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…