This week’s M&M (Mass & a Museum) Sunday routine was spent in Kensington at the Science Museum and Our Lady of Mount Caramel. I say routine, but life in London is always full of surprises. On this particular morning, my walk to the tube station crossed paths with a herd of half-marathon runners.
Other than the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum was the only thing on the “Exceptional” / “Worth a Journey” list on my trusty street map that I hadn’t yet visited. There were enough bio-exhibits to keep me satiated, but in general this wasn’t one of my favorite museums. (Perhaps my expectations were too high? Or perhaps, with such gems as the Imperial War Museum or the British Museum, my standards have shifted to be quite high?)
The one objective bonus of this visit was the other museum-goers: apparently Sunday morning is the prime time for parents with children 4 years old and younger to venture out. Many a buggy (stroller) to be found. Though I’ve grown rather accustomed to the British accent, there is something absolutely adorable about it’s utterance in a child’s voice. To get the full effect, you must put on your best English accent whilst reenacting this scene:
Boy 1: Mummy! (tugs at the neckline of a darling little sweater) I’m warm, Mummy!
(Mom proceeds to help Boy 1 take off his sweater, take off his shirt, remove his teeny-tiny undershirt, and get dressed again.)
Mom: John (presumably the father) can you check with Henry? He also might be a bit warm.
(Henry, the younger brother who couldn’t have been more than 3 years old, trots around the nearby exhibits. He darts behind a tower of old VWs and, out of direct eye sight from either parent, attempts to get into the passenger’s door of the lowest one. Meanwhile, John lengthen his stride to catch up to the swift toddler, soon discovering Henry’s situation.)
Dad: Henry! Come out from there! (The space between the Tower of Cars and the wall surely would not have fit a full sized person. John’s voice becomes a bit more stern.) Henry. Come out. Now. No, do not touch the car. Henry! No, you cannot get in the car… (John continues to rationalize with Henry until the boy surfaces again to the open air…)
Perhaps this doesn’t appear to be so humorous to the general populous, but for me, it brought back a flood of memories of growing up with my younger brother, Henry. At 6’5″, he is now considerably taller than the British Henry that I had the pleasure of encountering this week, but he (17 years old) and my lil sister Geraldine (15 years old) bring just as many smiles to my face. Special shout out to H & G, who will be heading to the State Championship matches this week for high school Varsity Tennis and Golf, respectively. I’ll be cheering you on from London!
Just before I headed to Our Lady of Mount Caramel, I received a message from my friend, AB: “They’re celebrating Diwali in Trafalgar Square today!” Goodness, and just when you think you’ve made it through the “Exceptional” / “Worth a Journey” list!… 😉
I made it to Trafalgar Square around 2pm, just in time for the public dance performances. Nothing like a good bit of Indian dance music (including Bollywood favorites like “Jai Ho!”) to put a little swivvle in your hips. Since the music and dancing could be heard from all parts of the Square, I was able to check out the side booths, quickly joining the queue for a free sari. That’s right folks: they had piles of folded saris (~6 meters of beautiful cloth– it’s all in the way it it tied on you) that they were dressing people in FOR FREE. The queue looked rather short, but since it takes a non-negligible amount of time to tie a sari, this translated into ~40 minutes. I passed the time by reading one of the few physical (not digital) books for class. This one was about Cosmopolitanism, which (as Wikipedia succinctly defines) is a philosophy “that all human ethnic groups belong to a single community”.
Considering the circumstances, I couldn’t have chosen a better reading topic. Here were a few of my main observations. (Before I get myself into stereotyping situations, I’ll preface this by saying that my understanding of Indian culture is mostly shaped by my travels there in 2013 with the University of Michigan Society of Women Engineers.)
- Diwali is the Hindu festival of light that celebrates the triumph of good over evil. Like other religious feasts such as Passover (Judaism), Easter (Christianity), and Ramadaan (Islam) the specific date depends on various lunar calendars instead of our traditional 12 month Gregorian calendar. This year, Diwali falls on October 23, but London got a jump start with their October 12 festival. (I liken this to having a Christmas parade in early December.) When I glanced at the announcements from Our Lady of Mount Caramel, I was admittedly a bit amazed when I saw the main article was about celebrating light. Upon further reading, I realized that they weren’t actually advertising the celebration on Trafalgar Square– rather, remembering the other-worldly solar activity (now referred to in Catholic tradition as the Miracle of the Sun & apparition of Our Lady ) at Fatima in Portugal October 13, 1917. Though the overlap of events probably wasn’t intentionally constructed interfaith dialogue, it provided an excellent bridge for understanding.
- India is a fascinatingly diverse country with a cultural color palette that is very different from what I’ve grown accustomed to in the US. My interest in Indian culture began when my older sister Gretchen spent a 11 weeks working as an engineering intern in Chenai, and incidentally, wore a sari every day. When she returned home, we attempted to resurrect our childhood days of playing dress up, but despite Gretchen’s best efforts I never managed to successfully make the sari look presentable. Even when I traveled to India with SWE, the pants, long top, scarf combo of the salva kameez was all that I could handle. Since this (London) was my first experience getting fully draped in a sari, it seemed only fitting that my “blouse” was my Keep Calm and SWE On cranberry V-neck.
- If the Brits love of queuing is on one extreme, the almost non-existent queuing strategy in Indian culture is on the other extreme. I particularly remember a situation when I was trying to order food in the domestic airport terminal in Delhi. Though American’s don’t queue with the same amount of fervor as Brits, I still relied on my American mindset as I approached the display case… which turned out to be rather ineffective: I stood while a steady flow of business men (from my perspective) “cut in front of me”, ordered their meal, paid for their meal, and began eating. I’m not trying to make a case for either system, just trying to contrast the two. While proper use of elbows and hand waving are key components of communication in India, I’m pretty sure that would earn you a stern British glare in London. Such a juxtaposition: forming a queue while women tied saris and men politely guarded the entrances from passersby that tried jumping the queue. (Madam, madam! The queue is this way!)
(Click on photo for expanded view + full caption.)
The day was made complete by a delicious lunch of chole (spicy chick peas). Though it may not measure up to the dishes that I enjoyed wilst in India, it was indeed tasty. My task now is to find the restaurants that have made London legendary for having the best Indian food outside of India.
Featured Image: sunrise from my apartment window