Monday, April 13, 2009

Cabin Fever

I literally haven't left my flat in three days. For the most part I haven't done anything productive, either. Not in terms of schoolwork, in any case.

I've been watching a lot of Doctor Who online. It's my newest obession. I suppose I can blame my flatmate James and my friend Alan for that. They've both been encouraging me to watch it for a while. Not every episode is great, but a lot of them are really inventive. And David Tennant is fantastic. Really. He's amazing. I'm a big fan. I can't imagine anyone else as Doctor Who, so it will be hard for me when the new Doctor Who takes over, even though I've only been watching for a few weeks.

I did a tiny bit of work on Saturday, but not as much as I should have been doing. Chad got back from Bremen late that night and came over to chat.
On Easter Sunday Chad came over for brunch. I made omelettes, toast, and veggie sausages. Chad had gone to Tesco and bought a big bar of Dairy Milk and grapes! Grapes are usually very expensive so I NEVER buy them, but these were on sale, so we had two things of grapes. We ate both of them. We spent the rest of the day in my kitchen talking. He left around 6pm. Then I talked to my parents on Skype and made myself dinner around 11. I watched TV and went to bed. Eventful day.

Again, I didn't leave my flat or do much today. I really should have been doing reserach for my Medieval paper or my end of the year project on Polish immigration. However, instead of this, Chad and I planned and booked our trip to Romania.
I can't believe I'm actually going. This morning I was doubting if I was actually going to be able to manage it, but now I'm all booked for seven days in Romania.
April 22: I leave from London Luton at 8am and get into Bucharest at 1pm. Chad's flying in from Berlin and will meet me there.
April 23: Hopefully we'll take a day tour of Lake Snagov, the monastery where Dracula is burried.
April 24: Take the train to Brasov.
April 25: Spend the day in Brasov. Maybe see Bran Castle, called "Castle Dracula" even though Vlad Tepes never lived there. It's what's used in most films, though, and it was the model for Bram Stoker's vision of Dracula's castle.
April 26: Take the train to Sighisoara, Dracula's birthplace and a fantastic example of a medieval town.
April 27: Take the train to Cluj-Napoca, capital of Transylvania.
April 28: Spend the day in Cluj, but pull an all-nighter and spend the night at the airport.
April 29: Leave Cluj at 6:20am, arriving at London Luton at 7:25 GMT. Then I suppose we'll take a train back to Norwich and collapse.

I also booked all the hostels. All except the one in Cluj offers breakfast. They all look good, though, and are pretty cheap. Should be amazing. I'm excited.

I'm also planning on staying with Samantha and Abi in Brighton for a few days and just going from Brighton to Luton airport. I have yet to figure that out.

Tomorrow I will leave the flat. I promise. I need to go to the Travel Shop to buy tickets to and from Luton, and then my Eurail Pass so I can get the train in Romania. Then I want to go into town to the public library to get some books for my Polish project.

I really need to get my work done, but I'm more excited about Romania now than my silly papers. It will all come together, somehow.

Mel's Visit

Mel came to visit last Saturday. I went to bed on Friday, April 3, after hanging out at Chad's flat for a bit. I had called for a taxi to pick me up at 5:30 and take me to the rail station to catch my 6am train to London. At 2:45am I got a call from Dad telling me that Mel had missed her flight. Check-in should have taken two hours or less, as normal, but since the desks at United didn't have enough people, Mel was in line for over three hours and by the time she got to the desk to check in, it was too late. Stupid United.
I called the taxi to cancel my ride and went back to bed. The next morning I got a message on Facebook that Mel would be coming on a different flight that would land at 10pm. I booked a hotel room at the Holiday Inn near Heathrow, since I figured it would be easier to stay the night there than try and get a bus or train back to Norwich at that time of night. Chad's friend Chris was visiting, so the three of us went down to the rail station so I could buy new tickets. It was a beautiful day, so after I was finished at the rail station we went to the market, bought pasties, and sat on the steps of the Forum to eat. I left Norwich later that afternoon. Since it was a weekend, my travels were a little bit more complicated than normal, but I managed to get to Heathrow about ten minutes before Mel's walked through the Arrivals gate. It was really great to see her. I had been feeling pretty homesick for a few days, probably in anticipation of seeing my sister, and it felt good to look forward to a week together. We bought sandwiches at the airport, got the bus to our hotel, and settled in for the night.

April 5: The next morning we got up early, took a bus back to Heathrow, and got to Tube all the way back to Liverpool Street Station. We took a local train from Liverpool St. to Billericay, a town about an hour outside of London, then a bus from Billericay to Ipswich. We had about 45minutes to wait in Ipswich for our train to Norwich, so we walked partway into town, then doubled back and got a quick drink at the pub next to the rail station. It would have been perfect, execpt my watch was about five minutes slow, so we got onto the platform literally a minute after our train left. It was another hour until the next train to Norwich, but we didn't want to risk missing it again, so we just sat by the river for about 40 minutes and talked before heading back to the rail station. The rest of the journey went smoothly. We got the bus back to campus around 4pm. Mel settled into my room and we talked for a while. Sophie was online and she invited us to dinner at her boyfriend Max's house later that night. A couple other Circus people were down in the Square having a juggle, so we decided to meet there at 5:30pm, play around for a bit, and go eat dinner. I did some poi and juggling, saw Matt (who has bleached his hair), Jak, and Robin. Sophie and Max showed up eventually, and then I called Alex, who I hadn't seen in weeks, to come join us. I think Mel was bored. She didn't say much while we were down in the Square. Around 7:30 Max, Sophie, Alex, Mel, and I headed over to Max's house, about a 20min. walk from campus. We were starving, but for some reason it took Sophie and Max three hours to cook curry for the five of us. Oh well. It was good in the end, and we had a good conversation in the meantime. Around 11:30 Mel, Alex, and I walked back toward the Village, leaving Alex to walk back to campus.

April 6: Back when I thought Mel would be coming in early on the 4th, I had planned to take her to Cambridge to go punting. Sophie had called a big group of people to come with us (since punting is easier and cheaper with more people), and had even gotten some friends to arrange a picnic. Unfortunately, since we lost a day, I decided not to take Mel to Cambridge. It's a lot prettier than Norwich, but it's not where I've spent the last eight months. I wanted Mel to see where I had lived. So we hooked up with my friend Chris from the Dickinson Program, whose friend Joey was visiting. The four of us went down to Norwich and walked around, getting pasties in the market, looking in TopShop, and sitting over by St. Peter Mancroft. It was another lovely day. We had cream tea at the Briton Arms teahouse on Elm Hill, walked around Norwich Cathedral, and then went back my flat. I made a quick dinner as we got ready to go to the theatre that night.
That night we saw Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot starring Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart at Norwich's Theatre Royal. I think Mel was a bit bored and tired, but it loved it. It was a fantastic show! By far the best show I've seen since I've been here. Afterwards, I dragged Mel out to the stage door with Emma, Zach, Meghan, Lauren, and Chris to wait for autographs, but someone came to the door and said that the actors wouldn't be coming out that door, so we'd better just move along. So sad. But at least I got to see them act. They were fantastic.
After the show Mel wanted to go to a pub. I was going to call up my friend Stephen, who I haven't seen in months, but my phone was out of money, so I couldn't. Mel and I went to the Bell Hotel and got a pint. She drinks pretty fast, but handles it well and kept track of her blood sugar throughout. As the pub was closing up Mel asked if there was anywhere to get french fries. I chuckled and led her down Prince of Wales Road. Prince of Wales has most of the clubs and bars on it, and a number of greasy kebab and pizza shops that only open late at night to serve the drunk people who are out in numbers. We got some chips and took the bus back to campus.

April 7: Our train to London left at 1pm, so I called up my friend Pawel to come meet us in town for a short while before we left. As we were on the bus into town, he texted me back and said he was in a really bad mood and didn't want to see anyone, so Mel never got to meet him. I'm sure I'll find out what was wrong eventually. In any case, Mel and I sat at the rail station for a bit, got some tea, and then boarded our train. We got to the Arran House Hotel about 3, set our stuff down in the hostel room, and then Mel wanted to go somewhere. I called up Alan, who lives about 45 minutes away and said he would meet us in London to go to dinner, and he said he'd meet us in Trafalgar Square at 5:15. Mel and I walked over to the British Museum for a bit, saw the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles, but Mel wanted to see more of the city, so we went got on the Tube and headed down to Trafalgar Square. We watched the chalk artists and Mel took pictures of all the people. Alan showed up about 20 minutes later, and we walked down to Parliament. There was a protest going on outside of Parliament and Westminster Abbey, so Mel ran off to take pictures. It took about fifteen minutes until Alan and I were able to find Mel again, but as soon as we all together again we decided to get some dinner. I wanted to take them to my favorite pub, The Marlborough Head on Oxford Street. It's the one Bonnie showed me when I came to visit in 2006, and I loved it because it's sort of gothic-themed and its signature drinks are named after the Seven Deadly Sins. Well, it took us forever to walk there because I wasn't exactly sure where it was, but when we did finally find it I was hugely disappointed. Sometime in the past four months they've redecorated and now it looks like the most normal pub in the world. In any case, we got dinner and listened in as some other people participated in a pub quiz. After dinner we stopped by McDonald's (somewhere I would normally never stop) to get a Cadbury Creme Egg McFlurry. Good, but not as good as I expected it to be. Then we took the Tube down to the the Thames, walked along the Southbank, and played on my playground. Around 10 Alan had to leave to go home, so we got on the Tube and said goodbye to him at his stop. Then Mel and I went back to the Arran.
I had never stayed in the hostel room at the Arran before. It's not bad, just a bit of a different experience. It was slightly annoying, though, because the majority of people in the room was this group of young Danish people who looked like they had been there for a while. They weren't mean, just inconsiderate, talking loudly and keeping the light on late into the night. Oh well. No harm done. It just gave Mel and I something to laugh about.

April 8: We woke up, ate breakfast, and hung around the hotel until 10am or so. Then Mel and I took the Tube up to Camden Market, London's hip, alternative district. I expected stores to be open, but most things weren't open until around noon, so we walked around, checked in at the places that were open, and stopped at coffee shop for a bit. Then we walked around again, and I made sure to take her to CyberDog, a raver's paradise. The clothes all look like they were made for the Jetsons and everything glows in the dark. It's fantastic, but expensive. Mel and I each got a really basic t-shirt just as a souvenir. My friend Alex met up with us around 1pm. We got lunch and sat in a square in the middle of the market, then walked up to Regent's Park. There was an odd playground thing made out of smoothed logs and a very large net. We sat on the net and climbed on it, with Mel and Alex complaining about the stupid design of the playground and the inadequacy of the net, yelling at small children that they were foolish and going to fall through the net to their doom.
We took the Tube down to the Southbank again, walked the Southbank and went into the Tate Modern just before it closed. I still don't get modern art, but I'll go with Alex's interpretation that "such and such represents society, while such and such represents the individual..." It seems to work for almost anything.
Alex had to meet some friends later that night, so we bid him adieu somewhere over by Borough Market. Mel and I walked across the Millenium Bridge to Saint Paul's. I took her to see the Lloyd's building. She wanted to see Fleet Street, so we went over that way. We were going to get Indian food closer to the hotel, but the nearest Tube stop was still a ways off, and we had been walking all day, so we settled for a Pizza Express, which, despite the name, is a very nice chain restaurant with good food. After dinner we went back to the hotel, sat around for a short while, and then went to the pub around the corner for a drink.

April 9: We slept through breakfast at the Arran but ate at the Patisserie Valierie that was around the corner. I've gotten sandwiches and things there before but never a full meal. It was good. After breakfast Mel and I went to Harrod's for a bit, then went across town to the Tower of London. Tickets to the Tower are relatively expensive, so we just sat around and looked at it from the outside. We've both been there before. At one point we were in the gift shop and Mel literally ran into her friend Barrett from back home. It was funny. But they didn't get to talk for long because he had to run to make his tour at Parliament, so she said a quick goodbye to him. After that, Mel and I went to a pub near the Tower. It was offering a special Curry Club deal, so we ordered pub curry, which is good, but not as good as the more authentic stuff you can find at the multitude of Indian restaurants in England. At 6:30 we got tickets to a Jack the Ripper tour of Whitechapel that left from the Tower. The tourguide was young, enthusiastic, and dramatic. And he speaks French and we even talked about Doctor Who as we were walking from one site to another. I sort of wish I had asked for his email or something...
In any case, there was this young American boy and his family along on the tour. The boy kept asking the tourguide a lot of questions. At one point as we were walking, the tourguide asked the boy where he was from and the kid answered "Loudoun County, Virginia." I burst out, "Wait, you're from Loudoun County, Virginia? I live in Leesburg!" Talking to his mother, I learned that she is a police officer in Loudoun who had lived in England for a while as a child. She was visiting London with her family for the week. It was the weirdest coincidence.
Mel and I bid farewell to our tourguide at Liverpool St. Station and walked off to Brick Lane for some real Indian food. The minute we found the street a guy came up to us and directed us to his restaurant, which was offering 20% off and a free bottle of wine. I figured why not? and we went there for dinner. The food was amazing and it was only ₤12 for the both of us. After dinner we walked through a deserted Spitafields Market and went back to the hotel.

April 10: We woke up early, packed, ate breakfast, and headed out to Heathrow. Mel checked in, we hugged, and I watched her walk through security to go home.
I got back on the Tube to go back to Liverpool St. Station, at the opposite end of London, to catch my train to Norwich. It was a long ride, but at least this time I had a book. Mel had lent me the book she brought on the trip with her and let me keep it after she bought a book Alex had recommended to her. The book is Escape, the memoir of a woman who escaped from the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints, the Warren Jeffs cult. The book was really interesting and entirely terrfying. It's hard to believe the kind of brainwashing that people undergo.
The Tube was under construction, so the trip was longer than I had anticipated. I had planned to meet Emma (one of my roommates from last year, currently studying in Toulouse, France) and her boyfriend Jed at the Tower of London. They were visiting London but leaving for Bath later that day. My phone was almost out of battery, but I called Emma and left a message saying I was at the Traitor's Gate entrance to the Tower and I'd wait there for the next half hour. I must have looked like a homeless person, just sitting under the tunnel at the entrance with a suitcase, reading and occasionally looking around for signs of Emma. Eventually she turned up. We walked closer to the Tower, talked for a bit, but then she and Jed had tickets for a tour of the Tower and I needed to catch my train, so we said goodbye and I headed out for the rail station. A short visit, but it was nice to see her, even for half an hour.
I managed to get my train an hour earlier than I had booked my ticket for, so I got into Norwich around 5:30pm. Before I even went home, though, I walked from the station to Morissons to go grocery shopping because I knew I had NO food in my flat. Then, with my duffle bag and two bags of groceries, I got on the bus to campus, then walked ten minutes to my flat. It was nice to be back.

I haven't left since.

End of Term Update

It's been about a month since I last updated this blog, so I figured it was high time I write something. I've also been sitting in my flat by myself for the past three days and need something productive to do.

So, after I got back from Morocco, I suppose the next big event was the LitSoc Masquerade Ball. I went out a few days beforehand and bought a lovely blue dress, a mask, and the most painful high heels I've ever worn, but it all came together and I think I looked pretty good.
The ball was held at the Norwich Assembly House next to the Theatre Royal. The venue was beautiful and there was a live swing band. I went over with Meghan, Leah, and Lauren. We took our free champagne and snacked on hors-d'oeuvres until the band started up. Chad came a bit later. We all went out on the dance floor, dragging Alan and Siobhan along with us. Unfortunately, since it was over a month ago, I don't remember all the details. I was the only person who actually knew how to swing dance, so I invited my friend Phil (a Dickinson student on the Science Program who went swing dancing with us in London) to come and be my dance partner. Phil is a far better swing dancer than I am, but it was nice to actually have someone who knew how to swing dance there. Around midnight the party broke up, but Max had reserved the VIP room at Po Na Na Night Club for anyone who had gone to the LitSoc Ball. I had a 9AM class the next morning that I couldn't miss, but I stayed at Po's for about an hour, sitting at a table and talking to Alan and Chad. I probably got to bed around 2am and woke up very tired at 8:30 the next morning.

Academically, I suppose the end of my semester was pretty uneventful. I performed my final scene for French class, an exerpt of the first scene from Jean-Paul Sartre's Les Mains Sales. It was really frustrating because my partner had no confidence, no drive, and no desire to practice. It took him a full four weeks to memorize his lines, but he managed to pull it together for the performance. He missed a few lines, switched some bits around, but it wasn't too bad and I was able to compensate. Overall, I think we did all right. I had to keep a work journal of our rehearsals, and, after the performance, I had to write a 2000 word essay about the play, acting theory, and how I applied that theory to my own role. I think it says something about British foreign language education that the work journal and my essay were not required to be written in French. I knew that the Dickinson French department would never accept the transfer credit if I didn't do my written work in French, so I had to ask my instructor if I could write the journal and essay in French. She didn't have a problem with it, which is encouraging. I'm pretty sure I'm the only person who wrote in French, though. Honestly, it's no harder than writing in English; it just takes longer because I end up having to look up a bunch of words and technical terms that I'm not entirely sure of.
I also had to turn in my final piece for Creative Writing before the end of the semester. I remember that I was visiting Erica in Durham and I was suddenly struck with the amusing image of an elevator operator in Hell. It seemed an interesting idea with a lot of creative potential. I've always been roughly familiar with the basic themes and concepts of Dante’s Inferno, but, despite my penchant for Milton and other stories of that kind, I had never read the Inferno. So I got it out of the library. Ideas came as soon I started reading. I was drawn to the various monsters rather than Virgil and Dante or the sinners, and they started to form into a type of bureaucracy, each with the demeanour of a stereotypical office worker. Basically I've planned to turn Dante’s Inferno into an episode of The Office. My assignment was only for 2000 words of story and another 500 of "critical self-commentary." I've actually managed to outline a good bit of the story so far, and it will be far more than 2000 words when (and if) it's finished. We were allowed to submit exerpts of a piece as long as we provided some indication of a context, so I wrote the first scene, which was almost at the word limit. It took a while, but I think I've finally settled on a title: "Queer Company." It comes from the Inferno itself, when Dante describes the devils who work in Circle VIII as "queer company." I also like the double-entendre on "company."

For Medieval Arthurian Traditions, I still have a 2500 word essay due after Spring Break. I was going to start work on it and attempt to finish it before break, but that fell through. I've decided to come up with my own essay question rather than go with one that was given to me, but our instructor, Karen, asked that we submit our ideas to her before we began writing. I emailed her a while ago, but it took a long time for her to get back to me. The poor woman. She cancelled class twice in the final three weeks. First because she had to make an emergency trip to the hospital to visit an ailing relative (I believe it was her mother), and then two weeks later when her mother passed away. And, on top of it all, Karen was sick herself. On the last day of class she kept ducking out of the room to run to the bathroom, and she told us after one hour of our three hour seminar that she felt too ill to continue and would be going to the doctor's. One of the women in my class bought Karen a big bouquet of flowers and a "Thank you" card that she had us all sign. I'm sure it wasn't the way Karen expected to end the semester, but she did eventually write me back about my essay proposal, so I can only assume that she's found a bit more time and is hopefully feeling better. I mentioned in my email that I'm planning on taking another medieval literature class at Dickinson next year because I've enjoyed it so much here, and she told me that if I wanted to do a Masters in medieval literature, she'd be happy to recommend me to the department of Medieval and Early Modern literature for a Masters. Maybe not immediately, but I think I'd like to take her up on that offer some day.

Speaking of classes for next year, I've signed up for them and expect to be accepted into them all. First I had to choose my Senior Seminar, which will prepare me for my thesis the following semester. Also, my seminar professor will be my thesis advisor in the spring. So I'm taking Professor Moffat's Sexuality and Modernism seminar. It's not a subject I'm terribly interested in, but I know that it will be a fabulous class anyway, and that Prof. Moffat will be a great resource as a thesis advisor. It'll be nice to have a class with her. I haven't had one since Eng. 220 my Freshman Fall.
I'm also taking a class on Marie de France, a writer of medieval romances. The class is with Prof. Reed, whose daughter Abby is on the Norwich Program with me and was in my Medieval Arthurian Traditions class. Her dad is one of the few professors in the English Dept. that I don't really know because he was on sabbatical last year when I was invading the department. It should be good.
I've also signed up for an anthropology class called Biosocial Aspects of Female Sexuality. I wanted to take something different for me, and this seemed like it would be particularly interesting. We'll see.
I also need to take two more French classes to complete my minor, so I'm taking one each semester. I had a choice between two classes: French Idenity and one Contemporary Issues in French Society. I'm more interested in French Identity, but I've heard awful things about the professor, so I was going to take the other class. Then I got an email from Professor Johnston, a fantastic professor in the English Dept., asking me to be her TA for her Freshman Seminar. There was no way I was going to refuse that offer, but her Seminar meets at the same time as Contemp. Issues. So, despite the poor teacher, I'm going to be taking French Idenity. Oh well. At least the topic will be interesting and the class will be easy. I'd much rather sacrifice a good French class if it means I'll be working with Prof. Johnston.
I wrote to Prof. Johnston to ask if she knew anything about Thomas Chatterton, the 18th century British child prodigy poet who forged medieval romances, because I was thinking of researching him for my thesis. She wrote back "Aren't you going to do your thesis on Milton?" So I guess that clears up that question. I'm doing my thesis on Milton. But with Profs. Johnston and Moffat to guide me, I think it will go relatively smoothly. Or as smooth as a thesis can go.

I spent a lot of time socializing in those last few weeks of the semester. Chad's sister Chelsea came to visit, so we took her out a few times. Then there was Alan's birthday and the final LitSoc pub crawl, both of which were fun.
I've also been spending more time with my friend Sophie from Circus. This included taking her to the hospital. Not exactly the best way to socialize, but, in a weird way, it was nice to be asked. She has a lot of health problems and ends up going to the emergency room fairly often. She also needs people to sleep over with her if she's not feeling particularly well, and she usually calls on any of a group of really good friends. The other day she called me up at 9am saying that she had a kidney infection and would I mind walking with her to the hospital? So I ran over to her dorm and we went over to the hospital, which is only a 20min walk or so from campus. She has a nifty electric wheelchair. Anyway, we got to the emergency room. I stayed for about five hours, but I had to go to a screening of Monty Python and the Holy Grail for my Medieval Arthurian class, so I left before she was even formally admitted. She stayed for a few days, but was better by the time Mel came to visit.

Oh, and Dickinson also took a trip out to Blickling Hall, a 17th century manor house, the property of which used to belong to the Boleyn family. It's a gorgeous house with lovely gardens. Chad and I walked around it for a couple of hours before we all headed back to UEA. A nice day out.