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Jane Austen Dancing: Take Seven (Fin)

Jane Austen dancing has been one of the best experiences of study abroad, so we were incredibly thankful to get to have one last session during our last week.  My favorite dance that was introduced this time involved weaving underneath arches that other dancers would form with their arms and skipping about to a fun fast beat.  The organizers were very gracious and played some of our favorite dances, including the  Duke of Kent’s waltz (the sophisticated and slow dance), the Ship’s Cook sea shanty (weaving around in a circle, and featuring the creative and fun male sea shanty arms!), and the College Hornpipe (aka the stomping dance!).

It was somewhat bittersweet to dance our last dance (and tiring) but we had such a lovely time this semester.  Bea organized a thank you note signed by the regular dancers from our programme, thanking the Jane Austen dancers for welcoming us and putting up with our giant learning curve, which we presented at the halfway point break.

It was a fitting end to a great experience.  Jane Austen dancing will always be some of my fondest memories from study abroad.

The Spring Break Crew Goes to Bristol

It was wonderful to meet Renee over Spring Break, and we were fortunate enough that she was also based in the UK for the semester.  So we were determined to meet up at least once more before we parted countries.  Renee decided to spend the weekend in Bristol, a port city 15 minutes away from Bath by train, allowing Becca, Maddie, and myself to meet up with her for a fun last daytrip.

Having been planning this excursion for a while, I had taken the opportunity to consult with Andrew about places to see in Bristol (he has never led me astray).  He naturally recommended some churches and suggested a route to the port, which was very helpful in giving us a bit of direction for our excursion.

So our first stop was St. Mary’s, a beautiful church just minutes away from the train station.

From there we found some stands selling all sorts of wares, and we simply had to sample some desserts.  We then made our way to the Cathedral, an incredible towering structure.  Its tolling bells were an interesting contrast to the Ed Sheeran music playing nearby.

Renee suggested we make our way to a tower that provided far-reaching views of Bristol.  At the top were metal plates indicating various international cities, including nearby Bath!

Renee than suggested a scenic route taking us past some colorful graffiti, harkening back to our spring break days of following Renne’s guidance.  We eventually reached the famous Bristol suspension bridge.

Nearby was a natural slide of smooth stone.  I think it’s primarily used by children, but we had a fun time sliding down too.

After getting some food (I tried my first Scotch egg), we took some time to simply sit in a nearby park and chat, introducing Renee to the concept to Greek life in the States.

Eventually we continued on our way, carving a path to the docks and the water.

We ended our time with more chatting and Maddie introducing us to what is now my favorite New Zealand cider, Old Mout.  It was wonderful to see Renee again, and it was the perfect last hurrah in the UK for our spring break crew.

Stratford-Upon-Avon

Stratford week (or more aptly, The Three Days in Stratford) was a chance for us to take a break before finals in Shakespeare’s hometown.  Our programme put us up in bed and breakfasts with random roommates. Luckily my roommate for Stratford was Maddie’s roommate Kinaya, and we got along just fine.  The B&B itself was quite nice.  We had lovely rooms that reminded me of proper hotels, complete with a kettle for warm beverages and chocolate.  Breakfast was customized to our particular preferences and waking times, and was so filling that I was never able to finish it all.

For our first day, we visited the birthplace of Shakespeare, the highlight of which was getting to see Shakespearean actors act our pieces from plays suggested by the audience.  It was great spontaneous fun.

That night we saw our first piece of theatre for the week, the Duchess of Malfi.  It was a particularly tragic and bloody performance (the stage floor was literally covered in a pool of stage blood) and featured a giant carcass ominously present for the duration of the play.  It emphasized very timely themes of the consequences of toxic masculinity and trying to control women’s sexuality.  This was particularly well done, and was probably my favorite play of the week.

We had several hours to explore Stratford-Upon-Avon, including finding a beautiful trail along the river.  The town itself has a distinct architecture, much older and distinctive from the Georgian work we’re used to seeing in Bath.

We then had the chance to visit the house of Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s wife.  The grounds were beautiful, and we were able to wander about and frolic for a while.

Our second play was a period comedy called The Fantastic Follies of Mrs. Rich.  The costumes were sumptuous, and I loved the intro of saxophone wielding musicians in period dress.  The comedy itself was not necessarily my type of humor, but I could appreciate that it was still a good production.

For our next day, we got to visit Kenilworth Castle, another example of a structure that had been partially demolished.

We were given free reign to explore the historical grounds and ruins (Queen Elizabeth I herself had visited).

After visiting a pub that claimed to be the oldest in Startford we saw our last play, the classic Romeo and Juliet.  At this point I’ve become quite good at following the plot and dialogue, having seen many different versions over the years.  This performance specifically aimed to highlight issues of knife violence in the UK (a fascinating problem from the lens of an American used to gun violence being the topic of conversation).

This ended our time in Startford, and we took a late night bus back to our flats in Bath.

Bizarre Bath Comedy Walk

Jennifer, Maddie, and myself decided to take advantage of a warm spring evening for some comedy centered around the city of Bath.  We met our guide outside the Huntsman.  He was a hilarious jokester with a penchant for improv.  One of the first stunts he did was take us to the “red light district of Bath”, where he claimed to be able to sense lay lines.  To prove his point he had a member of our group blindfold him, and he began his quest for a lay line.  Thus I think we may have shocked a poor taxi driver who was innocently minding his own business when a blindfolded man dressed entirely in purple stumbled past, followed by a large group of earnest tourists.  Right after this stunt a bizarre biker flew past, wearing a bag on his head.  Our guide quickly quipped that he must be off to find the Stonehenge lay lines.

The next big stunt involved a stuffed bunny named Stu, who was an escape artist following in the footsteps of Houdini.  The poor creature was bound and weighted before being tossed in the river, but miraculously emerged unscathed.

After creating a balloon animal (not without recreating the music from Psycho) that rather resembled a “dog from Chernobyl” we made our way to Bath Abbey.  For his next stunt her borrowed a lady’s wedding ring to tie to a balloon.  Alas, it slipped from his grasp and began to peacefully meander over the abbey.  Lost forever, surely.  Well not quite.  Who should emerge to save the day?  None other than Stu the stuffed bunny, who rolled in on a little motorized car accompanied by the ring.

We next made our way to a little area with the world’s “largest bonsai tree” and wooden stocks.  Jennifer was selected to help with a demonstration, and was promptly placed in said stocks.  Our guide then produced a large saw and a bucket, presumably to catch poor Jennifer’s head.  Luckily the only thing harmed by his saw were some carrots.  I have photograph evidence of this event, but I’ve been sworn not to release them on the internet, lest we have to revisit the stocks…

I don’t know who took the time to wander around Bath and find little funny anecdotes and structures around the city, but it certainly makes for an amusing evening.

Walking to Bradford-on-Avon (Legitimately)

Since the hike to Bristol, it seemed only fitting to attempt the canal path in the opposite direction towards Bradford-on-Avon.  Maddie graciously took me up on this quest.  After visiting Henrietta Park and Sydney Gardens, we made our way to the path itself.  We were quickly greeted by a canal boat market, where various goods were being sold and different instruments were being played.  It was somewhat reminiscent of Glastonbury.

The canal path was quite busy.  A balmy 75 degrees (Fahrenheit) seems to coax out the English.  We even ran into a fellow ASE student who happened to be roller-skiing down the path.  It was a gorgeous day.

After crossing a canal bridge that took us over the river (Maddie described this as a sort of water inception, with water flowing over water), the path we were on suddenly turned into a trail.  Before we knew it, we were in the woods overlooking the canal, where we could see travelers in the distance continuing on their merry way on the opposite side of the water.  We had missed crossing the canal, and now we were in a bit of a quandary, stuck in the woods.  We decided to take a chance and hope that this trail would meet up with the canal path again.  Little did we know that we would soon have our perseverance tested by various obstacles.

The first was, aptly, mud.  Not quite Keynsham level mud that I had seen on my first canal excursion.  But significant mud none the less.  I have a tendency to approach mud with a fair amount of optimism (it is an adventure after all) but Maddie wasn’t as enthused as I was by the prospect of mud crossing.

Our second obstacle was a fallen tree across our path.  This was much more suited to Maddie’s taste, and she easily perched herself on the tree, becoming quite fond of it.

At this point I had the Road to El Dorado song “The Trail We Blaze” stuck in my head.  We eventually came to the end of the woods where we were greeted with a field that we began to cross.  As we approached the opposite side, it became apparent that the whole area was enclosed, and no gate was evident in any obvious way.  Rather than search for such a gate, Maddie declared that we would scale the wall.  Which we did with a fair degree of success.

After this excursion we were now at a road that allowed us to return to the proper canal path.  We eventually hit some nice shaded areas alongside the water, which made for pleasant traveling.

We soon made our way to the town of Avoncliff, where we stopped for some light food and air conditioning.  We then forged onward, eventually taking a little trail to walk along the river rather than the canal, which was a more direct route to Bradford-on-Avon.

Keep in mind that during this adventure I’m hiking along with a trusty walking stick found during our detour into the woods.  Walking sticks may make me a strange sight to more casual travelers, but they are quite useful.

Finally we reached our destination of Bradford-on-Avon.  It was a pretty town that was fun to casually explore before stopping for a drink.  Maddie introduced me to the refreshing deliciousness that is Old Mout cider, before we made our way to the train station for the final leg of our journey back to Bath.  We ended the day with 10 miles, over 28,000 steps, beautiful pictures, and a great adventure successfully completed.

Laurel’s Art Showcase

The end of our time in England is approaching, and thus we’ve moved into the stage where we begin celebrating the culmination of our studies (in addition to final papers, dissertations, and exams…).  This past Thursday was an excellent example of this.  Laurel has been doing a tutorial over the course of the semester on printmaking, and was showcasing some of her work at a local art gallery.  Sarah was interning there and did a great job helping with setup and refreshments, accompanied by two excellent servers in the form of Andrew and Jonathan.

It was fun to see another student’s work on display, and especially to see the influence of her family and personal experience on her art.  We were also able to peruse other exhibits, which used all sorts of different mediums, including wood and sculpture.  It was a great way to experience art and highlight the accomplishments of a semester.

Jane Austen Dancing: Take Six

Wednesday nights have been marked by Jane Austen dancing, and this Wednesday was no different.  There were several new people at the event, and as such it seems like we chose some easier songs.  But this meant that I could attempt to make some quality improvements.  I still struggle with footwork.  One of the typical callers was my partner for one dance, and she helped guide me through setting (a little side to side step).  I turns out I had been assuming it was based on a one-two beat when it was really one-two-three.  Small things like that make a real difference in dance accuracy and quality.

At one point when my partner and I stepped out for a section, I grabbed my phone to take some pictures.  Martin graciously took over for and took some great video where you can see me attempting Jane Austen dancing.  I’ve been wanting to get some proper evidence of my work for a while now, and now I have it!

 

Internship Reflection

Over the past semester I’ve had the chance to intern at Suited & Booted Studios, a short film and documentary company based here in Bath.  I’ve gotten to assist with a range of tasks, from pre-production to communication to even some light editing and acting.  I’ve learned a lot about the workplace, and most especially a small British workplace.

My last day reiterated to me just how wonderful the people at my internship are.  Around 4pm I was called upstairs to the meeting room, where I was greeted by all of the employees who had set up a cream tea for me (one of the most British send-offs you could have).  They had set up scones and butter (cream) and jam and tea (which sparked many conversations about how you pronounce scone and do you put cream or jam on your scone first?).  They had all signed a lovely card for me.  And to top it all off, they got me a present.  I had mentioned a few times about my exploits with Jane Austen dancing, which they found highly amusing.  And so they had gotten me a CD of Jane Austen era music!

It was a lovely way to end my time at my internship.  I’m so grateful to have gotten the opportunity to work with such great people.

Bath and the Transatlantic Slave Trade Talk

Bath is a gorgeous Georgian city.  But that doesn’t necessarily mean that its history is as pleasant as its architecture.  The evening began with some refreshments and drinks, before launching into an explanation of Bath’s connection to the slave trade.  Nearby cities were also heavily implicated.  Our speaker had read my blog, and specifically referenced our attempted walk to Bristol.  Apparently Bristol was a huge port connected to the trade.  And numerous individuals in Bath profited specifically from plantations.  A lot of the discussion was history oriented, but I managed to comment with a bit of neuroscience, as there is research to suggest that when we dehumanize people, we literally do so at the level of the brain. Areas that respond to inanimate objects like rocks will activate, but not the areas that respond to fellow humans.  It’s a disturbing insight into how atrocities are allowed to happen.

The second portion of the session was devoted to Andrew, who once again acted as our city guide.  He took as to several different points around Bath, telling us about the history and the people involved.  He was so engaging that I believe a couple of tourists briefly joined our group to take pictures.  He ended by quoting some disturbing remarks of our own Nelson of Nelson house (the main academic building of the program).  Many of us agreed that we should rename the building in Andrew’s honor.

The evening provided important insights into the reality of Bath.  History and truth should not be forgotten, no matter how unpleasant.

A Night of Poetry, Magic, and Music

I met up with Maddie, Emily, and Kinaya to walk to the St. James Wine Vaults for a unique evening.  We’ve attended many events during our time in Bath, but not many put young people front and center, and it turned out that this would be an excellent opportunity to experience British youth culture.

Of course, we didn’t know that going into the night.  We weren’t sure what to expect from an event entitled Garbage, Gay, Vaginas, and Magic.  But as it turned out, it seemed to be a night showcasing creativity, largely from Bath Spa University students.

Our MC for the night was Garbage Girl, face decorated with glitter.  She introduced the first segment, which was poetry.  Some of it dripped with the angst that has come to be associated with the millennial generation.  But through it all was a sharing of experiences through the beauty of words.

The second segment was a magic show.  Due to the large number of people, our magician for the night chose a central location to perform his act, which just happened to be in front of our table!  He performed many card tricks with a smattering of coin magic thrown in, often choosing audience members such as Maddie and Emily to participate.  I used to dabble in magic myself, so I could occasionally see some of the mechanics of what he was doing, but it didn’t detract from the fun experience.

The last segment was music.  Our first performer was YONIC, who performed various hilarious and yet poignantly truthful feminist songs.  To give you a taste, an ode to armpit hair was her opening number.  And our last act for the night was Garbage Girl herself, who performed some raw personal pieces.

The event was a great opportunity to relax and hang out with British people our own age, and take in their various crafts.