Upon Leaving the Castle

Hi everyone! Sorry I’ve been MIA for so long, I’ve been travelling, but I’ve also had school work, and balancing the two meant little time for blogging. As I write this, I am sitting on an airplane getting ready to take off from Heathrow Airport. This morning I watched some tearful goodbyes, mainly from the first year students, who have been here since September. It felt like the last day of camp, which is a good description of how I’ve felt about leaving for the past few weeks.

But before I talk about that, let me briefly list off a few high lights of my time since I last posted properly. We spent a day in Bruges (which is just as bizarre as In Bruges makes it out to be), a night in Brussels, where I tried some funky Belgian beer and went to a comic art museum,  a few days in Paris, then an afternoon in gorgeous Dieppe. In Paris I ate baguette and cheese on the Seine across from Notre Dame, saw the Eiffel Tower lit up, visited a few art museums, tried some amazing cheese fondue, saw a Phantogram concert, and did a lot of walking around. I nearly burst into tears in front of Oscars Wilde’s grave, seeing some of the messages that fans had left for him. Since the 90’s, people have been leaving lipsticked kisses on Wilde’s tomb stone, and cleaning them off has led to corrosion and damage, so the city erected a glass barrier around it. Unsurprisingly, this hasn’t hindered people, who continue to kiss and leave messages on the glass, as well as shove flowers (and even a Body Shop gift certificate) underneath. I love literature, and I love Wilde’s work and his public history, so it was emotional for me to see how his work has touched so many people’s lives.

I’ve done a bunch of other assorted fun things, like hiking in Snowdonia national park in Wales (spending St Patrick’s Day in nearby Conwy) and seeing Shakespeare’s house at Stratford-Upon-Avon. I also went into London on my own one day and met up with another friend I’d made online. Michelle and I went back to London a few weeks ago for another Stories Before Bedtime, this time featuring Billy Boyd reading Irvine Welsh’s “Granton Star Cause”, Andrew Scott reading from Martin Amis’ The Rachel Papers, and a newcomer named James Basden reading a few of his own stories. The audience for this show was much younger, consisting mainly of 15-16 year old girls, probably fans of BBC’s Sherlock, on which Scott played a major role. The performances were all excellent, and while this show felt less organized, they did make better use of lighting and sound effects. I couldn’t help but laugh whenever the younger audience reacted with disgust at mentions of sex or preparation for it. Overall, I had a great night, although we decided not to stay afterward, since we were both exhausted after a full day of walking.
After all of that and much more, it’s finally time to head home. I’ll miss the castle, the students and professors there, the proximity to London, and the surrounding British countryside; but I am ready to go home. I miss my dog. I’ve got an exam on Tuesday (stupid correspondence course) but after that, I have a week to get ready for my summer job at a bank working on social media. It should be a really excellent summer.
Checking out Cafe Delirium in Brussels with Michelle, Jia, Diana, and Brenna
Still, I wanted to give England a proper send off, so Michelle (my perpetual travel partner) and I headed back to London for one final night. On a professor’s recommendation, we visited both Freud’s and Keats’ London homes, which are a 15 minute walk away from each other. The Freud museum gave a good impression of what his house looked like when he lived there, as they have kept all of his furniture. The best example of this was his original couch, still in its place in his study. I didn’t realize that he was an obsessive collector of artifacts, and his house was filled with bowls and plates and statuettes from ancient civilizations, mainly Greece and Egypt. The audio tour told much of his work and legacy, as well as his personal life; one room featured home movies narrated by Anna Freud, Sigmund’s daughter. Some rooms also featured an exhibition by Louise Bourgeois,an artist who used Freudian dream imagery in much of her work. Her art was sort eerie, statues set up in cages, most with very strong sexual content. The art lent a layer of almost surrealism, as it was set up next to Freud’s antique furniture. Keats’ house was quite a different experience. The house itself looks very different than it must have in his day, as little was preserved after Keats’ death, so most of the information came from a tour guide, who happened to be starting a tour just as we arrived. She was wonderful, going room to room and sharing Keats’ larger life story, as well as various anecdotes which can be gleaned from the detailed letters Keats sent to his friends and family. Keats died very young of tuberculosis, which he caught from his brother, leaving behind a fiancée with whom he was completely enamoured, and despite being considered today one of the great poets, he never found much praise in his day. I love his poetry, especially his Odes, and I yet again had to hold back tears when we discussed his final days. The tour was in many ways a re-cap of forgotten information I’d learned last year, but I learned a lot of finer details which made him seem even more like a real person than a abstract historical figure. For instance, he once lodged with a woman who had a picture of Shakespeare in her hallway, and because he was lonely away from his friends and family, Keats asked her if he could take the photo of his favourite writer into his room. She allowed him to take it back to London with him, and he never went anywhere without it afterward.
Gorgeous Snowdonia National Park in Wales
Come to think of it, I’ve seen a lot of memorials for my favourite writers on this trip. I missed Hugo’s grave in the Pantheon in Paris, but I did my own memorial for him on my Les Miserables walk. I’ve really enjoyed what I have seen though, from Wilde’s grave to Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey, to their pictures in the National Portrait Gallery, where, it must said, I nearly cried as well. The whole three months could be easily summed up by the places I had literary feelings. It could also summarized by trips with Michelle to the Criterion Theatre. Both Stories Before Bedtime were performed there, and our final trip, we decided to see The 39 Steps there as well. The show was hilarious, with a cast of 4, meta-humour, and Hitchcock references. The theatre is lovely too, I wrote a bit about it after my first trip there.
Archaic Rue des Gravilliers in Paris
A day at Freud’s and Keats’ houses could only be followed by some equally unique attraction, and an ad on the Tube suggested we visit a free exhibition about brains at the Wellcome Trust. I know, I’d never heard of it either. It turned out to be a museum for the “incurably curious,” where they “combine science, art, and culture” into one of the strangest museums I have ever visited. The exhibition featured archaic instruments for studying and measuring brains, old operating tools, casts of skulls (as well as real ones), information about experiments done in the past and today, art about or by and photos of people who have had drastic brain surgeries – and half of Charles Babbage’s brain in a jar. Altogether it formed a bizarre experience, and I couldn’t stop thinking about horror movies the whole time. I enjoyed it a lot. After that and some lunch, Michelle met up with her family for further travel, and I headed back to the Castle to pack.
On the train home, the sky couldn’t seem to decide whether it wanted to be sunny or stormy. The dark storm clouds against sunny blue skies seemed an odd objective correlative to my own feelings toward leaving. I am excited to be going home, and this is looking like a great summer. That said, I will miss living in England. I would love to move to London one day, albeit temporarily. I’m grateful for my 3 months, and I know that I have had a number of experiences I will never forget.
The sun sets on the castle grounds for the last time – at least for me.
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1 Comment

  1. XOXYour perpetual traveling partner,-m


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