28 April 2010

Cricket (are chirping as I play)

Disclaimer: I have waited to post this because I am really trying to "leave the jury out" on the whole cricket thing. I want to give it a fair chance to enjoy it. And, in all fairness, I recognize that my enjoyment of it is probably hindered by the fact that I feel like I am not good/have no idea what's going on. But, alas, here comes the judgement-rich analysis.

First: I remember how frustrated I was when I used to pitch for South City Furniture Warehouse, and the girls in the outfield were sitting around making flower necklaces. I just couldn't understand this mentality. To me, it seemed to reflect a real lack of competitive spirit, and if you knew me as I child, you KNOW that I could NOT understand that. BUT...I think I understand now. As I was standing on the cricket pitch, I found myself CAPTIVATED by the sight of a butterfly chasing a bee. Literally, I watched this for at least a full minute (meanwhile, the ball could have been hit to me several times). In all fairness, I was already watching the bee because I am pretty afraid of things with stingers and wanted to make sure it kept an appropriate distance. I guess the good news is that if it hadn't, I would've actually gotten some exercise.

Second: You can probably gather from my tendency to be watching insects that I wasn't getting a lot of action in the field. This is true. And I have to admit that you spend about half the time wishing the ball would come to you and the other half wishing that it never will. I mean, that thing is HARD and apparently there are some rules about not using your clothing, hat, etc (and obviously you don't have a glove). If it does come to me, I will have a tough decision to make as to how to respond. Good thing I have LOTS of time to think about the pros and cons while fielding.

Third: Of the four hour game, I spent two hours keeping score, 1 minute batting, and the rest standing watching butterflies and bees.

Jury is still out...more to come!

24 April 2010

How to submit an essay....

So, let's say--hypothetically of course--that you have two essays to submit. And, let's go one step further and say that both are due on Monday at 12 pm. Both are a part of your final grade, and in fact, each essay is one part of a five part workbook that will make up 12% of your grade (not like anyone has calculate this out or anything). Despite the similar nature of the essays, and the fact that they were both assigned by the same person, one is due at your department and the other must be turned into the exam schools. The essay submitted to the department is pretty straight-forward: name, "I hereby certify that this is my own work.", and all required information.

However, for the paper turned in to the exam schools, you must have two copies, with only your candidate number (so that it remains anonymous), in an envelope addressed to "The Examiner for (insert name of your department here)." Oh, and you have to have the "I hereby certify that this is my own work" statement, and you are supposed to sign it. Wait, should you sign it with your name, or should you start practicing your "candidate number signature"? After inquiring, you are told that you should sign your name on a separate sheet of paper. You are puzzled and inquire further at which point you are reassured that after dropping your paper off at the exam schools, it will be returned to the department (where you are submitting your other essay) where the course administrator will remove the page with your signature so that it can still be marked (presumably within the department) anonymously. So why do you have to turn it in at the exam schools again? At first, this appears to make no sense, but then you realize--that is what makes it make perfect sense!

21 April 2010

Silence, Shells, and Sloppiness

Part of the reason for my blogging radio silence has been a lack of internet access brought on by travel arrangements that were, um, unusual to say the least. I spent five days in St. Jacut de la Mer and I stayed at an abbey (which was run by very nice nuns who only spoke French) 100 yards from the English Channel. As if that wasn't a strange enough circumstance, I also spent 2 and a half days of my time there on a silent retreat with 9 other guests. In many ways, it was a relief; it bailed me out from having to try to explain myself or make requests to a person with whom I share a common vocabulary of approximately 40 words. (One of the only requests I did make was for WiFi--pronounced wee-fee--and that involved a lot of pointing to a printout written in French that I found in my room).

Most of the retreat was spent in solitude, but we ate all of our meals (each three courses or more--not what I expected from a monastic arrangement) together as a group--in silence. The set-up of the room where we ate our meals was a small room with one wall of windows that looked out onto a garden/children's play area. There was one chair at the head of the table that faced the windows and the rest of the chairs were oriented towards the wall so that you would have to look to your right or left in order to gaze out of the window--which was the past-time of choice at these meals. Sure, there was classical music playing, but eye-contact was still not an optimal choice, so eye-grass contact was preferred. Like high schools students who sit in the same seats out of habit everyday despite "no seating chart", we settled into a routine and one person lucked into the coveted head of the table spot. When others in the group realized what an ideal set up he had with his straight-ahead view (let's be realistic, there was lots of time to think about the ideal seating arrangement), there was quite the silent power-play to claim the coveted spot.

You also notice other things when you are eating/living in silence. For example, table manners. If you ever want to know if you REALLY have decent table manners, try eating in silence with the same people for a few days. Every slurp, every posture, every utencil practice will be exposed. Let's just say I learned a lot about my travelmates. That's all I will I say.

As previously mentioned, the food was also surprisingly good and high quality--much higher than I am used to (it was France after all). Imagine my surprise when the first course was served at one meal and the lid was taken off of what looked like the soup pot (a standard first course) and the bowl was FULL of seashells. I am not sure what kind of mussel/clam we ate exactly, but it was literally a bowl full of boiled crustacean in light sea water dished out with a big spoon. Despite my reservations, I tried them. I wanted to take a picture, but I felt it would be inappropriate in the context. But fortunately, my suspicions that I had passed hundreds of these on the beach were confirmed when I scrounged around in the sand and discovered what had been my lunch. I guess between the food selection and silence, I am one step closer to refinement.

19 April 2010

Introducing....Jeggings: (Subtitle) Never say never...

So, in my first month, this blog was dominated by idiosyncracies, oddities, and other observations about British culture, rain, and bike riding. For better or for worse, I have moved on to bigger and better (ok, maybe just different--aka toilets) things. But one of the most notable--and maybe most provocative, although maybe it was just more provocative because people were actually reading the blog at that time--posts was definitely my description of British fashion. Specifically, I received a lot of feedback about the proliferation of tights and the "fashion statement" that was tights as trousers with no bum-covering. I was also puzzled by a faux-pant which might have been skinny jeans or might have been tights--it was unclear.

After the post, I had several people ask me if I would buy into the tights as trousers phenomenon, if I would wear tights with my bum uncovered, if I would buy skinny jeans, and several other fashion-related questions. No, I assured everyone, I would never cross over to the other side (well, figuratively speaking, since I guess I have already done so literally). And for quite some time, I have maintained that position. In fact, I was drifting towards my previous American grunge-look rather than towards any sense of fashion--European or otherwise. After all, how long can you really enjoy dressing nice when sweats/workout clothes are just so much more comfortable?

Enter, jeggings. That's right. Jeggings. I may have solved the puzzle of the faux-pants. The pants (trousers) that I saw in the fall might have beeen extraordinarily tight skinny jeans; in fact, I suspect that some of them were. Some of them might have been tights that are designed to look like skinny jeans--I have found these in many stores in Oxford. But it is possible that they might have been jeggings--a cross-bred skinny jeans/tights combination.

Now, I recognize that these may not be a new concept. You may have had these in the US for weeks or months, in which case, I thank you for humoring me. But honestly, even if these are common in the US, they are still blog-worthy. In fact, it might be more blog-worthy if people are wearing these in the states. Come on people, I expect this stuff from Europeans, but not from you.

Anyway, back to jeggings. There is really no good way to describe them, except to say that they really look JUST like skinny jeans except the four inches around the waistband--which is elastic. There are no pockets, but some pairs have stitched on pockets. So, the key is to wear long shirts with them because otherwise you look like you are wearing a combination of skinny jeans and the elastic-banded jeans that are made for kids that are still potty-training (not a look to go for, I'd say).

I have included some photos for what words can't quite describe:

I know it is kind of hard to see these in detail. And you may notice that pattern in the background--that is my bed. That's right. I bought a pair of jeggins. Maybe one day, I'll post a picture of myself wearing them on here to provide the appropriate image, but strangely, I didn't have anyone around who I could ask, "Excuse me, could you take a picture of me in my jeggings for my blog?" All you need to know for now though is that, yes, those are acid wash. So they are like time-traveling pants as well. The fashion of the 1980s meets the technology of 2010 and beyond. Welcome to a new decade.

The Winners Write the History

I think we all recognize that history is certainly open to interpretation and that an "objective" view of history is hard to find. The historical slant can be as subtle (or overt) as whether or not a conflict is classified as a revolution or civil war. I am sure the British would have a different label for the "American Revolution" if the outcome had been a bit different. Come to think of it, the British probably have a different name for it anyway. In other news, I should probably know this, but either haven't heard it or have just not cared enough to note the British perspective.
I think most of us would acknowledge that each major political player would have its own version of history. But what about Iceland? (Ok, I just thought of that random example because of the volcanic ash that is currently wreaking havoc on the world. Kudos, Iceland, you are back on the map.) Or how about Luxembourg? Surely such a little country can't have enough involvement in history to really have its OWN perspective. And prior to my last set of travels, I had never even thought about whether or not Scotland or Wales would have a strong national historical perspective. If I were to be completely honest, I am still intellectually fuzzy on the difference between the UK, Great Britain, and the various units therein (aka England, Scotland, Iceland--I mean Ireland, and Wales). I think I understand that Scotland is a sovereign nation, but in terms of frame of reference it makes far more sense to think of them like Texas. Sure, they have a strong regional identity, they are proud of the fact that they are independent enough to secede from the union (I know this is not news to anyone; you only have to know one person from Texas to hear this at least 20 times.), but ultimately, they are just a different version of an American. So while they might have some unique additions to the American conception of history, ultimately, they are telling the same story.
Well, all it took was three days with Kenny my Scotish tour guide of the highlands (which are incredibly beautiful by the way) to realize that you don't have to be a dominant political player to practice some good, old-fashioned, Scotish-centrism (or insert country here). In three short days, I learned a few things:

1. The Scotish really won EVERY battle that they fought with the English. (I am still puzzled as to how the English came to dominate as they have under this view of history).

2. If the English managed to win--by some technicality--it was either only a temporary victory or a result of some massive war crime barbarism. (In fact, even the current English dominance is only temporary--there is a strong Scotish separatist movement. In all honesty, that is a serious and quite interesting political situation.)

3. If you have seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding, you know that you can take any word and determine that at its root, it is really Greek. This is basically true with Scotland and any phenomenon in the world. That's right, now you know.

4. You will not find a country that loves Americans more than Scotland. Huh. (It was good that Kenny told me this because I hadn't yet embarked on my journey to find the country that loves Americans the most--partly because I thought it might be an impossible endeavor. And I pride myself on being an undercover American as much as possible.) But alas, it is good to know that we are loved by one of the world's true powerhouse players.

4a. You should know that part of the reason we are so well loved is because of our revolution against the British. Oh, also, the Scots were a major player in the American Revolution, just so you know.

5. The most famous Scot in the history of the world is....nope, not Adam Smith. John Wayne. (Yeah, the explanation for that one was about as convoluted as the 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon).

Who knew that Scotland was such a significant state, I mean, country? Go figure.