Monday, July 28, 2014

45 Days in London: Day 35

We started to panic last night–only ten days left in London!
But then I realized: most people who come here ONLY come for ten days...or even less. So if you look at it that way...we have a whole trip to England left...YAY!

One hundred years ago today marked the beginning of World War 1. We appropriately visited the Imperial War Museum and its new exhibit on The Great War. It was a stunning presentation—lots of audio/video and other elements. The overall sensation was very sobering. The grim reality of the ravages and atrocities of war was right there in your face. Quotes from soldiers about killing without mercy, about trying not to kill, then realizing it was their duty, and about watching their friends die. Weapons, masks, helmets, knives, bullets and bayonets. Uniforms and propaganda. I started to cry. It actually made me a little depressed. But then of course the Americans come in and save the day. (Better late than never!) I was still somber, but not depressed, by the exhibit's end.

From there we raced over to St. Martin in the Fields where we heard a small choral group, St. Martin's Voices, sing songs about WW1 by composers to wrote, fought, and/or died during the war.
It was the perfect follow-up to the war museum experience. We got so much understanding of the horrors and suffering from the exhibit, and then pure healing from the concert. The perfect blend of rich voices bounced off the ornate, rounded ceiling and enveloped us in nurturing sound. The songs brought evoked sadness, honor and solace, and were interspersed with brief readings of poetry by WW1 soldiers. The experience was sublime. Next we took a quick peek inside the wonderful underground crypt and the brass rubbings, and grabbed a quick lunch.

We went out for Indian food with one of the study abroad directors and a small group of students. We ate at Light of India, and the food was great. Lamb Korma for the win!

Then we walked over to the Royal Albert Hall for a BBC concert. I love the Albert Hall! I still remember so vividly going there as a student, and buying a standing-room-only ticket, clear up on the fourth balcony, to hear the Scottish National Orchestra perform Saint-Saens' Carnival of the Animals.

Tonight was no less exciting. The hall is grand, and our seats were looking right over the orchestra. The first piece was a world premiere symphonic work called GAIA—inspired by the theories of James Lovelock. Having just seen the Lovelock exhibit at the Science Museum this was especially meaningful. The piece was gorgeous—my favorite of the evening. Next was a Mozart piano concerto featuring a very passionate, energetic pianist. Then of course they have an entire salon dedicated to serving Haagen-Dazs ice cream, where half the audience floods during the interval. And finally Daphne and Chloe by Ravel, complete with chorus. It was a wonderful, rich, multi-cultural evening, wrapping up yet another perfect day.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

45 Days in London: Day 33

Chittock Walk

This morning we rode a train to Kent, where we met a wonderful old Englishman, George Chittock, for a walk through the countryside. He takes the study abroad students on this walk every semester. What a grand tradition!

Our first stop was Eynsford Castle, the ruins of a medieval stone structure dating back to the eleventh century. It wasn't far from the train station, and was a great place to sit on the lawn and eat our sack lunches.

Next we walked along the river for a couple of miles. There were families splashing and playing in the river, dogs, jumping in and retrieving sticks, which made it seem like a perfect afternoon gathering spot.

We gathered at a small visitors center, then headed uphill on a loop overlooking the valley. We saw fields and fields of bright lavender in bloom, and the students rode on a zip line when we got to the top.

We picked and ate wild blackberries alongside the trail. Meanwhile George entertained us with stories of living in London during the blitz of World War II, stories of growing up playing cricket, and more.

When we completed the loop we strolled a little farther along the river and stopped at a small farm and bought lavender ice cream. Oh, my goodness! It had such subtle flavor. Just delicious! And so refreshing after our long walk.

Last, we stopped into an old parish church, and just sat in the pews for a bit. One of the students played some hymns on the piano. Then we walked through the graveyard, and back to the train station. It was the perfect day--we were surrounded by both beauty and history, and it felt great to escape the hustle of London for a walk through the countryside.

In the evening we saw the fifth of our Chinese movies, called Hero. The story is an ancient legend about the unification of the Chinese empire. Once again, there were martial arts, but this one was more choreographed, and the use of color, symbolism and design were breathtaking. The filmmaking was exquisite! I was also surprised to discover what seemed to be some strong Christian themes coming from that part of the world—particularly sacrifice and atonement.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

45 Days in London: Day 31

July 24 is what we'd celebrate as "Pioneer Day" if we were in Utah. I got an email from FamilySearch saying it found pioneer ancestors in my family tree, and I could see them if I clicked this link. So I did. I spent the next couple of hours poring over the list and the accompanying stories. It turns out I have 24 pioneer ancestors, one of whom was in the Martin Handcart company, another who was in the rescue party that went out in the winter to rescue the handcart companies, and one who walked alongside Eliza R. Snow in the Jedediah Grant Company. Their stories are so humbling. One was just baby—a year old, and another died crossing the plains at age 50. And one fabulous couple was married en route! Imagine!

We met a friend from Provo for lunch today, one of Jeff's former students. We ate at Pasta Brown, which was passable but not amazing. The conversation far outshined the food. It was fun to catch up with B and see the spectacular flat where she's staying, right in Covent Garden. The flat belongs to her sister's husband's parents...and it occurred to me that her brother-in-law is a pioneer too—his parents are atheists, and he has chosen to join and embrace the gospel, the first and only member in his family.

We invited one of the BYU study abroad overseers to our apartment for dinner. He has traveled extensively, is a linguist and an anthropologist, and we enjoyed having him over.  The conversation was stimulating and delightful.

Tonight we saw yet another Chinese martial arts movie: Drunken Master 2 starring Jackie Chan. Lots of Chaplinesque physical comedy, and some charming characters. The stepmother was hilarious.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

45 Days in London: Day 30

The William Morris Gallery

This morning was engulfed by accounting...ugh. But it makes it feel all the more wonderful when you finally escape the flat!

We rode out to Walthamstow to see the William Morris Gallery. The V&A owns his childhood home, a replication of his workshop, his garden, and has opened it all up to the public free of charge.

Oh, how we loved seeing his workspace, his philosophy, his business plan, his design process...and so many beautiful drawings, wallpaper designs and tapestries! I could have stayed there all day, opening drawers and studying color palettes. Jeff bought a beautiful William Morris tie. (The birthday celebration continues!)

"That thing which I understand by real art is the expression by man of his pleasure in labour."
—William Morris

And of course, Morris being the father of the Arts and Crafts movement, it also tugged at our Pasadena heartstrings. Sometimes I still miss our homes in the Historic Highlands, and being part of a community that values great architecture and all things Craftsman (not talking about the tools from Sears!). I also loved seeing the work of his successor, Frank Brangwyn. Gorgeous paintings!

The gardens back up onto Lloyd Park, where we spent some time feeding the ducks, and just sat on a bench in the shade and read our books for a while. (One of the perks of being here long-term.)

We also took a quick peek inside their town library, where they have some first editions of Morris's books, and a display of his stained glass.

Then it was home, to a lovely Waitrose dinner of pork tenderloin and cauliflower gratin with roasted vegetables. Ah, life is good.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

45 Days in London: Day 29

Happy Birthday, London Style

What better place to celebrate a birthday than London! Happy Birthday, Jeff! First! We took the tube to Covent Garden and just made our way down Charing Cross Road popping in and out of shops until we'd had our fill and shot our wad. Jeff found some great shirts. And Jeremiah bought a traditional British wool tie for 3 pounds (90% off!).

Bad news: But we had our first bad food in London tonight. We were in a hurry and grabbed something nearby and affordable. But it was very disappointing. Corner Cafe in Leicester Square. Not recommended.

The other celebratory must-do item on our birthday agenda was a play in the West End. We queued up for a sold-out production of Skylight (starring Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy). We stood in line for two and a half hours, and then they offered us a pair of premium seats at a discounted price and we took the plunge. It was an amazing production. The set design was brilliant--an apartment interior, with views of other tenements outside, and an open top revealing the night sky. And in the second act it snowed. The performances were also brilliant. Of course. The story was about a relationship between two very different people, the love and the conflict. It brought to mind similar relationships and conflicts—political, social and societal.

We met some lovely people in the queue. An author of history books who's also very interested in family history. And a couple who ended up sitting next to us, who are both actors. It was a wonderful, memorable evening.

Monday, July 21, 2014

45 Days in London: Day 28

Courtauld Gallery/Somerset House

This reminded me of the Frick Collection in New York -- not overwhelming, but just the right size, because it began as someone's personal collection.
The Courthauld has a huge selection of Rubens, Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, plus an amazing roomful of prints and drawings from the 18th century to today.
The building itself is also pretty spectacular. A famous staircase, a widely used film location, a spacious courtyard, and wonderful details.

Across the courtyard was another gallery, where the Courthauld Institute of Art is housed. There was a "Rudeboy" style/attitude photo exhibition. Gorgeous photographs, artfully displayed, and I was introduced to a whole new segment of the culture and their philosophy. There was also an exhibit of gorgeous black-and white lithographs by an artist named John Virtue. Wow! I wanted to purchase one, but they had nothing available for sale.

But wait—there's more! An exhibit on Josef and Anni Albers' famous color studies and textiles...brilliant artists from the Bauhaus school. I love me some great color theory. In all there was so much inspiration—much of it surprising—for my own work, and to share with my students.

Jamie Oliver's Pop-up Diner

Tiny bit of gourmet just above Piccadilly Circus. Gritty decor. Diner food done just right.
And amazingly, about the same price as McDonald's. That's a no-brainer.

Once Upon a Time in China, parts one and two

Six hours of Jet Li's gymnastic kung-fu fighting, in a historical setting. I thought it would be a drag to watch five-plus hours of Chinese cinema, but I enjoyed it. What's not to love about people flying through the air, and furniture flying with them?  :)

Sunday, July 20, 2014

45 Days in London: Day 27

Day of Rest

The place where we attended church today was another international experience. We met people from Ghana, Turkey, Finland, and Albania. It was a small, humble little ward with an enormous heart. We immediately felt we belonged.

All of the leadership on the stand were of African descent. I don't think I've ever seen that before. It was refreshing and exciting to see the growth of the church internationally.

At the end of the Relief Society meeting, several women had brought things to share with each other: fresh herbs from their gardens, fruit from their trees, and a favorite Italian cake from a nearby shop. It felt like a beautiful symbol of the kind of friendship, nurturing and support we enjoy as sisters.

At night we held a family home evening in one of the flats. We talked about our Lake District experience, and loved hearing from the students about the spiritual and artistic impact it had on them.