I took off for Cambridge University yesterday afternoon to reunite with a friend I met in Munich in August. I restrained myself from taking pictures as we walked around town, touring through the colleges, in order to keep from seeming too much a tourist. But if I could have got away with it, I would be providing you with dozens of pictures of the gorgeous buildings and gardens, the Harry Potter-esque dining halls, the students in their formal robes. You'll just have to trust me.
To start, I got quite a skewed idea of the place. My friend David met me at the train station, dressed as high class as he could manage without fear of being spontaneously attacked by townies. He toured me round the city, speaking in an immensely posh voice, discussing ridiculously esoteric and intimidating subjects. We walked past signs that implored me to keep off the grass -- it was so important that they published it in six languages! (Only the most important members of the college are allowed to tread on the grass; the world might end if tourists enjoyed the same privilege.)
As we neared his dormitory, I was starting to feel quite out of place and overwhelmed. Just then his phone began to buzz, sounding an alarm he had set for himself half an hour earlier, just before he met me. As soon as he had turned it off, he lifted up his sweater and unclipped the suspenders that had been holding his trousers above his navel. He loosened his tie, rolled up the starched sleeves of his button-up. "Well, that's quite a bit better!" he proclaimed, and proceeded to explain that he'd only been acting like a rich snob so that I'd feel I'd had the true Cambridge experience. As it turned out, he'd been planning the ruse for weeks! He deserves to have the Shakespearean Insult Generator used on him, the paunchy bat-fowling imbossed carbunkle!
Immediately, the tension diminished -- although the English can never quite rid themselves of their awkwardness. We found our way back to his room, got changed into formal dress, and proceeded to the dining hall of Clare College for Formal Hall, a particularly fancy dinner held several times a week. Check out the robe I got to wear. Am I Hermione or what? The face is me trying to look fancy and not laugh.
The dining hall was covered in oak paneling, and there were more plates, forks, knives, and glasses at my place setting than I've seen in my life. We stood as the professors filed into the room and took their seats at the high table. Then, the evening prayer was read -- in Latin! I reverted back into my "I'm just a middle-class American; I can't handle this!" state of mind, until I saw one of the Cambridge students drop a penny into another's full wine glass. It's a sort of traditional drinking game, and the person who gets pennied has to chug his wine. The northern Irish girl next to me had the charity to penny me, too, so I had the pleasure of knocking back a glass of rosé. I was even more comforted later in the meal when I found out that soups and desserts were also targets of pennying, and in such a case, they must be consumed hands-free. There’s nothing like seeing rich, brilliant Brits eat fruit salad sans silverware.
After the meal we changed back into street clothes and made our way round several colleges’ bars. I was introduced to a series of the UK’s best and brightest, and I did my best to keep up with them. I quoted Shakespeare, I discussed architecture, I made reference to the 53 Commonwealth nations. In typical English manner, I peppered my conversation with sarcastic and self-deprecatory comments. In short, I was impressive. As my host so proudly put it, “If it weren’t for your unfortunate accent, you could be English!”
The next morning I toured the city in daylight, stopping by the Mathematical Bridge, the oldest quadrangle in Europe, and the beautiful Kings College chapel. Have a look:
That last stop was particularly appropriate, because Hendrix has an annual Candlelight Carol concert based on the traditional Service of Lessons and Carols performed at the Kings College chapel. Right now, I’m missing one of my best friends perform a solo at Hendrix’s performance. However, I got to watch roadies set up the Kings chapel for their concert. It all comes full circle.
Indeed, my whole trip is about to come full circle. As I headed back to London last night, I realized that in a mere week I would be arriving at St. Louis’s Lambert Airport. Hyperventilation ensued. I have three final papers and a presentation, and I still need to see Wicked and visit the Natural History Museum and get more bagels from Brick Lane and go to more markets and drink more cider and ride the London Eye and … ! The consolation is that a week from today, I’ll be back on Hendrix campus, chillin’ with the friends I’ve been missing for seven months. Maybe one of them can feign a British accent and give backhanded compliments, to help me feel at home.
P.S. Before I left Cambridge, I went ice skating with some of my new friends. Although I've never been terribly talented on ice, it was so nice to move at high speeds and have to avoid moving objects. It's the nearest I've come to driving in the past five months, and it gives me hope that I'll still be able to drive fairly well when I get back. I didn't even crash into anyone! I might suggest, though, that all St. Louisans stay off the road the week of December 10-16. And for God's sake, keep your children indoors.
In my continued search to streamline my Facebook profile while still integrating the best and coolest applications, I decided to remove part of my "Extended Information" section. It seemed fitting to move it to a permanent spot on this blog. Here's What I Love Most About London, verbatim from my profile:
Drinking legally, The Guardian, having amazing places within walking distance, having a kitchen in my flat, Indian food, Turkish food, Brick Lane and the Petticoat Lane market, the Tube system (when it's functional), Avenue Q, queuing, British understatement, the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, free museums, cheap Ryan Air flights to amazing places, being told to "Mind the Gap," dessert at the Marlborough Arms, fireworks over the Thames, and Strongbow cider.
Upon reflection, the ADORABLE accent should also be on the list, as should my amazing British professors.
And now, What I'm Missing Most About the U.S.:
Target, Imo's, Taco Bell, Mexican food in general, my adorable cat Carlos, my family!, Thanksgiving, Ghost Roast, SoCo 54 (which I missed last year, too!), people really celebrating Halloween, having a fireplace, my bestest friends, the cup rule, being in the same time zone as my family, walking to class in 2 minutes, free bread at restaurants, free refills at restaurants, free water at restaurants, free rice at restaurants, fortune cookies, Hendrix cafeteria food, all the free concerts, Safe Sex Bingo, Couch 216, the Brick Pit, MC Reynolds, the fountain. And you!
There are only ten days 'til I come back to the States. I've been gone for five months. I'm both excited and completely unprepared.
Friday morning, right as I was about to take a fantastic picture of the inverted pyramid in the Louvre, my camera batteries died. So I have a distinct lack of pictures from this weekend. My wonderful sister, though, just sent a set of pics to share with my wonderful readers.
Here are the American and his wife, all gussied up.
These owls are part of a French tradition I didn't mention. (It might just be a big-city thing, but I've never been to a big American city around Christmas time, so I can't say.) Anyway, the French department stores go WAY above and beyond in their window displays. They're set up on the Friday after Thanksgiving, even though Thanksgiving isn't traditionally celebrated in France. They have moving parts and special music to go with each scene. The picture below is of a choir of owls singing together. Awww!
I love France. If I could say that in French, I would.
I fell victim once again this year to the procrastination virus. I'm notorious for spending too much time on the Internet, visiting sites like PostSecret.com and PassiveAggressiveNotes.com -- not to mention Facebook! Add to that the wonders of London, and you can see how I'd be in for some trouble. With so many plays and pubs, museums and markets, work on my final projects took a definite back seat. Until two weeks ago, that is.
That's when I looked at my calendar and realized that, the upcoming week I had two presentations and two papers due. ... Oops! And that's on top of the regular, sizeable doses of homework. So you'll forgive me if I haven't written in a few days. Instead, I've been writing about the history and the funding system of the BBC, and Shakespeare's use of iambic pentameter in the prologue of Henry V.
After staying awake until 5 that morning, I spent Thanksgiving morning giving a presentation on British views of the American South, as exemplified by Nick Middleton's Ice Tea and Elvis: A Saunter through the Southern States. Immediately afterward I caught a bus to the big bus station, where I took another bus to London Luton airport. I flew to Paris, caught a bus into the city, and then took yet another bus to get to my sister's apartment. (She's studying there for the semester in a program very similar to mine, through Earlham College.) Phew! After almost 11 hours of travel, I barely had time to thank anything before I passed out on the spare bed.
I spent the following days following my dear sister through Paris: through the Louvre, to Notre Dame, up the Champs-Élysées, around the Arc de Triomphe, through flea markets and metro stations.
Alas, I did not go up in the Eiffel Tower, but I have a very good excuse! After a fair bit of sightseeing on Friday, Mandi and I returned to her apartment around 6 p.m. for a nap that ended up lasting until 7 a.m. the next morning. At that time, we awoke, scurried to the train station, and met up with the other members of her group for a trip to the country! I didn't quite get all the details, since most of the explanation was given in French, but apparently one of Mandi's professors is from a small village that has been celebrating Thanksgiving ever since an American man moved in 30 years ago. So the professor brought the students (and me) to meet the villagers!
Each American student was in charge of preparing a traditional Thanksgiving dish, so once we arrived at the one-room town civic center, we spent the morning cooking. The locals arrived around 1, with the American man dressed as a pilgrim and his French wife as a beautiful Native American. Buckskin dress, feather earrings, shell necklaces, the whole bit. What a trip!
Although the luncheon was very traditional -- mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, stuffing, broccoli, turkey, cranberry sauce -- it was also very French. We started off with an aperitif and ended with espresso a full four hours later. I was the only non-French speaker in the room, so my role was to nod and smile and patiently wait for a translation from my sister. But after the weekend, I now speak about as much French as I do German -- "thank you," "please," "good bye," etc. However, my most impressive French phrase ("je suis fatiguee": I am tired) is nowhere near as useful as the German "ein kugel, bitte" (one scoop of ice cream, please).
Thanks to the Paris transportation employees who ended their strike yesterday, my trip home was a lot shorter than nine hours. Now, I'm off to write another paper. Will it ever end?
I've talked before about how great it is to have three-hour-long class periods. There's so much more time to fully discuss ideas, to make progress, to get all your questions answered. The advantages were brought to light once more last week as we discussed King Lear in my Shakespeare class. We discussed the background of the text, the problems with staging the script, the history of the Fool as a character, and much more.
We dedicated two hours to the script last week, and we're due to spend at least another class period on the work. Shakespeare scholar Winifred Nowottny once said, "Life is not long enough to thoroughly study King Lear." If life itself isn't long enough, at least we'll be devoting a full five hours. That's more enough time to discuss the major highlights of the four-hour production of it we saw this evening. Sir Ian McKellen starred as mad King Lear. Which means, to be blunt, that I saw Gandalf with his pants down.
Three-hour discussions and nude, 68-year old actors. Oh, what a city. What a city.
I've been a giggle machine recently, after a week of highly varied sleeping patterns and oh-my-god-all-my-final-papers-are-due stress. The lack of sleep and the hyper-drive I've been in lately have combined to strip me of my calm, restrained demeanour. Not that I had too much to begin with. In celebration of the utter slap-happiness I've been feeling, I went through my huge collection of photos from my trip across Europe this summer. I picked out all the silliest, weirdest, and most interesting photos of signs, storefronts, and graffiti. Well, OK, only some of them.
I'm sorry to admit I've left you with a mild crop, once I've taken out the basest toilet humor: naughty words graffitied on subway walls, the array of pictograms instructing dog owners to pick up their pups' leftovers, etc. But here's a crop of humorous photos that will seem hilarious to you next time you pull an all-nighter. (OK, the next time you get pull an all-nighter and enjoy the same type of humor I do. Which may be never.)
This duck appeared in the window of a super-serious wig shop, next to a gaggle of uber-stylish mannequins. Why? I'll never know .... (Bruges, Belgium.)
"Happy 1984," graffitied onto the Berlin Wall. Classy. (Berlin, Germany.)
Chocolate Wellness Flakes? Sold in a German grocery store? I wonder if the locals who favor that cereal understand enough English to recognize what a contradictory name it has. (Dresden, Germany.)
What a fantastic abbreviation for Chinese Restaurant. (Amsterdam, Holland.)
Which came first, the sex shop or the rent-a-bike? And why, oh, why are they run by the same company? Only in Amsterdam.
That's a convenient thing to post to a pancake stand, now isn't it? Everyone knows it's waffles that make people happy! (London, England.)
More than being funny, this ad is just impressive. Clever. As The Simpsons often is. (Madrid, Spain.)
My, what a dark belly button you have! (Madrid, Spain.)
(Close-up of belly button.) (Madrid, Spain.)
I always read these signs as "TOILET." Which is really frustrating when you're looking for a public toilet, and these just tease you in your desperation. (London, England.)
"The size of the pieces does too matter!" OK, Ben. Chill out, Jerry. I believe you guys. (Madrid, Spain.)
Well ... hopefully that elicited a laugh and didn't take too long to load. 'Til next time!
I went out on the town this evening intending to see a performance of "They Have Oak Trees in North Carolina." Unfortunately, as I realized once I arrived at the dark and desolate theatre, that show doesn't start until the 13th. So there I was in the heart of Theatreland, three good friends at my side, with no show to see.
After some quick thinking, we headed a few blocks away and saw "Hairspray" instead -- a far cry from the mystery/drama I had been planning to see. So much music! So much dancing! So much ... hair! I loved it!
The four of us -- three girls, and one William -- emerged from the theatre with renewed self-confidence and optimism. Our egos were boosted by positive messages about the non-relation between our waist size and our self-worth. So we did what I'm sure you would do, too, in that situation: we got milkshakes. And cheesecake.
Good ol' Ed's Easy Diner. Although the shakes and malts aren't perfectly authentic -- they're a little too light and fluffy, not cold and dense -- they're a far sight better than the average European attempt. Classmates have related horror stories of scoops of ice cream floating in glasses of milk. But ours were pretty much the real deal: metal cups and everything.
(For Hendrix students who don't recognize the girls on the right, they go to UNC-Chapel Hill and Dominican University, respectively.)
The other respect in which our shakes differed from classic American fare is that they included Bailey's Irish Cream. Ed's menu calls them "Alco-Shakes," which to me sounds more like a stage in detox. But whatever. The beauty of the principle still stands: you can drink while drinking milkshakes! What a glorious country!
I'm very much enjoying the leisure of having a glass of wine with dinner, or going out for a pint, and I'll miss that when I go back home. Exactly (to the day) a year and a half of sobriety awaits me back in the States. In that respect, I'm quite glad Hendrix is in a dry county with no bar scene, since it doesn't split me up from the half of the student population that can drink legally.
Moreover, the fact that the closest alcohol retailer is across the county line, about a half-hour away, means that beer-runs teach the upperclassmen the value of planning and foresight. (Or just the value of buying in bulk.) Either way, those are the kind of practical skills that can be used throughout your life.
This past Tuesday, one of the Hendrix-in-London students received an American visitor. She came bearing gifts from across the Atlantic: namely, eight boxes of macaroni and cheese. O! The cheesiness! The glory!
There are some American foods that are difficult or impossible to find in Europe. Marshmallows and marshmallow fluff, for example. Pancake mix and maple syrup. Tang. Fruity Pebbles. My roommate and I have not been lacking for these amenities, thanks to some generous care packages from home. But Taco Bell, stuffing, and biscuits and gravy are still beyond our reach.
At this point in the program, with less than a month 'til we head home, most us are planning out the most mundane details of our first days back home. I'm getting in to St. Louis's Lambert Airport at 8 p.m. on December 6th. As soon as I pick up my baggage, I'm headed to Imo's Pizza and getting veggie pizza with pineapple. If I'm not already crying from the reunion with my family, the joy of that delicious dish will certainly bring tears to my eyes.
But being back in the United States will bring its own set of difficulties. As a vegetarian, I'll be extremely sad to leave the ease and comfort of British eateries. All the menus I've encountered have icons to indicate which dishes are vegetarian. My personal favorite are the restaurants that divide their menus into two sections: "vegetarian" and "non-vegetarian." Ha! The vegetarian frozen meals and soups at grocery stores also feature large, green "V" icons to indicate that they're meat-free.
Moreover, there's more than just salad to eat. Last night, for example, I had tempura vegetables in a rich curry sauce with rice. In comparison, I recall my last visit to Applebee's at home. I asked the waitress if she had any vegetarian recommendations, since there didn't seem to be anything on the menu. "Well, there's a BLT," she suggested. "Doesn't the 'B' stand for bacon?" I asked. She nodded, oblivious as to why that might cause a problem. Yes, it will indeed be hard to go back to the U.S.
Hendrix, however, is a blessed exception. There are always two vegetarian options in the home-style line, including a vegan option. There's also a salad bar, a vegetable bar, and a stir fry station. Vegetarian soup, plus veggie hamburgers, chicken patties, and hot dogs, round out the offerings. And there's macaroni and cheese every Friday! So maybe it won't be that hard!
Last Wednesday, just at the stroke of midnight, my twin sister and I ran toward each other from opposite ends of a dark London street. She had just hopped off the shuttle from the airport, come to stay for the weekend! This was part of the master plan, part of the reason I had come to London.
I'll admit right now that I wouldn't be abroad if not for my sister. She's a student at Earlham College, and last Thanksgiving she announced that she'd gotten a spot on one of their study abroad programs in Paris. At that point, study abroad wasn't even on my radar, but a little "Oh yeah, I should do that" thought bubble appeared over my head.
So when I got a last-minute e-mail last spring asking if anyone was interested in the Hendrix-in-London program, I said yes immediately. What better way to spend a semester than hanging out in Europe with your twin sister? After dozens of forms and several meetings, the deal was sealed. And now, many months later, we're finally living the dream.
She stayed for five full days, during which time we did far too many things to recount. She accompanied the Hendrix-in-London group on an overnight trip to Stratford-upon-Avon, where we sat together in the front row for Henry V. We drank cider in the famous Dirty Duck pub there and walked together through Shakespeare's birthplace. On the way back to London, we climbed together up the dark spiral staircases in the battlements of Warwick Castle.
Back in London, we hit some of the big sights -- Big Ben, the Parliament, some bridges over the Thames. We also stopped in the British Museum and the National Gallery. But more importantly, we spent an hour together in the three-story Paperchase store near my flat, looking at Christmas cards and calligraphy pens and making plans for what crafts we'd like to make over winter break. We also made a stop into Superdrug, where she helped me pick out the perfect shade of red lipstick. That's what sisters are for!
On Saturday night, we watched Guy Fawkes fireworks, which made me feel better about having missed the annual Fourth of July festivities. (I was in Madrid already by then.)
We got baklava, we ate pomegranate, we made lentils. It's amazing how much fun stupid things can be when you're with old friends. On Sunday, her last full day in town, we traipsed through the city, visiting local markets, pretending we had money to spend. We took the Tube to get to the Tate Modern museum, but we were so tired by that time that we just sat for half an hour on a bench on the platform, trying to summon the energy for more sightseeing. Even sitting around compaining about our feet was fun.
Long story short, I love my sissy and I'm glad she had the initiative to study abroad, which gave me the initiative to do so. I'm heading across the Channel in a few weeks to celebrate Thanksgiving with her. I'm sure I'll bring back incredible near-death-experience stories about Parisian drivers. Until then, here are some swell pictures of my weekend!
At Warrick Castle: Katie and Mandi. Or is it Mandi and Katie? Guess!
This is a "fire drawing" of Guy Fawkes (as a skeleton), with a bomb in hand. The drawing got hoisted up by a crane, and the bomb was "thrown" at a drawing of Big Ben. Not your traditional effigy burning, but sufficient.
The Guy Fawkes extravaganza had some of the prettiest fireworks I've ever seen, and this is definitely one of the best pictures I've ever taken of fireworks. (By the way: in the top picture, I'm on the right.)