Sunday, October 26, 2008

Weekend in Wales

I stepped onto the platform into strong gusts of wind and rain; I peered around only to find a nondescript “Iceland” grocery store. Skepticism and fear for the weekend took hold. This was not an ideal beginning. I already doubted the amount of fun I would experience from a weekend in northern Wales.
The Turning Point: But while walking along we saw the symbol of our future holiday in the far distance: a gorgeous castle.
Our prospects continued to rise as we caught our last train to our final destination: Llendudno. Llendudno’s a charming little town on the coast of the Irish Sea. The man who owned the hostel was named James and he is the biggest dork I have ever encountered. When writing something down he began to laugh and a string of saliva dripped onto the table (YES, he drooled Andrew Gamblin style).
We ate dinner at the local pub called the King’s Head. The pub welcomed us with a fire and eclectic decorations of antique china and beer bottles. The locals stared at us in amusement and our servers were friendly and did not cringe when we ordered waters.

On our way to the pub we spotted a concert at the church around the corner. The choir turned out is a local male choir full of hilarious Welsh men. They sang a variety of songs: American Civil war tunes, classical pieces and traditional Welsh lullabies. They were extremely witty and adorable, we quickly staked claims on surrogate grandfathers. During intermission we chatted and made friends with the lively locals.

The following morning beautifully unfolded in sunshine and we began our adventure by busing out to Snowdonia. (Thanks to Rick Steve we purchased a pass for cheap travel. We love you Rick!) When we told our bus driver we intended to climb the tallest mountain in the UK. He looked at us and then our footwear; he quickly encouraged us to skip the hike. (We later found out that mount Snowdon was the training ground for Sir Edmund Hillary in preparing for Everest.) We ended up continuing to using the buses to explore the national park and different tiny villages. By the end of the day we traveled through about half of northern Wales.

The next day we walked around our adorable home base and went up an old tram to see a spectacular view. At the beginning we were bitterly cold with a sharp wind blowing through the tram. At the top, I experienced the strongest winds ever (worse than Saqqara in Egypt!) Later that day we went to a medieval town still enclosed by walls built during the twelfth century. We trekked home in a downpour and unwound in our warm hostel watching the British version of Dancing with the Stars with hilarious old Welsh and English men.

Summary: I never expected to love Wales but by the end of the trip I was enchanted. I was won over with melodious voices, beautiful mountains and the charming and friendly manners of the Welsh people. I stormed medieval castles and walked on the forbidding hills and mountains of the wild countryside. I’m proud to be Welsh.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Spontaneous Overflow of Emotion Recollected On My Bunk

Laughter and Tears at Swan Lake
Monday night our class attended Swan Lake performed by world renowned Royal Ballet. The dancers seemed to float and leap effortlessly across the stage. The ballerina who played the Swan Queen seemed to summon the spirit of a swan (like in Hot Rod). The choreography, which remained true to the performance from the late nineteenth century, beautifully imitated the characteristic movements of swans.
During the second act, the swan queen and the prince moved in sophisticated, synchronized patterns while the virtuoso harpist played an incredible solo…and I lost it. Not only did I cry during the performance of Swan Lake, I also laughed. At the end of the ballet the Swan Queen and prince kill themselves by swimming out into a storm together. While it sounds romantic, the ballet’s portrayal was anticlimactic. Unexpectedly both jump, not to gloriously or gracefully, off a rock hidden in the corner of the stage. Apparently the rock represented a precipice over the lake. Though dead, their souls come together as they are carried on a large coach. My friend Becky mistook the Victorian carriage to be a large chicken. In her defense the extravagant set design made it difficult to distinguish.

The Magical Year of Thinking
Tonight I attended a one woman show portraying the author Joan Didion. The hour and a half monologue derived from Didion’s novel The Magical Year of Thinking. (I was skeptical because my only exposure to Didion was from an essay, Living like Weasels where she graphically describes a weasel going for the jugular.) The famous British actress impressed the audience with her acting ability, but in my opinion the language stole the show. In a stream of consciousness style, the author recreates her thought process in dealing with the death of her husband and daughter. She attempts to reveal the disparity of how we imagine anguish and actually experiencing the emotion.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Life Like A Market

I step outside my door and stroll outside into the damp fall air. I hunch my shoulders and place my hands in my pockets to insulate my body. Thankfully the chill disappears with the sun’s periodic appearances. As I walk, my strides sync with a song by Camera Obscura playing lightly on my ipod. After a few blocks I join the hordes of tourists who flock to Portobello road. Past the antiques and the swarming crowds, I reach the food section: fruit, fresh cheese, pastries and sizzling chicken. I maneuver skillfully past all the remaining tourists until I reach my heaven: a block of young designers and artists. Vintage treasurers fill up innumerable stands, each item recyclable with an artistic eye. It seems odd that such a place could bring me joy, but every Saturday as I follow this ritual I am overcome with a feeling of independence and a surge of artistic energy. There are countless people in the world who perceive and create beauty; they inspire me. I wish all life could be like a market place; each of us brings our talents and food in a simple, dignified and human manner. We pass away hours exploring, admiring and absorbing the ambience.

Fulham vs. Sunderland

Today two of my friends and I went to a football match between Sunderland and Fulham. Fulham is a local London team and Sunderland is actually where most of my family is from. Neither team is one of the top teams in the Premier League but you would never have guessed from the fans. All the seats were filled. The majority of the spectators were British men, which also was enjoyable. There was never a quiet moment; the Sunderland fans constantly chanted, sang and cheered. Now what they cheered we still are debating. At first I thought they chanted “throw away” or “Uruguay”; later we believed they were saying “Sunderland”. Not only is the atmosphere exciting, but energy of the game itself is amplified. We enjoyed ourselves and now I’m determined to see Man United play.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Stratford Upon-Avon

Stratford Upon-Avon is a splendid, quaint town with character and not entirely spoiled by tourism. Our class visited Anne Hathaway’s home and amused ourselves by picking apples whose rich colors were too tantalizing. The women held out this time, Michael, the man, caused our fall from propriety by stealing and partaking of the first fruit.

We went to Shakespeare’s birthplace which appeares contrived and dare I say…modern? We hurried to the church to pay our respects to the bard’s grave, but alas the church was closed. We consoled ourselves by walking around the brilliant church grounds.

That night we attended a fantastic production of Love’s Labor Lost. Berowne stole the show and my heart. All forty of us girls drooled as we watched the master thespian woo us while he wooed his lady. The actor’s name is David Tennant. He’s Scottish and his accent can be described in one word: sexy. For those who have not heard of him, he is Barty Crouch Junior in Harry Potter. Now why did we not think he was cute before? He is creepy in his role of Harry Potter and you have to see the man on stage to and experience his oozing charisma and charm. He also is staring in the RSC production of Hamlet with Patrick Stewart; the reviews are so positive that it is completely sold out. I would do anything for tickets, but it seems impossible. Some tickets are selling for a few hundred pounds apiece.

There are some who wonder why we continue to laud Shakespeare’s name. They find his language archaic, too difficult to be enjoyable. To those people I will say that there is a reason we continue to read Shakespeare. If you attended the performance I saw you would have instantly seen the value of his plays. Seeing a quality Shakespearean performance will transcend you! A wonderful ending to a brilliant day.

I love Shakespeare and David Tennant!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Strolling through Hyde Park on a Sunday afternoon is almost the equivalent to peeking into the window of a Londoner. A “tossed salad” of nationalities, ethnicities, social classes and age groups gather to Hyde Park with the same purpose: to peruse an activity that brings them pleasure. Each individual finds joy and comfort in different activities. (Rollerblading is one of these popular actives. This puzzles me, because for me rollerblading screams “fad of the nineties”. Yet, for whatever reason a decade later this sport is continuing strong in the United Kingdom.) These activities show persons interests and those activities that bring happiness. It is an intimate public display of a person; a very un-British characteristic.
It was a glorious day: warm and the park glowed with rich tones of the changing leaves. We stopped by speaker’s corner which never fails to excite. At speakers corner people gather around normal citizens who climb on their soap boxes and try to persuade their listeners. My favorite speaker was a Jew talking about Israel. I did not join in the heckling this time. I bit my tongue and will argue for the Palestinians’ another day; contention on Sunday is not an ideal Sabbath activity.
I must explain this picture. I am smirking because the boys behind me are fit young British men playing a shirts and skins football match. It made me extremely happy. Also, please note my bright blue vintage shoes (Portabello purchase).

Football Update

England National Team

We can now all exhale, because England has won both of thier World Cup qualifying games this week! Wayne Rooney has officially ended his international goal slump with four goals in the past two games. Even my favorite defender Ferdinand put a header in the back of the net. I’m impressed with the young Arsenal player Walcott whose energy seems boundless and his talent promising. He is also very attractive, but not like the Adonis Ronaldo. Subsequently these wins put England in an advantageous position for the forthcoming World Cup. We can only pray they will relive their World Cup glory of ’66. As the announcer said during the Kazakhstan game “Being an English supporter is not always easy, but with patience it is all worth it”.

Pub Experience

To support England I went to a pub in Covington Garden to watch one of the matches. It was crowded with old men, young men in suits, a smattering of women and all sat with a beer in hand, eyes glued to the television and mouths moving constantly. My satisfaction was complete when we celebrated together after each goal. Smoke, British men, football, beer…can you think of a better place? I cannot.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Semaphore Version of Wuthering Heights


When we arrived at the Parsonage in Haworth all I could think about was the Semaphore Version of Wuthering Heights by Monty Python. Thier arms waving about frantically accross the moores to communicate "O! Heathcliff!" "Oh! Cathy!"

Seeing the Bronte sisters home explains a lot of questions. For example, why are the Bronte novles dark and full of Byronic heros? Answer: They lived by a old gothic church, moores and graveyard. The real question now is how you could be normal living in these circumstances.
Katie and I enjoyed truding through the high grasses in the graveyard looking at the names and dates on the graves.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Winking Choir Boys

This story is not my own. I wish it was…but alas the copyright belongs to my hilarious friend Becky Hayes.

Our class attended Evensong at Christ Church in Oxford. When the choir boys solemnly entered the center aisle, Becky stifled her laughter as she pictured the flagellant monks in Monty Python chanting “Pie Iesu Domine, Dona Eis Requiem” and then hitting their foreheads with a piece of wood. Now I’m using the term “choir boy” but in truth these singers were not boys (even though many of them sang as high as little boys). Many of them we believe are students at Oxford. Now we conducted research (aka wikipedia) and we are certain that these boys are not celibate and the only requirement besides talent is to be a member of the Anglican Church. Now some of the choir boys stood across from Becky. Highly amused, she stared at the choir boys and caught the attention of one of them. Their eyes locked. Fortunately he was not the countertenor but sang the masculine role of the bass. Unfortunately his coif resembled the shaggy parted look of the nineties. Due to the less than ideal hair style, in order to see his music he had to run his fingers through his hair. After their eyes locked he winked at her. Yes, the choir boy winked at Becky. Becky was taken aback. She looked behind her sure that he must be winking at one of the “cute” girls in the group. The only person behind her was the only boy in our group, Michael. This convinced Becky that he was indeed winking at her. (I believe this is debatable…he could have been winking at Michael; he is a choir boy after all.) Becky began to laugh and he made eye contact with her and also began to laugh. However he focused himself for most of the remainder of the evensong as he was required to sing. Yet while exiting the building he winked one more time at Becky. From this story I have come to the conclusion that some of the choir boys are a bit more pious than others. Also, some are more prone to flirtation winks while performing their sacred duty to God.

Side Note: Becky is disappointed because she found counter tenor to be the most attractive of the choir, but not as flirtatious as others. Also, this picture is the winking choir boy. We searched the website and seeing his hair there was not mistaking him.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Coronation Chair: A Parody

I went to Westminster Abbey and I had to write a "Field Study Report". Field Study Reports are annoying papers that prove students went to an assigned place and that we gleaned some intellectual insight from the experience. I detest these small, informal essays that we have to write so often. I am bored with them...and so I attempted to entertain myself. When I went to Westminster Abbey I decided to write on the Coronation chair and how it symbolizes the genius of England. At the end of my write up I amused myself with the following parody:

so much depends

a wood coronation

tattered with royal

beside the abbey

Andrew Gamblin & Rembrandt

Friday I visited the Wallace Collection and focused on a few paintings of Dutch painters during the Boruque. Of course this included the infamous Rembrandt. Here is one of the many thoughts that I had while viewing this collection.

I’m standing in front of one of the many Rembrandt self portraits and a similar feeling comes over me when standing next to Andrew. Rembrandt’s precision and representation of detail, a northern trait to be sure, displays every hair. Many of these hairs resemble Andrew when trying to grow a scant moustache. I almost began to prep my fingers to pluck the distracting scraggly hairs on Rembrandt's chin. I believe this reaction paints (no pun intended) Rembrandts amazing talent for realism and attention to detail. Not only does he meticulously paint the hairs on his coat, head, eyebrows but even wrinkles. The wrinkles and disquietude of the eyes pierce the viewer. He captured his own insecurities for the world to see; a brave man.

Netscher, The Lacemaker

This was my favorite painting.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Blood and Beefeaters

Five Reasons Beefeaters are Brilliant
1. They are British
2. They wear fantastic uniforms
3. They have been an institution for 900 years
4. They live in the Tower of London
5. They are hilarious

Beefeater Quote of the Day
To Americans: “All of this could have been yours...if you just paid your taxes on time”

Thursday, October 2, 2008


A few years ago I asked my mother if she would allow me to go to Hogwarts if they accepted me. Hogwarts students receive their acceptance letters on their eleventh birthday and I have just celebrated my twentieth, so I have come to grips with the fact that I’m just not magical enough to enter the realm of my favorite school. My mother and father passed on their muggle genes and ruined my future as a wonderful witch. Though this fact has been difficult to swallow I have opted for the next best thing: Oxford. They filmed many of the scenes for the Harry Potter movies at Christ Church at Oxford. J.K. Rowling believes Oxford to be a great representation, with our mere muggle resources, for the mystical world of unicorns, three headed dogs and wizards. The fact that C.S. Lewis, JRR Tolkien’s and Lewis Carol graduated there is a testament to the magical atmosphere of the college. Many of the inspirations for their mythical worlds derived from their surroundings at Oxford. So I must conclude that Oxford provides some of its own muggle magic. Though it cannot compare with the illustrious Hogwarts, it will have to do.