Thursday, March 25, 2010

Lots of London, A Little Cambridge

This week has been insanely full since getting home from Paris. I really don't have time to hit everything, but that doesn't mean I can't write a novel about some of the things I've been up to. Ready? Go.

MONDAY. We started classes a bit early today because the program took us to a violin performance. It was at a place called Wigmore Hall here in London. It was a two-person performance with Janine Jansen (a prodigy) on the violin and Itamar Golan on the piano. Itamar was awesome because he had a sweet name, and he pretty much head bangs the whole time he's playing. Janine was beautiful and incredibly talented. They played two pieces by Bartok and one by Beethoven. The first Bartok movement sucked. Absolutely sucked. Don't get me wrong (Michelle and Annie did), the performers did amazingly well. But the music was terrible. I'd have to say that Bartok is the War Horse of classical music. And you all know how I felt about War Horse. The Beethoven was gorgeous and the second Bartok was much improved. If I met them both right now I'd be like, "Bartok, Beethoven is DEAF and he writes better music than you. Try something pretty, genius." But that's me. The concert was about an hour long and it was alright. Not really worth having to wear my new sweater (although, and Chase already knew this, the ladies seem to love a sweater).
Totally random picture of the British Library

Later that night a group of us went to the Victoria and Albert (V&A) museum. I had been there once before on the night of the masquerade, but there's so much there that I hadn't seen yet. My favorite thing there is outside in the courtyard. They have these little rectangles lit up with bright white lights. As you get close to them some of them change and your image shows up as a blurry picture. As you walk along different cameras pick up your image and the other lights show the picture while the far away ones go all white again. I could do that for hours. There is also a corner with a bunch of mirrors with motion sensors on the floor. As you walk by they sense you and turn towards you. Obviously, I backed away and then jumped in front of them. They all snap to attention every time. So much fun. On a more serious note I also saw cartoons by Rafael and learned that cartoons are drawings or paintings done on paper as opposed to canvas. There is also one of my favorite statues ever: Samson killing a Philistine. He's using the jawbone of an ass, so I call the statue "Samson kicking with ass." The Bible is so cool.
Samson kicking with ass

TUESDAY. This was an insanely productive day for me. Our one-credit "cultural" class has WAY more work than should be allowed for one credit. They gave us a book with a bunch of London Walks through it, and they really are informative and enjoyable. But going on them because you have to write about it isn't exactly the most fun, especially when you're taking grad courses and being a TA at the same time. But a few of them have been great (like the one I did today and will write about later). Since we've been here for a long time I have seen a good amount of some of the walks. This made it so I could do half of the Theatre walk and half of the Seats of Power walk and then have enough from previous encounters to BS my way through the write-ups.

On the Seats of Power walk I got to see the Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the Horseguards and their stomping yard, Admiral Arch, St. James's Park (the oldest park in London, equipped with flowers galore and giant alive heron bird things), Buckingham Palace (totally overrated and the guards are only everywhere during the changing of the guard. I didn't even have the desire to taunt them), and the Pall Mall (cool architecture place). On the Theatre walk I got to see the Somerset House (looks awesome from the front I'm told but I had no desire to walk around it), Cleopatra's Needle (dug up from the sands of Alexandria way back in the day; has a sister obelisk in NYC's Central Park), a statue of Robert Raikes (invented Sunday School, my favorite hour of church), a gorgeous statue of Robert Burns (awesome Scotish poet whose work should always be read out loud and with an accent), Charing Cross Tube station, Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery, St. Martin's-in-the-Field (a famous church), a statue called "a converation with Oscar Wilde" that didn't talk back to me, and other happy sites.
Bobby Burns

WEDNESDAY. Road trip. Cambridge. Cambridge is pretty freaking awesome. Before we got there we made two stops. The first one was St. Alban's cathedral. St. Alban's is pretty legit. Not a whole lot so say about it that can't be said about other cathedrals. It had a flat, wooden ceiling that no other cathedrals have had. I also remember hearing that it's a church to which pilgrimages are still made. There was a box full of pins that have been given to pilgrims for over 100 years. I noticed that they said you could give a donation but they didn't demand a donation, and I had travelled all the way from London on a bus, so I grabbed one as a souvenir. Besides, it matched my jacket. Our next stop was the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial. Essentially it's a smaller version of an Arlington-type cemetery for Americans that died during WWII here in Britain. These large military cemeteries instill reverence in me like almost nothing can. The memorial was beautiful, our guide was very good and very effective, and although we were rushed I was thankful for the chance to spend time there. It was a reminder of a lot of things that I take for granted. I took a few moments to think about the men and women serving our country in the armed forces, giving me the chance to be here pursuing my education. I've got friends and family members that have been and are in places like Iraq and Afghanistan and I think we all (including and especially me) need to take the time to think of and pray for them.
Cambridge American Cemetery

Cambridge is gorgeous. It blows Oxford out of the water. The buildings are awesome and although the town itself is small there are many things to see and do. We got there a bit late so we didn't have time to go to the awesome library that Dr. Macfarlane had talked about, but that's ok. We went through King's College cathedral (gorgeous building), visited the "Round Church," bought mint chocolate...chocolate (looked like the ice cream, but didn't melt in my hand as I scarfed it), watched people go punting (pushing gondola-like boats with a stick) under a bridge we were crossing, and bought some juice. It would have been a great day if the hot dog guy hadn't sold out right before I got there. So Cambridge is beautiful and I'm sure going to school there is a trip, but four hours was more than enough for me to enjoy and be gone.
One of the many Cambridge colleges. Show offs.

THURSDAY. Today has been productive and a half for me again. I got up and got ready to leave the Centre. After breakfast I went on the Hyde Park walk. I saw Marble Arch (self-explanatory), a giant sculpture of a horse's head, Speakers Corner (a corner of Hyde Park where preachers and speakers get on their literal and figurative soap boxes to let the world heckle them), a freaking SWEET statue of Achilles, Constitution Arch, a Wellington monument, a memorial to artillery men of WWI, a Holocaust Memorial Garden (absolutely beautiful), and the Serpentine (a lake that curves a little bit). While I was walking there was this kid and his mom flying a toy helicopter. It went a bit too far and flew over a fence into a restricted area (for saving birds or something). They started walking away, so I jumped the fence, braving any possible flesh-eating fowl or ROUS's ("I don't think they exist." Name that movie), saved the helicopter (life flight?), jumped the fence back out, and chased them down. That's my good deed for 2010, so don't anybody come calling.
That guy liked Achilles as much as I did.

I got home at 10am and had religion class, then ate lunch, then had culture class, then English. Dr. Howe took the class to the Tate Britain (a museum) afterwards but I ditched that and went on my City walk (the whole thing). I freaking loved the city walk. I have been to parts of downtown London, but this tour was fantastic. I love big cities (Sao Paulo was amazing for the short time I spent there). The buildings in London are phenomenal and it's amazing to see 800 year old churches amidst the skyscrapers. I saw the St. Mary le Bow church (rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren), the foundation for the Temple of Mithras (not well kept but sweet nonetheless), St. Stephen Walbrook church (pops out of nowhere), the Royal Exchange (sweet building), the Bank from Mary Poppins (i know, THE Mary Poppins), a golden grasshopper on top of a building (seriously), Leadenhall Market (classy), Lombard Street (famous for some reason), the Lloyd's Building (built somewhat inside out, like the Centre Pompidou in Paris), the Swiss Reinsurance Building (aka giant pickle), Minster Court (coolest building EVER! google it), Pudding Lane (where the Great Fire of 1666 started, St. Magnus the Martyr church (an Anglo-Catholic church in which I spent quite a bit of time, partly for an assignment and partly because it's sweet. Also where Miles Coverdale--author of the first complete English translation of the Bible--is buried), and the Monument (311 steps and a certificate afterwards to prove that I did it).
The Monument. Totally climbed it.
Minster Court. So sweet.

Lloyd's Building

Busted back to the Centre for dinner, and I've been writing mostly non-stop since (about five hours. WAY too long). Tomorrow we're going on a smaller field trip, Saturday I get to eat ostrich burgers and hopefully hit up Evensong at St. Paul's, Sunday is church, and Monday we embark on a five-day trip up North. Stay tuned.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Paris, France: The City of Lights

Brace yourselves. This post is quite literally a novel.

So I went to France on Monday. I got home Thursday. I'll tell you right now it was no Athens and no London, but it was a good whirlwind trip. I really can't put my finger on why I didn't absolutely love the place, but I was glad to be there. I'm sorry if you love France, but I would like to get a few whines out before I start: French cuisine SUCKS, there's something a little off about the people, and the place reeks.

Beyond that I have only good to say, so here goes nothing.

MONDAY: Got up early and headed to St. Pancras international train station. We then got on the Eurostar train headed for Paris. I was so excited to ride through the Chunnel. I sat next to Caitlin and across from Kalyn and Jenny. We were in the middle of the car, so we had a little table between us that we played cards on. I learned how to play Sleeping Queens (which I owned) and Oh Hell (which isn't that great, but has a great name). I guess the Chunnel isn't all it's cracked up to be because I didn't even notice that we went through it. I guess my ears popped and we were in a tunnel for a few minutes, but that was kind of it. Then again, a few miles doesn't take too long when you're going 150+ mph. Anyways, we got into Paris, off the train, walked to a coach, and drove out of Paris and in to Chartres. Chartres has a sweet cathedral and we had an old guy for a guide. I don't remember his name but he was great. He took some decisive cracks at the Puritans (he was right...they were kind of insane) and knew all sorts of stuff about the cathedral. Before going in we just kind of wandered around aimlessly (it's kind of our thing on program trips, if you haven't noticed). I looked at a weak-sauce fountain and went pee at McDonalds. The cathedral was beautiful though. The relic that they've got there is the nativity garment. It's basically a 12-foot piece of silk that Mary was wearing when Jesus was born. No offense to anybody, but I don't think she was riding a donkey and sleeping in a stable in silk. But that's me. As our guide pointed out, it is definitely a good tourist attraction. That's all I'll say about that.

After getting back from Chartres we checked into our hotel--the Hotel Mercure at Gare de Lyon. The place was pretty nice and the beds were comfortable but really narrow. Kellen was my roommate. After checking in we decided to try a real French restaurant. It was me, Mary, Cameron, Reesa, Kira, Brittany, Annie, Michelle, Jenny, Laura. Our waiter was a total douche (haha, french word) and told me that my dish (called Carpaccio? probably italian, but still) was sliced beef that is cooked. I was like, "yeah, cooked beef!" Mary and I made jokes about liking our beef still moo-ing. Long story short, Carpaccio is thin-sliced beef that is still moo-ing. I could have taken a bite out of a cow and gotten more enjoyment out of it. I got about halfway done and realized that I was only eating to eat. So I stopped. There are a couple of morals to this story: (1) One should not--although it sounds fun--walk into a French restaurant and order the first thing that their eyes land on; and (2) Carpaccio is trash (and not cooked).

Following my still-bleeding dinner, we decided to go find the Eiffel Tower. Walked across the Seine (which is beautiful) to Gare d'Austerlitz (the train station) and headed to the Eiffel Tower stop. We got out and there it was, all lit up in its brilliance. I will rip on France in general all day long, but I absolutely adore the Eiffel Tower. It really is one of the most awe-inspiring man-made edifices that I have encountered in my 24 years. It's gorgeous. We walked around under it, took pictures from the grass in front of it, and then bought crepes to eat under it and all its wonder. So I can add 'eat a crepe under the Eiffel Tower' to the list of awesome things I have done before becoming dead. Headed back to L'Hotel Mercury and slept.

TUESDAY: Woke up and got on a train headed to the Palace of Versailles. Versailles is a HUGE (emphasis on HUGE) palace built by the Kings Louis. Long story short, it's massive, full of sweet chandeliers, and is the place where the aptly named Treaty of Versailles was signed (signifying the end of WWI). The grounds go on forever but I wasn't about to stay for that long. It was interesting to see how the people were ready to revolt. While they starved to death Louis was building the biggest party house ever. No wonder they rose up and kicked trash. Mary mentioned that the palace would have been mind-blowing if we hadn't already been in London for so long looking at world-famous architecture. She was so right. It was a beautiful place, but I was over it pretty quick.

Laura had been feeling sick, so Cam, Mary and I took her back to the hotel to sleep for a few hours. While she was out we headed over to the Musee D'Orsay. D'Orsay used to be a train station but was converted to an Art Museum in 198...6? Anyways, they had some great paintings there. By far the best was Van Gogh's self portrait (the blue one). As usual, it was much better in real life than it is in the pictures. The blue paint is very vibrant and it really just had a life of its own. There were a few other relatively famous works but I lost the paper I wrote them down on, so I'll just leave it at D'Orsay was a sweet place.

Afterwards we went and grabbed Laura (she's adorable and totally lost when she wakes up) and grabbed some dinner with Laura N, Rachel, Annie, Michelle, and Christina. Then we all headed over near the Eiffel Tower for a boat cruise of the Seine. The Seine is beautiful, and being on it was a blast. We were all on one side because the middle had a semi-transparent plastic thing over it. We went under 22 bridges and got some great angles of things that we had seen or would be seeing. As we were going under one of the bridges the tour guide lady announced that this was the bridge that you're supposed to make a wish under and that it's also the bridge under which people should kiss. I was sitting next to Rachel, so I took off my glasses and said, "Rachel. We have to." I was 22% kidding, but Rachel is awesome, so we had a moment under a bridge on the Seine. Cam informed me later that he hates me. Totally worth it. There is a no-dating rule at the BYU centre, but there is no no-kissing-under-French-bridges rule. Yay Paris.

After the Seine we went up the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower is so freaking sweet. Have I mentioned enough that I love it yet? 'Cause I do. Going up it was a blast. On the way back down Mary and I got stuck waiting for the elevator at the halfway point. I looked down at Mary and said, "Mary, we're all alone on top of the Eiffel Tower." Short story short I got shot down. Mary insists on playing with my heart and I can't help but let her. Just kidding. But seriously. Anyways, we got down from the Tower, ate crepes again, and took taxis back to the Mercure because it was too late to take the Metro.

WEDNESDAY. Started my day off with a little visit to a place called Notre Dame. Do you love the Disney Movie? 'Cause I sure do. (PS - French gypsies look NOTHING like Esmeralda. It's so disheartening). I found myself humming "God Help the Outcasts" as I walked through the apse. Good flick. Anyways, the cathedral is stunning and the Rose windows are simply beautiful. I was really interested in getting on top of the cathedral, so we stood in line for a few minutes and then we got to go up. The view is great, the gargoyles are so cool, and we got to go inside the bell tower. The Great Bell hangs there and I kissed it (I've just realized how much Paris had me in a kissing mood). Then I pretended to ring it by swinging from rope to rope down through the towers. Anyways.

Next on the list was Sainte Chapelle, which is a beautiful church with stained glass that was rumored to be to-die-for. It was very bright and very beautiful, but the main part of the chapel was being restored so we didn't get to see a whole lot. Story of my life. Needless to say it was a quick visit. Grabbed some lunch at a street vendor, walked across Pont Neuf, and made our way to the Cluny Museum. I'm not exactly sure what the Cluny Museum is all about, but some people had to go there for one of the classes. It was pretty cool, and the main thing we were supposed to see was a set of six tapestries called "The Lady and the Unicorn." You can wikipedia it if you want to. Basically it shows a lady, a lion, a unicorn, and a monkey in six different tapestries. Five of them show the friends (acquaintances? zoo?) experiencing the five senses and the sixth one shows that they finally discovered their true desires. Interestingly, the true desires seemed to be sitting in a tree (monkey), frolicking (unicorn), eating the lady (lion), and a box of jewelry (lady. typical lady). Tapestries are huge amounts of painstaking work, but sometimes they're just kinda ridiculous. That's France for you.

I had really, really been wanting to get up to Sacre-Coeur since we had rolled into Paris, and not it was time. Katie, Britin, Cam, Caitlin, and I got a little lost in the ghetto trying to find the place, but we found it. Sacre-Coeur is tied with if not a little bit ahead of St. Paul's for Calvin's most exquisite religious building
award. You're not supposed to take pics inside, but I have a few on my camera. I won't run around publishing them, but I had to do it. The outside of the church is stunning as well. Between my picture with the Captain Morgan pose and the Jamaican guy playing classical music on the steel drums, it was an experience I'll remember forever.

Next stop was the Centre Pompidou. I remembered this building from French class in high school (I took it my freshman year. A freaking DECADE ago). We didn't go inside (mainly because 95.7% of modern art SUCKS) but it's the outside that counts. They basically built the place inside out. All of the plumbing, ventilation, etc is on the outside, and it's all painted bright colors. The escalator runs zig zag up the long wall and all in all it's a pretty cool building. While we were looking at it this guy walks up and tells me I have a funny face (not a first). But he told me he wanted to draw a charicature of me that I could buy if I liked it. He was pretty funny and he drew me going King Kong on the Eiffel Tower. It didn't look much like me, and I wasn't about to throw ten euros at less-than-satisfactory-mediocre-art, so we went on our way. To the Louvre.

The Louvre is unbelievable. Firstly, it is freaking huge. Secondly, it is freaking huge. Thirdly, there are miles and miles of world-famous art. We decided to hit the crowd pleasers. I played navigator and we spent a good two hours just enjoying the place. Among other things I saw Michaelangelo's "The Dying Slave," Winged Victory (beautiful), Venus de Milo, The Code of Hammurabi, Da Vinci's "Madonna on the Rocks" and "Mona Lisa," Liberty Leading the Troops, and The Raft of the Medusa (which my friend Robin Johnson wrote a contest-winning poem). The Mona Lisa was great to see and all, but it was roped off and "Raft of the Medusa" was huge and powerful and just out of this world. The Louvre is...The Louvre. Enough said.

We met up with Audrey, Macy, and Emma at the Louvre, so they accompanied us (me, Cam, Brit, Katie, and Caitlin) to dinner. We got Italian food. I got Ravioli "Mamma Rosa" which rocked. Afterwards Cam and I decided it was time to take a small break from estrogen-fest, so we hit up the Arc de Triomphe to end our night. It was much cooler than I had thought it would be. First of all, it's in the middle of the largest round-about in the world. I believe we counted 12 avenues converging there. There are no lines in the thing, and cars entering the round-about have the right of way, but we still saw no wrecks. A few close calls but no smashing. Bummer. The view was awesome, especially of the Eiffel Tower. I could have stayed up there all night just staring at the Eiffel Tower all lit up and enjoying being alive. As we were about to leave Anna, Sarah Marshall, Reesa, Karalyn, and Arrin came up the stairs, so we took a few pictures and then accompanied them back to the hotel. Not a bad day at all.

THURSDAY. As tempted as it was to go to EuroDisney (Disneyland Paris) with a group of cute girls, I decided that I should live up my last few hours in the City of Lights. After breakfast Cam and I peaced out with our bad selves. First we went to the Place de la Bastille. Back in the day when France could fight (WAY back in the day) they had a little thing called the storming of the Bastille. Look it up. The Place is a good sized round-about with a golden statue on top. Promethius if I'm not mistaken. Also on the square (circle) is the National Opera House which was very large and very modern. What we had really come for was the morning market. There wasn't a ton there, but Cam found the best crepe we have ever tried. It made me wish I had skipped the Hotel Mercure's crappy breakfast.

On our map I discovered that we weren't too far from Victor Hugo's house. After one second of deliberation we decided to go. (Side note: The main reason for ditching estrogen-fest is to make decision-making take one second instead of fourteen billion seconds. We're also both good travelers [thank you two years in third world countries] and not having to worry about needing to kill every man that looks at our beautiful classmates is nice for a few hours at a time.) ANYWAYS, Hugo's house was legit. The man could write (things like Hunchback and Les Miserables if you were wondering) and I'll leave it at that. His house is part of the Louis XIII plaza which is one of the most pleasing places I have ever been. The architecture is fantastic, it was well planned, the brickwork is ornate, and all in all it's just a great place hidden from most of the world despite its size. Chalk one up for random whims to visit the homes of famous writers.

The Latin Quarter had been calling our names for a few days, so we busted over there. We got out of the metro a bit early and walked along the Seine for a while. We walked right through a fresh-cut flower market that was a smell for sore nostrils. I almost bought some just to buy some, but that's stupid so I reconsidered. Instead I walked across Pont Neuf and took pictures of the building that Jason Bourne was on in one of his freaking sweet movies. In the middle of the bridge there are benches and hooked to the earlobe of a face engraved on a street lamp (did you follow that?) we found a lock that had people's initials and a year written on it in Sharpie. I did what any good person would do. That's right, I ripped it off of the lamp man's face's earlobe and chucked it in the Seine. When they come back in twenty years they'll learn not to deface sweet cities. Suckers. Off the Pont Neuf and into the Latin Quarter. Talk about a sweet part of town. It was beautiful. I bought Dad a souvenir (yay French word) along the Seine and we just kind of took in the older part of the city. It was lunch time so we ordered paninis and sat on rentable bikes and chowed down.

After lunch it was time to hit up the catacombs. It took us a while to find them, but they were totally worth it. There's a lot of history there and I only picked up a bit, which could be wrong. I need to check but there's no time for that. For ages the dead in Paris were entombed under the city. When the plague was going around they went down and exhumed most of the bones from under certain churches because they thought it would help. Eventually they returned all the bones to the catacombs, but they lined each side of the coridors with walls and walls and walls of bones. The walls are essentially as tall as I am and are piles of leg and arm bones divided by a few rows of skulls every two feet or so. And this goes on for miles. I can't even explain the feeling. I was somewhere among fascinated, reverent, blown away, and creeped out. There are spots where the ceiling drips and I hadn't noticed at first until a drop of cold water went down my back. That got a thrill out of me. Eventually we made our way out, and what an experience. The catacombs join the Eiffel Tower and Sacre-Coeur on my list of three things I absolutely LOVED in Paris.

L'Hotel des Invalides was next on our list. L'Hotel des Invalides is a massive building that holds Napoleon's Tomb and the Musee de l'Armee (Army Museum). We didn't spend a whole lot of time here, but the building rivals any church I have seen. It's got a huge, gold-plaited dome and the marble inside is black, white, ane purple. Napoleon's tomb was surprisingly simple but pretty majestic in its own right. The Army Museum was nothing out of this world, but we had a good look around for about an hour. Across the street we made our final stop at the Rodin museum. Rodin is a sculptor most famous for "The Thinker." The Thinker's original is black metal (dyed bronze maybe? i don't remember) and not too large at all (about the size of my torso). Outside there were larger replicas of it, but the original was by far the best. It's a wonderful piece and it was worth the quick stop we made for it. You can look up Rodin on your own.

One more ride on the smells-like-somebody-peed-on-raw-eggs Paris metro and into the Gare du Nord station. I bought a pastry called swiss bread and it's WAY better than French bread. Then we went through customs and the guy checking my passport had been to Boise recently and enjoyed it, so I got through faster than Cam. Back through the chunnel, out of France, and into London. Paris was a great trip. It was stuck between Athens and Rome, but I think overall it held its own pretty well. But in London the air is cleaner and the women are MUCH better looking, so I can't complain. Au revoir.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Famous People, Free Beer, and The Crispy Duck

It's been a full week. Although it started out on a horrendous foot (Warhorse. See previous post.) it's been very full and not too shabby. I had to get more TA hours in than usual because we leave for Paris tomorrow. I also hit the British Library pretty hard and FINALLY found the article I need. And then some.

Tuesday morning I got ready early and headed to Whiteley's for some shopping. That's right, shopping. Later that night I was to meet Robert Pinsky (my soon-to-be poetry professor at Boston) at a reception before a reading he was giving here in London. Monday night I had explained to a few of my fellow students that I planned on wearing my new shoes, some nice jeans, and a polo. I was quickly informed (reprimanded?) that such would be a huge mistake and that I should be dressed up. For me, a polo and nice jeans IS dressed up, so I fought the power but the power was persuasive. So I went to Whiteley's to look at preppy clothes so that I could be a tool. I was told that a sweater would be the least I could do. So I checked three stores and decided on a baby blue and white striped sweater to wear over my white collared shirt along with some khaki pants and church shoes (barf). I was not a big fan of the whole setup, but at least I didn't have to wear a tie. And, I'll admit it, I looked good.

The reception was to be held at the American School in London. I had sent an email to the girl in charge of Pinsky's schedule (a former student of his named Meghan, who is single and attractive) so I had directions. I found it just fine and had made it a point of being fashionably late, because (1) I was flying solo at a reception and didn't feel like making friends, (2) Pinsky is famous and I knew he'd be surrounded, and (3) I didn't want to miss dinner. I got there with about fifteen minutes left, bought one of his books so I could get it signed and use it as a thank you present to Dr. Howe at the end of the semester, and got a feel for my surroundings. The reception was pretty informal, and I found Pinsky right off the bat (I had checked his picture on Wikipedia). He was surrounded for a minute but then there seemed to be a lull so I waltzed up, shook his hand, and introduced myself. Dr. Pinsky was very happy to see me and told the guys he was talking to, "Give me just a second to shmooz and introduce this young man." So I shook some hands, made some polite don't-know-/-don't-care-who-you-are handshakes, and stole Dr. Pinsky for a few minutes. It wasn't much, he was just happy to meet me (feeling was mutual). He explained a bit of my poetry to his friends and then chatted with me for a few more minutes. After not too long it was time to head into the reading. The American School in London is a legit place. It's more of a high school setting than anything, but they've got some great funding from somewhere. The auditorium was stadium seating and state-of-the-art in its technology. Pinsky decided that instead of a read-then-ask-questions format he would have more of a discussion. So he opened the floor for questions and poem requests and basically flew by the seat of his pants. You need to hear him (or at least read him) to know it, but the man has a gift. His poetry is beautiful, and he talked a lot about the processes he goes through and his own poetic theory. It was very interesting and very insightful. I recommend "Samurai Song" if you can find it online. After the hour was over my thoughts were essentially, "Yep. Forget Texas and their money. Boston it is." Good thing I thought that because a few days later Chad informed me that Texas rejected me. After the reception I talked to Meghan for a few minutes, got my book signed, told Pinsky to count me in and expect an official email acceptance in the next few days, and went on my merry way. He emailed me back yesterday and answered a question I had in a way better than I was hoping for. I asked about working for Agni (BU's highly-acclaimed literary journal) and he told me that I've already got a spot as an intern with my name on it. So, basically, everything I could have dreamed up and more has happened in my blessing/chance of going to grad school.

Wednesday was a program day trip. First stop: Stourhead. Stourhead is an estate that was designed by Henry the Magnificent in the 1740s. Basically he wanted a gorgeous place where he could build replicas of classical buildings, such as the Pantheon and Temple of Apollo. All I really knew about it is that the Temple of Apollo is the site where Mr. Darcy proclaims his love for Elizabeth in the Kiera Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice. Before the beginning of the trip, Sister Macfarlane explained that all of the girls would probably want a boy to stand in as Mr. Darcy while they took pictures. So as we got to Stourhead I shot a little prayer up to Apollo to save me. And he did! The Temple of Apollo was fenced off and partly covered in scaffolding. So some of the girls were bummed and Calvin was secretly rejoicing and trying to find a duck to sacrifice or something. Stourhead is gorgeous, though. The Pantheon replica was legit. And there were lots of ducks to feed. I chose my favorite duck and got her to eat out of my hand, then I held up the croissant pieces higher and higher and eventually got her to jump and flap her wings in order to grab it. Coolest duck ever. So we walked around Stourhead, I marched around behind Daniel who had informed me that I had been promoted to 'top commander' and that Kira and Brittany were my sub-commanders, and back on the coach.

Next stop Wednesday was Jane Austen's house. It's a nice little place, but there's not much to it. I watched a little movie that put me to sleep, walked around taking pictures with Alyssa, played a few notes on Jane's piano, and headed out. Austen was a great writer and I've read almost all of her books, but there's not much to say about her house as a tourist spot. Back on the coach and on to Winchester. The city looked a lot like other cities, but the cathedral was pretty sweet. I added Austen to the list of famous persons whose graves I have moonwalked over in Great Britain. The little choir was practicing and so the atmosphere was added to in a new way that I enjoyed. Generally the candles you can light in the cathedrals are small, but I found some big ones in the chapel and couldn't help lighting one for kicks. I put it down a little bit crooked, so if Winchester cathedral has burned down in the past few days it wasn't me. I was most excited to see the famous library that I had heard about, but it was closed. So Cam and I went and got apple pies at McDonalds instead. So, yeah, that was Wednesday.

Oh wait! Wednesday night was awesome. We got back to the Centre around 7pm, and Katie Bruce reminded me that we had a soccer game to go watch. A week or three ago she had found that if you sign up for AC Milan's fan club you get free VIP tickets to go eat and watch the game against Manchester United. For those of you that aren't soccer fans, AC Milan and Man U are two of the best clubs in existence. Katie, Cam, and I got two tickets each, so Brit and Caitlin came with us. We were a little late getting to the aptly named Sports Cafe, but we didn't miss kickoff. There was a line of people outside, but we had VIP tickets (fool) so we got to jump the line and headed upstairs. I got a wristband to prove I was VIP and a free beer. I realize I probably should have declined, but if free beer is on the menu I'll carry it to my table and then not touch it again. The atmosphere was awesome, the play-by-play was in Italian, and the nachos SUCKED. I'm all about AC Milan because they have one of my man-crushes, David Beckham, and my Brazilian homeboy Ronaldinho on their team. Beckham is on reserves because he's technically still on LA's team roster, so he didn't play much. And Ronaldinho didn't get any good passes, so AC went scoreless. Man U is an awesome team as well, and they came out with their freaking pants on fire. Rooney (who is awesome and earned a spot on my favorites roster by stepping on a guys crotch in the last World Cup) had two goals himself, Park had one, and some dude I don't know had one. And on two of the TVs I got to watch another Brazilian soccer god, Kaka, playing with Real Madrid. If the nachos had been good it would have been perfect, but I can't complain.

Man I write a lot. Thursday. I spent most of Thursday reading. Right after breakfast I read/watched Antony and Cleopatra so that I could write the quiz for the Shakespeare class. After that was classes, then lunch, then I read and read and read from Wuthering Heights (which SUCKS) so that I could have the first half done by Friday morning to write the Brit Lit quiz. Then it was time for dinner and my own classes with Dr. Howe. Then...I don't really recall what I did Thursday. Meh. Friday I spent most of my day at the British Library and I am very happy to announce that I finally found the article that I need to write my massive semester-end research paper. It's called History and Ideas of the Mormons and it was edited (and possibly written) by George Eliot. I haven't read it yet, but it's going to save me lots of BSing as I start to finish my semester's work. Friday night Cam and I wanted to go see Jerusalem which has been getting fantastic reviews, looks hilarious, is even Dr. Howe recommended. But they were sold out and they don't do student prices, so we may end up not seeing it ever. Instead we hit the Tube to go see the area around Big Ben all lit up at night. It was great, we took some good pics on Cam's camera, and headed home for some more reading.

Yesterday (Saturday) was a day of resting my brain a bit and just getting out. I slept in, went to Borough Market to eat my favorite animals (Kangaroo and Ostrich), sat around enjoying how stressed everyone is about the religion and Brit Lit tests (speaking of which...I should probably take that religion test), then went to the London Eye with Rachel, Christina, and Mary. The London Eye is basically a huge, slow-moving, glass-encased ferris wheel that lets you overlook the city. Before getting on we had the chance to go to the '4D experience' which was basically a 3-D movie where they sprayed you with water, dropped confetti and fake snow, etc. It was pretty fun itself and Mary screamed three times (at the fire-breather, the Chinese dragon, and the first water spraying) so it was a blast. Then we got on the London Eye itself. It is quite the experience. There were 15 or so people in our bubble (?) with us. The view was fantastic and it was nice to overlook this wonderful city and point out places we had been. The best views were of Big Ben/parliament building/Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's cathedral. Good times. After it was through Mary and Christina headed for home and Rachel and I went in search of dinner. We were supposed to go to this Mexican restaurant called Tortilla, but we had forgotten to look up directions. So eventually I suggested we go to China Town at Picadilly Circus and see what looked good. I judge my Chinese restaurants by their names, so The Crispy Duck made the final cut. I got fried noodles with roast duck. Excellent choice. Came home, did an hour of reading, and hit the sack a little bit early.

Today has been pretty relaxed despite being full. My laundry is almost done, Church is in an hour or so, then a religion exam, then a fireside with Cless (Dr. Howe's husband, who got here Friday), then packing for PARIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

K, bye.

Monday, March 8, 2010

War Horse - A Travesty (Like a Tragedy, but Worse).

Friends, I have gone from the best play to grace the stage to the absolute, undisputed, holy-crap-did-I-really-just-sit-through-that-trash-?, worst play imagineable. I'll do you a favor and review War Horse in two words: unadulterated suckage. It was so bad I don't even think I should italicize the title again.

Synopsis: War Horse is a play about a young man whose drunk father buys a horse with the mortgage money. Young man trains and falls in love with horse, father sells it to the army without telling son, son runs away and joins army to go find horse. People die.

Don't get me wrong, the horses themselves were fantastic. They're made of steel and leather and have two people inside of them and one moving the head parts. The ears flick, the tail swishes, and the legs can kick forward and backward. There is nothing wrong with the horses (at least the two main horses). There was also a man controlling a goose. The goose should have won a freaking oscar. Once the play was over I didn't clap (I know...burn, right?) until the goose and goose man came out, then I stood up and applauded, then sat down and rested my hands till the house lights came on and I could leave.

Here are some random thoughts I had:

  • I have taken dumps more entertaining than War Horse.

  • If Daniel Cooper (our resident 4-year-old) wrote a play right now and he and I staged it in a garage with nothing but Cabbage Patch Kid dolls and dental floss, it would have been better.

  • To simulate the script, load every cliche imagineable (together forever, sibling rivalry, animal cruelty is bad, generations learning through war, etc, etc, etc) into a shotgun, shoot it through a bad romance novel, and glue the pieces into random pages ripped from Black Beauty.

  • The German guy had a French accent.

  • REALLY should have added a girl, or at least made the horse a girl. The boy's love for his horse went a little too far for me, if you know what I mean.

  • Instead of sounding like a horse, the people inside just screamed falsetto or made vomiting sounds, depending on if the horse was being shot or struggling for breath.

Things I would rather have done than watch this play:

  • Shave my eyebrows

  • Kiss a man

  • Eat dog food with glass in it

  • Get married

  • I think you get the point. Save your money, your IQ, and your posterity. Do anything and everything to avoid this play. Think of the children.


    Sunday, March 7, 2010

    There's Daggers in Men's Smiles - MACBETH!!!!

    Holy. Freaking. CRAP! Macbeth at the Globe theatre blew every play ever done out of the water. It's been over 24 hours and I'm still floored by how good it was. My goodness.

    *Deep breath* Ok. So. Yesterday (Saturday) morning we had classes to make up for a missed day on one of the group trips. Class got over at noon and by noon thirty we headed out. My four tickets went to Me, Laura M, Alyssa, and Mary. Dr. Howe had called and gotten four and had a drawing for the last two, making her group her, her niece, Katie Bruce, and Sarah S. Dr. Howe and niece left while we were in religion class to go eat at Borough Market (don't worry--I knew I'd be missing it this week so I ate an ostrich burger AND a kangaroo burger last week to tide myself over). So at noon thirty Laura, Alyssa, Mary, Katie, and Sarah headed out for the Globe. When we got there it turns out that Britin and Kalyn had decided to just show up and see if they could get tickets. They did. So we all went together an hour early and lined up at the gate. I made sure to be in front, and they had to ask me to step back so they could get my tickets. Once in we were stopped at the door to the yard for a few more minutes, but it's all good. We finally got in, and I was the first person in the door for the first play performed at the Globe in 2010. Pretty freaking awesome, but only the beginning.

    I've always wanted to be a groundling (the people that stand in the area between the stage and the seats) and I got my chance. Boy did I get my chance: I was closest to the middle of the stage, right at the elbow where the mini catwalk was built. Like this:

    Sarah, Laura, Mary, Kalyn, Brit, Katie, Me

    So (oh man, I can't even type fast enough to show how excited I am.) I was so stinking close it was perfect. Macbeth spilled on me when he came in for the dinner scene, I got spit on a couple times (awesome), when the security guard popped out of the catwalk I was still turned and got sand down my shirt, and I had a great view of Lady Macbeth's legs (she had great legs). Oh MAN it was SO GOOD! Let me learn you about the production.

    They set the play in modern-day Scotland, so all of the soldiers wore modern-day camo, but they still were sword-wielding maniacs. They used fake blood (in large amounts) and did a great job killing people (Banquo got his throat slit and died two feet in front of me. Kind of hoped I'd get squirted, but it's all good). There were mini explosions and pyro-technics going on, not to mention a zipline from the top floor to the pillars on the stage and plenty of repelling. All of the actors were fantastic: Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, King Duncan, Macduff, Banquo, the witches, everyone. A good number of actors played two or three roles and one or two played more than that. It was an hour and forty minutes long but not too much was cut beyond unnecessary witch scenes, and there was no intermission, so we got the whole thing in one shot.

    A few finishing touches were particularly good. For instance, the witches had a voodoo doll that they carried around and they leave it on the stage near the end, allowing Macbeth to pick it up and glance at it while he's in one of his later soliloquies. When Macbeth sends men to murder Macduff's wife and children they came out wearing masks (one a clown mask, one a greek tragedy mask, one a scarecrow-esque mask from the Batman movies, etc). Banquo's ghost appears at the banquet on stage and then his next appearance was up to my left in the crowd (other processions and actors went through the groundlings as well). And when Macbeth calls forth the witches to envoke another evil spirit near the end a massive black cloth was pulled from the catwalk right out from under Macbeth (and right in front of me), filled with air and held by the witches, with three or four other actors holding manequin heads and other objects that transformed and spoke as the spirits changed. It was awesome in every sense of the word. I was rooting for Macbeth the whole time and then stoked for him to get his at the end. The guy that played the security guard was hilarious and cast perfectly for his serious roles. The actress playing Lady Macbeth shed tears in the sleep-walking scene. On and on and on and on. Simply put, it was breath-taking.

    King Lear done by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford Upon Avon was fantastic, but my favorite Shakespeare play from the best seat (feet?) in the Globe performed to perfection was the experience of a lifetime. I could leave England and/or die right now and be completely satisfied with what I had done. I simply cannot do the production justice with words, but it is enough to say that I now have a new interpretation for the words "Macbeth murders sleep."

    Friday, March 5, 2010

    Gandolf, Shakespeare, and Keats, Oh My!

    Proof my life is complete.

    Daniel (our resident 4-year-old) at Kenwood House

    Me sitting under Keats' plum tree, obviously receiving poetic inspiration.

    It has been a very busy week and it is definitely time for an update. Monday was pretty chill. After dinner Cam and I decided it was time to get away from the estrogen-fest for a few hours so we decided to go see a show. Cam hadn't seen 39 Steps yet, and I was needing a lighthearted play (plus better seats than last time) so we decided to see it. We had some time so we went to Lilywhites, which is a six-story sports store. It was pretty awesome, and there were lots of things on sale, so I left with a new shirt and a pair of crappy but good looking shoes (all for thirteen bucks). The play was as fantastic and funny as it was the first time, even more so because I could see the three or four things I had missed from the first go around.

    The two plays I hit up later were both very depressing and very well done. The first one was Waiting for Godot which I saw with Cam and Mary on Tuesday night. Starring in the play was none other than Ian McKellen, world-famous Shakespeare actor even better known in America for his roles in cult-creating film trilogies, working as Gandolf (Lord of the Rings) and Magneto (X-Men). Godot is a play about two men that are, well, waiting for Godot. Not much is explained, and not a whole lot even happens, but the idea was interesting. The two men are visited by Potso (huge, bipolar man) and Lucky (crazy man who Potso has captured and forced to carry his things). I won't give away much plot in case you get the chance to go see it, but it's more what the play invokes mentally than what happens. Cam hated it, and said it was a knock on his religion. It definitely was on one level. However, after a phenomenal class last semester picking apart and taking on nihilistic theories, I had a lot to think about. Thinking about it from the perspective of Nietzsche is particularly interesting, but that already sounds pompous and uppity enough, so I'll just say that the play was dreary and depressing, but I kind of like that kind of thing, so I enjoyed it. On a side note, as we were going into the play there was a pick-pocket on the corner. When I saw him he had his hand in a guy's back pocket right in front of me. Lucky for both of them, the man turned and so the pick-pocket had to drop the wallet. I was totally ready to slap it out of his hand, shove him off the sidewalk, and make a scene, but he just kind of disappeared into the crowd covert-like. How talented he had to be to do that was both awesome and disconcerting all at the same time. Anyways.

    Wednesday was a full-day program trip to Stratford Upon Avon. I've been looking forward to it since the possibility of coming to London crossed my mind. Stratford Upon Avon is the birthplace and deathplace of William Shakespeare. In case you were wondering, William Shakespeare was the greatest writer to ever grace mankind with his presence. But, before we went to see the Shakespeare place, we hit up Warwick (pronounced Warrick) Castle. Warwick Castle is a real establishment that has been Disneyland-ized a little bit. It was built by William the Conqueror in 1068 and was used to hold prisoners of Henry II, and later actually held the English King, Edward IV. Basically, it was a really cool castle (I'll never get sick of castles). There was a walk-through exhibition with wax sculptures, some big-arse wooden weaponry, a peacock garden, a dude named David that had an owl (I couldn't hold the owl, cause he got sick of humoring BYU girls and eating dead baby chickens) named Louis, and a rose garden with no roses. Overall I enjoyed it quite a bit, although I was a little put out when I found out that the Princess Tower was only for 8 year old girls.

    Anyways, off we went to Stratford Upon Avon. Our first stop was right outside the actual city, at Anne Hathaway's cottage (she was Shakespeare's wife). It was alright because it had the bench where he most likely sat while they were courting and old-school beds and stuff, but I was kind of like, "Yeah, ok, who cares? Can we go see Shaky now?" Eventually we did. Yay. Stratford itself is pretty small, but then again so is Meridian, Idaho (the freaking greatest place on earth and home of the next great American There were a few cool little shops, but we went almost immediately into the birthplace of Shakespeare exhibit. It was pretty well done, there were videos and stuff that lit up and different film interpretations. I liked the picture of Akira Kurosawa, who was a sweet Japanese film director who did Throne of Blood, which is the Macbeth story set in feudal Japan (wicked awesome, highly recommended). I told somebody that he did Macbeth and some idiot in our group was like, "No, it was Hamlet." I was like, "No. It was Macbeth. Throne of Blood." He's going to feel pretty stupid when he rents it and figures out the beautiful American man was right. Do not mess with me. Shakespeare's deathplace was kind of uneventful. The actual building was torn down ages ago because some idiot preacher got sick of people coming to see the house and also didn't feel like paying taxes (understandable I suppose). So the house there actually means...nothing besides the ground on which it was built. But I found a sweet room with some coloring pages and those rubberband grid toy things that I hadn't seen since the good old days at Linder Elementary (also in Meridian, ID). However, the church in which Shakespeare is buried was pretty impressive. The bells were ringing as we approached it and, hey, Shakespeare is buried there. He's very close to the altar (aka rich) and I kinda felt bad that everyone else buried there gets a who-gives? when you walk by their memorials. We were supposed to pay fifty cents each to get into the wing with his grave (I know...really?), but Cam and I waited till the guy manning the desk moved a bit and snuck in. Not gonna lie...I think Shaky would have been proud of us for doing so. Sock it to the man a little bit for Billy.

    So we left the church, ate at a pub, bought candy, and headed to the Stratford Upon Avon Shakespeare Theatre to watch King Lear (the second hugely depressing play of the week). Lear is an incredible play and this was a phenomenal production of it. The actors were all so good (except Edmund was kind of flowery for a devious bastard [denotation AND connotation intended] villain). The costumes were mixed, but came mostly from WWI. The Fool was played by a woman dressed as a man and she was fantastic (I thought it was a fruity dude for like an hour and a half). Lear and Gloucester were very well done, and there was plenty of bloodshed to go around (however the Edmund/Edgar fight was weak sauce...tasted of Monty Python's black knight scene, but not in a good way). The set including the lights fell apart as things in the play fell apart, I wanted to throttle Goneril, and overall it was tied for the best Shakespeare production I have ever seen. It was a great opportunity to see world-class Shakespeare performed on his home court. I can die a happy man now.

    Thursday was spent in class and awaiting my chance to call Robert Pinsky. So time out for a non-London update on my unbelievable life. When we got home from Stratford Upon Avon at 1:30am Thursday morning, I found that I had received an email from Robert Pinsky with a subject line that said "Boston University MFA Program." Ok, if you don't know who Robert Pinsky is, he was the Poet Laureate a few years ago and he is hugely famous (at least in the poetic world...which doesn't mean much). You can look him up on Wikipedia to see his gargantuan resume. Needless to say, all I could think was "No way. No. Way. No, freaking, way." So I opened it. I have been accepted to the Boston University Creative Writing Program. A full line of explanation points here would begin to show how excited I am. Firstly, I would like to mention that I am hugely blessed and I realize that the number one reason I got accepted is because someone upstairs is rooting for me. I don't know what I did in the pre-existence to deserve the chance to do exactly what I want in life, but I'm glad I did it. Secondly, I would just like to keep in mind how floored I was. I was a bit overwhelmed. Not to the point of tears (I'm too tough for that), but pretty close. Years of work, months of having no idea where I am in life, weeks of waiting, and days worth of filling out graduate school applications all became worth it in one shot. It was an experience. Boston University was #2 on my dream list (UT-Austin only higher 'cause they pay more), but it's #1 now. It's in Cambridge, MA, which is not only the most densely populated area of college students (Harvard, Boston College, MIT, Boston University, etc, etc) but it is also the highest concentrated area of Portuguese speakers in the United States (chalk up yet another enormous post-mission blessing). I called Robert Pinsky at 8pm our time (3pm his time) and chatted with him for about fifteen minutes. He told me that I will have a class of undergraduate students to teach as well as fellowship money, so tuition should be taken care of (yes!). He's also coming to London this week and said he would like to meet me, so he invited me to his reception and reading on Tuesday nights. He also gave me his cell phone number and a list of the students currently in the program with their emails so I can get into contact with them. His first email told me that he and the other three poets (including Louise Gluck, another ex-poet Laureate) "admired [my] bold, engaging, funny, penetrating poems" and he told me on the phone that he was particularly interested once he read my letter of intent because I was direct and straightforward, which is how he likes his prose. It's all unreal to me still. I've got a lot to figure out now that I have a direction, but having a direction makes all the difference in the world. Again, don't let the calm writing fool you, I am freaking STOKED to start. So last night after the call I went to get milkshakes with Laura, Cam, Sarah Shepherd, Alyssa, Mary, Katie, Brit, and Rachel. The mall doesn't have great milkshakes, but mine tasted like sweet, sweet victory. For now all I have to do is buy a nice shirt for Tuesday's reception.

    After that news today seems uneventful, but it was pretty interesting in its own right. We had half a day of in-London travel. We started at John Keats' house. Keats is a famous British poet who died of TB when he was 25 (that's me in 34 days or so. 25, not dead). He was a qualified doctor before becoming a poet (smart dude) and was only 5'1". The house belonged to his friends, the Brawns, and has been added to over the years. Outside he had a plum tree, which he supposedly sat under while he was writing "Ode to a Nightingale." I stole Cam's picture idea and as you will note above I sat under it to receive inspiration for a few seconds(be jealous, Grandma). PS - I received no inspiration yet. If plums weren't nasty I'd try eating one (or throwing a bunch of them against Aunt Marla's house...another story for another day). I left the Keats house between groups so that I could walk across Hampstead Heath with my bad self. Hampstead Heath is essentially a ginormous park which is impressive even without the trees in bloom. I had a very pleasant, very long walk through it. Random fact: C.S. Lewis was inspired to write The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe while walking through Hampstead Heath in the snow. Across the heath I eventually got to our last stop, the Kenwood house. It's a big house that was owned by rich English people. The best part was the original Rembrandt self portrait (the one where's he's getting old and wearing the white rag on his head). I'm not a huge art conoisseur, but I know that one and it was beautiful. Ran to Camden market where I ate chinese food (now addicted to 'salt and pepper' chicken), bought cheap sunglasses, found acai juice (pure joy) and got offered weed. Spent the rest of my day today helping make dinner, getting a McFlurry, writing two new poems, and sitting here boring my readers with a HUGE entry for this week.

    Tomorrow: Macbeth at the Globe Theatre. I may just pee my pants for joy.