Ghosts in Museums

I am sitting in the dated museum cafe of Tate Britain.

This is my … oh, I don’t even know.  I’ve been to at least a dozen art museums in the past year.  More than that, but I can’t keep it all straight in my head and “art” is a pretty broad term.  Do I include or not include the archeology type sculptures of Greece?  The cultural museum in Delhi?  The monasteries and temples with floor to ceiling frescos?

To my right and left are proper British ladies.  They both have gray hair, a pot of tea, a scone, and the little jars of jam, all carefully assembled and eaten with practice.
I’m in the middle, with my scone haphazardly disassembled and my machiatto long gone.
The gray haired lady on the right complained about the quality of her scone.   I wouldn’t know the difference.  The gray haired lady on my left leaned in at one point and asked me if I saw the ghost that just walked by.  I smiled politely, of course,  but didn’t respond.  I’m going with mishearing her.

My alarm went off at 4:30 this morning and I was at my neighborhood train station by 6am.  I was navigating the Underground during rush hour by 8 and at 8:20 I was standing in the line outside of the typical 1970s American architectural blight that is the U.S. Embassy in London.
I was not directed to the correct door, and intuitively chose the incorrect one (the correct one was labeled “Officials” or something like that.  I went with the “Citizen Services”).  The guy there called someone, then sent me to another door.  I went to that door only to discover that I hadn’t been issued a red visitor’s pass and had to go back to security.  Upon recieving my pass, I was waiting with a few other test takesr when the random person the first guy had called (from DHS) came down looking for me.
This is a significant level of confusion and process for one individual before 8:45am.  Somehow I managed to involve security, reception, human resources, and DHS in the mundane process of entering the embassy to take the FSOT.
Yes, I was there to take the FSOT.  Again.

Nerves make me chatty, and from the twenty minutes before entering the exam room I could tell you a brief bio of everyone in the room, a skill that may be useful if I ever make it to the Orals.  I’m different form the majority of pre-FSOT people I’ve spoken to.  I didn’t go to George Washington or Georgetown or Oxford or LSE.  Despite my pearls, I’m wearing burgundy tights, a big floppy hat, and if you’re observant, you can catch the trunk of a brightly coloured Ganesh peeking from under the sleeve of my black dress.  It’s totally office appropriate, but not exactly J.Crew (I do not consider this a disadvantage, actually).

I was pretty relaxed about the whole thing.  There are lots of things I want to do with my life, the foreign service is just one of many options.  If I pass, great.  If I don’t, there are other worthy things to do with my life.  Also, not going to lie, my self confidence borders on cockiness.  I’m awesome.  I’m convinced that I will do awesome things in whatever I do.  Not getting far in this foreign service process will not kill this attitude.
Once again, I finished the exam about an hour early.  It’s always an uncomfortable feeling and this time it was made more so because the proctors were visibly surprised and my guide from human resources commented on it.  It’s almost all multiple choice!  With multiple choice, you either know it or you don’t, and if you don’t, your gut answer is probably right.  Or at least, I’ve found that second guessing my gut answer is bad news.
Anyway, we’ll see.  I passed the test last time around (I didn’t get invited to orals), but the “American Studies” section of the exam seemed harder this time around.

After my exam, I was absolutely famished and scarfed down a full English breakfast.  The beans, the bacon, deliciously spicy sausage, the mushrooms, and two perfectly done over easy eggs mopped up with toast.  I left the tomoato.  Scarfed, I tell you.  Wolfed. Consumed.  This huge play of heavy English food cleaned within minutes.  And I wasn’t even full afterward, that’s how hungry I was.

I made an impromptu trip to the Benjamin Franklin house, which takes a unique approach on the house-based museum.  As in, it’s all empty, dark rooms with a costumed actor/guide acting as the daughter of the lodging home’s owner.  You learn a bit about Franklin’s life via videos and dialogue from his letters.  It was a bit off putting at first, but I warmed to the idea by the end of the tour.  I didn’t feel like I wasted my £5 student ticket, but I got more learning out of the book I read this summer and had to refrain from bringing up all the really interesting bits from the book into the tour.

I tried walking to the Tate Britain from there by following the Thames for a bit.  It was the first time I saw the Eye, the Thames, Big Ben and the Parliament buildings from the ground (I did have a view from the sky flying in from Kathmandu last May).  But hey guys, it’s February.  And fucking cold.  Also, I’m wearing tights.  Two layers of tights, one wool, one the burgundy hose, but I’m still in a short sleeve dress without another layer between that and my peacoat and tights.
I felt like such a pansy urbanite taking the Underground three stops.

The Migrations Exhibit at Tate was also worth my £5, though like all exhibits there’s pieces to write home about and pieces to ponder the meaning of “art” over.
The curators took “migrant” a bit loosely, as some pieces were done by people who spent maybe a year here.  And I know that falls within the realm of migrant, but the pieces that truly interacted with the migrat/refugee experience in Britain were the strongest.  From my migration studies, non-art historian perspective, of course.

When I wrapped up the exhibit, I was completely drained and way too beat to look at anything else in the museum.  Not surprisingly.  With two hours to kill before dinner with a friend I met traveling in India, I sat down in the cafe to re-energize over scones, write postcards and journal entries, and watch for ghosts with elderly British ladies.

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