My first ever trip to London, I had my first ever panic attack, blacked out in the middle of Harrods, and spent most of my 48 hours in town sleeping it all off in my hotel room. Still, I managed to go out for a few hours on my last day and visit the V&A with my mom and grandma. It was a magical experience, and it became one I've recreated every trip to London since.
The V&A is a vast and amazing place. I've visited it six or seven times now, and I'm sure there are still corners I have yet to discover. One thing I saw for the first time on my last trip, when A and I returned a few hours before heading to the airport, was it's library. We went on a Sunday so it was closed, but I spend a few minutes peering in from the glass doors, wishing I could go in...
The Courtauld Gallery is one of those places that I've been dying to visit for most of my life. My mom went to a Courtauld exhibit at the MET in the 80s, and I've consequently been surrounded by framed posters from it for most of my life. Manet's "Banks of the Seine at Argenteuil" has played a particularly important role, hanging in my room for years. Its blue shades instantly evoke calm and childhood happiness, and I've always wanted to see it in person.
A and I put our Saturday morning in London aside to visit the Courtauld with Angela, another Coven Morgana friend. We took our time going through the different floors of the gallery, and it truly proved to be the museum of my dreams. Small, exquisitely curated, heavy on Impressionism, and set in a beautiful building. I think I enjoyed Somerset House almost (almost!) as much as the art.
That being said, "Banks of the Seine at Argenteuil" did not disappoint, and the experience proved to be just as surreal as I'd imagined. My poster is bigger than the painting itself (coming to that realization as I stood in front of it was a very #American moment), but the vibrancy of the colors and movement of the brushstrokes come across so incredibly on canvas that I'm sorry that I didn't stand in front of it for longer. It's such a beautiful, peaceful painting.
So many of the paintings in the collection caught my attention, and I even found myself admiring an early Picasso. (I am, historically, not very fond of Picasso.) I can't wait to go back on future trips and give more time to the paintings I didn't have time to dwell over.
By far the best thing blogging has brought me over the past few years is my incredible group of friends. Many of these started as individual friendships, but more and more have them have come together over the past two years to form what we first jokingly referred to and then embraced as Coven Morgana. We don't practice witchcraft but support one another, provide morale, and share positivity, aesthetic, and cake recipes. It's brilliant and international, and while most of us live in different places, from the West Coast of the States to Western Europe, some of us still manage to meet up in England from time to time.
We were lucky enough to have such a meeting with Amy, Abby, and Amy V. Norris when A and I were in London a few weeks ago. We went to the British Library, to the Wallace Collection, had coffee and cake, and stocked up on books at my favorite Persephone Books. And then we went to the V&A and ended up drinking a bottle of wine in the café instead of browsing the Undressed exhibition. As you do when an international aesthetic coven meets up in London.
It was an altogether amazing day, and I look forward to the day every one of us can meet up and have fun together.
London in October seems to have become a mini tradition. I went to visit A last year, and we went again almost on the same dates this year. Part of the tradition also seems to be going to different plays while we're there. Last year, we saw Measure for Measure at the Young Vic with Romola Garai, and this year we traveled to London in order to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. We had our suspicions that it would be terrible, so we also decided to see Emma Rice's Imogen at the Globe to balance things out.
I'd never been to the Globe before this, while A is somewhat of an addict, going on every Shakespeare trip his university offers and having seen every Globe production so far this season. Needless to say, he was keen on our going. I was a bit skeptical at first, not because of Emma Rice, but because I can easily get bored with Shakespeare productions. I've been to my fair share of RSC productions over the past few years, but it took me some time to come to terms with the fact that I wasn't enjoying them so much as telling myself that I had to enjoy them (or, well, enjoying being in the same room as David Tennant). I'm an English lit postgrad after all. I may not be an Early Modernist, but like, how dare I admit that I'm not huge on Shakespeare and expect to be taken seriously? But seriously, I'm not huge on Shakespeare, and I'm not scared to admit it anymore. I enjoy the pop culture around him and his work (like Upstart Crow this year? I loved that), I enjoy watching some of the plays, but I dislike reading them and I need the ones I watch to be really good, engaging productions.
And that really, really was the case with Imogen. I should have known based on the title and Emma Rice's reputation alone. Imogen was a reclamation of Cymbeline, placing more weight on the female characters and adapting it to a more modern setting. I know a lot of people are mad at Emma Rice for stepping away from traditional Shakespeare (and I absolutely get that in relation to the Globe's historic function), but I for one am glad that the first production I attended at the Globe was one of hers. I enjoy Shakespeare much more when it's been updated and made more relevant. Every moment of the play was engaging and almost over-the-top and I don't think I zoned out at any point. A bitter old couple sitting behind us were horrified by the whole thing – including one moment at the end when the audience booed the conservative government, and I tend to judge the innovative success rate of any production based on how horrified traditional old people are.
All in all, I'm happy that we went and I'm tempted to tag along on A's next Shakespeare trip... at least to London... to see what else Emma Rice does next summer.
Castle Howard is one of those places that I'd wanted to visit for a long time. Like so many others, I fell down the Brideshead Revisited rabbit hole a couple of years ago. I was enthralled with the aesthetic of the novel, and I wanted to see what the story's adopted house (as Brideshead didn't take place at Castle Howard, but as the house was used for both the miniseries and the film based on the novel) looked like for myself. When A said we could go last autumn, I got very excited. We planned to go on my trips to York in November, but the house was closed for filming the new Victoria miniseries on one visit and for the Christmas installations on the other. When we then planned to go back to York in June, we decided it would be the perfect time to see it. I mean "Always Summer" is something closely related to Brideshead so when better to go than when the flowers are in bloom and the house looks most like it would have in the early chapters of the novel? Even better, going in June meant that Amy – one of our very, very good friends who you can find at Foxes in Pink Boxes – with us.
It's funny how unexpected places will go from being names to landmark places in your life. Up until the end of last summer, York to me was that place that inspired my mom's hometown's name and that place they sometimes visit on Downton Abbey. Being an English student for years, I also obviously knew about the mystery plays, but /not/ being a medievalist, it wasn't really someplace I gave much thought to.
Then one of my close friends (who /is/ a medievalist) announced that she would be going to graduate school there and then, weeks later, I met A (who is also a medievalist) (I am surrounded by medievalists), fell in love, and then found myself deep in a relationship with someone who was also about to leave for York for /twelve whole weeks/.
So York suddenly became an important place. I got live updates and photos from A every single day and got to know King's Manor and the Minster before my two visits in November. It's a gorgeous little city, easily accessible by train, with an even more gorgeous center. It's full of medieval buildings and is still surrounded by walls. The Minster, its awe-inspiring cathedral, looms over the city, and it has adorable little coffee shops everywhere. In a way, it's an ideal place – architecturally aesthetic, overcast, and deliciously caffeinated. I could easily see myself settling into it.
My only problem with the city was that – as much as I loved it – thinking of it filled me with terror. Twelve weeks may not seem like a long time to be apart from someone, but it was. A and I hadn't even been together for two months when he left, and separation that early on seemed huge. As someone who grew up on another continent from her mother, sometimes going as long as eight months without seeing her, I thought I was set for life for dealing with long distance. I thought I had it completely down and that I'd always be chill and would never have to be stressed about long distance relationships. Then I met A and my entire attitude fell to pieces. For the first time in my life, distance was hard and I spent most of the autumn terrified and convinced that a harmless city was going to take him away from me.
I knew at the time that I was being irrational, but there was little I could do about it and York quickly became the embodiment of all my fear and uncertainty. My stomach still drops the first second I think of York, but as the months have passed since A came home in December, the fear lifts with more and more ease. I rarely have to do anything more than blink to make it go away, and after our trip back to the city this past week, I won't be surprised if the feeling finally goes away altogether.
(For more of my pictures from York, see my tag on tumblr, and look for a happier post on our return to the city in the coming days.)
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I'm Olivia, a twenty-six year old grad student studying in Switzerland. This is where I share my thoughts on the academic journey, culture, travels, baking, and my daily life abroad. Read More.