Thursday, 31 July 2008

File Under U for 'Unexpected'

One of the nifty features of the plan I picked up today is that I can dial the US for less than $0.10 per minute, which seems absurd but apparently works. I tried to call my parents and they weren't home, so I got to try it out on John McCain's press office. Thanks, Mom and Dad.

"If Anyone Needs To Make a Call, I've Got a Phone!"

Withdrawing money was a runaway success, (thanks, Bank of America!) but I had a rougher time finding an apartment and a phone. It turns out that walking around and looking for apartments is trickier than expected, since most places want you to sign a one year lease. (I probably should have foreseen that.) So I'm back to looking around for a place, or possibly just staying put for the next two months. I ate lunch at a hole-in-the-wall place that I picked at random, and when I asked what the best dish was, the waitress pointed to the most expensive dish on the menu. I asked what the best dish was without beef, and she pointed to the second most expensive dish. I just pointed to something with chicken at random, and ended up with sauteed egg noodles. (They were pretty good, but when I asked to use the bathroom by the kitchen and saw that it didn't have a) a sink or b) a flusher on the toilet, I sighed and wished my gastrointestinal system luck.)

So that was a pretty abortive morning, but I kept pushing south in the hopes that I'd find a condo that was cheap, near the university, and available for two months starting immediately. Instead, it started pouring rain. And when I say 'pouring rain,' I mean that torrential rain of a magnitude I've never experienced, ever, flooded the streets all afternoon. I forgot that I made the awesome decision to come during habagat, or the wet season. First, I tried to stay dry under an awning, then I ventured out under my umbrella and quickly got soaked from my ankles up, and then I gave up and trudged through knee-deep water alongside the road for about twenty minutes. (The highlight was when I passed a Shell station, where I walked through what appeared to be a sea of water and gasoline.) I conceded defeat and went back to my room to shuck off my pants, socks, and shoes, and then ditched my shirt, too, which was soaking wet despite my umbrella. When I walked in, one of the guys on the staff was just finishing mopping up the entryway, and I tried to look more and more apologetic with every squelch that my shoes made as I tiptoed awkwardly to my room. I hated myself just then.

When the rain let up, I decided to go north and explore toward Ermita, and randomly happened to find a shopping mall. "Hey," I thought, "malls are supposed to be huge here," and since I'm supposed to be an anthropologist, I went inside.


At first, I was like, "oh, it's just like Cambridgeside Galleria!" except that is false, because it was about five times bigger. And it had a Marks and Spencer (!?!) where I had one of their vanilla and lemon biscuits, and errybody knows that Marks and Sparks makes the best biscuits ever and it brought a single tear to my acculturated British eye. I found a couple of used book stalls and picked up Don Quixote and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, had my phone unlocked, found a place to buy a SIM card, and found a charger for my Nokia, which now has chargers for two-prong square plugs, two-prong rounded plugs, and three-prong plugs, making it a telecommunications equivalent of Esperanto. I found all of this for like $20, AND found a grocery store where I picked up bread and mango jam, mangoes, apples, bananas, and (the highlight of perhaps my entire day) Amazon Frosted Flakes, that weird organic cereal that was my lifeblood in the Lowell dining hall and I haven't encountered since my senior year of college. And that is what I'm having for dinner now, because thanks to the mall, I accomplished two of my three objectives for the day and I deserve it.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008


Packing the mini-packets of Alpen and the jar of Sainsbury's Taste the Difference coffee was about the smartest thing I've done in recent memory, because who needs drugs when you've got breakfast-for-dinner to restore your hormonal balance?

I'm in a peppier mood because I stopped trying to explore the city and resigned myself to sorting out my life, and I think I've found an apartment to check out tomorrow, finished Milan Kundera's 'The Unbearable Lightness of Being,' read an essay by Richard Rorty which was ostensibly about education policy but actually explained why one of my long-term relationships was destined to fail (it's a long story, but it feels very vindicating to have a famous theorist in your corner), and then called Bank of America, where I stopped asking what to do and just told them to fix everything, AND THEY DID. It's amazing how directive you can be when you're actually terrified and have approximately twenty dollars on your person, but apparently, you can't smell fear across thirteen time zones.

So the short version of the story is that I had called to activate a new card a couple of weeks ago, only to find out that you have to do it from a) your home phone or b) a Bank of America ATM, which are both in short supply on this side of the Atlantic (to say nothing of this side of the Pacific). They told me to keep the old card - okay, fair enough - but then decided to shut it off and not tell me, which was decidedly unhelpful as I tried every PIN I could think of and panicked at the airport this afternoon. Luckily, I brought both cards with to Manila, so when I called back and they told me that my card was cancelled, I was like, um, I really do need one of these cards. Unhelpfully, the woman just reminded me that I needed to call from the US to activate a card. And I was like, "unfortunately, I can't, but I bet you could make this happen if you wanted to" AND SHE DID. Yay! Tomorrow, I will either have funds so I can get a cell phone and stop eating muesli from my suitcase, or this will all still be fucked up somehow and I'll have a nervous breakdown. Either way, I'm sleeping better tonight!

Speaking Too Soon

I made it to Manila, collapsed in my closet-sized (but $10) room at my guesthouse, and now I've got the rest of the evening ahead of me to panic. Manila is intense. On the drive into town, the streets looked like Coney Island after a bout of firebombing, and I've already been cornered by a feral cat and a rooster on my way to buy groceries in the touristy part of town. Worst of all, both of my debit cards appear to not be working, although I (luckily) managed to get about three days worth of cash before they died. After that, I'm basically fucked.

I know it's only Day 1, so I'm going to try not to conclude that I'm not cut out for this type of urban fieldwork. I don't really know what to do with that fact, because I'm here until the end of September, so I'm going to try to be peppy and optimistic until I'm all settled into an apartment and start the research, and then despair if necessary. (And mood stabilizers are out of the question because the Philippines punish drug trafficking with the death penalty. That's my fun fact for the day, and also what they welcome visitors with at the airport.)

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

T Minus... I Have No Idea What Time Zone I'm In Anymore, And My Body Clock is So Messed Up That I Think I'm Eating a Cinnamon Roll for Dinner

(I'm in Abu Dhabi! And it's hot like whoa! My glasses fogged when I got off the plane in a very sharp contrast from Oxford, which could generously be called autumnal at this time of year.)

I'm in remarkably high spirits after regaining confidence that Everything Will Be Okay, possibly boosted by the fact that I haven't suffered through a red eye flight or had to navigate a sprawling metropolis quite yet. I suspect this will change by tomorrow, but for the moment, I'm going to try to keep riding that rare feeling where I'm both looking forward to the next two months and looking forward to what comes after the next two months. I wish there are drugs that could replicate that feeling. There might be, actually, and I think they're called Xanax, but you know what I mean.

Monday, 28 July 2008

"When I Was Seventeen..."

In a very unexpected turn of events, I've suddenly developed a taste for Diet Coke, which I've always unflinchingly hated. Not because it's diet, just because I don't like cola. (I've probably eaten my body weight in Splenda, and I have nothing against aspertame because (if you weren't already aware of this) it tastes like sugar because it's made from sugar.) Except suddenly, Diet Coke is okay. It joins the ranks of eggs, cheese, oatmeal, potato salad, and other staple foods that people frequently enjoy and I irrationally hated until recently, when I grudgingly decided they're okay for no particular reason.

Anyway, this is why I just bought my first bottle of Diet Coke at the age of 23. I'm a late bloomer.

T Minus 24 Hours...

I packed early for what might be the first time in my life, and it sucks. (I was forced into it, because I had to drop off everything I wanted to keep at Hertford by the time the scouts finished cleaning this morning.) I've started apartment hunting in Manila, and my entries might be a tiny bit sparse until I can find a place that's a) clean, b) cheap, and c) close to my field site and the university I'm working with. (I'm going to guess that it'll be approximately two days before I abandon two and possibly three of these criteria for the sake of having a permanent address in the Philippines.) Even better than being packed early, I managed to fit everything into one suitcase. I know, up is down and nothing will ever make sense again. (I packed my favorite granola bars and muesli, a jar of coffee, and my Blackwell's mug because I'm worried that I'm going to be overwhelmed at the beginning and familiar breakfast is apparently my adult equivalent of a security blanket.)

Saturday, 26 July 2008

T Minus Two Days

We just had our farewell dance, and the students are starting to leave in, oh, three hours. Tomorrow, I get to take a single student to Heathrow, put her on a plane to Singapore, and then hustle back to Oxford. (I'm very, very tempted to give her five quid for her silence and send her there by herself, but I'll probably pull it together and make the trek.) The dance was actually a fantastic way to end the program. They held it in the chapel of the college where I'm teaching, and that means rocking out on the altar and using the pulpit for cage-dancing. The music was markedly better than any of the clubs I go to in Oxford, too, which was particularly impressive because I think it was just cobbled together from Sian's iTunes. (I did get low with the rest of the faculty, but then we noticed that the kids were whipping out cameras to document our misbehavior and we had to stop and get low by ourselves with respectable distances between us.)

Friday, 25 July 2008

Because Werther's Originals Would Have Been Too Funny

Here's John McCain being attacked by applesauce:

Things That Scare Me

Also, I'm not entirely comfortable with the fact that approximately $2800 was transferred out of my British bank account on Tuesday, but has yet to appear in my American bank account. I don't like the idea of this money floating in space, especially after my misadventures with both of those banks in the past. In retrospect, I would probably have been better off withdrawing $2800 in cash, popping it in an unstamped envelope with "US Federal Government" scribbled on the front, and popping it in a mailbox.

Adventures in Teaching

Today was the last day of my class, and I'm not gonna lie - I'm going to really, really miss a bunch of my kids. To celebrate, we had a dessert potluck with a ridiculous amount of strawberries, raspberries, Ben's Cookies, and boxes of biscuits, screened two episodes of the Office, did a quick recap of the course and passed back the exams, and then went on a fieldtrip to Modern Art Oxford, which had a surprisingly good exhibit on Gary Hume's door paintings. I'm a sucker for large, rectangular, largely monochromatic canvases, so I understand why other people hated it. It was a good way to wrap it up, though, because I think it drove home the arbitrariness of calling Britney Spears low culture and a tipped-over chair high culture. (On the first day of the course, I suggested that maybe we shouldn't classify individual people as high or low, but that seemed to fall on deaf ears.) They're sharp, they got it.

I was also touched that someone wrote "Knowledge is Power" on my board, added "Girl Power," and then scribbled "+ Ryan" underneath. Basically, at the end of a month together, they win because they all kicked ass on the final and did well in the course, and I win because I became an honorary seventeen year old girl.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Days When You Should Go Back to Bed

The first indication that a day is going to be terrible is when, not five minutes after waking up in the morning, you go to the bathroom and accidentally stumble upon a stark naked fifteen year old girl who forgot to lock the door, thereby mutually traumatizing all parties involved.

It all goes downhill from there.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Haven't Got Time for the Pain

Speaking of equal and opposite reactions, I got the last shot in my rabies vaccination today and it's kicking my ass - I have a headache, I'm stuffed up, and all the flu-like symptoms that the nurse warned about are finally showing up. Worse, I paid ninety pounds to get them.

On the upside, I found a place to stay in Manila, wired an absurdly large sum of money to my account in the US so I can pay off all of my student loans, and received an official copy of my exam results, which got a distinction. Even better, I got the go-ahead to do a magazine article that's been kicking around in my brain for a while, and that totally made my day.

Since being a teacher is just this glamorous, I'm off to celebrate by turning off my lights, inhaling steam, and kicking back with a Horlicks and Motrin cocktail. It's not that it hits the spot, but I guess it hits a spot.

For Every Action...

Estelle Getty died today, which is super-sad. I was thinking of screening The Golden Girls in class tomorrow as a tribute, but I'm supposed to be giving a final exam and I'm not sure how the program would feel about that. Instead, maybe I'll just be especially verbally abusive toward my students and other faculty. She would have wanted it that way.

Monday, 21 July 2008

It's Like the Cast of My Dreams!

I'm not joking when I say that this is like Christmas.

Murdering the Oxford Murders

I took my class out to the Ultimate Picture Palace to see the Oxford Murders last night, and I was pleasantly surprised. It's not good, per se, but it's one of those movies that is so artistically irregular that it imperceptibly starts to become good. (It's also one of those movies that whips out a bunch of surprises at the end, which makes you excuse or forget all the dodgy parts that took up the other hour and a half of the film.) John Hurt is surprisingly good, as are all the women in the film. And Elijah Wood is fascinating to watch, if only because he earnestly gives what has got to be the worst performance of his career. It's based on a Spanish novel and jointly produced by English, French, and Spanish studios, and Elijah Wood's dialogue in particular sounds like it was written in Spanish, pumped through Babelfish, and read verbatim. I tried not to offer any color commentary on the film with my students, but on the part where Elijah Wood eats spaghetti off of a woman's chest, I accidentally blurted out, "wow, that is not hot at all." (Except for the woman, who had piping hot spaghetti on her lady parts.) One of my students was like, "I did not understand anything that happened over the past two hours," and I was like, "um, that is not your fault." Still, I think they forgave me for taking them to a film that pivots on Wittgenstein, logical sequencing, and the history of surgery. Just to be safe, I'm making it up to them on Wednesday by explaining the idea of cultural capital with the extensive assistance of My Fair Lady and She's All That. Take that, math.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Quote of the Day

“The answer to the question ‘who’s commodifying whom?’ is as dialectically unresolvable as Apache and Nikki D’s ‘Who Freaked Who?’”

- Russell A. Potter, 'History - Spectacle - Resistance,' 1995.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Things I Should Have Done Two Months Ago

I just sent out desperate pleas to three guesthouses in Manila, which hopefully aren't full yet or I'll be living on the streets in t-minus ten days. I asked about long-term accommodation, because it'd be less than $500 per month to stay at any of them for the entirety of the trip. Still, those would be the super-budget singles with shared bathrooms and fans instead of air conditioning, and I'm going to reach a point (probably within the first 24 hours) when I'm going to have a panic attack and want air conditioning, peace and quiet, and maybe MTV in whatever global incarnation I can get it. Knowing this, the plan is to crash at a halfway decent place for the first week, then either suck it up and pay for one of their swankier rooms or hit the pavement and look for an apartment for two months. I'd kind of prefer the latter, but laziness might get the best of me. That, or homelessness, depending on these guesthouses.

Friday, 18 July 2008

The Starbucks Bloodbath

The list of over 600 Starbucks that are about to close across the US was released today, and with it, so was a flood of memories. Sweet, caffeinated, overpriced memories. Among the closing stores are:

- That one in Fargo that was the only one within walking distance of the house where I grew up, which I was unable to visit after a barista tracked me down on Facebook and suggested that we hang out sometime. I spent the entirety of a Christmas vacation sitting at Luna Coffee and watching it cautiously out of the corner of my eye. Also, it used to be a Pizza Hut where I have tons of memories circa ages five to twelve.
- The one by my office last summer in DC - which is the only one closing in the District - where I'd go grab coffee when Illy was under construction and I needed a scalding beverage to make my ninety degree walks to the post office seem cool by comparison. That is called science.
- None in Cambridge, as far as I can tell. That's the only thing that's keeping me from becoming convinced that I'm the Typhoid Mary of corporate America.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

The (New) Adventures of Tiffany and Ryan

Providing that I survive almost two months of fieldwork in urban Manila, I've officially booked tickets to spend a long weekend visiting Tiffany in Singapore before jetting back to London. And it only took eight attempts at buying tickets on the web, two lengthy phone calls with both of my banks in the US, a phone call to the airline itself, and an attempt to get a photocopy of my card and a bank statement for proof I wouldn't be disappearing in Singapore. And this will all be worth it if we get to go to a zoo again, because Tiffany and I are pretty awesome at zoos.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

For Richer and For Poorer, In Sickness and In Health

One of my arbitrary, totally unlikely goals for the year was to finally have saved enough money to pay off my student loans in their entirety - to do it while I'm still in deferment and not accruing interest, so as not to be fighting a losing battle if I decide to do more school (and accrue more debt) after finishing at Oxford.

And weirdly, I realized that my bouts of monasticism over the past year have put me within spitting distance of pulling it off and being debt-free. (I do owe my parents money for paying for school, but they're not going to send anyone to break my legs, so I'm going to concentrate on the rest of my loans.) I was on track, too - I just needed to spend as little as possible this month so that I'd still have a particular balance in the bank at the end of July, when I could pay off my loans before getting another chunk of my stipend in August to pay for everything in the Philippines. If I could do it, this would be possibly one of the most adult things I've done in my life.

Unfortunately, my rabies vaccinations are going to cost an unexpected 90 pounds, which leaves me with exactly 100 pounds to cover the next two weeks. Normally, I could do it - it'd just be a hardcore two weeks of hitting the books - but then I started factoring in groceries, laundry, promises to go see Mamma Mia!, bus tickets to the airport at the end of the month, buying boxes and tape for storage, drinks and lunches with various people before I leave, and I realized that this will take at least a little bit of conscious planning.

And then I realized that any single person who doesn't have to pay for housing, breakfast, and dinner should easily be able to suck it up and survive two weeks on 100 pounds, and that I'm sort of a jerk for stressing out about it. (Also, that my goal is totally arbitrary, and it wouldn't really make a difference if I paid off all but a couple hundred dollars of my loans instead, seeing as I've deferred them until like 2009.) But because I'm sort of miserly, I'm still trying to make myself do it anyway. The upside is that I'm keeping way better track of my expenses and spending a ton less. The downside is that low-fat muffins at Starbucks have become a frivolous indulgence, and trips into London are basically out of the question at (at least) twenty pounds a pop. I'll (hopefully) emerge fiscally responsible, rabies-free, and possibly anemic, so cross your fingers.

Today in Pop Culture as Knowledge...

I'm trying to teach about actively consuming pop culture (take that, Adorno and Horkheimer!), so today we're doing satire, parody, camp, and kitsch. This is like the funnest lesson of all time.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Buses and Banking

I kicked ass today. I taught two intros to pop culture that (on my end, at least) went smashingly, grabbed a skinny misto and a skinny stem ginger muffin (the closest I've found to mass-marketed muffin perfection) at Starbucks and managed to catch the X90 to London by 12:30. On the way, traffic apparently slowed to a standstill in London, so I hopped off at Notting Hill Gate, caught the Tube to Piccadilly Circus by 2:40, picked up my passport by 3:23, and realized that the only bus that would get me back for dinner was leaving Victoria at 3:30. So, factoring in the speed of the bus and the day's traffic like the ninja that I am, I jumped on the Tube at Piccadilly and got off at Baker Street by 3:40, where I caught that bus at its last stop out of London at 3:44, and rolled into Oxford at 5:58 to go to dinner at 6:00. I was less proud of my abortive attempt to activate my new Bank of America card, since they keep insisting that I a) call from my home phone or b) use a Bank of America ATM, neither of which are possible within a couple thousand miles from here. So I called, and after being on hold or making polite suggestions for twenty minutes, the guy apologized and suggested that I try to purchase something and cross my fingers or give up and fix this in December. I wanted to fix this so I could put it in the rockstar narrative of my day, but trying to catch a flight to the East Coast just to do that seemed like too much work, even if it crossed my mind that the time difference would actually make it possible.

Monday, 14 July 2008

The One Thing I Have in Common With John McCain

For posterity's sake, I'd like to note that I'm going to bed before 11pm. Who knew teaching was this exhausting?

The Cycle Continues...

It's been another week of impractically short trips to London, copious lesson-planning, and not enough sleep, which continues tomorrow with a double-header of two introductory courses to Pop Culture as Knowledge for students who just want to test the waters, followed by a two hour drive into London, fifteen minutes at the Philippine Embassy picking up my passport and visa, and a two hour drive back to Oxford. Yay! The upside is that I've learned many things along the way, as detailed below:

1. I got breakfast with Leana at the Lazy Daisy Cafe in Notting Hill on Saturday, then we walked around the Portobello Market and I had to restrain myself from buying antiques and magnifying glasses that were pretty but probably not worth buying two weeks before I'll have to pack up my life and go to Southeast Asia. (I did splurge and buy a brick of the best bread pudding I've ever eaten, although I had to throw the gooey core of it away because I was eating it so quickly that it was beginning to hurt.) The skill share in London was awesome, to the point where I thought about driving into London weekly next year to volunteer at the place where it was held. I haven't found that level of feminist/queer engagement since I left Harvard, and sitting on a floor and eating vegan stew and picking apart theory there was the most therapeutic, reenergizing thing I've done all summer. And then I raced back to grab a drink with everyone at the KA, but didn't do any of the Pride parties because I couldn't find Imperial Royale and finally gave up and went to bed.

2. Yesterday, Sarah and I got G&Ds, wandered around Christ Church Meadow, and picked up milk, bus tickets, and her leftover groceries before we parted ways after our Summer of (Platonic) Love. It was sad, but also, she left me a half-packet of crumpets (in the tradition of Erika's granola and Abby's pasta, apparently) and I'd never had crumpets before and they're crazy delicious. They're my bedtime snack of choice at the moment.

3. Today, I had my guest speaker for my class, who was AWESOME. (It was David Hendy, who wrote a history of Radio Four that everyone should go read.) My students seemed to love him, and then we all finished watching About a Boy afterwards and it's one of my favorite movies. And I'm about to watch it again, because I have to wow the class with a close reading of a scene before we pick it to pieces on Wednesday. I'm thinking something about the production of identity through the consumption (or refusal) of pop songs, furry sweaters, sneakers, scalp massage, McDonald's, and rap. Barring that, I'm going to make them all decide whether the final scene is an embrace or refusal of heteronormativity. They'll forgive me at our globalization-themed tea party on Friday.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Choose My Own Adventure

On Saturday, Ryan should:

1) head into London for breakfast with Leana and an all-day conference on the intersection of feminist, trans, and intersex activism, before probably speeding back to Oxford to check out the post-Pride parties.

2) stay in Oxford and go to Pride with a bunch of people, soaking up the madness while vaguely trying to be good because it would be super-awk to run into my students with my pants figuratively down.

Peter Bradshaw vs. Pierce Brosnan

I really need to see Mamma Mia, especially if it is actually this bad:

"The story is ... urh. No film has ever had a more irrelevant story."

"[B]ut there is no irony, no heartache, certainly no paralysing illness, no dramatic plausibility, and weirdly, no hint that the characters know whose songs they are singing; there is no sense of perspective on the music... The characters are forever dancing and smiling and bursting into Abba songs like Stepford cyborgs when you flip the secret panel behind their heads and press the Life-Affirming Behaviour button."

"All three guys show up with cute old photos of them in hippy-ish or punky garb. Bill even waffles about his love for Donna having taken place in the era of peace and love. Huh? Assuming the film is set roughly in the present day, and Sophie is 20, then their love was in the era of Westland and privatising British Gas."

My favorite was this:

"Waterloo is saved for the closing credits, perhaps because screenwriter Catherine Johnson didn't grasp its metaphorical quality, and that she would not in fact need a vast Napoleonic army to troop across the island."

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

The Rain in Spain

It poured rain in London today, which meant that I was wet when I shuffled from the Philippine Embassy to the Imperial War Museum (so much further than it appears on the map!), stayed wet on the Tube when Maria and I grabbed coffee and cinnamon toast in Covent Garden and a drink with Drew et al., was solidly damp during dinner in Chinatown, and just dried off when I shucked my clothes and threw them in a corner. Ick. In one of the sadder, drippier moments of my epic walk to see the For Your Eyes Only exhibit, I passed the Old Vic and realized that I had completely forgotten to check on tickets to Pygmalion. Luckily, between a conference on Saturday and a quick trip on Tuesday to pick up my visa, I have to go back to London twice in less than a week. If it rains, though, I might just read about intersexuality and not go to the conference and maybe try to enter the Philippines without a visa. I'm full of good ideas.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Octopus and Octopussy

I went over to Sarah's place for dinner tonight, and we made two octopii from the Covered Market. It was a mess, but ultra-fun - first, we had to sever the tentacles and throw those into the pan, and then we had to turn each octopus inside out to remove the beak so we could dice up the body. (It sounds weird, but it's surprisingly intuitive when you do it.) Sarah's octopus was really tidy and looked edible, while mine spilled out all of its organs, blew ink all over my hands, and eventually resembled something I would have picked apart in Mr. Fletcher's sophomore biology class. But eventually, we got both of them into a pan with a splash of rosé and sautéed them for almost an hour (it turns out that squid cook quickly, while octopii are tricky and we are rockstars for successfully cooking them) before stir-frying the meat with vegetables and mixing it with penne. It was delicious. And then we watched Gordon Ramsay curse at people on TV, and we could shake our heads and be like, I think our dinner was better, and it was actually plausible.

And tomorrow, I'm getting my visa for the Philippines in London (!) and chaperoning the Fiction into Film class on their trip to the Ian Fleming exhibit at the Imperial War Museum. I had big plans to read all of the Bond novels as I taught this summer, but then I realized that I would be too busy writing lesson plans and picking on cartoon characters to do any reading for pleasure. Still, I'm stoked to explain the finer points of Moonraker to a captive audience, and that makes it all worth it.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Marx, Adorno, and Foucault, as Illustrated By the Siamese Cats from Lady and the Tramp

I team-taught my class today with the psychology teacher, who ran bias tests on the classes before I taught them to blame it all on Walt Disney. To wit, here are the best (and by best, I guess I mean worst) clips that I showed to illustrate how children might pick up stereotypes about black people, masculinity, and justice in the Middle East.

Fact: The head crow is actually credited as 'Jim Crow.' And the guy who provided the voice was white, but was told to talk black. Classy.

Fact: Beauty and the Beast was supposed to be a feminist film after groups protested the silent, pretty, slightly daffy Ariel of the Little Mermaid. Because of this, Belle can read! Groups still protested, though, because Belle is imprisoned, intimidated, and threatened by the Beast, but eventually changes him into a sensitive male by sheer persistence. People who work on domestic violence have things to say about this. I picked this clip because it illustrates idealized masculinity pretty succinctly - be uncommunicative, punch a couple people in the face, brag about your strength, anger, and hirstuteness, and if you lose at chess, uproot the board. If you're a woman, be an undifferentiated triplet.

Fact: The line about cutting off ears was changed for the DVD release after Arab-American groups protested, and the obvious voiceover is kind of hilarious if you know when to listen for it. I almost used 'One Jump Ahead,' where Aladdin takes an Orientalist spin around the city to piss off a fire-walker, snake charmer, and a guy on a bed of nails as he runs from his antagonists. You can tell them apart by their stereotypically Semitic features, which are conspicuously absent from Aladdin, Jasmine, Genie, and the Sultan.

I didn't show this, because it makes it too easy:

(The highlight was when we broke up the classes so that Keon could give his students a test, and one of my students was like, "Ryan, do we have a test?" and I was like, "um, we're going to go read Marie Claire." Aside from the fact that I can't find a copy of James Taylor's cover of the Beatles' 'I Will' for one of my students' mix tape, I love my job.)

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Yay! Ow!

Ugh, I feel like I'm going to barf. I've had a great weekend. Mischa visited yesterday and we hung out with Sarah, and I realized that the two of them constitute my first and only qualified visitors at Oxford thus far. (That's not why I'm going to barf, it's just a relevant part of the story.) Emma was technically the first, but she arrived post-Croatia with just enough time for a drink, a chat in the hallway with Erika and Abby, a glorified nap, and a mini-brunch before flying back to New York. The Republican who I had the brief thing with during my junior year of college was going to be the second when he passed through Oxford for an afternoon, but then he missed the train and accidentally stood me up at the station for an unexpectedly manic-depressive morning two days before my exams. (I was very emotionally and hormonally imbalanced around that time. The upside is that I was totally right, and something clicked and he's not a Republican anymore.) Barring those asterisks and the fact that Sarah's actually doing research, this was a milestone.

So Sarah and I hit up Wimbledon, and Mischa was in London and very, very kindly sacrificed a day to bum around Oxford with yours truly. It was a magical week of pseudovacations. Mischa and I went to the French Market on Gloucester Green, got vegetarian pies and minty peas at Pie Minister, soaked up the sun and walked around Christ Church Meadow, then met up with Sarah at the KA and went out for Lebanese on the Cowley Road. (And then Mischa had to go back to London and I had to meet my neighbors, who are 8th and 9th grade girls who appear to be determined to keep me from getting a shower before noon for the rest of July.)

And then I had a leisurely brunch in St. Peter's with Sindiso this morning and debated whether a ban on Disney while raising children would also impair their sense of fun and play, and then I went off to the Cowley Festival, which was AWESOME. I had already eaten lunch, but all of the restaurants had stalls outside and I saw sticky rice with coconuts and I was like, well, if you insist. I walked down the length of the road, stopping only to listen to a woman folk out on a guitar and to this shockingly good rock band composed entirely of what appeared to be twelve year olds. I ran into one of my students, who deserves extra credit points for being so cool, and then they had a farmer's market and there was a West Indian pastry stand, and I asked what was in one of the cakes, and the woman said it was raisins and coconuts. It turns out that the actual answer was butter, with a slight sprinkling of raisins and coconuts to taste. I should have paced myself when I picked it up and it occurred to me that I could throw it through a window if I passed any anti-globalization riots on the way back, but I just ate it. I'd say that was the turning point, but then I went to the gym, and had to stop running on the treadmill because my insides hurt. And then I inexplicably went to dinner and the woman was like, I made trifle! and I was like, great, I've never had trifle! and that was what I'd call a mistake.

And that's why I had such a great weekend that I might throw up, except I think there's a girl in my shower.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

That's Hot

"Relationships always start just after you've given up on the idea."
"Despair is an aphrodisiac."

Jesse Helms

I wonder if anyone has ever studied the scathing eulogy as a genre. Ken Layne's piece on Jesse Helms on AOL's Political Machine is a textbook example, though:

"He was a hero to bigots and the cigarette corporations, a menace to the poor and downtrodden, and a mean little troll whose heart was so wrecked by wickedness that doctors had to patch it up with coronary valves from a pig... He was mean, cheap, petty and unloved. He was the ugliest kind of bigot and a stain on America. Anybody who says different is a liar."

Barring any other notable events, the 4th of July will forever be remembered as the birth of experimental obituary.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Brush Up Your Shakespeare

I spent the day in Stratford-upon-Avon, which I'd heard was fairly boring. (In retrospect, I guess it was.) But there were highlights! I walked by Shakespeare's birthplace, made a mini-pilgrimage to the house where John Harvard's mother lived, and went down to the Holy Trinity Church to see Shakespeare's grave. Afterwards, I grabbed an apple and a cup of coffee at a cafe and read about Gramsci for about an hour. Given that, I'm not at all ashamed to admit that the highlight of the day was a tie between buying a sandwich from the ladies auxiliary of Holy Trinity Church and hanging out at the pub where Dame Judi Dench got engaged back in the day. Sorry, Shakespeare.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Dr. Who!

R: "Lately, I've really gotten into Dr. Who."
D: "I've never seen it."
R: "It's science fiction, but in a sort of family-friendly way."
D: "You're not doing the best job of selling this."

Nobody believes me, but the penultimate episode is currently up on BBC iPlayer and it's hella amazing. I'm planning to pretend to hide in my room with the lights off to watch the finale on Friday. It's not just a useful trick on Halloween, but also for must-see TV that you're possibly ashamed to watch with others.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008


I'm sunburned all over (and unable to wear open-collared shirts until, oh, September), but Wimbledon was awesome. I met Sarah bright and early, we picked up coffee at Cafe Nero, and after taking the bus to London, the tube to Southfields, and a double-decker bus to Wimbledon, we rolled in just as they were opening the doors for the morning.

First of all, Wimbledon is about the cleanest, politest sporting event I've ever attended. I kept waiting for someone to spit sunflower seeds on the ground and maybe sing "You Shook Me All Night Long" in a beer garden, but there was no beer garden. Instead, there was a tea garden. I'd liken it to Disney World, except that everyone seemed to be British, fit, impeccably well-dressed, and insanely wealthy.

The Centre Court and Courts 1 and 2 were reserved for ticket holders, and Sarah had heard that the best bet for people without the pricey seats is to check out the courts where the over-35 bracket is playing, since they're pros who have been around for years but aren't in the thick of the competition. So we checked, and I yelped.

Because Martina Navratilova was playing in the doubles match at 12pm.

We staked that out like it was our job, and after standing on our tiptoes during the first few minutes, we tactically stood behind two men in chinos who looked like they could afford to go to the match that started on the Centre Court at 1pm. At about 12:30pm, they proved us right, and we dove into their spots at the railing and watched unobstructedly as Martina Navratilova and Helena Sukova lay waste to Conchita Martinez and Gretchen 'Brick House' Magers. It was sweet. And they not only played a great match, but they had all sorts of friendly banter and we had Pimms, and that makes any afternoon pretty fantastic.

Afterwards, we watched Venus Williams win her quarterfinal on the jumbotron while we ate lunch, and then watched part of a juniors' match, and then got strawberries and cream and hung out. And then I realized that it was 4pm and made a marathon trip across the south of England to make it back in time for a faculty meeting, which I managed with a whole three minutes to spare. (When people asked how the tournament was, I had a difficult time refraining from asking them why tennis players don't wear bras, because that troubled us pretty much all day long.)