The Fast and the British

When I tell people from back home that I am spending the year in London, a common question I am asked is, “Do you have any difficulty understanding the British accent?” I usually let out a  laugh and respond with “What are you talking about?” in the most pathetic attempt at the Anglo inflection (I’ve been told by a Brit that my English accent is “absolutely ghastly.” Yup, it’s confirmed. I suck). The only person that I have ever heard with a worst accent than myself was Anne Hathaway in the painfully bad movie, One Day. If you don’t believe me (yes, if you’ve ever heard my British accent, I know it’s difficult to imagine one worse) watch the trailer. But don’t let the uber-catchy OneRepublic song fool you into thinking either a. Anne Hatheway doesn’t sound that bad or b. The movie looks cute! (No, no, it is terrible.)

Oh, but to get back to my point (DON’T WATCH ONE DAY…oh, wait, my other point), I have found that, generally, I haven’t encountered much difficulty understanding English people. However, I have noticed that more people here talk at alarming speeds. A fellow classmate of mine is “super keen” as the Brits would say (meaning very studious) and always has great points to contribute to the class discussion. But there are two problems, neither, of which, would be unmanageable if they existed own their own, however, the fact that these two tendencies coexist presents quite the aural-obstacle.

Okay so the first is that this classmate uses the academic jargon and speaks in the same style as the literature for the class. I don’t know how familiar anyone here is with political philosophers (e.g. John Rawls, Joseph Raz, Robert Nozick, David Parfit, etc.) but they are not always the most accessible. However, that is not to say that they are entirely incomprehensible (when read in a quiet room). Ahh, but here lays the problem, let us add condition #2: The need for speed.

I’m not too sure if it’s a result of nerves, a deluge of thoughts, or an incessant fear that a catastrophic event will occur before she can finish conveying her idea, but this classmate talks fast, like really fast. She speaks at such an accelerated rate that I have trouble comprehending the meaning of her sentences. While I catch each individual word, every sentence seems to evade me. It is as if my mind cannot process the sentences at the speed at which, I hear them. Just imagine Nicki Minaj rapping this:

“The only thing that permits us to acquiesce in an erroneous theory is the lack of a better one; analogously, an injustice is tolerable only when it is necessary to avoid an even greater injustice. Being first virtues of human activities, truth and justice are uncompromising.” (John Rawls, A Theory of Justice 1971)

It has come to the point that I simply have to type the words as I hear them and not even attempt to make sense of what is being said. Then, after I have all (or most) of the words in front of me, I read the sentences (at a normal speed). Then, after a minute after my she has made her point aurally, I’ll give this classmate (who conveniently sits right next to me) a jab and a thumbs up (with an exaggerated wink and awkward contortion of the mouth) to commend her for her astute point. However, to be fair (since we’re talking about Rawls and all—wow, I just made a political theory joke, my blog must be on the decline), this speed talking has not been completely disadvantageous to me, I honestly believe that I’ve become a faster typer from this weekly workout.

Perhaps that will mean more frequent blog updates! Stay tuned…

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Ready, Set, Oxford! Err, I Meant Action

I have been getting complaints that, lately, my posts have been much too short for the liking of my readers, (Yeah, I totally just made myself sound cooler than I am—I’ve been hanging in Shoreditch<–if you didn’t get that, read my last post) so I have written a rather exhaustive account/evaluation of my day trip to Oxford.

This past weekend, I ventured to Oxford, home of, arguably, the world’s most prestigious academic institution. Before going, I had a somewhat romanticized conception of the University of Oxford—and I loved what I had dreamt up.

A sprawling yet perfectly manicured campus laced with historic buildings

 Meandering cobble stone paths that snake around the campus, not necessarily providing the most direct routes, but ones that seem to have been laid down behind a man walking absently while lost amongst his thoughts

 Students who exude this paradoxical energy of being so incredibly worn down by their rigorous studies yet inflated with curiosity, knowledge, and excitement

In a sense, I wanted academia to materialize into one concentrated place—Oxford. But as we find with most things in life, they’re rarely what we expect. Here’s a description of just the first few minutes that I was in Oxford:

I arrive at the Oxford Station with little idea of what I intend to do in Oxford other than, well, see Oxford. So I bee-line it straight to the tourist information desk and snag one of those trusty free maps that always seem to be animated and use a font similar to, if not, “Comic Sans” (grr, WordPress won’t let me use “Comic Sans!” My third grade self would have just freaked out). I figure that I will just head over to the Oxford Campus and then later explore the cozy surrounding town of Oxford. So I unfold the map (sigh at the overly family-friendly animation) and begin to scan the page for the large expanse of green that I assume will mark Oxford campus territory. But I can’t seem to find it. Hmm, where could it be? Is it just so obvious where the campus is located that I am simply overlooking it?!

No.

There is no campus.

 I’m not exactly sure how to cope with such information. I begin to envision some barbaric army plowing through my idyllic land of “Academia” and razing it to the ground. I feel pangs of anger as I study the map more closely (really digging my nails into the purple page of animation). I notice that the different colleges of the University of Oxford are scattered amongst the town of Oxford, not concentrated on one campus.

 Ugh, it’s one of those schools.

This new nugget of information completely changed my game plan. I had envisioned myself strolling through a campus, wandering in and out of beautiful historic buildings on a secluded campus. But instead, I was walking the streets of some town side-by-side with throngs of other tourists. We all marched the crowded sidewalks snapping photos (the beauty of Oxford is undeniable, but that’s not exactly the intent of my post) of the breath-taking colleges, churches, and gardens that seemed somewhat discordant being that their neighbors were retail stores (e.g. Topshop, Gap, Zara, etc.) and fast food chains (e.g. McDonalds, Burger King, and Pizza Hut, etc.). However, this post isn’t about the commoditization of a historical landmark or the infiltration of consumerism—that would be something of a cop-out in my opinion (and so over done). What I want to concentrate on is an unexpected memory that surfaced when I was in Oxford.

While walking around Oxford, I kept on having random flashbacks to a tour I had taken of the Warner Brothers Studios back lot when I was in Hollywood. At first, I didn’t understand these images. However, the more I thought about it, the more I began to understand what my subconscious had apparently already pieced together. Oxford was eerily similar to a studio backlot. I know that this sounds ludicrous and completely uncultured, especially coming from someone who prides herself in being a student, but allow me to explain.

To begin, I was excited to go to both Oxford and Warner Brothers Studios for similar reasons:

  • There were certain people who I admired that spent time and worked at either Oxford or at the Warner Brother Studios
  • I was intrigued by the worlds that these people inhabited
  • I wanted to see the settings in which some of the world’s most beloved works were created

Now to the topic of aesthetics, I will not even attempt to claim that some contrived Hollywood back lot rivaled the buildings in Oxford in any way. However, that is not to say that they didn’t seem to evoke similar overall feelings.

The buildings in Oxford were gorgeous and when one stands within the walls of one of the colleges, its beauty captivates them. However, because the buildings are interspersed throughout a city, these feelings of awe and captivation are only fleeting. You walk in, are mesmerized, maybe snap a photo, then continue onward. This was quite different from my vision of the “Oxford Campus.” I had imagined that once one entered the gates of the campus, he or she would be transported to an alternate time and reality.  Instead, due to the layout of the university, I was only given brief glimpses of this idyllic time and place that I longed for.

Similarly, when on the Warner Brothers back lot, I was able to go onto studio sets of various TV shows and movies, and for a brief period of time, I was transported to a scene of the TV show/movie. Yet, the moment I exited the sets, I was thrust back into reality.

And now, let us consider the people I encountered at the two places. In Oxford, I was shocked by how the students didn’t even seem to notice the hundreds of tourists around them. It was as if they were simply playing the role of Oxford students on a set, rather than real people. I couldn’t decide weather I felt more like an intruder or a voyeur.

Need I really explain how this is compares to the WB studio lot? But I will, just to make my point clear. On the WB studio lot, I came across several filmings and watched as actors played the role of their characters, completely unresponsive to those outside of the world of the set.

Now with all of that said, I hope I haven’t led you to conclude that I didn’t enjoy my trip to Oxford. I think that when things fail to adhere to our expectations our first instinct is to reject them, and that was exactly what I had done. Initially disappointed by Oxford’s lack of campus, I began to critically analyze every aspect of the university, which as you see, yielded my “Oxford as a Studio Lot” critique. However, those aren’t my final thoughts (when is this post going to enddddd?!!?).

 These are:

Perhaps it is better that Oxford is not its own alternate reality. This way, there is no discernible end to academic life and beginning to ordinary life. It is as if in the university’s voracious appetite for knowledge it accidentally engulfed an entire town. While this diminishes its ability for transport in the way that I imagined, it allows curiosity and the pursuit of knowledge to pervade every facet of life in Oxford. Now that, is more beautiful than any building Oxford could be.

Short List, But Tall Tales: UK Resolutions

Let us attend to the first order of business for the year, resolutions. It has come to my attention that over the past few weeks, I have been rather flippant in declaring things as “one off my resolutions.” However, I at no point established a set list of resolutions, so without a fixed list, these are simply fleeting ideas and emotions—and that simply won’t do. So I present to you a very abridged version of my…

RESOLUTIONS 2012: UK EDITION

1. Venture to East London more often and pretend that I’m cooler than I really am

In case you don’t know, East London is where the young (I’m in my 20’s and trying to define myself), the artsy (Check it, I have facial hair), and the trendy (I bet my clothes are older than yours) all coalesce into one massive heap of hyper-stylized hipsters. There seems to be this bizarre yet mesmerizing appeal of East London. I’ve yet to meet someone who, when mentioning East London, hasn’t acknowledged the irony of going somewhere so “hip.” It is as if no one can really embody what East London seems to represent, yet we are all captivated by it. Perhaps that is what makes it so compelling, we are always trying to capture the essence of East London but it always seems to evade us. Now where did I put my vintage sweater and skinny jeans?

2. Take up an alter-ego and go bunburying in London

Ahh, this has been my dream since reading the play, The Importance of Being Earnest, in 11th Grade Brit Lit (shout out to Beowulf). In the hilarious Oscar Wilde satire, the character of Jack Worthing has two identities; he is “Jack in the country, Ernest in the city.” Jack, a widely respected man in his country community, takes up a completely different name and persona when he goes to London to free himself of his social responsibilities. While there aren’t any responsibilities that I’m really looking to elude, I have always been intrigued by this idea of bunburying and constructing an alternative identity—even just for a night. I’m thinking Svetlana, daughter of a Russian Oligarch…

3.  Be like Jasmine and go to the “marketplace”

 

While London is no Agrabah, it is quite well known for its market scene. Nearly every area of town, Southbank, Notting Hill, East London, etc., has a weekend market and each has its own unique identity. However, while every market is different, they are all brimming with fresh food, fun trinkets, and FREE SAMPLES (missing Yogurtland more than ever) plus I like the idea of channeling old world London by shopping at “the market.”

I apologize to all of my loyal (and non-loyal) followers for the extended hiatus. After meeting the Queen of England, any thoughts, observations, or encounters seemed abysmally sub-par. Even after writing several blog entries, I hesitated to post them fearing inadequacy; so in other words, to use a monarchial metaphor, I cut off my own head. However, with a new year and a new term, it is only appropriate that (to continue with my bad monarchial jokes) a new regime comes to power. So without further ado, I am pleased to announce the return of, Cloudy With a Chance of Reign.

I’m baaaaaack.

The Vegas of the UK: Newcastle, Same Story.

This past weekend I spent in Newcastle, England. In case you’re unfamiliar with the geography of England (I had no idea where Newcastle was until only hours before my departure), it is the northernmost part of England—practically Scotland. Newcastle is one of those places that you can never quite grasp completely. It is more of a concept or an entity. After it is all said and done, you are merely left with a feeling.

Now after that rather Romantic depiction of Newcastle, let me add this in: Newcastle is essentially the Vegas of the UK. Yeah, let that simmer in a bit. So that ineffable feeling I was talking about? It is probably just a massive hangover.

vs.  

Take Las Vegas, replace the post-modern, hyper-stylized structures of pyramids, castles, Italian and villas, then replace it with a beautiful old city deeply enmeshed in history. For example, in the center (centre) of the town, there is a towering statue of Charles Grey aka the guy who Earl Grey tea is named after. I imagine in England having tea named after you is the pinnacle of achievement. So this guy was definitely a big deal. Oh and if that doesn’t strike your fancy, there is even a castle in Newcastle! I was naïve enough to think that “castle” was simply part of the name of the town, but oh no, there was a castle. You can even walk through it, take pictures, touch it, and (according to my tour guide) if you’re a local Newcastle hoodlum, you even use the interior of the castle as a skate park!

There are pubs that at one point were used as coach stops for people who were traveling by horse across the region. Everything is reminiscent of an earlier time. The cobble stone streets even work to accentuate the quaint old-world feel of the town. However, they don’t simply capture the historic origins of the city, but also provide trenches for puke. Ahh yes, this brings me to my next point and one of the most important aspects of Newcastle—the party culture. As my tour guide explained, Newcastle was once the largest coal port in the world. However, after the coal industry began to decline, the city decided it needed to regenerate its economy and apparently, the officials of Newcastle got together and decided that the city should be remake its image as a party town (I would love to have seen that meeting).

By day, the city is a tourist destination for the whole family! Complete with history, tours, soccer matches, theatre, oh, but by night, make sure you have those kiddies tucked in by 8 (20.00). As soon as the sun sets, the Geordies descend upon the town. With their caked on makeup, fake lashes, haphazardly applied fake tans (yes, both men and women) they are ready to rage.

However, I think the real champions of this Geordie culture are the ladies. The weather the entire weekend hovered around the 45 degree F mark. But these girls scoffed at the idea of wearing any kind of outerwear (not even tights). So just imagine this scene, at about 10:00 pm the show at the Theatre Royal ends and the middle aged people dressed in very snug, conservative garb spill out of the theatre doors only to encounter hoards of scantily clad women. Ladies in boots and floor length peacoats face to face with girls in skin-tight “dresses” (more like spandex torso covers) with nothing else but their 5 inch (minimum) pumps. Yeah, it’s funny.

The guys on the other hand weren’t as uniform, there were three types of guys:

  1. The Geordie Guy- Think Jersey Shore Guido, very metro, tight shirts, fake tans, etc. (ugh)
  2. The Bachelor Party Guy- Being that Newcastle is the UK equivalent of Vegas, it attracts many bachelor parties and many of those people celebrating bachelor parties are dressed according to a theme
  3. The Foreigner- Girls wearing very little clothing? Lots of alcohol? Football (soccer) team? Where?!?! It’s no wonder Newcastle is a hotspot for guys from all over looking for just a crazy weekend.

Oh, take all of this imagery and add some very, VERY strong accents. Yeah, it just got way funnier. That’s Geordie Shore for you. I could continue on about this culture, but, MTV just does it so well…

The Queen and I

Today was a rather ordinary day, woke up, showered, had breakfast, met the Queen of England, did some reading for my English Literature class etc. Okay, so I know what you’re thinking, “why is Chloe taking an English Literature course if she is studying political science at the London School of Economics?!”

Well that is a great question, how perceptive of you, I thin—wait, you’re asking about the thing I mentioned before that? The whole meeting the Queen of England (and all the other commonwealth realms i.e. Canada, Australia, the rest of the U.K. etc., but that doesn’t really have the same flair) part?  Oh, well…you know….it’s not really that big of a deal—okay fine, if you insist, I’ll tell you the story. I spent this past weekend at the Cumberland Lodge with a group of students from LSE. Oh, hold on…

HiSTORY TIME WITH CHLOE!

  

What does Colin Firth and Smokey the Bear have in common?

A little bit of history for you, the Cumberland Lodge is a country house that was built inside the walls of Windsor Great Park in 1650 that was to be occupied by the Park Ranger. Now when I was told “Park Ranger,” I was imagining some guy who walks around in khaki and is best friends with Smokey the Bear. However, this is England, and their “Park Ranger” is usually a member of the royal family. Their main duty is to make sure other people are taking proper care of the park (HAH!). Anyway, in 1947, King George VI (aka Collin Firth in The King’s Speech) bestowed the lodge to the St. Katherine’s Foundation. This decision stemmed from the perceived lack of independent thinking of the young German students during World War II who were inculcated with Nazism. The residence was provided as a place for young people to come, take part in discussions, and hold conferences in the hopes of the cultivating a more critical society. 

Okay, so now that you understand where I was and what I was doing, back to the story. Being that the Lodge is inside Windsor Great Park, we were considered temporary residents of the Park, making us eligible to attend Sunday morning services at the Royal Chapel. There were rumblings that the Queen may be in attendance at services, but being that she is, well the Queen, everything surrounding her is enigmatic.

So Sunday morning I arrived at the Royal Chapel (only after being subjected to a background check by Interpol, the International Criminal Police Organization—yeah, so intense) with the hopes of catching a glimpse of Her Majesty. The Royal Chapel was a beautiful old church nestled in the English countryside, the stuff of fairy tales, princes, castles, Queens, oh wait, sorry not there yet!

I expected that once I got to the chapel I would know whether or not the Queen was in attendance. However, my girl Lizzy (aka Queen Elizabeth II)  does not sit in the pews with the commoners. In fact, she doesn’t even just sit in her own sectioned off area, but she watches the service from her own small chamber FROM BEHIND A CURTAIN. So throughout the service neither I nor anybody else was sure if the Queen was among us. When the service ended with no sight of the Queen Bee, I was sure that my opportunity had passed and there would be no Queen-sighting for me.

Slightly dejected, I ambled out of the chapel following behind a line of churchgoers. I was trying to rejuvenate my spirits, I mean it probably was a bit much to hope to meet the most renowned monarch in the world. But just when I began to rework a new plan for meeting Prince Harry and marrying into the Royal family, this beaming blue figure caught my eye—and it walking my way! It was THE QUEEN wearing a bright blue jacket-skirt ensemble with a matching hat a mere 10 feet from me.

 I guess this may be her iconic outfit?

I felt my feet become heavy in ground. Each step I took required a conscious effort. I slowly marched forward until I came face to face with Her Majesty. I tried to recall all the rules of acknowledging the Queen.

1. Don’t address the Queen unless she speaks to you first

2. Don’t do a full on bow, but a slow head bow would suffice

3. Don’t sustain eye contact for too long (or was it no eye-contact?)

But the closer I got to Her, the rules began to fade away as her regal presence took control of my bodily motions. She nodded her head and said, “Good day.” I responded with a mere a parrot of her actions, “Good day.” Except I exaggerated the head bow and a wide grin swept across my face. Completely content that I had even exchanged words with her, I was just about to continue walking (not wanting to overstay my greeting) when she began moving closer towards me (!!!!!) and asked, “Where is your group from?” I was careful to articulate each word perfectly and even tried to add some cadence to the response, “We are students at the London School of Economics.” The words seemed to hang in the air, every moment felt interminable as I awaited her response. Was she going to respond? Should I keep walking? Did I do something wrong? Then a slow smile swept across her face as she looked up at me and said, “Oh, well that’s a good place to be!” A smile snuck onto my face and I let out a small laugh (what a Queen response!) then said, “Why thank you! I am really enjoying my time there.” Then she nodded her head and turned to the person beside us waiting to talk to her. I smiled and gave her one final head bow. Then I took five steps forward and stopped, the weight of the experience began to settle in. I had just had a conversation with Her Majesty the Queen. Damn.

I apologize for the delay in updates. I had written this post on Sunday, but hadn’t had the chance to edit and put it up. I couldn’t just botch my post about the Queen. (<–WOW cool Q!)

(News) Food (& Wine) For Thought

So it’s time for a quick, random, and of course British observation with Chloe

Today I was strolling down the street in London (in case you are wondering, I’m becoming quite the little British street crosser) and I came a(cross) your typical convenience store. As far as merchandise offerings, décor, or even color schemes (come on, red, white and blue?) the store was profoundly mediocre (that may even be generous).  So why do I write about such place you ask?

Well, being a fan of titles and names of things/places (I think I may spend more time thinking of the title of my blog entries than actually writing them) I felt the need to share with you the store name that I found particularly striking:

Okay, I know what you are thinking.

  1. Um, was that a joke? If so, it kind of reaaaaally sucked.
  2. Wow, Chloe should stick to writing about what she knows best—froyo and other frozen treats
  3. I wonder when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is coming out on DVD? (November 11th)

In all seriousness, I really did find this sign interesting. I thought that the name, NEWS FOOD & WINE, perfectly epitomized the values and desires of Londoners. Okay, so let’s break this down (Me vs. News Food & Wine—see clip below).

NEWS

People here take pride in their knowledge of global occurrences. It is simply assumed that you know the latest happenings (worldwide) and hold an opinion about it (I know, so demanding). While this also rings true in the U.S. in certain circles, the permeable borders of Europe makes it absolutely essential to be in-the know all the time.

FOOD

It is common knowledge that the food in England is lackluster at best. While that is not to say that you cannot find amazing grub in London, it just seems as if British people do not value eating and meals in the same way that their continental European neighbors do. From what I’ve observed, English people eat simply because they need to satiate their body’s need for food. Much of the time, the food is bland and uninspired (so not my style). Food is generally regarded as for sustenance, not pleasure. So to see a place that reduces the wonderful joys of eating to simply FOOD strikes me as just-so-British.

WINE

Do I really need to go into much detail here? British people like to drink….a lot. To omit the fact that copious amounts of alcohol is consumed (all the time) in London, would be like forgetting to mention that British people have accents.

News, food, and wine. That is all one needs in London.

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