Throughout our week here in London, one of the things we have heard most often is the famous phrase “Mind the gap,” the train conductors’ incessant reminder to make sure that people getting on or off the train remember not to step in the space between the train and the platform. With this phrase ringing in my ears, I have realized that this trip has made quite a few gaps visible, both literally and figuratively.
For example, in our walks around the city, we are constantly reminded of the gap between the past and the present; buildings that several centuries old stand next to brand new construction sites all over the city. We have talked time and time again about the gap between the nature of the country and the city. This idea was reinforced by our trip by train to Dorchester, but it was especially driven home by our trek through Hampstead Heath yesterday. The Heath was originally a haven of natural landscapes outside of the city of London, but has since been swallowed up as the city has grown around it. Yet the Heath is still an oasis of natural beauty and escape from the bustle of the city.
We have been reminded of cultural gaps, as well. Although the vast majority of the people we have encountered in England have been extremely polite and kind, over the course of the week we have also encountered some resentment toward Americans, and some of us were even denied entrance into a pub for lunch because of this cultural discrimination. These cultural gaps are also visible on every street corner—every time we cross the street, we can hear at least four or five different languages being spoken by people of at least three or four different ethnicities. It is truly a different experience from life in Indiana.
We have encountered several other gaps, as well. Perhaps the most important has been the physical one. Even as we traveled around the Hampstead area yesterday, taking in various sights, including Professor Herzog’s favorite pub, the Holly Bush, the home of Robert Louis Stevenson, the home of John Keats, the graves of various important Londoners, the Heath, and a small stand where we were able to buy some genuine (and delicious) crÈpes, we all remembered the gap between us and our homes on Thanksgiving Day. On a day for remembering what it is we celebrate and are grateful for in our lives, we were foreigners in another country, our loved ones across the ocean.
But that’s not all there is to this trip. As Professor Herzog is so fond of pointing out to us as we visit each new place, this is not a trip about gaps, but about connections. Though the past and the present might seem irreconcilably separated by the facades of the buildings, we have learned more and more about how the past has influenced the present and informed the buildings of today. We have begun to realize how the city and the country interacted even as they appeared to be separate entities. We have seen evidence of how people from so many backgrounds can come together to form a global city like London. And, though we had our afternoon free to explore London as we pleased yesterday, when we all (the students, the Herzogs, and Jeana Rogers) gathered together at a delicious Italian restaurant to share a Thanksgiving dinner together, we remembered that though we have an ocean between us, the people we care about are not all that far removed from us at all. We all hope that our friends and loved ones know we all thought of them and wished them a happy holiday.
With one day left in London, I have had an incredible, spectacular time, but I am ready to come home and share my experiences with the people I care about, and I am sure many of my peers feel the same. We have all learned not only to mind the gap, but now we hope we know how to close it a little better.
Art, Architecture, and Our Final Day in London…..
As was the case with much of our trip, today was much about witnessing connections, connections of time, place, and people. We began our day in the 19th century, our time period of primary focus, at London’s Tate British art museum. Here we viewed a sizable collection of works by J.M.W. Turner, a seminal Victorian artistic figure. The number of works on display and the sizable amount of museum space devoted to this single artist is demonstrative of the importance the British assign to this native son. As far as personal highlights go, I found the pieces of the pre-Raphaelites impressive as an artistic endeavor, if not entirely aesthetically pleasing.
I believe some of the highlights of the trip for most of the students has been Joe Herzog’s architectural tours, and this afternoon’s survey of modern London architecture proved to be no different. Architecture is something few, if any of us, possess even a passing knowledge of. †Every insight or lesson or connection Joe can make for us is therefore wholly new and intriguing. It certainly is a field of unexpected depth, and I think that most of us have been surprised by the level of potential connection and reflection quality architecture possesses in regards to it’s contemporary time, place, and people. Highlights of this afternoon’s tour would have to include the Swiss-Re building and Lloyd’s of London, which, like the work of the pre-Raphaelites, is admirable and inspiring as a work of innovation and vision even if it is not entirely aesthetically pleasing.
Looking back at our week in London, I think that for many of us, this trip will serve as a fitting capstone to our academic life at Wabash. Our aims for this journey were ambitious, but I doubt that anybody would say this trip was anything but an overwhelming success. We have experienced a culture and a country and a people about as fully as we possibly could in the span of seven days, and we will all come away with memories and experiences that will stay with us for a very, very long time.
As we all reflect on our time abroad, and look forward to returning to the homeland and our loved ones, we can say this: London is a special place. It has enlightened us. †It has affected us. †London’s rare atmosphere is an experience all it’s own. And we have breathed deep of it.