"Since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be?"

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Midnight in Stokholm

A few notes about my Spring Break in Sweden so far: written from my hostel in Stokholm.

Flew into Göthenburg Friday night after my last Aesthetics tutorial. I felt so drained-- so beyond exhausted. This term has truly zapped every last ounce of my strength. I dreaded waking up and starting another day: feeling so physically burdened even after a full night's rest. I think I was shaking after I finished my last tutorial with T. My mind was running on exhaust fumes. Despite that fact, I think I ended my postcolonial lit tutorials with him on a positive note. We had a fantastic conversation about the nature of good and evil as it pertained to Rushdie's The Satanic Verses. I was trying to explain my views on good and evil, referring to St Augustine's theory. Overall, a pretty amazing conversation. For once he had to cut me off and say we needed to stop. I was almost on the verge of asking what I should read for next week. So hard to believe tutorials are over. Forever. I don't know if I can really accept that yet.

When we arrived in Göthenburg, we found our hostel, which was actually a very nice place. Clean. even had a tv. and we had the room to ourselves. Saturday we spent the day taking a ferry to the islands on the coast. The bus system wasn't too difficult, but it was complicated by the fact that we couldn't pronounce (or remember how to spell) most of the stops: Jorkingaten?, Saltholmen?, etc. The islands were beautiful though. We sailed along to the last stop, an island called Vrängo, and explored the place. A few people got off on the stop with us, but other than them we really didn't see a soul on the island. It was chilly, but the sun shone so warmly that we didn't find it cold. The water at the edge of the beach was so clear that you could see the seaweed waving down at the bottom for a good ways out. Casey collected sea shells and bits of green seaglass on the little patch of shoreline. We also climbed up a bit of the small island mountain to see the view of the coast, which was pretty stellar. Coming back down we followed a woody trail and stumbled onto a nature reserve. The pathways led us to another open beach area with picnic tables and campfire sites. I could vividly picture a pretty Swdish fmaily with blonde children packing a picnic lunch with bread, cheese, and cider-- eating and playing by the shore during a long August afternoon. You couldn't imagine how lonely it felt on that island. So quiet and deserted, but oddly not sad. Ireland possessed a tragic sadness which somehow oozed out of its misty green hills, but Sweden seems oddly cheerful in its cold loneliness. As though it is content to smile and endure the frozen winter months. They paint their houses yellow to match the sunlight they carry in their jacket pockets.

Today we took a train from Göthenburg to Stockholm and saw a good bit of the countryside on the 3 and a half hour trip. I read a few essays on The Sound and the Fury and watched the yellow fields of Sweden roll past my window. I'll always associate yellow fields with Sweden now: yellow hay fields and red houses-- ice covered lakes and yellow summer homes. Stokholm seems like a nice place-- somewhat more nice than Göthenburg, which seemed a little run down. This is the major city of Sweden, so it makes sense that it would be more modern and well kept. After arriving here and finding our hostel, we went looking for the Royal Palace, and eventually found it after some wandering and stopping to take pictures of the frozen lake. The ice is beginning to thaw in patches, and break up into jagged pieces, like a broken mirror floating in a large bathtub. It was another lovely day, and the sun was setting over the harbor as we found the palace, so we were able to take a few lovely sunset shots of the palace and the bridges over the lake. For dinner we found a little hole-in-the-wall place and asked for a very Swedish meal, though we couldn't by any means pronounce its name. It was some kind of roast beef(?) with a uniqely flavored sauce over rice, lettuce, and french fries. Odd, but delicious after I got used to the flavour. Katie and I split a little carton of Ben & Jerry's ice cream on our way back to our hostel, and it cost us about 400 SEK, which is about... 4 dollars? ish?.. we're having a very hard time figuring out how to transfer crowns to pounds and dollars in our heads. Tomorrow we leave for Copenhagen and will have a whole new currency to deal with, but it'll be a new adventure.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Gertrude Stein

Today, I found a new appreciation for Gertrude Stein. Listen to how she tastes her words! Read them aloud yourself a chew them slowly. In a lecture today, I learned she was intimately influenced by Picasso's art. She said she was alone in understanding him because she was trying to do the same thing in her writing that he was trying to do in visual media. She asks you to accept writing which is barely about something. Think about what individual words can do.

If I told him would he like it. Would he like it if I told him./
Would he like it would Napoleon would Napoleon would would he like it./
If Napoleon if I told him if I told him if Napoleon. Would he like it if I told him if I told him if Napoleon. Would he like it if Napoleon if/
Napoleon if I told him. If I told him if Napoleon if Napoleon if I told him. If I told him would he like it would he like it if I told him. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012


“You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it
leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
picking” -- “Blackberry Picking” by Seamus Heaney

The warm, evening sun cast long shadows on the grass and I could feel the rays literally seeping into my skin. The sun had become orange from its long day spent warming the earth, and chilly wind was beginning to blow through my light jacket. A dying sun. I was reminded of that scene from The Magician’s Nephew when Lewis describes the sun in Jadis’ realm as large, red, and cold, not like the bright, yellow, warm sun from Digory’s world. Jadis explains that this is because Digory’s world is young, and her own is old, breathing its last breath before destruction. This sun felt as old as the sun from Jadis’ world, but not quite as sad. There is always a sadness to death, but this sun felt resigned to her end. Ready for it. As though she was finally falling asleep at the close of a life well-lived. She had warmed the young girl, Earth, and imparted to her some knowledge of love. Also, something of forgiveness. Not atonement, or justification. Just forgiveness, and love. Always love. She wouldn’t be the sun if she didn’t love with all of her being. The dying star bled on my toes, and juice from a ripe orange slice slipped down my lips, and guitar music lulled me to half-sleep. Staring up at the sky so blue, like water. The warm Mediterranean ocean must have fed into sky at the horizon somehow. A plane swimming through the current and leaving white foam in its wake. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Lang Lang

Yesterday, Shannon and I went to see Lang Lang give a piano, master class at the Sheldonian Theatre, which we had bought tickets for back when we had first arrived in Oxford. Sixth week finally rolled around today and we sat with excited anticipation in Blackwell’s cafe, enjoying hot chocolate and cramming in a little study time in before queuing up to get our tickets outside the theatre. 
We walked in Door A, and up a set of winding stairs which led us to the balcony of the theatre. I skipped around to the center of the theatre, which was oddly shaped-- kind of like an oval, with one flat wall, which we were facing. On that wall was a large, ornate, silver organ. In the center of the floor was one grande piano and chairs surrounded it on all sides. The range of ages in the audience was surprising. Elderly people, students, and very young kids in little suits, fidgeting in their seats, awaited the beginning of the class.
As Shannon and I sat down, we couldn’t help but admire the sheer splendor of the place. The ceiling was painted with a heavenly scene of angels, gods and goddesses sprawled out on rose-colored clouds. Probably patrons gods of music, I would assume. A plump, baby angel above my head seemed to be wrestling with another baby, and simultaneously trying to shoot someone with one of the arrows in his quiver-- an arrow of love maybe? Long portraits of Victorian-looking men hung on either side of the straight-backed theatre, their eyes looking down at the performers from their perch. The windows on every side let in a good deal of light, so the theatre attained an even more ethereal, airy feel. 
The audience hushed as Lang Lang stood and welcomed the crowd. He then had three Oxford pianists come forward, one at a time, and play a piece, then he would critique their performance. As the first player began, I slipped out a bag of starbursts from my purple backpack, trying to hide the candy from the hawk-eyes of the balcony attendant, and we quietly munched on the fruit-flavored candy as music began to swell and fill up the theatre with its presence.
I thought the first player was pretty talented. A young man, quiet and somewhat shy, who seemed to play fairly flawlessly. When he was finished, Lang Lang said he had a nice touch, but there were certain things he could improve on regarding the emotions he brought to the piece. He could play this bit with more gentleness, this bob with sharper ferocity. When he demonstrated how bits should be played, my mouth almost dropped open. He was magnifacent. His fingers stroked the keys, coaxing a sound out of the instrument that I almost didn’t know it was capable of producing. His fingers were delicate, like a dancer’s foot rolling through a tondue, into a ron de jambe, with such strong grace. One thing that interested me was the way he explained how the pianist should play by telling him, with language. He said at one point,  playing strongly, “And then this is another world”, and he paused and began to play with a caressing, soft touch. We were in awe. The last player was also phenomenal. Shannon was unsettled, calling the piece “sneaky”, but as he finished I let out a relieved exhale-- finding that I had been holding my breath the entire time. This piece was just that powerful.
For those few hours, I wondered if these exact feelings had been experienced by people scores, or even hundreds of years before me. I could imagine the audience in Edwardian or Victorian dress, fanning themselves and discussing Darwin’s new theories in the wings. For that instant, I sensed history coagulating in my mind, and couldn’t help but feel delighted. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


I ride around the carousel,
and watch your faces blurring,
like your spaces in my mind are
stirring in within your smiles
and your frowns; and while I spin and
spin I cannot pin the traces
of your essence down in
place, like foggy
photos in my bedside drawer. copies
taken in our groggy haste to
paste the image in our minds.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Through Fire and Frost

So, here we are again, close to the end of another semester. It is 8th Week of Oxford’s Michaelmas term, and I have one more tutorial paper to write, one 4,000 word long essay due next week, and then I will be flying back to South Carolina and this term will be completed. Work has been difficult. There have been several tutorials from which I have emerged with a less than optimistic outlook on my writing abilities. Each week I feel like I have to walk through a tunnel of fire and gravity to come out the other side slightly refined-- shaped into something new. But overall, I would say tutorials have been a very enriching experience.
This past week, Oxford has been frosted and dipped in Christmas lights. There are trees wrapped in white on Broad Street and in the Bodleian Library square. Cornmarket Street is draped with Christmas lights and Blackwell’s book store has Christmas displays in the windows.
About two weeks ago, I visited Blenheim Palace with a few friends from my program. We walked around the sheep-filled fields and breathed in the sharp bite of winter air for one of the first times this year. The palace was absolutely beautiful, and its courtyard was filled with Christmas trees, lights, and a Christmas craft fair. K, C and I were the only ones of my group who went inside the palace. As you entered the courtyard, tents were set up with booths displaying many different kinds of local crafts such as scarfs, hats, jewelry, and art work. Inside the palace was also decorated. Fireplaces blazed with enormous light, and dining tables were swathed in crystal and holly. My favorite room was the library, which consisted of a long hall with ornate books which filled the walls from floor to ceiling. The long windows of the hall afforded glimpses of the intricate English gardens, complete with fountains and statuary. On the other end of the hall was a large organ being played by a staff member of the palace. The thick music filled the room like a strong wine and I felt like my lungs were being filled with water. I breathed slowly and wanted to lie down in front of the fireplace near the books and the organ, and fall asleep.
Walking outside the palace rooms shocked me back into consciousness. K, C and I explored the gardens and winding grounds of the palace. There was a rose garden which still sheltered a few white blooms. I could imagine how luscious it would be in the summer months. At the edge of the lake, there was a waterfall cascading over mossy boulders. The scene looked like it had been spoken into being from a fairy tale I read as a child and have forgotten.
Last Saturday we held a Thanksgiving dinner party at our program house. Almost everyone from our program, plus our directors, professors and their families came over for the turkey, cranberries, dressing, and long-sought-after pumpkin pie (because apparently pumpkin is not a big thing over here). We strung popcorn on strings, cut out snowflakes, played cards, and at the end of the evening, a few volunteers entertained the group with songs, jokes, and fiddle playing. Uproarious laughter filled the house, and for a while it felt like I was a part of a home-away-from-home. I will be glad to be going home soon, but for now I’m going to enjoy the time I have left in this magnificent city.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Let's go to Ireland

Friday, September 30, 2011
Currently, I am on the 11th bus of our journey-- backpacking through Ireland. Yes, it seems just as surreal to me. We started planning this trip about two or three weeks ago, when we found out we had a fall break from friday to tuesday. We knew such a long break deserved a far away destination-- there was no way I was going to spend this break lying around the house. So, I found a group of Vines people who all wanted to go to Ireland. Almost immediately, I hooked up with K, and we seemed to have almost the exact same ideas on where we wanted to stay and places we would like to see. No couch-surfing, or antique-Roman villages for us. We are all about cute Ireland B&Bs, and luxurious ferry rides to coastal island towns. 
But the planning always seemed so far off. We’d be going to Ireland eventually. Or we’ll worry about that next week. But it just hit me Wednesday night that we’d be leaving TOMORROW! Totally crazy. We’d all been so busy writing our case study papers for the British Landscapes course that the reality of vacation hadn’t set in. 
So, Thursday morning, we went on a school field trip to the Imperial War museum in London. It was a pretty impressive place with so many artifacts like uniforms and letters soldiers wore during the world wars. The holocaust exhibit was most memorable. They had so many graphic pictures of the atrocities committed against the Jews, and testimonial videos taken by holocaust survivors. I almost cried when one Jewish man spoke about how he had lost all faith in prayer because no matter how hard he prayed, none of his family or friends were saved. It was such an unexplainable tragedy. None of our hollow reasoning can make it any better.
After that exhibit, I was pretty drained, but I tried to absorb the museum and accept the message it wanted to give, and then move on.
Once we’d finished touring the museum, our director dropped us off at Victoria station so that we could head out more easily. (awesome!) and then we made our way to the Victoria coach station. We had some time before the coach left, so we walked/intenselypowerwalked down the Thames to see Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. I was sacked out by the time we made it back to Victoria. 
We met back up with A, who had wandered off, back at Victoria coach station, and boarded the neverending train to our ferry. We left around 6 and got into P-Dock around 2, so I was wrestling around unsuccessfully trying to sleep on that coach for over 6 hours. Upon reaching the dock, I thankfully received a renewed burst of energy as we played cards and drank hot chocolate before boarding the ferry. And this ferry was no tug-boat, my dear, this was a legit cruise liner with seven decks full of amenities. We then proceeded to run all over the place-- exploring the game room, the movie room, and the upper deck which was perfect for viewing the twinkling harbor lights and the bright Welsh stars.
I was too over-tired to sleep after we finished exploring, so I took my laptop over to a quiet nearby deck with lots of tables, chairs, and outlets to read some of the Nathaniel Hawthorne short stories my tutor suggested I brush up on before our first tutorial next week. It was around 3:30 when my eyelids began to droop and I headed into the next room and sacked out on one of the coaches.
So that was the two-and-a-half hours I have slept in the past 30 hours because at 6 am, we got off the ferry and on a coach headed to Cork. C and I are coach buddies. Since I opted not to bring my ipod in lieu of saving space for my mac, she has been sharing one ear of her music with me. That’s one of the quickest ways to ensure my affection, let me tell you. After transferring at W-, we arrived in Cork and hopped on a bus to Blarney Castle (but not before promptly losing A again). That place was absolutely beautiful! A thick fog hung over the deep green marsh land surrounding the castle and gave the area an air of mystery-- of magic. We climbed the moss-covered spiral staircase up to the top where we bent over backwards to kiss the Blarney Stone, which supposedly gives you the gift of eloquence. An area I particularly liked about the castle and the surrounding grounds was an area called the Poison Garden. It was a beautiful little plot which grew only extremely deadly flowers and plants-- one was a common plant found around Ireland which caused many infant deaths, most being intentional because the plant was given from mothers to their children. Such a terrible, yet romantic garden. I don’t know why, but I was struck by the irresistible poetry of the poisonous beauties. The whole area seemed to radiate an aura of goblin faerie dust. The rain began to get heavier and heavier and I wondered if I might drown under my purple rain coat and lie for ever under the moss and the deep blue hydrangeas.
After finishing up at the castle, we headed back to Cork and (after finding A again) boarded a bus to Dingle (subsequently losing A again). And this bus connected at a little town of which I could never find the name. We wandered around aimlessly for a while, and I finally found a cash machine which would let me enter my pin number and take out some euros. And then, after much indecision, we decided to grab a quick bite at a local grocery store and head back to await our connecting bus to Dingle (where we found A again). I bought a loaf of bread, cheese, and digestives, and was delightfully satisfied with my dinner. I also felt strangely delighted with this backpacking across-the-country situation. Normally I would have expected myself to balk at the thought of such a venture. Carry all my stuff around with me everywhere? uh, no thanks.. But I’m actually really enjoying it. The whole experience is so.. liberating. I have all I need on my back, so if I feel like hopping on a bus to a new town, I just hop on the bus. Nothing holding me back-- tying me down. I feel so confident, like I could do anything or go anywhere now. so freeing

So after arriving in Dingle, K, C, H and I began to wander around looking for our B&B (Emlaugh Lodge). We got dreadfully turned around, so K called Maggie, the B&B owner, who was sweet enough to drive over and pick us up (or “collect us” as she called it. We haven’t been able to see much of Dingle, since night fell before we arrived. But the air of anticipation is almost as good as, and maybe better than, seeing the place that is supposedly the most beautiful place in the world. We’ll see in the morning.