Saturday, April 23, 2005

Procrastination Post

The funny thing about procrastination is that putting off getting things done only makes you less disposed to do them with each passing moment. If you start things way early, you know you have plenty of time to do them, so they don't stress you out, and you just get them done for the sake of having them out of the way. But if you put something off until the last minute, then you know that the moment you do start thinking about it you'll have to face the stress of the imanent deadline, and so you continue to do everything possible to delay that moment of confrontation. For instance, write lengthy didactic paragraphs exploring the nature and ramifications of procrastination on your weblog when you really should get started on that 2000 (or is it 3000?) word essay that's due in science fiction this Friday.

And really, I should be excited about this essay, because my tutor has given me permission to do it in the format of a movie pitch for the second and third Matrix movies, making the highly desirable assumption that the travesties which call themselves those sequels had never been made. Which is something I've pondered before and have a great deal to say about. And if I knew I had a few weeks until the thing was due, I'd probably be jumping to get started on it. But since I've left it until a week before, I've instead spent the morning I set aside for writing the paper cleaning my room, washing dishes, organizing my journal, answering e-mail, and now, writing in my weblog, in order to avoid commencing. Alas.

While I'm here, though, I'll briefly summarize the things I've been up to in the past week since I descended from my month-long Easter vacation back into the midst of classes, essays, and reading. The weather has been ridiculously summer-y, and since once again I'm in an area where sunny days are few and far between, the sunshine-glistening afternoons have been fully exploited by the student body, which has seized every excuse to spend time outside studying, socializing, eating, drinking, walking, etc. I have joined in this process to a large extent, sitting out on the hillside outside my window to read and write and watch the sunset, taking an exploratory walk with Justin (on which we met a herd of cows and got into a lengthy discussion on language, intelligence, and the difference between humans and animals), taking this week's book discussion group onto the lawn outside the Meeting House, and taking two days to go into Brighton and augment my wardrobe in preparation for the summer, as I brought mainly winter clothes on my journey here.

Much to my excitement, the current clothes fashions here in Brighton mirror styles I have always been a fan of but have previously been unable to indulge my interest in from the usually available assortment. Primarily, long flowy skirts, and shirts of various styles in an assortment of bright, solid colors like purple, teal, and magenta. So I now have the garments with which to face the oncoming of summer, and have finally pacified the child inside me who has been sulking since she outgrew her fairy costume and I failed to buy her another one.

Ooh, one other source of excitement has been a series of e-mails from the women I'll be living with next year. Lahlae sent out the suggestion that we all take an online version of the Meyers-Briggs Personality Test (which any of you should take if you haven't yet, and I'd love to hear what you test as) and share our results with one another. Now of course, I'm a huge proponent of this test, so the mere suggestion of using it was enough to give me great excitement about the living situation for next year. But more promising yet, as the results filter in, our personalities are all similar enough that it looks like we'll be seeing eye-to-eye on a lot of things, while remaining different enough to promise variety in the household as well. Crazily, there are three of us INFJs, even though that's one of the most rare of the 16 types, forming under 2% of the general population, and everyone else is within 1 or 2 letters of that type in various directions. That is, we have, so far, 3 INFJs, an INTJ, an ISFJ, an ENFJ, and an ESFJ. All Js, which bodes well for house cleanliness... :) The woman in charge of the house is also an INFJ. It's almost eerily coincidental... But very cool.

I've also been made acutely aware over the past week of how fortunate I have been in the people I have come to know and befriend over here, through my flat and the Meeting House. It has been their support and general wonderfulness that has made my study abroad experience so exciting and enlightening, and I'll be incredibly sad to have to part with them all. At the same time, the passing of the half-way mark of my time away from home also has me looking forward eagerly to seeing once more the much-missed faces of my family and friends back in the States. I hope you are all doing well and enjoying your own approaching summers (especially any UPSers with a few short weeks until finals), and are well aware of how much I miss and appreciate you. Love always!

Sunday, April 17, 2005

I Don't See Any Ire...

I return safely from yet another adventurous venture beyond Britain’s borders, flanked once again by the obligatory twelve hours of travel on each end (taxi-coach-coach-plane-bus-taxi and back again). This time, the destination was Ireland, where I stayed in a cottage eight miles outside of Dublin with Ben, Toby, Clare, Sofia, and Jess (three flatmates and two virtual-flatmates). It was my first-ever and much-anticipated journey to the Emerald Island, and it was everything I ever imagined it would be.

The cottage was delightfully isolated on a grassy, sheep-inhabited hillside over a mile from the nearest bus stop, a fact I deeply appreciated despite the difficulties it caused when we wanted to do things like explore Dublin or buy groceries. But we managed, and were much the fitter for it by the end of the week. About a quarter mile from the cottage was a trailhead leading out onto Tibradden Mountain and a rocky trail to explore Ireland’s wilderness. Supposedly, this trail led to a megalithic tomb named Fairy Castle, which, as you can imagine if you have any familiarity with my fascination with mythical creatures and really old rocks, I went out seeking immediately and eagerly. But alas, the fairies had hidden their secrets too well, and I never did manage to find it.

Ben lent me the Harry Potter books to re-read in preparation for the upcoming release of the sixth book, and while he read the fifth book for the first time I managed to make my way back through the first four, sparking, along the way, much discussion about the books amidst the two of us and Toby and Jess. The six of us also noticed an uncanny similarity between our own adventures and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, leading us to dub one another with the names of our corresponding characters (Toby, who organized the trip and carried the tickets, was christened Frodo, the Ringbearer; his best friend and trusty sidekick Ben became Samwise Gamgee; the mischevious duo Clare and Sofia were Merry and Pippin; Jess was dubbed Aragorn for reasons too complicated to explain; Jay, who was supposed to join us on the trip but had last-minute visa issues, henceforth became Gandalf, and I was known as Legolas). The best part was when Toby, Ben, Jess and I journeyed up Tibradden Mountain on yet another fruitless search for Fairy Castle, and were hit by a freak, 100-meter-wide storm of stinging hail that could only have been sent to us by Saruman.

Other than that, we did make the journey into Dublin one day, to see the Natural History and National museums and do some shopping. We also discovered the sordid truth behind the Irish bus system’s insistence on EXACT CHANGE ONLY (it’s secretly run by a consortium of leprechauns and beavers), made friends with a number of deer, sheep, and rabbits, and spent far more time than was necessary on the comfy sofas, revelling in the availability of a television by watching British soaps and, much to my shame, Britney Spear’s cinematic debut Crossroads.

In spite of that last bit, it was a highly enjoyable trip. The scenery was absolutely fantastic, and precisely as I pictured Ireland would be, which so rarely happens. And I got to spend some time sitting and writing in a grassy, boulder-strewn glen surrounded by fir trees and bathed in the trickling music of a nearby waterfall. What more, really, could I have wished for? Besides, of course, at least the briefest glimpse of Fairy Castle.

Check out pictures now posted in My Photos.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Not Quite Kissing The Ground...

...but coming pretty close; I'm incredibly glad to be safely back in England after 14 hours of travel via metro, coach, plane, train, underground, and two more trains to return to campus. Fortunately there were no problems with my journey today aside from the length, and the coach to Pescara airport took us over three hours of gorgeous Italian countryside which I otherwise wouldn't have had a chance to see. Nevertheless, the first sighting of soggy grass fields and the first blast of icy British air were a surprising comfort, and I find I feel a lot more grounded over here than I did in Italy. I guess, in my few months here, I've settled at least a bit...

But not for long, because tomorrow morning I journey back down to London to fly out of the same airport I arrived through today, and it's off to Ireland for a week. Which I'm really excited about! I'll tell you all about it soon enough, I'm sure. Until then, ciao ciao! (See, I did pick up a little Italian... ;)

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Roman Holiday Extended

Here I am still in Rome, in the midst of yet another travel adventure which will make a good story once it's all over with and I'm safely where I need to be. Really it will. In the meantime, unfortunately, I'm stuck in Rome for another night after travelling the two hours via metro and bus from the city to my airport only to discover that it's been closed down until tomorrow at midnight to let all the dignitaries fly in, and that all flights had been transferred to different airports. But of course departed at the regularly scheduled times. Which meant there was no way I would make the 130-mile journey to the correct airport in time. And, as the next flight back to London from there was booked up, my only option was to transfer to a flight heading back tomorrow. So I trekked back to Rome, caused quite a shock to Kate by reappearring outside her classroom just as she expected my plane to be taking off, and am staying with her for another night and really hoping all goes smoothly tomorrow. I'm thanking the cautionary voice that told me to leave a day's travel cushion between my return from Italy and my departure to Ireland, so hopefully as things look at the moment I'll still be able to make that flight with no problems. Knock on wood for me, though, will you?

On a more upbeat note, on the way to the airport Kate and I were passed by a lengthy cavalcade (is that the word I want?) of darkly tinted cars with the American flag and insignias speeding, lights flashing and sirens blaring, from the direction of the U.S. Embassy to St. Peter's, and Kate's pretty sure one of the shadowy figures she glimpsed through the windows was George Bush. I should have stopped him to see if I could hitch a ride to England on Air Force 1 while he's not using it.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Un Giorno Perfecto a Roma

Yesterday was one of the most wonderfully random and glorious I could possibly have imagined. On the way to Kate's 9:30 class, we stopped in for a quick cappuccino and cornetto (pastry), consumed in a mad rush while standing at the coffee bar, which is a traditional Italian breakfast. I journaled and read while Kate was in class, and then we headed out for some sightseeing, grabbing tasty paninis on the way.

We passed through the Campidolio on our way to the Forum, and spent about an hour just wandering through the ruins, exercising, as Professor Walter Lowrie would have encouraged, our historical imaginations. Although mainly just a pile of brick and marble rubble, enough of the original structures remained to give a general idea of how the ancient Roman city center would have looked, and to make my jaw drop once or twice as well. It was pretty insane to see tourist just sitting around chatting and resting their feet on hunks of marble with intricate carvings made a couple of thousand years ago.

Then we went up onto the Palatine Hill, where the rich Romans and emporers built their palaces. Also mostly ruins, but very pretty ones, especially with all the interspersed fields of clover and wildflowers. We found a solitary spot devoid of tourists, where I frolicked amidst flowers, butterflies, and ancient ruins. Amazing.

Next stop was the Collosseum, where we didn't have much time before Kate had to make her way to her next class, but we were kind of encircled by a passing tour group and managed to incur a good deal on knowledge about the structure's ancient use.

Kate's class, which is on the Baroque period, was a site visit, so the class met outside the Palazza Spada, the residence of a cardinal of the 17th century, which contained an extensive art collection and a courtyard with a really neat "perspective gallery" (a hallway of about 8m made to look 30m long by tilting the walkway and shrinking the more distant arches and columns--so cool!). Kate's teacher gave some in-depth lectures about the techniques and symbols employed in a few of the paintings, and then the class went over to a church (which happened to be right next door to the Taverna where Kate and I got our unintentionally fishy pizzas my first night here) to see a beautiful statue of Saint Cecilia, patroness of music.

We then wandered home, on the which journey, inspired by the impulsiveness of the Fox, we did things like peer through keyholes, wander into secret gardens, follow cute old men up random side streets, buy one of each of all the pastries in a shop window and eat them as we walked down the road, offer to help old ladies carry home their groceries, and get told off (we think) in Italian by invisible, unidentified persons behind mirrored glass through a lifted slot for twirling around in an abandoned stone tollbooth pretending it was a time machine.

As we neared Kate's apartment, we discovered our path to be impeded by the winding, five-hour-long line to view the Pope's body, which snakes through all the streets we would normally have taken. So, after a few minutes of being swept through that madness, we took a wide path around it and finally made it home, where Kate's flatmate had prepared a delicious dinner of chicken fried rice and potato, egg and apple salad. Yummy!

(Kate and her flatmates have a system worked out by which they each cook one night of the week, which is a grand way to get variety in your diet, a break from cooking, and a very fun and homey atmosphere, which I greatly appreciate.)

So that was yesterday. On the other two days since I last wrote, I went to the Sunday morning mass in Pope John Paul II's memory, attended by tens if not hundreds of thousands out in St. Peter's square. My favorite part was the sharing of the Pace (aka peace), in which everyone turned to their neighbors and warmly shook hands, and for that moment, the entire crowd was connected. It was beautiful. We also went to Vespers and Mass inside the basilica that afternoon.

The day before yesterday we went to an open-air market to buy fresh fruits, veggies, and eggs for our dinner night (for which we cooked a spinach, swiss cheese, and onion quiche as well as one with chicken, artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes, fresh basil, and parmesan cheese). Kate showed me the area around her school, which is in the midst of such monuments as the Pantheon and the Trevi fountain, and then while she was in class I got some delicious gelato and visited the Area Sacra, a square of ruins where Caesar was assassinated, which is now a cat sanctuary. I went down to visit the offices and nursery of the sanctuary, and ended up getting a lengthy tour of the place by an exuberant volunteer.

Those are the highlights of my trip so far. In a little bit we're going to go down to see if the Vatican is open, so hopefully I'll get to see the Sistine Chapel and such. And then tomorrow, believe it or not (I sure don't), I head back to England. Sad. But, then it's off to Ireland, which has been a dream of mine for quite some time. I can't quite get over how fortunate I am to have all these amazing opportunities, and I want to thank everyone who has made this trip possible and supported me through it. Amore,

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Bella Roma

Yesterday was my first in Rome. It started with an early morning trip via metro and train to the airport, but all went smoothly on the journey. I flew over the Swiss Alps, which were incredible! Kate met me at the airport, and we took a bus and then the metro to the hostel I'm staying in and checked in there. Then we went back to Kate's apartment, which is adorable, and had a little snack before heading back out. We spent the afternoon in a park called Villa Borghese, sitting in the sunshine under the Italian trees (possible laurels? but anyway very different from British ones) making daisy chains and reading. Then we walked around a bit, through the Piazza del Popolo and along the Via del Corso, until it was time for dinner (which they don't do over here until at least 8:30.)

We found a little restaurant district with lots of cute little places with cobblestones and checkered tablecloths, and Kate managed to find one filled with Italians as opposed to tourists, where we tried to order pizza in Italian, and weren't as successful as we could have hoped--Kate ended up with smoked salmon on her pizza, and somehow I ended up with anchovies. But we managed, and had a delicious tiramisu for dessert.

We walked home along the Tiber River around midnight, and saw lots of people at St. Peter's, which was right on the way home, so we went down to the plaza and there was a service going on and lots of people and news cameras, although everything was in Italian so we weren't sure whether or not the Pope had died or if this was a continuation of the vigil. But we stayed for a while, and then went home and checked the news to learn that he had. It's now the next morning and they're holding a memorial mass right now, so I'm going to head down there for a bit. More later, and my love as always.