I have been in London for ten days, having arrived on Fri., 27th of June. So much has happened that a heightened state of consciousness is emerging, or so it seems, within my psyche. The reason I'm stating this is because, normally, when I have to process large amounts of new information, I become disoriented and reclusive...in spite of all these new sensory experiences, this Sunday evening, I feel totally alive and thirsting for the knowledge that this program is making available to me...or it may just be the exotically delicious Ethiopian ginger coffee that I bought from a street vendor a few hours ago!???
Seriously though, and to begin with, I'll copy and paste an e-mail that I sent out to my close and extended family just yesterday. This will help put things in context. I will then detail certain areas for the sake posterity and this blog.
It is hard to believe that my first week in Great Britain is through...it's just sinking in that I'm actually over here! The week has been particularly challenging due to the loss of several important personal affects, the reclaiming of which, I'm still in the process of. Despite this, the weather has been beautiful and our road trips have gone perfectly. My University of Southern Mississippi advisor, Dr. Teresa Welsh has been great to work with, as is another of my USM professors, Dr. Matthew Griffis. The former has been leading library and information science tours on this British Studies Program since the early 1990's and the latter, although this is his first BSP trip, is a scholar of Carnegie libraries, of which we've seen one and plan on visiting more, including the very first in Dunfirmline, Scotland, Andrew Carnegie's hometown.
Our academic journey began on Mon., 30th of June 2014, and we traveled by coach (bus) to Oxford, The City of Dreaming Spires. This is a town I'm definitely going back to since we only had a taste of it. We disembarked the coach at the Ashmolean Museum of anthropological fame, but didn't have time to go in! :( We toured the Bodleian Library, one magnificent room, the traditional religious studies room, where we were lectured of the history of Oxford and the Bodleian itself, was used in the filming of some Harry Potter scenes...I believe someone said 'hospital scenes'. We ate at a church cafe, which are common ways for churches to make money over here and it was delicious...local fruit and yogurt with Earl Grey tea! Pen-named Lewis Carrol taught at Christchurch and wrote Alice in Wonderland for the Headmaster's daughter. A giftshop across from that college had really cool memorabilia from that book. We toured Christchurch and saw different inspirations for Carroll's creation. Finally, I got to have tea in the Eagle and Child pub where 'The Inklings' met weekly to share their stories...two of the most famous 'members' were J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. It was a cozy pub and I could sense their imaginations in full force!
Day two took us to Stratford-Upon-Avon, hometown of William Shakespeare. Our coachdriver was very animated and spoke the whole two hour trip about politics, history, nutrition, you name it. I wanted to tell him that I would vote for him since he seemed to have all the answers, but the time to speak never arose! The first site I went to in this charming tourist-centered town was the Carnegie Library. This effort was very rare because it was an adaptive reuse/historic preservation project, which Carnegie was most often strictly against. He wanted his libraries to be new constructions. This library may be unique in the world for this very reason. It looked to be medieval in construction and the interior was very modern in design, yet, with historic elements scattered throughout...exposed beams here, ancient interior leaded glass there...it was quite a marriage of new and old. The gift shops in the town had wonderful products that were, by majority, made in the area...no cheap tourist trinkets here...well, I'm sure they were around, but I found high quality, unique items. I had a vegetarian breakfast at a picturesque cafe (The Food of Love @ http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g186399-d1017811-r150799451-The_Food_of_Love-Stratford_upon_Avon_Warwickshire_England.html ) at about 4p.m. which included 2 fried eggs, 2 thick slices of Halloumi cheese, a broiled tomato, baked beans, grilled mushrooms, bell peppers and onions, hash browns and toast with marmalade...it was amazing. I then walked to the beautiful church where Shakespeare is buried, walked the grounds and up the River Avon, past colorful boats and couples on the bank, to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. This is two buildings, one Victorian-era and the other brand new...again, a fantastic example of reuse and contrasting ages. The playhouse was globe theatre style and the play was transformative...watching it as Shakespeare would have experienced it, in his hometown, was remarkable.
On the third day of our trip, we traveled to Stowe House manorhouse School and gardens. A former estate, turned "public school" where tuition is £33,000 per year from age 13 to 18. Before leaving, one of our British tour coordinators told me that this was my chance to see 'how the upper crust live'. On the way, stopping at a rest stop was an experience in itself...although there aren't as many as we have in the U.S., the ones England has are immense, with grocery stores inside, where healthy options are plentiful. The landscaping of it involved much greenspace, coy and lillypad ponds and the first ravens that I've seen since I was 3 years old! Stowe House was quite magnificent. Georgian design, no expense spared, murals/entablatures on every ceiling, and gardens that resembled a elite park, complete with monuments dedicated to philosophers, royalty, Saxon pantheon, and Mother Earth. The library had just recently been refurbished, the ceiling being guilt with 23 1/2 carat gold. The librarians were extremely cordial and gave us the grand tour of the entire house, as well as directions around the estate gardens.
Thurs. 3rd of July was our first academic tour in London. This was the British Library. Our tour guide is a donation collections coordinator and is hilarious...a joy to experience. Giving us the history of the national library, he then gave examples of their holdings, including one of the largest, if not the largest postage stamp collection in the world. He then explained to us the process on getting a 'readers card' and showed us the inner workings of how books are retrieved from the depths of the closed stacks...other than a certain U.S. prison, this structure is the largest underground facility in the world. Towering up through the center of the main hall at the library is an enormous glass...well, tower...that encloses tens of thousands of books. These were a gift from, I believe George II, but were given with the stipulation that they must always be on display to the public...and they still are. The 'Treasures Room' was also quite impressive and I will go back...a huge room with the library's most unique items...Codex Sinaiticus the first comprehensive collection of the New Testament, written in Greek and dating to the first millennia a.d....original copies of the Magna Carta...glorious illuminated manuscripts that are blinding with gold...and...one thing that brought a tear to my eye, amongst all that amazing stuff...handwritten lyrics on paper odds-and-ends of The Beatles' lyrics...I don't know why it hit me so hard, but it did.
So, anyway, that's enough for now. I'll begin my blog soon, and will get that address out to all of you. I love and miss you. I can't wait to see everyone again, but until then, I'll keep you posted and will do as much as I can!