Monday, March 16, 2009

This Is The Week I Turn 30

And you know what? I don't mind! There are much more momentous happenings this year than my little birthday. Moving on...

I had another nice venture into London this week, and my opinion on the city is improving, little by little. I went with a friend, ostensibly to see a show in the in/famous neighborhood of Camden, which I have decided is sort of like Haight Street without all the hippies and activists. There you can find tie-dye, dreadlocks, Mexican food (though I can't vouch for its authenticity or deliciousness), punk rockers, probably a variety of illegal substances, hundreds of Doc Martens, even Western shirts!

Before the show, however, we headed over to the British Library, which was in a shockingly new building and held some fairly amazing documents and manuscripts. Aside from the usual suspects (some Bronte or other, Darwin, Thomas Hardy, etc.) and some ill-gotten gains (Hindu and Muslim scrolls and illuminated manuscripts), they had a few leafs of the Magna Carta, which is sort of like their Constitution (though I'm sure they would take issue with that, somehow). However, I spent most of my time hovering in front of the glass case that held, among other things, handwritten lyrics of "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" and "In My Life", and several others. They had messy handwriting!

I don't think we were welcome in the stacks without a membership, but I am sure they would've been amazing.

British Library Stacks

This was as close as we could get to actual books, and they were housed in a tall column surrounded by two-inch thick glass. I suppose they were just decoration.

This fellow was crouched outside, playing with what I think was a compass, but I couldn't tell what he was working on.

In front of the library

By the time we got to the show, it had been a wonderful day already, and the music just made it better. I believe I mentioned this already, but the band was Rupa and the April Fishes, and I highly recommend them. They're a San Francisco band; needless to say, it made me a bit homesick.

And this week, to celebrate my birthday, I'll be seeing a bluegrass/Americana show (brought to us by an Australian band, oddly enough) and working on a couple projects: comparing several translations of Anna Akhmatova's "Poem Without A Hero", and translating a poem by absurdist poet Aleksandr Vvedensky. Good times.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Up All Night: Parts I and II

I feel that I'm getting a bit too old for all-nighters, and yet in the last two weeks, I have done it not once but twice, with varying results. Surprisingly, I found on both occasions that it wasn't as bad as I'd feared; unsurprisingly, I prefer sleeping at night.

Part I: The Netherlands

At the end of February, I went to the Netherlands with two classmates, to celebrate Carnaval (and yes, that's the way they spell it there). Our flight flew out just before 7 in the morning, from London, which is approximately 2.5 hours from Norwich by bus. Factoring in the time needed at the airport, we ended up getting on the bus to the airport at about 1:30 in the morning, which basically rendered sleep impossible. I've done many airport overnights, but this night was different because it was broken up into pieces, and though I was able to snooze a little on the bus the airport, it just wasn't very meaningful sleep, you know?

By the time our plane touched down in Eindhoven, I felt like my eyes were about a foot apart, and don't ask me to explain what I mean by that. It was just exhaustion. Our ultimate destination was the town of Tilburg, a small city in the south of the country. The land wasn't what I'd expected; then again, I'm not sure what I was expecting. Was I expecting some ideal pastoral landscape? Green hills and valleys despite the edge of winter? All I can say is that the landscape was comprised of more greys, browns and warehouses than I'd imagined. (See that? "Grey" with an "e"? English English is taking its toll on me). The neighborhood we ended up in is sort of a suburb of Tilburg, and it was interesting to see a bona fide suburb in another country. One of my traveling companions was Irish, and I suppose they don't have the classic American suburb in Ireland, because her reaction to the neighborhood was so clean and plain: "It's like you can be born, grow up and die here, without ever having to leave the neighborhood - everything from a preschool to a nursing home!"

Here was their cute little church:


It was fascinating to see a European suburb. It was much more pedestrian-friendly than most American suburbs, and there were many (man-made?) canals running through it, which apparently they're able to skate on in particularly cold winters. All in all, it was very charming.

We also visited Utrecht, which is about an hour north of Tilburg. I've never visited Amsterdam, but Utrecht is supposedly nearly as lovely as Amsterdam. It was full of bookstores and cafes with wrought-iron chairs and the canals so prominent in Dutch cities, and it was somewhat of a relief to be back in Europe again (as England is not really Europe - but don't get me started on that).

Utrecht canal

See? Cute.

It was also sort of refreshing and fun to be somewhere where I don't speak the language. My knowledge of German helped with certain things, like navigation and menus, but otherwise I was blissfully ignorant, and reveled in it. (And contrary to popular belief, Dutch is not a dialect of German...). There's something very relaxing about listening to people speak a language that's unknown - it's as if it absolves you of any responsibility to pay attention, so your mind can wander wherever it pleases.

Part II: London

On Tuesday evening, Brad and I went to see Carmen at Royal Albert Hall! Can you believe it? The Beatles played there! It was far from a ball-gown and tuxedo evening, but I felt very saucy and elegant nonetheless.

Royal Albert Hall

Yes, our seats were quite high up, but the view was excellent. It was presented in the round, and for my first opera, it wasn't too shabby at all. One little problem - it was translated into English. I know I study translation and everything, but the line must be drawn somewhere. Translating songs is one thing (this video is a perfect example of when translating a song is simply brilliant), but opera? A woman behind me in the endless line to the bathroom kept saying that she "loved it and loathed it in equal measures", and I am nicking her words to share them here. The music was beautiful, the English libretto not so much.

Before the show, we walked through Notting Hill, where we saw the old home of George Orwell. Didn't they make a movie about Notting Hill? I'm not sure it merits such attention - it seemed like a bunch of antique stores and upscale clothing shops. Okay, I suppose the houses there were gigantic, and if one had tons of money to burn, it's right next to Kensington Park, where Charles and Diana lived once-upon-a-time. Also, the houses there had actual space around them, rather than being shimmied up against each other like the rest of the houses in the city (much like the Victorians in San Francisco). And the children in the neighborhood were all dressed like Jane and Michael Banks, for real - the schools around there have an adorable uniform. OK, I guess it wasn't all bad.

The show itself was beautiful, but when it was over, our long night began. See, the last train back to Norwich leaves London at 11:30, and the first train in the morning leaves at 6 a.m. Add to this the fact that we are both cheapskates and sometimes impetuous, and you get a whole night of wandering around London in the rain. I have to say, London is not the hardest city in which to stay awake all night, nor is it the easiest. I suppose I am used to 24-hour diners, which there seem to be none of in London. Well, there actually was one (American-style, no less!), but it had a very sketchy door guy who had a headset and a bad attitude screening people before they even walked in the door; we went somewhere else.

We ended up in Leicester Square, which is where all the big theatres are, and we luckily found a couple places that were open all night. Leicester Square was kind of a last-minute decision, and I was shocked to discover that the Tube stops running between midnight and 1 a.m., and doesn't start up again until after 5 in the morning. What about all the people that have to be at work at 6? I feel bad enough for those people as it is!

We walked from Leicester Square to Liverpool Street, which is where we caught the train back to Norwich. It was a walk of approximately 3 miles, and it was raining a bit, but it was actually a good time, one of the best of the night. There was no one out (which makes sense - it was about 4 in the morning), so we were free to take our time, looking in windows and just generally strolling. It was a much more relaxed environment than that of a couple hours earlier, which was full of shouters and bleeders. It was very pleasant.


That board was looking pretty bleak. Brad was hypnotized by it, despite its constant flow of bad news.


Overall, the middle-of-the-night experience really improved my (somewhat lackluster) perception of London. I'll be going back this week, to see a friend's band (Rupa and the April Fishes- they are excellent) and perhaps that'll improve things even more. I'm feeling fairly optimistic.

Another reason for optimism: I've been accepted to Brown University's doctoral program in Slavic Languages and Literatures! It's all very exciting...