And so my week continued into the weekend (you can read about the first part of what I did here).
My roommates said au revoir to London and left for Paris, which I will see in less than two months with my parents and sister when they come to visit!
I decided to spend my Friday afternoon doing something I had wanted to do since I got here: visit the Charles Dickens museum. The museum is actually his only surviving home in London, where he lived from 1837 to 1839.
It recently underwent a £3.1 million restoration to become more handicap accessible and to incorporate multimedia elements like the tape of an actor reading Dickens’ books out loud. It just reopened in December. The museum was also the site of the bicentennial party for Dickens’ 200th birthday on February 7, which was the day before I went. (I wasn’t invited. I’m still not sure why).
Dickens lived in the house when he was a pretty happy person, which sadly wasn’t for much of his life. He had just married his wife, Catherine Hogarth, and they had one child together when they moved in. The museum reflects the bright Georgian colors they used to decorate, so it doesn’t look too “Dickensian” and morose.
I haven’t read all of his books, but I do like many of those I have read. A Tale of Two Cities is my absolute favorite work of his. He didn’t write the book while living in this house, but the desk where he sat at when he dreamed up Sydney Carton, Charles Darnay and Lucie Manette was sitting in his study in the museum!
As I said before, Dickens lived a pretty miserable life. While his family was in debtor’s prison because of his father’s reckless spending, 12-year-old Charles worked at a blacking factory. He never forgave his parents for the emotional and physical abuse he suffered while working there, which is why he includes prisons in many of his books.
Later on, he divorced Catherine, who suffered post-partum depression from losing so many children. Dickens was also a changed man after his 17-year-old sister-in-law died unexpectedly in his arms in his house. The incident inspired many deathbed scenes in his novels, and also inspired Dickens to include the recurring death theme in his novels.
As a writer, there’s something incredibly cool about being in the environment where classic novels were written. It’s the closest I will ever be to Charles Dickens and his vivid imagination (though given how he turned out, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing).
And as a reader, there’s something very special about being in the place where some of my favorite characters were born. It was inside those walls that life Dickens drank his tea and sat by the fire while Oliver Twist was just a fleeting idea. I know Dickens isn’t everyone’s favorite, but I’m really glad I got a chance to glimpse inside his life for a few hours.
On Saturday I went to Borough Market with some friends. We made sure to go hungry so we could try all of the samples that the market is famous for. Surprisingly enough, I tried wild boar tortellini at one of the food stands. I didn’t think I would like it, but I figured I might as well have a little taste. After all, when else would I ever eat wild boar (never)?
It was surprisingly really good! So good, that I decided to order a wild boar sandwich for lunch. (I’m still shocked at myself, too). The line at the stand was really long, which is always a good indicator of quality. I got mine with tomato and pepper sauces. It was delicious! I’m glad I once again went out of my food comfort zone to live on the “wild” side.
That night I went to the movies! I saw “I Give it a Year,” which stars Rose Byrne (you know her from Bridesmaids) and Simon Baker (The Mentalist)! It sounds girly: a couple get married 7 months after meeting and everyone thinks they’re going to break up because they aren’t suited for each other.
It was rated 15+, which is the British equivalent of Rated R (even though it had multiple f-bombs and full nudity). The British do have an 18+ rating, but I don’t think it’s used very often. It was very funny overall, but it was interesting to see how much more racy British films are. I don’t think it could ever show in American theaters because it might be considered somewhat pornographic by our standards.
I was going to say that the best thing I can compare it to is Borat, and then I saw that the writers from Borat contributed to this movie, so that makes sense. If you’ve seen those movies, you know that the jokes start off very funny, witty and crude. Then they progressively get taken so far that your jaw drops and you become a little uncomfortable. These jokes didn’t make the movie bad, just different. And very British!
On Saturday, I once again praised the technology Gods for inventing Skype. I got to sing “Happy Birthday” to my dad in the middle of a crowded Starbucks. I missed out on his big birthday. My mom planned a surprise trip for my dad, his best friends from college and our family to go back to their alma mater to celebrate at a hockey game. I wish I could’ve been there! Luckily, I do get to “see” my family when I Skype them each weekend.
Sunday was 35 degrees and rainy. This is a constant occurrence in London. The weather is terrible, but there’s something you want to do, so you suck it up and go do it anyways. I woke up bright and early to go to the Chinese New Year celebration in Trafalgar Square. I trudged out in my rain boots and carried my umbrella in one hand while I snapped pictures of the parade with my free hand.
The parade was supposed to last an hour, but was only 15 minutes. Most of the people watching weren’t Asian, and the parade itself reflected that we were in fact in England rather than Asia. There were dragons, kids doing martial arts and women in traditional dress, but the volunteer drum band from the Olympics and a local dance studio were also present. The parade ended abruptly with some polka dancers, so I gathered that Chinese New Year in London is an excuse for people of all ethnicities to celebrate.
Just as the parade was ending, the rain picked up. We ventured inside for a while before taking a deep breath, bundling up and heading back out to Trafalgar Square to hear some of the speakers. It was incredibly cool to see the area decked out in lanterns and all of the vendors selling their custom-made New Year merchandise.
So we went to Chinatown. This year is the year of the snake, which is the year to spend a lot of money (how fitting). There were many plush snakes for sale in Chinatown, as well as other merchandise such as fans and ornaments. The streets looked beautiful with the lantern decorations, and there were many more Asian people out in the streets celebrating than in Trafalgar Square. Every restaurant in Chinatown had a line stretching far out the door and the aroma of noodles and fried rice overpowered the smell of the falling rain. I think everyone wanted to get some dim sum to warm up.
We saw the dragon make its way through Chinatown to scare off all of the evil spirits before we got stuck in a wall of people as long as the Great Wall of China (I was trapped for so long it doesn’t feel like I’m exaggerating). We happened to be in the area where the dragon started to make his dance through Chinatown, but everyone else in London wanted to get a glimpse of him. The combination of the smell of Chinese food, the crowd and the lanterns made me feel like I was really on a street in Asia. It was chaos, so we decided it was probably a good time to leave.
I’m really glad I got the chance to celebrate my first Chinese New Year! It was very exciting to see so many people come out to celebrate a tradition that isn’t even a part of their own culture. Let’s hope the year of the snake is a lucky one for everyone!
Until Next Time,
Allison, the wild-boar eater