Tuesday, 29 April 2008

April Showers

Once again, Oxford makes it profoundly unattractive to do anything besides sit indoors and write about blood feuds.

You Don't See This Level of Quality at the Oxford Union

I'm swamped with essays and concentrating on the thought that I'm four papers shy of potentially being done with weekly essays for the rest of my life, but as I do that, I've still managed to find time to leave my desk! I had a breakfast party yesterday, did a little bit of rowing, got to the gym yesterday and today, and then went to a goodbye tea for a friend of mine who's finishing her degree in Copenhagen. (Incidentally, she was frantically packing and we ended up having her goodbye tea in her absence. More people should try this. It's really good practice for the real thing.)

And rather than thinking about color terminology and feuding societies, this has left me occupied with other questions:

- Should our MCR change the position of 'wine steward' to 'sommelier'?
- Batman or Superman? Discuss.
- Might there be a relationship between cultural memory in Austria (the painful memories of empire, the repression of collective complicity in the Holocaust, the specter of the Balkans, etc.) and impregnating one's children? BONUS: Might the same things foster epic transcontinental prostitute-strangling?
- Can you theorize aesthetics cross-culturally?

Boo, guess which of those papers I'll be starting tomorrow afternoon. Hint: it doesn't involve wine, Batman, or prostitutes.

Monday, 28 April 2008

Number Six With a Bullet

I shouldn't be this proud of myself, but I filled in for a missing rower in the women's boat tonight AND I did it with fifteen minutes' notice AND I pulled it off in a pair of size 4 jeans from Express that really don't allow a very wide range of athletic motion (or boyish discretion, period) AND I didn't crash the boat or fall out of it, even when I somehow managed to get my oar caught behind me and I was pretty sure I was going to be forcibly ejected onto the really nice girl who kept whispering what I was supposed to be doing. I did spin around too fast and nailed a rower from Mansfield in the stomach with my oar, but that was after I got out of the boat and was feeling good about my latent athleticism. Whatever, the important thing is that Abby paid me with a bag of watermelon Jolly Ranchers.

Reality Killed the Video Star

After a Queer Studies Circle on genderqueerness (which handily restored my faith in academia, which it faithfully does on a biweekly basis) and a birthday party in the Waugh Room (where my turn-of-the-century cocktail of choice was a Democrat, containing bourbon, peach liqueur, honey, lemon, and ice, thereby handily restoring my faith in the Democratic Party, the primary process, Experience, Hope, and/or Change), I opted to skip going to Escape with a couple of Hertfordians and to type up notes about color and linguistics for my essay on Wednesday.

On the way back, I was walking parallel to two girls across the street, who were clad in jackets and leggings and high heels and were incredibly, uncontrollably drunk. As I watched, one of them slowly slid into the other and pushed her into a wall, where they stood for a minute, laughing. As they pulled away and veered in a slow arc back onto the pavement, one of them lost her balance, teetered for a second on the curb, and fell forwards onto her knees. She mumbled something, dry-heaved as though she was going to vomit between her splayed hands, and hung her head for a moment. Her friend hauled her up forcibly, she gazed deeply into her eyes and mumbled a thank you, and the two of them slowly toppled backwards into a dark alleyway. At this point, a homeless man with a long, knotted beard and a tattered bag on his back stopped and began to chastise them for being such a mess, told them to pull their lives together, and walked away shaking his head in disgust. See? This is why I don't go to the movies anymore.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Skinning Cats is Passe

"There are so many satisfying ways to kill an ostrich. Chainsaw. That thing you use to trim your lawn. Scythe, maybe."

Friday, 25 April 2008


"I'm going to start playing Extreme Frisbee."
"Do you mean Ultimate Frisbee?"
"Yeah, I think that's it."
"I wasn't sure. I thought you might just be playing with a sawblade."

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

I don't know how to tell my professor that my name isn't Richard. It's a plausible mistake because that's my middle name and I use the whole thing in papers and academic writing, but I just noticed that most of her emails to me are addressed to Richard. I might want to correct this before exams or other things where people check my identity or grade my papers, especially in a class where there's actually a living, breathing Richard who sits across from me. Unfortunately, there's absolutely no polite way to do this after being in the class for four months, so I'm just going to not say anything and maybe speak in the third person as much as possible.


Well, so much for my pretending that I don't have work to do. I've been on a book-a-day kick for the past week, and read Paul Rabinow's Reflections on Fieldwork in Morocco, Gerd Baumann's Contesting Culture, and (currently) Lila Abu-Lughod's Writing Women's Worlds. Unfortunately, I just got essay topics and reading lists from both of my professors, meaning that all of that is postponed until after I've churned out four essays in the next two weeks.

The downside is that I probably can't afford to kill time sitting on the grass in the courtyard (which we're only allowed to do during Trinity Term, making it obligatory even though the lawn is uncomfortable and usually wet and I kind of prefer the benches) and trying all 200 flavors of milkshakes at Moo Moos. Incidentally, that's how Abby and I (and a bunch of undergraduates who kept inadvertently flashing their underwear at us) spent yesterday afternoon. (I guess the upside to my exile to the library is that I won't be bloated, sunburned, or blinded by pastel tights, but you somehow take those things in stride during the first days of spring.)

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Marketable Skills

When you leave for Oxford, one skill that you don't necessarily plan to perfect is the art of somberly reading from scripture at Evensong. Another of those skills is the art of tasteful, disinterested pole dancing. I'm not entirely sure that this is what everyone means when they tell you to get an education and not just a degree, but there you go.

Monday, 21 April 2008

The Saddest/Funniest Thing I've Seen All Day

Since it's England, I seized a brief window of sunshine in the on and off drizzling this afternoon to run to the bank and deposit a check that I'd left sitting on my desk since the end of February. I didn't bother asking why my bank doesn't have any sort of system to notify them if you're going out of the country and recommends that you call after your account is turned off. The number isn't toll free, but they do offer to call you back. Strangely, this is not at all helpful in a country where you're phoneless. It happened in Morocco and I used my Bank of America card, and then it happened again in Croatia and I had to rely on the kindliness of an Australian woman who operated a combination bookstore/cybercafe with cheap phones who helped me figure out dialing codes because I bought Cat's Cradle and a complimentary thirty minutes of internet access from her about two minutes prior. I try to keep my angry bank visits and my getting money bank visits separate, both as a matter of principle and as a precaution so that they don't refuse to dispense money out of spite.

But as I was leaving the bank, the skies were getting cloudy again, and everyone started to hustle indoors. I hugged my bag close to make way for a woman who seemed to be in a hurry, who was coming toward me from the far end of the block pushing a baby carriage. As she got about twenty feet away, I noticed that a car was coming up behind them - and I think everyone on the street saw this coming but was powerless to stop it - and just as it pulled up, it hit a deep puddle and launched a five foot tidal wave that completely engulfed both the woman and the baby carriage, who had their backs to it and were completely caught off-guard. The worst part was that the puddle was so deep that the car dragged a bit, meaning that this all happened in slow motion and the wave engulfed them for a good two or three seconds. The aftermath was super awkward, because the woman and the baby (who was rendered mute, apparently) just stood there looking overwhelmed, the driver stopped and apologized profusely, two guys on the street took it upon themselves to yell at him, and everyone else stood in place uncertain as to what to do next. (I wish I had a towel, but offering the two Kleenex I had in my bag didn't seem particularly helpful.) My first thought is that this is something that I would surreptitiously watch over and over again on YouTube if I saw it there, but it somehow feels totally evil to laugh at a baby in a tidal wave when it actually happens in front of you. It's like watching someone you know actually step on a rake or fall off a roof - funny, but it probably shouldn't be.

(My only consolation was that I wiped out in almost exactly the same spot when I got both my feet caught in that loop of packaging wire and caught the curb with my chin and knocked myself unconscious and ripped open the bottom half of my face, so I prefer to think that the cosmos was just giving something back in return.)

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Wandering Eye

The term hasn't even officially started yet, and I'm already booking tickets to Germany in June. This is like going to a bar to celebrate my graduation from rehab. My excuse is that a friend of mine from high school is there, and how often do I get to hang out with Fargoans in Germany? (Hint: as of June, the answer will be "once.")

One Minute at Oxford

Emma and I got back to Oxford at about 10:30 last night, picked up some yogurt and muesli at Sainsbury's, a pint of cider at the King's Arms, and a box of chips at Posh Nosh, and after a brief chat with Abby and Erika in the hallway (which was awesome, because everyone loves those moments where your favorite people meet each other and you get to stand back and watch the magic unfold), we fell into another alarmingly deep sleep. And then this morning, we ate our yogurt and muesli in my kitchen, I walked Emma down to Gloucester Green, and she took off for Heathrow. As the bus pulled away, I realized that the Strong Women in Ryan's Life Tour of 2008 (with Abby in Morocco, a bunch of my favorite female Rhodies in Israel, with Aviva in Mexico, with my mom in Boston, with Team Hertford in Oxford, and with Emma in Slovenia and Croatia) is officially done. I'm enjoying the odd feeling that it went just about perfectly, and that I'm still glad to be back at Oxford nonetheless. Also, the past eight weeks are about the first time in years that I have stories upon stories that I haven't had the chance to blog about - and with exams coming up, I probably never will. I'm sure that'll strike me as sad when I'm looking back on this vacation and can't remember what I did, but for now, it means that I'm probably having better conversations with real people, which is something I've gotten fond of on the SWiRLT08. I think this is, like, growth or something.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Two Minutes at an Internet Cafe

Dubrovnik is beautiful. I'm so full I can't move. We accidentally went to Bosnia today. Wee!

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Five Minutes in an Internet Cafe

Emma and I are in Split, where it's raining (boo) and we've postponed our island ferrying until we get to Dubrovnik tomorrow or Thursday. The upside is that we made it to Diocletian's palace and got to poke around the old city before the rain started, and the other upside is that we sought refuge at a cafe with Golden Girls style decor where we had risotto with squid ink and gnocchi with some type of pretty good meat from somewhere in Dalmatia. It'd be a good idea to learn Croatian before I return, I think.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

There Will Be Bled

Emma and I were both exhausted enough that we slept in our cell (adorable, actually has bars!) for almost eleven hours, but then we got up, killed some time at the antique markets, and hopped on a bus to Bled. It was overcast and sprinkling when we arrived, but we stopped into a little seafood joint on Lake Bled and split grilled squid and tagliatelle with mixed seafood, and it had cleared up a little when we finished. (We also continued a proud tradition of drinking preposterously cheap table wine that was, like last night, crazy delicious.)

Afterwards, we walked around the lake and saw Tito's old villa, then hired a pletna to take us out to Bled Island. I didn't make Emma carry me up the flight of 98 stairs to see if she'd be a suitable husband for me, but we did ring the bell in the chapel so that our dreams would come true. We accidentally pulled too hard and it rang about two dozen times instead of three, so I've got a lot of awesomeness coming my way. As an added bonus, I got a picture of Christ's bris, where a fresco depicts the baby Jesus being menaced by a guy with a knife. (Somehow, I missed that at the Vatican, but Slovenia's got it covered.) We're back in Ljubljana for the evening, then it's on to Zagreb and Split tomorrow. (Our plan tonight involves gay nightlife and some type of greasy, late-night cuisine. It'll either be burek or horse hamburgers, depending on how much we've had to drink and how impaired our judgment has become.)

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Good Morning, Slovenia

In retrospect, Emma and I probably should have predicted that our travel plans were too optimistic, but they somehow seemed like a good idea at the time. The plan was that I would leave Oxford at 7am and get to Stansted at 10:30, and that she would fly into Heathrow by 7am, get to Stansted by about 10am, and that we would check in before the ticketing closed at 12:35pm and be airborne for Ljubljana by 1:15. Knowing my luck and the state of the airport industry, I have no idea why this seemed like a remotely good idea.

Around 10pm, Emma left New York, approximately three hours late.

Around 8:30am, the rubber that kept the windshield of my bus in place fell off, forcing us to pull over at Luton and sit for a half hour until another bus company was charitable enough to pick us up.

Around 10am, Emma made it through immigration and customs at Heathrow, and frantically boarded a 10:30 shuttle for Stansted.

Around 10:45am, I got a voicemail from Emma saying she would be late, jogged into Stansted, and began binge-eating Mentos in a panic. This is about the time that I started ruefully looking at mid-afternoon flights to Paris.

Around 11:30am, I started pacing up and down the front of Stansted, hoping that the 12:10 bus would arrive early.

At 12:10pm, the bus arrived and Emma and I briefly hugged and then broke into a dead sprint for the Easy Jet line.

At 12:16pm, with approximately 19 minutes to spare, we walked through security and beelined for our gate. Actually, a bathroom, and then Starbucks, but then our gate.

And at 1:15, we successfully lifted off to Slovenia, where we just finished a gigantic plate of meat and a side of rood (although I still have no idea what that is) and are off to bed in our former prison cum art gallery cum hostel. We did it, although I could not find the apostrophe key on this keyboard if my life depended on it.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Croatian Vacation

When I got back to Oxford yesterday, I seriously thought about setting my suitcase on fire and jettisoning it into the Thames. I just finished packing for Croatia, and the only rule is that I refused to wear any clothes - including socks and underwear - that I've worn over the past four weeks. And this includes my suitcase, which I've left under my bed in favor of what appears to be my little sister's suitcase, which I must have accidentally taken when I left after Christmas. It had a Carrie Underwood ticket stub inside it. I guess I'd have an easier time explaining that to airport security than anything other members of my family might forget in a suitcase, so I'm going to consider this a blessing.

Living Vicariously Through Myself

It doesn't really make sense to start my gym membership today and then leave for a week, so instead, I just slept till noon and then watched this video that was somehow always playing when I was at the gym. It's peppy, and I figure endorphines are endorphines, so it's basically the same thing. I'd watch it again, but I don't think I can afford to burn 750 more calories this morning.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

A Mood Swing in Three Acts

As everyone may recall, I've got a nasty habit of romanticizing trips to the US where I get to steal moments with my favorite people. My red-eye back to the UK yesterday was no exception, and I left all grumpy because I felt like my life was somehow happening in my absence, and that I was missing it by being abroad. (I'm starting to think that this is precisely because I jet out of the UK as soon as every term ends, and that I'm not giving it a chance to feel like home in any meaningful way, but I'm trying to decide whether I buy this theory and the jury's still out on that.) Anyway, I think it's particularly acute because I'm teaching in Oxford in June and July, then doing fieldwork in the Philippines in August and September, and it turns out that multi-city flights from London to Manila to Fargo, Wichita, Boston, or New York and back to London again are all about as expensive as you might expect. (To give you a rough idea, the tickets cost about what I'm worth, except tripled.) And my parents are thinking about spending this Christmas in the UK, which puts my return tentatively at the end of 2009. (I'll definitely fly back before then, but when you're in a bad mood, this sort of runs away from you.)

Anyway, I was shuffling off to buy coat hangers after my much-deserved nap this afternoon and thinking about becoming a part-time flight attendant for the free miles, and all of a sudden, I saw a friend of mine up ahead who pointed and beelined for me. He was the first person I'd seen since I got back. And we didn't stop and talk because he was on the phone, but we did a quick man-hug on Folly Bridge and I realized that my mood was markedly better after that. So I not only bought coat hangers, but also picked up a guide to the Philippines, because I was no longer too fragile to do that.

On my way back from Borders, I swung into the kitchen to microwave a plate of chicken and rice for dinner (because buying groceries for two days is a delicate art, and my usual MO of stir-frying vegetables in bulk doesn't make a whole lot of sense under those circumstances), and stumbled across a bunch of my friends making what appeared to be a pan of fishes, with heads, scales, and all. I caught up with everyone as my box of Sainsbury's rice bucked and exploded in the microwave, then went back to my room and got cracking on this review that I'm supposed to send out before I meet up with Emma. And I felt better yet.

And then, just as I was thinking of popping into bed, I heard pounding footsteps in the hallway and Erika burst into the room, and then my mood improved about tenfold. My end of the conversation wasn't really linear - James Joyce, whether it's irreparably neocolonialist to do poverty research in Southeast Asia, love, etc. - but that's exactly what I needed. (We still need to talk about my trip to Israel and the West Bank, but we decided that it's usually best to tackle things like sex, drugs, and rock and roll immediately and then get to war and peace at a later date.) And by the time I was showing off my turquoise tiger-striped top and making a cup of coffee as a nightcap, I was in a great mood.

The moral of the story is that I think I might be hormonally imbalanced.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Kimya Dawson!

So this trip to Boston has been waaay too short, but I did get to swing by Diesel, grab dinner with Steve, Luisa, and Nicole at Dali, and then go see Kimya Dawson at the Somerville Theater, which is a pretty great way to spend your last night in town. Kimya Dawson was awesome - she's so, so funny live. I'm totes buying her children's album.

i took the polaroid down in my room
i'm pretty sure you have a new girlfriend
it's not as if i don't like you
it just makes me sad whenever i see it
'cause i like to be gone most of the time
and you like to be home most of the time
if i stay in one place i lose my mind
i'm a pretty impossible lady to be with

now i'm home for less than twenty-four hours
that's hardly time to take a shower
hug my family and take your picture off the wall
check my email write a song and make a few phone calls
before it's time to leave again
i've got one hand on the steering wheel
one waving out the window
if i'm a spinster for the rest of my life
my arms will keep me warm on cold and lonely nights

(Sadly, Kimya Dawson has no songs about hanging out with old friends, your closest family, and ex-boyfriends before flying to Croatia, but somehow this works. Except for maybe the spinster part. Give it fifty years and I'll let you know.)

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Coup de la Journee

I may be only so-so at meeting up with everyone I wanted to see in Boston, but I'm pretty awesome at finding pink paisley hoodies, which I've been proudly sporting all morning. My goal is to talk about my style and have people go, "what style?" and then say, "EXACTLY."

Monday, 7 April 2008

On Urban Living

I've fallen in love with David's apartment, which is about twenty times warmer and more inviting than the Graduate Centre, which still feels like a Travelodge even after I've lived there for six months. (They've got art on the walls, they eat communally, there's antique furniture and people drink out of jelly jars and watch Tyra Banks together. Back in the Graduate Centre, we occasionally have fajitas together, but only when the one person on our floor who cooks takes pity on the rest of us and fears that we're going to starve.) It makes me want to find a flat for next year, except that that means that I'd have to pay rent during the six months of the year that I'm intermittently not there, and then I couldn't afford furniture and that defeats the purpose. I wouldn't be gardening because it's cute, I'd be gardening for sustenance. And knowing my survival skills, I'm pretty sure I'd die. Someday, though!

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Beantowns and Big Apples

Wow, it really sucks to try to get online at Harvard when you're no longer a student. I ended up paying $10 for 24 hours of wireless at Starbucks, because it was nominally cheaper than paying for it at the hotel. Mostly, though, I've just tried to avoid my computer entirely. I hung out with my brother on Wednesday, spent Thursday pretending to be a student at the law school and living vicariously through others, and then went to tea on Thursday and caught up with everyone in Lowell before dinner with my mom and brother at the Bombay Club. (I ate one of those syrup balls that feel like they'll kill you, and while I still don't know what they are, they're crazy delicious.) David's show, Blasted, opened on Friday, so my mom and I spent it on our own while he finished up logistics for the opening. When we checked into our hotel, my mom and I met in the lobby and the concierge apparently thought our reunion was cute, because he mentioned that he hadn't seen his parents in years and gave us a free breakfast coupon for the restaurant. The other concierge was like, wow, dude, I had no idea. And the breakfast was delicious, and I had many types of fruits and granola and when the waitress was like, but what about pancakes? I was like, whatevs, why not? and had those too. We mostly just poked around all day after that, and I got a couple of cute shirts at American Apparel (which were wholly unnecessary because I'm going to be in the Philippines for most of the summer and the last thing I need is extra clothing to deal with when I have to pack up my room at Oxford), we picked up wine and flowers for the show, and then we went to Mariposa for baked goods and took a post-scone nap. (Let's be real, those are the best kinds of naps.)

The show was good - incredibly uncomfortable, but in a very productive, provocative way. I told David at the afterparty that I don't do well with a) clipped dialogue, b) the presence of an unused gun onstage, and c) theatrical rapes, and there are of those things in abundance in the show. (A gun is in someone's hand, often pointed at someone else while clipped dialogue is spoken and rape is occurring, for probably the majority of the show.) It ended and I realized that I was drenched in cold sweat and had to put a sweatshirt on so that everyone at the afterparty wouldn't be like, psst, see that sweaty guy? That's the producer's brother. Anyway, if you're in Boston, buy tickets for next weekend's shows.

I slept very briefly, then my mom and I went to New York, met Brady (who graciously stood at TKTS and got us orchestra tickets to A Chorus Line), had brunch at Eatery (where I had sangria at 11:30am with granola, candied pecans, dried mangoes, strawberries, blueberries, and vanilla yogurt, and it was awesome), and then wandered up to Columbus Circle and down through Times Square. My mom had never been to New York, and it was a total blast to take her for the first time. I thought the production of A Chorus Line was pretty good, although after the previous night's show, I was like, stop complaining, it's not like you've had somebody tear your vagina or eat your eyes. Try dancing after that, kids. But it was still good, and I developed a fairly intense crush on Paul McGill, who was probably in the cast of La Cage Aux Folles when I saw that, but apparently wasn't wearing tight enough pants or something at the time. Because now, I think I may be in love.

Afterwards, Brady and I took my mom to Tasti D-Lite in Chelsea, then met up with Emma and Mischa for dinner at this Cuban place in the Village, then we all went to Magnolia for a cupcake. (I'm all about the dessert-meal-dessert combo. It's hard to pull off, but awesome when it works.) And then we caught a late bus, and David and I just stuck my mom in a cab and now I'm just hanging out till I fly back to London on Wednesday. I should probably do work soon, but I'm worried that I might have forgotten how.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Broken Social Scene!

Rockin' the BVM

The highlight of my day was buying a $35 shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary. It has an obscene amount of glitter and opens so you can put flowers inside it, and may or may not be the centerpiece of whatever property I eventually own. Sometimes, I do things like this and feel like emailing my Catholic schoolteachers and Susan Sontag to let them know that I'm turning out okay after all.