Friday, December 25, 2009

Holidays Upon Us

Happy Holidays, folks! After two years spent out of the country and away from family, it's fun to be back stateside to experience the all-encompassing blanket of holiday decorations and Christmas music that jams the airwaves through December. I'm a bit out of practice regarding the consumer frenzy and angry traffic jams that seem to grow exponentially in the days leading up to Christmas, but I've been greatly enjoying myself nonetheless. We've kept our shopping to a minimum - in fact, last week we ventured into the Providence Place Mall, which is, I suppose, a fairly impressive mall as malls go, and after wandering about for an hour or so, left empty-handed. I simply couldn't think of anything I wanted. Maybe it's because I'm just getting older and gifts are no longer the thrill that they used to be, but more likely it's due to the fact that, for a while now, we've gone out of our way not to acquire anything that couldn't easily fit into suitcases. Whatever the reason, it's difficult to think of anything to buy that isn't for the continuous furnishing of the house. Am I crazy, or are housewares unduly expensive? I think my concept of how much things are supposed to cost dates back to 1999 or something.

So, in lieu of buying things, I've just been cleaning and eating and basking in the rosy glow of being (mostly) done with my schoolwork for this semester. I've only got about one and a half projects to complete, both of them highly enjoyable, so I can finally breathe again after the intensive first term. (On a sidenote, at long last I found out the results of my MA program - graduation with distinction! Success!). I can finally enjoy relaxing without the nagging feeling of More To Do, just in time for the holidays.

Despite the fact that we don't know too many people in the area yet, we were able to go to a couple gatherings in the last few days, and the eating - oy, the eating. There were some intense spreads at both of the small parties that we attended. I've eaten, in no particular order, beef wellington, deep fried octopus, clams, oysters, brie baked in puff pastry, catfish dumplings, shrimp empanadas, crepes full of porcini mushrooms and pancetta and cream, and a whole array of debilitating desserts - chocolate ganache, pumpkin cheese cake, and rice pudding, to name just a few. Though I'll be making a resolution to myself at the beginning of the year to seriously minimize my meat and dairy consumption (no easy task, residing with a chef and all that), I figured I would allow myself this final week of gluttony. It's been delicious; it'll be difficult to part ways.

Also eventful - our first New England snow storm. It was, as they say, a real doozy.

Our street, Dec 09

I've never had to shovel my own driveway or front walk, but 18 inches of snow in a 24-hour period is a good time to start. Locals assure us that it isn't usually this extreme, which is good - though I like the look of the snow and I'm not particularly bothered by the cold, road conditions get pretty treacherous, even with the city doing their best to plow and salt the main thoroughfares. This is the sort of thing that I never gave much thought to in Oakland, or even in Berlin or Norwich, where we relied on public transportation to get around - backing out of a driveway on an inch-thick patch of ice is less than ideal. I basically beat the same path from my door to the campus every day; nevertheless, clear roads are fairly important.

That's all I have to report, for now. I'll be heading down to DC for New Year's, a city that I have incredibly never seen. I'm very excited, and I'm sure I'll return with a bunch of generic pictures of Washington landmarks, but I'll try to weed out the most interesting ones to share with you here. In the meantime, stay warm and well, and enjoy all the leftovers of any holiday feasts.

Xmas 09

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Last Week of Classes

Things have been somewhat hectic, folks. This first semester has been very intense, but incredibly gratifying, and the end is officially in sight. One more week of classes and then, thankfully, a break. I will, of course, still have some papers to write over the next few weeks (one on the Bolshevik thinker Aleksandr Bogdanov, one on Nabokov's translations of Blok, and one on Akhmatova's Poem Without a Hero, which brings me to tears nearly every time I read it - so that'll be a fun one to write, yeah?), but at least I won't have any pesky classes to distract from the matter/s at hand.

Thanksgiving provided a break, for sure. There was quite a feast here - ham and sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie from scratch, among other things; very American fare, to bask in our location. I took the chance to actually enjoy a couple days off, pushing down the feeling of guilt that I get when my attention turns to anything but schoolwork, and it was wonderful. Thanksgiving visitor invited sightseeing.

downtown providence

Downtown PVD. Rhode Island seems to be a state that's been plagued with more than its fair share of corruption (like most states, I guess), but it seems that things are slowly starting to shape up (despite the Crippling Unemployment and General Economic Malaise...). We've found a couple of excellent little movie theaters and some very delicious restaurants, and the central public library is fantastic. I need to get to know the area - I can't let the fact that I'll be here for a few years lull me into ignoring the surrounding cities and states.

In the meantime, though, our tree is up, I'm still hard at work, and we've acquired these little companions:

lucy and charlie

That's Lucy and Charlie. They're about 5 months old or so, and they're amazing. They're siblings - they were found abandoned by a friend of a friend, and we got them a couple of months ago. One of the major perks of moving back to the States was the ability to get animals.

Expect a little more out of me over the next month - despite all the work I have to do, there are some fun little travels planned for December and January, and I can't wait. Hope everyone's holiday season is well and warm...

Saturday, October 24, 2009

California to Rhode Island: Five Days in August

After an incredibly truncated visit in California (less than two weeks to visit both Northern and Southern and umpteen friends and relatives), we set off for Rhode Island. I've driven cross-country before, in 1998, but at the time I had no schedule, no deadline, and no real destination - it was a sort of the-journey-is-the-destination-type trip. This time, however, there was a very definite deadline, and an equally definite destination. It was somewhat frustrating to have to hurry through the drive - with the exception of northern Nevada, which I would prefer to spend, oh, NO time in. I can't imagine how any pioneers managed to make it across that stretch without the help of at least an SPF 30 sunblock.

While the climate in Utah was just as hot and arid as the climate in Nevada, the landscape in Utah was a bit more interesting. I mean, have you seen this?

Salt / Train

Bonneville Salt Flats

The Bonneville Salt Flats. I've been to Utah before, but I've never really seen the Salt Flats. It's like the surface of the moon or something (note: I've never seen the surface of the moon). Brad picked up some of the damp clumps of solidified salt, but I chose not to - it had a strange smell, and there was something very alien about it. It was desolate, but not in the same way that Nevada was desolate. In Utah, the land still had an air of life about it, an air of activity. Maybe that's why the Mormons chose it to be their promised land.

Speaking of Mormons:


There's the Temple! Salt Lake City is a very strange place. Here's a weird thing about SLC, for those that haven't been there. A couple blocks northwest of the temple, the street will be called something along the lines of West 300 North Street. Southwest of the temple, the street would be West 200 South Street. Southeast of the temple....but you get the idea. It makes navigation very easy and strangely creepy. And despite the startling cleanliness of the streets, there was a much larger homeless population than I thought there would be. The city, incidentally, has changed a lot since I was there in 1998. Mormonism has grown since then, though, so I guess growth in the city is to be expected. (The interweb tells me that in April 2008, there were about 13.5 million Mormons, up from 12.8 million the year before - and there were supposedly approximately 10 million Mormons when I visited there the last time. I actually thought the growth would have been greater, but maybe I just think that because Mormonism has been so much more noticeable lately, what with Mitt Romney and Big Love. That was a long digression).

We didn't stay in Utah for the night; we continued on to Wyoming for our first night on the road. I breathed a little easier as soon as we got over the WY line, and when we woke up just after dawn the next morning, we found that the land had gotten much more varied. Trees, hills, wind power; it was a nice change from the rock rock rock of Utah. Wyoming was actually a beautiful state to drive through, and there was this incredibly hilarious landmark that I'd never heard of:

Little America, WYLittle America, WY

There were signs for this all along I-80 in Wyoming; it was less impressive than I'd hoped it would be, but it was entertaining nonetheless.

Continuing along. I hate to say it, but we didn't take barely any pictures through Nebraska or Iowa (which was very strange, considering we stopped in Iowa to see two different sections of Brad's family. They took pictures, but we somehow didn't manage. Immediately upon leaving, I wondered how we did that...). I managed to take one picture that might've been Nebraska...or Iowa...or Illinois...or Indiana...or Ohio...oh, disgraceful. Sorry about that. But the picture is at least interesting:

Wind Power

That's how they transport turbines. There were lines of these dotted all along I-80 through the Midwest, and I have to say - those drivers were hauling ass. I was shocked at the way they were bombing down the highway, pushing past drivers already well over the speed limit. It's like an extremely gigantic shark's tooth.

We did stop at the Iowa capitol building in Des Moines, where Brad talked to me about the Iowa Caucasus or something like that. Caucus - Iowa Caucus. The Caucasus are the mountain range separating Russia from Georgia. Apparently the Iowa Caucus "decides everything." There are some qualifications on that statement, but you get the gist.

Iowa Capitol

Despite the fact that I didn't take many pictures through the Midwest, it was actually very pretty. I do have one question, though: why so much corn? Corn corn corn. I was astounded at the corn. Who is eating all that corn? I know, corn syrup requires a lot of corn, and the corn-based ethanol uses up a lot of corn, but sheesh - I really like corn, but I don't eat it that often. Not often enough to devote about 125,000 square miles to corn, at least. Corn plants are sort of lovely, though - nice for movies and hiding from crop dusters, etc. It was calming. And I listened to the album Nebraska while we were driving through Nebraska at dusk; as cliche as it sounds, it really worked.

We pushed our way through Pennsylvania and upstate New York so that we could make it to New England by the evening of the 31st of August, and we actually met our goal. So here we are! The seat of the original 13 colonies! The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, officially, but there's some hubbub about that going on at the moment, apparently. When I get a break from my studies, I'll read up on the founding fathers and all that. It's not really my subject. B really loves this stuff, though. This was very exciting for him:

Newport / Constitution

That's Newport. Rhode Island was actually the last state to ratify the Constitution, making it the 13th state, and this is where they did it. Rhode Island, however, despite being the last state to sign, was the first colony to declare independence from the British, so it's all swings and roundabouts, really.

So here we are in Providence! We've got a great flat, and my program is incredibly rigorous but wonderful. The leaves are changing, the air is getting crisper, and I'm sure we'll be appalled by the New England winter. It was nice for our first few weeks here, though.


And I think that you, dear reader, are all caught up. As things stand at this moment, I'm working on a presentation on Aleksandr Blok and his drama, and will soon dive into an (incredibly harsh) critique of Nabokov's translations of Blok. (I am against Nabokov. I am willing to take a stand on this). I love (most of) what I'm studying, so be prepared to hear about it in the future. Hope autumn is treating everyone well...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Leaving England

Admittedly, it has been two months and approximately 4 days since our departure from England, but somehow it seems much more recent, as if I could just walk out my front door, hop on the bus, and catch the train to London. It was the circumstances of leaving, I believe, that have me a bit confused. The final weeks of my time in Norwich were spent buried in my Master's thesis, so my finish line, rather than being at Heathrow airport, was in the Taught Programs Office at the university. A scant three days before leaving Norwich for one final night in London, I handed in my thesis, and my relief overshadowed my awareness that we would soon be back in the U.S. And then, all of a sudden, we were gone.

Before we left, though, we managed to visit some museums that I had been wanting to visit the whole time that we were in the UK. For instance, the Tate Modern.

Tate Modern

Now, I actually like modern art. I estimate that approximately 90 percent of it is gimmick, and the other 10 percent is brilliant, and the Tate Modern didn't let me down. 90 percent of their collection was head-scratching, brow-furrowing, money-making curiosities, while the rest was absolutely compelling and fabulous. It was interesting to see the differences between a modern art museum in London and one in, say, Berlin, or San Francisco. Some cities seem to lean towards more ebullient, dramatic works, while others seem to prefer a drier, more sterile style, while still others seem to be struggling to push boundaries that I believe were pushed to breaking several years ago. My thoughts on which cities bear which traits, though, may be controversial and/or disagreeable to some, so I'll keep the specifics to myself...

We also visited the Victoria and Albert Museum, which was incredible and so far-reaching that I had a hard time knowing which way to go, which hallway to walk down. Sculpture, fashion, stamps, props and opera garb, textiles, 80s appliances, antiquarian books, 15th-century Chinese furniture, contemporary photography, Middle Eastern tapestries - it was all there. It was a shocking variety, really. B couldn't help but try on some costumery.

Victoria and Albert Museum

He is standing in front of what I believe is an exact replica of Kylie Minogue's dressing room from a tour a few years back, which was, I thought, an odd exhibit. It's quite the dreamcoat, though, and flattering, don't you think?

And dear readers, I have a request. I took a picture of this amazing bust, and I cannot for the life of me remember the artist or the name of the piece, so if anyone has any ideas, please share them. I love it:

Rodin? At V&A Museum

I am, apparently, a bad museum-goer. I should have written it down.

In addition to the museums, we spent a final day walking through the city, eating delicious dim sum, visiting various sites, and generally acting like tourists. I'll be honest: in our final weeks there, I was ready to leave, and I was convinced that I wouldn't need to return to England for quite a while, and a short two months after leaving, I already miss it a little bit. I'm surprised - I didn't think that I would get sentimental about the UK, and pleasantly, I've proved myself wrong. It's such a quirky, paradoxical place, power and Primark side by side, imperial history running right up to Big Brother and council housing. It's fascinating.

English Power

Really, it was quite a year. England was never a place that I saw myself living, and now that it's over, I can't imagine not having done it. Though I didn't look back while I was leaving, I'm looking back now, and it's pretty from here.

Final night in England
Final night in England

Friday, October 09, 2009

Paris. A Little Over Two Months Ago.

This is perhaps the longest hiatus that I've taken from blogging in a long time. The story is this: I simply couldn't help it! Finishing my MA thesis, leaving England, spending a measly two weeks in California, driving across the country, and then looking for and moving into a new apartment and beginning school = no time for blogging! It has been, in a word, completelyhectic.

I finally have some breathing room, though, so I thought I'd sit down and do a little catching up. Truthfully, I could be doing work for my program around the clock, but I'm fairly sure my mental health would suffer from it, so here I am. And I present to you: Paris!

We spent a week in Paris at the end of July, which is a humid and sweltering time to visit, and it was glorious.

The Seine from Pont Neuf

That's a perfect example of how glorious it was. At the risk of sounding a bit maudlin, it was everything that I'd hoped it would be. Ever since studying French in junior high (more than 15 years ago! yikes.), I have wanted to visit Paris, and ta-dah! I finally did it. We really tried to make the most of it, too - we battled the heat and humidity and made it to nearly every landmark that I've been dreaming of for all this time.

We started, obviously, here:

The Eiffel Tower!

My head was hurting; the day was boiling; but it was fantastic. Somehow I managed to get a picture that isn't crushed by the crowd, which was a minor miracle. Paris in July is a crowded place; I suppose that, by being tourists, we were only adding to it, but at least we're a fairly unobtrusive pair.

We actually went back to the Eiffel Tower a couple days later, this time at night, so that we could climb it. Little did I know: I guess I'm afraid of heights. I've never really experienced it before, but on our way up the 300+ stairs to the first platform, I found myself believing that somehow this steel structure of approximately 10,000 tons would miraculously fall apart. Clearly, it didn't, but that didn't stop my nerves from jangling. I sucked it up, though, when a random stranger asked if we wanted our picture taken:

Over the Trocadero Gardens

(Because a second before that, I looked like this: Scared!).

Another incredibly famous Paris landmark: The Arc de Triomphe. It turns out that the Arc itself is, indeed, quite pretty, but the real attraction was the traffic surrounding it. It is possibly the worst roundabout that I have ever laid eyes, eight cars deep with absolutely no organization and death-defying cyclists cutting through it. We stood watching it for maybe twenty minutes. The picture doesn't do the madness justice.

Arc de Triomphe / traffic

We also, of course, went to the Louvre. We spent, in fact, the entire day there, so by the time we left at seven in the evening, my head was spinning from all the staring and elbowing. The elbowing was limited to only a few wings housing the most famous pieces in their collection, and the most intense clutch was right here:

Art Lovers?Insane crowd

The Mona Lisa. Dan Brown and the Da Vinci Code craze really ruined it for people who want to see the Mona Lisa, I have to say. Leonardo isn't particularly one of my favorites, but I would have liked to have seen this painting in a less frenzied environment. Though there were a handful of other pieces in the museum that attracted large crowds, none of them were as bad as this. People were really flouting the rules of museum etiquette, which is one set of rules that I actually really appreciate.

Other areas of the museum, though, were a bit more easy to move through. One of my favorite areas was Napoleon's chambers and the furniture of the various royal families. It was truly opulent.

Post-revolution opulence

We spent maybe 10 hours in the museum, all in all, with a short break for lunch. But, as amazing as it was, I think I enjoyed the Rodin museum just a little bit more. I love sculpture, and Rodin is my favorite sculptor, and to see his work up close was absolutely amazing.

The Gates of Hell by Rodin

I'm not posting the large size photo here, but if you click through to the actual photo page, you can see the large one, and you may be able to better see the incredible detail in this, which is called the Gates of Hell. It's so intricate and full of so many subtleties that a picture can't really capture. His ability to infuse emotion into sculpture is simply incredible to me, beyond my comprehension.

Andrieu d'Andres by Rodin

It was a lovely day to be in the garden, too; the Rodin museum is actually made up of a garden and then a more formal museum, and the garden is the perfect setting in which to see his work.

We visited Montmartre and the Moulin Rouge; we walked along the Seine; we window-shopped on the Champs-Elysees; and we went to the bizarrely futuristic area called La Defense, which is apparently considered by some to be a blight on the otherwise austere and historic Parisian landscape. I, however, thought it was incredible and strange, full of curious buildings and an even more curious marriage of new and old.

La DefenseAt La DefenseLa Defense

I'm not sure of the purpose of the rainbow column. It was just that; a rainbow column. The whole district seemed to be full of mostly superfluous artwork, which I thought gave a surreal edge to the otherwise sterile and business-based area. Post-modern finance, I guess.

It's funny to think back on Paris from here. At the time, we were seeing it in the context of Not England, which surely had an effect on our perception of the place. We were so happy to be in a place that was, well, more European, so now it seems somehow twice-removed. Twice-removed in a good way, though; the distance makes it seem that much more magical.

Phew! That was a long post. I'll be back soon, with 1) tales of our final days in England, 2) a quick narration of our trip across the country, and 3) the beginnings of Rhode Island. Before I go, though, a little more Paris, because there are a couple things so quintessentially Parisian that I cannot finish without them. Thanks for reading.


Saturday, June 27, 2009

More of the East of England

I've been on the move! It's wonderful and also vaguely unfortunate, as I really should be working on my thesis and not galavanting around the countryside. Ah well. The warm weather gives me no choice, really.

A couple weeks ago I visited the city of Colchester, which is not only the central city in the county of Essex, but also the oldest recorded town in England. (It was also the site of the uprising of Boudica, who is apparently very well-known. I am parenthesizing this because I had no idea who she was, and I'm still not clear enough on her or her legacy to feel like I'm qualified to explain to others. She apparently revolted against the Romans back in the first century A.D. People around here are shocked that I've never heard of her. Have you heard of her, dear reader? I honestly want to know.)

We spent quite a bit of time roaming the streets of Colchester, looking at their various churches and landmarks, but we spent the majority of our time there in the Colchester Castle Museum. It was interactive, and some of the activities were really very curious.

Slave for sale?

Oh. Sorry, I'm not interested in putting that collar on. Thanks.

Colchester also had a pretty intense witch-hunting period, and the Castle had part of the original jail preserved, so that visitors could get spooked, basically. Due to a hilarious narration playing from hidden speakers detailing the trial of one suspected witch, I didn't find it all that creepy, but it had a nice musty smell and it was sufficiently deep and dark to qualify as a dungeon that I would prefer to leave as I please. My favorite part of the museum, however, was this door:

Castle Door / Puzzle

I don't know what was behind the door, but I imagined that it was some kind of Alice in Wonderland riddle, in which the young heroine needs to put the door together before she can open it and get to the other side.

Colchester seemed a bit more urban than Norwich; I think it must be because it's halfway between here and London, so their proximity to the city probably makes a difference. A total of two crazy street-people talked to us while we were there, and I found it sort of refreshing; it was like being back in the Bay Area! I had sort of forgotten what it was like to deal with people who aren't constantly following the rules. Oh, and speaking of people who don't customarily follow the rules:

Iggy Pop / insurance

That's right; that's Iggy Pop. Iggy Pop! Doing an insurance campaign! The first time I saw one of these billboards I couldn't believe my eyes. I guess punk rock is responsible now. Or maybe not! - maybe they're crashing their cars a lot, and that's why they need insurance! That could be it too.

My second adventure in the East of England was taking a boat out on the Broads in Wroxham. The Broads are wetlands, a national park full of little lakes formed by the river as it makes its way out to the North Sea. It was extraordinarily beautiful out there, and we were able to rent the boat for four whole hours. It was amazing. It was a welcome break from the small world comprised of myself, my laptop, and my thesis. Even the sun came out to cooperate!

Riverside lighthouse.

It was lovely. There was an ice cream boat floating around, selling ice cream cones to anyone who wanted one, and there were kitschy riverboats and even strange old sailboats sailing down the river and through the Broads. For example:

"Southern Comfort"

Bridge Broad? Wroxham Broad?

There were Canada geese and swans, and some other strange birds standing by the side of the river that I didn't recognize, but that were awfully stately. Maybe I'll show you one, in hopes that you can name it for me:

What type of bird is this?

What is it?

And now, I can't help but get back to work. There are some fun things on the horizon, most obviously a trip to Paris coming up at the end of July; there are, however, little trips here and there that we'll take on mutual days off - well, I guess I have only days off, so I have to fight hard to structure them. In the meantime, wish me luck with my thesis, and good luck with any various summer heatwaves that may come your way.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Great Yarmouth. "Great" Yarmouth. Great!...Yarmouth.

So we went to Great Yarmouth. I have nothing more eloquent to say than...hmm. What a weird town.

This is the first thing we saw as we walked to the center from the train station:

Operation Claw: Knives Destroy Lives

Operation Claw: Knives Destroy Lives. I suppose the idea behind this is to get people to throw their unused knives and shanks into the bin, but there's some faulty logic at work here. First of all: what if the knife has already stabbed somebody, and this is where the perpetrator throws the evidence? Also: what's the impetus for someone to throw their knife in the bin? If you're the type of person who carries a knife as a weapon, what wave of good will and pacifistic emotion is likely to spring up when passing the weapons bin? I wonder how many knives they get every week. My guess is not many.

Moving on, though, Yarmouth turned out to be, well, very weird. A little history: it used to be a lively little fishing town, and then when they overfished the waters and could no longer sustain a whole town on the fishing industry, they put some energy-generating windmills in the sea, erected some oil platforms, and the "casinos," previously booming, started to decline. Now they're just shells of good times past, though they still give it the old college try.

Caeser's PalaceThe Flamingo

That's Caesar's Palace and The Flamingo. You could get it mixed up with Las Vegas, huh? So lush. Hilariously, all the machines take either 2 or 5 pence pieces, usually no more. They're generally filled with these penny-pusher machines that keep you hooked by spitting out pennies every now and again, just enough so that you don't walk away, because you're sure that even with slow progress, you might get that tin of mints or fishy keychain that teeters precariously near the edge! It's really very manipulative. There is also, however, ski ball, video games, air hockey, and this bizarre type of bowling, in which the pins hang on strings, and it's a recipe for disaster. Someone has even made a short video to really illustrate how strange this is.

The bowling is not the only thing for kids to do though - there are all kinds of fun things for little ones. For instance, Joyland:


Yes, that's all it is. And yes, it looks a little deserted in the picture; that's only because it's pretty much totally deserted. Brad claims that the first time he went to Yarmouth, Joyland was roped off because there was a dead body parked outside. I've opted not to share the picture. But really, for a town that sells itself as a shiny, family-fun destination, there were surprisingly few people about, and more often than not they had no children. There were a few children riding some sad-looking burros around the beach, and that's about it. Other than them, the "children" were mostly teenagers who roamed around as if, shockingly, they had nothing else to do.

Oh, kids could also do this:


Mini-golf! This course wasn't too bad, though just down the street was a course called The Arnold Palmer, which was basically a cement plot about the size of my living room, a few strips of astroturf with 2x4s between them, and a foam rock here and there. It was, in a word, depressing.

There were also fun rides for the kids!

"Fun" "Rides"

See, look at all those kids! The ride with the tipi in the foreground of that picture was a very dreary log-ride that went in one very short zig-zag; I don't know how many times around a kid would get to go for one token, because there wasn't a kid within a hundred feet of this thing.

A coworker of Brad's who actually hails from Yarmouth describes it as "dying", which seems about right. Come 6 p.m., almost every business closed its shutters, and the streets might as well have been overtaken by tumbleweeds. On our walk back to the train station, I imagined that the seagulls were probably killer birds who fed at dusk, and that's why everyone retreated into their homes. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

All in all, though, it was fun, and a sliver of England that not many people see. There was a beach, I had some chips and ice cream, and I got to put my head into those weird wooden cutouts, and that's a good day in my book. Until next time.

britannia pier

Monday, May 25, 2009

Scattered in bookstores, greyed by dust and time

I'm writing my Master's thesis.

Here they call it a dissertation, but I choose to call it a thesis anyway. It's been taking up the majority of my time and brain power, so this poor blog has been sadly neglected. So, to show it some love and attention, here I am. Sadly, I have no fun travels to report (though we've planned a vacation at the end of July to Paris!). The result: you're going to hear about my work.

That's Marina Tsvetaeva (1892-1941). She was a poet, a dissident, a sometimes-expatriate, and a mother. Despite being one of Russia's greatest poets of the 20th century, she had the unbelievably difficult life common to nearly all of Russia's most prominent and revolutionary writers that were working from the beginning of the century to the death of Stalin. She wrote poetry, essays and drama, though her prose and plays are largely untranslated.

That, I suppose, is where I come in. Though the constraints of my thesis will prevent me from translating the whole of her play Phaedra, I will be translating the second act, with plans to go on and translate the entire play during the first couple years of my program at Brown. Only small parts of the play have been published in English; my eventual goal is to see the play performed on an American stage - though I doubt the stage will be a large one.

My thesis, of course, will not be just the translation. About half of my project will be a critical examination of the logistical and theoretical aspects of the translation, and I'll be focusing on two specific elements. The first is the difficulties of translating Tsvetaeva's language, as she uses endless neologisms, archaisms, and even fabricated archaisms in the play, which is written in verse. As a non-native speaker of Russian, the linguistic translation will be pretty painstaking, but her use of language is so deliberate and nuanced that there is no way to translate the particularities out of Russian, so I'll be establishing my own rhythm, rhyme scheme and invented or manipulated language. Bored yet? If no, read the next paragraph. If yes, skip it.

The second element I'll be focusing on is what some would call "gendered language", which is a sort of controversial, generic, and meaningless term. Tsvetaeva wasn't focusing on a woman's language, per se, but she was focusing on what she thought of as a maternal language, a style of speaking and operating that's more dominant in the creation of a person's language than their so-called "mother tongue" - a term which doesn't translate well into Russian. These two elements will be more than enough for me to deal with in the thesis, so at least I won't have to worry about running out of material!

Anyway, enough of that. Or, at least, enough of that for you - it's not even enough to qualify as the tip of the iceberg for me. This post, by the way, is a taste of what's to come - when I finally settle in Rhode Island, this blog will slowly evolve into a mainly literary one. There will, of course, be the occasional picture of the trips we're planning on taking around New England and the Eastern half of the United States in general, but be prepared for a new and casually academic character here. What can I say? I get the feeling it'll take over my whole life, so it stands to reason that it'll infiltrate the blog too...

That's all for now, dear readers. A great big pile of books is staring at me.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Spring / Food / Oof

And so begins another post in which I apologize for being remiss with my blogging duties. A variety of factors kept me away. And here's a few of them...

Spring is finally, finally here. I almost can't believe it; I leave the house with plenty of warm clothes, as if the temperature could suddenly plummet 20 degrees and shove me right back into winter. But the flowers are blooming, the clouds are puffy and white as opposed to cloying and grey, and the birds and bugs are out in droves. Oh, the bugs. This place is awfully buggy, really. And spidery. It's a small price, though, and I pay it gladly - the nice weather is completely worth it.

With spring came the end of the semester and a visit from family (Hi Mom! Hi Ken!). Both of those things were long awaited, and both lived up to my expectations. Well, actually, the end of the semester was sort of anticlimactic. Perhaps that's because it didn't really signal the end. I'll get into that later, though.

It was wonderful to have visitors. I realized that no one has visited us since we've been in England, which is a change from Berlin. We had several guests there - maybe it was a more dazzling destination? At any rate, it's fine - there's not so much to do in Norwich with visitors, I have to say. A couple days of roaming around, picking at things in the market and generally taking in the pastoral surroundings and medieval architecture and you're pretty much done, really. So we took our visitors away, to all kinds of places. First we went north, to a couple of seaside towns that are popular through East Anglia for their piers and amusements. Aside from the chill and heavy fog, they were lovely!


That's Sheringham. The shore was rocky and freezing, and yet there were lots of people who looked like they were dressed for the 4th of July in Monterey, seriously. Short skirts? Tank tops? I was shivering in my jacket, scarf and hat! I know, I know, it's all in what you're used to, but it was painful watching those people walk around. The harsh chill was really only by the water, though, and once we were a couple hundred meters from the water it warmed up considerably. It was your typical perfect seaside town, all in all.


We went next to Cromer. Cromer's pier is apparently very well known on the North Norfolk coast - have you heard of it? No? Well, it was adorable. There were kids fishing for crabs off the pier, and several different American country songs coming from I don't know where. And then, of course, the "gambling". It's not gambling, really, it's just arcade games, strange contraptions that push pennies around and eat your 2p coins at a rate just slow enough to keep you standing there for hours. The amusements are a big attraction, as are the Cromer crabs and various other seafood concoctions. Like this:

Seafood. For real.

A funny story about that seafood cup:
Me: Is that warm?
Brad (slightly grimacing): I don't know.
Me: What do you mean you don't know? You're eating it.
Brad: Wait - what did you ask?
Brad: Oh. I thought you said is that a worm. And no, it's not warm. (Continues to eat)
But hey, just because it's not my kind of thing doesn't mean it's not delicious, right? There were lots of people eating it. Well, maybe not this particular thing, but various types of (mostly cooked) seafood. I guess I don't like mostly raw unless it's wrapped up in rice and seaweed. Sorry.

But this brings me to my next topic: food. Oh, the food. For the most part, I think English food is a lot more edible than its stereotype, or at least a little more edible. A proper English breakfast isn't so bad, really, though I usually avoid the "large, flat mushroom" (and yes, that's exactly how it's often billed in the menu). There are, however, a few weird food practices here that I just can't get used to. Exhibit A:

Uncle Ben's = Oriental now?"Egg Fried Rice"

Okay, you might need to click on those pictures to see them larger in order to really appreciate what's going on here, but I'll explain a little. On the right: yes, that says Oriental. And yes, the Oriental section is primarily composed of Uncle Ben stir-fry packets. Oy. (The Mexican section of the same store is mostly some brand called Discovery: Discovery Fajita Kits! Discovery Taco Sets! It's better than the Mexican restaurants around here though -- chili con carne, anyone?) And on the left: that's egg friend rice, and if you only see off-white rice with peas in it, your eyes are not deceiving you; that's what it is. And it's 2£! What?! Who would pay that much for a little tub of soggy rice with a sprinkling of MSG on top?


Seriously, plain basmati rice.

Well, it's the same price, but it's more rice, so...I guess that's better? The pre-prepared food here is much more prevalent than it is the US, even, which is hard to believe. For some reason I thought there would be more cooking from scratch here, but I'm not sure why I thought that; the chain "Fresh and Easy", which is arriving in the US, is actually a British company (and here's a pretty interesting article about their genesis, by the way). On top of that, though, here's some evidence that cooking from scratch may not necessarily be better for you:

This is the sound of my arteries slamming shut

Lard and Beef Dripping. I'm not even sure what I would do with those things. Those cubes are rock-hard, too, which I find curious. I know that it's possible to find this stuff in the US, also, but it doesn't take up that much display space (and how nicely displayed they are, too!). The grocery stores here are endless entertainment for me, and that's saying a lot, because my threshold for grocery shopping is pretty low.

Last food thing: some classic British fare, just right for neatly slamming arteries shut:

Grease festival - battered burger, fish, chipsI couldn't bring myself to eat one

I just couldn't force myself to get one of those Mars bars, despite my curiosity. I did, however, eat a hefty portion of the fish and chips, though I avoided the battered burger (that hunk of deep-fry on the left). I just couldn't deal with that.

It's not all bad, though. OK, Norwich isn't top of the line for any type of Asian food, but we went back to London Chinatown, and this time we actually sat and ate dim sum, and lemme tell ya - it was awesome. It was almost euphoric.

Dim Sum

If I hadn't been so busy eating, I would've been crying or singing for the sheer glory of eating delicious, delicious dim sum! It filled a hole in my soul. This is not hyperbole.

But now, sadly, our visitors are gone, and that means back to real life for me. Real life = essay writing and translating, and I'm excited about both of those things. My excitement for taking a stroll in the nice weather is putting up a pretty heroic battle, though, so wish me luck. I've got one short term paper to write, in which I'll debate the merits of 3 different translations of Anna Akhmatova, and then I'll continue on to my "dissertation" (we'd call it a thesis in the States), which will be a translation of a play by Marina Tsvetaeva, followed by a lengthy and theoretical justification for my choices in the translation. I'm both eager and terrified. (This, if you can't tell, is the "Oof" in the title of this post. Because, really - oof).

So here I go. (Do I mean here I go into the sunshine, or here I go into the depths of Sexual/Textual Politics by Toril Moi? I haven't decided yet). Thanks for reading, and I'll be back soon.

London Chinatown!