Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Loving every minute

I wound up taking a break from everything over Christmas, including the blog. I want to spend every moment of these few precious weeks at home chilling with the family, catching up with friends and finishing my scrapbook (or trying to…)

The weather here has been nothing but typical Pac Northwest. On Christmas Eve, I awoke to the sounds of rain lashing the roof and wind sending shivers through evergreen boughs. It’s been absolutely beautiful. On more than one occasion, the sun sends inconceivably bright, amber-colored shafts between the clouds. Those rays etch the white branches of deciduous trees against the thunderheads like images on negatives. I have photos I’ll post later (the USB cord is in England). It’s going to be hard to leave again, since I’ll be away for close to a year, but I’m so grateful for the time I’ve had home between the mountains and Sound.

Coalescent Boy arrives on Friday after spending Christmas with his family in Wenatchee, and we’ll fill our last week with trips downtown to frequent familiar haunts. I’ll resume posting regularly soon – lots to write (New Year’s resolutions on the way), lots to report. Thanks for putting up with my absence!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Sound bound

This time tomorrow, we'll be touching down in Seattle. Although I know the flight will be nine hours of sheer hell, complete with crying babies, teeth-cracking turbulence and food resembling radioactive waste, I don't care. I'm going home!!

Although, I don't know if I deserve to call it home anymore after abysmally failing my foreign flatmate's American test the other night. She's going to visit the States for the first time this summer, so on the way home from a Christmas party, she asked me a few questions. The conversation went something like this:

"So, is Los Angeles safer than New York?"

Me: "Well...um, that's a good question..." (frantic mental review of old news headlines) "I think, um, I mean, nowhere's really completely 'unsafe.' It all depends on how well you know the area..."

"What city is the best for shopping"

"..." (realization that I know nothing about shopping) "Ah, shopping. Do you mean, 'shopping' like clothes shopping? Or something else?"

"I just want to find somewhere that sells Garfield. I love Garfield!"

"Oh yeah. Garfield. Well, I think you can probably buy that anywhere..."

"And I want to find things that say 'made in America.' Everything's made where I live, and I get so disappointed. Why did I even leave?"

"Yeah, made in America..." (hating self for participating in this conversation. Had really thought she'd ask about landmarks, or food, or maybe museums...shit.) "You'll probably have to look for independent designers. But they don't even sell that stuff half the time. There is a chain called American Apparel, and they do sell things made in the US - but they're also run by a guy who appears to be a total perv, so..." (trailing off as I realize I've just managed to confuse her even more)

"So what about Stanford? Is Stanford safer than Princeton?"

"Well, it isn't cheaper! Hah hah...ha..." (suddenly decide that I need to go across the street to the nearest convenience store, where I could feasibly hide behind the upright freezers until she gives up and goes home)

So I know nothing about the country, at least nothing that anyone actually wants to learn. I also managed to get into a verbal shouting match with some uppity Irish guy last night who thought he knew more about Americans than I did, despite the fact that I AM an American and that he's been to the country once to visit somewhere like freaking Bismark, North Dakota, which hardly counts as an emblematic slice of Americana.

Anyway, uppity Irish boy decides that he can declare, with much waving of hands and sloshing of beer, that "All Americans are ignorant! Y'know wot I mean? No offense, but you just don't seem like well educated people."

I resisted the urge to ignorantly forget the laws of gravity and pour my pint in his lap. He proceeded to lecture me about Irish history, despite the fact that I'd told him, oh, a half dozen times, that I was Irish American and knew my facts fairly well..."We had a revolution, you know," he said. "Nooo," I gasped. "Did you really? And you lost, I take it?" Bad me. Bad.

At least the guy managed to insult everyone, telling my Scottish bud that Scotland wasn't a real country anyway, and being English or Scottish was the "same thing." Hell hath no fury like a Scotswoman scorned...

Before I can cause any international incidents, it's best for me to see the Northwest again. The internet service at home is still predictably tortoise-like, so I probably won't get to post until we're at my husband's house in Wenatchee next week. I promise lots of long-overdue pictures at that point.

Not much else to report here now. My entertainment value will skyrocket after a few days around friends and family. Hoorah! Seattle, here we come!!!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The end of term slump

You know, it's probably a good thing the trip to Spain didn't happen, because this past weekend was apparently the last time my brain intended to function. I'm going to go watch a movie and hit the hay -- four more days 'til home!!!

Now back to my other purpose in life

The political rant (sorry for all of you who don't enjoy these, but I have to get them out of my system once in awhile).

'Tis the season, and what a season -- we're reeling from earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, wars, famines, environmental crises. You know what we really need right now? Screw that peace on earth and love your neighbor crap: we need wine baths.

Oh, you wish I was kidding.

I mean, how are we supposed to relax and enjoy the holidays when all of those annoying hurricane refugees are still huddling around FEMA tents and Red Cross shelters? Shouldn't they get off their asses and get jobs so they can rebuild their swampy excuse for a city themselves? It's not like they don't have time to job-hunt, right? And I'm certainly not going to spend my god-given, hard-earned cash on them when I can be smothered in cab sauv and left to bask beneath the rays of the indulgent desert sun. All those homeless people should be clamoring for jobs so they can enjoy the same delights - plus, the ingredients in wine are supposed to make you look younger, and I'm guessing that more than a few wrinkle lines have been left by those irritating forms they have to fill out every day.

I'm not saying that we should sell everything we own and give all the money to the poor (noble as that is, I'm too scared to do it myself, as I would then be relying upon someone else to do the same for me...). Seriously, though, would it kill us to forego flat-screen televisions, wine jacuzzis and state-of-the-art auto technology if it meant we could direct the money to something a little more important? Just a little??

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Pennying

On Thursday night, I attended a formal hall at one of our neighboring graduate colleges. The meal was delectable-but-stuffy (e.g., cameras were banned from the meal because a single flash might cause the oil paintings on the walls to fade and crumble into microscopic piles of dust before our very eyes).

Halfway through, one of my friends was pennied.

Pennied? What?

Let's face it: an 800 year-old college is going to have considerably more time to invent creative drinking games than your average US institution. It's no surprise, then, that the Oxbridge drinking game of choice seems a little strange. In short, pennying involves plopping a penny into the cup of your ill-fated neighbor, who must consume said alcohol in one fell swoop. Pennying often leads to boat racing, which is sort of like pennying but involves entire tables of students drink-racing each other. Technically, pennying's probably been banned at every college in both universities -- but when has that ever stopped anyone? I've learned to eat with one hand in the vicinity of my glass, just in case I need to block an errant coin as it flies towards the cup.

One of its unfortunate caveats is that you can also be pennied if you're eating a suitably liquid-like food. Now, I wouldn't call my friend's chocolate-and-cream cake "liquid," but apparently it counted. So, as the college dean stood up at the head table to read his long, rambling speech, a red-faced girl buried her face in a pile of cake and started slurping.

It's times like this when I ask myself, "What would Stephen Hawking do?" Read through that link to its footnotes and you might understand why.

Recipe for disaster

Take:

- One unexpected paper deadline
- One early morning departure, courtesy of discount airline tickets which require you to leave before dawn
- One unshakeable headache
- One forgotten passport (whose, I will not say)
- One sleepless night in the airport

Stir.

Yields one failed vacation, one story that will be funny in hindsight, and one more weekend in town...

...But hey, at least I pounded out a draft of my abstract. Coming soon, recipe for comfort food needed after one's supervisor rips said abstract into small, bite-sized pieces.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Vamonos

No word from me this weekend - we're off to Seville for a quick getaway...now if only my headache/neckache/backache would ease up long enough for me to pack my suitcase...

Back Monday! Have a good weekend.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

It's the end of the world as we know it...

We have entered the final week of term, and suddenly the campus grounds have lost their students! Like cicadas in reverse, they seem to spend 7 weeks migrating from one all-night dance party to another, only to burrow into the ground for a week writing all of those papers they were meant to write months ago.

When the clock strikes midnight on Thursday here (Thursday being the first day of the school week, and just try getting used to that), students suddenly peel off the uber-miniskirts (we're talkin' shorter than undergarments sometimes), fling the bangles and hair gel aside, and rush out to find the articles on their reading lists. Then they clog the arteries of the library until the hallways become impassable clots of books and bodies. If you are a mildly disgruntled graduate student who's seen more of the library than of her own room in the last three months, this can be a source of great frustration that may cause you to boot the arse of the next inebriated slacker you encounter.

Suddenly, one's favorite study spot has become THE study spot -- but these undergraduates know how to have the best of both worlds. A vast quantity of them seem to study while hung over (or possibly still intoxicated, depending upon their level of commitment). It's become common for me to enter my favorite cafe with an armful of books, only to find sickly pale couples draped across the couches in various stages of dress. Most of them look quite distressed, perhaps because the only hangover food here consists of local delicacies like egg mayonnaise and Marmite (a vile, molasses-like brown substance that tastes like a salt lick and smells like fermented yeast). These students generally don't respond to requests that they crack open their books or leave to die somewhere away from my tea and biscuit; instead, they languish in the room groaning about how behind they've fallen, and texting friends to find out when the next pub crawl begins.

It's sort of like Greek Row, only far more professional. I'm pretty sure that most students here actually pass their exams, although rumor has it that you technically could fail everything and still graduate. Your liver may not survive past 24, but at least you'd have some sort of degree. But the drinking...I'm an amateur here, as I've mentioned before: a few pints and I'm apparently telling stories to friends that leave them longing to make me drink more often. I don't know how anyone develops such an astounding tolerance, but it's a considerable disadvantage for those of us from stodgy countries who don't let 18 year-olds near alcohol.

Alas, it's late and I must go. If I get up early enough, I've noticed that I can still snag the couch before the late-night crowd staggers in for coffee. I think I actually preferred it when they didn't feel obliged to work and just spent all day in bed.

Uppity women of the universe, unite!

Shakespeare's Sister already won my heart, but this lovely lady may hold the key to my wry, feminist, avowedly political writer's soul.

Enjoy!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Lost in translation

In two weeks, I'll be home - a cause for both joy and panic, as I have far too much to accomplish before then...Consequently, the quality of the posts may drop for a bit - I just discovered that the world's bloody "best" university doesn't have a single periodical I need. But hey, the University of Northern Arizona does! Fantastic! I just have to hop a quick flight to...whatever's in northern Arizona...I'm sure the officials here will understand when I submit my expenses.

Big changes are on the horizon; I learned about them on Friday and am slowly but comfortably letting them settle in for the winter.

We had our pseudo-Thanksgiving on Saturday. Originally, the plan involved grabbing fresh, authentic sushi (a rare treasure here) and going to see Harry Potter. However, for a town typically comatose by 4pm on Sundays, Cambridge is a happenin' place come Saturday nights. The sushi joint was full, and our second choice couldn't offer a table until 10:30pm (a lovely Italian restaurant nestled onto the quaintest of British back streets). So, off we went for a pint and a platter of fish and chips at the nearby pub, aka, the World's Most Representative British Pub. Want mimeographs of long-dead British lords? Check. Want a crackling fire and a hearth lined with old plates and candlesticks? Check.

Pub food is fantastic and completely underrated. For about six quid a head, you purchase vast quantities of lightly breaded fish, chips saturated with malt vinegar (I recommend at least 1/3 of a bottle), and Britain's best dessert: sticky toffee pudding. The temptation to forego silverware and dive in with both hands is almost too strong to resist, especially when they bring out the pudding, drenched in custard and just oozing sticky, chewy goodness...It's warm, moist and the best thing you could imagine on a night when the windowpanes are edged with frost. throw in a Cider and Black (hard cider with blackcurrant flavoring), or a pint of Explorer, and you're set for the night. If any of you ever come out this way, I'll be sure to take you along for a pub visit.

I even managed to pass for British - in typical me fashion, I managed to knock into a few local patrons as I maneuvered my drink upstairs to the loft. Whenever you do anything here that could cause offense and doesn't, "cheers" is the standard response to an entire gamut, from cutting someone off on the sidewalk to accidentally running them through with sharp implements). Okay, now try saying it the British way: "Chairs" -- except swallow your "r" and drag the "ai" part out, so it's half-Boston, half-British. If you feel like you're swallowing your tongue and talking through your nose at the same time, you're on the right track.

Anyway, everyone uses "cheers" here...except Americans, because we sound like absolute idiots either way we say it. If you say "cheers" like the television show, you just sound like an ignorant twat. If you say it the British way, you sound even dumber because everything else you say is twattish. Try saying "water" here sometime, and watch your friends roll in the streets.

Thus, the only way to use "cheers" is in a context where you don't have to say anything else at all -- like when you knock into someone with a glass of Cider and Black, which is fuschia colored and not the nicest thing to spill. If you manage to avoid splashing their shoes, and they avoid walloping you, smile quickly and slip in an apologetic "cheers." In this case, "cheers" translates into: "I'm sorry that I'm a daft bloody bugger who traipses into your local pub, orders the girliest drink on the menu, and promptly sends half of it onto your person. If you don't kill me when I turn my back, I'll be eternally grateful and will ensure that our paths never cross again."

English: the universal language...

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The room, it spins...

Oh dear lord, what time is it??? What time do I have to meet my supervisor tomorrow??? How many "cider and blacks" have I had???

Augh! Happy blurry Thanksgiving, everyone, from an American who's learned to love the British system, drunks and all...

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Counting those blessings

(Freewrite here, so sorry if it's a bit long-winded.)

It’s growing colder here and the last leaves on the trees are finally turning brittle and drifting down to the ground. Thanksgiving is tomorrow, which, coincidentally, also marks the start of the final week of the term here.

The last 8 weeks have flown, possibly even faster than the time preceding our departure. I’ve lost track of the whens and whos; it’s become a blur of flash photos snapped in a dark room, frozen images of dwindling afternoons in libraries, of late-night port sessions with flatmates, of jarring shifts between highs and lows. This term precipitated more soul-searching than I ever thought possible. Sometimes, I feel like I’ve actually managed to step outside myself; I’m changing, and if I could only identify in what way, I’d know how to feel about it.

They say that women hit a quarter-life crisis sometimes, and that’s probably the case for me. I don’t really mind, although it does lead to more than its share of illogical panic attacks when you’re perched at the edge of your chair frantically typing a report only to realize that you don’t really know why you’re writing it.

The thankful list is extensive this year, and again, it’s all images. I wish I’d had a camera with me documenting every moment of the year, from dress fitting to scholarship interviews to that long carriage ride when we took nothing with us but our present selves. So, I’m thankful that I have a best friend who could cry on my shoulder as we walked out of that cramped dressing room together before the ceremony began. I’m thankful for the friends who remain close despite the miles from here to Seattle, Los Angeles, Berkeley, Stanford and Boston. I’m thankful for having the bravest, steadfast, compassionate husband I could have conjured up, the one who reminds me that I’ll have company on every wayward step of this journey I’m taking. I’m grateful beyond words for my quirky, irreverent, occasionally embarrassing and always loyal family. They above all made me what I am, and I can’t imagine being able to repay the debt.

I’m even thankful for graduate school, for the unexpected lessons it is teaching me about who I am and what matters enough to be worth scrapping and clawing for.

There’s a gorgeous lyric to a Bright Eyes song that I’ve quoted before, but it’s worth mentioning again…”I’m saying nothing in the past or future ever will feel like today.” Today may not always feel good, but it will always be different, unexpected, and beautiful in its raw, unfinished presentation. That’s worth celebrating, don’t you think?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Writing junkie

Just spent two hours on my biosensor story, after an hour or so last night...I can't believe how happy I am. It's really fascinating to take on the challenge of writing something intelligible about an incredibly complex scientific program. I rather enjoy it, although I have to say that having a smart, scientifically savvy husband around to clarify technical terms helps.

There's a science-specific journal here that comes out each term. I'm hoping to have a piece in it, as long as I can figure out what to write! Too much going on here to keep your finger on the collective pulse...but hey, even though I just burned three hours of potential thesis time, I'm pretty content. Once again, clearly there is something wrong with me.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Couldn't have put it better

I'm cribbing from someone else's humor tonight - I have to write a news article on biosensor research! This should be interesting, as I have no idea what the word "biosensor" means! Perhaps if I puncutate every sentence in the article with an exclamation point, people will be too excited to care!

In an episode of sheer masochism, I've badgered the student papers to let me write for them. I must say, it's a bit of a different world here. I've been admonished not to succomb to "feature writing," which they apparently equate to the piddling drivel that comes out of the Sun and the Daily Mirror. Here's how they view features:

Features writing is entirely different from news, and can sometimes allow more creativity. It can be tempting, especially as students, to show off our literary flair. However, reporters in news must resist this temptation – a flair for news can be achieved in other ways!

“We’ve all done it – you’re close to an essay deadline, and Ask Jeeves has the perfect solution. A quick download and you’ve found out exactly what caused the French Revolution. But your copying days might be numbered.”

Instead, what would be more suitable would be, “A new report published this week has urged universities to crack down on plagiarists.”


It can be tempting, especially as journalists, not to BORE our readers to death. Maybe that's a watered-down, American preference. Actually, given the food and the weather here, I'm starting to suspect that British people take undue delight in personal suffering.

Seriously, though. How are you supposed to simplify an article that involves the phrases "peptide aptamers" and "polycrystalline silicon thin film transistors"? I really wanted the story about digging up long-dead champion racehorses to analyze their DNA, but I had to settle for the table scraps that remained after all the veteran reporters gobbled the rest.

Oh, yes, the humor to which I said I'd refer you. Here it is! Anyone who's lived in England will really appreciate it, particularly the bits about roundabouts, brusque waitresses and "zed," which is the letter z. I'm not kidding. It is not called "z" here; it is called zed, and if you make the mistake of calling it z, you will be the subject of much eye-rolling and half-muttered, "Americans." The same thing happens when you ask for the check at dinner. Trust me.

Friday, November 18, 2005

This just in

See? The Catholic Church really isn't just a bunch of geriatric nutcases. Some of us still understand that evolution isn't just a silly idea concocted to indoctrinate us all into the Dark Arts. Please, click the link and read the article -- it will make me feel slightly happier about my religion's reputation.

If they'd just let Jesuits take over the Vatican, I'm pretty sure the world would be a better place.

Can't see the forest for the trees

I have this post about UK traffic percolating in the back of my mind, but I can't write now because I am 2500 words into a 4000 word paper about neoliberalism, sustainable development and forest management in Mexico and Latin America...and I must adhere to the word limit, but I have about 3000 more words to write. As a result, my brain currently is consumed by a steady stream of consciousness: "Stop writing. Stop writing. STOP! Damn it, you weren't going to take that tangent! Remember how you crossed it off the outline? So stop writing about it! I don't care if your argument hinges on it! No, don't just throw out one of your case studies! The supervisor isn't going to like that..."

And on and on it goes.

It's 11:30 over here, and I've been steadily writing since about 4pm. Think I'll take a break, go to bed, then get up to revise the last 1/3 of my outline. With any luck, I'll have a draft completed by tomorrow evening...or I'll be trying to finish my paper during my dressage lesson, which I think would only serve to confuse the horse more than I already do.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Maybe all that port eradicated my brain cells

Or maybe I've just smacked into the glass ceiling of my IQ. One of my new buds here had a "Fellini Fest" tonight. We watched 8 1/2, which she described as one of his most "accessible" films. As someone who considers herself an Epicurean of arty, semi-intelligible films -- I have a nasty reputation for being a complete movie snob, which I admit I enjoy -- I thought I'd probably muddle through it and come out enlightened.

Five minutes into it, as nuns with parasols paraded onscreen with sanitarium patients and some creepy Botoxed-type woman in a dead mink, I knew I was screwed. I felt like that one kid in English class, you know, the one who sits through Shakespeare and just keeps saying, "But what does 'doth' mean??"

"I love it!" one girl gushed as said nuns winked beguilingly at the camera. "It's a film about making a film!" She'd never seen it before, she claimed. Yeah, I bet she didn't. I bet she didn't go read the summaries online so she could come up with some innocently insightful remark like that.

Actually, she was probably telling the truth. After all, I was in a room full of Ivy League classicists, none of whom spoke less than three languages (my friend speaks seven). They probably watched Fellini while the rest of us giggled at Sesame Street. So, of course, I tried to flub through a few comments of my own. Judging by the silence, I failed. By the end, I think I'd managed to understand about 37 seconds of the entire film. The rest seemed like a chaotic jumble of weird Freudian incest issues -- although by then, I was well into my third Kir Royale, desperately hoping the fizziness would unlock parts of my brain. Alas, the film ended and the discussion began. I decided to hide on the bed and voraciously consume cheese, in the assumption that no one wants to hear from the blue-cheese breath girl.

I think I need a PBR and a Simpsons episode right about now...my little hick brain's all tuckered out.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The perils of flatmates

I love my flatmates. One is probably my best UK bud (and is completely blameless for the tirade I am about to unleash); I get on well with all of them. Nevertheless, I am slowly remembering why I elected to live alone for three years of college, and I need to curb the mounting desire to post my reasons on the kitchen wall:

1. If you wait for the compost box to evolve into a sentient, bipedal creature that can walk itself to the bins outside, the smell will bloody well kill us all. I realize that you don't live next to the kitchen -- that, of course, would be my unfortunate lot in life -- but can't you hear the mold spores plotting their takeover at night?? Any day now, they're going to start an assault on the front hallway. Once that advance starts, we're doomed.

I'd continue to chuck your eggshells, pork chops, teabags and miscellaneous green fuzzy things myself, but I'd have to have my sense of smell removed first. Wanna pay for the surgery? Then we can talk about it. In the meantime, don't strike a righteous, hand-on-hip pose in front of the sink and complain about how the box stinks up the house at night. Is it not your food stinking it up? You are a student at one of the world's top universities. You are capable of picking up a small box of food scraps and carting it nine freaking feet to the door.

2. You, upstairs, the one who feels the urge to do calisthentics at 11:45 pm (and I know you have a boyfriend and that's all I want to know so for god's sake oil the damn bedsprings)...someday I am going to snap, probably during April's Hell Week when all of my papers are due on the same day, and then I'll charge upstairs at 3am with a large wooden mallet and smack the wall next to your bed until I can hear you cowering underneath the armoire. If you're going to have guests over after 11:00, they'd better learn how to levitate in midair.

Oh, and your speakers? Those new special bass boosting ones? THEY ARE EVIL INCARNATE. Please actually do something about them when I complain, instead of explaining blithely for the thousandth time that you used to have these terrible computer speakers, and now you have better ones and it's probably the bass. I KNOW IT'S THE FREAKING BASS. It permeates earplugs that are supposed to silence chainsaws cutting old-growth cedar! If your speakers "accidentally" plunge from the second story window someday, you'd better not purchase replacements.

3. One of grad school's perks is the absence of a regular daily schedule. Some of us, however, didn't receive this perk in our entry packets and have to get out of bed before the sun sets. So stop clattering about in the kitchen at 2am! Hungry? Should have thought of that before you decided not to eat a normal dinner, shouldn't you? At least suppress the urge to start blending things and mixing things and getting out giant metal cookware that you manage to knock into every blessed piece of cutlery in the room. I know some of that food in the fridge is a bit old, but if you have to throw pots and pans across the kitchen to keep it from skittering across the floor to bite your ankles, perhaps you should throw it in the bin outside. Oh, wait! No one does that, either!

4. About that fridge. It, too, has developed a...scent. This scent is now assuming a physical shape and may start demanding a bedroom of its own before too long. I have my own fridge, and my food is behaving as food should: like quiet, inanimate objects. Once again, the girl near the kitchen pleads for you to find and destroy the offending materials. Better yet, just throw out the whole fridge at this point and purchase a replacement. It will probably be easier.

5. If anyone else's boyfriend or mother (!) spits in or near the bloody sink, I am going to make the perpetrator lick it up with the sheer power of my murderous glare. Bigger men -- and mums -- than yours have quailed before it, lassies.

6. If you throw a house dinner and don't tell anyone, we won't come. If you sulk about it afterwards, we probably won't come next time, either.

And they wonder why I spend so much time hiding in my room...

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Big city beauty

Just returned from an evening in London - my god, to be in a city again! I feel like I'm in Pullman here, what with the cows roaming through the college grounds and all...I just about cried when we found shops open later than 5pm. London, beautiful, mobbed, psychotic, loud, over-the-top London...The Tube trains were littered with wine bottles in paper bags, we were accosted by street hawkers selling everything from magazines to seizure-inducing sparkly necklaces, and I couldn't have been happier. I think I'm sick.

More later. For now, yet another new search leads to my blog: "stepped on a sea slug." What kind of sick person are you?? On behalf of the slugs, I must now wreak vengeance upon you.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

So SAD

Okay. All you Northwest folks who complain because Mr. Sun disappears before 5pm? Shut up. RIGHT NOW.

Do you know what time it gets dark here? Huh?? I came out of class at 3pm and thought the cloud cover had grown thicker...but by the time I pedaled home at 3:30, I realized the sun was fricking setting. It's almost pitch-black at 4:30 now.

AUGH!! Think you have trouble keeping a tan in Seattle?

Time to curl up in a little ball on the bed and pretend that I enjoy having 16 hours of darkness every day from November until god-only-knows-when. Yep, nothin' like spending a full day in the library and never seeing the sun! Heh heh...*sob*

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Ahh, fame

Here are search terms people have used to find my blog in the past week:
  • "king county bestiality" (Perversely proud to note that I'm one of only two who come up on Google for this exact phrase)
  • "balliol bop" (Oops. Not the kind of PR they want.)
  • "how to stop slugs coming in my kitchen" (And my blog is relevant because I apparently used the words "stop" "coming" and "kitchen" somewhere in the last 205 posts?)
  • "american conversation ettiquette" (Boy, I bet I messed that person up.)
  • "crapped in the hallway" (I really hope they were searching for the quote from the FEMA manager...)
Search engines. You can't always get what you want...

Puttin' the smack down

It's been a long time coming, but Snohomish County's own Jeff Sax is finally getting the boot. I haven't been this happy about a political outcome in years.

Don't get me wrong. I don't dislike all Republicans. I think some are incredibly intelligent, respectful people who operate with as much integrity as politicans can, even though I may disagree with everything they do. Sax, however, has been the bane of many a Snohomish County resident for too long. He's made too many questionable moves, pushed too hard for special interests at the expense of his own constituents. He paid lip service to saving farmlands but always pushed for high-growth sprawl that threatened to shove local ways of life to the curb. You know it's bad when your own fairly conservative county paper endorses the liberal candidate. Now, we finally get a breath of (semi) fresh air from the man he once defeated.

Here's hoping Dave Somers' second round proves better than his first. He seems to have learned some lessons from the past, like being sure to balance the interests of local communities against environmental regulations. I may be as green as Kermit, but even I know that you can't enact major conservation efforts without getting citizens on board or compensating them for lost land. Fingers crossed...The people have spoken -- and the electoral process is alive and well!

Monday, November 07, 2005

All at sea

In the interest of keeping this blog honest, I'm determined to post when things aren't going well, either -- at least to the extent that I can, as I'd rather not annoy any of the academic powers that be.

So, things aren't going well this week. I'm sick and my back seems to have gone out (I feel like there's something stuck in my throat, except there's not. It's lovely after a full day). Anybody know a good cure for sudden-onset exhaustion and an upset stomach? I'm pretty sure it's a virus and not psychosomatic, as I was completely fine until yesterday afternoon. I'm also feeling completely adrift personally and academically. It's official: the mid-term first-year blues have arrived with a vengeance, and I'm having trouble doing much beside sitting at my computer reading the news. I feel completely befuddled and behind, like I'm on a treadmill that never advances closer to the goal. I've been playing the Jamie Cullum song that gives this post its name, and I just keep dreaming about setting sail and leaving all of this uncertainty and frustration behind...but then reality kicks in, and I realize I'm no clearer about my future than I am about my present, and suddenly I just start to feel like a big, once-promising failure.

Hm. That's really all I can write publically, which is unfortunate. As soon as I'm in a better mood, I'll regale you with tales of Guy Fawkes Day (fun but frightening). Right now, I just keep alternating between wanting to curl up in a ball and wanting to get on the next plane to Seattle. Sigh...

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Social skills R'Us

About two weeks ago, I ordered some bedding from Argos, the UK's answer to big box stores. The fabulous thing about Argos, however, is that it's more like a small box with infinite capacity: you walk into the store and stand in front of small kiosk; inside the kiosk is a catalog so bloated it could crush an elephant. You can order anything on the planet from them: pots and pans, sofas, DVD players...I'm sure that somewhere in its 1000+ pages, one can find spouses, employment and puppies. However, all I wanted were sheets and a duvet -- and there's no cheaper place to shop than Argos, apart from the nearest dumpster.

I ordered my things and paid a few extra pounds to have them shipped by the weekend so CB and I wouldn't have to huddle together under the college's lousy rented sheets. (Look, I wasn't going to pack sheets when I had to choose between them and my computer, okay? If the college rented clothing, I might have considered that, too.)

Saturday rolled around, but the sheets were MIA. On Monday, I sent Argos a nasty email, and thus began a 10-day string of back and forths:

"Dear Argos: You haven't sent my sheets yet!"
"Dear Ms.: Yes, we have."
"Dear Argos: Oh yes, you mean the invisible ones filling up my pigeonhole? How could I have missed them??"

Finally, Argos found the shipping record and let me know that one of my college's dear old porters signed for them on that first Saturday. Being sans sheets, I grew increasingly confused -- and cold, as the reason for ordering a warm duvet stemmed from the condition of my kitchen window: ajar. By "ajar," I mean gaping open about an inch at the top, thus allowing rain, spiders and strange floating clouds of fumes from the street to waft into my flat. Hence, I'm freezing all the time and terrified most of the time. (England has some BIG spiders. Big enough to wander boldly down the sidewalk in broad daylight daring you to cross their paths. They'll just keep coming straight at you until you dance sideways in a panic, causing normal people to stare at you as they wonder why you didn't just squish the little beggars. BECAUSE THEY WOULD LEAP UP MY LEG AND KILL ME, THAT'S WHY!!! It's less perilous to yield the right-of-way to the swaggering arachnids. Unlike the States, these bastards refuse to curl up and die when it gets cold. I think they just get bigger and meaner to survive the winter.)

I did ask the maintenance crew to take a look at it, and they fixed the problem by smashing it until it moved a half inch higher. Now, only the medium sized spiders can colonize my kitchen.

But I digress. The sheets, the sheets -- well, turns out that the porters did receive my parcels. They left a pick-up notice in the pigeonhole of another girl who shares my last name. Now, I've received things for her before, and the normal procedure is to walk seven feet to her cubby, place the items in it and leave. However, her normal procedure apparently is to take the slip, pick up my packages and sequester them in her room for TEN DAYS.

Upon discovering this, I became a bit irate and may have uttered a few foul phrases in front of the exceedingly good-willed, if somewhat befuddled, porters. They promised to get the parcels back by leaving her a note to request their return, but I don't trust anyone who keeps someone else's things for over a week. I promptly returned home, looked up her email and sent a cuttingly polite email asking for my unopened sheets or the 50 quid I spent on them, since I didn't buy new bedding for someone else to use!

About an hour later, it seems, a confused-looking undergraduate showed up at the porter's office with three large packages. According to my porter buddies, the exchange went as follows:

PORTER: "Can I help you?"
OTHER, EVIL GIRL WHO DOES NOT DESERVE TO BEAR MY NAME: "Well, I have these packages..."
PORTER: "Are they yours?"
OEGWDNDTBMN: "Well...I don't think so." Looks strangely perturbed.
PORTER: "Well, did you order anything from Argos?"
GIRL WHO CLEARLY GOT INTO UNIVERSITY ON A TECHNICALITY: "Um...I don't know."
PORTER: Gratingly polite. "Well, is your name on the packages?"
GIRL WHO SHOULD BE KICKED OUT OF THE GENE POOL: "I don't think so."
PORTER: "So they aren't yours, then."
BLITHERING IDIOT: "Well, I opened up the boxes to see what's in them...They're sheets." Looks at porter expectantly, as though awaiting an explanation.

By this time, the porters had grown a bit exasperated, snatched the boxes away and returned them to their rightful owner. I'm now sitting in my room with a nice duvet set on the bed. The Other Girl has yet to return my email.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Things I never anticipated doing:

Leaning out the kitchen door in my pj's and blue slippers with little sheep on them, screaming, "Do you WANT me to kick your asses?!?!" to a group of sniggering college boys who'd just plastered the side of our house with eggs. Do you know how loud it is inside when an egg smashes onto a window? DO YOU???

Gotta love Halloween. We had our weekly Formal Hall tonight (yep, you guessed it: food -- but most people come for the free port and wine). A few of us even stuck with the Halloween theme: here I am as a Desperate Housewife, complete with fire-singed mixing cup. By the way, it's probably just worth it to sacrifice your mixing cup, unless you really want to spend half an hour melting and rubbing butter along the inside, then grinding black pepper until your wrist cramps...and, of course, when that doesn't work, you dig into your precious Earl Grey and sacrifice perfectly good crushed leaves by sticking them into the butter....


Of course, no one bloody understood my costume, even after one of my Housewives-obssessed flatmates made it sound like every British person on the planet would sacrifice their firstborn rather than miss an episode. No, instead I'm told I'm not dressed for Halloween because I'm not scary. Like you need to be scary? I'll tell you what's scary: TERI HATCHER. And that's who I was, so don't give me any crap about not being scary! Bloody Brits...

Monday, October 31, 2005

Something smells...

And apparently, it's me!

It poured all day today, but I didn't have class until 2:00. Trust me, this is not a cause for elation; it's hard enough to attend class at all when your PhD flatmates never have to be anywhere for anything (what, exactly, do they do over here?) -- it's worse when you have to sit in class until 5 at night. Wednesdays are my really fun days: 10 to 4, straight classes with no breaks! Woo-hoo!

Sidetracks aside, by the time I left, a considerable amount of standing water had accumulated on the streets. Shivering students were sloshing past on their bikes, pants soaked through, hair matted to their heads, helmets...er, well, no one wears helmets here except we Americans, so never mind.

I grinned and deftly donned my Seattle bike gear: neon yellow jacket screaming "Don't you dare hit me!!", rainproof ski pants (the lightweight shell kind), REI full-finger gloves, reflector leg straps and -- coolest of all -- waterproof helmet cover that doubles as a reflector. Finally, I added my prize, a symbol of all my dorkiness that will forever mark me here: my waterproof backpack cover. God, I love that thing. I can bike for miles and nothing inside my pack ever feels the rain. Sure, it's a giant, flat gray and uglier than a garbage bag, but it is the Best Invention of All Time. This makes Velcro look like a first grade science project.

It's true that I stand out a bit, as most Cambridge students seem to prefer the "I'm going to die on this bike anyway, so I might as well look good doing it" statement. You see girls in miniskirts, guys in long, dangerously flapping trenchcoats, old ladies in long, sweeping dresses...I've lost count of the number of women who navigate their bikes in stilettos -- I tried boots once and promptly caught a heel in my pedal, then pulled the whole contraption on top of myself trying to yank it out before the light turned green. Between that and the mad determination of most cyclists to cause substantial pile-ups because they're too lazy to steer in a straight line, I prefer to be as obnoxiously visible as possible. I'd rather stay dry and unsplatted than be fashionably soaked and pretty on the pavement.

So I sped down the hill and arrived at the tech building bone-dry, despite the vicious downpour. Now, the only difficult part of my wardrobe is that I have to remove all of it before I enter a classroom -- teachers don't seem to appreciate it when I drip-dry on their floors. It consequently takes me a few moments to get ready: peel off the gloves, shrug off the jacket, pry off the helmet, unwrap the leg bands and take off the pants. Gotta love the looks that last one receives: "Hey! Is that girl taking her pants off in public?"

Yes, yes I am. Alas, they always lose interest when they see the real pair underneath the shell.

Anyway, I was in the process of disrobing when a couple of my friends walked past on their way to the same lecture. One checked out my things, which immediately sent me into a pointless exposition about the merits of waterproof backpack covers. Midway through my drivel, she cut me off and said:

"You know, you just reek of Seattle." Then she patted my arm as I turned crimson. "It's okay," she assured me. "It's a good thing."

It's never a good thing to hear the words "you" and "reek" in the same sentence. I should probably just start wearing Gortex and Birkenstocks while munching granola and be done with it.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

How NOT to get a haircut

1. Do not look for the cheapest available option, even though the average price of a trim here is $60.
2. Do not settle for the 7 pound (aka $14) "trainee" option.
3. Avoid booking one two hours before your afternoon class, since it takes an average of over two hours for the trainee to comprehend the intricacies of your style.
4. Don't think you can leave in your piercings. Every time she snags them brutally with her comb, she'll apologize, but then -- somehow -- she'll manage to do it again.
5. Watch out for the supervisor who comes over to give the trainee some "getting started" tips, but who subsequently stares quizzically at your hair and says, "Well, I think you want to cut like this..." then pantomimes cutting empty air, stops, stares at her air cut, and says, "Yeah...I think that's right."
6. Bring magazines, books, your dissertation -- you'll have plenty of time to get through it all. Plus, it beats the excrutiating experience of watching the trainee painstakingly cut a whole 1/16th of an inch at a time around your entire head.
7. When she finishes and the sides are completely different, insist that she have her instructor come take a look. Should the trainee attempt to fix it herself, pry the scissors from her all-too-helpful hands, grab the nearest razor, and just start shaving.
8. NEVER go into a salon where not a razor can be found. Or where "texturize" isn't a phrase they've heard.
9. On second thought, just don't have short hair in England. No one else does, thereby making it impossible for British hairdressers to learn how to cut and style anyone who doesn't have a shoulder-length mane.
10. Just shell out the damn $60 and figure that saving yourself long-term psychological damage is worth the cash.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Time flies

Ugh. Sorry for failing to write. The week's been busy, but it also passed before I knew it was here. I will resume my normal posting tomorrow - tonight, I have to make myself sleep.

Monday, October 24, 2005

How to irritate your international roommates

Point at a can of vegetables. Ask, "How do you say the word for the material in that can?" Cackle until you lose your breath when the Scotswoman glares and mutters, "Alyewmineeum."

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Playing the fool

I woke up this morning and couldn't roll out of bed. Sitting up was out of the question, but I thought I might be able to accomplish rolling if I could just ease myself onto my side, then let gravity handle the rest. Unfortunately, the muscles wouldn't comply.

Yesterday, I clambered a-horseback after being away from lessons for years. I've joined the university riding club, and, based on my experience, I've been placed into the intermediate/advanced class. Based on my muscles, I should probably be at the primordial "ought to stick with admiring pretty horses from afar" level.

My horse, Suete (pronounced "Sweaty," which is just a lovely image to conjure up), is a cantankerous 20 year-old Arab/Lusitano cross. Most 20 year-old horses are gentle, stately geriatrics, perfect for riders in less-than-ideal dressage physique. However, anyone who's ever ridden an Arab can attest to the fact that it's the closest thing to riding a wild zebra; if you finish without losing any digits or limbs, you've done well. Suete began the day by taking a well-aimed snap at me when I tightened his girth -- although I don't really blame him, since it's the equivalent of having someone position your belt so your pants don't budge, even if you jump up and down stairs for an hour. As any member of the equine species is able to do, Suete instantly determined that I was a rusty old rider; as soon as I hit the saddle, he proceeded to skitter sideways across the yard while I tried to rein him in with one hand and find my bloody stirrups with the other.

Two hours later, I felt like I'd been put inside a large burlap sack and hammered vigorously with a meat mallet. Most of the lesson went like this:

Experienced British Dressage Instructor: "LEG YIELD FROM 'K' TO THE CENTER LINE."
Except, of course, between the brisk wind and her thick accent, it sounded more like:
"LEYEELDFROKTOCELINE."
Me: "What? What the hell was that? Something about moving left?"
Suete: "Get this bloody sack of cement off my arthritic back before I brush her off on the nearest low-hanging tree branch."
Consequently, I tried to follow the rider in front of me. This proved difficult, as Suete had been nominated for Slowest Plodding Farm Animal of the Year and was trying valiantly to win.

In dressage, you're expected to have the horse perform incredibly complex moves (counter-canter, flying lead changes, performing somersaults while fixing a cup of tea) without so much as twitching a finger. Instead, your legs and seat are supposed to do the work; weight shifts and muscle pressure should urge the horse forward "on the bit" until you and your animal are one with the energy of the universe.

Alas, someone forgot to inform my inner thighs that they were to have tranformed into steel cables the night before my lesson. The leg yield we practiced entails trotting the horse diagonally across the arena while keeping his head straight forward. The reins should be firm against the horse's neck, but all of the motion should be propelled by the steady pulse of your outside leg against its flank. Or, in my case, your hands are bloody all over the place as your horse snorts and tries to canter straight, and your outside leg is futilely walloping his side like wet spaghetti. In the meantime, your "firm but steady" inside leg has worked loose of its stirrup, and your efforts to pick it back up merely drive the poor horse back the wrong way. So desperate are you to get him to move before the instructor notices the runaway train that is your "leg yield" that you get right on the tail of the lead horse, hoping their similar colors will cause the instructor to think the first one's merely grown a few spare legs.

Thus progressed my first lesson. Thankfully, I salvaged the entire thing by accomplishing the walk-to-canter transition without a hitch...except, of course, that I reversed my leg cues and Suete counter-cantered instead, sort of the equivalent travesty of driving on the left side of the road in the States.

I've spent this afternoon hobbling around, because if I stay seated for more than 15 minutes, my legs lock in place and I have to unbend myself with the nearest tool available. On Sunday, I do it all again! Ah well, at least this provides ample incentives for me to keep weight training during school...assuming I can ever move my legs more than a few inches forward or backward again...

Friday, October 21, 2005

Screw the displaced - where's my supper?

This is unbelievable. Apparently, according to a Friday article in the Seattle Times, our illustrious former FEMA director couldn't act on the Superdome situation because he hadn't finished his dinner.

"As Katrina's outer bands began drenching the city Aug. 28, Bahamonde [New England's regional director of FEMA, sent to New Orleans to assess the situation] sent an e-mail to Deborah Wing, a FEMA response specialist. He wrote: 'Everyone is soaked. This is going to get ugly real fast.'

"Subsequent e-mails told of an increasingly desperate situation at the New Orleans Superdome, where tens of thousands of evacuees were staying. Bahamonde spent two nights there with the evacuees.

"On Aug. 31, Bahamonde e-mailed Brown to tell him that thousands of evacuees were gathering in the streets with no food or water and that 'estimates are many will die within hours.'

"'Sir, I know that you know the situation is past critical,' Bahamonde wrote. 'The sooner we can get the medical patients out, the sooner we can get them out.'

"A short time later, Brown's press secretary, Sharon Worthy, wrote to colleagues, in an e-mail containing numerous misspellings, to complain that the FEMA director needed more time to eat dinner at a Baton Rouge restaurant that evening. 'He needs much more that 20 or 30 minutes,' Worthy wrote.

"'Restaurants are getting busy," she said. 'We now have traffic to encounter to get to and from a location of his choise, followed by wait service from the restaurant staff, eating, etc. Thank you.'

"'OH MY GOD!!!!!!!" Bahamonde messaged a co-worker. "I just ate an MRE [military rations] and crapped in the hallway of the Superdome along with 30,000 other close friends so I understand her concern about busy restaurants.'"

Could the privleged and the powerful be further out of touch with life in the other America? News flash: we're not better or worse than anyone else. We have serious problems, and none of them will be resolved if we can't even acknowledge that something's gone wrong. Our nation was founded as an experiment; experiments fail every day. There's no reason that ours has to, unless we're hellbent on sabatoging the results...sure seems like it...

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Take me home

I miss my city. I miss the shimmering glazed goldleaf surface of Lake Union at sunset. The lofty, joint-swollen chestnut trees that line Fremont Avenue and hail down spiney seed cases onto my helmet as I slog uphill. The peaks and crags floating between every hilltop home, tinging the urban corridors with wildness, lingering in the dreams of residents who cannot settle for driving but restless walk and hike and climb and paddle to retain the memory of the mountains. I think about it every day. Whether it's raining. Whether the waves on the Sound are choppy. What the trees look like this year as the leaves drop. Who's sitting in my old chair at the coffeehouse on NE 50th Street. God, I miss it so much. Never in my life have I felt a physical yearning for a place, let alone this persistent ache.

The odd thing is that I truly enjoy living abroad – school may not be what I expected, but the people, places and experiences make it so worthwhile…but part of me is still amidst the mountains, and even the high Palouse plateaus. I even miss its flaws: Seattle’s politically na├»ve ideologues, the inept public transit system (or lack thereof), its uneasy soul-searching about what it wants to become. It’s strange, because we’re losing the sea-worn fishing boats and the dingy bowling alleys that I love – and yet, I still want to go home.

There’s a great Marc Broussard song, “Home,” which I burned as part of my Seattle Mix. It’s the best soul-funk song that I’ve ever heard about coming home after a long absence; every time it plays, I growl and howl along with the lyrics, which pick you up with a storm’s force. I guarantee you I’ll be singing it on the plane that finally brings me back for good…so, as I work tonight…

This Greyhound is delta bound, mama
Baby boy done finally found
I said this Greyhound is delta bound, mama
Baby boy done finally found his way home
Said take me home…
Straight from the water
Straight from the water, child
You don’t know nothin’ about this
Take me home
Take me home
Take me home

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Bad girl

This week's a little crazy, but I promise to update tomorrow. Meanwhile, I've discovered that no one in Cambridge has heard of kale -- but they've all tried (and loved) deep fried Mars Bars. They chew such lovely holes through your stomach lining. Seriously, people. You were a global superpower for centuries, and you never discovered how to cook??

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Scenes from last night's boat trip along the Thames


The Tower Bridge at dusk.

Tower Bridge at night



The Tower Bridge leads to the Tower of London, where several heads of state lost their heads.

The London Eye


When we visited in January, we picked the one month where the London Eye closed for annual maintenance. This time, they wouldn't let me off the boat to take a ride. Instead, I holed up in the hull with a small cadre of fellow sufferers who were forced to listen to Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson bleat their horrendous renditions of formerly tolerable country songs. If the Thames weren't so cold, I would have opted for a long swim home.

The Thames at night



I'm still working out the kinks on this camera -- I miss my 35mm, but it's a pain to carry on short trips. Consequently, the photo is a bit blurry.

Fear the hamster

Apparently, the Dutch have spent a few too many years behind sea walls. Meet the Korenwolf, a small, indigenous hamster who feeds on grain in breweries. So admired (or feared?) is the Korenwolf that he has been granted his own beer label. Just look at him, clutching the wheat between his pernicious paws. Clearly, the Dutch have bigger things to worry about than the sea swamping their country.

Ndugu wants to know why the hell we haven't given him a brand yet, let alone a cool foreign name.

The Balliol Bop


Last week, I attended my first "bop" at Oxford, the Beta Omega Phi bop (ha ha, get it?)...a bop is basically yet another excuse for the good students of England's finest universities to guzzle far more alcohol than anyone should physically be capable of consuming. Coincidentally, this week's Cambridge student paper ran an article describing the latest antics of their inebriated freshers: one fine young man stopped up his sink with a wad of towels, turned on the faucet, and promptly passed out in a chair. Awhile later, when water from the room began seeping beneath the door and pouring down the stairwell, another intoxicated student stumbled in to find him oblivious and ankle-deep in water.

These are the people who run much of the Western world. If I were you, I'd be very frightened.

The theme of the evening was "Back to School," which meant that every British girl showed up in her public school uniform. Being culturally oblivious Americans, Coalescent Boy and I decided to go with the "dropout/frat boy" theme; I donned my finest punk threads, he found his most obnoxious hat (which, of course, I did not purchase or suggest wearing). Here we are, surrounded by sloshed blokes in ties and shattered girls in plaid miniskirts and stilettos. Can you see the panic in our eyes? We are way out of our league here.

Why do they hate us?

Because.

Only an American would have the chutzpah/sheer, indomitable stupidity to try this at a party full of stuffy Englishmen.

Secretly, I admire him. Publically, I say I'm Canadian.

The world is a sadistic place

Yeah. So Bright Eyes and Death Cab, my favorite new discovery and favorite old friend, are touring Seattle next month.

I'm so tempted to use our "discretionary allowance" to fly in for a few nights of music. Stupid residency requirements.

I should note that I may be the only Death Cab fan who's followed them since their first album came out but who has yet to see them in concert. Every damn time, there's been a final exam, a trip or an ocean separating me from Ben and the gang. Damn it, guys! Can you say "World Tour???"

Grrrrr. Back to reading about Latin American water policy. Be still, my beating heart.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

The head, it's a little fuzzy

Augh! AUGH!

How is it 10am already??? Why is my pile of papers still untouched? Why are clothes strewn all over my couch? What on earth possessed me to agree that it would be wise to attend a "Formal Hall" exchange at another college?

Formal Hall exchanges are not diplomatic events between wise peers who sip port and politely debate world economics. They are a mad frenzy, an excuse to dress up, visit someone else's dining hall (typically an ancient, cathedral-like cavern filled with large portraits of long-dead college presidents), and make a complete arse of yourself because no one knows you anyway.

This explains why my group engaged in highly inappropriate conversation, imbibed a bit too much wine and subsequently stole a bottle of port (why, why, why do the British like port so bloody much? It's like drinking straight cough syrup!). It may not justify the actions, but it explains them.

The refined, well-groomed, bespectacled graduate students next to us turned their chairs away halfway through a rather unpalatable meal, in which the vegetarian "Tower of Mushrooms" was more like a small, wilted cowpie of tinned mini-mushrooms. Apparently, our loud chatter about the merits of the Onion and the Sun offended their dignified sensibilities. It probably didn't help when the college dean stood up to welcome guests, misidentified our college, and was publically castigated by a raucous chorus of "We're not from bloody X college! We're from Y!"

In hindsight, we should have viewed his misstep as a gift, because at least then our behavior could have been attributed to someone else's college, and they could have been banned for all life. Fortunately, within half an hour, the rest of the guests caught up with us and were guzzling their own pilfered port while the blue-bloods quailed with horror.

I really don't know how graduate students here manage to be drunk at least half the nights of the week -- and you should see the undergraduates! I think the British must slip their babies flasks as soon as they can walk. Regardless, we Americans just can't keep up. Instead, we gamely stagger behind and waste time drunk-texting innocent friends. (Yes, "text" is a verb here...and we're supposed to be the backwards part of the former Empire.)

Alas, I have a bit of catching-up to do, and another mandatory "social function" tonight (no, really, this one is required). Apparently, we scholarship kids are taking a boat ride around London in the dark, with free beverages sponsored by some consulting group eager to snap us up after we've obtained our incredibly useful degrees in geography and English. If I'm not back on the blog in a few days, it's probably safe to assume that I was lost on the Thames, and that I'm drifting out to sea with nothing but a bottle of that accursed port. 'Ta for now.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Only the Lonely

The booklist grew exponentially today (if you count journal articles, we're at well over 100, and I might as well just consign my soul to the vendors of highlighting pens and post-it flags). What this means is that I ought to be studying as if the very justification of my existence depended on the amount of puffed-up, hypertheoretical jargon I could digest in an evening. Instead, here's what I've done:

1. Read comics online
2. Fixed dinner
3. Snarfled pasta while reading the NYT online
4. Attended portion of Geography Department pub crawl (terrible attendance, possibly due to the fact that its students have managed to pick one of the most demanding degrees known to man at this rather demanding institution -- why is that always my lot in life??)
5. Roved between Geog pub crawl and regular weekly pub night for recipients of my funding source
6. Called CB
7. Fixed tea and warmed up embarrassingly addicting cup o' rice pudding
8. Contemplated reading list (duration: about 37 seconds)
9. Wrote this blog

All in all, I think I've become highly skilled at graduate student procrastination.

Since I've already demolished this once-promising evening, I might as well spend even more time blogging. In my month here, I've encountered numerous people toiling through the excrutiating torture of serious, long-distance relationships. Two things have helped me cope: Vodaphone's "talk for a ridiculously long time after 7 if you sign an 800 year contract" plan, and depressing music.

I realize this sounds counterintuitive, but nothing's better for the long-distance blues than indulging in truly soul-shriveling music. Hence, my song compilation, "Songs of Despair and Depression." However, since some of the lyrics in that mix could cause suicidal thoughts in small furry animals, I'm going to post my second list: "Missing (Insert Name of Love Object Here)":

1. David Gray, "Flame Turns Blue"
If I lost you, I don't know what I'd do
Burn forever where the flame turns blue

2. Flogging Molly, "If I Ever Leave This World Alive"
If I ever leave this world alive,
I'll come back down and sit beside your feet tonight
Wherever I am, you'll always be
More than just a memory

3. Snow Patrol, "Run"
Light up, light up
As if you had a choice
Even if you cannot hear my voice,
I'll be right beside you, dear

4. Blink 182, "Miss You" (technically a break-up song, but it still works for me)
Will you come home and stop this pain tonight?

5. Sarah McLaughlin, "Push"
You're all the things that I desire, you save me, you complete me
You're the one true thing I know I can believe in

6. Death Cab for Cutie, "I'll Follow You Into the Dark"
Disclaimer: this is the best song ever written. Yes, I worship the band anyway and always have, but I'm serious. Nothing can touch this, no one can rival its beautiful, poignant images. It's the only song that actually makes me cry every time I hear it, and the only one that epitomizes everything I've never been able to verbalize about the depth of my love. I get goosebumps just reading the lyrics. Breathtakingly gorgeous.
If heaven and hell decide that they both are satisfied
Illuminate the no's on their vacancy signs
If there's no one beside you when your soul embarks
Then I'll follow you into the dark

I'll add to it as I find those perfect LDR songs, but so far this encompasses all the ones I need when I'm inside on a solitary, rainy night.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Master'scard

Number of books on my reading list as of this afternoon: 67

Number of papers for which I must submit titles in November, even though they aren't due until April and the classes upon which they're based don't start until January: 3

Number of words in my soon-to-be-conceived thesis: 20,000

Having the chance to obsess about all this over a glass of sherry in a dining hall older than Shakespeare? Priceless.

Camford: it's everywhere you want to be. And a few places you don't. (Oh, wait, that's the other credit card ditty, isn't it?)

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Ahhh, the culture gap

One of my favorite things about being here is the international character of Oxbridge and Camford. In my flat alone, we have people from Scotland, England, Northern Ireland, Nigeria, China and the United States. Our graduate group at my college includes students from Belarus, Canada, South Africa, Australia and Malaysia.

This diversity can lead to unforgettable encounters -- although not always the kind you anticipate. The candid, straightforward mannerisms of Germans can be difficult to process, particularly in a matter-of-fact conversation like the one Coalescent Boy and I had last night:

Hans: So, you want to study in South America?

Me: Yep. (Launch into brief explanation of planned work)

Hans: I was in Bolivia last year. And, ja, my friends and I bought some cocaine, you know? But I did not realize they don't like that at home; I guess it's illegal to bring it back. And the customs, ja, they were really angry.

Ja, you don't say?? I'm trying to picture Hans in the customs line declaring his imports: a handmade rug, a few paintings and an ounce of cocaine. They must have been so stymied that they didn't know what to do with him -- or he's really, really good at getting out of sticky situations and I should hire him immediately to help me out at Cambridge.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Bartender! Give this man a drink!

Somehow, when I moved here, I hoped that all of the embarrassing things our country manages to do might miraculously cease. Perhaps I could have harnessed the negative energy around the capitol and dragged it over here, where the biggest issue on people's minds seems to be whether Prince William's going to do anything about his bald spot.

But no. Our Fearless Leader seems hell-bent on one-upping himself every time he steps out in public -- which, thanks to the frenzied maneuvers of his press secretary, seems to occur less and less often.

Here's today's little gem:

Some critics, [Bush] said, had claimed "that our presence in that country has somehow caused or triggered the rage of radicals." But, he continued, "I would remind them that we were not in Iraq on September the 11th, 2001, and Al Qaeda attacked us anyway."

Yeah? Well, that's because Al Qaeda wasn't based in Iraq at the time of the attack, you imbecilic monkey puppet!! (Sorry. I've sworn to refrain from vulgarity on this blog except when absolutely necessary, so some creative semi-curses must come into play.)

I mean, are you really this stupid? Do you really think that's why people are upset?? Does it disturb anyone else that the president thinks our collective IQ is about as big as the amount of evidence that proves creationism?

It gets better, though - now he's learning how to improvise!!

He said that the United States and its partners had disrupted at least 10 serious Al Qaeda plots in recent years - including three in the United States - and had blocked five attempts to case targets or infiltrate the country.

Press Secretary McClellan later said that "off the top of his head," he could name two of the 10. The others, it seems, are probably classified. Or they don't freaking exist and we're so desperate to maintain this state of fear that we need to create little snaggle-toothed monsters who just want to infiltrate our country and bomb it into the stone age. And eat small American children who don't go to bed on time.

"Against such an enemy, there's only one effective response," Mr. Bush said, in an apparent riposte to critics seeking an immediate withdrawal of American forces. "We never back down, never give in and never accept anything less than complete victory...It is courage that liberated more than 50 million people. It is courage that keeps an untiring vigil against the enemies of a rising democracy, and it is courage in the cause of freedom that once again will destroy the enemies of freedom. "

To summarize: "Enemy, enemy, victory, evil evil, freedom, courage, victory, evil, freedom, freedom, freedom."

It's funny, because over here I just keep reading stories about how the truly courageous -- Iraqi citizens caught in the daily crossfire between Islamic militants and American soldiers -- are being driven out of their own country. How they thought we were going to help them, but we only manged to create the perfect environment for religious fundamentalists to fill the nation's power vacuum. How they're afraid to help us because we lack both the man-and-firepower to protect them when irate neighbors attack their homes.

Seriously, Mr. President? Can you do us all a favor and shut the hell up? In fact, why not do something useful with your term and really try to make that record vacation streak untouchable? Just take the next three years off. Please. I'm sure there's a bar in Crawford that would be thrilled to have you back in town.

Blogalicious

Ladies and...well, ladies, since I only know one or two men who actually read this blog...let me introduce you to my newest idol, She Who Must Be Emulated, Worshipped and Waited Upon:

Shakespeare's Sister

Just makes little, liberal me all misty-eyed.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

And sometimes, you can't make it on your own

It will behoove me to refrain from writing everything I'd like to about the things going on here. Suffice it to say that all is not well, that I've been introduced swiftly to the downside of being a graduate student, that every day I spend without the husband proves harder than the last.

I know sometimes it's hard to distinguish between the regular cycles of being abroad and actual depression; I think I'm really just hovering somewhere in between right now. Fortunately, these things tend to clear up quickly -- at this point, just finding a satisfying, cheap vegetarian meal made my evening brighter.

It helps to have friends outside the strange, inexplicably convoluted University that currently controls my right to existence. I've also taken great pleasure in gathering with other graduate students in my college for wine, wine, cocktails and eardrum-bursting rounds of karaoke. They understand me, anyway.

I'm trying to maintain a sense of humor about this whole thing, because what else am I going to do? I will NOT let this consume my life, at least not to the point where I can no longer remember what life's like outside the university (a problem, alarmingly, for many students who've grown up in this insular system). Still, it's been one of the most trying weeks I've ever endured -- I'm behind on sleep, emotionally ragged and feeling less and less sure about my place here. I miss my city, my Seattle. Part of me keeps fantasizing about purchasing a one-way to Oxford and hopping on the bus with my suitcases haphazardly packed. Subsequently, the rest of me looks around and sees this ragtag community of frazzled grad students, and it loves the way we bond over sickly sweet port and tales of academic woe. I don't know what I'm going to do, but I guess this is the part of grad school I neglected to consider: it's so much more than just going back to school.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Hold on, hold on to yourself

Hold on, hold on to yourself
'Cause this is gonna hurt like hell...

The blogger community lost a tremendous presence this weekend. If you read "Mom's Cancer" when it was available online or followed her family as they worked to help her recover, I'm sorry to report that she passed away on Saturday.

Please visit the site and take a moment to remember her in whatever way you can - for anyone who ever knew a cancer survivor or was one themselves, this is an irreplaceable loss.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Getting my bearings

The irony, ask me: "Where have you been?"
I don't know, I don't know because I don't know where to begin

This Friday marked my second full week in England. For some reason, I'm finding it difficult to transcribe the thoughts running through my head or to describe the moments where I've really thought, "Yes, I've arrived." I think this has a lot to do with how fragmented my time is; on any given day, I have a series of events to attend that are put on by the college, the department, the university, my funding source and the graduate student union. I fly from one social function to another, launching myself into a blur of other fledgling graduates who are beating themselves against the windows trying to "get in" -- even if we aren't sure what getting in entails.

My school is extraordinarily international: in my graduate house alone, I have flatmates from Scotland, England, Nigeria, China and Northern Ireland. Consequently, many of us have lost our bearings completely. Oceans and time zones separate us from everything familiar, and we're all in a mad rush to find substitutes here.

Realistically, this breakneck pace won't last. I've been 100% social since the beginning of the week, and I've reached my limit. I'm not antisocial, but I do appreciate a little down time -- and after my 300th conversation about where I'm from and what I do, I've participated in enough small talk to last for years. So I skipped out on a barbeque today to catch up, chat with Bryan on the phone, file my nails, write this blog and read the news. Without television or a radio (very expensive here), I feel somewhat cut off from the outside world; if I can't get online for an hour to scan the headlines, I may not know anything about current events. This is highly disconcerting for a news junkie, but it's reality because I also have two countries to keep track of now. I want to be aware of politics and global affairs in England, but I still need to retain ties to the US and Seattle.

Being an American here, by the way, is a mixed bag. You're doomed from the moment you open your mouth -- although for some reason, several people think I'm Australian. You know, that Seattle-Australian dialect...erm...Everyone says, "Ahh, you're American," in a knowing way, with a narrowing of the eyes and a tilt to the head that makes you think, "My God, what does that mean?!?" What it means, of course, is a mixed bag: you're forever linked to a country whose global reputation is a bit shoddy right now, but you're also connected with a place that still holds tremendous interest for people. You feel special and embarrassed at the same time, like you should apologize for parts of yourself but still be proud of the whole package.

I start my departmental orientation tomorrow, which is a relief because I don't have the slightest clue about what I'm supposed to be doing. The only things I've learned here so far run as follows:

1. European cheese is really, really, really fantastic.

2. The whole 9-to-5 retail hour schedule, while quaint and ostensibly appealing, is incredibly annoying in practice. You can't buy anything if you're in school all day, and you certainly can't go to a doctor if you have a day job. I'll probably need to cut classes to purchase milk -- or, lord help me, join the throngs who saturate the city's streets on weekends, thereby rendering it impossible to purchase a few apples without waiting for half an hour.

3. Due perhaps to the relatively small size of their nation, English people have endearing ideas about distance. Everyone recoils in horror when they find out my college is "up on the hill! so far away!" In reality, the "hill" is a gentle slope of perhaps 100 yards, and the "far away" is a 10-minute walk into the town's center. The unfortunate problem is that no one will visit me because I am so blooming far from everything. I'm starting to really understand why the vast Great Plains terrified early settlers who confronted their unending stretches.

4. Every night is student night at the bars.

5. Taking advantage of this will render you impoverished and severely irritable.

6. Being from Seattle has its perks. I'm the only one who isn't complaining about the weather. Hell, it's sunny in October! Who cares if the wind is cold? It's SUNNY in OCTOBER! Bring on the ultimate frisbee and the flip-flops!

I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to post all the things I'd like to, but I'll do my best. Tomorrow should be interesting - more to come...

Friday, September 30, 2005

On top of the world

An unfathomable amount of Peak District is dedicated to public pathways. You can walk up any hill you want to find this trail, which runs the length of the peaks on this side of the valley. To reach it, we crossed through a dozen fields; farmers here welcome local hikers, who apparently crowd the area in the summer. Open space is at a premium in England, something I take for granted in the Northwest.

The view from the hill

I'm really using this granite memorial to prop me up -- we had to use the rock by my arm to hold down our food. Otherwise, it would have blown straight across the plateau into the mouths of some overly friendly sheep. Don't ever let a sheep know you have food -- trust me.

Not just another pretty face

Look, you try smiling when the wind is blowing at 45 mph in your face. I dare you to keep your eyes open!

This is from the top of the peak -- the hostel where we stayed is in the valley to our right, just out of the frame.

You may encounter these in the daytime

The large red bull on the right just decided that we weren't worth head-butting into the stone fence behind me. Kind of him, really. Didn't want to be splattered along a granite wall just yet, particularly as we'd barely started our hike.

And this is what you run into at night


Dozens of sheep standing startled in front of the only gate that stands between you and the path home. Shushing them away doesn't work, nor, apparently, does anything short of physically prodding them out of the road. Not too bright, sheep. Supposedly, you can give one a local anesthetic and operate on her while she contentedly chews her cud and watches you mess with her insides. I'm all for promoting animal intelligence, but sheep are a hard sell.

Even the cameras wear beer goggles here

How better to celebrate the end of orientation than with a pint of extra-cold Guinness? Strangely, it's the only beer I consistently finish in one setting.

By the way, you cannot ask for an Irish Car Bomb in England. Unless, of course, you like watching bartenders slowly back along the counter. I actually did not ask - not officially. I tried to describe the drink to him; when that failed, I muttered its name and explained my hesitation to request it. Nevertheless, as soon as the words left my mouth, well, the service declined a bit.

Several Irish Car Bomb devotees, myself included, have decided that we will just ask the bartender to give us the ingredients. If he comes up with a name, great! If not, no one's the wiser.

Pictures from our scholar group's orientation in Peak District


So, my lovely proxy server here prevents me from doing anything useful: voice chat, Skype, and now Bloggerbot, which I used to publish pictures. Thus, I introduce the new, slightly less attractive format.

This is a view of one of Peak District's many valleys. I'd tell you which one, but I honestly don't know. To find it, locate the biggest peak you can find in the entire landscape. Climb said peak. After normal breathing resumes, snap photo.

Most of the area is like this - dotted with sheep that roam past ancient stone fences and buildings. I loved it the moment the area came into view.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Still here

Sorry - things are getting a bit mad around here as orientation begins...

In a day or two, I will post pictures of the place where we had our scholarship orientation. It was up in the Peak District, which is breathtakingly beautiful and very, very English: picture rolling, verdant hills dotted with flocks of sheep that graze next to crumbling stone fences.

I'm in awe of my fellow scholars. They are compassionate, warm, funny people who are genuinely committed to their work and who really believe they can do something good for the world. There's none of the usual scholarship-type b.s. It's all too good to be true...

By the way. If you come across a large herd of cattle while traipsing through a field, make sure none of them are de-horned bulls before you walk, cooing, up to the cute little fuzzy baby cow and his mama. Should this occur, back away very, very slowly from the hulking red beast with the rolling yellow eyes as it lowers its head in your direction. Find the nearest stone fence and quickly use it as an escape route. Furthermore, a homemade raft will sink when burdened with 11 people. Also, do not order an Irish Car Bomb in England. I did not actually do this; I discretely asked a bartender if they had a name for a drink I was afraid to request...and of course he immediately turned to his mates and shouted, "Did you 'ear wot this gurl wants?" Bloody hell...

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Miss you

CB's gone.

There's a hole in my heart six inches wide.

I walked home with a "Missing CB" mix on my Ipod. When Snow Patrol's "Light Up" came on, scenes from his departure played in my head; I saw myself walking down the street and slowly, particle by particle, dissolving into the wind, scattering back down the road towards the highway where the bus rolled towards Oxford. At the end, all I had to do was flick my fingers to send the last pieces racing over Cambridge's soaring spires.

The song ended. I was still on the street, still alone. I know we'll get through this and that our fates could have been far worse...but god, it hurts. I've never felt this sense of loss before. It makes me realize how grateful I am for everything I have -- friends, family, memories -- that can help me get through this. It might take a little while.

Those low-hanging willows will kill ya' -- ask the guys in the boats around us Posted by Picasa

A view of my college (there's much more to it) Posted by Picasa

Croissants and espresso for breakfast? Lovely! Posted by Picasa

Photos from yesterday's excursion -- in reverse order, because I am an idiot.


Bryan, now the suave, sophisticated punter, easily sends us back up the river Posted by Picasa

King's College chapel Posted by Picasa

A very, very famous bridge in town Posted by Picasa

A view from the river as we pass between some of the older colleges (as in, several centuries older...) Posted by Picasa

This is NOT as easy as it looks from the streets over the water Posted by Picasa

Bryan embarking upon our punting journey Posted by Picasa

Our new discovery: a great French cafe in the middle of town Posted by Picasa

The college grounds Posted by Picasa