Saturday, January 28, 2012

Begin December I saw the movie « Burke and Hare ». It is an English film which tells us the story of two Irish men who live in Edinburgh in the early nineteenth century. William Hare and William Burke have financial problems and do not have any plan to get money. But then, one of Hare’s neighbors suddenly dies and they have to get rid of the body. In this period, Edinburgh is well-known for its medical universities and colleges. But the lecturers of anatomy have difficulties to get cadavers to make their dissections. Burke and Hare then have the idea to sell the body of their dead neighbor to get money. Since they can’t find any other solutions to earn money honestly, they start to kill people and sell their bodies to Doctor Knox, a local anatomist.

This film is the adaptation of real events that took place in the nineteenth century in Edinburgh. But the film has few things in common with these events. In reality, the two protagonists were serial killers and had no problems with killing people and selling their bodies. But in the movie, we feel that Burke and Hare do not like to kill people. They just do that to have money and they choose people such as beggars and travelers to kill, so persons not considered as important persons. In reality they are also helped by Mrs. Hare and Mrs. Mcdougal, the mistress of Burke. But in the movie, only Mrs. Hare helps them. Mrs. Mcdougal wears the name of Ginny Hawkins and is interested in Burke because he accepts to finance for her play. Indeed, she wants to direct Mac Beth with a company consisting of women only. Besides, the way the murders are discovered is not the same in the movie as in reality. Another fact that is not the same is the question of what happens to the characters at the end.

What I liked in this movie was the humor. Indeed, it is a comedy despite the theme of the film which is not that funny. But this black humor is also the weak point of the movie because we tend to see these serial killers as friendly though they are not kind at all. The movie wants us to be on their side and the director makes the subject of the film not that terrible. We have the impression that killing people to get money is not that bad. But the reason why I chose this movie as a portfolio activity is that it takes place in Edinburgh. However we do not see the city a lot except the Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

Charlotte Kinard.

King Lear

In December, I saw the play King Lear in Leuven. The play was really interesting because it was the first time that I saw a play of Shakespeare in a theater. Of course I saw some film adaptations of Shakespeare’s works, but none of King Lear and none as a theater play, so I was very excited to see it. And at the end of the day I was not disappointed. The actors were great and the production was good. The atmosphere in the theater was excellent and intimate because the stage and the audience were small. However, I had some difficulties to understand everything. For example, I could hardly understand the actress who played the role of the fool. She spoke very fast. But I think she was the best of the eleven actors. Another weak point was that the play lasted a bit too long. Indeed, I was relieved when the play ended even if I enjoyed it. A Shakespeare play always gathers a lot of actors. This company consisted of eleven actors and that each actor played different roles. For example, the actress who played the fool also played the role of Cordelia. And the actor who played the King of France had also the role of Edgar. Moreover, each actor also played the roles of extras. To distinguish the different roles, they wore different clothes of course. But they wore masks too if they appeared as extras. The setting was simple but efficient. What I did like were the first minutes of the play. The actors began to dance on music as an introduction to the show. Furthermore, King Lear is well-known for its cruelty. In this play, this cruelty is well related. For example, the scene in which the Earl of Gloucester has his eyes taken out is horrible. But it is Shakespeare. So to conclude, I would recommend this play to others because this production is excellent.

Charlotte Kinard.

The Palace of Holyroodhouse

On the 2nd of December 2011, I visited the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. This is the official residence of the Queen when she comes to Scotland. It is situated at the end of the Royal Mile. We first entered the front court where we could see the different towers of the Palace. Then, we moved forward in the Palace itself. We took the stairs to the first floor and arrived in the room where Her Majesty the Queen receives people to dine. Further on we saw the different rooms used for official ceremonies. And with the audio guide we also had an account of the use of the rooms in the time of former kings or queens, such as Charles II and Queen Mary. The visit also allowed us to see jewels and objects that belong to the Royal Family. As we went on in the Palace we discovered portraits of different important people of Scotland on the walls, the official Robe of the Queen as a member of the Order of the Thistle and the old rooms of Queen Mary. We saw her bed and the little room where she used to dine. The visit ends with the ruins of the abbey of the Palace.

I really liked to visit the Palace of Holyroodhouse because we saw things that belong to the British tradition and the Royal Family. In spite of the coldness of Edinburgh that day I did enjoy this visit. The audio guide was well-made so that we received all the information needed, comments of professionals of the Royal British tradition and even anecdotes. For example, the room where the Queen received the actor Sean Connery to give him a distinction. In one of the rooms we could see a video of pipers playing “God save the Queen” and other images of official ceremonies in the Palace. In conclusion, the palace of Holyroddhouse is definitely one of the most important things to see in Edinburgh.

Charlotte Kinard.

Friday, January 06, 2012

King Lear

On the 5th December we went to see a Shakespeare play in Leuven: King Lear. The old King Lear wants to divide his kingdom among his three daughters and to give the biggest part to the one who loves him the most. Therefore, his daughters have to flatter him. Whereas Goneril and Regan tell him that they love him more than anything on earth, Cordelia refuses to take part into this game. That is how the play begins. Here I will focus on the performance on stage. The company is the Cambridge University Theatre Group who is on tour in Belgium, Germany, Switzerland the Netherlands and the United-Kingdom. All its members (the 11 actors and technical crew) are students. The English, which is used in the play, is old Shakespearian English. That makes the actors hard to understand. Another disturbing feature of the play is the fact that, sometimes, the actors are wearing a mask. It is only by the end of the play that I realised that the masked actors played second roles. Some actors performed very well. The actor who played King Lear did it very well. He really managed to express the madness undergone by his character, but without overacting. Besides, he was the only actor who did not play any second role. Another outstanding performance was the one of the actor playing Edmund. He really managed to turn his character into a bad one who is hated right from his first spoken words on.

To sum up, attending a Shakespeare play is worth doing. Even if you do not understand everything, you will enjoy it. However, keep in mind that it lasts at least three hours.

Royal Mile

From the 30th November to the 2nd December we (BA3 students ) went to Edinburgh. We spent most of the time on the Royal Mile. It is a succession of streets which form the main street (roughly one mile long) of the Old Town of Edinburgh. Geographically speaking, it is located on the ridge of an extinct volcano. The steep street runs between Holyrood Palace and Edinburgh Castle. Down the street, opposite Holyrood Palace (where Elizabeth II stays when she comes to Edinburgh) the Scottish Parliament lies. A little bit further there is Saint Giles’ Cathedral. That is the High Kirk of Scotland. According to some legends Giles’ only friend was a deer. The animal was once pursued by the royal hunters and the arrow shot, hurt Giles and not the deer. Seeing this, the King was touched and decided to build a monastery to honour him. Saint Giles is now the patron saint of Edinburgh. Inside the cathedral stands the massive organ which is one of the main striking features of the building. It has not less than 4,000 pipes: absolutely stunning! Next to the cathedral there is the Heart of Midlothian on which many people spit. There are two reasons: a historical one and a sportive one. Until the 19th century the Old Tolbooth, the administrative centre of Edinburgh, stood there. This was also the place where executions took place. At that time crimes had to be solved very quickly and many innocent people were hung. Therefore people spit on the door of the Old Tolbooth in order to show their contempt for the local authorities. The second reason is the following one: the Heart is also the symbol of an Edinburgh football club. The supporters of the other Edinburgh football team are used to spit on the heart as a sign of rivalry. Next to the cathedral stands the Parliament House which, originally, housed the Parliament of Scotland until the early 18th century. It is now home to the Supreme Courts of Scotland. Its parking lot lies on the former graveyard of the Cathedral. What is very special about it, it is the parking space no 23 under which John Knox, one of the leading figures of the Protestant Reformation in Scotland, is believed to be buried. On the top of the Royal Mile stands Edinburgh Castle on its Castle Rock. From the outside, it is very amazing and impressive to look at the massive Castle on its rock and the view, from the Castle, on Edinburgh is simply breathtaking. Visiting the Edinburgh Castle is a must if you go to the capital of Scotland.

To sum up the Royal Mile is the historical heart of Edinburgh with Holyrood Palace, Saint Giles’ Cathedral, and Edinburgh Castle.

Go and see your friends on Erasmus

If you stay in Namur during the 1st semester while your GERMA friends are on Erasmus, you will see that you have plenty of free time. During this term I hardly had15 hours a week and I didn’t have classes on Mondays nor on Tuesdays. So I decided to go and see some of my friends who stayed in Cork. Right after the 50th birthday of our dear/beloved Germanic department, I took the plane to Dublin on the 26th November. There I took a coach in order to go down to Cork. 4:30 hours! That was what it took to cross Ireland from North to South. But, as I was very excited to see my friends back, the time just seemed to fly. Once arrived at Cork I was picked up by Sophie who would quickly be followed by Elisa. The feelings then were... I don't know how to describe them. But they were very strong, passionate. There was a mix of joy, happiness, delight, gladness, cheerfulness and relief to see them again. That was roughly what I felt when I saw them. While chatting, we went to the tiny Christmas Market where there were heaps of food stands. That whetted our appetite. In the evening we went to a pub where a traditional Irish music band was supposed to perform, but it was not the case at all. Instead of that an electro pop group, Toy Soldier, played. Yet, that was good enough to have a good time. On Sunday we visited the Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral and baked cup cakes, which were very tasty. Then I took the coach back to Dublin airport. 4:30 hours once again! And I slept in the airport because my flight was on Monday 09:00. I have to admit I enjoyed spending the night there. So I stayed in Cork for 28 hours: very intense and too short as well. I was over the moon.

Now I will briefly introduce the lovely city of Cork. The main shopping thoroughfare of the city is Saint Patrick’s street. It is very enjoyable to walk through this street with its large sidewalks and its beautiful buildings. While watching the buildings, there is something striking: on one side of the street the buildings are more modern than on the other side. This is a consequence of the Burning of Cork, which took place during the War of Independence in 1920. Cork was then a very important place for the Irish republican volunteers who were fighting the British authorities. In an escalating spiral of violence British forces were attacked by members of the IRA. As a response the Black and Tans (a vicious armed group employed by the British authorities) set fire to numerous buildings in the city centre. That is why one part of Saint Patrick’s street’s buildings date back from the 18th and 19th century and another part of the buildings were rebuilt after 1920. Furthermore, the place to go to is the English Market, the roofed food market of Cork. The building is simply outstanding and the atmosphere there is just unique. It is not just a market; it is the market to go to. Finally, the University College Cork is definitely worth visiting, i.e. the main quadrangle and the campus as a whole. The main quadrangle is a grass square surrounded by impressive buildings from the mid-19th century.

To sum up, I would highly advice you to go and see your friends who are on Erasmus. It is definitely worth doing.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Ba3 Portfolio Activity #1: John Constable

I was looking for a possible activity for my portfolio when I heard somewhere, from someone, that there was an exhibition of John Constable in Ghent and I knew on the spot I had to see it. OK, I'll be honest with you: it was one of the suggestions from the course-description-sheet we got on our first lesson and having no ideas of my own I decided to mix business with pleasure and asked my girlfriend if she wanted to visit Ghent with me. Romantic as I am, I first took her to the Museum of Fine Arts and then to the theatre to watch a movie in English.

The Museum of Fine Arts is a beautiful neoclassical building located near the “Citadelpark” which is a half-an-hour walk away from the train station. At the moment, it holds the John constable exhibition that includes paintings from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London until the 29th of January. The tickets for the museum are cheap, when you are younger than 26 they only cost 1€. So you don't have an excuse for not dropping by when you are in the area. It holds a wide range of paintings and sculptures from the late middle ages up to contemporary art, so everyone should find something that fits their taste.

John Constable is a famous British romantic painter, he is also often called the “father of modern landscape painting” as he broke away from the aesthetics of his time and tried to paint nature the way he saw it. He was born in 1776 in a small town called East Bergholt, Suffolk, in the south east of England. In his early years he started to draw sketches from the landscapes around his home town and began to pursue art studies in 1799. By 1803 some of his paintings where already exhibited in the Royal Academy. He spoke out against the widespread belief at that time, that a painter should rely on his own imagination to draw paintings. For him, nature itself should be the main source of the artist. Thus, he only painted landscapes he had seen with his own eyes.

His method was to draw a first impression of the landscape he was seeing, in oil or in watercolours. These first studies where not comparable to the finished paintings he drew for his patrons or for the exhibitions in the Royal Academy. In fact, they were very avant-gardist for his time and were closer to impressionism than to romanticism and they inspired especially the French impressionists later on. His paintings show often very mundane scenes of everyday life like farmers at work, cathedrals and parks, which also brakes with romanticism that would focus more on epic scenery or gloomy ruins. One outstanding feature of Constables painting is light and the representation of the sky. He was very skilled at catching light and shadows in his paintings, with a very accurate feeling for light sources and moods. Some of his paintings seem very vivid and sparkling, even photorealistic. He is called the “father of modern landscapes painting” for good reasons.

Even tough I wasn't keen on going there in the first place, I was positively surprised and visited the exhibition with great interest. The beauty of his paintings is sometimes breathtaking and the pictures you can see when you follow the links I provided are pale in comparison. My favourite painting was the leaping horse (of which there is no good picture on the net, so you'll have to go and see for yourself). The exhibition will be in Ghent until the 29th of January so if you have nothing better to do: go and have a look at those beautiful paintings.

Ba3 Portfolio Activity #2: Drive

Go watch this movie. Seriously. If you haven't seen it already then you missed out what I believe was the best movie of 2011. The plot, the aesthetics, the soundtrack, the actors,... everything this movie does, it does it the right way. But enough of the words of praise, let's get down to the details: It was the 11th of November, the weather was splendid yet somewhat chilly. My girlfriend and I where roaming the narrow streets of the beautiful old town of Ghent, when we came by this cosy little cinema and I promptly came up with the idea to watch a movie in English for my portfolio activities. My girlfriend accepted, mainly because of the outlook to get some popcorn, though. After having asked my best friend (a film school graduate) for advice which film to choose, we got two tickets for Drive and a large bag of popcorn.

The intro already looks very promising, we see the protagonist, the Driver (whose name is not given in the movie, played by Ryan Gosling ), while he is moonlighting as a getaway-driver. His main reason to be a part-time getaway-driver is to get some extra money, and he follows strict rules: he never works twice for the same people, he shows up at the rendezvous-point in his car and will wait exactly for 5 minutes. If these 5 minutes run out he will make his getaway, with or without his contractors. During the intro of the movie, he helps two robbers to escape from the crime-scene, thereby demonstrating his excellent driving skills.

The driver normally works in a garage and as a stunt driver for movies. His boss Shannon (played by Bryan Cranston) has connections with a local member of the organised crime, Bernie Rose, whom he tries to convince to lend him 300 000$ in order to buy a stock-car. Bernie insist on seeing the driver's performance first, and after the successful trial agrees to sponsor him. However, in the meantime the driver meets Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son, Benicio, who live in the apartment next to his. He feels strongly attracted to Irene and develops a strong attachment to Benicio. They start to spend a lot of time together, but then Benicio's father, who had to serve time in jail, appears on the scene. Shortly thereafter the driver finds him lying in front of the elevator, severely beaten and bleeding. It turns out that Standard (yes that's his name), owes protection money to a local gangster, who wants him to rob a pawn shop. Standard refused for his family's sake, but they threatened to hurt Irene and Benicio the next time, so the driver offers him his help.

From there on, things start to go pear-shaped: during the heist a mysterious car stops next to the driver's. Standard and his accomplice, a woman named Blanche, go into the pawn shop. Blanche comes out with the money, but when standard tries to escape, he is shot dead by the owner. The driver makes a dash for it but is followed by the mysterious car. After a harrowing car chase he manages to get away and they hide in a cheap motel, only to get attacked by even more gangsters. He somehow succeeds to escape, looking to find out whose money he has on the back seat of his car and how to protect the ones he holds dear.

In order to avoid too many spoilers, I'll stop my account here. Personally, I liked the film so much because of it's authenticity, the credibility of the actors, the angst-laden love story and the captivating action-scenes. What I liked the most, though, was the fact that the cars, after being crashed, did not explode. For those of you who are interested: Drive will be released on DVD (and Blu-ray) on January 30, 2012. I definitively think that the English unit should get a copy.

Ba3 Portfolio Activity #3: King Lear

My third and final portfolio activity brought me (or rather us) to Leuven. Mr Delabastita had asked us if we were interested in watching a Shakespeare play. I was glad about this opportunity, because finding an activity in English in Belgium is not that easy. The play was to be performed in the Reynaerttheater Malpertuus in Leuven on the 5th of December. We fixed the rendezvous-point in front of the train station, where Mr Delabastita was waiting for us. We then made our way to the theatre. Mr Delabastita turned out to be an excellent tour guide and showed us several interesting things, including the library where he found his passion for reading (a very historical place!)

As you may know, King Lear is the story about the latter and his three daughters Goneril, Regan and Cordelia. The king is growing old and decides to retire from power. He wants to divide his properties among his three daughters. The largest part should go to the daughter who loves him best. In this contest of flattery, Goneril and Regan describe their love for him in poetic language, trying to surpass each other. Cordelia on the other hand, is the only one to speak the truth when she says that she loves him the way a daughter should love her father, no more and no less. King Lear is infuriated by the bluntness of her words. Believing in the flattery of his two other daughters he banishes Cordelia and disinherits her. He divides his kingdom between Regan and Goneril and asks for a hundred knights and to live alternately with them. But when he goes to Goneril she says that he should let one half of the knights go, unwilling to pay for them. Infuriated he goes to see Regan, but she says that he doesn't need any knights and casts him away. Betrayed by his own daughters he runs out in the middle of a storm, ranting, only accompanied by a few loyal companions and the fool who mocks his foolishness.

Meanwhile, Edmund, the illegitimate son of the Earl of Gloucester plots against his legitimate brother Edgar, making their father believe that Edgar wants to kill him. Edgar is forced to run away and falls into madness. The Earl of Gloucester learns about the fate of the king and writes a letter to Cordelia's husband, the king of France. Edmund sees this and betrays him to Goneril and Regan, Gloucester is then caught and brutally blinded by Regan's husband, the Duke of Cornwall. In the meantime, Cordelia returns with the French army and is defeated by the English troops led by Edmund. Cordelia is captured and by the time the allies of the king realise that she is about to be executed, it is already too late. Goneril and Regan, both attracted to Edmund, are jealous of each other. Goneril first poisons Regan and then kills herself. Edmund is killed by his half-brother Edgar and King Lear, overwhelmed by the fate of the only daughter who really loved him, dies of sorrow.

The play was performed by the Cambridge University Theatre Group, which entirely consists of students. They perform Shakespeare plays in different cities of Europe for two and a half weeks in December, each year. Despite their young age, they played their roles in a very believable way. Especially the performance of Theo Hughes-Morgan, who played King Lear, really stood out. Although the play is very dark, violent (and the violence is shown very explicitly) and very long (3 hours) it was interesting to watch, which was also due to the great performance of the actors. Shakespearean English is quite hard to understand, so you don't always get what they are talking about, but seeing the performance helped me a lot in the understanding of the story. Watching a play, performed by such talented students is not something you can do every day, so it is definitively worth the watch.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

"Edinburgh Castle"

If you hear about kilts, luxury cashmere, the famous Loch Ness and its mysterious Nessie, Scotch whisky or the Royal Mile, the first image that comes to your mind is Scotland. Let’s focus on Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh. This brilliant, breathtaking and magnificent city has been declared a World Heritage Site. Moreover, the city is split into the old and the new at the level of the medieval Old Town and the Georgian New Town but also at the level of the contrast between the ancient and the modern architecture. No stopover in Scotland’s capital is complete without a trip to Edinburgh Castle, which dominates the whole city.

This fortress has been successively a royal castle and a military base involved in many conflicts such as the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14th century as well as the Jacobite Rising in the 18th century. Since the 19th century, the Castle has been recognized as a historical monument. Furthermore, the Castle consists of different buildings such as the Great Hall and the National War Museum of Scotland. The so-called St Margaret’s Chapel is the oldest one located in the city. In addition the key attraction of the Castle is the display of the crown, the sceptre and the sword in the ancient crown room used in the coronation of Mary Queen of Scots (1543). These objects are precious symbols of the ancient kingdom and still play an important role in Scotland’s ceremonial life. To my mind, it was the most impressive part of the exhibition that I saw in the Castle. The sight of these treasures took me back five centuries. I tried to imagine how beautiful the official ceremonies must have been. Actually, I nearly felt Queen Mary’s presence in the room. It’s kind of magical, isn’t it? By the way, a lot of mystery surrounds the manufacturing process of the Honours. Some craftsmen who lived in the Castle spruced up the Honours. According to one legend, somebody melted down the gold contained in Robert I’s diadem in order to make the current crown. We have no proof, but nevertheless, this diadem represents the beginning of the remarkable history of the Honours of Scotland. James V inherited later this crown and commissioned a man from Edinburgh called John Mosman to refashion the old crown. What were these crown jewels used for? At that time, an Act became law when the King touched the document with his sceptre. When the sceptre touched the Treaty of Union in 1707, the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland became one single country. So, it led to the creation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain. At that time, the Castle swarmed with people, officials as well as prisoners. The vaults were used as prisons of war from 1757 to 1815. Most of the men had been captured at sea during the war. Actually, Great Britain was at war with countries supporting America such as France, Spain and Holland. What surprised me the most was the fact that prisoners were allowed to drink beer each day! Another great discovery was the display of three wooden doors which come from the vaults. The graffiti carved on them provide sufficient clues about the prisoners’ identities. By looking carefully at one of the doors, I saw one of the first versions of the American flag! Finally, our nice guide told us some anecdotes about the life in the Castle. The most striking one gave an account of a baby elephant which had been brought back from an exotic land to Edinburgh’s Castle. It lived there peacefully with the soldiers for a while. When it became too big, the soldiers had no other choice but to leave the elephant. The zoo of Edinburgh thus became its second home.

To sum up, Edinburgh combines the bustle of the city, a complete change of scenery for the tourists and the tranquillity of the countryside. Don’t hesitate, go and visit Scotland’s capital!

"King Lear"

Based on the tragedy written by William Shakespeare in 1606 and firstly performed in 1608, the play “King Lear” recounts the life of the British King Lear who chooses to retire and divide up Britain between his three daughters. To become rich and powerful, the three daughters have to flatter their father. On the one hand, the two eldest, Goneril and Regan, achieve their ends and are rewarded generously with land and marriages to the Duke of Albany and the Duke of Cornwall, respectively. On the other hand, Lear’s most beloved daughter, Cordelia, refuses to buy into the “glib and oily art” of courtly flattery because she truly loves her father. Lear’s pride is hurt and he furiously banishes Cordelia from the land. One of Cordelia’s suitors, the Duke of Burgundy, explains thus that he doesn’t want to marry her because she has no wealth. However, the King of France takes her as his wife so she accompanies him to France without her father’s blessing. Elsewhere in the royal court, somebody is conspiring against the Duke of Gloucester. Actually, he has two sons called Edgar and Edmund. The latter is illegitimate, that’s the reason why he tricks Gloucester into believing that his other son, Edgar, is planning to kill Gloucester. Consequently, the latter disinherits Edgar and tries to protect Lear against his two malicious daughters. Accused of treason by Regan and her husband, Cornwall, the duke of Gloucester is condemned to wander the countryside. At the end of the story, Cordelia is hanged on Edmund’s order. Her death is too much for the insane King Lear who dies of unhappiness. Before I went to the Reynaerttheatre Malpertuus in Leuven, I wondered how men can bear another King Lear. The Cambridge University European Theatre Group did it perfectly. First of all, the actors analysed the characters’ personality in order to play them with psychological realism and emotional authenticity. The result of their work is incredibly good! Furthermore, they spoke a perfect British English which illustrates their total respect for the Shakesperian style. What struck me the most about the play on stage was the fact that the scenery could be changed. This ingenious invention enables the student-run theatrical company to put on their show anywhere. Moreover, costumes were designed in a modern style which enables the spectator to build bridges between the original play and the experimental set. Another interesting anecdote about the play is the fact that each actor plays different roles. To avoid any confusion, they used masks in order to make a distinction between the main characters and the supporting roles.

To sum up, I enjoyed every second of the play. However, I have to admit that I didn’t understand all the dialogues because the theatrical performers tended to speak naturally fast. Being a spectator of such a play was a great pleasure and I advise you to go and see this version of the famous Shakespearian play.