We only met in this 2:1 setting four times, and as such, I don't feel like I've been in summer school at all. The majority of my hours have been spent hanging out in Oxford, in Stratford, in London, in Paris - really indulging myself in the culture. On the other hand, I know I've learned as much in the last five weeks than I would have in the same course at Clemson. Not only was I able to study a topic I truly enjoy, but I had infinite resources at my fingertips. My outlook on Austen's novels has completely shifted, from that of an optimistic romantic to a hardened historian.
Okay, that sounds bad. But it's true! And it's great. I've learned so much about her time period, about her critics and her life, that it's become impossible for me to take her books as simple love stories. They're about (particularly in Mansfield Park and Persuasion) suffering, the self-sacrifice that is ultimately rewarded - or, perhaps, not.
With my course basically finished (one full class on Thursday, to wrap things up), I'm ready to really enjoy Oxford as a tourist. This morning I finally made it to Christ Church (aka Harry Potter Extravaganza), and on Friday I'll probably be punting. Oh...and I still have the rest of my travel money to spend...
Things the UK Could Learn from America:
- Public restrooms. I can't begin to count the number of times I've had to sneak into a pub, feigning an intent to buy something, just to use the toilet. How embarrassing...but they bring it upon themselves. I must be free to pee!!
- Trash cans. They got rid of them all due to bomb threats, which is understandable. But even a clear trashbag hanging on a door would help. Anything to avoid carrying around half of my sandwich and an apple core all day (which, especially on rainy days, gets quite gross).
- Church. Oxford is swarming with grand Catholic churches that make excellent photographs; however, after attending one, you realize that there needs to be something more than elaborate stained glass from the middle ages. Just because the building is pretty doesn't mean the faith is strong.
- Bringing the Check. A mixed blessing, restaurants in the UK don't seem to rush you out. Teatime is a time to relax, and they could care less if you sat there all day...but I don't want to sit there all day. I have stuff to do. Check?! Check...excuse me, check!!
- Speed Limits. I almost got hit by a bus today. And yesterday. And the day before that...
Things America Could Learn from the UK
- High Tea. No description necessary.
- Morton's. A place to have high tea in Oxford. No description necessary.
- Mass Transit. I ride the buses more than I almost get hit by them, so it balances out. I could live here for the next thirty years and never have to use a car; the transportation is incredible. And color-coded. Even I figured it out.
- Education. In just five weeks time, I feel like I'm going to come away with the same amount of knowledge as if I had taken a semester-long class at Clemson. It's because you only meet with your professor once or twice a week, and are otherwise responsible for doing your own research. Discovering things for yourself and having them validated by an expert in your field is the perfect way to learn, because you're actually learning.
- Choir. The churches may not have great messages, but those sopranos can hit it hardcore.
- "Funday Monday." At our Monday evening formal dinners, we get unlimted free wine. Why does Harcombe not give us free wine?! Get with the program!
In other news, got an A on my second paper. Went to the Cotswolds today. Saw Viola's house from Shakespeare in Love. Walked through a ruin in the rain. Had tea and crumpets. Listened to Flight of the Conchords all the way home. Success.
In fact, we found ourselves nowhere near anything resembling civilization. Fields on our left, fields on our right, and the occasional "CAR!" were all we saw for 45 minutes. The sunset, however, was gorgeous. The fields rippled like an ocean in the wind. It was breathtaking enough to subdue our fears of being attacked by crazy rapist men in the woods (yes, we do watch too many movies). Finally, when we were prepared to give up hope, we found it.
"It" was not The Trout, but a pub we had also heard of, called "The Perch." (Fish make popular pub names, apparently.)
It wasn't exactly what we wanted, but it was there, and we were ready to sit. Come to find out, The Perch is a pub that inspired scenes in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. After we walked through their doors and into their back garden, we felt as if we'd been transported into some otherworldly fantasy land. Willow trees scattered a huge backyard, with twinkly lights and candles lighting the lawn. An acoustic guitar player sang underneath a white tent. It. Was. Gorgeous. After ordering drinks (white russian! mmm), our strength revived and we went for another walk through the pub's wilderness. A winding path took us to the Thames, and we watched the sun finish setting over the river. The evening was as picturesque as I could have imagined, if not moreso. Actually, yes, moreso.
It was so beautiful and relaxing, in fact, that we spent an hour just talking and admiring the scenery; time flew by. As such, Randy was charged with leading us back to St. Peter's through the darkness. He knew a separate path by the Thames, and we crept along, laughing all the way back. What a great night. :)
Or, didn't do it.
We'll find out at 5:00 tomorrow evening. Just a few minutes ago, I turned in my first Oxford paper. I have to admit, I feel like it's pretty legit; my argument essentially turns the Austen novel on its head, suggesting her "happy endings" are actually sad commentaries on the nightmarish restraints of women's imagination in Regency Britain. He will either love it or hate it. For one hour tomorrow, I will be discussing it with him and one other student. That's plenty of time for me to 1) cry, or 2) bubble over with intelligent thought, or 3) be a quiet, intimidated American girl. Fingers crossed!
Over the course of my first full weekend here, I spent approximately twelve-to-fifteen hours writing this paper. I did, however, find time for fun. We went to the Pitt-Rivers Museum, where I saw my first shrunken heads. It was awesome. So, so awesome. They remove all of the innards from your head, then heat up the skin, shrinking it while somehow retaining its shape. Warriors wore them like necklaces, symbols of the men they had killed. Again I say, awesome.
I also got my first Pimm's at The Eagle & Child, one of the most famous pubs in England. (Pimm's, if you don't know, is the official drink of Oxford students. It's very fruity and delicious.) The next night I had my first experience with Lebanese food (delicious hummus!), after which Elizabeth and I watched Shakespeare and Love while eating sweet girly things, like cookies. And white chocolate shortbread. Mmmm. Last night I even had time for a Skype date with my dad, Nancy, and brother Alex in Washington state! It was great to talk to them and see some of their new house.
Overall, the weekend was fairly uneventful, but it gave me a chance to experience Oxford in a non-touristy, student kind of way. I had a great time cozying up at the library, researching an author I love. Big plans this week for plays in Stratford AND one at the Oxford Playhouse, so I'll have much more to say in a few days!
After lunch, I headed with some friends to Unicorn. I'll give you a few seconds to ponder what "Unicorn" could possibly be...
...It is, in fact, a secondhand clothing store located on Ship Street. It's operated by an old woman who holds no regular hours. If she wants to be there, she will; if she doesn't, she won't. Emily B has been trying to get inside for over a year, and when I wandered by this afternoon, it was miraculously open. I gathered up the troops and we rushed back, excited to go exploring in this treasure trove of vintage clothing - and we couldn't believe what met us. There are so many clothing items in this store that, unless you have a sherpa and climbing gear, only one person can fit inside at a time. They aren't organized by size, color, type, or brand. They aren't organized at all. Essentially, the store is one gigantic pile of shirts and skirts and dresses, with a tiny 2-3 yard clearance that guides you partway around the mountain. We decided it would be best to come back one-at-a-time at another date - trip #1 was a little too overwhelming.
And with the day's mundane adventures summarized for your reading pleasure, I'm off to write some literary analysis. I'll probably write again once I turn in this paper.
Monday, I was picked up from the hostel around 9:30 a.m. with 28 other complete strangers. Our tour guide, Graham, is everything I would expect in a Scotsman: devilishly attractive and beer-bellied, with a dirty mind and dirtier mouth. He's a lot of fun, but not quite as fun as my fellow backpackers. To put it concisely, I'm the only American. Of 29, approximately half are from Taiwan. Several are from Australia, and there are also Turkish, Japanese, and Chinese representatives among us. It's bizarre and hysterical. I've started buddying up with most of the Australian kids, and the guy from India, and - my fave - Yoshi from Japan. He's the man.
The first day highlights included visiting a 4,000 year old gravesite, which was haunting and beautiful. I forget what it's called, but when I post pictures on Friday, I'll update with the precise location names. To think that it existed before Christ really blew my mind. We also visited the old Dunkeld Cathedral, which was great. The ruins reminded me of something Elizabeth Bennett would go exploring in.
Still, the big thing Monday was - dundundun - I went swimming in Loch Ness! Graham had been trying to convince us the entire drive there, and I hesitated. Hesitated. Hesitated. As soon as we pulled down the gravel path, however, I instantly knew I had to do it. By several minutes of time, I was the first one in. Wearing all of my clothes. It didn't take long for others to follow suit, and before I knew it, we were having a grand ole time with Nessie. We learned nobody does much true research there; it's all speculation and photoshop, and it frustrates many Scots. Our final stop for the night was in Iverness - what a beautiful city! - where we hung out at Hootenanny (local music pub). I ran into two guys from UNC-Chapel Hill (they were wearing Tarheel gear) and we chatted up for a while. It's such a small world. All in all, it was a fun day, but we spent most of it on the bus. We had to get a long distance in a short amount of time, and I got nervous that the tour was going to be more riding than walking.
Then today happened. After a breakfast of scones and pineapple juice (only 50p!) we drove out to Clootie Well. If you've never heard of the Clootie Wells, it's an area in Scotland where individuals who have "wishes" for loved ones go to lift up prayers to the land. You dip a clothing item or fabric piece associated with your loved one in the well, then tie it to a tree by the well. Baby clothes, t-shirts, socks, teddy bears, you name it...they hung all over the trees in this eerie roadside location. It was surreal, and you'll have to see my pictures to truly understand how moving it was. All I could think about was how many of this wishes went unanswered...
Our next stop was a hike through a lovely forest, ending at a waterfall. It wasn't nearly as impressive as the waterfalls we have in the Southeast, but the greenery surrounding it was beautiful. There were also salmon jumping through it, which was new! The weather has been perfect and very unusual - sunny and 90 degrees - so Graham has been keeping us outdoors as much as possible. In fact, we spent 3 hours today on the beach today.
Yes, the beach.
We swam, played frisbee, and had a quick game of football. Now, if you know me, you know I'm not a big athlete. In fact, I'm a poor and pathetic athlete. But guess who scored the winning goal?! Yes, yes, yes. Yours truly. In a game versus Australians and a Scotsman, Adrienne Rankin from Boondocks, SC scored the winning goal. I credit it towards my tough American football upbringing.
Finally, we ended our day at the Isle of Skye. The drive was amazing, and as such, I'm not even sure I'll post pictures. They don't do the mountains justice. It's so green and lush, and huge, and rocky, and almost like another planet. I'm living a movie every day. At the Isle, the mountains converge into the ocean at a quaint fishing village. Sunset lasts from 9:00-12:00...over the water, with a lighthouse (Kelly!!) and boats casting shadows against the sky. Mmmm.
I just got back from another pub where we listened to some traditional Scottish music (soooo good), did some traditional dancing, and drank some traditional whisky. It's going to be a long day of hiking the cliffs tomorrow, but I'll try to keep writing daily instead of scatterbrained. There's too much to say for me to wait, and I want to make these things more eloquent. Forgive me this once. :)
Before I get carried away in poetics, you probably want to know what I’ve been up to since Dublin. Well, first, I heartily enjoyed my flight with Aer Lingus. Cute Irish flight attendants – need I say more? I also got to watch Revolutionary Road and finish Vol. 1 of Sense and Sensibility, so there was some productivity going on. Once in Dublin, I asked approximately seven different employees what to do with myself now that I was there; they directed me to a bus, which took me directly to Waverly Bridge, from which Castle Rock Hostel is a 9 minute walk.
I was greeted into the hostel by a shaggy-haired Scotsman, who finds great amusement in my naivety. Despite having traveled to the Bahamas, Ghana, and various places in the US, I still have trouble figuring out one thing: calling cards. I just want to make a phone call! Why, oh why oh why, does it have to be so difficult? After asking my hairy landlord about the mechanics of three different phones, I returned to the store where I bought the card, and had a heart-to-heart with the man in charge. He let me use their store phone – and even dialed the numbers for me – so I could call my Mom. What a sweetheart! He, too, laughed at my frustrations.
Despite the hostel’s beauty, I can’t help but feel a little awkward. The rooms are cozy, the lounges are large, the Wi-Fi is free – but who do I have to share it with? A tour group just returned from their week, so they’re all bonding and hanging out, and I’m sitting at a table to the side with 3-4 other people on their computers. I did the stereotypical southern “nod and smile,” but to no avail. I definitely believe myself to be more like Marianne than Elinor in this respect, wanting everyone to be as excited as I am about everything. I’m anxious for my tour to begin at 9AM tomorrow, so I can start meeting people and being crazy and rambunctious. Still, after such a long flight, rest is probably what I need most. I haven’t slept in many many many hours, so once I’m done with this blog, I’m going back to bed.
My bed, on a final note, is located in the hostel’s “Brain Suite.” Appropriate. J
It was so nice to hear about Chris Duckenfield, in whose memory this program was created. I wish I could have known him. But, in a way, I feel like I do. His memory lives on in the kind hearts of his family, who have welcomed me SO warmly. I was not expecting so many people to show up today, and it really blew me away. It encouraged me to really give it 100%, because my summer at Oxford extends far beyond myself. I am representing my family, the Duckenfield family, and the Clemson family.
I can't wait to come back and give another speech, this time in good health, and with much more interesting things to say. Just 3 more months until the flight!
It's a crazy feeling, thinking that I'll be doing something this big on my own. I've traveled abroad before: to the Bahamas with Clemson Wesley, to Ghana with Dr. Huntington's Maymester program. Both of those times, however, I was with large groups of people. For the first week of my trip, I will be completely on my own, backpacking throughout Scotland as a precursor to my academic experiences at Oxford. In five months, will I actually be doing this? Will I, that awkward girl from the boondocks of South Carolina, be in Europe? I have my confirmation numbers, so apparently so.
Scary would be one way to describe it. Awesome is the world I prefer.