Magical Mystery Tour

I'm packing for Paris.

Bus leaves at 3:10 a.m.

Train leaves at 6:20 a.m.

Staying at the "Hotel Bertha."

Be back Monday morning, with lengthy and descriptive prose.


Helter Skelter

As the last few days have been fairly uneventful (in comparison to Jude Law or Chatsworth or exciting intellectual challenges), I present you with a list.

Things the UK Could Learn from America:
  1. 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!!
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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!!
  5. Speed Limits. I almost got hit by a bus today. And yesterday. And the day before that...
  6. Sunshine.

Things America Could Learn from the UK

  1. High Tea. No description necessary.
  2. Morton's. A place to have high tea in Oxford. No description necessary.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Choir. The churches may not have great messages, but those sopranos can hit it hardcore.
  6. "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.


And Your Bird Can Sing

I can't sleep right now. I don't know why. Maybe it's the large cup of Earl Grey I had around 8:00, or maybe it's waking up at 11:30 this morning, or maybe it's the overflow of energy that's been pumping through my veins since my flight arrived in Dublin 4 weeks ago...

...I don't know. But I can't sleep, and as such, I do what I always do when I can't sleep. I think.

(I know, it's not the best idea, as thoughts only lead to more thoughts, but here I am. Roll with me, people.)

Lately, I've been thinking about how this entire trip has seemed unreal. I can't help but think, "This isn't real life. Real life will hit when you get back to Clemson. You'll be stressed and feel yukky again...just you wait..." Why, however, isn't this my real life? It's certainly not a fake life.


I just pinched myself.

It hurt. I'm actually in Oxford, I'm actually spending my days exploring and succumbing to curiosity, and this entire lifestyle of constant happiness and wonder is something that can extend beyond six weeks during the summer. One of the biggest mistakes I have seen people make is assuming that once you're out of college, or even once vacation's over, you must have different standards of happiness. Of spontaneity. You must always put responsibility ahead of adventure...but I say, NO!

Who says that you can't always be having adventures? That you can't always say, "I'm going to put work/papers/meetings on hold for a weekend"? The MAN, that's who! That universal MAN, who doesn't actually exist, who people always accuse of holding them down. In reality, there is no MAN. There's only you. You, rationalizing "I can't do this because..." or "What would so-and-so think?" or "Maybe another time." So forget you, proverbial MAN. If this trip has taught me anything, it has taught me that life is more than what Clemson University, what the higher education system in general, makes it out to be. God did not put me on this earth to be a slave to my academics, to research this-and-that and publish articles nobody will ever read, to take on more responsibilities than I know I'm meant to handle. I'm here to love, and be joyous about that love, and that joy cannot be confined to a classroom, released only when a particular trip or time-of-year calls for it.

Thus, from this point forward, I - Adrienne Rankin - do vow to stop chaining myself to my desk for a 4.0, pledge to refrain from saying "Yes" just because someone asks me, and swear to continue living my life as if it matters.

After all, my professor does it. He was supposed to e-mail us our paper topics on Thursday, and as of 12:50 AM on Monday morning, we still haven't heard a thing. Because he's with his family, living his life, and that's not irresponsibility. That's prioritizing.

Good job, Oxford. And Good-Night.

When I'm Sixty-Four

When I'm sixty-four, I will live at Chatsworth Estate, Peak District, United Kingdom.

Elizabeth and I were planning to go cycling in Bath this weekend; however, we received an unfortunate e-mail on Wednesday afternoon. Apparently, the cycle shop in Bath does not hire bicycles. I mean, why would a bike store sell its own product? It makes complete sense.

With this new information, we were forced to form a new plan, inspired by our Wednesday excursion to Jane Austen's house.


Pemberley, the home of Pride and Prejudice (ft. Keira Knightley). We say Pemberley, of course, because Janeite Americans always refer to locations by their fictional (as opposed to actual) names. After an intensive google search, we found that the home is lesser-known as Chatsworth Estate, located 3 hours away in the northern countryside. Determined and bubbling over with girly-girl excitement, we hopped on Saturday's 7:12 train to Chesterfield.

Our layover in Derby ran 10 minutes behind schedule, but our taxi driver in Chesterfield was an absolute beast, getting us to the bus station approximately 10 seconds before its arrival. Phew! The 170 bus took us to Baslow, the closest town to Chatsworth. Although we could have taken a bus directly to the estate's front door, everyone recommended walking it. More dramatic, you know. More authentic. More Austen-y.

It's also more sheep-y.

I have never seen so many sheep in my life. They were all over the road for our entire 30-minute walk to the house, but we loved it. Sheep are so dumb and hilarious, that we just had to laugh at them! When we finally took the time to pay attention to the scenery, however, we were able to appreciate the beauty of Chatsworth gradually appearing over the hillside, beyond the trees. The weather was perfect (about 70 and partly cloudy), more conducive to walking than any other day we've been here.

At Chatsworth, I paid 9.50 for access to both the House & the Gardens. If you ever get a chance to come here, don't be dissuaded by the cost! You get what you pay for. We spent from 11-2:30ish exploring the grounds, gasping in total awe at almost every turn. What's really fascinating is that the lawns and "wilderness" of homes like these are completely man-made. I can't begin to imagine how much time, how much effort, went in to constructing this natural setting.

After getting lost in the maze; taking pictures in front of The Cascade & Emperor's Fountain; enjoying a picnic lunch of bread, cheese, & craisins; climbing over rocks and through tunnels; and walking through the flower gardens; we finally made it into the house itself.

Wow. If "grand" had a picture accompanying its entry in the dictionary, it would be a picture of the Chatsworth Estate. Really, it's almost sickening. One of the rooms was completely a mural, including the ceiling and all four walls, and others were so filled with random artifacts from Egypt and the Middle East that you could swear it was a museum. What's even more amazing is that people (the Cavendish family) still live here!!

After perusing the various rooms, we found our way - of course! - to the cafe, where we had an afternoon tea before spending the last hour reading our Austen novels on the lawn. Elizabeth left before me, so I was able to hang around and see the arrival of a wedding party (how extravagant must you be to have a wedding at Chatsworth?!). My bus took me to Matlock, from where I had a quaint and lovely train ride home. It was a fulfilling day, so beautiful that you just have to see my pictures to understand (in part!) what it was like: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2274421&id=12721557&l=5f4bb03432 .

"It came on so slowly I hardly know, but I believe I must date it from the time I first saw his wonderful grounds at Pemberley . . ." -Elizabeth Bennet


You've Got to Hide Your Love Away

I went for a walk last night. A very, very long walk. A very, very long walk that resulted in something worth an even longer walk. Several days ago, we decided that we were going to spend Thursday night at a well-known pub called The Trout. According to our sources, said pub was approximately a 20-minute walk from our lovely apartment on St. Thomas Street. With high spirits we set off in a group 8 strong, ready for another stop on our month-long Tour de Pub. 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes passed, and we found ourselves nowhere near a pub.

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. :)


Come and Get It

Here is the link to my pictures; I meant to post it earlier, but quite forgot.



To Know Her is to Love Her

Yesterday we went on excursions to Chawton and Winchester, the sites of Jane Austen's home and gravesite. The day started off pretty gross and rainy and cold, but it got progressively prettier as time passed. Chawton is about 1.5 hours from Oxford, and I spent the drive readingMansfield Park (this is pertinent, I promise). In the book, they mention the "wilderness," the "grounds," the "estate," more times than in her other novels; however, never having visited an old English estate, I couldn't exactly picture it in my mind.

Bring on Edward's house. Edward, Jane Austen's brother, was adopted by the wealthy Knight family and moved into an estate right down the road from her family's cottage. Today it is a library, and it was the first stop on our tour. Walking down the lane to reach the library was like being in a movie. I felt all Elizabeth Bennet, strolling down the dirt lane, lined with trees, towards this huge brick facade. Inside they have tons of first-edition books, clothing belonging to her family, and - brace yourselves - a handwritten manuscript of Sir Charles Grandison (a play of Austen's). The gardens out back are even more incredible. Back in the day, families would construct these elaborate paths in the woods to get the feeling of country living, of rusticity, without actually having to be in the country. This isn't even one of the more lovely houses, and I was blown away. What will I do when I visit Austen's model for Pemberley - Chatsworth House - this Saturday? I may cry.

After Chawton, we drove 30 minutes to the Winchester Cathedral. When they first told us it was 3.50 to go in, we were skeptical.

It was worth every penny.

This is the biggest, most beautiful, church I think I've ever been in. I wish I could describe it, but really, it's one of those things you just have to see. Hopefully my pictures will give you some idea of just how grand it was. After exploring both the main church and the crypt (parts of which date back to the Romans!), we finished our day with a trip to fancy-pants Maison Blanc for tea and chocolate croissants. With very few plans for the rest of this week, I'm excited to see what adventures we come up with...


Hey Jude

I'm sure you've all been waiting for this one. And, yes, the rumors are true:

Sunday afternoon at 3 PM, I saw Jude Law in Shakespeare's Hamlet.

The real interesting stuff, though, happened before.

I stayed up almost all night on Saturday, showered at 2:00 AM, and hopped on the 3:10 bus with friends to wait in line for tickets. We reached the Wyndham Theatre at 4:50 AM, and there were only 2 girls in front of us. While planning this trip, all we could think of was Jude - we didn't consider the hundreds of sketchy, sketchy men who would be wandering the London streets before dawn. Harrassments from old men, pigeons, and street-cleaners alike colored our morning, but we stayed upbeat! Our reward was the royal treatment. We got BOX SEATS for 25 pounds...not bad for a sold-out West End show, eh?

Although we had been in London for almost 7 hours already, the day was still very young. We took a trip to the National Portrait Gallery (and all of us, except night owl Hattie, slugged arond like zombies) and got tea at a sweet cafe in front of the theatre. The NPG had an incredible exhibition of modern portraits that blew me away; even when I put my face right next to some of the paintings, they still looked like photographs. There was also an original portrait of Jane Austen by her sister, Cassandra, which made me surprisingly emotional. Must have been the lack of sleep.

Then it came. The big show. As we waited, I noticed Colin Farrell was sitting in the audience. Aubrey saw Cameron Diaz, as well, and Sonia found Daniel Radcliffe. I was a little worried that it would be hard to focus with all the celebrity compounded in that room. But no. When the curtain went up, Jude Law was sitting pensively in the middle of the stage, his eyes gazing blankly into our box. He emanated distress, confusion, anger...from that first scene my heart was in my throat. Having only seen him in a few OK movies, I really wasn't sure if he would live up to the hype that his gorgeous eyes betow upon him. However, he blew us all out of the water. Jude seamlessly transitioned between emotions, making us laugh and cry and say "OH MY GOD!" under our breaths. The rest of the cast was equally stellar. I actually had a conversation with Claudius after the show (played by Kevin R McNally), and he was SO nice. Only after speaking with him did I realize where I knew him from...Mr. Gibbs! From Pirates of the Caribbean! I wish I had gotten an autograph or picture with him, but it always makes me feel so awkward. At least I'll have that conversation forever.

Hattie and I said goodbye to our peeps and headed over to St. Christopher's Orient Espresso, our hostel for the night. It was really nice; there is a Girls Only floor with fluffy pink towels and free soap, & a free breakfast! My friend Amy Carroll also came to visit, which was super nice. Having not slept in a while, I passed out when I finally went to bed. The bliss was short-lived, though, because I had to wake up and finish a paper due Monday at 6:00 PM. Somehow, some-miraculous-how, I had it e-mailed to my professor at 1:30 that afternoon. It's not my best, but considering the circumstances, not too shabby.

Finally. The last bit (yes, there's more!) of my great London adventure. I went to Parliament with Hattie, where we got a private tour from Marty's friend Liz Barker. Baroness Barker, to you. We even got to sit in on a session of the House of Lords! And have high tea on the terrace!! It was really interesting to hear stories about this building from the perspective of someone who works there. My favorite? Way back in the day, they wouldn't let women in Parliament. So, when they were passing some big legislation one day, a suffragette locked herself in the Parliament broom closet so they would have to say a woman was present. :)

Annnd after chasing down our bus (which I have officially done 3 times in London, now), we made it back here just in time for dinner. Then I passed out. And that's my story. The best 48 hours of my life.


Golden Slumbers...sike.

I'm staying up all night for two reasons.

1) I have a paper to write.

2) We are leaving on the 3:10 AM bus for London, to queue for cheap Hamlet tickets in the West End. If I sleep for 4 hours, I'll be tired all day. If I stay awake, I'll be loopy and fun all day.

Only 2 pages left of the paper, but I can guarantee I'll probably spend 3 of the next 4 hours staring blankly at my screen, wondering how I got myself into this little scheme. What an adventure.


Please Mr. Postman...

...write my paper for me. It's due tomorrow night, and I have 89 of 2000 words. It's difficult, though, with a topic like: "How wrong can a heroine be?"


I was hoping to write this paper on supporting characters in Emma and Pride and Prejudice, but he hits us with the "heroine" card. No matter. After approximately 5 hours at the Bodleian, I may have found a loophole; my plan is to discuss how the "wrongness" of Austen's heroines is limited by two key characters. First, "the influenced," increases "wrongness" by flattering the inept decisions of our heroine and falling prey to those decisions (for example, Harriet Smith). Second, the "influential," limits and eventually corrects "wrongness" by criticizing behaviors (Mr. Knightley). This way, I can talk about the characters I find most interesting while still answering the key question. I should probably be developing this more instead of writing a blog, but...yeah. Don't judge.

Last night, Brief Encounter was AMAZING. Absolutely astounding. Creative, beautiful, romantic, sad, hysterical - everything a musical should be. Set in the 1940's, it tells the story of a woman's short affair with a stranger she meets at a train station. It's based on an old movie, which the production actually incorporates into the show. In the opening sequence, an actress walks through a screen and "into" the movie! The illusion was so immaculate that the audience gave a loud gasp, sucking all the air from the room. I won't reveal too much more, with hopes it will come to America and you can see it yourself!

This afternoon I bought cookie mix with some of my peeps, and we're going to take a baking study break tonight. Something to look forward to! Later this weekend I'm going to (hopefully) see Jude Law perform in a full folio of Hamlet, and with a paper due before then, I may not have time to write until I return from London. Expect a long one - especially if we get to see the show!!


Happiness is a Warm Gun

Bang bang, shoot shoot. That's how Oxford has been this week. I feel like St. Peter's has shot me out of a cannon, and I'm here - there - over there, too - now back here - doing so, so many exciting things. The only reason I have time to write this now is that I'm sick, confined to the walls of my dorm room for the day. (Have no fear, I'm not contagious! Tis only a 24-hour bug).

Where, oh where, to begin? Tuesday was my first tutorial, during which I got back my paper. Class was lovely; we discussed the definitions of sensibility, and how it was a significant problem (almost a disease) in Austen's culture. There is actually a gravestone in a nearby village citing death by "excessive sensibility" - imagine that! We also talked about the implications Austen's endings have on her stories, and whether or not those endings should be taken lightly. Which is what I wrote my paper on...my grade A (yes, A!) first Oxford paper! Thumbs up to that.

The rest of my Tuesday was spent reading Emma (which I finished 5 minutes ago), finishing my travel arrangements (London! Paris! Dublin! Oh My!), and going out for a Mocha. As a side note, I have become a strong advocate for Morton's; it's a small coffeeshop found only in Oxford (New Hall Inn Street & the Covered Market), with 1.55 vanilla lattes. They know me. However, because they close at 5 (like 90% of everything else!) I was forced to go elsewhere for my Mocha.

Wednesday was my cannon day. At 10:15 am, we saw the first available showing of Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince...and it was AWESOME. For those of you (cough cough...Ben...) who could care less about HP, I will spare you the details.

Other than its being AWESOME.

Moving on. The entire group took an afternoon trip to Stratford-Upon-Avon to see the Royal Shakespeare Comapny's performance of Julius Caesar. So much fun! Elizabeth, Kathleen, Courtney & I tried to visit his birthplace/museum, but it was 11 pounds (11 pounds!!) to get in. So, instead, we took a series of photos in front of the birthplace/museum, and opted for some afternoon tea. I highly recommend the Daisy Chain. It looks like a stationary store...well...it is a stationary store...but in the back, there is a tiny garden with lovely English teas. After tea we were lucky enough to stumble upon a public toilet which was, apparently, voted "Loo of the Year" in 2004. I took a picture. Don't worry about that.

A brisk walk to Shakespeare's grave followed, and we ate our packed lunches behind the church, right beside the Avon. The day KEPT getting better, with the grand performance of Julius Caesar. What an amazing cast! And the music...wow! It's one of my least-favorite Shakespeare plays, but their treatment brought it to life. Although she only has a few lines, Portia stole the show for me. We hope to go back and see As You Like It before the program is over.

And, this morning, I woke up and was sick. Sad face. I'm confident I'll feel better in time for the play tonight at Oxford Playhouse - Brief Encounter. It's based on an old movie, and is supposed to be one of the big things to see right now. I'll review it for you in my next blog.


Think for Yourself

I did it!

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!



I am diligently writing my paper due Tuesday (...ahem...except for just watching Shakespeare in Love...shhh), and don't have time to write a full blog post. It's boring, anyways. I read, I write, I read, I write some more. To appease you guys some, though, here is the introduction to my paper. Proof this trip is worth it.

The late eighteenth-century ushered in a heroine with fainting abilities unparalleled in literature; housed in Gothic or sensational novels, she gasped, cried, and loved her way into the hearts of women across Britain. Erotic love and fantastic situations filled plots increasing in absurdity, their female authors spurring an unfortunate label: “feminine” writing. Therefore, when Jane Austen’s novels entered the fray, contemporary critics were shocked by their avoidance of “the Passions” (Bronte). She was too plain, too “spinsterly” (Meynell, 321) in the face of her competitors. Even modern critics, who trend towards feminist perspectives, remark that Austen’s tendency to end novels in prudent, idealistic marriages is the result of weak authorial surrender to society (Irvine, 105). However, through a close reading of irony in these “happy endings,” we find the future is less romantic than it seems. I believe Jane Austen’s novels do argue for imagination and passion as necessary parts of the human experience; however, society - perhaps not Austen herself – calls for these traits to be controlled through public lies. By dissecting the minds and marriages of Catherine Morland and Marianne Dashwood, I aim to argue that Northanger Abbey and Sense and Sensibility paint sad portraits of a woman’s emotional duties in Regency Britain – and subtly reveal possible alternatives to “I do.”


Hard Day's Night

The whirlwind tour of London is catching up with me today; I've spent 4 pounds on espresso, with a long night ahead of me. Regardless of my sleepiness, I'm pressing onward! It's hard for me to take extensive naps when I know I'm in Oxford - and when I know my first paper is due in 4 days.

I spent most of the morning at the Bodelian (the Lower Camera Reading Room, to be precise) studying up on my buddy Jane. Our first paper topic is: Northanger Abbey and Sense and Sensibility are unquestionably concerned with the correction and reform of affect and imagination – but how consistently, and to what end, is less clear.’ Discuss. I feel like I have a good handle on the subject, but there is an incredible amount of information to sift through. In Oxford, I can find every book ever published on her novels, so narrowing down this prompt is proving to be difficult. Right now, I'm considering analyzing her reconstruction of literary heroes/heroines. My only hesitation is that it's overdone in modern criticisms, so I'm going to spend the evening trying to find my own twist.

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.


With A Little Help From My Friends

Today I learned that you can accomplish incredible things in London during an eight-hour day trip.

But, before I get ahead of myself, I have to tell you about my first "official" classes and how Tuesday -a substantially less exciting day than Wednesday - went down. I spent the morning wandering with my new friend Elizabeth (who is awesome). Our biggest discovery was the Duke Humpherey Library within the Bodelian; it's a collection of old, old books, chained to the shelves. Only students can access the main shelves, so we were able to bypass the tourists and go exploring through texts older than Oxford itself. To put it in understandable terms, this was the library used for scenes in Harry Potter. And I get to study there. Every day.

Post library-exploration, we wandered through the Covered Market (which includes a glorious eatery called "Pie Minister") and Blackwell's Bookshop (with a unique Rare & Antiquities section never found in Barnes & Noble). She and I both take the Jane Austen course, so after lunch we headed to the St. Peter's Library basement for our first course. It only took 30 minutes, but I now have a good idea of what this month will look like. We have to write 2 papers and complete 1 presentation, and the topics will be given approximately 1 week in advance. Compared to the other programs, we have it relatively easy. Still, I'm here to work hard, and stronlgy believe we'll all learn a lot through this program. As I've said before, Hugh is a genuine and intelligent guy who will stretch our mental limits without making us want to jump ship.

The last event on Tuesday was a very bad fruit tea experience, but I'm trying to forget that. To put it simply, Kathleen and I are taking a break from any teas not provided by our Hall.

Now! Onto what you've been waiting for. Our 8-hour London extravaganza. I don't think I'll be able to do justice to the unheard of amounts of fun we had today, but I'll try. We spent 13 pounds on our round-trip bus tickets, arriving at Oxford St. around 11:15 am. After a short hop on the Tube, we wound up at the British Museum. Let me tell you, there is nothing like the British Museum. I met several lovely men, including these two. They were studying abroad:

The Egyptian section of this museum is quite impressive, although sometimes it was frustrating to learn that the missing fragments of several hieroglyphs and statues were located at the museum in - of course - Egypt. I hate how politics and greed are preventing these nations from coming together to complete an incredible part of history. Instead of whole monuments, we're just left with scattered fragments of a once-prosperous society. Sigh.

The British Museum was followed by a rainy walk to the Tate, which houses collections of Modern Art. I love art just as much as the next person - possibly a little more - but a large portion of what I saw was just creepy. Call me ignorant, or naive, or immature, but a painting made of cheddar cheese - or a rope on the ground - or a giant wooden outlet - do not constitute Tate-Worthy-Art. If someone can explain to me how a ROPE - on the GROUND - can be displayed on the same floor as Monet's "Water Lillies" and Andy Warhol's most famous originals, I will give you two pence. How can an exhibitionist short film of a naked couple sitting on a sofa be of equal value to Jackson Pollock's "Summertime: #9A"?!? It baffles me. To me, art need not be realistic or pastoral. Art need not be anything except to the artist. However, for something to be displayed at the Tate Modern, it needs to have some sort of obvious skill, some talent, some meaning, beyond the fact nobody has thought to do it before.

In the end, it's truly a matter of personal taste.

As in, I have it.

After taking pictures at: The Globe, London Bridge, Big Ben, Westminister Abbey, and Buckingham Palace*, we were finally ready to call it a day. Lucky for us, we ran into an amazing restaurant (Bumbles) offering a 3-course meal for 10 POUNDS! Not only was it delicious, but the comfy chairs were worth 20 pounds just to relax in. Hence, it was a bargain. We dined on gnocchi and fennel salads, cauliflower rissoto with mushrooms, vanilla ice cream...it was delicious and affordable. What a day in London!

Finally, we got on the bus and went home. And now I'm here. The end.**

*Actually, I tried to break into Buckingham Palace.

**And, we only got on the bus after chasing it down the streets of London. Twice.


A Beginning

Oxford is old. Really, really old. Like, I have access to a library built in 1602. That's old. Every building has a glorious musky smell, something that just makes me want to ponder the great questions of life over a pint.

If I didn't think beer tasted like vomit, that is. But it's a hypothetical.

Sunday morning began with a 9am jog. My first lesson of Oxford? Brits don't jog. They don't even walk briskly. I decided to put an end to that adventure when a mother hurriedly ushered her child to the roadside, obviously afraid I was going to bowl them both over. After a fulfilling breakfast at the Hall (over-fulfilling...they serve up obscene portions), I spent the afternoon running various errands around the city, including stocking up on Custard Cremes and muffins. Several of us tried to attend a festival, but the festival ended up being a preponderance of balloons and some sketchball clowns. In lieu of sitting with the six-year-olds, I went to Westside Mall and got a Vodaphone - if you have an emergency situation, I can be reached at +001 077 66186152. My Skype is up-and-running, but I'm unsure when I'll actually be online. I'll email you with an "official" time later tomorrow.

The entire evening was booked with official Oxford activities, beginning with a brief Welcome Session. I met my tutor, Dr. Hugh Gazzard, who seems like an incredibly nice and intelligent man. Fairly young and laid-back, I think he'll make sure we both work hard and have a good time. Unfortunately, there are 12 students in my Jane Austen course. It seems like a small class, but when you realize most of the others have under 5, you may understand why I was taken aback. Hopefully it will still work out. Sunday ended with the classiest BBQ I've ever attended, featuring salmon (not as good as Dad's!), burgers (or an attempt at them), cheesecake (America needs to jump on that trend), and red wine (GO UK!). I made an early night of it, exhausted from the day's activities.

Today was even busier, and gave me a closer look at where I'll be spending the next five weeks. Biggest news of my travels yet: I have a library card to the BODLEIAN. If you don't know about the BODLEIAN (a place so great, it must be capitalized), it houses over 8 million books and adds thousands to that number every week. My mouth hit the floor when we got a brief tour of the premises, partly because of its beauty and partly because tourists were turned away in places we were allowed to enter. I'm not a tourist. I'm a student. Wow.

The Bodleian was followed by various orientations (which is how I got my internet working! Five points for the IT Director!) and a walking tour. Neither of those warrants writing much about, although I will say that I discovered a brilliant pub on our tour that I'll definitely be re-visiting. Apparently, it's where Clinton allegedly "didn't inhale" during his time as a student.

My day ended with a formal lecture and dinner with the full group. Our speaker was Dr. Malcolm Coe, a St. Peter's Fellow in Zoology. He talked about evolution along the Great Rift Valley in East Africa, and it was amazing to hear someone speak so passionately about their subject. He professed to loving elephants more than humans (with the way our world is turning, I can't really blame him) and had fascinating stories from his times living in the jungle. What an amazing human being. This was followed by an equally-interesting, but much more stressful, dinner.

How can a dinner be stressful, you may ask? Allow me to explain.

In the hall, there are 3 tables for students, and 1 high table. The "high table" sits perpindicular to the others and is slightly elevated, meant for fellows and guest speakers. Starting later this week, we were to start allowing students to rotate out seats at the "high table." Tonight, however, one professor couldn't make it, and there was an empty seat. Guess who got volunteered...

Hence, instead of enjoying a leisurely dinner, I spent most of it being quizzed by two of the most intelligent people I think I've ever met - one Peter, the other Henrietta. They constantly barraged me with my views on political matters, on matters of literature, on matters of social science. They were very well-spoken and had well-defined opinions on every issue brought up. I felt like I didn't have time to prepare or really think about what I was saying, so I just said the first thing that came to mind, which usually wasn't what I actually think, and I'm pretty sure they think I'm idiot, and it was embarrassing.


If you know me, you know I actually do have strong opinions on politics. I have strong beliefs on gender roles, and I can talk about books - particularly Jane Austen - for hours. In Oxford, however, there is a strategy to talking. You can't just "talk." Everything is a mini-debate, and every word you utter is critiqued. There is no such thing as face value, no such thing as "what I meant was," and no such thing as pleading the fifth. I wish I had been more prepared. But I'm here to learn, and before classes have even begun, I feel like I've been schooled. In a way it's a a good thing, maybe even a great thing, because I'm learning to support my beliefs. I'm learning to learn in a completely new fashion, and it's going to completely change my views on education.

In another way, though, I'm determined to partly fight it. I want to come out of these five weeks a smarter, more cultured individual, retaining my stubbornly sunny outlooks on life and love... not a pretentious cynic.


Slow Down

I'm alive, and I'm in Oxford. But after a week of adventure, adventure, adventure, I need to take a break. So, no more posting or emailing until Monday (when the wireless will be up at St. Peter's). Until then, I'll be sleeping. Goodnight!


Dear Prudence (Cont.)

Weee! A super-nice (and slightly sketch) Scotsman fixed my power coverter at the hostel. As such, I can finish off my blog posts from the week. On Thursday morning, we first visited Eilean Donan Castle - the castle from Made of Honor! And Highlander! And lots of other terrible movies! It really was a beautiful castle, and I was surprised to hear that someone lived there until approximately twenty years ago. It made me feel bad for making fun...but not really.After the castle, we had a long drive through some amazing countryside to lunch. The pictures are hysterical; the mountains are so steep, that from inside the bus, my camera makes it look like a flat field next to our bus. But it really goes straight up! You have to see it to believe it. I've said it before, but Scotland is truly the most beautiful place I've ever been. I enjoyed leftovers from Wednesday's dinner at Fort William; because I saved so many pounds, I was able to spend 3.20 on the most delicious coffee I've ever had. It was called the Ben Nevis, after the extremely high mountain located adjacent to the town.

More sightseeing followed, etc etc etc, beauty beauty beauty, awe awe awe. The real fun was last night: my first fish & chips, and a Ceidleh (traditional scottish music/dance party). I barely got off the dance floor, and it was SO fun. Everyone was talented, but they allowed us to screw up over and over. Afterwards, we had so much energy that we continued on to a local pub where we saw the same band from Saucy Mary's. They recognized Hollie & I from our mad-good dance moves, and dubbed us "groupies." Points for being a recognized groupie of Too Far North, a great Scottish cover band. I spent all night on the dance floor - maybe 2 hours straight - teaching the Taiwanese and Chinese ladies our American dance moves. One girl from another tour group even asked me if I'd had modern dance training, and I replied: "No, honey. I'm just from America." :)

We were all so tired today that we spent most of it napping on the bus (by choice!) . Our only major stops were the William Wallace monument and a Hairy Coo safari (what an adventure...). Annnd the Castle Anthrax from Monty Python (my special request visit). That was fine with us - it was the best week many of us have had in years, and we were OK with a day to relax and stuff our faces with chocolate on the bus. A panini and pineapple tart in Sterling were my last purchases, and now I'm in Edinburgh, awaiting my next adventure - OXFORD. For now, I'll share pictures and emails with my new friends, enjoying the moment. Woohoo! Long live Scotland!

Dear Prudence, Won't You Come Out To Play

Phew. We're done. I'm sitting in the kitchen of our hostel right now, drinking wine and eating homemade pasta, trying to remember everything we've done this week. In fact, a more appropriate question would be what we haven't done. When I left you, I had spent my first night on the Isle of Skye. On Thursday morning, we took our first tour of the Island, starting with the MacDonald castle at Amerdale. It was fascinating to visit the place where I know my ancestors lived and fought; walking along the expansive grounds, reading about the clan in a museum, I felt nothing but pride. Interesting fact: a MacDonald married a Rankin before they immigrated to North Carolina. What a coincidence!

After visiting the castle, we went to a creek that is supposed to give you eternal beauty if you dip your face in for 7 seconds. As the story goes, the "wee folk" who live there once blessed the daughter of a great warrior woman there by removing the cuts and bruises on her body. We all did it, and just look at us...gorgeous! :)
Next, on what may be my favorite aspect of the entire week, we went to a Faerie Glen. It was the most beautiful place I have ever seen, filled with rugged hills, purple flowers, towering rocks, and curvy trees. You could feel the magic. Our tour guide told us about something called "acupuncture of the land" - they feel that there are energy points all over Scotland, and this was one of the strongest. It soon started to rain, so our next stop - Cuith Rang - had to be cut short. We did get some amazing pictures, and they'll be on my facebook within the next few days. Maybe not the ones from our times at Saucy Mary's Lodge that night...but most of them. :) I'll finish posting about Thursday and Friday (today) after I get to Oxford and can figure out my power converter. Love you all!