Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Last Look at London

Monday was my final Tutorial.  I enjoyed all of my tutorials immensely, and though I won't miss the immense amounts of work, I will miss the amazing intellectual discussions- I did learn a great deal.  I celebrated by going to the Oxford Imps one last time- a few of my friends from Noughts and Crosses met me there- and as always it was a really fun and high-energy show.

Yesterday, I went to London one last time. I walked by St Paul's, over Tower Bridge, and around the Tower of London before heading to the West End.  I picked up my ticket, then went back to Covent Garden and Chinatown.  I then saw a brand-new musical (opened just a month ago)- the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Roald Dahl's "Matilda". It was one of the best musicals I've seen, and the only time I've ever seen a West End audience give a full standing ovation! Absolutely phenomenal show- great acting, fantastic music and writing, incredible special effects and staging, and a great way to end my final day in London!  The final picture in the slide show is a production photo from the Matilda website.

I brought my laptop on the bus, and was able to work on my novel.  I also finished reading the final C.J. Sansom novel and moved on to a new novel.  I mention this because some of my friends do not understand how I've been in tutorials, a full play, and a choir, and yet still have time to travel every week, write a novel, and read for pleasure.  My answer- don't know, but glad I do- this has truly been the time of my life!

One problem with the bus ride back was I kept switching soundtracks in my head.  So here are my three favorite songs from the three West End musicals I saw:


The Lion King


And now two weeks of vacation in Europe...

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Big Week

7th Week at Oxford was undoubtedly my Big Week.  I had my last papers for both tutorials, tech week and all of the performances for Noughts and Crosses, and Thanksgiving.  It was a busy week, at times a little stressful, yet still an amazing week.

Sunday was our first day in Lady Margaret Hall, rehearsing the play.  We had rehearsals through Wednesday, including the worst dress rehearsal I've ever been in on Tuesday night.  Wednesday night was opening, and the show was pretty good, it had miraculously come together at the last minute.

Thursday was technically Thanksgiving, but we did not celebrate then.  I called home, which was nice, and made cornbread dressing (basically a casserole of cornbread, chicken soup, sausage, and cooked veggies)- a dish I make every Thanksgiving.  However, there was no time to make cornbread, and cornbread can't be bought here, so I used pound cake instead- came out wonderfully.  I made half the recipe, left it on the stove, then ran to ChristChurch to watch Brie in a regatta.  I then ran back (it's over 30 minutes away) to finish cooking.  I then had my final Mythology in Literature tutorial.  Unlike my previous tutorials, this session focused on my own writing.  I had submitted a query letter, synopsis, and outline of the novel I started here in Oxford (I've written about 20 thousand words of the first draft).  It was a lot of fun, and I was a little sad when the tutorial was over.  We had a great performance of the show that night.

Thanksgiving Spread
Friday was one of the best days of my entire time abroad.  I came downstairs and worked on my novel, while we put an internet recording of the Macy's Day Parade on.  Frank, Brie, and Rachel were in the kitchen.  We then had a massive Thanksgiving celebration.  There were 8 people here from the beginning (including me and my housemates), and another two came later.  The spread was amazing.  Two turkeys, both stuffed; my cornbread dressing, which was one of the most popular things; sweet potatoes with orange and marshmallow; green bean casserole; mashed potatoes; jello salad; butternut squash; rolls; salad; cranberry sauce; plenty of wine.  Rachel, her husband Jacob, and her sister Tamara, had us write something we were thankful for on cutout leaves, then we read each others' leaves.  We ate and ate, then I went upstairs and spent an hour skyping my wonderful girlfriend Rachel.  After that, everyone here played some games ("families" - a fun game I had never played) before dessert- apple pie, magic bars, and carrot cake.  I then had a performance of Noughts and Crosses- we sold out that night, place was packed- and everyone from my house, plus Jacob and Tamara came and saw it.  They loved the play and we all went for drinks at Lamb and Flag afterwords.  On our way home, it passed midnight, and SoHee turned twenty-one, so we all sang to her.

Noughts and Crosses cast party

Saturday was crazy.  I had a matinee for Noughts and Crosses, then finished (still in the theatre) my final essay for my time in Oxford.  The cast ate pizza and then sang (everyone sang solos and some group songs).  Then we had our final performance, which was also our best performance.  The cast party was immediately afterwards, mostly dancing and fun times.

Covent Garden
On Sunday, I went to Londan with Rachel, Jacob, and Tamara.  We went out to lunch and then saw the Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre.  The show was wonderful, I had seen it once before years ago, but absolutely loved it- although it was odd to hear some of the lions with English accents.  We had gelato after the show, at a place owned by real Italians.  Then we walked through Covent Garden, looking at the decorations, before heading to the massive Christmas Market at Hyde Park.  It was honestly a little odd, though really neat.  I've never seen such a commercialized side to Christmas- Santa pubs, Santa roller coaster, Santa climbing the side of a massive Pirate Ship ride- the pics will explain that more.  We were going to go ice skating but it was too pricey, and was also pricey at V and A, so we ended up going to Jacob's house.  He's been living with a host family in a Victorian house on the outskirts of town.  He then told me we should go to church.  I know Rachel and Jacob are Christian, so I agreed to go to church.  We walked to the steepled building,  though the archway and into- a pub!  One of the most interesting pubs I've been to.  Had a pint and a double shot before heading to Alexandra Palace, for some great views of the city at night.  I then took the bus back (alone) to the tube, only to find that the Underground trains had stopped running for the night (It was midnight then).  Jacob came and helped me figure out how to take the buses back to Victoria, and I ended up back in Oxford at 3am.  This was a great week!

Hyde Park

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Weekend of 6th

Saturday was a good, relaxing day.  I went busking with the Oxford Singers, singing a capella in the middle of Cormarket Street to raise money for leukemia research.  It was fun, but I only had time for one set.  The picture is of a group who performed after us, and were significantly more talented.  I left the Singers with my friend Holly, and we met our friends Cari and Leeza.  The four of us took a bus to the Kilns, the home of C.S. Lewis in Oxford.  We had a private tour from a very nice elderly man who had met Lewis and the family.  It was fun.  I went back and after shopping a bit, went to a play at the Oxford Playhouse.  The play was Clytemnestra: which was Aeschylus's Libation Bearers performed in Ancient Greek (with translations on the side) but with a completely Japanese Noh theatre aesthetic.  It was very interesting, though quite confusing at times.

Today was an all-day rehearsal at Lady Margaret Hall, where my play is performing. I am excited about the production, it's coming together, though will it be ready by Wednesday...? Hopefully yes. This was the beginning of Tech Week, or Hell Week as we call it in the States. Long rehearsals every day until opening, which is Wednesday!

Friday, November 18, 2011

6th Week

Sixth week is drawing to a close.  It has mostly been a week of hard work, apart from the trip to Brighton.  Tutorials are definitely winding down, I have three left total, but only two of those are research-based, and a number of my friends here have finished one of their two tutorials completely.  I went to the Imps again on Monday, always hilarious.  I also had a number of get-togethers with my cast members practicing our lines, since we open Wednesday.  I found out that my entry in the New Writing Festival did not advance to the finals, primarily because it is long and too difficult to stage (they wanted shorter, simpler pieces).  I told my mythology tutor it wasn't the end of the world.  We then had our session, which was on the end of the world.  My drama experience, apart from my tutorials (which I've learned a lot of drama in), has thus been limited to the one play I'm in.  I'm still thrilled to be here, and have learned so much.  Not just in the tutorials, but also in travels and day to day activities, lessons about myself and the world.  This has been the experience of a lifetime!

On Thursday I attended my second debate at the Union.  It was a debate on the 2-state solution in Israel/Palestine.  All of the guest speakers except one dropped out about an hour before the debate, a huge statement in itself- so it ended up being a student debate, still interesting and still very unresolved.
Side note: mulled ginger wine rocks!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Day at the Beach

Today, SoHee and I spent the day in Brighton.
It is a beautiful resort city on the English Channel. We walked around, it was sunny but cold, then headed to the beach, which was very rocky. Piers extend into the Channel, covered with arcades and amusement park styled rides, a bit like Ocean City. We then walked back into town, and visited the Royal Pavilion. It is an odd but really beautiful palace, built by George IV (as prince regent) and used by monarchs until Queen Victoria sold it to the city of Brighton. It is Indian-looking on the outside, and the inside (no photos allowed) is excessively ornate in Chinese and Georgian styles, filled with dragons, snakes, and other massive creatures. The Dining Hall has enormous dragons holding chandeliers in their claws, which was really cool. We went back to the beach after eating, and walked it at night before heading back.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

From Lorien to London

Last night, the Tolkien society met at Magdalen bridge. We walked to a remote site, east of the river. Candles had been set up, and a large bonfire roared. Half the group were in cloaks, and we had to walk through the dark woods to get there, it did feel very much like Lorien. And then, I kid you not, someone lost their ring, and started asking if we had seen it. I hope it didn't fall in a volcano. There were fireworks, sparklers, barbeque, mulled wine, songs, skits, and a lot of fun. I was at the "Gandalf's Fireworks" for about five hours, and still left the group early.

Today I took the bus to London.
I walked through Hyde Park, passing the fair which is set up for Santaland, a large carnival-style Christmas thing. I walked through Kensington Gardens a few times, making sure I saw all the things I wanted, I had never visited them before. I went to the Orangery, a restaurant at Kensington Palace, and had venison sausage with Yorkshire pudding and mashed potatoes. It was good, but expensive, and I ended up not going to the palace itself. Instead, I walked to the Science Museum, Natural History Museum, and Victoria and Albert Museum. I rushed through all three, just trying to get a taste. I also visited Harrods, which I'd also never been to, and which is very large. I walked back to Victoria, bused back, and then made dinner which came out well.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Canterbury Tale

Today was a great day, and as I write I am in a fantastic mood.  Oskar, my mythology tutor just told me my paper for this week is the best one I've written, and ironically it was the most fun to write (looking at wolves and werewolves in myth from Aesop and Romulus to Harry Potter and Twilight).  Yesterday I registered for classes at Catholic, and it is my final registration ever, since I don't think I'll go past the Master's level academically.  As part of registering I submitted my first proposal for my MA Thesis, and applied for Graduation this May.  The end of a long academic career is in site!

After dinner last night, I went to the Wheatsheaf pub.  A queue (line) forms very fast every Monday for the Oxford Imps, who perform above the pub in a small theatre/bar every Monday.  I went to the show, sitting right up front and laughed very hard.  I had tried out for the Imps earlier but didn't get in.  They're fun, filled with energy, and were really funny.  Had a good evening.

Today I woke early and took the train to Canterbury.  I spent six hours total traveling (3 hours either direction, changing and using the Tube in London) and only 4 hours in Canterbury, but it was good, because I got a lot of reading done on the train, and also worked on my lines.  The weather was also not the best, very overcast, cold, and it was raining by the end of my time there.  A lot of the attractions closed much earlier than I had expected, since it is off-season, some closing at 3 and 4, which also was a problem.

Despite all of those things, I had a wonderful trip.
I hadn't known it was so associated with Kit Marlowe, but it is the town where he was born and baptized, and it had a parallel feel to Marlowe the way Stratford-upon-Avon feels about Shakespeare.  One of my first sights entering the city walls was the massive Marlowe Theatre, and the statue of his characters, again similar to the statues of characters in front of the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford.

I visited a hospital where pilgrims, similar to those in the Canterbury Tales stayed.  Then I went to the Cathedral, which was amazing- I liked the spot where Thomas Beckett had been murdered by knights acting for Henry II.  Beckett was beatified as saint almost immediately, and his tomb was a major pilgrimage, inspiring stories of pilgrims.  Chaucer's Canterbury Tales are based on a group of pilgrims traveling to the tomb.  The Cathedral was both massive and stunning, but also filled with history, including kings and the Black Prince buried there, and of course Beckett, for whom I was given the middle name Thomas.

After the Cathedral I wandered the town a bit.  Canterbury has many old features, a Norman wall, part of which is Anglo-Saxon, a ruined Norman castle built by William the Conqueror, a ruined Abbey, and the Cathedral itself, which is now a World Heritage site.  But the city itself feels remarkably modern in a distinctly English way.  I walked to a 45-minute self-guided tour through The Canterbury Tales using lights, wax figures, sets, and some animatronics, etc.  It was really well done, I expected it to be a bit touristy, but they did a fantastic job of both telling some of the best stories, and conveying the sense of the pilgrims' journey.  I went to the castle but it was closing, walked through some gardens and wandered around before heading back.  

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Guy Fawkes' Day

Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot...

November 5th is a holiday unique to England: Guy Fawkes' Day and Bonfire Night. In 1605, Guy Fawkes was one member of the Gunpowder Plot, which tried to blow up Parliament and assassinate King James I. He was the one found with the gunpowder, ready to blow up the House of Lords on the next day. Fawkes was dragged into the streets and burned at the stake. Today, British people erect massive bonfires and burn effigies of Fawkes, accompanied by many fireworks.

My day was a ton of fun. I took the bus into London but got there early, so walked through Hyde Park, passing preparations for a Christmas fair, and went to Diana's Memorial fountain. Then I met my friend Nadia at Holborn. We had a nice lunch in a pub, then spent a little over three hours in the British Museum, seeing a lot of really amazing things. I think my favorite was the prehistoric art, carved bones and things depicting Woolly Mammoths- some of the earliest known art ever found.

After the Museum, Nadia and I walked through Leiscester Square, which I had never been to. The city was lit with early Christmas lights- there's a big effort here to extend the Christmas buying season due to the poor economy. It looked really nice. Then we went to Camden. Camden Town is really neat- the hub of alternative culture in London, and filled with street markets. There is massive three-dimensional art on the buildings, and the markets extend into old stables filled with enormous horses on the walls, floors, and even ceilings. It's unlike any place I've ever been, kind of an enormous (and enormous is an understatement) flea market feeling, with cool art and giant things everywhere. Hopefully the pics tell the story a bit better than I can.

Nadia and I had a very good dinner at an Italian restaurant called Marine Ices. Then we met a bunch of her actor friends. They were really great people, and perhaps because I am also a theatre person, I found them really easy to talk to. We all walked up Primrose Hill, which is a park that overlooks the entire city. I could see Big Ben far in the distance ahead, with Canary Wharf off to our left, and the BT Tower and skyscrapers to our right. Regent's Park was right in front of us. The park was filled with people, most of who at least had sparklers. We had heard and seen many fireworks across the city, even before getting there. I did not do anything Bonfire-related, but will do that next week.

The thing that amazed me most about the Fawkes fireworks, was how different the feel was from anything in the States. In the US, for the 4th or other fireworks events, I am used to seeing a presentation organized by a city or State that is very controlled. People group together and look at it. Some people do set off their own, but they're just tiny little, usually illegal, displays. This was completely different. There were a few organized firework displays, most notably by Big Ben and the Eye and another near Canary Wharf, but they were just a tiny fraction of the fireworks we saw over the city. The vast majority of fireworks (which are completely legal to buy and use here, they sell them in many stores, even supermarkets) are put up by random people. On Primrose Hill, the best fireworks were ones set off all around us- not miniature fireworks, but full-sized enormous changing, screeching bursts. For about an hour and a half we stood on the hill, never sure where to look for the next burst- they were literally on every side. The fireworks over London were mostly in front, but the best displays were closer. There were also many people lighting and releasing Chinese Lanterns, as in the video below.

After the fireworks, the group I was with (6 total) went to a pub and hung out until after 11. It was a karaoke pub, but we didn't sing. It was a lot of fun just hanging, drinking, and talking. Great people, great time. The one bad thing happened after I said goodbye to Nadia and headed home- her house was burgled (found out today) :( Overall though, a really good day.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Debates, Drinks, and Work

The middle of Fourth Week means I am about halfway through my two real tutorials, and have only a month left here in Oxford.

I spent most of yesterday in the Bodleian. Got some weird looks, since several of my required reading books for this session of Mythology in Literature are Harry Potter books. I then attended a drinks party with other OPUS students, our advisers here, and some of our tutors. After the party, I went to a debate at the Oxford Union. It was the firs debate I've attended, and was really interesting, though a lot of people said it wasn't the best debate. The proposition was "Democracy is essential for human progress" and the opposition made a much, much more persuasive case. Several Members of Parliament, some journalists, but mostly just Oxford faculty and students debating, and I could've joined in too, which was neat.

Tonight, I went to a very different kind of debate. I had been working hard all day, so decided to join the Tolkien Society's primaries for the next President of Middle Earth. Tonight was the primary for Free Peoples. The debate was hilarious, the characters each stayed in character with Bombadil rhyming, Treebeard needing to be woken and Pippin continuously eating and dancing on the table. They took questions such as what to do with Orcs, and should they be referred to by the insulting name "Orcs". There were "commercials" and a final vote, in which Galadriel won. I had voted for Treebeard and his green party, since Galadriel's platform was a bit frightening at times.