November 18, 2004

Ye Olde Guildhall

Last Thursday Norwood and I had dinner with the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Coventry at the medieval guildhall in the center of Coventry, along with about a hundred other international students. It was put together by the international office at the University. We entered the guildhall courtyard and could see up to some massive stained glass windows and heavy wooden beams supporting various parts of the building. Inside, the main hall was really something to see. There was a series of old armor on display above us alongside tall windows of stained glass pictures and woodpanelling and carving everywhere. The lord mayor introduced himself with some difficulty, apparently he's newly elected—he did seem like a bit of a novice. Then this guy who is a tour guide for the city gave a bit of the history at the guildhall—it was the seat of Parliament for Henry VI during the War of Roses, Shakespeare almost certainly performed there six different times, George Eliot spent time here (the guildhall is described in chapter 43 of Adam Bede) and Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned here for a time. After that came a much less interesting and drony speech by some sort of chamber of commerce guy about all that the city has to offer for students, basically a PR pitch to get students to spend more time in Coventry and spend their money there.

I'm sure this is in part bec. Coventry has a reputation for being an extremely lackluster part of England. It was the most blitzed city during World War II and most of the city had to be rebuilt after the war, unfortunately with some fairly ugly or bland architecture. Coventry was pretty depressed place during the 70s, 80s and 90s but has started to find some ways to revitalize and the economy is picking up. However most students (and professors) seem to prefer to live in nearby Leamington Spa which is a great deal nicer, full of Georgian buildings, old churches, and nice parks. So I'm sure a lot of business owners in Coventry feel like they're always the "ugly stepsister" to Lem and Kenilworth. Maybe it's bec. I come from Bakersfield and Norwood is from Lubbock that we feel that Coventry isn't nearly as bad as people make out or maybe it's just the value of having arrived with incredibly low expectations, but we both think Coventry is fine and has several interesting things to see if people just bother to look. Maybe it also helps that we're only here for a few months though and don't have to stay forever. Finally the speech ended and we were treated to a nice dinner, cocktails and a yummy chocolate gateau with cream poured all over it. I'm really glad we went and not just for the free dinner!

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