Bourgeois and Maurice

9 Aug

One of the first shows I saw at Underbelly this week was electrifying cabaret duo, Bourgeois and Maurice.   Armed with outrageous costumes and multiple instruments, among them a key-tar, Bourgeois and Maurice bring a little bit of Ga-Ga glam to the world of cabaret.  Their songs sound like catchy pop tunes but the words drip with satire on issues like global warming, European economic crisis and – my personal favourite – the woes of social media.  Some might describe their message as very left-wing, but for those political innocents like myself who don’t really know any better (or care), it’s an entertaining hour of toe-tapping music laced with delightfully biting humour.  Many times throughout their set I found myself thinking “Yeah…yeah you’re right!”

I think anyone who is in the mood for upbeat fun – and a LOT of sequins – will love the sassy musical stylings of Bourgeois and Maurice. <3

 

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The Festival Fringe! Take 1

5 Aug

The Fringe has officially begun!!  And I plan to MILK it for all it’s worth.  Excuse the cow pun, but don’t mooove on too quickly.  Guaranteed there will be many, many more to come.  A newly-acquired wealth of cow puns is just one of the many benefits of working at the Underbelly, one of the flagship venues of the Festival Fringe.  More about this later, but before I move on I want to introduce you to Violet, our beautiful upside down purple cow.  She is part theatre space and part Fringe icon…isn’t she a beauty?   Udderbelly

You can find her grazing in Bristo Square by the University of Edinburgh.  And her other sister venues are in located in the appropriately-named Cowgate, near the Grassmarket.  It’s the latter venue that houses the little Press Office where I’ve been spending most of my waking hours over the past week and learning all the juicy mysteries of press & marketing.

Hunka hunka Burnin’ Love

25 Jan

The Daily Tea is back!!! And this time I hope it will indeed become more “daily” and live up to its original name.

I now write to you from neither Oxford nor England, but from its friendly northern neighbour — that’s right, I’m now on my second study-abroad stint at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland!  Oh, the fun never stops.

Today is an especially important day for me to write about Scotland, because today, Jan. 25th, marks the celebration of Scotland’s beloved national poet, Robert Burns.   Tonight is BURNS NIGHT!  Tonight (and possible every night this week for those with strong stomachs) typically includes the saluting and subsequent eating of HAGGIS (more on that later), the unbridled consumption of whisky, and the spirited recitation of Burns’s witty poetry.  Those who can successfully stand after the meal usually proceed to a CEILIDH (“keh-lee”).  This is the traditional Scottish dancing, which can best be described as a rowdy cousin to American square dancing: a lot of turning, skipping, switching partners, and running into one another, depending on the amount of whisky consumed beforehand.  We had a Burns Night in Oxford last year and it was amazing fun!  Probably one of my favourite nights in Oxford.

I’m looking forward to celebrating yet another Burns Night with all the residents in my building next week!  Complete with ceilidh and the whole ordeal.  Burns Night is a great way to celebrate being Scottish and all that IS Scottish.  It’s a time of national pride perfectly balanced with fun and frivolity!  Perfect, especially when you learn about the sort of person our boy Robert “Rabbie” Burns was…

London Calling

26 Sep

(This post written in March, 2010 while Becca Holman came over from Ireland to visit England for a week)

Saturday morning we got up with the sun to complete what every trip to England must require — a visit to London.  We even managed to recruit friends Trista and Emma to make the short journey with us. We all rode up on the bus and took the tube together then Emma parted with us at Oxford Street to meet up with a friend. Trista, Becca and I ventured off towards the British Museum.  This was the first item on our ever-growing London to-do list and Trista, a history major, made it it one of her top priorities as well.  Trista’s knowledge newly-appointed post as tour guide made it quite an enlightening field trip.  To see the whole museum probably would have taken a couple days, but we at least hit the high points, including my absolute favorite — MUMMIES!!  And if the large crowds in these particular exhibits serve as any indication, then I’m obviously not alone in my strange affinity for elaborately decorated dead things.  It’s a comfort to know these ancient corpses (or is it corpsi?)  provide perpetual fascination for people around the world, and it’s not just me being strange. Picture above: Trista and me trying to decipher the map of the very LARGE British Museum…it was a little confusing.

After passing several lovely hours in the inspiring presence of all that is dead, crumbling, and historically significant, we decided to take a a moment to air out our brains from all its Classic cobwebs and rejoin the modern world. Next stop was Parliament Square, where we –quite accidentally– stumbled into another epic and educational tour of none other than the Houses of Parliament themselves.  It went something like this: friendly tour guide meets confused American tourists and cheerfully hands them a flyer. “Last tour of the day!” she calls. “Only ten minutes to go and we offer students discounts!”  And, even minus her glowing smile and she had captured us with the magic word, “discount.”  We were officially the last three people to receive tickets that day so we bounded off with the rest of the tour group with such a stroke of luck that way that made me feel a little bit like Charlie entering the Chocolate Factory…that is, if the Willie Wonka had employed policemen with guns and metal detectors to stand guard over his chocolate factory. Anyway, two hours of touring stately rooms and learning about English government was fascinating and exhausting; (I was a little disappointed by the lack of chocolate rivers and singing oompa loompas but whatever).

We celebrated the completion of our educational journey with a perfectly English dinner at Prince Albert’s Pub near the rail station.  The only things I remember about this pub are that the food was very tasty and very English…and that I felt under-dressed while surrounded by the sophisticated Londoners dining there…and that our waiter was rather cute.  But those are just general impressions that do not quality me to give a detailed restaurant review; I can’t even remember what I ordered except that it was “good” and that I was so hungry I scarfed it down pretty quickly.

Falling Back into the Swing of Things

25 Sep

Back in Oxford again!

After enjoying several weeks of prolonged summer while my friends at CSU are busy gearing up for midterms, I finally feel that my fall has started for good.  Now that I’m back in Oxford, summer is officially over and it’s time for the real work to begin.  Time to slough off the little extra laziness I acquired over the summer and cultivate a brand new shiney attitude for the term — a task that’s easier said than done when you’ve spent three hours standing in line at the border and received little to no sleep at all in the last a 24-hour period.

By the way, international travel is a beast.  It chews you up, swishes you around and then spits you back up on the other side of the world.   And then, TA-DAH! You’re  in England!  But you’re dirty and smelly and aggravated and waxing claustrophobic, so you don’t have time to celebrate. Instead, all you can think about is slipping into one of England’s antiquated bathtubs or sipping on one of its quintessential “cuppas” — anything that’s warm, soothing and does not resemble an airport terminal.  Once you finally get the respite from travel you’ve been waiting on for so long and think Aaaah, thank you, Britain.   I knew you wouldn’t let an old chum down.  

As I rode into town on the bus and now sit here with my steaming cuppa tea (mmm, warm, soothing, and not resembling an airport terminal…) I couldn’t help but being overcome with the overwhelming sense of  comfort I often associate with home.  I sighed and said to myself “Here at last…home sweet home.”  Would it be too presumptuous to call this magnificent city “home” even though I’ve only lived here for six months before?  I’m not sure, but I can’t deny that there is at least, if nothing else, a certain sense of hominess about this city and about this house that makes it home to me in its own way.

The Spencer House is familiar and comfortable.  A lot of these mirrors have seen my face before.  I remember which stairs creak and how the dishes are arranged inside the cupboards.  This house has a distinctive smell and an all around distinctive character that warrants at least a mild sentimentality that’s often born out of familiarity.

The city has a personality too.  All the old spires, the cobblestone streets and corner shops give it an Old World charm  — an undeniable part of its alluring mystique.  Honestly, I could carry on about Oxford’s one-of-a-kind atmosphere for pages, but it’s getting late and jet lag is striking with a vengeance.

So for now, goodnight.  I made it back “home” again and can’t wait to start another adventure again tomorrow.

Stone Henge ROCKS.

14 May

Stone Henge ROCKS.

Sometimes planning ahead is overrated. Sometimes it’s not (as you’ll soon read about in a couple posts about our trip to London!), but more often then not a little spontaneity adds much needed spice to life. Our plan for Friday was simply to go to Salisbury, see Stone Henge, and be back at Regents in time for Formal Hall that night at seven.

Shortly after leaving that morning we discovered that there were no buses going from Oxford to Salisbury directly and that the best option would be to take a train instead. So we sauntered off in what I believed to be the right general direction then asked for more information when we reached the bus station. The best part is that when we finally got to the train station, I asked the first uniformed man I saw when the next train to Salisbury was. He said “It’s here now. Would you like to buy a ticket?” And just like that, without even asking the price, I immediately consented to buying a ticket and he magically produced two tickets to Salisbury from a hand-held machine. “But you better hurry,” he said, “The train’s leaving in about sixty seconds.” So we sprinted onto the platform and into the train right before the doors shut…and in an instant we were being whisked off to Salisbury. No amount of careful planning could’ve predicted such impeccable timing.

After a couple hours of lovely countryside scenery we arrived at our destination. And right outside the train station, as if waiting for our arrival, sat the big, shiny Salisbury Sightseeing Bus! And much in the same fashion with which we bought our train tickets, we bought tickets to see Stone Henge and the Cathedral and were promptly whisked away a minute later.

The strangest part about coming upon Stone Henge is seeing it from about a kilometer away and realizing its close proximity to the freeway. They don’t show you that in postcards. Most picturesque calendars and guidebooks lead you to believe that Stone Henge is this isolated monolith sitting aloofly atop a hill miles away from civilization. In actuality, it’s not on a hill at all, but smack dab in the middle of some farmland adjacent to a four-lane highway. It’s not as epic as they would have you believe, but it’s the kind of thing that any Salisbury George or John passes in his car everyday on his way to work. (i.e. Oh, the stones look nice today…*yawn*…Where’d I put my coffee mug?)

When we got up to Stone Henge everyone received a little electronic contraption which looked like some sort of cellphone prototype from the 1980’s. The way it worked was you found one of about twenty signs stationed around the stones and pressed the corresponding number onto the keypad of your 1980’s Star-Trek phone, after which you’d hear the site’s historical background detailed to you in a crusty British accent. You’d precede then to the next station after this, and so on.

After a few minutes of this approach Becca and I vied for a more interesting option. We the walkie-talkies aside and turned documentary time into a Stone Henge photo-shoot. Below you can see some of our glamor shots, which we spent the entire hour so carefully crafting. My favorite are the ones we tried to take by setting my minuscule digital camera down on a bench and/or the ground and turned on the automatic timer. Most of them turned out a little crooked but probably best succeed in capturing the essence of our Stone Henge experience.

After looking at ‘the rocks’ the Magic Salisbury Schoolbus took us down the hill to the breathtaking Salisbury Cathedral near the center of town. I was struck at how gigantic it was. It seemed unreal. Salisbury is a small and sleepy town with a center full of mom-and-pop type shops – the existence of a mammoth, ornate cathedral seems almost comically out of place.

The inside of the cathedral was gorgeous and, once again, quite massive. We spent a very full hour walking through the cloisters and the beautiful sanctuary, enjoying the Gothic beauty oozing from every ornate nook and cranny. But the serenity of our religious experience was cut unfortunately short by the realization that we had to catch a train back to Oxford ASAP to make it to formal hall.  (“Formal Hall” or Friday dinner is, as the name suggests, quite formal; so it’s very important that one arrives promptly to be granted a seat and escape any potential looks for judgment from professors etc.)

Catching the train this time around was a little less miraculous and fell disappointingly short of the Bond-like experience we had that morning. Trains weren’t running as frequently so we had to wait an extra hour to the next one back to Oxford. I remember that the three-hour train ride seemed so short on our way to Salisbury, but our return trip could not go fast enough. Time for formal hall was fast approaching and so was unlikelihood of us getting seats or having time to change into appropriate formal garb. But this was Becca’s only chance to experience a Friday formal at Regents, so I was determined that we were going to make it somehow. I called the house and cheerfully pleaded with a couple of my housemates to help us out.

It was dark when we finally reached Oxford. As soon as the doors slid open, Becca and I bolted out of train at a full sprint towards the college. Ten or fifteen minutes later we tumbled into Pusey Street, panting and sweating as if we had escaped a bear attack…or had just outrun Father Time. Formal Hall started promptly at 7:00 pm…it was now 6:48 pm. We heaved a rather winded sigh of relief and met David, who had pulled his car up to the front of the college with our formal dresses and shoes in tow. In our exuberance we gushed with some kind of effusive, semi-coherent thanks, grabbed our clothes from him and then scampered off to change. Of course, time did not allow for the typical female primping process to take place in all its fullness and/or glory. So began a five-minute frenzy: we hopped into our heels, splashed water on our sweaty faces and did our best to look socially presentable before serenely walking into the dining hall as if nothing had happened to fluster us.

I was quite proud of us. We had managed to do lots of things in one day – we had a full day of tourism of Salisbury, proven we could navigate Britain’s public transportation systems, AND still had made it back in time to enjoy a lovely fancy dinner with friends. The evening was one of my favorite Fridays in Oxford. We mingled among friends and cheap cocktails at the college JCR before a large group of us headed to Que Pasa and spent the rest of the evening on a steady diet of cheesy pop dance-tunes. I love dancing any day –but especially under these favorable circumstances.

All in all, it was a wonderful day: Not only did I discover my long-suppressed affinity for Kei$ha songs; but I also discovered that sometimes the best days are the unplanned, hop-on-a-train kind of days.

 (Becca and me at Formal Hall)

*(That’s the town of Salisbury, not to be confused with the grocery store, Sainbury’s).

The Adventure of Becca and Claire: Oxford

2 May

It was so great to have Becca come visit me during 7th week in Hilary! It not only provided me with the joy of her bubbly presence, but it also provided me with a great excuse for being a tourist in England, which is something I’ve tried expressly hard NOT to do in order to blend in at the university…(lest they discover I’m actually a crazy American. Shhh.)

It was Becca’s first trip to England, so the first night she was here we sat down in my room and crafted our British to-do list. It was lengthy, but in the end it didn’t prove too ambitious; by the end of the week we completed almost all of the tourist attractions we put on the list (i.e. Christchurch, Stone Henge, Big Ben, Tower of London, etc.)

With Becca here, I finally stopped to explore parts of Oxford that I had neglected to see since my arrival in January.

The Ashmolean is like a miniature British Museum: it houses artifacts from prehistoric times, Babylonian and Turkish Empires, Greek and Roman sculptures. It’s very neat, organized, and almost sterile when compared to the funky, eclecticism of the Pitt Rivers Museum on the other side of town.

From the Ashmolean we crossed the street over to the swanky Randolph Hotel and managed to sneak a peek at a few of their fancy ballrooms. I hear that having tea at the Randolph is a very posh (and very expensive) affair. Although I’ve never dined there myself, I figured I was probably as close as I was ever going to get to the experience, so I happily watched a couple of wealthy old ladies having their tea instead.

On our way to Oxford’s library conglomerate on Broad Street, we stepped into the famous Blackwell’s bookhouse to take a peek at the massive Norrington Room. The Norrington Room houses more books than any other single room in the UK. Becca wasn’t as fascinated with the Norrington Room as much as she was with the Children’s section, where she found a 3-for-2 sale on Little Miss books… So three books later, (Little Miss Princess, Little Miss Wise, and Little Miss Giggles to be exact,) we went to go see a slightly posher variety of books in the Bodleian.

Unfortunately, only under very rare if any, circumstances do they let guests into the Radcliffe Camera and the reading rooms of the Old Bodleian. But with just an appointment, an ID check, and an official visitor’s pass, you CAN bring a guest into the antechamber of the old Duke Humphries Reading Room. We opted for this option, since it was pretty much the only one available and would at least give Becca the opportunity to see the Bodleian and say she went in. We went to the main library office and requested permission for a guest pass and were instructed to come back the next day for a 12:15 appointment, to not be late, and to spend no more than 15 minutes total in the library itself…and to not carry any pens or any bags or any electronic devices on our person whilst in the library. Wow, I thought, our Dept. of Homeland Security should start hanging out with these Oxford librarians. So after taking all the exorbitant security measures we went up to the Duke Humphries; we saw the shelves of old books, marveled at the Medieval architecture, said “Cool,” and then five minutes later went back to the college for lunch.

Note: I did manage to sneak Becca into the Lower Reading Rooms in the Bod so she could see more of the library and really make full use of that hard-won visitor’s pass. Technically, you’re not supposed to do that, but we were still in and out in less than 15 minutes so nobody was the wiser. But just in case any of the Oxford librarians come to hunt me down, consider this small statement of defiance off the record.

We wound our way through the old streets of the city center and to the grounds of Christchurch College. Once inside the college we luckily ran into a tour group, to whom we latched on like lost little barnacles for the remainder of the tour. We managed to gather some free historical information and see the cathedral’s ornate interior. We also made our way to the stately dining hall, famous for the inspiration it gave to the Harry Potter movies. We ventured out to the grounds and I showed Becca the banks of the Thames where we have our rowing practices. We went down to the river again on Thursday to watch part of the Torpids Regatta and chase some swans.

I had always wanted to attend ‘Evensong’ at Christchurch because it was a quintessential Oxford experience, famous for its beautiful music. At certain times during the week a boys choir sings the psalms, and this music, (as the name Evensong suggests,) directs the entire service. There wasn’t a typical boys choir on the Wednesday evening we went, but a choir with men who sang like boys. The most amazing thing was watching the counter-tenor who stood across the aisle from us and could reach high notes I’ve never even come close enough to wave at. It was beautiful…and it was weird. I think Becca had the same reaction because I noticed she stared at him with her eyebrows raised. At one point in the service she turned to me with a look genuine concern upon her face that seemed to say, Is he ok? and I nodded some kind of reassurance that he was hired to sing that way and had somehow been mysteriously been blessed with a voice that would make most girls jealous.

Once we got past this crazy body-voice discrepancy, we calmly sat through the rest of the service and tried to be on our best behavior. I found the experience less disturbing if I closed my eyes and just listened to the beautiful music alone.

In the completely selfless effort to fulfill my role as tour guide, I took Becca to the other notable places in Oxford, like G&D’s Ice-Cream Parlor on Little Clarendon Street, as well as Moo-Moo’s Milkshakes and Whittard Tea in the Covered Market. After all, you can’t say you’ve had an authentic British experience until you’ve tried a Nutella milkshake, right?

Speaking of food and such, after all that we saw in Oxford, Becca still firmly concluded that her favorite place in Oxford was the Regent’s Park Dining Hall. I even offered to take her around to different cafes and restaurants in town, but she said no – she just couldn’t get enough of that Regent’s Park food! Can’t argue with free hot meals, I guess. In the end, it proved a wise decision because she met more of my college friends that way and she probably saved us both a bit of money too.

My housemate David hung out with us a lot too and even helped to play tour guide when I was writing essays in the library. He gave us his own tour of some of the colleges and the old city center and later in the week invited us to dinner with his friend at Oriel College. So Thursday night was probably the most stereotypically Oxonian night we had the whole week: We got all dressed up and went to hear David’s friend and fellow theology student, Andrew, preach at Oriel College Chapel. After chapel the three of us went to Oriel’s old, oak dining hall for a formal 3-course dinner of bread, salad with goat cheese, duck, vegetables, potatoes, some sort of fruit torte and of course the obligatory bottle of red wine. Very posh. While at dinner we talked with Andrew and some of his other master’s student friends (most of whom were American, ironically) and even met one guy who was ecstatic for just receiving the news of his acceptance into Princeton! So it was a merry meal to be sure, completed by shared champagne from the future Princeton scholar. After dinner we hung out in Oriel’s MCR. Becca and I talked over tea while the boys played chess and Mr. Princeton messaged everyone in his contacts about his latest triumph. I’m sorry, but does it get more Oxonian than that?

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