Monday, October 26, 2009

A Brief Chance to Breathe

Unlike Tunisia--when, after speaking and breathing Arabic all day, I eagerly awaited my thirty minutes before bedtime to write and escape back to English--London is unpredictable. Every day I get to do something different, but between staying up late having political conversations at the pub, writing papers and dissertations, and being distracted by sightseeing and exploring, reflection time for me is getting harder and harder to find as everything I've ever wanted to do gets put in front of me.

Edinburgh, Scotland
Our second week my program took us on a political trip to Edinburgh--probably the most magical city in the world. The skyline lights up at sunset like a fairy tale (first picture) complete with castles, volcanic rock jutting out and colored amber in the twilight, and black-stone buildings looming over grass so green it looks like a fresh coat of paint.

In the mornings we had seminars with Scottish lawyers, members of their special Scottish Parliament, and other political figures. In the afternoon they let us loose; I visited the main Edinburgh Castle, built on an extinct volcano (second picture) and overlooking the main city (third and fourth picture). We also visited the famous graveyards of Edinburgh, went on a ghost tour, and enjoyed the brilliant sunny days by just walking about and taking it all in.

The day after we returned from Scotland I had had enough: I needed to get back to the first place in England that captured my heart. I committed the whole day to reliving last summer--Queens College (sixth picture), punting on the river (seventh picture), and walking in the University Parks (eighth picture). That night I met up with my good friend John the Porter, who heads the security at Queens College, and he invited me and my LMU friends with me to a freshman introduction mixer (school had just started for Oxford). It was the perfect end to a perfect day, being able to roam the halls of Queens again and enjoy a British night with British students.

The following weekend I boarded a train, and two hours later through the Chunnel separating Britain and Europe I was roaming the streets of Paris (see ninth picture). While Paris (and France for that matter) had never been quite up there on my travel list, I ended up having a fantastic experience. What particularly struck me was, stepping off the train, finding myself staring wide-eyed at a replica of the streets of Tunis. It then struck me as foolish, to think that Tunis (the capital of Tunisia) wouldn't have any kind of similarity with the country that colonized it (France had occupied Tunisia for 100 years).

We hit all the main tourist parts, like the Lourve--the massive museum with four miles worth of art (tenth and eleventh picture)--the Nortre Dame Cathedral (twelfth picture), and the Arc du Triumph
(thirteenth picture). We also did some unconventional trips, such as exploring a cemetery near our hostel (fourteenth picture). And of course we made the pilgrimage to the Eiffel Tower--a spectacular, incredible piece of architecture that is absolutely unlike anything you can expect until you've seen it (fifteenth and sixteenth picture).

London, England
Today marks the first complete week I've spent in London since flying over. After the whirlwind of travels I got to do I'm very much enjoying the relative calm one gets for being in a single place. Granted, that calm hasn't been too comforting; I've had three projects to do this week for school, as well as the beginning of my internship at Parliament.

Which is absolutely fantastic; these first two weeks have been a blast. Graham (he insists on a first-name basis) is not a politician--or perhaps now that I'm working for one I seem them differently?--but regardless, he's a great person to work for. And his track record as a Member of Parliament (MP) isn't shabby either; his social programs and dedication to his constituency have done so much good for his voters. What's particularly interesting is that his passion for what he does effectively translates into action. A bit blunt and brusque (more a characteristic of British politicians though), he still has done more for his constituents than most other MPs. As for the work I'm doing, I'm running the gambit, from (sigh) stuffing envelopes, to (wow) doing casework and research for problems constituents have and preparing for his next campaign. These first two weeks I've done a solid job, so I'm hoping in the remaining weeks I'll continue to have the opportunity to prove myself doing challenging and even more interesting things.

Now that the whirlwind is over, I'll be able to update this more often. Hope all is well on your side of the pond!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

London to Edinburgh in 8 Days

Barely eight days had I settled into Number 12, Manson Place, when I found myself stepping off Platform 9 at Kings Cross (yes, that Platform 9!) on a train towards Edinburgh, for an equally Harry Potter-like experience of floating over the green misted pastures of the English and Scottish countryside.

So here I am, content with a full day's worth of travel both on train and on foot, in a Scottish inn writing the conventional I-don't-know-where-to-begin introduction to a set of whirlwind adventures in my first full week. Like last week, I'm afraid you're not going to get a reflective piece of blogging but rather a hasty set of snapshots that probably do more harm than good in describing a fantastic first foray into London life.

On Wednesday I met with my MP (Member of Parliament), Graham Allen, who I'll be working for this semester, and his assistant Peter. We had a "cuppah (of tea)" out on the terrace of Parliament (see first picture) overlooking the Thames, witnessing a remarkably sunny day for an October London. Graham was relaxed but engaging, with an energy that grabbed you as soon as he got on his talking-points of social justice and political accountability. I was amazed and thrilled at how easy it was to be talking with a person directly involved in the issues I talked (endlessly, some may say) about every day! I was at the edge of my seat the entire meeting, and will be until I start next Tuesday...which, after that meeting, couldn't come soon enough! Afterward, I had some time to walk around Whitehall (second picture, the area were Parliament is), so I played tourist and took shots of Downing Street (third picture, where the Prime Minister lives), Big Ben (fourth picture), a really cool statue of Winston Churchill (fifth picture).

On Saturday I went to the morning markets, a tradition in London (see sixth, seventh, and eighth pictures) It was great fun, milling about in a very similar way to the souks in Tunisia, listening to the vendors shout their prices and seeing exotic products from everything to ostrich eggs to boar burgers (no, I didn't take one for the team and try one). I did sample a curious Cajun-prawn wrap, which ended up tasting pretty Cajuny to me (for all my New Orleans expertise) and bought some clementines, berries, and carrots all for under four pounds--a steal in a place like London.

Well, didn't realize how late this would take me, and I'm fairly tired and I need to be up early...but seeing as I was going to talk about Hyde Park, check out the ninth and tenth pictures (the tenth is of the Royal Albert Hall).

Tune in next week for a recap of my adventures in Scotland. I posted the final picture to whet your appetites :)