Friday, July 30, 2010


It's the second-to-last day of my time in the UK.
I slept in a little bit, got up, got ready and headed out the door. I walked over to the Queen's Walk, along the South bank of the Thames, then followed it down a ways. I passed the National Theatre, passed Gabriel's Wharf, and kept walking until I reached the Oxo Tower.
It's now a neat shopping centre/art gallery, but it was originally built for the Oxo company, who wanted to build it in the shape of "Oxo," but was refused under advertisement laws. So instead they built the windows of the tower to spell "Oxo." The company has since gone out of business, but the tower is still there, along with the rest of the building, and it's a local landmark nowadays. I'd heard about the shops, but hadn't really looked around there until today. I enjoyed wandering around and seeing what was there. Only half the stores were open at about 10:00, but it was still an interesting people-watching experience.
Then I continued on my way a bit further down the bank to the Tate Modern. You can see some of the Tate Modern online through an interactive map--in the museum (I testdrove it on a touchscreen) it will let you look at every single artwork that's there, but apparently when you use the same feature on a standard computer outside of the museum it will only show you shots of public areas, not the art. It will still show you which room a certain artist's work is in, but it won't let you actually see the piece. However, if you go to the general Tate collections (not just the Modern, but the others are included), it will let you search by title or artist, and then not only do you get to see what is currently on exhibit, but also you can get a good peek at works by the same artist (if that is what you searched by) that are not currently on display. I liked this, because this time around there was only one Rothko on display, but there are 13 you can look at on the website. That's a win/win to me! My picks of the Modern Tate: an early Alexander Calder mobile from 1932, as well as his Antennae with Red and Blue Dots mobile from 1960. The Rothko I mentioned earlier, Picasso's Bowl of Fruit, Violin and Bottle, Fernand Leger's vividly-colored Still Life with a Beer Mug, Albert Gleizes'  Portrait of Jacques Nayral, which I think has only recently been placed in the gallery, because the website doesn't have anything on its display but I saw it there today. Also, Jacques Mahe de la Villegle's JazzmenMimmo Rotella's  With a Smile (online image unavailable), Andy Warhol's Skulls and
Cow Wallpaper (imagine this one picture times a thousand, covering the walls of an entire gallery room!), Bridget Riley's Fall and To a Summer's Day.
I enjoyed the Tate Modern for the most part (as you can see), but there are some types of Modern art that just plain bother me. While I discovered that I like some Cubism, and some other forms of modern art that traditionalists or purists may scoff at, there was several pieces of art I would have loved to seen marched out the door. The one that bothered me the most today was a film of a woman who covered herself in blood and then "writhed" in feathers (I actually didn't stick around for the feathers, I snubbed it and went on to the next room). Analyzing my reactions to the different types of art provided an interesting thought path as I wandered around the galleries. I think that almost everyone likes classical art because it tends to uplift nature and whatever it depicts, while modern art seems to prefer to delve into what's under the skin and in the mind. When it's done well, modern art (to me at least) prompts whimsy and creativity; displays the beauty of colors, abstract concepts, or forgotten bits of things; stimulates thoughts about the subconscious and the true natures of things and people; or helps thought on other subjects flow. When it's the kind of modern art that I don't like, it tends to be something that's just desperate for attention/recognition, or glorifying in twisting traditions just because, or reveling in the disgusting grittyness of fallen nature. I don't really know too much about art, so if I'm wrong just tell me so, but that's how my mind ran this morning.
Anyway, I not only got lost in the good pieces of art and in my thoughts, at one point I actually did get lost in the gallery and had a hard time finding my way back out! When you've been walking in circles through each room of the gallery to look along the walls, it's much too easy to get turned around. After walking through a few extra doorways, I eventually found the one that led back out to the main hallway, and from there to the outside world again.
By this time it was almost lunch, and I was beginning to get a bit hungry. I had the idea, though, of seeing if I could find a particular eating place. Way back, on the 1st of July, when I was on my first flight, I had asked the stewardess a question, she had looked something up for me about my flight connection, and then she noticed that the flight I was connecting to would be going to London. Melissa (that, if I remember correctly, was her name) was then friendly enough that she recommended a great fish and chips place that she always visits when in London, and drew me a little map of how to get there. Later on, I was looking around in one of my guidebooks (this one was Frommer's London Free & Dirt Cheap) and saw something about the same place, which happened to be relatively nearby. However, I did not always have the combination of available time and willpower to go hunt down Masters Super Fish, so it was only today, when it was somewhat on my way back, that I finally got to go find it. And find it I did! I had a marvelous lunch. I think I was the only non-British person there. I ordered the cod filet, and was surprised (it's been a while since I was in a restaurant) with a basket of bread and three freshly-boiled prawns. When I say fresh, I mean they still had eyes! I tried to nonchalantly peel them, but I did feel somewhat panicked when I got what I think were eggs stuck to my fingers. Thank goodness for napkins. My food arrived quicker than I had expected it to, and was absolutely delicious. The best fish and chips I have ever had. They were evidently somewhat used to some Americans eating there, because they provided me with good-sized bowls of tartar sauce and ketchup, but I actually like to eat my fish with vinegar and my chips (fries) with lemon. Although today it was such a large amount of ketchup provided I felt obliged to use a little, and laughed quietly to myself, thinking how my youngest sibling would react to the bowl of ketchup--he would grab a spoon and eat it all up. I thought it was rather fitting that it was my second-to-last lunch in the UK, because my last lunch in the US had been with my family at Hyman's Seafood Restaurant in Charleston (which is my favorite place to eat in Charleston). It was almost a coming-full-circle kind of thing.
Tonight is the program-wide Research Symposium. I'm not quite sure what I think of that, because on the one hand I'm curious to see what different people have been researching, and on the other hand I've heard it will be several hours long.
Tomorrow is The Last Day. I'll be in here in the morning, doing the online Final Exam and touching up the blog a bit, but then before 1:00 I have to turn in my card that gives me access to the computer room. I will be spending most of the day packing, with one excursion out to the National Gallery for a viewing of "Last Holiday." This is not the cute romantic comedy starring Queen Latifah (which I enjoy), but a Janus film which I have not seen before from the '50s starring Alec Guinness. I think it was what inspired the more recent film, though, because the main characters' names are way too similar otherwise (Alec Guiness plays George Bird, QL plays Georgia Bird). My friends were rather amused at how excited I am about this--what can I say? I like old films, I like the National Gallery and I like it when neat activities only cost £4. The rest of the day will be spent packing, and then I will make sure I go to bed early tomorrow night.
Sunday morning I will get up bright and early, take care of the last few details and leave for the airport at 6 AM. My flight out of Heathrow leaves around 10, I land in Dallas and hang around there for a bit, then take one last flight from Dallas to Charleston, arriving there at around 10 PM South Carolina time. This might not seem like such a big day until you consider the time difference. I will be leaving for the airport at 1 AM South Carolina time, and arriving at 10 PM South Carolina time. I think I'm going to take a nap at some point, don't you?
In all probability I might not post again until I am back home in South Carolina. Keep checking after Sunday, though, because I will be uploading my pictures from the trip.
It's been a great experience blogging for you; I hope you have enjoyed reading.
Images are from Wikipedia

Thursday, July 29, 2010


Well, I just typed up the last official post for this blog. Not the last post, obviously, just the last official post, for my class.
I am satisfied with my last Thursday of the trip.
This morning I got up early-ish (7 something), joined the rest of the class on time at 8:45 AM, and we all headed out to the Maughan Library (notice the previous post). It was a very entertaining walk--well, to start with we were told we could either take a bus or walk, and only some of us really like the buses, so a bunch of us just started walking. It was only when we were across one of the bridges and a good ways along when we realized that no one really knew where we were going. Instead of the blind leading the blind, it was the clueless leading the clueless. Then someone remembered the approximate street address or intersection to look for, so we all just started walking in that direction. We got there.
Afterwards, we all wandered down to a certain historic pub on the Strand for lunch. It is the pub that's inbetween a certain infamous barber shop and a bakery (if I tell you it's on Fleet Street, and there's tunnels underground between the two buildings, do you know what I'm talking about?). I must admit I ate something vegetarian for this meal, but a friend ate the house special meat pie, and said it was delicious. I'm not actually kidding, these facts at least are true.
Since my talk tomorrow evening was cancelled, I was invited to present a few surprise gifts from the class to our wonderful TA, Jamie. I must admit I wasn't actually sure exactly what I was going to say until I got up to say it, but it seemed to turn out all right and I got a few laughs and a "good job" from Dr. Welsh.
After lunch, I dropped back by my room to switch shoes (I had foolishly started out wearing the same shoes as yesterday, which began to rub) and then met one of my friends at the National Gallery. The National Gallery is one of the most amazing art museums I have been to, and not just because it is free (although that's really cool!). Today I saw Vincent van Gogh's "Sunflowers," da Vinci's "Virgin and Child with St. Anne and St. John the Baptist," which  may not sound familiar but you've seen it, and surprised me today as I turned a corner. And besides those pictures you've seen on postcards, there's even more awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping art that you might not have heard of. I started taking down names so I could share them with you. There's Jospeh Mallord William Turner, who does amazing paintings that seem cool enough --and then you look closer and see even more details. Alright, I just saw the clock, so I'm just going to name names now, with links to the National Gallery's website (you can explore the collections from home too!). Elizabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun, Thomas Gainsborough, William Hogarth (his Marriage a la Mode series is hilarious), Joachim Beuckelaer (her Four Seasons paintings are exquisite), Parmigianino, Pieter Saenredam (amazing architectural paintings!). Then there was an amazing exhibition called "Close Examination: Fakes, Mistakes and Discoveries," which let you in on the secrets of "the science of paintings."
After we had picked our jaws up off the floor, my friend and I made our way over to Charing Cross Road and wandered in and out of the many marvelous bookshops. I didn't think I would buy anything, unless I came across my white hind of books, "The Lark" by Edith Nesbit, but I did find something that the musicians of my family will enjoy and a nice antique copy of a hard-to-find P.G. Wodehouse.
I had planned to go see The Railway Children with the other person who was interested in it, but the tickets available were above our price level of interest, so instead we had a picnic dinner of food from the wonderful grocery store we both love.
Here's something neat I discovered today: read this entry from a wonderful devotional book (My Utmost for His Highest) while listening to this music, which doesn't know of the book's existence ("Cumulus," by Imogen Heap). It made a wonderful restful moment for me.
Well, it's time for me to wrap up my blogging and head to bed. Goodnight.
This image is something I threw together for fun.

King's College: Maughan Library

Since we have been staying in some of King's College's dorms (which they rent out during the summer), and using their computer labs and some of their classrooms, we were very excited to go to one of the other campuses of King's College and visit the Maughan Library (sounds like Monn). The Maughan Library is located in the Strand campus of King's college, which is the only non-health-related site of King's College, and the only one North of the Thames (which, if I haven't mentioned before, is pronounced the same as Tim's). The Maughan Library is housed in the former Public Record Office (which eventually became the National Archives and moved to another location), built in 1851. It is a grade II historical building, which can be a bit difficult when you need to do something like switch out the entrance/exit hall equipment for better security measures. The building, renovated when the Maughan Library moved in, has 1,000 reading places, 330 computer places, and 3/4 million items (they know that specific number very well, because they ended up having to count every item by hand!). It is not a public library, but anyone who has a serious need is welcome to use it. The library is constantly evaluating itself and changing to fit readers' needs and wants, most recently with free wireless and social seating areas for student groups to work together. Librarians are about to begin a practice of roving the halls to answer questions and in general be helpful, smiling faces--they can't wait to see what students will think of it.
Image from the Maughan Library Wikipedia page.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

What I did on Wednesday

I'm in the last few days of this study abroad experience--can you believe it?
Things as they are, each day is doubly precious--I wake up and wonder, What shall I do with my last Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday in the UK? Since you are taking the trouble of reading this, you are very likely wondering with me, and are more than ready for me to just tell you.
Monday, as I might have put down before, was mainly occupied with moving back into my dorm room (such small space was never before appreciated as when it was my very own, all to myself!) and running a few errands, which delineated into Covent Garden Market, which as it turns out is an antique market on Mondays. Considering all the ironies I have had on this trip, it of course makes sense that I found this out on my last Monday. Don't worry, I'm laughing (quietly, as this is a No Sound Zone computer lab) as I type. Anywho, I'm mentioning this because I found an amazingly intact girls' reading magazine from 1906! If that wasn't amazing enough, its price (£1) made my jaw drop. So that, and blogging like crazy to get caught up on posting (since all y'all are actually reading this, I had a quilty conscience about being so late!) was my Monday.
Tuesday was...what was Tuesday? Ah, yes. Tuesday was our first class meeting back, finding out that morning that I was going to be talking at a Research symposium Friday night, and after that figuring out what my topic would be. Trying to get as much research done as possible, catching up on email. And the really neat trip to the Royal Geographic Society, about which I have just written.
Wednesday (today) was making myself sleep until a certain time (I was excited enough that I kept waking up, well that and the seagulls were up and I'd forgotten my earplugs at first), then getting up and getting around very quickly. I set out for Camden Town, aka the Goths/Hippies/Whatever hangout of London, the kind of place that can be cool to visit for a bit but you wouldn't want to live in or near. I'm pretty sure a valid clearance deal there would be something like buy two comical t-shirts, get a pair of fuzzy handcuffs at halfprice. The reason that I went there today was that there was a certain t-shirt that was actually both funny and clean --in a movie rating sort of way, I mean, although there were some funky fragrances in the area-- that I'm pretty sure you couldn't find anywhere else.
Then I made my way over to the Strand, where the Twinings (tea) store is located, and as a matter of fact has been located for about 300 years and counting. I had my list from various family members, and had fun poking around the store and looking at all the teas available before making my purchases.
After that, it was further down the same Tube line and around to Baker Street, where I visited the home of a certain literary detective. Those who wish to visit The Sherlock Holmes Museum, be forewarned that a wait outside will, in all probability, be involved. How it works is that you go inside the msueum shop (located next to the museum itself) and purchase your ticket there, then join the nice long queue outside the museum. I think I spent just as much time waiting outside as I did in the museum, but it's for good reasons--the museum is in a real lodging-house from the era of Sherlock Holmes, and as such is rather small and can only fit so many people at a time. Meanwhile, while you are waiting there's such amusements as others in line (I overheard a young girl arguing with her mother something about "obviously" Sherlock Holmes must be real, since there was a museum dedicated to him) and the guard at the door (dressed as a period policeman) is equipped with Sherlock Holmes hat and pipe for photo opportunities, as well as a Watson bowler if there's two of you. I enjoyed my visit very much.
After a quick watch check, I made my way over to Covent Garden and hunted down its movie theater, or if you want to ask a local for directions, cinema. I made it with five minutes to spare for a playing of "The Rebound," a romantic comedy starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Justin Bartha. If the guy's name doesn't ring a bell, he's the one who played Nic Cage's sidekick Reilly in "National Treasure." Still can't see the two of them together? That's the point of the movie, which was surprisingly good. You can tell it was made for the UK (more cursewords and references to couple's intimacy), but it wasn't the average rom-com plot line (in a good way). The ending is a happily ever after, as it should be, but I couldn't tell how the actual resolution would occur until it actually happened.
As you are skimming over all that I have described so far, you might notice one important detail missing: lunch. This is because it was only after the movie, when I was trying to figure out why exactly I was feeling kind of light-headed, that I realized (at a little bit before 5) that the last time I had eaten was breakfast. Those who know me know I'm not the type to skip meals randomly; I had honestly forgotten, and my stomach had never gotten hungry and reminded me. I quickly remedied the omission with a filling early dinner, and have been feeling better and better ever since.
After that it was back to the computer lab for email and blogging, and finding out that I will not be speaking after all on Friday. I'm looking forward to being a member of the audience, and learning about what everyone else has been looking up.
And here is where I must conclude, for it is where my Wednesday concludes as well. Goodnight.
This image is something I just did for fun on Paint :) If I had a personal logo, it might be a swirl like this.

The Royal Geographic Society (July 27)

I hadn't been sure what to expect of our visit to the Royal Geographic Society, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. We were led by Eugene Rae, the Librarian of the Society, through various parts of the Society's house, library and history.
The RGS originated in 1830, and was originally located in facilities on Saville Road, only moving to its current location in 1870. As the society has grown, so has its buildings, with an extension in 1929 (including a theater for its ongoing lecture series) and a new reading room and reorganization in 2004.
Even those who are clueless when it comes to maps and geography may be familiar with one particular member (and current president) of the RGS: Michael Palin, former Python and lifelong avid traveller.
Anyone who is interested in the field of Geography is invited to become a member of the RGS. Even if you are not a member, you may come in and use the library and its reading room. According to Mr. Rae, library users include "Academics, members of the Society, writers, artists, those interested in family research [though not very many, because there's not much paperwork for most members, just the more illustrious ones]...Anyone at all, really." In fact, because of the type of funding recieved to build the 2004 extensions, the RGS not only is very open to the public coming in and using the society's facilities, but also they are required to reach certain numbers of people within a set period of time.
What else was entailed by the 2004 renovations and extensions? Instead of many different somewhat independent departments (one for maps, another for books, a third for get the idea), all of the former departments are sharing the same space and "working in harmony," learning a little bit of everything so that they can all do at least the basics of each department. "And that's good, because we can all take holidays now."
How many materials are in the RGS' collections? In total, 2 million; this breaks down to approximately more than a million maps (unsurprisingly, one of the largest map collections in the world); half a million images (everything from photographs to postcards, lantern slides, glass negatives, paintings, watercolors, etc.); 250,000 books and periodicals; and a lot of correspondence, expedition plans, the special collections, and other archival materials. Oh, and the RGS also has a collection of 1500 artifact objects, which are not museum items --the Society does not want to be viewed as backwards-looking, but instead always looking to the next horizon-- to be specific, as our guide was, the artifacts are Research Objects.
What Research Objects do the collections contain? David Livingstone's hat which he was wearing at the infamous meeting with Henry Morton Stanley on the shores of Lake Tanganyika ("Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"). Funnily enough, they also have Stanley's hat that he was wearing on the same occasion. They also have the rather worn-our shoes that Stanley was wearing when he made his journey of 999 days following the Congo river to prove that the Nile did not come from Lake Victoria (as Livingstone had thought). Other objects vary, from the boot that had belonged to one of the first climbers of Mt. Everest in the '20s, who was found once again (frozen solid) in the '90s, to other items associated with various explorations, successful and/or fatal. The greatest irony of all is that since many of these items are iconic and have often been borrowed by various world institutions for exhibitions, many of them have traveled even more and farther than their original owners did.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

My Fun Research Project

Guess what? There's a program-wide Research Symposium this Friday, and I'm speaking in it! The really fun part? I learned about that this morning, before I had a definite research topic nailed down.
I do have my topic put together now, though: a cultural analysis of Libraries, looking at them through literature and film. As you can tell, I'm still working on a title--if you have a good idea, let me know.
It should be a fun topic to research--I already know of several things to look into. I'm looking at both libraries and their librarians, so that includes some of the stuff I was looking at in my previous topic, as well as such wonderful treats as the Music Man's Marian the Librarian, Monty Python's Gorilla Librarian, and the more recent classic, Librarians Do Gaga (a library-themed spoof of "Poker Face"). If you're curious about the image shown here, it's the official Librarian Action Figure.
I'm considering making a timeline of cultural associations of libraries and their librarians, beginning with the age-old stereotypes of dull repositories haunted by ancient bun-wearing glasses-toting spinsters who shush (Ghostbusters, anyone?), and ending with a recently published idea that libraries are the next big pop-culture trend (at least, according to NPR). How did such a big transition occur? I'm not quite sure--I'd add that question to my Research Questions, but I don't expect to actually find the answer.
Know of any more movies, books, quotes, or pretty much anything to do with libraries and their librarians? Send it my way!

Monday, July 26, 2010


During my minibreak I was able to take two daytrips into Oxford, and enjoyed every minute of them.
If you think I'm holding some things back from the blog, you are very astute. Since I do not like publishing too much personal information on the world wide web, I will not post about the friends I stayed with during minibreak or what we did together, because I think that would be violating their privacy. If you know me personally I will be happy to "dish" on more details that I'm not posting as soon as I return home on August 1st--well, and maybe had some sleep, it'll be late when I actually arrive, and I will have been up for almost 20 hours straight at that point.
So, anywho, back to what I am posting about.... OXFORD!
I have just recently discovered (with help from friends) the great system known as the Oxford Tube. Savvy people may know that "the tube" is local slang for the metro system of London, but the Oxford Tube is a series of buses which run back and forth between London and Oxford 24/7 for pretty good prices and happens to be only slightly slower than (much more expensive) trains running the same basic route. It also happens to be air-conditioned, with storage space for luggage. The only drawbacks are that it's a red  doubledecker--not a drawback in of itself, just harder to spot with similar-looking buses everywhere-- and that it isn't necessarily on time with its ideal timetable, because it does take time to load people onto the bus when they're each buying their own ticket.
So on Friday and Saturday I made my way over to Victoria Station and the Oxford Tube stop located on a nearby streetcorner, bought my ticket (first time I was forgetful and got an Adult same-day return, second day I remembered to get a Student same-day return), then made my way to a comfy seat and settled in for the ride. Both days I dozed off on the way in, missing about half the trip on Friday and almost all of it on Saturday--but apparently I've inherited my dad's knack for waking up right before arriving at the destination, so it was okay. I hopped off at the stop closest to wherever I wanted to go, and started into my day.
On Friday, I was determined to get some good research done. Those who have read the very first posts will know that I was hoping to write a research paper on the Oxford Univeristy libraries as seen through literature and film. After researching thoroughly on Friday, I am now looking at other options for my research paper topic. I'll let you know what I'm researching once I have talked it over with my profs and definitely decided. The highlight of Friday was the moment I was handed my very own Bodleian Library Reader's Card! I had a really hard time not giggling my way out of the admissions office, but I was trying to act like a serious adult researcher --which I am, when I haven't just been handed a key to one of my most favorite (and one of the most famous) libraries in the world-- so I just barely managed.
Saturday was my fun day. I made my way through the Ashmolean Museum (which is like the British Museum's older and less flashy, but still just as substantial brother) and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History (which I have to admit was really good, even though my original aim in entering was just to see the Oxford Dodo). Inbetween I walked down to Alice's Shop in hopes of procuring a box of Mad Hatter tea, but the queue to just get in the building was filling the block, and the last box had just been grabbed. I also visited the Eagle and Child Pub, also known as the Bird and Baby and the common meeting place of The Inklings (JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, and Charles Williams). Unfortunately for me, I arrived at the height of the lunch rush, so the place was stuffed to the gills with people, and more were coming in every moment. I weighed my options and ate my lunch elsewhere, content with my viewing of the Rabbit Room where the Inklings had met. When not occupied in a museum or literary pilgrimage (yes, Oxford is the main namesake of this blog) I simply breathed in Oxford and took a few extra pictures to look back upon.
As for today, Monday, July 26th, it was a simple day. I moved back into my room at Stamford Street, blogged a good bit, ran a few small errands--mainly procuring fruit to eat for breakfast, although I did manage to snag a girls' reading magazine from September 1906 for £1. My last Monday in the UK was short and sweet.
I now count myself fully caught up on this blog (for now at least). More adventures tomorrow!
Image from the Oxford Wikipedia page

An American in Edinburgh

Wait, you might ask, If there was nothing to do with the program for a week, what did I do with myself?
Well, first of all, I slept in. After leaving at 6:00 AM Sunday morning, and class gatherings at 8:30 or 9:00 on both Monday and Tuesday, it felt really good to sleep in 'til about 8:30 on Thursday. I then allowed myself to get up and around leisurely, occupying myself with preliminary packing and other pursuits until 9:30. Then I grabbed my raincoat and my bag and had a quick jaunt down to the village Dalkeith to eat breakfast and (this will sound silly) procure a couple of small stuffed elephants wearing kilts. They are absolutely adorable elephants, and they are wearing kilts from Scotland, so I refuse to be ashamed (you are laughing with me, right?).
I was being very strategic with all of this, even if it is silly. Dalkeith is a small enough place that pretty much everything is only open from 9:30-4:30, with the lone exceptions of the grocery stores, which are closed by 8:00. Since we always left around 8:30 or 9:00 each morning and got back at the earliest around dinner time, this was somewhat frustrating, not only to those who wanted to buy groceries, but also to those who just really wanted elephants (aka me). So being able to go into a Dalkeith store for the first time of the trip was an added bonus to sleeping in.
I only took enough time to deposit the elephants back in my room with my other things (I think you'll understand that I did not want to carry a bunch of elephants around all day, even if they were cute and wearing kilts) and brush my teeth before I headed back out, this time to Edinburgh.
I caught the bus into Edinburgh, got off, walked around to the train station, and caught another bus, this one headed out East to a part of town known as Holyrood. Believe it or not, I did not go to Holyrood because it's where the Scottish Parlaiment resides in a building that will keep tongues wagging for some time (not in a good way). I went to Holyrood to see the Palace, where the Queen resides when in Scotland, and the Abbey ruins that are on the Palace grounds, and the pretty Park that surrounds both the Palace and the Abbey. I also stayed in Holyrood for a piece of freshly made Scottish shortbread, but that's another story. I made my way through the modern parts of the palace, wondering if they just removed the crowd lines when the Queen is in residence or if there were other differences. Then I climbed a pair of winding stairs and found myself in the domicile that belonged to Mary, Queen of Scots. Not only were her bedchambers on display, but also examples of needlework that she made while awaiting trial and a lock of her hair that was presented to Queen Victoria. After descending down another flight of sprial stairs, this one thankfully being wide, I found myself in the ruins of the abbey. I had hoped that it would be in the same condition as the Dunfermline Abbey (if you missed my description of that earlier, check out the post "What I did for fun in Scotland"), but alas all that was left of this one was the Nave. Curiously enough, although the abbey dated from the 12th century and had been ruins for quite some time, it was evidently a popular place for stone memorials and even a few burials during the late 19th century. From the open doorway of the abbey the park was visible, so I wandered through it for a while. I've heard that every Spring the Queen holds a tea party there, and I can imagine it to be a very pretty one, with all the flora and fauna.
After my wanderings were concluded, I made my way back to the bus stop and caught the bus back into the center of Edinburgh. When I asked two elderly ladies if they knew an easy way to get to the Museum of Scotland, they didn't know themselves but wanted to help me so badly they not only discussed the different options amongst themselves and anyone else waiting at the stop, but also made a point of asking the bus driver. By their help and encouragement, I knew not only precisely which stop to get off at, but also the location of a stop for the bus I wanted to catch. While waiting for the bus, I peeked into the nearby Museum of Childhood, and an Indian store that was having a marvelous sale. Then I caught my bus and took it down to the National Museum of Scotland, which is possibly the same entity as the Royal Museum, although I am not entirely sure about that. They are, at any point, housed in the same building, which is partly open and partly under renovation. It of course features several exhibits on the general history of Scotland, but also surprisingly has a little bit of everything else as well. They did a great job of integrating activities for younger audiences into their spaces, such as dress-up areas near cases which held magnificent old clothing from all parts of the world. I was really surprised at how much material they owned from all parts of the globe--more than once I wondered, "and how did this end up in Scotland?!?" For instance, in the gift shop, I found out that there is evidently a papyrus farm rather near Edinburgh, which supplies the museum store with a good supply. I also had an elephant alert, as at the end of an exhibition showing the variety of exhibits that will be available after renovation there was The First Known Example of Taxidermy, a small juvenile elephant which is from what has since then been discovered to be a second subspecies of African Elephant, which is smaller and prefers forests to plains. I'm almost beginning to expect elephants wherever I go, at this rate.
I helped close up the museum at about 5:00, then walked up the long stretch back to the bus stop I wanted. Since this was the longest stretch of walking for the entire day (I had been trying to give my legs a rest when possible), it of course had to rain. Thankfully, I pretty much lived in my raincoat while I was in Scotland, so I was well prepared. I just discovered that the shoes I was wearing had less grip than they used to (they're really comfy shoes I've used for a few years now), so I avoided going downhill and almost skated to my bus stop.
After I got off in Dalkeith, I headed over to the pub where we first ate on Sunday evening (it's one of the few places open at the hour of 6:00). There I had the curious experience of getting hit upon by someone quite possibly three times my age. Thankfully, I bumped into some friends who invited me to join them at their table, so I had a pleasant dinner after all. Then I walked back down to the house, got almost everything packed up, and went to bed.
The next morning I got up before 6:00, got about and finished packing. My goal was to leave around 7:00 or 7:15, and it was at 6:57 that I dropped my key in the waiting box and headed out the door. I rolled my suitcase all the way up the hill and through town to the bus stop, caught a bus pretty quickly, and rode all the way in to the train station in the middle of town. I picked up my tickets, hung around for a bit to eat breakfast, then caught my train back to London, where I stayed for a few friends whom I shall leave nameless on this blog (if they are reading this, I cannot say Thank You enough!). My next post shall pick up on my daytripping adventures to Oxford during minibreak. But first I am taking a "minibreak" from the computer lab and am going to go grab something to eat!
This image courtesy of Microsoft ClipArt

That's How we, Walk

It was very surreal after we finished at the National Archives of Scotland. It was the last official item on our agenda, so we were officially free to go. The next time we'd be expected to show up anywhere by the program would be a week later to the day. Some people were heading back to sleep, others were heading out of town, but I and a few others were going on a walking tour. I had been quietly slipped a piece of paper which contained the details on when and where to meet, but that was in a couple hours' time and I was hungry. It just so happened that as I was looking for a place to eat, my prof Dr. Welsh was looking for someone who'd be willing to accompany her to the Hard Rock Cafe. So we made our way over and had ourselves a good American dinner. I am the type of person who makes a point of avoiding McDonald's, Pizza Hut and KFC when in foreign lands, but I could not resist the temptation of Hard Rock Cafe. I had actually thought of at least stopping in at the one in Edinburgh before, because it's a small tradition in my family to acquire a t-shirt from the Hard Rock Cafe. So I was more than happy to join Dr. Welsh. I had a great big Cobb salad with Ranch dressing! After being used to two leaves drizzled with vinaigrette counting as a side salad, I was very happy with my meal. It was neat to see some original David Bowie albums framed on the walls. I learned that Dr. Welsh loves the 80s, which surprised me a bit.
After dinner, Dr. Welsh went her way and I went mine, as soon as I figured out what that was. Edinburgh is somewhat split into two locales: New Town (which isn't that new) and Old Town (which is really old). The Hard Rock Cafe is located smack dab in the middle of New Town. Our walking tour was meeting at a place on the Royal Mile, the tourist mecca of Old Town. So I was very glad that I had purchased a map earlier, and that the locals were very friendly to wandering Americans.
Don't worry, though, I found my way to the assigned meeting place without too much trouble. I got there, in fact, about 15 minutes early. So I chose a bench to sit down and rest while I could, took out my handy dandy little journal, and people-watched. An American bloke with a guitar began to busk (which is what it's called when someone performs to earn money in a public place), but I only saw one person actually give him anything, and I'm pretty sure that the teen was doing it on a dare from friends. My friends who were also taking part in the walking tour arrived, so I left my bench and joined them.
"Do you think if we gave him money he'd stop?" one of them asked about the busker. He had by now launched into what was apparently suppposed to be a ballad of some sort, and it was making it hard to think. Only half of the planned number had arrived, so one person stayed at the meeting place while the others (me included) continued up the street to meet our guide. She was a rosy Scot who introduced herself as Sam, and proceeded to entertain us with stories of her kids and cats until our final member arrived and confirmed that it would be just the 6 of us instead of the planned number of 12. This raised the price per person a bit, but we paid up and started the tour. Sam guided us in and out of streets, backstreets, and alleyways, stopping at something that might seem ordinary and explaining its significance and stories. Do you know the nursery rhyme "Pat a Cake"?
"Roll it, and pat it, and mark it with a B, and throw it in the oven for baby and me!"
It turns out that in early Edinburgh most people were not allowed to have ovens in their houses for fear of fire, so each housewife would make her dough, mark it with some personal sign to identify it, and then take it to the baker to be baked. We learned about how early architecture almost always stuck staircases on the outside, so that it wouldn't use up any precious inside space. We also heard the story of one unfortunate lady who rented a room in Edinburgh and didn't tell anyone she was pregnant or book a midwife. She probably just wanted her privacy, but in those days, they took it as a sign that the lady meant to kill the baby. When the baby didn't survive (the tight stays of the day's fashions were to blame), this was taken as proof and the lady was declared guilty and taken to be hanged. She was hanged all right, but the hanging didn't break her neck, just suffocated her, so when the cart started down the hill to bury her the bumping of the road started her heart back up. Since she had been officially executed already, they couldn't try to do so again without losing face, so they just let the poor lady go. She was known as Half-Hanged Mary for the rest of her life, and there's a pub named after her now. You just don't hear stories like that from a guidebook, do you?
Image from Microsoft ClipArt, color palette edited by me, and dots added by me.

Right-O! (National Archives of Scotland, July 20)

The National Archives of Scotland are quite impressive, comprised of 3 buildings, 140 staff (both archivists and civil servants), and 8 websites. They were more than ready when we arrived, escorting us to a fully-prepared room that had seats for all of us, a powerpoint presentation ready to start, and some tables set out with items from their special collections for us to view. The program (or programme, to use the UK spelling), was that we would all see the powerpoint presentation and then split into two groups. The first group would recieve a tour of the building, the second would get to look through the old documents (with the provided white gloves, of course); then the two groups would switch. When both groups had their turn, it would be late enough (around 4:30 was I think the estimated time) for the private researchers to have packed up and headed home, so then we could be escorted through the research room and see how it worked before we finished up and went on our way. I do love it when people are organized!
The National Archives of Scotland has two main goals: to preserve, protect and promote the nation's records; and to provide the best inclusive & accessible archive that educates, informs & engages the people of Scotland & the world. They have 70 kilometers of shelving's worth of records, which spans from the 12th century to the 21st. They have access to wills from 1500-1901, but have to often remind personal history researchers that not everyone during that time period had wills, just the people who had things to leave behind to someone. They maintain not only their own website, but also that of the National Register of Archives for Scotland, the Scottish Archive Network, a site offering online tuition in deciphering historic Scottish Handwriting, the national repository known as, The Scottish Register of Tartans (not only are there Tartans for the Scottish families, but there are also Tartans for distinct causes, such as Historical Scotland and a memorial Tartan for Lady Di),, and one of the largest online sources of genealogical information, ScotlandsPeople. It is also affiliated with the ARCHON directory of record repositories, and the Archives Hub. As if that wereen't enough to keep anyone busy, they also take care of in-house researchers and have multitudes of paper materials. When it was my group's turn to inspect the selections by our guide, we weren't disappointed. Some moved around to see as much as possible, but I must admit I was too engrossed in an original paper from 1802 documenting the year's imports and exports to and from Spain and America to wander too much, although I did have fun flipping through an upper class family's handwritten cookbook from the 18th century. How often do you get to hold and look through documents older than your native country?
Image from the Wikipedia page for the National Archives of Scotland

What I did for Fun in Scotland :)

I am now moved back into Stamford Street, so the blog posts will (hopefully) be coming out quickly and be all the way through Edinburgh, mini-break, and the return to Stamford Street by sometime tonight. Well, tonight London time. I'm not so avid a blogger that I will sacrifice sleep just to get some more posts out.
After our visit to the Dunfermline Carnegie Library described in the last post, we had an hour before our big coach (bus) was scheduled to pick us up in Dunfermline and take us in to Edinburgh. I already knew what I wanted to do. I don't think I mentioned this previously, but we'd had a little bit of time (about half an hour) between our arrival in Dunfermline and the time that we had scheduled for our visit to the Carnegie library. Some people went shopping, some hunted down coffee (a few of us are the type that could be described as Instant Human--Just Add Coffee), and I was with a few other people who stumbled onto the local churchyard. Next to the church and its graveyard was the magnificent ruins of an abbey. Dunfermline Abbey dates back to the 11th or 12th century, and it's absolutely amazing to see what is still left of it. I saw a door and started to wander in when a lady appeared and informed me that a ticket was required to walk through the ruins. The fee was only £3.75, which I would have gladly paid then, except I did only have a half hour of available time. So I said I'd be back later, and spent the rest of my time walking in the nearby area, finding memorials to WWI and WWII soldiers and other interesting sights. This is why, as soon as we were released and told we had a full hour before the bus arrived, I made a beeline back to the abbey.
I and a friend paid our entry fee, I bought a booklet about the abbey as well, and we made our way through the ruins. I think it was one of my most favorite things of the month. I took plenty of pictures, and will be more than happy to post them after my return. Dunfermline Abbey was also a Palace, and, unbeknownst to me until now, is one of Scotland's most important cultural sites. It is also one of the most prominent burial places of Scottish royals. It is also, generally speaking, simply amazing. The entrance fee lets you crawl all over it, from the two original stone spiral staircases to the old storage caverns. You can see where chimneys used to be, and some of them are still open all the way through to the sky. Some of the architectural details are still in place, while others have faded over the centuries. I am still in awe of it, and the time flew quickly before it was time to hop back on the bus and head into Edinburgh.
Image from the Wikipedia page for Dunfermline Palace, because they didn't have a decent picture for the Dunfermline Abbey and it is the same building pretty much.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Dunfermline Carnegie Library (Tuesday, July 20)

Our first visit on Tuesday was to the town of Dunfermline, located in Fife, on the other side of the Firth of Forth. That's almost a tongue-twister. However, we were not visiting to give our tongues exercise, we were there because Dunfermline is the hometown of Andrew Carnegie, and as such is also home to the first Carnegie library.
The Dunfermline Carnegie Library consists of many different departments, all housed in the same building, with the original Carnegie-built portion in the middle and a number of extensions to complement the library's growth throughout the years. It has an intriguing history. First opened in 1883, it was an immediate success-- by the end of the first day all the books available had been lent out. It is still a busy part of the community. The Local and Family History Library, with collections including ordinance survey maps, old photographs, vintage postcards, and census records dating back to 1841, is almost always busy. However, the librarians have noticed that there is always a further increased surge of interest after each episode of the TV show Who Do You Think You Are?, shown on both BBC and NBC. The filing system of the Local & Family History Room is one that was designed specifically for the collection, called DULCIMER, or the Dunfermline Electric Method of Retrieval. The majority of the collection is housed in the first climate-controlled room that we have come across in all of our tours. Since the Dunfermline library was not the largest or most prestigious institute we have visited, this was somewhat amusing to us, and amazed the librarians when we mentioned it. Then it was time for us to say goodbye to the Local and Family History and its librarians, and make our way to the Special Collections Room. The majority of the room's collections are dedicated to the Robert Burns collection, of the poet sometimes called "Scotland's favorite son" who was also the favorite obsession of a number of collectors who bequeathed their private collections to the library. It's also the annual meeting place of a Robert Burns fan club, who gather to read poetry and lay a wreath by one of the busts.
A funny thing that we noticed upon looking around is that almost every single picture featured Burns looking in the same direction. The librarian explained that it was because there is one portrait that has been called the most like RB, and in that one he was facing that direction, so all the copies that have been made ever since of course showed him facing that same way.
After this it was time for us to see other parts of the library, to include the children's room (which everyone loved, because of its bright colors and all the cute kids enjoying themselves) and the more general rooms of the library which held the bigger collections of Reference and Fiction. We also learned of some of the special programs running at the library, such as the Prescription for Books program, where someone may go to their doctor and be given a prescription for a book on a certain medical condition. This program has just recently been extended into the children's room as well. There's also the Beating the Blues computer program, a quiet, private program which acts as a therapist for a number of conditions, which has been found to be very successful.
More Edinburgh (and mini-break) adventures on the way! I'll be posting them tomorrow, so keep reading!
Pictures from the respective Wikipedia pages of the subjects, Andrew Carnegie and Robert Burns

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Edinburgh's Central Library (Monday, July 19)

After our jaunt described in the last post, me and a few others made our way to the Elephant House, a nearby cafe that looked attractive to all in the group, although for different reasons. My friends wanted to see "The Birthplace Of Harry Potter," and I just wanted to see how elephant-y it was. It had elephants everywhere, great hot chocolate and a view of the castle to boot.
 While we were sipping our various beverages, someone nearby mentioned that the graveyard that was also visible from the window was the site where the author of Harry Potter had found many names she used in her books. So of course we all had to troop down and see if we could find those names. It was Greyfriars cemetery, well-known to many for the story of Greyfriars Bobby, the dog so faithful to his master that he stayed by the man's grave until his own death many years later. I looked at the Greyfriars Bobby memorial and grave, then meandered my way through the rest of the peaceful churchyard. My friends didn't find the main name they were looking for, but they apparently did find at least a name that was used in the Harry Potter series.
After this we made our way back up the hill, and the group split up into those who were interested in shopping and those who were ready to eat lunch before our next tour. I was of the latter group. A sudden drenching downpour didn't dampen our spirits, although it did dampen our shoes, and we eventually found a place that had some available tables inside and had a pleasant lunch. Then it was time to head over to Edinburgh's Central Library.
At the Central Library we received our warmest welcome yet. We were escorted down to a conference room area that had a screen and powerpoint ready to go, with a number of staff ready to brief us on various aspects of the library and a fleet of tea cups ready to be filled with either tea or coffee. We were shown the library's work in expanding into a virtual library online (they even have their own blog!), the development of many readers programs, and the library's continuing efforts in their conservation of their special collections. The Central Library is always at work in growing into the 21st century and its online and virtual world, with a portal to online services, a blog (which is linked in earlier), databases of local information, and Capital Collections, an online compendium of over 3,500 images. We learned about the benefits of being a library on Twitter, such as being able to respond to tweeted feedback from patrons, and the benefits of being able to post a "mystery picture" online that no one knows about and have locals identify where the picture was taken and other unknown details. When it comes to reaching out to their readers, the Central Library is tireless. They recently upped their crime fiction collection because "We asked our readers what they wanted, and they said 'More Crime!'" They've also begun circulating staff through more training programs to optimize their efforts with readers, such as Opening the Book, promoting a reader-centered approach for libraries. Other efforts involve working with younger readers to help them understand that reading can be fun--fixing what was dubbed the "spinach or cake" dilemma of the tendency to emphasize that reading is "good for you" (spinach) and missing the pleasure that can be derived from it (cake). The Central Library is devoted to its Special Collections too, with books from the 15th century to the present. They never throw books out. We learned that when it comes to working on preservation on a tight budget, there's one word that is an excellent guide: Justify (why?). We were let in on the secrets of red printing (which shows that the book was of a very good quality) and the fact that you can tell about the book's history just by looking at its binding.
Then it was time for our tour of the Central Library. It was opened in 1890, and is the only public library with an area devoted to Scotland that is actually in Scotland. There has been an added interest in genealogy and family history since the premiere of the TV show Who Do you Think you Are?, which the librarians often enjoy as much as the readers do. The Central Library has a good DVD collection, but in the age of Blockbuster and Netflix they try to maintain a collection of the classics ("more Casablanca than Casino Royale") and leave the newer items to the rest of the world. While some would think that patrons might get annoyed about this, in reality they really enjoy getting to borrow the classics, which would usually be harder to find. Another intriguing quirk of the Central Library in the harder-to-find category is their amazing collections of materials in other languages, to include Gaelic. We walked by an area highlighting a book with a familiar-looking redhead that was titled "Dalek of Green Gables."
More posts on the way, Monday at the latest! Thanks for reading :)
Image used in this post is ClipArt.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Good Morning, Scotland! & the National Library of Scotland

The first morning in Scotland (Monday, July 19) I successfully got up when my alarm went off (without waking however many of my 5 roommates who were still asleep), got around, and was headed out the door with some others at about 8:30 am. The reason for this is that the rendezvous point for our class that day was 9:00 at the bus stop, and it is a little walk into town (okay, village) and to the bus stop. We found we had overestimated the time, so a few of us stopped in at various places and grabbed a bite to eat--one of us found a bakery that sold a bag of small donuts for £1, and it was a large enough bag that it was shared amongst all and all agreed it was a very good bargain. More and more of us trickled in, and once we were all there and accounted for we hopped on the coach (I'm beginning to remember not to say "bus," aren't you proud?) and headed into Edinburgh.
One thing that was interesting to me was that there was no definable point where the surrounding area stopped and Edinburgh started. With most areas I've been to, there's a clear point where you can say "Right here is where the city starts." But that morning on the way in there wasn't, so I was beginning to wonder when we were going to hit Edinburgh when it was suddenly our stop.
We had to walk up the street a bit, but no one really minded much, especially when someone noticed Elephant House. We weren't quite that caffeine-deprived to make so much fuss over a coffee shop (close, but not quite), the reason is that according to an urban legend it was in that particular coffee shop that a certain author first thought of and wrote (on a napkin upstairs, some say) the names Harry Potter and...well, I forgot the other one(s). Anyway, the cameras were out in full force. Later on I found out that according to someone working there, there is no upstairs (and there's no basement in the Alamo, silly), but the cafe is more than happy to claim the spot as the birthplace of Harry Potter--it's even on the t-shirts.
Once the Potter mania had satisfied itself enough for the time being, we continued on our way and very shortly found ourselves at the National Library of Scotland.
The staff at the National Library of Scotland were unfortunately unavailable that day, so we contented ourselves with a history lesson in the John Murray archives. There were seven generations of John Murrays who ran the Murray publishing company, and they Murrays have published some of the greatest and the most well-known names in the publishing industry. Jane Austen, Lord Byron, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle... It's quite an impressive list. The staff had taken this list and run with it, resulting in an equally impressive exhibition.
Since the exhibition features original materials (mainly paper documents to and from the publisher), they kept the lights dim throughout the room. Scattered throughout are clear pods, in which are featured items to represent a specific personage from the John Murray archives. This resulted in a somewhat sci-fi look to us, leading someone from my class to quip to a nearby exhibit case, "Beam me up, Sir Walter Scotty." Each case held an iconic outfit of whomever was represented, a small number of documents which related to their life and work (and the John Murray archive), and then a number of items which may or may not be seriously related to the individual but always represented a character trait or iconic feature of the person in question. For example, the Jane Austen case featured a ballgown, a fan (representing the form of communication often used at balls), some checks she recieved from the publisher, a few other paper documents, and a bunch of red wooden hearts tied together with cord. Lady Caroline Lamb, infamous lover/stalker of Lord Byron, had a (modern) red sequined "devil's horns" headband in her case. Interestingly enough, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did not have a case to himself, selected memorabilia related to him was simply scattered throughout the room in various nooks and crannies. Besides the more obvious names, there were also cases devoted to Richard Ford and Isabella Bishop Bird, both travel writers, and Heinrich Schliemann, an archeologist who found the first proof of the Trojan War as anything other than a myth or fable. Perfect final touches to the exhibitions were a table where you could write your own letter to any of the featured authors, and an interactive table called the Publishing Machine where you fashioned your own book from various choices modeled after famous books, then were told whether your book would be a bestseller (mine was), or not.
Image from Microsoft ClipArt

Monday, July 19, 2010

Elephants Everywhere!

You wouldn't think that elephants would be too common in the UK. But I, the elephant-lover, keep bumping into them. Well, okay, not actual, real, live elephants, but close enough.
An example: if you've been reading the blog from the very beginning, you might remember me mentioning the Elephant Parade in London. As part of a big fundraiser for an Asian Elephant charity, life-size elephant models decorated in designs by many artists were scattered all over London. While the elephants themselves were gathered up and auctioned off to new homes to benefit the charity just before I arrived, I have managed to snag a t-shirt featuring an elephant designed by Isaac Mizrahi.
When we had our weekend in Paris, there was an elephant statue outside of the Musee d'Orsay.
Then when I had a quick trip up to Camden Town (hippie/goth/whatever refuge of London) with a few friends, we happened to eat at a pub called the Elephant's Head.
Finally, today in Edinburgh, we stopped in and had a snack (it was elevensies for some, just a cup of hot chocolate for me) at a cafe known as The Elephant House. My friends were jazzed about it because it's the "birthplace" of Harry Potter (JK Rowling was a regular, evidently), but I just loved all of the elephants. They have hundreds of elephants scattered throughout, to include an elephant chair and elephant cookies. The fact that they have great hot chocolate served at the perfect temperature was nice too.
To top it off, I think I saw little stuffed animal elephants in kilts in one of the neighborhood shops. The shop was closed last time I walked by (everything is closed on a Sunday night), but I might check into it and get one sometime soon.
And who knows how many other elephants I'll see in my travels?
Image from Microsoft ClipArt.

P.S. A little note from July 26th, when I've arrived back at Stamford Street after minibreak etc.
There was an elephant in the National Museum of Scotland. It was the first known example of taxidermy.
Part of my minibreak was daytripping into Oxford for research and for fun, and I have to tell you about something that I saw at the Ashmolean Museum. Not only did I stumble onto an elephant, I happened to find an entire gallery of elephant portraits from India! Providence can be amazing, even in the littlest things.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

So I'm Staying in a Palace...

Well, what can I say? The place that we're staying for the duration of our time in Edinburgh was a palace in the 18th century, then known as Dalkeith Palace. Just outside the little village of Dalkeith (which kind of rhymes with donkey, with a "th" on the end), which is just outside of Edinburgh. But while getting to say that you've stayed in an 18th century palace is cool (at one point in my trip planning I almost thought about coming back one night extra so I could stay the night in a Jacobean mansion-turned-hostel in the middle of London), I am kind of missing the good old dorm rooms back in London.
Here's why: while I already love Scotland dearly (pretty much Love at First Landscape), there are some things that I kind of like which aren't currently present. The first thing is plumbing. I love old houses, but I might love living with good plumbing a little bit more. While I'm thrilling at the sight of each new intriguing nook and cranny (I just used the servant's staircase!), I just might thrill more at good plumbing that isn't so intriguing. In fact, I am pretty sure that we will end up hanging out pretty frequently at a certain pub in town not only because of its good food and prices (and an award-winning menu, as it turns out), but because it had a really nice ladies' room. More than two stalls. Flushed easily. Good lighting. It won the hearts of all at our table. Another thing is personal space. I am an introvert, and while I can be outgoing enough, it's almost essential for me to have some personal space that I can retreat to. So even when it's a tiny dorm room, I don't mind that much. Here, I am sharing a room with five of my friends. Yes, it could be very much worse. But even though we all love each other, we're looking forward to having seperate living space when this is said and done.
Now that I've had my gripe-fest, I promise I won't complain any more. Because it is cool to be staying in an 18th century palace-turned-dorm/hostel, even with shared space and eccentric plumbing. And Dalkieth is a charming little village, with three churches and a Blockbuster. And by golly, this is why we call it An Adventure!
Since there are only two computers between several classes' worth of people, I cannot promise that I will be able to update this blog until my return to London. But you can be sure that I will be more than ready to tell you about my adventures in Scotland, including visits to the National Library of Scotland and the Central Library of Edinburgh tomorrow, and the first Carnegie Library in his hometown of Dunfermline and the National Archives of Scotland the day after. On Wednesday we have an "independent research day," which means that the night is paid for but there's nothing scheduled that day, so all of the people in my class will be touring around Edinburgh one way or another. Then on Thursday morning we all drift off to our own adventures. Mine will be getting to the train on time that morning! I think I can promise that if nothing else works I will be able to post on next Monday, when I return to our faithful dorms in Stamford Street and the excellent computer lab there. Until then, I'm going to laugh my way around 6-to-a-room, 2 girls' showers to the floor, and all the plumbing eccentricities.
Image courtesy of the excellent Wikipedia page on Dalkeith Palace, now known as Wisconsin in Scotland, because it is the site of the University of Wisconsin's study abroad program.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Day in Oxford (Hurrah!)

Images in this post are courtesy of Wikipedia.
Yesterday morning we all got up and were ready to go at 8:30. We left in small groups and made our way to Paddington Station. We got there in enough time to peruse the Paddington Bear area before the first train to Oxford was about to depart. All the seats were taken, but several from our class squeezed in and stood. I and a few others waited for the next train, were the first ones on board, and got to have our pick of the seats. We arrived in Oxford a little bit after 11:00.

Upon arrival we were greeted by our professor, Dr. Welsh, who had been on the first train. She had bought tickets for us to use the hop-on hop-off City Sightseeing bus, and had those and our maps ready to go. We hopped on the bus and rode down to the Bodleian library. We weren't in time for the first tour at 11:30, but we found out what time we needed to be there for the second tour at 2:00. This was about the time when I realized my ticket had blown away during the bus ride on the top deck. I didn't mind walking. I had lists of recommendations  from wonderful friends who have lived in Oxford and studied there, so I knew of a wonderful little lunch spot in the St. Mary the Virgin Church, known as The Vaults & Garden Cafe. After having a bite to eat, I wandered into Blackwell's Bookstore, and promptly got lost. I managed to find my way out just in time for the tour of the Bodleian Library.
Our tour guide was a sprightly old gentleman who made us laugh, had us working hard to keep up, and was good enough that everyone I talked to afterwards said he was their favorite guide yet. He had even done some research to throw in pertinent information for us Americans, although he had mistakenly researched Ole Miss instead of the University of Southern Mississippi, and in this particular group of our class none of us were actually from USM. Unpreturbed, he started off with a lecture on the beginning centuries of the Oxford University (begun in 1187) and the Bodleian Library, which first began in the fifteenth century. The first buildings of the Oxford University were pointed out, complete with dates, numbers of students and instructors, and each entity's changing role through time. Our history lesson included not only the town and university of Oxford, but also the other first universities, in order: Bologna, Paris, and Oxford. Comparisons between medieval England and the Wild West drew some chuckles and some intriguing parallels. We learned how the original Bodleian library had been composed of 281 manuscripts donated by Humfrey, Duke of Gloucester. However, in the time of the English Reformation the manuscripts were thought to be too Catholic, and so all but 3 were sold to glovers. According to our guide, in Oxford during those tumoltuous times "there was a lot of people-burning, but not much book-burning." Our guide also pointed out some of  the meanings of the many symbols on the roof of the da Vinci school: "I could spend hours on this ceiling," he admitted before ushering us into the next area of our tour. We were shown the oldest surviving court in Oxford, from 1209, which was last used in 1968, as well as the University's Parlaiment area. Then we were escorted up to Duke Humfrey's Library, the oldest part of the Bodleian Library. It was where the original manuscripts were kept, and while it was used as a medicine school after the manusctripts were sold it once again became the Library in 1602 under the patronage of Sir Thomas Bodley, after whom the library as a whole was named. Our guide pointed out the various renovations wrought by Bodley upon the reopening of the library, to include the innovative bookcases and the idea of storing books upright. He also pointed out the frames on the end of the bookcases, and asked if we knew what they were. Since none of us knew, we learned that they were the first catalogues. In olden times, the way that librarians ensured that the books weren't stolen was by chaining the books to the bookcase. This was back when books were very rare and were only read in the actual library, so that in itself wasn't a problem. The problem was when you put the book back on the shelf. If you put it in the usual way, the chain would harm the book's cover as it went in. If you put it in upside down, the chain wouldn't harm the book, but how could you tell what book it was? The answer: they stamped a number on the side of the pages, then wrote on the frames at the end of each bookcase which bookcase, which shelf, and what number was a particular book. Then, with the idea of gallery libraries, the cheaper books would be kept in the balcony area without chains, and the only stairs down would come down right next to where the librarian sat. This was how library security worked for many years. After touring the Duke Humfrey's, we were taken down many steps to a door. The door led to a series of tunnels, which connect the Old Bodleian building with the New Bodleian building, and other buildings in the Bodleian network as well. We walked through the tunnels, watching firsthand how book requests were sent from one building to another and then filled, and generally being in awe of the fact that we were in the tunnels underneath the Bodleian. We were among the last tourists to see the tunnels as they are, on the 15th of August the tunnels will be shut down to outsiders for remodeling, and will not be open again until 2015. There's a lot of building and renovation going on between now and 2015 at the Bodleian, also in the works are plans for a new state-of-the-art book storage facility outside of Oxford. Because the Bodleian is a copyright depository (and was the first ever, by the by) storage space has always been a bit tight, with up to 5,500 additions a week. With the new facility, they can afford to store the less-used books out of town and have a bit of breathing room for the books that are used most often. But back to the basement of the Bodleian, where we were learning of all of this. During World War II, the basement of the Bodleian became a bit of an ark for many collections, from parts of the British Museum's library (what later became the British Library) to bits and pieces of many other places. It was also the main air raid shelter of the university. During all of WWII, Oxford was never bombed. There are many rumors as to why, everything from Hitler hoping to make it his new capital to Hitler wanting an honorary degree, but to this day no one actually knows why. Our tour continued up and out of the basement and into the New Bodleian building, built in 1940 after a sizeable donation by the Rockefeller Foundation. Here we learned that the Bodleian doesn't use a cataloging system like the Dewey Decimal; instead, books are cataloged by arrival date and size, which works perfectly well for the librarians. However, it is anticipated that after the renovations the portion of the library that will be open-stack to patrons may be arranged by Dewey to help readers find what they're looking for.
One thing (or, to be true, another thing) that I hadn't realized about Oxford University that amazed me was that written on the book featured in its coat of arms is a verse from a Psalm. Translated, it proclaims "the Lord is my light." Yet another reason to love Oxford.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Victoria & Albert Museum's National Art Library

It's probably never a good sign when the first part of your class day is when you're nearly left behind. I had allowed myself to sleep in a bit --I'm still catching up from both the Paris trip and the long daytrip to Stratford-Upon-Avon, really trying not to get sick when there's a cough starting to go around. Just to clarify that I'm not sleeping away my London opportunities, when I say "sleep in" it means that I'm letting myself sleep past 8:00, but I have yet to sleep past about 8:30. Then I went over to the computer lab to research train tickets to get me from Edinburgh to my mini-break destination, which I ended up getting only just now because of indecision over the method of procuring the physical tickets themselves (mail or pickup?). I'd finished up blogging, checking email etc. just in time to run back over to the rooms, deposit something in my room, and then head out with the group to the Victoria and Albert (V & A) Museum. Evidently, I had been checked off the headcount list as I was heading through to my room, so when I got back down the class had already left. I managed to catch up with the group pretty quickly, though, waiting at a light to cross the street and catch a bus. No harm done, and a nice burst of panic and adrenaline are just about as good as caffeine in the sleepy early afternoon hours, right? We caught the bus, rode it for a while, got off and caught another bus that would get us closer, rode that one for even longer, and finally hopped off and walked over and crossed the crazily busy and rather wide street to finally get to the V&A Museum.
The V&A Museum is, as you might have guessed, named after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. It's the largest museum of design and decorative arts in the world. However, the part of the museum that we were specifically interested in, and had come to tour, was the National Art Library. The National Art Library was created with the rest of the museum in 1857, but was only given its own space and heading in 1884. This was the beginning of the other type of Space Race, where there are two great institutions which need the same space for their own ends. The National Art Library has managed to grow in space since its opening, adding several rooms to their original two, now known as the Reading Room and the Centre Room. It has also lost some space back to the museum, in that one of their rooms was turned back into exhibit space with the lone exception of the walls, which were allowed to keep their books (although with a bar across to discourage grabby hands). With an ever growing collection and a no-weeding policy, the library has resorted to clever means of book storage, such as raiding space which used to be old boiler cabinets and turning them into secret compartments for their books. However, there's still a shelving backlog of books that need places to stay. The entire collection is organized not by a classification system, but by size, so that the premium space that is available is used to its best ability. All of the rooms of the library, including the two original rooms of the library, the Reading Room and the Centre Room, could be said to operate under similar policies. The Reading Room is a quiet study area full of desks, people and books. The Centre Room has more study space, along with a black-and-white photocopier (to best preserve the books) which may be used for most books, and a very nice camera set-up so that if you need a color copy or your book is too fragile you may take a picture of it instead, and either print that out or download it onto your flash drive. There's also an Assistance Desk for basic customer needs and an Inquiry Desk for more in-depth help. While most of the collection is closed-stack (readers request a book and librarians bring it to them), there is a small reference section that is open-stack (patrons may select their book off the shelf). The first level of the library, located on an upper level of the museum, contains the Reading Room, Centre Room, some backstage work areas and a conference room. The second floor contains a part of the collections, including the special collections, a good portion of the stacks (including the balcony area of the previously mentioned exhibit) and the primary office space for staff. The third floor contains more storage of the collections, to include exhibition, sales and auction catalogues for such famous art auction houses as Christie's, which often come in handy when researching a more obscure artist because "you definitely know he exists, his name's right there on the page."
After a tour of the general primises and the accompanying lecture on history (mainly what I have told you), focus (not only the collection of the V&A, but also Art and Design as a general field) and issues (the age-old story: space and budget), we were escorted to the conference room for a look at some examples of the National Art Library's collection. First up was a book that was an excellent early example of a book made by an Aldine Press, famous for being the first press to introduce italics. This particular example, printed all in Latin, showed the beginnings of the transition from Gothic script made to look like scribe's handwriting to the more Roman script, like what you are reading now. Next was a copy of the first folio of Shakespeare's plays, the first time that they were gathered together and printed in a single volume. This was done by the King's Players, who were the ones who would put on the plays, and is therefore considered to be the most authentic versions of the plays. The third item we were shown was a fine example of Elizabethan printing, the cover particularly, which featured a family crest in grand Elizabethan style. The actual book is the tenor part of a selection of madrigals. Next we were shown a number of Islamic book bindings minus their books, because in the 17th century it was thought much more important (and easier) to store and carry the beautiful bindings than what they had contained. Then we were shown a printing proof for Charles Dickens' Bleak House, complete with handwritten corrections scattered all throughout the pages. Suitably next was a collection of Bleak House as it was first produced, in small booklets of serial form. Evidently Dickens was writing them as they were produced, so there were a number of times when an illustration was taken out at the last minute because a character featured in them was going to be taken out, or some other issue. Next up were letters from John Everett Millais, famous artist of such paintings as A Huguenot, on St. Bartholomew's Day, Refusing to Shield Himself from Danger by Wearing the Roman Catholic Badge, often shortened to the simpler title of A Huguenot, these particular letters being written to his cousin's wife, a good friend of his. Accompanying the letters in our showing today were larger prints of the drawings he had doodled to illustrate the particulars of the letters. After this we were shown a first-edition copy of William Morris' 1896 fantasy novel The Well at the World's End, which is not in itself counted much of a classic but is noticed more because it features a character named Gandalf, and several other elements which may be said to have inspired both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Then we were shown a book whose title I cannot pronounce (it being in French) but may at least type here for you: Le Choses de Paul Poiret/Vues par George Lepape. It is, in short and in English, a 1911 French fashion catalogue, but if catalogues today were like that we wouldn't call them junk mail. Vivid and opulent illustrated images of which the figure(s) in the clothing line are but a part of the whole experience. A classmate commented that it was more intent on selling a lifestyle than clothes. Then we were done for a time with book-books and were shown selections of book-art and book-objects. The first of these was titled Gesammelte Werke: Band 7, by Dieter Roth. Pages from random comics (I think I saw some Donald Duck in there) and other found materials (I saw what looked to be coloring pages as well) all bound together in a book, with circular holes of various sizes and in various places cut through the entire thing. It would be very hard to read the narrative of the comics, or do anything at all with the book except to simply look at it. And since that is what is was made for, perhaps that's not too bad. Next was our first book-object book-art, made in the shape of a book out of old schooldesks. You could open it up like a book, and then there were various compartments that opened up and scrolls that unrolled and many other things to explore. This I think might have been my favorite, at least of the book-art objects. It was fascinating just to look at and delve into. Almost to the end here, keep reading. Finally of the book-art was something that could just barely be described as a book, in that it had a narrative function: a snowglobe which when shaken and suspended showed words from the American constitution which floated all about. Finally, a facsimile and exact reproduction of one of Da Vinci's notebooks. For some reason I expected it to be large, grand, and imposing, but it was really a small notebook just smaller than a hand, actually of a similar size to a notebook that I happen to carry about. The library owns three such notebooks, the real ones that is, but since they are so valuable they do not take them out often and instead had someone make the exact copies to be looked at. This one in particular had pages upon pages about levers and a few other technical details, as well as some good examples of mirror writing.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the National Art Library, and my short visit to the V&A Museum, the majority of which I spent in some rooms dedicated to the works of Beatrix Potter. I had hoped to see Domenico Dragonetti's double bass, and take copious amounts of pictures for my double-bassist brother, but unfortunately it is not available to be seen unless you make a special appointment with a curator, and I somehow doubt that they would go to that much trouble for me and my camera. Ah well.
Tomorrow our class is getting up bright and early and going on a daytrip to Oxford. Hurrah!
Image is from the Wikipedia page