Category Archives: Travel

Journeying into my past

Kansas City – This past weekend I made the 600 mile (9 hour) drive with three friends, 

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Jacob, Mitch, and Mikey, to Denver. Our mad scheme was to go up to a cave in Pike National Forest and shoot a live action film version of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. I say mad because the more I thought about it, the more I realised just how bonkers it all was. I mean, we’re four young adults, aged 22 to 19, with little income, travelling over 1200 miles in a period of about 60 hours, just to shoot about 10 minutes of film for a picture that probably won’t make much money.

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Arapaho camp, c. 1870. Courtesy of the National Archives.

And yet, we did just that. We left my parents’ house in Kansas City bright and early at 6.45 on the morning of 26 July, heading west on I70 across the breadth of the Great Plains to our lodging for the weekend, a friend’s house in the south suburbs of Denver. This region of the United States truly is still a frontier of sorts. Colorado and the Rocky Mountain West were only settled by Euro-Americans a little over 150 years ago, so in a sense the region’s society, culture, and even dialect, is much where we could see some of the ancient city states of Eurasia standing a good 5,000 years ago. As someone whose passion not only lies with history, film, and music, but also in linguistics, I find it quite interesting to look into the dialects of Western American English, and see how they stand compared to the diversity of dialect and accent found back East. 

However young American society is in Colorado, the native cultures and peoples of the region certainly have been there much longer. It saddens me to think that in the many trips I’ve taken out into the Rockies of Central Colorado, I don’t think I’ve even once seen any references to the native peoples of that region, such as the Arapaho, at all beyond toponymy. It is interesting to me how ignorant we can be about our predecessors, the ones whose homes and lives we, the Americans, stole with our expansion and colonisation of this continent. And yet, if we had listened and paid more heed, like the earliest settlers at Plymouth, we might have learnt something about the land, how to grow on it, how to survive in the sometimes brutal climates of the Plains and Mountains, and most importantly, how to keep the land from eroding away.

Anyhow, we went out to Colorado to shoot a major scene for the film Plato: The Cave. Our filming destination was one of my favourite places on Earth as a child, Lost Valley Ranch. My parents and I first went there for Thanksgiving of 1997, when my former babysitter had moved out there after finishing her degree at Wheaton College in my hometown of Wheaton, Illinois. We loved our time at Lost Valley, and decided to come back the following summer of 1998 for a week at the end of July and beginning of August, a tradition that we continued until Summer 2005.

Not only did my time as a child at Lost Valley impact my life through many blissful memories of going out and getting to experience life in the mountains on a working cattle ranch, but it also forged my love for horses and riding, which ultimately led to my family’s move in June of 1999 from our small suburban Chicagoland house to a 34 acre farm in western Kansas City, Kansas, where we not only lived for 13 years, but owned 4 horses of our own, plus a few goats and ponies at one point, along with dogs and cats. If it hadn’t been for Lost Valley, I doubt I would have ended up growing up out on that farm, or gone to the high school I went to, or met the friends at that high school who got me into filmmaking.

ImageAt my high school, St James Academy, I made many good friends, among whom was a guy named Alex Brisson, who like me, had an interest in making films. We began working together in October 2008, along with another friend named Stephen Smeltzer, on a comedy series called The Awesome Alliance, which we posted onto Brisson’s original YouTube channel AlbinoPlatypus913. After about a year of doing just The Awesome Alliance, I decided to start making short films of my own. My first channel Telefís Cluain Shaorise, was an attempt at modelling my work after one of my all time favourite media outlets, the BBC. However, as time went on, and Brisson & I both graduated from St James in 2011, we went our separate ways, he to KU (the University of Kansas) to study film, and I to Rockhurst to study History. Albino Platypus gave way to his current channel Zombie Sandwich Productions, and I stopped Imageusing the TCS channel, starting a new one from scratch that lacked the copyright violations that were common in my high school work. This new studio, the one under which name I’m currently working, the Amergin Film Company has been much more mature and well organised than its predecessor.

Since Brisson transferred out to the Colorado Film School in Denver, we haven’t had nearly as many opportunities to work together, but every chance we had, whether it be a new episode of the now concluding Awesome Alliance, or my first AFC film The Artist’s Vision, we took that opportunity. So, when I began planning out Sisyphus, the larger film which Plato: The Cave is a part of, I knew that I wanted to go out to Colorado to shoot it, as firstly it meant I could work again with Brisson, and get to utilise the equipment he had access to, and that I might be able to get back up into the beautiful scenery of the Rocky Mountains.

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The view from the cave.

Then it was just a matter of finding the right cave to shoot the scene in. I remembered a really neat cave, or rather a covering caused by number of large volcanic rocks being thrown atop each other millions of years ago, that would fit the bill. In May I received permission from Lost Valley Ranch to shoot the scene on their property, and then it was just a matter of waiting a few months, a good deal of which was spent in London, for the last weekend in July when we’d head west back to the Ranch.

The morning of 27 July came quite early, 5.15 MDT in fact, as we were scheduled to leave for the rendez-vous point with Brisson and his friend Jenna, who would be operating the camera, a McDonald’s just off of CO-470. I briefed the group on what we’d be doing, and how to get to the Ranch, before setting off towards the US-285 pass into the mountains southwest of Denver.

We stopped off once on the way to the Ranch, at Pine Junction, as Jacob, who’s family owned the car we took, was too tired to drive. I took on the last 20 miles along Jefferson County Road 126, going a bit too far and passing the entrance to the shelf road that led to the Ranch. As a result, I had to make a 5 point turn on the edge of a rather high cliff, but all went well otherwise on the way down. The last 9 miles of the road are not paved, and are in much the same condition as they had been a century ago, just 50 years after the valleys around what is now the Cheeseman Reservoir had been settled by the Americans. The first two or three miles are a shelf road, that isn’t much wider than a lane and a half, thus making it quite fun to drive down when there’s traffic coming the Imageother way. Luckily for me, we met no other people for that portion of the road, and it was only once we were crossing the less perilous parts of the road that we did pass the three cars, a cow, and its calf, that made up traffic that morning. At long last after about 30 minutes we passed over the cattle guard and went down the last hill into Lost Valley.

The place hadn’t changed all that much since I was last there at Halloween 2006. Even the damage to the forest from the Hayman Fire of 2002 was still quite visible, and sadly will be for many years to come. We were greeted by Caroline Guth, an employee of Lost Valley Ranch, and our contact with the Ranch staff. She and one of the maintenance Imageguys, Jeff by name, led us up to the two caves on the northern end of their property. The first one, which was much harder to get to, wasn’t the one that I remembered. We crossed another couple slopes, the two Ranch workers far in the lead, Jacob, Mikey, and Mitch close behind, and I far behind due to exhaustion from the sudden climb in altitude (we walked up a good 1000 feet in 10 minutes). After a bit, we made it to the second cave, which was the one I remembered, and which we used. Mikey, Mitch, and I waited at the cave, whilst Jacob, Jeff, and Caroline went back down to the Ranch to collect the gear and wait for Brisson and Jenna to arrive. It took me a good 15 minutes of lying Imageagainst a slanted cave wall to recover, and another 45 minutes for the rest of the group to return.

Of all the places that I have filmed at, I must say that this is the first one that was so remote, and so high up. Not only was the cave a good mile walk to the nearest settlement, but 8,000 feet above sea level. I made sure I only had to go up it once and down it once. We shot everything we needed of the cave interior within about 3 hours, despite the constant trouble of the camera running out of batteries. After that, I sent Jacob and Mitch back to the Ranch to rest, and Mikey, Brisson, Jenna, and I remained up at the cave shooting the exterior shots. After about an hour, we finished those first few ones, and descended, Sheep Rock, the mountain on whose slopes the cave in question is located, and made our way back to the Ranch for lunch.

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A preview of the “Cave Scene”. From left to right, Erotomos (Mikey Mullen), Tuphlos (Mitch Hecht), and Phobas (Jacob Thomas). Camera operated by Jenna Gold.

After lunching on delicious sandwiches made by our very own Jacob Thomas, we headed towards the southern end of the Ranch to shoot the last few outdoor shots for Plato: The Cave. This was certainly more accessible, as we stayed fairly close to the main road that runs down the valley, making it easier for Jacob to drive back and forth to the Ranch lodge to charge and collect camera batteries. We shot some exciting scenes in the meadows, along Goose Creek, and on the slopes of another mountain south of Sheep Rock, thus finishing the work we had set out for.

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Sheep Rock, the mountain on whose slopes we shot “the Cave”.

I really did feel like I was going back in time in a way, not only because Lost Valley Ranch is 20 miles from any mobile phone signal or 3G, but because the place simply hasn’t changed since the summer weeks that I spent there in the late 90s and early 2000s. On the drive back out, I kept looking back at Sheep Rock, thinking about the past, and wondering if the future holds any further visits to Lost Valley.

We had a bit of a celebratory stop at an overlook on US-285 north of Pine Junction, where we got some cast & crew photos, and chatted about what to do that evening. In the end Jacob went to hang out at Brisson’s, and I went with Mikey and Mitch back to our hosts, the family of one of my Rockhurst housemates Frank Kane, house for dinner and an early bed.

L-R: Mitch Hecht, Mikey Mullen, Jacob Thomas

L-R: Mitch Hecht, Mikey Mullen, Jacob Thomas

L-R: Mitch Hecht (Sound Editor), Seán Kane (Director), Jenna Gold (Dir. of Photography), Alex Brisson (Assistant Director), & Jacob Thomas (Visual Editor).

L-R: Mitch Hecht (Sound Editor), Seán Kane (Director), Jenna Gold (Dir. of Photography), Alex Brisson (Assistant Director), & Jacob Thomas (Visual Editor).

Not only was this an opportunity for me to go back to the places that I frequented as a child, but it was a chance to make cinematic history. Never before, from what I’ve read, has a live action film been made of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Not only have we made it, but I’d say we’ve done a very good job of it. So, keep your eyes out for some behind the scenes footage that I shot during filming, which should be up on YouTube this week, and for the release of the film itself in October.

 

Shifting gears

 

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Kansas City – With the London 2013 trip behind me, it’s time to start looking at the next big adventure. This time instead of travelling hours and hours to the east, I’ll be heading west, though not quite in the manner that Horace Greely intended. Next weekend I’ll be heading with a small cast of 3 friends out to Lost Valley Ranch, which is located in Pike National Forest in Colorado between Denver and Colorado Springs, to shoot a film.Image

This isn’t just any old film, mind you, rather it’s a rather odd sort of film. Firstly it’s a film about philosophy, and secondly the dialogue is in Ancient Greek. This is nothing less than my current project, Plato: The Cave (Platón: An tUaimh), which will be the first, as far as I know, live action retelling of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave from The Republic. This production features a small cast of three, a large budget in comparison to my prior $50 features, and exquisite music performed by Ancient Lyre player Michael Levy.

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I first heard Michael’s music in 2010 on YouTube, when searching for a soundtrack for my first decently made film Athenodorus et Simulacrum. Keeping in mind his work, I made contact in April, when I was in the early stages of planning for The Cave. I met with Michael in Cardiff during my trip over there a few Fridays ago, where we agreed on a particular song of his and a price for it.

It should be noted that The Cave will be almost nothing like my last two films, The Artist’s Vision and The WidowThis new one will actually have dialogue, provided by good sound equipment, which I have been lacking in in the past. There will also be less reliance on music, I’m aiming to have only the one aforementioned track in the entire film. This film will be much more based upon the action on the screen and less so on the subconscious happenings surrounding said action. This is mostly because The Cave is meant to be an educational film, something that will tell the story that Plato told all those thousands of years ago in a less impressionist manner.

So, for now it’s a brief note about what is going on, and what is to come. The next couple weeks will be filled with planning for The Cave, and making a good slideshow of all the best memories from the Study Abroad trip, as required by Rockhurst’s Study Abroad Office, which I rather like the idea of, a fun assignment. Tá for now!

Goodbye!

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Kansas City – Well, the time at last has come. I spent the last night of my stay in the Alexander Fleming Halls of Residence in Hoxton up reading, and doing some minor research on local history. My thought was that it would help me to sleep on the plane if I didn’t sleep at all the night prior to. Hitherto, my abilities of sleeping whilst flying have been almost non-existent, but I thought I’d give this most extreme tactic a try.

ImageAt about 4.32 BST, I noticed some light creeping into my West facing window. Looking out, I beheld the last British sunrise that I’ll see for a while. It was a nice, soft sunrise, quite different from those out in the Midwest. At 5.00, I went out and walked about the neighbourhood, hoping to find a café that might be open where I could get a cup of tea to help cure my allergies, and possibly inhibit the oncoming cold. Sadly, all the local cafés were closed, as it was Saturday. Even Starbuck’s hadn’t yet opened. So, it was back upstairs to my room to sort out the last minute packing that I might have missed the day prior. Thankfully, there was nothing to have missed, so it was onto another hour and a half of waiting until anything would be open.

I spent that period of time sitting on the benches outside the hall, bidding farewell to my friends as they went on their ways in ones and twos. At 7.30 BST, I too left Fleming with a pair of friends, Cara and

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Mike, and headed for Old Street tube, to catch a train to King’s Cross St Pancras and then onto Heathrow.

As noted in my last post, the hardest thing I have had to do in the past few weeks was to say goodbye to all these friends that made up what we’ve called the Old Street Gang. It really did seem like we were all together for a good year, when in fact it was a mere three weeks.

 

Luckily, I ran into two Old Street-ers, Kendall and Allison, in the entrance to security at Heathrow. We later ran into another member of the Gang, Kelsea, in the duty free area just past security. The four of us spent our last moments together in London, attempting to avoid thinking about the inevitable, but at the same time unable to avoid the reality that we faced. I was the first to leave, as my 12.30 flight to Minneapolis was due to begin boarding at 11.35.

I walked down the path to the plane, looking out the windows, capturing the sights for the last time for now. Mentally preparing myself for my return to the US, and future return to the UK, I boarded the

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plane, and took my aisle seat. The flight back was mostly uneventful. I slept a good deal of the way, with the aid of a couple films like The Hobbit and Life of Pi, the audio of which helped put me to sleep. I was surprised at Delta’s hospitality, considering that they had 3 meals for us. Still, I’m switching to British Airways/American Airlines after this trip.

After a good 8 and a half hours in the air, we passed over the UP and began to descend into Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport. The process of going through Customs wasn’t as bad as I’d thought it could be. The biggest difference between the British and American Customs agencies is that HM Customs wasn’t understaffed. There were only 4 open desks at MSP, processing hundreds of people. After heading through Customs, I had my first experience of culture shock, when I went on the wrong moving walkway in the airport, realising that things in the States are on the right, not left. It just so happened that I was on the phone with my parents at this point, informing them of my arrival back in the Americas.

After a good three and a half hours sitting about in Minnesota, I boarded my flight to Kansas City. It was a short 58 minute flight between the homes of the Twins and Royals, but at long last we landed in Kansas City. It was great seeing my parents again, I missed them very much. It was just as good to see my dog, Noel, once more when we returned home.

I’ll really miss London, and all my friends. Since we’ve returned to our homes in the States, the group has been staying in touch, writing fervently about a reunion of sorts at some point in the near future. When and where that’ll be, we shall have to see.

Now, I may have started this blog as a way to record my study abroad experiences in London, but I intentionally named it so as to allow for it to continue after my return home. There’ll be more blog posts coming in the future, about such topics as my film work, return to Rockhurst, and other upcoming travels. For now, and to all of you who have been reading since I started this blog about a month ago, go raibh míle mhaith agaibh, thanks so much for reading and following my adventures. Until next time, tá!Image

Eschatology

Shoreditch, London – Well, the time has come. Just a wee bit less than a week ago I wrote about it being the dawn of the third week of my 2013 residency here in London, and the odd thing is that that little ferret called time just keeps slipping away. It’s like Tom and Jerry, no matter how far I chase after it, the mouse just slips from between my fingers.

Still, there are worse things in life, I mean it could really be the Eschaton, and then we’d all be in for it. But instead, it’s just the end of my time here in London with all these amazing new friends. And in some ways, it just doesn’t seem too terribly fair, more cruel in a way. To stick us all together for three weeks and then say, “Well, time’s up. Hope you all had a good time, and safe home.” It’s about as fair as the American education system is functional for setting up the next generation for a bright future (I’m looking at you, House Republicans…)

Of all the things that we have to go through in life, it’s the leave taking that’s the hardest for me. Perhaps that’s why I love history so much, and why I feel like my default grammatical tense is the past tense (yes, I’m a hopeless academic). Like one of my favourite fictional characters, the Doctor, I’m not very good at goodbyes. Still, sometimes they have to happen.

So, tonight is a farewell to all these new friends. True, we may have a reunion of sorts at some point, but at least for now it does seem quite terminal. Though at least we’re going out with a bang.

At 10.00, my friend Abby and I went to the British Library, which is near King’s Cross and St Pancras stations. There not only did we see the Magna Carta, but also handwritten notes of many great people, from Newton to John Lennon. There are some amazing works there, even an 11th Century copy (the oldest extant) of Beowulf, which thanks to a bit of study of Old English, I actually could read. One of the oldest manuscripts there was a Koine Greek codex edition of the Bible, which again thanks to Dr Stramara’s Intro to New Testament Greek, was also readable to my eye. However, sadly we couldn’t find the Babylonian cuineform copy of the Code of Hammurabi, which the Library does have in its collection, but wasn’t on display. To right this, both Abby and I got our very own British Library cards, but didn’t have enough time to use them. I was due at the British Museum, and she had business elsewhere to attend to as well.

I took the tube from King’s Cross to Holborn, and walked first to the O2 shop on High Holborn to sort out my mobile. It turns out that I actually bought the phone and the sim card, so they are now mine to keep. So, I guess I’ll just have two mobile numbers, one with a +1 and another with a +44 country codes.

After stopping off with my British telephone provider, don’t worry Dad I’m sticking with AT&T when in the States, I made the short walk through Bloomsbury, where someday I’d love to live, to the British Museum. My ticket for the Life and Death: Pompeii and Herculaneum was timed for 13.50, so seeing as it was 12.00, I had some time to kill, in a truly Tom and Jerry fashion. This was done by strolling through the Ancient Near East, Classical, Egyptian, and Japanese galleries before making my way down the stairway along the outside of the Reading Room (where the Pompeii exhibit is currently housed), when a rather loud bell started to ring all around me. I began to wonder just what was happening, at first thinking it was an alert for the people going into Pompeii at 13.30, but when I saw the security guards rushing to and fro with whistles blowing in their mouths, waving people towards the main entrance, I knew that something was rather amiss. I evacuated the museum calmly, figuring that if there was a bomb and it was to go off at anytime I’d rather be quite close to it or quite far from it, only stopping once I was at the far side of the North Colonnade standing in the shade with a few other people. For a while there was no news of what was happening, until the Fire Brigade showed up and began to search the massive building. After about 20 minutes we were all free to return to our favourite mummies and statues of long dead Greeks.

I made it as quickly as possible to the Pompeii entrance, considering that it was now 13.55, and my ticket was for 13.50. Thankfully, they let me through and into the exhibit. For the sake of the exhibit, and to help the British Museum with sales, all I will say about Pompeii is this: it was quite well done, and quite thorough. I left that exhibit at around 14.40, and ran to the tube station to once again meet Abby outside our hall.

We had a planned excursion from Central London to the world of green leafy suburbs. Our first stop was a nice house, 20 Maresfield Gardens in Hampstead. The house hadn’t changed all that much since its most famous owner and occupant had died in September 1939. That occupant, who died in the front room, where I did have a rather odd feeling, was a refugee from then Nazi controlled Austria. He and his family escaped to London via Paris, where they resettled, and where many of their descendants remain to this day. This fellow was none other than Dr Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis. The house was quite nice, and it did feel like Abby and I were house guests, personal visitors of the Freud family. Though there was a good deal of humour in the air (they sold Freud ducks in the gift shop).

After leaving the Freud’s to their peace, we walked back to Finchley Road tube and headed two stops south to St John’s Wood, where many a music lover journeys to on pilgrimage. This stop was none other than the beginning of a walk that led to the most famous zebra crossing in music history. It’s a bane for drivers, but a bloody good time for Beatles fans to get their photo taken crossing the zebra crosswalk at Abbey Road Studios, but oddly enough it’s still a public street! Abby and I didn’t actually get our photo on the crosswalk, but we did go and sign the fence outside the studio.

We then got back onto the tube, and found our way down to Earl’s Court, where a police box was standing just outside the station. It took us a few times passing it to actually see it though. But a quite nice German couple took our photo with it. For those of you who think I’m mad at wanting my photo with a police box, just watch Doctor Who on the BBC, PBS, or  Netflix.

After a long tube journey, we at last made it back home. A sort of farewell dinner began soon there after, comprising of pizzas from the nearby Pakistani owned Great American Pizza restaurant, and a lot of good conversation. So now, it’s to bid you all ado, as I have much still to do if I’m going to be ready to be out by 7.30 tomorrow morning for the hour plus tube journey to Heathrow.

I’ve really enjoyed London, and will be back in two years. Yes, I’m looking at, and with prior advice from a CLC-mate, will be going to graduate school here in London.

Commonwealth, Circles, and Cake

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Alarm clocks gone wild.

Shoreditch, London – The first two business days of Week Three have been quite adventurous. It all began with a bucket, a workman, and a lightbulb. I had been dreaming about driving down K-7 just north of Leavenworth when there was a great clamour outside my room. Realising it was rather too light outside considering that my alarm was set for 8.20, I grabbed my watch from the nightstand where it sleeps to discover with my immense horror that it was in fact 11.45! Jumping out of bed (with kangaroo agility), I headed for my desk, finding my phone/alarm clock in its daytime home of a trouser pocket. Then, I ran out of my room, and after a quick wash up and dressing, rushed out the door to the tube station.

Despite my hurry, the journey was one of bemusement and horror. After transferring to the Piccadilly Line at King’s Cross (class was meeting at the Victoria & Albert), I was joined by a couple from Philadelphia who had just gotten off the train from Paris. The husband kept making a basic American tourist mistake, asking “How do I get to Lie-chester Square?” After 5 Londoners corrected his butchering of “Leicester” I gave it a shot, saying the name of the centre of the West End in my best Chicagoan accent. His response was not, “O, thanks!” but “You’re American!” “Yeah, I’m from Chicago.” I replied. “Ya know, as in the 2010 Stanley Cup Champions? Game 6, Overtime Patrick Kane goal in Philly?” -Luckily he and his wife got off at Leicester Square and didn’t have the time to respond, but the Londoners were rather bemused.

Then there were the Italians. A whole family of them. As the doors began to shut at Leicester Square, a late 20s Italian lady ran onto the train, getting stuck in the door. It opened, and she boarded, only to whirl about and let out a horrid scream, as her two sons were still standing on the platform. Her sister, who had boarded at the centre of the carriage (I prefer to stand at the ends by the open window) jumped off and hurriedly threw, yes threw, the two boys onto the train. They had to be about 8 and 6. They stayed on after I got off at South Kensington.

The run from the Tube station to the Natural History Museum, where my professor had said they would be was quite breathtaking, and bothering to my then still sore ankle. As I walked into the museum, I got a text from the good professor saying they were in the Science Museum. So, around the corner and into their third museum of the day, my first. Luckily I made it to class at 12.40, so I got to hear 20 minutes of his lecture. I at least got to see the world’s first steam engines and computer.

Asking what I could do to make up my tardiness, I was advised to go to the V&A and stroll about the galleries. So, that I did. I love the exquisite arts of South Asia and the Islamic World! On top of that, there were also some amazing Medieval European galleries, which I’d recommend to any historian interested in that period. However, I had to leave the V&A, as I had a much anticipated meeting and tour planned for the afternoon.Image

After another 30 minutes on the tube, I was at my meeting place, Caffè Nero at Westminster Tube Station. They have amazing blueberry muffins! That was my breakfast, at 14.00 BST. I met with my friend Abby to go and tour Westminster Abbey officially, as we had attended the organ recital there the evening prior. The Abbey was originally founded by St Edward the Confessor, the penultimate crowned Anglo-Saxon King of England (d. 1066). The Abbey has been the place of coronation since Harold Godwinson in 1066, and most recently hosted a coronation in 1953.

After the Abbey there was an hour and a half break before heading to Leicester Square for dinner before a group of friends headed to see Daniel Radcliffe in The Cripple of InishmanAfter a brief problem of finding people, the group made it to the theatre, and I headed off down Charing Cross Road to my evening’s entertainment: Canada Day!

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I was quite happy to find that there were very few Canucks sweaters in the crowd, mostly Maple Leafs, and a few Senators, Flames, and Oilers, though not many Canadiens oddly

enough. The day marks the Canadian Confederation, in which the three colonies of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the Province of Canada united into a single country. The party was held in Trafalgar Square, which sits in front of Canada House, home to the Canadian High Commission. Sadly though, the main reason why I went, the street hockey, had already concluded, and was replaced by a big rock concert, which was not to my taste. Though I did donate 20p to the Calgary flood relief efforts, which got me the little Canadian flag you see in the photo with Lord Nelson.

So, I headed back up Charing Cross Road, going to a pair of places that I had seen on the

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way down. First was a local branch of Pâtisserie Valérie, for a sumptous double Belgian chocloate gateau, as a little treat for making it to at least 20 minutes of class that day, and then onto a local bookshop to browse their Classics collection. They didn’t have much of what I was looking for, mostly Lucreitus and Ovid, so I ended up getting the Oxford History of England volume on Roman

 

 Britain (1982 edition) for £6. Then I headed back home to do some reading and work on amending my paper. With that done, and a bit of listening to Radio 4, I retired once again to that springy azure mattress that I’m calling a bed.

Morning came with a start. Having A More Human Mikado never did in Japan exist! stuck in my head, I made my way to class at the National Portrait Gallery on Charing Cross Road with some annoyance at myself for not being able to do the same the day prior. However, I must say this day’s touring was enjoyable nonetheless. In the middle of class, we were given an hour break to look through the remainder of the gallery (having gone through the Tudors to

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the Georgians) and get some lunch at one of the local cafés. Rather than take a whole 2 hours and dine at the National Café, a friend and I settled on the National Gallery Café next

door, where I had a good selection of banana nut cake, chocolate, and other pastries and desserts. There wasn’t much in terms of food, per se.

We then returned to the touring, meeting back up with our class in the National Gallery, which prior to today I had thought was in fact that National Portrait Gallery. Anyhoo, we finished by observing a few Hogarths, and then splitting ways, I heading back to the University of Westminster at New Cavendish Street. There I met up with a friend, Ke’aria, who was planning on going to the Freud Museum in the Finchley Road area in North London. We made our way up there, by way of a couple stops, only to find the museum is closed Monday and Tuesday. But no matter, we had a quick stop by the Abbey Road Studios to pay homage to the place where Howard Shore recorded the music for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. O, and the Beatles did some stuff there too.

The evening was spent in two main places: Regent Street, and at the London Eye. We dined first at a rather unique restaurant just off Regent Street called Tidbits. I wasn’t a very big fan of the menu, which was vegetarian. My vegetarianism doesn’t really extend beyond a love of beef, lamb, fish, pork, chicken, squid, shrimp, and all forms of water fowl humour. I ended up eating a fine dinner of onion rings and chips with a couple plastic cups of tap water and a little thing of vanilla ice cream.

This was surpassed in greatness by what was to come. We made our way to the South Bank, where the visionaries of London gather to look through a big wheel at Westminster and attempt to figure out what the government is doing. The London Eye is a large circular viewing platform. Our group of 10 took flight for a good half hour over the Thames, taking many fantastic photos of the sights below and about us. Unfortunately, my camera died soon after taking off, so I don’t have any of my own photos, only one that I borrowed from a friend.

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From left to right. Back row: Brooke, Chris, Caroline, Seán, Cara, and Allison.
Front row: Kendall, Abby, Allie, and Kelly.

The evening was certainly sky-high. If you are ever in London, do take the chance to go up into the Eye. It’s well worth the £16.50 fee.

One last Weekend

Shoreditch, London – Well that time has come. I could either look at it with terminality, or continuity. So, rather than be a moody banker who isn’t too keen on charity (thus why there aren’t too many beggars around the Bank of England), I’ll call this week the third week of my trip. Tempus fugit certainly isn’t an understatement either, as I could swear I saw a copy of Time magazine levitate with the breeze borne by a passing bus on Tottenham Court Road last week. All mockery of linguistic punnery aside, this is a time of reflection and discernment, aka Sunday.

So, what did I do when my 7.30 alarm went off? Rather than get up and prepare for 9.00 Mass, I fell on my face, mostly because I gave my right ankle a good bother yesterday whilst walking to the tube station. Rather than go to Mass, I decided to postpone my ecclesiastical attendance for a few hours and make my appearance at the local laundromat. After a good hour and a good £8.00, I ran out of there, not out of fear, but chasing after the time that was fast slipping away. I had a 12.00 lunch appointment in Zone 5. It was 11.30.

Arriving at my local tube station, I found myself amazed by the great mass of people who either don’t have lives or just are rather spiritual, as there wasn’t a centimetre of room on the train heading towards King’s Cross. How a Sunday train could be so crowded beats me. Must have something to do with line closures elsewhere in London.

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 After a brief game of phone tag with a cousin, we agreed to meet at Baker Street and lunch in the area. A nice lunch it was. However that was just the beginning of the day for me.

I made my way back home after lunch, spending the free hour spreading out my still wet laundry that it could air dry, and watching an old episode of Have I Got News For You, Brian Blessed presenting. Then it was back out on my feet again.

The thing about a city like London is that there is always something going on. Whether its a Gay Pride Parade, a police stakeout in the Leicester Square tube station at rush hour, Boris Johnson, or the odd concert/recital, you’re bound to find something to do every hour of the day if you’d like. So, at 17.00, a friend and I left the flat for arguably the greatest destination imaginable for an organ recital: Westminster Abbey.

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We got there at 17.36, just in time to get inside and find seats on the Mary aisle of the Abbey for the recital. The music was amazing, as is expected of first: the organ, and second, the performer Ian le Grice, formerly Assistant Organist for Temple Church, London. The performance of Handel, Bach, Franck, and Reubke was fantastic. Westminster Abbey is a perfect place for an organ recital. The first record of an organ in the Abbey dates from 1304 “referring to ‘a pair of organs'” (Courtesy of Westminster Abbey). The current Harrison and Harrison organ dates from the Coronation of King George VI in 1937. It is best described by one word: magnificent.

After the recital, we made our way down Whitehall towards a little Italian restaurant that I had found a few weeks prior during a similar walk towards Charing Cross. The restaurant in question, SPQR by name, was quite good, and quite Italian. I had the calamari dinner and a glass of tap water (I’m not paying for a bottle of water). Oddly enough, despite my going to many an Italian restaurant in the States, I can’t say I’ve ever been to one where the waiters, all Italian immigrants, spoke very little English. Still, that fact, along with the 2 foot tall menus that could be mistaken for a Tolstoy novel, made for a charming experience.

So, with the third week upon me, time is as wobbly as a certain friend on a good day, (cheers to you by the way if you read this.) Still, there’s still one week to see as much as I can, and learn as much as possible. Preparing for the future. That’s the word for my guidance: preparation.

 

O, and one last thing. Good on you, British Government on flying the Gay flags on the ministries. Washington, your move.

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The Train Journey

ImageA train arrives with majesty

Its carriages lined in the Station,

‘tis the 11.15 to Cardiff Central.

 

I walk along the platform,

Waiting for my carriage.

First I come upon the First Class carriages

Awaiting some well-to-do traveller.

 

Then down the platform I go,

Walking out of Paddington

And into the rain.

At last I find good Carriage B

And bid farewell to friends.

 

Seat No. 2, well there’s a sight

‘tis just in front of the luggage room.

We leave on time and pick up speed

Flying across England

Westward, onward to Wales.

 

The luggage room may be noisyImage

But I don’t mind, for my seat is comfy.

We pass over the fields of yellow, orange, and green

Onto worlds and places yet unseen.

Through Reading, Didcot, and Swindon,

We fly! Fly across the countryside.

 

The whistle blows,

The signal to all,

Our train is leaving.

Farewell Swindon.

Onward towards Cardiff Central.

 

The clouds are lighter and happier here,

Less threatening than before.

The railwaymen do their work

As families laugh and play.

I sit and watch the warehouses

And villages pass on by.

 

Next onto Bristol and then Newport

Before reaching the city of Wales.

The journey may be short,

But beauty does not suffer.

 

Next pas a fine horse farm

Where a mare rolls in joy

And her friends laugh and say to her,

“You are one silly horse.”

 

The fields are giving way to hills,

The yellow to green and brown.

The crops do change

The cattle mangé

The trees become fuller.

 

A fine gentleman sits in front

A peer in Carriage G,

A gentle maid in Carriage A,

And I in carriage B.

The gentleman’s banana smells quite potently,

I should have brought a book to read

For this train journey!

 

And then!

And then the terror approaches,

A tunnel draws near.

My ears they feel the full force of our speed.

They shriek in horrid pain.

This seat is not my preference!

O horror, o horror!

Another tunnel! This one is longer than the last.

I’ll put a word into Heaven, when we reach Cardiff,

For another pair of ears.

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We must be in the hills approaching Bristol.

The tempestuous clouds darken,

The flora is verdant in this country,

Power lines speckle the landscape.

 

We pass a viaduct over a town.

We must be close to the coast,

Nearing our destination.

More trees and hills,

I fear another damned tunnel.

No, wait, we’re slowing, Bristol approaches.

The motorway is jammed below us,

The station draws near.

 

 

We pass through a far longer tunnel,

Sailing deep underground into Wales.

The carriage does creak upon the rails.

I see a platform pass on by, and feel the train turn

We fly past medieval churches and under motorways.

 

The art of train travel is in the British deck,

Americans like I are amazed at it.

No seat belts, nor airline fees are needed here.

I bought my ticket for £19.50 for this train.

 

The way to Cardiff may be long,

But we have done it neatly.

Just over two hours it took

To travel cross-country.

 

Great forests now joing the fields

In this gwald.

The hen wald fy nadhau approaches now.

Excitement builds in my heart

As we come upon our terminus.

But first one final stop is called for in Newport.Image

 

Cardiff approaches at last,

The station PA siarad Cymraeg

The sinage does as well.

The green and red of Wales

Certainly abounds.

 

Now you may rest,

For this lay is rest,

I’ll sing no more of the train,

Lest we be blest.

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