Saturday, May 30, 2009
Along with suited men and women, Stephen Daly stepped on the tube like he does every day for the morning commute, but Stephen was not wearing a suit and he was not planning on getting off the tube for quite a few hours. Dressed in a red t-shirt and jeans, he was ready for the day. He, along with his friend Ben stood center on the underground car with a mandolin and a violin.
This is their office and work was about to begin. Legs spread and balanced, Daly clocked in and took hold of his instrument.
“Hello ladies and gentlemen, I’m Steve and this is Ben,” Daly said. “We are going to play you a song. So, grab your partner and dance in a clockwise direction to avoid congestion.”
Daly’s glasses sat on the bridge of his nose as his baldhead bobbed up and down with the strum of his mandolin. Ben accompanied with a quick fiddle.
Some people stare and smile, others pretend he is not there. No one dances. However, that does not stop the music. Daly, with an Irish charm, plays an upbeat tune with a lively attitude. Ben accompanies on violin with a wink and a smile.
They finish the song in a few minutes.
“Thank you,” Daly said. “You guys were better than the last car.”
The next song is a waltz.
The cars doors open and announce South Kensington station. The tube operators voice interrupts for only a second. They finish their song right on time. Daly knows this tube and the stations. He has been doing this for quite awhile, 25 years to be exact.
Daly introduces his last song, always a fast one. He points to a little bag hanging off of his mandolin.
“See this pouch here, I’m going to go around for this last song,” he said. “If you don’t want to give or if you feel uncomfortable with social situations, just pretend we aren’t here.”
He dances around the car playing a merry tune while sweat drips off of his brow. Ben is a little younger than Daly and shows off a youthful performance, whipping his wrist back and forth with the slide of his bow. His sunglasses hang off of his striped polo shirt as he follows Daly around the car.
Several people toss change into the bag. One man dressed in a blue button-down shirt even throws in £5.
Three songs and three tube stops is all visitors may see of Daly but this is his full-time job. He and Ben work from morning until night playing tunes, hoping from car to car with a cheerful routine.
Daly grew up in Dublin, Ireland but fell in love with London years ago. He came after planning a visit with friends and never left.
He tells passengers that he “came to London for a romantic weekend, a weekend that lasted 25 years.”
A rough face shows a little of his story while his personality and occupation reveals his spontaneous side.
Living in London, Daly needed a way to make money. He used a little Irish creativity and looked underground instead of above for a decent salary.
He found that while many people make money targeting similar consumers, he could reach all types of people playing on the London Underground.
The tube provides transportation for millions of Londoners. According to the Transport for London, 2007 marked the first year the tube carried one billion passengers. Since then, the tube has been the object of much conversation and improvement. People of all levels realize that the transportation system is a heavily used and significant resource.
While the sun peaks through the clouds on another overcast day, it would be foolish to think that simply walking London streets will radiate the essence of the area. Below is where the heart of London rushes, swipes, minds the gap, sits, smiles, sleeps, talks or is silent, breathes and even performs a daily routine.
The doors open and reveal an individual group of Londoners. Each stop brings a new flavor and smell. People coming on the tube in Camden looked a little edgier than those at South Kensington. They talk a little more and a little louder and dress a little flashier.
Diversity stands together, mashed into a speeding cylinder. Hot, humid, and uncomfortable, the tube is the literal container for all sorts of London personalities.
Daly balances well among the crowd.
For him, the tube is not just a means of travel from one place to another, it is a place all on its own. It is a way to reach people of all ages and occupations, of all financial statuses and backgrounds.
As he and Ben step off the last car, his music silences for the day.
“Thank you,” he said.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
London is rainy and changeable and gloomy.
Yesterday I specifically sought out a meal that would be bold. “Where is the excitement in these meals?” I said. I picked up a sandwich called “spicy chicken.” I was ready to be spiced up. Disappointment.
The meat hit my taste buds with no reaction. Nothing. No spice. No nothing. Bland. Liars.
It is rainy, the food is boring, the days are gray, the living conditions are awful. I’m thinking about all of these things as I am trying to describe to you what London is to me. But, this is not what I’m trying to say.
See, despite the poor hotdogs and shivery cold, London is the only place I want to be right now. London is my get away and my experience. London is exciting and I despite the boring attributes and the city closing at 11 p.m., London has produced some of my most lively memories of the year.
As the days and nights go on, the cold is not so frigid. Somehow, blood starts circulating in my legs again and I’m ok. The weather does not seem to matter. I am taken in by the sites and the architecture, the accents and the people, the red buses and the tube.
I walk and complain about how London should learn a few lessons from New York, the city that never sleeps—but, at the same time, I proclaim a love for London that I could not for the Big Apple.
I walk around this city and hear people with accents from all over Europe. Today, I spoke with the man that works at the front desk of my dorm complex. He is half French and half Italian. His unusual accent captures me as he tells me of his love of Paris but his hate for Persians.
London has swept over me and drowned me in a culture I’ve never known. In the rainy mist and quiet bustle, there are flickers of light and explosions of excitement.
London closes at 11 p.m. but maybe for good reason. Maybe it is just trying to be responsible.
As for the fish and chips, I still think London may need to understand that spicing up your life really isn’t that dangerous.
Anyway, the food needs a little improvement before I come back.
Monday, May 25, 2009
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Open green grass seems cluttered only with bodies, relaxed and in motion. Blankets color space between tall trees and active footballs spark interest among calm scenery. Visitors within Hyde Park each bring their own purpose, they embrace leisure and activity within this royal plot of nature to savor a few hours of outside enjoyment.
Unusually sunny weather welcomed a large crowd of visitors to the park yesterday. Strollers weaved their way through bicycles as people made their way towards the Wellington Arch on Hyde Park Corner. They came to enter a green palace of open spaces and sweet smelling flowers.
I spotted couples lying together under trees and by the water of the Serpentine while some lovers relaxed on benches within small gardens.
Other people, friends or families, came with food and wine to enjoy a lunch in the company of a beautiful environment. Some people even shared their afternoon sandwiches with woodland visitors that waddled close by.
The park is desirable for many people because of its diverse recreational opportunities such as boating, swimming and rollerblading.
Rows of small orange cones decorate some walkways and usually signal that a set of rollerblades will be appearing shortly. Weaving through cones help bladers improve skills and Hyde Park seems like a perfect area to practice.
One man that I observed looked especially dedicated to the sport. Shirt off, dressed only in jeans and blades, he speed through the cones on one leg like a swift thread through fabric. His precision was amazing.
Do not be frightened though, all bladers in the park are not all of professional quality. In fact, many beginners take lessons in the park and can be seen practicing alongside experienced skaters all the time.
One specific group of fun-seekers I saw were learning a strange looking version of rollerblading. They looked like they were participating in some type of cross-country ski rollerblading. Their rollerblades were extended like skis and they had poles they were pushing off with. Most looked a little wobbly, but smiling faces showed that a fun time was being had by most.
When visitors become parched from the activities of the day, they can stop by a café like the Serpentine bar & kitchen for a drink or they can grab a cool treat from the small vendors in the park. They can even dip their feet in a path of fresh water.
Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain is a refreshing and attractive site that I thought was worth seeing. Water ripples down small hills and flows in a circle that is extraordinarily tempting to small children.
Little legs splash and kick around in the water memorial. A little girl dressed in only her underwear looked like she was having a great time wading around in a little waterfall.
She was kindly asked to sit on the side; according to park regulations visitors are not to walk on the Memorial. However, upon observation, I realized that this seems to be a rule nearly impossible to follow. It appears that these children embrace a lively spirit close to that of Princess Diana that will live on through their own interpretation of royal rules.
While in the area of Hyde Park there was another royal destination that I was sure not to miss.
As I walked on the wide paths that curved through the parks, gardens colored my journey. The smell of sweet peonies dances through the air as honeysuckle entices a travel further. Soon, I found myself in Kensington Gardens.
Kensington Gardens used to be considered part of Hyde Park but now stands alone as its own royal park. The flowers—roses, carnations, bearded irises, and more—are a beautiful site to see, but one of the most popular attractions, especially for children, is the statue of Peter Pan.
I witnessed a group of kids check out the statue, Pan mounted on a pedestal of nature images and posed figures. One boy seemed particularly interested in climbing up the statue, thinking of himself as a figure of Peter Pan—mischievous but accomplished. After climbing the statue he realized that his friends had lost interest and moved onto another part of the park.
He ran so fast, it seemed like he was flying.
After all of my time at and around Hyde Park, I realized that while the nature, the gardens, and the statues add to the lure of the area, there is something that the park could not be without. People, whether they are splashing in royal fountains or rollerblading through the gardens, appear to be the life and breath of Hyde Park.
Friday, May 22, 2009
Feel London. Touch the walls of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, sit in the seat that Charles Dickens frequented at the Cheshire Cheese pub and run your fingers over the old and new architecture mashed together in the City of London. Textures allow this place to come alive and radiate not only a history of London, but the true makeup of its people.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
St. Paul’s Cathedral is an iconic symbol of the city of London. Despite many tries by Germany to crumble the church during World War II, the walls stood strong because of the extreme precautions and efforts the people took to protect it. The cathedral is a symbol of hope that radiates through the building and is felt by simply standing near its walls.
The outer layer rough walls are spotted with small craters that serve as remnants of the past war. Recently, the outer walls were cleaned to expose the naked scars left on the church from shrapnel. London wants to make clear that this church went through battle and suffering like everyone else did at that time, but it is one of the few that remains standing.
Londoners made sure that it would never crumble. In fact, during the war, volunteers strapped themselves to the top of the church to extinguish incoming bombs that may damage the structure.
Running my hands over the wounds in the side of the cathedral allowed me to understand why Londoners, past and present, look at the building in a loving way.
Cheshire Cheese pub
The Cheshire Cheese pub is a pretty cool place. Charles Dickens, Mark Twain and Samuel Johnson frequented the pub.
I sat in the seat that Charles Dickens often drank. I ran my fingers over the wood that witnessed the beginnings of creative writings important to our culture. The hard seat seemed barely comfortable enough to pour out a classic novel.
I touched the wall that the original draft of The Tale of Two Cities hung proudly. How remarkable— one of the greatest books of all time is not being preserved in a museum, but a pub!
Pubs are where it all starts in London, they are the community meeting place and observe much of what is happening here.
Since I have been here we have eaten in several pubs and seen the activity that goes on there. Throughout the weekdays, working people—usually men dressed in fine suits—eat and drink, socializing with friends there.
They are not like American bars. No one appears drunk and sloppy. The interior is cozy, warm and classy. People do not come to get wasted or be loud. Yes, most of them carry a beer, but it seems more like a beverage here and less like a device for mischief.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Yesterday, I visited Big Ben. Honestly, it really is not so big. I had to weave around the streets to get a good picture of it because most of the time it appears hidden behind trees.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Cylinders stand tall and round, strong and of use. They hold up royal buildings; yet, they also hold trash in Green Park. Most notably, they are the shape of the 20-pound hats that the guards wear at Buckingham Palace. Throughout the day, I learned about the importance of these objects.
Changing of the guard
We arrived at Buckingham Palace this morning only to see the guards wearing a different uniform that we expected. Their outfits were dark and unexciting. Ryan said that they must have changed the uniform. I was outraged—Not only did they ditch the red coats, but where the heck were their giant furry hats?! Instead, the men wore hats closely resembling a burgundy beret.
Wait—do I see what I think I see?
All of the sudden, large black hats emerge from behind. Men in red coats march to the gates. I broke a big smile. There they are, my symbol of London—tall, heavy cylindrical hats.
The idea of the hats seems silly: huge, weighted and hairy accessories sitting on the heads of stern men. However, somehow seeing these hats in person, straight and balanced in formation, make them appear important and necessary.
These men stand like statues and their hats accentuate their stature.
I stood beside of several guards today and barely noticed them breathing. A natural human quality is replaced with a almost architectural appearance. Their uniforms complete with boots and hat make them seem like a pillar erected from the ground. They possess a rooted immoveable quality.
I posed beside of the men like every other tourist does that passes through the area, but I felt a little disrespectful. Their job is dutiful and of high regard in London. They protect royalty daily; yet, visiting the area, I think that they stand as mere tourist attractions and entertaining accessories to the city.
Sometimes tourists taunt and swarm them so much that they cannot even complete their scheduled march. I can’t help to think they must hate us.
Bubblicious gum is a definite favorite of mine, but anyone who chews it knows that the delicious sweet taste is gone three minutes after putting it into your mouth. The later happened to me and I began searching for a trashcan to get rid of the tasteless blob.
What appeared to be a simple task soon turned into a mission impossible. We were walking around Westminster in London and there were no trashcans. None.
I walked down Whitehall for miles and still no trashcans. What do these people do, eat their litter?
Soon, Ryan asked us if we noticed anything unusual about this road. Apparently, there truly are no trashcans on Whitehall. This was done purposefully because the Irish Republican Army (IRA) used to plant bombs in the trashcans.
I thought this was a really interesting fact. Londoners just got rid of the trashcans plain and simple. I think that if something like that happened in America we would just build titanium bomb-proof trashcans. We wouldn’t compromise convenience just because someone is out to get us. Afterall, we would see the change as a weakness. However, Londoners see it as just smart.
Have a problem? Trash it.
From the buildings to the transportation, London is red. The color shows proudly on the coats of royal guards as they stand paralyzed and patriotic for their country. Old bricks reflect a rustic burgundy that holds firm the history of the city. Rich scarlet blood spilled on the land soaks the past and remains in the present through the stories of beefeaters and historians.
Red flows through the streets of London. The buses are red, the phone booths are red and the faces of confused tourists are red.
I am foreigner traveling through London; yet, red has already tainted my experience in the city.
From the moment the other students and I landed, red greeted us and carried us forward. After we stepped off of the plane, Ryan’s red hair caught the attention of our five jetlagged faces. He stood near baggage claim, giving us a warm welcome which we had no energy to reciprocate. In his hand was a Flip video camera. A blinking neon red light gave evidence that he captured the sad scene.
Carrying large backpacks and wheeling heavy luggage, we never thought we would recover. The seven-hour flight across the pond left our eyes blood-shot and itchy. We moved slowly.
I walked alongside the rest of the group in the direction the tube (London’s version of the subway). Ryan retrieved our temporary one-day passes as we made exhausted and amusing conversation with each other.
Faded cherry colored the passes. This red is the access card to the life of a Londoner.
We stood in line to enter the tube. We stood some more. We stood a while longer. Something was not working. A red neon X that lighted the entry sign did not seem very positive. Indeed, the ticket machines decided to stop working.
Out of one of the few acts of London kindness, the man behind the gates allowed everyone to enter without swiping their ticket. We moved forward. Soon, I along with my 30-pound backpack, were smashed into a seat on the very cozy tube.
Ryan attempted to amuse us with London history and our day’s itinerary. Our blank stares and jetlagged faces were the most energy we could muster to meet his efforts.
The English accent heard over the tube speakers announced our stop. We sauntered out and moved our bodies towards the gates while being told to “mind the gap” (last year over thirty injuries occurred on the tube because people got stuck in the gap between the tube and the platform).
We started what seemed like a very long walk to the Ithaca London Center. After meeting and having tea with the staff there, we entered our lives as Londoners. We had to find transportation to check in at our flat.
We had to catch a bus. The two-stacked buses radiate a classic red, vibrant and exciting. My eyes moved to the top of the four-wheel creature, enticed by the upper stack of seating. I suddenly felt a shot of energy. We swiped our card and climbed the stairs to the top.
Something was a little strange about this bus though. It was packed but there was no hustle or bustle. More specifically, there was no conversation. No one was talking. Everyone sits silently on the buses here.
Then, I spotted two fire engine-red telephone booths. There was no one inside either of them.
Itching for my cell phone ever since my landing, I realized that new rules for conversation apply here.
A bright color inspires distinctive isolation. Londoners differ in this way from Americans who appear to be loud and connected at all times.
In London, Red is focused and controlled, purposeful and bold.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
The day was full of London history. I’ll update more later—for now, Ryan has got me working on an assignment.
Cheers. (compliments of Seth)
Sunday, May 17, 2009
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Tuesday night I rolled into my driveway with two cars packed full of books, bedding and everything else I pulled out of my dorm. My finals are over. I took my tests and wrote my 37-page Journalism Research paper. My first year of college is over. Now I’m trading my textbooks in for power adaptors, tennis shoes and pounds. I’m heading to London and my backpack looks a little larger than last week.
I will be participating in a Travel Journalism course that spans three weeks. Our group will travel around London and Scotland, looking at sites and learning how to write about them. I will be updating this blog on my adventures.
I leave tomorrow.