Los Angeles students in grades 7-12 who experience bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity have a new option to complete their education free of violence and harassment at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center.

According to the Los Angeles Times,“The school, which serves grades seven through 12, is a collaboration between Opportunities for Learning, a charter school with 34 locations across Los Angeles and Orange counties, and Lifeworks, a mentoring program for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth sponsored by the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center.”


So, if we include the Hetrick-Martin institute in NY, that's two schools for gay kids. How about a third in Middle America? I think if any town's going to do this, it'll be Laramie, WO. Their embattled queer history really does make them a kind of liberal democratic sphere surrounded by conservative communities.