Friday, June 15, 2018

A City of Crossroads and Edge: Camden

When I first heard that our London Rocks cohort would be visiting Camden Town, I wondered what this place entailed. My friend who had studied abroad here for an entire semester practically begged me to check this place out, making sure I made note to visit Camden at least once during my stay in London. What could be so special about a little market and some shops? Was there more to Camden Town than meets the eye?
Our Stroll through the Canals

         After a gorgeous visit to Primrose Hill, breathtaking views of the city, and an unreasonably large amount of dogs frolicking about (which I’m not upset about at all), we make our way through a peaceful stroll down the canals. Street musicians line the walkway, their violin strings and guitar melodies echoing down the canals. This part of town feels very local and tucked away, reminding myself that this was the part of London I came for and really wanted to see. A few minutes later, we arrive at the Camden Market. This place is bustling with people, both locals and tourists. The amount of food vendors overwhelms me, a new stand popping up around every corner. Various smells fill the air, making my tastebuds glisten. Vegan tacos, Columbian cuisine, hearty Greek falafel… my mouth is watering even just thinking about it now!
         After settling for a falafel sandwich and a fruit smoothie, my London Rocks colleagues and I converge in the center of Camden Market. There’s so much happening all around me – people laughing, smoking, getting the local chisme with friends. There’s a vibrant aura in the air, and no one seems to be distraught or in disarray. Camden Market appears to be a local hangout joint where people come to forget their troubles, grab a drink or a bite to eat, and enjoy the simplicities of London.
Hustle & Bustle in Camden Market
         I admire how everyone can come to Camden Market and just relax, take in the scenery and not be caught up in worldly events. The vendors were all so open and accepting of us Americans when some Londoners in other places have not been. They offered us free samples, smiles, and even advice as we decided what to choose off the various menus. The positive vibes continued deeper inside the market as we climbed upstairs to the jewelry vendors. One woman taught me all about the Hamsa hand, different spiritual techniques, and the importance of certain healing rocks, something I may still be a little skeptical toward but have always wanted to learn about. Her charm won me over as I purchased a few necklaces featuring crescent moons and the skyline of London.
         The artsy aesthetic of Camden Town is clearly visible through its market, a vast convergence of different backgrounds and walks of life. From the boisterous drum circles in the back to the copious amounts of ethnic food out front, to even the common Londoners strolling about, Camden has a remarkable edginess about it, one that’s hard to attain in any other part of the world.

The Guilty Feminist: Real, Raw and Eye Opening

When I purchased my ticket for The Guilty Feminist, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I consider myself to be a feminist, but, a guilty feminist? What is that? The mere title of this performance at the Camden Comedy Club (and the trendy pub located just beneath it) drew me in as I prepared myself to witness my first-ever comedy show.
The Captivating Neon Sign Greeting all Comedy Club Guests
After grabbing a quick drink at the bar, I followed the stream of people heading upstairs to a predominantly female audience and took a seat at a stool in the back. The first act, Deborah Frances-White, poked fun at Professor Nericcio about our class and how no one raised their hand when she asked if any of his students were in the audience (I was the only one and too shy to raise my hand, oops!). She also went on to joke about him having a "court" in Earl's Court where he is residing in London; her quick and witty sense of humor goes over well with the crowd, and they seem to admire her. Frances-White mentioned that tonight’s episode of The Guilty Feminist wasn't an actual episode of the podcast, which I did not know prior to arriving; rather, tonight was a night full of jokes the women wanted to trial for the actual show. The humorous banter of the evening cracked at many typical feminist standards and what it means to be a “guilty feminist”; Frances-White claimed that she was a feminist but hired a man and a woman of different races, sheepishly paying the man more because he was of color and a single parent. It was invigorating to hear all these women make fun of their both feminist and non-feminist ways that seem to contradict each other, making them a true “guilty feminist.”
The second act was an Irish woman comedian, making a plethora of jokes about how Ireland has changed and become more modern. She claimed that her country has a “transgender research center for vegans", poking fun at how much more progressive Ireland has become in the past few years.
After a brief intermission, another glass of wine and a quick chat with my professor and classmates, Frances-White appears back on stage, discussing the various acts that women are not able to do that men can, like wearing a pantsuit (of all things… haha.) The last act comes on, a woman of color hailing from America, a refreshing break from her British co-stars. I connected with Kiamah (forgive me if I’m butchering her name) more than the other acts as she had studied abroad in England and came back to live here full time, something I hope to do one day. Kiamah had actually conversed with me earlier in the show and asked where I'm from; she got the biggest smile on her face when I told her I was studying abroad from the U.S., and her reaction makes more sense to me now that I know I had referenced her home. Her religious upbringing resonated with me as well as I attended Christian school from first through twelfth grade, looking forward to the day I finally reached college and a breath or fresh air. Kiamah was my favorite act of the night, mainly because of her easily relatable personality, but also because of her open attitude and realist perspective that she provided to The Guilty Feminist.
The Guilty Feminist reminded me that it’s okay to proclaim yourself as a feminist and advocate for equal rights between men and women, even if you sometimes feel guilty for doing things that aren’t so “feminine.” These women comedians had me cackling the whole night; their sharp comments, on-their-feet thinking, and even the tone in which they said their jokes is what made the night a true success.

The Tate Britain: Redefining Art

Before coming on the London Rocks program, I never really took an interest in art. Being "artsy" just never cliqued with me, no matter how hard I tried to appreciate or even create a work of art. It was a concept that never truly fascinated me until I visited the Tate Britain.
After a short boat ride across the Thames river, our London Rocks cohort headed into the vast museum. I wasn’t extremely excited for this Cinetrek as I thought it’d be just like all the other art galleries we had been to. Granted, this Tate featured a wider variety of British art compared to its distant cousin the Tate Modern just a short tube ride away. On a surface level, this Tate seemed like a regular art museum – beautiful, but nothing that I thought would leave a lasting impression on me; little did I know the impact that these few pieces of art would leave on me in the next hour of our time there.
Artists Sketching Paintings in the Museum
Perusing the halls of the Tate, I admired the numerous artists sketching the paintings in front of them, redefining the phrase “life imitates art” as these individuals imitated the classic pieces lining the walls. Numbers on the ground signified the years that these galleries dated back to, some as early as the 1500’s! As we approached the entrance to the Freud/Bacon exhibit (tickets in hand as this part of the museum required a fee to get in), I wondered what could be so different inside those walls compared to its free counterparts. Not knowing much about Freud and Bacon’s work didn’t give me much to expect prior to entering the exhibit; maybe it benefitted me that I came in with a clean slate, allowing myself to soak up the environment and then draw my own conclusions about their pieces.
Bacon's Art
Eagerly yet cautiously stepping foot into the gallery, I’m met with some paintings that immediately catch my eye. Bacon’s Study for Portrait II (after the Life Mask of William Blake)exudes despair and discontentment, begging the question of who this man is. Sure, it’s most likely William Blake, the subject for Bacon’s study, yet I wonder who Mr. Blake reallyis. Why is appearing depressed? Did someone wrong him? Is he just down in the dumps? The gloomy shades Bacon picked add to the sadness factor; the blues and grays swirling together over a black background present a stormy outlook for both the subject and the viewer. It’s almost as if you can picture William Blake’s dim future, as if there is no escape from the perils that plague him.
Uglow's Georgia
Moving forward through the exhibit, I’m met with a plethora of paintings that lure me into the stories they’re attempting to tell. There’s so much detail in each piece; some of them took years just to be finished! One of those is Euan Uglow’s Georgia, a colorful canvas that took five years to complete. There’s a stark contrast between Georgiaand Bacon’s work. Georgiaimitates life in this case as she poses for Uglow, relaxed on a couch, possibly pondering some existential question or deep thought. Her stoic demeanor doesn’t reveal much about herself, leaving the viewer to question her intentions as she poses in a semi-sheer dress for Uglow. When comparing this to Bacon’s work, the extremities are astounding. One piece is a cry for help – a stressful panting full of hopelessness and depression; the other is peacefully laid back – not pressed for time, relaxed, almost like a breath of fresh air. The light colors are refreshing, right down to the floral pattern on the couch, white dress and Georgia’s pale skin.
Exiting the exhibit, I can’t help but feel that something’s changed inside me. Just a half an hour ago, I had no particular interest in or care for art. After taking the proper amount of time at each painting and admiring all the attention to detail in each one, I can honestly say that I’ve gained a greater appreciation for art after this excursion. I had always been predisposed to thinking that I’d be bored or un-amused at museums, but The Tate Britain redefined my worldview toward art, sparking and resurfacing my creative interests.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Magic of Harry Potter Uncovered

Growing up with the films of Harry Potter, the magic that these movies provided lived on with me for many years, as they probably did with millions of fans throughout the globe. Visiting the sets where it all happened, looking at all the props, seeing the costume design, was a form of magic in itself. However, when this happens the magic of the films is uncovered one can't help but wonder if some secrets are better kept as secrets. Learning about the sets, one gets a better picture on how these films are created. One comes to realize that the magic isn't in the sets, but in the making of the film itself.

When studying film, one realizes just how much movies depend on the idea of illusion. This is the same when it came to The Harry Potter Studio Tour. It is amazing to know how all the actors worked there for the span of ten years, but the magic was dimmed a bit by realizing how focused the film is on illusion. Most of the sets were destroyed in the span of a couple days to fit in another type of set for the movie.

One thing a lot of people were surprised by was the huge success of the films themselves. In the beginning of the tour, it was mentioned how they thought it might be a national success, so they were pleasantly surprised to find out it became a worldwide success. Because of this, Harry Potter became a phenomenon among millennials  and many others throughout the globe. This goes on to prove what a big influence the books and the movies of Harry Potter have on pop culture nowadays. This franchise keeps growing by the mere fact of how much money its making. Even though the main films are over, there has been a play of the Cursed Child, movies of Fantastic Beasts are hitting the cinemas, and games are being made, such as the app: Hogwarts Mystery. Thats not all. There is also the creation of Hogwarts at Universal Studios in various locations such as Florida and recently, Hollywood. Even though the story is finished, the world still lives on in hearts of many loyal fans.

Due to facts like these, it seems that the magic of Harry Potter lives on through the hearts of many throughout the globe. It is interesting to note in what ways this has shaped society for the generations who grew up with it. Apparently you can tell a lot about a person's personality once you find out which House they are from. I wonder what they would say if one happens to be from Ravenclaw and Slytherin.

Even though Hollywood may uncover the magic behind the Harry Potter franchise, there is still some magic left behind in a very-muggle world. This can be seen through pop culture, and culture in general if one notices specifically the generations who grew up and love Harry Potter.

Isle of Dogs: Political and Ecological Commentary

   On the surface, Wes Anderson's new stop-motion masterpiece, Isle of Dogs, is a tale about a young boy's attempts to rescue his beloved dog from a garbage wasteland, 

along the way he explores the themes of friendship, love, and acceptance. However, under a critical lens, the film displays a much deeper message. Behind all of the cute dogs and the heroic boy, lies hidden commentary regarding political injustice and environmental decay.

   In the beginning of the film, the audience is introduced to a dystopian version of Japan, which is a strange juxtaposition of a modern, technologically advanced, capitalist society and a civilization rooted in tradition and folklore. At first, this blended society may cause one to believe the film is entirely an ode to Japan; however, the vague unfamiliarity and futuristic components create a haunting sense of the unknown, as this new and foreign society can be anywhere. Furthermore, Anderson utilizes the strangeness of this alternative setting as a plot device to raise the audience's awareness regarding issues occurring in today's society.

   Throughout the first few scenes, we quickly learn that Mayor Kobayashi has banished all dogs to Trash Island due to the ongoing outbreak of "dog flu" and "snout fever"; however, the mayor's motives are proven suspicious as his political opponent, Professor Watanabe, unveils the cure for the epidemic is ready. Turning a blind eye and spreading hateful rhetoric against the nature of dogs, Mayor Kobayashi is able to coerce the population. One can argue that Mayor Kobayashi is a reference to current political leaders, who bear the same radical ideologies and discourse. Furthermore, the banishment of dogs to Trash Island parallels the forceful migration and alienation of different minority groups that occurs today. 

   The villainous nature of Mayor Kobayashi is balanced by a young group of student protestors, who fight against the corruption and political injustice of Kobayashi's government. This collection of students is representative of the outpour of youth activists calling for a change and an end to political injustice occurring throughout the world. 

  Trash, trash, and more trash. The appearance of Trash Island is true to its name, as this island is entirely made up of consumer products. Nestled along the outskirts of town and hidden away from civilization, Anderson provides commentary regarding mass consumption and it's ecological repercussions. The term "trash island" was created far before the movie, as mass piles of waste have begun to form large "trash islands" throughout the oceans. 

   Anderson's utilization of animation to get these messages is purposeful as the main targeted audiences are children and young adults. By spreading commentary against political corruption and dangers of mass consumption, one can argue that Anderson is subconsciously making young audiences aware, and by default interested in these events. As the age-old saying states, children are the future and through films like Isle of the Dogs, they will become cognizant of what is occurring around the world.  


British Museum: Egyptian Physical and Bodily Experiences... Featuring Food, Feasts, and Family

The trip to the British Museum was an educative and pedagogic experience for me. This institution documents the story of human culture from the beginnings to the present. I saw many historical collections dedicated to human history, art and culture. As I was walking around the museum, I came across the wall paintings in the tomb-chapel of Nebamun from 1350 B.C.E during the 18th Dynasty (Khan Academy). I have read and studied a bit about funerary cults in Pharaonic Egypt so when I encountered this section of the museum, I was highly intrigued.  From my observation, the fragments seem to be vignettes of Nebamun and his family enjoying both work and play. Some of the paintings showed scenes of Nebamun’s life as an elite official as others show him and his family enjoying life. I found that these fragments decorated the small tomb-chapel with vibrant and engaging images of an elite lifestyle that Nebamun would want to have even in the afterlife. I thought the wall-painting, “A feast for Nebamun”, was astounding and awe-striking. The scene shows naked servers waiting on Nebamun and his relatives. What I found most engaging about this scene was the sexuality/sensuality depicted in the imagery and the portal of the physical relationships between men and women. The two sexes are separated except for the tomb owner and his wife (Kroester). It was fascinating to see the women caressing one another and lifting flowers to one another’s noses. There was one example of a women holding a flower to her companion’s nose, gently stroking her shoulder while her friend caresses back with her hand laying on her thigh. I was not quite sure whether this proliferation of touches was meant to be erotic. I do think that sensations of touches were meant to focus more on physicality and bodily experiences. After I spent sometime in the tomb-chapel of Nebamun, I walked over to the next room and came across real mummies. I was so fascinated by the concept that the Egyptians were able to preserve dead bodies for centuries.

Although I had walked around the different galleries throughout the British Museum, I was most intrigued by the Egyptian gallery. I found that the concepts of sensuality and death were significant during this time period and it was truly a great sight to have witnessed.

St. Paul's Spectacle

A way to define the experience of attending mass at St. Paul's Cathedral would be: man-made spectacle. Especially when the church is supposed to be focused mainly on God and spirituality. St. Paul's Cathedral seemed to have a lot of differences and it could definitely be described as a spectacle.

Growing up Catholic, I couldn't help notice the differences during mass however, to my surprise, there were a lot of similarities as well. The biggest and most obvious detail that caught the eyes of many is the fact that St. Paul's was high in performance. The orchestra and the choir can be used as a perfect example of this. The orchestra seemed to be playing louder than the choir themselves, which took away from a spiritual performance in itself. In addition to this, mass was difficult to follow along, even though pamphlets were distributed beforehand. To me, personally, mass should have a sense of community to truly experience something spiritual. St. Paul's Cathedral falls short of this, which is another reminder why this is a man-made structure, not a God-made one. Therefore, the sense of community gets lost in the grandeur of the building and even the performance the choir provides at certain points during mass.

The choir had beautiful voices and the echoes of the building added to that beauty. However, adding Latin verse just keeps adding on to the spectacle of the cathedral because other than that, it is not really necessary to add a different, hard to understand language when a soul is trying to connect with God. Throughout mass a specific structure and set of rules were set that many people could have been oblivious to. The structure was set between grandeur and the people attending mass. There was a definite line between these two that are noticeable during mass readings, with the large echo, along with the choir and the orchestra. One is seemed to be encouraged to follow along in the pamphlet, but at the same time, is impossible with all the grandeur and the defining characteristics of their structure.

Overall, it seemed to me, aside from being beautiful in the eyes of the beholder, St Paul's mass was mostly focused on the grandeur and performance, which inevitably makes someone feel a lot smaller. Because of this, humility and the sense that the Lord was there with us, in spirit, was inevitably lost through all the spectacle.