Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol is a well-known Victorian morality tale by Charles Dickens which was first published in 1843. It tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a disagreeable, mean old man hating Christmas who, on Christmas Eve, undergoes a profound experience of redemption over the course of one night. He has a visit from the ghost of his ex-associate Jacob Marley telling him to change his current behaviour or he would never be happy. Later that night, three other ghosts representing ghosts of the Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come visited Scrooge. Each makes him relive and discover one moment of his own life to make him aware of his behaviour and mistakes. He would only find peace if he devotes himself to the others. Scrooge, in the end, realises that Christmas is a time to love and share.

Since its first publication it has been adapted countless times for different genres.
I fell by chance on the website of the Scarabaeus Theatre in Schaerbeek when looking for my last activity for the portfolio. It is when I read the plot of the play “A Christmas Carol” that I realised that I already knew that story. The name “Scrooge” sounded familiar to me. As a child I was indeed a fan of “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” by Disney. Do you remember it? I am sure you do! If not, click on this link. That was thus a good reason to go and see that play.

I must admit that I was quite enthusiastic at the idea of seeing this play. It is always delightful to feel the magic of Christmas, even two weeks in advance… and I was not disappointed at all. I arrived in a small, intimate place where a choir of six people was singing famous Christmas carols as the audience took their seats. One thing that astonished me was that I was probably the only French- speaking in the room and that more than the half of the audience was under the age of 10. Nevertheless, it did not change anything in the beauty of the play, which was splendidly interpreted by not less than thirty actors (I counted them J). The one playing Scrooge was very convincing just as much for his dark side as for his gentle one: good job! The decor was very plain, but it was certainly a means of highlighting the wonderful and impressive costumes of all the characters. The way how lights and special effects were used must also be emphasized: just enough and at the right moment to make us laugh or sometimes scared…
I have had a great time there and because it is Christmas time: I wish you all a Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Dancing at Lughnasa

As last activity for the portfolio, I really wanted to find some kind of theatrical representation. In my opinion, theatre is the best way to remain in contact at least for an hour with a foreign language and culture. At first, I was not very pleased with the idea of driving to Brussels and watch the play on my own... Yes, because unfortunately everybody had already done all their activities or had planned something else! Too bad for them! But then I just thought that if it was a nice play, there was no point in having a classmate or a friend sitting next to me. Finally, I was delighted by the performance and I hope to find some more plays like this one.

So this is how I went to watch Dancing at Lunghnasa by Brian Friel. The performance was played by the Irish theatre group in the Warehouse studio theatre in Schaerbeek. There, I was really surprised to find myself in a very small, intimate place, which I must admit was much in tune with the theme of the play. The small room was filled with English-speaking people (English, Irish) and it is far more than possible that I was the only French-speaking person watching the play. All of this (the small place, the English people) created a kind of friendly Irish atmosphere.

Dancing at Lughnasa is set in Ireland, and more precisely in the Mundy spinster's house. The sisters share this place with their auntie, who is a schoolteacher and with Maggie, the housekeeper. Those two characters are quite the opposite. On the one hand, we have Kate, the auntie who is worried about their future because she realized that the situation of the family is very fragile; and on the other hand, there is Maggie, the housekeeper who is aware of the hard times but at the same time tries to relax everybody by telling jokes all the time. An other important characteristic of the play is that the story is told by the narrator, who is also the little boy of the house (Chris's son). The actors were all extraordinary in their role. Nevertheless, one of the actor was difficult fo me to understand because he played the role of the boy's father who is a man coming from Wales. So I don't know if this accent is very typical but it was extremely funny though.

The scenario is constantly waving between moments of sadness, despair and moments of joy and love. Finally, the play pictures in a very realistic manner what was life like in Ireland during the collapse of the Irish economy.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

My Erasmus in Berlin

Berlin…What can I start with? There are so many things to say about my wonderful stay in this beautiful city…Let’s begin at the beginning!

Seen from above, Berlin looked like all other cities: huge, dirty, crowded, lots of streets, traffic jams, buildings everywhere, and so on and so forth.
When I landed at Tempelhof Airport (which is currently closed) and when I discovered this city, I had to change my mind. Berlin is unique. First of all, it is huge (some say 9 times inner Paris!). It will take you 40 minutes (at least!) to go from east- to west-Berlin on the U-Bahn or S-Bahn. Despite its hugeness, I never felt oppressed or ill at ease: there are a lot of trees and green spaces. Then, Berlin is multi-faceted. If you stop at Potsdamer Platz, you see huge buildings (like the Sony Center…absolutely crazy!), lots of cars and people everywhere. If you go one station further, you arrive at the Brandenburger Tor, THE place to see in Berlin (you can see it on the German euro coins). You can also see the Hotel Adlon, which is the most expensive hotel in Berlin! It welcomed Michael Jackson a few years ago. He decided to show his baby to the crowd by hanging it from the balcony…remember? The Reichstag is also worth a walk! Take the S-Bahn one station further and you can discover the Oranienburgerstraβe, the tourist place “par excellence” with a massive amount of pubs, restaurants and discos. It is crowded night and day and you always find places to go out and have a lot of fun! If you decide to go to the eastern side of the city, you will be amazed by all the graffiti and other examples of urban vandalism. If you go to the western side of Berlin, you will find trees, fountains, parks and green spaces. What is more, Berliners are really nice people. They never hesitate to help you if you are lost (which happened to me many times!) and it is easy to make friends!

When I arrived, I felt at a loss without family, friends, known familiar things…But being an Erasmus student is something amazing. Within two days, I had already met a lot of people (most of them really nice) and made friends with people from all around the world. We organised a lot of activities (cinema, concerts, parties, opera, Weihnachtsmärkte or simply having a German beer together…all of which auf Deutsch, selbstverständlich!) and this was a wonderful time. They also helped me with all administrative matters (something absolutely boring… but necessary!)

Serious things began in mid-October: I had to go to university. Going there is quite something (45 minutes away from my place), finding your way inside it is something else! The Freie Universität is so huge! Fortunately, I have always met friendly students who have helped me to find the place I had to go! The lectures are also really different from the Belgian ones. In Belgium, you take notes and you study them to pass your exam. In Germany, you research one theme and then you discuss it during the lectures! There are no exams, but end-term papers, for which you have to do a lot of research into a particular subject. Different, but interesting! I also had the opportunity to take part in the activities of the “kleines Simfonieorchester” which is an orchestra for university students. Not only did I play wonderful music thanks to the maestro (Manfred Fabricius, someone simply amazing!) but I also met a lot of German students with whom I spoke German and learned a lot! Native speakers are the best teachers!

German food is also something I had to get used to. There are hundred sorts of bread, beers, fruit juice, muesli and sausages! As far as I’m concerned, I enjoyed it and warmly recommend it… as it is full of fat and calories and you need them to brave the bad weather! Rain, wind, clouds, snow, cold… Not Madrid at all!

Unfortunately, time flies. This is almost the end of this wonderful experience. My Erasmus was one of the highlights of my life. I enjoyed every second of it. It will be really hard (and sad!) to come back to a “normal” life again. As I didn’t see everything I wanted in Berlin (quite normal, it is impossible to discover all the treasures of this fantastic city!), I hope I will go back there one day. So, Berlin, this is not our farewell, it’s only the beginning…

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Erasmus in Leuven

Goeiedag iedereen!

As you have noticed (I hope!) I have left the University of Namur to join that of Leuven. I admit it is not far away and consequently I can’t say that I was like a fish out of water, but you can still feel the differences at the other side of the Belgian linguistic border. I assure you, I have really appreciated these little differences which made the Erasmus stay rewarding and fulfilling.

In this short article about my stay in Leuven, I will mainly focus on the University of Leuven, the social life in Leuven and the two main activities I took part in outside the academic world.

As already mentioned, I was sent to the prestigious University of Leuven (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven) and I studied there for five months. Firstly when you arrive there as Erasmus student, you do not have to be afraid, our university almost does everything for you. Indeed, when I knew that I was going to study in Leuven, I already began to search what I would have to do. But there was no need for this, I only had to fill in an electronic document and the rest was done by the university. Secondly when I arrived in July in Leuven, I received a list of rooms to be rented for a semester. In fact, the university asks the Flemish students who study abroad to point out if they want to rent out their room during their stay abroad. So I had received a list from which I only had to choose, visit and eventually rent a room. It was done the second day I came to Leuven…

As far as the courses are concerned, I only (but it was quite enough) took five courses. I had four lectures in Dutch and one in English. For the students who will have the opportunity to study there next year, I give the details of the courses I attended (chronologically), namely Dutch Folklore, English Literature from 1800 to the present, Introduction to the Spanish world (Spain and the Spanish countries from South America), Argumentation theory and Sociolinguistics. These courses represented a lot of work; self-research, papers and above all a lot of reading.

Furthermore I must admit that the University of Leuven is similar to that of Namur, but with a delay of one or two weeks. However, it is not at all the same way of teaching: here the focus lies on the work done by the students with very few lectures while in Namur we have more lectures and less work outside them. I will be sincere in saying that I do not have a preference; I really think that both systems of teaching are worthwhile and productive.

As for the social life here in Leuven I feel sad to say that originally I had real difficulties to integrate into the social life. This was not facilitated by the mass of work we had to do each week. Still the situation changed because I gradually made acquaintances among Flemish students. I went to the ‘fakbar letteren’ where I met lots of Flemish students who are active in student life (clubs, parties and student baptisms).

Besides my academic occupations I was also busy. I attended a German conversation course at Pangaea where I spoke and learnt German with a teacher and three other Flemish students. It was really interesting and instructive, because the teacher only gave explanations in German (of course), in Dutch but never in French. So while I followed the course in German, I also had to take account of the explanations in Dutch and sometimes translate them into French. In fact, this course was meant for Dutch-speaking students, but I am proud of having done this course where I had to juggle (and sometimes struggle) with languages.

Apart from this instructive conversation course, I also had the tremendous opportunity to join a local group of scouts. However, it is true that it took a great deal of time before I could join them (due to administrative problems!), but eventually I joined the ‘Scouts Jong Brabant’ in Heverlee. Four leaders and almost fifty cub scouts (from 6 to 12 years old) welcomed me for some meetings. This short spell with the scouts was more than wonderful; I met kind children and entertaining leaders who, like all scouts, were deeply involved in their task of entertaining and bringing up these children. When I had to leave them, they gave me a wonderful gift, i.e. one of their scout scarves. Now I proudly wear it each time I have a scout meeting.

Now you see that while being not so far away from Namur, it is still possible to spend wonderful times here in Leuven, which are fun, rewarding, fulfilling and instructive into the bargain. This is nicely summed up in the very slogan of the University of Leuven (in Dutch), ‘Ontdek jezelf, begin bij de wereld.’

- Benjamin or 'Den Benjie'.
[Note: this blog entry was edited according to Professor Vandelanotte's corrections]

Monday, December 15, 2008

Erasmus in Nijmegen

Hi everybody!

As you know I have been studying at Radboud University Nijmegen this semester. I arrived in this town on August 18 for the orientation days, which was the best way to meet people from all over the world. Some of them rapidly became my English-speaking friends, with whom I have gone out, had a drink or organised dinners. The programme of that week contained the visit of the city, of Amsterdam, a great weekend and, of course, some parties. All of this was organised by the ISN, which was also responsible for the parties and excursions we have had this semester (Texel, Maastricht or the Christmas market in Aachen, for example).

I live in a complex named Hoogeveldt with fifteen other students in my corridor. They are all Dutch except one girl who comes from Germany but she has been there for so long that she is nearly Dutch. Actually I have had difficulties to get in touch with these people. At first I could hear them but never saw them. Later on I met some of them but there remain some students I have never met. Even though I had a few conversations or dinners with these "flatmates", it was really difficult to have some real contacts (and it is still the case, actually). Nevertheless I have had other contacts with Dutch people, some of them having been very rewarding.

Dinner with some flatmates at Pinocchio

The Erasmus experience is indeed a real social experience. Whatever language you are using, you meet new people and it is very interesting. That is why I joined the Crossroads meetings organised by the Chaplaincy. Once a month we met with people from different cultures and shared a meal. Afterwards we had a guest and a discussion about a chosen topic.

As far as the university is concerned it is really different from Namur, being much bigger and greener. I really like it as well as the library even though it took me a long time to understand how to find a book. We have few lectures but a huge amount of work, especially readings, and when you have nice neighbours playing the guitar next to your room you are happy to have a place such as the library to be able to read without too much noise.

Of course, I use my bike to go to university or anywhere else. I must admit I prefer this means of transport to a car in this city with its huge roundabouts and with its traffic lights every 100 meters. Apart from riding my bike, I also use the terrific sport centre. Alone, with friends or with unknown Dutch people, you can do whatever you want to. Personally, I have taken a jazz dance course and regularly go to steps. I also like discovering new sports like sport games, body workout, spinning or anything else, without forgetting the great fitness room. I have never done so much sport and I really enjoy it. It would be so great to have this kind of facilities in Namur; I am sure lots of students would take part in sportive activities and therefore be fitter.

There are still lots of things to tell, as how much I like the city and its parks, but I have to stop somewhere and it will be here. I will be very happy to see all of you again in February. Meanwhile I wish you good luck for the exams and a happy new year.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Nativity play

There are 15 days left before Christmas.

This feast is the celebration of Jesus’ birth, which is called the Nativity. The nativity play is thus the staging of this story. It is traditional in the U.K. for Christian Primary schools to play this scene for parents and friends at Christmas time. This play often takes place in a Church. And when it’s not the school which stages it, Sunday Schools take over. Traditionally the children who act, remain silent during the performance whilst a narrator (an adult or a well-read child) tells the story. But of course, in some adaptations this rule is not observed.

Nativity plays are an old tradition; indeed in 1223 St Francis of Assisi staged the first one in a cave in Italy. At that time, many people were illiterate and did not know Latin, so they couldn’t read the Bible or even understand the service. This is why St. Francis wanted to reach them by making the nativity scene available for illiterate people. He used live animals and asked local people to take the parts of Mary, Joseph and the shepherds. Thus showing them what it must have been like when Jesus was born and reminding them that he was born in a poor family like their own.

A few anecdotes concerning the nativity play:
  • As already mentioned, live animals were used for the representation. These included an ox, a donkey and other farm animals but never pigs. The reason is that pigs are not kosher, meaning that it does not agree with the Hebraic laws;
  • The songs sung by the people playing the characters became what we call carols today;
  • Nativity plays are not restrained to the religious field: modern writers like Housman, Rydel, Hamilton or Sayers have also adapted them. Another example is Jean-Paul Sartre’s Bariona ou le fils du tonerre presented during the Second World War in which the author drew a parallel between the birth of Jesus as the beginning of the Jewish Resistance to the Roman Empire and the French Resistance to the Nazi regime.
What better a conclusion than to wish you a merry Christmas in advance!

Caroline Clément
Elodie Valet

Arlington National Cemetery

"For the almost four million people who visit annually, Arlington National Cemetery represents many different things. For some, it is a chance to walk among headstones that chronicle American history; for many, it is an opportunity to remember and honour the nation's war heroes; for others, it is a place to say a last farewell during funeral services for a family member or friend." (From the official website of Arlington National Cemetery.)

Arlington National Cemetery is the second biggest cemetery of the USA. It is located in the State of Virginia (close to Washington D.C.) and next to the Pentagon. It was founded during the American Civil War on the grounds of Arlington House. The cemetery is 2.53km² large and more than 300,000 veterans and military victims from the American Revolution up to the Iraq War are buried there (people who died before the Civil War were reinterred after 1900).

There are many popular monuments in the cemetery, among which there is the Tomb of the Unknowns (formerly known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier). One Unknown Soldier per war is buried there symbolically for all the others (World War I up to the Vietnam War). The President represents his closest relative at the funeral and is given the American Flag. The Tomb of the Unknowns is constantly guarded by the 3rd US Infantry ("the Old Guard"). The fastidious ceremony of the Changing of the Guard is held every hour (every half hour from April 1 to September 30).

The Tomb of the Unknowns is part of the Arlington Memorial Amphitheater which was built in 1868. State funerals, Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies take place there. About 5,000 people attend these ceremonies each year.

Another notable site is the grave of President John F. Kennedy. He is buried with his wife and two of their children. His grave is marked with an eternal flame. His brother, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, is also interred nearby. The latter's grave is marked by a simple cross.

Then there is Arlington House (The Robert E. Lee Memorial). It is a Greek revival style mansion which belonged to the family of the Confederate General Robert E. Lee's wife. The grounds of the mansion were declared as the site of Arlington National Cemetery during the American Civil War. The United States has since designated the mansion as a National Memorial to the General Lee which can be visited.

As for the burial procedures, the flags in Arlington National Cemetery are flown at half-mast a half hour before the first funeral until a half hour after the last one each day. Funerals are normally conducted five days a week - excluding weekends - and there are, on average, 27 burials a day.

Louisa Gangolf and Abigail Zinque

Dame Edna Everage

"Hello Possums!"

Even though she looks like an eccentric and flashy old woman, easily recognisable from her lilac-coloured hair and her big cat eye glasses, Dame Edna Everage is nevertheless one of the top ladies of the jet set. She is one of the greatest friends and advisors of Her Majesty the Queen and other world leaders. Moving around the world does not prevent her from loving her rural hometown, Wagga Wagga, and having a sweet family. Dame Edna has four children. To her despair, her youngest son Kenny is as gay as can be. Her husband, Sir Norman Everage, died from prostate cancer and as Dame Edna often reminds us, from "testicular murmur". As for her mother, she is now incarcerated in a "maximum-security twilight home for the bewildered".

As surprising as it may seem, Dame Edna is actually a man. Mind you, he is not a transexual, but a regular drag… His real name is Barry Humphries and he is a stage actor. However, Dame Edna dislikes being called a fictional character or a drag, and claims that Humphries is only her "entrepreneur" or manager. Humphries has been Australia’s favourite comedian and satirist for the last fifty years. He likes expressing his outrageous viewpoints through his characters. Actually, Dame Edna is one famous character among many others that Humphries impersonates. Another popular one is Sir Les Patterson.

Enough with the family picture, let us see how iconic Edna has become. Her career started in 1955 on stage as an "average Australian housewife". At that time, the character was at the very beginning of its fictional life so to speak. British Television would have to wait until her London debut in 1972 when she was "knighted" in Barry McKenzie’s film by the then Prime Minister of Australia himself. We can wonder why this film is worth mentioning. As a matter of fact, it has thrilled the British audience and introduced Dame Edna to the London West End public in the mid 1970s. Amazingly, she has been a cultural icon for more than 25 years for the English-speaking crowds. Aside from being a performer, Dame Edna has also written books (Dame Edna’s Coffee Table Book, My Gorgeous Life, etc.), hosted various television shows (The Dame Edna Treatment, etc.), and sung…

To sum her up… Well, she does it better than anyone else : "I was born in Melbourne with a precious gift. Dame Nature must have stooped over my little bassinet and gave me this gift. It was the ability - the priceless ability - to laugh at the misfortunes of others."

Aliénor Alzetta and Benoit Baudot

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Alan Sugar: a self-made man icon

Sir Alan Michael Sugar was born on 24 March 1947 in Hackney, a poor area in East London. He went to the Brooke House School in Upper Clapton. After leaving school at 16 he started selling car aerials and electric goods out of a van he bought for £100. A year later he met his wife Ann; they have been married for 40 years.

Now his fortune is estimated at £830 million. How is it possible to earn such an enormous amount of money in less than a half-century? Sir Alan Michael Sugar is the epitome of the self-made businessman.

The biggest part of his fortune comes from his entrepreneurial activities: he indeed created four companies. The first one, created in 1968 at the age of 21, is named Amstrad, an electronics company selling manufactured hifi-systems. The name is in fact an acronym featuring his initials (Alan Michael Sugar Trading). In 1980 his company was listed on the London Stock Exchange. In 2008 he decided to stand down from his post as chairman. He then founded Amsair, now run by his son, a firm which offers business and executive jet charters. Amsprop and Vilgen Ltd are his two smaller firms.

These economic activities enabled him to take part in Premier League football activities. In 1991 he indeed saved Tottenham Hotspur FC from failure by becoming the Chairman’s club. He was nevertheless more interested in money than in the club’s results, which made him very unpopular amongst the Spurs fans. In 2001 he eventually gave up his sporting ambitions.
In addition to his commercial and sporting activities he has also become a popular TV figure. He has indeed been starring in the BBC reality TV series The Apprentice since 2001. The concept is the following: candidates compete to become Alan Michael Sugar’s new employee. At the end of each episode, a new candidate is made redundant (he then utters the famous "You're fired!"). Alan Sugar is well-known for his harsh put downs towards the candidates. One example can be the famous answer “Fair? The only fair you’re gonna get is your bloody train fare home!” In fact it is worth noting that the concept is based on the American version of the program, starring Donald Trump.

All in all, what makes Alan Sugar an icon? On the one hand, he is the prototype of the self-made man: born in a modest middle-class background, he built a commercial empire and is now the most talked about entrepreneur in Britain. In 2000 he was knighted for services to business. On the other hand, his appearances in the TV programme The Apprentice have also made him into an incredibly popular man.

"Les misérables"

Have you ever heard of Leicester square? This is a small area located in London, near Piccadilly Circus. What is special about this place is that, at night, it turns into one of the liveliest places in London. Many things happen there: parties, movies,… and musicals! If you want to buy cheap tickets, Leicester square is the place to be. And that is where I was!
So, on the evening of the 11th of October 2008, I went to see a musical called “Les misérables” at the Queen’s Theatre. At the beginning, I was not very enthusiastic about it (I initially wanted to see something light and funny) but the £10-tickets soon made me change my mind. In the end, I was not disappointed! “Les misérables”, although not funny at all, was a great musical. Based on the well-known novel by Victor Hugo, it tells us about the life of Cosette, an orphan, and all of the people she meets against a revolutionary background. What I most liked in this musical was the powerful story sung by great artists. The scenery was stunning: a single wooden structure was used in almost all of the scenes and created a different effect each time.
It is true that “Les misérables” is not exactly the kind of musical which I would advise you if you want to have a good laugh, but it is worthwhile anyway. By the way, I learnt afterwards that the musical has been running all over the World since 1985. This shows how good it is!

The BAAHE conference

I must admit that I was not exactly pleased with the idea of getting up at 7.30 on a Saturday morning. But I knew that this BAAHE conference would be something rather unique. I was not mistaken.
The conference took place on the 22nd of November 2008 at the FUNDP’s arts faculty. It consisted of a succession of lecture sessions. A single thing was common to all of these lectures: the love of English. From 10.30 to 12.30, we attended the plenary lecture by Barbara Dancygier on material objects as discourse participants in dramatic and poetic discourse. I really liked this lecture and particularly the part on drama based on Shakespeare’s plays! I thought it was extremely clear and interesting. Moreover, it crossed the boundaries between linguistics and literature and also (for the drama part) between text and stage, showing that the both of them are closely linked. After a very good lunch, the conference started again at 1.30 with parallel sessions devoted to literature, linguistics and ELT. As I was interested in all of these branches, I tried to hear a little bit of everything. There were quite a lot of lectures (six, to be more precise), so it was sometimes difficult to follow and to listen attentively to all of them.
But in the end, I must say that I am glad of having got up early! It was indeed an opportunity to be present at a conference which gathers so many English language specialists.

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre...

… or almost! Indeed, the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, which you can visit if you happen to walk on Bankside, is not the real 1599’s Globe theatre. Since the demolition of the original one in 1644 (after having been closed by the Puritans), hardly any traces of the « wooden O » could be found in London. So, Sam Wanamaker (an American actor, filmmaker, producer… and Shakespeare lover) decided to rebuild a Globe 200 metres far from the supposed original site. That was a great idea! Thanks to him, today’s Londoners, Shakespeare fans or tourists can have a better idea of what entertainment meant in Shakespeare’s time.
I visited the Globe Theatre while I was in London (on the 11th and 12th of October 2008) and I really enjoyed it! The visit started with a guided tour. Guided tours may often be boring, but this one was not. Our guide was some kind of a passionate storyteller who inserted jokes and nice anecdotes during the visit. That was all very entertaining! The guided tour was followed by an exhibition devoted to Shakespeare and the London in which he lived and worked. That was again very interesting. What I most liked in the exhibition were the recordings: you could listen to recordings of famous actors performing Shakespearean plays or even record your own voice and add it to a scene recorded by Globe actors. Being a Juliet was great fun!
Moreover, the theatre itself was just wonderful! All the things I read about the original Globe were actually there: the “O” shape, the open-air structure,… As you probably noticed, the Globe theatre is one of my London trip’s favourite memories. It really is a unique place and I can’t wait to see a work by Shakespeare performed there!

Peter Philip Carey was born in Baccus Marsh, Victoria (Australia) in 1943. In 1961, after graduating as a secondary school student, he began to study Chemistry and Zoology in Melbourne. However, he soon gave up these studies through a lack of interest... Shortly after, he started working for an advertisement company. Thanks to this very job, he came into contact with writers such as Barry Oakley and Morris Lurie. They made him discover European and American fiction. From then onwards, he dived into the world of literature and read, among others, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and Franz Kafka.

Following this, he wrote a series of manuscripts, which were never published., Peter Carey did manage to get a few short stories published, in some magazines or newspapers but only by the end of the 1960s. Most of his stories appeared in the book “The Fat Man in History”, published in 1974. In 1976, he published a number of stories in “War Crimes”, and more importantly, his first novel: Bliss.

In the meantime, he went on working in advertising and in 1990, moved to New York. This removal led to some criticism by people who thought he could no longer write from an Australian perspective, since he had left the country. He was appointed Professor of creative writing at NY University.

In 1998, he was awarded the Commonwealth Writers Prize but provoked a lot of controversy by refusing a meeting with Queen Elizabeth II. He wanted to show his disagreement with regard to Australia’s dependence on England.

So far, the author has approached different genres, such as short stories, children’s books, non fiction and novels. Many of his works were translated into French.

Humphrey Lyttelton

Humphrey Richard Adeane Lyttelton, also known as Humph, was born on 23 May 1921. He was an English jazz musician, broadcaster, author, and radio presenter. He was also one of the great-nephews of the politician and sportsman Alfred Lyttelton, who was the 1st man to represent England at both football and cricket at the international level.

Lyttelton acquired his first trumpet in 1936, when his mother went to a shop and bought him an instrument for around five pounds. He learnt to play by himself, being inspired by the trumpeters Louis Armstrong and Nat Gonella.

After spending a year with the Dixielanders, a band which pioneered New Orleans-style jazz in Britain and which was led by the pianist George Webb, Humphrey Lyttleton formed his own jazz band in 1948, playing the trumpet. The Humphrey Lyttelton Band soon became the leading traditional jazz band in the country, with a high reputation in Europe. It was for Parlophone that Humphrey recorded his own Bad Penny Blues which, in 1956, was the first British jazz record to get into the Top 20. The eight-piece band toured the States in 1959. By 1988, his 40th year as a bandleader, the jazzman had already played more than 10,000 concerts, only to continue for more than fifteen years. He wrote more than 120 original compositions for his band.

However, he always saw to it that he remained active besides his musical life. Indeed, he Bundertook the presentation of a number of jazz programmes on BBC's Radio 2 (The Best of Jazz), and is also well known for presenting the hugely popular Radio 4 comedy show, I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, which he chaired for 30 years.

One of the members of the Dixielanders — the clarinettist and cartoonist Wally Fawkes — became one of his particularly close friends. Lyttelton, who joined the Daily Mail as a cartoonist in 1949, provided story lines and dialogue for his friend’s greatly popular satirical strip, Flook.

His contribution to jazz literature was important too: he wrote seven books. Few musicians have written as vividly about their profession. He was also known as a journalist: his articles appeared regularly in Punch, The Field and the British Airways Highlife magazine.

He died on April 25, 2008, aged 86, leaving behind four children. His band was one of the most versatile in the world, and continues to give concerts celebrating his music and songs.

Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is a sweetener made from the sap of maple trees. It comes from Eastern Canada, but also from Vermont in the US.

The Native Americans were the first to discover maple syrup and considered the sap as a source of energy and nutrition. They drank it as a sweet drink and used it for cooking. Around 1850, sugar was so hard to find and so expensive that people used maple sugar instead. Production devices evolved throughout the centuries.

The production takes place in the sugar bush (forest exploited for maple syrup), producers collect maple syrup by tapping through the tree’s bark, and then let the sap run into a bucket. This task requires daily collecting. However, collectors often use a quicker method, which consists in plastic pipelines. A hole in the bark can only produce sap for one season. This is due to the natural healing process of the tree. Then, the sap is cooked in a pan, the evaporator. The latter is divided into two sections: the front-pan and the back-pan. After the water has evaporated, the liquid becomes denser and sweeter. As the sap becomes denser, it works its way from the rear evaporator to the front evaporator. Then, the valve connecting the two pans is shut. This is a crucial period in the production (part 2). The next stage is to test the density with a hydrometer. If the density happens to be too low, the syrup will not be sweet enough and if the density is too high, the syrup will crystallize. February, March and April (warm days and freezing nights) are the best months for production. A tree must be at least 40 years old and have a diameter of 25 cm at chest-height before being tapped. Intermediate levels of boiling can create other products, such as maple cream, maple butter or maple sugar.

Maple syrup is served with a great variety of dishes, such as pancakes, waffles, French toast, ice cream, doughnuts, biscuits, hot cereal, and so on. Tourists who go to a Sugar Shack (big farms where maple syrup is served directly to the public) often order Maple Taffee (also called Tire sur la neige in Quebec and Sugar on Snow in North America). This is hot maple syrup poured onto fresh snow and eaten on sticks before it melts. Since there are so many maple trees in Canada, its leaf has come to symbolize the country and is represented on its flag. It is also the symbolical tree of several US states, Vermont and New York among others.

Maple syrup is also used in a lot of recipes.
Marie Demez and Cécile Duterme

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Archers : a Britsh soap opera

The Archers is a radio soap opera that has been broadcast on BBC4 since 1950; thus making it the longest series on radio in Europe. The episodes, about 15,500 so far, last around fifteen minutes each and run from Sunday to Friday. Its creator, Godfrey Baseley, invented the fictional environment for his stories: the village of Ambridge in the unreal county of Borsetshire, which could be situated in the Midlands in England. Archer is the name of a middle-class family who manages Brookfield Farm. The series tells the everyday life of several families, such as the Grundys, Woolleys and the Aldridges as well as other individuals (e.g. the barkeeper of the Bull) living in Ambridge and its vicinities.

Some critics argue that the series is a bit too focussed on the middle-class, yet it deals with very important social issues such as drug abuse, rape, gay marriages and the destruction of GM crops. The series also follows important events like the FIFA world cup, the WTC terrorist attacks and the 2005 London bombings. The fictional village is partly set in the real world which makes it even more realistic. Yet, unlike in TV soaps, the actors can have a break within the story when they are involved in long-term projects: the weekly cast is made of 20 to 30 actors out of the 60 regular ones. Since its huge success, the BBC used this series to send propaganda messages after the Second World War. The main aim was to help rebuild a partly destroyed Britain and to inculcate national feelings. The theme tune is a maypole dance called Barwick Green, composed in 1924 by Arthur Wood.

The series is so popular that several fan clubs have been created. On the one hand, the official fan-club: Archers Addicts, and on the other hand, Archers Anarchists, claiming that the characters are real. Likewise, overseas parallels are broadcast by the BBC in Afghanistan and Rwanda, respectively “Naway Kor, Naway Jwand” and “Urunana”. Moreover, The Archers has also been used as a model for a radio soap opera in Russia. Logically, the success of the series inspired books, audio books and novels which made the programme into a commercial emporium. Popular culture has also been influenced by the series; some TV programs refer to the Archers during their episodes, such as Inspector Morse. It is even mentioned in The growing pains of Adrian Mole (Sue Townsend) where Adrian admits to being a fan of the series. The Archers has become a well-known cultural item in Great-Britain and it is not likely to wear off soon.

Audrey Franco and Bram Vanhooland

Friday, December 05, 2008

Party and conferences

With the end of the semester (and indeed the year) fast approaching, it's time for a series of English Unit events! In chronological order (click posters for larger images, and feel free to spread the word on Facebook or wherever ;) ):

Christmas Party and Tombola Extravaganza

Come and join the X-Mas fun on Wednesday 10 December as of 6 pm in the English Literature seminar (with an audiovisual pre-party Christmas treat in the English Linguistics seminar for whoever is free and up for it)...

BA2 student conference on keywords and icons of anglophone cultures

The yearly BA2 presentations on a selection of keywords and icons from different anglophone regions will be held on Tuesday 16 December from 2 to 4 pm in the English Linguistics seminar.

BA3 student conference on corpus linguistics

This year's corpus presentations are all based on data from the Corpus of Contemporary American English, compiled by Mark Davies, and investigate recent and ongoing changes in American English from 1990 to the present day. The conference takes place on Tuesday 16 December from 4.10 to 5.40 pm in the English Linguistics seminar.

See (some of) you soon at any or all of these events!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Kilt

The kilt is a knee-length skirt with a tartan pattern that is worn by men. Nowadays it is known as a typical symbol representing the Scottish culture. Its origin lies in the Scottish Highlands of the 16th century. But the Scots only adopted it as a national symbol in the 19th century. The kilt is mostly worn on formal occasions like weddings, parades or by groups such as the Scouts and so on. It can also be worn as part of the uniform by certain armies but has not been used in combat since 1940. The kilt is also worn at less formal occasions too: most of us may recollect seeing a noisy crowd of kilt-wearing Scots at a national soccer game e.g. Surprisingly there are still people today who wear the kilt daily. In recent years it has even become a fashionable symbol and is often worn in combination with a Jacobite shirt. The kilt is also unique because of the special conventions that go with it. There is only one proper way of wearing it! The majority of people think that wearing no underwear belongs to the tradition of the kilt. But this is not really the case, even if a Scot who wears a kilt with underwear risks losing his status as a “True Scotsman”. It is true that wearing underwear is in some cases forbidden by military regulations. But, most of the time, the choice is free.

Even if there is only one right way to wear a kilt; there are lots of possible varieties concerning colour (e.g. the colour of the tartan depends on the region, society, corporation,… you come from), size, weight, pleats, etc. In all, there are nearly 5 000 tartans registered! It has to be highlighted that for the Scots, their kilt is sacred. Therefore, they would never put it in a washing machine. On the contrary, they would even wash it with their bare hands or they would give it to the dry cleaners in order to avoid spoiling the pleats that are found on the back site.

The wearing of a kilt also requires several accessories such as the kilt hose and Ghillie Brogues (shoes) (woollen socks), the sporran (a special purse), a belt, a jacket, a sgian dubh (a black knife). A female “kilt” also exists which is called the Aboyne dress. The enormous reputation of the kilt as being a national symbol even encourages authors to write books about the art of making and wearing a kilt! Wearing a kilt is a Scottish tradition that has already lasted for five centuries. And due to the fact that the Scots are still very enthusiastic about their national symbol, we can hope that this unique tradition will last at least another five centuries!

Camille Mertens and Jessica Meyer