Green: Historically Significant Tourist-y Places

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Sort of a funky name, but it describes this category of excursions quite well! Green pins stand for the places in London everyone at home told me I “haaaad” to go visit in order to satisfy my “inner tourist.” These places included Big Ben, London Bridge, Tower Bridge, Tower Hill, the British Library, the Globe Theatre, Parliament, and Buckingham Palace.

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The British Library

Some of the places that I visited I wasn’t sure what the significance of the place was (such as Tower Hill and Parliament), and others I visited because I felt they were important to being an English Major, such as the British Library and the Globe Theatre. In Virginia Woolf’s “Literary Geography,” she writes that some people choose to be “scientific in our pilgrimage and visit the country where a great novelist lived in order to see to what extent he was influenced by his surroundings,” and I tried to do just that by visiting these significant places in London. I took notes in the tourist-y places and tried to see what attracted not only authors but the massive amounts of tourists that frequent them.

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Taking a look at my map, I notice that the only pin on the board that’s north of where I stayed in Connaught Hall marks the British Library. Really, the only pin on the map that’s north?! Mhmm. Again, as an English major and bookworm, it makes sense that the highest point on my map is the British Library (for more about the British Library, browse through my other posts!). Since I went a bit more in depth in another post, I won’t dwell on the British Library here, but the library turned out to be a place where an immense amount of knowledge is held, yet it’s not easily accessible to anyone. You must have permission granted by a library card (which is not easy to get, believe me) and know exactly what you’re looking for. I’m looking for inspiration in this library, how am I supposed to know where to find it? Isn’t part of learning not knowing what to expect and finding it along the way?

DSC_0710Another excursion I promised myself I’d go on was to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. I’ve always been such a big fan of his work and couldn’t wait to see Macbeth performed in it’s natural habitat! I spent $40 in the gift shop alone, bought tickets for two different nights just in case I couldn’t make one of the shows, and finally took my seat in one of the balconies to the right of the stage. Thinking back on the experience, I can’t help but hear Woolf’s conclusion to “Literary Geography,” which reads “a writer’s country is a territory within his own brain; and we run the risk of disillusionment if we try to turn such phantom cities into tangible brick and mortar…No city indeed is so real as this that we make for ourselves and people to our liking; and to insist that it has any counterpart in the cities of the earth is to rob it of half its charm.” We don’t know a lot about William Shakespeare; the playbook that I bought at Macbeth explained how part of the original text of Macbeth was lost and there is only one real account of someone seeing it performed at the Globe. Why then was it so imperative for me to see the show in what I called “it’s natural habitat”? The Globe has been completely restored and isn’t the exact stage that Shakespeare and his contemporaries would’ve performed on or been around, yet it was restored to try to preserve what it could of the original theatre. How come I spent so much money to experience something that only faintly lived up to the significance it has historically?
Every place that is marked with a green pin is considered a crucial part of England and the idea of Englishness. The people filling up the space around these places were snapping dozens of photos with them smiling near the building. But how many of them really know anything about the historical significance? Do they stop and think about why these places are still so important today? Circling back to Woolf’s “Literary Geography,” these places that I’ve read about in literature or seen in a movie inspired me too take a step back and look at my surroundings, not just what’s blatantly screaming for attention. My notebook was filled with manic scribbles about how people interact with these tourist-y destinations and what that says about Englishness. Yes, I did snap some photos of myself (I had to satisfy the inner tourist, didn’t I?) but I left with much more than I expected to.

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Revisiting my Big Questions

The view from my desk at the library

Courtney Loiacono
Writing this post from a desk at the Smithtown Public Library

I’d like use this blog post to explore a few of the questions I posed before the trip that I believe I can now address after taking the course.

 “After getting a better understanding of the physical spaces, how do we think that the architects intended the places they created to be used? How are they used in the literature?”
This question was one that I feel was definitely in the back of my mind during our time in London. One of the first places we explored, the British Library, was a place where the intent of the architect and the current owners/managers were quite evident. The only places open to the public were the small museum/exhibit on the first floor, the hallways and staircases leading to the different collections (yet not the collections) and the gift shop. A library, a place we expect to be able to access knowledge and have freedom to pursue what we want to learn and where, is quite restricted. We see the British Library being used by the narrator in A Room of One’s Own, where the literature in the space is almost all work produced by men. Yet it’s the library that the narrator is able to access, unlike that of the college she visits in the beginning of the essay. Nowadays, the space is set up so that you need a library card to access the collections. Understood. I’ll go and sign up for a library card then.

Signing up for a library card was quite tedious. The man at the desk informed me that I needed to list four specific texts I would be looking for and using with my library card, which collections I was interested in, and had to show my passport. Then I was briefly interview by another man in the back of the room, had my picture taken, and was finally given my library card. (Sadly, I didn’t have time to return to the library and actually use it, but it does make quite a fun souvenir!) Expanding on my initial question, I’d like to consider not only the initial intent of the architect(s) when creating these spaces, but also those currently in power and control of the space and how they allow others to use it. Though the description isn’t very in depth, Woolf’s writing of the library leads me to believe that it was easier to access and use the library the way it was intended to be used. Nowadays, one’s movement is more restricted and monitored. If I wanted to go into the library, I cannot bring a bag along with me. I must check my bag in one of the cloakrooms and then enter the collection. Another interesting piece of architecture in the library was the collection of books in the center (I can’t remember which king’s collection it was) that is encased in glass. The book collection is simply there to look at with wonder. What did the architect behind that intend? Possibly to remind us of the unattainable wealth of knowledge that the owner of the collection had, instill some sort of pride in us or marvel at the superiority of the owner, or something along those lines. Regardless, the architect secluded an enormous collection of literature for people to merely look at and admire, which is the opposite of what a library should be used for. The knowledge s unattainable and exists in seclusion from the public. (This is true for many of the places we visited, where places were constructed to be seen but not to touch or absorb).
Both writers are stressing the importance of studying different parts and sides of space. A few lines down, he continues saying that ‘global space established itself in the abstract as a void waiting to be filled…How this could be done was a problem solved only later by the social practice of capitalism.’ I’m not sure exactly how, but I’d like to discuss the connection between space and capitalism when study our literature.”

For the most part, I got less on the capitalism present in these spaces and shifted my focus on the power relations present in spaces. Yes, those two go hand in hand, but for the purpose of the class and this post, power relations was more evident to me. We discussed a lot about what fills the rooms in the British Museum. Artifacts from around the world are brought together in the massive space that is the library. Taking a step back for a moment, the location of the library is just as interesting as what fills it. It’s a massive space in the middle of the quaint (at least I felt it was one of the more quaint parts of London), surrounded by black gates. I felt it wasn’t overwhelming from the street, walking past it or around it while going to one of the cafes nearby or the tacky gift shops. But the second I stepped foot inside of the gates, the perspective completely changed. The sheer size of the building filled me up, the grandeur of the structure became apparent. My body finally realized that this was an important building. Walking towards the steps and the columns near the door was one of the first times I felt “damn, I’m in London!”

Now back to what fills the rooms. Important pieces such as the Rosetta Stone, the Parthenon Marbles, sarcophagi and countless other artifacts from centuries ago are what make up the exhibits. Again, we discussed how this collection of important pieces from various parts of the world is collected together and presented to show the power and importance of the British. But where does capitalism come in? Many of the pieces were sold to the British Museums, putting a price on what many would consider invaluable parts of history that cannot have a price, once again proving the ultimate power of the British. Most of these observations seems obvious. Something else slipped my mind and became evident only this morning is while I was getting ready to come to the library. I was packing my backpack and had my keys on the table when my mother came over and started looking at my car keys. While in London I bought myself a few new key chains, one of the ever-popular red phone box and the other from the British Museum. My mother commented “ah, how cute!” upon seeing the phone box, to which I smiled and thanked her. She stopped for a second and examined the second key chain. Now, hanging from this key chain is a sarcophagus, a sphinx cat, a third Egyptian symbol and a little plate that reads “The British Museum.” After a moment or two, my mother looks up and asks, “but why did you buy something with Egyptian stuff on it if you were in London?” The questions was a little shocking, to be honest. But it made sense. Tying it back into my original question, I believe this is a good example of how capitalism enters different spaces.

My key chains.

My key chains.

Another great example of capitalism filling up space became evident during our trip led by Katrina to St. Paul’s Cathedral. Without paying the fee, we were only allowed to access and view a slither of the space, unless we were attending one of the church services. So either our religious belief or our money granted us access to this magnificent and important structure, is that it?

The rest of my questions were sort of addressed during the two weeks, but more importantly the topics I focused on shifted. Something Katrina kept pointing out on our walks is how new structures and places kept being build right next to or on top of old structures. This interplay between the old and the new was present throughout the readings, especially when we discussed the idea that time is not linear but simultaneous. I won’t go too in depth in this particular blog post, for that’s a concept I’m planning on exploring in my final project! The only other big question I have at the moment is when the hell can I go back to London?!
If any other questions arise, I’ll be sure to post them here 🙂