Accents and Architecture
Lately I have been listening to an audiobook of “Brideshead Revisited” by Evelyn Waugh, narrated by Jeremy Irons. A colleague at work described Jeremy Iron's voice to me as “like cut glass.” I am not sure what that means, but he does have a unique voice. It is very slow and slightly sibilant, (draws out the “s” I think that's what it means). He doesn't seem capable of laughter or smiling with his voice which is very odd to me. Me and my sister Sami, have very “sliding” voices, which means we go up and down in pitch a lot. I think and tend to sound excitable, and occasionally cute, which I think is nice.
However, I know I'll probably never have an “educated” sounding voice. Most people would think it's silly to want that, but I think it does help people to listen to you. I think if you sound a certain way, people except everything you say as intelligent even when it doesn't really make sense. Certain people possess that vocal ability I guess, though not me. I know I have a pretty informal way of speaking which I actually like. I love talking about high culture knowldgeably, but using slang and words you don't generally use to describe that sort of stuff. I think it makes it more immediate and less ivory tower and stuffy.
I've definitely become more aware of “voice” since I moved to England. Back home we don't have “posh” accents or “working class” accents. There are local variations of accents, it's true, but it seems to me that rich and poor people in Toronto all sound like Torontonians and I couldn't tell them were they come from socio-economically based on their accents. The only difference is that sometimes you can tell if someone has immigrated, based on if their have the accent of another language or not, and that may signify. I think in Canada there are certain regional accents that are considered slightly cooler or less cool, but it doesn't really seem to make much of a difference to anyone. It has nothing to do with how much money you have or whether you're from an old family or something. British people seem to be very aware of the class system, which I guess makes sense, since they have long established aristocratic families here who have lots of wealth. There's definitely, a certain mystique about it, though I've never met this sort of person, like Waugh writes about in Brideshead. I've met Hollywood royalty, (i.e. kids of famous people or families in L.A.). The few I met all seemed really normal, (for Hollywood anyway) just with more expensive designer labels. It seems very strange to me that all the politicians here seem to have titles. I wonder if they just give them to each other like Hollywood producers trade projects and movie stars.
People in England have a bewildering array of accents. In London alone there are dozens, and that's not including the foreign accents one meets. It's pretty cool actually, though occassionally I still have difficulty being understood or explaining myself to English people. They often have the same words as North Americans do, but use them to mean different things. It can be really confusing. Watching BBC mini-series dramas definitely doesn't prepare you for it. Watching American movies and listening to Americans speaking is little different. Actors don't usually put on accents for camera in the States. They might mute down a really strong Western accent, for example, because that accent only seems popular in country music and isn't really desired for TV or movies, but that's about it.
What I never realized before coming here is that people who go on the BBC (at least until fairly recently), are all doing this thing called “Received Pronounciation.” Basically there were so many different accents in England, that the BBC which is a national radio service, needed to find a way of speaking that everyone in England could understand, so long ago, they developed Received Pronounciation as the standard which people on the BBC, and therefore in most other British TV and radio developed by other companies spoke in, to be understood by everyone. I think it is supposed to be based on an upper-middle class south-eastern English accent. Received Pronounciation also means they remove the typical regional slang and multitude of other local words that might make it hard for an international English speaking audience to understand. I have to say the whole experience has made me develop a lot more sympathy with what it must be like for people who come to a new country that speaks a foreign language.
What's also really weird is I've realized things I just thought were fictional speech, are actually real expressions here! Like I used to think that when Winnie-the-Pooh would say “Oh Bother” that that was his particular unique catch phrase, like Homer Simpson saying “Doh!”, but actually, posh people who grew up in the fifties actually use this phrase!
Also, people I thought were wholey fictional creations, like Vanessa Phelps from “Little Britain” are actually real people.
The same sort of thing happened to me in LA, when I realized that places I had thought were just sets, or made-up places in pop songs were real places! It is really an interesting feeling, and kind of fun and surreal. Imagine if you discovered, for example ,that there really was a Diagon Alley from Harry Potter full of real people selling magical items, and you can imagine how I felt upon discovering that there really was a “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and that it wasn't just a song about a metaphorical place! Or that “a glad death over Mohalland” from Freefalling refers to the fact that people driving along the curving steep Mullhand drive up the mountain have often got in accidents and gone off the road over the mountain (also that the mob used to use the cliffs as good places to chuck people who made trouble).
Or that all the places mentioned in “Your Smiling Eyes are Just a Mirror for the Sun” by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers are actually real. I thought “Blue you sit so pretty west of the one” was some mystical reference to a girl who is blue, sitting west of God or some greater existence. But actually the One is a highway (also known as the PCH) that moves along the entire coast of California all the way up from Mexico to Washington state. The “Blue” in the lyric isn't a girl, but the Pacific Ocean, which really is situated West right next to the entire length of the Number One highway.
I remember in LA, I would constantly drive past places that I could swear I had been to before, only to realize I'd seen it as a backdrop for a movie, or satirized in an Animaniacs cartoon. Very weird.
Very strange as well, was seeing a documentary at the Imperial War museum of wartime Britain and watching people in funny outfits walking by all the central London buildings that I had just walked past a few days before. Weirdly, the buildings, even the trees look exactly the same, its the people that look weird and out of place, the men all wearing hats and the women in long skirts in the black and white movies.
Whereas, when I look at old pictures of Toronto, even the ones of the city in the 1950s that they have at Yitz's I'm always struck by how different everything looks. There are pictures of Lawrence Ave. and Bathurst near where I grew up in the 1940s and all it is streets and fields with people walking around with cows. Looking at the past that way seems so normal to me.
Seeing paintings from the 1800s of the Old Royal Naval College and Greenwich Park at the Greenwich History museum is a real trip because the buildings, even the hill looks exactly the same. People are even drawn tumbling down the hill, just like people roll down the hill today, only the people in the pictures are wearing these bizarre 1800s clothes. Nothing like that really exists where I come from. Whatever the city used to look like 1800, its all been completely erased. I suppose there really wasn't much there, so long ago, but I hate coming from someplace that has so little history and doesn't respect the history it has. I mean, just look what we did to the beautiful old Royal Ontario Museum? That would never happen here in England. That would've been a listed building and preserved. Instead, in Toronto, they always seem to be rushing to tear things down and stick something new in their place, even if the new thing isn't as nice as the old thing was. If it's newer it's supposed to be better. You'd think with so few historical buildings we'd try to hang onto the few we've got. In LA it's even worse, in terms of architecture. To begin with, buildings there tend not to last that long, due to Earthquakes and termites wrecking the foundations and fires happening often and everything is built on sand, which isn't the best for foundations. There aren't a lot of good walking neighbourhoods in LA, which is a shame. I think they are trying to change that now, by closing down shopping streets like 3rd Street promenade to traffic on the weekends, but these places definitely don't have the history of places like Greenwich market or Brick Lane. I love places that have so many stories behind them. It is like being guided by friendly ghosts. I liked going to places touched by old 1920s movie history in LA like the Egyptian theatre. It was cool to imagine flappers and handsome male silent movie stars like Valentino climbing out of their sleek limos to come to this ostentatious Art deco movie palace.
I like architecture that makes a statement, but fits in with the general tenor of a place, like the bizarre giant elephant, standing sentry over the new Kodak theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, or the giant Rubik's cube-like thing on top of the Paramount theatre in the club district Toronto. I love Trafalgar Square with all its fountains and lions and I adore the elegant symetry of the Old Royal Naval College here in Greenwich. I have to say it is one of the prettiest buildings I have ever seen in my life. I think it's really cool to live nearby.