Wednesday, 8 July 2009
Yet despite all the American conveniences like a dishwasher or Velveeta, I find myself longing for England. Although I have my car back and can freely drive down the right side of the road, my daily commute no longer includes walking past a one thousand-year-old tower or smelling the aroma of Cornwall’s Pasty shop on Cornmarket Street. I can eat at Chipotle rather than Oxford’s meager attempt at Mexican fast food, The Mission; but I can’t bring my takeout to the Oxford Union just across St. Michaels Street. I can find places to get a good, fruity or chocolaty cocktail, but even the prettiest drink at the most upscale social house or lounge couldn’t replace a pint of cider with black currant at The Eagle and Child.
Now that I’m home, I find myself constantly referring to the way things operate in England. I’m sure it becomes annoying to my family and friends when I compare everything here to Oxford, and I’ve found they lose interest pretty quickly. They haven’t experienced punting down the Thames with a bottle of wine or watching the Magdalen College choir sing atop the college tower on May morning. They don’t know what the University Church looks like or what makes clotted cream so delicious. It’s all very fictitious and too far removed to really understand. I sometimes wonder myself if the past five and a half months actually happened. It tends to seem like an incredible, yet distant, dream. I slipped back into my routine here so easily that it’s hard to believe I spent nearly half a year in another country. I have to look through my pictures and old journal entries to remind myself that, yes, I really did go to England.
And I still have a few shortbread and jam biscuits left; they help jog my memory too.
During my time in England I learned very important lessons which I hope I will be able to keep with me. I understand more fully the importance of time spent relaxing with a cup of tea and acquiring knowledge for knowledge’s sake. I still have my white tea every day, and I’ve ordered some new books on Amazon to feed my reignited hunger for reading. I just started reading "Neverwhere," a fantasy about the London Underground. I can imagine myself walking down the street with the main character, Richard, and visualize Harrod's or the Marble Arch. (Perhaps my literature choice is only making my British withdrawal worse). And despite the fast-paced way of life here, I hope my European influence will allow me to dig me heels into American soil and slow me down when I become too caught up with dates and deadlines. As graduate school applications and test dates linger in the all-too-near future, I’m sure it will be quite the task. But I’m going to give it my best shot.
My European excursion also taught me a lot about myself. I know now that I can travel half-way around the world and figure out what to do and where to go on my own. I can book flights and hostels, catch a sleeper train, and read maps in French, Italian, and German. And I have the confidence and know-how to backpack across Europe again, hopefully sooner than later. I’m no longer a child being led by the hand of my mom or dad. I’m a woman; free to make my own decisions and responsible for the consequences of those decisions.
Finally, although I find myself pining for England – for cream tea and Indian food, Blackwell’s and Primark – my time away has made me aware of the blessings I have here in the U.S.: The girls on my hall at Jewell sent me cards for Valentine’s Day, my grandma sent me little notes throughout the semester, my mom and sister stayed up late or woke up early just to say hi to me online, and my dad sent me emails to encourage me or just to tell me about his day. And when I walked through the door at Tulsa airport, my step-mom literally jumped up and down…and then she cried. I was reminded that I have remarkable people surrounding me, encouraging me, and loving me - no matter where my life or my travels lead me.
Friday, 1 May 2009
I know I promised to tell you all about my travels during break, and I will. But first I must convey to you my new found infatuation with the wonderful place that is Oxford.
I am taking a tutorial on C.S. Lewis this term, and so far I am absolutely loving it. Before now, I had never read anything by Lewis except for snipits of "Narnia." I had little knowledge of his work as a theologian and really didn't know what to expect from my tutorial. I just knew he was "kind of a big deal" here, so what better place to learn about him?
I started out with "The Four Loves," paired with Plato's "Symposium," which was a great introduction to Lewis. From the first few pages of his theology of love, I knew I was going to enjoy reading the profound thoughts this man put down. I was right. This week, I was assigned "The Problem of Pain," "A Grief Observed," and Sheldon Vanauken's "A Severe Mercy" as supplementary material. Both of Lewis's works were, again, profound and thought-provoking. However, it was Vanauken's writing which has ignited this new passion I have for this little city.
"A Severe Mercy" is an autobiography or memoir of sorts, telling the story of Sheldon and his wife Davy. The two find themselves in Oxford for a brief period of time, where they find Christianity and develop a friendship with C.S. Lewis. Letters between Lewis and Vanauken are included in the book. As I read Vanauken's account of their time in Oxford, I could imagine exactly where he was and what he must have been seeing. He wrote of the High Street, and how it is quite possibly the most beautiful street in the world. I walk down the High nearly every day, and sometimes I forget to appreciate the breathtaking beauty of Magdalen College, the botanical gardens or the Church of St. Mary the Virgin. But when I take a moment to really look, to take it all in...he is absolutely right.
This morning I participated in the May Morning celebration and watched the Magdalen College Choir welcome spring from atop the bell tower at 6 a.m. Afterward, my housemates and I went to the Oxford Union for a breakfast of sausage rolls, bacon baps, and pastries. Vanauken and Davy had done this as well. He wrote, "On May Morning, not long after the light appeared in the east, we had sat in a punt under Magdalen Tower with friends, hearing first a belated nightingale and then, from the top of the tall tower, the pure voices of little boys singing their Latin madrigal. When they had done, the tower bells rang out t welcome the Maytime in, and we, with the great bells still ringing astern, went off down the river to eat the breakfast we had brought." His words played through my head as we walked down High Street with the sound of bells and bagpipes in the distance.
Among the lovely memories of Oxford he recorded, he speaks most fondly of his time in the little village of Binsey and conversations had at The Perch,"that other country pub...with its pleasant garden." The man had been right about so much thus far, I had a feeling he could also recommend a good pub. So when we got back from celebrating May Day, instead of going back to bed, as the rest of my housemates did, I looked up directions to The Perch, grabbed my copy of "A Severe Mercy," and headed for Binsey.
Three miles later, passed the train station, across the Thames, and down a narrow road with fields and crops growing on either side, I saw the thatched roof of The Perch sticking out between the trees. I walked in, feeling a little underdressed in my shorts and T-shirt amid wine glasses and cloth napkins on the tables, but the bartender was still happy to serve me a white coffee. I took my delicate cup of coffee and pitcher of milk out to the "pleasant garden" and found an iron table set for one. I sat in the garden for what must have been more than an hour and a half, reading about the very place I was sitting in, and falling more and more in love with Oxford with every page.
I also did my fair share of eavesdropping on the British patrons while I was there. A nearby conversation caught my attention when I heard a woman say people who live in middle America have no culture. Little did she know there was a middle American sitting at the next table. Then again, perhaps I have no culture. I suppose it is all relative.
After I felt I had worn out my welcome, I said goodbye to The Perch, certain to return again. I wasn't quite ready to say goodbye to Binsey, though, so I meandered down a path which ran alongside the pub toward the river. There I found a little dock, on which I spent the rest of the afternoon reading and sunning my white, uncultured legs. Every once in a while a fishing or rowing boat would pass by, disturbing the otherwise calm waters. Also every once in a while a dog who had wandered from its owner came to say hello. Sometimes they had just come from a dip in the water. On these occasions I was happy to be wearing shorts and a T-shirt.
By the time I finished "A Severe Mercy," the wind had begun to pick up a little. I resisted the desire to take a nap right there on the dock (I've been awake since 4:30 a.m.) and headed back to city centre. I stopped at Blackwell's on the way home, where Vanauken bought his first works by Lewis, to look for my own copy of "A Severe Mercy," but I couldn't find it. I'll look again someday. I only had a couple of quid in my purse, so I probably couldn't have bought a copy today anyway.
I arrived at home excited to share my new little corner of Oxford with the rest of the house. I hope I next time I go, I can bring more middle Americans with me.
I came to Oxford nearly four months ago, and there are still so many places I haven't seen, food I haven't eaten, and experiences I haven't been a part of. Today I am thankful that not only have I fallen in love with Oxford, my eyes have been opened to appreciate her for what little time I have left with her.
Tuesday, 21 April 2009
That night the woman working at our hostel suggested an area with Indian cuisine. We found a small restaurant with some delicious food. Will was talking about his lamb dish from days after that. Then we went to the Covent Garden where we had a pint at Will's first English pub. It was really busy and loud, and we ended up next to an older couple who were either newlyweds or having an affair. The PDA was too much to take, so we headed back the hostel as soon as we could squeeze ourselves between them.
That evening we rode the London Eye. We literally hopped on because it is in constant motion, and for the next half-hour we rode in a little bubble up, up, up over the city. It was spectacular! As we got off, it was startig to get dark. (The sun doesn't set here. It's up one minute, and then it's dark. There is no progression with the beautiful orange, red, blue, and purple hues we're used to in Missouri. The London Eye glowed red and the museum behind it was the background for a light show. Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament were also lit up at night. Gorgeous!
Friday, 13 March 2009
So what should I do with all this spare time I have accumulated? Well, I've been making a mental list of funny things I have seen as well as cultural difference between here and the States. I think now would be a good time to make use of them, so here it goes.
First, the one major difference I see between us and the Brits (besides the way we talk, of course) is the way we walk down a sidewalk. Traditionally, if you're in the U.S. and you see someone coming your way you will both make an effort to avoid one another, allowing enough space for both of you to pass by comfortably. Not so in merry ole England. I cannot begin to count the number of times I've had to walk on the street when I pass someone because they insist on walking right down the middle of the side walk. And if they're walking with someone else? Rather than one person stepping in front of the other for a moment, they just keep plowing down the sidewalk. Once again, I'm on the street. What have I done to remedy this problem? I do as the British do. I feel completely rude, but it's the only way to get where I'm going. So that's issue number one.
Next, girls in England do not have feeling in their legs, or the rest of their bodies for that matter. While us Americans have been bundled up with jeans, sweaters, coats, and hats, the natives prance around in leggings and cutsie tops with no jacket or coat to speak of. We don't know how they do it. Thankfully it's getting warmer now, so we'll be able to blend in with them a little more and trade our bulky coats and hats for a little more acceptable attire.
Moving on, let's discuss an average day on Cornmarket Street. Everything opens between 8 and 9 a.m., usually closer to 9 a.m. unless it's a cafe. You'll see a lot of people having their morning tea or coffee before heading to work. Then the street is a little quieter for a few hours until about 12:30 or 1 p.m. From then on, there are a ton of people all over the place eating and shopping. I always ask myself everyday, don't these people have jobs? I find it hard to believe they do when everyone is out and about at 3 p.m. on a Tuesday, but they have to get their money to do all their shopping from somewhere...it's a mystery. To return to an average day on Cornmarket, everything closes at 6 p.m. at the latest, and restaurants stop serving very early. What do you do? Go to the pub! But even they're only open until about 11 p.m. Bizarre, right? So where do you go at 3 in the morning for a study snack? Food vans! About 8 p.m. (when all the restaurants and pubs stop serving food) vendors set up vans all over the streets of Oxford where they sell burgers, kebabs, chips, pizza, and all other things fried and greasy. They all have fun names too, my favorite being Posh Nosh (Nosh is food). I've heard their cheesy chips are very yummy. I have yet to try them. We live pretty far away from town, so I'd rather not walk half an hour one way for some chips.
Which brings us to the subject of food. Although we speak the same language, Americans and the English definitely do NOT share the same food! We are called the melting pot for a reason; because we have the best of any kind of food from every part of the world. I can't say the same for England. Although they don't really eat beans for breakfast every day or fish and chips all the time, there is certainly plenty of traditional fare to be found. Cornish pasties, Sunday roasts, and crepe stands abundant on the streets of Oxford. And I do love the pastry shops and the open market at Gloucester Green every Wednesday. I will miss that when I'm back in the states. England also has delicious Indian cuisine. Some chicken tikka and garlic nan makes for a yummy dinner!
What you won't find in England, however, are all those wonderful staples of American comfort food. Want to make up some good ole Velveeta Shells and Cheese? Sorry, none to be found here. Having a party and want some rotel dip? Also no Velveeta. What about a BBQ sandwich or an enchilada? No such luck. Poptarts? Nope. You can find Oreos at Sainsbury's, but in my opinion, if it's not Double Stuf, it's not an Oreo...so they don't really have Oreos, if you get my drift. But I can't complain too much. We also have pancake parties and teas... It's not so bad. :)
Speaking of Sainsbury's (our grocery store), it's nothing like Price Chopper, Summer Fresh, Wal-Mart, etc. It's very small, about half the size of the first two stores I named. You won't find anything in bulk, and food expires very quickly. I think they must use fewer preservatives, which is probably a good thing. As a result, you can't go to the store once a week and stock up (partly because it will go bad by Wednesday and also because you can't carry that much back to your flat). Therefore, I end up going to the store about 3 or 4 times a week. And the lines...At times they reach all the way down the aisles! Of course they move much more quickly than those at Wal-Mart because rather than buying a month's worth of groceries, people are only buying 2 or 3 day's worth. It all evens out.
Okay, I think that's enough about the differences between here and there. Now for some funny things I've seen.
- A woman pushing a stroller with no baby in it.
- A woman carrying her dog in her purse (I thought only Paris Hilton did that).
- A man carrying a purse.
- A man wearing red velvet pants.
- A man wearing purple velvet pants (what's the deal with velvet?).
- A man who pulled a backpack out of a litter bin to see if it was worth making another man's trash his treasure.
I can't remember any more right now. I know there are more, but my favorite is a man Madison and I refer to as "the penguin." He is a short, squatty man (shaped much like a sphere from head to toe) and one of the about 7 obese people I have seen in the UK. Every weekend he makes his journey up and down Abingdon Road, which is really about 100 yards at most. He spends the entire day waddling down the street, much like a bloated penguin would. He also smokes (and I'm sure his pack has a great big "Smoking Kills" sticker on it). I have to admit I always smile to myself every weekend when I see him waddling down the street like a weeble (They wobble but they won't fall down!). It's one of those funny things I'll always remember. I'm glad Madison shares the inside joke with me. I hate when there are fun things that happen in a new place, and there is no one to laugh with about them later. ("Schwing!" comes to mind, a little joke I share with my Jordanian friend, Khaled.)I've wasted a sufficient amount of time my time, and yours now too, so I think I will finish packing for my trip and prepare for tutorial. More to come after I travel!
Thursday, 12 March 2009
Saturday, 28 February 2009
Friday I was pleasantly surprised to receive a card from my mom and sister and a care package from my dad and Rebecca. Actually, pleasantly surprised doesn't begin to express how I felt. I was elated! My mom sent me a card for "Girls Day." I love cards for no reason. She is so thoughtful that way. She also threw in some money to splurge on a good meal. My care package was everything I could have wanted and more. I got my Girl Scout cookies! Two boxes of Thin Mints and two boxes of Thanks-A-Lots! They also sent me a huge bag of Ghrardelli dark chocolates, French Vanilla Biscotti coffee (my favorite), hot chocolate, gum, salted roasted almonds, Bath and Body Works goodies... The best thing was the card, though. Rebecca wrote me the sweetest note and made me start welling up on the spot. She and I have really become close over the past year or so, and I couldn't have asked for a better step-mother. She is such a special woman, and I admire her more than she will ever know.
As I said in my last blog, I went to Cambridge for my sanity. It was the best decision I could have made. It was so great to see Cody again, and we had a great time with his British buddies. They are fantastic people! We all went to dinner and pubbing. Yippie Noodle is yummy! Today Cody and I went to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. It was really cool. We explored the 16th century armory and Egyptian exhibits most extensively. And of course we had long talks about life and such. To trade Oxford, books, papers, and tutorials for a relaxing time with the best friend was exactly what I needed to center myself and push through to the end of the term.
Tomorrow I'm going to crack the books again and prepare for my seventh Political Philosophy tutorial. I have a new energy and optimism for the next two weeks, and thanks to God and to my loved ones, I know everything's going to be okay.
Thursday, 26 February 2009
Today was a bad day.
I've been struggling the past couple of days with homesickness and the stress of the end of term. Two weeks from tomorrow I will be completely done with everything and ready to go traveling, but the next fifteen days are filled with three papers, lots of reading, planning for travel, lectures, and trips. There is a lot to do, and not enough time to do it. For example, I had my Political Philosophy tutorial tonight, and I have another one Tuesday. So I have 4 days to work. I am also going to Cambridge tomorrow afternoon until Saturday, so cut that time down to tomorrow before about 3 p.m., Sunday and Monday to read and write a paper. Of course, because I'm a planner, I got my books ahead of time and already started looking through them to give myself a head start. But my proactive attitude got the better of me this time.
My tutor switched what I am going to be doing for next time, so instead of having all of my books and being ready to go...I had nothing at 6 p.m. tonight. Frustrated, stressed, and homesick, I called my dad and vented. It was nice to hear his voice, but I also felt bad for fuming when I know he has a lot going on right now too. I contemplated not going to Cambridge, but I decided I need to go for my sanity. I need to be with people I love more than I need to read. I've spent a lot of time cooped up lately, minus the Pancake Party (which was awesome, by the way. I'll write about that when I'm in a happier mood).
After I got off the phone with my dad, I went to the library in town to try to find the books I would need for Tuesday's tutorial. Not to my surprise, I couldn't find any of them. The library in town is no good. This left me with going home, getting my books I had checked out and going to Brookes and getting the right books. As much as I didn't want to do it, I knew that's what needed to be done. So at 7:15, after already walking about seven miles today, I packed up and headed for Headington Hill. I prayed the whole way that I would find what I needed. Thankfully, God answered my prayer, and they had the book my tutor suggested I find. Then I made the 2 1/2 mile hike back home. I am now completely exhausted for the second day in a row and really ready to throw in the towel. (You see why I need to go to Cambridge.)
Tomorrow I'll wake up and start reading about Karl Marx's political philosophy. It will be a new day, and I will be one day closer to the end of term and to five wonderful weeks of Europe. I know it will all be ok, but being so far from home seems to amplify unfortunate situations. Everything always seems worse when you're away from friends and family.
All of that to say today was one of those days. I ask that you keep me in your prayers this week. Pray that I get the boost I need to press on the next two weeks. I have faith everything will work out; it always does...but I'd appreciate the thoughts just the same. Love and miss you all.