Kenyon College

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Four Days in Edinburgh

We stayed at a lovely, small bed & breakfast called Highfield House, which was an old Scottish manse dating from 1730. Every morning the owners of the house would cook breakfast for Karl and me (as we were the only guests there at the time), along with delicious coffee that I greatly enjoyed. From the house every morning we would walk a few minutes down to the train stop to catch the train into Edinburgh.

Coming out from the station by way of the Princes Mall puts you out on to Princes Street, where all the new shops are. (Within five minutes of exiting the station, we heard bagpipers playing. The street leading away from the Castle is also monopolized by "tartan" shops.) This area of town is part of what is called the New Town, part of the city that was added on way back when the town was overcrowded and cramped due to its being confined within its walls. They drained the Nor'Loch which was to the north of the Edinburgh Castle, and built the New Town. There is a monument to Sir Walter Scott in the gardens where the Nor'Loch used to be. (We learned all of this at the tiny Museum of Edinburgh, on the Royal Mile in the Old Town. I guess you could also learn it on Wikipedia.) There is a very distinct difference in feel between the Old Town and the New Town, but the whole city is beautiful and grand and has its own peculiar character, due to the way it did not expand beyond its walls for a very long time, and grew upwards rather than outwards.

Basically, Karl and I fell in love with Edinburgh, and walked all over, from one end to the other. Everything is in close proximity to everything else, and walking was consistently rewarding. We traipsed from the Castle to the Palace, where we climbed Arthur's Seat and looked out over the entire city.

We also circumnavigated the New Town, and found that only "keyholders" could enter the gardens that dominate a large portion of the New Town's blocks. Nevertheless, there were loads of alleyways with pubs and cute restaurants (we found a Mexican restaurant and were pleasantly surprised by the deliciousness of the food.) We spent a couple nights of pints and dinner in a pub called The Tron (a few blocks away from the Castle), which was run by a chain called Scream (I think?) that was very hip and quirky and served cheap, edible food. What we liked were the couches, and remarking on the eclectic music chosen for the speakers.

All in all, it was a brilliant time and Edinburgh is my new favorite place. (I feel like every place has been my new favorite place... this is a good thing, though!) I loved it so much I even had to get a little Edinburgh keychain.

Revelations in Hyde Park

On March 14 I am in Hyde Park in London, waiting for Karl's train to get into Paddington Station. One of the entrances to Hyde Park is very close to the station, and you come into the park near a little rectangle of fountains. I stand there, with my coffee, alone by the fountains, leaning against the rail. It is a brilliant sunny afternoon, a auspicious sign for the coming ten days. Sometimes the sun will disappear behind a cloud, and you can watch the shadow of that cloud creep over the rolling grasses of Hyde Park, and then you can see the sunlight slowly flood the lawns again as the cloud passes by. The park is full of people, mostly couples with children, or joggers with dogs, or photographers taking advantage of the park showing itself in its full glory. In the air is the fresh cleanness of spring, and you can feel it lifting everyone's spirits.

I am struck by the lightness of the moment, and the pureness of the contentment that I feel. Amid all the stress of paper-writing, and travel plans, and money, and the thought of returning home, there is this small moment of clarity. I realize that these worries are insignificant against such beauty, such life, and that there are so many reasons to be happy in the moment, and so many niggling worries that should not be bothering me.

A cluster of pigeons on a rooftop, disturbed, alight from the shingles. Their shadows sweep over the stones of the fountains as they circle and return to their places. Families circumnavigate the fountains, and I watch a swan swim round and round a small pool. It seems to regard me. The fountains bend in the wind. A father, seeing this, and predicting the trajectory of the spray, gently guides his young son out of the way. Moments later, the cement in front of them receives the arc and splash of water. Father and son continue their circuit.

There are eleven birds in the fountain-pool that I am watching. One big swan, several orange-eyed ducks, a seagull, some white-faced, pointy-beaked black birds. The fountains sway in the breeze; the sun cloaks itself in clouds.

The next day, in Bath, the sun is still out, and its light falls warmly on the unique Bath stone that forms many of the buildings. We walk in gardens, and along the River Avon; we share a cream tea and find a sweet shop that sells fried eggs. Experiences like these days in London and Bath are the moments I will remember about my time here, not the looming deadlines or financial worries, or the struggle of navigating a busy street. These days make all the difference.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Quick Update

I didn't want you to think I abandoned you! This post is just to let you know that there will be an awesome post either tomorrow or Thursday. It will have lots of pictures. And I'll talk about tea. Cream tea. *drool*

See you soon!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Papers, Procrastination, and Pudding

Ok, not really pudding, but I'll get to that. And I think procrastination really speaks for itself. But I wanted an alliterative title, so there you go.

One of the oddest things about studying at Exeter is the method of turning in and picking up papers. It isn't necessarily good or bad. Just odd, at least compared to Kenyon. Each class has three assignments, each an essay unless you're in a creative writing or some film classes.

The first paper has a due date as determined by the professor, but they're usually due around the same time. This semester most first papers were due between February 12th and 19th. The second paper has the same due date across all the courses (at least third year courses). *Exception: your professor didn't get your first papers back by the week before, then the paper has to be pushed back.*
For just about everyone the second essay was due yesterday, March 5th. The third papers aren't due until May 15th. Of course those tend to be worth a lot more of the overall grade and creative writing courses tend to have all three assignments due at the end.
When turning in your paper you have until 4:00pm on the due date to turn it in to the office. With barcoded cover sheet. Yeah. Odd. You also need two copies: one with your student number and one with your name. Why? The papers aren't just graded by the professor, they're also assessed by a third party. Once the professor is done (as far as I can tell, this is the grade you receive and the other assessment is more for the class) they turn the papers back in to the office for sorting. The office has all the papers ready for pickup by a certain date before the next paper is due. We got our first papers back February 26th (or whenever we got to the office).
The good: 1) You definitely get your papers back before turning in the next one. Unless you're in a creative writing class. In which case, hope that you get feedback in class. 2) The office doesn't care if you skip class in order to write the essay. 3) Blind grading--your professor gets the copy with your student number and doesn't know who's essay it is.The tolerable: 1) No begging your professor for an extension--if you want an extension you have to ask the office and you better have a good excuse. 2) Lines. If even just some classes all have a paper due the same day, you can find yourself standing in line. And since they use the barcode on the cover sheet to check your paper into the system, then if you are still in line at 4 your grade will suffer for being late. 3) Blind grading--since your professors don't know whose paper is whose, they don't have a clue what you wrote about when you go to their office hours.
It's not a bad system. Just...odd. At least after getting used to Kenyon for two years.

SO! In order to celebrate the successful passing of our second due date, several friends and I did a Day of Food. It started with lunch. Don't judge us for sleeping in! I made hoagies. They looked a little like this:
Why, yes. That is homemade bread. And meat. No, not homemade meat. Nevertheless. They were more than delicious. /bragging

For dinner we had scrumptious creamy garlic chicken. And heavenly mashed potatoes. With a side of fresh fruit salad. My tummy was a happy camper.

We topped off our Day of Food with brownies. And possibly a viewing of The Scarlet Pimpernel. Because we are girls. And stories like TSP are the perfect brownie topping.

The lesson: Turn in your papers early enough to plan a fattening day with your homies. Also, knitting burns calories. A few, anyway.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Trains & A Walk

Yesterday evening, around 5:40, I was on a train heading south out of Exeter. It had been a beautiful sunny day, still crisp with winter, and the sun had a restorative effect on everyone's spirits. Now, as I looked up from my book to watch the countryside pass by, I saw the pinkish golden sunset in the low hills to the west, laying everything deeper into a soft grey shadow with the onset of twilight. It struck me again, as it has done many times in the past: I am in England, set down here like a grain of rice on the ground, so that this whole country, though much smaller than the States, feels vastly larger. I think these moments come about when I feel like everything about my experience so far can be encapsulated in what I am seeing. That pinkish gold sunset, the deep rose color of the sky - all at once it seemed to me that this was the perfect and only way to express my time here.

It may be somewhat silly, but there it is.

As you may have read from Claire's previous entries, she and I took a lovely walk a couple weeks ago that started out in the town of Beer, headed out across the fields and through a small wood, paused for a moment in a hamlet of Branscombe, then circled back along the steep gold cliffs toward Beer Head, with a stunning view of Seaton Bay, and finally returned to Beer. We chose a glorious day for a walk, as the sun was resplendent in all its late-February glory, and so the chill helped out quite a bit as we ascended the hillside, up to the top of the cliffs that led away from Branscombe. Seeing the figures on the beach get smaller and smaller as we climbed, stopping and looking at the water stretch away from us, was quite an experience. I adore these walks, the shared experience of beholding something beautiful. Saying hello to passing walkers is one of my favorite things now; it is like acknowledging that shared experience with a simple smile and a greeting.

Now that it is March, the weather seems to have got itself together a little bit. The sun makes itself known more often, and it was even almost warm the other day. It's very pleasant... almost too pleasant. There must be a severe bout of rain soon. I won't get my hopes up for a continuation of this sunlight. It is England, after all.

There are only four weeks of classes left. I have no papers due for more than a month. In the coming weeks I will be going to see Frightened Rabbit (again! Yes!) in Bristol, and when Karl comes to visit, we will be taking a day trip to Bath, and spending a long weekend in Edinburgh. Do expect more from me concerning these events.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Long Awaited Wine and Cheese Party

Early last semester Deborah asked us if we would be interested, as a group, in a wine and cheese tasting hosted by Kenyon (and Kenyon Exeter) alum Marc Millon. What do you think our answer was? Alcohol & Dairy Products = Par-tay! W00t! It would be a refined kind of evening. Very adult. Filled with comments about vintage, aroma, and palette. Yes. Let's pretend we're all grown up for a moment.

Anyhoo. This event was finally held, after schedules were worked out, last Thursday. Marc, Deborah, and Mark's son Guy put together a great night. We tasted 8 wines in total, 4 with cheese and 4 with dinner. I went into the evening knowing little about wine other than the fact that I like to cook chicken in it. I came out of the tasting feeling that even though I'm no connoisseur, I can at least find my way through the wine section at Liquor Barn. A little more knowledgeable and a little more confidant.

The cheese was good too. I ate it. I ate it ALL.

In all seriousness, this party was not only a wonderful break from the Exeter campus, it was an opportunity to see Kenyon friends outside of class and to meet two very interesting and entertaining men. The evening was full of laughs, food, and pictures. And of course, the wine flowed into and out of our glasses.

This is one reason the Exeter program stands out. Great friends, great food, and an experience that opens you. And you feel it. Wine tastings are for grown-ups. And, whether we noticed or not, we are.

Blogger Fail

So, I make a promise to update on Saturdays and Tuesday and then I go and miss the first Saturday! I'm so sorry faithful readers! I'll make it up to you! With two, count 'em TWO posts today! First of all...the wonder of baked goods.

For various reasons, this semester the lovely Ashley and I decided to grace our Kenyon Seminar class with cupcakes every week. First, we thought it would be fun. Second, a three-hour seminar is always improved by the presence of food. Third, we love our group and want to give them yummy desserts.

This has been an exercise in commitment, creativity, and self-control. Commitment because we do it every Tuesday and it can take awhile. Today it went pretty quickly, I like to think that we get faster every week but we were also the only ones in the kitchen, and it still took a good 4 hours. A long day can take a LOT longer. Though we usually finish by 7. At the latest. After starting around 2:30. Yeah.

Our creativity has been...stretched through our decorating. My decorating. :) Going into this, we knew we were doing superhero themes each week. So far we've had Batman, X-men, Power Rangers, Superman, Underdog and Captain Underpants, and this week we did Justice League. We can't get too complicated. Our decorating set only has so many tips. That silver one in the pic is going to get worn out by the end. So we've been sticking to the symbols or recognizable characteristics.
And our control. Well who doesn't love cupcake batter?! I ask you!

Bonus: this cupcake was poked to test its doneness. It was done. However, the poke punctured the top and a black hole (more like black slot) resulted. It consumed any icing that came near it. I think this picture was taken around the third time we touched it up. :P