Rue for You

“I am learning peacefulness, lying by myself quietly / As the light lies on these white walls, this bed, these hands… / I didn’t want any flowers, I only wanted / To lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty. / How free it is, you have no idea how free——”

Fragments of Sylvia Plath’s “Tulips” came to me today as I laid, supine, in the dim office, full of waiting. My body was humming. I became an itch. It was hard to breathe.
There was a vial in my left hand, and the other arm, outstretched, was draped like Ophelia’s. There must have been something to its geometry for I stopped, agog, heart quickening, when I noticed the likeness — transported back to the Tate Britain.
It was her portrait I lingered at the longest in the gallery dedicated to the Pre-Raphaelites, and I perched nearby with my eyes scarcely departing from her frame. I attempted to sketch her but could not do her justice. She was so vivid. It was a Millais.
I had written a paper on her suicide — well, on how it wasn’t really a suicide at all yet was, subconsciously — and Hamlet was fresh in my mind. I could still remember the symbolism behind all of the flowers and herbs in her garland. Daises, rue, rosemary, violets, fennel.

“It is what the dead close on, finally; I imagine them / Shutting their mouths on it, like a Communion tablet… / The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me. / Their redness talks to my wound, it corresponds.”

Ophelia did not know death was coming and yet, deep down, she sensed it all along. I am sure all of Shakespeare’s characters are haunted by that sense of perpetual morality, aware somehow that he could, in an instant, scratch their name from the script, blot their character out.
I didn’t know death was coming either and yet I did. I felt it deeply, primitively, fearfully.
I think that I always, to an extent, feel it, fear it. La même chose. And here it appears, garish, in the most unexpected of forms. Now I mourn the loss of the things
I did not cherish in their proper time, and the tears are bitter — full of Gatsby’s longing.
I think that his life will end tonight, but I pray that he does not leave this hollow world alone. I hope an inward part of him is soothed, guided, surrounded, comforted. Once of one stubborn mind, united in motion and quickness of being, in freedom and play, I mourn the death of an extension of myself. I hope he is able to greet the midnight hour when he quietly bids farewell.
Until then, the night is pregnant with untrodden paths and unspoken words, and,
alack, I drown, singing — desperate to fill the years of silence.

Everyday Anthems

a woman sat atop the glossy bench,

and I averted my eyes like a wild thing,

glimpsed myself in a shopwindow

without a spark of recognition

until it all came rushing in,

there and back again

from that widening gyre where

synapses crackle and fly like fireworks

— oh, this is me, now.

ragged and composed, yes.

now, this is me. oh —

shining like some newly-minted anthem,

                                                                 (we fought for this)

                                                    fizzing like the sea of the flapper’s fluted glass

                                                                                                                              (we drink to this).

 

lapwing cacophony, a twiggy nest

in the branches initially beyond my reach.

sandwiches as sacraments; prayers like butterknives.

 

the crooked man with a limp

         rushes ahead to open the door wide,

                                          and i, fumbling, sashay inside.

                 the biography of a kindred spirit

                                                                                               is lonely, on clearance — $2.51.

 

coins jingle then nestle in my palm:

a shoddy imitation of the solar system.

the universe abounds in a teacup

but constrained, maimed.

A Year in Pages: 2018 (II: May-December)

At the beginning of 2018, in celebration, I read eight books! (see this blog post) The spring semester of my freshman year was a busy one, so I was unable to read recreationally until the summer (when I had a copious amount of time to do so in England on trains or the Tube). Listed below are the twenty other books that I read this year! A grand total of 28 books in 2018!

The Story of Art by E. H. Gombrich  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Fascinating. Engaging. Beautiful. Enlightening. Informative.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn  [✭ ✭ ✭]

Dark. Thrilling. Intense.

Z: A Story of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Sympathetic. Vivid. Dazzling. Tragic.

The Popular Girl  &  Other Short Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Decadent. Eloquent. Entertaining. Memorable. Brilliant.

The Rich Boy  &  Other Short Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Dynamic. Unexpected. Satisfying. Concise.

Sidney Chambers  &  The Shadow of Death (Grantchester #1) by James Runcie  [✭ ✭ ✭]

Suspenseful. Metaphysical. Heartwarming.

Emily Brontë: Poems by Emily Brontë  [✭ ✭ ✭]

Melancholic. Vain. Existential.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Stirring. Revealing. Moving. Candid.

You Are Free: Be Who You Already Are by Rebekah Lyons  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Life-giving. Insightful. Wise. Fruitful. Inspiring.

The Crucible by Arthur Miller  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Horrifying. Sharp. Haunting. Unsettling.

Ada’s Algorithm: Lord Byron’s Daughter Launched the Digital Age by James Essinger  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Mathematical. Intriguing. Unembellished. Illuminating.

The Distaff Side by Elizabeth Palmer  [✭ ✭ ✭]

Dramatic. Predictable. Cliché.

Ophelia by Lisa M. Klein  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Riveting. Sympathetic. Imaginative. Captivating. Fresh.

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry  [✭ ✭ ✭]

Intriguing. Mysterious. Disappointing.

The Art of Losing by Kevin Young  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Relevant. Striking. Thoughtful. Beautiful. Sorrowful.

Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Simple. Refreshing. Encouraging. Lovely.

Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L’Engle  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Breathtaking. Wise. Creative. Faithful. Candid.

Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in Summer 1953 by Elizabeth Winder  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Revolutionary. Truthful. Fascinating. Insightful. Tragic.

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Witty. Brilliant. Genuine. Impassioned. Succinct.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Startling. Raw. Political. Realistic.

 

What novels did you most enjoy reading this year, friends?

I’d love to add them to my 2019 to-read list, so please comment below!

A Compendium of (Free) London Museums

The Victoria & Albert Museum

Highlights: 2-story jewelry exhibit, the Raphael Cartoons, Idina Menzel’s Elphaba costume from Wicked, John Constable room, teapot collection, stained glass hallway, the Vivien Leigh archive, a plaster cast of Michelangelo’s David

The British Museum

Highlights: the Rosetta Stone, Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon, the Sutton Hoo mask, a mosaic that is the earliest image of Christ in Britain

The National Gallery

Highlights: Sunflowers by Van Gogh, Venus and Mars by Botticelli, The Immaculate Conception by Velazquez, The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck, The Execution of Lady Jane Grey by Delaroche, Bathers at Asnières by Seurat, The Painter’s Daughters Chasing a Butterfly by Gainsborough, and many beautiful pieces by Renoir and Monet

The National Portrait Gallery

Highlights: try to spot portraits of Ed Sheeran, Emily Brontë, Mary Wollstonecraft, Ira Aldridge, Shakespeare, Queen Elizabeth, Dame Gladys Cooper, Winifred Radford, Prince Harry, Amy Johnson, and Sarah Siddons

The Natural History Museum

Highlights: Pompeii casts, Iguanodon and Hypsilophodon dinosaurs, breathtaking Hintze Hall and Hope — its gigantic blue whale skeleton

House of MinaLima

Highlights: all of the front pages from the editions of The Daily Prophet in the Harry Potter movies, textbook props from the films (such as The Tales of Beedle the Bard or Advanced Potion Making) that were actually handled by Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffegraphic art from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and even Eddie Redmayne himself (if you happen to be extraordinarily lucky like us)

Tate Britain

Highlights: Ophelia by Sir John Everett Millais, Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth by John Singer Sargent, The Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse, Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose by John Singer Sargent, The Squash performance art

Tate Modern

Highlights: Monet’s Water-Lilies, Guerilla Girls, Untitled (for Francis) by Gormley, Salvador Dalí’s quirky Lobster Telephone, Degas’ Little Dancer Aged Fourteen

Museum of London

Highlights: London Wall (the remains of an old Roman city wall on the premises), a Victorian era replica shopfront, the Votes for Women suffrage exhibit

The Guildhall Gallery

Highlights: tour of the Roman amphitheatre ruins underneath (uncovered in the 1980s), letters between Augustus de Morgan and Ada Lovelace, The Garden of Eden by Hugh Goldwin Rivière

The Wallace Collection

Highlights: extensive armor and weaponry collection, The Swing by Jean-Honoré Fragonard (Yes, this is the painting from Frozen), cream tea in their pink courtyard

The Mithraeum

Highlights: modern art exhibit on the first floor, interactive Roman artifact wall, temple of Mithras ruins underneath (with a complimentary spooky light show included)

Notes: The British Library is also a must-see but does not allow any photography in their special collection, which is why it is not included separately above; its highlights include the Magna Carta, Shakespeare’s First Folio, the Gutenberg Bible, Jane Austen’s notebook, original sheet music by Bach and Handel, Da Vinci sketches, work by Ada Lovelace, etc. Basically, it’s heaven. The Cortauld Gallery, affiliated with the Somerset House, is free for college students and everyone under 18 but charges £8 otherwise. Though I vastly enjoyed it and would suggest visiting, that is why I refrained from including it above. Also, I would highly recommend The Charles Dickens Museum and The Sherlock Holmes Museum, which can both be enjoyed without spending a pence; they have very nice gift shops and immensely promising aesthetic exteriors for any desired photo opportunities. However, technically, neither is free, which is why they are not included above either. For adult admission and/or a tour, prices are £10-15.

to the little girl conducting an imaginary orchestra:

all these sighs and crescendoes awake for you,

    flowing together so tenderly, so recklessly,

                                    and you perceive it all, with a soft smile,

     even as those around you patter on, stoic, deafened by obligation.

 

You do not mind for the music is in you

                          and it now seems to permeate everything —

            every shining leaf, every touch trembles with vibrato;

                      all of Creation sings, awash in splendor.

———————————————————————————————————————–

                                                                   little one,

              you would not leave my thoughts, my tedious ruminations,

                               as I travelled home beneath the twilight sky,

                  cruising around bends that familiarly ache like home

            for I have slowly absorbed the geometry of them.

                 I could not forget your eyes shut tight

                         and arms in flurried, fantastical motion

                                       as you propelled yourself forward

                                                       in complete trust and joyful oblivion.

                                                                   You reveled in the overpowering potential

                of merely being alive on this planet:

                   in the complexities, in the breadth and depth,

                                                    in the everythingness life brings,

                                      cordially summoning the unknown

                         with the aim to befriend it.

Unexpected London Gems

Cream Tea (ft. The Delaunay & The Wallace Collection)

You may have heard ravings about the British phenomenon of afternoon tea. Well, allow me to set the record straight: cream tea includes scones, clotted cream, jam, and practically bottomless tea of your choice… and it’s way cheaper. Fellow penniless college students, lend me your ears. Afternoon tea at a trendy (and admittedly swoonworthy) place like sketch can be upwards of £59 per person while cream tea at The Delaunay (an elegant café in the theater district) was only £9.50 and still allowed my friends and I to feel like pampered, sophisticated Brits. (There was a gluten-free option available for the pastries as well, at no extra charge!) Cream tea is also offered at The Wallace Collection, in their stunning pink courtyard, for an even cheaper rate: £6.50 per person! Sip wisely and affordably, my friends.

 

Hidden Art Gallery in Harrods

I was, personally, extraordinarily reluctant to go to Harrods — the famous British luxury shopping emporium, boasting more than a 1.1 million square feet of space, 7 floors, and 330 different departments. To give you even more perspective, it houses 23 different restaurants and a massive gift shop… for the store itself. To some, this may sound like a dream come true; as for myself, a gal who doesn’t even enjoy venturing into an average-sized mall, it was a bit of a stimulus-overload plush nightmare. I ended up wandering away from my group into the book department, then a giant room full of expensive pens in display cases, and then, finally, I stumbled upon it: an art gallery. I stepped close to the bedecked marble walls, squinting in disbelief at the works on display. Some were, as expected, pieces for sale by contemporary artists… others were priceless artworks by Picasso and Chagall. Only in Harrods.

 

Ladurée at Covent Garden

The evening was growing late; my friends and I had just exited a West End show. Someone broached the topic of dessert, which was well-received by all. We were far too energized and full of life to return back to our rooms in the quiet borough of Highbury & Islington. Ice cream? Meh. Noncommittal muttering ensued as we began to wander the darkened avenues. “I know a place.” I volunteered with a smile, leading our small posse to Ladurée, just before it was about to close. I swear, macarons have never tasted better than they did that night — though I firmly believe that Ladurée macarons always taste like clouds and everything lovely in the world. I fell in love with Ladurée in Paris, and their London macarons did not disappoint; I probably went there 3x total during my month in London. Note: My only piece of cautionary advice is to avoid the nearby Covent Garden Tube stop if possible. It’s always incredibly packed and is essentially a claustrophobic person’s *cough* me *cough* worst fear. Crowds are funneled into two lifts to access the trains below, or, you can take dizzying flights of stairs down (or, far worse, up) that are there in case of an emergency. Basically, it’s the last place you would want to be in the event of a catastrophe… and it’s not even pleasant in the absence of one. Still, if you find yourself there in the Covent Garden Tube station rush, feeling hopeless, think of the Ladurée macarons nearby; that will give you the strength you need.

 

The West End: Stage Door & Day Tickets

Since I was enrolled in Musical Theater Survey whilst in London, I had the privilege of being fully immersed in the London arts scene, seeing a total of 10 remarkable performances, including The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, The Lion King, Wicked, Matilda, Translations, Swan Lake, and As You Like It. However, you don’t have to be a member of an arts-oriented study abroad program to afford tickets to these shows! The arts are far more accessible in the UK than in the US! TKTS in Leicester Square became our best friend, offering inexpensive day-of tickets for the hottest shows. We were able to get decent seats at Wicked and The Phantom of the Opera — my two favorite musicals — for around £20 per show! Popular West End productions also offer “day tickets” (though only for matinee performances), which require some dedicated queuing at the respective show’s box office to obtain. Some lotteries are available for shows such as Hamilton. There is one theatrical experience that is absolutely free but has the potential to produce some priceless memories: stage door. After any show, you can quietly queue at that theatre’s stage door, where many cast members will exit. If they are willing, the actors or actresses may take photos with you or autograph your program! If they are (understandably) exhausted from their recent three hour stint on stage, they may pass you by. The key to proper stage door etiquette is respecting this decision: these are human beings leaving work and they deserve their space. Sometimes, inevitably, you will wait without reward, but, other times, if you’re lucky, Christine Daaé (Kelly Mathieson) will take a selfie with you and your hyperventilating friends and Raoul (Jeremy Taylor) will smile at you and say, “Cheers!”

 

£Yard Tickets at The Globe Theatre

Remember how I said the arts are far more accessible in the UK than the US? Well, imagine watching a production of one of the Bard’s renowned plays in the actual Globe Theatre for only £5. Yes, it’s possible. You can enjoy excellent productions put on by the Royal Shakespeare Company just as the groundlings once did in Elizabethan times —  standing. You will not have a seat to call your own, nor will you be sheltered from the elements, but you will be far closer to the stage and the actors are guaranteed to cheekily interact with you throughout the show. Plan ahead, pick an (albeit rare) sunny day, and, with a £5 note in hand, advance “once more unto the breach, dear friends.” (Henry V, anyone?)

 

IMG_5930

Platform 9 ¾

So, admittedly, this stop in particular was not unexpected; I had actually been anticipating it for years, ever since reading J.K. Rowling’s beloved Harry Potter series. Located inside King’s Cross Station (across the street from the King’s Cross Tube station), this delightful photo opportunity is free and definitely worth the inevitable wait in a queue! Kind attendants in Hogwarts garb supply a wand and a scarf for the house of your choice (er, I mean, the Sorting Hat’s choice).

 

Twinings Tea Museum

I feel as if I am about to utter tea heresy, but I did not fall in love with Twinings during my stint abroad. It seemed to me rather mediocre at best. Still, that did not prevent me from enjoying their tea shop/museum hybrid location at 216 Strand — the oldest tea shop in London. They offer free tea-tasting of select flavors in the back and even have a Royal Warrant from Queen Victoria on display, celebrating Twinings as the personal supplier of tea for her distinguished household (and every British monarch since).

 

LSO Rehearsals in The Barbican Centre

These “LSO Create” open rehearsals take place on weekdays from 10:00 am-1:00 pm and are absolutely free, though you must reserve a spot in advance. It is truly an incredible way to experience the breathtaking caliber of a London Symphony Orchestra performance, and be able to come and go at your leisure, without paying a large sum. If you’re up for an adventure, there are interesting hidden courtyards in the upper levels of The Barbican Centre to explore!

 

Borough Market

Borough Market is a delightful hodgepodge of culinary sights and smells. Vendors sell truffles, fresh meats, produce, cheeses, wines — everything under the sun. My personal favorite stall is a small, cheery place called From Field and Flower. They sell various types of delectable honey from all over Europe and allow visitors to sample their wares, ranging from mild and sweet to pungent, strong honey. I purchased their lavender honey and have cherished every last drop; it’s the best honey I’ve ever had! If you visit Borough Market, make sure you visit the airy, minimalistic Monmouth Coffee across the way as well!

 

Sherlock “The Reichenbach Fall” Building

You may recognize the building on the right from Season 2, Episode 3 of BBC’s Sherlock. No spoilers here, but, if you’ve seen the show, you definitely know what gut-wrenching scene this rather indiscriminate building is featured in. I am forever thankful that my sharp-eyed friend pointed it out to me as we walked by, departing from an Art Survey class at St. Paul’s Cathedral. The game is afoot!

 

The Great Gatsby at Gatsby’s Drugstore

This was one of the best theatrical experiences I have ever been a part of and certainly ranks among the best nights of my life! If you will be in London between now and September 30th, you must go to this show! It is so professionally done, upbeat and tragic in turns, and just a dose of genuinely riotous fun. For those of you who know me well, you know that The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite novels. That was certainly a contributing factor to my thorough enjoyment of the evening, but you really don’t need to be a Fitzgerald fan to immerse yourself in some 1920s thematic mayhem. The story came alive in ways I never dreamed possible: secret rooms, Prohibition booze, a group lesson on how to dance the Charleston, a rousing piano solo. The actors were astonishing, thoughtfully portraying the characters as winsome and yet so broken. The entire warehouse-like building is customized precisely for this show, and the production is truly a refined masterpiece — as Gatsby would have enjoyed, a leap into the past.