31 July 2008

Forget This, I'm Going to Hogwarts

Happy Birthday, Harry Potter!  

Yes, ladies and gents, it's everyone's favorite fantasy character's birthday.  
No, I'm not obsessed enough to know how old he'd be.  
And to be entirely truthful, I have a good reason to wish Harry Potter a happy birthday today, seeing as Christ Church is Hogwarts.  No, seriously.  Three of the Harry Potter movies were filmed here, and the Great Hall at Hogwarts is based off of the Christ Church Great Hall.  I present to you a small sampling of Potter lore here at Christ Church:

The Christ Church Great Hall, where we eat breakfast and dinner.  Hogwarts' Great Hall was inspired by this, and the scenes were actually filmed here for the first three movies.

Does the top of this staircase look familiar?  It should...it was where the Hogwarts students ran up at the beginning of the first movie before they were Sorted.

This is the bottom of the staircase.

The program director put it well when she told us on the first day, "I'm sure you've noticed that there are about 27,000 British teenagers walking around taking pictures because this is where they filmed Harry Potter.  Please keep your name badges on so the porters know you actually belong here."

In Retrospect: Days 2 & 3

Learning at Oxford is less like a week-long program and more like regular college as I've experienced it...during the last month where there's a sense of urgency.  As such, I haven't had the chance to update as much as I'd like.

The first three days of classes have gone extremely well.  My morning class, "The Bible and Archaeology" is interesting and engaging without being stuffy or thick.  The professor, Dom Henry, is now one of my favorite people, and I've learned a lot just from the few days I've had.  Tuesday we spoke about different theories of the historical accuracy of much of the Old Testament, and how archeology either upholds those theories or discredits them--did Joshua really "fit" the battle of Jericho and did the walls really come tumbling down on his accord?  Archeology says no.  Yesterday we discussed the Qumran site and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

My second class has actually been incredibly difficult.  At first I was a bit put off at the difficulty of the course--why assign philosophical texts that even the resident philosophy professor couldn't understand?  I've since realized that if I left Oxford without being genuinely challenged, I'd feel like I missed out.  Thus, I'm sitting through class catching every fourth idea or so and making the best of it.  The professor, Paul Fiddes, is pulling together three topics that are staggering even individually and seeing how they illuminate each other:  postmodern philosophy, Trinitarian theology, and the Biblical idea of wisdom.  His basic idea is that we can achieve wisdom by participating in a relational understanding of the Trinity.  I'm not entirely sure how postmodern philosophy fits into this yet, but things are beginning to click.

Cindy and Sammi take on Christ Church

Today was one of my favorite times at Christ Church so far--Guest Night!  My friend, Sammi, came up from London to join me for dinner.  We had gone to middle school together, but she moved back to England (her original home) during high school.  We've been in touch when she's come back to the States during breaks, but this is the first chance I've gotten to see her on her home turf.  We met after I got out of class and generally painted the town red...and by that I mean we walked around, had some milkshakes, visited The Buttery (the college pub) before dinner, then hit up The Bear, the oldest pub in Oxford, afterwards. 

We did the tourist thing and took lots of pictures. 

Here's Sammi!

You thought I was kidding about the milkshakes...

One of the many things we took pictures of--the fountain in the middle of Tom Quad!

 We enjoyed a lager shandy at The Bear, Oxford's oldest pub.  It has ties from clubs and schools all over the world on the walls AND the ceiling.  Good times.

28 July 2008

In Retrospect: Day 1

As my first day of classes, today was my most anticipated day at Oxford.  I've been nervous about all the material being over my head, of being laughed at as the youngest here, of getting in trouble for not being able to get all my books (thanks, Amazon.com).  As such, I woke up this morning at about 3 with a raging stomachache, which didn't get any better through breakfast.  This wasn't helped by the fact that eating in the Great Hall is intimidating by itself.  

My morning class, taught by a Dominican monk on "The Bible and Archaeology" went very well.  He's a sweet, soft-spoken kind of man whose cheeks get very red when he drinks (as I've noticed at dinner) and who, every once in awhile, stamps his foot and says, "Damn!" with a certain sort of alacrity to punctuate what he's saying.  It's rather endearing, really.  The class, cut in half by a morning tea (I love England, by the way), was mostly review for me (thanks, professors!!!!!) about the four authorship traditions of the Old Testament and asking whether the archaeological evidence supports what's written in the Bible.  Despite missing some of the books for the course, I'm looking forward to it.

My afternoon class, on "Human Knowledge and Divine Wisdom" was very different.  The professor, while one of the friendliest and most down-to-earth scholars I've met, has the sort of knowledge (or maybe it's just the accent) that intimidates you to the very core.  I had a difficult time following him during the beginning of class, but I vowed during afternoon tea that I would dominate the second half.  It wasn't all that bad.  I understood most of what he was talking about, and I even got in a few comments walking out of class with him.  That class still makes me nervous, especially considering that the reading for his was mostly philosophical and even the philosophy professor I sat across from at dinner tonight admitted the reading is difficult.  

Tomorrow we shall see if the proof, as they say, is in the pudding.  Or at least the morning and afternoon tea sandwiches. 

I've Got Friends at High Tables

For anyone privileged enough to have witnessed one of my pre-Oxford meltdowns (special shout-outs go to Mom, Dad, and Kip especially), they know that of all the things to be afraid of at Oxford--crying babies on the flight over, customs problems, theft, people way smarter than me--I was most afraid of one dreaded evening;  High Table.  As if dining in the Great Hall at Christ Church isn't intimidating enough, most participants in the program are invited to dine for one night at High Table--a table literally higher than the others at the front of the room where the deans and other people you generally want to impress eat.  Formal dress is required, as well as impeccable etiquette and meeting for pre-dinner sherry.  

No, they don't provide a diaper for you as you wet yourself from nerves.

Taking all this into consideration, imagine my joy when I opened my information packet on the first day and found a lovely invitation saying, "The Directors of the Schools request the pleasure of your company at High Table on Sunday, 27 July.  Please assemble for sherry in the Hall 15 minutes before dinner."  Enter diaper here.  The first thing I did (other than to scrape my jaw off the ground) was to take out the dress I'd bought for the occasion and iron it, thinking that at least I'd be well pressed for the occasion, if not well versed in high-level theology.  

All of this is only to get to the point that at the end of the night, High Table went rather well.  Much to my happiness, we forewent pre-dinner sherry in favor of a program-wide reception in one of the gardens with champagne instead.  Conversation during dinner rarely shifted to theology (and was never over my head when it did) and everyone (professors and all) was agreeable and non-judgmental.  Even my etiquette was exemplary.  I must admit that my personal highlight of the evening was taking a walk after dinner to the corner just behind High Table to see the staircase.  It's alright as far as spiral staircases go, but I was interested in it for another reason--it was the inspiration for the rabbit's hole in Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland."  More on Christ Church's connections with fantasy literature in another post.... 

Morris Men...It's Like England's Electric Slide

Tonight after dinner, we all had the pleasure of sipping some sparkling wine while enjoying a local custom--Morris dancing.  In America, our idea of a traditional dance is the Electric Slide, so I shouldn't have been surprised to be so delighted at this centuries-old tradition.  Morris dancing, traditionally only done by men, began in this region of England (Oxfordshire) as a way of socializing among the rural folk.  Like pretty much almost any English custom, it is usually done while enjoying a pint or two...or three....At the end of the night, the group (aptly named the Morris Men) invited us to dance along, and upon considering the fact that I'd probably never get the chance again, I joined.  Now I can finally check "Participate in traditional English countryside dance" off my list of things to do before I die.  Phew, I thought I'd never get that one.

Oxford, In PIcture Form

Picture time!  Christ Church is easily one of the most photographable places I've ever been.  I'm looking forward to uploading as many pictures as I possibly can, even though it can't compare to actually being here.

This is the green in front of Peckwater Quad, the dorm where I'm staying.  The columned building on the right is the library, and the yellow one on the left is the other branch of the building.   Apparently it's illegal to walk on the grass.  North Parkers would never make it.

The archway leading in to Tom Quad...

Tom Quad, which is so named after the bell (affectionately dubbed Tom) in the bell tower.  

The view from my bedroom window.  I'm not going to lie...I cried when I saw this.  
(For a better view without the panes in the way, see below)

This is the view I woke up to this morning.  

Oxford 101

What can I say about Oxford, other than the fact that it's AMAZING!? In part because I have some reading to do, in part because to describe this whole experience in prose would take several volumes, and in part to save anybody reading this from the "War and Peace" of blog entries, I'll try to summarize the general splendor into bullet points:

-I arrived yesterday about four minutes after registration began (and believe me, waiting until after 11am was difficult), and was immediately greeted by name and given my information folder and an invitation to dine at High Table that evening. Talk about being thrown into the deep end! 
-My room is spectacular--better than a fair share of hotel rooms I've been in, much less a dormitory (pictures to come...I refuse to describe the view out of my window without a photo to go along with it). 
-I am officially the youngest and least experienced one here.  There is another young woman who just graduated, but considering that she's been attending this program for five years, is a Rhodes Scholar, and is beginning at Oxford for her doctorate in Astro-Physics in the fall, I'm going to go out on a rope and say that we're not quite on the same level.  There is a young man across the hall from me who's working on his PhD at Wheaton as well.  Aside from the three of us, I'd say the average age is somewhere around 56. 
-Jet lag is still holding a bit of a force over me (hence the stream of consciousness, not witty at all post), and my stomach hurts from what I presume is nerves, but hopefully that will resolve itself after my first classes today. Or maybe it'll get worse after seeing what I'm up against. Either way, I'm having an unbelievable time here! 

I'll post again (and with pictures!) after I get my Ethernet cord this afternoon and can therefore have Internet access in my room.  Cheerio!

27 July 2008

Butterflies and the Bard

On my first day in England, I, having an entire day to burn, decided to do something throughly English---I hopped a train to Stratford-Upon-Avon to see where Shakespeare was born.  I've never been much for blatantly touristy things, and working in a souvenir shop has only inflated this, but I did enjoy the birthplace of England's greatest writer...after I figured out how to stay away from all the crowds.  

I payed a few pounds and took a boat tour of the river that puts the "Avon" in "Stratford-Upon-Avon"

We saw some beautiful swans and ugly ducklings

This was my favorite part of the day--Holy Trinity Church, where Shakespeare went and is buried.  It's a gorgeous church on the banks of the Avon with some impressive history and beautiful windows.  The caretaker was so happy to be there giving out pamphlets to everyone, encouraging them to use their cameras, and graciously giving student discounts to poor travelers like me.

The inscription on Shakespeare's grave--"Good friend for Jesus' sake forbear to dig the dust enclosed here.  Blest be the man that spares these stones and curst be he that moves my bones"--is the reason why he hasn't been moved to Westminster Abbey to be buried with all the other famous Englishmen.

The English countryside is devastatingly beautiful!

English trains pretty much kick American trains' cabooses.

The house that Shakespeare grew up in!

A living statue of Shakespeare.  He took a liking to me and bowed to me, then laughed at me (not with me) when I tried to shake his hand American style (he was going for the Victorian fingers-only approach).  I've never been laughed at by a statue before.

While in such an English city, I indulged in that favorite of English pastimes, tea!  This is a setup called Cream Tea--it's English Breakfast tea with a currant scone served with clotted Devonshire cream and preserves.  It's amazing.

One of my favorite things I did while in Stratford was to go to the butterfly garden.  Anyone who knows me knows how I feel about butterflies--this is a big deal for me.  It was so amazing to be surrounded by them all the time, although it was a bit weird to have them hitting me in midair.  This little guy settled on my leg for awhile and had the most beautiful blue wings (on the inside).

21 July 2008

JSO Here We...Went?

Finally an update on my time with the Juneau Symphony Orchestra!  Putting together four pieces in two weeks was something I've never done before, and I've also never played with an orchestra of that caliber.  It was quite an experience to play with musicians who have been playing longer than I've been alive, and whose level is so high.  It's not the CSO or anything, but it's better than North Park for sure. 

The concert showed a program of music that was written about Alaska or by Alaskan composers, and performed by Alaskan musicians.  The city is in a two-year long celebration of Alaska's 50 years in the union, and this concert was a part of it!  We performed a selection of rags by an Alaskan composer and a tuba concerto featuring a local student, but the highlight of the evening was the world premiere of the revised "An Alaskan Symphony," which was composed and first performed (in its unrevised state) in the 1940's via radio broadcast to inform people about the then-territory.  The composer revised the piece in the '70s, but died before it could be performed again.  That was definitely the hardest part of preparing for the concert--playing a piece that no one had ever heard before, and of which there are no recordings.  Overall, it was a great experience!

Adventures in Alaska, Part 5: Call Me Ishmael

Maybe it wasn't a whale or a 400-pound halibut, but call me Ishmael anyways, because we went fishing and I caught a fish!  In celebration of Kip's parents coming up to visit us (they live in Seattle), the four of us made like the Disciples and went fishing.  Despite having a cold (thanks, tourist who coughed into your money before giving it to me), we had a great time cracking jokes about being "fishers of men" and hanging out with Kip, his parents, Captain Kevin, and the deckhand, John.

The four of us with our catches of the day.  Mine isn't turned right, but it's a minor miracle that I picked it up again at all (see two pictures down).

Reeling in a fish was a lot harder than I thought it would be!  I was okay with the reeling part, but Kip had to help me out with pulling the rod (without dislodging the fish).

I like to think I'm a pretty hearty gal, but holding up a bloody fish by its gills was a bit too much for me to handle.  I was disgusted when this picture was taken.  Captain Kevin found it quite amusing, considering I was talking smack all day about catching a fish.

When the fish weren't biting, I put on the "derby hat" and did a fish dance to lure them in.
It didn't work.

That old Seadog...

Aww, father-son bonding.

Kip was excited to hit the fish over the head with the club.  Captain Kevin and John decided they never wanted to be pulled over by Ofc. Cheshire, especially after he told the fish, "stop resisting!"

17 July 2008

The World's Quickest Update

Thanks to the neverending joy that is working 40+ hours a week at Juneau's largest souvenir shop, I've been having a tough time updating the old 'blog.  Here's an update on the summer:

-Working working working!  It's pretty much my life at the moment.  Customers still tell me the sale prices although I already know them, ask if I've lived here my whole life, complain about the digital signature pad (as if they're the first person all day who's told me it looks nothing like their signature), and get miffed when I tell them no, they can't have 18 individual bags for the magnets they just bought.  Joy.
-The Box died and rose again due to a gas cap.(?)  I'll pretend I know anything about cars and say that's sort of silly.  Nevertheless, we're glad to have it back considering how good I am at standard now (yay!) and the fact that it's the only available form of transportation.
-Kip has switched to working night shifts (6:30pm-6:30am).  Weird (and distinctively more cranky) waking hours and vampire jokes have taken full effect.
-With this shift change has also come none other than Kip's parents--Lee and Anne Cheshire.  They visited for about a week full of fishing (pictures and stories of them being "this big" will come at a later date), food (free food!!!!!), and fun ensued.  It was nice to have people I know in the area, and it gave Kip a nice chance to relax.  Now if only my parents would make it up here....
-Oxford preparations are in full swing, seeing as I'm leaving in exactly a week.  On the plus side, I have two new pairs of shoes and a nice dress for the occasion.  On the negative side, I still have to finish my reading.  Priorities, people, priorities!  Expect huge amounts of pictures and postings when I get there.  

As soon as I have more time and Internet access, I'll be uploading pictures and anecdotes like a madwoman.  Stay tuned!