Sunday, July 29, 2012

Let the World Burn Brighter

Southbank has by far become one of my favorite hotspots in London.  The area is just overflowing with activities for people to enjoy their surroundings.  London, as I’ve experienced, is a city that is extremely interactive with its history, pop culture, and trendy way of life.  Public Spectacles are usually the more delightful presentations London has to offer because they are most of the time, free, and such a glorious treat to one’s precious pair of eyes.

The Fire Garden at the National Theater transformed its space into another interactive playground to be added to Southbank’s interesting collection of eye-catching displays.  The massive amount of candles and torches lit came together to create a masterpiece that would not allow people to turn away from.  There’s just something about bright burning flames that make the ordinary, truly extraordinary.  The best part about this spectacle is that the audience plays a role within the spectacle.  Encouraged to walk across a platform of flames, people lined up to experience a walk through the Fire Garden.  Being allowed to observe and walk through allows one to become a part of the spectacle rather than just witnessing it from a distance.  Usually displays are meant for looking at, but here in Southbank the Fire Garden was more than inviting of its wonderers.  It allowed people to smell and feel the heat, as well as to observe from any angle, which is unique to a spectacle.

- I took a picture of the Fire Garden with my cell phone, but could not upload it here for some reason.  Instead, I chose to upload this photo of the release of sky lanterns to welcome the Lantern Festival in Taiwan this year.  These lanterns are meant to bring good fortune and good luck, but are released into the sky in hope to release and let your worries float away. Hakuna Matata!  The flames in the Fire Garden reminded me of these lanterns.  Even though we stood in a garden of flames, I somehow felt comfort and beauty rather than hatred or something associated to devilish flames.

- The Fire Garden was a great way to welcome the torch of the Olympics.

Let's Focus on London

Spending a summer in London may not be your ordinary summer.  With its unpredictable forecasts, London cannot promise short shorts, ice cream, and other obvious elements of the season.  However, there is one attraction that may trigger your summer memories of fairs and carnivals: the London Eye, essentially a Ferris wheel upgraded to its finest.  The best part is that it is open all year long. 

Not your typical Ferris wheel, each capsule can carry up to 25 passengers.  Pertinent to its name, it is truly the eye of London as it is all glass and offers a 360-degree view at different heights.  It is no wonder that visitors have made “the world’s tallest cantilevered observation wheel” UK’s most popular paid tourist attraction.  It is almost like a view from the window seat of an airplane, but better.  Tourists cannot get a better view of London anywhere else.  Its architecture already makes one feel futuristic in such an advanced version of the carnival wheel, but the view is what can transport you in time.  London’s historical landmarks as well as the city’s cosmopolitan lifestyle, with Southbank at the Eye’s base, can all be taken in a photograph from inside the capsule.  The dream of viewing the city’s beauty remarkably transforms into reality during every second of the London Eye experience.

This masterpiece is one to admire for its design as well as for what it offers.  

All the World's a Stage

What makes one watch a play while standing underneath dark clouds that sneeze showers of rain and blow winds that can only make the sick weaker?  What about this form of entertainment beats sitting in a fancy theatre in one’s best-dressed attire?  The answer is that we simply want to live as the citizens of London did during the Elizabethan era.

William Shakespeare’s plays were special.  Each play has a pulse of its own and was written with the purpose to touch and become one with its audience.  His plays were not just stories, but representations of current events as well as life as we know it.  This era when Shakespeare existed was so epic and unique to performance culture that it is only right we replicate the past and try to live in it through experiences at the Globe.  After all, all the world’s a stage and we are merely actors in it.

The Criterion Theatre in West End, London, home of ‘The 39 Steps’ offers a different experience from that of the Globe.  The architecture and Victorian design of the theatre displays its beauty and elegance so finely that one can feel like a welcomed guest to a palace.  The audience seats comfortably in velvet red cushioned seats made to relax in and enjoy the show to be presented forward.  The theatre is like a hidden gem as transformation occurs the moment one walks through the doorway that separates the populated streets of Piccadilly Circus and the sophistication of theatric entertainment.  To further focus one’s attention, the light in the audience is blackened while the remaining lights spotlight on stage to clearly state that it is show time.  The experience at the Criterion Theatre is the essence of a night out at the theatre.

On the other hand, the Globe does not necessarily provide the refined experience received at the Criterion, but rather transports its guests to the Elizabethan era.  When originally built, the venue was meant to fit thousands of people and still depict social class.  Therefore, seats are space conscious with benches that do not offer much comfort.  Also, the Globe’s seating arrangement builds up and surrounds the stage.  The higher one sat, the wealthier they were.  Contrastingly, there is an unroofed pit in front of the risen stage for the poor to stand for the whole duration of the play.  Social class and wealth was not this obviously represented in the Criterion.  Unlike the Criterion, the Globe has seating that extends to the very end of an actor’s peripheral vision on stage.  Due to this set up, actors seemed to have to work the stage more particularly.  In addition, there are no curtains nor is there a roof in the Globe.  The Globe lacks the help from lights to focus the audience’s attention.  Furthermore, the effects like spotlights and random sounds are not available in such a theatre unlike the Criterion.

Overall, the Criterion Theatre and the Globe offer completely different experiences.  Both offer incredible entertainment, but under the influence of different time eras.  Also, the audience’s comfort differs greatly between the two theatres.  Essentially, each is a worthwhile experience as they both offer expertise in performance, though one requires a little more role-play from its audience as well.

Welcome to Six Degrees of Harry Potter...

When I get my big break and become famous for my world famous alcoholic desserts, the Gloucester Arms pub in Kensington would, without a doubt, be featured on the glorious “Sweet P London Walking Tour” simply because I stepped in once for less than a half hour, made conversation with a fairly skilled bartender, and obviously gained the inspiration for one of my successful creations.  …Or so I’ve learned from my experience on the poorly hyped Harry Potter Quest Walk.  Being a member of the generation that grew up with the Harry Potter series, I was more than thrilled to explore London through the eyes of a trained Harry Potter influenced tour guide.  Instead, I exposed myself to the great city as a tourist following a random woman, with her precious wand, through streets that JK Rowling is believed to have walked through and therefore is worth mentioning in a Harry Potter walk.  Though, that is not all that I learned.  I learned about the famous ‘Dracula’ because vampires and such creatures come off of some mystical tangent to Harry Potter.  It was very interesting, but it wasn’t what I came for. 

She did take us to locations that would have rooms resembling ones in Harry Potter scenes.  Here’s the bonus: we didn’t get to see them.  We just stood huddled in a group, admiring the magical wand, outside of buildings.  Lucky for some friends and I, we had a pleasantly detailed tour of the same sites earlier that day.   At times, I even wished I could add some interesting facts I learned to help enhance the greatest London walking tour of my life.  Nonetheless, I must not complain much simply because I didn’t even pay for the tour.  Thank goodness because this one was not worth your pounds.  I went and joined the tour group after the guide collected the dues.  I didn’t want to interrupt her muggle theories of sites so I decided to wait until the end to pay off my ticket to a well disappointing quest, but as the journey continued, it was no longer worth the confusion and awkward explanation for carrying  on without pay.

Save yourself the time and money for this tour, and do yourself a favor.  Go and find a more worthy Pottermania quest.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

London's unique magic

London is all about public spectacles. One cannot go out into the city without seeing, watching, or listening a show or performance of some kind. For example in the tube there is always some kind of entertainer and some times they go unseen or unheard. The decision of stopping and looking or listening is what makes one just a witness or makes one a contributor to the spectacle. London gives a show everyday and every night in every part of the city and it is ones own choice to either ignore what it is trying to say or enjoy the magic that the city gives you to transform your life little by little.

London's vision of itself

From the outside the London eye looks powerful, fearless, and even somewhat dangerous. As one enters the London Eye, one can capture right away that the London eye doesn’t stop for anybody to the contrary one has to keep moving in order to catch it. As the eye keeps moving one has the time to take within for the first time a view of the city like no other. Riding the London eye gives one many views that can only be seen inside it. Once one has capture the immensity of the city around them, then one can say they finally seen London. Looking at London through the London eye makes one see all the magic that the city can bring specially right when the sun comes down. 

On Top Of The World

How do you get the most spectacular view of the most amazing city in the world?  That’s right it’s the London Eye.  When just walking around London, the beautiful 100-year-old buildings make this city one of the best there is.  The London Eye, which is one of London’s most popular attractions, gives visitors a view from the sky.  The London Eye is in the best location right along the river and across from Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.  
When you look at the London Eye, the first thought that comes to mind; is that Ferris wheel even moving?  The Ferris wheel is so big that it is hard to tell if it is even moving.  As you are on the Ferris wheel, you look out the glass and notice things about London that you never noticed before.  For example, I noticed a big stadium that I had never seen before.  As you go higher and higher, you can see farther along the river and you notice how beautiful the city looks alongside the river.  Visitors to London would never notice that if they did not ride the London Eye.  The London Eye also provides visitors with the best view of London.  Seeing the city from it’s highest point just takes your breath away. 
With London being an expensive city to visit, the London Eye gives tourists the chance to see the whole city.  The London Eye will always be one of the most popular attractions in London because of the spectacular views it provides.



In The Presence Of A Killer

Before coming on this tour, I did not know anything about Jack the Ripper.  I felt excited on the way because I really enjoy scary stories and the east end is a little scary to me in the day light, so just thinking about being in the east end at night I knew it would be spooky.  Donald Rumbalow really made Jack the Ripper come alive on this tour.  I was very impressed with how animated he was when telling the story.   Even when cars drove by he would pause, and then keep on telling the story exactly where he left off.   When walking on the tour the sky got darker and darker which gave me a very creepy feeling inside.  I felt like I was walking through a scary story. 
When we approached where the first murder happened, I realized that absolutely no one was around.  This was the only part of the tour where there was no people or cars passing through.  It made me feel like the area was haunted.  As Donald was telling the story, I felt like maybe Jack would just come out of nowhere.  I also thought that maybe there could be a ghost in the area too.  When Donald was not talking I could feel the creepy silence.

When Donald talked about how Jack the Ripper killed his victims, I could not help but cringe.  When Donald spoke about it in great detail, such as cutting open the center and taking it’s body parts out I could not help but make a shocked face.  It is crazy to think that a person can actually do something like that multiple times.
From the very first time we walked around the east end, I already found this church creepy.  To find out that this church is where a couple of Jack’s murders occurred did not surprise me.  I was staring at the church when Donald said that the prostitutes used to circle around the church so that they wouldn’t get arrested.  As I was starring, I could picture in my head the women circling around the church.  Also, with church being a place where people pray and confess their sins, it is funny to me that it was a main place to get a prostitute.

I was very sad when this tour ended because I wanted the mystery of Jack the Ripper to keep going. Donald was an incredible storyteller.  Donald made me want to learn more about Jack the Ripper and read the book he wrote.  Seeing the places Jack went and seeing where he killed his victims fascinated me and spooked me all at the same time.  Everywhere we went I felt like Jack the Ripper was there.  The day of this tour I was very ill with the flu and while on the walk I completely forgot about the fact that I was sick.  I am really glad that I got out of bed to come to this tour.  It was well worth it and was definitely one of my favorite tours in London.

Off On My Own.

Original Deadline: July 19, 2012 
Feeling a little disorientated when getting off the tube and onto the street, I get a little worried as I am trying to find the market that everyone is heading to.  As soon as I step out of the underground and onto the crowded streets, I see a sign pointing towards the right and right under it, it says "Portobello Market".  With that sign in sight and seeing the crowd heading the same way, I felt as if I have accomplished something on my own.  
Walking through the streets, there are a lot of buildings, the flags hanging from one building to another, and also the people around me.  The crowd had a mixture of locals and tourist shopping around, finding the best deals amongst the other vendors.  Walking in such a crowded street, you would think that it would chaotic and crazy, but when really enjoying your surroundings and seeing what other people are purchasing, it calms you down in a way.  

Walking through Portobello Market you are hit with the different types of food that are cooking on the streets, such as nutellla crepes, gyros, some kind of seafood stew and so much more.  The aroma of the food draws you in and you are amazed in seeing fresh food being cooked right in front of your eyes and even more so, out in the open streets. 

Also walking through Portobello Market, there are many different types of street performers. There were so many musically talented people every few yards along the long road that you could not help but to stop and enjoy the music for just a few minutes. 

The Portobello Market is not just a place to go bargin shopping, but to enjoy the musical talent, the beautiful aroma of the different types of food, talk to a stranger about the weather and overall, just enjoying a beautiful Saturday morning in an all in one area.  

The Top of the World View of London

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A London Eye has become an iconic image since its unveiling in 2000. The 443 foot tall Ferris wheel provides a unique look of London. The Ferris wheel itself prevails over all of the buildings and can be seen from across the river. The simple design still creates contrast with the modern design against the traditional building surrounding the spectacle. Upon arriving to the London Eye, the Ferris wheel towers over and is a sight within itself. I personally enjoyed the simplistic and contemporary design. Furthermore, the location of the London Eye is an important aspect to the Ferris wheel. The London Eye sits next to the Thames River in the center of London providing a holistic view of the city. Beyond the architectural design is being within the London Eye, given that a completely different view of the Ferris wheel and of London.

            On the London Eye, the individual compartment was open and airy. When first stepping on the London Eye, the entire section is covered in glass, allowing the visitors to receive a complete three hundred and sixty degree view of London. This allows the spectator to get an all encompassing feel of London and the various parts within it. As the Ferris wheel slowly approached the top, more historical places, monuments, buildings, and bridges became clearer and gave a distinct view. The London Eye provided unobstructed views of Big Ben, House of Parliament, 10 Downey Street, and the Thames River. The River, however, was not only available to see through the window of the compartment, but was the floor beneath us to show another aspect of this architectural feat. The thirty-minute ride highlighted main features of London, but offers only a glimpse into the true beauty of London. Overall, the London Eye brought spectacular views that showed vast parts of the unique city of London.

Unity with Fire


Watching the staff lighting the small containers in the daylight made me think this wasn't going to be anything special, until the sun went down and the music turned up. The intense music covered the area and created a peaceful ambiance. The fire show at South Bank London was something to be seen.

Once I started walking through the pathway the sight was stunning. London's spectacles seem to be less about the immediate wow factor and more about creating a feeling of unity throughout the largely populated city. This spectacle was so interesting because it gave me a feeling of unity with this eccentric part of London. The intensity of the lights and sounds couldn't have been more special to experience. I was not only observing these lights and sounds but I was a part of it's world.

The True Magic of Harry Potter

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The Harry Potter novels changed millions of people’s lives across the world and their heavy presence is still felt to this day. A story about a boy-wizard has transformed to an international frenzy with films, tours, and even an amusement park. The emotional connection to characters and themes of heroism and self-discovery are just the many attractions towards the novels. My personal love for the novels has impacted my life. I would devour each novel when it was released and went to every midnight premiere for the later films. As the birthplace of Harry Potter, I was ecstatic to emerge myself into discovering new aspects of the Harry Potter novels and films.

Alternative to the walking tour, I ventured out an hour and a half outside of London to explore the studio where the Harry Potter films were created. The first set to see was the Great Hall. This colossal image where major events in the novels and films occurred conjured a thought of a magnificent hall filled with the magical ambiance portrayed in the films. The reality was different, however, as the ceiling was missing to allow for visual effects and two of the tables were missing as well to allow visitors to pass through. Through the changes, though, the details were able to maintain the image of the Great Hall. The glassware on the table, the fireplace, and lanterns brought a greater appreciation into the craftsmanship of the set. As we continued into the next section, the large studio was loaded with iconic props from the film, such as the basilisk entrance and Mirror of Erised to sets such as the Gryffindor Common Room and the Potion’s classroom. The arrangement of random props, sets, and costumes, although a bit chaotic, allowed me to examine each item not through a camera lens. I was amazed to see the preservation of the sets as all of the props were kept in their original state. The scale of the sets also surprised me, as rooms appear smaller in real life than the portrayal on film. With this observation, I realized the quality filmmaking that occurred, as the cameras were able to expand the set to make it appear larger than it was. The props, however, went beyond my expectations as the authenticity and originality was evident on close examination. By having the time to closely look, I was able to value the details inlayed in every piece used in the films. There were handmade tapestries, hand painted portraits, individualized carved wands, all with a purpose to experience of Harry Potter. The most astounding piece was the model of Hogwarts.

            Upon entering the room, the light shines on the grand school and music sets the mood. By physically seeing the school, this altered my relationship with Harry Potter as I was finally able to visualize Hogwarts and understand the magical place the films were trying to recreate from the novels. This model became the pivotal moment for myself as I truly respected the true talents of the artist, architects, camera crew, visual effects, and more to create an all-encompassing magical world from the words of a novel. This visual imagery and art reminded of the specialness of Harry Potter. Overall, this studio tour provided me insight into the making of the Harry Potter films, but it ultimately strengthened my continual love for the novels that inspired them.

The Shard Part II The Sequel? Not At All

The Fire Garden at Inside Out (part of National Theatre), was a brilliantly blazing spectacle that did a magnificent job combining the visual with the aural. World Famous did a fabulous job placing the flames so that they would interact with the wind to create the illusion of a river of fire. Some sceptics may think that the illusion was merely coincidence, but upon closer examination of the the accompanying soundtrack there is no other conclusion than that it was well crafted with intent. Created by Thor McIntyre of Aswarm, the opening aural accompaniment consists of a poem eerily recited to music wherein the Thames is mentioned as a river of fire and of suicide. The poem further continues to talk about light upon the water as the wind whips the flames into a frenzy. Creating a spectacle that is powerful to behold.

The spectacle continues as there is a walkway that the public can use to walk through the sea of flames to immerse themselves in the fire. In this way the audience becomes the spectacle as people start to watch the reactions of others as they make their way through the Fire Garden. Others who do not wish to become the spectacle still stay along the fringes watching the crowds move among the flames and comment on how it looks. One man was complaining that the people with cameras were holding up the queue whenever they stopped to take pictures. By participating in the walk, I subjected myself to such scruitiny, but took pictures anyway. It was worth it.

The Rippling Effect of a Serial Killer

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Upon arriving to the walking tour, the weather was appropriate with dark clouds covering the sky and a constant streaming of wind. Due to our early arrival, Donald Rumbelow, our tour guide, told us of the area of public  execution and recommended we saw the site for ourselves. The daunting atmosphere was only enhanced as we walked over to the infamous place of public execution of many historical figures. My superstitious fears left me weary from lingering in the area. As we returned back to the walking tour flocks of people showed up for the tour. I made my way towards to front to ensure that I would be able to hear him and Rumbelow began the Jack the Ripper walking tour.
            Rumbelow’s extensive knowledge of Jack the Ripper was apparent throughout the tour as details of each location, the historical atmosphere during that time, and his detail answers to any questions. Knowing that he wrote the book specific on Jack the Ripper solidified his reputation during the tour. Due to construction, we were forced in an alley where the roaring of cars passing constantly disrupted Rumbelow. As he built up the story towards the dramatic moment a car would pass by, which made for the constant stopping and repeating of the story. The constant breaks in the story took slightly away from the ambiance Rumbelow was trying to create. Although with our first stop in the alley way I learned about the gruesome details that ultimately killed the life of Mary Ann. The moment that caught my attention the most, though, was when I found out the first victim was murdered on my birthday, August 31st. With this in my mind, we continued on the tour. The second sight and description of the victim only conjured the thought of a dead woman lying there, unnoticed by all the bystanders. I was amazed to find out that Jack the Ripper successfully committed murder within a short span of time and nobody was able to catch a glimpse of the murder. We then moved away towards the East End to talk about the other victims. I was shocked to find the incompetence and bitterness of the two police forces ultimately led to the only evidence linking the murder was erased. I became frustrated that the tragic victims were not even afforded the opportunity to seek justice due to the police forces petty feud. As the night got dimmer, the overall mood in the crowd was somber. When talking about the fourth victim that night, I was again astounded to find the murder of Annie Chapman occurred early in the morning with daylight and Jack the Ripper’s actions were not seen by anyone. The most disturbing murder from the tour was the final victim, Mary Kelly, and the final destination.  The extensive mutilations are incomprehensible and the singular photograph taking of the victim at the crime scene does not accurately depict how the body in person, as described by Rumbelow. I left in astonishment and mystery as the identity of Jack the Ripper is still debated to this day. The overall experience left me more aware and perturbed by the events that occurred through the Jack the Ripper walking tour.

The Art of Puppetry

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Portobello Market exploded with sights of interesting antiques, smells of various cultural foods, and sounds of original music. Crowds bustled through the street and people would often stop suddenly after seeing an intriguing item or smelling a savory aroma. There were cuisines from around the world, such as French crepes and German bratwrusts. Vast amounts of antiques and trinkets were sold on the streets, from boxing gloves to old records to antique teapots, overall giving the stands an eclectic style. Throughout the market, various artistic performances and displays were showcased, including the Monkey Biz.

Tucked away from the busy market was the puppet show within a small park. Families with young children made their way into the park and prepared themselves from the show. The sight included a musician sitting, adjusting his instruments and two puppeteers standing behind a tropical background wearing all black. Talking ceased with the beginning notes of the guitar, replicating sounds similar to circus music.  The first act included two monkeys juggling, followed by various acts of a monkey on stilts, a monkey swinging, and finally a skeleton monkey. In the first act, the two monkeys mirrored each others juggling movements that amazed the crowd. Second was the monkey on stilts, who followed the movements similar to that of a human on stilts. The buildup tensions of balancing on the stilts, accompanied by the theatrical music, left the audience in suspension, but the monkey was able to successfully move across the stage. The monkey swinging from the trapeze brought a new element of difficulty as the puppeteer had to keep the constant motion of swinging back and forth while still performing tricks with the monkey. The last act and my personal favorite was the skeleton monkey. As the monkey came onto the stage, the musician played spooky music that brought a daunting feeling to the act. The monkey was motionless on the floor, but then upbeat music began to play and the monkey slowly began to rise and danced with the music.
All of the elements of music, puppets and props, and the puppeteers brought a professional and creative approach to the art of puppetry beyond a children’s play.
The music accompanied the play with the use of the harmonica, guitar, and accordion. Throughout the show, the musician used minor and major notes, dramatic pauses, and tempo as the indication for the mood of a particular moment. The music was most prevalent during the last act with the skeleton monkey. The slow tempo represented the lifeless form, but as the music quickened, as did the monkey’s actions, which gave the monkey life. Also, the puppets themselves were beyond a children’s toy. Intricate details and delicacy of the monkeys brought them into an art form. Interweaving of the strings allowed the puppets to move with the slightest pull on the strings. With the abundance of strings, the puppeteers were able to achieve precise and specific movements. Beyond the puppets were the props that accompanied the monkeys. Without the stilts, trapeze, and seesaw, the atmosphere would be lacking a circus mood. They also allowed the monkeys to be life-like with their movements. Finally, the puppeteers masterfully crafted the technique, as their motions were fluid and graceful. During complicated routines, the two puppeteers moved one puppet with perfect timing and coordination to achieve a flawless performance. Overall, the show provided insight into the art form of puppetry.

Quiet City, Quiet Celebrations

London is a busy, but very quiet city. The spectacles this city provides, and there are many, are always visually beautiful but not exciting. The artistic renditions of London’s iconic red phone booths are stunning, but they are not “exhilarating”. The Shard was beautiful as it lit up the skyline, but it wasn’t astounding. Last night’s fire garden was alluring but it wasn't titillating. While all of these spectacles produced exquisite photographs, they didn't yield exciting stories. One of the positives of the fire garden however was the fact the public was apart of the spectacle rather than just watching it from afar. The crowd was able to walk through the fire in honor of the olympic torch being brought into the city. It was a an original artistic approach to welcome in opening weekend but its not a story I’m dying to tell my friends back home. London is artsy, and art is quiet because it speaks for itself. This is most likely why London likes to sizzle rather than bang. All that said, I am glad I got to see the Southbank one more time, that area is the most beautiful in all of London. I could sit down there for hours and just watch the city pass by. Southbank was more of a spectacle to me than anything else. It has a story, from the beautiful views off the Hungerford bridge, to the London eye, graffiti and street performers. Thats the definition of a true spectacle, something you will never forget and the images and stories of Southbank will never escape my memory.