Thursday, March 30, 2006

If I had a million dollars...

Okay, more like six million, but the very sight of this makes me shiver:

This is an honest-to-God 17th Century, complete edition of Shakespeare's First Folio. It goes up for auction at Sotheby's in July. This book is the reason we can savour plays like Macbeth today (okay, did I really just write "savour" with a u? Does it even have a "u" in American English, or am I starting to suffer from UK English syndrome?). Anyway, Macbeth, Twelfth Night, Julius Caesar...all of these only survived because a handful of the 250 copies of the First Folio made it down through the ages, harbored by literature lovers. The best thing about this copy is that there are notes -- notes!! -- from 17th Century readers in the margins, which means you actually get to see how Shakespeare's works were interpreted in his own time.

I am just drooling with envy...maybe if I showed up at Sotheby's and looked really, really pathetic, they'd let me look at it. To be in its presence...I'm serious. This is the absolute pinnacle of English major nerdiness. The very thought of its existence makes me quiver (no, I'm really not kidding). I hope the British Library buys it; I'd gladly make a pilgrimage by Tube to bask in its presence for a few happy hours.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Impromptu survey time

As I contemplate the potentially vast amounts of time stretching out before me next year while el esposo finishes his thesis, I've been turning over an idea in my head. Those of you who know me are well aware that I'm completely obsessed with writing. Up until now, I've never felt I have anything worth saying...and I still don't, but I'm going to force it upon you anyway. So, I'm thinking about taking some of the posts I've written here and using those as the foundation for a book about this year, a tongue-in-cheek examination of what it's really like to go to Cambridge and live in England.

Thoughts? Yays or nays? Any volunteer readers/editors willing to review bits and pieces over the next year or so? (Hey, it doesn't hurt to ask...)

New visitors

I've had a couple of new birds come to visit, including these colorful finches:

These are chaffinches, which are apparently quite common here. However, it's the first I've seen of them. I had one elusive song thrush a week ago, but it seems to have moved on (they're quite rare now because of habitat destruction, so I was hoping it would linger a bit...). Naturally, of course, I also have the ubiquitous fiesty robins and dunnocks, as well as a bunch of blue tits (they look like our chickadees, but blue). I also have a mysterious burrowing creature that's taken up residence beneath one of the hedgerows. Whatever it is, it enjoys sunflower seeds. I'm guessing vole, judging by the size of the entry, but I keep holding out hope that it's actually a doormouse, just so I can say I have a doormouse. Or a hedgehog.

Side note: Ndugu points out that one can clearly observe the principles of evolution at work. Note the bird's ability to draw in its head, hunch its shoulders and glare at you with all the indifference of its reptile relatives. However, genetic ties aside, he notes that he would still have one for lunch if he were permitted.

It's definitely spring here -- the temperature climbed about 10 degrees overnight last weekend, and suddenly there are bees browsing among newly blossomed flowers, mating-crazed birds chasing each other around the holly, and an alarming number of large, squished frogs on the road...since there aren't really any permanent bodies of water near our stretch of road, we can't figure out where they came from (although the absence of water may explain their attempts to cross the busiest road in north Cambridge). I'm still disappointed because I haven't seen the mini-deer that supposedly populate the area (muntjacs), the foxes OR the badgers. Bryan, of course, has seen at least one deer in a field outside Cambridge, as well as a badger...although I don't think the badger counts if it's a flattened pelt on the highway shoulder.

The best part of spring in England? Thousands of baby lambs in the countryside, skittering about in the fields with disproportionately large ears and knobby knees. They are the epitome of adorable. Meanwhile, I'm stuck here with my papers, slowly plugging away at a beast about feminist methodology, situated knowledge and positionality. Yeah, 'bout as exciting as it sounds.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Sometimes, the stereotypes are true

So, under the guise of “doing fieldwork,” I’m going back to Seattle in May to visit the dentist.

Okay, so I actually am doing fieldwork, too, for which I need about a thousand vaccinations (more on that later), but the significant bonus is that I get to visit a dentist.

I’m really not kidding.

If there’s one stereotype that’s true here (and there may be many), it’s the poor condition of anything pertaining to dentistry. You see, the health care system here doesn’t require that dentists practice under the NHS (National Health System). Instead, dentists can choose to be NHS dentists, or they can go into private practice. You have one guess as to which pays lucratively, and which offers the reward of feeling satisfied at the end of the day because you’ve fixed people’s teeth for little monetary compensation. But hey, you get to be an NHS dentist!

Consequently, because citizens have to pay out of pocket for private dentists unless they have expensive private healthcare plans, NHS dentists are in hot demand. As in, they are overbooked to the point where one friend recalls an episode where people lined up the night before a new practice opened, just to see if they could get on the clinic’s patient list before it filled. Most students here stay with their family dentists as long as they can, even if that means taking six-hour train rides to have their teeth cleaned. It is that hard to find a dentist here.

As you may imagine, this puts international students in an interesting spot. Most of us can’t hop on the next overnight flight home if we develop a toothache, yet every person I know was warned by our various colleges “not to waste our time” trying to sign up with an NHS dentist (we’re all covered by NHS here), because it would take months to be seen by one. One of my husband’s friends at Oxford didn’t really believe this and decided to make an appointment. In husband’s presence, he dialed the local dentist’s number. The conversation apparently went something like this:

“Hi, I’d like to make an appointment for a cleaning…No, I’m an international student…uh-huh…uh-huh…really?...oh…Are you sure it would take that long?...Is there anyone else I can call? Really? No? Um…”

The friend wound up flying to Poland to have his check-up, something that I thought seemed a little extreme until I mentioned it to my British classmates, all of whom began exclaiming, “Oh yeah, yeah, that’s a great way to go! Poland has lovely dentists, and they’re so cheap!” Who knew about the booming Polish dentist industry?

Meanwhile, one of my friends, who’s plagued by bad teeth, cracked a molar last month and knew she probably needed a root canal. She called her dentist at home and received an over-the-phone diagnosis (they know her well). She then called the local dentist here and explained the emergency. They listened calmly and then replied that they could definitely work her into the schedule. Of course, she’d need to come in for a consultation first…would sometime around the end of April work? Then, she could come in for the root canal in early summer?

By this point, my friend is in agony, and the prospect of waiting two months to be told that she’s in agony doesn’t appeal. So, what’s a girl to do? At first she, too, thought about applying to a geography conference in the United States so she could swing by her hometown and have her tooth fixed, but instead she opted for two flights to Ireland for the procedures. She’s now spent two weekends in Ireland to have a small country dentist fix her tooth.

It doesn't help that my teeth seem to have instinctively picked up on the generally poor state of oral hygeine here and seem hell-bent on trying to fit in with the crowd. I've never had tea stains in my life, but there's a telltale line showing up on the edges of my teeth that I can see if I squint in the mirror. I'm taking better care of my mouth than I ever have after being warned by a dentist, "Whatever you do, don't get anything fixed in England. Lie, tell them your parents want to pay for it, suck on an ice cube if it hurts, but just don't get it fixed there." Yet, despite all of the flossing, brushing, scraping and Listerine-ing, my teeth are being swayed by peer pressure. Consequently, when I knew I could a) go straight to California for my fieldwork or b) spend the same amount of money on a flight to Seattle first and visit the dentist, I choose option b. This might seem a little extreme...but try spending a night in a pub here looking at other peoples' mouths as they laugh, and then tell me you wouldn't hop on the first flight home, too.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

in the dawghouse

i'm at cb's place and his shift keys on the computer don't work, so i will be writing the entire post in lowercase. somehow, that seems appropriate.

we were up from 3am to 6am listening to the game, and i think it took as much a toll on us as it could have on anyone. the bottom line is that the calls didn't go our way and that even the very impartial announcers agreed we could and should have won this game. the technical on roy and the no-goaltending call that should have gone against conn probably cost us the win, and both of those were unjustified by all accounts. too, the luck didn't run our way. we were up by 4 with a few seconds to go and managed to make one of the dumbest fouls we've ever made. i feel terribly for the guy who made it because he's one of our senior players and the blood in his veins runs purple and gold. he takes missed opportunities harder than anyone else on the team, and it is just brutal that this will be the final play of his uw career.

the good, if there is any, is that we hung with conn through regulation time and overtime, stayed with them when our best player had to sit on the bench for 7 minutes, and gave them a battle until the very end when five of our best players had fouled out. we should have gone farther; the game proved we could play any team in the tournament and win, and i think a win here would have given us a run to the final four or even beyond that.

still, we'll be back. all indications are that this bodes well for the future of husky basketball; we have a hot recruiting team coming in next season, but it just stings to think that the guys who built this team won't have the chance to play for a title. i didn't sleep very well last night, thinking about what could have been and how we'll remain unappreciated -- in the eyes of east coast commentators, all this does is prove conn is the best team, rather than revealing that really, honestly, the other huskies could have taken them out despite a ridiculous amount of adversity, bad calls and height disadvantages.

we'll live to fight another day. still, that's small consolation this morning.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Disgruntled chelonians

Ndugu Montoya, our resident Disgruntled Chelonian, regrets to inform you that the world's oldest foul-tempered tortoise passed away today. Addwaitya, an aldabra giant tortoise weighing in around 150 kilograms, he was kidnapped from his birthplace in the Seychelles and forced to endure life under one of those tea-drinking, "jolly good" exclaiming British colonialists in India. 130 years ago, he thought he was going to make his big escape, but unfortunately he was relocated to a holding pen in the zoo, where he finally died of rage in 2006. Here he is, looking suitably disgruntled for an old soul who's had to witness 250 years of human stupidity:

Ndugu volunteers to translate the caption for this photo:

"Oh no, not another peon coming to admire me. Look, I already informed my tenders that no one is permitted to lay eyes on my greatness unless they come bearing live, suitably stunned sacrificial offerings. Please go away before I am forced to smite you with my malevolent glare, which I have perfected over the course of two centuries."

You non-tortoise people out there may not be aware that tortoises are capable of depicting a range of emotions. Their primary moods are: disgruntled, disdainful, disinterested, dyspeptic and irate. Occasionally, flashes of disdainful curiosity occur ("What is this meager offering you've placed before me? Is it some form of paltry vegetable matter? I scoff at its presence and now proceed to tread on it in your sight.") Tortoises are particularly disdainful of furry, stupid-looking excuses for animal life forms, like these coyote bonbons trying to pass for rabbits.

Ndugu just piped in to inform me that they generally prefer to be irate, unless they are sleeping, in which case they're just annoyed.

Time for a Dawgfight

It's Dawgs v. Dogs tomorrow night when UW faces 1-seed Connecticut in the Sweet 16. I don't care if you don't have a basketball bone in your body -- this is going to be a tough fight for us, since Conn is arguably the best team in the nation, and we need your support! At the very least, humor me and think of the purple and gold tomorrow night (yes, you too, chica, it's not my fault that the Oregon basketball team sucks). Hell, we're staying up to hear the game start at 3am England time, so throwing a good thought our way is the least you can do. :)

Seriously, though, this is a huge game for us. It's a chance to claim the national recognition we deserve and for the man who should be NCAA Player of the Year to receive some much-deserved attention. I don't think I've ever been this worked up about a game in my one thinks it's going to be easy, but if we play our best and shut down their big men, we'll have a chance.

Go Dawgs!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

All Creatures...

Folks back home probably know about Mooie already.

In another demonstration of the benevolence of humankind, someone hurt this four month-old puppy bad enough for vets to euthanize her on the spot. The story is back in the news after Pasado's Safe Haven (one of our best animal rescue agencies) blew the whistle on the investigating agencies. They deny they've botched efforts to find the perpetrator, but it sounds pretty questionable, particularly since this is precisely the kind of crime that indicates the aggressor is capable of doing equally brutal things to other people.

The photos at Pasado's are terrible, but maybe posting them will catalyze people to lobby en masse for action. I won't post the direct link, but you can visit their website here and click on the banner at the top if you're inclined -- it's hard to miss. Poor baby girl. If you have a pet, would you cuddle it for me tonight? I feel the need to reassure something that most of us aren't monsters, but my resident flock disdains any contact with humans beyond what's needed to scatter breakfast on the ground. I can't say that I blame them.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Oh England

You know, I was looking forward to coming back because I thought it would be warmer here...but no, it's not. Cambridge managed to situate itself in the coldest, most exposed part of Southeast England, right where those Siberian winds sweep through the plains unchecked and turn all of your extremities a pretty shade of blue.

I was going to post more photos, but Blogger is resisting my efforts. Will try again tomorrow.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Prague, continued

Upon emerging from the depths of Prague's metro system, having navigated successfully through Czech language-only bus and tube lines, the city lay beneath a modest snowfall, wrapped in a transluscent mesh of fog and smog that floated over the Vltava. From every vantage point along the river, Prague Castle's ancient spires rose above the mix of modern, Baroque, Rennaisance and medieval buildings that gathered at its feet.

The city is an agglomeration of old and new; beyond the tourist-centric neighborhoods of Josefov and Stare Mesto, ancient, proudly decaying towers stand beside glass-and-cement office buildings. On our third day, we traversed Nove Mesto and Mala Stranska, two neighborhoods bordered by the Vltava, but outside the areas where most visitors journey. In these places, it becomes clear that Prague is in the midst of a vigorous growth spurt after the end of its Communist occupiers. Everywhere, backhoes and bulldozers shovel aside mounds of rubble from demolished buildings to make way for new apartments, condos, office parks and transit centers. The city exudes a quiet sense of forward-motion, of transition away from a bitter past. It's a quirky, lighthearted, beautiful place where many of the streets are meticulously tiled with hand-sown black, white and red cubes of stone from another era. Coffee bars, beer halls and restaurants line the narrow, winding alleyways, competing for space with cluttered souvenier shops offering an endless array of glassware, beer steins, ceramics, nested dolls, jewelry and t-shirts that only the tackiest of visitors could love ("To Beer or Not to Beer?"). For the most part, locals are extremely friendly, patient with people who stumble over the dearth of vowels in Czech words. Life is sweet...

We had our share of memorable experiences, including an illustrative episode in the joys of working with different languages. I'd reserved tickets to a Mozart concert online before we left England, and we arrived at the Rudolfinum box office with a printout bearing the reservation number and instructions for paying. The woman behind the counter seemed extremely flustered and kept insisting that our reservation wasn't in her computer. I tried to show her the reservation number, but she just repeated, "The tickets paid already...I show no number in my computer." To us, this sounded like someone had nabbed our tickets -- and it didn't help that neither of us really spoke the other language. My Czech is limited to hello, yes, no, thank you, you're welcome, pardon me, and please. Her grasp of written English was small, but she laboriously struggled to read through the paper, only to sigh in consternation and repeat, "Tickets paid." Finally, after about 10 minutes of this, we resorted to shouting at each other really loudly and really slowly, as though somehow that would make it easier to understand the problem. One last time, she said, "Tickets paid?" in more of an inquisitive tone than before. I gave up, shrugged and said, "Yeah, sure." She turned, pressed a button, printed our tickets and said, "Goodbye." The concert was nice, I have to say. I still don't know if I actually paid for those tickets or not.

It was a wonderful trip, and I think we managed to avoid too many Americanisms...although we did offend/bemuse one waiter by completely failing our etiquette test. He brought out a huge slab of bruchetta, which we cut in half and ate by hand. A few minutes later, he returned and raised an eyebrow as he removed the untouched, extra knife and fork from each of our place settings. Oops...Seriously, I've learned from both England and Prague that we Americans have the most unrefined table manners of any group on the planet. Switching our knife and fork hands, daring to cut things with forks when they don't require a knife, eating "too fast" (which in Prague meant taking less than an entire night to finish a meal, apparently)...

I have a few more pictures to post, but I'll save those for later. If you ever get the chance, I definitely recommend visiting Prague...or in the immortal words of another bad t-shirt hanging in a window, "Czech it out!"

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Blogging Prague

We've just returned from our Prague excursion, and I'm in love with the city of 1000 spires. Although I'm too tired to write much now, I'll blog about it over the weekend. Many of my photos are on the 35 mm, as I'm still stubbornly clinging to film -- I enjoy using my Canon too much to part with it, and I couldn't afford a similar digital camera if I wanted one...for now, here's my favorite shot from the digital array. These are icicles hanging from the gutter of a former military barracks on the Golden Lane in Prague Castle.

Friday, March 10, 2006

The end is near!!!!

Oh my freaking lord, Gale Norton resigned!!!

This *might* actually be the best thing I've ever read in a newspaper. Not sure what to do now that my arch-enemy is stepping down -- she's the only person whose office ever contacted a paper for which I freelanced to tell them I needed to get my facts straight about her work demolishing our environmental legislation...and the only office that never responded to my three page letter detailing the straightness of my facts.

Must go celebrate now. Although where can I possibly direct my diatribes after this?

Thursday, March 09, 2006

My old man

Those of you who know me are aware that I'm a diehard horse of the most ornery racehorses of all time turns 31 today -- still alive out of spite, I'm sure. He'll still charge photographers for fun if they get close enough (or so I've heard). What a beautiful picture of this dignified old man. Happy b-day, John Henry. Hope you turn up those heels a few years more.

Coping Skills 101

How to deal with a demanding end-of-term:

1. Take 1/2 bottle of cab sauv
2. Add generous quantities of post-cab port
3. Mix with discussions about weird British/American-isms
4. Repeat for three hours
5. Blog about it before you come to your senses the next morning

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

A mist-fine drizzle coats the sky...Dave Matthews muses on the feels almost like home today, and god, do I miss it.

I've been itching to travel for so long that I never thought I'd be so homesick once I left. Part of this has to do with the strange microcosm that is the Cambridge universe: not quite British, not quite international, a nice place to visit but a "just bigger than cow-town" village that gets stifling after a few months. Still, part of it is also the growing realization that somehow the damp and the rain and the mountains seeped into my blood until I couldn't separate from them without feeling like I'd pulled myself apart.

On sunny days, I'm transported back to the memories of spinning my wheels under blackberry cane fences on the Burke, cool breeze in my face, light and shadow turning Lake Union into a perpetually shifting tapestry. On damp afternoons, I think about curling up in our cozy Fremont apartment with a book, or nipping out to the nearby coffee shop for a drink and a few hours of tranquil studying.

It wasn't perfect or cheap, and sometimes the endless rain or the unsocial behavior drove me crazy...but it was home in a way that no place has ever been for me. Before this year, I always thought that all of my childhood relocations would numb me to future departures. Instead, I think that I finally found someplace I could settle into -- and see myself staying for good -- and I had to pry my feet from the floor at SeaTac to get on the plane.

Right now, I'm sure everyone's thinking, "What's wrong with you??? You're in Europe! I'd be thrilled to live there!"...and you're right, but at the same time, it's just not that simple. I think that the rapid-fire changes last year really threw me, and to have all of this happen at once is a bit overwhelming (marriage, move, sudden change of career plans, turn 25...). Too, I think that I'm more of a homebody than I knew...

Monday, March 06, 2006

Getting into the spirit

Can you tell it's the end of term by the way my posts are dwindling?

Despite the fact that I'm slammed as hell before my trip home for fieldwork and, well, an excuse to GO HOME!!!, I've decided to do a very un-me thing: schedule nonacademic trips.

In one week, we're off to Prague for four days of bone-chilling adventures as we shiver our way through the ancient city and attempt to decipher menus. I thought about learning a few Czech phrases, but that was before I realized "Good morning" takes several seconds to say and contains approximately one vowel.

A four day trip wouldn't crunch my workload too badly...but then, some girlfriends and I spontaneously decided to go to Ireland today, and before I could change my mind, we booked tickets for four days in the beginning of April. I'm figuring at that point, I'll only be three weeks away from going home, which means three weeks before I have to have my proverbial refuse together in order have my pilot study fully planned and turn in work equivalent to 40% of my grade. Hence, I'll need to guzzle all of the Guinness I can acquire anyway, so I might as well go straight to the source.

There's a tiny little voice in my head right now screaming, "What the hell were you thinking???" But then I think, when am I ever going to be able to fly to Ireland again for $80? So why am I worried?

The way I see it, if I flunk out because I actually decided to see something of Europe beyond the Cambridge Bubble (residents' words, not mine), then it was probably worth it. Heh...heh...right, guys? All of us are going stir-crazy from being trapped here for so long anyway (particularly my med student friends in their fifth year of enduring small town oddities). A break will be good for me, after all. One more weekend of enduring screeching undergrads clad in "I can see *all* of your underwear" miniskirs or dodging herds of lumbering tourists trying to photograph an authentic Cambridge student, and I may start acting like an Ugly American.