April 30, 2013

Once Again, the West End Wows

             The much beloved musical, Blood Brothers, has departed from the Phoenix Theatre at Charing Cross Road and in its place comes a more than worthy replacement called Once. As I sit here at my desk, I am surrounded by Once memorabilia. I now shamelessly own the soundtrack, the musical program, the script book, and the DVD that the musical was based on. You could say that I enjoyed the show.

             Set in Dublin, Ireland, Once follows the story of an Irish busker and a Czech mother who connect through a universal language: music. The Phoenix Theatre is quaint, offering a homey welcome to its patrons. This charming homeliness is only amplified further by the atmospheric setting of Once. Before the show starts, you are able to go up on stage and grab a drink at the same bar that the actors frequent during the musical! Unfortunately, the onstage bar is only offered to those seated in the stalls, so be mindful of this when booking tickets. 

             Perhaps what is most impressive about Once is its utilization of the stage. The stage setup is stationary with the exception of swapping props and one major scene change. Rather than relying on gimmicks, the audience is afforded the opportunity to use their imagination to let the story speak and breathe for itself. Members of the crowd are exposed to the actors from the musical as soon as they enter the theatre. Whilst members of the audience linger on stage and watch from the sidelines, the actors sing and dance, giving us a taste of what’s to come.

             There is no clear indication of when the musical starts. Eventually, everyone realizes that the stage has cleared except for one lone man singing under subdued lights. He coos, “Let go of my hand; you said what you have to, now leave, leave…,” and we’re absorbed.

             Once employs a heavily talented cast, consisting of men and women who meet the trifecta for singing, dancing, and playing a musical instrument. On top of all that, they manage to pull off convincing accents and performances as well! The music is provided by the actors themselves and where the orchestra normally resides out of view, this orchestra commands our undivided attention and respect. Once is unique in its rawness and accompanying ability to tug on our heartstrings. What at first seems like a straightforward love story quickly mangles into a longing deeply rooted in thoughts instead of actions.

             Contemporary dancing complements the fragile nature of the plot and lends itself to the folksy vocals and instrumentals. As the tragically beautiful relationship of the two main characters evolves and fluctuates, Once injects just the right amount of humor to keep matters light. The attention to detail is impeccable. Surtitles stream across the top of the stage to accurately depict when someone is speaking in Czech or to translate Czech into English when appropriate. To represent overlooking the city of Dublin, the stage melts into shadowy black except for a speckling of small blue lights, or “houses.” Even this simply devised scene evokes a large impact.

             As Once arrives at its pivotal end, the obvious “happy ending” solution is not reached, but it makes the musical all the more genuine and true to life. Theatregoers well up and squeeze hands. It is difficult to not be moved, as it is clear that the cast is too. Melancholia settles over the audience like a haze, but it is a mutually accepted sadness. Emotionally battering, Once is an assault you’ll want to inflict upon yourself again and again.  

             To view ticket prices, song samples, and additional information on Once, click here.

             In addition to running this blog, I also am a staff writer for my university’s weekly newsletter, The Gazelle, which is normally published online. I am very pleased to announce that today marks the distribution of The Gazelle’s first print edition, in which my Once article is featured.

The Gazelle against the picturesque backdrop I get to call my university

April 22, 2013

Murderous Intent

             Strangers on the street gawked at me oddly as I had my picture taken outside of a pub called The Blind Beggar in Whitechapel. They must have thought I had never seen a pub before. While this is untrue, most people wouldn’t think to get their cameras out, let alone stop at this otherwise innocuous pub. The Blind Beggar houses a hidden history, one that peaks a most intriguing and sinister interest.

             In the Swinging Sixties, identical twin brothers Reginald (Reggie) and Ronald (Ronnie) Kray and their gang, The Firm, practically ruled London. Anything criminal you can think of, these gangsters dabbled in: armed robberies, arson, violent assaults/murder, illegal drinking clubs, gambling clubs, drugs, pornography, fruit machines, hijacking, racketeering, and last but not least, nightclubs. Despite these illicit affairs, Reggie and Ronnie apparently had some redeeming qualities. They became highly respected in their social environment and mixed with prominent entertainers, such as Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra. Celebrities in their own right, the twins were frequently photographed and interviewed on television. The Twins were untouchable and the police were frantic. Fearing for their lives, nobody dared to bring evidence forward against Reggie and Ronnie. 

             On March 9, 1966, Ronnie shot and killed George Cornell in The Blind Beggar. Ronnie, a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic was perhaps the more “unstable” one out of the twins. A confrontation supposedly occurred between the Krays and the Richardsons (rival gang) during Christmas 1965. Cornell, an associate of the Richardsons, called Ronnie a “fat poof.” Ronnie was in fact bisexual, and during that time, homosexuality was fiercely looked down upon, especially in a man as rugged as Ronnie. Ronnie claims that he killed Cornell because he had made threats against the Krays. When Cornell saw Ronnie walk into The Blind Beggar, he scoffed, “Look who’s here.” Ronnie promptly replied by aiming a 9-mm Mauser automatic pistol at Cornell and shooting him in the head three times. Ian Barrie, who had accompanied Ronnie, fired shots into the ceiling. One of the bullets ricocheted and lodged into the jukebox player, leaving the record to repeat a chilling line: “The sun ain’t gonna shine anymore, anymore, anymore…” A year later, Reggie killed a man called Jack “The Hat” McVitie and in 1968, The Twins reached their downfall. They were charged with the murders of Cornell and McVitie. Their reign of terror ended with life imprisonment, but they have been said to have “no regrets.”

             Reggie and Ronnie were some of the most influential mobsters in London and they are still influential today. Criminals have just as much power over a city as so-called “heroes,” whether their contributions be positive or negative. A homage to The Twins remains at The Blind Beggar with assorted keepsakes as a reminder of what took place there. There is even a walking tour guidebook that highlights areas to visit, including where the Krays grew up and went to school and where their funerals were held. The Krays are legendary figures in their own right and had no successors after their control from the 1920s to the 1960s. Reggie was released from prison on compassionate grounds in August 2000, but died during October of that year. After Ronnie’s death in 1995, it was discovered that Home Office Chiefs had ordered Ronnie’s brain to be removed before the funeral without the family’s consent. They wanted to use his brain to conduct research on criminal behavior. A second funeral had to be held several months later for Ronnie’s brain, so it would seem Ronnie took his secrets to the grave after all.

             View The Blind Beggar’s official website here.

April 21, 2013

A Study of Spring

             Yesterday in London was a positively beautiful day. We are slowly creeping into what I like to call “cardigan weather,” where there’s still a chill in the air, but it’s not quite cold enough to bundle up in a bulky coat. I should have probably been studying for my upcoming final exams at university, but naturally, the sun would have only taunted me from my window. Instead, my friend and I decided to take advantage of the lovely weather and see what the day would bring our way.
             Portobello Road was our first stop, home to the largest antiques market in the world. The main Portobello Market is open on Saturdays from around 9:00 in the morning until 19:00. The antiques and knick-knack stalls are only open on Saturdays, but otherwise the market is open every day of the week. Just be sure to check here for opening and closing times.

             When you arrive at Ladbroke Grove tube station, all you need to do is follow the crowds of people, and when you reach the market, you’ll know. Pastel-colored homes overlook the jauntily pointed vendors’ stalls. The all-consuming smells start to invade your nostrils and you are presented with the dilemma of choosing to either turn left or right. The Portobello Market is an expansive assortment of novelties and food. Take your pick from frozen yogurt or crepes, fur coats or leather jackets, turquoise or gold, paintings or posters. Mixed in amongst vintage finds are the obligatory touristic stalls. Now that we are nearing the end of April and encroaching on tourist season, I have no doubt that “Mind the Gap” t-shirts and Big Ben key chains will be hot sellers. Flurries of accents surround the market and the array of vibrant fresh foods are nothing compared to the colorful blend of people dominating the streets.

             After thoroughly scouring old and new trinkets at this flea market of sorts, my friend and I wanted to explore the rest of the area. Portobello Road is relatively close to Paddington and Notting Hill. After further inspection of a map, we realized that Kensington was also within walking distance. Greedy for the sun to soak into our skin as much as possible, we people watched and lay out in the grass at Kensington Gardens.

             Kensington Gardens, one of London’s eight Royal Parks, was originally part of Hyde Park and stretches across 260 acres. Kensington Palace, the Italian Gardens, Albert Memorial, Peter Pan Statue, and the Serpentine Gallery are all located within the same vicinity. In its tranquility, Kensington Gardens provides a great backdrop to relax in and is a welcomed change from the fast-paced life of London. Round Pond is scattered with swans and the little tots attempting to feed them. There are plentiful sitting benches and the Diana Memorial Playground offers entertainment for children. I wish I had brought my picnic basket! Although, Kensington Gardens has its own refreshment points and café that certainly make up for forgetting to pack your own sandwiches and drinks. The park is open from 6:00 in the morning until 20:15, so go work on your tan!

             To learn more about Kensington Gardens, have a look here

April 18, 2013

"Hello!" Mormon Invasion

             It’s occupying our newspapers. It’s lining our tube station walls. It’s causing a buzz around London, but its subjects would much rather be ringing our doorbells. Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s latest endeavor takes shape in the form of The Book of Mormon, a wryly executed but highly controversial musical. Then again, what more can you expect from the creators of South Park?

             I must interject at this point and advise you to stay clear of this musical if you are highly religious, easily offended, or intolerant of satirical humor. After all, Adolf Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer, Genghis Khan, Johnnie Cochran, Jesus Christ, and the Devil make an appearance in the same scene. The Book of Mormonfollows Elder Price (Gavin Creel) and Elder Cunningham’s (Jared Gertner) mission trip to Uganda and in the process, educates the audience on the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Well, more or less.

             Mormonism is the religious tradition of the Latter Day Saint movement and branches away from Protestantism. Founded by Joseph Smith Jr. in the 1820s, today it is recognized as the expression of his teachings. Brigham Young was Smith’s successor and founded Salt Lake City, Utah, the state in which Mormonism is most prominent. Mormons believe in the Bible, along with the Book of Mormon. As far as accuracy goes, The Book of Mormon is not to be taken as law, but rather as an amusing distorted commentary.

             The Princes of Wales Theatre held preview performances of The Book of Mormon from February 25th until the show’s official opening night in London on March 21st. Ticket availabilities for up-and-coming shows are typically limited due to popularity, but bookings after the middle of July are said to be more promising. The Book of Mormon racked up 2,107,972 pounds worth of tickets on opening day, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that tickets are becoming harder and harder to obtain.

             I went into The Book of Mormon not knowing what to expect, but it worked in my favor. The show has been marked with mixed reviews by critics, but purposefully unaware of the praises and criticisms, I wanted to formulate my own opinion. It was interesting to observe the reactions around me whilst the musical progressed. There were moments of shock horror, brash in-your-face stereotypes, and scenes that made everyone gasp, including me. However, I was hard pressed to find a solemn face when Creel flashed one of his many toothy grins directly at the audience. My friend and I couldn’t have had better seat placements sitting at the forefront of the action in the dress circle. The stage was directly at our disposal, central and ever changing in dynamic scene after dynamic scene.

              I was laughing so much I was practically splitting my sides crying. Please don’t mistake this to think that I look down upon Mormons, because the show experience is entirely subjective and tongue-in-cheek. What tickles my sense of humor might not be everyone’s cup of tea. The Book of Mormon should be recognized, even if only for its ridiculously catchy soundtrack. In fact, it is one of the catchiest I have heard ever produced from a musical. The title of this article is in reference to the opening song, “Hello!,” which details the way Mormons approach people in an attempt to covert them to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Frankly, I felt a little guilty for humming most of the songs after the show and I had to restrain myself from publicly singing the lyrics.

             More than anything, The Book of Mormon spreads a message of belief, not of hate or ridicule. That’s something everyone can relate to and Creel and Gertner share just the loveable on-stage relationship necessary to fuel this message.

             How have the Mormons reacted, you might be wondering? In my opinion, I think they’ve embraced the publicity in a sly marketing scheme. The Book of Mormon musical program actually features three advertisements for the Book of Mormon, with captions such as “You’ve seen the show, now read the book.” Alongside The Book of Mormon posters on the tube station walls, posters for the Book of Mormon now fill equal mounting space. In response to the possibility of a backlash from the Mormon community, Parker commented, “They’re way too friendly and happy,” and Stone added, “They kill you with kindness.” Only time will tell. 

             View The Book of Mormon ticket listings and news here and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ official website that was provided to me by The Book of Mormon musical program here.

April 10, 2013

London Dungeon: Guilty of a Good Time

             I saw the face of Jack the Ripper. I learned how to use torture devices. I watched a live dissection. Oh, and I chopped off my friend’s head.

             Before you stop reading, let me explain. The London Dungeon has been deliciously gruesome for almost 40 years and makes sure that its audience is involved in the gruesome process. My parents, my friend, and I decided to be tourists for a day and check out one of London’s most popular attractions. Believe me, you don’t want to go alone!

             After relocating from Tooley Street to County Hall, the London Dungeon reopened on March 1st. It is now situated across from the London Eye and overlooks the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. I recommend booking in advance, because the line that snakes inside the attraction is a long one. If you are easily frightened or at all squeamish, sit this one out, but I assure you the London Dungeon is more fascinating than it is chilling. Before the 90-minute experience begins, each ticket proclaims the ticket holder guilty, calling us names such as “traitor” and “thief,” or in my case, “murderer.”

             The London Dungeon delves into the past 1,000 years of London’s dark history through the help of 18 new interactive performances and 20 actors. Through sights, sounds, and smells (unpleasant ones at that), the London Dungeon aims to capture a realistic setting. Highly informative and amusing, it relies on audience participation, so go along with the show!

             Everyone clung tightly to their friends or loved ones, shuffling to the very back of the rooms, not wanting to be targeted by the actors, nor knowing what to expect. Our journey started somewhat explosively by witnessing what would have happened if Guy Fawkes successfully blew up Parliament. After that, things only got better. One of the highlights was being asked to “take a seat” at Sweeney Todd’s Fleet Street barbershop. Admittedly, I was petrified when I felt my hair being played with in the pitch-black room. We spoke with one of Jack the Ripper’s victims, Mary Jane Kelly, before she died. After fumbling through a maze of mirrors, Jack the Ripper came to life, holding a knife to two poor women’s faces before he disappeared again.

             A highly humorous courtroom scene declared members of the audience guilty and forced them to take to the stand and explain themselves. Unfortunately, we all ended up being guilty and sent to the gallows to be hung. Encouraged by a cheering crowd, we hoisted ourselves onto a drop tower ride and were lowered to our deaths. It wasn’t how I expected to go, but hey, at least it was eventful!

             Speaking as a fan of all things gory and ghastly, I found the London Dungeon engrossing in its unconventional way of exploring a great city’s past. Every city has a dirty, grimy underside, and finding out about London’s has only made me love it more. 

             To buy tickets and find out more information, head on over to here.

April 08, 2013

Pop! Goes My Art

             I frequent London’s Tate Museum of Modern Art so often, I should probably have my own installation. Imagine then my delight as I was given a ready-made excuse to visit. The Tate is currently running the Lichtenstein: A Retrospective exhibition, an impressive collection of Roy Lichtenstein’s work. Lichtenstein was an American pop artist influenced by comics and advertising and became a leading art figure in the 1960s, along with Andy Warhol. 125 pieces of work make up Lichtenstein: A Retrospective, making it the first full-scale retrospective of this artist in more than twenty years.

             I visited the museum on a Friday afternoon, when lining up for tickets wasn’t a problem. However, the exhibition is drawing in crowds particularly on the weekend. It is recommended to either book in advance or to go in the morning to avoid disappointment. If you are a student, remember to use it to your advantage! I was able to shave the original ticket price down from 14 pounds to twelve pounds twenty. This is definitely one of the pricier exhibitions, but I assure you it is more than worth the splurge.

             With 13 different themed rooms, the exhibition is extensive and progressive, showing how Lichtenstein’s work developed throughout his career. The rooms include War and Romance, Modern, Early Pop, Late Nudes, and Chinese Landscapes. Exhibitions are the best way to get an overview of an artist’s work all in one place. Exhibitions sometimes display pieces of art from private collections that are not normally available to the public, such as in the Lichtenstein exhibition.

             The exhibition is not only comprised of pantings, but of sculptures, works on paper, unseen drawings, and collages as well. Speaking as a fan of Lichtenstein's, I didn't even realize he had created half of the work he did. His work is far more diverse than I could have previously imagined. Standout pieces for me included a giant composition notebook painted on canvas and oddly shaped eye sculptures. Unfortunately, photography was prohibited, and as much as I was tempted, Tate curators were enforcing the rule. In a way, not being able to document the exhibition allows you to just be in the moment with the artwork, which undoubtedly speaks for itself.

             Lichtenstein is renowned for his use of Benday dots, which is a system of using two or more different colored dots in order to create a third color. Comic books utilized this technique by creating Benday dots in primary colors to achieve the secondary colors of flesh tone, for example. Almost everyone in the exhibition wanted an up close and personal encounter with this process, including myself. We were caught lingering very closely to the paintings themselves, where the dots are inescapable. As Lichtenstein perfects his craft, the Benday dots noticeably become more defined and evenly distributed and sized throughout the exhibition. It is appropriate that Lichtenstein would make use of this technique, as he also borrowed common comic strip features such as thought bubbles and boxed captions.

             The closest tube stop in order to reach the Tate Museum of Modern Art is Southwark, where the museum is located only about a five-minute walk away. The Lichtenstein exhibition is hard to miss on the second floor with its sunny yellow entrance. I highly recommend exploring the rest of the museum if the Lichtenstein exhibition isn’t for you, as the Tate is one of my favorite places to visit in London. The Tate also offers coffee and tea, sandwiches, and cakes in their café overlooking a breathtaking view of the Millennium Bridge and St. Paul’s Cathedral. 

             Lichtenstein: A Retrospective finished on May 27th. See here for the permanent collection and current exhibitions offered at the Tate Museum of Modern Art . 

Forget Your Umbrella, Tote Shopping Bags Instead

Photo courtesy of Westfield Stratford City
             The rainy weather is upon us and we’re stuck in that awkward period right before spring where we’re anticipating substantially warmer days but not getting them. Roaming the busy high streets of London while under attack from the rain and the wind is not a fun experience; trust me. After having your umbrella turned inside out and your coat soaked through, the last thing on your mind is to keep soldiering on. For those of you missing the comforts that a shopping mall has to offer and in search of a rainy day activity, look no further than Westfield. There are two Westfield shopping malls located in London, one in White City/Shepherd’s Bush and the other in Stratford. With my friend, I took a trip to Stratford. Overground trains run directly to Stratford from Richmond, which is where I live, so there’s no hassle with changing trains or changing stations. All you have to do is sit back and enjoy the hour-long ride (and the glaringly orange and brown seats).

             Upon arriving at Stratford station, arrows lead you directly to Westfield. It’s hard to miss, as it greets you almost as soon as your Oyster card has been accepted. The Westfield in Stratford is situated conveniently close to London’s Olympic Park. Westfield was built to expand London’s tourism industry and also act as a way to rejuvenate the area. The mall itself is indeed impressive and expansive, still very much a glitzy new present to be unwrapped and enjoyed. Westfield boasts a cinema, a food court, and a wide array of shops and booths. For you ladies needing a fix of Victoria’s Secret or Forever 21 (three floors, might I add), Westfield delivers. For you gentlemen wanting a markedly less crowded Apple store to cradle the new iPhone 5, Westfield delivers. In fact, Westfield delivers on almost all fronts. Designer shops coincide with shops that are more student-budget friendly, proving that there really is something for everyone. Places like Oxford Circus are remarkable in their own right simply due to the massive versions of chain stores all in one place. However, they can be overwhelming at times. Their sheer vastness can cause you to miss out on good sales or get tired of swimming around in sweaters and swarms of people. Westfield is much more enjoyable for the opposite reason; it allows you to be leisurely and uncompetitive.

             My friend and I made the slightly disastrous decision of choosing our shopping day to be on a Saturday, so there was a lack of sitting areas and a verging on aggressive struggle to bark our requests to food court staff. In the end, we managed to perch on a couch eating our Nutella-and salt-covered pretzels as we tried to recover from the “drop” part of “shop till you drop.” It’s all part of the experience though. London is a city populated with people and no matter where you go, this is always going to be a defining and constant feature. Westfield was pleasantly British as well, something that is often unique in itself in a city that houses such wide diversity.  

             There were some very good sales on at the time that my friend and I visited and the journey to Stratford was definitely worth it. Going to a shopping mall always creates a novel experience in itself, because it almost always leads to a successful day out. Don’t forget to ask if the shops offer student discounts, because 10 percent, or sometimes 15 percent, off of an item is nothing to scoff at! Don’t hesitate to be bold either, because some shops even discount sale items further.

             The best part of the day? I didn’t even need to pack an umbrella.

             If you're interested in seeing what Westfield has to offer, take a look here

Photo courtesy of Mall Express

The 1975 Are Anything But Borderline

             Nothing beats a case of the Monday blues better than attending a gig in central London, and on February 18th, that is exactly what I did. Forgetting about schoolwork for the night, I travelled to a venue called The Borderline to see my favorite band, The 1975, play live. The 1975 originally hail from Manchester and their three EPs, Facedown, Sex, and Music For Cars, have been making wavesThey have a debut album set to release in the summer. The band consists of Matthew Healy on vocals and guitar, Adam Hann on guitar, George Daniel on drums, and Ross MacDonald on bass. This up-and-coming quartet boasts an ambient, electric sound with dark yet relatable song lyrics. They manage to capture a variety of genres in their songs and this inability to put them into a box begs us to ask the question, who are The 1975? 

             The Borderline is situated relatively close to Tottenham Court Road tube station, but it can be tricky to find because of its hidden away location. After consulting my phone’s GPS and wandering around various side streets, I managed to reach the right place. Arriving early, but not too early, to a gig is key. I was able to snag a standing position at the very front of the stage because I claimed my spot almost instantly. People watching is always a fun way to pass the time as well, and from what I gathered, the scene that night seemed to be mostly indie. The venue was cozy and inviting and instead of the typical rap overhead, lesser-known bands blared from the speakers. Opening act Pixel Fix were a good filler while waiting for The 1975, but their songs all dragged on for too long and I couldn’t tell where one song ended and the next song began. However, regardless of whether or not they were my personal taste, it was refreshing to see a worthy act get their chance in the limelight.  

             As soon as The 1975’s leopard print drum set was being assembled, a hush fell over the crowd and everyone inched closer to the stage. The 1975’s set list consisted of about 11 songs, which left all of us wanting more, but gave us the chance to rightfully savor and digest each individual song. Healy’s stage presence was dynamic. He was “dressed in black from head to toe” (lyrics from The 1975’s song, “Chocolate”) in an outfit that looked haphazardly put together, but painfully cool anyway. Not only was Healy mesmerizing to watch, but he also engaged the crowd and humbly thanked all of us for attending. Strobe lights, energetic guitar solos, pounding bass, and a sold-out show led to an atmospheric night. While a drunken middle-aged woman from the crowd yelled that she loved Healy, Healy wryly replied, “If you love me so much, give me your beer,” to which she naturally complied. One of the highlights of the night was when Healy hopped on top of Daniel’s drums, continuing to play his guitar during this balancing act. Healy ended the set by slamming his guitar down on the stage and walking off as the lights dimmed. Rock star potential? I think so.  

             The 1975 are an undeniably talented live act and their rapport with their fans is nothing short of impressive. Healy stuck around after the gig at their merchandise stall, signing autographs, taking photos, and joking with fans. He maintained a laid-back composure despite the recent publicity of The 1975, which was refreshing to witness. The 1975 have just finished touring the United States for the first time and will return to the United Kingdom in May. This probably goes without saying, but I have already booked my tickets (plural) for their return.   

             Check out The 1975’s website here.

With Matthew Healy, The 1975's frontman

For the Love of Freud

             London is notorious for luring swarms of tourists to its well-known landmarks and museums. While London’s hotspots are remarkable in their own right, I am interested in a different London. The London I speak of is concealed well, hidden along cobbled streets, marked with poorly placed or nonexistent signs. Venturing off the beaten track allows for an intimacy with London, an intimacy that is spoiled when shared with hoards of tourists. A lesser-known attraction of London exists in the form of the Freud Museum. Located at 20 Maresfield Gardens in Hampstead, the museum is the former home of the father of psychoanalysis, Dr. Sigmund Freud. Psychoanalysis is a technique used in therapy to bring forth repressed thoughts and experiences so that they can be dealt with effectively. Freud and his family fled to London after the Nazis took control of Austria in 1938. Turned into a museum by Freud’s daughter, Anna, the quaint home contains not only Sigmund’s possessions, but a whole room is dedicated to Anna as well. 

             Most impressive of all is perhaps Freud’s study, where books line the shelves and his desk sits comfortably in the decadent room. The appearance is unexpected to say the least. A mixture of Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Oriental statues, figurines, and ornaments clutter up the room in an endearing way. The main feature of the study is Freud’s psychoanalytic couch (photographs were unfortunately prohibited), where Freud’s patients were asked to free associate. Free association involves speaking about anything that comes to mind without choosing something specific to talk about. Adorning the couch are a lavish Iranian rug and chenille pillows. Undeniably, the couch looks very inviting to lie on. In fact, the room does not convey the predicted clinical image, but rather, it shows off Freud’s taste and personality.

             Other areas of visitation in the house include the dining room, conservatory, Anna Freud room, and landing. In addition, the Freud museum hosts exhibitions in a designated room, showcasing different kinds of art and Freud-themed work. In the video room, home videos of the Freud family can be viewed. The museum gift shop is located in the conservatory, where practically anything can be bought, from Freud finger puppets to books detailing his works. While the Freud museum might be an acquired taste, or a place for psychology majors such as myself to revel in, the museum is also fascinating for anyone to experience. Previous knowledge of Freud is unnecessary, because the museum provides ample amounts of background information.

             London is a city full of people, constant bustle, and an abundance of things to do. Sometimes choosing what to do is the problem, because there are so many options. I recommend seeking out the London that does not flaunt itself or aim to please the tourists that come to gawk at it. London is a city bubbling over with culture that is dying to be taken advantage of. The Freud museum is just one of many, many pleasant days out that might be overshadowed by other attractions. In the end, no one wants to be a tourist in the city they live in, so get out and experience the real London.

             To plan your visit, browse here.

Five-Star Freemasonry

             One weekend every September, London opens up more than 700 buildings to the public that are not normally available for viewing. There are no entrance fees, but some of the more popular locations attract long lines. With so many choices available, it’s important to visit the London Open House website to peruse the structures and their opening times beforehand. This past September, I ended up in a rather unexpected place, but I quickly learned that it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

             Drenched and roaming central London, I went in search of a Greek Masonic Temple located on Liverpool Street. Glancing down at my phone, my navigation tool told me that I had “arrived at the destination.” After scanning my surroundings and peering across the street, I could not see anything that resembled a temple. With my umbrella barely holding on, I decided to seek some shelter in a hotel. I soon discovered I had stepped foot in the lavish five-star hotel “Andaz.” As I was taking in the modern architecture of the spacious lobby, a sign caught my eye. It read, “London Open House.” A woman asked me if I needed any help and I tentatively asked, “Have I come to the right place to see the Masonic Temple?” She nodded her head and directed me down a corridor. Apparently I was in the right place after all.

             Rounding several corners and consulting with several people, the Temple was certainly tucked away, secretively placed underneath the grandeur of the hotel. Even the people who guided me adopted a hush-hush tone, nodding and murmuring with reverent mystique. I knew when I had reached the Temple as it provided a stark contrast to the clean lines of the hotel. A marble staircase spiraled down into a pool of black and white checkered floor. Dim-lit candles circled the space, flooding the room with a sinister glow. Rows of chairs clad in purple faced each other. However, my eyes immediately locked on two regal chairs positioned at opposite sides of the room. A gold sunburst illuminated the ceiling, its rays pouring down over the visitors.

             The “Andaz,” housed in an 1884 redbrick Victorian building, was originally a London railway hotel dubbed the “Great Eastern.” The hotel was built in 1912 by Charles Barry Jr., son of the architect who designed the Houses of Parliament. The Temple was only discovered when the fake wall concealing it was knocked down. It is rumored that Jack the Ripper was a Mason and if he was, he would have attended this temple, due to its proximity to his hunting ground. The Temple contains 12 different types of Italian marble and the throne-like chairs are made from mahogany. The decadent interior of marble and mahogany was built for £50,000, which is the same as about £4 million today, while the black and white checkered marble floor is currently worth £2 million. 

             My visit to the Masonic Temple provided me with insight into the “invisible” side of London. Clearly concealed from the public eye, the Temple remains unknown, an elusive underground spectacle. The sheer secretiveness of the Temple makes it all the more alluring. Although the temple is designated within the hotel, the hotel owners have no rights over the temple’s usage. A hidden gem like the Masonic Temple causes me to realize that there are so many treasures just waiting to be discovered in London if we choose to unearth them.

             The Masonic Temple and the accompanying hotel perfectly represent how two vastly different worlds can coincide in a blend of the new and the old. Upon learning that the Masonic Temple didn’t have a listed London address for many decades until recently, I had to give myself a reality check. This is my London, the London I live in, the London I am becoming more acquainted with every day. Most people go to the movies or go shopping on the weekends, but instead I was discovering an unusual spectacle in this endlessly fascinating city.

             However unpleasant tromping around the streets of London might have been on a dreary and dismal day, the Masonic Temple was worth the wet hair and the soaking clothes. Another thing I noticed as the rain poured down was that I was immersed in stereotypical London. Whenever I have told friends that I live in London, or even England in general, they always manage to bring up the poor weather. I never fail to find this particularly amusing. The rain in no way dampened my spirits as I set out on my trek to find the Masonic Temple. If anything, it only added to my overall journey. I came to the realization that come rain, come shine, I still absolutely adore the city of London. The weather will never hinder my desire to explore, my desire to explore everything and anything that London has to offer. The Masonic Temple offered an eerie sort of shelter from the rain. Who knows if I would have even stumbled across my destination if I had not been trying to hide from the relentless British rain.

            My mission of the day had actually been to visit St. Mary Axe, more commonly known as the Gherkin. However, when I saw heads upon heads of people standing in a line snaking around long stretches of pavement, I knew I had no chance of getting in. Scrapping my original plan, I frantically searched my phone for other available places to visit. That’s when I discovered the Masonic Temple. Yes, the Gherkin might be incredibly well known and I am sure it offers a spectacular view from the top, but I am more pleased that I ventured to someplace a little off the beaten track. I feel that is where the true heart of London lies.

            For 2013, London Open House will be held on September 21st and 22nd. For more information, visit here.