Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Finis.

I'm sitting in Heathrow Airport. Christmas music is playing, and there's a Santa Claus walking around. The airport's busy, but not too bad. What I suspect to be the standard holiday buzz. People are milling around in the Duty-Free shops, and I'm wondering how much chocolate I can get for 3 pound 50. Some little girls are climbing along the chairs next to me; they are eyeing that Santa Claus.

Today's my last day. My last few hours. Right now I'm sitting in the lounge, trying to scam some wireless (not working). After a serious of slight traveling hiccups (one of which included an infuriated cabby, and another a vexed bus driver; but I will not digress here), I made it to the terminal largely without incident, and with a triumphantly underweight bag (although I can feel it in my triceps where I was hefting my duffel bag full of shoes and books). It's pretty in here for Christmas. Someone on the administrative staff has an eye for the glam. And icicle Christmas lights. I'm a little tired because last night was a final hurrah of pub-crawling through the Ox. It was not sad, but rather very joyful, and compounded by a sudden snowfall (snow doesn't happen much in England, at least not on a scale like we see in the States). So there was that extra element of wonderment that such beautiful stuff can come pouring out of the sky so suddenly.

I don't know if I'm ready to leave yet. On my bus out, I found myself crying with great abandon. The town looked so beautiful as the coach swerved through it; everyone was going about their day in a way I had and never would again.

But by the time I reached the airport, I found that I was oddly calm. I'm never really calm (see post about Uffington White Horse), and especially not in travelling situations. But as I walked through the airport, checked in, and am now sitting here, I find that maybe I am ready to go. Because I don't think, somehow, this will be my last trip to England. I just have this nagging feeling that this isn't goodbye.

I guess I lied when I said I'm never calm. I felt this way a few days ago. On Thursday, right after I finished up my secondary tutorial for good. It was a really good tutorial; my tutor and I geeked out about Hamlet for a good hour, and to top it off, I was actually pleased with my paper. So I was on this kind of buzz walking back to my room. It had snowed the night before, and everything was pretty and white as I walked through the meadows. Gosh, it was so beautiful; I wish I could convey to you how still everything was, like it was holding its breath. Nothing was quavering, nothing was anxious. Even now I can vividly recall the crunch of the frozen gravel under my gait. It was so quiet. Except for the usual wildlife. The cows were still grazing lazily, despite the frigid air. I don't think anything spurs them on. Seriously. The little babies were napping in the frost. No hurry for these bovines.

But as I walked there, despite the cold and my unfinished assignments, I couldn't believe how hopeful I felt. A semester of wonderful friends, adventures, and road bumps in a unique and vibrant community like Oxford doesn't just end, at least not for me. I'll be back, I think.

We'll see, won't we? Although I never did find that peanut butter I was looking for.

It's time to get on that plane and get home. There's a rumor that my family has constructed a welcome-home banner in my honor. Name and everything. Hanging on my house. Did you guys get a banner? I don't think so.

In the words of Hunky's friend Will, that's what I call a 'hero's welcome.'

Kidding, kidding. I am not a hero. I do feel on top of the world, though. Like I can do anything. Which is a pretty good feeling for someone who still has to finish up a semester of college and then, oh, I don't know…..graduate.

YES I SAID IT OKAY. I said the 'G' word. I'm graduating. And I'm ready! Of course, check back in, like, three months to see if this optimism has held up, but you never know. I could remain this good-natured.

So I will miss Oxford. I will miss the long hours in the Bodleian, the bicycles, the Pimms, the pubs, the porters, Hall lunch, Warnock dinner, looking over the Thames, the cows, tea time, the long walk home from St. Catharine's at 3am, Hassan's, Tesco's, watching Lost with Aidan (actually, doing everything with Aidan), attending glittering parties with Gerard, teasing T-Fresh Roberts, free museums, old things EVERYWHERE, my tutors, my tutorials, toting a surplus of library books at all times, and I could go on but you're probably going cross-eyed.

In short, I'm going to miss Oxford, and I hope Oxford will miss me, enough to have me back in the future.

For now, the plan is to sit on my couch in my Christmas pajamas and watch Christmas movies and eat Christmas cookies and generally get the good cheer on. (And did I mention a certain young gentleman who might play frisbee and who is definitely good-looking lives like twenty minutes away? Mistletoe, anyone?)

So, I think this is it for a while, but thanks for reading. Who knows, maybe I will be back! There might be more madness to follow.

Yours, eternally and with devotion,

The Roaming Librarian!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sojourns of Fancy.

First off, everyone should know I didn't make it to the White Horse.

I know, I know. You had to read that whole whining post. I'm sorry. But there are a few reasons why I decided against trekking into the English wilderness:

  1. Snow flurries! Wonderful! The first snow of the season is always one of my favorite things (cue song?), but not ideal for a trip to the countryside.
  2. Gerard, who I was trusting to coach me in breathing when/if we got lost, couldn't accompany me because he had a important Ultimate Frisbee Tournament. Because, you know, he plays for the Oxford Blues. The University team onto which you must be invited to play, by the current captains. Which is not a big deal, except…it is. Since he neglected to mention this fact to me until recently, I decided to practice my 'being supportive' rendition and go to his tournament instead. I also was very realistic about the potential negative consequences of going to White Horse alone, not excluding ending up in a field shivering and surrounded by sheep (this is a recurring nightmare of mine). Standing on the sidelines while a few attractive guys toss around a frisbee was, I think, a reasonable alternative.
    1. Also, I think I should mention here that I was accompanied to this match by TYLER ROBERTS. TYLER ROBERTS, are you reading this? Everyone, TYLER ROBERTS came with me to the frisbee match, and we got hot chocolate on the way, and did star jumps (jumping jacks, for you Americans) to keep warm, and he was the best & most fun fellow spectator there could possibly be. That was TYLER ROBERTS, for those of you that may have missed it.

But the final and most important reason why I didn't make it to White Horse is……………………….

  1. On Sunday, I went and saw Jane Austen's house, and let me tell you, I ended up needing every ounce of physical and mental stamina I could muster.

There are a few reasons for this. Of course one of which is the fact that, come on, folks, let's be honest: you know it takes a lot of energy to grovel (read: lay prostrate on the ground) in worship on the threshold of one of the most revered writers in the literary canon. But there's more than that.

Let's start with the journey getting to Janie.

On Thursday night, I booked train tickets for Aidan and me. Aidan is a fellow Austen Aficionado (I do love me some alliteration) and, much to my soaring happiness, agreed to come with me to find the house, even though she will be here for the year and has plenty of time to travel around without crazy people such as myself.

We met up in Tesco's bright and early Sunday morning, to pick up breakfast (which ended up meaning: Cadbury, Mars Bars, Starburst, etc). It's a beautiful day, sunny, and -7° Celsius. So, that's more than a little cold, but we're optimistic. From this point, however, I think it will be more helpful if I provide a play-by-play:

9:01 – We board our train, first of four on the outward bound journey (since Jane Austen I guess lived in the middle of freaking nowhere), at the Oxford Railway Station. There is no heat on this train. Aidan: "Do you think it's cold? I think it's cold." Me: "I can see my breath in here. It's cold."

9:20 – The train stops dead on the tracks about 3 stops from our transfer station because 'we are waiting for a train in front of us to move.' It turned out to be a train full of rocks. That did not move for forty minutes. Subsequently, Aidan and I miss our connecting train at Reading to Basingstoke.

10:00 – We wander clumsily (since all of our extremities are frozen) through the Reading station. We find an information desk, where a woman helpfully prints out some…information on optional connecting trains to our final destination (Alton). We immediately find coffee because we've discovered that Britons do not believe in indoor heating: we can still see our breath in the train station, probably since the doors were propped open and there's a bitter wind whipping up through the main concourse.

10:37 – We board a train allegedly heading for Basingstoke, the site of our second transfer. This train is warm (thank goodness), but is not moving at the appropriate time.

10:47 – A National Rail employee walks through the train carriages: "We're running a bit behind schedule. The train conductor didn't turn up for work this morning."

10:47:30 – Aidan and I exchange horrified glances.

10:48 – The station announces the train will not be leaving, but that there is a train departing for Basingstoke immediately a few tracks over. Cue more running with frozen extremities.

10:49 – Aidan and I make our train, successfully make it from Basingstoke to our next stop, Brookwood, and then also successfully make it onto our train to Alton. As the journey wears on, however, we begin to note the following things:

    The train is getting emptier and emptier with each successive stop.

    We are rumbling through countryside. Roads turn into fences, fields, sheep, etc. Things are looking more and more remote.

    The sky is getting cloudy, it looks like it might rain, and there's some mist rolling in, and I think I saw a Death-Eater behind a tree, but I can't be sure.

12:30 – Our train pulls into Alton, and Aidan and I are, literally, the only people to get off. It's the end of the line, and we're the only ones who have braved it. We walk into the station – small, rickety, cold – but unfortunately no one on the Alton Town Municipal Board had the forethought to post, say, a 24' x 36' topographical map with color-coordinated walking directions to Jane's house. I resort to asking a rather tired looking woman behind a dirty service window.

    'Hi, excuse me, could you tell me how to get to Chawton?'

    The woman looks up. Some synapses jump and she processes my accent and touristy garb. My attempt to hide my destination by asking about the town instead of 'JaneAusten'sHouseWhichIHaveBeenWaitingToSeeMyWholeLife' fails, because she laughs. I even restrained myself from jumping up and down, but she knows what I'm here for, she's no idiot. American women with backpacks and sensible walking shoes can only mean one thing: Jane Austen pilgrimage.

But, really, folks? Whatever. By this time, Aidan and I were so hypped up on caffeine and Jane and an improtu dance-party on an empty train that we were moving into Do or Die mode. At this point I didn't care if I had to walk three miles down a sidewalk-less highway in fading daylight to get to this house.

Oh, funnily enough, that is exactly what we ended up doing. Turns out the house was located down the very end of some obscure road. At one point, I think one of us may have shook our hand at the heavens. The street on which we were walking bottomed out onto a dangerous roundabout, bracketed by two arrowed signs reading 'Jane Austen's House: This Way.' Pointing at each other. I think we really started to despair when we practically ate pavement crossing the roundabout and realized that the ways in which the signs were pointing had no sidewalk. But by this point I was preternaturally determined to make it there. I stormed back around the roundabout, and spied a street name I recognized from the AWFUL map on the Jane Austen website.

Aidan and I began walking rather warily down the street, since, if you didn't know, Britain can go from highway to farmland in 30 metres flat. There were suddenly horses milling around in fields next to us. Luckily, however, we found some nice British people out for a walk, who took enormous amounts of pity on us, and assured us we were going the right way. Jubilation! We finally found where we were going! We continued down the road, feeling much better, and even more determined. But there was one final wrench.

We walked about another half mile and then stopped, because we got to the end of the road the British people directed us down, and couldn't see any more signs or anything. Nothing that looked like the house where six works of groundbreaking literature were composed. There was shoulder slumping, loss of hope, etc.

'Aidan, we're never going to find it.' Tears coming on.

'No, no, we will, we w – look!'

And Aidan points. And we are standing right next to a gate saying 'Jane Austen House & Museum; Enter Here.' And I'm pretty sure if I was just rescued by Bear Grylls after hanging off a precipice in the Himalayas, I wouldn't feel a bigger wave of relief as I did after Aidan used basic cognitive faculties to figure out that we had reached our destination. Thank goodness I had that girl with me; she is a life-saver.

I mean, the rest of our adventure was just bliss. I won't stifle you with my ramblings. Mostly we walked (semi-floated) around the grounds of this beautiful little house. The whole place is run by little old ladies who totally understand the reason people like me come to the place. They even let me take pictures inside the house, even though there's a huge sign banning cameras.

And do you know what I wrote in the guest book? Do you know? Guess. I wrote: 'She has bewitched me, body & soul!' Because she has! Her writing captivates me.

Is it too weird? I think it's too weird. But it's too late now. It's there forever.

Or until they rip the page out.

But I have to say, this whole day was one of the best (if not the best!) part of my whole trip here. Not only did I spend a few hours in house of my literary heroine, I got to do it with a wonderful friend and tell a wonderful story.

Is there really more one can ask?

From heights of ecstasy,

R.L.

'Such art as hers can never grow old.'

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A typical day in the Bodleian:

Aidan and I Skype-chatting each other.

Aidan and I laughing inappropriately.

Aidan and I doing that thing where we make a gun with our fingers and blow out our brains.

Aidan and I stressfully massaging our foreheads (our own, not each other's).

Aidan and I texting each other.

Aidan and I going on cookie breaks to Ben's in the Market.

Aidan doing work, finishing papers, moving on to next week's reading assignment; me procrastinating like I've dropped out of school.

Aidan and I slamming our heads on the desks in frustration.

Aidan generally being an all-star, me updating my blog. But at least that gives me a chance to finally tell you about Aidan. In case you didn't know, she's a fantastic, fabulous Smarty McSmart from Wheaton College (in Massachusetts!) who suffers my antics and generally has made my Oxford experience a thousand times better than it would have been because of her lovely personality and hilarious sense of humor.

Did I mention she's a philosophy and math DOUBLE major? I think that's worth noting. She really is smart.

And she keeps me sane. And at this moment, as we're sitting in the Bodleian, she's looking at me authoritatively and pointing at my computer. I believe that means 'get back to work.'

She's right, you know!

Love,

-RLib.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Exercises in Horseplay.

The ancient-English-history nerd in me is dead-set on going to see the Uffington White Horse this weekend. It's my last full weekend in England, and I'm attempting to knock out both WH and Jane Austen's house in terms of sight-seeing. If you aren't familiar with traveling around the UK, there are parts of England that are wonderfully accessible (Jane's abode), and then there are parts of England that are almost impassably difficult to get to. And one of those places is indeed the Uffington White Horse.

For those of you that, unlike me, don't spend the majority of your time researching ancient locations of pre-Celtic yore, the White Horse is essentially a giant effigy of a horse (they think, or now they think it might be a dog, but that is not going to be discussed) carved many thousands of years ago into the side of a hill. Scholars have little to no clue about the origins or purpose of the site, other than the fact that it is extremely cool. Said extreme coolness is the reason I want to go, but if you desire more information, you may sally forth here: Uffington Horsey.

So, yes, I'm salivating just thinking about going (especially since the Horse was given a nod in the recent Ridley Scott flick, Robin Hood. Which I saw in theatres. Twice). As an added bonus, I think I successfully convinced my fabulous (read: extremely hunky, extremely brilliant, extremely talented, extremely longsuffering-for-putting-up-with-my-constant-mentally-ill-behavior) sweetheart Gerard to come with me, and I may or may not have taken into account his excellent sense of direction and ability to prevent me from hyperventilating in panicky situations when I'm not wearing stretchy fabric when I asked if he would join.

Hands off, ladies.

Did I mention he has hazel eyes?

Really, back off.

But I digress. So today I was researching how I might get to said Horse (this may or may not have been around the same time I was ignoring the 2,000-word essay I have due tomorrow morning). It's in Oxfordshire, which is like our county, I guess, so I figure, what the heck? It can't be that far away, and it certainly can't be that hard to get to.

Fellow English majors, raise your hands if you can spot the hubris of all tragic heroes.

My first clue about this intended excursion should have been the vast variation in available information online, or actually the lack of reliable information on transportation from Oxford to Uffington in general. Furthermore, I'm already starting out with a number of handicaps for this journey, one most notably being the fact that I neither own a car nor know how to drive a stick shift even if I could rent one. My only option, therefore, is coach services. Buses are actually surprisingly reliable here, and abundant (quite unlike the States; sorry, NJTransit), so I wasn't terribly worried about finding a way to get to the equine masterpiece. But as the minutes (hours?) and internet usage wore on, I became more and more frustrated. I skimmed everything from bus routes to message board posts (No, WhiteHorseWalker25, "Uffington is getting on ten miles from the center of Swindon, as the crow flies" is NOT a helpful set of directions), but to little avail.

BUT, after many extended forays into the Google wilderness, and not much help from the National Trust AT ALL (Prince Charles, are you listening?), I finally found myself a route.

Are you ready?

Getting to legendary and venerated White Horse* is going to take two hours, three buses, and a one-mile hike through the remote British countryside, which may or may not include signage to the intended destination. This raises a number of hazards, such as the potential for being hit by speeding motorists around winding mossy bends, missing a bus and being stuck out on the moors, wandering into a flock of sheep and inhospitable shepherds, or getting desperately lost and falling off a hill into an impassable crevasse and/or bog, without hope of discovery for about 500 years.

At least my mortal coil will be preserved.

So, I know as all of you are reading this, the alarm bells are going off. Don't do it, you say. You didn't even bring sneakers to England (which I didn't), and ballet flats are unsuitable for such treks across the heath. Why don't you just remain satisfied with knowing you were in the same county?

I should also mention it's going to be 2⁰C on Saturday, with a forecast of rain. But I feel like that's the kind of weather my doctor would recommend for my extended earache, so devil may care with that one. I'll bring a hat or something.

Because, see, when I finally figured out what it was going to take to get me to the Horse, there were no such alarm bells. My only thought was, "Yeah! Let's do this!" Is that bad? Yes. Have I spent too much time reading Beowulf and Arthurian Legend? Yes. Are my health, sanity, and hunky hunk going to suffer for it? Most certainly yes.

Is that going to stop me? Absolutely not.

Saturday, it is! Pray I live to write another update!

Fondest farewells,

R.L.

*So legendary and venerated and important that no one bothered to pave a road there.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

London-town.

Took a London trip yesterday. It was fabulous! I jetted in via bus (coach, as they say here) to go to an exhibit at the British Library and see a performance of Hamlet at the National Theatre.

Let me tell you, I was completely unprepared for the life-changing experiences I was to have by simply walking around an exhibit full of really old books.

In fact, why don't I quickly list the seminal texts of the Western literary canon upon which I was privileged to lay eyes yesterday, and I'll let you decide for yourself if you feel like freaking out with me or not:

  1. First up, one of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles. Not too big of a deal, just one of the main sources of Anglo-Saxon information surviving with us today.
  2. The original text of Beowulf. There. In all its glory. If this doesn't make you freak the heck out, I don't think anything else in this list will, so maybe you should cease reading.
  3. A manuscript of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
  4. The King James' Bible. THE King James' Bible.
  5. William Tyndale's English translation of the Book of St. Matthew, which is significant for me since he attended Hertford, you know, like, four hundred years ago or whatever.
  6. Samuel Johnson's Dictionary.
  7. The. Handwritten. Manuscript. Of Jane Austen's Persuasion. Handwritten by Jane Austen. In case you didn't intuitively grasp that at first.
  8. The manuscript of Finnegans Wake.
  9. Mozart's wedding contract.
  10. Charlotte Bronte's manuscript of Jane Eyre.
  11. The earliest draft of Handel's Messiah.
  12. Parts of Da Vinci's manuscript notebook.
  13. The Book of Hours.
  14. One of the Gutenberg Bibles.
  15. The Lindisfarne Gospels.
  16. And last, but by no means least, and sequestered in its own room complete with timelines and graphics and general splendor: the freaking Magna Carta. I saw. The Magna Carta. I saw one of the original copies of the only thing closest to a British constitution, written in the thirteenth century. I saw it. I SAW it.

    I mean, it's pretty unassuming. There weren't angels flying out of the page or heavenly lights shining on it, but……..still. I gazed upon it, and many other important works of literary greatness in the span of about an hour and a half and in one place, which was enough to leave me giddy and reeling for the rest of the day.

That is, until I went to see Hamlet.

Which, notably, was located some ways away from the library, so I booked it back to the Tube, since I needed to take it south a few stops and then physically cross the Thames via footbridge.

Which can take a while, in case you were wondering. And the performance was in one hour.

By the way, I gave someone correct Tube directions! This made me so happy. But moving on.

The sun was starting to go down, and the South Bank was all lit up. There was a little cutesy Christmas village selling cutesy Christmas things that was heart-warming to walk by, except I was on a mission to the theatre, so I didn't stop to get my cheer on. I made it just in time, as the doors were opening to the Olivier Theatre to let attendees in to their seats.

Well, let me tell you, seeing a Shakespeare play is much different than reading it. Seeing Hamlet plot and go mad is much different than skimming over "To be or not to be." This production was set in a modern totalitarian society, but retained the original Jacobean script. I actually ended up enjoying it. And Rory Kinnear, who played the prince himself, was utterly convincing, if not a little too schizophrenic for my taste. In my opinion, the supporting cast was the real gem of the performance, but I'm sounding like a theatre reviewer, which I am not. All in all, it was incredible, doubly so since I am reading the play for my last Shakespearian Tragedy tutorial. One more thing I will say: I laughed at all the jokes. I feel like if a modern cast can make Shakespeare so accessible as to have the whole audience roaring at multiple points, it's got to be good.

Anyway, after a very fulfilling day for this English major, and after a minor panic attack during which I couldn't find my bus stop to catch the coach back to Oxford, I made it to my room in one piece. More to fill you in on later.

One more thing: I will be home in 13 days! Crazy!

Rock on,

Roaming Lib.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

5th Week Blues = 5th Week Reality Check.

Okay.

So, lest you all believe that every moment of this trip has been filled with sunshine and tea and hobbits, I would just like to mention that today is a really crappy day.

A really awful, terrible day, just like back in the States. Because, contrary to the picture I've been painting, Britain, while awesome, is not a place of perfection and bliss, and sometimes bad days do happen.

Why today? Why is today so terrible? I'll give you a cross-section. At this moment, I'm sitting in the Upper Reading Room of the Bodleian Library. It is filled with students looking persecuted and harassed by the semester. It is also filled with false floors that make every footstep echo about ten more decibels than they would have normally. And filled with book-slamming researchers. And Relentless Coughers, coughers coughing constantly, a coughing chorus, a coordinated coughing symphony. And I have been working on a paper, my sixth 2,000-word essay in five weeks, on The Death of King Arthur, and the research for which, like usual, has consumed all of my time for the past week. Also at this moment, it is the middle of 5th Week, that notorious time in the semester which, as the moon rises, all students turn into coffee-guzzling, irritable zombies. So notorious, in fact, that it has a name (5th Week Blues) and so awful that the student pidge holes (mail boxes) in the Porter's Lodge were this morning generously stuffed with candy (courtesy of those wonderful Hertford Welfare Execs and, possibly, the college cat) to stave off the approach of impending mental breakdowns by all.

So, yes. I am sitting in this library, listening to the same old songs on my iTunes, with notes sprawled out around me, a sore throat that the doctor won't treat, and a kink in my back that I irrationally keep thinking might be a kidney infection (please, yes, call the therapists). I'm surrounded by books, and coughers, and darkness and cold and rain, and I haven't eaten or had anything to drink in five hours (since a mediocre Hall lunch of some indiscernible meat and potatoes), or slept well for a few days, or done anything but type about King Arthur¾who, by the way, is dead, so who cares? And to top it off, I opened to the center spread of The Oxford Student in wild anticipation (because I loved college newspapers!!) only to find it's a three-page, in-depth story about the Klu Klux Klan (with barely veiled references to American culture on the whole), so thanks very much to the Features staff at OxStu for perpetuating that stereotype of Americans as gun-toting, cross-burning, WASP-y, racist Republicans.

In short, I am literally about to go out of my mind, and if I bump my knee on these ancient, creaky, too-small library desks one more time, the next post on this blog will be my funeral announcement.

Luckily, for both me and all of you, I am about to go have what is apparently the most amazing sushi in Oxford, if not in the whole of Britain, at a place called Edamame on Holywell Street with the other two members of my Dream Team Trifecta, Aidan Kestigian and Conor McFarland (who have not had enough attention on this blog).

That is, if I don't burst all the blood vessels in my eye sockets from squinting at this computer screen.

And here I will end my privileged-white-girl-who-has-no-concept-of-real-suffering complaining.

Thanks for listening,

R.L.

PS: Everyone should know that this day culminated in me walking down the street to my apartment, eating out of a sleeve of chocolate chip cookies in one hand, and drinking out of a jug of milk in the other. And also having the worst stomach ache I think since I was in elementary school. Don't do as I do.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Infirmities.

Let's have a brief word about being sick in a foreign country.

I have been ill for about five weeks now. Five. Weeks. Read: The entirety of my time in this country. When I say 'ill,' I do not mean a debilitating fever, or the pernicious flu. I mean your standard cough/sore throat, the kind that is not severe enough to confine you to bed, but just painful enough to make every activity annoying. Such as singing in a choir in a drafty chapel. Or staying out until all hours of the night pubbing. Or pulling all-nighters for papers.

Okay, so maybe those aren't necessary activities. Nevertheless. This cold of mine has been doing its own study-abroad tour, from my throat to my chest to my….ear?

I haven't had an earache since I was like 4. Of course now is the perfect time, being without my family doctor, pharmacy, or…….mother.

But I decided about a week into my illness to go see the college nurse (for her "open surgery hours"). She's such a nice woman, she remembers my name and has a very soothing voice. She looked at me sympathetically (squinting her eyes in that understanding way medical professionals do), and nodded her head at all the right points. I think I was getting better just sitting there.

"Tell me how you're feeling."

"Um, well, my throat is really sore." For 'sore,' read: on fire.

More sympathy-squinting.

"You poor thing. Well, here's what you do. Go to the pharmacy – Boswell's, not Boots, they'll take forever – and ask for some dispersible
aspirin [she wrote this all down for me, actually underlining emphatically as replicated]. Take two in water every couple of hours. You should be better in no time."

Oh, swell. Aspirin? Piece of cake.

Except drinking that crap tasted like someone dumped chalk dust in my water. After mixing it with paint thinner.

But that was okay, since my throat wasn't sore anymore. No, no¾the cold had moved camp to my chest. Now, I was coughing up lungs right and left. Repelling people by the sheer force of my phlegmatic hacking. It was a beautiful sight. I felt charming. So I went back to see Yo.

And yes, that is actually the nurse's name. Yo. Yo Davies.

There was, of course, more squinting, but this time it wasn't so sympathetic. More of a "How did you screw up my remedy?" squint.

For this second visit, after a quick listen to my chest ("You're not weezing, and you don't have a fever, my dear."), her prescription included Friar's Balsam. Never heard of it? Well, perhaps you've never heard of inhaling tree sap reduction, either, but now is not the time to be close-minded. And may I mention here that it smells like Harry Potter and shares consistency with molasses. Shooting a quick email to Professor Snape for the origins might not be the worst idea (and here the HP references end). Essentially, Nurse Yo had me dumping a teaspoon of this sticky mess in boiling water twice a day and inhaling the fumes under a towel. This is NHS at its finest.

Did it work?

Let's just say Yo's face the third time I made it to her office wasn't the definition of "thrilled."

But this time she farmed me out to a doctor's office down the street. Who put me on a 7-day antibiotic without so much as looking at my throat, ear, or chest. I was in and out of that office in five minutes.

And was the week-long barrage on my bodily bacteria successful?*

Well, here I am, three weeks later, with an ear ache that feels like someone tried to knit a sweater out of my cochlea and auditory nerves. With my chest slathered with a TUB of the British version of Vick's vapor rub. My room smells absolutely offensive. But that's it. No more nurses or doctors or tree sap! I am loading up on decongestants and Vick's and taking care of this thing for good, because, as I've said to my excellent friend Aidan, I'd rather gash my foot open and dump lemon juice on it right before I run the NYC marathon rather than be sick any longer.

And yes I mean that.

Signing off,

RL.

*You are LOVING that alliteration.

post-scriptus.

I also should mention new pictures are available in my sidebar! Peruse at your leisure. You may see, as the head of Hertford's MCR (Middle, or Graduate, Common Room) has said before, my "youthful phizog preserved for remote posterity."

Just some casual e-mail lingo here in Brittania.

Off, off, and away to a splendid night of reading!

RL.

Updates!

I've been remiss, I know, but the Prodigal Bookworm has returned!

Briefly. Ever so briefly.

Here are some little tidbits, some little update-victuals, for your reading palates until I can post my longer thoughts:

Cows graze while I walk to college in the cold mornings, and the babies glare at me from the heather with ears akimbo.

I scrambled a gorge. In wellies. And climbed a mountain with sheep.

Emma Smith has determined that ducks recur and that A Winter's Tale begs the question: "Wtf?" (NB: Othello, Henry V, Measure for Measure, and Macbeth will never be as thrilling as in her lectures.)

I'm laundry-illiterate with all-blue underwear.

Building a separate room out of the quantity of library books on my desk is a viable option.

Incense does not mix well with solos for Requiem masses.

There is nothing more beautiful than a rainstorm through peaks and valleys. Or a train ride to London.

I have given up the Ph.D. goal for now. Library science, here I come! Where? No one knows. New Jersey? Boston? North Carolina? Please advise!

My "Medieval Literary Theory" lecturer tossed around the phrase "deponent infinitive" last class and it was the best part of my day.

  • (He also discussed medieval perceptions of university life: "Critics had very interesting things to say about this university." This university. THIS university. The one I'm attending that's been around since the Middle Ages.)

The Oxford Diet: Steak and ale pie. Digestives. Pimms and Lemonade. Cadbury.

Your best bet for an accurate weather report is British senior citizens. Actually, they're your best bet for anything.

Recipe for "Formal Hall": 1 part "Benedictus benedicta, amen" + 4 parts Gowns + 2 parts Wine + 2 parts Incredible Friends + 1 part Handsome Dinner Companion.

Remember, remember the 5th of November…….

That's it for now, my loyal and long-suffering readership. In a few days, there will be more to come!

Smooches,

--Roaming Lib

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A little thing called ‘learning.’

At some point, we might recall that I actually came to Oxford for a purpose, and that was to learn. This was something that apparently slipped my mind, since it seems I've made gallivanting around pubs and going to tea my primary focus/occupation. Anyway, it was, I think, Tuesday of last week that I finally remembered I had a 2,000-word essay due on Friday, and a tutorial to attend. A tutorial basically consists of me sitting across a desk from a college fellow (read: really intimidatingly brilliant scholar who knows pretty much everything about the subject you're writing in) for one hour and defending the paper I've written. So. I starting having what might be considered a small panic attack (but this, as we know, is nothing new for me). I had met with my tutor once before (during which meeting we were reading aloud some quotations about Arthurian history, and he asked, "So how's your French?" He meant: my medieval French. The answer: Not good), and he had seemed nice. He judged what I already knew of Arthur and gave me a paper topic. I needed to synthesize three early versions of the Arthur legend, all written in about the 12th and 13th centuries. Cue choking here.

What was most complicated was convincing myself that I've done work like this before, and it's not any different now, even though I'm at one of the premier universities in the world. But that last part kept tripping me up. I know that I'm able to do things like this, but getting over the fact that it's Oxford is nearly impossible. You automatically feel inadequate, which I guess in the long run is a good thing (for ego and whatnot). But when you're trying to write a paper, it's really not.

So my plan of study went a little like this: spend as much time as possible in the library. And that was pretty much where it ended.

But this is not a bad thing, because if there is one thing Oxford knows how to do, it's libraries, folks. Like, I'm serious. We actually had a library orientation and received a map just of the University's libraries, so we could familiarize ourselves with the tremendous amount of resources available to us. Need the latest journal article on stem cell research? Not a problem. Need a manuscript from the 16th century? All in a day's freaking work, newbies. You literally can't want for anything with the Bodleian team behind you. Unfortunately, the New Bodleian library is closed for a few years because they're installing an elevator (read: lift) into the center of the building (apparently dropping an elevator shaft down the middle of a centuries-old structure isn't the easiest take in the world). So that means I'll just have to settle for studying in the Old Bodleian library (which is, if possible, older and cooler than the New Bod) or the Radcliffe Camera (literally here you should start envisioning Harry Potter). Or even my college's library. Or the English Faculty Library. Or any of the dozens of libraries across town. Such a shame that I have to settle like this. But I'm getting off track again.

Anyway, the long and the short of it is: I finished my paper and emailed it to my tutor a day early, as per his request. Then I commenced getting steadily more nervous as the next 24 hours ebbed away. The next day, I arrived at his office twenty minutes early (because in addition to throwing off my sleep schedule, traveling to Britain has robbed me of my sense of timeliness). I decided to sit in the courtyard and review my notes, despite the fact that it was a little frigid out. I couldn't bring myself to go in before it was time. As I was flipping pages, I spotted someone in the corner of my eye rushing across the quad.

It was my tutor.

I opened my mouth like a fish. Thoughts (read: lies) like, "These aren't notes, I've memorized the three Arthur legends and I was just checking the pronunciations of 'Avalon,'" rushed to mind. I suppressed them, along with queasiness.

"Hi," he said brightly. "Five minutes. Got to eat a sandwich." He held up the alleged lunch in one hand as he continued to walk sideways toward the door.

"Oh, okay," I sputtered. Shock is a surprisingly paralyzing agent. "I'm just renewing my notes."

That's right. I said "renewing." Not "reviewing." It's fine, please laugh.

He smiled and continued to dash inside.

It was at that point that I knew I'd be fine. I actually think I giggled a little, which is horrifyingly embarrassing now. My tutor is actually a really nice man, and he was very patient with me and my first essay. He said it was "an excellent start," and gave some great comments. By about halfway through the session, I found myself having an actual conversation with him about the subject, rather than just replying to his questions. We laughed, we cried, we drank tea. Okay. It wasn't so dramatic, and we didn't quite get to braiding each other's hair, but it was a very good induction into tutorial life here.

And yes, we did actually drink tea.

HERE. I’M REALLY HERE.

I'm here. I'm in England. I'm in ENGLAND. In Oxford, in my room, to be precise.

And I'm severely behind on updating my attentive readership of my activities.

But I'm actually in England. After a year and a half of waiting.

And let me tell you, IT IS FREAKING AMAZING.

The flight over, however, was awful. For, like, a week I looked like a cripple walking around with my shoulders up to my ears because of the massive travel knots in my muscles. I'm just not a good sleeper on anything but a bed, so a red-eye is not my cup of tea (ahahaha, some British humor for you there. Yes? No?). I did try to keep myself amused with a few in-flight activities, such as: eating, watching Sherlock Holmes, grinding my teeth during thirty minutes of turbulence, chair gymnastics. Trying to find a comfortable sitting position in a 3"x5" space (such as, say, an airline seat) can be stimulating if you try to pretend it's an athletic exercise.

Nevertheless, we managed to get into Heathrow without any major incidents. I flew over in a group flight of about 40+ students, and I've managed to meet some incredible folks in my program. However, I haven't asked them if I can talk about them on my blog yet (since, honestly, I'm still a little bashful about even having a blog), so their names and awesomeness must wait for another post.

My program was nice enough to arrange a 5-day orientation in London, which was a really good idea. I've never gotten to see so much of a city as I've seen in those few days. From Trafalgar Square (my favorite!) to the Tate Modern, the group of us traversed back and forth around the city center. I took some great photos, which will be up on my Flickr soon, if I can figure the thing out. Advice??

Being five hours ahead hasn't changed the fact that I can hardly work a light switch, much less a complicated technological algorithm like a blog website.

Or a washing machine. But that is for another post.

At any rate, I've thus been here two weeks or so, and it feels like it's home. (Before someone like, say, my mother voices outrage at that statement, let me say that I do miss home, but I am luckily not homesick.) Oxford is continually amazing. It's actually a joy to get lost, because you find parts of the city that feel just like they must have hundreds of years ago.

I think what's most interesting is the clash of eras all around you. ATMs on a street that still looks like it belongs in the 17th century. Britain's oldest coffee shop on the same road as a modern restaurant called Quod. Students wearing matriculation robes patterned after the original Oxford scholars over modern and trendy skirts and slacks. It's so funny, so endearing. Oxford is a collision of times, and I marvel at how the city manages to function with one foot firmly planted in its past, and the other pacing forward to meet the needs of the future with premier scholarship and innovation. I wish I could describe it in more concrete terms. Hopefully my future posts will show what I mean.

It's also been the little things that have made my transition so smooth. My room and accommodations are blessedly blissful. My bedroom simultaneously overlooks the River Thames and the English countryside, and I have the nicest housekeeper named Janet who keeps everything tidy. I feel like my room is a lovely space for rest and quiet. In the mornings, I take the paths through Christ Church Meadows (Harry Potter fans, this is the college at which the movies were filmed) to go up to college. I live in graduate student housing about a ten-minute walk from Hertford's main campus, but I don't mind. My walk includes some lovely fields, the river, a group of meandering cows and even some deer, and it's beautiful now that the leaves are changing (and let me tell you, those cows are some snarky steer. It is definitely their field, and not mine).

It's a nice way to remain contemplative as the days get hectic with work, and this is especially true walking back through the Meadows as the sun is setting over the river. I feel as though God has really blessed me in this trip; so much of this experience I don't deserve, and I realize how precious it is. So many people should experience what I'm experiencing. It changes your whole perspective. What is that e.e. cummings poem? "I thank you God for most this amazing day." I understand now what he meant.

More later, for sure!

-Roaming Lib.


 


 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Overweight.

My bag is overweight.

For once, I wish I was overweight, because the airline makes allowances for human obesity. Just not luggage obesity.

I ask you, how am I supposed to fit 2.5 mos of stuff into one bag?

I swear to you, I have pared down to the bare minimum. It barely looks like my closet is missing anything. I have packed about ¼ of my clothes and like a handful of toiletries. And I am even leaving Infinite Jest at home (which I swear pains me more than leaving behind all my underwear, but my mom wouldn't allow me to bring it).

WHY WHY WHY IS MY BAG OVERWEIGHT. I really don't want to pay the overweight charge. And I also don't want to get laughed at by my fellow group-members, who I envision to be supremely sparse packers with naught but a change of undies and a tooth brush in their slim, svelte luggage. While I lumber along with my William Howard Taft version of the carry-on.

Anyway, I can't find a solution short of buying an entire new wardrobe in England, or living in the same pair of pants (the English version of pants……..) for three weeks. Please advise.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mini Post. Like a Post Vitamin.

So, I leave in approximately two weeks. At this time in two weeks, I will hopefully be through airport security and putzing around in the gateway, buying things I don't need. I plan to spend so much money on this trip. I'm not a spender, ever, but I just can't wait to come home broke. Like for a catharsis or something.

Okay, I'm prattling. But I can't help it. I did a TON of trip stuff today (and by that, I mean shopping), and it has really just brought this whole experience into sharp focus, AND NOW I AM CHOMPING AT THE FREAKING BIT. Oh, please, please, please let these two weeks fly by! I am taking the GREs on Saturday (just wait for that post), but I may as well not be taking them, with how much attention I'm paying now. As in, I can't even find my practice book anymore. I just want to go!

And my friend Jessa is already over there, telling me all about the beauty of Oxford (Jessa is my friend from down the street [read: another college] down near school, and she is also at Oxford this semester). I mean, I am thrilled that Jessa is having a wonderful time. I am thrilled with what she's telling me. But then she mentioned that my college is right next to the library (eek!) and near a great coffee shop (EEK!). Let me outta here!

But because of my shopping spree, I can now add to my pile the following items:

-Some cash-money in £GBPs.

-Small, almost insignificantly-sized travel shampoo/conditioner.

-Other small, insignificantly-sized assorted toiletries.

-A SLEEP-SACK! (thank youuu, Nikita Penett!)

-A new memory card for my camera (read: ancient photography device. We'll see if it lasts this trip).

-Small, insignificantly-sized alarm clock. (………do they have AA batteries in England?)

I'm sure you needed to know all of that, so you can tic off the items on your checklist for me. Not.

Alright. Let me reiterate once more that I am really ready to go.

In case anyone has an extra ticket for, say, tomorrow.

Anyone at all.

Okay. Goodnight now.

-R.L.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Another Pre-Post

First, I would like to say 'thanks' for all the encouragement on my first post!

Second, I'd like to disappoint you by saying: here's another one!

I think I'm calling this a pre-post, too. I somehow neglected to realize that I still have another TWO AND A HALF WEEKS before I leave. So there might be, how you say, just a few more pre-posts.

Right now I'm supposed to be writing my personal statement (bahahahahahahaha). I even printed out the first draft and did some by-hand editing the old-fashioned way (you know, while playing my gramophone and doing the Jitterbug). But then I realized I haven't updated my lovely readers (if anyone has the stamina to be dedicated to this insane blog) on the Oxford sitch. I've been doing a little bit more in the way of preparing for the trip (scattered applause)! Aaaaaaaand by that I mean I've gathered some things I will need in a pile on my bedroom floor. It's not pretty, but, you know, it's something. Currently on the pile are a duffel bag, my aforementioned travel guide, a folder, and some vitamins. There's some link between those items, but I haven't the time or the psychological wherewithal to figure out what. But apparently I'll be very organized and… healthy.

In other news I've been trying to prep for the courses (called 'tutorials') I'll be taking when I get to old Ox-ford. For example, to prepare for my tutorial on Arthurian legend, I read The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, a fictional novel about the Arthurian court that may or may not even adhere to the traditional interpretations of King Arthur legend which I will need to use in class. But that's okay, it was a good waste of time. An 880-page waste of time.

What a flattering book endorsement.

I'm also taking a course on Shakespeare's tragedies (you only take two tutorials a semester), but I've done nothing to prepare for that. I mean, I could say that reading DFW's Infinite Jest has been prep for, say, Hamlet. Come on, you know. When good old Hammy is holding that skull in Act V and he says "Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest."

Poor Yorick, indeed. Anyone? Anyone? Come on.

A bit of a stretch, I guess.

What I HAVE been doing is watching the Sassy Gay Friend series repeatedly on YouTube. I highly recommend them:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jnvgq8STMGM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lwnFE_NpMsE&feature=channel

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LKttq6EUqbE&feature=channel

I really hope those links go to the correct place and not somewhere embarrassing. Like my old choir concerts.

Okay and, prompted by the excessive ads on YouTube, can I just take a detour here and ask if there is ANYWHERE, ANYMORE on this EARTH that I do not have to be harassed with advertisements? (You can rest assured that I pronounced that the British way.) But I digress.

And now I finally come to the point of this post: travel advice! From all of you! May I take a poll?

I'm wondering if, since my trip is kind of short (only about 2.5 months), I should just explore the British Isles really, really well, instead of traipsing all over mainland Europe (although the temptation to visit Norway is extremely strong). Please advise.

Furthermore, I am a huge nerd and have been planning to visit all sorts of medieval sites. Which means all of you will be reading about Sutton Hoo and Anglo-Saxon ruins and frieze relief studies of churches for the next three months (sparse applause, coughing). But I doubt that's very exciting for anyone else… SO, if YOU could visit Britain, where would you go? Seriously?

Would you go see the Queen?

Would you visit Scotland, the moors, see the Highland games?

Would you bar crawl up and down the Isle?

Shopping in London?

Camping in the Lake District?

Concert-hopping in Ireland?

Come on, folks, I need some ideas! This is the final hurrah before serious thesis-writing, grad school-applying, and then….the G word: GRADUATION! Let's make it exciting.

Shoot me your thoughts in that handy Comments section.

Gotta go. Time to pull out my hair over word-choice for the statement of purpose.

Love ya,

R.L.

P.S.: Allow me to explain the hodge-podge of pictures on the left. They are currently travel pictures on my Flickr account, the product of a writing program to which I applied. Eventually it will be filled with England photos, but for now, enjoy South Dakota. And my sister three years ago at the Norwegian Day Parade in Brooklyn.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Pre-Post

This is a warm-up.

Test drive?

Warm-up.

Okay, so first I think I should say that I'm not really a librarian.

Not yet, anyway.

I am also not roaming.

Not yet, anyway (yuk, yuk, yuk).

What I should clarify is that the title of this blog is a nickname given to me by a fellow intern at my summer job (in a library!). Libraries, as we know, are notoriously low-budget. I had no desk. I roamed. I stacked books. I think we can put two and three together, here.

BUT! I am thinking about library school/librarian(ism) for my future, after I graduate from college in the spring. Anyone? Anyone? No one.

I liked the nickname a ton, though (it's catchy!), and if I don't become a librarian in the end, we'll think about a new name for this blog when we come to burnin' that bridge.

(Who is this 'we' I keep referring to?)

Anyway, I'm about to ship out to Oxford for a semester during the fall of my senior year (hence, roaming. I can't say at this point how many more double-entendres I'll hit you with). Somewhere along the line of deciding (insanely) to spend a semester at one of the most difficult universities in the world (note that I avoided the adjectives 'prestigious' or 'famous'), I thought it would make perfect sense to blog about it. Why? Because a) I'm of that narcissistic generation that needs constant attention, b) it stores all my updates and experiences in one place because writing separate emails to all of my loved ones is, I'm sorry, just asking too much, and c) I'm fundamentally a chronically anxious, mentally-ill, perpetually insecure and fearful 20-something who has never done anything adventurous/on her own in her entire life, and for goodness' sake, if you're not going to watch this train wreck with rapt gusto and verve, you are going to miss out, baby.

But I am not at Oxford yet. I stress 'yet.' It's a long and painful wait, one is making me feel like a lazy fat. All the students I know are back at school, being industrious, making plans, making moves, and I am at home counting down the days until I have to board a plane by myself for the first time ever, possibly¾and for everyone else on board, hopefully¾fully sedated. So this is a pre-post to my posting while I study at Oxford this term. I figured I should get a jumpstart on the travel blogging because while it may seem to everyone around me that this saga has been going on for months*, I haven't been adequately preparing for the trip at all. As in, nothing has been bought, no important persons have been notified (like my BANK. I'm having night terrors in which my ATM card is eaten at a Mac on a dark London street because I didn't tell BoA I was going abroad. Also, I'm never wearing shoes in these). Hopefully blogging about this experience will provide me with some motivation (fun fact: the usage of 'hopefully' is almost always incorrect). I've been mostly postponing any "for real" planning for this trip, so today I made a concerted effort to get my gluteus in gear, as it were. Which means I dragged myself over to B&N to buy a decent travel guidebook. I snatched up the Let's Go! edition for Great Britain. I've heard great things about this series (it's written for students, by students), and it was on the cheap end, so I gave it a whirl. It's on my side table as we speak (unopened, but that's insignificant).

Of course only a moron would put off planning for something as exciting as a semester abroad. I am that moron. My summer (read: life) has been all grad school prep (read: crap), which is probably what most (read: all) people have heard me talk about lately, if they're unfortunate enough to encounter me on the street or, goodness forbid, Facebook chat. Poor little souls. They've been so good about lending me a kind ear (and I know you're all thinking, "Isn't this chick GONE yet?"). But I can't stop talking about the grad school process (e.g. here I am, writing in a blog about it). It's word vomit everywhere. I fear what it's doing to my mental health, or, more importantly, everyone else's mental health. It's like an addiction. Like when heroin addicts try to reason that everyone else in their immediate family or morning bus route is similarly addicted. Well. I'm not too experienced where heroin is concerned, but coming out of B&N tonight, I passed a woman in the parking lot, and did a double-take. Did I recognize her from somewhere? Young twenty-something, check. Worn face, furrowed brow, check. Crooked glasses, check. Stressed slouch, check. Symptomatic caffeine-withdrawal shaking, check. Laptop in tow, check. Oh look, it was ME. I could tell this poor woman was schlepping to B&N for a night of resume-building/cover letter-writing/personal statement-composing. In fact, I think I was looking at me. Do I look that tired? Haggard? Worn? Bored, stressed, defeated?

Or am I projecting?

Anyway, I resolve not to think about grad school for at least 2 or 3 hours, and start reading my guidebook. Pen in hand. Slippers on, and possibly some coffee. Really good coffee, which I don't think they have in England.

But first, I need to study for the GRE.

Alright, I'm really stopping that now. For tonight.

This stuff sounds a lot wittier in my head.

Love,

R.L.

*Like, I mean months: "Have you heard about Oxford yet?" "Well, I applied, but I haven't heard back yet. You know. Since I submitted the application 9 months before the deadline and told everyone about it like it was happening tomorrow. But thanks for asking. Check back in a few."