September 29, 2011

September D

I've tried to take myself shopping probably 9 times in the last three weeks and I've purchased one shirt that I'm not even sure I like. As such, Sept D is going to be a departure from mere fashion.

Instead, I present this as my inspirsession:


The song, the tension, the characters, the colors, the texture, the camera movement...even those 80s clothes. I've probably watched it as many times as I've tried to shop.

I wish they continued into the next scene -- which you can hear starting at the very end there with the Stones' "Miss Amanda Jones," cause it's one of the very best John Hughes montages.

So there you go.

September 27, 2011

If you've dotted the i's and crossed the t's...


Despite a general state of disorganization in their scheduling, UCL has had no reserve in supplying material to "read over." I quote this ironically, because their idea of summarizing is jamming as much information as possible into a super long paragraph with super short sentences. By the end of orientation my desk was piled two stacks high with forms, welcome pamphlets, handbooks, instructions, and freebie notebooks. Yesterday I went to pick up the primary information about my English classes. I came back with their reading lists. Four primary texts a piece (we do have to write two 6 pg + essays per class, after all) and more "suggested reading" than I've ever seen in my life. To give you an idea, here's the flip side of my Shakespeare class' syllabus, with the suggested texts highlighted:


I think it's mostly for essay research that these books are recommended to us, it's quite a lot of information to swallow before the class has even started. I haven't even received my reading lists for my other two classes yet...*gulp*

In an attempt to get as ahead as possible before next week, I took a trip to the library.

I came back looking something like this:


That represents about 50% of the *required* material for this semester. Yikes-a-mola.

Sincerely,
Hermione Granger

September 23, 2011

We're not living in America

Britain, you let me down today.

All over the place I've been enchanted and impressed with the way London does things. Amongst their scones and men with crazy fluffy black hats, they manage beautiful parks, maintain a great public transportation system, and provide a plethora of free museums for academics.

From the day my business with the university has started, however, I have arrived at a state of disillusionment with their ability to process the atypical. Sure, people bounce about in Doc Martens, plaid shorts, and print tights and no one bats an eye, but as soon as you're disrupting one of their systems with an absurd question or an offside request they bring out this jarring blank stare that has me waving my American flag in desperate armistice.

Today, for instance, I had six things to do: print two documents that were emailed to me which I am supposed to fill out for records, return the can of dried skimmed milk I bought (which I purchased under the impression I'd have a self-catered dorm -- also misinformation), see a bank about opening an account, register with a doctor, see the student union about a visa problem (another European system issue), and sign up for my remaining classes with my European Studies adviser. The last three hours went as such:

At the dorm:
Me, to receptionist downstairs: Good morning! I heard there is a lab somewhere to print things from...?
Him: A printer?
Me: Yes, to print the forms I was emailed?
Him: Oh, yes -- there is a lab over there (points). We know nothing about that printer, so you follow the instructions. Don't ask us.

I generally pride myself pretty highly on my tenacity for following instructions. I saw no instructions. I spent about 5 minutes with that printer and in that five minutes I did manage to load my paper, find my document, and process the printing job. I did not manage to get anything printed beyond exclamation points and error messages.

At the European Studies office, after snaking through the labyrinthine Humanities department corridors:  
Me, to another receptionist: Hi --
Receptionist: Just a moment, please (picks up phone).
I wait.
A woman from a nearby office: What do you need?
(I need to stop feeling stupid.)
Me: Yes, hello, I'm an affiliate student studying for fall; I'm trying to find the European Studies office to register for my additional classes.
Woman: Yes, you need to speak to Katherine. Through that door (points).
Me: Thank you.

Katherine: That department does not exist anymore. But you need to go online and there you will see the classes.
Me, patiently: Yes, I've seen those. The English department gave us a timetable. Do we need to fill something like that out here as well?
Katherine: You are an English student?
Me, repeating myself: Yes. Joint affiliate.
Katherine: You need to go downstairs and see NM (points).
Me: K.

NM, through door which I have just knocked on: Yes?
Me, awkwardly: Um, hello! I'm an affiliate student. I'm here for registration...?
NM, opening door, looks at me as if I'm a bible seller who's interrupted her TV dinner.
NM: What can I do for you?
Me: Hi, I am a joint affiliate student. English and European Studies, and --
NM: That department no longer exists.
Me, as politely as possible: Yes, I am aware of that. I was told I was to come to my second department this week and register with them as well, though (large, desperate smile).
NM, unsmilingly: Did you fill out the online pre-enrolment questionare indicating your preferences?
Me, proudly: Yes, I did!
NM, disinterestedly: Then you will be emailed next week with your classes. 
Me: Oh, ok. I just wanted to check!
NM begins to shut the door.
Me: Thank you!
NM shuts door.
I move on.

At the student union office:
Me, to a third receptionist: Hi there, I heard this is where we're to go if we're sorting out visa issues.
Third receptionist: You need the office in the building next door. Third floor.

The line wrapped around the building. I decided to return later.

With my medical form:
Me, to a fourth receptionist: I'm looking for 20 Gower Street. Gower Practice.
Him: Gower Professional.
Me: Hmm?
Him: Gower Professional. That way.
Me: Um, okay, thanks, but the form says Gower Practice.
Him: I do not know where Gower Practice. Gower Professional that building there. Three.
Me, unthankfully: Thanks.

With my medical form in a line of students with similar medical forms:
Woman who's exited building, shouting to line of students: If you are waiting to register with a doctor, the wait is two hours right now. I would suggest you come back to register next week, unless you want to wait.
Me: ....

At the bank:
A sign in the bank: To deposit checks, visit the window. To speak to a representative about business transactions: wait in this queue. To take cash out quickly, please use cash-withdrawal machines to left of checks. For all other questions, use this telephone.

Me, seeing there is no "To ask whether or not its worth it to open up a bank account that you may or may not be allowed to open with a visa that may or may not have the proper stamp from customs": (exits building)

Outside the entrance to the grocery:
You know what? I can probably just use that powdered milk in my tea.

September 21, 2011

September C




Again, I've failed to keep up on my inspirsessions. You'll probably be seeing a lot more of these and less pictures as school starts up and I take my camera out less frequently.

Upon arrival in London I went into fashion overdrive. I probably visited Oxford St. six times in my ten days at the hostel, and every time I just drooled over everything in the windows and reminded myself how poor I am, especially in £ terms.

BUT. I will buy a fuzzy sweater or cardigan to welcome in the foggy London fall, hopefully in the shade I've been seeing everywhere this year -- soft coral. That's what I'm calling it, anyways. It's somewhere between pink, brown, and red. It makes me think of blushing and blanket-snuggling at the same time, which are both things I adore. I'm trying to find a good pair of oxfords -- they're everywhere, but that makes it hard to find the sturdy ones. I still want Converse again, but they might be put on the back burner till Seattle if I get a pair of these babies. Burberry's classic camel plaid always makes me think of fall and trenchcoats -- if I had one of these scarves I'd wear it with a navy blazer (still need to find one of these too!) and the watch-charm necklace I bought on Portobello Road and am currently in love with. Pretty and practical! All of the little women in the corner represent TopShop and how it's taken over my waking life. There's bread above them cause I'm addicted to baguettes (fall always sends me the hugest of carb-cravings) and because I wish these models were too.

September 20, 2011

Complaining Jane.

Hi -- whoever,

Tomorrow is orientation over at the school. Today I spent a really long day begging and bargaining for hangers. As I suspected might happen, the dry cleaner people and department store attendants looked at me like I was speaking Martian when I asked if they had any extras lying around that I might take off their hands. (I did offer to buy them too!) It took the woman at M&S three times my saying that for her even to direct me to the hangers in their store. In any case, I couldn't bear to spend £10 on cheap plastic that would just end up in a landfill in 3 months, so I tried hitting up the thrift shops. No luck. It's weird, but I can't seem to track down any any decently-stocked secondhand stores around London. Do British people not recycle their old things too? Perhaps they just throw away less...

I finally stooped to buying a pack of ten for £5 at somewhere akin to Macy's, but afterward found a pack of six for £1.50 at a pound shop and will be returning the £5 ones with my H&M pieces tomorrow. (I finally indulged in two trendy items, an over-sized sweater in a beautiful shade of cranberry and a pair of caramel-colored skinny trousers, but girls like me are not meant to wear sweaters that swallow them and pants that suffocate their thighs, so it's back to orphan clothes for me.)

As I've said, long day. And as I started with: orientation's tomorrow.

But instead of sleeping I've been graced with another reminder of dorm life that I have so sorely missed.... Screeching green-as-all-things-holy freshmen girls who play "I have never" in the hallway, wisely informing one another just exactly what a queef is and comparing the astoundingly original places they've had sex.

Why is it that when a girl gets to college she's measured by the amount of people she's taken her pants off for? What's the endless need to prove this to other women? Seems like the guys should be the ones concerned, sensibly speaking. (Though I suppose a man's asking for the sake of small talk would quickly result in his disqualification from getting his share of the pie.) It's something that's always bothered me.

Baaaaaaaaaaaah.
I know I'm being a cranky elitist old crabpisser right now -- it's not like I wasn't ever a freshman -- BUT it'd be really great if the making friends thing could happen not outside my door.

But wait... what's this? Silence?

Ah, they've gone to have a drink.

September 19, 2011

Back to dorm life

There are things I forgot in my (albeit brief) time away from dorm rooms. One of the most unfortunate is having food right there above your head. I went to Tesco this evening and bought dried apricots, nectarines, honey, peanut butter, digestive biscuits (McVities, whaaaaat?!), hazelnuts, and a prawn/pasta/veggie salad, all of which I promptly set about sampling. I'm going to have to be careful in here.

An indirectly delightful prospect of being back in a dingy, blank dorm, however, is having no choice but to decorate. This meant that for the entire afternoon I got to do three things I love: organize, analyze, and cut/rip things up. I've been working on this (below) since I finished unpacking (a process which didn't take very long, considering I have no hangers right now.)


It's not finished yet, but it's getting there. The magazines I've been collecting stuff from are so random -- but I kind of like the effect! And I don't want a scrap of that ugly burgundy burlap showing through, so it will continue.

A closer look, if you care to see:



I also decked out the board above my desk, but I won't bore you with pictures. It's turned into a weird conglomeration of comfort memorabilia; old photographs, my lucky rabbit's foot, lists of books I'd like to read, and a magazine clipping of the New Zealand Rugby team's Haka dance.

I managed to find a home for Billy Boy on my radiator.


All in all the room's a dream. The five hours between check-out at the hostel and check-in here were spent reading (and trying to pay attention to) Henry James, rearranging computer files, and answering several odd questions of a very enthusiastic middle-aged Australian man. Ergo, I had plenty of time to do what I do best: worry. I was certain something would go wrong in my application process and I'd end up back at the hostel. Or that I'd have an unexpected roommate, or be placed on the ground floor, or run into a second Chen...

But as is usually the case when I freak out, there was nothing to worry about. Everything here is great, and my days of noisy bunkmates, stuffy rooms, and smelly towels seem to be over for the time being.

The furniture's new and nice, not like the gross rotting 60s wood I remember from UW rooms.


I have a sink, a sizable closet, and decent curtains. There's a pleasant little view of a local coffee shop from my window. I was even supplied bedding, an ethernet cord, a desk lamp, and --get this-- an electric kettle! Gotta love the Brits and their priorities.


Speaking of bedding, I'm feeling about ready to hit the hay...
Mind you, I'm not too keen on sliding into these sheets. They remind me of hospital masks.

But if I stay up any later I'm liable to get into that baguette again.


More soon.

September 18, 2011

Loveliness Increases

Everywhere I looked on my way through Europe there were moments enticing me to draw forth my camera and push REC.


I hope you find them as interesting as I did -- and do.

September 16, 2011

London-Town.


I don’t really know where to begin translating my London adventures. Let me begin by saying this city is enormous. Definitely the biggest I’ve ever attempted to explore. Every district has its own distinct flavour (oh, look at me spelling like a limey!), and I’m quite enjoying experiencing each like a separate city. I’m currently staying on my own in a Youth Hostel, giving me a great deal of freedom to plot my own agenda. Early in the morning and right before I fall asleep I get a little lonely, but as soon as I’m out on the streets or writing in my journal downstairs, I’m quite content with my own thoughts.

Since I’ve been a little wary of taking my camera out -- there’s pickpocket warning signs everywhere here -- I haven’t been able to document much, so sorry if it lacks visual interest, but here’s what I’ve been up to the past few days:

-Watched pretty people
    The majority of London dresses so nicely! I think the men are actually more well-dressed than the women here, which from the looks of Seattle I didn’t know was possible. I’m all about our relaxed grunge, but nothing beats the smart look of men in tailored suits weaving around women sporting more relaxed versions of the current Vogue trends. Unfortunately this means when I take to the streets I feel like an orphan child. I’m going to have to bite the bullet and get myself some new boots and sweaters before school starts.

-Meandered through the parks


    How do people get anything done here with so many beautiful parks beckoning to them on their way to work? My walk through Kensington Gardens resulted in my planning a future life here (until I realized I’d fantastically housed myself in one of the embassy places), naming my imaginary children and pets after names I heard shouted along the paths. In Hyde Park I fell in love with ducks and trees, and in St. James I just watched the leaves blow, realizing my favorite season was already at hand. It does rain a lot, but the nice thing is it’s practically by the clock. I now understand WHY it is Brits have tea time -- that’s when the rain falls each afternoon!



 

-Saw Ralph Finnes perform in Trevor Nunn’s The Tempest
    I could go on about how Caliban’s words blew me away, how Finnes enlisted his Voldie tones to nail those last two Prospero monologues forever into the wooden planks of history, how Miranda should’ve moved around less but that I fell in love with her anyway, and how one or two British men chortled at the dusty jokes that have long since faded from common understanding, but then...I just did.

-Read Ahab’s Wife
    This has little to do with London, but wow... If you can imagine the characterization of Jo in little women with the triumph of Joan of Arc with the readability of Harry Potter, the horrors of Life of Pi and the colossal epicness of Moby Dick, you have the incredible patchwork quilt that is this novel. Man or woman be thou, READ IT NOW.

-Saw the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery


    I visited Shakespeare twice, marveled over ancient images wherein faded paint revealed the ghostly presence of previous ideas, celebrated the strange contrast of unfinished portraits, hoorahed all the women who managed to reserve a place for themselves in the midst of so many male monarchs, absorbed the overwhelming beauty of the Impressionalist, tilted my head this way and that at the Modernists, and gave smiles of thanks to the wall of my Romantic poet heroes.

Afterward, I enjoyed this:


-Visited Buckingham Palace
    This was the one day I took my camera. After all my individual exploring the tourist-packed areas proved still less interesting to me, but I managed to snap a few shots:






-Went Shopping on Oxford Street
    And by “shopping” I mean “looked and longed at everything but purchased nothing.” Can someone please tell me what I should buy? cause I’m tired of sorting through to find what looks good on me anymore.

-Wandered thru Portabello Road Market
    This was so fun! I got a necklace-watch and breezed through Notting Hill on my way out.

-Got lost and ended up at Harrods
    First I got lost trying to get to Harrods, then, in the process of getting myself out of that lostness, found Harrods. That’s life for you.
    Also, I wish I were a millionare so I could eat here everyday and not feel bad about it. I’d be a Harrods Hippopotamus by the time I got back to Washington.

-Met heaps of Australians
    This hostel is crawling with Kiwis!! And they’re all so nice and adorably interesting. One of the girls taught me how to tell the difference between a New Zealand and Aussie accent, and had a great laugh over my “Minnesooota Tapiooca Mawm, don’chya know!!”

-Walked through the National British Library
    Holy all-things-holy. This was the most incredible pilgrimage I’ve ever made. You can’t take things out from this library, which was a little disappointing, and you can only read the materials there if you have a pass, which requires proof of address I do not have. They do have an incredible exhibit open to the public, however, wherein I found the most marvelous treasures. Luckily they don’t allow photography, cause I would’ve been snapping pictures left and right.

Herein I found:
    -An original copy of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales
    -The journals of Jane Austen, and her writing desk
    -Charlotte Bronte’s notebook in which she wrote Jane Erye
    -A tuning fork passed through the hands of many a famous musician, but originally belonging to Beethoven
    -Several original scores from Schubert, Motzart, and Handel
    -Lewis Carroll’s concept drawings for Alice
    -A piece of tracing paper with an unpublished Wordsworth sonnet
    -Lyrics scrawled on restaurant napkins and old birthday cards by Lennon and McCartney
    -Several recordings of famous actors reading the works of famous authors
    -A variety of old historical documents and sacred texts from the 14th-17th century
    -A comic written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as a schoolboy, and a letter to his Mum

Needless to say I was preoccupied here for several hours. I’d forgotten to bring a coat, and was already chilly with the 9:30am air outside when I entered the air-conditioned gallery. I left with goosebumps that refused to go away, even in the sunlight, for the entire walk home.

I’ll stopper up there. Thank goodness I’m finally caught up on the blog-o-sphere for the time being -- it’s difficult without available wifi! I will try to stay more on top of things as school starts (not to mention the LONDON FILM FESTIVAL -- BWAAAAH!!!), if I have anything interesting to say then.

Happy beginning of school (soon) to all! I miss everybody and hope you’ll continue to report adventures of your own, if you enjoy mine -- it’s good to hear stories of home.


-RB

September 10, 2011

Installment Trois: The rain in Spain...never came!

I’ve gotta say, Tossa wasn’t my favorite part of our whirlwind tour. Spain’s never held quite the romantic place in my head like France, England, or Ireland, and not being much of a beachbunny (and I think I’m moving to California...HA!), our lack of hot water and periodic stench of sewage in our hotel hallway didn’t much improve my image of the country. Our drive through the sprawling, patchwork metropolis of Barcelona on the way to the airport also reaffirmed this notion.

BUT I would be a fool to complain about having the chance to relax in a beach town for two nights, cold shower or not.

Our drive through the Pyrenees was gorgeous. I didn’t manage to snap a lot of pictures, because I was completely preoccupied with Sydney Carton the backseat (that’s what I get for inviting Charles Dickens on my summer vacation) and afterward nursing carsickness apparently due to two hours focusing on the tiny font. Here’s what I did catch on the way:






Tossa’s a bit of a blur for me, particularly almost a week after the fact. I was admittedly a little moody at first, for reasons beyond explanation. This manifested itself in a staunch refusal to provide the city much photographic reverence.

For all I’ve complained about the plumbing, our hotel was right on the beach

and by and by Spain revealed subtle beauties of its own...




Especially when the clouds went away!


We had some good time in the sun, and for the first time I actually enjoyed tanning on the beach more than being in the water. Dad disapproved of this immensely. He’d return from every mission into the deep with encouragement to take his goggles and check out the fish and coves. The first time I went in the water I reached hip-level and flatly refused to go any further. Mom finally taunted me into it by reminding me how much 10-year-old me would've been disappointed in Party Pooper current-me.



The next day brought a splendid surprise...





The two kinds of Temptation bars, with their caramel and orange filled chocolate cups, were pretty solid (haha), but not quite as dazzling as the Gold?!. They did come in some pretty spectacular boxes though:


On our final morning we explored the castle further, and wound up wishing we’d done so earlier. There was this awesome outdoor theatre where I would just drool to perform anything Shakespeare...




"Parting is such sweet sorrow..."
We also saw the cove from the opposite side, on which there was a gorgeous beach. Next time, I guess!


And next time, I’m staying at this person’s house:

September 8, 2011

Installment Deux: Castle on the Rocks

So, France. I’d only ever been to Paris before this trip. I remember feeling a little disillusioned: movies had always told me Paris is a city of romance, lights, and mystery. Mysteries I found: like why Parisian shopowners would let me speak in French for all of two sentences, then randomly switch over to English themselves as if I weren’t worthy of their language and why it cost money to relieve oneself. The lights came at night, but romance was less identifiable. The only romance I saw there was tourist couples who’d been seduce there under the same Hollywood premises as I had. That aside, being abroad is magical for reasons beyond Hollywood ideals, and it wasn’t like I didn’t enjoy Paris -- I just enjoyed London more :)

Such was also true of the French countryside though. Beyond the startling stuffiness of Avignon and Arles, I found beauty, warmth, good food, and yes, a little bit of romance, in  the sleepy castle-town of Cordes.

Before everyone starts drawing conclusions about that last conjecture, allow me to illustrate my said “romance”:


This little (big) guy “took my breath away” as I came down the stairs from our room for the first time, but it was less his chivalry and more his shocking looming shadow in the window.

Gollysakes, 
I sure wish a chivalrous knight 
would climb up my golden locks 
and sweep me off my feet!

Beyond the enchanting iron men of our hotel, there was more Disney-worthy imagery to fall in love with...





This little dude was my favorite...



 



Are you getting tired of these yet? The cuteness around every corner was almost overwhelming.

The drive to Cordes was teeming with landscapes like the one below; boundless fields of sunflowers, asleep with the August heat. I’m sure July here is absolutely breathtaking. This is Van Gogh land, after all!

Some better detail:


Cordes itself looked like a storybook setting from the road on which we entered:


I’ve never been one to declare wedding colors or baby names before necessity arrives, but I’ve always dreamed of a kitchen with teal cabinets and mustard-yellow dishes to match.

as such.
 But I’m beginning to think this would be an equally nice combination. Robin’s egg blue and brick were everywhere to be seen across Cordes!

oh-la-la!
I told my Mom something along these lines and she laughed and pointed out the sign that was just to the right of the door pictured above.


Wouldn’t this be a magical place to get married? !! It’d be a convenient way to have a small wedding, too. Not everyone can hike it on a moment’s notice up to Cordes, France! But I’m getting (much too far) ahead of myself.



This was our hotel. We had some really stellar meals at this place -- so much that we didn’t seek meals anywhere else! I ate more duck than I care to think about, and Dad somehow managed to get gizzards of “various oiseaux.” He sort of joked that it was pigeon meat, but the waiter didn’t exactly affirm otherwise, and I started viewing the birds pecking about our table with more sympathy.

One of the more surprisingly delightful dishes was this “glace avec prunes” -- vanilla ice cream (custard-y enough that it wasn’t boring, like most vanilla ice cream) and a whole lot of prunes in a brandy sauce.

Mom and I took a little time to cruise the nearby shops. It’s really neat the way they have this place arranged; everything’s built into the structure of the old castle -- galleries, auditoriums, restaurants, hotels...so everywhere has a unique feel and connection to history.

Most of our time was spent with the jewelry queen of “Coup de Grace” (I wish I’d asked her name -- I need to get better about doing that), who helped us pick out earrings she thought might best suit our features. She chose out a lovely periwinkle pair that made me think of Hermione’s dress from the Yule Ball (the one in my head upon reading the book, not the lilac think in the movie) and a second glittery turquoise one that had me feeling like an Indian princess, but was fancier than I was looking for. I finally settled on these little swallows, symbolizing the freedom and elegance I hope will guide me on the rest of my adventure.


 “I think all of my earrings can be worn at anytime, anywhere!” Madamoiselle Coup de Grace assured us, and I agree. Each of her pieces were beautiful -- would I could take all of them home with me!

That was the end of our two day adventure in Cordes. I felt like quite the French queen there, and hope I can come back to visit again someday.