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