Leicester and Richard III

Saturday began our last full day in England, and we caught the train to Leicester on the way back to London so I could see my favorite monarch of English/British history: Richard III. If you follow my Instagram you may have seen my epic r3 Halloween costume, and if you’re on Twitter, you’ll know fake r3chard has retweeted me like 3 times now. We’re basically best internet friends.

Mom and I got into Leicester and decided to try to find a place to leave our luggage. If anyone is looking for a lucrative business to open: start a found luggage in Leicester. We carried our giant bags all over the town with no luck. The Visitors Center couldn’t help us; the museum couldn’t store bags for insurance reasons (fair). We had already bought our tickets, I was tired and hangry, and nothing was going our way. My mom, saint that she is, decided to hole up in a café with tea and cake and babysit our bags while I went to the museum. Not ideal, but at least I got to see what there was to see.

The Richard III Visitor Center is built around the archaeological site where in 2012, archaeologists found the remains of the last Plantagenet. The archaeological story itself is fascinating, because it is not at all usual for an archaeological investigation to find exactly what it is looking for on the first try; but that’s just what happened in this case. There is a Smithsonian documentary all about the discovery available on YouTube here.

The visitor begins in a display about the history of the War of the Roses, family lines, and the reasons for the turmoil that surrounded Richard III’s reign. From there, you travel through the War of the Roses, RIII’s short reign, and his burial at Grey Friar’s Priory. Heading upstairs, visitors encounter a display that discusses the portrayals of Richard as a villain throughout popular culture, from Shakespeare to the recent Benedict Cumberbatch portrayal.

Next, the display walks the visitor through the entire story of the dig from its beginning through to the discovery and analysis of the Richard’s remains. This was great! The timeline included artifacts from the dig, video interviews with the archaeologists and others involved in the venture, and diagrams. The exhibit then represents scientists’ analysis of Richard’s bones through medical testing and forensic recreations. One controversy was that of Richard’s scoliosis; many proponents of R3 have relegated the story of the hunchback king to a tale made up by Shakespeare and other detractors to vilify and lessen the monarch in some way.  When the skeleton was uncovered, it was obvious that the scoliosis was a fact after all.

The visitor center experience ends with a visit to the site where the bones were found in the parking lot that used to house the church. The websitedescribes it as, “the site of King Richard’s burial, preserved in a quiet, respectful setting and with a contemplative atmosphere, fitting for the last resting place of a slain warrior and anointed monarch.” The room is quiet and simple, and a hologram shows where the bones were found within the unit. The volunteer in the room when I visited was incredibly knowledgeable and helpful, pointing out features in the dig that helped to date the remains.

Across the courtyard from the visitor center stand Leicester Cathedral, where the remains of Richard are interred. The church also has a display about Richard and his discovery and subsequent reburial (and a giftshop, too!).

Behind the church another gem is hidden: The Guildhouse. This is a medieval timbered building dating back to 1390 in its oldest part. The architecture and features throughout are gorgeous, from the soaring timbered ceiling to the mantels to the upstairs library. The site is also supposed to be one of the most haunted buildings in Britain, as the helpful museum employee told me as I walked through the building on my own. I managed to scare myself nearly to death when I looked into an old jail cell and saw a mannequin in the darkness.

Through hordes of football fans on their way to a match, we made our way back to the train station and headed back to London, content with our few days in Yorkshire and our day in Leciester. We were back to London for one more night, a classy McDonald’s dinner, and a trip to the Sainsbury for a literal duffel bag full of candies and presents (yet I still managed to forget a can of treacle). Mom and I made it back to South Carolina with no issues, and are already planning our next trip together!

DaCNet 2: Day 2

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Day 2 opened with, “Corpses in Cabinets,” my own panel, which included fantastic women scholars from around the world, but also FROM MY HOME STATE!

Imagine my surprise when I realized the first speaker, Melissa Schrift, was from East Tennessee State University, 2 hours from my hometown. How cool to travel all the way to England to meet someone from home who is doing super cool, and in some ways similar work, to my own. Melissa spoke on, “Race, bodies and spectacle in 19th century living exhibitions,” which was super exciting for me, since a large part of my dissertation and previous work was on freakshows and exhibitions of people with disabilities or difference. One of her case studies was that of Charles Byrne, “The Irish Giant,” whose body is still on display and causing controversy at the Hunterian in London. I spoke next on human remains in museums, then Jenny Bergman and Kicki Eldh presented “Death –a concern?” about human remains in Swedish museums.

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Last, but certainly not least, curators Katherine Baxter and Ruth Martin from Leeds Museums and Galleries presented, “Displaying the dead: public reactions to human skeletons in museums.” I loved this one! They shared the museum’s human remains policy as well as photography policies. Leeds Museums have also integrated these big questions of museums displaying and photographing the dead into their exhibitions to involve the museum stakeholders and visitors in the process. Note to self: I have GOT to get myself to the Leeds Museums and want to chat more with Katherine and Ruth on their work.

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I am not exaggerating when I say this conference was basically made for me. The next session I attended was “Bodies on View,” which included a paper on TLC and other television programming (which I’ve written about before as the modern freakshow) and reliquaries and “bone churches.” First up, Agata Korecka tackled “Death, dying and light entertainment” through medical reality television. Shows in the UK like Embarassing Bodies, or US-based shows like My 600 Pound Life, and a variety of other programs depict people with medical issues for entertainment or education. Sometimes, the subjects of those shows die, such as in the case of Robert Buchel, who died soon after filming. Korecka examined public reactions to the show during the airing, and then after the announcement of his death during the program. Kelsey Perreault ended the session with, “The Church of Bones and the human rights of the dead.” She explored a church in that displays the bones of various individuals in patterns across the chapel, and the treatment of these bones as a dark tourist destination. One audience question was about the gift shop offerings and commodification of the dead. Perreault also addressed questions about “protecting the dignity of the dead.” So good!!

20180907_161715My last session of the day was “Digital Reimaginings” with Kelly Richards and Matt Coward. Kelly did an amazing job discussing “Reimagining the personification of Death in popular culture” with a talk that included comics, movies, and other popular culture and their depictions of death. Her multimedia presentation included some fantastic video clips (Bill and Ted! Mighty Boosh!!) and she even finished the session with a great rebuttal of some quite strange questions.. Wonderful job, Kelly! Matt ended the conference with a bang, discussing death and video games. I learned about some new games I want to play (Graveyard Keeper!) and now have a different perspective of seeing death spaces in video games, as well (not cool to ransack graves, God of War).

And just like that, DaCNet 2 was done. I hope to see a lot of the same folks at the14th International Conference on the Social Context of Death, Dying and Disposal in Bath next year. Until then…

York, UK: Harry Potter, Chocolate, and Richard III

sdfg.jpgYork and our journey there was a study in all of my favorite things: Harry Potter, train travel, that famous glorious son of York, chocolate, tea, and gorgeous architecture. We started our day with time to spare at Kings Cross so we could visit Platform 9 ¾, the start of one’s journey to Hogwarts. My mom and I started reading the Harry Potter books when I was a sophomore in high school, and we loved them and shared them throughout my time in college. Mom is a textbook Hufflepuff, while I am a stalwart Syltherin. How the two biggest hufflepuffs to ever hufflepuff created a Slytherin is anyone’s guess.  Anyway. Platform 9 ¾ was everything we hoped it would be, and the photographers in the line that day were superb and so fun. Even though they made me hold Voldy’s wand since I’m a Slytherin. Obviously we bought all 4 photos, and I got my mom some Hedwig souvenirs, because it was her birthday!

20180905_141107-01Then we hopped on the train and headed north to Yorkshire, home of my boy Richard III. Once we got to York, we dropped off our bags and headed into the ancient town. We started with tea at Earl Grey’s in the Shambles, which was delicious and perfect. I couldn’t finish my caramel cake, but the treats were superb. We wandered around the Shambles and downtown, then headed into York’s Chocolate Story to purchase our tickets.

20180905_141728York has a great history of chocolate and candy making, which automatically puts it high up on my list of favorite places. York’s Chocolate Story is a great example of the interactive, technological, and innovative types of exhibits that money can buy. All tours are fully guided and seem to be heavily scripted, but our guide was a delight. The tour starts with a ride in the elevator to the top floor where you enter a recreated street scene from York’s past.  We had an opportunity to taste chocolate made from one of York’s earliest recipes, and it wasn’t half bad. From there, we headed into a multimedia experience to tell the story of the discovery of cacao beans in the South American rainforests (without glossing over colonialism and the horrors the invaders brought with them). Then we learned about the families of York who founded candy and chocolate making empires in Yorkshire through a multimedia presentation. The next part was the best, though…

20180905_152047On the first floor there is a recreated chocolate factory, where visitors learn the entire process of creating consumable chocolates from processing to wrapping. We tried our hand at tasting the many flavors in chocolate and learned about the science of chocolate as well. Next, we got to decorate our own chocolate lollies! Chocolatiers were also on hand to show the process of making candies and truffles from the chocolate, and of course we got to taste, as well. I’m only sad that we had just had a large tea before our tour. We exited through the gift shop, as per usual, and brought home many treats for our friends and families (and ourselves). This museum really did have it all from multimedia displays, to sensory experiences, to the best possible interactives. I highly recommend it, even though it is totally touristy. We decided to walk off our chocolate and tea for the rest of the afternoon, and we saw all the major sites such as the York Minster church, the York walls, the Norman Clifford’s Tower, and even a pub named for r3.

20180905_161838We headed to our guesthouse and I got mom settled in, and I headed back out for a pub game night with the Death and Culture Net folks at the Eagle and Child. I knew I was in the right place when I walked in and heard people asking, “Are you here for death??” I didn’t end up playing any games, but I met all kinds of people from all over the world working broadly with death; Maggie, a doula and activist from the Bay area, Ruth from York who studies sociological aspects of death and criminology, Janieke from the Netherlands who studies funereal music… and so many more. My next will be all about DacNet, so tune in next time for more!

Café In the Crypt and The Roman Dead @ Museum of London: Docklands

IMG_20180904_133032_729From the British Museum, mom and I headed back to Trafalgar Square to finally visit the Café in the Crypt at St. Martin’s in the Field. I previously visited the café on my New Years trip to London and loved it. The café is located, as the name implies, in the old crypt of the church. The space and all of its associations truly deserve a blog all their own on death tourism and dark histories. Tables are located on top of grave stones and the crypt is surrounded by memento mori and memorial stones. Income from the café helps fund preservation and outreach programs at the church. When I told my students about this café, they were horrified at the thought of eating on graves and saw it as disrespectful, yet they were all about some ghost tours… as I said, lots more for another blog. All in all, the cafe made a mean scone and pot of tea, and the cakes looked to die for (lol see what I did there?).20180904_151621

We ubered on over to the East Side of London, which I was visiting for the first time, to the Museum of London: Docklands to see the Roman Dead exhibit that I had been looking forward to for months. The museum is located in the industrialized docks of the East End on Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs. The landscape is an interesting mix of industrial, commercial, and new sleek business buildings along the high-tech docks.  As a huge fan of Call the Midwife, set in this area of London, it was a bit shocking to see modern Poplar compared to 1950s and 1960s Poplar of the TV show.

DSC03390~2Our welcome at the museum was superb, and the FOH staff member we spoke with was a graduate of UNC, just a few hours from home; small world! We first went to see the Roman Dead exhibit before exploring the rest of this excellent museum. According to their website,  “Last year, a Roman sarcophagus was found near to Harper Road in Southwark. What does this unique find tells us about the ancient city that 8 million people now call home? We’ve displayed the sarcophagus alongside the skeletons and cremated remains of 28 Roman Londoners found during archaeological excavations of ancient cemeteries. The exhibition also features over 200 objects from burials in Roman London, exploring how people dealt with death in Londinium. Many items were brought here from across the Empire, showing the extent of London’s international connections, even at this early time in its history.”DSC03401~2

The exhibit also, “uses these grave goods and the results of scientific analysis of ancient Londoners’ skeletons to explore who Roman Londoners were, and show the surprising diversity of the ancient city.”One of the coolest aspects is an online interactive display available here: “Take a closer look at the exhibition’s most fascinating objects by exploring our interactive display.”

DSC03405~2I loved this exhibit. From the warning at the beginning about he display of human remains, to the treatment and interpretation of remains and funerary objects including cremated remains, full skeletons, childrens’ remains, and even animal and pet remains.

One of the best parts was the diversity (sex , age, and race/ethnicity) of these skeletons, all found in London from the Roman periods of history.   The museum did a great job of connecting the diverse history of London to its current status as one of the most diverse cities in Europe. Additionally, the connection between people 2000 years ago to modern people was presented with ease; people cared about their pets as family members, were sometimes buried with treasured belongings, and worried about the afterlife and what comes next, in many of the same ways that people do today.

DSC03393~2Soft lighting, quiet space, and layout of the exhibit seemed respectful and somber as was fitting for a room full of human remains. The interpretation of these people and their funerary objects, as well as the context of Roman Britain was explained well through text panels and multimedia displays. While I was in the exhibit, several families with children came through, and the children all seemed very engaged by the video, and also the remains themselves.

There were interactives, multimedia, opportunities to find more information, and all the things that make a modern museum exhibit great. I can’t say enough good things about it, and I’m only sad to report that it closed in October of 2018.

DSC03411After some time spent with the dead Romans, I had some time to visit the rest of the Docklands museum to learn the history of the area and people of the East End. This museum is awesome. Not only is it housed in a historic building that shows the connection of the location to industry and the local communities, but they have some very progressive interpretation (especially on colonialism and a surprisingly critical view of the UK’s role in the slave trade) and great interactive opportunities.

20180904_155650One of my favorite parts was the hamster-wheel like recreation of a pulley system from ye olde dockland days (see the photo my mom captured here), and the recreation of a London dock street, “Sailortown” was way too much fun. There were also myriad opportunities for children to play and learn throughout the museum from dress-up corners, to a mining set-up, and interactive recreated living spaces from throughout the decades. I started to get museum fatigue towards the end of our visit, but I really plan to make it back here for another visit on my next trip to London (and the regular Museum of London, too!). From the museum, mom and I headed back to Covent Garden where we ended the night with the traditional cheeky Nandos chicken and British television.

Next: Platform 9 ¾, York, York’s Chocolate Story, and more!

Out & About London: The Tower, V&A, and Natural History

For our first full day in London, we mixed tourism and research, which is easy to do when you are working on museums, human remains, death studies, and memorialization of death.

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Room of the Princes in the Tower

Stop #1 was the Tower of London. I previously visited the tower and loved it; visit two was just as great! We saw the ravens, the Crown Jewels, beefeaters, and the Thames. It is always incredible to be in a near-millennia old structure, and knowing the people who have been on the site and the events that took place there takes away my breath! This time, through the lens of death studies, I was particularly struck by the memorialization of death, often state-sanctioned or mysterious. Most notable are the memorial to Anne Boleyn and the speculation about what happened to the two princes in the tower (I still maintain it was NOT Richard III).

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Execution Memorial

Less noticeable but perhaps even more subtly impactful are the bits of graffiti still visible on the walls of the towers where people were held before execution. The torture chamber is as tastefully done as possible while still catering to guests to expect to see the gruesome side of history, which at the tower at least, is a bit more subdued than most assume. Speaking of taste, across the street, the Hung, Drawn, and Quartered pub at the site of the tower hill public execution site is something for another post all together.

dsc031762.jpgAfter a good morning at the Tower we headed across town to the Victoria and Albert to visit a bit of unexpected human remain in a museum: Frida Kahlo’s prosthetic leg. Most unfortunately, the exhibit had sold out months early and remained sold out for the entirety of the show. This put a damper on things, and combined with a bit of hanger, I did not fully love the V&A. I did find some great medieval memento mori in the collections, and saw some good hands-on exhibits on medieval bedding, but I was happy to move on along to the Natural History Museum next door.

DSC03193The Natural History Museum was incredible! Beautiful architecture, vast collections, and wonderful old-school style displays immediately caught my eye. The display of human evolution and human ancestors was especially great. It brought to mind several questions about the display of reproduced human remains; I know in the US the display of Kennewick Man, even as a rendering, has evoked emotions and resistance in the descendent community. What about human ancestors; how “human” are they? Do they fall into the same category as other human remains?

On the way back we stopped by Trafalgar to see the lions and Buckingham Palace. We capped off the night with the national dish of curry and rested up for another day of museums and human remains the following day!

More photos below:

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England 2018: Trip 2 – September 2018

Prologue: If you follow my twitter or Instagram or this blog, you already know this has been a busy year. I’m fully taking advantage of #AcWriMo2018 this year, and with the support of colleagues and friends, I have a goal to write at least 12 blogs that have been sitting here in the draft list pile, along with many other goals for my Academic Writing this year. This is great news for my blog, but it means that my blogs are about to start a time wrap of slowly working their way back to the past. Therefore, you are first going to hear all about my SECOND trip to England this year, and then I will work towards my summer work and travel, then the Spring semester of 2018, etc. My dream goal is to get all caught up so I can begin again to post with some regularity and timeliness as an ongoing goal. Apology/not apology: My new work takes this Anglophile to England a lot, so be prepared for all things mushy peas and tea in the coming months. Ok, enough housekeeping: On to England!

Ok, so where were we…

You’ve already read my quick Fall 2018 update and that I was fortunate to present at the DaCNet II Conference at University of York last week. So what about the rest of the trip to England? I couldn’t very well fly all the way across the Atlantic JUST for a conference; I had to get in some research and planning there, as well.

IMG_20180901_050415_252Because of timing and a twist of good luck, my mom was able to join me on this trip as a research assistant extraordinaire and travel buddy! This was her first trip out of the country, and our first time traveling just the two of us, and turns out that we travel absolutely swimmingly together (unless one of us is slurping a hot drink or smacking gum and then things can get tense for a hot second). My mom was an absolute trooper on this trip; walking miles and miles across London, going to all of the museums and actually enjoying them, taking selfies without complaint, listening with actual interest every time I started off on a “DID YOU KNOW….“ tangent at a museum or historic place. So yeah, all of that to say, my mom is the best and I can’t wait to travel with her again.

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So mom and I headed out from the Myrt early on the first Saturday in September to head for The Big Smoke. After a few delays and a smooth flight, we landed at Heathrow and made our way towards Convent Garden. This trip we stated at the Hilton Double Tree West End, and I highly recommend it for location, but mostly because our room was ready at 11am when we got there to drop off bags.

We napped then made our way out to take a quick open top bus tour of the city before grabbing a pub dinner. I can’t recommend Golden Tours hop of and off bus at all because their routes and times were terrible and an absolute waste of money and time, but at least for our first day it was nice to sit back and see the sites with ease. Same goes for the London Pass: everything is free that we wanted to see anyway, so don’t waste your money.

20180902_155037That said, we got to see Trafalgar, Tower Bridge, the Thames, and St. Paul’s Cathedral while still in a jetlag fog. Then back to rest so we could have a full day of museums and sites the following day… coming up: death tourism in London, Tower of London, Victoria and Albert, Natural History Museum, British Museum (redux), and Museum of London: Docklands!

Side note: my friend Casey made all the arrangements for this trip through her business She’s All Booked, and I can’t recommend her enough!!

Death and Culture Network II: Fall 2018

DacNet UOY RHAlignIn September of this year I had the opportunity to present a paper on Bodies and Display for the Death and Culture II conference at the University of York in the United Kingdom. I have been researching bodies and museums for the past couple of years, and this was a fantastic opportunity to bring that research to an international audience. While in the UK, I also visited several London and York museums, met with other amazing #DeathStudies scholars, and did some good research for what will be my next book! More on that soon.

IMG_mh7wdbAccording to the DaCNet website, “The Death and Culture Network based at the University of York seeks to explore and understand cultural responses to mortality. It focuses on the impact of death and the dead on culture, and the way in which they have shaped human behaviour, evidenced through thought, action, production and expression. The network is committed to promoting and producing an inter-disciplinary study of mortality supported by evidence and framed by theoretical engagement.” This is a true interdisciplinary work of genius, and a fun group of people to meet and collaborate with for sure.

I can not emphasize enough how much I enjoyed this conference and the other presentations and discussions held formally and informally. I will explore those in my next blog in more detail.

IMG_20180907_102201_205In my presentation I explored the legacy of freakshows and cabinets of curiosities on the current guidelines and ethics of museums in regard to the display of human remains. Topics I am brought up included: ethics, public reactions, and responsibilities of public historians with regards to the display and exhibition of human remains. I also presented on the racial, ableist, and class implications of displaying human remains in natural history, history, and medical museums. I also mentioned cultural patrimony of objects, as well as human remains as museum objects. I posed many questions in my talk about how old do human remains have to be to be considered “objects” and no longer people? How do visitors react to various human remains on display, from mummies, to Victorian hair wreath memorials, to skeletons or cremated remains? Human remains have been a part of exhibitions since the first museums opened in various forms; from the case of Sarah Baartman and nineteenth century freak shows, to modern displays of mummies and medical specimens, the human body has often been a source of emotion, intrigue, and education. Have museums moved beyond the “freakshow,” or are current human remain displays merely an extension of the spectacle of the earliest museum?20180907_141938~2

I had a blast doing this presentation, and I even managed to finish my talk with 4 seconds to spare. The audience and other panel members were so accepting and helpful, and they brought so many insights to my talk. I can’t wait to be back in York in 2020 for DaCIII!

London Day 2/2.5: New Years Adventures

1507445_10101545216840245_366034008_oAfter a full day of exploring the city followed by an exciting day at the Tower of London and Tate Museum of Modern Art, our third full day in London was a bit more low key. We slept in a bit to recover from the fireworks the night before…

New Years Eve in London

…is the craziest thing I have ever witnessed in person.  Here is the fireworks show, which was amazing in its own right (worth noting it features ELO, 1D (of COURSE), my favorite Coldplay song, and the Queen):

Some bloke getting knicked by the horseback coppers!

Some bloke getting knicked by the horseback coppers!

For some perspective, we were right behind the Eye, below the building with the countdown, on the south bank of the Thames.  Leading up to the show, we met a couple of really nice east enders, and bonded over the ridiculous drunken people camped out behind us.  We talked about the Olympics, One Direction, and the weather – they were great!

The real cultural experience began after the fireworks, though… Our usual route from the Southbank to the flat was less than half a mile.  Due to the crowds, however, the police had barricaded off all side streets to force the mass of people to go down one street.  The tubes all closed at midnight, and it was chaos.  We saw: teenagers street fighting, a man who I think was dead on the sidewalk, a lady trying to punch everyone, kids throwing fire crackers into the crowd, people in windows giving everyone a show, a man getting arrested by a policewoman who was on a horse… the list goes on. It. Was. Amazing.  We finally gave up, found some high ground, and just watched the show.

Eventually we made it along with the masses to The Cut, where I convinced a policeman that our beds really were just on the other side of his barricade, and that we weren’t up to any mischief.  Poor, silly little Americans, he probably thought.

Anyway, we got to bed, slept in, then headed out for our last full day in the greatest city I have visited (sorry Dublin, Toronto, and New York).

New Years Day in London

1502443_10101545219210495_1532383247_oSadly, the most interesting looking gallery, at Southbank Centre, was closed.  We looked around outside, and continued on to see a bit more of the city, and revisit our new favorites.  We caught part of the rainy and windy London New Years Day Parade near Picadilly Circus (lots of American high school marching bands – it felt like home!)

We saw the famous shopping districts, had MORE Cafe Nero of course, and had lunch at St. Martin’s in the Green Cafe in the Crypt.  This was the coolest spot for a lunch, and I had a most English lunch of treacle, tea, and a small meat pie.  We went up to see the church, where the creepiest baby Jesus statue ever was found outside (picture below).  The crypts were really interesting, and I loved the statue of the Pearly King!

Charles and I explored a bit more, saw the horses and military park, and decided to get dinner at the Sherlock Holmes!  They were out of a lot of things that night, including fish n chips, but I did get some delicious chicken liver pate, and Charles had yet another delicious meat pie.  It was a great atmosphere with the mist outside, a chill in the air, and the warm pub food and delicious pint.

Dinner at the Sherlock Holmes

Dinner at the Sherlock Holmes

We continued on to the southbank in the dark, where we saw our last glimpse of Big Ben, the Eye, and the city I grew to love.

The next morning, we got up and caught the tube to Euston, and back to Holyhead to catch our ferry to Dublin.  This was probably our roughest day, which an abhorrent man from the Tube harassing us about GMOs and America (like we don’t know there are problems) and a miscommunication with the cab driver in Ireland who spoke a strange Dublinese language.  We only had one full day in Dublin left, so we went to bed prepared to make the most of it before heading back to the states!

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So long, London!

So long, London!

 

So long, London!

I miss you, still!

The Tower of London: Preservation Conundrums

Better late than never on the blog!  I’ve had a crazy past month with work, traveling to Utah, and so much more.  Back to London:

After a fantastic day traipsing all over London, drooling over David Tennant, and visiting the British Museum, we were out for another day of history and art!

1008431_10101545160293565_11292607_oOne place in London that I absolutely had to see was the Tower of London – it has so much history!  I have to admit, as I walked through, I just touched all of the walls and doors and exposed material possible.  People have done that for a thousand years; don’t you judge me.  I remember walking down one spiral staircase and just running my hand down the wall the whole way down – I felt up all of the history.

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The wibbly wobbly Harry Potter bridge, with St. Paul’s ahead!

We walked along the Thames through the mist, saw the current London Bridge (I lamented the fact that it is totally lame compared to the Elizabethan version), and finally turned the corner to the ticket queues for the Tower.  Along our walk we also got to see St. Paul’s in the day light, walk across the wibbly wobbly Harry Potter bridge, the iconic Tower Bridge, lots of giant boats, barges, and bouys, and even the Globe Theater.

From a museum professional perspective, I do have to say their ticket process is ingenious – the cost of the ticket was, say  £17.99; the ticket person asks if you would like to round up to and even  £20 with the rest as a donation towards preservation.  Duh!  We did, of course, and I’m trying to implement the same among my staff.

my favorite monarch!

my favorite monarch!

Moving on, we walked through the gates, past the yeomen warders, and into the heart of 1,000 years of English history.  You can read about the entire history elsewhere, but historical highlights for me were: William the Conqueror, Richard III (allegedly) murdering the princes, and Anne Boleyn.

It was a bit crowded while we were there, but it didn’t dampen my excitement.  Charles loved the armor and weapons displays, I loved the animal displays and Traitors Gate, and we both loved the cooking demonstration, even though the stag’s head sat there and watched itself being butchered.  We didn’t bother with the crown jewels since the line was long, and I had promised Charles time to visit the Tate Modern across the river.  Another disappointment was the lack of info torture chamber – the yeoman laughed at me when I asked where it was; something about Americans and their love of violence.  The interactives, living history, and touch stations really made a difference, though.  Charles and I both tried our arms at the long bow – we weren’t too shabby at it!

yummy. It really did smell delicious!

yummy. It really did smell delicious!

Reading about the Tower, I was a bit surprised to find out that sections were torn off that didn’t look “old” or “new” enough. I don’t know why I was surprised since this is a common practice, but it did still hurt my heart a bit.  I deal with the same type of things (on a MUCH smaller scale) at my own site, where the historic house has undergone MANY renovations, changes, and owners in its 200 years.  What period do you interpret?  Can you tell all the stories?  What color do you paint the walls – the color from 1200, 1500, or 1850?  Should you tear down a building from 1700 in favor of the view from a 1300 building?  I don’t have the answers, and I don’t know if there is a right answer.  Preservationists – what are your thoughts?

My general demeanor throughout the Tate

My general demeanor throughout the Tate

We left the tower to head to the Tate Modern.  I originally thought I would write a blog about that, but I enjoyed it so little that I don’t even really want to think about it that much.  I saw a Dali, which was ok, and I ate an ok muffin from the cafe.  Charles saw a couple things he liked, but over all, it just wasn’t that great.  As you know if I read this blog, I have feelings about art museums anyway, so this shouldn’t be a surprise.  I have nothing against art, obviously, since I’m engaged to an artist.  I like a lot of contemporary art and old art; something about modern art just irks me, though, in general.  I like van Gogh?  And now I’ve dedicated a whole paragraph to that place. Fin.

From the Tate, we tried to find a place for dinner, which we hadn’t anticipated as a problem, until we realized it was New Years Eve.  We went to the Sainsbury’s by the flat, watched the premier of Sherlock on the BBC online, and then headed out to Southbank for the fireworks….

london day 2

Our day in review

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The British Museum: Elgin Marbles, Cabinet of Curiosities, and Overwhelming Spaces

British Museum front facade

British Museum front facade

On the best day in London ever, I had a chance to visit the British Museum, which was a dream come true.  For years, I’ve read about the museum, longed to see the Elgin Marbles and Rosetta Stone, and I even used the museum in my dissertation as an example of the old paradigm of museums.

Old paradigm, indeed.

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In the entryway

I’ve recently come to realize that I just don’t love huge museums.  I didn’t really like the Met, I really didn’t like the Tate (next blog coming soon), and the Natural History Museum in NYC was just ok for me.  Why is this?  I’m a museum person! I’m still thinking it all out, but I think it might have to do with the exhaustion of vacation, the sheer size of the places, my feeling that I NEED to see everything, and the amount of people there.  Also, they seem like spaces for rich, old, white people most of the time.  It’s kind of like that feeling I get sometimes at big parties, where I’d rather talk to the wait staff.  Maybe I’ve just built them up so big for so many years that they couldn’t possibly live up to the hype in my mind.

Regardless, the British Museum was still impressive, and again, the Day of the Feels continued.

We walked up Drury Lane to Museum Lane, and rounded the corner to find the great British Museum.  I got really excited about what was going to come next – I mean, this is THE place!  Home of the Rosetta Stone, countless Egyptian and Middle Eastern artifacts, and bane of every museum professionals’ ethical and reasoning mind powers – the Elgin Marbles.  I had a bit of the vapors as we went in, saw the entrance, and walked through some of the Egyptian rooms – but the real feels didn’t come until…

EMOTIONS!

EMOTIONS!

We got to the room filled with the Elgin Marbles.  They were huge, and beautiful, and amazing… and I was so sad that here they were in the middle of London, instead of in Greece still on the Parthenon.  Of course, there are many pros and cons to this situation, which is why its a perfect Museums Studies class discussion.  But the current ethnic Greeks aren’t the same ones who are there now – but the Turks sold them to that British guy – but otherwise they would be destroyed – but but but – I really can’t decide what is right or wrong in this case.  All of that aside, they were astounding to see.

Elgin Marbles!

Elgin Marbles!

Charles dragged me along, I saw the Rosetta Stone and felt/got felt by a ton of people trying to do the same thing, and the rest of the museum is kind of a blur.  I remember seeing some goat mosaics, and the large library-esque room.

I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany.

I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany.

The British Museum also seemed a bit, like most huge museums, to be a Cabinet of Curiosities gone wild.  There is a hodge-podge of  anything and everything there.  Some of it was thrilling to see, and some of it seemed to be a testament to colonial conquests.

We saw all the things and stuff,  as you can see in the pictures below, but by the time we got to the more modern exhibit of watches and timepieces, I grabbed a small stool and sat in a hall while Charles explored some more.

Final thoughts – I am an expert spotter of goats, both in the wild, and especially in museums.

Also, I can’t decide if I have memory fatigue from that day because of the sheer size of the collection and space, or if it was because of the reasons raised in this fantastic article on the Huffington Post called “Why Taking Photos At Museums Is Hindering Your Memory. “When people rely on technology to remember for them — counting on the camera to record the event and thus not needing to attend to it fully themselves — it can have a negative impact on how well they remember their experiences,” Henkel explains in a description of the study.”

It was nice to get back into the fresh air as we walked on to the Richard II performance.  I’m still processing the whole visit to the British Museum, but I wouldn’t say I DIDN’T like it.  It was just a little overwhelming.  I also can’t say I’d particularly want to go back to it, either.

Hopefully someday, I’ll think some more about the visit and update this blog with more thoughts and feels…

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