Saturday, June 30, 2012


Mornings happen early here. Many of you know that I don't like to rise until after most people have had lunch if I can help it. But this is the second morning I've woken up early... not quite in time for the breakfast downstairs, but I only missed it by about fifteen minutes.

For the past few days, I've come to see how inappropriate my "England Journal" is, which is quite a shame, because I like it. But it's got these little ridges on the paper, which makes it (somehow even more) impossible to write in straight lines. My handwriting looks horrendous, and that makes it hard for me to want to write your standard artistic and pretentious journal entries (which we all know is the reason why anyone owns a journal).

Also, I'm an avid writer. Half the joy of it is owning a different set of blank pages and just knowing that the next few months of your life will be chronicled within it.

I'd also decided I wanted to buy tea in England. Y'know, be a tourist. But I wanted good tea. So I went back to Coven Garden, where I'd seen a few tea shops. The one I kept walking by when it was closed was The Tea House, and I returned at a reasonable hour. The other day, after the Englishman dropped me off in the middle of London, I'd wandered into a tea shop and enjoyed a cup of Rooibos Earl Grey, which was a fantastic combination idea. So I bought some plain rooibos tea and "Supreme" Earl Grey of my own. I just can't wait to have it, guys. You have no idea.

My camera broke yesterday. I plugged it into the adapter to charge, and forgot that different sets of voltage can be fatal to beloved appliances. But fear not! I got a new one. And without further ado:

One of the many stops on the London Underground, but my favorite, every time I hear it.

I made it to Trafalgar Square, where they were celebrating Canada Day. The amount of people here was just breathtaking. I sat at the fountain for fifteen minutes just overwhelmed by it all.

Ah, yes. The Big and Beautiful.

... simply my favorite view of London thus far.

You can't see it, but Victoria Tower is right in front of me. I sat with that view for about twenty minutes. I wrote in my journal, and marveled at how truly spectacular it is to be royalty in Great Britain. 

Ah, the windswept hair. A good look.

There will be more pictures, I'm sure. But my feet are unused to this amount of travel, and they whine at me to soak them or something.

Maybe I just need a good cup of tea.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Paradise Lost: Frankenstein in Covent Gardens

I had tickets to see Frankenstein filmed from the theatre production, with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller as the headliners. It was directed by Richard Bean, and adapted from Mary Shelley's book by Nick Dear. I mention all these names because while all the others received the credit they deserved, Nick Dear was not mentioned in the programme, though I feel he also should have his name mentioned. Also, I love writers and am always on the lookout for more people to be a fan of. Mr. Cumberbatch played the Creature in this encore performance, although he alternates that with the part of Victor Frankenstein with Miller.

The play opens with the Creature being born. We see the struggle to get out of a placenta-like womb. Lights that hang from the ceiling like a thousand volts of lightning blaze, and we see how it electrifies the Creature, who jolts in response. An arm twitches independently of the body, and then a leg. He is covered in bruises and cuts, huge gaping holes in his head that are stitched up poorly. You see the struggle of a grown body and adult brain discovering life once more. While his muscles are strong, they are uncoordinated. Slowly, he learns to stand, and later to crawl. By the time he's walking, ten breathtaking minutes have passed. The only sounds are the Creature's occasionally groans and squeals of excitement. He looks like a stroke victim recovering very quickly and remaining unfinished.

And yet, he does learn to walk, and to speak. He is taught by the blind man in the mountains how to read, and does quite a lot of it. He wonders about God, and heaven and hell, and his own fate. He asks where he was born, why he has no name. He speaks in long fluid sentences that go from statements to questions without pause, like, "I have a request Victor Frankenstein what do you say." Again, this brings to mind stroke victim speech.

The theme of paradise plagues us through the entire piece. It is the first word the Creature learns, and it is somehow what he wants, knowing full well that it is out of his reach. All the Creature desires is love--that of his creator's, that of a mate's... even that of humanity's as a whole. And he cannot have it. It is not just because he is ugly, it is because he is different in many ways. He is terrifying to behold, and uncoordinated. He speaks in broken sentences, his head sometimes rolls to one side and stays there. His speech is slurred and labored. But perhaps it is because we are imperfect that we seek paradise. He is well-educated, quoting numerous pieces of literature.

 Simultaneously, we see the young doctor, Victor Frankenstein, who has everything the Creature could ask for. He has a family that loves him and respects his interests. There is Elizabeth, a young and beautiful lady who loves him even though he has made her wait for six years before he will marry her. His father cares deeply for him and struggles to understand his brilliant son. And Frankenstein, with paradise at his fingertips, is bored. He breaks ties and breaks promises. He does not know what to do with himself, so tries to play god.

It is remarkable how jealous he is of the Creature's ability to love.

And I think that's an important question to ask ourselves, in a way. Do we love as deeply as we can? Is there a paradise right here, in front of us, that we are ignoring? And how do we change our fate, to give us the happiness we deserve and desire? How do we love like the Creature, who fought to live--and live like the doctor, who fought to love?

You're Doing it Wrong

The hostel bed was very comfortable last night. This is surprising for a few reasons. The first is that I didn't think I'd ever find my way back to that bed, and the other is that it contains twelve people total, including one very avid snorer.

If you don't get lost within 24 hours of visiting a new country, you're doing it wrong. So obviously I did something right.

I went up to my room in the hostel, which I may not have mentioned before is a mixed room. There are men and women from many countries sleeping just feet from me, some of whom are avid snorers. So when a man followed me into my room, I was not shocked. We got to talking about art surrealism and Shakespeare's most intelligent characters, which of course struck my fancy just fine. I enjoyed our conversation a lot, and it seemed it was mutual. He asked if I wanted to have a drink when I came back from my show (which I will soon talk about), and we agreed that it sounded like a fine idea.

I left the theatre around ten that evening, and made my way back to the Covent Gardens station, to take the Underground to Greenwich. Once there, I did not know how to get back to the hostel, but I knew it was close enough that I shouldn't require a taxi as I did the day before.

Perhaps I should have taken it. I walked around for nearly two and a half hours, asking strangers directions every few minutes. Some told me to go to this station, or get on that bus... but finally, I walked into a pub that was open thankfully late. It was nearly two in the morning and I did not want to walk anymore. The taxi took me there in about five minutes, and cost about five pounds. But five pounds well-spent on peace of mind and a warm bed.

Obviously, the Englishman I spoke to earlier was already in bed by the time I showed up, so I just climbed into my bed and fell asleep. The sounds of London lulled me there quite quickly, considering my exhaustion. Good thing, too, because mornings happen early around here. Breakfast ends at nine am. Though I tried to be up on time, it didn't happen.

Kevin (the Englishman) woke up around the same time as me. He said he had the day off before he had to head back to Kent (and then Brighton?), so he took me to St. Paul's Cathedral. We grabbed a coffee and sat on the steps to this grand and beautiful piece of architecture and history, culture and spirituality. It was a calm morning. Clouds rolled over us fast enough that we couldn't decide if we were in the shade or not. There was a light drizzle, but nothing to be worried about. We chatted about the cultural differences between our countries--he asked about cowboys and I tried to explain the wild west as it truly was. I asked about Scandinavians, and he tried to explain their hair color. I started thinking in a British accent somewhere during this time, and he left me near London Bridge.

After exploring more of the city, I decided I was finally exhausted, and came back to the hostel. Maybe I'll go out again tonight.

But not before I memorize the route back. Because if I get lost twice within 24 hours of entering a foreign country, maybe I'm doing something wrong.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Trip There

"If I take one more step, it'll be the farthest away from home I've ever been."

Never were those words more true for me than today, as I stepped off the plane into London, United Kingdom. While that one more step was still on an airplane technically, I felt as if the ground shook just a bit as I grabbed my carry-on and stepped over the hearth into Heathrow airport.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The air is stale; slightly warm, and though I've never tasted the tepid tang of recycled air before, I believe I may have found it. Beside me, some loud family that's getting ready for a reunion munches on almonds, and I hope that no one has a terrible allergy that keeps the flight from departing. But that's the periphery. The forefront of my mind is occupied with gratitude. I'm actually getting on the plane to go to London, a trip I've dreamed about, but never honestly thought was possible. I am very lucky.

Not only am I filled with wonder, I am very tired. Last night, I spent time with a good friend who I hope will become a better one. Amazing how goodbyes are really more like hellos.

I was so tired that I decided to travel across the world in my very comfortable Doctor Who shirt, a gift from my brother's girlfriend. Already, two people have commented on it. While I maintain that fandoms create community, I agree with the Texan security officer that I'm sure to get teased for it once I'm in the UK.

At least I didn't bring the sonic screwdriver.

By some great miracle, I see my mother during a three hour layover in Minneapolis. She takes me to a restaurant, where they serve walleye BLTs and hot dishes (only in Minnesota). It is so good to see her that it's almost hard to leave. But she takes a picture of me going through security, and we wave across a sea of confused people who watch us and roll their eyes.

The flight is not as long as I expected; it's faster to travel around the world than it is to drive from Albuquerque to Las Vegas--only seven and a half hours. I sleep most of the way, but find it impossible the closer we get. When we do finally land, it takes me a moment to realize the heavy sensation I feel isn't just anticipation and wonder... it's the water in the air.

London air is warm and wet. It makes your clothes stick to you in strange places and I'm actually sweating (which rarely happens back home since the air is so thirsty). I understand the use of handkerchiefs much better now... and luckily, brought some.

The Underground, I hear, is the fastest way to Greenwich Village. I get on after buying an Oyster Card. Then, I head to the subway system. It's dark inside, but there are windows open which brings in a nice breeze because this thing is fast. Then suddenly, there is a burst of light and color. The color is green--there are trees of every kind. Bushes, grass, flowers of purple and yellow... I think to myself, This is the land that legends came from, and cannot be more in awe of the city. It spans over a huge space, but also centuries of history as well. There are apartments for sale, and signs that have American celebrities. And houses that I thought for sure were only real in Doctor Who and Sherlock. I take the train from Heathrow all the way to Piccadilly Circus, and from there to North Greenwich. Names pass by me that I am only vaguely familiar with: King's Cross, London Bridge, Canary Wharf, Baker Street... many of these are places I want to see before I leave.

Once off the train, I take a cab the rest of the way. I'm staying at the Journeys Greenwich Hostel. There are lots of international travelers here; I am in the minority both as an American and a woman. 

I got my first lewd gesture already! When I got off the Piccadilly train and transferred to Jubilee to get to the hostel, I took the lift because my luggage was too much to take down the stairs. An older gentlemen joined me, and while he continued to talk, I understood absolutely nothing. I nodded occasionally and smiled politely. He seemed to be asking me a question. When I turned to him, he did this odd pelvic-thrust-belly-out movement, and I just turned away like I didn't hear. But yep, you guessed it--he followed me after I got off the lift. He stood next to me. The train came and I asked him if it was Jubilee, and he shook his head no. So I didn't get on.

And then he said, "Sex." It wasn't a question. I mustered up my best bewildered look and replied, "Sex? No." He gave me the thumbs-up and walked away, muttering and probably saying some disparaging things about me. I wasn't sure if I should be offended or laugh at the difference in gestures between cultures.

In any case, I am here.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Two Weeks Till Takeoff

So here's where we stand. It is sixteen days until I leave. Little more than two weeks. This is my first time traveling abroad anywhere, much less alone. It's going to be such an exciting trip. I leave Las Vegas tomorrow morning to return to Albuquerque. An eight hour drive and I'll be back in my apartment with the grumpy old man who lives downstairs. And then I get on a plane!

My list of essentials include:

  • Connection to Netflix.
  • Tea (I have lots of new Teavana stuff that I plan on taking with me and using up while buying new brands of Earl Grey and Lady Londonderry)
  • Notebooks for drawings, musings, and plottings
  • Pens for the aforementioned nonsense
  • Map of England so people can tell me where they're from and mark it on the map for me
  • Textbooks
I'm looking forward to some of the textbooks, too. Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language for one. It's nice to know that I'm not the only one who sits and compares Welsh accents to Minnesota ones, and watch British television until I'm even thinking in Received Pronunciation. 

When I found out they have a creative writing supervisory Cambridge's Pembroke-King's College Programme, I was sold. It meant making some serious sacrifices, but it is absolutely worth it. It means I don't get to go to World Choirs Games with my barbershopping girls, but I know they will do an amazing job without me. 

I have a list of things I want to do in the first two days I get to spend in London, and they include:
  • Buckingham Palace
  • Tower of London
  • Big Ben (which I've heard they want to rename in honor of the Queen?)
  • See a West End show (possibly Frankenstein, starring Johnny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch)
There are a lot of other things I might be able to do as the program goes on, but I just don't know what kind of schedule I'm going to have.

One more thing on my must-bring list: a camera.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Studying Abroad: Preparation

The thing about getting a visa at the airport in London is that there's always the chance they can turn you down. They might not like your paperwork or your face. You could say something stupid and get kicked out of the country and have to work for weeks to try again.

All because they didn't like your face.

I don't really like that idea. On the other hand, it's free, as opposed to the $500 charge you incur by sending your paperwork to the embassy in New York and waiting for their 10-100 day response. Still, the chance is kind of a risky one. I hope luck (and my face) is on my side.

Getting all the right paperwork in is stressful. I need letters from both Cambridge and UNM saying I'm allowed to go to England for this program. I need bank statements from my parents to prove I can finance this little expedition. I need transcripts.

Well, need is an awfully strong word. But strongly recommended is basically the same thing. So I'm pretending like I just plain old need them, and can walk in there with a huge folder of private information, along with my passport and suchlike. All for a stamp.

But on the other side of the road... Cambridge University.

I'll be studying three classes there, and two of them I must honestly say I'm far more excited about than the last. The first is Varieties of English, a linguistics class. The second is a supervisory class on creative writing, which is like an independent study with someone who actually knows what they're doing. The last is a class studying how disease such as AIDS, the Black Plague, and cancer affect western culture.

It's going to be a brilliant two months.