Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Second week--delving into classes

It has been a most wonderful week. Naturally. There is very little to complain of. Even my bad ankle turned out not to be a problem. Monday was good because I had both a seminar and a lecture by Dr. Kerry for my class on the birth of the modern. His class remains fascinating, even though it requires on average 5 hours of reading a day. I would really like to get caught up (I'm behind because I joined the class late) but it will be hard now that my supervision has begun. So today, I'm going to do just the readings to today, then I'm going to work on my supervision for the rest of the day. We had our first proper FHE which consisted of sitting up in a high, small room in kings, called the Munby room, singing, and having a lesson from one of the Mormon professors here on the subject of his book. Dr. Kerry also spoke, trying to encourage us to feel that though we're outside of our accustomed surroundings with people who know and understand Mormonism, we still have a community here we can rely on.

Tuesday was also class, naturally, I have class every day with Dr. Kerry which suits me just fine. I went with Amelia and Cherry to Antony and Cleopatra which was being performed at a sort of nearby college. It was not the best production of Shakespeare I have ever seen, but like all shakespeare plays, after a little while it was easy to see beyond the old language and the strange dialogue and into the play itself. It was cold evening, and the play was in the college gardens next to a lovely stream and under the shade of magnificent elms. We had not thought ahead to bring anything for the rain or cold, so we were simply lucky that it did not rain. But it was cold the whole time, and intermission was mostly an attempt to warm up.

The play had no set, and only 6 or so actors, so several actors played several parts. Perhaps the best bit was Cleopatra--she was well played. I had never seen this play before. It lasted for three hours, after which we all ran back to kings to keep warm. We considered going to buy hot chocolate, but every place we tried either had just closed their hot chocolate stand, or did not have any to offer. Consequently, we just went back to our rooms and fell asleep

Wednesday I had a good deal of reading which I like to do at the Pembroke Library. Pembroke is the college just down the street which we are affilitated with. it is not nearly as grand and epic as king with its tall stone buildings and striped green lawns. Instead, it is more quaint and comfortable, like a tea cozy. It has beautiful roses and lavender beds strewn throughout the brick college, and tall circular stone staircases, and a beautiful baroque chapel.

I go to that library to read because they have the book I need but I am not allowed to check out. Also, while King's library has a better view, Pembroke library is more beautiful and less inhabited. King's library seems almost like an afterthought, placed where it is over an arch overhang and with its long, rambling rooms stretching out toward the back. Pembroke on the other hand, was designed specifically for the library duty and therefore has abundant places to sit and tall, cherry book cases on each floor. The upper story has the most fantastically arched roof, pink and white walls, rows and rows of book cases that lead to a great old globe at the end and a bubbly glass bay window. That is where I sit, typically next to the bust of Prime Minister Pitt who was a graduate of Pembroke and the youngest prime minister in history. The windows are all opaque with stain glass and oldness, as they were made so long ago, the glass was not clear enough to see through. The library is also the bell tower, so every hour and half hour, there is a resounding, thunderous thud followed by the heavy ding of a gigantic bell. it is a good way to mark how many hours I have been sitting there trying to plow through the readings.

Wednesday evening, we had a lecture by Dr. Dearlove who is the ex-Mi6 president. He discussed what modern security threats there are in the world. We all sat, all 400 of us, in the great Union Hall Debating chamber which is, as you recall, designed to look like parliament. I sat in the balcony because I had been reading for a while and unfortunately lost track of time, thinking it was 6 instead of 7, and therefore arrived several minutes late. At the end they asked for questions, and said that we should say what school we attend and our names when we speak. Just for that reason, I knew I had to ask a question. I had to represent BYU of course. The first person to speak was a BYU student, but that was before he was told to say what school he attended so people didn't know he was BYU. The next was also BYU. Then there was one Berkeley student, then me. I stood at the balcony bar and sort of had to shout for them to hear my question. I asked if he thought it was possible for the idea of modern extremist islam to be replaced by a different dogma, and eventually, to become passe. This was prompted by some of the things he had said earlier that evening. It was quite frightening, speaking in front of that whole audience and the former leader of Mi6, but not too bad. He said he didn't know. Later, I ran into a group of BYU students who said they had been talking about me. I was wearing my purple jerusalem skirt, so they all said I looked like Juliet at the balcony and they had half expected me to start with "Romeo Romeo" they also said I looked superbly self confident. That just tells you how well you can fool people if you try.

The next two students to speak were from Berkeley, and one of them was super inflammatory in his remarks, to the point that it was ridiculous. He asked something like, "well, what about all the terrorism the US and the UK have been doing to the world for the past 200 years? How do we answer for that behavior?" Dr. Dearlove, naturally, didn't really know how to respond. He pretty much said that he didn't even agree with the premise of the question. So, of the 6 students who spoke, 3 were from BYU and 3 from Berkeley. I wonder if that means anything. Yale, which has the biggest population on the programme, was entirely silent.

On Thursday, I unfortunately missed a seminar given by Dr. Kerry because I didn't realize we were having another lecture that day. I instead went wandering around the gardens of Clare College. They are truly the most spectacularly beautiful gardens. It was a perfect, sunny, muggy day for a british summer, and the garden smelled heavenly. It was created in the romantic style, windy, slightly overgrown, and designed to have each corner reveal another delight.

There was a section of entirely white flowers, a section where the flowers graduated from dark red to bright yellow, sections of tropical plants of deep purple and green, fountains, patches of warm green grass, and all of this along the edge of the cam river where dozens of punters floated by. It was truly remarkable. I have to go back to draw something for my class, but I intentionally did not do it the first time just so I could have a reason to return. At one point, there was a fountain surrounding by tall bushes and roses, and sitting on a bench was a man reading a kindle, then across the fountain/pond lay a woman playing with her giggling 3 month old baby. It was the picture of peace.

That night was the last harry potter. We all went to the midnight showing at a local theater, having bought out tickets the previous week. I won't say much about it, other than that is was epic and it was really a striking thing for all of us, all of us who are children of the harry potter generation. There was a lot of proclaiming it the end of an era, a lot of people who cried through the whole of the second half of the film. I even felt surprised at my own shock and sadness for the end of this all... most people considered it the official conclusion of our childhoods. But it was good when it was over, because now we can start afresh with a new sort of magical adventure, if you can forgive the cheesiness of such a statement. I was glad to call Dad when he was available. It was sort of fortuitous that we were up so late afterall.

I was, unsurprisingly, upset when I realized I had missed the seminar the previous day. I attended the next lecture given by Dr. Kerry, then went to a cafe to do my readings. While up there, I realized that I was probably mistaken about the time that the Architecture class was going to the Cathedral in Ely, a place I really wanted to go.

I pulled out my schedule and realized they should be leaving any moment, then saw that Amelia had already called me twice. I called her back--they were already 10 minutes out on their way to the train station. I started to run to get to the train station on time. I thought I should have caught up with them, but did not see anyone after about 15 minutes. So I called Amelia and found out I had been running the absolute wrong direction. While we had both bothered to clarify what street the station was on, neither of us had thought to mention the direction to go and both had assumed the opposite way from the other.

I was too late to get to the train they were leaving on now, so I had to get my own. I was also now several miles from the station, so I needed to take a bus. The busses, unfortunately, cost more money than I had with me, so it took a good deal of time and the buying of some candy at what is the world's most extraordinary candy shop (two stories, floor to ceiling candy) to get to the station. I was superbly frustrated, but I refused to simply give up. When I finally arrived, I got a ticket for the train which left in only 10 minutes, then boarded. No one really knew if this was the train going to Ely, but there wasn't really time to find out so I just had to hope. I was phenomenally relieved when we finally arrived in Ely, just as I had hoped. The cathedral spires stand high above the city, so finding it wasn't a problem. It was not long before I had found amelia in the beautiful building and joined the tour. The cathedral was built over a period of 6 hundred years, as much of it had to be built and rebuilt and rebuilt time and again for various reasons. Therefore, it is a remarkable example of the changes in architectural styles through the ages. It is also the 5th largest cathedral in Europe, and looks like it. Your neck quickly hurts from looking up. The whole ceiling is decorated in medieval paintings of the life of Christ (or at least, they're supposed to look medieval, they're probably redone) and much of the building is still c. the 11th century. It goes on and on, and has a stunning lady chapel on the north side. I could spend forever simply describing the Cathedral of Ely, but it is the sort of thing you have to see for yourself.

After the tour, Amelia and I bought a picnic assortment and sat in front of the cathedral to eat. The rest of the group left on an earlier train. I did much of my reading while Amelia took pictures of the cathedral. We finally left around 7. Ely is a fabulously family friendly city. It is beautiful, picturesque with little meadows filled with ponies and horses, people walking their dogs, and families playing in the park. It seems like the perfect sort of place to raise a family. I think I saw more little children in Ely than anywhere else on this trip combined.

I forgot, before I went to Ely, I had my first supervision. My supervisor is a 3rd year PhD student from Canada studying criminology. She sort of wants me to do whatever I want and let her know. AKA, no direction whatsoever, which is sort of terrifying.

After Ely, we got home and I spent a while reading at the library. I left at about 10, then was utterly exhausted and wanted to sleep. Amelia called me to let me know she and Cherry were at the pub and that I should come so we could plan our next trips. I reluctantly made my way over, and ran into Dr. Kerry who was walking by. he said he had sent me an email that afternoon that he was redoing the lecture I had missed for several people who were interested in the subject, and that he wanted me to go. I was ecstatic because this lecture, on Mozart's Magic Flute, was perhaps the most incredible thing he had spoken of thusfar, according to the people who had attended. He has written an article on the subject, and is a well known scholar of the opera. I went to that with the two people who had wanted to hear the lecture, people who were interested but not in the course, and was enthralled the whole time. On the way, I twisted my ankle. We went through the entire opera with Dr. Kerry explaining. It was Mozart's last major work, other than the unfinished Requiem mass, and it was laden with masonic symbolism. One person there was a mason himself, so he and Dr. Kerry spent and long time discussing the masonic references in the play. But then toward the end of the second half, it becomes something more. Mozart adds a woman to what is all an allegory for the initiation of the masons, and the man and women enter a temple. They go through fire and water, they show particular symbols and signs with their hands, and they are at the end sealed by the god of the sun in a room that is symbolic of the sun. It was completely revolutionary at the time, and it is still unexplained today because there is no precedent for what Mozart wrote. No one can really explain it. It is totally worth seeing and reading Dr. Kerry's article about.

I didn't get to bed until really late again, and the next day we were going to london. Unfortuntaly, I couldn't go because of my ankle, so the trip Amelia and Cherry had planned was off. We went to a city named Norwich in East Anglia instead because has a beautiful cathedral and it involves a lot less walking. The cathedral was much like the one in Ely, though longer it seemed. They were having a performance of Romeo and Juliet in the cloister, but we did not attend because it was too expensive. I would have loved to have gone though. We ate lunch at a pub next to their little river, then took the train home. Unfortunately, I lost my ticket when I paid for the food, so I had to repurchase everyone's train ticket back because we had gotten a group rate. That was really lame. The sunset on the ride home was spectacular though, and that helped a lot.

Yesterday was church, for the first time in 3 weeks. I was really, really glad to go and recharge after all the craziness. I don't like being away from church for so long. We filled up the congregation, and the choir afterward. The sunday school teacher was fantastic, wonderfully funny, and quite educated. The relief society women were simply adorable and smilely. They were all, in particular the choir director, happy to have us for the next few weeks. I'll be serving in primary.

After church, I slept for 3 hours, then went to dinner then to FHE (which I know, is not normally on sunday. We just have to fit it in wherever it works). FHE was again sort of a discussion of adapting to this environment and so forth. I shared how we had been planning on going to Bath on saturday instead of London, but how the group we were going to go with didn't want us to come because we were mormon. We ended up not going because there was no accomodation, however. That was my first experience with people not accepting me because of my religion. And they didn't even know who I was.

I went to bed shortly after FHE, and am now ready to start all my readings for today. Things have been, as you can tell, interesting, challenging, and wonderful.

My First week in Cambridge and Edinburgh

What an amazing week this has been. I’ve been nigh overwhelmed with awesomeness. I made it to the UK safely on Sunday afternoon, then took the 2 and a half hour bus drive up to Cambridge from London. I was so ecstatic to be in the UK, that I was actually seeing the place I had so long dreamed of. I didn’t really sleep at all on the plane because I was sitting in the middle of the plane and I didn’t really have any way to stretch out or to get comfortable. I managed I think for a couple hours or less, but mostly it was an exercise in learning to be patient and uncomfortable for a long period of time.

There was a mother and daughter who sat next to me who were surprisingly unpleasant people. They taught me that people are people wherever you go, and whatever perception you may have of properness. They spent the first two hours on the plane pursuing gossip magazines which had far more pictures than text. They were really more stalker magazines than they were anything else because their photos were all grainy and candid, or at least for the most part. They spent the better part of those two hours saying that someone was hideous, or that she was much prettier than her parents, or that prince Harry could not be the child of Diana and Charles because he’s ginger and ginger people don’t just come out of non-ginger parents. Then finally, they quieted down until the turbulence began. The girl was so frightened, she started actually to cry and to yell at her mother to shut up any time her mother tried to calm her. It didn’t help that I had ordered salmon and apparently salmon has the most disgusting and horrible smell ever and it was making her sick. They really liked to cuss. I’m uncertain as to whether they knew any other adjectives than that and hideous and awful. They decidedly hated the airline and everything about it, and for the rest of the flight their discussion was of how horribly British Airlines were and what they would tell the president of the airline if they could.

Landing was a blessing in more than one way, because it meant I could get away from them. The excitement of being there soon eclipsed everything else. We waited for an hour and a half at the border to get through the questioning. The questions for me consisted solely of “how long will you be here?” and I was let through. I was surprised at how easy it was. It would have been much more difficult if I didn’t have the letter from Cambridge saying that I was in their program. That was really important apparently. Amelia walked quite a way underground to get to the coach station where we bought tickets for Cambridge. I was still enormously excited that everyone around me had wonderful accents. I tried to avoid looking too awed though because I didn’t want to stand out in any particular way. We took the last coach at 3 pm to Cambridge, and arrived just as dinner was about to begin.

Cambidge is absolutely the most perfect little city I could have conjured up in my mind. It is full of victorian, tudor, and every other sort of little building all connected to each other that line the narrow cobblestone streets. Brightly painted stores in blues and reds line the road with such names as “the haunted bookstore” and “the King’s store.” King’s College is about the most grand place imaginable. The chapel was built in 1500 by King Henry VIII (or at least it was finished by him) and it just stretches up so high into the sky it doesn’t seem like someone at that period could have possibly built it. It was apparently Oliver Cromwell’s head quarters during the civil war. The great hall where we have all our meals is a beautiful neo-gothic building, so perfect it could have been built during the gothic period.

It has thick stone walls, stain glass windows with the school crest and logos of the british crown in them, a high vaulted wooden ceiling, and candles on every table where you eat. Our first dinner there was a wonderful meal with all sorts of delicate foods. There were probably two waiters for every twenty five people. Meeting the students was certainly an adventure, and continues to be an adventure because there are over 340 students on this program. They’re generally from the Ivy Leagues or the UC system, though there are more than 30 from BYU which is nice. They’re all wonderfully inquisitive and pithy and fascinating to speak with. It is just the type of people I like to surround myself with because there is always some wonderfully fascinating discussion I can get into with someone. People are also incredibly friendly in the program.
Then of course there is my room. It is just as wonderful as I hoped it would be. I have a room and a study attached to each other in a beautiful gothic building with windows that come straight out of the middle ages. I’m on the ground floor, which is nice because it means I don’t have to transverse the rickety wooden stairs to get up to my room.

I have a view of the river, the Cam, from my window and the bridge over the cam. People punt by all the time. I also have on the opposite wall a view of a beautiful garden and courtyard. When I’m in my room, I open the window in the study and the room, and the flower laden breeze sweeps through beautifully. I have a double bed with a soft fluffy comforter, and a bedder who is a woman that comes in to empty my bins and clean the desk and vacuum and change my bedding every day or week. She is wonderfully kind, very caring—Veronica is her name. I love talking to her, and she loves talking. J Today was the first day her son was going to college and she says she didn’t sleep at all because she was so anxious about it. I have a sink in my room and a mirror, as well as wardrobe and dresser, and a desk right in front of the giant old window looking over the cam. I also have two fireplaces, though we’re not allowed to use them. You go through two doors to get into your room, I think because that means it keeps the sound of people in the echoey stairwell out.

I slept like a log the first night, literally because I don’t think I moved once. I was so exhausted, it was incredible. Because I didn’t sleep that day and only that night, I didn’t suffer from jet lag one bit past the first day. It was wonderful. Amelia did have some pretty bad jet lag though.

Our classes started the next day. I still don’t know what is going on with my supervision, which is frustrating, though I have pestered eh people in charge just about as much as I think I can without really irritating them about it. They say they’re working on it. So I only have one class to worry about.

Originally I was in Gothic Architecture which was excellent because I learned a lot about how gothic buildings are made and what their characteristics are. I can now with relative certainty point out what is a gothic buiding and when it was built compared to other eras. But after a couple of days I switched out of Gothic because it wasn’t that challenging and I thought that if I’m going to be here, I had better be challenged. Amelia is still in it though. I’m instead taking the class taught by Dr. Kerry which is on the birth of the Modern, or the Enlightenment. I am really excited about it because it is a political philosophy course and I love that sort of thing. I went to his lecture and it was the single best lecture I’ve ever attended in my life. I’m going to the next lecture in just an hour now and am really looking forward to it. Most of the people in my class are from Yale and none of them are from BYU which is why I think Dr. Kerry tried to hard to get me into his class. He talked to me about it and made copies of the reading for me to try and get me interested. Well, it worked because I read the readings and loved them.

The next few days mostly consisted of orientations and plenary lectures (which are wonderful) in the Cambridge Union Society. It is a building made to suggest the parliament, so there are two sides and they face each other to help in debating. I also did a lot of shopping for things like a phone so I could communicate with peole while I’m here in England. The phone was really cheap, like 30 dollars for everything, so I wasn’t too worried about getting it.
We went off to Edinburgh on Thursday. The drive took most of the day because we stopped so many times. We stopped in an adorable little northern town called Richmond.

I bought a rain coat there because I knew it was going to be important in Scotland and I was right. It was really wet in Scotland. We went up to the Castle of Richmond which was built by the Normans in the 1100’s and had a wonderful time looking around. It just kept going up and up and up. At the very top, I got out onto the tower right as a powerful rainstorm began. I stood behind a stone wall and watched as the huge, heavy raindrops pummeled the city far below. The whole of it was incredibly green, off in the distance, the hills, every bit of nature was as green as green can be. The city was wonderfully medieval. I had fish and chips for the first time, which were incredibly greasy, but fun to eat because of it. They don’t really put ketchup on their fries (or chips as they call them) but instead vinegar and salt. That was quite good, though not quite as flavorful as a lot of ketchup is.

We arrived in Edinburgh in time to wander around the city for a while before it became dark. We were living in the dorms of the University of Edinburgh. With Cherry and a girl named E-fan, Amelia and I wandered the city for several hours. The sky did not even get dark at all until after 11, so we had quite a while that we could safely wander around the city. We saw a monument to Sir Walter Scott which I got a picture in front of because he is one of my ancestors after all. My heavens, Edinburgh is a beautiful city. It was exhausting to walk it all, but we managed it rather well. It didn’t rain at all that first evening while we were walking around. We actually saw the other monument to Scott, which is even more elaborate. There was also a man wearing a kilt, horns on his head, and walking on short stilts that were designed to look like the back legs of a goat. He was playing the bagpipe for the tourists. It was quite the sight. And he played the bagpipe at light lightning speed as well. It was rather amazing.

The next day, we got up at like 8.30 so we could climb up Arthur’s seat. I’m still not sure which Arthur it is supposed to be, but apparently it is not the famed King Arthur it is named after. Anyway, it is up on this knoll that overlooks the city and is rather high up. It took a lot of energy to climb, and was really difficult for Amelia, but we made it in the end. I spent most of the time speaking to the Programme Assistant Tom, so that made the time pass better. At the top you could see the whole city of Edinburgh as well as the ocean in the distance. There are a ton of sea gulls in Edinburgh because of the ocean. It gives it a strangely grandiose feel.
We went to the parliament after that. I was really excited about parliament but we weren’t able to get on the tour because there weren’t enough spaces on it. So we conducted a self tour of the place by wandering around the very modern and very different building until we felt we had seen everything we could. Unfortunately, there were places we could not go without being on a tour. I bought a simple bracelet, which was the only thing I bought in Edinburgh. I tried to find a good drum, but didn’t have the time.

Amelia and I spent the rest of the day just going around the city, going to the museum where we had a guided tour by a PA who is a Dr. in Medieval Scottish history, and then getting lunch at the End of the World Pub which was absolutely perfect for Scotland. We finally went back to the Dorms and had a rest.

Then was the most intense bit of the day. We had a Kaylie which is a sort of traditional Scottish dance. It was awesome, because they taught us all of these really intense dances that took a lot of exertion to do. They were so much fun and everyone was joining and laughing and dancing. They were really long songs too, so I got to where I was completely overheated and exhausted. It was amazingly fun. Everyone loved it, though the majority of the people were also getting drunk so that was interesting. I wish we did dances like that more frequently.
Afterward, I almost went out with a group of people to go up Arthur’s seat again and to visit a club. I didn’t because I was already getting tired and I didn’t think it would be as much fun as it was billed as. I happened to run into a Saudi man and a man from the program who were speaking Arabic. I naturally went up to them and started talking and so we spoke mostly in Arabic for an hour and a half until it was nearly 1 and I had to go to bed. We agreed to meet the next evening for coffee to talk more about Arabic and the Arab world.

The next day was the epic hike in the Highlands. I hadn’t had much sleep when I had to go, so I was certain that this was going to be quite something. It didn’t help that I had exerted myself so much the day before. It was a two hour drive up to the highlands, and we stopped to buy lunch at one point. The place we hiked is called the Trossacks and is a national park. It was utterly spectacular. There were craggy mountains we climbed through, speckled with gray stone, covered in heather and wild blueberries, the lochs were a wonderful glassy silver, and the trees windswept and twisted. It was 2 miles in and a 600 foot elevation gain with most of it being gained at the end. I spent most of the time talking to our hike leader, named Mahmet, about Turkish and then talking to a Chinese guy about Chinese. I would certainly live in the highlands if I could.

It touched my soul, really, in a way I had not anticipated. Or I had, but I hadn’t expected it to be as wonderful as it was. We ate lunch on the top of a tall mountain so we could see four or five lochs below us and the mountains stretching off into the distance. Unfortunately, it was really boggy in a lot of parts, so my feet were entirely soaked and uncomfortable to walk in. When I finally returned to Edinburgh, I could hardly walk because my feet were so raw and swollen. It is still a little difficult to walk so two days later. It didn’t rain on us once while we were up there, though when we returned to Edinburgh, it was pouring like Noah’s flood. We had experienced that a little the day before, and it was so extreme that Amelia was laughing the whole time. Neither of us had thought it even possible to have it rain that hard. It was difficult to even hold up the umbrella. You know, grass in Edinburgh is so green, it actually seems blue. I’ve never seen that before either.

That evening, I met up with my Arab friends at a popular Indian restaurant to have Mango Lassie. We spoke mainly in Arabic, and the Saudi man, his name is Anas, had me read in Arabic a letter he received from a prince that said that he could get pursue his education further in France to learn French.

I went to bed after that, and the next morning got up late and rushed to breakfast, then went off on the bus. We stopped at the Fountain Abbey which is a gorgeous ruin of an Abbey in northern England. One of the PA’s explained how the whole thing worked, and what each of the rooms originally were to me. I had a quick lunch and a wonderful time looking around there. Finally, we got home late enough last night that we were almost too late to dinner. We ate, and I washed my shoes that were so destroyed from the adventure, then went to sleep at 9.45. I was so tired, I didn’t get up until 8.30 today.

It was a perfect beginning to the semeseter.