Wednesday, May 07, 2003

So I was lying around yesterday, going, “Oh, gee. No class tomorrow. How boring. What am I going to do with myself?”

Then I hit myself in the head and said, “Girl, you are half an hour from LONDON. Possibly the kewlest city in the world. Definitely the one with the most history, not counting Rome and Athens and okay, Jerusalem, and . . . never mind that. It’s famous, okay? Furthermore, you will only be in this favored position for another month, half of which will be taken up with insane exams and huge papers that you should have started already but you’re too lazy. WHAT ARE YOU WHINING ABOUT?”

So I decided to go to the Tower of London, which I haven’t seen yet. It was a lovely day, and I say that in both senses of the term. It was clear and blue-skied and sunny, without being broil-your-skin-off hot. (In fact, this whole spring has been extraordinarily dry for London. The natives must be getting antsy. “Rain!” they say. “We need rain! Grey skies! Mizzling! Cold wind off the Thames! This way we can mutter about the weather and make our mates jealous by going to Spain, where it is after all supposed to be sunny!”) For me personally, it was also a fun, non-stressful day.

First off, the Tower of London is a bit of a misnomer. I was expecting a tower . . . one. Sticking straight up out of the ground like, you know, a tower. I always wondered how they could fit all that stuff into one little tower. Well, now I know. The Tower of London was originally built by William I (yep, that William) as a living quarters, and he’s not going to live in one little tower. It was this way up until one of the Henries, Hank I, possibly. The reason it’s also a prison is because the medievals were damn efficient. “Hell!” they said. “It’s already got a big freakin’ wall and great defenses and some semblence of plumbing. Just dig another room and you got yourself a place for the criminals! Why build another great honkin’ building? What, are we made of money?”

Over the years, the single castle has evolved into a massive complex with seperate living quarters and incredibly expensive gift shops. People actually still live there today, although nobody’s imprisoned. Even when people were imprisoned, by the way, they were never in jail as we think of it. They had a full set of rooms with all the modern conveniences, like chamber pots and servents to throw the chamber pots at. Sometimes they were even allowed to go hunting. The only thing they didn’t have was permission to just stroll out the front gate and continue their lives as usual.

Naturally, I saw the Crown Jewels, which were . . . glittery. And . . . yeah, glittery. They don’t actually belong to the Queen herself, by the way. They belong to the Kingdom of England, which is an important distinction that I hope no royal forgets after a bad day at the races. It was beautiful jewelry, but there were some ceremonial things included that just made me blink. Things like the Sword of Offering (which sounds like something from a Dungeons and Dragons game) are fairly logical in their origin. The Orb is kind of mysterious, but it’s a pretty kingly (queenly) thing, so okay. But . . . the Ceremonial Spoon? What, in case the Queen suddenly has the urge to eat some Ceremonial Porridge? I’m still mystified as to the origin of this part of the coronation ceremony.

Interestingly, a lot of recent royals have had their own coronation crowns made for them, starting with George IV. Ah, yes, you can always count on good ol’ George IV to spend lots of money for absolutely no reason at all. However, I believe Queen E just used Queen V’s crown. Good for her.

As you can see in the photos here, I managed to get a few shots of the Tower Bridge, but it was so sunny that my camera had problems. But the Tower of London was really pretty neat, and worth the trip. Word of advice: if you can, do what I did, and go on a weekday morning. If you go on a Saturday afternoon, the lines will be insane.

Book for today: Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. “Please, sir, can I have some more?” is the famous line from Dickens’ second major book. This is actually a very small episode that takes place quite early, but it’s an example of Dickens’ withering scorn for the treatment of paupers in Victorian England. If you’ve only seen “The Muppet Christmas Carol” and you never realized what a social satirist the man was, Oliver Twist features a scathing indictment of workhouses and smug middle-class morality. Don’t get me wrong, he shows us a picture of the criminal underworld that’s tabloid-sensational. But he also understands the forces that drive his characters. The only complaint I have about this book is that while it is called Oliver Twist, the little main character has very little to do with the determination of his own fate. He virtually disappears in the last quarter. Still, it’s Dickens, and it’s worth reading if you have time.

Monday, May 05, 2003

Okay, quick quick post just to let y'all know that my pictures are FINALLY up! Hooray! Cue the Funky Chicken Dance! Pop on over to my account at Yahoo Photos and give them a quick peruse. There's a lot of stupid ones in the Spain section, because I didn't feel like culling it down. Lots of palm trees and flowers.

Oh--and the rude American story I promised . . . okay, here goes.

So I'm in the hostel in Madrid, wonderful but thin-walled. Thursday night, my friend and I walk in to see the hostel owner (Spanish-speaking only, remember) talking to some American kids in the room next to ours. The guy at the door was looking at her with this totally "Dur?" look. You know the kind I mean. In frustration, she turns to us and asks Jen to translate her request for them to keep it down. Jen did so, and the kid got all offended: "I knew what she was saying!" Doubtful, but if he did, he could have at least nodded or something.

That's not the end of it. Flash forward now: it's about 10:00 on Friday night. I'm hopping an 8 am bus for Sevilla the next morning, and I know I'm not going to get much sleep on Saturday night because I'll be on the bus back to Madrid in order to catch my Sunday flight. Monday I start classes again, bright and early. Right. So I need sleep. Plus I really am tired from my day. BUT the same kids from next door start talking really loudly. I mean, it's one thing when it's a soft background mutter--you expect that in hostels. But this was LOUD. Things like, "Oh yeah, in seventh grade I was like really tubby" and so forth. I could honestly hear every word, crystal clear. After about an hour of praying for them to shut up, I gave up and knocked on their door. Following is a transcript of the conversation.

Me (trying to be nice about it): Hi. I realize it's not that late, but I've got an early bus to catch and the walls are pretty thin here, so could you just be a little quieter?

Kid (overflowing with attitude): Well, we're not going to stop talking.

Me (taken somewhat aback): Um--okay, but I just want you to know I can hear every word.

Kid (even more belligerently): What are we supposed to do, talk in a whisper?

Me (thoroughly exasperated): Fine. I'll wear headphones or something. I just wanted you to know that I can hear you talking. (I leave.)

And they CONTINUE talking, without any effort whatsoever to lower their voices. Around 1 am, exhaustion overcomes me and I pass out. About 5ish, I wake up to hear noise still coming from the room, but it sounds more like a TV or radio. I've become convinced that they left it on to spite me.

I realize that the condition of being an ass is not limited to Americans alone, but there seems to be a special brand of it that only we posess, this kind of the-world-is-my-McDonald's-Play-Area-and-screw-you-if-you-have-feelings-about-that. It was flabbergasting. I mean, did you ever once notice an apology in there? Anything that even hinted of it? No. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. No wonder most of the world hates us. I hate us, and I am us.

Okay, this was a lot less quick and somewhat more bitter than I meant it to be. I'll recommend a good book so as not to end it on a sour note.

The Story of Tracy Beaker Jacqueline Wilson. I'm actually not sure if she's available in the States, but I hope so, because she's a major bestseller over here. Anyway, this is not your normal sunshiney perfect-world children's book. Tracy Beaker's mum has left her in state care for the past several years. Tracy ain't no Oliver Twist, though. She gets in fights with the other kids, lobbies unashamedly for her favorite adult to adopt her, and generally looks out for Number One. But there's real sweetness under her shell. The other big thumbs-up to this book is the ending, which is not saccharine-sweet, everything-gets-fixed, happily-ever-after. Jacqueline Wilson isn't afraid to show us the way that some kids' lives really are, and how they really deal with it. Go see if you can find her.

Thursday, May 01, 2003

I'm back! I'm alive! Okay, yes, it's been four days since my plane landed, but they've been busy days.

Spain was FANTASTIC. I loved the country, even when people were giving me the fishy eyeball because I couldn't halfway speak their language. (My great-grandmother is rolling in her grave. Twirling, actually.) It was warm, if overcast most days, and just lovely. Unlike my last trip, I didn't go haring all over the country. A little bit of haring, but much more relaxing.

Our base of operations was Madrid. We stayed in a lovely little hostel called Hostal la Luz, on Calle Fuentes. Just a recommendation for y'all. I don't know if they have a website, but they're listed in the Let's Go guidebooks for Spain and Madrid. It was nice and clean, and for the money, the room was great. A quick word of warning: the hostel owner spoke no English, so make sure you have a Spanish-speaker in your group if you ever end up there.

We saw lots of things around the city, like the Prado, the Palacio Real, and lots of resturants. Mmmm. Tapas (a light dinner consisting of nibblies and alcohol), chocolate y churros (a dessert that is beyond description and really just has to be experienced), paella (puh-leez tell me you know what this is), and, to my shame, McDonald's. Hey! I was hungry!

On Thursday we went to Toledo, which is between an hour and two hours south of Madrid by bus, so you can do it as a day trip. It's an incredible city, just unspeakably gorgeous. It looks very very old, and that's because it is. (Huh. Who would'a thought.) Ancient Moorish architecture is side-by-side very modern buses and cars, and strangely enough it all seems to work. I took over forty pictures on my camera because it is just that gorgeous. It's on a hill, and in the middle of the hills, and it all just keeps rising and rising until it starts falling. I can tell you, it's great for your eyes but not so hot for your legs. Ouch. We visited the el Greco Museum. He was an interesting painter--painting in the early Renaissance, but his paintings actually look almost Impressionistic, because the brushstrokes are very loose and soft. The el Greco "look" is very famous, that pale, bony face that evokes an impression of holiness, but nobody ever talks about how strange he is for a Renaissance painter. At least not that I've heard, but then again, I'm an English major.

On Saturday, we hopped an extremely early bus and went to Sevilla. Since I didn't get very much time in the city, I don't have a very strong impression of it. We got to see a cathedral, not terribly different from the one in Toledo (aside from the Moorish tower that the Christians just kept around because it was useful), and then the Palacio Real in Sevilla. Apparently, a long time ago, kings didn't have capital cities, but traveled around to all the major ones throughout the year. In each city, naturally, there was a royal palace for them. The one in Sevilla is modeled on the Alhambra--very Moorish in design, even though it was built by a Christian king. I liked it a lot better than the Palacio Real in Madrid, which was coldly grand and very intimidating. The Sevilla one was cosier, warmer, and to my eyes, more beautiful. Eventually, you'll see the pictures.

Update on the photos: I am in the process of uploading them now. But I've got a LOT of pictures, so it's a long project, and it'll be spread out over some days. I also have a limited amount of space on my yahoo account, so if you see a picture there one day and it's not there the next, that's because I'm in a constant state of culling them down. Sorry . . . blame Yahoo. Yes, blame Yahoo for all your troubles, including the ones that are totally unrelated to me. You may also notice that there are no pictures of actual people, not even me. This is because I'm not comfortable with having my picture up for all to see, and for all I know, my friends might be the same way. So just shut up and enjoy the scenery, at this link. I've reorganized them into photo albums of where I've gone, so if you have no interest in, say, Greenwich, you don't have to click. I can't put up a little blurb about each one, though--there's just too many, and we'd all get bored.

That's enough for this blog entry, I think. I won't spoil it by ranting about rude Americans, although I've got a doozy of a story to tell. Next time.

Books for today: Two For the Lions by Lindsay Davis. This is one of that quietly huge subgenres, Roman murder mysteries. Ancient Rome, which is you know me, is right up my alley. Wooohoo! I have to say, the best part is the detective, a middle-class Roman called Marcus Didius Falco. He's been described as Columbo in a toga, and I can definitely trace a resemblence. He's definitely in this business for the money, although there's not much of it, and he has an unexpected chivalrous streak. Watch out for his gal, Helena Justina, who's as sharp as a javelin and definitely no clinging Roman maiden. The mystery is kind of hard to follow, and the ending is . . . strange. But if you're a fan of Ancient Rome and great characters, pick this or any of the other ones up.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

So here I am, back from Belgium and the Netherlands. Phew, what a trip! Fascinating, but exhausting. Four cities in seven days--I don't recommend it for everyone, but it was certainly an experience.

Okay, so the first city was Brussels. It's a lovely city, and it has the funky bonus of having random scenes from random comics painted on random walls. Comics are considered an art form in Belgium, which I give a hearty cheer for. I love me my funnies, and America underappreciates them. However, there wasn't much in Brussels after I exhausted the Gran-Place and the Manneken-Pis. The former is a large square with gorgeous gothic architecture on town halls and musuems. The latter is a fountain featuring a little naked boy. Guess where the water comes out. It's good for one juvenile laugh--what's funnier is the attention lavished upon it by Brussels itself. The stores are full of Manneken-Pis tourist junk, like corkscrews (really. And guess where the corkscrew part is) and statuettes, some of which are bigger than the actual fountain. One museum has an entire room full of outfits that the Manneken-Pis has worn over the years, which include an Elvis outfit and am American Cub Scout uniform, complete with official Wolf and Bear insignia.

Onward to Bruges. Or Brugge. Or Brugges. Or however the heck it's spelled. The part of Belgium that we visited is Flemish, and they speak both Flemish and French, plus English for the tourists, with the result that everything has about three different spellings. Anyway, Bruges is a smaller place than Brussels, and there's a LOT less tourism. It's a gorgeous town--people just don't know about it. On one hand, it's a shame, because it really is nice. On the other hand, it was great not to have to duck all the tourist crap all the time. We stayed at a hostel called Charlie Rocket's, which is worth a look if you're poor and in the neighborhood.

Bruges is a beautiful, comfortable little city. My friend Katie enjoyed it so much that she shelled out the euro for a hotel room and stayed an extra night. In addition to some beautiful art at the Groenling Museum, I saw the Basilica of the Holy Blood, which is an itty-bitty lil' church whose claim to fame is that it has a few drops of Christ's blood in a vial. You can't actually see it--the vial lives in an enormous silver . . . thingie off to one side of the altar. However, you can donate money and light candles and pray there. I'm sure the place is rockin' on Easter, and I'm kind of sorry I wasn't there for Palm Sunday, either, but I was in . . . .

Antwerp!!! In Antwerp, we stayed in a B&B called De 2 Kiekens, which means The Two Chickens. It's a little confusing to find (at least it was for me) and it's not the shiniest part of Antwerp, but the place is really comfortable, and the eggs are good. Don't just wander into town and hope it's open, though. There's only one room.

Aside from the B&B, Antwerp itself was surprisingly neat. The plan had been to sleep there and be off the next morning, but my friend Michael discovered that it is a gorgeous city. They had an Ethnographic Museum, which had artifacts from cultures in Africa, Oceania, Australia, Asia, and the Americas. Anthropologists and dorks like me would find it fascinating. The entrance was 2 euro with student discount, and all I had was a 50 euro note! The guy looked at me like I was Kali the bringer of death. I think I totally cleaned him out of change.

Also in Antwerp, I visited the Royal Museum of the Arts, for twenty-five minutes. Not nearly enough, but we got there shortly before closing and we were leaving the next day. Sigh. Half a loaf and all that. I don't know why I suddenly started doing the museum thang on this trip. It used to be that I'd wander through at top speed until I found the classical statuary. Hmm. Anyway, art buffs should definitely visit. Lastly, I saw the Cathedral of Our Lady Whats-Her-Face. Okay, it's not really called that, but it has some really really really long name in Flemish, which I have no hope of either pronouncing or spelling, or for that matter remembering. Even the natives just call it The Cathedral. It had some fantastic art, including a Rubens showing the Ascension of the Cross. I went to Palm Sunday Mass there. I didn't understand a word of the service, but I just sat there and looked at all the art, and that was holy enough for me.

Our last stop was Amsterdam, in the Netherlands. On the train trip there, I sat behind two American girls, and got a quick dose of why I'm sometimes embarassed to have a U.S. passport. This was a full train, okay? Fuuuuuuuuull. And between them, they were taking up four seats, what with their luggage (in spite of the handy-dandy luggage racks) and their assorted junk. When someone finally asked if they could have the seat, one of the girls heaved an oh-my-Gawd sigh, chomped bovinely on her gum, and got up with all the alacrity of a glacier to move her things. Then when the poor man got impatient (because the train was, y'know, moving) and put her fourth bag up on the rack himself, she rolled her eyes so far back she must have been able to see her brain. I made sure not to talk, so nobody would think I was with them. Eurgh.

Once in Amsterdam, we stayed at a place called Camping Zeeburg. Note how I'm not linking. That's because I don't want you blaming me for your stay. Five of us stayed in a cabin the approximate size of an outhouse, (at the low, low price of 70 euro a night), they charged a euro for each shower, and it was the work of at least half an hour to get into Amsterdam. Sheesh.

Amsterdam itself was not what I expected. You hear about the red-light district and the legalized pot all the time. What they fail to mention is the gorgeous canals, which basically run all over the city, the art museums like the Rijks and the Van Gogh, the way that the red-light district is really only about four streets, and fairly safe compared to other cities' red-light districts (for the women and for tourists), and the fact that pot is only decriminalized (splitting hairs, yes, I know) and it's still illegal to go around soliciting, you have to initiate the deal yourself. Amsterdam is not the sinkhole of depravity that a lot of tourists hope for.

Phoo. Okay. You're safe now, the rant's done.

That being said, I did actually visit the red-light district, although not a "coffee shop". It was more depressing and sordid than exciting. Maybe because I'm a female, but the women in the windows just made me sad. I don't know why they got into that life, but I have a hard time understanding why you would choose it.

I also took a ride in a paddleboat around the canals. Both days we were there were bright and sunny and springy, and all along the canals, the trees were in young leaf and people's windows were open. A lot of people live in houseboats along the canal banks, which must be really fun. Some were bright and shiny, and others were . . . individual.

To get my dose of culture, I went to the Van Gogh museum and the next day to the Rijks museum. I don't know much about painting or Van Gogh himself (except for the ear thing, and the suicide thing), and it surprised me to learn that he was passionately fond of literature alongside art, had close friendships with other artists, and was interested in Japanese art, which is definitely something you don't expect. However, once you know it, you can see the influence. The Van Gogh was about mid-size, but the Rijks museum was enormous. I was in there for 2.5 hours, and I know I didn't see all of it. Just all sorts of stuff.

Our last night in Amsterdam was eventful. We saw a comedy/improv show called "Boom Chicago!", which was hysterical but a little raw if you're thinking of taking kidlets. We ended up sleeping at the Amsterdam train station that night, which is something I would not recommend to anyone. We'd left our luggage there, meaning to collect it when our perambulations were done, but the locker area closed at 11:00. Huh?? Explain that to me . . . There weren't too many weirdos there (although some), but it was COLD, and the benches were a frankly sadistic wire design, and there wasn't much to wander around and look at.

However, we made it through, got our luggage at 7 when the locker area opened up, and got to our plane perfectly on time, and got home, very very very tired puppies. I'm still recovering. I've babbled long enough, so I think it's time for bed, and I commend you for having made it all the way through!

Book for today: Northern Lights by Phillip Pullman. This is the first in a fantasy series called "His Dark Materials" about another world, linking universes, and stuff too complex to explain. It's an excellent book, very imaginative, and an interesting main character. There's a lot of things that are puzzling, and it's not as compulsively readable as, say, Harry Potter, but keep at it, because there's good stuff. In the U.S. this first book is called The Golden Compass.

Friday, April 04, 2003

I have a lot of things to talk about. Sorry about the total lack of updates in the past few weeks--it’s That Time round this university. No, not final exams, not just yet. I’m talking about (eurgh) mid-terms. You would not believe the amount of work I had due yesterday. Actually, some of you might. At any rate, the only thing I have left to do is a take-home test, due next Thursday, that should be easy enough. Famous last words, right? And I have THREE WEEKS without any classes! WOOOOHOOO!

I still haven’t uploaded pictures yet. They’ve grown to an incredible volume. It could be an all-day project.

To get y’all up to speed on the events of the past few weeks:

Two weeks ago, I went to Winchester, home of the Cathedral. It was a nice little day trip--I was going to spend the night there, but my friend didn’t really want to, and I decided to come home with her. Good thing, too, as there’s not terribly much in Winchester. The Cathedral is nice, yes, and there’s some really great charity shops (woohoo charity shops!), but other than that not much. I had a mini-adventure in Winchester Cathedral. I was walking along, glancing down every so often to read the tombstones I was tromping over, when I saw “JANE AUSTEN”. My mouth fell right open. I’d completely forgotten that she was buried in Winchester Cathedral!! I had to get photos. Only one came out--my fault, I guess, for taking pictures when I wasn’t supposed to. Tsk tsk!

The following Friday, I went back to Winchester and took a bus out to Chawton to see JA’s cottage. The bus dropped me off at a roundabout, and I dodged through the cars to the other side of the road, and followed the brown signs. Chawton is not at all touristy. The only evidence they have of their famous connection is the cottage itself, which is now a museum with as much original stuff preserved as possible, plus a little resturantlet called “Cassandra’s Cup”. Other than that, it’s your typical small English village, probably not that much changed from when she lived there. The houses even have thatched roofs. REAL thatch, made from real straw.

The cottage was very nice, but I was bowled over by how small it was. There really wasn’t that much to it, and JA’s bedroom was the smallest family bedroom in the place, with a tiny little window that looked out on the granary in the backyard. She wrote on a tiny table, about a foot to a foot and a half across, that sat in the parlour. The table sat underneath a window, probably so she could get the most light possible and not waste candles, and it wobbled. The door squeaked and she refused to let it be oiled so she would have warning when someone was about to intrude on her, so she could hide her writing away. Nobody but her brother and her sister knew about it, even after she was published.

And yet . . . think what she wrote there.


I now have three weeks all to myself, as I’ve said. I’m not going to spend them sitting around, though! Tomorrow, I’m going to Stratford-upon-Avon for two days. Then on Tuesday, I’m going to the Netherlands and Belgium with friends for a week. Then I have a few days to putz around here before some friends visit me here. Then I’m going to Madrid for three days, then Sevilla. It’s going to be a whirlwind few weeks for me! I’ll try to blog, but my internet access will probably be sporadic at best.

Book for Today: Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding. You may have seen the movie. That was a good movie, but the book is way better. Bridget is the most scatterbrained, crazy, goofy Everywoman you could ever come across. I don’t think she’s supposed to be real--the scrapes she gets into are the kind of things that everyone does from time to time, but blown up huge and hilarious. Also it’s based, very loosely, on Pride and Prejudice. Well! Now you know why I like it, don’t you? Go read it! What are you waiting for?

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

So it was borne in on me that I hadn't posted an update to this thing in quite awhile. And I said "This must not be!!"

I'm still in the process of uploading pictures. I finally got all my beautiful Canterbury and Oxford and Hampton Court Palace pictures off my camera, but it's a slow process to transfer them to disk and take them to an internet computer. They'll be up eventually. I'm also trying to rearrange my photo album to make it slightly more logical. Ha. Good luck to me.

I went to Bath two weekends ago, home of various Regency Romance novels and also the place where Jane Austen (ah, peerless Jane!) lived for five years. It doesn't say much for Bath that she didn't, apparently, write a word the entire time she was there. Guess she was a country girl at heart. She did portay Bath in her first novel, Northanger Abbey and her last, Persuasion. Two very different views of Bath that are interesting to compare and contrast, although you have to keep in mind that she wrote the two novels at wildly different times in her life.

In addition to paying homage at the Jane Austen Centre, I also went to the Roman Baths and the Museum of Costume. All three places were really neat (although I didn't personally learn anything new at the JA Centre) and the Roman Baths in particular were fascinating for the amount of stuff that they've recovered there. In fact, something like 2/3 or 3/4 of the original Roman complex is still underground, having not been excavated because most of Bath is on top of it. Yeah, that'll hold back the ol' funding.

If you're interested in fashion and the history of fashion, the M of C is pretty cool too. It has vintage clothing and explanations of what they were made of, how politics and social attitudes informed fashion, and other stuff like that.

Bath itself is a beautiful city. It's a city ordinance that all new buildings must be made of a particular kind of white masonry called Bath stone, so when the train (or bus) comes up on Bath, all you see is this froth of white stone, spilling up and down the hillsides, shining in the sun. In its own way, it's breathtaking.

I stayed at the Bath Backpacker's Hostel which was a fun and funky place if you are ever in the area.

I didn't do anything so fun last weekend, although I did go into London to have a visit with my uncle and his family, who were in town for the weekend, and I wound up seeing "Grease" with them. That was a lot of fun, especially since it was last-minute and I didn't have time to build it up in my head. It was fun and cute, if terribly terribly loud (my seat was close to the speakers) and whoa! a lot more raunchy than I remembered either the movie or my high-school's production being. Still a grand evening.

Welp, it's late for me. Time to share my Book of the Day and get on home.

Book for Today: Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett. A merciless send-up of Macbeth, set in Pratchett's Discworld and amongst the usual lunacy that this ensues. Just to give you an idea of the total nonserious parodic fun, the first page features this exchange: (in appropriate witch voice) "When shall we three meet again?" (normal voice) "Well, I can do next Tuesday." Pratchett and Discworld are always good for a story that's unpredictable, somewhat loony, and surprisingly thoughtful.

Sunday, March 02, 2003

For the first time since I got here, I'm crabby about the public transport system. (You can stop laughing any time now, Flint.) I was at a friend's last night, and realized that it was late, but I still had ample time to catch the last bus. Well, we went out there . . . and waited. And waited. We waited the 20 minutes between buses on a Saturday night, then 20 more just in case. No bus. GRRRRRRRRR!! The thought of the night bus filled me with fear, so we ended up staying the night at this friend's, sleeping on his couch. Sigh. I woke up at some ungodly hour this morning, caught the second bus of the day, and went to sleep in my own bed about half an hour later. Anyway . . . that was my adventure for last night . . .

Yesterday was nice, though. My friend Katy called me up to go see Hampton Court Palace, which is (and I didn't know this) quite handy to where we are, just one bus change. The palace is nice and interesting and historical, but for me, I really loved the grounds. They're HUGE and filled with plants and flowers and growing things and statues and fountains. The kewl thing is, it's free to just wander around the gardens. You only pay to see the palace itself. Here's some pictures for y'all. Most of them are of the palace proper, because the millions that I took of the grounds are either on my film camera, which will be developed this week sometime, or on the big digital card that my computer isn't reading because it's being a brat.

Click! A random corridor, inside Hampton Court palace. I liked the look of it though. Apparently there is a corridor that's supposed to be haunted by one of Henry's wives who got beheaded. After her trial, but obviously before her beheading, she escaped from her guards and rocketed down the corridor toward the royal chapel, pounding on the doors and screaming to be let in. If she got inside, she would get asylum (being in a place of worship) and also, Henry VIII was worshipping at the time, and she believed that she could beg him to spare her life. However, he ignored her and kept praying (isn't that just sick and wrong?) and the guards caught up with her, and off with her head. So now Catherine runs up and down the corridor, screaming to be let into the chapel, on dark nights. Brrrrr. This isn't that corridor though.

Click! The fountain in the inner courtyard. Can't you imagine some ladies in huge wigs and dresses sweeping around that walkway?

Click! Ooo . . . that's a little dark. Sorry about that. It was overcast yesterday . . . well, it is England! It's the front view of the Palace as you're walking up the drive. It's one heck of a sight. Must have been even more flabbergasting to the court, knowing how rich Cardinal Wolsey and later on good old Hal 8 must have been to not only build it, but afford the upkeep. It's like a city all by itself.

Click! Here's a better one, taken just inside the front entrance of the first courtyard you pass through. There's about three.

Click! Here is a funky little inner garden that I discovered by goingthrough the wrong door. If I were a lady in waiting, I'd sneak off there to be away from all the noise and heat and hypocrisy of the court--wouldn't you?

Click! Okay, remember how I said the place was like a city all by itself? This view is part of the kitchens. That's right, the kitchens. They were so huge that they got subdivided all over the place.

Click!After the king stopped living at Hampton Court Palace regularly, and such huge kitchens weren't needed anymore, the kitchens were actually converted into tiny flats for royal servents who had done their duty well and deserved a reward for putting up with royalty all those years. Even today, some people still live on Fish Court, pictured here.

So that's Hampton Court Palace, or some of it anyway. Katy and I only did half the tours available, and you weren't allowed to take pictures in a lot of the rooms. Sigh. It's a very neat place, and the gardens really are amazing if you don't want to pay the admission charge.

No book for today. Sorry. I already told you about The Secret Garden and the other stuff I'm reading now is all boring Victorian literature that I wouldn't recommend to anybody.

Friday, February 28, 2003

Okay, so I realized today that I've been in this country a WHOLE MONTH. My plane landed on the 28th of January, and today is, duh, the 28th of February. Wow. It feels a lot longer than a month, but a lot shorter too. Don't ask me to explain. I don't know.

One thing I've noticed is that the American accent sounds really ugly over here. It's all flat and twangy and nasally. Unless I'm around other icky-sounding Americans, I try to talk as little as possible, because I feel like an aural sore thumb. On the other hand, I don't want to try my hand, or tongue, at an English accent because I have the haunting feeling that I'd be beaten to death by scones and teapots. I also can't seem to compromise and use Englishisms ("Cheers", "Ta") in my icky American accent, because somehow that would be wrongest of all. I still have some trouble understanding the thicker English accents, too. I went to a play on Wednesday night and it was a good thing I knew the plot because I missed some of the long speeches, just trying to figure out what they were saying. I've also annoyed people on the phone by asking them over and over what the hey they're saying. You wouldn't think we speak two different languages . . . well, we do.

I'm still lovin' the public transport system, as much as Flint likes to laugh at me. (You know who you are, Flint.) I love that there is one. America doesn't seem to have the same concept of public transport. Either they get the public part or the transport part wrong.

I went again to the British Museum on Wednesday, and after that the Globe Theatre. Want pictures? Of course you do. And if you don't, all you have to do is not click. Concept!

Click! Little girl feeding pigeons outside the British Museum

Click! Another attempt to capture the Tennyson quote on the floor of the Great Court. Can you read it this time?

Click! A Greek statue of a maiden. She would have served as a support pillar for a temple. This time all the rooms were open. Wooohoo!

Click! Three Greek statues who lost their heads at some point or another.

Click! It's the Globe Theatre! No, of course it's not the real Globe Theatre. That burned down when they fired a cannon during a performance. They rebuilt, of course, but then good ol' Ollie Cromwell tore it down when he declared that Plays Were Bad in 1642. This is the reconstruction, built in the late 90's. It's the only building in London with a thatched roof since the Great Fire. Everything is as accurate as research can discover and current laws will allow.

Click! Another view of the Globe. Not that big, is it? It used to fit 3000 people. Yoiks! It only holds 1500 now, but 500 fit in the groundling area. Tickets for the groundling area, by the way, are only 5 quid. That's pretty darn good.

Anyway, that's my pictures for today. Not really planning on going anywhere this weekend, but you never know. My camera might finally give me the billions and billions I took in Oxford.

Book for today: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgeson Burnett. I'm right now re-reading this for my Children's Lit class, but I must have read it 10 or 20 times already. I got it for a birthday present the year I turned nine, and I remember being absolutely delighted by Mary. She was the first child character who was bratty and nasty without being the Big Villain. In fact, she's the main character. Anyway, go read this book. Not only for Mary, who you'll love, but also for Colin, who matches Mary tantrum for tantrum and brat for brat, and for the Secret Garden, which is almost mystical in its power to bring these two self-absorbed children to life.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Monday, February 24, 2003

I have some new pics up from when I went to the British Museum over the weekend. Check 'em out!

Thursday, February 20, 2003

Okaaaaaaaaaaaaaay . . . I wrote this whole long post earlier about Yahoo and cream teas and Venetia . . . where is it? Wherrrrrrrrrrre??? Curses. The evil yahoo curse is spreading.

Anyway, here's the gist:

Go here to see my photo album. I don't know why it won't work to link directly, but oh well. I'm not even askiing Yahoo to display pix on this page, just to let you guys click a blue link to go from this page to a yahoo page. But noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo . . . Sigh. If even that photo album link doesn't work, shout out and I'll gnash my hair and tear my teeth. Wait a minute . . . strike that . . . reverse it. Good.

In other news, I have finally had a cream tea, which was highly recommended to me before I left the States. My friend was not lying . . . this is good stuff! For all y'all who do not know the wonders of cream tea (you poor saps), it consists of a pot of tea (natch) that is accompanied by scones and (reverent hush) clotted cream. Ooooooooooo. Clotted cream is wonderful stuff, especially when combined with strawberry preserves. Mmmmmmmmmmm. If you ever get the chance, try it. You won't be disappointed. Your diet, should you be on one, will be blown all to pieces, but who cares about diets?

Book for today: Venetia by Georgette Heyer. Venetia is a clever, sensible spinster that everyone thinks is going to marry boring Edward Yardley. But then the scandalous Lord Damerel moves in next door, and Venetia unexpectedly finds the best friend she's ever had . . . This is going up there with These Old Shades and Devil's Cub as one of my all-time favorite GH novels.

Sunday, February 09, 2003

They're working! They're working! I figured out the problem . . . when I wrote my entry offline last night, I used a program that uses curly quotes instead of regular ones. If you don't know what those are, don't ask me to explain. I barely know myself. Anyway, the curly quotes somehow fadoodled with the HTML and . . . anyway, the upshot is, go click those links now. All clear.

Saturday, February 08, 2003

Okay, don't click on those links down there. I don't know why they aren't working, but they aren't. Grrrr. I'll fix them tomorrow. Too bloody tired.
Things I miss about America (in no particular order):
8x11 paper (really! I mean it! This A4 paper, with its four holes instead of three, is very disorienting!!)
Skippy supercrunch peanut butter
grape jelly
big refrigerators
My family
My apartment
My roommates
American accents
central heating (they have radiators)
dryers (not that Britain in general doesn’t have them, but my landlady doesn’t, so I still miss ‘em)

Things I love about Britain (also in no particular order)
the public transportation system
those little weird clusters of shops on random suburban corners, completely surrounded by houses
Kingston town centre, which is basically the above, blown up huge
super-specializing little stores (The Little Tiny Shop of Clothespins, for example)
their sensible approach to mobile/cellular phone plans
the gun ban

I went into London proper for the first time today. Believe me when I say, I did not know where to look first. Wow!! So . . . much . . . brain . . . overload . . . aieee!!

We arrived in Waterloo station by train, and left the station to find--wham!--the Thames. Okay, not really wham! but it was pretty close. Here is a picture of my friend Katy, with Big Ben and Parliament in the background. Katy was very kind about guiding me through London, since she’d been there before and I hadn’t. And here is a picture of some unknown building across the Thames which I just thought was purty.

We crossed the bridge over the Thames, a white suspension bridge, and found the church St. Martin in the Fields, which is supposed to be architecturally significant or something. All I know is, it was quite cool, and there was a little markety sort of thing in the yard. We met a Cockney gentleman who was selling antique tools and was quite chatty, telling us all about his experiences in WW2. He was at D-Day, just 20 years old at the time, and saw his best friend get shot next to him. His wife’s mother died in the bombings of London. It’s so sobering to realize that Londoners, and Brits in general, are used to being sort of the front line of European wars in the last century. We’ve been preserved from that until quite recently. We feel safe. Anyway, Johnny was a great, friendly old guy.

After our chat with him, we bought tickets for a concert in the church for that evening--Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” performed by the Primavera Chamber Orchestra. They were quite cheap seats, plus I got a pound discount because I flashed my student card. Yay! More on that concert later. At that point, Katy and I split up--she went into the National Portrait Gallery, while I went into the National Gallery. Both were free--woohoo! Who says London is expensive?

The National Gallery was pretty neat, especially an exhibit about underdrawings in Rennaissance art. Infra-red cameras have been able to take pictures of the sketches underneath the paint, showing us the creative process of the Rennaissance artists. Quite cool.

Katy and I met in Trafalger Square, where I took several rather whimsical pictures. Here is a picture of King George IV, with friend. Here are some pigeon feeders. Them pigeons will eat anything. Here we have a water-nymph statue in the fountain that I rather liked. And here is one of the lions at the base of Nelson’s Column. Looks very fearsome, doesn’t it?

We passed through Leicester Square, pronounced "Lester", just as Worcester is pronounced "Wooster." By this logic, Manchester should be "Manster," shouldn't it? No, it's Manchester. Hmmm.

Anyway, thence to Covent Garden to see the market. It was madly crowded, but there was plenty to see anyway. I gave into my addiction and bought a pair of earrings, quite reasonably priced. After that, it was dinner with some more friends (the Yumi Food House, by the Palace--Chinese food, tiny little place, cheap and good!) and then we walked back to St. Martin’s etc for the concert, which was beautiful. We couldn’t see the orchestra, but it’s music, so that doesn’t matter at all. I sat in the narrow, high-backed stalls at the top of the church and read the book I’d picked up that morning, and let all that music soak in like bath water. Aaaah. The church was pretty, too, with a stained-glass window behind the altar that must be absolutely stunning when the sun shines right through it. For an encore, they played “Danny Boy” . . . siiiiiiiiiigh.

Tube, train, then bus to get home. What a fun day!

Book for the day: The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett. I just think everyone should read Terry Pratchett, but this is a really fun book. You remember the story of the Pied Piper? Well, in this book, the Pied Piper and the rats are in cahoots . . . and then there's that cat . . . Terry Pratchett does satirical fantasy that asks the difficult questions and doesn't give you easy answers, if he gives 'em at all. If you don't like to think, read him for the laughs.

Monday, February 03, 2003

It's the strangest thing to be in another country when something momentous happens in the one you claim as your own. I heard about the shuttle Columbia disaster from my younger brother, via MSN Messenger (don't you love the Internet?) but before that, I hadn't heard a word about it. In defense of Britain's newsmedia, I've never been one for perusing the papers or turning on the TV to catch the news. The closest I get is watching the headlines go by when I open up my browser, and clicking on the ones that interest me. It's a habit I should probably get into, if I ever want to contribute more than "Huh?" to a discussion of current events.

Anyway, back on subject, I feel kind of bad but I don't feel as if my entire life has been changed. I don't know how it is in the States, but other than it being all over the headlines, I haven't been affected very much about it. I feel very cold and callous. Sigh.

Had my first class today--was not what I was expecting, after all their warnings about the way levels are set up and about how people have known each other since babyhood in these schools. My professor was actually another American (weird) and it was a class of, no joke, ten. We sat in a circle in the classroom and had a discussion about how little we knew of the Renaissance. That was at eleven, a perfect time for a class if you ask me. However, I have a 9 am class tomorrow. That should be fun.

I'm also giving in and getting a cell phone. Now, for those of you who know me and are falling off your chairs turning purple in the face, the phone system is different here. They charge for local calls too. My landlady has said I could use her phone for calls, but I feel bad putting ££££ on her phone bill. I'm also getting a pay-as-you-go package, because I really do make so few calls that it would be madness (madness, I tell you!) to buy monthly minutes and all that business. The phone I'm looking at is about £70, or something like $120. Expensive, but in the long run it'll probably be worth it.

Book for today: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. I'm having my semi-annual Austen binge right now. Other people go on eating binges, drinking binges, drug binges, TV binges . . . I go on reading binges. Anyway, of the six that Austen published, NA is the first one she wrote. (Earlier books were written, but were re-written later into Sense & Sensibility and Pride & Prejudice.) It's a send-up of all those Gothic romances that were being published at the time. You know the kind (she feared the dark cave, dripping with bat guano, but she went in anyway because she's a dumb heroine). Catherine Morland loves to imagine herself in Gothic situations, but she soon finds out that real life is completely different . . . although perhaps almost as horrifying. The really funny thing about this book is that in the 1960's, when Gothics were undergoing a revival, somebody published it as a serious Gothic. Guess they didn't read it, huh?

Saturday, February 01, 2003

May I just say that of all the things Britain has contributed to the world, Nutella may just be the tops? That and minty lamb anything. Why don't we have minty lamb flavor in America? Because we are dorks, that is why. Yum.

I went grocery shopping last night. Initially I stopped in at Marks and Spencers, but the prices gave me a heart attack when I translated them into American dollars. Then I went into Sainsbury's, and the prices only gave me an aneurysm, so I shopped there. I noticed something interesting: in America, store brands are the cheaper (in both senses of the word) option, and cost-cutters buy those. Here, the store brands seem to be the luxury items. The advertising thrust is not, "Save money, buy store brand" but rather, "Store brand is better overall." Interesting. Not particularly scintillating, but it's worth mentioning.

I got lost last night trying to find a Catholic church. Turns out I took the correct bus, but in the totally wrong direction. Oooooops. Guess I'll try again today, in the other direction.

Book for today: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Yes, I know I'm an unspeakable lit dork, but this is really one of my favorite books of all time, and every time I read it, I remember why. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy carry out the wittiest, cleverest, most up-and-down mating dance since Beatrice and Benedick (which some say this was based on, but there's only so many ways you can do duelling lovers, after all). Anyway, if you don't feel like getting used to the early 19th century language and style, there's a five-hour A&E version that's worth watching for Colin Firth's pond scene alone. But read the book. The book is always better.

Thursday, January 30, 2003

Hello, all you faithful readers! Yes, all five of you . . . My plane ride was accomplished with a decided lack of hijackers, and I got to London and more importantly, through customs, in one piece. WOOHOO! My landlady is quite nice, even if my room is about big enough for me and two very close friends to stand up in. You might be able to shoehorn one more person in there, but then it gets kinky. However, I don't care, because one, I am in LONDON!! and two, even better, my landlady has cable internet which I am allowed to use when the computer is free! Yahoo! I'd pay £75 a week just for that, and sleep in the cupboard under the stairs like Harry.

Speaking of that, I was quite bad yesterday and spent £23 on books--already! I may have to watch my spending. This could get extravagant. And heavy. I had to cart those books around all through the rest of orientation, which was no picnic I assure you.

Nothing particularly special on the agenda today, except to go back to Kingston town center (centre) and walk around, investigating all the neat little shops that they hurried us past yesterday, intent on getting us orientated by hook or by crook. I also have to buy groceries and other necessaries, since I only brought travel sizes with me.

I have pictures, but I don't have my own computer up and running yet (still have to get a plug adapter, and I'm going into withdrawal). Anyway, as soon as that happens, I'll get y'all a picture of my room. I lucked out doubly--they have all their books in there. Bwaha.

Book for today: Princess in Love by Meg Cabot. This is one of the ones I picked up yesterday. In Britain, the title is Third Time Lucky. I've read the first two, which are a real hoot, and this one was just as much fun. After finally getting a boyfriend, Mia realizes in about a nanosecond that it's not the right one. Most people would just dump him and move on, but Mia is . . . well . . . Mia, which means that her life is more complicated and angstified and a hell of a lot funnier than that of the entire cast of "Days of Our Lives".

Saturday, January 25, 2003

Just a quick note to let y'all know that I'm not dead, just insanely busy. Would you believe that I have not packed one blessed thing in a suitcase? It's all piled on a card table in the family room or on the windowseat in my bedroom. And I leave in three days! I'd better do something 'bout that . . .

Maybe it's this cold snap, but it seems like all I want to do right now is shuffle around in pj's and slippers, forlornly blowing my nose. Alternatively, I want to curl up under mounds and mounds of covers and read good books. That's probably the reason why I don't have anything packed . . . :-p I'm clearing out my room so my parents can redo it while I'm overseas, and when I come back, I'll be home for about two weeks to a month before I move out for good. So I'm actually packing everything as if I'm moving out now. That's probably the reason for the vague depression that's nagging me. I never realized I had so much stuff, and most of it's flaming useless junk. I'm using my brother's room as a depository for all the things I'm getting rid of (don't worry, he's away at college) and the pile is bigger than the stuff I'll be taking with me when I move out. Sigh.

I'm trying hard to think of it as a character exercise (what do I really need in life? I mean really) but it's kind of tough.

Enough meloncholy.

Book for today: For My Lady's Heart by Laura Kinsale. This is a tough book to get into--the heroine is not always sympathetic. But when you do understand her, it's like a light coming on in your head: ding! Another interesting thing about it is that all the dialogue in English is rendered in fairly accurate Middle English. Not totally accurate--some of it had to be altered for the sake of clarity--but enough to make it pretty neat. And the Middle Ages mindset is also done very well, too. Try it out on a rainy Saturday.

Sunday, January 05, 2003

*happy Snoopy dance* It did, it did!

Thanks for the use of the camera, Andi! That picture down there, btw, was NOT taken by me. I've never even been there . . . yet. But it's a delightful success in the experiment of posting pictures. Golf claps all around.

In other news, I have 22 days until my plane leaves, and things are starting to kick into gear. Have emailed landlady about accomodations, and also have mailed out the paper so they'll meet me at the airport. Phew! On the other hand, I still must buy BritRail pass! Also must convert money . . . and get together all the paperwork that I have to present to customs . . . and back up the entire contents of my computer just in case it gets zapped . . . and visit friends one last time . . . and I suppose I could eke out some time to pack clothing in all of that.

Eating may be possible. Probably not sleeping.

Book for today: Catherine, Called Birdy Karen Cushman. A Newbery Honor book from a few years ago, this is the diary of a fourteen-year-old British girl in 1290 and 1291. This is nobody's fantasy Middle Ages--Catherine writes about hangings, farting, and saint's days in the same entries. She's also absolutely determined not to be sold off to the highest bidder, and she makes sure that the highest bidders won't want her. She is a delight!
My friend lent me her digital camera to use in London . . . WOOOHOOO! Thanks, Andi! This is an experimental post to figure out just how I'm gonna post pictures on here.

Did it work?