Sunday, April 24, 2022

Final reflections on London...

Me on the London Eye

For my spring semester of 2022 at DMACC, I travelled with a group of 18 students to London, England with DMACC's Study Abroad program. Danielle Galien of Criminal Justice joined me, as we had close to the amount of students signed up that is required to add a second instructor. DMACC works with the American Institute for Foreign Study to create a program that includes a number of day trips around the UK and a course called British Life and Culture, which was taught by the wonderful British instructor Nicole D'Amato Moody. A DMACC instructor does the grading and assignments part of the BLC course, and Nicole provides lectures and field trips meant to teach students about the culture and history of the United Kingdom. In addition, I taught courses in humanities, literature and writing including Creative Writing, while Danielle taught Criminal Justice courses including Scientific Investigation. 

cemetery north London

I'm not one to dwell too much on my own mortality, but in the wake of the pandemic, and as I skid ever more quickly toward 50, I've found myself considering how I want to spent what might be, given my particular medical situation, the last few years of my life. My husband and I chose careers as public servants because we wanted to make a difference in our community, and following the recent unpleasantness, we saw some of our fears materializing a lot sooner than we thought they would, namely the fear that though we are working more and harder than ever before, we aren't impacting the people we serve as much as we want. I started to question whether I wasn't stagnating, or even regressing as a teacher and writer as I had never done before. Teachers always worry to some degree that they are the ones failing, whether their students are failing or not, but recently I felt especially discouraged, and especially concerned that I would spend my last couple of decades as a kind of automaton and gatekeeper, and not the mentor and thinker I want to be. My decision to go to London with students was in response to that terrible, terrible feeling.

monument to the London fire

I would never have been brave or mature enough to travel overseas to study when I was the age of these students, but as an adult this was the opportunity for growth I needed - and grow I did. After these two months, I felt the joy and satisfaction from teaching I hadn't felt since Covid-19 hit us. I had the chance to see students face challenges and overcome them, to watch them as they got a view of the world from a different perspective and embraced the unfamiliar. Part of the satisfaction came from a break in the usual teaching can't teach this semester the way you would teach at home, that's for sure. I saw that I could adapt quickly, not only to my new surroundings, but to new subject matter and styles of learning. Certainly a main advantage was having smaller classes...I can't stress enough what a difference that makes. I actually felt like I knew my young scholars, which made it easier to connect with them and meet their needs. Instead of sitting at a computer grading for six hours every day, I was exploring the world with students at my side. I felt like a leader for the first time in a long time.

the Thames as seen from Skygarden

What the DMACC London Study Abroad program offers for both students and instructors is an opportunity for growth and learning that doesn't always feel possible within the system in which we work and study together. I feel like a writer again, and whatever happens as the college presses on in the wake of Covid, I know I have taken a step forward as a scholar and teacher. The students will have discovered a lot about themselves, including that they can be courageous, wise, and adventurous members of a team. Whatever classes they took, they learned exponentially more than a typical semester would community college or elsewhere.

St. Paul's Cathedral

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't happy to come home, but I've also experienced something of a hangover in returning to the Wild West after being in the big town. Already I find myself dreaming about London buildings, about Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square and Kensington. I know I won't find anything like the Portobello Road market here, and I probably won't go to a play again - maybe ever - and that makes me deeply sad. However, I also appreciate those things I have here that I wouldn't have in the UK, and that's a kind of growth too.

Saint Mary Abbots Kensington

I will probably remember these 18 students more than I remember any other students I've taught (with the exception of one or two...looking at you Kristen and Savannah). Usually I don't find myself feeling lonesome for a student once a semester ends, no matter how well they write or how smart they are. But I miss them already, all of them: Trae, Angelica, Maddy, Grace, Jackson, Landon, Corinne, Charlotte, Zizzy, Ashley, Kylee, Kee, Kamaura, Amber, Tiphany, Kelly, Jake, Macy...all of them. I also made a new friend, which doesn't come easy for me. Danielle was awesome... honestly I can't think of a better or more compatible partner in crime. Thank goodness for her, because I might not have had some of the adventures I did without her suggestion. I find myself wondering about my homestay mom Kathy too. She's 87 and living on her own, not to mention unsteady on her feet, but I didn't expect to worry about her this much.

Trafalgar Square

I want to thank Bethany Sweeney, who coordinates the Study Abroad program. She made it easy on both myself and the students, what with all our many, many questions. Beth-Baker Brodersen is another one who encouraged me to go on this adventure, and made it less scary by sharing her own experiences on the trip. Finally, I have to dedicate this blog to Lauren Rice, who we lost in 2020. As the former director of this program, she put the idea in my head to actually do it. I never would have considered it without her subtle nudging. And she was a travel writer...a good one. I could only hope to fill her shoes. 

Lauren and Holiday

Photo Album: Out and about in London...

This is an afternoon tea. It's finger sandwiches with no crusts, scones with jam and clotted cream, mini-quiches and a selection of little cakes and shortbread cookies. (And tea, obviously.) The sandwiches and quiches are savory, but there is an awful lot of sweet going on - maybe more than would be to my liking. This was at Fait Maison in Kensington, which was a nice little cafe. The tea was excellent, and overall this was a fun little thing to do...especially if you like cake. I did notice that the English like homestay Kathy would sometimes go out with a friend and just have tea and cake. London did baked goods really well. I did this tea with my Women Writers students (see final photo.)

This photo was taken by Jackson of the Viaduct Tavern, which is near the Old Bailey in the legal district where Newgate prison would have been. You can see remnants of an old prison cell in the place, which is supposedly haunted. It's a popular joint, so Dan and I had trouble getting in, but the students said it was it was a great pub and stood out among other London pubs.

My favorite part of the extracurricular activities available in London was the markets. There were numerous options, including the Spitalfields Market which is pictured here. I think Spitalfields was my favorite, because it had a lot to offer in terms of what I like (clothes and jewelry mainly) but it wasn't as crowded as the Portobello Road market.

This was an amazing scone, and one of the better coffees I had while in London. Scones were on another level here, but coffee often left something to be desired. As an American who drinks black coffee every day, you need to order an Americano black. They will ask you if you want cream and sugar anyway, and look at you like you're insane when you refuse. Then you will either get a larger version of a straight espresso or a slightly burned cup of what tastes like Folgers or something. Occasionally a place would get it right to go (or for take away, as they put it), such as the Happy Cafe in Ealing or Cafe Society in Kensington. This place was in Leadenhall Market and was called Aux Merveilleux. 

This was a pub in Shepherd's Bush which would be a good spot to play games. I appreciated the decor, including the Dethklok poster here. There were many corner pubs in London, though most fell under a cadre of major brewers: Young's Greene King, Fuller's or Wetherspoon. This was a Young's pub.
The prawns we get in the US are obtained using very questionable labor practices, so it's best to avoid them, but in London prawns were everywhere. (Hopefully no slavery is involved in procuring them.) Since we are near the sea, the quality was better...and the size. Look at the size of these monsters in the Borough Market!
This is Portobello Road Market...a huge market and probably the best in terms of interesting offerings and especially vintage clothing. On the weekend, it's massive, and you could spend an entire day perusing the stalls. Plus, the weekend features a food stall area that is to die for: plenty of Caribbean, Indian and Mediterranean deliciousness. I had some incredible falafel, and Danielle had some yummy halloumi, which if you don't know is cheese that is usually served fried. (There is a lot of halloumi in London, and I recommend it highly.) I also got a cool map of Central London for our map wall, and Danielle got an authentic bobby hat.
Portobello Market vintage clothing. Seriously if you can't find it here it doesn't exist.
Fish and chips and the meat pie are among England's contributions to world cuisine. These were enjoyed by Danielle and me at the Hung, Drawn and Quartered pub not far from the Tower of London (hence the name.) This was a popular spot, and we were lucky to get a table. This was a beef pie they called the Eastender, and it was my first pie. It was delicious, and I even like the "minted peas" that came with it. Peas usually come with fish and chips and with pies, and you can usually get them mushy or whole. The ladle you see here contains "pie liquor," the purpose of which still mystifies me. I think you pour it on the chips? Or the pie if it's too dry?
These are pancakes from Coco Momo in Kensington, featuring clotted cream and berries. Clotted cream is wonderful. Berries in the UK by the way tend to be much bigger than in the US - note the raspberries here. These blueberries are actually tiny compared to some that I saw. Kathy put some on her cereal that were almost an inch around. Fresh fruit is pretty reasonable at the grocery I found, and the quality is better. You could get cut up mango just about any time, which you definitely can't expect in the US. I ate a lot of mango.

This is Leadenhall Market, which was very pretty, but many of the store fronts were dark. I think Covid had a pretty dire effect on it unfortunately. We did find a decent pub and a nice French bakery cafe there though.
This was from a Mediterranean restaurant pub in Ealing. Needless to say I broke very bad as a veggie in London, but there was enough falafel that I probably didn't need to. Falafel, halloumi, and other Mediterranean fare was easy to find and usually really good.
This was just a neighborhood in Kensington in early April. In London, the temperatures don't go below freezing for long, hence you saw flowers blooming even in February...lots of camelia, lilac, daffodil and tulips. This was wisteria.
Indian and similar food (Sir Lankan, Nepalese...what have you) of all price ranges was very available in all parts of London. The official dish of English is tikka masala, which is weird. Also, it probably isn't technically an authentic version, but whatever. You could get biryani almost anywhere, and it was usually pretty good. This was at Kathmandu, a Nepalese joint in Ealing. It was butter chicken, and though it didn't photograph well, it was delicious.
This is the Jubilee Market in Covent Garden. It offered a lot of artsy crafty stuff, but also clothing and jewelry and food. Covent Garden is very very busy on the weekend, so you should definitely go, but prepare for a crowd.
This is a fancy drink I enjoyed with Danielle (she had some kind of bellini) on the terrace of Harrods. It was very nice, as Brits say for something that's yummy or delicious, and very expensive. Great view of Knightsbridge though. I bought mostly from the Chocolate Halls in Harrods, as everything else would have been well out of my price range. I went into Harvey Nichols too at some point, and felt the same feeling on not belonging, like someone was going to come by and throw me out the front door by my collar at some point. There wasn't much to be found under £250 there, but it was an interesting experience anyway.
Fish and chips and cider at a pub near Parliament Square called the Silver Cross. As someone who lived in fish fry territory my whole life, I didn't feel the same excitement and fascination about this signature dish. To be honest, I think Wisco does it better. Most often in England it was cod, which is fine, but a little bland for a lake dweller.
Full English breakfast however is pretty fantastic. This version is from Coco Momo in Kensington. It doesn't feature the black pudding, which was fine by me, but it had everything else. English bacon is more like ham, but I did like it, and I even like Heinz a point. The English don't really do different types of fried eggs, so they don't understand what "over easy" means, but it was still pretty darn good.

Another English food tradition is the Sunday roast or carvery, which Dan and I enjoyed at the Cumberland Arms in Kensington, which was another pretty nice pub. It was pretty delicious, but was not unlike the kind of beef roast my mom used to make, complete with cooked carrots and potatoes cooked in meat juices. Some places really go all out with these roasts, and it was pretty yummy, so definitely try it if you get a chance. If you can get it at the home of a British family - even better.

This was our dinner at Dishoom in Kensington, a posh and popular Indian restaurant. It was a lamb biryani in a pastry and chicken tikka with naan. We absolutely housed it, and it wasn't as expensive as we thought it would be.

This was Chinatown, which is in the theatre district basically. I didn't get a chance to spend much time there, but if you are hungry for Chinese food (or any East Asian food) this place offered every possible option. It looked pretty delicious too, and there was a lot of outdoor seating for those who like people-watching. 

Speaking of the theatre district, this is the St. Martin's Theater there in Leicester Square, where Danielle and I went to see Agatha Christie's The Mouse Trap. It's the oldest running show in London, and a great example of a timeless Christie mystery. We got box seats, which was cool if not the best possible view of the stage. Even if you don't like theater, it's worth hitting at least one show in London. They do drama well, and the price can't be beat, especially compared to the US.
This is a still from Heathers the Musical taken from my copy of the program. As I said, shows are relatively cheap, but the program doesn't come with the ticket - you have to buy it. Musicals aren't necessarily what London does best, but there sure were a lot of them. I personally don't care for musicals much, but I have seen great ones, and I couldn't resist this reboot of one of my favorite 80s films. It was an interesting take, for sure, and the students who saw it absolutely loved it.

This was the National Theatre...a very cool venue with a lot of offerings, including Small Island, which I saw toward the end of my stay. This was a very long production, but it didn't feel that long. Small Island would have been a great choice for one of the shows provided by AIFS. (AIFS didn't include the usual two theater productions this time, probably due to Covid.) It was about the experiences of Jamaican Brits who came to England after WWII on the Windrush, and intersected a lot with what we learned in British Life and Culture. It was also an example of the next-level brand of drama London offered. The performances, sets, stage mechanics...everything was very impressive. The same can be said for The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which showed at the Duke of York's Theatre.

This was the market in Cambridge, which was another good one especially for food. There is a lot of wool on offer at these markets, as that is a major UK product, so if you need a hat or scarf (and you will) you can find a lot of choices there. 
There are also a lot of pretty good local brews to be found, although it seemed like Londoners tended to go for wine, which was surprising. Beavertown featured some really good IPAs and lagers, and so did Camden Town Brewery, which was actually probably my favorite. Sometimes you would get a beer a little flat at a pub, because the taps are old and a little different, but that wasn't always the case.
One of the best markets for food was the Borough Market in Southwark, not far from Shakespeare's Globe. There was a lot of cheese, baked goods and meats especially - including oysters, which are a favorite of mine and Dan's. The main feature at the pictured stall was paella, which was amazing. A bit of advice though...just get one paella between two people, because 1) the serving is bigger than it looks, and 2) there is no seating, so you'll have trouble with the shellfish. Plenty of nice pubs lining the market if you do want to sit and have a pint, though.
This bagel place was in Whitechapel, in what had been the Jewish area of London. It's small and unassuming, but I ate one of the best meals here. It was a bagel with salt beef, pickles (or gherkins as they say) and mustard...and it was amazing. Expect a bit of a line if you go...but the line moves fast.

Finally, this is in Tavistock Park at the Virginia Woolf bust with my Women Writers students (from left to right: Angelica, Kylee, Tiphany, me and Macy.) There is a park in every neighborhood, and though it wasn't the right season when we were there, they would be gorgeous around May. 
The sculpture of Virginia was not so gorgeous...not sure if the artist was going for creepy. We looked great though...and I had a great semester with these ladies, too.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

DMACC scholars abroad: Europe through student lenses...

The students took some great photos this London Study Abroad semester...including some spots I myself didn't get to while I was there. This was such a great group and they were good at exploring and discovering stuff. They would sometimes jump on a bus just to see where it went, which I have to say is not a bad way to see the city. They looked out for each other and had great attitudes, even when things got challenging. 

Corinne took this one at the Viaduct Tavern near the Old Bailey. Clockwise starting on the right: Grace, Corinne, Kee, Kamaura, Charlotte, Zizzy and Jake. More about the Viaduct in other posts...a good find that I never made it to so there's yet another reason to go back.

Amber took this photo of the Church Garden of St. Dunstan in the East, a church ruined in the Blitz that is now a beautiful gothic garden. I never made it out there, but it's on my list for next time...another inspiring spot of ancient beauty for creative writers!
Charlotte took this in Brighton...a great close-up of the beach and view of the shoreline. Brighton was the favorite day trip for most students, and I think it would be a fun overnight trip, especially later in the season.
Ashley in Scotland. The students really loved the Scotland trip. If you are considering Study Abroad and debating whether to add this...just add it. Trust us.

Grace took this in a Korean BBQ joint in Kensington. From left to right: Malorie, Grace, Maddy, Macy, Trae, Landon, Jackson, Zizzy, Charlotte, Jake and Corinne.
Jackson selfie with one of many Jesus paintings at the National Gallery...another must go and a fave with the students.
Kee took this one of Edinburgh at night...showing solidarity with Ukraine in the night lights. Danielle went to Edinburgh as well...also enjoyed.
Gorgeous composition by Kylee of Eilean Donan Castle in Scotland. The students confirmed for me that I need to go there with Danny soon. 
A view of Paris by night from Macy. I went to Paris as well, though I only gave myself four hours so it was more of a run through. The students spent a little more time there and did a lot of cool stuff like the catacombs, which many said was their favorite part.
Angelica gracefully overlooking Regent's Park...just a lady enjoying the pleasure garden and taking the air.
Another beautifully composed photo of a Scotland loch by Kamaura Kim. Did I say the students loved Scotland? They really loved Scotland.

And finally, this is Landon's photo of Cyberdog, a shop/experience in Camden for raver types. I never made it there, but I'm sure it would have brought me back to my party days. Sigh.

You guys are the best!

Ten Things I Loved in London (and thereby the UK)

Seen on the District Line

I'm going to do one of those list articles from online magazines that my students are always using in their papers even though I tell them it's for reading on the toilet. But what the hell...everybody's doing it.

There was a lot to love in London town, but these ten things I will actually miss a lot when I'm back here in the States. If anybody thinks I left something important out, they should write it in the comments.

Doxy in Kensington Cafe

1) Public Toilets

In London, the doors on public bathrooms go all the way the floor for more complete privacy. But how can you look under the door to make sure you won't bust in on someone, you ask? No need to worry, because the doors in these bathrooms actually lock - all of them. I think I only ran into one door that didn't lock perfectly and that was at the train station, which I'm not sure counts. You do have to take some stairs to get to them, but the public bathrooms were always a pleasant surprise. They all smelled nice or at least decent, there was always soap (good soap...not that industrial pink crap), and there was almost always a heat dryer that actually worked.

Doodle in Ealing Cafe

2) Eco-Friendly Bag Rule

In London, you had to pay anywhere from 1-5p if you got a bag from a grocery-type store. The bags you would be buying were sturdy, reusable plastic, but you didn't want to pay every time, so you always brought a tote bag around with you. I just folded mine up in my purse. I did buy a Tesco bag, which I used as a laundry bag for the rest of the trip. Now when I see the pile-up of Walmart crappy plastic bags at home, I feel sick. It really was no trouble to carry that tote, and if I had to pay for every bag, I would definitely remember to bring it instead of leaving it on my back seat each time. When I think of how much trash I didn't generate...


3) The Tube

Now not all the students will agree on this, but I absolutely loved the London Underground public transportation system. It was easy to find, easy to understand, and took you pretty much anywhere you wanted to go. If you had the TFL go app, or better really, the Citymapper app, you could sort out which line you needed to ride and plan your trip pretty easily. Then you just hop on and zone out, the din of the track and the people either lulling you into solitude or blocked out by your earphones. I found it meditative, though not when it was overcrowded. Usually though, if you waited for the next one, there could be more room, and the next one usually came fast.  (The buses were good too...a little less peaceful, but a good way to see the city for sure.)

Poems on the Underground

4) Eco-Friendly Electric Switches

It's really not that hard to conserve energy when you can just flip a switch instead of pulling out a damn plug every time. It's pretty easy to get in the habit of flipping that switch too. These types of switches are also safer and more grounded. 

St. James's Park

Scones with jam and that good shit...

Victoria Embankment Gardens

5) Weather

I suppose this depends on where you're from. Some would say the weather in London sucks, and sure, it wasn't sunny a lot. But I'll tell you this - there was never ice on the roads and sidewalks, making you take your life in your hands every time you go outside. There was only the tiniest hint of snow, instead of the frigid blanket that falls on us several times in February. It rained, sure, but not the flood-inducing torrents we get in Spring. The cold was rough sometimes, but it never got below freezing and was usually in the area of 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit (or the early teens Celsius.)

Before Heathers the Musical

6) Theater

In the States it's hard to get to the theater if you don't live in a big city, and either way, it's very expensive. It's rare that something comes to town I want to see. In London, there were SO MANY shows - some musical and some not. You could see a different show every week easily, and that would actually be affordable, because the price is much more reasonable. It was often no more expensive than going to the movies here in America. It sometimes felt like going to the movies, too, which was neat. I saw The Mousetrap, Heathers the Musical, a shorter version of MacBeth, Small Island, and The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I enjoyed them all, but The Ocean in particular was amazing.

Still: Ocean at the End of the Lane

7) Marmalade

It's not that easy to find here, and the Smuckers version is a little watered down. Marmalade, if you don't know, is like orange jam. It's got bits of orange peel and can be very tart or very sweet depending on the brand. It never sounded appetizing to me, but I was dealing with a lot of dry mouth in those jet-lagged mornings after the trip, and I found my homestay's marmalade made my saliva glands go apeshit. Then I just got a taste for it. Of course Hyvee doesn't carry it. (Hyvee sucks.)

Before MacBeth at the Globe

8) Museums

There are so many of them, and every one I saw, big or small, was awesome. You can look at the previous posts for more detail, but London museums had it going on when it came to miniatures and recreated environments. They were also great at highlighting individual stories and really immersing visitors in history. The list of those I posted about is by no means comprehensive either.

National Theater before Small Island

9) Dog-Friendliness

There were dogs everywhere: in pubs, in cafes, on the tube. Lots of very cute very good dogs. It makes sense, as there are so many parks. I really missed my dog, so it was nice to see. I wish places around here were more open to dog patrons. So what if people have allergies. Take an Allegra, dude.

With pancakes & giant berries...

10) Clotted Cream

Butter fell asleep and dreamed it was ice cream. And you can't find it anywhere around here.