Monday, December 31, 2007
Sunday, December 30, 2007
Many trains, much travel.
This morning, I left my family on the other side of a ticket barrier in central London, waiting for an airport-bound train, nearly all by themselves in a station that Sunday had emptied out. I waved and waved and waved, then decided that I couldn't just keep waving for eighteen more minutes, and so I waved one more time and strode off into the Underground, to wander the streets of Covent Garden with the other tourists who wanted more things to be open before noon. I paced in front of closed bookshops' barred windows before remembering that I could return to London as early as next week, for as little as £2, if I wanted to.
That didn't stop me from buying three blue blank notebooks at perhaps my favorite office supply store in the world before boarding the train that took me to the other train that bore me northward to where I'm perched now, in the dark, typing to you while my friends settle to sleep.
Soon, I will offer you picture posts from my time away, but accounts of my adventures will probably just filter to you the way my stories always have: one at a time, as associations make them necessary. Suffice it to say that I've gone and seen some things while I've been quiet here.
Happy Night Afore, as they say where I am now.
Saturday, December 29, 2007
Friday, December 28, 2007
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
The brink of a silence.
Ach. Once again, there is so much I would say but cannot. Remember that Oasis song "Wonderwall"? The one with the lines that go "There are many things that I would like to say to you / but I don't know how"? I have always found this song comforting, because at least I'm not the only person to whom this kind of thing happens. Once again, I find myself at an ostensible end, wondering what might have been different had timing been better.
Hem is on the iPod as I pack for more than a week away, a week that will take me to the continent for the first time since my arrival in Cambridge, a week that will see my newest acquaintances' returning to that other home world of mine, a week that will see me return to this country with family and then split from them, to spend days with other loved ones elsewhere. "We'll meet along the way, I know," the band sings. I love that this song from their latest album begins, "Go easy now; go easy now." So much of my world, for the past few years, seems to have centered on exceptional people's passing into my life and then slipping back out of it, always in a way that feels premature. I do my best to be cool about it, but whatever coolness I manage is mostly fakery: what I'm desperate to know, even more than why they keep going, is when the staying one will arrive.
Somehow, when I ordered lunch in Grantchester today, I missed the word "whole" on the menu. Of course, later, I could see it there, in plain type. But all I saw after our walk through village and meadow was "baked trout," and so I ordered it. And there it was, head and all, grinning at me with its fishy teeth.
I am one of a family of photographers. This trout might be the best documented lunch entree ever.
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Celebrating in Cambridge.
No snow here--just rain, and then clouds, and then clearing. But grey wetness is a good backdrop for small cozy spaces full of loved ones, and for a little stroll through (or at least near) one's new haunts, and for convivial meals. Even if we couldn't go into colleges today, because every one of them was locked tight, I was glad for the chance to show them off--with even a little flourish of proprietariness. I find myself using first-person pronouns at unexpected moments this week.
The sunset was just red enough to make me hope for clear skies for tomorrow's walk through meadows I love, beside a river I greet daily. It felt like a sunset of great promise.
Tomorrow, one night late, we will flambée a Christmas pudding, and I will think back with enormous fondness on the last time I flambéed something, back in my old house in Ithaca, with all my graduate school friends, one of whom stood by with a fire extinguisher in case the cherries jubilee flared up out of control. May it not require that much brandy to flame the pudding tomorrow.
Monday, December 24, 2007
Many details omitted.
Perhaps we should just go over to pictures only for the rest of the year. At the end of another day, I find myself once again tired and unmoved to write--though I will tell you that when I crept out of the college this morning, as my family slept on in my friend's flat, the sun and sky were humid and warm-cool as though spring were paying an advance visit. And I will tell you that in the market, I said, "I need apples!" and the boy at the produce stand I'd chosen said, "Excellent, madam, what would you like?" and I ordered eight each of Braeburns, Coxes, and Pink Ladies. And having the fruit for my pies slung into a bag on my shoulder made me decide to buy not one but two bouquets of Christmas tulips from the flower stand on the corner, even though the bouquets together cost £10. I will tell you that the whole market square had the sound and smell of a great day's morning, people buying beetroot and carrots and figs and celeries and cabbages and clementines, people getting cranky with their elderly mothers because said mothers were proposing to feed too many people with too small a bag of potatoes, people selling cheeses, people selling sheepskins, people carrying rolls of wrapping paper and boxes of Christmas crackers. I will tell you that the piles of brussels sprouts were truly prodigious.
I will tell you that as I headed for home with pounds of apples on my back, loaves of bread and bags of sugar and flour in my hand, I felt happy both to be by myself for the walk and to think that so many other people were getting ready to do something much like what I did for the rest of the day: eat, go to pubs, eat, bake, and eat some more. And then talk, and talk and talk.
May your days be merry and bright, everyone.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Saturday, December 22, 2007
The grand eve!
Halfway around the world, my family members are making their ways toward one another; if all has gone well, my brother is in the air, en route to the international departure airport, and my parents are boarding their domestic connection. I should be asleep already but have been busy tonight cooking dinner for friends here and setting up sleep quarters in my friend's flat and cleaning my floor and cleaning my bathroom and possibly, it would seem, embedding a tiny shard of glass in my hand. These things require a lot of time.
There's a particular kind of boy in the world who is impressed when he learns that a girl shoots RAW and rocks Aperture even on her old PowerBook. I'm glad to know this from experience now, rather than just having to suspect it. Geeking out in good new company is particularly fun at the holidays.
Friday, December 21, 2007
Acts of hope.
Sometimes hope doesn't make any sense at all. And that might be when it's most important.
When I sit down at the piano these days, I find that I can't get up within two hours. I will sit over one piece for a good 30 minutes, then turn to one of the others for another 30 minutes, then spend another large chunk of time on Bach. The Three-Part Inventions are startlingly beautiful. Though I'm only focusing on No. 15, I couldn't help myself this afternoon and picked my way through No. 11 as well. To my ear, it's the most haunting of all of them.
While we ate dinner at a nearby Indian restaurant we'd never tried, the atmosphere thickened and blurred; by the time we left, fog had settled over the town, the spires, the river, the lights--all haloed, all held. I am swearing this: I will pry myself out of bed early enough tomorrow to see how the frost coats and covers every inch of this place that has become my own. Tomorrow, see, is a day of readying.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
The calm beside the storm.
This morning, I realized that I missed my own blog's second birthday--five days ago. You've probably already gotten the sense that Things are Happening over here, but if you haven't, well: they are. People are coming and going, and some of the people who have gone have opened up spaces in my head that some of the people who have come are now filling up in unexpected ways. Add to that the fact that we're at a solstice, and you'll grasp why my world feels a little upside down. Add to that the fact that my whole family will be together in just over 48 hours. Add to that the fact that it's the holiday season, and that yesterday I scored an evening dress for £42 and promptly wore it to a feast, in true glamour girl style. It doesn't feel like time for a break just yet, and yet a break seems to have walked up and greeted me, and who am I, after all these years, to nay-say?
I haven't even made it out to take pictures in days--because, in addition to all the other topsy-turviness of this week, we've barely seen the sun. This frosted leaf is from last Tuesday--as in, 12 December. This morning, all the trees outside my building were frosted, and had it not been so delicious to stand at the window in my paisley pajamas, eating breakfast pie and drinking my morning coffee, I might have gone out to harvest some images. But it was delicious to cozy in my own space.
Perhaps tomorrow, I'll recommit to art. But even that misrepresents what I've been up to: today I cracked into Bach's Three-Part Inventions, and my heart beat faster. Which is to say, even faster.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
What a difference a week makes.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Monday, December 17, 2007
Cold and clear.
It's still not that cold here, honestly, but today was the day we all bundled up to go out and then, having returned from our various destinations, groaned a little about the weather. Today was the first day it felt bitingly cold, the wind whipping into town and chafing cheeks red. (Apparently there's an old Cambridge joke about how the east wind is particularly deadly here because it comes straight from the Ural Mountains. "Straight?" I asked my friend when he told me this back in September. "As in, bypassing Poland and Germany and, you know, Scandinavia?" Straight from the North Sea, on the other hand -- that much is true.) Today was the day when it would have been stupid to go out without one's hat.
Today, in fact, it was cold enough that when I dressed for a carol service at St. John's College's chapel, I put on extra layers, knowing deep down that it would be exquisitely cold even inside the chapel. (I spent some time in St. Botolph's Church on Friday, another day when it wasn't really all that cold outside, and I could see my breath the whole time I was there.) And indeed, by the time the boys were soaring through Britten's Ceremony of Carols, and by the time the harpist was thrumming over my heartstrings, I was grateful for all the warm knits in which I was wrapped.
But when the choir reached its third verse of "Silent Night" and changed over to German--stille nacht! heilege nacht!--the chills that coursed down my spine had nothing to do with the cold.
Everything feels like a preparation these days.
Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Zest of one finger.
Ah, kitchen wounds. This evening, I baked another rhubarb pie to take to another dinner, and partway through cutting the butter into the flour for the crust, I realized that my little finger was bleeding, right where I'd nicked it with my zester awhile earlier.
First, though, I spent the afternoon out and about, photographing my Canadian friend as she rowed for our college in a Christmas race on the Cam--and, when her boat wasn't visible, photographing other bits of the environment. Good signage abounded, not least on the houseboats moored along the sides of the river.
I saw my favorite on the walk home, though, even though I know darned well what it actually means:
Jesus College's very presence here invites ridiculously bad jokes. "I used to have a friend in Jesus," my friend reminisced once. "We all have a friend in Jesus," I shot back.
Friday, December 14, 2007
Today, I had to walk all the way to the train station (about two miles away) to purchase the tickets I need to get to Edinburgh to spend New Year's living it up with my stupendous friends who have been living there this fall. It's still not clear to me why I was not able to buy these tickets online, and so I may have to take a page from another friend of ours and send an outraged letter, demanding the equivalent of the 10% online booking discount I lost because I had to buy in person.
Fortunately, though the day was cold, it was not rainy or windy, and so the walk was a fine one. And on the way back from the station, I saw the advertisement that is today's image. Several things made it imperative that I take that picture, immediately.
First and foremost: when I still lived in Ithaca, I used occasionally to go to Friendly's with certain friends--all of whom, it occurs to me, now live in Chicago. On the starter menu, there was a "kickin' Buffalo chicken salad," and one of my friends always threw down a dare: if we'd say "I'd like a kickinnnnn' Buffalo chickinnnnn salad," he'd do or buy something or another. I can't even remember what the prize was; I just remember the way he said, "Kickinnnnn' Buffalo chickinnnnnn!" And of course it was the first thing I thought when I saw this advert earlier.
But I also needed to show you, once again, exactly why it's a disaster that the dollar is so puny against the pound right now. Today, the rate isn't as much of a nightmare as it's been for a long time. This sandwich would only cost $6.02.
The six-piece pack of ginger shortbread I bought at Fitzbillie's on my way home from that walk cost me £3.40. You now have the data you need to solve for that price in dollars. Fortunately my essentials--milk, instant coffee, cereal, bread, cheese--are pretty much in line with what I'd pay at home. Just for instance, my good organic bread is 75p--which would be only about $1.50 at home, far less than I pay for LaBrea at the local Kroger.
Plus we have flowering trees here--though, to be honest, that makes me a little nervous.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
I'm not always sure why we're going, when it comes down to it, and yet I so often end up in interesting places with my friend. Today: the University Combination Rooms, where either of us could have gone alone, but where we needed the moral support of one another actually to venture (and which you can see in this picture as the lighted window); then, the Tree Court at Caius, where I finally saw the sundial tower from its other side. It is the top of the Gate of Honour at Gonville and Caius, where the the gates all have names. We passed through the Gate of Virtue on our way in, and through the Gate of Wisdom on our way out. I have been passing through these gates all my life.
Tonight, a pantomime, and pizzas, and a highly attenuated pub crawl.
The best part of the day, hands down, came when I looked over the Gate of Honour and saw the crescent moon rising, serene and admonitory. It knows so well; it is so much my reminder that these other excursions are beside the point, that the real thing, for me, is still coming into being.
Now, I dream at two levels: grand, and grander.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Now I'm just tired.
Tired, I say. Everything went fine with tonight's presentation, but 8:15 p.m. is a silly time to give a research presentation. Not as silly as 48 hours after your first piano recital in 20 years, though.
Of all the things I've ever done, the presentation was one. Others seemed to like it, though I didn't, particularly, while I gave it--which isn't so common for me. Usually, presentations are wonderful fun (once I'm giving them), and I leave on an enormous high. Tonight, I felt ambivalent precisely because I know such a lot more than what I said aloud.
But honestly? Watch that world keep turning.
"Welcome to the end of term," my friend said as we drank a first drink after I'd finished speaking. And yet, it doesn't feel like time for a vacation yet.
Monday, December 10, 2007
Today, I was going to write an open WTF?! letter to the health service here, in honor of the fact that by tomorrow, when (d.v.) I will finally pick up the other half of my prescription order, it will have taken me six full days to get a refill. Not an hour, like at home. Six days. Admittedly, that included a weekend. I'd made my peace with the weekend part--until this afternoon found me having to walk all over town because of good old-fashioned idiotic inefficiency. I'll say this: nothing that has happened to me here has angered me more than getting these prescriptions. Every interaction I've had with anyone over them has been ridiculous, including the fact that this afternoon, when I did finally arrive at the designated place with the designated paper, only one of them was in stock.
As I say, though, I was going to write an open letter--but then I had a lovely party to attend (wherein I learned that the president of my college here paints like Chagall), and then, only moments after I returned to my flat, I received a truly statuesque bouquet of flowers from my beloved Lexingtonian. Now I have two beautiful bouquets in my cozy little space. I haven't gotten this lucky in a long time.
I don't remember when it was that I started stacking major performances back to back the way I so often seem to do now, but it's a move I should perhaps rethink. It both wires me up and tires me out.
Sunday, December 09, 2007
My chrome is shining just like an icicle.
I'm tired (and yet not tired--more like wound up and edgy but wanting to go to bed), and so I'll be brief:
There was, in fact, no sun today; the sun shone on us Friday, and since then we've had some serious rain. One newspaper predicted "mountainous seas" in some coastal areas. Just before 2, I skipped off through the rain to get to my recital hall; a few hours later, I stepped in front of my audience, not fully sure of where all my limbs were, or where my eyes should go. One friend who wanted to be in attendance was, instead, home sick, but her gift to me was hanging around my neck and will now, I suspect, become yet another of my talismen. I introduced my piece; everyone thought that I had simply taken it upon myself to do so, when in fact it was my teacher's idea. But everyone who'd come to see me thanked me for having given them a sense of how to hear what I was about to play.
And then I sat down, and then I launched in, and as long as my concentration stayed--as long, say, as there were no small children running near my field of vision--my fingers skipped and flew and trilled and ran, and there was music in the hall, and I was making it. My crew was so excited that when the first movement of my sonata ended, they burst into applause, even though one doesn't do that. And then the second movement was even lovelier, because I was able just to let it come off my fingers and wrap up and around everyone I knew, even the people far and near who couldn't be present.
When I last performed that second movement, in 1988, I played it as a love song, slow and a bit gushy. Today, I played it as a love song again, but this time a slightly swifter one--and in many ways a sadder and a wiser one. I played it to my own playing; a welcome back to and a rejoining with something of myself I didn't remember having had or having been, not like this, not this quietly and happily. And yes, I did also play it for a person not yet here, but that too meant something different to me this afternoon than I'd have imagined it would, even when I woke up this morning. Somewhere futures are shaping themselves. At dinner, my Canadian friend brushed up our knowledge of genetics and eye color, and I thought of eyes and eyelids coming into being.
Saturday, December 08, 2007
Stalks no bigger than your thumb.
Not only have I never been able to buy fresh rhubarb in the middle of December, but I've also never been able to buy fresh rhubarb so slender and tender and transcendently iridescent. It was pretty in the pie, as well, but its best beauty was in the stalks themselves.
And had the man with the obscenely large golf umbrella at the first market stall with rhubarb not blocked my way to the stallholder so perversely, I might not have noticed that the next stall down had such gorgeousness in store--so hidden were the second stall's glories.
There's a maxim in there for me. Hear it?
Friday, December 07, 2007
Perhaps a fire hazard.
Have I mentioned that my family is going to visit soon? Have I? Have I?
Yes, of course.
Today, my parents' bed arrived in the mail. (Because the college's expensive guest rooms are (all but one) twin-bedded, I decided to go my own way, knowing that my parents would prefer to be in a bed together than in two beds side by side.) "Do you think you can lift that?" the porter said when I checked my mail and found that I had a package waiting. A double-high double-sized Aerobed™ weighs more than you'd imagine. But as you know, I am nothing if not strong and stalwart, and so I crouched down, lifted with my legs, and hauled that thing back to my room.
Where, several hours later, I cleared everything out of the way so that I could test it out. Turns out they're not lying! It really is as high as (if not a little higher than) my regular bed, and it's easily as comfortable. And it has "stabilizer bars" on either side of the bottom of the bottom mattress, presumably so that if you roll around too vigorously in the night, you don't flip the whole thing over.
Once it was inflated in my room, there was basically no floorspace left (a situation I can rectify in the future simply by doing a bit more rearrangement before inflation). I thought back to the fire safety code we had to follow in college: no more than 50% of the walls covered in posters, for instance. Strangely, I don't remember there having been a rule about the maximum amount of floorspace one could cover with beds.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
There's a story I know.
In this one, some of the people who are now among my best friends went out to dinner at a renowned Chicago restaurant one winter evening. They ate and ate to their hearts' and stomachs' content. Then the bill came, and yea, it was large. Legendarily large.
Tonight, I went with some good friends to a very fine restaurant in Cambridge--exactly my kind of very fine restaurant: simple and perfectly cooked food, perfectly matched with an array of wines (and even a glass of stout, which I drank! and liked!), served in a simple and beautiful setting over the course of several hours. We arrived at 6:30. We left at nearly 11.
And I knew how much we were paying: it was a set menu, and we paid a set price for it. And it was our big winter meal; two among us will be gone within a few weeks (leaving, in a twist that I both love and hate, on, it would seem, the same airplane that will bring my family to me--they're going out on the London to U.S. leg of the U.S. to London flight my whole family will catch only hours later). And I saw the pounds piling up and making their ways down the table.
But somehow, when I saw the 8" receipt for our meal, I couldn't keep from exclaiming like a silly and uncosmopolitan person. I, for one, have never seen a receipt for a dinner whose total would convert to a dollar figure well into four digits. "We just ate a month's rent," I said to one of my friends as we walked away from the restaurant, heading home. "And that's the end of my crass economic exclaiming," I went on. "If I were in a Henry James novel, something bad would be getting ready to happen to me. I'm that girl right now." Now I, too, have eaten my share of a legendarily expensive meal. And what a share it was.
Meanwhile, my horoscope seems right on, as usual:
Sometimes subtleties frustrate you and that is certainly happening right now. You're not totally sure what exactly is going on, but you can tell that there's a lot more going on than meets the eye."Should we make a vow," my friend said to me along our walk home, "that we will give blood at some point while we're here?" This because I had commented that the beef we ate in our dinner's third course was the best I'd ever had, in both texture and flavor. "And that's a good thing," I said, "given that it's because of British beef that I'm not ever allowed to donate blood at home." Somehow, by the time we'd walked much further, we seemed to have stumbled, half-jokingly, into a plan to give blood and then go on a pub crawl. Somehow, I don't imagine that we'll actually do either--though I do believe that I should and will give blood in a country where my blood is acceptable, since it's not at home. Here, we might all have the human variant of mad cow disease, see, so it doesn't seem to matter whether we pass it around.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
The big guns.
When you think there's any chance that you might need reinforcements, you bring them out in spades: the earrings your flaming-sworded friend gave you right after you almost sat on that last person's hat; the ring your beloved Lexingtonian gave you so that you could remind yourself of how badass you are; the necklace that helps you focus in on who you are; the ring of iron that reminds you of what you have done; the ring of silver that reminds you of what you could do, if you dared. The heels you bought to wear the year you interviewed for your job. The dress you're glad you bought, because it suits you just so. And the long-lasting red lipstick you're learning to wear without embarrassment. Trying out a new trademark, shall we say.
Then you give your friends and readers the December hedgerow rose you're giving yourself--because when no one else brings you flowers, you get them for yourself. And then you grab your key and leave for dinner, taking all your friends and family with you in one way or another.
"Make yourself venerable" is my Canadian friend's love-life advice. She means "vulnerable." But what she says is better than what she means to say. "Give your love to those who appreciate it," my father told me long ago. I'm riding on that one tonight, too.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
You've got to set yourself on fire.
Goodness, are some days unproductive, in a scholarly sense. However: I am proud to say that today I did some stellar travel planning (if I do say so) for my family's visit in...eighteen days! (Have I even mentioned to you that they're coming? I suspect that I have not. They are. And I am excited about it. Excited!) And then there was all that music-lessoning to be done. And the cordial Christmas party (as she called it) at my upstairs neighbor's flat. With a dash out to a lecture in the middle of it.
I'm being careful what I wish for, but a quieter and more focused day tomorrow would be just fine.
I mean, other than seeing that little film that's opening here tomorrow and that I bought my ticket for a week ago. I can't say that the CGI daemons don't make me a little nervous; I'm no fan of fake animals (though I'm even less a fan of CGI-enhanced real animals). But I'll try to take as a good sign the fact that the website just gave me a tiger named Aesop as my own daemon. And I suspect I'll still be psyched about seeing Pullman's novel on screen. (If you haven't read the His Dark Materials trilogy, you're missing out, I tell you.)
Oh, dude: today, while I was walking to town, I almost stepped on a pair of fake false teeth. It wasn't a fake pair of false teeth: they were real. But they were not real false teeth, the true kind with which one could take a bite out of, say, crime.
Monday, December 03, 2007
To sum up.
This image of the view of the sky from my flat's balcony (at about 3 p.m.) pretty much says everything about today, during which sun and gloom contended right to the time the light vanished.
Now, at dinner, we talk about evening dresses, formalwear for feasts, where to find good shoes, what to do when the college's kitchen closes down in two and a half weeks. I've ordered an Italian cookbook, I assure my Canadian friend. I'm going to learn to cook real, good Italian food. You should be happy about this. You won't starve during the break.
I don't tell her how I stood at Heffer's yesterday lingering over the section about risotto, dreaming of finally learning to make stocks, of making my own egg pasta, of feeding people. Of richness and warmth in the dead of winter.
Sunday, December 02, 2007
Of course the leaves are falling. Friday night I went to sleep in the middle of a tempest the likes of which I haven't heard since arriving here: the wind so fierce that I could almost hear the birch trees in the courtyard losing what's left of their yellow leaves. In the morning, the trees were noticeably more bare, and the wind had been so harsh that the leaves hadn't even gathered on the ground; they'd been blown somewhere else altogether. Bit by bit, we're approaching winter.
Yet today I found a new set of trees that are flowering--and I think that these might be cherry trees. Crocuses bloom along the Avenue leading to Trinity. A house on the way to my piano teacher's has snapdragons in its yard.
More significant, though, is the fact that willow trees apparently start getting ready for their new leaves even as they're losing their old ones. At least, that's how I interpret what I saw from Trinity Bridge this afternoon, before the porter in his bowler hat started to talk to me.