Kenyon College

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Music, Swans, Graffiti, & Good Red Wine - Part 1

First things first: I'm writing this upstairs at Boston Tea Party, a cooler and more expansive version of Starbucks (forgive me, it's nothing like Starbucks). The upstairs is an ordered confusion of tables, chairs, and slightly more comfortable chairs. You can come here with friends because the noise level is enough to have a pleasantly loud conversation, but the space has the acoustic feature of blurring everyone's voices together to create an ignorable white noise, so it is perfect for the solitary student as well. The atmosphere is such that you could disappear, if you felt like it.

I have a beefy white mug full of deliciously strong coffee. Since coming here I've been surviving on about seventy-seven cups of Earl Grey daily, simply because it is too expensive to keep my coffee habit up. This excursion's coffee is a rare treat.

Right. Let us speak now of music:

The Exeter Phoenix - I've only been here once, to see Idlewild play before I knew of their gloriousness (it was quite an enjoyable show!), but it left a good impression on me. And when I say good, I really mean to say complex, in the way that a complex wine is good.

Walking up to this grand edifice, you immediately feel an uncanny tug of remorse for all the books you're not reading at that moment, for it feels like you are approaching the front steps of a magnificent library. Similarly, the atmosphere inside is like the attitude of a group of students playing hooky in town - like it still isn't right to drink pints and listen to music in so scholarly a place, and at any moment a severe woman will chastise you and drag you by your ear to the door. The thrill is there, and it's brilliant.

The Phoenix's auditorium only triples this effect. You are funneled through industrial double doors into your old high school's gymnasium, complete with folded-up bleachers. I half-expected to see basketball hoops being slowly lowered and raised during the course of the show. But oddly enough, instead of making me feel a wave of anxiety over playing badminton, the high walls and ceiling disappearing into dusky darkness made me feel very close to everyone. It is an intimate venue; a pleasant euphoria steals over you, brought on by knowing everyone around you loves music as much as you do (whether or not this is true, the feeling comes regardless). A word of caution for the directionally impaired: from the gymnasium to the toilets is quite the trek - bring provisions.

Next time, I'll tell you about the Cavern, at once similar to and completely different from the Phoenix.

Now, two weekends ago I took a day trip into Bristol with my new tour-guide friend T.J. Having been away from Bristol now for nearly two weeks, I feel myself going into withdrawal; there is a small creature in my chest that longs to go back to that eccentric, lovingly disorganized city. It is quite different in its hold over me from London. As wonderful as London is, it is honest with me about its feelings - Bristol, on the other hand, is a tease. It plays hard to get.

Here is why: The sunlight in that city on that day, the 17th of October, was warm, strangely thin, falling palely on the buildings and the water, as though it were distracted or lost in thought. Similarly, you would happen upon small wonders in Bristol almost as if they were put there mistakenly, or as an afterthought, dropped by an absent-minded artist like splotches of paint on a dusty studio floor. A bridge with huge bugle-like protrusions, as though it were at any moment going to burst into a symphony over the narrow canal; in a small park overlooking a muddy river far below, a hill made of stone that has been so smoothed by the seats of many trousers sliding down it that it shines alluringly (I will slide down it next time!); the works of famous street artist Banksy appearing to you on the sides of boats and buildings; even a sleek black Lamborghini parked in between two other unremarkable vehicles - I felt a child-like sense of wonder, ambling naively around this unfamiliar city, being constantly surprised and captivated by what I was seeing. This is better than any museum.

Stay tuned for Part 2, including swans.

Here are some pictures of Bristol (click for high-resolution images):

The colored houses of Bristol.
The Lamborghini.
Christmas Steps - another joy to behold.A strange disco ball.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Greetings from Exeter!

I've been here for a little over half a month now, and I still feel slightly overwhelmed every now and then. There is so much to see and do here; everything is completely different.

Small things:
- My little room in Lafrowda has an east-facing window, so I get to see the sun rise over the buildings when I wake up in the morning.
- There are small dirt and gravel footpaths that weave all over campus, making their way through woods and by ponds and gardens. I've only just begun to discover the beauty of this school, let alone the countryside!
- Nutella is probably the most delicious food in existence. Strange yet tasty breakfast: fry two eggs, toast two slices of bread, put peanut butter on the toast, put Nutella on one of the slices as well, then sandwich the eggs in between and cut diagonally. Made even more scrumptious if the eggs are still runny.
- If you weren't completely grossed out by the above, then kudos to you for your courageous palate! Devon cream tea.

But, as I said, it was somewhat overwhelming, trying to adjust to living here. Not only are there the everyday aspects of life to which I must adjust, but also I have to come to terms with the fact that so many other Kenyon students have done this before me! Bundles of us have tottered weakly off airplanes, been shipped to the university on a bus, introduced to a grand disorganized set of rules and regulations, not to mention a whole host of new faces and strange ways of speaking (read: sometimes indecipherable British accents) - and so many of us have been wildly successful.

It is fascinating to me that, in coming here and living here, each of us has had a different experience of this place. Each student who has been on this program had a series of first impressions, and made different choices as to how to adjust. I am trying to write a blog of impressions and choices - there is, as one might encounter when trying to write a sonnet, a whole tradition behind me, a whole gallery of experiences that other students have had. The question is, how will my story stand against the backdrop of Exeter impressions? What will I add to the great complex picture? The answer: what I can.

The Thames at night

To begin I'd like to talk about London and Shakespeare.

To be completely frank and not hyperbolic in the least, London is the greatest city in the universe. I arrived, I stepped off the bus, and fell immediately into a sort of breathless love - breathless in that I kept looking up and around me at the glorious city tumbling on every side, and I forgot to take breaths.

Before I met the lions of Trafalgar Square, I and everyone else went to go see Shakespeare's As You Like It in the Globe Theatre, which sits on the Thames and is quite near the Tate Modern. We stood as groundlings in the yard as the play unfolded whimsically around us, Orlando's verses tumbling from the wooden pillars and Touchstone's antics drawing the audience even closer to the happy energy of the production. I couldn't help thinking of our discussion in class earlier that week: These characters were exiled to the Forest of Arden, a place completely different than the pomp of the court from whence they came. As Professor Laycock mentioned, is that not our situation, as American students in England?

I thought about it: Rosalind, Celia, Orlando and even Touchstone, they all change in the process of being in exile. Rosalind experiences the sort of liberty that comes from pretending to be of a different gender - in short, she rocks it. She was a fantastic man. Celia lets the restraint and elegance of court go loose when she takes on the role of Aliena, and Orlando plunges himself wholly into a role-playing scheme with boy-Rosalind. None of these drastic changes could've been made if they were all still at court. There would have been no need, and yet they are all now happier for the change.

I thought about it further: Being American students exiled (by choice) to the United Kingdom, a magical place in and of itself, we have just such an opportunity as Shakespeare's characters had. We can buckle under the weight of too many differences, or we can embrace them, adapt, and change. We have an amazing opportunity here to grow: by being alienated from what is familiar to us, I am certain we will find out of what stuff we are made.

The Globe theatre: open to the sky, with yard standing and seats.