World Pride Parade
I was very excited to attend the World Pride Parade as I am a firm supporter of equal rights for members of the LGBT community. I thought the parade went very well considering the director had backed out the previous week. I haven’t been to many parades, and I felt it was exciting, informative, and safe. When we initially walked to one of the main streets of the parade when the crowds were still small, I kept wondering how we would know we were in the right place. Just as that thought entered my mind, four drag queens strolled through the intersection and took away all doubt. Dressed in high heels, bright colors, and glitter of epic proportions, they were the epitome of everything I expected. They were a great precursor to what was to come in the parade! A line of police officers on motorcycles started the parade, followed by a myriad of banners, organizations, and elaborate costumes. The large Asian group across the street from us was in fashion heaven with their cameras and video recorders! I noticed many of the people participating in the parade were at least half naked and their purpose was fulfilled; nothing brings awareness to a cause more than the absence of clothing. At one point I was brave enough to jump into the parade and get a picture with two men dressed in feathers and bright blue body paint!
I was very pleasantly surprised that the parade was informative as it was interesting. While there were certainly many cheerful aspects of the parade, celebrating the progress the LGBT community has made socially and in the workplace, several parts were much darker. Posters revealed countries that still impose the death penalty for same sex acts, which was startling being an American with countless freedoms. These posters reminded me how little I know about the world, and how truly amazing it is to be in a free country. The oppression of the LGBT community in many parts of the world is nearly unbelievable, and certain places may never believe that love is simply a human experience regardless of gender.
My favorite aspect of the World Pride Parade was definitely the free stuff! I had actually just ran out of chap-stick, and got a beautiful new tube of Vaseline lip balm. I also received a keychain with a pair of green underpants attached, which I secretly adore although I keep it hidden most of the time! By the end of the parade nearly two hours later, I was covered in stickers supporting a cause I’m very passionate about, and left with a wonderful feeling the rest of the day. Hopefully they can raise more money next year for an even bigger parade and find a loyal director. In spite of the setbacks the parade faced, I would call it a huge success!
Buckingham Palace & the Royal Mews
When we bought tickets in advance for the Palace and the Mews, I had no idea what I was going to witness the next day, and had never seen the word “mews” in my life (I decided to keep my ignorance to myself and let it be a personal surprise). I knew that the Palace was at one time owned by Edward the Confessor, and I already felt close to the man having seen his elaborate tomb at Westminster Abbey. I had seen the Changing of the Guard from the Palace gates and of course I knew to expect grandeur, but luxury at this scale was mind boggling! In my experience abroad in countless museums, the audio guides are really invaluable to the experience of touring any place of importance or historical significance. The audio guide in this case highlighted so many crucial (and random) facts of the Palace that it really enhanced the atmosphere of walking through and seeing history in the flesh. Though the Palace was built in 1705, it didn’t become an official royal palace until Queen Victoria lived there in 1834. Nearly smaller than my room at Heythrop, the Palace covers more than 830,000 feet! Space aside, I wonder how the Queen feels about being in a residence with 78 bathrooms, I’m sure it keeps her awake at night! The most interesting thing I learned about Buckingham Palace was that William IV considered converting it into the houses of Parliament after the fire of 1834. After studying how buildings shape institutions in John Rose’s class, it would be fascinating to read a written exploration on how Parliament might be different today had William’s vision had been reality.
My favorite thing about Buckingham Palace besides its lavish decoration is actually the 40-acre garden at the end of the tour, comfortable enough for the 8,000 people that attend the Queen’s garden parties. I have a few weird obsessions, and large amounts of crisp, green grass is one of them. Walking through the state rooms and seeing the garden for the first time through the window took me by surprise because I had no idea it was there! Being an animal lover, I was happy to find out the garden also acts as a “small scale” nature preserve with several species of plants and animals residing there. There are approximately 320 different types of wildflowers (including “creeping buttercups”) and I saw a few birds I had never even seen on Discovery Channel. The girls and I ate dessert at the cafe overlooking the garden, and that happened to be my favorite event of the day!
Surprisingly, I found the best description of the Palace on a pamphlet. It read: “Buckingham Palace functions as a residence, an art gallery, and a tourist attraction.” As obvious as it is, I don’t think I could have come up with such a blunt and perfect list of these functions of the Palace, and I felt strangely enlightened by this relatively simple sentence. I would personally add “recycling promoter” to that list, as 99% of all rubbish is recycled from the Palace itself as well as the stables of the Royal Mews. I am so glad I got to tour Buckingham Palace because it has been one of my absolute favorite experiences so far in London!
Churchill War Rooms
I have always been opposed to war and not fond of past ones, but I loved the Churchill war rooms. After having seen a statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament and studying his stint as Prime Minister, it was really fascinating to explore the secret headquarters he was in during World War II. Each room was frozen in time as promised from when the lights were turned out on August 16, 1945, and I truly felt like I had taken a time machine back to the period.
My favorite room was the War Cabinet Room. I’m an antique fanatic, and seeing the same chair Winston Churchill sat in during such historic times intrigued me. I thought it was funny there were the impressive thick ceilings meant for protection, when the audio guide revealed they would have been useless with a direct hit from a bomb. I can’t imagine how terrifying it would have been to be down in the bunker and listening to explosions all around. I particularly enjoyed the artifact room and seeing authentic letters written to and from some of the most important figures from World War II.
I was impressed with the level of interactive material this tour had. In many tours I have witnessed as of yet, most have been purely aesthetic, but this one held many alternative ways to explore and find out information. The war rooms even had decade-relevant telephones you could pick up and listen to actual recordings from even Churchill himself. It was also interesting to see the women involved recognized with pictures, letters, and stories of their time as typically secretaries in the war rooms. It has made me happy so far in London to see the female recognition during war times, as I took a picture of a large and beautiful monument to them on a street the other day. I haven’t seen similar recognition to service women in the United States as far as their own monuments and such. The entire experience made me feel a strong connection to World War II that I never thought I would ever have.
After seeing pictures and handwritten letters of a few of the prominent and many faces behind World War II, it truly made this a personal and touching exhibit. Exploring a different period, in a setting preserved in its time during a war especially, enhanced my knowledge and curiosity simultaneously. It also made me deeply saddened remembering the 60 million lives lost during WWII, and it baffles me to think of 60 million grieving families, husbands, wives, and children. So many lives lost and changed forever, and all of them remain and live on through their recognition in the Churchill War Rooms.
Musical: Sweeney Todd
Mentioning again my morbid ways, you can imagine the anticipation I had leading up to the day I got to see the musical of Sweeney Todd! I don’t think I ever would have watched a musical had it not been for Johnny Depp being the film version’s lead, because not even the dreaded “musical” word could keep me away from my future husband. It is one of my favorite movies, and it could only be fate that my first London theatre experience would be this gruesome tale I so enjoyed.
As we entered the Adelphi theatre and made way to our (perfectly center) Upper Circle seats, the stage fog had made its way like a snake into our seats. This only heightened the excitement of course, as the stage was set for the first scene and I became curious of the similarities and differences I would witness from the film version. What really adds to this colorful tragedy is its 17th century history; there are generational accounts but no evidence of a barber in Fleet Street said to have killed over 150 victims and hanged in 1802.
The lights dimmed and the ensemble began to sing the first song in the movie as well; and goose-bumps riddled my arms. The detail of the stage, lighting, makeup, and costumes was remarkable, and they changed settings with ease and swiftness. Michael Ball played a wonderful Todd, maybe not as good as my beloved Johnny, but his distant attitude and wit matched accordingly with the character very well. Dare I say he looked more believable, as well as Imelda Staunton as Mrs. Lovett, his accomplice. She is famously recognized for many things, but even to Americans as well with her experience in the Harry Potter films. I became so engrossed in the musical that I may or may not have shed a few tears at its tragic end, moving me in a way that can only be done in person. When the London sunshine hit my face five minutes after the closing curtain, I had to remind myself I hadn’t actually witnessed several deaths and I was no longer in the 18th century. That is what is so special about theatre arts, and I spent a good deal of the 20 minute interval contemplating why on earth we do not have this same affection for the arts in the United States. The answer is easy of course; lack of history and different cultural reasons but these experiences are simply amazing. It will greatly sadden me that when I return to America, no one will have the option of going to a theatre and watching Sweeney Todd, and it reminds me of how interest-deficient we are in so many important areas.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
Walking up the steps, Britain’s spiritual heritage is tangible in this Cathedral, regarding its grand scale and decoration that cannot be ignored. The great fire of 1834 paved the way for the current cathedral, which was completed in the early 18th century. Like many churches, it is a place for people to gather and celebrate, and also to mourn. St. Paul’s has been the site of royal weddings (such as Princess Diana), funerals, and commemorations. Queen Elizabeth celebrated her jubilees and 80th birthday at St. Paul’s! I wonder what year the fire department stopped allowing her candles on the cake.
Despite my physical ailments, my eyes and ears thoroughly enjoyed the service at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Even when I closed my eyes listening to the beautiful choir, I could feel I was in a place of worship, peace, and security. The architecture of the church stayed true to purpose, with its windows in the dome designed to mimic the kingdom of heaven with light pouring in; the abundant shimmery gold and blue paints of angels and scenes scattered amongst the central upper walls instilled a sense of majesty and spiritual connection. I was not quite used to the repeated standing and sitting, and being utterly exhausted from my virus, I’m afraid I was paying more attention to the word “sit” in the program instead of the lyrics printed (God forgive me). I was also quite taken aback when going for communion that everyone was drinking from the same place of the same cup. Coming from “germophobe” America, I was shocked. I dipped my cracker in the cup of course being sick, but I would have otherwise because I found it so odd. I wonder if anyone ever acquires less than desirable things from drinking after so many people. What an American thought.
What I learned and love about the Church of England (thus including St. Paul’s as it is the Diocese of London) is the statement that “care for the environment is a key Christian duty”. Being a bit of a tree hugger myself, I find it wonderful that they have announced environmental matters under its wing. Southern Baptist churches I am used to in my hometown never once mention the environment, and don’t even have recycling bins. Other random things I love about St. Paul’s include its architect, Sir Christopher Wren (as he had fantastic hair as well), and that other religions are included in national services. Tolerance is one of the ideals that I hold in high intellectual regard, as it reflects the acknowledgement that we are all human and experience pain and joy, no matter what religious differences remain.
It was a dark and rainy day, and a weary figure emerged through the 13th century North door of Westminster Abbey drenched with anticipation. This figure happened to be myself, and by the time I had reached the gift shop, my soul was uplifted from the architectural wonder and historical significance that is present at every corner. I could not believe I was standing in the same church I had previously only witnessed on television, and for what event you could never guess: the wedding of Kate Middleton and Prince William. Fortunately, this relatively unheard of event was just one of countless important affairs that have taken place at the Abbey since its consecration in 1269. It has also been the home of sixteen royal weddings, and has been the site of every Coronation since 1066.
I am a terribly morbid person (having almost been a mortician a few short years ago), and I immediately garnered an aesthetic attraction to the Abbey from the distinct Gothic style architecture. This odd morbid sense was one of the primary reasons I was very excited to go to Westminster Abbey, as over 3,000 people are buried there. For me, it was a trip to a theme park! My favorite tomb of the Abbey was the shrine of Edward the Confessor, who lived in the Palace of Westminster before the Norman Conquest. I enjoyed that his tomb was decorated with pictorial representations of defining moments of his life. You can always tell the very important from the less important by the inclusion of life scenes on tombs, as well as if a cage is present surrounding the tomb. You certainly won’t find “Joe the Plumber” with one of those!
I was absolutely elated to finally come upon the famous Poet’s Corner in the South Transept of the Abbey. I have a few poems published myself, and though I won’t be buried at Westminster, my love for reading and supplementary interest enables me to have a specific appreciation for the skills and talents that are recognized. The memorials pay a wonderful homage to those not buried there, including William Shakespeare (who rests at Stratford-upon-Avon) and Jane Austen. The whole experience of being surrounded by the burial places and monuments of so many beloved writers made me want to curl up in front of a fireplace and read through my classics collection.
Westminster Abbey holds enough antiquity for a hundred dissertations at least, and I can only express the immense gratitude and humility I felt being physically present in this colossal structure filled with some of the world’s most important figures to have ever lived. It is hard to wrap my mind around a place with over a thousand years of history, as there is no equivalent in the United States, and not even close. I am grateful for this, as being from a country with such a brief history than much of the rest of the world, it makes me yearn to learn more and visit places to reduce the solipsism of my culture.