"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.