White: Pubs and Restaurants

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Ah, pubs. Possibly my favorite part of London! White pins on the map stand for the pubs and restaurants I frequented during my trip. Because I obviously had to eat every day and went to countless restaurants, the places I specifically marked were pubs that the group went to more than once during our stay and the main location we ate around (we didn’t really stray more than a block or two from Brunswick to eat). There are five white pins on the board, all conglomerated in one central area, not very far from where I stayed. Why is this? Why didn’t I take the Tube to some swanky restaurant across the map? First, let’s take a step back and examine the places I actually visited.

Our group visited three main pubs: The London Pub, Lord John Russel’s, and The Rocket. Most nights we would try to hit up all three of the pubs, starting at the Rocket, stop over at Lord John Russel’s for a pint, then end at the London Pub. Each place had something unique to offer! The Rocket had nice drink specials (and I usually ordered nachos to have some food in my stomach, just in case the night was long. Also, I just really love nachos), Lord John Russel’s was the friendliest and felt like the most “local” pub, and the London Pub was the place where the single ladies of the group could get there flirt on with some Australians while on their Contiki Tour. Out of all of the places I visited while studying abroad, the pubs are where I felt the most at home and also the most enjoyable aspect of Englishness (more of that later).

DSC_0703The other white pins marked the Bloomsbury Hotel where I went for afternoon tea and Brunswick Centre. Most of the places I went to eat were located in or around the Brunswick center. The place seemed to have a bit of everything! There was a burger place, sushi, Indian, sandwich shops, an Italian restaurant, whatever you wanted to eat was right there. I got to try all sorts of food without have to travel all across London (or the world, for that matter. Not that I’m not planning on traveling to the actual places and trying actual Indian, French, or Italian food), which was convenient. My friends from home had told me how great exploring the international food was in London, for it’s an international city. It was true; I had so much fun!

Looking at all of the different pins on the board and how local I stayed for food and beer, two questions pop into my head; Why did I stay so local for food, was it because everything was so conveniently located? If food is such an important part of life (and my life specifically, for I’m an aspiring foodie!), why did I not travel outside of my central location to find and enjoy it? The pins on the outskirts of the map are for religious buildings, museums or some other form of tourist-y things. These places of power and knowledge are out of the way, yet seem to be more important than beer and food. I said earlier in this post that I enjoyed myself more when I was in the pubs than traveling far to see some museum, and it seems that I was sucked in by the reputation of power and importance that the other categories had than experiencing London like I could have.

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Glastonbury: Myth and Englishness

Writing from the basement and my room in Connaught Hall, Bloomsbury

Site of King Arthur's Tomb

Site of King Arthur’s Tomb

This sign, standing among the remains of Glastonbury Abbey, reads:

Site of King Arthur’s Tomb. In the year 1191 the bodies of King Arthur and his Queen were said to have been found on the south site of the Lady Chapel. On 19th April 1278 their remains were removed in the presence of King Edward I and Queen Eleanor to the black marble tomb on this site. This tomb survived until the dissolution of the abbey in 1539.

Take a second to read over the inscription another time. Initially, the sign seems to be marking something of immense importance, of sheer greatness. But going back and reading it through a second time, the greatness starts to show a few cracks. The bodies of Arthur and Guinevere “were said to have been found,” though there was no definitive proof it was their bodies (let alone they actually existed). And their supposed tombs were moved to this spot “until the dissolution of the abbey in 1539,” which means that the tomb isn’t there anymore. So, why the sign focused on the greatness?

Right after taking this photo, I turn behind me and look out onto the grass between other ruined parts of the abbey. Chairs have been set up, as well as a sound system and an altar, in preparation for what appears to be a mass service. My mind is filled with even more questions: Why hold a church service in the presence of the mythical tomb of Arthur and Guinevere? Yes, an abbey is a religious building, but there is no proof of their existence, so why practice a religious belief it’s safe to assume that people attending the mass full-heartedly believe in? Geoffrey of Monmouth’s passages about King Arthur were believed to be complete fact for years, but then came to be understood as myth. Is the fate of the religion being practiced in the abbey to face the same fate?

I hope it’s become evident that as I’ve been Mapping London, the idea of Englishness continues to be challenged by my experiences. Each blog entry defines and redefines what it means to be English, as seen from the eyes of a 20 year old American student. Glastonbury Abbey and it’s affiliation with the myth of King Arthur is fascinating. Seeing so many people still to this day visiting the tomb of King Arthur and Guinevere makes me wonder what is so important about this myth? Returning to Monmouth’s text, one encounters not only the myth but the importance of religion tied up with it. It’s hard to define what is truly part of the myth and what is truly part of religion, it’s all woven together. Values such as purity, chivalry, and the sacred are presented. If we jump to Sir Thomas Malory’s Arthur, we see the same set of values. Every chapter is marked in time by a Christian holiday; the knights must be pure (virgins) and honorable in order to fully complete quests; men sacrifice themselves. Looking around Glastonbury Abbey, it’s safe to say that people don’t believe in everything written in the Arthur myth, yet the importance of religion is still quite strong. The Arthurian myth seems to be prevalent in contemporary Englishness because the themes and values in the myth continue to be seen as important for one to be considered “English.” But an identity built on myth, how sound could it be? Perhaps as sound as the inscription on the sign seems; mighty at first, but with visible cracks.

Dead in Woolf’s Dalloway

Writing from my room in Bloomsbury

I hadn’t realized how strong the presence of the dead is in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway until I was asked to write a blog post about it specifically. Looking back through my notes in the margins, I’m shocked I missed it; countless quotes about death and the interaction between the living and the dead pop out throughout the text.

Death is quite prominent in of the most famous scenes in the novel, where everyone on the street is fascinated with the car passing by. People are struck by the thought of being in such close proximity of royalty:

Ordinary people who might now, for the first and last time, be within speaking distance of the majesty of England, of the enduring symbol of the state which will be known to curious antiquaries, sifting through ruins of time, when London is a grass-grown path and all those hurrying along the pavement this Wednesday morning are but bones with a few wedding rings mixed up in their dust. (16)

Why with all the excitement of royalty and a celebrity around would thoughts of inevitable death and wasting away come up? This section defines Englishness in two distinct ways. The class divide between royalty and the others is prevalent here. Just the thought, the possibility of being near royalty, yet still separated by groups of people and a car from the possible royal, sets everyone’s heart aflame. It feels like an accomplishment to the people in the street, for they must’ve chosen the right time to go shopping to have been given this incredible opportunity (that again, no one will ever know if it actually was a person of importance or not). Expanding on this, there is a definite tie between death and nationalism.

While being instilled with this sense of importance and pride of being so close to the English royalty, the crowd is contemplating their own individual deaths. Historians will remember the royal sitting in the car that passes them by, but will not remember them. They will always be insignificant. Part of Englishness is the powerful and impressionable monarchy, and the commoners (the people in the street) will all be forgotten. The next pages reads that “strangers looked at each other, and thought of the dead; of the flag; of Empire” (17). The nationalism these people feel is tied directly to death. Englishness cannot be without royalty and death. Clarissa Dalloway has an interesting thought while walking around London, which was “Did it matter then, she asked herself…did it matter that she must inevitably cease completely; all this must go on without her; did she resent it; or did it not become consoling to believe that death ended absolutely?” (9). Based on her reaction and everyone else’s reaction in the street, it seems that the proximity to the everlasting presence in history that the English royalty will have is enough to comfort the commoners in their inevitable meaningless death. As long as something with great importance lasted, their insignificant deaths were accepted. Nationalism and pride in their Englishness have given them this idea that death is necessary and they must accept it.

Nationalism and death play another role in the character of Septimus Smith, for it seems necessary that there be dead in order for there to be nationalism. By far one of my favorite characters in Dalloway, his role in Dalloway is tragic, and his path to suicide another place where I felt the presence of the dead in the novel. His view on the world is warped due to his experience fighting for the country; his pride in England led him to signing up to fight, but sadly it leads to his suicide. Though he suffered immensely to defend his country,”it was cowardly for a man to say he would kill himself,” even after doing something courageous for his country (22). Septimus is haunted by the dead, both with the idea of his own death and the ghost of Evans.  In the middle of the park, Septimus is convinced that he sees Evans, and exclaims “‘For God’s sake don’t come!’… For he could not look upon the dead,” and this passage ends with Septimus “smiling at the dead man in the grey suit” (68-69). His trauma has caused him to see the dead in his daily life, yet his individual condition must be silenced for the good of the England. Septimus has served what is defined as the only appropriate way to have pride for England: he put his life on the line in battle, but is not allowed to battle his own depression and suicidal thoughts publicly. Again, the life of the commoner, the individual, is irrelevant as long as Englishness is preserved. London is a “city of tombs” because in order for London and Englishness as a whole to continue to function, many have to die, whether it’s in war, by silencing their mental health issues, or just quietly for the sake of those in power.

Visiting Stonehenge, Just Like Tess

Initially writing from my room in Bloomsbury, but revisited in the library of my hometown.
(Pictures are mine! Please respect that and don’t use without permission). 

I must admit (though it pains me to say this) that before arriving in London for the study abroad program, I had no idea what Stonehenge actually was. Everyone would ask me “what are you doing while studying in London?!” and I’d brag that I was going to see Highgate Cemetery and see the sunrise at Stonehenge. People were impressed and envious, though I didn’t really understand why…Thankfully I got my shit together before leaving on the bus at 2 am. The significance of Stonehenge didn’t register with me until I physically began to approach the massive henge. There, the definition of the word sublime, “affecting the mind with a sense of overwhelming grandeur or irresistible power; calculated to inspire awe, deep reverence, or lofty emotion, by reason of its beauty, vastness, or grandeur” was fully understood. My body recognized the importance if the henge, for reasons I’ll explore at the end of this post. First things first: why visit Stonehenge alongside English literature?

Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Ubervilles’ penultimate chapter takes place in Stonehenge, and getting a chance to visually take in the landscape and think back to the text definitely influenced my understanding. Silvia Mergenthal, in her essay titled “The Architecture of the Devil’: Stonehenge, Englishness, English Fiction,” writes about Stonehenge, Tess, and what it all says about Englishness. What struck me is the connection Mergenthal draws between Stonehenge and the abbey. She states:

Stonehenge and the abbey are not so much contrasted to one another as superimposed one upon the other (and vice versa, as it were). As a result, Hardy’s novel blurs spatial and temporal boundaries—the latter with regard to both the (internal) chronology of the novel and the (external, that is, ‘real-life’) histories of the two sites…It is only retrospectively, that is, from the perspective of the Stonehenge chapter, that a pattern common to both scenes emerges beneath the ‘criss-cross’ surface arrangement of sleeping/waking, waking/sleeping: in both scenes, Tess finds herself within the confines of a sacred site in ruins, the one (the abbey) devoted to Christian, the other (Stonehenge) to pre-Christian sets of beliefs.

This layering and blurring of the lines Mergenthal mentions is something I’ve identified as being an integral part of Englishness. Throughout the entire weekend, we kept learning about another instance where a Pagan ritual or belief was Christianized (either subtly or overtly) and the end result is a mixture of both. Lines have been continuously blurred throughout the history of Englishness in order to achieve some greater sense or preserve the idea of Englishness. A wordy statement, but basically Hardy’s connection between the Christian abbey and the Pagan Stonehenge, when read today, brings to light both the similarities that exist between the two, and how throughout history they have overlapped. The Pagan henge is referred to as “the heathen temple,” and it’s important to remember that the term “heathen” is a derogatory term for one that doesn’t believe in the widely accepted religion, which in this case is Christianity. Paganism was Christianized in order to be accepted and reinforce the powerful notion of Englishness, and Hardy’s connection between the two subverts this.
Mergenthal takes this connection further when she writes that:

…as Hardy’s novel possesses an equally marked gender bias: Stonehenge seems to demonstrate – as does the abbey in which Tess is laid to rest in a stone coffin – that English religious and legal institutions across the centuries have been founded, not on (or for) the protection of the weak, but on (or for) their victimization.

Hardy’s writing of the abbey and Stonehenge exposes one of the flaws of Englishness and the role religion has; those that are already in power will stay in power, and those that are weak and powerless will be kept weak and powerless. Tess, born into a lower class family, has absolutely no luck in her life. She is a victim of sexual harassment in the beginning of the novel, is rejected by her husband when telling him the truth (while even though he committed the same act, he was allowed to roam free), finally gets justice by killing Alec but in the end is executed. The abbey and Stonehenge, both having religious significance, are places where the injustices Tess faces culminate. She is visibly weak in the henge, when Angel notices that “her breathing now was quick and small, like that of a lesser creature than a woman” and is handed over to her execution.

When we visited Stonehenge, there was a clear divide between those in power (the men working inside of the henge) and the protesters on the outskirts of the sight. Though I didn’t have the chance to converse with the protesters, I did have the opportunity to talk with one of the men securing the henge. He told me that the protesters believed that the henge should be open to the public because that’s how it was intended to be used. Simple as that. It was a religious place to begin with and it should be kept that way. Pagans are only allowed to have complete access to the site only on the summer solstice, which might seem like a liberty, but our tour guide told us that the other significant rituals or holidays throughout the year are celebrated at the other henge in Avebury. The people in power, presumably not Pagans, have decided which part of the religion is important and which part is not. Again we see how the weak are kept weak and powerless while the powerful continue to have all of the power. The workers talked of the protesters as if they were subhuman and completely obsolete, when their message has a point: why should only a select few be able to access the henge? Englishness seems to continuously be inscribed with this unequal distribution of power, both legally and socially.

I felt quite a sense of the sublime all throughout our hour in Stonehenge. The sheer height of the stones took my breathe away; walking up the steps and seeing this immense henge in the middle of nowhere was striking. It truly was overwhelming! The space made me feel powerful and significant, for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s clear that the henge was built to fill you up with it’s importance, so you’d remember it. I’m extremely lucky to have been able to watch the sun rise over Stonehenge!