Tag: Europe

Getting a Second Wind

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London, England—It’s 12:38am. I’m sitting in Heathrow Airport, camping out overnight for an early morning flight (which is always fun). After almost a month, I’m leaving London. I didn’t expect that it would be over a month before I posted an update, but here we are.

I was never one to pine for London. Ever. I mean, I had nothing against the city. To be honest, it just seemed…well, boring. Probably because the extent of my knowledge of English culture was limited at best.

Well, I can admit when I’m wrong. It’s a lively city, and there’s a lot to see beyond the typical tourist sites. One of my favorite things is that many of the art museums are free, not to mention the art in public places. During my commute one day, I noticed some beautiful mosaics on the subway walls of Tottenham Court Station. When I got home and did a little research and learned that they were created by Eduardo Paolozzi in the ’80s and were removed a couple of years ago (recently back on display.)

They are really beautiful and you have to see them if you visit London. I think sometimes we miss beautiful things because they’re out of the context which we expect. These murals are not in a museum. Rather, they are the backdrop for crowds of people hurriedly going from point A to point B. I don’t even know how I noticed them when I did. I had been to that station several times before but didn’t see them.

Being in London has been a respite of sorts, probably because there isn’t the language barrier that I’ve experienced in other countries. Yeah, there’s the occasional confusion because of different accents and British slang, but for the most part I understand fully when communicating, navigating, planning…it’s wonderful. When I first arrived a few weeks ago, I was so relieved to be able to understand people that I didn’t realize how taxing it was on my brain to be in places where I don’t speak the language. It made me think about how isolating and exhausting it must be for people who don’t speak English to navigate the U.S.

The beauty of being in one place for an extended period of time is that I’m able to have a more consistent and predictable schedule. The longer I travel, that doesn’t get any less important. I work throughout the day, with intermittent breaks for wandering. I’m learning how important it is to actually build in time in my schedule for daydreaming, wandering, having time where my brain isn’t being occupied by any specific demands. I’ve had some great insights while taking breaks from my work and just walking around.

One of my favorite things was searching for traditional English tea cups for a friend. I thought the search would be easy but it took me a bit longer than expected. After asking around, I found Camden Market, a kind of touristy spot. I first went to an antiques shop and the owner sent me to a place that sells, almost exclusively, tea sets!

Being surrounded by so many different designs gave me an appreciation for the artistry and history of the English tea culture. Also, the owner of the store was so knowledgeable, I became even more fascinated.

And so, I’m leaving London. It seems like I’ve only been here a short while. I guess a month really is a short while relatively speaking. I didn’t see the typical tourist stuff like Big Ben and I resolved that I’m totally fine with that. There’s always next time.

Artists in Paris

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A student describing his art work.

Paris, France—”Paris is always a good idea.” Sabrina forgot to add, “unless it’s winter.” My arrival to Europe from Africa was several weeks ahead of schedule. My plan was to be in Africa until at least March, which would have put me in Europe at the beginning of spring…when it’s warm. Well, that was the plan.

This is my second time in Paris. I did all of the touristy things during my first visit a few years ago, so I don’t feel like I’m missing anything. I’m trying to maximize my time here while I have a private workspace. I’ve been in France for a few weeks and everything is going well.

The best part is that I have an office space to myself with a door that I can close (I didn’t realize how much I had missed having my own space). It’s nice to be back on a regimented schedule. I wake up, have breakfast, go to my workspace and work all day. Each day is different, but at the beginning of the week, I establish what my goals are, what I need to get done and each day I work toward those goals. I try to incorporate room for variety and flexibility. This week it proved especially beneficial.

I was able to sit in on a university visual arts class. I never tire of hearing artists talk about their work and creative process. This scenario was a little different because everyone spoke French but it was engaging, nonetheless. The basis of the course is personal creativity. The students create work on their own and each week they meet to present and discuss their work. It reminded me of critiques I had in undergrad, except there was a wide range of disciplines represented in the class. On the day that I visited, students presented: painting, installation, performance art, public art rendering, a literature reading. It was compelling to hear (through a student translator) how these young artists are thinking about creating and their own identity.

Picasso’s (and Miro’s) City

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Barcelona, Spain—It was a warmish morning. I had just purchased a museum pass to visit multiple museums and I was ready to plot out my next several days. I sat down on a bench on a sidewalk and was engrossed in the museum pass booklet; toggling between it and the city map, trying to plan a sensible route. After several minutes, an elderly man walked in front of where I was sitting and spit on the sidewalk directly in front of me. My first response was, “Gross!” It took me several minutes before I realized what had happened. It was racially or culturally motivated.

It’s an insult of the worst kind and I almost missed it. It’s a universal passive aggressive sign of disrespect and disgust. Usually it’s in direct response of something or someone that you’re familiar with. I think everyone encounters people at some point in their lives and think, “This fool has lost his mind!” Well, I thought that (it was my natural reaction) but as I sat there for several minutes, wondering about the mind of a person who would do something like that. Don’t get me wrong, I was less surprised than curious. The irony of it all is that my purpose for being in Barcelona is to understand its people and culture.

That single action made a significant impression on me and shaped my time in Barcelona. As I continue to study art in other cultures, I’m learning that it’s imperative to make connections with every aspect of life of a place. For instance, history is critical when trying to understand people…so is religion, and politics, and family, and media.

Everything is connected.

People’s ideology is shaped by their experience and contributes to how they perceive others so having an understanding of all cultural aspects is going to help me understand why people do the things they do, why they create and how they communicate.

A couple of days later, I revisited the Arc de Triomf. It was my second attempt. The first time was on a weekend and it was crowded. The second time was less crowded but something was happening. There was a large crowd gathered on the mall waving the flag of Catalonia.

Later I asked someone what was going on and basically it was a political gathering of people who are in favor of Barcelona seceding from Spain.

The rest of my time in Barcelona was fruitful. I visited the Picasso Museum and saw a lot of his early work. Picasso was one of those artists who was always working, always creating. It’s fun to look at his early work to try to identify stylistic clues characteristic of his later work. I also visited the Joan Miró Foundation. It was fantastic! His work is thoughtfully whimsical and inventive. I’ve never seen more than a few pieces at a time so it was a treat to be able to see multiple works at various stages of his career.

The highlight of my trip was my visit to the National Museum of Catalonian Art. There were so many magnificent work by artists I had never heard of, like Joan Llimona, Ramon Casas, Ramon Amado, and Antoni Badrinas.

While I was disappointed by how I was treated in Barcelona, I decided to consider it a teachable moment. It only affirms the necessity of intercultural education. It wasn’t the first time, nor will it be the last. At least I learned something.

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