October 12, 2007

So I’m done with classes. Yeah, I still have once a week BLC and the Theater Final to take, but come on, let’s face facts- I’m done with schooling for Abroad Semester 07. The whole “education” thing here has been a disappointing to be honest. I blame that on FIE, the program that we’re here under. The teachers, while nice, couldn’t teach a lick. I dunno, I always had this image of studying abroad consisting of reading Kafka (or at least Conrad) and sipping absinthe while wearing silk robes. Turned out it more like trying to keep from falling asleep while some piece of shit tries to bullshit his way through a presentation saying that Tube stop announcers are theater. So it was frustrating, especially considering last semester at AU, which was definitely my best, learning stuff-wise.

But enough with the negativity. What’s done is done, right? Right. The main reason I haven’t been updating is because I’ve been out doing stuff, which I suppose is good, right? I mean, a consistently updated blog would mean that I’m sitting in front of the computer most of the time, which wouldn’t be too cool, right? That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

One of the things I’ve done is see Macbeth. Pretty cool, right? It gets even better. I saw Macbeth starring Patrick Stewart.  Mind-blowing would be a good word for it. Set in early Soviet Russia, the entire cast, but Stewart especially, were able to make every word come across as clear as a bell. The Macbeth-as-Stalin comparison works perfectly, especially when you take into account both leaders paranoia. You can see every decision becoming easier and easier for the power hungry warrior, weather it be from embarrassing a lower solider to killing his best friend. You never see him on stage as anything but Macbeth.

picard.jpg

I totally forget- I also picked up in Madrid this awesome newspaper boy messenger bag as well as an FC Barcelona jersey. Check it:

All my friends are from Barcelona

So it’s been a while since I rapped at ya, sorry about that. But things have been distracting me. In some ironic twist of fate, these things are the very things I would want to blog about. So, let’s make a list, shall we?

Yom Kippur: While only one day, what a day it was. I suppose you could say that any day in which you forsake food and water is an intense one, although this Yom Kippur didn’t really have that feeling. I went to a shul near Marble Arch stop, it’s a nice building but the service wasn’t for me. It was very Ortho, it full on mechitzah (separation of men and women) with men on bottom and women on the top floor. Kinda sexist, eh? Also, in what I’m thinking might be English tradition, in the center was a men’s choir who did just about all the praying for us. Now me, I like my services interactive. So it was a bit of drag. I should also mention that I spent Rosh Hashana here, and that the reason I know about it is because of my eldery relative Joe Gordon, a nice old Scotsman who can wear a tux like nobody’s business. How we’re related, I don’t know. But we are, and he’s a great guy. Also on Yom Kippur I finally finished The Ox Bow Incident, a remarkable book that transforms the Western genre into a tabula rosa for humanity. It brings up question of justice that are incredibly relevant for today. It not only questions violence, but also those who are opposed to it- how far are you willing to go to prove a point? If you’re not willing to go that far, is the point worth being made. Given the state of our own war and the unsure state of the Saffron Revolution right now, it’s more timely than ever. Also, it’s a hell of a Western. Highly recommended. For the record, I broke fast at Kavanaugh’s our local pub, with nachos.

School Work: Goddamn. Fucking 2000 word papers. I’m not learning that much either. Although there is a certain joy in getting back into the swing of coming up with/proving a thesis.

Madrid: Yeah, that’s right. Madrid. My roommate Max and I went there this weekend. It was awesome. We came into the ridiculously nice yet strangely empty Madrid Barajas Airport, where we met his friend Scott who is spending his semester there. He’s a really nice guy and did a great job showing us around. We stayed in a nice hostel, a pleasant place with a great location. We were in walking distance of the Prado, the Reina Sophie, and the Royal Palace, all of which I’ll talk about in a second. Right now I just want to mention how nice it was to sleep in a room with just one other person, as opposed to four. Odd that the hostel seemed more like a dorm room than the actual room I’m staying in London. But we didn’t spend too much time in the hostel anywayz. We spent it first trying in vain to catch a train/bus/any cheap mode of transportation to Toledo, but that didn’t work out. So we went to, as previously mentioned, the Prado. I’ve been there before, but that was in my youth on USY Pilgrimage. For those not in the know, Pilgrimage is a program run by United Synagogue Youth, and we spent two weeks in Spain. I was about fifteen and didn’t know a damn thing about art. Also, we were given a total of 45 minutes there, and they tried to offer a checklist of the “famous paintings” we should see so we could check them off some list that people keep of things they need to see. It was, in a word, horseshit. This time, we stayed for three hours, analyzing the works of Goya, Velásquez, and Patinir. It was amazing. Goya’s Black Paintings really stuck with me. The paintings seem to have a theme of entrapment and all the horror that implies. There are different types of entrapment, and Goya covers the bases. “Procession of the Holy Office” shows the type of entrapment government/religion can use on the people. One look at the people there shows they are trapped. “Saturn devouring one of his sons“seems to me to be about self-destructiveness, and how that can lead to endless cycles of pain. Thinking about it, this one reminds me of Gandhi’s famous quote “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Is that the exact quote? I’m not sure. Not being sure of something brings me to my two favorite works of Goya, “The Dog” and “Duel with cudgels“. Even in the 45 minute trip from years ago, “The Dog” was able to resonate with me very deeply. A picture of “Dog”‘s nature operates very similarly to a mirror, letting the person put their own fears and insecurities into it. All those years ago, I missed the title of the painting and thought it was of a person. It’s still striking. I should also mention that my linked picture doesn’t even come close to doing it justice. It appears that a dog is drowning, in its not exactly clear. Also not exactly clear is how he got there. Is it suicide or a mistake? Also, and you can’t see this unless you are in the Prado, there is a slight possible figure of a man. Is it an angel coming to great the dog? Or rather, is it the man who put him in this situation? Answering these questions can only happen if you put your own emotions and opinions about humanity into the picture, a true masterpiece.

Less abstract is “Duel”, although it is not less powerful. Showing two men running towards each other but not their legs, which are trapped in the earth below them. It’s Goya’s comment specifically about a Spanish war, but I didn’t spend much time researching it because I think it applies to war in general. Two sides racing towards each other, trapping themselves in the process. They ignore the beauty around and focus on hate.

While we’re on the subject of war, I should mention that Max and I also went to the Reina Sophia with the express goal of seeing Picasso’s Guernica. Mission accomplished. It was special for Max, as he’s been waiting his whole life to see the master’s masterpiece. Although I saw it when I was on my earlier trip, it’s lost none of its power. What strikes you most about it is how big the damn thing is. I truly believe that if you gave the people in power a basic background on the work and them showed to them, there would be less war in the world.

So the art was amazing. But what about the social experiences of Madrid? Well, I’m glad you asked. I’m also glad you’re still reading this, it’s going for a while. But it’s worth it, don’t you think? Scott took us to a couple of cool bars, including one called Dubliners. There was 80’s rock and American football on the big screen. I had to look over at the Salida (exit) sign just to make sure I was still in Spain. But still, good times. Also, we went to a bullfight. That’s right, a bullfight. Like, an authentic bullfight at Plaza del Toros. Surreal would be a good word to describe it. Also, horrifying. The whole thing lacked artistry and danger and was filled with ceremony and death. The bull didn’t seem like charging until he was egged on, and then they stabbed it and stabbed it until the matador finally came out. He toyed with the bull for a bit and then delivered the fatal blow, a sword into the spine. The bull then walked around for about a minute until blood started gushing out its nostrils. It then collapsed under its own weight and died, to vigorous applause. It’s hard to prepare yourself for something like that, and we were all shocked even though we knew what was coming. That being said, despite the barbarism, there was on occasion a thrill to be seen in watching a man maneuver expertly around something so powerful. Of course, why the hell do they have to kill it? It disgusts me. However, I am curious about the subject. Hemingway said that one’s first bullfight is usually a bad one, and I can say in my case it definitely was. I want to read his “Death in the Afternoon”, a non-fiction look at the subject. Maybe I’ll read that after I’m done with Papillion and The Plague. Those books are awesome.

The Kinks/The Sex Pistols/Pulp: Yup, I’m going through British mania right now. Considering how awesome each of these bands are, I’d want to devote an entire post to each. So I’ll do that later. Just know that “Victoria”, “Yes Sir No Sir”, “Arthur”, “God Save the Queen”, “Common People”, “Disco 2000″ and “Underwear” are ruling my life right now.

So that’s what’s been going as of late. I promise I’ll put more pictures on Picasa (cuz fuck flickr) and Facebook soon. Also, with any luck I’ll be posting more regularly. DaveG out.

EDIT: I’ve been doing some thinking about bullfighting. Maybe there is an artistry about it. To quote a friend who’s a fan, “it treats the animal with more respect than the machines used to kill it”. It’s an interesting take. I’m definitely going to read Hemmingway’s Death in the Afternoon, and go back to see another one then develop a fuller opinion on the thing.

I’ve just realized that even though I have told you I’m studying over here in Europa, I haven’t given you the slightest clue as to what I’m studying. It’s a fair question. I’m a poli sci major with a minor in literature. I’m very proud of that minor and always make sure to mention it. A while back, I tried desperately to make it a double major in those two subjects, but it would required no choice in courses, five of them each semester, I would have had to take them during the summer, and I wouldn’t have been able to study over here. So that couldn’t happen. My interests include politics, writing, harmonica (although I’m not very good- yet), movies, music, and long walks on the beach. Of course, some of those sound generic as hell, but I should emphasize that I really really love these things. I”ll be talking about them (in great detail) later. Right now, I’m just trying not to get sidetracked from my current mission, which is to tell you about my classes. There are three of them- BLC, Politics, and Contemporary Theater. Here we go:

BLC: This is short for British Life and Culture. Taught by Mr. Shlomowitz, an Austrailian who lived in Chicago for several year, it’s held once a week. A very laid back class, hopefully this one will be taking the form of field trips. We’ve visited the Globe Theater already, and I can only hope the trips/laid back atmosphere will continue.

Politics: Argh. Now, don’t get me wrong, it is my major and all, but the tough thing about this class is that we’re learning from Square Zero about Parliment, the roles of the Executive and all that. While it is interesting to an extent, the teacher is this lovely balding portly man whom I can only imagine reading stories to children in a library. A three hour class? Not so much. Of course, all this negativity may stem from the fact that he’s assigned a 2,000 word essay due in a week which I haven’t started yet. Goddamnit.

Contemporary Theater: Oh, ConTheat. As our professor, we have this lovely old grand dame of the theater- she’s been working in it her entire life, on both the academic and stage side, no less- who can’t run a class for her life. She brings all these great ideas to the table but then doesn’t deliver on them. The other day is a perfect example- she sets up a critical review workshop, so we can find what goes into a good review and how to write one for an assignment. Considering that I love reviews (I practically worship the AV Club), I was pumped. But when it came to the day, we started off fine, but then…well, it just kind of rambled off. I don’t even remember what happened,, it just sort of disappeared. A lot of her class time disappears, and not in a good way.

Still though, I shouldn’t complain too much- she is nice and the class is allowing me to see awesome theater. Take tonight, for example- we saw The 39 Steps. It’s a parody specifically of a Hitchcock film of the same name, but it spoofs the entire 40’s spy genre.  It’s utterly fantastic. What really impressed was not just the four person cast with constantly switching roles, but the barer than bare bones use of props. Coming from an improv comedy background, it was amazing to see actors so throughly ‘create space’ on stage, making air windows and turning chairs into cars and back into chairs again. The play is very self-aware, but the cast gets so into it that you’re sucked along. It also doesn’t hurt that the lead has a kick ass mustache. I mean, we’re talking Tom Selleck quality here.

So, classes in a nutshell: not great by any means, but pretty painless except when they give me too much work (fuck you, 2,000 word essay!!). And see The 39 Steps, people. It really catches both London’s spirit of grandeur as well as it’s love of taking the piss out of grandeur. TiS out.

Let’s Start This Thing.

September 19, 2007

“What’s the point of going to London? It’s the same as here.”

–Jeffery Buras, Esq.

That right there is a quote from my roommate from last year. It’s in reference to what I’m doing right now, studying abroad in London, England. It’s what a plan to write about here. I can’t promise much since, even though I’m a 21st Century Digital Boy, blogging has never been in my blood. I’ve tried it once before and eventually my interest just petered out (man, he’s doing a great job on his first post). But no matter. Once more into the brig, as The Bard used to say. And speaking of great men, I might as well explain the title- Tourism Is Sin. Pretty hardcore, right? It’s based off a quote by great director Werner Herzog- he said “Tourism is sin, and travel on foot virtue.” Heady words, especially for someone living abroad only for a short period of time. It’s tempting while here to either A) act like a tourist and just be the stereotypical American, going only to Big Ben and such or B) act like a bum and never go out at all. Herzog is encouraging more than just seeing something, he saying that you’ve got to experience it. But going back to the quote at the beginning, how am I supposed to immerse myself in a culture that, on the face of it, looks so similar to the one back home?

The similarities between England and the United States are impossible to miss. There’s the language obviously, which besides for some slang (“bollocks” and such) and some accents (it rarely gets to Billy Elliot level) is the same. Maybe it’s different outside the big city, but that’s what I know for now. And of course, even more important than language is all the shared culture we have. And by “shared” I mean “culture The States send in”. It’s ridiculous how much people here love all things American, especially movies. I’d say the UK has more of its own music scene, what with its million Pop Idol/X Factor shows and the National Mercury Prize, but as far as movies, there’s American and then there’s other. Sure, there’s a small scene, with Ken Loach at the forefront, but when it comes to what the critics recommend for the weekend, it’s the good ol’ USA taking up all five spots. It’s been interesting seeing how wide the reach of American celebrity is.

Of course, with all these similarities, it’d be easy to think London is American in nature, which it definitely isn’t. The most crucial divide I’ve noticed so far is in architecture.  Much like Chicago, London was once destroyed by a great fire, causing it to be rebuilt in a drastically different fashion. Except whereas Chicago’s happened early this century, London’s took place in 1666.  The result of that fire was the outlawing of thatched roofs in the city, which forced people to go to stone, which means that downtown is populated by many, many magnificent old buildings.Their birth dates span the decades (and centuries) , and add to that fact that this was never a planned city, and you got yourself some wildly different architecture.

Of course, you’re not here to read an architectural review and I’m in no place to give one, considering I know nothing about this subject (although my curiosity has been piqued). What I really want to talk about is the effect all this stone has on the city. Going through the downtown, it’s kind of odd- there are these magnificent structures housing Calvin Klein, Talbots, Burger King and the like.  The buildings have this amazing sense of permanence, while the stores inside them seem remarkably transient.  The whole thing reminds me of the Roman triumph, in which a slave would stand behind a conquering Roman commander during a parade and would whisper, among other things, “Memento mori”, which is Latin for “Remember you are mortal.” I feel the same way about these companies- even though they have conquered temporarily, they are mortal. These buildings will last far beyond them.  While man is mortal,  his creations seem eternal. Compare that to DC, where the illustrious buildings are merely decorative. By using buildings like that, it detracts from the power of the place, in my opinion. Rather than seperation, inclusion in society can give the majestic the greatest strength of all.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. Take the Jerusalem Tavern, for instance. Damn place was founded in 1810! I haven’t gone yet, it’s one of my goals to do so.

Shit son. I feel like I’ve been rambling without a coherent point for a while now. Maybe this is why I make a poor blogger- posts should be consice and witty, not long winded speeches touching on Roman military tradition and X Factor. But whatever. This blog is to be done in the spirit of Werner Herzog- that is, to apologize to no one and do whatever I damn well please. I’m going to try my best to comment on British (and possibly American) society, and I’m sure I’ll post on my various travels around The Old Continent. Also, expect a couple drunken posts proclaiming “Freebird” as the best song ever. Oh man, I haven’t even talked about music! Wait till I get started on The Kinks. This is gonna get good…

Hello world!

September 17, 2007

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