Corinne Baroni’s 2023 Great Ideas Tour Blog Update- More Posts to Come in Fall 2023

Hello from the train en route from Munich to Berlin!

I am now 10 days into my Great Ideas Tour, and it has been absolutely incredible already. I had the draft of the blog post for the first leg of my trip to London, Amsterdam, and Paris about 80% complete, but I’ve had a little mishap… I brought my iPad and a wireless keyboard along with me for keeping up the blog and reading e-books. When I had a 3-hour layover in Frankfurt Thursday, I accidentally left the keyboard connected to my locked iPad, so as I walked around the city, the keyboard kept inputting nonsense passwords into the iPad – long story short, I locked myself out of my iPad, so that draft is on hold until I can connect my iPad to my laptop back in the States (so until mid-August). 

I could of course rewrite the blog – with such unforgettable experiences, it wouldn’t be hard to do. I’ve already met such kind and inspiring people and been so moved by the beauty, history, richness, and culture of enjoyment present here during my travels in the last week and a half, and I can’t believe I have several more weeks to take it all in. I really couldn’t be more thankful. 

I wrote something along these lines in the currently locked blog draft that will one day hopefully be recovered and released: my intention for my Great Ideas Tour is to enjoy slowly. One aspect of my time in Europe that I have enjoyed the most so far is the change of pace. For example, meals are savored rather than rushed, every building and cobblestone contains careful detail and history, and art is everywhere. So far, I have had the opportunity to lean into the present moment with all I have and all I am, and I am loving it!

And so, in a way, the locking of the iPad is a blessing in disguise. I’ve always been full of ambition: in my studies, in my goals, and in my creativity. I love to experience, and I love to share experiences. I ambitiously set out to keep a full blog and simultaneously have a full experience, but now I see why travel blogging is a full-time job for many people. Maintaining a blog during my travels was a loftier goal than I expected, especially considering the way that I tend to function and that words are extremely powerful to me. Each word choice is like a color on a palette with each sentence acting as an intentional stroke in the piece of written art. My personal art (journal) is spontaneous — like doodles of bears in the margins of class notes, little inside jokes and reminders to myself — but the writing I share and publish is like the paintings I choose to frame. It’s a reflective, crafted story that takes time. 

And something I’ve learned about myself over the years is that as much elation as I find through spontaneity, I tend to do the deep processing over time. Put another way, I love to be fully in the present moment and then chew on things for a long time, exploring and savoring every flavor of emotion and morsel of meaning. And so hopefully you can see that it is hard to do this metaphorical savoring while I am literally running all over the world!

Therefore, I’ve decided to delay the publication of my blogs until I return to the States. I will of course still be keeping a journal and record of my time and reflections, but because sometimes the full significance of experiences takes me a while to digest, I have chosen to delay the publication of this Great Ideas Tour blog by giving the experiences some time to age (like fine wine, I hope!) and prioritizing being present during the gift of the time I have abroad. 

This is an exercise for me in letting go of expectations and allowing myself to be in the now. I believe this is something Dr. Ramsey would have been pleased to hear, as he spent his life loving, serving, and learning at every opportunity, but much of his legacy came to light over time. I am choosing to let myself be guided my his spirit of adventure and will have plenty of time to reflect and share as time goes on.

Thank you so much for understanding, and please be assured that the blog will come, just all in good time! Until then, I will be embracing “erin stappen” (Dutch for step into it) by stepping fully into each moment of this trip. 

Please enjoy a couple photos from London, Amsterdam, Paris, Brussels, and Munich. More to come this Fall. 🙂 

(Sorry they’re out of order, this would have been easier from the iPad but from my phone it’s the best I can do!)

Eli and I on a canal ride with new friends

Lunch in Paris – the escargot were so yummy
Big Ben!
High Tea for Eli’s birthday
First dinner abroad
Nick and I visiting the Frauenkirche (Munich Cathedral)
View from the top of the Arc de Triomphe
Enjoying a stroll through Amsterdam
I got to see my favorite band Amber Run in Munich!
The Amsterdam canals
Meeting Joe from Amber Run!!!
The River Thames
St. Peter’s in Munich
Mannequin Pis in Brussels with Rasha, my bunk mate and friend from the hostel
Sunny afternoon along the canal after visiting the Heineken museum
Mont des Art, Brussels
The Eiffel Tower
Excellent dinner in Munich before the Amber Run concert
Sunset during the canal boat ride
A collection of Belgian waffles!

Corinne Baroni’s 2023 Great Ideas Tour Travel Blog Introduction

What is the John F. Ramsey Award and Great Ideas Tour?

See the original post on Corinne’s Great Ideas Tour Blog

    Hello everyone! My name is Corinne Baroni, and I recently graduated with my Bachelor’s in Environmental Engineering from The University of Alabama. During my junior year there, I was honored and grateful to receive the John F. Ramsey Premier Award, which “honors a distinctive kind of excellence. It is not merely a service, leadership, or academic award – although recipients have, by their contributions to the University, their spirit of cooperation, and their academic achievements – demonstrated their abilities in these areas. Rather, the Ramsey Award is intended to recognize the versatility of gifts and attainments, as well as the breadth of excellence in mind and character that have traditionally been the goals of a liberal education.”

Dr. Ramsey was not only a well-decorated and well-respected citizen and professor, but he was also an incredibly generous and vivacious individual. I will be reflecting more on Dr. Ramsey and his spirit of adventure throughout my travels, but if you’d like to learn more about him and the award before then, you can explore the website.

At UA, Dr. Ramsey taught a course on the Great Ideas of Western Civilization, which inspired the scholarship portion of the Award to design and embark on a Great Ideas Tour of Europe. The Great Ideas Tour (GIT) is up to each recipient to plan; though there are no set destinations or timeline, the GIT should be informed, experiential, reflective, and transformative and most of all reflect the legacy of passion and joie de vivre Dr. John Ramsey left for us to emulate. The heart of my GIT is to explore the Waters of Western Europe!

The tentative plan for my GIT involved hours of research studying guides, maps, and articles. I am so excited to not only experience the Waters of Western Europe but also the people and cultures of the places I will visit. I have also carefully built in time for both spontaneity and intentional reflection. I cannot say exactly how yet, but I am certain this tour will be incredibly transformative and one of the most remarkable and memorable experiences of my life.

There is much more to come, but I wanted to go ahead and get an initial post out there before I depart tonight at 9:40 pm! I arrive in London tomorrow morning, and then I will spend some time there and in Amsterdam and Paris with friends before branching off to explore Belgium and Germany solo. At the end of May, I will meet my Mom in Copenhagen, and she and I will spend a couple weeks traveling through Denmark and Sweden (and meeting her host family who she has kept in touch with since her senior year of high school!). Next, my boyfriend David will meet up with me in Olso and we will campervan through the gorgeous fjords of Norway before touring around Iceland. By then, it will be July!

Once David heads home, the rest of my GIT is solo but I will be saying hello to old friends and hopefully making new ones along the way! I will go back to England for a little while before exploring the rivers and coasts of France, Spain, and Portugal. July will wrap up in Switzerland, and then I will spend my final weeks making my way through Italy and ending my GIT in Greece.

I’ve had a countdown app going in my phone anticipating this experience for several months. I can remember when I reached 100 days, 50 days, 2 weeks… and now there are 9 hours, 33 minutes, and 58 seconds until my flight! The feeling is so surreal yet so exciting and humbling at the same time — truly, the world is awaiting, and I am incredibly thankful and filled with joy for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!

I plan to spend some time on my flight this evening writing a bit more about my intentions and hopes for this trip… I don’t know if those reflections will land in my journal or this blog, but please stay tuned if you would like to keep up with my travels this summer!

Thank you so much for reading, and the biggest thank you to Dr. Ramsey and the Ramsey Family for this amazing opportunity!

Corinne with Past Receipients at Ramsey Awards Dinner in 2022
Picture from last year’s Ramsey Dinner, past Ramsey Recipients and me in the middle!

About the Author

Hi! My name is Corinne Baroni, and I recently graduated with my Bachelor’s in Environmental Engineering from The University of Alabama. I am passionate about environmental justice and expanding safe water access to all communities, and I have been involved in water quality research at UA for over three years.

This summer, I am exploring the Waters of Western Europe on my Great Ideas Tour through the UA John F. Ramsey Premier Award! This blog is to document and share my experiences and reflections.

When I return, I will be staying at UA for one more year to complete my Master’s in Environmental Engineering through the Accelerated Master’s Program as a Graduate Council Fellow.

You can learn a little more about my passions and the Ramsey Award in this 2-minute video.

Jackson Foster (2021) Rome

Rome and home

For the Original Post visit:

The (Western) Canon

Following the footsteps of the grand tourists of yore, yr. correspondent and his associate closed their G.I.T. in Rome. For 17th c. aristocratic travelers, the Italian capital was somewhat of a fixation; for, it made manifest a key itinerant aim: exposure to the Renaissance and, more so, classical antiquity. It is indeed hard to understate how largely antiquarian concerns occupied the minds of the early modern English, even if in a patronizing light (a few visitors, oddly enough, considered Rome to be the decrepit cousin of Venice). Of course, to an extent, contemporary Americans can identify with this sentiment: we attach our cultural and political heritage, first and foremost, to Rome, not to mention ‘Greco-Roman values.’ Today, Rome’s art and architecture are oft-cited as proof of how far the U.S.—or the ‘West,’ generally—has regressed (if you are a traditionalist); or, alternatively, how sure a foundation it has built upon (if progressive is a more apt label). The city, in other words, occupies a singular place in the Western canon.

To proceed with remarks to the contrary—deconstructing the West, canon, and Rome’s position therein—is unhelpful to my ultimate point. After all, problematizing the capital’s canonical status would be, for me, intellectually dishonest, since yr. correspondent and his co. chose such a thoroughly orthodox exploratory route; we embraced simultaneously our touristic ends and the idea of Rome as a sui generis feature of European (and global) history.

And thus our fleeting time in Rome seemed, and was, unlike anything I had ever seen (in my studies, on the trip, &c.). Our opening adventure was a self-guided saunter from the Piazza Navona to the Spanish Steps, where, from a few stories closer to the oppressive sun, we could view the whole city. To cool off, we moved to the Trevi Fountain—its Baroque sculptures were eclipsed in grandeur only by its bright turquoise water—and the Pantheon, the oculus of which obscured the mid-day sun and imbued the (astonishingly well-preserved) structure with an almost preternatural air.

Yr. correspondent’s second day consisted in international tourism—to the Vatican. Host to millions of pilgrims (like me) annually, I imagine St Peter’s Basilica spiritually inspires all of its guests, no matter their doctrinal affiliation; and the museums nearby proved a maze of masterpieces across area, period, and discipline. Fortunate favored my associate and I for dinner, as we stumbled across a restaurant, Giulio Passami L’Olio, superlative among Rome’s excellent cuisine. Clearly adored by the locals, it took immense restraint to limit ourselves to just a couple of repeat stops.

Our last bit of substantive investigation brought us to the Colosseum and Roman Forum. Here I experienced a paradigm shift of sorts: historians are a parochial bunch, often, at the expense of breadth, picturing their interests as their subject’s central (and most worthwhile) concern. Such edifices, living and breathing millennia before the Tudor England that so obsesses me, are a reminder of how little I understand, and how much I hope to learn.

But between the myriad sites of cultural import we encountered with intent and perchance, as well as the aforementioned culinary abundance (neglecting to ruminate on the finest gelato and tiramisu), a proper encapsulation of Rome would require reams and reams: the capital is better when discussed, and best when seen.

I do wish, however, to articulate a final thought on the (Western) canon. Questions respecting its revision are, as has been said, immaterial to this post; still, I sense one element of canon-modification does align well with Dr. Ramsey’s core purpose. Put simply: we should leave aside the business of the canon’s contents, and address instead to whom it applies. The answer is straight-forward: everyone who willingly associates with it. I, for instance, now believe that the Roman ruins, Parisian impressionists, Belfastian walls, and beyond—the cautionary tales they weave, lessons they represent, aptitudes they exhibit, and humanity common across space and era they demand—are part of my story. I trust Doc wanted his students and friends to feel the same, free and empowered to adopt Europe’s best ideas (and to discard its worst). I am grateful beyond words to know him through this feeling, to embody his legacy.

Early modern scholars broadly agree about the nature of the grand tour: it was a narrowly-tailored finishing school for aristocrats soon to enter crown service and high society. Yet the G.I.T., thanks to those who support it, is different: it is meant for all and it fosters the pursuit of most everything the Anthropocene has to offer. It is a finishing school for the start of a fulfilled life.

G.I.T. Gallery: Vatican Museums

Bree’s ‘Fun Corner’:

Even though our time in Rome was short, it truly lived up to the title of the Eternal City. We were able to explore all of the big names: The Vatican, the Colosseum and Roman Forum, the Pantheon, and more. The atmosphere, people, architecture, and history of the city make it such a brilliant sight that delivers on all expectations. Dog viewing: 8/10, I felt bad for a lot of the bigger dogs considering the heat, but was blown away by the small herd of Italian Greyhounds that lived near our AirBNB. (Best spots: Trevi Fountain, Vatican City, Giulio Passami L’olio, Gelateria camBIOvita Roma, Pizzeria Romana Bio, Mimi e Cocò)

Jackson Foster (2021) Amsterdam and Munich

Amsterdam and Munich

Pluralism and the Polis

“God created the world, but the Dutch created the Netherlands.”

Or so goes the popular maxim. Indeed, the Dutch landscape demonstrates adept cultivation: from the (once non-native) tulips that have become a national staple, to the canals which prevent the sea from swallowing Holland (and which structure traffic, commerce, &c. in Amsterdam and beyond).

A canal in Amsterdam, lined by house-boats, with a punt in the middle-ground and pedestrian bridge behind it
With such abundant waterways, the Dutch could make punting a legitimate mode of intra-city travel

My visit to the capital, moreover, revealed the type of municipal development necessary for achieving a high quality of life—a true joie de vivre. The bike lanes, for instance, are as multitudinous as they’re depicted to be; Dutch cyclists are dizzyingly capable and quick, and their commutes, easy and safe. There also seems to be delicious and gastronomically-diverse restaurants, not to mention green spaces and public playgrounds, peppering any given walking path. Yr. correspondent must add, to this end, the Artis Zoo (which, more than most, strikes me as ethically-maintained), as I met there a duo of capybaras, my favorite animal.

Of course, such structures and institutions represent values that extend beyond Amsterdam’s physical landscape—to the social world its constituents inhabit. This world, despite the rise of far-right, Islamophobic political parties like VVP, is largely understood as plural and tolerant, an artifact of the Netherlands’ historical inputs: rule by rival empires (the Spanish and English) imbued the low countries with contrasting cultures and religion, and later the East and West Indian companies brought with their commercial shipments foreign art and customs. Thus the Rijksmuseum not only hosts rooms of Rembrandt and Vermeer, masters of Baroque painting, but portraits of William II and Mary, mercantile leaders, and the indigenous people such mercantilists exploited.

The latter artistic foci serve as an example of when Dutch pluralism—the equitable division of power, wide cultural toleration—failed to express itself abroad as it did on the mainland, where freedom of conscience flourished. Throughout the 17th c. and on, the East and West Indian Companies, appendages of the state, engaged in brutal violence and oppression in their colonies. Why would this discrepancy arise? We might immediately (and not erroneously) associate it with the extractive nature of any colonial project. But that explanation lies adjacent to the issue’s core: those abused and enslaved were not viewed as persons by their colonizers.

While at the Anne Frank House, a similarly dehumanizing perspective struck yr. correspondent as inherent—and this is not to compare haphazardly—to Nazism. The Nazi occupation of Amsterdam and the rest of the Netherlands, full of both brave resistance and regrettable complicity, along with its miniature—the Frank home and its residents—depict the complex dual-reality European Jews faced. After all, the Franks and countless others, for their fate was tragically unexceptional (met even by my own relatives), were transformed from business partners, neighbors, and friends into an identity-less, existential threat.

This observation is, admittedly, somewhat trite, yet it reveals pluralism’s central question: what practices, beliefs, and institutions, and, by extension, who should be regarded as ‘acceptable,’ worthy of inclusion and human treatment? In this light, I was heartened by a set placards situated next to the paintings aforementioned above, which outlined how foundational slavery and colonization were to Dutch maritime strength and wealth. So too was I encouraged by the concentration on Jewish art outside of WWII, avoiding a fixation on suffering and instead appreciating Jews as part of Holland’s rich artistic heritage. For, these stories are Dutch stories: their past and present consequences must be acknowledged and consulted as tools to expand future boundaries of tolerance and solidarity.

And the matter of who is considered a person also relates to the ‘great idea’ of Munich: the polis. If we grasp the polis as theorist Hannah Arendt did—a place of public interaction and expression—then the limitation of certain modes of interaction and expression within the polis (e.g., the exercise of a religion) could be predicated on denying personhood to a specific class. However, Munich’s layout—its boisterous beer halls, like the Hofbräuhaus, commercial centers, like the Marienplatz, and municipal buildings—does the opposite of limit and exclude, accommodating diverse beliefs, behaviors, and, thereby, people. The New Town Hall is open to members of the public, allowing citizens, who, in a more classical sense, furnish the polis, to rub shoulders with their representatives, and tourists to inquisitively wander about.

The neo-Gothic tower and facade of Munich's New Town Hall, taken from the Marienplatz
Don’t let its gothic motifs fool you, construction on the New Town Hall (pictured) was completed in the waning decades of the nineteenth century

From the sublime to the ridiculous, Munich’s English Gardens likewise welcome all, encouraging expected recreation—walks, football matches, &c.—and the more eclectic surfing and pedal-boating. Or another illustration, re: the variety of creative vigor the city furnishes: the same day yr. correspondent and his associate scrutinized the Alte Pinakothek—where, with tilted heads and brief nods, spectators appreciated masters Reubens, Klimt, and van Gogh (see below)—we watched alternative rock sensation Phoebe Bridgers perform sad ballads in a bedazzled cowboy hat. Developing these niches, from hiking to high art, surfing to songs, helps more people (and their principles, interests, and aspirations) to be incorporated into the polis, which, in turn, forms a plural and human-oriented society.

To be sure, the ideals of Amsterdam and Munich highlighted herein should be sought after by the US, where quality of life and fellow-feeling lag behind the metropoles and nations with comparable socio-economic metrics. But these ideals are a challenge for the Germans and Dutch, too; homeless, for instance, appeared common in both cities, especially for the disabled and mentally ill (whose personhood are often diminished). And, as was previously noted, the two countries have grappled with rising anti-immigrant sentiment and Islamophobia. Still, meeting such a challenge is exactly what pluralism, and a people-centered political climate, demands. It is an obligation: to enlarge the right of personhood to the most meek and disenfranchised, and to protect privileges for those already included in the polis.

G.I.T. Gallery: Alte Pinakothek

Bree’s ‘Fun Corner’:

Amsterdam: Amsterdam, in short, was an absolute pleasure to visit. Not only were the people pleasant and accommodating, but the food was divine, the intercity travel was easy to learn, and the addition of our dear friend Sophia made it so much sweeter. Dog viewing: 7/10, most notable was a dog whose owner carried her around in a decently sized basket on the front of her bicycle. (Best spots: Artis Park, Rijksmuseum, Sham Oost, Winkel 43, Anne Frank House, Hannekes Boom)

Munich: Nature, music and hearty foods would sum up our time in Munich quite well. The city itself was constantly bustling with vendors, tours, and foot traffic, but you could always find a quiet space in one of the many parks or green spaces. Dog viewing: 9/10, with the aforementioned green spaces, there was always a lovely furry friend to watch running around! (Best spots: Englischer Garten, Hofbräuhaus, Alte Pinakothek, Neues Rathaus)

Jackson Foster (2021) Brighton and Brussels

Brighton and Brussels

Rest; Modernization and Preservation

Yr. correspondent and his associate did in Brighton exactly as they set out: to press pause. I relaxed my attentive anthropological eye, as well as my tendency to exhaust the day with as many outings as possible. And Brighton was brilliant for these restorative ends: even when overcast—as it was, fortunately, only once during our stay—its quaint niches (galleries, dive bars, &c.), friendly residents, and seaside attractions shone through.

In the afternoons, we bounced between the pebble beach and pier—where, despite my utmost efforts, I was unable to best any carnival games. Often, as consolation, I would indulge in a 99 flake; it proved a fitting, albeit sweet, aperitif for the tour’s finest fish and chips. Thus we left Brighton well-fed and -rested, keen to maximize our time on the continent.

Shore-break on Brighton's pebble beach, viewed from its pier
Shore-break on Brighton’s pebble beach, a bit tamer than in my hometown

I imagined this post would finish after these brief remarks, but my partner suggested an intriguing bridge between the themes of Brighton and Brussels. For, she detailed, the question behind modernization and, more so, preservation is which places, institutions, and communities are allowed to rest unperturbed. Her creative double-meaning became a useful lens via which I considered much of the municipal history of Belgium’s capital.

Urban development is central to the identity of the Bruxelloise; it shapes their lives from their daily commute up to the collections in their city museum (the top floor of which is devoted entirely to the topic). Our principal source of diversion, as it is for many tourists, was the Grand-Place; therein, we sampled many of the country’s culinary staples: mussels, frites, waffles, chocolate—and, of course, beer. The Place began as a classic medieval market (the Dutch call it ‘Grote Markt,’ accordingly), and, throughout the early modern period, it swelled in commercial importance, hosting guildhalls distinguished by their (oft-gilt) 17th c. facades. It suffered near-total destruction during the Nine Years’ War and successive devastation at the hands of the French revolutionary sans-culottes. Notably, until the late 19th c., most re-building demonstrated reckless disregard for the square’s historical significance.

An upward perspective of the Town Hall of Brussels' Gothic tower, also included are elements of the building's front (namely, arches)
Brussels’ Town Hall: the very heart of the Grand-Place and a lasting testament to medieval Gothic architecture

Town Hall of Brussels' Gothic tower pictured between two tall residential buildings
The hall’s tower in fine lighting, well-framed by this alley’s mixed-use buildings

And such a lack of restraint was not unique to the Place; ‘Brusselization’ (at large) is synonymous in urban planning with hastily-executed construction. In fact, ‘Brusselizing’ effects seem to be more clearly felt outside of the medieval city center. The 15th c. Church of Our Blessed Lady of the Sablon, in the upper town, is now surrounded by luxury shops, designed to attract the savvy contemporary consumer. Likewise, the European Quarter—Brussels acting as the seat of the EU Parliament—is strikingly postmodern; it stands in sharp contrast to the 19th c. Royal Quarter, only a kilometer away, with its more historically-authentic combination of an expansive park, a palace, museums, monuments, and native governmental offices.

The Church of Our Lady of the Sablon when seen from the Square of Petit Sablon--several of its arches prominently displayed
Frustratingly closed to visitors, I assume Our Lady of the Sablon is as arresting inside as it was out

A fountain spraying mist, located towards the back of Brussels' Royal Park
A fountain in the Royal Park, where we sought small solace during Brussels’ heat wave

The Royal Palace of Brussels, from the left of its front facade and just outside its gates
Pictured: the stunning Royal Palace of Brussels; not pictured: an armed guard extending a hard glance my direction

Similar to the Royal Quarter, the Place feels honest to its past, though the Town Hall and King’s House are all that is left standing from its inception. Why might this be? I am sure these structures, as well as the aforementioned facades, help. But I think there is a deeper cause, too: namely, a push by the city to respect the space’s tradition and, thereby, to pedestrianize the area. In yr. correspondent’s estimation, it was the pockets of historic and architectural import, when afforded rest and used as they once were, that sparked my most sincere appreciation. With no cars to fear, my associate and I ambled around the Place, staring up in awe constantly and, when we eventually reached the Manneken Pis (a juvenile instance of the Belgians’ good humor), laughing wildly.

Myself pointing at the original Manneken Pis, a bronze fountain sculpture of a young boy peeing, in the Brussels City Museum
Enshrined in Brussels’ city museum, the original Manneken Pis doesn’t mind his fans popping in for a photo

G.K. Chesterton, a more staunch traditionalist than I, labeled democracy an “arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.” While I find this maxim’s political application dubious, it can be fairly said that municipal development is ruled by a tyranny of the living. Yet it should not be subjected thus: Brussels is a lesson in the consequences of when our construction is shackled to present interests and inputs, not to mention the triumphs of when it is not.

Bree’s ‘Fun Corner’:

Brighton: As a person who enjoys geology, seeing a pebble beach for the first time was so exciting. This, paired with the pier, the views, and the food made Brighton such a special place for us to take a rest before heading to the continent. Dog viewing: 7/10, lots of dogs to see along the beach, but many of the green spaces around were not dog-friendly (boo!). (Best spots: Brighton Palace Pier, Captain’s, anywhere you can get a 99 Flake!)

Brussels: Brussels was a beautiful city that took great pride in preserving history by keeping any new construction well away from the Grand-Place. No matter where you were in the city, there was always a new building, plaza, park, or entertainer to marvel at. All of the sights, sounds, people, and eats around Brussels made it clear why it was chosen to be the capital of the EU. Dog viewing: 5/10, since it is such a touristic location, not many dogs were present outside of parks. (Best spots: Ballekes, Brussels City Museum, Sisters Café, Pierre Marcolini chocolates)

Jackson Foster (2021) Glasgow, Edinburgh and Durham

Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Durham

‘The North’

For the original post, go to:

Spending any time in the US South reveals it to be an (in)coherent and imagined space. On occasion geographically and socially nebulous, it nevertheless shares (forgive how trite the observation is) a unifying history—the plantation system, Civil War, Reconstruction, Civil Rights Movement—and set of cultural signifiers—accents, music, sport. This, of course, is to simplify the region, to flatten its multi-dimensional contours onto a 2-d page—which I generally deign to do as a once- (and always-) Alabamian.

However, such a simplification is useful inasmuch as it teases out a trans-Atlantic connection: that is, with the English North. Its similar history—compare, e.g., the Harrying of the North to Sherman’s March to the Sea—and collective identity—a Durham Uni. tote familiarly reads, “A boy [can] leave the North, but the North [can] never leav[e] him”—makes it germane ground for exploration. And explore yr. correspondent did; below, I outline my findings in a (slightly) less analytic fashion than my first dispatch.

I believe the North is a ‘great idea’ because it is, like the South, (1) a historically-contingent development and (2) a mentally- and communally-defined place. To this end, there is no better city with which to start than Edinburgh, whose present layout, and (inter)national reputation, was, and is, molded by the political and territorial contests that delimited the North. The vein supplying Edinburgh with much of its architectural and historic richness is the Royal Mile; littered with statues of estimable thinkers, incl. Hume and Smith, it begins at the castle and ends at the Holyroodhouse Palace.

And both of these structures—here I must repeat myself—are products of the North, though well before its existence in the popular vernacular. The former was a critical site for the 14th c. battle(s) for Scottish Independence, and its eventual re-capture erased Edward III’s claim, under the Newcastle Treaty of 1334, to Edinburgh; the latter, the brief childhood residence of James VI and I, the ‘unifier’ of the English and Scottish kingdoms.

Edinburgh Castle--Scotland's best defensive asset and England's foremost target--well-located at the top of a hill
The well-located Edinburgh Castle: Scotland’s best defensive asset, England’s foremost target

Yet, regrettably, it’s difficult to experience the gravity of Edinburgh—and to become aware of the socio-historical factors underpinning it—today. The throngs of tourists and souvenir shops, as well as the constant, albeit pleasant, hum of bagpipes, interrupt the sustained thought the city merits, transforming it into a strange consumerist spectacle. There are wonderful moments of calm—offered in St Margaret’s Chapel atop the castle, The Meadows, and the Scottish National Gallery—but these seem few and far between, nearly encroached upon by the ambient noise and clutter aforementioned.

By contrast, Glasgow, younger than its easterly counterpart, and therefore less conducive to tourists’ fancy, was a quieter destination. It should be noted that English monarchs less-oft asserted Glasgow as part of the North; still, its story is a quintessentially Northern one. From its medieval, parochial origins—a church founded by St Mundo—it expanded, via its 15th c. university, participation in triangular trade, and, predominantly, industrialization, into ‘the second city of the British empire.’

Such a status is loaded, rife with the abuses innate to imperial conquest; it is from whence Glasgow derives much of its heritage, too: global cuisine, the People’s Palace, Kelvingrove Art Gallery, GoMA, &c. Thus our Glaswegian stay was punctuated by delicious meals—the finest Indian I’ve ever eaten, Korean barbecue for lunch, and the obligatory Scottish fare (haggis, namely). Glasgow’s constituents, moreover, were some of the warmest and most amicable yr. correspondent has met.

The West End has proven, to this point, the G.I.T.’s unexpected gem: to reach the Kelvingrove Gallery therein, I had the pleasure of traversing the borough’s lively, green park, whose winding paths also lead to elegant memorials, bowling grounds, and the university. And the museum itself curated a terrific exhibition on the ‘Glasgow Boys,’ a painterly cohort born of the city’s 19th c. globalization and economic expansion. The group’s oeuvre cleverly re-considered impressionist and post-impressionist cannon(s)—for which a separate, and very solid, collection was organized, too. But, to focus so deeply on Kelvingrove is to neglect to highlight the aforesaid People’s Palace (and its meaningful documentation of Glasgow’s social history), GoMA, which punches above its weight in the modern art sphere, and the pulsating punk scene.

My favorite post-punk outfit, Parquet Courts, performing one their hit singles

As this blog strays further from its (well-intended) brevity, let us now turn our attention to Durham—perhaps the key to the formation and maintenance of the North (as both idea and territory), and future home of yr. correspondent. Here, do allow me to remark more personally, since my initial visit was a surprisingly emotive one.

Before sentimental reflection, however, I should state that Durham Uni. was developed with the hope that the North would have a school with similar investment (and prestige) as Oxford and Cambridge. And it is truly an institution inextricable—from its re-appropriation of William the Conqueror’s castle for student accommodation, to the 11th c. Anglo-Norman cathedral used for pilgrimage, services, and research—from the foundations of Northern-ness.

Anyway: my time in Durham coincided with ‘open days,’ so the tiny city (and I) were overwhelmed by thousands of ‘freshers’ eager to open the next chapter of their life. I admit, despite our differences (primarily, age and scholastic), I experienced a sort of fellow-feeling with them: after all, I am likewise starting anew, with strangers in a strange land. In other words, I was terrified when the inherent risk of a fresh beginning was made tangible. Fortunately, I soon remembered this mix—of indeterminacy, excitement, and opportunity—from my early weeks in Alabama. (Another instance of the US South and English North aligning!)

Ultimately, I achieved a bit of solace after hearing the cathedral’s bells ringing—a constant feature of the city for nearly a millennia. It reminded me of the sheer romance of studying history where it is immediate and authentic: it is exactly why I chose Durham; and it is exactly why I am so enthralled by the prospect of this tour.

Bree’s ‘Fun Corner’:

Glasgow: Extremely friendly residents, easy to navigate, good mix of historical significance and modern fixtures. Dog viewing: 7/10, very cobblestoned, but good views to be had in almost any green space. (Best places: Green Gates Cafe, Jay’s Grill Bar, Mharsanta, Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum, The People’s Palace)

Edinburgh: The ability to walk through the city like those who lived in it during its prime adds to the beauty of the architecture. Dog viewing: 6/10, best only in the Meadows. (Best spots: The Meadows, Mum’s Great Comfort Food)

Newcastle: Still very industrial, but has a fun nightlife that brings individuals from further outside the city together. Easy to navigate, fun atmosphere, and overall a fun city to be in. Dog viewing: 5/10. (Best spots: Pink Lane Coffee, Mr. Mulligans)

Durham: Gorgeous city layout that, because of the peninsula and castle/cathedral, has not been changed much since its beginning. Still very intimate and small, but — like Newcastle — brings the residents together for the weekly market that hosts artisans, farmers, crafts, etc. Dog viewing: 9/10, best during the market hours. (Best spots: A walk around the peninsula, Durham Cathedral, Cafédral Durham)

Jackson Foster (2021) London and Paris

London and Paris

Cosmopolitanism and (De-)construction

For the Original Post please go to:

With friends arriving from ‘divers and sundry’ places, meals with origins across the globe, and an artistic and cultural scene almost as far-reaching, London presented myriad opportunities for yr. correspondent and his associate to realize the ideal of cosmopolitanism (at least in the looser, more popular sense). Here, before I move to the philosophical meat and potatoes, I’ll outline our time in the city; I encourage the reader to assess our efforts as cosmopolites—and to offer marks over text, email, &c.

Day (1): Industrial action shut down the Underground, which afforded Bree and I more time to explore the Kensington Gardens. Foreshadowing our eventual Parisian stay, we broke fast at the terrific Cafe Montparnasse, gorging ourselves on fine pastries, sandwiches, and salads. Later, perched adjacent to the garden’s Italian fountains, I reunited with a friend from high school, who was completing a European tour of his own; I felt fortunate to hear about the context he gathered whilst abroad, how he intends to apply it to his new job in NYC, and where, despite our divergent paths, we might next reconnect. In the sun-speckled early evening, yr. correspondent bought and kicked around a football, then ate some delicious aglio e olio.

Myself and a friend, Jason, standing in front of the Italian fountains in the Kensington Gardens
Jason and I, both a full foot taller than when we met in 7th grade

Day (2): Our first priority was a visit to the Tate Modern, with a contemporary art collection second to few. Located therein, surprisingly enough, is a room devoted to my favorite American painter, Agnes Martin; to me, her work, in its tight geometry, mixture of simplicity and complication, and purity, is innocence. For dinner, Bree and I divided and conquered, meeting two Londoners (of sorts): she, her roommate on a month-long study abroad; myself, another old friend, a UA and Cambridge graduate who has spent the last year settled near St Paul’s.

Three Agnes Martin paintings on a wall devoted to the artist in the Tate Modern
“When I think of art I think of beauty. Beauty is the mystery of life. It is not in the eye it is in the mind.”

Day (3): We started at the Museum of Natural History; Bree, a geologist at heart, esp. enjoyed interactive exhibits on planetary features and rock formations—the kid in me, however, was partial to dinosaur displays. Minds enriched and bellies empty, we turned to a Greek restaurant, and souvlaki rained down like manna from heaven. At night, yr. correspondent made a pilgrimage to Lord’s, the home of cricket, where Essex triumphed over Middlesex via tight bowling and three particularly sharp catches.

The variety of cuisines, experiences, and people detailed above is characteristic of London—or, better, it is historically-embedded. Indeed, upon the 11 c. arrival and conquest of the Normans, the city expanded from the largest Anglo-Saxon port to England’s administrative and cultural capital, positioning it as a gate to the world. Thus, Londoners today are (self-)labeled as such—instead of ‘English’ or ‘British’—both within and outside of the U.K., a veritable verbal relic of its cosmopolitan status.

And to this end, as we approached our subsequent destination, a question lingered in my mind: if Londoners aren’t ‘English,’ are Parisians not French?

Au contraire, they most certainly are!—acc. to the natives with which we shared our final meal, a(nother) Korean BBQ feast. Well, why might such a discrepancy exist?

One could attribute the phenomenon to the ‘traditionally French’ architectural, social, and artistic features maintained in the city: its medieval churches, like Saint-Severin and -Germain-des-Prés, and, later, the Arc de Triomphe, Tour Eiffel, &c. These former, ecclesiastical structures, which (yr. correspondent learned in the Musée de Cluny) situated Paris as Europe’s cultural and intellectual cradle in the Middle Ages; in London, by contrast, they were lost in successive, devastating fires.

Moreover, such churches, and the complex religio-political matrix they represented, proved foil to the Enlightenment, (perhaps) Paris’ initial experiment with deconstruction. (N.B. I mean deconstruction in its less technical, more vernacular sense: i.e., the critical interrogation of the concepts and values that govern discourse and life—re: Enlightenment, the supremacy of the monarch, the consequent indivisibility of church and state, personhood through a parochial religion.)

Even so, these new modes of thought became as ensconced as the conservative attitudes they overcame; and, in the midst (and wake) of France’s more global posture, achieved via a pernicious empire and otherwise, they too were examined. E.g., the impressionism of Renoir and Monet, which I witnessed with awe at the Musée d’Orsay, and which was, in the latter case, influenced heavily by Japanese gardens and prints, outpaced the romantic Delacroix and calculating Ingres. Similarly, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, champions of existentialism buried at the Montparnasse Cemetery, built upon eastern thought; so too did Derrida, father of deconstructionism proper.

I hear you saying, “Jackson, you’ve only just described Hegel—thesis, antithesis, and synthesis across historical time.” To this, I would contend that, after a material and/or social change shapes Paris, its range of future possibilities fundamentally shift (thereby differing it from its preceding character). It’s a place that’s always being (de-)constructed; there’s a two-story McDonald’s on the Champs-Élysées.

Myself holding a Big Mac and grinning widely
A first time for everything: Paris, yes … and the Big Mac, too!

And—if you’ll bear with me, returning to my original query—it now feels rather silly to ask whether Parisians are French; for, what might such terms even signify? How can we justifiably articulate that someone ‘belongs’ to a place? Because they are born of its unique socioeconomic inputs? These, past and present, have existed in complex, interlocking webs that allay near description.

Deconstruction, then, insists that we, through repeat valuation and inquiry, resist the affiliations that challenge the type of (nationless) multiculturalism London embraces—and understand and appreciate the evolving ideas and practices that make Paris a welcome tesserae in our planetary mosaic. This is cosmopolitanism in its truest form.

G.I.T. Gallery: London and Paris

Bree’s ‘Fun Corner’:

London: Seems almost English, but not really. Incredibly metropolitan, bustling, and a melting pot of more countries and regions than you can name. Combines to make a beautiful mixture of stories every place you go. Dog viewing: 10/10, especially in Kensington Gardens. (Best spots: OPA Souvlaki, Tate Modern, Cafe Montparnasse, Kensington Gardens)

Paris: Very nerve wracking to step into after nearly a month on the Isles, but when accompanied by friends it is much more palatable. Most Parisians, contrasting their reputation, are incredibly nice and welcoming — especially the one who gave us a free croissant, but not so much the couple that jump-scared me. Overall a lovely city that would be worthwhile to visit again to see everything we missed. Dog viewing: 6/10, not very many, but the one I saw chewing a little bone on the metro made up for it. (Best spots: La Parisienne Odessa, Centre Pompidou, Musée d’Orsay, Pho Odessa, walking anywhere always provides entertainment!)

Jackson Foster (2021) Ireland and Northern Ireland

Ireland and Northern Ireland

For the Original Post on Jackson’s Website please visit:

“I get on with them well enough, but these people were my mortal enemies twenty years ago.”

Thus spoke Tom (whose name I’ve changed for his privacy), yr. correspondent’s guide for a Troubles-themed tour of Belfast. Tom, ever-affable, is a former-Catholic and forever-republican; he offered the sentiment above when I asked about a unified Ireland, which, he ceded, is (marginally) more likely after Sinn Fein’s historic triumph in the Northern Irish Assembly.

But one anecdote does not an appropriate dispatch make, nor does it effectively communicate the experiences and realities characteristic of Belfast today—nor does it answer why I chose to start my G.I.T. in Ireland. To unpack the latter two concerns, and to achieve the former aim, let us turn our attention to Dublin.

Dublin’s history, as yr. correspondent and his associate learned at its castle, begins with the Vikings, who, upon arriving in approx. the 9th c., made it an administrative center on the River Liffey and who became, albeit more hygienic, as Celtic as the Celts. Therefore the true shake-up on the island was the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in the 12th c.; led by ‘Strongbow’ Richard de Clare (interned in Christ Church), they deposed the King of Leinster whilst balancing a separate war in France. Nevertheless, the imperial designs for Dublin only reached a fever pitch in the Tudor period, with the castle acting as the crown’s ‘nerve center’—supporting religious conformity, land confiscation, and, eventually, the plantation of Ulster (foreshadowing!).

All this to say: Dublin is peppered with sights, scenes, and sounds that demonstrate the success and failure of a colonial project. We visited on our first day the Garden of Remembrance, a touching monument to those who died pursuing ‘the vision’ of an Irish state: “Bondage became freedom,” its back wall read, “and this we left to you as inheritance. … O generations of freedom remember us, the generations of the vision.” Further, the Dublin Spire, an imposing, metallic, 120 m. tall pin, served as our North Star, pointing us towards city center; it stands where a pillar honoring Horatio Nelson, the esteemed English admiral, once stood—that is, before its destruction by Irish Republicans on political grounds. In contrast, Dublin’s most famous cathedrals (St Patrick’s and Christ Church) are Anglican, depicting the uneasy, but symbolically gainful, process of religious conformity.

But, since their hard-earned independence—for which many rebels were gaoled at Kilmainham and/or extra-judicially killed—the Irish and, by extension, Dublin have excelled in cultural regeneration, and have ensconced themselves in Europe. A trip to the National Gallery proved as much: it boasts a strong collection of Irish artists, like J.B. Yeats’, whose later, expressionistic work feels almost concrete, and William Orpen, whose playful self-portraits have for years delighted yr. correspondent. Equally intriguing was the gallery’s temporary Giacometti exhibit. We received our tickets per chance (a French couple mis-scheduled and handed them to us whilst hurrying to re-book); esp. enjoyable was this rare glimpse into the studio practice of existentialists Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir’s favorite sculptor. (Do view compositions from these artists, and others, below.) However, we saw no pieces of English origin save a typically sensitive and inspiring effort from J.M.W. Turner.

And this painterly discrepancy is illustrative. Dublin and its constituents don’t necessarily dislike the English—when, on our final day, for want of other warm-wear options, I donned my Oxford jumper, not a single snide remark was launched my way. Yet they are dealing with a mix of hegemonic hyper-presence and disappearance: what happens when the dominant power leaves?—what does one do with the keys to their own fate? Most everywhere in our postcolonial world begs such questions.

One place where they are not: Belfast. For the British haven’t left yet. In other words, if, presently, Ireland is de-colonizing, their northern neighbor is instead grappling with the economic, political, social, and religious factors underpinning colonization. But you wouldn’t be privy to that immediately: realizing it is akin to excavation.

For instance, the Ulster Museum, to be commended for its natural history resources, art collection, and botanical gardens, was sparse in its Troubles-related content, much to the chagrin of a museum employee who grew up in a Belfast suburb and with whom we chatted for a half hr. Or, another ex.: there are shops for the two largest Scottish soccer clubs, Rangers and Celtic, in the city. Why?—well, the latter was founded by Irish immigrants; the former refused to sign Catholic players well into the 20th c. Thus these teams are, surprisingly, interlocutors in a conflict a sea away: i.e., loyalists are Rangers fans, republicans back Celtic. This, of course, was not immediately clear to yr. correspondent: it took digging.

The point belabored, it’s wise to return to our excavator extraordinaire, Tom; he, during our tour, unearthed much of now-quiet Belfast’s ‘seedy underbelly’ (his words), as well as its less-than-settled past. While laymen understand the Troubles to be sectarian—Catholic v. Protested—Tom insisted it was rather economic and political: the English hanging on to a critical industrial outpost, not to mention the legitimacy of their isles-empire (which [callback] properly started with the Ulster plantations!). Altering the perception of the clash (the terms of discourse) was the purpose of Bobby Sands’ famous hunger strike, noted Tom—so too of the republican murals, which link Ireland’s struggle to worldwide social justice causes, incl. the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.

Frederick Douglass at the center of a mural in republican Belfast
“We like Americans … they’re the only other ones who stuck it to the Brits!”

And it seems, to close, that the nationalists are ascendant (see, again, Sinn Fein), if not outright victorious, shifting the issue in N.I. from cohabitation to reunification. Such a prospect, Tom thinks—and as Irish/Dublin’s history indicates—, will prove challenging. Shankill Road, a loyalist neighborhood, remains marked by murals of William of Orange, Stephen McKeag and other UDA members, and, as Tom put it, the ‘Mona Lisa of terrorism’ (in which the barrels of Ulster militants eerily follow passers-by). All of these are signals of the strong cultural and emotive push from unionists to hold on to what might be soon lost. This is reciprocated (economically, at least) by the British government: a new trade protocol for N.I., released this week, will ‘harden’ the Irish border and exasperate existent division.

UDA mural of Stephen 'Top Gun' McKeag
The ‘Mona Lisa of terrorism,’ left, and Stephen ‘Top Gun’ McKeag, right

Potential solutions to this end are difficult to suggest with such limited experience, and such rapidly evolving circumstances. Nonetheless, familiarity with this region and its complications are essential as I work to embody the spirit of the Marshall scholarship and Doc Ramsey: an awareness of our shared humanity, a keen eye for the factors (systemic and individual) undermining it, and a desire to foster it in myself and others.

G.I.T. Gallery: Ireland and N.I.

‘Fun Corner’: What to do!

In Dublin: sun-bathe at St Patrick’s Park, visit the National Gallery (all of it), eat at Boxty.

In Belfast: take a Black Cab tour, grab a sausage and mash at White’s Tavern, walk around St George’s Market.

Bree’s dog rating:

Dublin: ‘8/10 … too bustling to get a full view unless you’re in a park.’

Belfast: ‘6/10 … a few around but all on exercise walks.’

Asia Monet Hayes (2018) Milan, Italy


Originally Posted August 27, 2019

Last stop, Milan! After a long month of travel I end my trip in Milan a quick weekend trip with Romane. This trip has truly been a wonderful experience and a great fresh start after the last six months. I am so very thankful to have had this experience and the opportunity to see old friends and meet new ones. Like most of my travels, Romane and I had no plan for Italy and we plan to just see where the wind will blow us, but of course our first stop was the Duomo. After somehow missing it several times we found it! Three cheers for a wonderful GIT and a to a wonderful time in Milan.

Asia Monet Hayes (2018) Monte-Carlo, Monaco


I will start by saying that everyone should experience Monaco at least once in their life. I felt like I was living slightly in a different universe. I was not expecting going to Monte-Carlo let alone going to the Casino. No worries I did not gamble! Romane had spent the previous two summers working in the Casino so when we arrived we were given a very warm welcome and a little tour of the grounds. It was incredibly! Unfortunately no photos were allowed inside, but I have a nice little mental note of how beautiful everything was. We ended the night with Romane’s friends in a Karaoke bar. I am not sure when I will go to Monaco again, but I believe it is a must!