Archive | January, 2011

Let’s Do the Time-Warp Again!

27 Jan

As I write this post, it is now 4 a.m.  Yes, “A.M.” as in the morning. And that’s not even the most amazing part.  The kicker is that I am wide awake and feel absolutely wonderful.

The plan behind all this was to wake up at 4 am, put some polishing touches on my paper (due this afternoon) before leaving at 5:45 to meet the rest of the crew at the boathouse.  As Providence would have it, rowing practice was cancelled so I ended up awake and fully clothed with several gallons of caffeine already flowing through my veins and more than ample time to waste.  Oh, happy day!

My point is this: while living in what’s affectionately known as the “Oxford Bubble,” I feel like I’m operating within a strange time warp.  I’m not just referring to the time change, for it’s much more than that.  It’s this unexplainable chronological phenomenon that that mysteriously makes the days drag on indefinitely yet fly by at the same time.  There are moments when it seems like there is no time at all: I’ll spend an hour just walking, from the house to the college to the library and then another hour back.  We’ll sit at dinner and chat, or sit in a pub and angd engross ourselves in a pint and a semi-intellectual debate and then before we know it, BAM. 4 hours have passed.

Some days I’ll accomplish more than I thought I could accomplish in a week back home…I’ll read an entire book in an afternoon.  Other days, I’ll putter around the house and accomplish next to nothing.  I don’t have any explanation for it other than attributing it to some fortuitous wrinkle in the Oxford space-time continuum.  Yes, that must be it.

Also, to further confuse matters, there is relatively little daylight here in the winter.  Right now, it doesn’t get light until about 8:30-9 am and then it’s dark again by 4 pm.   And, to be honest, when daylight does grace England with its presence, it’s inevitably obscured by cloud cover.  It’s very easy to feel like you’re in the twilight zone when it always looks like twilight.

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Not-So-Casual Fridays

26 Jan

Friday nights here at Oxford are not like Fridays in the rest of the world.  This is, first of all, because Oxfords don’t really get a “weekend” in the truest sense.  Everyone’s tutorials are scheduled on different days (some even on Saturday) , meaning your so-called “weekends” just happens to fall on whichever days you deem fit and/or necessary.  For example, a lot of people at Regents make a habit of going out on Wednesday nights rather than Saturday nights.  Why? you ask….well…Why not?

Secondly, every Friday night comes “Formal Hall,” a fancy candlelit dinner to which everyone wears dress clothes and their academic “commoner’s” robes.  We all find our seats at one of the long tables then stand prettily by our chairs while we wait for the faculty and tutors to enter.  The professors process into the dining hall, wearing their academic robes as well.  They eventually sit down at the “high table” — or the table which sits on a stage-like platform at the front of the hall, reserved primarily for professors and other important people.  (If you’ve seen any of the Harry Potter movies, it’s set up exactly the same way.)

(Picture: Tim, myself, Emily and Matt all dressed up for formal hall in our robes)

 

 

Black Swan, White Swan

24 Jan

I mean to put up this blog LAST week but for some reason it never made it to the ‘publication’ stage.  Oh well, here it goes anyway….

Last week my housemate Tim and I both reeeeally wanted to go see the movie “Black Swan.”  Ya know, the one where Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis play two ballerinas that go head to head fighting over a man and Natalie Portman’s character plunges into manic paranoia and schizophrenia etc.  Sounds fun right?

Long story short is that we didn’t get to go see the movie after all because we found out that “Black Swan” has not even premiered in the UK yet.  …So much for our wonderful Plan A.  We opted for even-more-wonderful Plan B when we saw a poster advertising the production of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” Ballet showing at the Oxford New Theatre.  Sweet! We figured if we couldn’t see the cinematic version, we could see the source on which it was based.

Here we are in our (matching!!!) purple outfits ready to go to the ballet, looking quite posh if I do say so myself.

As mentioned before, the movie “Black Swan” is based on the original ballet “Swan Lake” by Tchaikovsky.  (He also wrote “The Nutcracker” and “Sleeping Beauty” so he’s a pretty important guy.) Not to spoil the entire plot or anything, but the abridged summary is as follows…

The prince who has just come of age is being urged by his royal parents to choose a bride for himself.   The king and queen lovingly parade all sorts of eligible young noblewomen in front of the Prince to aid his decision. But, like most young men faced with the prospect of marriage (and responsibility in general,) he runs away.  Upon entering a wood the Prince spots a beautiful swan who surprisingly turns into a beautiful young lady.  Her name is Odette; she is the White Swan, the “Swan Queen” and, consequently, the heroine of this story.  She and the prince fall in love, or we assume as much after seeing them dance gracefully together for about half the show.

We find out that Odette has been turned into a swan (with a few minor exceptions, like when there’s a full moon or a blue-light special at K-mart or when she’s dancing with the prince for several hours) by an evil sorcerer. Strangely enough, this same evil sorcerer is an advisor in the royal court and mentor to the prince.  The plot thickens…

Note: the only way to break the swan spell is for the Prince to publically declare his love for the Swan Queen and she will stay human indefinitely.

Prince goes back to his parents and declares he won’t marry any woman except Odette.  Right on cue, and before his parents get a chance to lecture him, the evil sorcerer enters with an Odette look-alike: The Black Swan.  This decoy is actually the sorcerer’s daughter, upon whom he has placed a spell to look exactly like the Prince’s lover, (except for the minor fact that she is a black instead of a white swan…obviously NOT a testimony to the Prince’s astute   powers of observation).

So, our exceptional Prince goes ahead and declares his love for the wrong girl in front of the entire court and the real Odette, who happens to watching from a window at this moment.

At this point, things get a little bit fuzzy. The Prince sees the real Odette, realizes his mistake, then chases after his true love. But he’s just a little too late, and the White Swan has drowned herself out of utter despair.  The Prince follows suit and plunges himself into the lake as well. We then see both of their soul’s rising up from the lake, united in their true love and in death.  It’s kind of sad and bittersweet.  I guess you could say they “died happily ever after?”  I don’t know.

(Below is a picture of the stage in the Oxford New Theatre.)

The live production was very beautiful and elegant.  And, ultimately, I decided it was better this way; that is, to see the live ballet version before seeing the movie.  After all, I can watch movies all the time, but how often does the Siberian National Ballet Company come to town?  And how often do you get the rare chance to stare at attractive men in tights for a full two hours?  Let’s be honest.

Breakfast, Anyone?

20 Jan

This morning, with a graceful bow to Her Majesty the Queen, I had an authentic English breakfast.

What you see before you is a crumpet (yep, I wasn’t exactly sure what they looked like either, so don’t feel bad,) topped with “Traditional Cotswold Honey.”  The Cotswolds refers to an area outside Oxford known for its lush green countryside, rolling hills and quaint English farms.  It’s the area of rural England you’re most likely to see in calendars and postcards.  In other words, the bees that made this honey are very healthy, happy, English bees.

Next let me draw your attention the tea pot and the tea cup, containing what’s so appropriately called “English Breakfast Tea.”  It doesn’t get much more authentic than that.

So if anyone ever accuses me of not making an effort to assimilate into British culture, I will show them this above picture and tell them — in my best English accent — to “shove off.”

🙂

“My bum hurts and I haven’t even been in the boat yet” — The Wow’s and Woes of Rowing

20 Jan

This Tuesday I joined the Regent’s Park College women’s rowing team.

What started out as a casual lunch conversation (“Oh, you’re the rowing captain? That’s sounds fun!”) somehow developed into a commitment to join the team and wake up early the next morning for a workout.  And just like that, I had gone from zero to 6 AM faster than a Ferrari.  How did this happen?

Ok seriously, rowing is big business here in Oxford and I’m quite excited to be a part of it.  I’ve been looking forward to doing it as a challenge as as well as a great way to become integrated into university life here.  Plus, Columbus State doesn’t offer too much in the way of rowing, so where else am I going to learn to freeze my butt of on the river each morning?

Right now we are training for Torpids which is one of two big annual boat races.  It takes place in the 7th week (out of a total eight) in Hilary term, at the beginning of March.

We couldn’t actually get in the water on Tuesday because it was a “Red Flag” day, meaning the water was too high.  Instead, we opted for one of my favorite activities called “running in the January darkness.”  Nothing is more invigorating than going outside for a run first thing in the cold of morning.  I have found this to be about the most effective waker-upper, even surpassing a shot of expresso.

Once we had our muscles warm, we proceeded to the circuit, which was another term for dividing our workout into different stations, then rotating from one station to the next each minute.  One station was tricep-curls, one a medicine ball, one a stationary rowing machine…you get the idea.   Together, all these different stations were responsible for how incredibly sore my butt felt this morning.

I learned a very important lesson the first day:

Contrary to popular belief, rowing is not just about the arms. It is a FULL BODY WORKOUT.  Legs, back, arms, shoulders, everything.  Good news is, I don’t have to worry about joining a gym anymore; buying a gym membership here now seems as pointless as buying a curling iron.

Tomorrow will hopefully bring us to a “Blue Flag” day in which the water is at a good level to row.

More specific rules and info about the race can be found here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torpids.  While Oxford would tell me that Wikipedia is not a scholarly source, it still does give a good overview, complete with pictures 🙂

Cloudy with a Chance of Cloudy: A Word about the Weather

19 Jan

(Above:  This week’s weather forecast for Oxford)

My dad grew up in Oregon. I remember him always telling us that “Oregon is the prettiest place on earth when it’s sunny…both days out of the year.” England is much the same way. In fact, if you’ve ever been to any city in the coastal Northwest (Portland, Seattle, San Francisco) then you already have a pretty accurate example of British weather.

Just take Portland, add some old buildings, subtract the hippies, and voila! You’ve got yourself a typical English city!

Since the weather in Great Britain rarely moves beyond the ever-present drizzle, meteorologists communicate the daily forecast in terms of varying degrees of cloudiness. For example, instead of saying that tomorrow is “slightly cloudy” they characterize it as either “black cloud” (very very rainy), “dark gray cloud” (very rainy), “gray cloud” (normally rainy), “light gray cloud” (slightly less rainy), or the relatively happy “white cloud” (not quite as rainy). It’s actual a very scientific system.

The moral of the story? Keep an umbrella with you at all times. Nine times out of ten it will rain.

Important Notice:

There is an upside to this bad weather if you’re a girl. You know all that time you spend curling, straightening, and otherwise primping your hair each day? Well, in England it’s absolutely pointless! No need to make more than minimal effort on your hair if it’s just going to get damp and frizzy minutes after you walk out of the house, so save yourself some time and monetary investment. Don’t try to fight it; just embrace the messy hair look. Walk past the shiny straighteners and hair equipment you see at the store and just opt for a brush and a headband. Done.

Talk the Talk: A Guide to Oxford Vocabulary

18 Jan


We’re all aware that English people have a slightly different way of speaking than we Americans do. And, to add another layer of confusion to the already mystifying culture gap, the English who live and study in Oxford have a separate “Oxonian” vocabulary all their own. Therefore, even if you had been born and bred in the jolly ol’ motherland, you could still come to Oxford University and find yourself totally lost on all the student slang and academic jargon that’s tossed around like beachballs.

Whether you’re an international student or a native Englishman, you still have to navigate the language learning curve that inevitably comes upon your entrance into the (*sniff sniff*) “Oxford Culture.”

With your welfare in mind, I now graciously impart my vast 2-weeks’-worth of knowledge upon you, as a sort of social faux-pas insurance. With this handy-dandy vocab guide, you’ll be able to blend into the bubble that is Oxford with no problem at all!

Bop = Imagine a Halloween frat party, but with less Bud Light and all around more intelligent people – it’s a themed costume/dance party that happens at least twice per term in the JCR.

The Bod= Short for the Bodleian Library which is the main university library; it’s a copyright library, meaning it owns one copy of EVERY BOOK ever published in the English language. Cool.

E&C= Nickname for the Eagle & Child Pub, which is right around the corner from Regents. It’s famous for being the hangout spot of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein

Freshers= college freshmen; also called “first years”

G&D’s = George & Danver’s Ice-Cream parlor, which not only serves up scrumptious desserts but is also open conveniently until midnight every night. Latenight studying never tasted so good!

Hilary=The term lasting from January until March; very wet and very cold.

JCR= Stands for “Junior Common Room” and refers to both the building and the undergraduate student body; all the college undergrads collectively make up the JCR

Michaelmas=The first term of the academic year, lasting from October to December

Rad Cam= Abbreviated version of the “Radcliffe Camera” which really isn’t a camera like the kind we use for photos, but a giant round reading room. It’s very pretty but make sure if you go in you’re verrrrrrry quiet or you’ll get an evil death-glare from the librarians.

Snooker= Pool/Billiards

Subfusc= The official academic outfit for Oxford University, consisting of the robe, the mortar board hat, and a bow tie (guys) or ribbon tie (girls); worn for all important ceremonies including matriculation and exams.

(Above: Oxford students wearing the subfusc)

Tab= Derogatory term for a member of the most inferior and detestable of all universities (aka Cambridge)

Term= An 8-week period in which you go to classes, lectures, and tutorials, and study your butt off.

Tutorial = (also shortened to “Tute”); the main method of instruction here at Oxford, where you meet for an hour-long individual session with your teacher, usually once per week. You have an essay due at the time of each tutorial so make sure you’re prepared and know your stuff because there’s nowhere to hide!

Trinity= Last term of the academic year, from May through June.