All the World’s a Stage

Hi! It’s been a very busy four days, full of theater. We saw two Shakespeare plays at the Globe Theatre, which was amazing. In addition, I went with a friend to see Wicked, which was amazing in a very different way.

Our first show was Henry V. The Globe theater has introduced a new policy of gender blind casting for the 2019 season, meaning that the role of Henry was played by a black woman and Katherine was played by a middle-aged white man, who also played Falstaff. This is a complete reversal and subversion of traditional racial and gender interaction and expression throughout history, which took a little getting used to, but it was a breath of fresh air. In addition to the dramatic reversal of the leads, many of the dukes or other male supporting roles were played by women. This casting choice is less obvious, but it makes a similar statement: it’s not necessary to default to male representation or casting. It didn’t make much difference to the quality of the performances and some less observant patrons may not have even noticed. In addition, the other aspects of the production such as set and costuming were very minimal. This allowed the power and range of the actors to take center stage. There were no elaborate costume changes apart from Falstaff to Katherine and perhaps the removal of a cloak. One of my favorite moments of the play was the song “Nom Nobis Domine”, which was sung at the end of the battle. It was in another language so I didn’t understand every word, but the general tone seemed bittersweet-gratitude for victory mixed with mourning for the dead. There was very little instrumental backing and the actors could let their haunting harmonies carry across the amphitheater.

On our second night in London, we went to see As You Like It (with much better seats). This is a very different show from Henry V. The first was a complex history with a linear plot and the second was a fantastical romantic comedy. Both offered intriguing new angles of producing iconic work, but As You Like It had some interesting casting choices, Right off the bat I was surprised to see Celia played by a black woman and signing all her lines instead of speaking. Rosalind was played by a tall skinny man Rosalind speaks Celia’s important lines, but also signs most of her dialogue in her first scene with Celia. In scenes with other characters, Rosalind simply spoke her lines. I was surprised by this because I was expecting gender-swapped actors, but the signing wasn’t advertised or promoted. I appreciate this because society should not expect praise for being accommodating and inclusive, it should be seamless and natural. This worked in terms of representation, but I missed all of Rosalind’s dialogue. If I were to cast a hearing impaired character, I would have them speak and sign, as Rosalind and others did when speaking to Celia. That way those who are hard of hearing can know what’s going on but those who don’t understand sign language don’t feel confused. The melancholy Jáques was also played by a hearing impaired woman, although she didn’t sign a majority of her lines. But that was an interesting choice because when she did sign, it was to say “I am different, I am apart from you.” I only know this because Anna interpreted this scene after the show, but that knowledge makes that scene all the more powerful. Overall it was a lovely show and I was quite pleased with the representation of different abilities on such a prestigious stage. I am so grateful to have seen shows at the Globe theater and I hope to see more in the future.

These two plays were amazing, but on the third night in London I went with a friend to Wicked, and that was dramatically different. I went with my friend M who had never seen it before, and I was honored to introduce her to the masterpiece. She loved it and I loved witnessing her joy.

I have seen the play before so I remembered the general plot, but I had forgotten both the political overtones and the sheer emotional gravitas of the play. I had also forgotten the character of Nessarose, who was done SO WELL!!! She’s the only disabled character and she starts off as the “token pity character” and then we find out she’s abusive and then she dies and we’re left confused. Was she good or evil? She’s NUANCED! I live for disabled nuanced characters on stage! Also (spoiler) in this one it had Elphaba and Fiyero run away together at the end, I find it interesting that they extended the ending. They could cut out proof that she’s alive and that would be just as powerful. (End spoiler) I was surprised to learn this musical is only 13 years old, given how quickly it’s achieved such iconic status. This acclaim is well deserved, given that the play heavily critiques issues like racial injustice and corrupt politics through paper-thin metaphors. Even without understand the profound warnings of the story, viewers can appreciate the already-classic songs like “Defying Gravity” and “For Good”, both of which were flawlessly executed in this production. In addition, I was blown away by Elphaba’s powerful performance of “No Good Deed”, showing a woman who has been hurt too many times and has had enough.

London has an incredible theater scene and I am so grateful to have experienced both the historic and modern expressions of theatre. I think I was more excited to be at the Globe Theater than to be seeing these particular plays, but they were still wonderful new experiences. And I had an amazing time with M, rediscovering such a profound classic musical. After all the excitement and intensity of London, I’m excited for some downtime in Sligo. Stay tuned!

Bon Voyage 🇬🇧 E

Windsor Into London

It has been an amazing travel day! We left Stratford at 9am and I said my bittersweet farewells. I wasn’t upset long- Once we got to Windsor I was absolutely captivated.

To media-savvy Millennials, Windsor Castle is where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle got married, but that is only one year of a castle that’s 953 years old. Walking through St. George’s Chapel I passed a marker of the remains of King Henry VIII. Normally a king’s grave wouldn’t interest me, but Henry VII is the subject of the musical Six which I’ve had on repeat for the last month. His third wife Jane Seymour (“the only one he truly loved”) was also buried there, and it was amazing to connect tangible markers to such an intriguing story. There were no photos allowed inside the chapel and I’m not one to break sensible rules. Not only did we walk through the opulent chapel and around the immense castle, but we got to walk through the state Apartments. If that sounds boring, trade out “apartment” for “mansion” and visualize that. Queen Elizabeth stays in this luxurious abode when she has business in Windsor. I imagine she stayed there during Harry and Meghan’s wedding. Every room is a blend of museum and ornate conference room. The Queen’s Garden room was reproduced or used on The Crown. Again, photos were prohibited. Windsor Castle is as old as Durham Cathedral, but they have quite different atmospheres. Durham is hushed and sacred and ancient while Windsor is bustling and current and inviting. Both places have indoor tomb markers but at St. George’s Chapel people are allowed to walk across them. I suppose since the burial vault is far below the church it’s not quite sacrilege, but I still watched my steps. While marveling at the grandeur of Windsor, I also appreciated the presence of female security guards. I hadn’t seen any female officers in any capacity at other tourist attractions, but there were many at Windsor. Perhaps it’s a deliberate reflection of the estate’s value of modernity and equality, or perhaps I haven’t been paying attention until now.

I didn’t get a picture of the female security guards in “ordinary dress” but I did capture this well-dressed soldier. I heard a tour guide say that these guards spend six months guarding the palace and six months in active war zones, so they are the real deal.

After our castle tour, we ended up at Bluegrass Smokehouse. It’s basically an American burger joint in the middle of one of England’s oldest settlements. They even had knockoff covers of popular American country songs blaring. It was surreal but comforting to find an authentic taste of home across the pond.

As we made our way from Windsor o the hotel, we drove through lots of London neighborhoods. London is such an interesting city. The areas alternate between very modern, quasi-American city and “typical English suburb”. It reminds me of how New York is portrayed on TV shows. I love that literally everyone has flowers in the window, in every city.

Once we got to London we settled into our hotel and walked around the neighborhood: I had sushi for the first time and it was delicious! It was a lovely day of travel and exploration and a good way to whet our appetite for the chaotic adventure of London!

Bon Voyage 🇬🇧 E

The Scenic Route

Hi! It’s been a few days but I’m still healthy and busy. We left Coniston on Saturday the 7th and made our way to Stratford, stopping in Haworth to see the Bronte Parsonage. The first morning in Stratford I attempted to go to Starbucks for a quick cup of coffee before breakfast and ended up on a ridiculous adventure.

First I walked way too far past my turn, and that took me to the town square. At the town square there are four different directions. I made the mistake of going down the wrong one in an attempt to retrace my steps from the walk I had gone on with friends the previous night

The entire time I had been walking through Stratford without sunglasses. In any other English town this wouldn’t be a problem because it would be gray and rainy, but we were lucky enough to wake up to a cold but sunny morning in Stratford. Before I left I had figured the sun would remain low enough that I wouldn’t need them. I was wrong, so I was half blind for my whole trip. Once I was safely back in the house, I realized my sunglasses were in fact in my jacket pocket.

Eventually I got to Starbucks only to find out they didn’t open until 8! I was annoyed but I figured I might as well stop at the grocery store across the street to pick up some snacks and use their ATM. I wandered through the store and didn’t find what I wanted. Only when I was walking out did I realize I had brought my purse but forgotten the fanny pack that actually had all of my money. Right about then it hit me that I was lost, without money, half-blind, and cold. Right about then I started to panic

First things first I tried to get on WiFi to get directions. That didn’t work so I texted my teacher and a friend and let them know I was stranded. Then I started walking, looking in vain for anything remotely familiar. I stopped a biker and a few passersby to ask for directions and no one was much help. Eventually I circled back to the Starbucks and they were open! I got the coffee I was after and used their WiFi to sort it all out. My teacher called me and I let her and my friend know I was alright. I got directions and got back to the house in time for breakfast.

Overall it was a rather stressful way to get to know the town, but it taught me how to handle a crisis alone and keep my cool. I was proud of myself and relieved when it was over. I’m glad it happened here because I’d rather get lost in a small friendly town like Stratford as opposed to a giant city like París or London. With a better grasp of navigation, I’m excited to keep exploring this idyllic town so stay tuned!

Bon Voyage 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 E

Wordsworth and Frankenstein-A Charming Cottage and a Sacred Story

So I’ve had an unexpectedly amazing morning. We went to Dove Cottage, where Wordsworth spent eight years of his life and my expectations were definitely exceeded. The cottage itself was charming but the real treasure was getting to see a first edition of Frankenstein among his personal collection.

When we got into Dove Cottage I was surprised by how low the ceilings are, barely six feet. This is the storage room off the kitchen, so it’s not meant to be full-size. Even so, it’s maybe four by four feet, with six foot ceilings

The view from Wordsworth’s garden was very charming, a perfect English country house. The house has been under construction for conservation purposes, and this knowledge gave me a cool idea: there should be a show on HGTV or PBS about the restoration of landmark houses such as Wordsworth’s or Scott’s. The show could be partly educational researching the life on work of the person, and partly just a formula renovation show with an antique twist. Maybe this show already exists.

As charming and interesting as the cottage was, my focus was stolen when I got around to the first edition of Frankenstein. For the last few years this story has meant a lot to me.

I feel a deep connection and empathy for Peter-pardon, I mean “the creature”. I understand that the lack of name is symbolically important but he has enough tragedy without the complete degradation of his humanity. As I was saying, I deeply connect and empathize with the Creature. He has an incredible intellect and deep compassion, but is shunned and hated simply for his appearance. I don’t mean to victimize myself by this comparison, I am blessed to be born into a generally accommodating and compassionate society. I simply mean that we both face untrue assumptions and are misrepresented by our appearances.

With this connection and emotion in mind, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say I felt I was in the presence of a holy text. I was able to take the three volumes off the shelf and open the protective case. Not only that, I read aloud the first paragraph of chapter 4. in which Victor brings Peter to life.

I set out hoping only to be mildly interested in Wordsworth, and I had another once-in-a-lifetime experience with my favorite story. It was a wonderful morning. While we unfortunately aren’t studying Frankenstein on this trip, I’m grateful to reconnect with the novel given the opportunity.

Bon Voyage 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 E

Overview: Observations of Reality

Ok, it’s time for some honesty. This trip is amazing, but I’ve come to a few interesting realizations as the honeymoon phase wears off.

First off, it hit me at 9 last night that I can’t get away from these 20 people for the next three months, with the exception of a ten-day furlough. Don’t get me wrong, all of my trip mates are friends, and they’re all quality human beings, but after only a week together, I’m beginning to long for solitude. The best analogy is our family’s trips to the Bemidji farm house when I was little, before it was a garlic farm. My grandparents insisted that all 25 of us remain in the same house for the entire holiday weekend. There were lots of card games and stories and memories, but I’m sure some people felt suffocated by the constant community.

I get tired of them and yet I never want to leave the party, because it feels like voluntary exclusion and missing out on potential inside jokes and memories. I have to remind myself we really haven’t even started, no matter how much time we think has passed

On that note, because of the sheer amount of things we’ve already done, and the constant travel, it feels like we’ve been here for over a month already when it’s really been less than two weeks. Isaac and I discussed this at the top of Durham Cathedral, and he said that “the sensation of time is different than the keeping of time”. The way some people have a stronger or weaker sense of sight or hearing, some have a stronger or weaker sense of the passage of time. This is why we all feel as if we’ve been here ages when it’s really been days.

(This portrait of my beautiful friend captures the tension between nature and technology, being in the experience and preserving the memory)

One of the other things I’ve noticed about traveling with 20 college students is our attachment to our devices. We scramble to find WiFi to post our selfies with ancient ruins and wild fields. And I implicate myself in this “back in my day” rant. I race to post daily essays about my once-in-a-lifetime adventures.

We are fortunate to be visiting first-world countries that are fairly adept with technology, and the Bethel Study Abroad office encourages us to keep our family and friends updated. But we are all still searching for balance between experiencing our journey and capturing it for keepsakes and memories.

A common habit of my generation is to relax by watching videos or listening to music. This usually requires a device, and devices require charging. When a charging cord is left behind, it’s a mad dash to replace it.

There are some useful and necessary aspects of technology, such as finding directions, staying in touch with our group and family back home, and preserving these memories in creative ways. Still, we must remember that we made this journey and paid a lot of money to live these experiences, and it’s on us to make the most of them.

Overall, while the magical haze is wearing off, the utter charm of England and the joy of being in community remains. It’s been an amazing start to the trip and I look forward to more sightseeing and bonding.

Spoken and Written Words-Lindisfarne and Abbotsford

Hi! We’ve been on the move the last two days, transitioning to our next home base. Our last day in Lindisfarne was pretty chill until the amazing poetry reading. The next day we made our way to Durham, with an afternoon stop in Abbotsford. We went from England to Scotland and back to England within the course of a day.

On our last day in Lindisfarne, Susan mentioned that we were going to a poetry reading in the evening. I was expecting a prim Englishman to recite imitations of Wordsworth and I wasn’t looking forward to it. That’s not what I got. Joel McKerrow is a white man from Melbourne, who’s married with children, and happens to also have dreadlocks. After his first poem, he quoted Brene Brown and I was hooked. For those who know Greg Boyd, Joel McKerrow is his Australian soul brother.

Here is his poem about letting his kids remind him of the wonder of the world

The next morning we left, with many thanks to Don and Sam for their gracious , hospitality. We made a stop in Abbotsford, which is on the border between Scotland and England. The castle was the home of the prolific writer Walter Scott. Our group had read his work in Edinburgh, and it didn’t really resonate with me at that point. But walking through the ornate house, knowing that a man of such high celebrity lived and worked and died there, I was able to better understand the novel he had written. This is the definition of “literature on location”, one of our primary objectives of this journey. Unfortunately, Wordsworth had financial problems and died in debt in the Abbotsford dining room.

The two experiences illuminated both the aspirations and pitfalls that are possible in a creative life. McKerrow’s passion and articulation serve as a role model for how I wish to express my truth, and Scott’s creativity does the same, while his downfall is a cautionary tale. These two experiences were great opportunities for reflection, but both pale in comparison to Durham Cathedral…stay tuned!

Bon Voyage 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 E

Mountain and Cathedral-Edinburgh Days 3-4

On Saturday morning I climbed a mountain and on Sunday morning I attended a church service. Both were incredibly powerful and meaningful in similar ways, and the experience reminds me that worship comes in many forms.

One of the highlights of my time in Edinburgh was climbing the unnamed mountain. The summit specifically is named Arthur’s Seat, but the whole of the cliff remains anonymous.

Our group split into two-the headstrong gentlemen raced ahead out of view and the remaining cautious ones ambled along. I gripped the hand of one of my companions and we kept putting one foot in front of the other. At the summit our two groups sat next to each other. We cobbled our snacks together for lunch and took in the view. I took my socks and shoes off, lay back on the flat expanse, and put on my favorite song. In that moment, I felt completely safe and secure, having carved a place for myself in this ever-shifting world.

Here’s a shot of my friends wearing actual kilts to honor their heritage. They put on the outfits in the morning and wore them during the hike and all day. Gotta love theater kids! Yes I got permission from them to share this.

The trek reminded me of my love of hiking and reinforced why I joined this adventure. As cliche as it is, there is something to be said for the view from the top. But more rewarding than the perspective shift is the know­ledge that I just climbed a mountain in Scotland. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and the incredible experience is well worth the preceding bad night. Isn’t that the way all of life goes though? We go through good times and bad, sometimes in the same hour.

Church on Sunday was lovely. I grew up in an American Anabap­tist church. we have a routine for our services, but we lack the… reverence, the knowledge that our routines and the places we practice them are far older than us, steeped in sacred tradition like tea. I’ve never attended a liturgical service and I appreciated the contrast of variety within structure. we opened with prayer, sang a hymn, the reverend spoke, and so the pattern continued. I quite appreciated that we had a female reverend. Her sermon was on the importance of the Sabbath, with scriptural evidence from Isaiah, Luke, and Hebrews. After the service Communion was offered. That was a unique experience

I went up and knelt, but I didn’t take any­thing, since I worried about allergies. Rev. Sue came and simply placed her hands on my head with a little prayer. I still felt I was partaking in a sacred ritual, and the prayer was a tender gesture of recognition and care that I cherish.

These two experiences have reminded me that God can be found everywhere, and I don’t have to prefer one method over another. After the rough second evening, the morning on the mountain reminded me why I signed up for this journey, and the structure of the church service felt like a sturdy embrace. Already, Edinburgh feels like home. I can’t believe we leave at 8am tomorrow! We’re off to Lindisfarne, where we’ll have far less activity and far less WiFi. I’ve heard the atmosphere has a mystical quality and I can’t wait to check it out! Stay tuned. Bon Voyage 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 E

Edinburgh Day 2

Greetings from Scotland! We’re still meandering through Edinburgh, and here are some more highlights, as well as some lowlights.

Our first excursion of day 2 was to The Writers Museum, an incredibly small former house that pays homage to Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, and Robert Louis Stevenson. The funniest moment was when a soundtrack started playing and we all jumped, thinking the spirit of Burns was about to make an appearance.

After the museum we all needed to fuel up, so we stopped at Le Barantine, a lovely Parisian cafe on a Scottish side street. I had two delicious oat milk vanilla lattes and my chocolate croissant was heaven on a plate. It was also very nice to meet the handsome Greek waiter, whose name happens to he Paris.

These two shots are from the Elephant House. It would just be a cute local cafe, but for the fact that JK Rowling wrote a majority of Harry Potter within its walls. All I can say about it is the BBQ pulled pork sandwich was delicious and the drawer of letters was a fun surprise. I would have hoped to write a bit, but it was too loud in the cafe, and they do not have public WiFi.

This is from Grayfriar’s Kirkyard. I did not want to hang around a cemetery for an hour, but my group wanted to see the stones that inspired the names of Harry Potter characters. In summary, I believe a gravesite is a place for solemn respect, not a tourist destination for photos. (My shot is of the tree and the building).

The placard explains the story of the statue across the street, which I failed to get a direct photo of. The statue is of a dog that guarded his master’s grave for 14 years. The pub next to the gravesite is named in his honor.

I don’t have any photos of the next part, but this blog is about sharing the honest truth.

We got back from the Kirk yard around 6pm, and we were due to leave again around 7:30 for an evening event. Suffice it to say I did not make it to the event, and instead ended up sobbing on a Scottish sidewalk. The jet lag, the need for solitude, and the lingering emotions over the cemetery combined to build a wall that I crashed headlong into. I stayed in my room, meditated, and called my mother. Thankfully my trip leader was incredibly understanding and compassionate about it. I got a halfway decent night’s sleep and woke up refreshed and ready to keep going.

The Sun From a Plane

Hello! I write from the Amsterdam airport, local time of about 8:30am. I have landed successfully in Europe, and I got to see a magical sunrise from the plane. As far as an opening to a life-changing trip, this is a pretty good one.

The top photo is of the sunset, an hour into our flight. I was eating my roast chicken dinner and watching Miss Congeniality

The second photo is of the sunrise about six hours later. The stewards are coming around with coffee, and I’m finishing Monster In Law, after watching 27 Dresses. I got approximately 20 minutes of sleep on the eight hour flight, but I feel fine. My phone said it was 12:57am, but “local time” was 6:57am.

This final image was the view of our descent into the Netherlands. The amazing waterways and landscapes are unlike anything I’ve seen before.

The amazing sights I’ve seen from this small airplane window just reinforce the amazement and wonder I feel. I watched the sun rise over Europe and I have no obligations to anyone but myself for three months. Bon voyage! E

‼️Announcement‼️ Blog Overhaul- 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿Elena’s European Escapades🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿

Hi everyone! I want to thank you for the wonderful responses to my two latest essays. It took me a while to write both and it was a great process of growth and introspection.

I have a third essay in the works, but I’m not sure when I can publish it because…drum roll…..I’m leaving for Europe in seven days!!!! I’m going to England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and France with Bethel University as part of a semester abroad for English majors. We leave on August 20 and we return December 5.

I am incredibly excited to take this journey, but I’m also very nervous. I’ve never been so far away from home and family for so long, but I know I’ll have a group of friends and some awesome chaperones looking out for us.

One of the primary reasons I’m excited for this trip isn’t necessarily the rich literature or even the picturesque locations. I’ve come to believe that much of how we identify ourselves is determined by our environment. For example, I go to Bethel University, I work out at The Athlete Lab and attend Woodland Hills church. I am surrounded by certain family and friends that I spend a majority of my time with. But if I remove myself entirely from all of those contexts, what is left? Who am I in a new place, with different people? I am going to Europe not to discover historical authors or ancient ruins, but to understand my present self at my core.

I do want to post travel updates, but I don’t want to simply share the facts of where I am and what I see. Those may be rich and interesting, but I want to share how each experience resonates with me and shapes or mirrors my perception of myself. I am excited to see where this journey takes me and share my insights with you!

Bon voyage 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿💜