Windsurfing escapade

I have said repeatedly — my little southern Minnesota town is packed tight with wind.

Sometimes it's hard to find beauty in the thing you're bracing against.
Sometimes it’s hard to find beauty in the thing I’m bracing against.

The first time it rained I nearly cried with relief; the shift in atmospheric pressure felt almost emotional, my shoulders relaxing as the tension dripped away — and even then the wind was there, slapping droplets against the windowpanes. The wind is simply present, a quiet pressure or gusting force. You get used to it. Sometimes I walk half a block before I realize my clothes are all oriented the same direction — the wind has quietly rearranged them, bunching my shirts under my arms, methodically sifting my hair into a tangle. When we fight, the wind and I, I tend to lose.

It’s hard for me to find beauty in the thing I’m bracing against. We adapt to survive, not enjoy ourselves.

Worthington hosts an annual Windsurfing Regatta, and windsurfers come from across the US (and beyond) to compete. Worthington’s lake is wide, shallow, and never smooth. It’s a perfect location.

Though windsurfing is (apparently) an Olympic sport, I’d never heard of it before I moved here. Boards rigged with tall, transparent sails have been skimming across the lake all week like sideways dragonflies soaring in tandem. Along the shore, vendors are selling State Fair food — gyros, kettle corn, deep-fried everything. A good third of the people on the beach are wearing wetsuits. In the evening, when I leave work for dinner break, I wander down to the beach and find a lake-facing seat at a picnic table.

It’s getting dark, and most of the windsurfers have come in. Only one surfer remains on the lake, maybe thirty yards out, sailing back and forth along the shore. He is close enough that I can see how hard he strains to balance his weight against the pressure in his sail.

I feel the wind drop, then gust. A few seconds later he loses his balance, falling backward into the lake, the sail spinning forward. He resurfaces, treading water. This sport does not involve life jackets. He climbs back onto the board, bouncing slightly, trying his weight. He pulls the sail out of the water and snaps it out, throwing off droplets — I can hear the snap even from the shore. He is off again, heading the opposite direction.

I start to grin. It’s like I can feel his joy even from a distance, the way his whole body pulls against and with the wind at the same time, the way every muscle strains to counterbalance the pressure in the sail. It looks fast and difficult and energizing and satisfying, like a glass of water on a hot day. For a minute, the wind seems beautiful. It looks fun, and I want to try.

When I get back to work that night, I proofread an article about former competitors offering free windsurfing lessons. My coworkers and I almost talk our sports reporter into taking a lesson, but he talks himself out of it; I will have to go alone.

In the morning, the teachers have rigged a surfboard to a swivel on land. A gray-haired woman and a family of five are ahead of me in line, and I sit on the grass to wait. I try not to over-think, or think at all. I’m volunteering for this; why am I nervous? When my turn comes I brush handfuls of grass from my legs, ripped from the roots by my distracted hands.

“I have no skills,” I warn the teacher.

“That’s okay,” she says, holding the board in place. “Hop on.”

She speaks soothingly and constantly, like I am a skittish pet that needs a calm, reassuring voice. Hips in, arms straight, knees bent, shoulders down — there are so many instructions to remember at once. She explains how to tilt the sail, how to turn the board around the sail, how to work with the wind to gain leverage. Hips arms knees shoulders. The board spins and I quickstep on it, barely regaining my balance, tugging on the sail and trying to hold myself up. She shows me how to hit the sail, popping it into place in its frame. I am shaky, overbalanced, uneven.

“Want to try it on the lake?” she asks, grinning. She hands me off to the other teacher. We wade into the water, where he has two surfboards tethered together with a ten-foot cord between them.

“Your job,” he says, pointing to the tether, “is to make that stay slack.”

I climb onto my board, bouncing to test my balance. The board dips into the water, and I swing my arms and arch my back to counter it. A few seconds later I am stable again, rocking with the waves.

“No dancing out here,” he instructs. “Leave that for the land.” He also speaks in a gentle veterinarian chatter. “Pull up the sail, there you go, take the bar…”

He has been talking like this for a minute, my body frantically trying to adjust to the shifting surface of the board, before I look back and realize we are sailing, that we have left the shore. I feel like I am gaining height, not distance, looking down toward land.

“Can we go back?” I ask, dizzy. The tether jerks tight between us.

He coaches me through the turn. I do a wobbly quickstep around the sail, position my feet, and snap the sail into place, arching my back to counter the pressure. The teachers didn’t show me that; it’s what the windsurfer on the lake did. The one that made me want to try.

My teacher turns to look, raising his eyebrows. “When I hear that snap, it tells me you’re ready,” he says.

I start to laugh, nervously at first, then uncontrollably. He warns me giggling will make me fall in. The sail tugs me forward and I lean back, overbalancing again, barely staying aboard.

We sail in and out once more, then the lesson is over. We splash into the water by the shore, pulling our boards to the shallows.

“You didn’t fall in,” my teacher says suspiciously. “Nobody comes out dry the first time.”

I thank my teachers repeatedly, and they promise that if the weather’s good and there’s not a long line, I can go back out tomorrow. I am still shaking, wobbly on my toes even on land, but I know I will return tomorrow.

That moment, the tug when the sail snapped into place, when I leaned back and the wind was necessary, holding me up, pulling me forward —

It felt exactly like I knew it would.

Sunshine and sadness

A windsurfer on Lake Okabena in the evening.
A windsurfer on Lake Okabena in the evening.

These days I’m collecting moments, spots of time.  An afternoon grocery shopping trip, my headphones in as I scour the produce section for the finest avocadoes.  A walk along the lakeshore.  The rush when I discover the young adult section at the local library.  A successful conversation with a coworker – he gets my joke on the first try!  Skype conversations with friends; rarer, but more treasured, letters.  The day I start to write again.

I read.  I watch Netflix.  I talk with my coworkers and the two or three friends I have made in this tranquil little town.  The people are, by and large, kind; my job is consistent.  I sporadically attend a local church.  I stroll outside on the warm days – the days when the heat of the sun offsets the cool wind.  I renew my library books unread, and it takes me awhile to realize that I am sad.

Autumn is my favorite season – when those of us with roots grow deeper still – but summer is easy to love, air humming and sunlight beaming energy into every green thing, vitamin D pouring into skin cells, the sky a kaleidoscope of blue.

I have no right to be sad, I know.  I have an apartment and a steady income, enough to balance my student loan payments.  I have opportunities for creativity at the newspaper – I do not know much about graphic design, but I am learning.  I have a speedy library system and a local thrift shop.  I have wifi.  I grumble about the flatness of the town – no character, no variety! – but my heart’s not really in it.  I have nothing to complain about.

I press snooze on my alarm Sunday mornings and wake up a few hours later, having turned it off instead and missed church services yet again.  It happens so consistently that I test my alarm – well-worn, like the rest of my possessions – to see if the snooze feature is broken.  It’s fine.  I am the one switching off my alarm, so frequently that I know my sleep-sluggish fingers are choosing this.  I do not always know where God and I are living, or if we still share the apartment.

Evenings, during lulls at work, I sometimes meander down the trail wrapping around the lake, stopping to stare across the water.  The sky is puffy with that shade of pink only found in sunsets and Nike shoes, silhouetting the wind turbines that spin just out of synch.  It is beautiful, and I care, but it doesn’t feel like anything.  I remember when silhouettes and sunsets made a dent in me.  I head back to the office when I’ve stared for an appropriate length of time.

On the day I realize I am sad – I am mixing paints and notice that all the colors I have chosen are dark, angry hues – I have been choosing outfits, then rejecting them when I see they are entirely black – I look round my living room at the newspapers and ripped envelopes strewn across the carpet and know some of them have lain there for more than a week – that day I pick up a book of poetry for the first time, almost, since Oxford.

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame

One of my Bethel professors gave me a speech when I graduated.

“For the first year or two or five after graduation, you’re going to be depressed,” he said, more or less.  “You won’t have any idea what you’re doing with your life – even if you think you know, you won’t – and you will feel purposeless and vaguely suicidal.

“You never really get out of it,” he grinned.  “But it’s all worth it.”

Even then I liked the speech, though I can see how it looks on paper.  People wince when I try to explain it.  But some people nod, make eye contact.  That speech was the fog warning.  Knowing I’m not alone in it honestly helps.

This is it, I say, the day I wake up to a sink filled with dishes and notice the layer of dust settling over the stove, the day I realize I haven’t written in weeks.  Or maybe it, the enormous gray wave, is not quite here yet, because I still have bright days.  Days when the vitamin D powers up my skin, when I bake perfectly crispy scones and smile as the bird above my apartment door hops and settles into her nest.  Days when I remember to pray.  I am still gathering these moments, storing them up for the next foggy day, or week, or month.  A body can use a few bright days, I think.

Days when I find a pen and write.

Sky time

It has been an eventful year, of many changes, of firsts and lasts.  Oxford beginnings, college graduation, then a month on my bed in Bemidji, boxes still packed, scouring the internet for gainful employment.  And then I found some.  (Employment, I mean.)

Two and a half weeks ago I moved to Worthington, a town so close to Minnesota’s southern border it’s practically Iowan.  It is plains country, prairie, fields and grass.  There are not near enough trees.  The farmhouses and silos surrounding the town have nothing to interrupt them—no forests, creeks, hills.  The ground is flat.

Children’s maps of the 50 states almost always color Minnesota brightly—blue, usually, or yellow.  Iowa is always bland.  Brown, chartreuse, sometimes gray, sometimes a nameless blend of the three.  I remembered this the day I arrived.  It is a beautiful six-hour drive from Bemidji to Worthington, but it has little topographical texture.  Just earth, sloping slightly and returning to its original elevation; and crops of uniform height.

I’m the new night editor at the Worthington Daily Globe, (apparently) confirming that my Oxford schedule wasn’t merely a product of academic pressure but rather my natural state.  I start at 2 p.m. and tend to get off sometime around 11 p.m., five days a week.  I create the newspaper’s layout, play with InDesign, edit local articles, select and edit regional and national articles, fill in boxes with locally relevant information—weather, police reports, crop prices, lotteries.  I post articles and photos online in various formats.  I like the work so far; it’s a balanced combination of creativity and repetition.  Newspapers are eternally fresh—we start from scratch every day, and I never know what ingredients I’ll have to work with until I arrive.  Sometimes, not even then.

When I leave at night, most of the building’s lights are out, and only the sports guys are left, finalizing their drafts of the evening’s games.  My apartment is only a few blocks from the paper, but I drive the distance because it is still winter, and the wind cuts through both fabric and skin.

No trees means nothing to check the wind, and it certainly picks up speed through the prairie, streaming into empty spaces, funneling through the gaps between city blocks.  During the first few weeks, when it was still pure winter, I spent a lot of time sprinting between indoor locations, one hand on my purse and one wrapped around my hair.  Sometimes the wind carries snow with it, an unrelenting deluge of cold wet pinpricks, finding the gaps between my layers of snow-armour, the separate piercing particles beating down all from congruent angles.  My car only ever ices on one side.

But winter isn’t pure anymore; it’s only February, and we’ve had warm days already.  At least, Minnesota warm: maybe thirty-five degrees.  I’m told the same wind that daily proves itself against my coat will bring in an early summer.  I’ve gone for neighborhood walks with my mittened hands stuffed in my pockets; I’ve shopped for sleeveless shirts.  I’ve seen the town’s frozen lake layered with loose powdery snow, and I’ve braced my body against the wind’s glacial impact and felt only a breeze, cold but gentle.  I looked up once, walking to my car, and forgot where I was going because the same wind that had packed the snow around me into drifts had blown rapids into the far-off clouds and then vanished, swallowing itself, and the clouds kept the rapids in place.

There’s so much sky here.  I always remember Minnesota sky as dark blue, so dark that looking into it feels like falling up; but here the sky is white-blue, watery pale.  Where I used to live was the middle of an evenly divided sphere, half the world contained in the impossible sunlit darkness above and half in the living earth below.  But this is a snow globe, with a patch of earth below—just enough to stand on—and a whirling still glass orb filling the rest, far as I can see.

When I was shorter, and playing on swings, and thinking about falling up and flying, I told my mom that the best invention ever invented was the sky.

‘The sky is not an invention,’ she said, which is, admittedly, a natural response.

But I don’t think I was wrong.  God, after all, is an inventor.  Who sits down at their desk and things, I’ll invent nothing, and make it everything?  A single-color backdrop that threatens to become the centerpiece, so full you have to widen your eyes to see it, so bright you have to squint.  So real you want to touch it and so far away you can’t, and yet what it is made of is tamped against our molecules, equalizing pressure, holding us together, too insubstantial for us to grasp, too close to get round.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  In him we live and move and have our being.

Nothing to see here, I heard someone comment on the wide barren expressionless of a Canadian vista, and someone else replied, Nothing to block your view.

I meant to fill this first Worthington post with anecdotes and job facts and see-I’m-fine-Mom assurances, and here I am talking about sky.  Maybe I’ll hold the small-town adventures for next time.

Laughing and Virginia Woolf (on whom the gentle reader may, in part, blame the following)

This is Tintern Abbey. It is beautiful. It has nothing to do with this post; I just like it. It’s my blog, I do what I want.

A few of us go to watch a friend’s performance in a student-written ‘light’ play featuring princesses, trolls, an evil supervillain and the “Four Tea Thieves” (pun intended, and complete with their own musical number).  It has to be the most interactive performance I’ve ever attended.  The audience was made up almost entirely of friends of the cast, and we cheered and aww’d and booed with the rest, sometimes over the voices of the cast.  There was a lot of improv.

Theatre is weird like that—the most poorly-writ lines can be brilliant with the right actor, and sometimes the best moments are introduced night-of.  Acting is useful—Aristotle’s habitual virtue and all that—actions define a person.  It is our choices, Harry, that show who we truly are, far more than our abilities.  And didn’t Pascal say that if a person didn’t know to believe, to love God, they should act like it?  It’s a poor argument; but then, running water is the best to drink.  Still philosophy is useless, motion gives it worth.

In my last Shakespeare tutorial—on As You Like It—I get caught up in the heat of the argument.  “And Tolstoy says, ‘What?  The fool in Lear isn’t funny!  Like, why is this even a thing?’”  Dr. Thorpe bursts out laughing, trying to explain—Tolstoy—my paraphrase—maybe not the most elegant diction—I blush, but I do not mind.  Dr. Thorpe thinks his student has good ideas, particularly relating to the audience’s relation to the play; but perhaps too shy, retiring, hesitant.  Grad school is a competitive world, he says; one has to drown out others to be heard.  But without grad school, she could get bored.  There’s such a thing as not enough.

In classical theatre—I mean the Greeks—didn’t the actors wear masks?  At least theatre is characterized by smiling and frowning masks, for comedy and tragedy.  That would make acting vastly different—conveying any emotion would depend on body position, on the timbre of the voice.  Or maybe ancient theatre was more like recitation?  I wish my glasses were still new.  When they were new people looked at me and saw the glasses; now they look at the glasses and see me.

I walk down St. Giles—the regular route to groceries, shopping, church, libraries—the sun is setting.  The sky is still sunny blue, but light cloud fingers reach toward the crescent moon, solidifying near the wrist into full-bodied pink.  The sandstone of the buildings glows pink in the light, just as much as the glass windows reflect it.  I don’t understand it.  I didn’t think colors worked that way, pink overshadowing preexisting brown.

My last tutorial with Dr. Ward is on language.  Lewis thought language was entirely metaphorical.  The less literally we take ourselves—our words, I mean—the better.  Words point us to things but will never be things.  We can make our language more polysyllabic and duller: we cannot make it more literal.  Words give us pictures of the thing itself; the thing itself is always better.  I make a rather snarky allusion to a pompous literary criticism text—so many words, so little to say; Dr. Ward laughs aloud.  This is an accomplishment; I have to work for his laugh.  He thinks his student bright—encourages grad school—but perhaps lacking a little in humor.  It’s not personal, he assures her; most Americans are.

Words give us pictures, never the real thing; and reality is iconoclastic—it constantly blasts apart what we think we know.  Everything breaks and reforms and tilts and breaks again, and words are not quite solid or quite within my control.  I am trying to remember this as I leave England.

I don’t want to leave.  I miss home, yes—I miss my family and my friends, and Minnesota snow.  I miss conversations with the people I love.  But I’m not quite ready to go back.

I’ve lived in libraries for the past few months, reading and writing more words than I ever have before, drinking tea several times a day, baking scones, staying up past 5 am to splash words about haphazardly, hiding food when the librarian arrives to work, rushing out to shower and apply makeup—hail, Caesar, we who are about to die—before I read out my tired words to the one-man jury, hands shaking, wandering home on a delirious post-stress high.  A sustained diet of this leaves one feeling dizzy.  Without friends—giggling in the library after 2 am, the food group family, games, accents, daily check-ins that could qualify as therapy, rambling stories that end nowhere and yet we are gripping the tables, holding our heads, trying to breathe for laughing—without friends it would have been unbearable.  After the haze and sandy motion of the semester, anything else will be a shock.   I will have to rebound.  (Perhaps, my kind parents may say, reading this, that I already am.)

I will miss walking down the sidewalks, through the park, stuffing my hands in my pockets to avoid the nippy air.  A pound in my pocket; no American coins are this thick, this heavy.  I will spend it on coffee after noon, or save it for a library locker.  Fish and chips, ‘pudding’ referring to everything sweet that one eats with a fork.  Realizing that the building I’m standing in is ancient, that people have walked here for centuries, seeing what I see.  Feeling the cobblestones no matter how thick my soles are.  I am grasping at time here, time with the people.  Relationships don’t start and stop with distance; they are living, stretching things.  Any friendship worth its name will reach past distance, time, silence, noise.

The next page is entirely shrouded.  Just as one cannot say Lewis would have liked, Shakespeare would have thought, one cannot say, this will happen, and in this way.  Things never happen the same way twice, and to change is to live.  The motion gives it worth.  And really, I’m starting to think it’s all improv.

Minnesota, see you in a week—I’ll be so pleased if you are wearing snow when I arrive.  Oxford, I respectfully decline to say goodbye until the last possible moment.

Coming up for air

It’s nearly the end of Fourth Week, halfway through Michaelmas term.  I have two full-length essays due next week, an essay proposal to draft by Sunday, several books to finish in the next few days, and I’m tired.  The exhaustion is catching in my muscles, stiff, clumsy, cumbersome.  It’s easy to wake up, but hard to get out of bed.

‘Look out for the Fifth Week Blues,’ my primary tutor warned, smiling slightly.  ‘It’s kind of an Oxford thing, all the students get a bit depressed.’  He’s trying to cheer us up, and it works; it’s comforting to know that the lethargy is not unusual.  Enough encouragement to dive into the next essay.

My primary tutor is Dr. Michael Ward, author of Planet Narnia, who has been described (repeatedly) as ‘THE foremost C. S. Lewis scholar of the world today.’  I didn’t know how famous he was until I arrived.  I spend every week frantically reading texts, compiling notes, outlining and then writing an essay, and then I meet Dr. Ward for an hour in a conference room inside Blackfriars Hall.

Then I read my essay aloud.  The first week he let me read my essay in its entirety while he stood at the far end of the room, looking out the window, not moving.  When I finished, my voice quavering out the last sentence into empty space, he walked back across the room, sat in the chair across from me, and said, ‘Very good.  Any questions?’

If my argument doesn’t follow, or if I mispronounce something, he stops me.  (I’m still trying to forget the week I pronounced Eurydice phonetically.)  He asks me if I have questions, responds to my essay, brings up questions he’s thought of, points out topics I’ve missed in my essay.  He can recite whole pages of Lewis—theology, literary criticism, autobiography—at a time, can place any quote I read in context.  He can make the phrase ‘the whole bang-shoot’ sound dignified.  His Planet Narnia is probably the most widely discussed Lewis scholarship in the world today.

‘Tutorials are great because you can’t hide,’ one of my Bethel professors told me before I left, and it sounds contradictory, but it’s true.  There’s fun to be had in showing up to tutorials and watching Dr. Michael Ward shred your argument.  You put everything you have onto the page—articulated logic, academic background, several hours mentally circling the topic, and one night sans sleep—and even then you know it won’t be shiny.  There will be an overstatement in the middle of the third page, a generalized paragraph, a misreading of one of the texts.  But there’s something immensely satisfying about it, even when Dr. Ward proves me wrong, raises his eyebrows, smiles patiently as I try to hedge an answer to his question.  We’re talking about something that can be known, even if I don’t know it yet.  And when I manage, almost in spite of myself, to make a solid, well-supported point, I get a ‘well done’, and sometimes that ‘well done’ carries me on a happy little cloud (à la Bob Ross) all the way home.

There are other bright spots, too, quite outside the academics.  Last week my food group consented to read one of my favorite fairy tales, ‘The Princess and the Hedge-Pig’ by E. Nesbit, aloud after dinner.  You can’t say ‘hedge-pig’ and be sad, even if you wanted to.  They laugh because it makes me so happy.  Yesterday I made chocolate chip scones in the kitchen, and three of us made short work of them before dinner.  Getting to know people here is difficult because we know we’ll be splitting apart after a few intense months, but it’s worthwhile.  I value the people I’ve met and the relationships I’ve begun.  And there is always tea, whenever you want it.  No one ever needs to go without tea.

As I write this, I am sitting in the Bodleian library’s Upper Reading Room, and I know I have to finish writing before I leave or it will disappear into my computer, never to surface again.  The sky was white today, but it is black now, and now all I can see of the Radcliffe Camera just outside are the lit windows.  I live here, I think.  I can picture the streetlights that line the sidewalk, dimmer and yellower than American ones.  In a few moments I will walk home in the cold.

First days in Oxford

I live in the corner room on the top floor of the North Wing of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford.  I have a roommate.  We have two windows and a wardrobe; I have the lower bunk.  One of the windows slides open about six inches; the other looks out onto a spiral fire escape.  One morning last week I sat on the fire escape and read a book of short stories.  I should have brought a hot scone, just for the poetry of it.  And a cup of tea.  Next time.

The house sprawls.  It looks like it was put together by different people working independently—a tower of student rooms on one side, a library jutting out on the other, a sunk-level dining room blending into the back lawn.  Crooked staircases wind throughout the insides while curling fire escapes dangle from the outer brick.

It’s a twenty-minute meander to the city center, and I take my time.  The route to the grocery store takes me past The Eagle and Child, the pub frequented by C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien.  On my left I pass a hidey-hole of a bus stop shelter, a square cut into a wide brick wall about the size of a large closet.  I cross the street, looking right—left—right for cars.  I don’t quite remember which side of the road UK cars drive on, but I’m starting to forget which side of the road US cars take.  It’s not intuitive anymore.  I pass St. Mary Mags, the church I attended on my very first Sunday in Oxford.  Within five minutes of our entering the building, the priest managed to welcome each of us individually, seat us in the front row, introduce us to the congregation from the pulpit, and offer to buy us all pints at a pub after services.  I select my groceries and stroll home.

Home—I live here.  A place I’ve only ever read about.  I’m a little surprised every day.  During our first week, many of us attend Evensong service at Christ Church Cathedral, a soaring, solemn, joyful service in an ancient, breathtaking space.  As the choir begins, one of my new housemates whispers that maybe we can stay after the service and look around.

“Probably not,” I whisper back.  “The sign out front said ‘no visitors.’”

“We’re not visitors,” he replies.  I am amazed again.

Today we turned in our first essay.  A grueling, 2500-word mammoth to choose, research, and write intelligently in a week.  I don’t have the organizational skills or experience for this.  “Oxford: where your best is never good enough!” says our program advisor with an aristocratic snicker.  I write on the validity of modern interpretations of Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich—and all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.  My iTunes alternates between upbeat hipster songs to energize and focus me and the same choral song, over and over again, to steady me.  It rains through the night.  I finish my final footnote at 2:57 p.m.; submissions close at 3:00.  I sit back from my computer and start laughing.  This, too, is Oxford.  This is my life now.  I live here.

To celebrate our first essay, and also Abby’s birthday—22!, we took a tour of Merton College, ostensibly the oldest college in Oxford.  Tolkien taught here.  The agreeable guide takes us into the library, pointing out the architecture and explaining the medieval book exchange system.

“Are the floor tiles original?” someone in my tour group asks.

“No, they were added in the 15th century,” she replies.  “But they did come from a 11th-century monastery.”  Someone chokes on a laugh.  The unoriginal floor tiles are older than our entire country.

As we leave I fall in step with another housemate who lives on the floor below mine.  “We live here,” I say, and she laughs and puts her arm around my shoulder.  I’ve been repeating it all week.

Maybe, if I say it enough, it will finally sink in.

A slice of London

So.  London.  Here are three of the highlights:

Macbeth at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

Elena, Abby (a friend who is going to Oxford with me), and I got standing room tickets to a production of “the Scottish play” at the theatre in which it was first performed.  Creepy, heartbreaking, bloody, and absolutely spellbinding, Macbeth tells the story of a man who is foretold to become king and seeks to make the prophecy come true.  He succeeds—at the cost of his honor, his friendships, his marriage, and eventually his own life.  The play featured Billy Boyd (of Lord of the Rings fame) as the unfortunate Banquo.  When we left, my feet ached and I still had chills.  I’ll remember that show.

The view from the cheap seats was spectacular.
The view from the cheap seats was spectacular.

The British Museum

We spent several hours at the British Museum and really only managed to see a handful of rooms.  The place is gigantic, housing everything England has collected from its own country and across the world.  I got to see delicately crafted shoulder clasps and helmets recovered from the Sutton Hoo Ship Burial, something I had only read about in British Literature classes.  I got a glimpse at the Elgin Marbles, ancient sculptures stolen from the Parthenon.  And I have to admit that when I saw the Rosetta Stone, I teared up a bit.  I’m a sucker for history, alright?

We studied this particular sculpture in my Humanities classes; it comes from one of the pediments of the Parthenon.  Photocred Abby.
We studied this particular sculpture in my Humanities classes; it comes from one of the pediments of the Parthenon. I’m a bit tickled.  Photocred Abby.

London at Dusk

We spent a whole evening—well, several, really—wandering in downtown London as the sun set.  We strolled along the waterfront, saw riveting street magicians and gymnasts, and ate dinner on the steps of a monument (inadvertently photobombing every subsequent tourist’s shot).  We navigated the Tube and returned a little tired to our sketchy youth hostel each night.  Part of the fun was in being there—not knowing exactly where we’d go each day, even if we had a plan.  The past and present rub shoulders in London.  Buildings older than the United States sit next to skate parks and graffiti; breakdancers perform on the pavement outside the National Gallery.  The city feels old—war memorials on every corner, in every church—but the people are new.  Hijabs and skinny jeans walk in the same direction, a man plays steel drums as a breeze snaps over the Thames.  There’s no way to characterize London; I think it has to be experienced.  It’s an assorted mix of juxtaposed time periods and cultures; I could never predict what I’d find around the next street corner.

Bicycles and horses are free to cross here.
Bicycles and horses are free to cross here.

The three of us absorbed London, as much as we could, for a week; then Elena went home to her real job, and Abby and I hopped on a bus to Oxford.