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.