In the meantime

Oh folks, things are just not going my way.  I was so looking forwards to keeping up with a posting schedule for the first time in my blogging history, but life happened, as it so often does.  One of my favourite vloggers pointed out in a recent video that we, as people, are terribly inclined to vastly overestimate our abilities to deal with things that we control, and I think that observation really applies to my experiences with time management as of late (as of always).  I have a tendency to greatly overestimate the potential of my time and undervalue it as a commodity simultaneously.  I plan much and I do little, and blogging is the perfect illustration of this dynamic.

I’ve spent the afternoon trying to compile photos and thoughts for the two travel posts I’d meant to have up a week ago (Brussels and Amsterdam), but there have been a lot of other tasks vying for my attention.  I leave for home in six days, and twelve days after that hope to go to work at a summer camp nearby.  Needless to say there is a lot that I need to accomplish in this relatively short period of time.  Already I feel the importance of this blog receding in relativity, and that worries me.  Writing has always been one of my first commitments in life, and one of the greatest struggles.  There are days when things just come and on those days writing is easy.  Words flow out onto paper and whenever I read them again I’m amazed.  I have to sit down and ask myself: “was that really me?”  Other days it isn’t so easy.  But blogging (along with journaling), I’ve always desperately believed (despite certain evidence to the contrary) to be different.

I haven’t had a whole lot of success with blogging, to be honest, and right now isn’t the exception.  I have three half finished posts about places I’ve been and thoughts that I’ve had about them, but each one feels awkward and trite.  On the bright side, the photos are pretty.

Commitment to quality is the problem here- I don’t want to post something I’m not proud of.  I don’t even want to work on something I’m not proud of.  There are times when you just keep plugging away at things, and then there are times when you step back and say, “maybe it’s best to cut my losses.”  Unfortunately, this isn’t either of those times.  This is a time when I have to remind myself that sometimes you need to be gentle with myself.  To remind myself that writing is not a violent, self-hating process, but that there’s also no room for throwing the towel in.  This is a time when I have to remind myself that writing is a bit like growing a garden: there are going to be seasons in which nothing seems to be growing, give it time and care and it will bloom.  But when there simply isn’t rain, divert a stream.

Right now I am stressed beyond all belief (as is perhaps noticeable in the tangential nature of this post.  My mind tends to run in many directions at once when I’m stressed).  I have a lot to do and that usually means that I spend time not doing it.  Blogging is on that list, but so is packing my backpack to see if I need to buy an extra bag (I will), finding a gift for the family I’m staying with, and coming to grips with the fact that I’m leaving.  It’s all a lot more than I bargained for, and six days isn’t nearly as long as I imagined it to be.  (It was still eight days when I started writing this post).  There’s a knot in my throat the size of Texas as I write this, but I’m afraid something has got to be put on hold.  For sanity’s sake it’s going to be the blog posts.  They’ll be up, eventually, but maybe not within the next few weeks.  The good news is that when they’re published they will be posts that I’m proud of, and hopefully that means that they will be ones that you’ll enjoy reading as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them.

In the meantime, here are some pictures I took at a bamboo garden I visited in the south of France.

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Paris

In Germany they say that “the Japanese come to Europe to see ten cities in five days.”  (Rough translation) I’ve been in Europe for two and a half months and I’ve seen some of Britain and I’ve lived in Germany, but I think I’ve only managed to see seventeen cities in the time I’ve been here.  The most cities I’ve visited in any given week is three.  Two weeks ago I spent a whirlwind of a week traveling through France, Belgium and the Netherlands, visiting only three major cities as I went.  I stayed in Paris for three nights, Brussels for two and Amsterdam for another two.

It’s hard to hit up all the major tourist attractions in a city in just a couple of days, let alone get much of a feel for the place.  My friend Lizy and I are both make-it-up-as-we-go travelers though, and this seems to be the best method for conquering a city in so short a period of time.  Our Paris checklist included: walking up and down the Seine, listening to some good Parisian techno, flitting through a flea market, sampling quality macarons, tasting authentic French cuisine and throwing paper aeroplanes of the top of the Eiffel tower.  We also managed to see the Louvre, the Pompidou and Sacré-Coeur, and visited with a good friend who had studied there for the semester.  Major tourist tip: if you can, visit Paris with someone who knows the city and speaks better French than you.  Unless you know the city and speak fluent French, of course.

Some quick photos and a few highlights:

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Notre Dame was unbelievably beautiful.  For this confirmed church lover, it ranks as the most beautiful cathedral I’ve ever seen.  It was, as expected, packed with tourists who were completely uninterested in complying with the “hushed voices only” policy posted on sign boards scattered throughout the cathedral.  Still, these throngs could hardly detract from the reverent atmosphere of the place, which seemed built right into the bricks and mortar of the church.

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Few things in Paris delighted me as much as the vendors booths along the Seine. Filled to bursting with vintage lithographs and wood block prints, aged tomes and vintage comic books, they provided a pleasant distraction from all the other delightful scenery lining the banks of the river.

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The Louvre was an incredible thing to witness in person, at least from the outside.  Inside it was a tourist-season induced frenzy, and unlike a church, it is almost impossible to enjoy a museum that is jam-packed with people, regardless of how much or how little noise they are making.  I left the museum feeling disgruntled and harried, not enlightened and at ease, at least in part due to the confusing design of the museums long and unconnected halls with oddly situated stairwells, which had me turned about so that I could not find my way amidst tourist throngs to the doors in order to leave.  I managed to see all the major paintings, but from quite a distance, as nothing can persuade my mildly claustrophobic self to brave thick crowds, not even the Mona Lisa.  In short, if you’re thinking of visiting the Louvre in tourist season, don’t.

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The entirety of Paris, from the people to the architecture is very photogenic.  I’m usually not a huge fan of pictures of the Eiffel tower, but couldn’t resist snapping a few of my own- it was too beautiful a subject to pass up.

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Somewhere between eating macarons and visiting the Pompidou my friend and I managed to see Sacré-Coeur.  Much like the Louvre it was a tremendous disappointment.  Photography was not allowed and great pains were taken to inform visitors that it wasn’t.  Great pains in the form of massive cardboard signs in five different languages reading “no photography is permitted in this sanctuary” situated frequently throughout the basilica.  There were overpriced prayer candles placed left and right as well, and with every step one took that wasn’t into another person one risked bumping into and knocking over another table of tapers.  I was decidedly unimpressed.

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Reasons a visit to the Pompidou is worthwhile: one, for the museum itself, two, to take pictures of the Parisian sunset.  Lovely- like all of Paris, in fact.  I’ve voiced an awful lot of complaints amidst these photographs, but all in all, my stay in Paris was wonderful.  The only thing I could have asked for was a bit more time to take it all in.

 

Folks, I’m sorry for such a short and straightforward post, but as usual, things have gotten left to the last minute.  I leave for France at five AM tomorrow morning, and I haven’t managed to write the next few posts either.  That means there will be a posting delay until my return next Sunday.  But all is okay!  I’ll get back on top of things then, and hopefully my posts about Brussels and Amsterdam will be slightly more eloquent.  Until then!

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Living Life in a Language I Hardly Speak

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I have been living in Germany for a month and a half now and a lot has transpired in the meantime.  The things that were disorienting when I first arrived are now mundane.  The things which catch me off my feet now are much more subtle, but in their subtlety they are often more surprising than the things which shocked me at first.  There are a lot of ups and downs in making your home in a place that isn’t home, even if you’re only there for a few months.  As a result, I’ve spent a lot of time as of late discovering just which parts of me are stretched thinnest when dealing with culture shock.

I’m here in Ludwigsburg (just outside of Stuttgart, in the state of Baden-Wurttemberg) with a fairly simple purpose: to learn German.  I spend six hours out of five days of my week sitting with twenty other foreigners in a cramped room in an inadequately heated office building cramming my mind full of new words, confusing grammatical formulas, irregular verb conjugations and pronouns definite, indefinite and or reflexive.  But both more importantly and bewilderingly, I spend every day of every week fully immersed in a culture and language that isn’t mine.  Though most of the people I interact with speak at least some English (read: better English than my German), the social mindset that they operate in, is, like that of any other culture, indefinitely and yet undeniably shaped by their mother tongue.  Humour is different, courtesy is different, and although nonverbal communication is similar to what I grew up with, it is still incontestably different.

After almost five months spent on the go, which came after a lifetime of travel with my family and months spent away from home, one move from one city to another, and numerous moves from school to school, I feel I’ve worked out a basic strategy for feeling at home when you aren’t at home.  It’s passed test after test, and finally has neared its breaking point- the trial by fire which will determine whether or not it is truly, unequivocally effective.  The strategy is two pronged in approach: first, dive in.  Leave all that is familiar behind you.  Don’t seek out comfort in things that you already know, instead, embrace all that is new, confusing, terrifying.  Make it a part of your everyday, every moment existence.  Second, take lots of down time.  For at least an hour out of every day (although ideally I’d aim for two or three) spend time alone.  Do something brainless; something that makes you feel at peace.

It’s been foolproof, everywhere that I’ve been before.  I get out of doors; I explore the new place I’m living in.  I quickly find new things to love and to hate about my surroundings.  I try to meet new people, or don’t, depending on my mood.  I try all the new food, new experiences, new adventures that I can.  I make sure to take adequate time to myself, away from the constant stimulation of all that is new, to decompress.  It has always, always worked before.

So why is this the breaking point?  What about Germany is so different that I find it hard to feel at home?  The language.  You’d think it would have occurred to me that I would find such an obvious and tremendous difference unsettling, but it took moving to a place where no one else spoke English as their mother tongue to realize how much I’d miss it.  It’s hard to meet new people and to try new things when you don’t speak the language that surrounds you.  Sometimes I go to bakeries (one of the greatest new found pleasures of my life here in Germany) and try to order something new, only to realize that I don’t know what it’s called or cannot force my foreign tongue to form its name.  Discouraged, I am forced to jab my finger in its general direction while a frustrated saleswoman waves her tongs at the pastries on the other side of the glass.  “Nein, nein, nein.  Ja.  That one, please.”

Every day I am forced to arrange my inadequate vocabulary into the often disappointing phrases I require to communicate simple, everyday things.  I manage the sheer basics easily, but scrape by on answering questions and engaging in conversation.  Though I can understand almost everything that is said to me, it often takes so long for me to formulate responses and questions that by the time I’ve mustered up the courage to say something the moment for saying it has long since passed.  Other times I get hung up on trying to say something that would be easy to say in English, but is impossible to say in German.  The sentence structures I’m used to being able to use sometimes just don’t translate.  There are days when I get so tired of trying to work out what’s being said over dinner, or in a classroom, or on the bus that I filter the German conversations around me as background noise.  On days like that it’s hard to convince myself that I’ve learned anything at all.

But I am learning.  Every week my vocabulary virtually doubles in size.  I’ve gone from a working knowledge of one verb tense to mastery of six in as many weeks.  In the same way that every day brings new challenges, each one brings new delights and small victories too.  Being able to formulate sentences that make sense.  Saying something that I mean and saying it completely, not only satisfactorily.  Responding to a question without thinking.  Making people laugh by being witty, not by making stupid mistakes.  Requesting something in a bakery and getting what I asked for without having to jab my finger in the direction of the display case.  Understanding an overheard conversation on the bus.  Grasping nuances.  Catching jokes.  Slowly but surely I toddle in the general direction of language proficiency, passing each milestone with the wild-eyed, clapping and cackling delight of a child, lacking only the reasonable ability to express said delight visibly.  In the same way, I cannot publicly bemoan my struggles as a two-year old does, though in my failures I’m sure I mimic their every sound, I cannot stomp my feet and cry frustrated, angry tears.  Instead my inner toddler consoles herself with glaring at every infant and small child she passes, aware that they will, growing up in this tongue, grasp it more easily and rapidly than she.

For now, this is where I am.  A fawn on new legs, skittering through a new and confusing life, striving to run before I can walk because that is what life demands of me.  Given time I may prance through those German fields, blissfully at ease in a capability that seems as of yet so far off.  For now I will make do with what I have and learn as much as I can as it comes to me.  I have less than a month left here, and while it will not be enough to see this journey finished, it’s enough to get me started.

 

There you have it folks; I promised myself I’d write it, and despite headache and fatigue and the beautiful day outside my window, I did.  We’re making progress.

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An Unscheduled Post for Family, Friends and the Folks Back Home

Folks, I’m working as hard as I can to get the post that was supposed to be published today up and done with, but it’s late and I just lost a good chunk (read the end of) my post to an internet crash.  It seems like a small thing, but I’ve already braved headache, fatigue and writer’s block to get this done and losing half my hard work was really the final straw.  I’m fighting angry, toddler-esque tears.  So I’m going to quickly write up another obligation post that occurred to me today, and then I’m going to bed.

I know I never really wrote a post outlining my trip, so saying that my plans have changed probably isn’t going to mean much to most of you.  But for those of you who did know my plans and are wondering why the heck I’m still in Germany, the explanation’s coming.  For those of you who didn’t, here:

When I started out on this jaunt the plan (as much as it can be called that, vague as it was) was to spend two months (January- February) in Lennoxville, Quebec; followed by a week or so sightseeing in the UK; then six weeks to two months in Ludwigsburg, Germany (March- April) washed down with a ten day blitz through Western Europe and finished with just shy of three months spent farming in central Japan (that brings us to the end of August).  The dream was to gain some slipshod conversational fluency in the three languages I studied in school (French, German, Japanese).  So much for that.

The revised plan has me staying in Germany until the second week in June and heading back to good old British Columbia for the summer, where, God and humans willing, I’ll be working at a summer camp until school starts in the fall.  It turns out my German needs a lot more work than I thought it did, and that I’m just too tired to keep going.  I have three weeks left here in Germany and already I can’t wait to be home.  My medical problems are piling up on me, my back hurts and my chronic headaches, despite medication and meditation, are persistent and brutal.  I’m finished.

But that doesn’t mean that I’m not excited about all that has happened so far and all that the future holds.  Giving up going to Japan, though it’s been a long-term dream, was a well thought out, seriously considered choice.  And I haven’t completely given up- I’m still planning to go in the future.  I’m just not ready to go there now.  I have enough to work on with German to keep me busy for a while, and as I mentioned before, I’m ready to go home.  Yet I do not go home defeated.  I’m heading to camp because I honestly believe it’s where I’m meant to be this summer.  Long before my plans changed I felt my heart drawing me back in that direction, and worked to weasel out a way to spend two, three weeks at the end of summer there.  I can confidently say that I made the right choice in deciding to spend the whole summer at camp instead, and even more confidently that I made the right choice by staying in Germany.  When the time comes to go to Japan, I know that it will be the right thing too.

Aside from that, the previous (rough) posting schedule still applies.  Thanks for your time and interest.

Helen.

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Some quick updates before I post something of actual merit

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There are an awful lot of highly unhelpful things I could say at this point.  Things somewhere along the lines of “well who’d have thought it would take me so long to post this.”  Or “well look at that, it’s been almost two weeks longer than the almost a month longer than the time I thought it would actually take to get this post up.”  But I’m not going to say those now.

As much as I love blogging, it is still writing, and writing is work.  Pleasurable work?  Yes, but work nonetheless.  At the end of many of my short-in-hours but long-in-exhaustion days what I need is time to decompress.  Formal writing is not a way to decompress.  (Journaling, quick poem scribbling, daydreaming, planning blog posts, starting to write said blog posts, outlining short stories, all of the above are writing-related ways of decompressing, but they’re not really writing).  So I’m not going to be apologetic or cynically self-critical here- there’s no room for shame in writing (and therefore in blogging), and there’s certainly no room for shame in taking a break when you genuinely need it.

That being said, I do genuinely want to get these posts written and up, because they’re bouncing around my head and piling up on top of me all at once.  So here’s a rough posting schedule:

Living Life in a Language I Hardly Speak
Up by: As soon as possible (tomorrow, I swear)

Dresden and Hamburg
Up by: Never. Cancelled.  Not happening.  (the pictures will be included in a later post about Germany)

Paris
Up by: Tuesday

Brussels
Up by: Friday

Amsterdam
Up by: Monday the 26th

Die Deutsch Erlebnis (The German Life- not wedded to this title, but I needed a space holder)
Up by: Friday of the same week

My Visit to France (this hasn’t happened yet folks, but I’m spending a week in the French countryside after this week ends and I’m really, thoroughly excited)
Up by: the end of May

On Culture Shock
Up by: June 1st

Snapshots of Germany (Photos and a few short phrases about my touristy adventures, see here the Hamburg/Dresden photos, among others)
Up by: June 5th

One last post about my life in Germany and what I’m doing with myself
Up by: when I leave (June 10th)

For those of you who are wondering exactly what I’m doing at the moment, the next post will clear that up.  But in short: I’m living in a small town outside of Stuttgart, Germany and am studying German for six hours a day, every week day.  It’s exhausting and mind-boggling, but undeniably, unbelievably worthwhile.  Thanks for your interest in my adventures, and sorry (because it turns out that even if there is no room for shame in blogging, I’m still apologetic) for taking so long to write more.

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Berlin

The last time my mother visited Berlin half the city was still barred to her access beyond the Berlin Wall.  Wandering alongside its famed East Side Gallery and visiting the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe I can’t help but sadly note how detached I feel from all that has passed here.  I am a child of a generation born free and idealistic, of an age marked by cynicism and it’s rather sorry partner in crime, complacency.  I am so blessed but my heart is still forgetful.  Though my mind is full of knowledge and remembrance; though I am sobered by the thought of war; though I am moved to tears by the many parallel accounts of what befell those under Nazi power during the war and stunned into silence by the human-rights violations that passed as normal behind the iron curtain, I cannot begin to conceive of this heritage of pain and suffering as one belonging or even related to me.

In my eighteen short years I have witnessed poverty, glimpsed the effects of racism on those around me and seen the injuries white imperialism has dealt to continental Africa.  I have read countless news stories which tell of war and hate, watched unnumbered news-casts and documentaries about the trouble that brews in the middle east.  I am old enough to remember the day that the Twin Towers fell and young enough to be self-righteously critical of this so called “War on Terrorism.”  But I have never tasted war.

White, wealthy and western, I brush with oppression rarely and only because of my gender.  My home in Canada is so far removed from this European seat of history.  I know many people who lived through the war and many more who witnessed, however distantly, those that followed: Cold, Vietnamese, Korean, Gulf and all the rest.  But I know no “survivors”, few soldiers, few victims, and with those I know I have never spoken at any great length.  It is rare to hear someone such as myself (young, freedom-loving, political, opinionated, well-read) say: “I don’t quite know what to make of Berlin, and all that transpired there.  I know where I would draw the lines of right and wrong, at whom I’d like to point the finger.  I’m glad that the Wall came down when it did and I know and respect the importance of remembrance, but by God this history feels so removed from my present.”  I’m saying it now.

No textbook can put you in the shoes of your ancestors.  Though no one can ever remove the sting of a history of hate from the record books, my peers and I can’t feel it either.  Already the word “Nazi” has ceased to stir up fear and righteous anger in the hearts of most of my friends.  We apply it to our mothers and those of us who are strict on grammar.  When I tell people that my father’s ancestors are from Germany they sometimes jokingly call me one.  I can proudly call myself a Marxist without any Canadian my age batting an eyelid- the label holds no sting for forward-thinking members of my generation.  No one dreams that I might be associating myself with the DDR or any of the disbanded Soviet Union.

Remembrance may run thick and hot through the veins of people in Europe and those who were here to witness the atrocities of the 20th century, but history is a matter taught and memorized for those of us who do not live surrounded by the past.  We are complacent because we can be, cynical because men died for our freedom to be so.  We are forgetful because we have been given the luxury of forgetting.  It is a sad and sorry thought that I, someone who prides herself on knowledge, intellect and empathy can wander Berlin’s streets and be moved but still detached, can see history for what it is but not for its significant relation to her life today.  Brave men that gave your lives, brave souls that lost theirs unnecessarily, to all the men and women who lived and still live under terror, for my privilege an the detachment that it brings I am truly sorry.

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All that being said, I did thoroughly enjoy Berlin and it was a most informative and reflective visit.  I could easily spend more time in this city, just to see the sights and take more photographs.  The Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe was greatly sobering, as was the Holocaust Museum nearby.  The paintings of the East Side Gallery are some of the most incredibly moving works I’ve ever witnessed (despite the new additions of graffiti that are painted over them daily).  Below are some pictures I took of the city, some I am proud of and some less so.  As is often the case with tourist pictures they cannot begin to capture the city in which they were taken, and they cannot replicate the feeling of actually being there.  None of these can possibly show how uncomfortable I began to feel on my second day in the city when I realized I was remembering without truly remembering the effects of the Second World War on Germany and the world at large, and that I could only reflect back on the Cold War and its events with confusion and disgust directed at all parties involved.

I am sorry if I’ve in any way offended you with my honesty, and I apologize for my thoughtlessness.  I thank you for tolerating my ignorance and humbly request that if you feel you can make the horrors of our disgraceful human history more distinct and memorable in the collective mind of my generation that you would do so, in writing or any other artistic medium and that if you know of or have completed any such project, you would let me know.

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Upcoming: A post with some more optimistic and hopeful thoughts from Berlin, title to be decided.  “Dresden and Hamburg: An Opera House and The Rathaus.” and “Living Life in a Language I Hardly Speak.”  These will come pretty quickly, I think, because I’m heading to Paris bright and early tomorrow morning and hope to have a post up from there on or shortly after May 8th.  Sorry for the weeks of no-posting followed by a week of dashboard/ email spam.  Please bear with me, and maybe change your email settings so you only receive posts weekly if I’m bothering you overmuch; this has happened before and will probably happen again.

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All the Rest: England by the Photographs

Time flies as it so often does, and this post, which I’d hoped to have up a few weeks ago and spread out over a few different posts on different days, has simply not been written.  But today I have been super Helen, apparently capable of accomplishing much more in one afternoon than I have in the previous month I’ve spent in Germany.  With postcards, emails, facebook messages and my German school homework under my belt I can finally turn to my blog, and the four posts (and then some) I’ve been working on.

So: England, all the rest of what I saw.  It would have been better, of course, to write this while things were still fresh in my mind.  But perhaps the impressions that remain capture most effectively my time there- or so I’d like to think.  In two short weeks I managed to see so much, and in truth some of what I saw blends together in hindsight- where did I visit which farmers’ market?  Where did I buy which used book?  Did I like that particular church, this particular park?  I probably did- I don’t think I’ve ever met a church or park that I haven’t liked, but it’s still worth asking what it was I liked about it.  I probably can’t remember, but I can ask.

Any way, here’s a brief overview of where I was when, according to my calendar: on the eleventh (of March) I visited London.  It was raining, it was cold, and so I visited the British Museum and wandered around Buckingham palace and the Victoria street train station.  On the twelfth I took a break and on the thirteenth I visited Cambridge.  The sky pelted me with inch-round hail (a slight exageration, perhaps) and subsequently I spent half the day in coffee shops and didn’t have a very good time.  It also failed to impress me as much as Oxford had on my previous visit to the UK, and as much as it did again later.  I did pick up some wonderful used books though.  On the fourteenth I visited Stratford and on Friday I visited York.  I loved both, but it was York that captured my heart.  Hopefully I’ll return there someday.  I visited Canterbury on Monday (the eighteenth) in hopes of seeing the Cathedral.  It failed to occur to me that, as the new Archbishop was to be sworn in (right terminology?  I don’t know) on Thursday that I wouldn’t be able to get inside.  On the nineteenth I visited Oxford, and on the twentieth I visited London again, this time to see the V&A (lovely) and to take a long walk through Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park.  Again it was cold, again it was damp, but it was England after all, so what else could be expected?

Below are my pictures of those seven days, with the exception of Cambridge, of which I didn’t manage to take any pictures I’m truly proud of.  Some day I’ll return and get a better feel for the city, and hopefully change my perspective on it.  It did, after all, have some phenomenal used bookstores and a marvelous farmers’ market.  I will also spare you the duck photography which so delights me, as I’m sure you have ducks of your own to look at wherever you are.

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The great hall of the British Museum is probably one of the most instantly recognizable interior features of any museum in the world, up there with the Egyptian hall in the Met, the entry hall of Guggenheim, and the Pergammon Altar in Berlin.  It’s a pretty daunting subject to capture on film, but it makes for some great shots.

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This is one of my favourite Tennyson quotes.  I waited for a while to see if I could get a picture of it without any people walking over it and then decided that I liked it just fine with some feet in the picture.

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All of my good photos from my first day in London were from the British Museum.  I last visited the museum in August of 2011 and enjoyed a brief but highly informative dash through it’s many exhibits.  This time I managed to spend nearly four hours in the museum, which I definitely consider time well spent.  If you’re interested in seeing the picture from Nakano’s Tokyo Nobody series which so delighted and amazed me, you can find it here.  (I don’t take pictures of actual artwork found in museums.  I don’t know why, but it bothers me).

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If pressed to describe tourist Stratford in a simple phrase I think I’d choose “endearingly tacky.”  The Shakespeare properties are well maintained and beautiful, but I’d be lying if I said they were inspiring or enlightening.  The guides scattered throughout the estates were all in period dress, something which is a distinct tourist turn off to yours truly, and even though their presentations were tasteful and entertaining, I can’t say that they added to the experience in any meaningful way.  Still, I thoroughly enjoyed visiting the properties and was genuinely delighted by the church at which he was baptized, wed and buried.  Before leaving town I went for a walk along the river and stopped by the Royal Shakespeare Company, which looks like it would be an awesome place to see a play.  Who knows, maybe life’s twists and turns might bring me back for just that purpose.

Above is a picture of what is believed to be Shakespeare’s childhood home, and below is an exquisite knot garden near the remains of his daughter’s house.
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As in many of the places I visited in England I couldn’t find any favourite local graffiti.  I did, however, find a favourite local tombstone, shown below.

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York captured me from the moment I stepped off the train.  The train station looked like something out of a tourist guide to England, with a long and curving track housed under an industrial-era roof.  Pigeons flew through and around the many food stands and roosted on the metal roof-supports.  Despite the dismal grey outside the station the platform seemed suffused with light.  I loved it.
Shortly after leaving the station I came to the York museum gardens and the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey.  This clearly once majestic monastery touched me deeply, and it’s arches have inspired a couple of sketches I’m very proud of, though I could not sketch them in person due to the rain and the wet.
I later visited both York Minster and Clifford’s Tower, though I haven’t posted a picture of the later here.  I also spent a fair bit of time wandering through the Shambles and York’s other many winding roads.  In spite of the rain I spent more time outside than in, so delighted was I by just walking on the streets of York.
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York Minster was everything a massive and aged church often is: breathtaking, awe-inspiring, finely detailed, humbling and well-storied.  Struck by the history and moved by the reverence of the atmosphere I penned this short poem.  I don’t know if I’m particularly proud of it yet, but here it is, still as unfinished as the day I wrote it.  Above is the ceiling of the York Minster chapter house, where I wrote that day.

The Chapterhouse
Here in crowded minster hall
A calm and quiet corner
Footsteps ring to cleave the silence
Only briefly, it sews self shut behind them
As before; the air here ever laden
With prayers of holy men uttered
Down through the ages, winging swiftly
To touch the hearts of wander’rs here today
In calm and quiet corners
Of a crowded minster room
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I didn’t manage to see all that much in Canterbury, due to the afore-mentioned new Archbishop of Canterbury, nor did I manage to get many good pictures.  It was, however, a very lovely day.  I really like this shot I took of the Cathedral, it’s probably the best picture I took all day.  Below is another shot I don’t mind too much of the gate to the city.

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Oxford delighted me as it ever does.  Above is a picture I took of Christchurch cathedral and below is one of a vine-covered house I particularly liked.  Oddly enough I mostly visited sites I’d already seen, from the Cathedral to the divinity school.  Again I failed to see the Bodleian Library, but I did make it to the Ashmolean Museum and a special exhibit on the contemporary Chinese artist Xu Bing, which was lovely.
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On my last day of sightseeing in the UK I returned to London for a visit to the V&A and a walk through Hyde Park.  Having seen most of the more touristy sights in the city on a previous visit (in 2011) I chose to focus on the museums this time around.  As always I couldn’t resist the chance to walk through a park and some gardens, cold and damp though it was.  Above is a picture of the fog-swathed trail I took through Kensington gardens and below is a picture of my favourite piece in the V&A: a poem etched on the side of a funerary marble carving.6lndn2_vna1

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