Veneration & The Military

One of the biggest surprises of my trip to London last year was the integration of British military history into the rest of English society. Statues and monuments are everywhere in London. It seemed like every park, abbey, church, and public square somehow reflected upon Britain’s military past. Leaders like Slim, Churchill, Montgomery have several statues and were seemingly buried in multiple places.

If you want to experience military history in the United States, you go to Washington D.C. or one of the many battlefields scattered across the nation. London’s version of Arlington National Cemetery seemed to be every church, including St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey.

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Interestingly, statues in Edinburgh praise literary and scientific accomplishments. Weird…

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London also highlighted some interesting gender distinctions in military remembrance. Continue reading

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History Lives

One of the things that stuck with me most during my trip to London last year was the incredible diversity of the city. Anglo-Saxons, Indians, Sikhs, the whole nine yards. People from seemingly everywhere came to live or work in the English capital.

All of this makes sense for those who know anything about British History. Everyone comes to live in Britain because the British basically controlled everyone at one time or another. The Battle of Hastings in 1066 eventually led to Pax Britannica and an empire so large that the sun very literally “never set on the British Empire.”

That empire began to crumble when a war fought against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan for the freedom of the world revealed the inherent contradiction between colonialism and self-determination. When the Japanese Army swept across Southeast Asia, it showed the world that Europeans were not invincible.

From this history of cultural imperialism and exchange comes the incredible diversity of London. There, I saw the impact of history. History walked up and down the streets. History took the Tube every morning. History stopped at Greggs for a terrible-for-you, but so-dang-good breakfast roll.

Somehow it felt like London was doing it right, or at least better than Minneapolis. Minneapolis is certainly diverse, but it also feels divided in ways that London did not. Continue reading

Change & The Shared Experience

At the end of the film The Fog of War, Robert McNamara shares a T.S. Eliot poem, one of his favorites.

We shall not cease from exploring,
And at the end of our exploration
We will return to where we started
And know the place for the first time.

The idea is that exploration teaches. It changes us and helps us better understand our world. Eliot’s stanza chokes me up, mostly because it has been so true in my own life. When I visited Colorado, the world beyond Minnesota opened before me. When I spent two weeks in London and Edinburgh, I gained perspective, the knowledge that all I am and all I know are a drop in the world’s ocean.

It is impossible to travel or learn without changing. There’s too much stimulus, too much that is new or foreign. Our brains must adapt to make sense of it. We gain a vantage point to reliably reconsider ourselves. We understand how we are all the same. And why we are so different.

When we explore with others, those relationships change too. It is inevitable. Meals are shared. Streets are walked. Drinks are had. Sobriety is lost. Minutiae are discussed. Life is discussed. Mishap occurs. And all of it is done in uncharted territory, where all you have are each other.

This is the power of the shared experience. When people go through a thing together, they become brothers and sisters. It is no coincidence that my closest friends are those I visited, or with whom I traveled, in Colorado and London.

Change is inevitable. And when positive change is shared, it brings people together in ways one would never expect. Or know, unless they climb out of their comfort zone and stare down the infinite unknown with their brothers and sisters.

Confessions of an Anglophile

After spending five days in London last summer, my friends and I took a train north to Edinburgh to spend our final week together in Britain. Our schedule slowed down. We checked out the gorgeous city at a leisurely pace. We slept in Dylan’s apartment instead of a random hostel where our shit could be stolen.

Yet, somehow, I felt out of place.

In London, I almost kamikazed a car driving in the “wrong” direction. I didn’t pick up the accent very quickly. I would last two minutes driving in London-proper. But there was no culture shock.

I felt at home. Continue reading

The Post My Mom Doesn’t Want To Read

I’ve never written or spoken about this before.

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My credentials as a Catholic are pretty well-established. Baptized, Eucharized, confirmed. Fruits and gifts memorized. Bible read. Parables understood and applied. Nineteen years of Catholic education. Campus ministry volunteer.

During college, things began to change. Continue reading

Aging Gracefully

London is an old city.

When I traveled to Britain to visit a friend studying in Edinburgh, we stayed in London for five days. We visited palaces that housed hundreds of years of monarchy. We visited castle walls where centuries of England’s sons had thrown down their lifeblood.

We visited the same Parliament building that ruled the seas since 1488, enforced Pax Britannica, balanced the powers of Europe, and controlled and colonized so much of the world that the sun, very literally, never set on the British Empire.

London feels like it has been there for thousands of years and makes you believe that it will remain for a thousand more, long after America crumbles. Continue reading

Surrealist Manifesto

During my recent trip to London, I finally came to understand what I enjoy about art. As I mentioned in a previous article, art was not always a part of my life. Heck, I wouldn’t say it’s a large part right now either, despite a newfound appreciation.

Although I won’t be mingling with socialites, sipping wine and nibbling on cheese at the next Walker fundraiser, I do lose myself in surrealist art in a way usually reserved for fire. Just as I could stare into a campfire for hours at a time, I could stand in front of a Salvador Dali or Yves Tanguy all day.

While stroking my beard thoughtfully. My beard is the source of all my intellectual power. Barely kidding.

While stroking my beard thoughtfully. My beard is the source of all my intellectual power. Barely kidding.

Dali and Tanguy are easily my favorite artists. Until London, I never understood why I loved these two and their fellow surrealists while I remained indifferent to nearly all others. Finally, as I stood stroking my beard in front of Tanguy’s Azure Day at the Tate Modern, I understood.

I love surrealism’s contrast. The known and the unknown. The beauty and the brutality. The logical and the impossible, Echoes of both the familiar and the deformed. It simultaneously could be, shouldn’t be, and is. It spurs me to keep looking within each work for an understanding that will never come.

I love the sense of possibility that surrealism’s provides. While the painting ends at its margins, the ideas go on forever. The frame encloses the work, but the mind cannot help but expand beyond its original borders.

Ultimately, this is why I love surrealist art.

Realism shows me one thing. It is what it is. The style and the method and the perspective changes, but mine does not.

Abstract art shows me nothing. It does, of course, try to express something, but I’m not going to do all the work for the artist. Meet me halfway. If your triangular box with a picture of Dave Foley at the center represents the emptiness of love, at least give me a hint.

Surrealism shows me anything. There’s enough there to draw upon what I know, but not enough for me to actually know. That contrast, and the possibility it creates, blows my mind every single time.

Now, if you need me, I’ll be over here with a Mich Golden, gnawing on a hunk of sharp cheddar.

Mmmmmm… sophistication.

/Gratuitous Simpsons Sound Effect

Some of my favorites after the jump. Continue reading