Wednesday, February 25, 2009

1:38 PM: This weekend...

I'm going to Scotland! To the home of my ancestors! To funny accents, weird food, and gorgeous countryside! To Glasgow, not Edinburgh (that's later, with Mom and Dad over Easter)! Can you tell that I'm excited about this?!?

(Oh, and I know it says I'm posting this 6 minutes after I posted my Paris blog. No, I didn't write that whole thing in 6 minutes. I wrote it sometime last week when I had some free time. This week... yeah, not so much. I have enough time to write a teeny blurb about this weekend, and then I'm off to classes yet again.)

So, Scotland. I'm going with Caris, Kristen, and the three musketeers: Kaytee, Lily, and Jesse. They're are so much fun. We're staying in one big room in a hostel. I foresee some fun, memorable times, possibly involving haggis...

Anyway, details to follow. I'll post the rest of the Paris blog (I got about halfway, I think), smallish blurbs about Brighton, Kent, and Hampton Court Palace, and then a fairly hefty blog about Scotland. I wonder what it's going to feel like. When I step off the plane onto Scottish soil, will I feel like I've returned home? Will I understand the accents better than most? Will I relate to the Scottish and the way they live? All these questions I've been wondering about for years... are about to be answered. Wow.

We'll see if I have any time tomorrow to write. Unlikely, but still, I hope...

1:32 PM: The Paris Blog, Part Un

All right. I promised. And I'm going to deliver. Here's the best blog about Paris you will ever read. I'm including the highlights and little bits and pieces of wonderful things I remember. Let me say right off that...

I love Paris.

I love Paris. No, really. Several people told me in the past that I shouldn't go to Paris, that it wasn't worth my time, that it smelled bad, that the people were unkind, that the metro system was really difficult to figure out, and that Paris was completely and utterly overrated.

Obviously, they have never been to Paris. Or they had ridiculously rotten attitudes when they were there. I thought Paris was unbelievable beautiful and historic (um, hello, the Louvre?) and totally worth every penny/pence I spent to get there. And no, I didn't smell bad. In fact, in most of the places I walked, especially down little alleyways with many cafes or markets, things smelled wonderful. I am a firm believer that the French make the best food in the world. No joke. I would fly back to Paris for one French crepe. I am not kidding. And the people are not at all unkind. The night that we got in, we had to take a train to Gare du Nord to take the metro to our hotel. It was pretty late, around 8 or 8:30 pm, and not many people were on the train. Several announcements came over the speakers, but they were in French, and none of us understood them. We stopped at a station maybe one or two stops away from Gare du Nord. A random Frenchman had noticed that we were speaking English and probably didn't understand the announcements, so he came over to us and asked if we had understood. He then explained, in very cute, broken English, that the train was stopping, and that everyone had to get off and use alternate transportation to get to where they we were going. He even told us what platform to go to next to catch a train. It was very kind of him... he didn't have to do that at all, but he did because he wanted to be helpful. And that was our first impression of the French people. Pretty awesome, I thought.

Even when we met people who didn't speak English, like little shopkeepers or restaurant waiters, they were very patient with us, and we communicated with what little we knew, hand gestures, and lots of laughing. Never once were we snubbed or treated badly. I'm a firm believer that our attitudes helped quite a bit too--we were friendly, smiled a lot, and used whatever French we knew, even if the pronunciation was terrible. We were trying, and we enjoyed it. I learned so much French, but I'm far from fluent.

Once we got off at the train station because we couldn't go any farther, we ended up exactly where we need to be anyway, and we jumped on the metro to our hotel. And, p.s., the metro isn't that hard at all. It's a bit more complicated than the tube, but if you get the tube, you'll easily get the metro. It's really not that hard. Anyway, we got off at "Oberkampf," the closest stop to our hotel, which was about 100 feet from the metro. How convenient! Our little hotel, the "Hotel Voltaire Republique," was fantastic. It seemed like a tiny hole in the wall kind of place, but the room was very clean, fairly spacious, the beds were surprisingly comfortable, and there were two balconies overlooking the street. Lovely. Truly lovely. The staff of the hotel added the cherry on top--when we checked in, we met Samuel, who works the desk at night, and he was this olive-skinned, possibly Spanish-origined Frenchman who spoke English quite well. He was very kind, very funny, and extremely helpful when we were planning out our sight-seeing days. He immediately whipped out a map and started highlighting in green all the great places to go, how to get from place to place, and when the best times to go were. It was amazing. We followed all his advice with wonderful results. Sadly, he didn't work at the desk the rest of the time we were there, so we never saw him again.

On Thursday night after we arrived, we were all very hungry, and Samuel pointed us to a little street off the Place de Republique, which was lined with little cafes and creperies that were open late and served cheap, but excellent, food. We wandered down the street, taking in casual, French atmosphere (and a great deal of cigarette smoke, like in London), until we found a small creperie with a smiling young Frenchman willing to take our orders. Like I said, the food, no matter what you get, tastes unbelievably good. I got a simple cheese and mushroom crepe. I am still craving another one. Ordering food was an adventure, but we worked it out, and everyone was happy.

We woke up early on Friday to start our French adventure (ha, that kind of rhymes...). Our first stop: Notre Dame. We rode the metro and walked the rest of the way, in time to see the sun push out from the clouds and bathe Paris in glittering sunlight. Look at my pictures on my Facebook page--you'll see what I mean. Notre Dame was much bigger than I expected, since, of course, I'm drawing what I know about it from Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The windows were explosions of colour, and the ceilings seemed to stretch up and up and up forever. I have a soft spot in my heart for big cathedrals and churches. They make my breathing slow and calm, and give me reassuring little goosebumps.

Next was the part of Paris Samuel had suggested... it's the older part that not many tourists seek out because they don't really know it's there. Samuel said that these parts were "really French." And he was right. We wandered around looking at the beautiful buildings and interesting little shops, but everything was still closed. It was after 10 AM, but the French are so relaxed that they don't open anything until 11 AM. Hardly anyone was on the streets or driving cars, but the sun was up. So, we joined the sun and meandered through all the little streets until we found Samuel's "favorite street" called Rue Mouffetard. I don't even know how to describe it. It's this really, really long street that goes uphill, and there are lights strung from building to building over the top of it (it would have been lovely at night, but we were too tired to go back that late), and amazing smells from the tons and tons of little cafes, creperies, markets, sweet shops, and fruit stands made the senses go crazy. We hardly spoke at all as we walked first down the street, then turned around and went all the way up again on the other side. And Samuel was right: it was very, very French. I loved it.

We found a little indoor cafe for lunch and sat next to two old, French ladies who were eating exotic looking foods and chattering away in flowing French. I love French--such a beautiful language. After lunch, we did some more wandering and eventually made it over to the front of the Louvre. If you stand in front of it looking toward the Arc du Triomphe in the distance, the view is breathtaking, especially when the sky is radiant, sapphire blue and the sun is joyfully throwing light everywhere. About that time, Caris' brother's girlfriend (as of last Saturday, fiance) Julie had arrived on a train from her university in Angers, and Caris and Julia went to go meet her. Kristen and I walked around, stalked some American bicycling tourists, took some photos of the distance Tour Eiffel, and walked around the outside of the Louvre.

And this is the end of Part One... at least until I'm done with classes.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

2:02 PM: No, I'm NOT ignoring my blog.

I have been pretty busy lately, or perhaps it just seems that way. I wanted to write a wonderful long blog about Paris, but I ended up telling individual people about my trip so many times that I got terribly sick of my own story and didn't want to hear it anymore. That's probably why I've been putting off writing it. I will get around to it soon, hopefully, but in light of homework and travel and other such things, it might be a bit before I can do it justice. I'll start a draft and work on it when I can.

So, no. I'm not ignoring my blog and my readers. Homework rudely cut in front of blogging and hasn't really budged for a while. I just found out that I have a fairly significant paper due next Thursday, which I didn't think was due for another month. Turns out I got my dates mixed up. Thus, the paper will take priority this week, as I am traveling to Brighton this weekend and won't have any time to work on it.

I promise, as soon as I have a bit of free time, I will blog about my trip to Paris, to my day trip to Kent to see Caris' grandparents, my day trip to Hampton Court Palace, and other smallish, random things. I will do my best to keep you up to date.

Thanks for being patient...

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

10:39 AM: Some random things, and Paris

That's right. Tomorrow, I board a plane (hopefully) to Paris directly after Contemporary British Fiction (which I tend to abbreviate ContBritFict., just so you know). I say "hopefully" because the weather could destroy everything, but I'm trying to think positive. The snow fell so hard on Sunday night and through Monday that many bus services were canceled, the Underground was shut down, and all flights were canceled from Gatwick. Thankfully, I'm flying out of Luton airport, but still... it's supposed to snow again tomorrow, but I'm crossing my fingers that it won't. I don't think I've ever wished for it not to snow. But going to Paris is definitely better than playing in the snow, right? Right. So, help me pray for no snow in London! It actually has warmed up quite a bit since Monday, and the snow has melted considerably, so hopefully... well, que sera, sera.

I love my ContBritFict. class. It's fantastic. I think I like it mostly because of the professor, who is this amazing old British woman who obviously loves literature and discussing it with younger audiences. She has short blondish-brown "old" hair, the curse of bad teeth, and a small inner tube around her hips, and I think she's adorable. She has a fairly good sense of fashion, too, which I thought was interesting considering her age. Way to go, Elizabeth! (That's her name, and that's what I call her when I talk about her. I can't seem to call her "Ms. Allen," even though she's much older than me.) She has a soothing voice and an old-fashioned, proper British accent, but she can be very energetic and flamboyant depending on what topic she's covering. For our class, she chose excellent novels for us to read and analyze: first, Atonement (by Ian McEwan), then, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (by Mark Haddon), then, The Siege (by Helen Dunmore), and last, Never Let Me Go (by Kazuo Ishiguro). We're also reading lots of short stories from The Penguin Book of Modern British Short Stories, which are very interesting as well. The combination of a great professor and interesting study material makes for a good class.

Something I noticed in my Scriptwriting class began to niggle at the back of my mind recently. There's this girl in the class who I really can't make out. It's not necessarily that's she's weird or anything--she is eccentric, but who isn't, really? It's her accent. She never said where exactly she's from, but from the first day of class I assumed from her accent that she was British. It sounds typical of the other British students in my classes--kind of slang, kind of drawling, not as clipped or proper as those in the older generation. But then she started talking about something in class that she got really excited about. And then I heard it. Her accent, her British accent, had completely disappeared. She sounded... dare I say it... American. I talked about it with my friend Lilly who is also in the class, and she totally agreed. She'd noticed it too. We kind of half smiled at one another and sat wondering. Was she faking it? No, too ridiculous. I began to listen to other accents, particularly that of my professors. I have two American professors, and both are women. One has lived in the UK for over 40 years and barely has any accent. It sounds more Northern American. The other has lived in the UK for only 20 years, and she pronounces many (almost too many) of her words with a thick British accent. It's just strange. Do they think that if they put on an accent they'll be "cooler"? More accepted by the general populace? I haven't come up with an answer yet, and I probably won't. It's just something to mull over.

I made a friend at the Main Entrance desk. Those who work at that desk can be particularly severe and strict, only because they have to. They control who leaves and comes in after the Reid Hall lobby doors are locked at 8 PM. You have to have a student ID to get in, or you have to be a guest of a student. Anyway, the security guards who work the night shift can appear fierce and intimidating. I was walking back from printing something off in the IT print lab around 11 PM. As I walked by the main desk, the guard on duty looked over at me. He was Middle-Eastern, I guessed, and large. I smiled big and said hello. He said hello. I asked him how he was doing. He said he was fine and, to my surprise, asked me how I was. I answered him, said I was fine. Then he asked,

"Would you like a piece of pizza?"

I laughed. He reached under the desk, opened up a cabinet, and pulled out a box of pizza. It was whole, uncut, and still hot. I still have no idea why he had it there. I told him that I'd already eaten, figuring that it could very well be his dinner, but he insisted and was already grabbing a random pizza delivery flyer for me to use as a plate. I took a piece, thanked him, and walked back to my room. It was so random, but, now, when I see him, I always smile and say hello. We're officially friends... through pizza.

The last random thing: since I'm only taking 12 hours and have a lot of free time on my hands (which is wonderful), I decided to volunteer to help with the layout and design of The Regent, the college newspaper. I've never done newspaper before, but I had heard one of my professors mention the need for voluteers to work on the paper, and another friend encouraged me to get involved because of my experience with Adobe InDesign and Photoshop. Apparently, besides Lilly, the friend who encouraged me to join, no one else volunteering or in the newspaper production class has had any experience with InDesign. The two paper advisers were desperate. I talked to Caris as well, who has also had many years experience, and she and I decided to volunteer. Our first meeting with the group is on Monday. You'd think I could let it slide--involvement with yearbook/newspaper--but I just can't. I think it will be good experience for me and definitely not a high-pressure position. We'll see how things go...

Next time, I'll be writing about my adventures in Paris!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

2:54 PM: So I was wrong.

Westminster Abbey is not Catholic, but Anglican. I feel dumb. Sorry for the error. I'll do better next time.

Wait, today was 'next time'! Emily, Caris, Kristen, and I went to St. Paul's Cathedral this morning for the Sunday "Holy Eucharist" service at 11:30 AM. And, yes, it's not Catholic, but Anglican. I've been to St. Paul's before and have seen the breath-taking architecture, but I've not been to a service. On Sundays, the church closes all tours, though you're welcome to look around the ground floor between services. I'm always amazed by how quiet it is, even when the church is completely full of people. The ceilings seem to reach up forever; the intricate designs in the moldings, archways, and windows are beautifully detailed and draw the eye further upward. But never is there a sense that the cathedral is overdone or too showy. It's gorgeous.

The service was much like the one at Westminster, with some minor differences. For instance, the "president," or the head of the service, sang almost everything instead of simply saying it. And she wasn't always on pitch. I would have preferred for her to just say it. Oh well.

Yesterday was another wonderful adventure. After lunch, Caris, Kristen, and I went to the (ridiculously freezing, horrifically windy) park before lunch to take some pictures for their photography class assignment. I modeled for them. It was a bit awkward but ultimately fun and pretty hilarious. I couldn't ever keep a really straight face because Caris was laughing her head off behind the camera. It was a memory. :) After lunch, Caris, Emily, and I headed back to Borough Market. Emily had never been, Caris wanted to take pictures there, and I just love it so much! We bought all kinds of little things at the stand where we'd gotten the chocolate-covered coffee beans and raspberries; this time, Caris got the coffee beans and chocolate-covered orange peels, and I did too. They're amaaaazing. Emily got chocolate-covered almonds and honeyed pecans. It's all fantastic. Because it was Saturday, tons of people were crowding the market, and many more vendors had set up red, green, and yellow tents outside of and around the covered market. The smells were unbelievably good--the spice of hot, mulled wine, the tanginess of fresh fish, the cuddly warmth of baked bread, the sweet stickiness of homemade jams. I could wander around there for hours and hours and taste everything. If only it weren't so cold...

The market closed at 4 pm, and we started thinking about dinner. We found this amazing little Greek restaurant on the south bank of the Thames called "The Real Greek," which was fairly inexpensive and served fantastic food. We ordered lamb skewers, sundried tomato and roasted pepper dip, assorted olives (Emily and Caris didn't like them, so I ate them all! Yay olives!), and Greek flatbread. It was heavenly. I love food... especially Greek food! I can't wait until we go in March!

We leave for France on Thursday. I'm excited and a bit nervous. I've been trying to learn some new French phrases before I go, but I'm not great at pronouncing them. We'll see how much I get laughed at... Caris' brother's girlfriend is in school in France, near Paris, and she's hanging out with us all weekend. Hopefully, she'll be our translator!

Au revoir!