Friday, 31 August 2012
"Making The Truth Better"
One of the things that the Trustees at the Nottinghamshire Roosevelt Travelling Scholarship had suggested that they would be able to organise was a trip to London to the American Embassy on Grosvenor Square. I was very excited to get to be inside such an iconic building, the site of such dramatic protests around the Vietnam war and post-9/11 a potential target for terrorist activity such that the security around it has had to be ramped right up. I’d stayed with work at the hotel over the road and I loved the view of the building – one that I find strangely beautiful but I know definitely divides opinion.
(As an aside, I’ve been reading Owen Hatherley’s book, ‘A Guide To The New Ruins of Great Britain’ which I’ve loved, esp for the chapter on Nottingham of course. It's a great read and introduction to recent architectural styles).
As an aside to the aside, the Embassy is going to move in 2017 to a new location in Wandsworth and the artist’s impressions of the new place are certainly striking. (The staff at the Embassy were keen to point out when I asked that the new building doesn’t actually have a moat… I shame I think – would have loved the whole mediaveal atmospherics that would have created!).
Anyway, yesterday was the day of the trip so I met up with Sarah and Gareth, two of this year’s other scholars, at Nottingham and Grantham respectively and we headed down to the big smoke. I was somewhat nervous about the security process for getting in, we’d been warned not to take any electronics (including a mobile phone!) and I had to share with the world my terrible passport photo just to get in the building. But all that was pretty smooth and we were inside and on our way. The lobby is pretty impressive, I had to ask the assistant who was escorting us up to the meeting to pause so we could have a look – very ornate gold and marble with pictures of all the past presidents and a carved record of the past Ambassadors. Obviously I couldn't take any photos but it’s worth getting a look if you ever get the chance. Upstairs and it all becomes a bit local municipal building very quickly. A particular bright spot in the non-descript corridors was seeing the Embassy Communications team flagged up on their nameplate by the entrance door to their section with the ‘mission statement’ of “Making The Truth Better”. This I like and will be trying to use wherever possible from now on.
The meeting itself was really useful – we met with a couple of the Assistant Cultural Attachés – career civil servants rather than political appointees – and talked through our research projects. I personally got a number of useful pointers and was able to test some of my assumptions. Was also useful to talk through some of the cultural/social challenges I might face – I’d not really clocked that 20% was the minimum tip these days in a restaurant. But I was most pleased to get a couple of suggestions of good breweries to look out for (see here for my thoughts on drinking culture. And then we were done and out the door as quickly as we’d come in. I got a sense of America and all it offers in its little outpost in central London and it’s really whetted my appetite for the trip – not long now, just over two weeks!