Wednesday, January 24th, 2018

Lists and scribbles: favorites from England

 Contemplative statue in the crypt beneath Winchester Cathedral.
Martin Conte
Contemplative statue in the crypt beneath Winchester Cathedral.

Posted on November 10, 2014 in Perspectives
By martinconte

This week, I thought I’d share a few lists I’ve been keeping as I’ve travelled.  In general, I encourage the keeping of lists.  There’s even a new ‘Book of Lists’ released this year with some fascinating names discussing some fascinating issues.  Here’s a few lists I’ve jotted down during this venture:

 

Best New Foods I’ve tried in Britain

5. Meat Pasty-Pronounced with a wide ‘A’ as in “mast,” these are flaky, gravy filled, almost calzone-like cakes that are best eaten with a mug of coffee in the afternoon, or with a pint as a late night snack.

4. Cadbury’s-OK, so not the first time I’ve had Cadbury’s chocolate bars, but every time I bite into one, I’m reminded of the superiority of British chocolate companies, and in general all European chocolate products, over our milky, over-processed Hershey’s bars.

3. Roast Potatoes-Perhaps it’s the butter or grease these morsels of potatoes are cooked in, or the quality of the potato itself.  Somehow, while other foods in the campus dining halls lag behind the freshness of Maine’s fares, roast potatoes are wildly delicious on this side of the pond.

2. Coronation Chicken-It’s creamy, somewhat sweet, somewhat spicy.  Succulent, but not too rich.  Served as a meal in a fine dining establishment, or simply as a filling for a sandwich.  However you serve or describe it, a delicious addition to my UK diet.

1. Chicken Tikka Masala-Celebrating the influence of its burgeoning Indian population, chicken tikka is currently the most popular dish in Britain.  Served in just about every establishment, from tea shops to pubs, the spicy, saucy plate is served with naan and rice, and has a Euro-Indian flare.

 

  1. Best Sights

5. Buckingham Palace-Or rather, everything that surrounds Buckingham Palace.  The fountains held up by ancient Greek figures, the guards marching about in hats as big as small children, the long, straight boulevards through shady park grounds, all trump the ugly shoe-box architecture of the palace itself.

4. The Crypt in Winchester Cathedral-I stumbled into the entrance to the crypt quite by accident, wandering the halls of the cathedral after my tower experience.  Beneath the platform of the sanctuary lay a long, empty space where no doubt many prominent dignitaries have been laid.  And standing among them, in perpetual contemplation, an iron statue, an abstract figure of a human form.  Remarkably beautiful, in a breathtaking, almost chilling, way.

3. High St. in Winchester during a Market day-A staple of English culture for centuries, market days still thrive at least once, usually two or three days a week.  High St., closed to auto traffic, is filled with tented stalls selling sausages, pasties, cheeses, antiques, toys, clothes, jewelry.  There is a great cheer on market days, an ambiance that has been maintained throughout British history.

2. The Globe Theatre-I’m not going to lie, I literally squealed when I caught sight of the white, rounded sides of Shakespeare’s theatre.  The care and energy dedicated to re-creating the space as it appeared in Shakespeare’s day has been well worth it, and I loved every minute of the tour inside.  A definite staple of any visit to London.

1. St. Catherine’s Hill-As mentioned in last week’s blog post, being immersed in the English countryside is unforgettable.  The search for peace and tranquility is one of humanity’s oldest instincts, and there are only a few places left in the world where true tranquility can be found.  I was fortunate enough to find this one in England, and grow up in our own version in Maine.

What matters to a British Student?

5. Immigration-Current British politics, excluding the recent Scotland Referendum, seems to revolve around the issues of immigration into the island country, and the UKIP, the radical political party that seems to want to close the UK’s doors.  Any discussion about immigration is liable to get animated, heated, and deeply philosophical.  Everyone seems to have an opinion.

4. County-While the youth culture now looks on the Monarchy as a figurehead institution with little more use than its tourist value, hierarchy and social class continues to be a significant part of individual identity, and most of this system revolved around home county and town.  While I can’t fully wrap my head around where each place stands in the pecking order, hometown politics often seem to shape how people interact in the mixing space of the Uni.

3. The U.S-Perhaps I only add this article to my list because, as an American, the United States frequently pops up in conversation.  However, just as millions of Americans are fascinated by the Royal Family, there seems to be a deep thirst for American culture and its products, particularly in music, and surprisingly, in politics.  ‘Picking the American’s brain’ has been a source of great entertainment and fascination for many of my English friends.

2. The Rain-I quickly learned that umbrellas are always necessary, no matter what.  Weather changes fast in the UK, and one should expect at least one shower each day.  While the rain itself fades into the background, many students and tutors discuss the cultural implications of this temperate climate.  What sort of effect does the rain actually have on who people are, and how society develops?  If not an integral part of British nature, it is an important question to ask.

1. Coffee-Every day.  Perhaps two or three times a day.  Espressos, mochas, cappuccinos, lattes.  Like the rest of the world, a Uni campus runs, survives, and is indebted to the effects and cultural phenomenon of a cup of coffee.  While I miss my Speckled Ax cup of Ethiopian Roast, carefully drip-filtered and served black and brittle, my taste buds have been exploring a wealth of new coffee drinks, and the British obsession with the beverage has outstretched its stereotyped tea identity.

My lists go on and on, but I’ll leave you there.  As usual, the practice of speaking of British culture has naturally inclined me to consider my home culture.  What woulld an American, or a Mainer, or a Portlander, consider on their lists?  What is essential to our identity as individuals?  Our foods?  Our land?  Our ways of speaking, or teaching, or listening, or expressing ourselves?  Make your own lists, and send them my way!