Monday, June 15, 2009

My briefcase rattled between my legs as a voice in a thick Brooklyn accent announced, “This is the train to New York next stop Jamaica, Queens.” I opened my eyes half asleep, half expecting a British woman’s voice to correct him saying this was really the train to Cockfosters.

Looking out the window at a blur of graffiti covered signs and small houses with bars on the windows I would give up anything to be back on that train to Scotland, passing the rolling green hills, scattered with grazing sheep. Less than 48 hours ago I was riding the London Underground, and now here I am on the Long Island Railroad Road, off to start my new internship.

Billy Joel sang, “I’m in a New York State of Mind,” through the headphones of my Ipod as I pushed past people making my way onto the platform at Jamaica. I looked up and down the platform, realizing I was the only one that had gotten off the train. I quickly did a 180 turn and stepped back onto the train I had just stepped off of feeling embarrassed. Apparently, I don’t change at Jamaica on the 7:53 train.

Sinking back into my seat I quickly glance from side to side to see if anyone had noticed my error. Across from me an older woman sat eyes shut, rosary beads clutched tightly in her grasp, and next to her a man frowned to himself as he read the Wall Street Journal, never stopping to look up as he sipped his coffee.

I sighed in relief. If I can figure my way around the London, than I will figure my way around New York City, I thought.

As the train pulled into Penn Station, (the real platform where I was suppose to get off ) and the voice echoed, “Watch the Gap,” I smiled remembering the night my classmates, professor and I took the tube to the restaurant George’s Inn the night we went to see Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors.

As we stood in line at the insanely crowded station, I watched the doors shut as a voice echoed, “Mind the Gap,” only to realize seconds later that everyone else had gotten on the train except for me. Luckily, everyone was waiting for me at the next tube stop otherwise I would still be wandering the streets of London looking for restaurants that started with the letter G (as I couldn’t remember the name of the restaurant at the time). It’s funny how I spent two weeks comparing London to New York City and here I am being reminded me of London.

Once in Penn Station I decided to just follow the crowd out the nearest exit. Stepping out onto the busy Manhattan streets, I ducked into the entrance of a building to wrestle with opening my umbrella; something I ironically had to use very little of in the United Kingdom. I looked both ways before crossing the street, since London taught me it doesn’t matter what side of the road they drive on or whether the vehicle they drive is black or yellow; cab drivers are never concerned with giving pedestrians the right of way. I guess some things about cities are universal.

For instance, it isn’t just New York City that will chew you up and spit you out. I learned the hard way after waiting in line to be denied entrance to a members only club and being asked to leave the premise of the London Eye or else be arrested, that London can also be tough. I think each city has it’s own rhythm and shows no mercy to those who don’t take the time to learn the tempo.

Making my way up Eighth Avenue, I pass a man who punches my umbrella out of his way. This would never happen in London, I thought. From the English students I met at the London art show to the Scotsmen I met on my birthday, everyone in the United Kingdom seemed genuinely nice and helpful. It was the charismatic people I met that truly made the experience and they are what I will miss the most.

I laughed when Victor, a British student from Bournemouth University had told me everything he knew about New York City he learned from watching Friends. If only it was that simple, I thought.

Walking around it is easy to become intoxicated with the aroma of fresh oven baked pizza or memorized by the rows of skyscrapers, but there are certain things that New York will never have. Here there are no shrapnel damaged buildings baring WWII scars, no remains of a 1600 year-old wall, and no royal palaces.

Reaching the crossroads of Times Square, the white walk sign blinks and a sea of commuters rush across the intersection. In front of me two young girls, carrying large backpacks stand, jaws dropped staring up at the illuminated advertisements. It dawns on me that they are seeing New York City for the first time. I watched them for a moment half reminiscent of my own awestruck of London, half jealous that I will never have that experience with New York City…

I finally make it into the office building and up to the 22nd floor. The office manager greets me, gives me a quick tour of the office and shows me to my desk before telling me that the boss will be in shortly. As I turn my computer on, I can feel the goose bumps on my arms, and butterflies in my stomach. For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to work in Manhattan and here I am. Yes, it’s only temporary, and no I’m not getting paid for it, but this is certainly a start. While I have always wanted to work and explore New York City on my own it was my time spent in London that convinced me that it could be a reality. If I could find my way in a city I knew nothing about than I am going to be okay here.

London taught me that each city has it’s own unique personality and culture. For all the reasons I have always loved Manhattan, I found just as many different ones for why I loved London. I hope London is the first chapter in a series of cities I get to explore.

Walking over to the window the city’s sounds are quieter. From here the skyline looks different than anything I have ever seen. Perhaps I can’t see Times Square for the first time like those backpackers, but in this city there are many things that I still have yet to see.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The crashing of waves against rocks was silent from the top of the cliff. From here even the sheep looked no bigger than small balls of cotton. I slowly inched closer to the edge, but it was still impossible to see straight down. The wind whipping the hair in front of my eyes made it difficult to see the bluish-gray outline of mountains against the bright blue cloudless sky. I took a few steps back and sat down on a soft patch of lush green earth.

Here I am on top of a mountain, on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. As I bit into my chicken sandwich, staring at the spot where the ocean touched the mountains I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my birthday. It’s funny how only 12 hours earlier it seemed like my birthday was going to be a disaster…

I climbed the creaking steps to the top bunk to sit on my paper-thin mattress in an effort to make space for others. The tiny hostel room was already too hot and too over crowded. It had an overwhelming smell of campfire smoke and feet. Rachel, Michelle, Ashley, Ryan, Seth and I all wished to be next door at the local pub, but our hostel’s 11:30 doors lock curfew simply didn’t allow it.

The hostel keeper had already yelled at us for being too loud after she informed us that the main water pipe broke and there was absolutely no running water. Staring out my window into the darkness home seemed to be worlds away from this tiny town of Ullapool, in the highlands of Scotland. The town was the second stop on our week long tour.

Up into this point I had been quite pleased with my journey through Scotland. As we drove through the incredible picturesque scenery our tour guide told us entertaining stories of epic highlander battles, and sightings of the Locke Ness monster and other creators of the lake. I found it fascinating that everything from their distinctive Scottish accent to their customs and history was so different than that of London or even England.

“Thirty minutes to your birthday,” Michelle said with a smile.

Fantastic, I thought as I rolled my eyes. In the United States turning 21 is a major milestone since it marks the age when a person is legally allowed to buy oneself an alcoholic drink.

The occasion is usually celebrated waiting outside a bar with friends till the stroke of midnight then going inside and drinking until you physically can’t drink anymore. Instead I was about to celebrate my 21st birthday trapped inside a tiny hostel that had a busted water pipe. I stared at my half empty bottle of water, the only thing I would have to drink for the next several hours. It was only the night before, we were in Fort Augustus eating delicious haggis and watching a live show educating us on the historic ways of the highlanders like how to properly wear a kilt. If only I could have celebrated my birthday there.

As I pulled off my dirty sand covered sweatshirt, pretending it wasn’t going to bother me that I couldn’t shower, I heard a knock at the door.

A short man with a gray beard and eyes as blue as his shirt waltzed into the room followed by a younger dark haired girl.

“So the party’s in here,” he said with a smile in a thick Scottish accent and then introduced himself as Brian.

“It’s her 21st birthday at midnight,” Rachel said pointing to me.

“Trapped in this dump, with no alcohol is no way to spend your 21st birthday,” he said, as I nodded in agreement, “I can’t allow Scotland to be represented this way.”

Grabbing Ryan he disappeared, leaving behind the dark hair girl who shyly introduced herself to us as Layla.

“I’m sorry I don’t have a gift for your birthday,” she said, a sincere smile in her eyes.
Before I said a word she pulled the silver necklace off her neck.

“Happy birthday, this has always brought me good luck,” Layla said she placed the necklace in my hand. I looked down at the silver Celtic triquetra surrounding a single amethyst stone.

I didn’t know what to say to this stranger who had just given me the jewelry off her neck, to ensure that I had a special birthday. No one had ever done anything like that for me before.

“Th- thank-you,” I stammered.

Suddenly the door burst open and in walked Ryan and Brian with a case of 21 Stella Artois beers. Brian handed them out as Ryan explained the stealthy way he snuck Brain in with the beers past the angry hostel keeper. As the clock struck midnight, everyone sang happy birthday and drank the beers with me.

Brian explained that he was staying at hostels throughout Scotland because he planning on opening up his own out of an old church soon. He assured us that his hostel would have much bigger rooms and definitely no curfews. We continued to laugh and drink and swap stories for hours. In fact I barely noticed when they told us that the water was working again. Here in this tiny Scotland hostel, with my newfound friends, I didn’t feel far from home…

Rolling over I saw the first rays of sunlight hitting the deep green waters of Locke Broom. As I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, I could see it was the reflection of the giant green mountains engulfing the lake that gave the waters a green glow.

Reaching into my bag to grab my camera, I instead pulled out the necklace that Layla had given me. Perhaps this is the only country in the world where the landscapes are as enchanting as the people.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

“Would you like me to show you how it works?” questioned a man’s voice in a thick British accent. I turned around to greet a smiling face with eyes, hidden behind Aviators.

“Absolutely,” I replied as the man led me to the middle computer in a row of Apple Macs.

“It’s really easy, you just record yourself saying a word and then you can string it together with videos of people saying other words, to form a video sentence,” he said.
Five minutes later I had my first youtube account with a video of me and two other people forming the completely coherent sentence, “Procrastinate, London, Cheesepuffs.”

This can be found on the website which was created by Rizwan Muhammad, an interactive media production major at Bournemouth University.
He created the site for his final project but hopes to implement the idea at his job this summer by allowing wedding guests to instantly record a sort of video guestbook.

“My boss didn’t really like it,” he replied “but he has been divorced like 3 times.”

Rizwan is one of hundreds of senior media majors throughout the United Kingdom who are showcasing their final projects in this year’s Free Range 2009.

The event is held yearly at the Old Truman Brewery, a run down warehouse set up into sections for different universities. In T1, the largest section, I’m drawn to an eerie projection of what looks like zombie limbs ripping, played to the repeat soundtrack of someone cracking their joints. I quickly move on to an image of a cow broken in half with smaller calves running out of it. Next to that I find my favorite poster; a picture of several trees with deep roots and a quote reading, “I love deadlines. I don’t sleep and I have no social life,” (an unfortunate truth).

“Free Range is a way for students to share their ideas and showcase their work for potential employers,” said Rose Thomas, a graphic design major from the University for the Creative Arts Epsom.

She sits next to a large poster she made with the words “Graphic Design is a way of clearly communicating ideas using text and images,” written across the top. The sentence is written over and over again with words erased until it finally reads, “Graphic Design is a way of communicating.” Walking around it is clear to me that some of the most creative minds in the country are here doing just that; communicating their innovations.

As I enter back into the Interactive Media section I’m once again greeted with Rizman’s smiling face who cheerfully acts as my tour guide showing me the work of his classmates. He introduces me to Vic Bishop, who quickly informs me that everything he knows about New York City he learned from watching “Friends.” Fair enough.

Vic then shows me the game he created, where the player stands in front of a web cam and clicks on a body part (let’s say their hand for example) and a puppet appears in that spot on the screen. The player can then move their hand in any direction causing the on screen puppet to move along with them. I asked him why he didn’t make it so that the puppet can individually move his hands and feet.

“I was working on that,” he replied.

Rizman then led me over to what appeared to be a drum set from the popular video game rock band.

“Have you ever played the game rock band?” Rizman asked.

“Yes…but not well,” I admit.

He explained that this game, created by Aneurin Barker Snook, is similar to rock band except there are no songs, instead the player creates their own music by hitting the notes in various patterns at their own pace. I sit down at the drum set and spastically start pounding away at the drums in what is a very poor excuse for a rhythm. Rizman laughs and Aneurin takes my place at the drum set. He starts jamming and soon a small crowd gathers around him and starts clapping along. As we continue to clap along, one guy in the crowd turned to me and asked if I went to school with them.

“No, I replied, I wish.”

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

London is...

London is ...

Raining, maybe not at the moment like it was earlier this morning but it will again soon enough. For a city so gray and cold for most of the year, it amazes me how vibrant and bustling it always remains. Riding around the tube I feel completely comfortable like I’ve finally figured it out, like I’ve finally figured this city out. That is until something happens that completely catches me off guard.

I think my problem is that I compare London to everything I’ve learned and everything I know. When I call home I describe Piccadilly Circus as the Times Square, Camden Markets as the Canal Street, and Chelsea as the Upper East Side. Only this is London not New York and perhaps when I stop needing to find parallels I will stop being caught off guard.

London is simultaneously old and new. Walking around you see a Mercedes 2009, whipping past the remains of a wall over 1500 years old. While I have spent years studying European history, actually seeing such old relics of the past intrinsically woven among new architecture never ceases to amaze me.

For these reasons I’m not quite sure how to describe London. I’m trying to remember how I described Costa Rica when I came back home last summer. The truth is I just told people that I loved all of it; the people, the places, the culture. That seemed efficient enough because describing your love for someplace is like trying to describe your love for someone, there just simply aren’t enough words.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

You may say that I’m a dreamer… but I’m not the only one

Climbing up the steps of the underground, Baker Street appears no different than any other bustling street in the city of Westminster, London.  The street made famous as the residence of the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, now boasts a museum dedicated to Holmes. However, that place was not the destination of my journey to Baker Street today. Instead I walked two doors down to The Official Beatles Store of London.

Upon entering, I was greeted with the sound of John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s voices singing “Baby you can drive my car.” I cringed. After being forced to listen to the Beatles on long car rides with my mother as a child, I developed a serious disdain for the group. I even went as far as hiding her “The Beatles One ” album, which still remains hidden to this day (sorry mom.)

 In high school I unpleasantly discovered that I was more the exception to the rule than the norm. I learned to keep my opinion to myself, as my classmates wandered down the halls in Beatles shirts excited that we would be playing “Eleanor Rigby” in our next concert.

 Now I’m staring at a Beatles guitar pick trying to understand what was so great about them in the first place. The Official Beatles store is a surprisingly small space, stacked from floor to ceiling with Beatles memorabilia. Any place of the wall not supporting a shelf is covered with Beatles posters. 

In the far corner, a television mounted high on the wall plays a continuous stream of Beatles performance footage. A wide variety of all too familiar Beatles shirts and patches fill shelves in the one center isle of the store.

 As I make my way toward the back, I roll my eyes at the inflatable Beatles dolls, and John Lennon action figures. Locked in a case sits a collection of Beatles glass figurines. There are shelves of Beatles socks, Beatles alarm clocks and my personal favorite a “Stg.” and “Pepper” saltshaker set.  I’m ready to leave the store, but not without getting a gift for my mom first.

 To the right of the cash register, my eyes are drawn to an original vinyl of the Stg. Pepper Album.  It rest next to a variety of original Beatles records. As I picked it up, I notice the bookshelf behind it is filled with Beatles books and DVDs.  

Flipping through “The Beatles: Complete Scores” I am shocked that there are actually hundreds of pages filled with full scores and lyrics. In an era when singers barely sing, let alone write their own songs, I’m impressed that Lennon and McCartney actually wrote nearly all of their own material.

 As I bring my purchase up to the cashier, I find myself humming along to Lennon’s Imagine playing on the television. Behind the obnoxious screaming fans and annoying Beatles action figures, there was in all fairness a group of talented musicians and songwriters. While I will never list the Beatles as one of my favorite bands, put their songs on my Ipod, or walk around in their band T-shirts, I can at least respect them as musicians. After paying for my mother’s gift I curiously ask the cashier what was her favorite Beatles song.

“I hate them all now,” she replied. I smiled and left knowing I’m not the only one. 

Friday, May 22, 2009

Okay, Okay I get it...

So I have a confession to make. Something I try not to admit to back in the states and something I certainly don’t want to admit to over here in London. I’m not really a big fan of the Beatles. Actually that is an understatement, I can’t stand most of their songs!

I felt a need to mention this to Professor Parkhurst yesterday, seeing as how we will be going on a Beatles tour sometime next week. He did not take my announcement well. This morning we each received a weekend assignment in out inbox. Mine was to explore and write about Baker Street.

So I took the tube with Rachel and Michelle to Piccadilly Circus and we explored the area down to Baker Street. Upon reaching the end of the street I found none other than the official Beatles store of London. I didn’t go inside per say but I did get the hint. Who knows though tomorrow is a brand new day. 

Listen to London

As I roll over in my bed, before I even open my eyes to see the sunlight pouring in through my window I can hear the sounds from the street below. The voices, bus engines, ambulance sirens and car horns echoing through my window make it feel like the city is alive with its own heartbeat and breathing. Walking around the East End streets of London yesterday, what intrigued me most was how one moment you hear the roar of traffic and then you turn down a alley and hear the soft rustling of someone sweeping their front stoop.

We walked down one such ally on our way to lunch at the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. Located right on Fleet Street, the former headquarters of the British Printing Press, the dark exterior gives a deceptive impression as to how far the building dates back. On the inside, the creaky floor boards, narrow steps and passage ways leading to more tables in the dimly lit basement give tourists a feeling of entering into another time. Portraits hang commemorating famous writers like Samuel Johnson and Charles Dickens who once drank here. Looking at an original copy of a Tale of Two Cities open to the page where Dickens mentions the pub, I felt like if I was quiet enough I would hear Dickens pen scratching against the paper, writing in the corner behind me.

After lunch we went to St. Paul’s Cathedral. Walking through the revolving door into the Cathedral it read, “This is a House of God.” A seemingly obvious statement for a Church but this church was like no other I have ever seen. Organ music played as when made our way to the center of this completely jaw dropping, architectural masterpiece. If God truly were to have a house on this earth his address would be St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Climbing up the 257 steps to the Whispering gallery (No I didn’t count I just read the sign) gave us an incredible view looking down into the Cathedral. Named the Whispering Gallery because the acoustics of the dome are so perfectly sound you can whisper into the wall and be heard on the other side of the room. Next we climbed even more spiraling stairs to the Stone Gallery, which runs along the outside perimeter of the dome giving you a breath taking panoramic view of the city of London. The photograph does not do justice to the incredible view.

Our final stop of the day was an exceptionally long but also exceptionally informative Blitz tour of the bomb damaged done by the Germans during WWII. The guide showed us stone stumps that once supported churches and buildings before the bombing. She told us incredible stories of men and women buried for hours under the rubble of what once was their homes, and the people who taking shelter in the tube at night continued on with business as usual during the day.

Our tour took us right back to St. Paul’s Cathedral. From the onset of the war, the Cathedral was watched over round the clock by a group of men who put out firebombs. The Cathedral sat in silence, (the only bells that could ring were those warning of an air strike) for the duration of the war scarred with shrapnel. St. Paul’s became a symbol of hope for the British people; as long as their magnificent Cathedral could make it through the attacks so would they. Today the bells of St. Paul ring out proudly, to remind the people of London of their spirit never broken and their city never silenced.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Lines of London

Staring out my dorm window I can’t help but smile and be thankful at how incredibly lucky I am. From here I can see almost the whole of London; Westminster and Big Ben softly glow yellow next to the white arc of the London Eye. The city skyline looks surreal. It’s an incredible mix of old gothic style cathedrals reaching past the red chimney lined houses with the occasional sky scraper that could have been plucked directly out of New York City itself. Looking at the skyline it’s clear to me why writers, musicians or really anyone looking to discover something have always flocked to this city.

Walking around the city today I encountered the most unfortunate of lines, the tourist-attraction waiting lines. Perhaps the most cliché and in my opinion most boring of these attractions, was the changing of the guard. A rather pompous unnecessarily ostentatious event where tourists stand for about an hour to watch a group of men dressed like little toy soldiers march into the gates of Buckingham place, play some music and switch positions.

My classmates and I got to the music part till we were about ready to march out of there ourselves. Unfortunately, the British police had other plans and informed us that we could not leave because the queen was behind us. As we all turned sure enough a black car drove by with the queen sitting in the back seat. Unbelievable! I’m in this country only 48 hours and I already got a glimpse of the queen driving by, meanwhile its been 20 years without even the slightest look at the president. I guess that’s just how it works. I equivalate it to seeing a shark the first time you scuba drive. Queen, shark both rare and utterly shocking when seen up close.

We really have that British officer to thank for making us wait to cross that line to leave. If he hadn’t, we would have never seen the queen. So maybe it really isn’t that bad waiting in those tourist lines after all. I’ll continue to think about it as I sit back, and look out the window at my favorite line of them all.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

London is...

London is gray. You wake up as the clouds roll in and it pours casting everything in a damp gray shadow. Caught without an umbrella and you’ll finding yourself walking down those gray streets much faster to your destination.

Like the weather several other aspects of the city seem stereotypical.

Find a royal guard and you’ll also see dozens of tourists (many of who are American) teasing, taunting and photographing him hoping they will be so lucky to make him smile, or in our case smirk at them. Go the Tower of London and hear all the stories of centuries of torture and the cruelty of Henry VIII towards his unfortunate wives. Walk into a pub order fish and chips and wash it down with a round of beer.

But underneath the gray skies, there is another side of London missed on first impresions. Look close enough and you can see where ancient history and modern day city intertwine. For instance, the streets bustling with cars serve as the back drop for the last remains of the Roman Wall; a stronghold built by the conquering Romans in the year 200A.D. Look up as you walk and you’ll notice the beauty of the city with its ornate golden architecture some 400 years old. And if you listen to a local Cockney speak you’ll be surprised to hear their distinctive dialect and rhyming slang.

That is the London I came to see and look forward to exploring in the weeks to come.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Procrastination Station

So it is 1:30 in the morning, less than 48 hours before I step foot in London and I’ve decided now is a good time to start my blog. The only reason I remembered to start this blog (which I should have started over a week ago) is because driving home in the thick fog, reminded me of a poster I have of Big Ben on a foggy night taped to my bedroom wall. Watching my best friend’s headlights cut through the eerily thick fog in front of us seemed representative of my lack of visibility when envisioning this trip to the UK.

I’m really not sure what to expect. I hope to fall in love with the city of London like I have with New York City. I hope to have new experiences and awesome tales adventures to share with my family and friends when I return home.

I remember when I went to Costa Rica I was looking for something different. Growing up in suburbia, I never really had much to complain about, thus not much to write about when it came to writing about my experiences. I once had a published author who grew up in my same boring town tell me ‘If you can’t write what you know, write what you’re willing to learn more about.”

Last summer I trekked through the jungle, up and down the beaches of Gandoca, Costa Rica in search of nesting sea turtles and came back with a new experience to write about. However, if there is one thing Digital Journalism taught me this semester, it’s that you can take the simplest, most mundane event and turn it into a story if you dig deep enough. My hope for my trip to London isn’t having the drastically different experience to write about but finding the less obvious story seen only by those looking with fresh eyes.