readingredhead: (Fear for Courage)
1. I have never much liked summers -- I like order and structure and school too much-- but this summer has been the best summer, and while it will not get me to reconsider my general hierarchy of the seasons, it will at least remind me that summer is not just that thing you do to fix your brain after semesters.

This summer has been a LONG one. I got out of classes in the end of April and had finished my last seminar paper more than a week before my birthday: I have had nearly four months of summer, and that is rather a lot. Thankfully, the time was punctuated by visitors, travel, summer school, good books, dinner parties, and falling in love. (Yes, love.) Visitors and travel are harder to integrate into the semester schedule, and I am so happy that I got to see so many people and places I love and care about this summer, because that's part of what keeps me going when things take a turn for the worst. But good books and dinner parties and being in love are not just summer things, they are LIFE things, and my life works in semesters and these things are only bound to make this upcoming semester even more worth it.

2. Today is the first day of my second year of graduate school. This semester's coursework will be particularly demanding -- I'm taking two seminars adjacent to my interests with professors who are fairly intense and with whom I want to work closely in the future, not to mention reading Ulysses for my third class and TAing for a fourth -- but I am looking forward to being back in a scheduled environment again. (See above regarding my general dislike of summers.) I am also looking forward to taking notes in the beautiful Moleskine notebooks I have acquired for this purpose, because I deserve nice things and the material conditions of my scholarship DO influence the quality of mental work I find myself capable of doing (or just motivated to do).

3. This is an awesome enough thing to get its own number on the list: sometime in October/November, I will be moving in with [personal profile] oliviacirce! In addition to being a generally wonderful person who cares about houses being homes, she happens to live in what may be the best apartment in all of Columbia's grad student housing. My new bedroom will have windows that get actual sunlight! The kitchen has counter space! There is a breakfast nook! And since she's in Columbia housing, I can do a simple room-to-room transfer and let Columbia sort out all the logistical details of transferring to another lease, etc. I'll still have to do a move in October, which I had wanted to avoid initially...but I will literally be moving AROUND THE CORNER from my current abode. You don't even have to cross a street to walk from my current apartment to my future apartment. I can easily put up with Gabi for 2 months if I know I get a home at the end of them.

4. So [personal profile] oliviacirce's habits are rubbing off on me a bit already, because the final item on today's post is a mixtape. I started pulling these songs together about a year ago, when I had just moved to New York and mostly knew no one and the work was hard (though it never stopped being worthwhile). I needed something to remind me that it was okay to be down sometimes if I knew how to pull myself back up, and so a lot of the tracks come from a place of doubt and uncertainty and hope that things will get better, rather than from a place of solid acceptance of this fact. The playlist kept growing and changing to suit my needs throughout the past academic year -- the first incarnation was titled "Don't Be Down," a later one was titled "Me vs. the Seminar Papers (Don't Give Up)." But in the end, "Anti-Entropy" is the title that stuck. This mix is for all the days I felt like the world just wasn't working right, but soldiered on and fought my way through, and came out on the other side knowing the things that I hadn't quite believed before, but wanted to believe: I am strong, I am loved, and as long as I don't give up, things will always get better.

Anti-Entropy - track list & download link )
readingredhead: (Earth)
Back when I still thought I was going to be moving out of current apartment, my mom and aunt (her sister) planned a trip to New York to help with that move; since I ended up staying here, their trip was spent mostly (finally) transforming this apartment into a home. LOTS of cleaning, organizing, and buying of things has somehow done just that. They left this morning and left me feeling like I'm living in an entirely new apartment. It probably doesn't hurt that the roommate is gone until mid-August and the girl she's sub-letting to is very kind and also very clean! At some point later I may actually finally post pictures of my room because it actually finally looks like a place I'm planning on living in for a while...something it never really managed to do during most of the past nine months.

It was great to have Mom and my aunt here to visit -- I love them to pieces and they're two of the most kind and caring people I know, and I really do miss them now that they're gone -- but it was also good to spend most of today being incredibly lazy and watching cartoons on my new TV. (Yes, that's right, I now have a TV! No cable, but really, who needs that when you have the internet and can connect your laptop to the TV?) I'm justifying the laziness because for no reason I can discern, my voice has almost vanished. My throat doesn't hurt or anything, I just can't produce speech that sounds even vaguely human. I suspect it's from all the dust and cleaning chemicals kicked up around here over the past few days (it started two days ago) but whatever the cause, it's starting to bug me, even though I don't even have anyone around now to talk to!

That last bit will be changing tomorrow afternoon, though, when [ profile] octavius_x and her awesome friend show up! They're crashing here for a few nights on their way elsewhere and I'm looking forward to gallivanting about the city with them and eating and drinking and SHOPPING. I am just hoping that my voice returns before they arrive because I plan on doing a great deal of talking and it would be a shame if my body got in the way of that.

Then as soon as they leave, pre-travel packing and panicking will commence! I leave New York for London June 11, I leave London for Norway June 20, and I leave Norway to come back home on June 29. Summer school French will commence almost immediately thereafter (July 2 or thereabouts) and I will actually start looking over that scholarly list of "things to do this summer" which I've basically been neglecting in my current academic detox. 

BUT before all that happens I will be back in London -- for the first time in two years! -- where I will be staying with [ profile] lazyclaire and [ profile] apotropaios and seeing all kinds of other awesome London people (including hopefully [ profile] carawj , [personal profile] cosmic_llin , [ profile] jenepel , [ profile] ladyvivien , [ profile] mini_hannah , and [ profile] silly_cleo -- if any of you are reading this you should tell me your work schedules so I can figure out when we can hang out!), with special guest appearance by non-Londoner but equally awesome [personal profile] oliviacirce ! I am dreadfully afraid already about having to leave this place I haven't even gotten back to yet, but I'm trying not to let that do me in. And it's probably good for me that I won't be going straight home from London, but rather onward to Norway, where I'll be reuniting with friends I made in Berkeley and haven't seen in over a year (one of whom is actually Norwegian and with whom I'll be staying, the other of whom is also American and just visiting), and where I'll get to fall in love with a new set of places and leave my heart behind me all over again. This is the curse and the privilege of travel, you can't have one without the other, and despite the pain it's always worth it.

And to be fair -- although I'll always long for those places I'm not, New York isn't exactly a shabby spot to be coming home to! I realize more and more every day how much I love this city, and how deeply I care for some of the people I've met here, and how excited I am at the prospect of all of the people I'll get to meet, and all the exploring I'll get to do, and even just those lazy summer days I'll get to spend reading in the park in the shade or having impassioned conversations about young adult fantasy novels, because I have found people to do these things with! I mean. I spent two consecutive days last week doing almost nothing but encountering awesome fictions (ranging from The Avengers to Young Wizards) and then talking about them with wonderful people, shoving aside that niggling feeling that there was something more "productive" I ought to have been doing, because this is summer and there is sun outside and grass was made for lying in.

So here's to summer and to travel and to coming home again (and maybe coming home at last). 
readingredhead: (London)
Life continues apace over in the world of academia. I turned in my MA essay today (I'm not overflowingly proud of it but I do think it's a solid, well-argued, potentially important piece of work), which means I only have three major assignments between now and May 9, and then FREEDOM. Two of those assignments are 18-20 pg seminar papers, both of which will be touching in one way or another on Clarissa, which I have ALSO finished. (In related news, I'm pretty sure I've told everyone I know that I want a t-shirt that says "I survived Clarissa -- not even she could manage that!" except I suspect if I actually got one Richardson would personally return from the dead to haunt me.)

Aside from school, I have had a surprisingly busy social calendar lately? I mean, apparently I have friends in this city?! Crazy talk. So there was that one time when Christina and I stalked Doctor Who filming and saw Matt Smith and Karen Gillan doing a lot of running (and they waved at us!), a birthday party for [personal profile] oliviacirce at which among other things I discovered that I may want a line from Milton's Lycidas tattooed on my foot ("But not the praise"), karaoke with friends at the bar with the TARDIS (and I actually sang in front of strangers!), and lunch plus Clarissa conversation with a fellow survivor today. And tonight there will be post-MA-essay drinks with cohort mates, followed by a birthday dinner tomorrow, and then Jordy is in town on Thursday! 

I'm also starting to realize how soon I'll be headed to London and Norway, and I am SO EXCITED. It's been too long since I traveled somewhere and had adventures (not that adventures cannot be had without travel, but travelling adventures have a different flavor, and it's one that I miss). In case you missed it the last time I listed dates, I'll be in London June 12-19 and Norway June 20-29 (not that anyone in Norway is on my flist, but in case you were curious!). At some future point I will send Londoners a humble plea for couch space, but I gather that there is moving and the like going on at present, and that life is stressful in general, and I would not want to add to that!

One month from today, I will have an MA in English. Two months from today, I will be in London (or you know potentially elsewhere in the United Kingdom if I do day-trippy things! like walking/hiking places!). It's just getting through the intervening time that will require some finessing, but thankfully it's actually all starting to look almost manageable. (There will be a post later about how, in one of my papers, I'm essentially arguing that the "participatory novel culture"--which is my fancy terminology for "fans and fanfic writers"--centered around Richardson's novels in the mid-eighteenth century ought to be read, not as unprofessional fannish effusion, but as a strand of novel theory in its own right which can teach us a great deal about how the novel as an evolving genre was perceived by its readers and its writers. Yes you heard me right. FANDOM. IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY. And my professor is excited about me writing this! And rec'd a book about Janeites as potentially relevant to my methodological interests! ACADEMIA: YOU'RE DOING IT RIGHT.)

Now I should probably stop procrastinating and tackle the day's most difficult dilemma (which is, of course, what do I make for dinner?).
readingredhead: (Adventure)

I'm sitting in an airport Starbucks, looking like a hipster with my coffee and my iPad and my plaid flannel shirt, and pondering the fact that in a couple of hours I'll be getting on a plane and I'll wake up in New York City.

The summer went by fast, except for the parts that went by slow. I did a lot with my time -- almost as much as I hoped, perhaps more than I expected. I wrote and rewrote more of my novel-in-progress, The Printer's Daughter. I discovered exactly how exhausting it is to work something like full time on a novel project, especially in the revision stage, and a lot of the work I did was reworking and making note of the things I need to add or change, but in the end I know this is all valuable information, and I am dedicated to the process...I just know that it may take a while, and I accept that. It surprises me that my not-entirely-conscious realization that pursuing a career as a professor is more important to me than pursuing a career as a writer has actually made me more keen on (eventually) getting this novel written.

In addition to working on original fiction, I somehow got a weird fanfiction boost and wrote more fic over the past summer than I think I have in the past few years. I also made a semi-conscious decision not to be ashamed about fandom. I'm not even one of the crazier elements of it, and it seems silly to be ashamed of something that makes me happy. I've never been deeply enough involved in fandom for it to frustrate or anger me; I've never been caught up in fandom wank. It probably helps that my main fandom generally believes that being angry with people speeds up the heat death of the universe! (Young Wizards fandom, I love you, never change.)

I didn't read all the books on my list -- I didn't even read a significant portion of them -- but I did read a lot, and a lot of what I read was good. I especially loved stuff by Holly Black and Scott Westerfeld, suggesting that a) Twilight notwithstanding, YA is far from dead and b) I should probably read it more least, the bits of it that Rebecca recommends!

Surprisingly (for me at least), I really got into yoga. My younger sister had taken a few classes and encouraged me to go with her, and I while it certainly isn't a replacement for other more intense forms of exercise, I really appreciate the way it focuses on linking your mind and your movements, so that you're more thoughtful about your workout. Even doing relatively intense yoga leaves me feeling refreshed and relaxed when I'm done, and i think some of the things I learned on the mat have an important place in the rest of my life. Yoga is about letting go of whatever isn't serving you, about honoring your body and its limitations. It's about coming from where you are, instead of where you wish you were or where you think you ought to be. When I get to New York, finding a place to do yoga is high on my list of things to do -- right after I get my New York Public Library card!

I set out with the intention of feeling an academic detox this summer, and it worked. I've done a lot of being lazy and I'm ready for what's next.

I oscillate between being overcome with the amount of work I know I have to do in the next weeks -- move into apartment, buy supplies, sign lease, etc. -- and being delighted by the idea of finally taking that next step in my career/life plan. For a girl who still believes that the world is so big and she is so small, I'm surprisingly ready to have a place to call "home" for the next six years. I don't know if anywhere other than New York would make me feel this way. I only hope that I'm right about the city that so many people dream about...especially since, until about March, it wasn't a place that I specifically dreamed about. But I feel, right now, like these hopes will be met and exceeded. I feel like I'm going somewhere new, but also somewhere that will one day be home.

So, while I'd rather be traveling by TARDIS, I suppose I'll make do with a plane, as long as it gets me there.

Posted via LiveJournal app for iPad.

readingredhead: (London)

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I'm not sure this is even a question. 

I had typed up a lovely and angst-ridden couple of paragraphs about London and the United Kingdom and how I miss them (inspired by a re-watch of Series Four of Doctor Who, which just culminated with "Journey's End," which will ALWAYS make me sob like a frightened child separated from her mum), but then LJ ate those, so I'll take it as a sign to stop my whinging, be pleased -- in fact, delighted -- with the world that spreads itself out before me, and shove all the "far away can bite me" angst back into that little tiny corner of my brain (or is it heart?) that it has colonized and will not return.

(But seriously. I should never watch "Journey's End." Ever.)
readingredhead: (Adventure)
So I'm leaving in about half an hour to go backcountry camping at Point Reyes National Seashore with my most awesome friend Katie and one of her friends Nina! There will be hiking and pitching of tents and beautiful views and the ocean (and possibly I will freeze to death, but that goes with the territory). I'm really excited just to be going somewhere new -- the fact that I'm going with friends makes it even better.

I'll be out of e-mail communication today and tomorrow, though if I have a phone I can update (but not view responses) on Twitter and Facebook. Still, I think it's probably good for me to spend a little time away from the computer, away from my desk, and out under the sky.
readingredhead: (London Calling)
Oh god, just got hit with the travel bug, and BAD. May have to forbid myself from looking at the photos [ profile] jayintheclouds is posting of his round-the-world trip, at least for a while -- just looking at some shots of Marseilles and knowing that someone I know is there and that I'm not only not there but also not even close to there is really depressing. I want to have a trip to plan for but the next place I'm going (aside from hopefully hopefully hopefully London to do my MA) will be Ireland with my family and we don't actually have a set YEAR for that, yet. Probably it will be after my sister graduates from college, at this rate. But that means that it's three years I have to wait through.

Of course, if I manage to get the scholarship funding I need to study in London, I could conceivably do more traveling, but both of the scholarships I'm applying for stress the fact that these scholarship programs are meant to foster US-UK communication and are not just a chance for awardees to run around Europe. At least one of them (probably both of them) restricts travel for participants, but even if it weren't in the rules that I can't spend more than a weekend out of country per month, I feel like the level of academic work I'll be engaging in will be enough to keep me primarily London-bound.

And of course this isn't a bad thing, because I have so many friends there and there are so many things to see and to do there that I haven't yet; and of course there are so many things I want to see in the United Kingdom and there are no travel restrictions on that and I would definitely be doing some serious exploring (Wales! Scotland! the west Yorkshire moors!).

But dammit if I don't just want to be on some far-off seashore, with my feet in the sand and the wind in my hair and my gaze turned to the horizon and the setting sun, listening to the way that the passersby talk in foreign tongues and the sounds slip away beneath the pulsing of the waves.
readingredhead: (Talk)
Just a quick post before I head off on another mini-adventure, this time to Newcastle to visit Hadrian's Wall. I'm taking overnight coaches there and back, so while I'm only staying one night in Newcastle I'm gone three nights...coming back on Saturday morning, for those who are interested. I'm really excited because a) the scenery looks gorgeous, b) the weather doesn't seem too forbidding, and c) it'll be a chance to hang out with a friend I haven't seen in a week, while doing lots of walking. I have discovered over the past year that I really do love walking, especially when scenery exists that is as gorgeous as the scenery in most of the United Kingdom and Ireland.

At the moment, the only downside is that my backpack of stuff for these two days feels about as heavy as the backpack I packed for my Ireland trip, which was seven days long. And yet I can't really tell what I could take out of the backpack that would weigh so much! I'm not even bringing a second pair of jeans! And I'm bringing more food than I did on that trip, but it can't be that much of a difference. Seriously, I just don't know.

I won't have my computer with me (I can deal with separation from the internet world for 2 days), but I suspect that I might be online anyway since the hostel has wifi? We'll see. Right now I just want it to be time to go already -- I have another half hour and really nothing to do with it other than wash my dishes. Which would be, you know, considerate and all of that, and which I should therefore probably do.
readingredhead: (Professor)
I should be doing important things, like reading up on the history of conduct books for my essay on Evelina but instead I'm getting ready to go to the Globe and watch a fabulous production of Midsummer Night's Dream.

I'm also thinking a lot about the fact that I'm going to spend Friday and Saturday turning a piece of fiction that I (co-)wrote into an actual (experimental) film (though when I say I'm going to be doing this, it really means I'm going to do what my film major and co-writer friend tells me to do). It should be completely awesome; we're filming on location throughout London, but the actual acting parts are small-scale enough that Oren and I are actually just playing the characters that we wrote, which for me will be all kinds of amazing. I'm starting to think about how my character would dress, and do her make-up, and wear her hair, and all kinds of stuff (and the best part is that none of these answer are hard for me to figure out...I just know her, y'know?). So while it is distracting me from the essay(s), at least it's doing so in a good way.

Also, I have tickets for two events on May 30 at the Hay Festival of Books but no idea as of yet how I am going to get there and back, since Hay is really small and doesn't have its own train station. There are buses and shuttles and the like but it doesn't seem feasible to go up in the morning and back that night; if I'm going to be spending the money on train fare anyway, I might as well see some of the surrounding countryside. Also it would be a lot easier to get back to, oh, say, Cardiff after the last event finishes at 9PM than it would be to try to get back to London (which would probably be impossible). But this means I need to find accommodation in Cardiff (or wherever), and I have yet to broach this subject to my mom, who would freak if I told her I was considering staying in a hostel on my own. She's already worried that no one wants to go to the Hay Festival with me...silly mother, they speak my language in this country!

Now, I shall file all of this under "things to sort out later" and get ready to go see some Shakespeare.
readingredhead: (Adventure)
I've been sort of posting pictures and semi-journaling my experiences as a form of procrastination. So far I have entries up for Vienna and Prague. Expect Berlin, Athens, and Santorini at a later date (and expect about twice as many pictures from Greece as from anywhere else, because I went camera crazy).

In other news, today's attempt to get real work done was mostly thwarted by a headache that forced me to leave the library in search of painkillers, but I'm optimistic for tomorrow. And I figure, if I finally finished Script Frenzy yesterday, I sort of deserve today as a day off.
readingredhead: (Default)
Really really quickpost to say I am home (well, London home), alive, now in possession of keys, and with only 26 more pages of script to write today! (Yes, I said "only." Considering how little writing I did during my trip I'm actually surprised at this.) Laundry will be done shortly and I will then also possess clean clothes! I still lack food because all I did last night was get back, make dinner (noodles are the only things still left), and catch up on Doctor Who and Glee because it was painful to go two weeks without Matt Smith and Karen Gillan. Today is going to be devoted to getting back into the swing of things around here, finishing script, and celebrating with TV if I actually get script done before midnight. Then work starts tomorrow! French exam May 4, first paper (and hardest paper, dear god why) due May 11, and then OH DEAR GOD I TURN 21 ON MAY 17. And some other crazy stuff happens in between. Still no idea what I'm doing for my birthday because I have papers due May 18, 19, and 20, but probably leaving to stay with a friend in Cheltenham for a week starting the 22nd-ish, and definitely going to be at the Hay Festival of Books on May 30 to hear Jeanette Winterson talk about Oranges are Not the Only Fruit and an awesome scholarly person talking about the juvenile works of Jane Austen. So, life goes on. Now, to laundry!
readingredhead: (Doctor What)
New Doctor Who. As I've only seen one episode it's totally possible that I will have to revoke this sentiment but something makes me doubt that, so here goes: Matt Smith has what it takes to make it. He's not David Tennant but he knows it and he's not trying to be. He's just being his own kind of Doctor and obviously having good fun with it. EDIT: Just watched second ep and while it doesn't make me like Matt Smith any more or less than I previously liked him, it does make me like Karen Gillan lots and lotses. I like that she's feisty and that it seems like, unlike previous companions, she's going to actually challenge the Doctor and argue with him and stuff. Not just sit there with puppy eyes when he's about to destroy the world and tell him to stop. I read an interview where Karen said Matt was like her annoying older brother, and I think that sort of shows in this ep, in a good way. Why do I have to be out of the country for the next one??

Torchwood. I have heard it is not on par with Doctor Who but seriously, John Barrowman. Need I say more? Also, awesome Welsh accents. I am seriously in love with the breadth and variety of British accents, and not just with that singular concept of "the British accent" (which almost always means the Oxford accent to Americans, including me before I lived here).

Changes by Jim Butcher. The most recent Dresden Files book, which just appeared in my mailbox and promises to be completely game-changing. I'm almost afraid to read it because I know I'll breeze through it in six hours and then be left waiting another year for the next one.

A Wizard of Mars by Diane Duane. The most recent Young Wizards book, which also just appeared in my mailbox in the same shipment from Amazon and is only the book I have been waiting for ALL MY LIFE. Seriously. It's been FIVE YEARS since the last YW release and I've waited oh so patiently. This is worse than waiting for Harry Potter because a) there are no movies and b) the fandom is much smaller, so there are fewer people to understand your pain (however, the small-but-dedicated fandom is generally one of the things I love about YW, so I shouldn't complain). I'm definitely afraid to read this one because I have no idea how long it'll be until the next one appears, and I do not know what I will do with myself in the meantime and with the waiting. This isn't like Jim Butcher where I know he'll pop out a book a year, no sweat (which allows me to read them so quickly when they come out). Diane Duane is meant to be savored, in slow but intense portions. I would almost say it has to be read casually, except there's nothing casual about it. In fact, I don't even remember what it's like to read one of her books for the first time anymore. The last time I had that experience, I had only just gotten a livejournal and certainly didn't blog about it. I just emphatically don't want it to be gone.

Preparation for spring break trip will probably take more time/effort/energy than I give it credit for. I mean, I'm gone for 16 days which I'm spending in 5 cities in 4 countries in 2 time zones (though only one continent this time). By the end of the month I'll have seen where the Thirty Years' War started, the Cold War (symbolically) ended, the great temple to Athena was built to command an entire city, a man named Freud revolutionized our perception of selfhood, and the small Greek island immortalized courtesy of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. It will be AMAZING. But try packing enough stuff for all of that in a small suitcase and you run into some issues (or at least I will...when I finally start packing the night before I leave).

Finally, it's sunny outside. Why in the world would I want to get things done when I could sit outside in the sunshine and just revel in the world being such a beautiful place?
readingredhead: (In the Book)
Since Saturday, I have:

-had a snowball fight in the courtyard of a castle
-people-watched in a Dublin pub
-been caught in a snowstorm
-walked along cliffs overlooking the Irish Sea
-climbed Bray Head
-more or less relived key scenes from a Diane Duane novel (not my favorite, but how often do you get to visit an obscure Irish town you only knew about because of a kid's fantasy book?)
-eaten the most delicious scone of my life
-traveled by bus, train, ferry, and foot
-tried my first Guinness
-had my first drink bought for me
-listened to live music for free
-watched my first-ever episode of Friends
-discussed the Holyhead Harpies quidditch team while in Holyhead (Sidenote: Holyhead is ghetto and those lady quidditch players are either all on steroids or the wizardly solution to juvenile delinquency...)

And it's not over yet! Tomorrow morning I leave Dublin for Galway and the fun will only continue. Expect more complete update, with details, when I return on Friday/Saturday.
readingredhead: (Stranger)
Again with the ‘impressionistic’ updates (to borrow a term from Mr. Vargish). I have two essays due in the upcoming week and a friend flying in to visit from Dublin on Wednesday, but I don’t want to forget the things I wanted to say about Marrakesh before then!

It would be a stretch to say that being there was like being in another world (anyplace that has a McDonald’s is obviously Earth — other planets would likely have more sense), but it was definitely like being on another continent. That fact hit home before the airplane even landed; when I looked below me as we began our descent, instead of streets, towns, and city lights, there was red dirt, green fields, sunlight reflecting off thin streams of water used for irrigation, and slate-blue mountains in the hazy distance.

We took a taxi from the airport to our hotel — yes, not a hostel, a legitimate hotel, complete with TVs in the rooms, our own showers that we didn’t have to pay extra for, and continental breakfast each morning. The exchange rate being what it is (roughly 7 Moroccan dirhams to an American dollar), we could afford a little more class than usual. The taxi ride was an entertaining ordeal in itself: there being, apparently, no such thing as traffic police in Marrakesh, the five of us plus our driver managed to fit (along with our hand baggage) inside a car only designed to seat five. I was probably the smallest person there. Four girls shared the back seat — I didn’t even notice if the car was equipped with seatbelts, but I’m inclined to think they didn’t even bother.

Although Marrakesh is pretty touristy in its own right — and the government is doing a lot to promote that aspect of it — it has its rough edges, especially if you’re a white female. We weren’t there during the normal tourist season, so except in the marketplace, we ran into very few tourists on the streets. We weren’t actively hassled (except by vendors trying to sell us things, who referred to one or more of the girls at some time or another as “Hannah Montana” and “the Spice Girls”; we also got asked if we were looking for fish and chips, and whether we were on facebook) but something just seemed different. It wasn’t until one of my friends pointed it out that I saw practically no women (tourists excluded) in the city. There was the odd woman (some in full wrists-to-ankles covering, plus head scarf) doing her shopping at the local market, or speeding along the street on a bicycle/motorcycle hybrid (there are both pedals and a motor; these were surprisingly common), but even they disappeared when the sun went down. Outside the tourist center of the walled city of Morocco, 95% of the people I saw in restaurants were men. I hadn’t realized the kind of inherent menace there is in that until this trip. I was never hassled (and I’m also very good at ignoring what people say and just walking by — the ability to navigate Sproul Plaza at lunchtime without being inundated with flyers and appeals apparently has uses outside of Berkeley), but on the first day especially, something felt a little not right.

This being said, as soon as I had a map in my hand and a general feel for the city’s arrangement (as well as the promise of vigilance from the one male member of our group, God bless him), the feeling went away pretty quickly — and in a way it was something I’d been prepared for, having done enough googling on the subject to get an idea of how conservatively to dress. (Despite approximately 80 degree weather, I spent my time in jeans and t-shirts.)

I am now going to admit to something that, in any other city, would feel like a bit of a cop-out. You know those big red sightseeing buses? Well, there’s one that runs in Marrakesh, and my friends and I took it. It was a great way to figure out where everything was in relation to everything else without having to get lost on the way, and a great way not to walk around in the heat but still get a feel for the place.

My favorite part of being in Marrakesh was visiting the marketplace they’re famous for. I’ve seen its name transliterated in about a billion different ways, but the back of one of the postcards I bought calls it “Jamaa El Fna,” as do the signs in Marrakesh itself, so that’s the one I’m going with. You can get lost in there — in fact, my friends and I almost did. They sell everything imaginable — leather goods, home herbal remedies, ceramics, dried fruit and nuts, scarves, jewelry, live chickens, pig’s heads (freshly removed from the pigs in question) — and you are expected to bargain with them for what you buy. I came home with a hand-made leather purse with an intricate openwork design on the front flap which cost me the equivalent of $25. Other things that came home with my friends included dried apricots, carved and inlaid wooden boxes, and small ornamental daggers.

The market by night is radically different from the market by day. Around the time the sun begins to set, stalls and canopies start appearing in the plaza in front of the market, and soon enough there are a hundred little tent-restaurants ready and willing to serve you everything from traditional Moroccan food to french fries. We ate at one of these restaurants on our last night (ours was #89, I think — the menus are all basically the same, and they use their stall numbers as differentiation). I had kebabs, couscous, really good bread — and, it must be said, really good french fries. Apparently, they’re universal.

The last day of our stay, we took an excursion through some of the Berber villages situated in the High Atlas Mountains. Along with other tourists, we got in a great big van driven by a local tour guide who navigated the windy mountain roads and explained the scenery that rolled past as we gained altitude. In concept the trip was pretty touristy — the van stopped in several locations so that we could get out and snap the obligatory photos — but behind the tourist motivation were vestiges (small, but there) of a more authentic Moroccan experience. To some of the “natives,” we were obviously a way to make money through the sale of traditional arts and crafts. But to some of them we were just a blip on the radar, a small disturbance in a daily routine that (for them) probably hasn’t changed too much over the last few decades. It’s probable that a lot of them had never even been as far from home as Marrakesh.

That day, we ate lunch in a small former hotel, high up in the mountains, which served a very traditional multi-course Marrakeshi meal: bread, salad, vegetable tagine, roasted chicken, finished off with a small glass of mint tea, something Morocco’s known for (and which lives up to the hype — but granted, I was a mint tea fan to begin with).

There are some places that you go to once, just to say that you’ve been there, and to know for yourself what that means. And there are some places you go to and know you’ll come back to. While preparing for this trip, I sort of suspected that Marrakesh would fall under the first category, but after having been, I’m not so sure. There are, of course, plenty of places I plan to go to for a first time before I make a return trip to Marrakesh (or even to Morocco), but in some future where I am obscenely wealthy and can travel wherever and whenever I like, I can see myself ending up back there — even if only to share the experience of the place with a different set of people.
readingredhead: (Talk)

The update on my Reading Week trip is going to be split in two, not just because I visited two cities and countries (and continents!) but also because I don't quite have the time to sit and write out the whole thing at once! But right now I have just about enough time to write about the three nights and two full days I spent in Barcelona. (I haven't managed to upload my pictures yet, but my photographer friend Drew who was with me on the trip has his up; you can view them here.)

One of the first things that I liked about the trip was that the four years I spent studying Spanish in high school suddenly seemed much more useful. Despite the fact that Barcelona is the center of the Catalan region, which has its own peculiar dialogue (called Catalan) which is about as different from Spanish as Italian is, it's still in Spain so everyone speaks Spanish in addition to Catalan and I was impressively able to make myself understood. Also, the street signs are (sometimes) in both languages.

I'm not usually all that into pure architecture -- I appreciate buildings that have a history as well as a beautiful facade -- but my favorite things about Barcelona were purely architectural and 90% Gaudi (Cliffs Notes version: he was an architect associated with the movement known as modernisme and built a lot of really awesome stuff that makes me think of a cross between early Disney fairytales and Dr. Seuss). Saturday, our first full day in Barcelona, was spent visiting the two coolest Gaudi sites in Barcelona: the Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell.

Sagrada Familia is a giant unfinished cathedral that rears unexpectedly out of the heart of the Eixample section of Barcelona. It's massive, intricate, and still under construction. Gaudi spent the last years of his life working on this masterpiece, knowing that he wouldn't be alive to see it completed; since his death, other architects and artists have contributed to different aspects of its current design (Gaudi did leave behind some plans, but apparently a lot of them were destroyed or lost during the Spanish Civil War). It's a little schizophrenic as a result, but no less beautiful. The interior is still very stark, with most of the design work having been done on the exterior, but the two facades which are complete (only one of which was completed by Gaudi) are stunning. I personally favored the facade that wasn't designed by Gaudi because its style is a lot more sparse; there's a lot going on still, but it's mostly going on in one color, at least, and with a lot fewer random elements.

When we were there, you couldn't see half of the church's interior because they were doing construction work on it, and overall the interior is (as I said before) not that impressive. But it's worth it to pay to go in because only from the inside can you take the elevator (or stairs) to the top of one of the church's towers. We did, and I had another Eiffel Tower-esque experience (albeit at a much decreased height) in which all of a sudden the church was a lot taller than it had seemed from the ground -- and it seems pretty damn tall when you're standing at the base of it, feeling like one of the towers ought to fall over any minute now! This is why I like climbing things: it gives you a completely different idea of how tall things really are.

After Sagrada Familia we went to Parc Guell, which was originally meant to be a posh housing development outside of central Barcelona...however, it was far enough from Las Ramblas (the main boulevard) that no one wanted to live there when Gaudi began it! (Ironically, now some of the most expensive Barcelona real estate is near Parc Guell.) The result is a large park sort of in the middle of the city, with a few instances of classic Gaudi design. The gatehouses at the entrance to the park look like literal gingerbread houses; there is a terrace at the top lined with mosaic benches ergonomically designed for comfortable lounging. (We took advantage of this.) We spent a couple of hours just wandering the park before heading back to central Barcelona and Las Ramblas for dinner.

Barcelona is the #1 city for pickpocketing, and most of it occurs on or near Las Ramblas, the busiest pedestrian corridor in the city. My friends and I escaped unscathed, but I can understand why so many people lose their wallets there: we weren't there during tourist season and the place was still pretty busy, especially on a weekend night. The actual street which cars can drive on is separated by a giant meridian which is a pedestrian zone, full of stalls selling wares, street performers, living statues, tourist traps, and outdoor dining for the many tapas restaurants lining either side of the street. We ate at one of those restaurants (albeit at the inside portion) two of the three nights we spent in the city. I cared less about the tapas and more about the fabulous chicken paella. Somehow, neither I nor any of my friends ever managed to get a picture of all the food -- possibly because we were too busy eating it!

Sunday, we spent the morning in the Picasso Museum (mostly his earlier stuff -- more mature works are at the Prado in Madrid, I think -- but still well worth the admission fee), the afternoon strolling Las Ramblas, and the late afternoon/evening making our way to Montjuic, something larger than a hill but smaller than a mountain atop which rests a fortified castle looking out over Barcelona's harbor. The view of the city from there rivaled the view from Parc Guell (and there was a castle!). Apparently, Franco took over the place during the Spanish Civil War and made it into a stronghouse. It's not a very castle-y castle in the medieval (or even gothic) architectural sense, just a place on top of a hill with a lot of guns around it so that you'd be an idiot to try to storm it. But it had a clear view of the ocean -- the first time I've seen the sea since leaving California! I do miss saltwater, apparently.

We turned in pretty early because we had to catch a bus back to the airport the next morning to continue our journey to Marrakesh. (Stay tuned!)

readingredhead: (Stars)
I don't have enough time to provide a full update -- November has started and with it, my frantic novel-writing; by this time next week, I will be in Barcelona, about to depart for Marrakesh, and very little of that is planned yet, aside from plane tickets and a place to sleep -- but I find it necessary to relate that I spent a long weekend in Paris and fell in love.

It's a different kind of love from the one I feel for London. Queen Mary is another "home" now, and this city feels contentedly mine in a way that only Berkeley really rivals. I still remember the first time I ever went to London, with my hopes all up, and I got this giddy feeling the instant I stepped off the plane, like being there had turned on some kind of switch and lit up something new.

Paris wasn't like that -- I landed at Charles de Gaulle airport at about ten in the morning Paris time, after having been awake since four in the morning London time in order to get to the airport, etc. I don't know when it hit me that I was actually there. But once it did? The beginning of a beautiful friendship.

I've always loved French history. It's part of the reason why I like romanticism so much -- it's a literary and artistic movement inspired in large part by the actions of the revolutionaries in France in 1789. I spent the summer reading and re-reading A Tale of Two Cities and thus getting to know Dickens's Paris like the back of my hand. When I was walking the streets, everything came back to me, and even if I didn't have a map in my head, I could tell you who the streets were named after. I love London for its history, as well, but the history in Paris has a different flavor to it, something I can't quite pin down.

In four days, I saw so much that I had wanted to see -- everything, in fact, that was on my list, and more besides. And yet I still know that there is plenty that will pull me back. It's hard to say that I like it better than other places I've been, because all European cities are different, and admirable for different reasons. But still, I think it wouldn't be entirely incorrect to state that, after London, Paris is the second most amazing city I've seen in Europe, and that I know I'll be returning.
readingredhead: (Rain)

I spent three nights and two full days of this weekend in Rome. I was there for a week or so during July, and this was my fourth trip there in total (the first being six years ago, when I was just fourteen), but every time I visit, the city has something new to give me. This time, I met up with my friend Andy, who’s studying at Trinity College in Dublin for this school year and who had always wanted to go to Rome but had never even been to Europe until his trip to Dublin. With my more-than-average knowledge of the history, myth, legend, geography, and even language of Rome, I led us on a two-day whirlwind tour of all of the major sights and experiences, including:

the Vatican Museum + Sistine Chapel;

St. Peter’s Basilica + climb to the ‘cupola’ (the pinnacle atop the dome);

Piazza Navona;

the Pantheon;

Piazza di Spagna/Spanish Steps;

Trevi Fountain;

Piazza del Popolo and Via del Corso;

Borghese gardens;

Victor Emmanuel Monument;

Roman Forum;

Colosseum (properly known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, in case you were curious).

In fact, the best question is probably what we didn’t see. We didn’t cross the river and hang out in Trastevere, we didn’t go into the museum at the Villa Borghese, we didn’t rent Vespas…and really that’s about all that we didn’t manage that I have at some point done or wanted to do.

My favorite part was being in the Forum at sunset; I took more pictures in that one hour than I did at any other site we visited, I’m almost sure of it. There’s something beautiful about Rome at sunset, but the Forum at sunset in mid-October was totally breathtaking; I’ve never seen anything like it, in Italy or elsewhere (though Florence, near the Arno River, during a summer sunset comes to mind). I also really liked climbing to the top of the ‘Vittoriano,’ as the Victor Emmanuel Monument is called in Italian, and seeing the city from there, something my family and I had never done. The days were long, and there was a lot of walking, but I had a fantastic time — mostly because I’m slowly becoming more and more familiar with the city and its culture. I’m even getting confident enough in basic Italian to ask for directions, order a meal, and always say my pleases and thank-yous (not to mention read street signs and purchase train and metro tickets). Actually, it wasn’t until after I’d gone through the whole process in Italian that I realized the self-service metro ticket machines could be made to display their instructions in English.

This upcoming weekend will be spent reading Nicholas Nickleby and writing the first essay of the semester (a close textual analysis of a passage from Jane Eyre) because the weekend after that, I will be making my first ever trip to Paris! Then I have one more week of instruction before I get a whole week off for ‘Reading Week,’ in which technically you’re supposed to study and catch up with reading, but when I and my friends will be spending two and a half days in Barcelona followed by three and a half days in Marrakesh. I’m really excited to be doing so much traveling and experiencing so many different places while I’m here, but I’m equally excited to be able to call London ‘home.’

I had a few hours of crazy stress yesterday because the way that you turn in assignments here is so different, and teachers in general seem less concerned about reminding you when your assignments are due. In this case, I was pretty sure that an assignment for my Dickens class was due today by 4:30pm, but when I logged onto the VLE (think blackboard or bspace) it said that it was due yesterday (today at the time) by 4:30pm. It was 1pm when I read this and I had class starting at 3 that I couldn't miss. I ran around finishing up my assignment (thank god it was mostly done already) and then filling out the requisite coversheets (both in print and online) and submitting both a virtual copy via the VLE and a hard copy in person to the English Department office. This makes me miss Berkeley.

Also, my Representing London: the Eighteenth Century class was talking about coffeehouses today and the different kinds of sociability one finds there, and it made me miss my favorite cafe in Berkeley. Oh, Milano, how I pine for thee. There's good coffee here but the pub is the social locale du jour, so I'm stuck with convenient but uninspiring cafes. Still, I can't complain, because they're in London. Every so often I'll be doing something — whether it be reading Jane Eyre, or listening to a Beatles song, or just walking outside and breathing in the beautiful grass-and-wet-cement smell of early mornings post-rain — and then I'll realize that I'm not just reading this novel, or listening to this music, or capturing this moment. I'm doing it in a place that made it, in a sense. London is the genesis of so many things that are important to me. Maybe that's why coming here feels in its own way less like going away and more like coming home.
readingredhead: (Talk)
The plane leaves today at 3:45 and whisks me away into an adventure, the magnitude of which still hasn't quite hit me yet. I keep telling myself that this is it, this is when I feel it, but I don't know when I'm actually going to have that moment of sudden clarity in which I actually realize that, oh shit, I'm boarding a plane that's going to take me to London and when I get there I'll really be on my own.

I don't even know that I feel excited, or anxious. If anything, I just feel ready. I'm in a zone that no one can disturb -- because in less than 24 hours I'll be in London and everything will actually start to begin.
readingredhead: (Stars)
Oh goodness...I'm finally home, after an eight-hour delay at Heathrow Airport. I've got a lot of unpacking and general kicking-back-into-gear to do, after which I will do things like post photos and actually journal about the trip (and about those eight hours, four of which we spent sitting on the runway in a plane!). As it is, I'm glad to be home, but as usual, it still feels a little weird to be here.

On the bright side, sometime today I will steal a car, drive to Borders, and FINALLY get Julie E. Czerneda's newest book, and some more as well.
readingredhead: (Default)
In Rome now (well, technically Frascati) and with the spotty sort of internet I have come to associate with my travels in general (thankfully the only job work I've had to do was assigned in a city where I had a mostly reliable connection). I am so looking forward to being back here in October-ish, when I plan to visit from London. For now, it's great to hang by the pool and work on turning my patchy sunburns into almost tans (yeah right, I still look like porcelain mostly, though perhaps less breakable). Hope you're all doing well and seriously, to those of you in the Mission Viejo area, we have to hang out when I get back!


readingredhead: (Default)

March 2013

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