Photo Set: London and Rochester, England

I’d had about as much romance as I could handle, so it was finally time to say goodbye to France and move onto the next destination. I hopped on the high-speed train from Paris to London, under the English Channel.IMG_1146
It was a really cool experience, and apparently super efficient, which made me question why we don’t have these high-speed trains in the United States. Commuting around California would be so much easier!
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My time in London was going to be primarily spent writing and researching, but I did manage to get out and see a few things. The first night I spent with my cousin, then joined my friend in Waterloo for the week. It was go time!
Naturally, I checked out the London Eye and Big Ben because they were so close by!IMG_1190IMG_1194IMG_1239
Here’s a segment of the World War II memorial. I couldn’t possibly capture it all.IMG_1223
And Big Ben! IMG_1225
This is a Marriot hotel now, but for 64 years, this building was the London County Hall!IMG_1237Mary Jane Seacole was a Jamaican businesswoman known for setting up the “British Hotel,” a pseudo-hospital for sick and convalescent soldiers during the Crimean War. In 2004, she was voted the greatest black Briton.IMG_1690
I ran into a friend in a tiny bar (small world right?) and she invited us to join her and her friends for their Fourth of July festivities, on the lawn by Tower Bridge. We may have been on the other side of the pond, but we held it down for ‘Murca. Shotgun!IMG_1292
The Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment… naturally.IMG_1300
One of my favorite little gems in London is The Graffiti Cave and The Vaults Theatre, by Waterloo Station. If you’re into street art, this is the place to check out! The entrance is relatively unassuming, reeking of danger and “Do Not Enter,” but we all know that’s where the best stuff is normally hiding…
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It’s an entire tunnel covered in graffiti, top to bottom. It’s unbelievable! So colorful!IMG_1305IMG_1312
This is a shot of the ceiling! Anybody know the artist?IMG_1313
… if so, let’s get on a conference call! (That was a joke about the four phone booths.)IMG_1333
It turns out, a friend of mine from my days in Australia lived just outside London in Rochester, so I took a day to go see her and explore Rochester. It’s a really cool city! And look, another awesome castle!
IMG_1345The Rochester Castle was built in 1087 to protect England’s south–east coast from invasion.IMG_1591IMG_1360
And this beautiful church!
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Charles Dickens lived in Rochester, and is said to haunt the moat on Christmas Eve.IMG_1372

As a first-time American traveler in Europe, I was enamored at the age (old) and resilience of the buildings and castles. There’s so much history in Europe, it’s like America is brand new!

I took the train back to London late on Thursday night, because we had to be up and out early on Friday. The sole reason for my trip, the research, the history, was the next destination on my trip… Northern Ireland.

CHE

Did you see the other photo sets? Photo Set: Love in the South of FrancePhoto Set: Saint-Malo, The Walled CityPhoto Set: Mont Saint-MichelPhoto Set: Normandy and Cancale, and Photo Set: Dinan and Paris

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Snitches get Stitches… or a Playboy?

I love Graffiti. I hate “throw ups.”

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Graffiti artists spend hours sketching their pieces in notebooks, making stencils or printing stickers. They’ve come up with aliases based on letters they enjoy drawing. Graffiti has been used to make social statements and remember the departed. There is significant skill involved.

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“Throw ups” are vandalism for the sake of marking territory, most often by gangs. They are applied in less than a second and require no real artistic skill, just going through the motions of the gang’s “same old” packaged acronym. Blah.

But I didn’t always feel this way. As a matter of fact, when I was a kid, I was vehemently against all forms of graffiti.

* * * *

It was 1999. I was 13 and playing competitive tennis, which meant I was training with bigger kids. One night I was invited to “hang out” with the older kids at “a friend’s house,” which happened to be located near my elementary school. There were four or five kids, ages 14-17 and the 13 year old, 90-pound me. So… I was up for anything… right?

After a few hours (and the parents went to bed) we headed out. I really didn’t know what we were doing, but I was gonna tag along… mostly because I would be the only person not on this little outing and I wanted to look cool… duh?

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We walked quickly down the street, jumped over the wall, and sat on the ground, talking game plan. The older kids were in a “gang” together and they wanted to mark their territory: my elementary school. [Quick side note: my elementary school was actually split into two groups of buildings, one for the elementary school and one for the middle school. The middle school was further up the hill.] Their gang name? The WHITE RATS.

I told them that I attended this school, but I went to the middle school up the hill. If they only tagged the lower playground, I wouldn’t say anything. I mean, how much damage could they possibly do with two cans of black Krylon?

I didn’t go with them. I stayed by the picnic tables while the boys ran cackling into the darkness. I don’t remember how long it took them, but they eventually came back and we all decided to part ways and go home.

“Good work, guys.”

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The following Monday I was on my way to Physics class (or maybe it was just “Science” back then) when I turned the corner and saw it. Next to a “throw up” of their initials, WR, was a terribly drawn rat. A black outline that looked more like an Etch-a-sketch than a freehand spray painting. Clearly the work of a teenage amateur. Either way, they had gone beyond the lower playground and onto my classroom.

At the start of class, the teacher mentioned the Rat, to which I responded, “I not only know who did it, I was here while they did it.” [Side Note: I struggled with writing this line today. I’m actually quite ashamed of this. If I could go back in time, I would punch my prepubescent self in the face and give myself a quick rundown on the importance of maintaining a trustworthy reputation and, if there’s time, why this incident didn’t really matter in the long run of anyone’s life. Nevertheless, I am keeping this line in to keep the story authentic.]

Peak-into-the-Principals-OfficeI was a Snitch, plain and simple.

I was rushed away to the Principal’s Office, where I truthfully told her everything. I couldn’t remember the kid’s name, but all it took was a little deductive reasoning for her (with the help of my neighbors) to track down the kids. By the time my Mom picked me up from school, the graffiti was the latest gossip and I was the “good boy” for speaking up.

I didn’t see the older kids at tennis practice that day. Or the day after.

A few days later I was called back into the Principal’s Office. When I got there, the Principal, my English teacher, and my Mom were all seated around a small conference table. All eyes were on me.

“We found this on the lower playground. It looks like it belongs to you.” The Principal placed a PLAYBOY magazine on the table with MY NAME written in blue Sharpie on the cover 5 TIMES. I was stunned. It definitely wasn’t mine.

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“Isn’t this obviously a retaliation against my son for having told on these older kids?” My mom was right. It was totally obvious.

“Except that is Chris’ handwriting.” WAIT… what?

The Principal had taken the Playboy to my English teacher and asked if it was my handwriting. My teacher, clearly an expert on juvenile calligraphy, pinpointed me as the only culprit. My 13 year old handwriting was SO UNIQUE that it had to be me. [Funny story, the first “C” I ever received was in “Handwriting.”]

Just so we’re all on the same page: My principal accused me, a 13 year old boy, of acquiring pornography, writing my name on the cover 5 times, and “accidentally” leaving it on another playground of my elementary school.

Yeah… right.

* * * *

Nothing ended up happening to me, but I don’t know what happened to the older kids I told on. Word quickly spread about my indiscretion in the Principal’s office. I tried to defend myself but it was no use… I was out. I legitimately lost some friends over this. Who knows how those kids feel about me now, 14 years later. Maybe they’ve forgotten about me… Maybe they forgave me for being a kid… Maybe they’ve built themselves an alter and a voodoo Doll of me they poke with rusted safety pins.

… Maybe this blog post was a bad idea.

CHE

P.S. I went on to study graffiti in college, participating in my own “guerilla” pieces as well as staging graffiti for exhibition purposes. “Throw Ups” are still weak sauce.

Here is a link to one of my graffiti projects, “Nina:”