Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Coming to Jesus

...College, that is. 

Over the last few weeks a few people from my college, Pembroke, participated in an exchange with Jesus College - I really liked the last exchange I went on at Green Templeton College that I wrote about here, as these events are a great chance to see the inside (and sample the cuisine) of some colleges that I probably would never get the chance to go to otherwise. Jesus especially felt this way, as I don't know anyone at the college so the chances of me getting in for a regular meal seem pretty slim.

After hosting (in my humble opinion) a cracking home leg the first week and getting primed on all the 'Coming to Jesus' type jokes we could think of (seriously, how can you go to a college with a name like that? So ripe for irreverence), we set off to Turl st.

The hall was beautiful, tiny, and imposing: paneled in dark wood and filled with portraits of British royalty (and most notably, Queen Elizabeth I, who was the college's founder). We stood for an unusually long (even by Oxford's standards) Latin grace, and then sat down for our elegant, formal meal...

...of chili and rice, served family-style. Wait what? I'm all for good old fashioned comfort cuisine, but I can't get over how out of place it felt to be passed a lovely china serving tray filled to the brim with yellow spanish rice and then topping it off with a glop of sour cream scooped from a delicate white porcelain bowl with the judgmental eyes of Queen Elizabeth I staring down at me. It was a truly surreal experience.

(The Faerie Queen herself, daring me to complain about her college's bizarre meal choice)

But, the conversation was still lovely, ranging from learning about the research topics of the Jesus contingent of the exchange (tracing the literary heritage of witchcraft in France and some incredibly complicated sounding particle physics were the two topics that stood out most to me) to getting into a genuinely thought-provoking discussion on the nature of nationalism in the US versus Europe that was sparked off by my unabashedly patriotic American flag iPhone cover.

Of all the things about Oxford, these types of witty, often hilarious, but truly stimulating conversations have been by far my favorite. I often feel completely left behind, but it's so inspiring to be surrounded by people who are so clever and so passionate.

So the dinner was a success... even if I'd skip the chili the next time around.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Playing Catch Up: Ma Comes to Visit

So looking back at the thing's I've been remiss on posting about over the last three weeks, and one of the biggies that stands out is that my wonderful mother came out to visit for a week around Veterans' Day. She actually came out to the UK on business, but made a detour up to Oxford for a weekend so I got to feel like I had her all to myself :)

We had a great time sightseeing 'the Erickson way,' which is very, very low on actual sightseeing and very, very high on eating! Seriously, I spent like 4 hours each night agonizing about researching where we were going to eat the next day (upshot? I now of an extensive list of short listers that we didn't end up going to this time around but that I want to try out in the future - if my waistband and wallet will let me!).

I did drag her out to watch me row one afternoon, which she was a very good sport about despite the fact that it was 40 degrees and raining. Which means that I now have a few pictures of me actually in a boat! We didn't do much terribly exciting, but it was really fun to show Ma my new athletic time sink.

 (Lookin... chilly. I'm in the hat.)

 (Clearly looking really organized and on task...)

Other than that, it truly was a tour de food, as we hit up a lovely Italian restaurant in Jericho on Saturday night, experienced the majesty/insanity that is Sunday Roast in Britain on Sunday afternoon, and then followed that up with Pembroke formal hall at the high table on Sunday night. I was so full by the end of the weekend that I thought my stomach might actually burst out of my stomach. Truly one of my favorite feelings.

 (Checking out some risotto at Branca, the Italian restaurant we went to in Jericho - highly recommended!)

 (Taking a walk along the Isis en route to Sunday Roast)

 (Somewhat overwhelmed by the portions going on - I feel like Sunday Roast is one of those things that, if it were an American tradition, it would be one of the many things used by foreigners to mock us and our crappy eating habits - how do the Brits get away with it??! It's literally an orgy of food. A delicious, delicious orgy. We went to The Punter which, while being a little out of the way, had a great relaxed vibe (complete with dogs wandering around!), and the food was plentiful and delicious.)

 (Looking very scholarly at High Table for formal hall! If only the food could have lived up to the setting...)

Then on Monday I had the extra treat of accompanying my mom into London to a super swanky black tie dinner to be there as she was awarded a very big deal award for her line of work. My mother has always been so supportive of me, and especially of my riding, over the years, for which I'm so, so thankful. So it was really exciting to get to be there to support her in that moment. Plus, it was fun to dress up! Not like I get any opportunities to do that Oxford... (actual real life admission: I AM becoming a black tie-addict; gahh it's just so fun and everyone ends up looking so good!! Why don't more functions in America follow this dress code??!)

(There was also, obviously, a lot of gratuitous eating)

(We clean up pretty good, right?!)

(The gala - so fancy!!)

(Super pumped for my actually decent set course vegetarian meal - one of the first good ones I've had in Britain so far)

It was a bit of a reality check to get back to work on Tuesday morning after a weekend of such non-studious activities, but thoroughly worth it - though perhaps my professors may not have agreed!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Resurrection Stone

(Yeah that's a Harry Potter reference. Don't even pretend like you didn't get it.)

So... I've been gone for a little while. I'm so sorry! Like this term in general, the time has slipped away from me and I've been a naughty, naughty blogger. I also admit that I haven't felt like I've had a ton of exciting things to write about: a lot of little incidental things here and there, but in general life has been clicking along just fine and dandy without major incident. I've been exhausted and in a continual cycle of early mornings and dead-man catchup naps, but happy to do it for the wonderful times I've been having trying out rowing and getting a taste of the Oxford sporting life.

I feel like I'm becoming a settled-in resident of the bizarre little fantasy world that is Oxford, judging by the fact that I now accept without question that Sunday night after formal hall is for port and cheese in my college's wood-paneled common room (and that it is a highlight of the week), and that pretty much any grogginess for a mid-morning lecture can be explained by a 5am wakeup for rowing practice and will get nods of understanding from everyone in the room since apparently everyone else was out there at 5am as well.

I did still roll my eyes at the ridiculousness of this email snippet that I received this morning in, I swear to God, absolute dead seriousness in regard to the termly graduate student banquet that I'm attending this evening:

Finally, as any student at Oxford should know, remember that port is passed to the left systematically around the table. Please be considerate of their neighbours when pouring the port -- if everyone is sensible the decanters will circulate again.

Yeah... that can't be real.

But one thing that I still haven't gotten used to is the beauty of this place. Seriously, how can this place not be a movie set? I still find myself shaking my head in wonder on what feels like a daily, even hourly basis. Here's a little bit of what I'm talking about:

 (Pembroke, my lovely little home)

 (Looking through to Pembroke's Chapel Quad - I've gotten to see a fair number of colleges now and, while I'm obviously biased, I think Pembroke may be the cutest of them all)

 (The gates to Blackfriars, one of the religious halls at Oxford (which is sort of like a college... but not quite. Classic Oxford.))

 (The Canterbury Quad at St John's - so regal)

 (The view out a window in Pembroke, with Christ Church's Old Tom Tower visible across the street)

 (Sunset at the Pembroke boat house)

(Sunrise outside my building)

Again, yeah... that can't be real.

I do have a few little stories to recount, and I promise I'll get caught up soon with some recaps over the next few days. But in the meantime, it's banquet time!! More soon :)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Nostalgia Round 2: Ringo at NEDA Fall

I finally got the two pictures I ordered from NEDA Fall!! They are a little hard to look at, both because I miss Ringo so so so much and because he is still for sale, which is a bummer on both counts, but they also remind me of how wonderful and happy that weekend was. Thanks for everything, Ray; I'm so lucky to have you in my life.


(yolo, swag, etc)

Also, thanks to everyone for your kind words on my last post. I've unfortunately also gotten quite sick in the past week, but have used it to my advantage as an excuse to lie in bed and watch comforting TV! So I'm feeling not too shabby at the moment (though I'm still hacking my lungs out every few minutes or so... boooo).

My friend also sent me a link to a website that uploads every day's episode of, yes it's true, Jeopardy!... so hopefully I can do a little general history studying in my convalescence as well??

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A History Education, Jeopardy-Style

I've been feeling a stitch homesick recently: not in the sharp, stabbing, god-why-can't-I-get-out-of-here way it sometimes hits, but more dully and perniciously. It's not that I'm not enjoying myself here (quite the opposite, in fact; I'm loving it). I do miss American food and American culture and obviously my American friends and family, but I think to a reasonable degree. No, it's more subtle than that. 

I just miss the American land mass as a whole. I miss looking at pictures of beautiful American landscapes on Tumblr and being able to know that I was connected to them through some physical spit of earth: that if I drove, biked, rode, walked far enough, I could get there myself. That I could see it with my own eyes if I wanted to, and experience firsthand the beauty and wonder that the vistas of America have afforded me so many times. It's a small thing, but a persistent one.

(I mean really, how could you not miss knowing that you're connected to this view, even 2,000 miles tucked away at home in Massachusetts -- it's the most simultaneously thrilling and comforting thing of all time, and what I think of when I think of 'American Freedom')

I know that as I feel more at home here, I'll start to appreciate the solidity of the land here as well. It's just going to take some time.

In the meantime, I'm happy to report that life is ticking along just fine and dandy here in dreaming spire land. I've been getting used to being back in an academic setting again after my thoroughly non-academic interlude last year, and have been pleasantly surprised to not feel too left behind my straight-out-of-undergrad peers.

(Spires in full-on dreaming mode, living up to Oxford's official moniker in style)

The most difficult thing for me has, in fact, been simply the fact that my base knowledge of British and European history is not that strong, especially for someone pursuing a masters in... British and European history. There are a lot of times in class when some historical event gets tossed out there and everyone else in the class nods along knowingly, and I think to myself, "hmm... I understand what some of those words mean..."

Not ideal. But honestly, it hasn't been that bad. And since my American history is quite good, I've become 'that token American who brings up US history in a European history class' in most of my sections, which I'm ok with. At least it means I have something to say.

I was talking to a fellow American friend at lunch yesterday about this discrepancy in my historical knowledge, and as we were sitting talking I realized that I've only taken 1 full year of high school history and 4 trimester-long college history courses, total (2 in US history, 2 in World War II history, and 1 in the history of the Samurai). 

Wait... what? I seriously had never thought about it before, and am probably glad that I didn't before I applied to Oxford, because otherwise the sense of imposter syndrome would have surely scared me away from even sending in an application. Basically, if you count up the hours I've spent playing the US History categories on the TV game show Jeopardy! versus the amount of formal history training I've actually received in school, I think Jeopardy! might come out on top. 

I don't know whether to feel proud of this fact that I'm essentially a self-taught historian at Oxford... or terrified. Probably closer to terrified. If I felt underqualified to be here before, this surely isn't helping. But at least I won't feel as bad now when a relatively obscure British witch-hunting movement comes up in class, and I have absolutely not the faintest idea of what they're talking about. I can just continue being the loud and possibly uninformed American, which I was doing perfectly well beforehand anyway.

(And besides, screw it! Any education, be it self-taught or otherwise, that allows me to call this the view from my library window is one I'm going to cherish forever. Thank you, Alex Trebek!!!)

Monday, November 4, 2013

Nostalgia: Ky at GMHA

I realized that I've been sitting on this lovely picture of Ky from our last event together for a few weeks now and hadn't shared it yet. Thanks to Joan at Flatlands Foto for getting such a great shot! I sure miss the little dude. 

I've loved getting great updates from Ky and his new lessor this fall--they went to a few recognized horse trials at Beginner Novice and finished on their dressage score (and ribboned!) every time out. What a good lad! It's so nice to know that he's been loved and doted on while I'm away. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Call of the Will-o'-the-wisp

Happy belated Halloween! I must say a great perk of moving to the UK is that, for the most part, Halloween is a lot less of a big deal than it is back home in the States. Since I always had to be dragged out to costume parties, I appreciated the somewhat lower key vibe to the holiday this year. I did still find an excuse to completely overindulge in candy, though, so I'd like to think I still embraced the true spirit of the holiday at its core.

One of the big developments of the last week is that, due to some eligibility requirements of which I had not previously been aware, I had to relinquish my place on my novice boat at the Pembroke Boat Club. I was initially really sad about this, as it means that I won't get to race this term. It's a situation that's ended up having a big silver lining, however, because as a result I've been invited up to join the senior women in some of their workouts. These workout are obviously a lot more intense and I'm feeling a lot more like a little fish in a big pond than I was in novice land, but I'm really excited to use the higher intensity to keep bringing my fitness to the next level.

Last night, on the eve of Halloween, I had my first session with the senior women: a grueling 4x750m erg test. The Pembroke boat house is located on the back of Christ Church Meadow, which, with its lack of any street lights, leafy cover of trees, and vast stretches of unoccupied space, felt eerily quiet and dark as I set out walking. My eyes slowly adjusted to the dark, but it was still far blacker and stiller than anything I'd experienced in weeks since moving to this big, bustling city so distant from my quiet little Massachusetts farmhouse home.

And then, wavering in the distance at the far end of the path, came the smallest and most innocent blueish white light. It bobbed and swayed rhythmically, almost invitingly: a disconnected lantern in the dark whose purpose was unknown.

It took me a moment to realize that what I was looking at was in fact the flashlight of another rower coming back from his own evening workout session. But in those intervening seconds, I could not help but imagine it to be the light of a will-o'-the-wisp, a real honest to goodness phantom dredged up on Halloween to lead me off to some unknown danger or delight.

In a way, it still did feel like that, even as the human attached to this bobbing point of light materialized out of the darkness and then slipped away again into the night, and I made my way finally to the warm wash of light coming from the boathouse door. This foray into rowing itself is indeed an adventure whose path I can't really predict or explain. Fortunately, unlike the will-o'-the-wisp, I'm not getting a real sense of peril in what I'm doing, but I do feel like I'm being drawn off onto a path that I thoroughly did not foresee.

Perhaps it's just the spirit of the season, but I'm finding myself very excited to see where these ghost-lights lead.

(The view from the other boathouse Pembroke uses, which is in Radley, a few miles south of the city proper, and which I got to see for the first time today - so serene and lovely!)

(The downside to the Radley boathouse is that it's a 30 minute bike ride away. The upside is that that 30 minute bike ride is liberally populated with PONIES!!!!)
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