Tuesday, 15 October 2013

A Night at the Globe

I’ve just experienced one of the best nights of my life. It wasn’t in Ireland on the Ring of Kerry, in Edinburgh outside the cafĂ© where J. K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter, or in York on the medieval wall, though those were all fantastic experiences. No, one of the best nights of my life happened in London last week. I got to see Macbeth at the Globe. That’s right, the Globe, Shakespeare’s Globe.
            The Globe itself looks gorgeous. When I stood inside as a groundling, I could look straight up at the night sky and see stars. I stood less than five feet from the stage while I watched Macbeth, but some people were right up against the stage. At one point during the play, certain people shook hands with Macbeth. “Want to kiss my ring?” he asked. Oh, yes, I thought, and wished I’d stood a little closer.
Macbeth and Malcom were both extraordinarily handsome. I don’t know why, but I was getting some Obi-Wan Kenobi vibes from Malcom—maybe it was the ginger hair and dry humor. I’ve never had a crush on Macbeth before, on account of all the murdering/insanity/general weirdness that surrounds the character, but I did when I saw him at the Globe. For the first time, I pitied his character. He was so in love with his wife at first. When he ran to her and hugged her tight in their first scene together, there was more emotion in that hug than there would have been in a kiss. Everything went a bit sour once he started murdering people, of course. 
            The play began with drums. I wish I had a recording of the music that was played live throughout the play. The play had its own soundtrack the way a film would, and it was spectacular. The music set the scene all on its own, drums and bagpipes and strings. The music during the final fight scene was intense; I was so pumped, I was ready to swordfight.
            The witches were appropriately creepy. Their costumes looked almost steampunk at first. Before Macbeth showed up for the first time, they dressed up for him—put on ivy crowns and something akin to lipstick. Knowing Macbeth’s witches, it was probably blood.
            All these details didn’t make the play perfect, though. Banquo did. He was played by none other than Billy Boyd.
            For those of you who don’t know, Billy Boyd played Peregrin Took in The Lord of the Rings. For those of you who don’t know me, I have an undying love for The Lord of the Rings trilogy. For years, I’ve dreamed of seeing one of the actors in person.
            I had no idea that Billy Boyd was going to be in Macbeth. In fact, I wasn’t even sure it was him up on stage until a middle-aged woman behind me murmured, “Well, that’s Pippin, isn’t it?” I did a double-take. Indeed, beneath that scruffy beard was impish Pippin, funny Billy Boyd. I choked and then, as quietly as I could, freaked out. For the rest of the play, I covered my mouth whenever Billy Boyd showed up. Just in case he saw me in the crowd, I didn’t want him to see my stupid grin.
            The final battle was wild. When I see fight scenes in films, I assume that most of the work is done by stunt doubles. There were no stunt doubles at the Globe. The actors somersaulted and ducked and hit. By the time Macbeth died, I was ready to pick up his axe and do a little fighting myself.
            Then came the jig.
            It’s tradition at the Globe for there to be a jig performed after a tragedy. After all, as my Shakespeare professor put it, you don’t want your audience to be so depressed that they go throw themselves into the Thames. In order to prevent play-induced despair, the actors get up at the end of the play and do a lively jig.
            I was so caught up in the story that I forgot the jig was coming. So when suddenly the dirge at the end of the play turned into a wild and happy tune, I jumped. Then I laughed. Macbeth spun his wife around in circles. Two of the witches danced arm in arm. Now it was the actors onstage as themselves, not as their characters, and they were having the times of their lives.

            I used to dance—ballet, Irish step dancing, character, and modern. Performances were a high for me. My favourite part of being in a performance was the sheer euphoria at the end of a performance, knowing you’d done your part and done it well. The Macbeth cast definitely felt that way. Maybe my vision was colored by my own glee, but each of the actors looked victorious as they took a bow. As they left the stage, Macbeth jumped up and tapped the doorway—some little superstitious move, maybe, or just a way to work out his wild energy.

            I understood that urge completely. I cheered until my throat was sore. Even now, when I think about that play, I bounce in my seat. Macbeth at the Globe was one of the best experiences of my life. If I could see it again every night, I would.

-Kirstin Ethridge

Friday, 13 September 2013

London: So Much to See, So Little Time

As the weekend rolled around, and the majority of Harlaxtonians prepared to embark on the school trip to London, I began to feel more and more that what I was doing was insane.

Rather than signing up for the well-rounded itinerary of the school trip, my friends and I had decided we would plan London independently. We’d booked our hostel back in August, so we knew that we at least had a place to stay, but that didn’t stop me from worrying. What if we couldn’t find it? What if we got on the wrong train? What if –– and this was a truly terrible thought –– we got to the hostel in one piece and found that it was simply not a safe place to stay? What if our roommates were creepy old men who ogled at us in our towels or shifty-eyed characters who stole our stuff?


It turned out that our hostel was none of these things. We were in South Kensington, a pretty posh borough where we wouldn’t have been able to stay otherwise, and all of our roommates seemed reasonably normal. We weren’t all in the same room ––– in what seemed blindingly obvious in hindsight, we’d booked independently and hoped to be grouped together ––– but the woman behind the counter did her best to try to get us together. And we found the hostel just fine, although it took some map-reading and good guesswork to actually find the building once we got off the tube. So all in all, I felt pretty proud of our abilities to go somewhere by ourselves and not end up lost or taken. But just getting to the destination does not make a good trip, I soon discovered. While there, we had to do things like figure out where to eat and what to see, and someone was bound to be disappointed. I worried that I would leave London feeling like I’d seen absolutely nothing, or that I’d wasted my money, or, worse, that despite the fun we’d had, it would never be able to leave up to my fabulous daydreams of the trip. I worried that, like a kid who awaits Christmas with a feverish anticipation only to unwrap socks, my unrealistic expectations vs. the inevitably flawed reality would let me down. But, thankfully, I was wrong.

My trip to London wasn’t perfect. I showered in a space the size of an airport bathroom, forgot my railcard for the journey to Watford Junction, had my walking tour held up by a car show, and came down with a cold in the process. I didn’t get to see half of what I wanted to. But I also drank butterbeer outside of the actual Potters’ cottage, watched the changing of the guard, climbed the lions in Trafalgar Square, ate wonderfully authentic Middle Eastern food (and fish ‘n chips), and affirmed my ability to safely and successfully navigate places beyond my wildest imagination. I met Germans and Vancouverites and saw street performers dressed as cats and drank in weird pubs with some great friends, and I was not let down at all.

Leaving London, I felt like I’d barely scratched the surface of a city rich in history and culture. Because to be honest, two days is not enough to see a city. I could spend months pub-crawling and museum-visiting and tea-sipping before I ever felt I’d experienced enough to say I really knew or saw everything London has to offer. But I got a little taste. And though it wasn’t complete, I don’t hesitate to say that it was one hundred percent worth it.

-Anna Sheffer

Thursday, 5 September 2013

A Progression

To coin a phrase from Doctor Who, “People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to affect, but actually, from a non-linear, non-subjective point of view, it is more like a big ball of wibbily-wobbly, timey-wimey… stuff.” Admittedly, time is not necessarily as flexible for those of us without the ability to travel through time and space at our own convenience, but it still fluctuates a little more than we tend to notice. What we learn today, about yesterday, impacts our tomorrow, after all. No matter where we are, whether it is in Grantham, England or back home, we are entirely submersed in history, in the present, in our futures. It’s a rather mind-blowing concept, if you care to look deep enough.

So what does that have to do with Harlaxton?

I am sitting here, typing this out, while listening to birds chirp and watching the sun shine through the window panes. For a week now I have been living in England. For one week, to this day, I have been out of my own country, far from home, and living in a place where history and fantasy stand alongside each other.

Two weeks ago, two short weeks, I was transitioning from being terribly excited, talking about this looming adventure at every turn, to being, well, terrified: I can’t leave the country, I can’t do it, there’s no way, no no no. I was not packed, had not said my last good-byes, and was torn in such polarizing directions that I could not contain myself. On my own blog, I wrote a post about how those last two weeks were weeks of lasts: It would be the last time I went to work, the last time I saw my friends, the last time I cuddled my dog or tormented my brother. These were not indefinite lasts, of course, because surely I would do all these things again, but they most certainly felt like it at the time. Because then, sitting in my living room, surrounded by clothes and suitcases and more clothes, it felt like I was saying a final goodbye—four months is a long time, after all.

But here we are now.

A week in.

It has been a week of magic, of fascination, of exploration (and, let’s face it, a week of jetlag). We have bounced from activity to activity, taking in as much of this magical place as possible. Even now, a week later, it does not seem possible that we are really here: That we’re here on these beautiful grounds and preparing for a weekend in London (and trying to get some studying in every now and then).

But we are—we’re here.  

I was more than a little apprehensive about traveling at first. I have never been too far from home without a reliable, built-in, back-up system, and this time I was entirely on my own—there was no turning back. Saying good-bye to my family at airport security seemed like the hardest thing to do, especially for a family as close as my own. In that one instant I was terrified about all the things to come, of all that could be, but as soon as I walked past that gate, hands shaking, I knew I was going to be okay.

And I was right.

So time might not be completely linear, or, at least, grounded in the way we have always imagined it. Time is moving, time is passing, and before we know it, it’ll be the end of the semester. This time here in the manor will have come and passed and we will all have been the better for it.

Now, though—now is when it counts. We have the next four months ahead of us, so let’s make the absolute best of it.

- Abby Ponder

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Leaving the Nest

      I’ve been to Britain before, once, for two weeks when I was thirteen.
      That doesn’t mean I’m not nervous about living at Harlaxton.

      Last time I traveled abroad, I had my parents with me. This time, I don’t. Sure, sometimes I think I’d like to move out of their house permanently, but there’s a difference between moving across town and spending four months across the Atlantic Ocean. I’ve never been away from my parents for more than three nights at a time. I’ve never even lived in a dorm before.

    I guess I have to start being self-reliant some time. What better place is there for me to grow up a little than a manor in England?

   I love Britain, anyway. When I returned from my trip to Britain six years ago, I felt homesick for Britain. The island captured my imagination. It was everything that I’d read in the history books I adored. There really were ancient Roman walls in the middle of cities. I really could stand in churches where monks had stood a thousand years earlier.  At Harlaxton, I get to live in a manor. This morning, I went to church in Harlaxton village. That church was originally erected in the twelfth century, put together in bits and pieces through the centuries. It’s been through the Reformation and many, many wars. Later this semester, with my Shakespeare class, I’ll visit Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s old town. History is everywhere in Britain. What’s not to love?

   I know I’ll have a hard time adjusting to life away from home at first. I won’t be able to get hugs and kisses from my mum whenever I need them…but that’s just a part of growing up. I can Skype her, and I can learn to take care of myself. Once I’ve settled in and classes start, I’ll be so busy studying—fantasy literature, British Studies, Irish literature, Shakespeare—and adventuring—London! Edinburgh! York!—that I won’t have time to be homesick. I’ll learn to travel the world by myself and speak for myself. I’ll get to live in a land where history is everywhere you look.

    As I sit in the courtyard of the Carriage House, feeling the cool breeze and looking up at the sunny sky, that prospect doesn’t seem frightening at all.  

           - Kirstin Ethridge

Monday, 15 April 2013

My English Family

The beginning of my semester, like many students, was rocky and unexpected.
On top of unanticipated homesickness, I experienced nightly anxiety attacks and lack of sleep from the time change the first week abroad. After the first weekend spent here, I received a phone call from my parents which set a rough opening scene for my whole semester.
A perpetrator broke into the home of my best friend’s brother and shot him before leaving. He was in critical condition from multiple shot wounds.
After hearing the news, my mother immediately thought about my mental state and wellbeing, concerned about how I would process the news. At about this time, I met my Meet-A-Family.
I, along with two other Western Kentucky University students, Susan Creech and Rebekah Huffman, have had the joy of calling Reverend John and Christine Bruce our English “Mum” and Dad this semester.
Established in 1983 and now celebrating 30 years of success, the Meet-A-Family program of Harlaxton College was made so visiting American students had the chance to meet and build relationships with local families in Grantham. It’s also designed to involve students in the community and give them a sense of British identity while spending their semester abroad.
Before I met John and Christine, my mother let them know of her worry for me after the news. A mother and father themselves, John and Christine immediately reached out and invited me and my other semester sisters to their home before the Meet-A-Family program officially started.
Although meeting for the first time in the midst of a stressful and gloomy event, they opened their home and allowed us to be our goofy, American selves in their cozy family room from week to week. Being in a home rather than a grand manor during those hard first weeks impacted my time at Harlaxton immensely. If I didn’t have my Meet-A-Family to find my home away from home, I would have crumbled.
Each week since the beginning Susan, Rebekah and I have gone to John and Christine’s home every Wednesday night, shared a lovely home cooked meal and watched a film to finish the night.
It’s almost habit now, anticipating John’s message to schedule the specific time he would pick us up from the Manor via FaceBook. It was the one thing we could always rely on each week as our lives were filled with homework, homesickness and travel.
John and Christine, although wise from age, are young at heart. Now retired, they both have more time to pour into students each semester and influence and be influenced by each set of students that come to Harlaxton semester after semester. John’s youthful personality and Christine’s lovely tenderness are genuinely welcoming and make it easy for one to feel right at home as soon as you walk through their front door.
The Meet-A-Family program has impacted my life by teaching me more about British culture, more about the difference in generations, and the importance of relationships. John and Christine have taught me much more than I could have learned in a classroom during my time abroad, and they helped me cope with a rough beginning of the semester.
From our family outings to the town in which they grew up, to walking around the church they were married in, to them allowing us to play with their loveable dog, Katie, my times with John and Christine will never be forgotten. I can now say that I have a Mum and a Dad in England, and that’s all thanks to Harlaxton’s Meet-A-Family program.
From left to right: Reverend John Bruce, Susan Creech, Katie Greiner, Rebekah Huffman and Christine Bruce enjoying a family outing to John and Christine’s native Spalding, England.
-Katie Greiner

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Time Clash

America is a very young country. Nothing has made this clearer to me than this semester at Harlaxton. In my travels around Europe, I have been amazed at how evidence of times long past still exists today. From the ruins of ancient Roman forts in England to the magnificent cathedrals such as Notre Dame in France, the preservation of history in Europe is very impressive. But one city in particular has grabbed my attention more than any other because of how it manages to mingle the past with the present.

London, England is an enormous city. I have been their twice and still have only seen a small part of it. There was Parliament and Big Ben, the London Eye, Buckingham Palace, the British Museum, Westminster Abby, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Baker Street, and so much more to see and do there. Like many other cities in the UK, London had many stone or brick buildings that looked like they were from an older time. As they are in all of England, the streets of London are narrow, like they would have been during the horse and cart days before motorcars. The many museums in England, such as the British Museum, hold artifacts and treasures from ancient times and from cultures all over the world. It is obvious that London is very concerned with preserving the past. However, as I looked over the skyline, I noticed something that seemed to contrast greatly with this preservation of the old. Modern-looking buildings and skyscrapers stood tall throughout the city. Many seemed to be off in the distance, away from the older-looking parts of town. The designs of some of these buildings were very unique and creative. There were a few egg-shaped structures, such as the elongated Gherkin building. Another prominent structure, which looked a bit like a very tall, skinny pyramid, was called the Shard. According to its website, the Shard is the tallest building in Western Europe. Some areas of London combined the old and the new quite well. In Piccadilly Circus, while many of the buildings were still reminiscent of older times, wrapped around one of them was a large screen that flashed several different advertisements, somewhat similar to the giant advertising screens seen in New York City.

The way London easily combines the new with the old greatly impressed and intrigued me. No other city that I have visited in my travels with Harlaxton captured this mixing of two clashing time periods quite as well. It once again reminded me of how young my country is, and made me wonder if perhaps someday America will have its own version of London, preserving relics of the past while embracing the modern touches of the present. 
-Falaniko Medrano