Friday, October 29, 2010

Homesick

I miss David :(  Yesterday marked five weeks from our goodbye and Monday will be five weeks before we are reunited.  Half way there.  Some days are okay.  Skype makes it bearable.  But other days are really tough.  Unfortunately, I tend to do very little of use on those days, so they had better not come very often.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Not in Kansas

We have a house guest staying in our flat.  He is a Czech professor from Prague and is here for the first month of his sabbatical.  Last night he was telling us about his two trips to America, both for conferences.  He stayed ten days in Kansas City, Kansas during his first trip to the states and was amazed by the perfusion of figurines, snow globes and other souvenirs depicting characters from the Wizard of Oz.  We tried to explain the idiom that has resulted from the famous movie: "Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore."  For example, I explained, when we first went to the grocery store here in Cambridge, I said that phrase to Courtney because the store was in many ways, very different from our stores at home.  I think it's about time to post my food pictures, all of which show foods that vary from American foods not in type, but in flavour** or character.  I hope you appreciate the differences as much as I have!   [**See the British coming out in me?]

First: Cheese!  Forget your typical yellow cheddar, this place is full of bonefide European cheeses!  In fact, yellow cheddar doesn't even exist here (though they have white cheddar for us Americans), nor does American, Monterey, Colby or Pepper Jack or processed blocks of mozzarella.  There is no special "European cheese" box near the deli.  You just buy your "fancy" cheeses in the dairy aisle across from the milk.  Thus far I have enjoyed Brie, Normandy Camembert and Edam:


I have had mixed reactions to my Camembert cheese.  Initially, I tried melted Camembert and french bread.  Because of the rind on the cheese and the wooden box, it is possible to bake the cheese and have the insides melt without melting the rind as well.  Then you can cut an x into the rind at top and dip bread and veggies into the ready-made fondue inside (thanks Lucy!). Yums maj!  :)   So, after my Brie ran out, I decided I wanted something a little stronger and bought myself a box of Camembert (that very cheese round shown above).  Unfortunately, I am only one person and can't eat a whole round of cheese very quickly.  Since Camembert continues to age, I found myself midweek with a box of very strong, very smelly cheese!  I ate as much as I could, but eventually had to throw the last, small portion out.  I think I learned my lesson: Camembert and other aging cheeses are perfect for parties but not so good for one.

Second: Crisps! (Okay, okay, I still haven't transfered my vocabulary from fries to chips and chips to crisps, but for this Kansas post I will try to act like an Ozian.)  Doritos do exist in Britain but potato crisps are far more popular.  I was comparing crisp flavours with a British friend one Sunday and I decided to label the five most popular potato chip flavours as follows: Classic, Sour Cream and Onion, Barbeque, Salt and Vinegar and Cheddar and Sour Cream.  She thought that some of the above (namely Sour Cream and Onion and Barbeque) sounded very strange.  I think, though, that British crisps are flavoured very strangely!  I am including a picture of a vending machine (carrying, presumably, the most popular flavours of crisps) here:


Top middle: Smoky Bacon



Left: Turkey and Stuffing (no joke)  Right:  Roast Chicken


Left to Right: Salt and Vinegar, Ready Salted, Cheese and Onion


Left:  Prawn Cocktail (no joke)



Third:  Candy!  Well, I couldn't buy all of the different kinds of candy bars sold here in the UK.  But I did buy a Mars bar with my bag of Turkey and Stuffing crisps (I should say, the crisps DID actually taste like turkey and stuffing.  It was amazing!).  A Mars bar is basically a Three Musketeers:


I also snuck a picture in the grocery store to illustrate the Kit Kat revolution occurring in the UK:

If you can't tell, this normal, smallish grocery store is selling (starting at the top left): Mint KitKats, Orange KitKats, Regular Milk Chocolate KitKats, Dark Chocolate KitKats and Caramel KitKats.  I've heard that if you are really lucky, you can also find Peanut Butter KitKats, which are the best (supposedly and believably).  In addition, you can pay a little extra and get "fancy" KitKats, which have pockets of hazelnut cream.  I will say that the extra pence are worth it!
Four: Yogurt! This category might hold my absolute favourite US vs UK flavour difference.  Before coming to the finale, though, I will first post a picture of one amazing yogurt that, as far as I know, doesn't exist in the US but should:
  

I owe this one to Hannah Bringhurst, who told me the day before I left that I would have to try it.  Now I'm hooked just like she promised.  But are you ready for the most bizarre flavour difference discovered as of yet?  Please see below:


I hope you appreciate the picture.  What you see above are four very normal, generic yogurt flavors found in any grocery store.  In case you can't read the labels, you are looking at rhubarb, cranberry, fig and PRUNE yogurts!  I would like to see Yoplait try and sell those flavours in the US!  But I can testify for myself that these flavours are (actually) really quite good.  I particularly like the rhubarb yogurt, but the others (including prune) are also very good.  I would try to bring some back for the adventurers among you, but sadly, I don't think they will last the flight there.  You will have to come visit me if you would like to try them.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Monopoly and Matriculation

Two events to report this week:

The first is our Monopoly night on Monday.  We decided as a flat that we had suffered all too much studying lately and needed a break.  So Monday was designated for Cambridge edition Monopoly and bona-fide British scones with clotted cream and jam.  Delicious.  I'm afraid to report that we never even got to the building houses point, mostly because we would get talking and forget to roll!  Courtney had by far the most money when we hit quarter to ten (our designated ending time) so she was the proud winner.  Reward: more scones? Pictures below:




Second event:  Matriculation! Basically, matriculation is a big, fancy event that can be described as the opposite of graduation; students are ceremoniously welcomed into the university instead of ushered ceremoniously out of it.  Following are several memorable characteristics of Emmanuel College's matriculation:
  • Mandatory dresscode:  To ensure the formal quality of the 2010 graduate student class matriculation photograph, we were asked to wear a black dress or suit with white shirt for women and a black suit with white shirt and black tie for men.  Black Cambridge gowns were also compulsory.  These gowns are kind of like standard graduation robes, except that they do not zip up in the front and they have long sleeve wings.  They also have red tassels for those special enough to have graduated from Cambridge as an undergraduate.  
  • Signing of the book:  The ritual act of Cambridge entrance involves signing a very official book in a very official way.  The Master of Emmanuel College was sitting at the foot of a very long table in a very long, narrow room.  We went into the room individually to shake hands with the Master, pass a few cordial words, and sign our fullest full name and mark the formal place of birth.  Know now, friends, that Ms. Amy has signed her life and soul away to Cambridge. 
  • Dinner:  Headtable, perpendicular tables, fine silver candelabras and centerpieces, candlelight "only" (supplemented slightly, but only slightly), fancy wines, six courses, gowns, Latin benedictions, general ultra-formality.  There is something about leaning back and looking down the rows of students, seeing the candlelit rows of black backs, the occasional gown hanging to the floor that gives one an awed sense of surreality - as if you suddenly might belong to the only heretofore imagined world of flying broomsticks, apparition and sorting hats.  The menu was as follows:
Roasted Autumn Pumpkin Soup 
with Toasted Orange Brioche
****
Pan Fried Fillet of Line Caught Mackerel
with Warm Truffle Potato Salad
****
Saddle of Lamb
with Apricot and Pine Nut Stuffing
****
Selection of Vegetables
Dauphinoise Potatoes
****
Hot Chocolate Fondant
with Walnut Ice Cream
****
Coffee and Mints    

Overall, the experience was quite enjoyable.  Acquaintances from the last formal dinner became more like friends and Lucy (my flatmate and fellow college member) and I met many others with whom we enjoyed interesting conversations.  I got to talk College Football with the College Fellow sitting across from us; while discoursing his academic history it came to light that he had done his undergraduate degree at Boise State.  Thankfully he didn't mind my football exclamation and in fact was more than willing to enter an immediate discussion about the BCS, Saturday's scores, Oregon's rise to dominance and Boise State's blue turf.  I guess that after being fully encompassed by European football, American Brits get a little desperate for the quarterbacks and tackles kind of football talk.  This fellow did make us aware, however, of the Oxford/Cambridge Rugby match coming up so it appears that I will still have a chance to attend a scream-your-throat-out-jump-up-and-down-all-night rivalry game this fall.  Probably good to be where I am, too, since I have a far better chance of supporting a winning team here this year!  Anyway, here are the only pictures of the setup I could justify.  Sorry some of them are dark and blurry:   




Monday, October 18, 2010

Tombstones and Sermons

There is a church building across the street from our flat (you may recognize it from a picture I posted earlier, which I am posting again here).  The church has small gargoyles outside and a tall steeple.  It was the first place in Cambridge that I explored and I really fell in love with it.  I have been back multiple times since.  It is dusty, gloomy and falling apart.  But it is also quiet and still and old, which I think is a virtue!  There is something tenderly nostalgic about being in a place that has witnessed the crossing of so many generations of people.


This window is a beautiful tribute to women. 
This box is a memorial to those boys in the parish who died during World War 1.  Their names are written on both sides of the Crucifix.  I almost cried the first time I saw it.  This would have been only one congregation of many in Cambridge but there are so many names here!  The wars hit Europe so much harder than we realize in America...



There are tomb memorials on the walls, some of which date back into the 1600s.  There was one particular message that struck me.  I wrote it down there while I was pondering.  It was found on the monument for James and Martha Gifford, who died in 1774 and 1769.  James had been the mayor of Cambridge in 1757.  The epitaph said that James had been "indefatigable in his beliefs" and said finally of both James and Martha: "This monument was erected in their memory by their children, who deeply feeling the irreparable loss of such parents, found their chief consolation in the hopes of rejoining them in a blessed immortality."  I was struck by the simple and profound beauty of such an expressed hope and look forward myself to the great day of reunion in which families the whole world over, spanning millenia of the earth's history, will be rejoined through the power of the atonement.  What an inconceivably joyous day that will be!  

Today we had stake conference in Ipswich (see the map link to the right).  The session didn't start until two, so Courtney and I decided to attend the Presbyterian service that met in the church at 10:30.  It was a lovely experience actually, but the thing that most touched me was the precious little boy sitting two rows in front of us.  He must have been between 4 and 6 years old.  He had blond hair and was kneeling on the bench facing back for most of the sermon.  There was a small smile on his face the entire time - not a mischievous smile like one might expect on a little boy's face, but a smile of perfect content and happiness.  He rocked back and forth from one knee to the other and looked over our heads at the back wall - maybe at something that delighted him, maybe at nothing in particular.  At times he would lean his head gently on his mom's shoulder, at other times he would bury his little face in his dad's shoulder (he was between both parents).  I felt, keenly, all his angelic innocence and the precious nature of his little spirit.  He helped me remember the tender relationship Heavenly Father has with all of His children, wherever they are.  It was a beautiful few minutes.    

Friday, October 15, 2010

Singing Gospel

Courtney and I had an unexpected introduction to Anglican gospel choirs tonight!  It was the most delightful accident!  We had heard there were some creepy statues at Jesus College, so we decided to venture out to see them.  We walked around the college building but the only statue we saw was that of a friendly-looking horse. Nonetheless it seemed deserving of my attempts at photojournalism:


Slightly disappointed, we wandered the grounds and enjoyed the trees and the gorgeous red brick:


Then, we wound our way back toward the quadrangle and decided to take a peek inside the chapel:

Another girl joined us as we approached the chapel and the three of us tried to find an open door.  It took a minute, but she found a way in and beckoned us to follow, assuming, obviously, that we were there for the same reason she was: gospel choir practice!  We poked our heads in and the overly-enthusiastic director instantly invited us to join them.  Well, we thought, why not!  So we grabbed some music, sidled up to a few other girls and started singing.  These kids (literally - they all looked like they were 17!) were all singing at the top of their lungs!  I was so giddy to be there-snuck into the Jesus College gospel choir-that I couldn't keep from grinning!  I was desperately wishing I could record the moment somehow when I realized that my camera was still in my purse.  I was very sneaky (I thought people might wonder if I started taking pictures), but I slipped my camera to record mode and pushed start.  I am posting the fabulous evidence here, but please forgive the lack of image and the less-than-perfect sound quality.  The camera was in my purse the entire time:


Another clip, this time singing "Swing Lo, Sweet Chariot" and "O, When the Saints Go Marching In" as a duet:


Now "Swing Lo," "When the Saints" and "She'll be Comin' Round the Mountain" at the same time!:


Pretty much it was the most marvelous way to spend a Friday night :)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Quarters

Well, life is fairly uneventful right now.  I think I'll be Londoning next week, so that will be something to write about (I still haven't been).  My first day of class was today but I'm fairly certain no one wants to hear about our arguments over John Chrysostom's eight polemical homilies against Judaizers or about the normative and descriptive applications of supersessionism.  SO I will instead post pictures of my current living quarters so that all of you--including Dave :( --can better visualize my British existence!  First, pictures of my house from the outside:

Our flat is on the top floor of the gray building.  We actually enter from the building on the left side.

This is the street directly ahead of our house.  The ivy is gorgeous!
Picture of the street running in front of the house.  
The flat is very close to the center of town, which makes grocery shopping and ATM runs very easy.  Now for pictures of my personal bedroom.  It is the smallest of the bedrooms (about 7' by 13' as determined by my personal height and a kleenex box :P) but I think it is very comfortable!:





Note about the window:  Yes, the curtain is terribly ugly.  מה לעשות?י (ma l'asot or "what can be done?" - kind of like saying "shrug" in English.)  It's tucked behind the radiator like that because the window cannot close!  The first night I was in the room, Courtney Innes was sitting on my bed next to the open window.  Unfortunately, a large, black very unAmerican spider started crawling into the window.  Brave Courtney hit it out for me, but I moved the head of my bed away from the window that night and started tucking the curtain into the radiator.  That way, if any more creeping things decide to enter my warm room, they can go straight to the floor instead of straight onto my bed.  Yech!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Marginalization Debate

Yesterday I attended a panel discussion/debate regarding the question "are Christians the new marginalized minority in the UK?" (see details here: http://www.woolf.cam.ac.uk/news-and-events/news-3.php). Ed Kessler- the director of the Woolf Institute (which runs the Jewish-Christian Relations program) and a very well-respected speaker and columnist here in Britain - was the Jewish voice and leader of the discussion, then there was a Muslim, two Christians and a "humanist" (ie secular) representative.  The first woman to speak was a lawyer for the Christian law firm in London that deals with cases regarding Christian prejudice in the workplace, etc.  She was extremely bold in her declarations that (basically) Christian law should be British law.  I didn't agree with her vantage point, but I did have to admit that she was bolder in her declaration that all truth comes only through Christ than I would have been in a similar situation and I had to admire her courage and faith.  However, I wish her viewpoint wasn't SO conservative.  I'm afraid she was unable to express a reasoned argument for public tolerance of religion and the religious because of her insistence that Christian dogma alone should govern British society.  The humanist, David Polluck, annoyed me; he wore a smug grin the whole time the Christian lawyer was talking and attacked her disparagingly in his own portion of the debate.  I agreed most with the Jewish and Muslim perspectives, for both sympathized with the attacks that ALL religions are receiving in our increasingly secular society and expressed concerns that religious symbols of any kind are being banned from the public sphere.  Both Ed and Ziauddin Sardar (the Muslim voice - or A Muslim voice as he clarified) were articulate, sympathetic and expressed well-thought out pleas for the tolerance and respect of all faiths.  The vicar of Cambridge's Catholic church, Dr. John Binns, ended the panel discussion with (what I felt) was a rather passive "let's all get along and not disagree with anyone" speech that I found unsatisfactory.  The panel discussion whet my appetite for more of this kind of discussion and I am even more excited now for classes to start.  

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Black Dresses and Networking

Sorry for the lack of posts.  Unfortunately, there is not much to say right now.  Life has slowed considerably.  After last week's packed schedule, this week (the week before class starts) has been a rather sleepy, humdrum existence.  We do have some reading and writing to do; there is a practice essay due on the 18th.  It's only about five pages but there are some preliminary readings and we are expected to research and organize the way we would one of our longer term papers.  The essay won't be graded but it is a chance for Lars (our academic director) to provide feedback so that we know better how to meet the expectations of the term papers.  

I did have a formal college dinner on Monday, which was an interesting experience.  Colleges in Britain are completely different from the American concept of a college.  For students, it is their university.  You have to be accepted both into a college and into the university.  All of the administration side is run by the college and there is no central university office.  In addition, it functions very much like a Hogwarts house: the students live, study, and eat together.  These colleges are old, important (and usually very wealthy) establishments.  Their money does not come only from the students; they receive huge endowments from former members and fellows and also own land or have investments elsewhere.  One of the colleges here (Trinity) is one of the wealthiest establishments in all of Britain!  I am including the picture of my college (Emmanuel or Emma, as it is known) below:



Large formal dinners are frequent events held by the college for their students and consist of multi-course meals of the finest ingredients.  I wish I had known these existed before I came.  Last Saturday I spent several hours shopping for a formal black dress!  Thankfully I was able to find one that was modest and only 20 pounds.  It may not be the fanciest dress at these things, but it will do the trick!  Monday's experience was interesting but not entirely enjoyable.  There was a "drinks" period before the meal (they had an Elderflower cordial for non-drinkers like me) but the grad students here are definitely not trained in making others feel welcome and included!  Lucy, my British flatmate, is also in my college, which is a blessing because no one else in my program is (again, "college" in Britain does not mean the department under which a program functions).  The two of us stood together and talked but without knowing others ourselves (and therefore unable to break into other circles) or seeing others who looked unsure or friendless, we were left to ourselves on the side of the room. Eventually Lucy did find someone she knew and we were able to get talking but I found it difficult to meet the vast array of people like I was expected to do.  These meals, after all, are all about networking and making connections.  

The dinner came next.  My one fear was that I would be seated next to someone very quiet and I would be doomed to sit with that person in silence for two hours.  I was not blessed with the talent that Dave has for getting people talking!  My fear came true in part; the girl I was sitting next to was very, very nice and I hope to become better friends with her.  But we were in the last two chairs at the end of the table and the two chairs across from us were empty!  So I asked Siobhan (sitting next to me) everything I could possibly think of about 13-14 century British manuscripts (which was her PhD focus) and her background but really, it is very difficult to talk to someone you have just met for two hours!  She might be the only one I've run into so far, too, that knew nothing about Middle Eastern politics...she did ask me what I was studying, but wasn't able to continue any kind of conversation.  The American guy sitting kitty-corner across the table from me was starting a PhD in theoretical chemistry.  Good grief!  But the meal was very good - we had a smoked salmon salad to start, a roast lamb loin with au gratin potatoes and roast carrots for the 2nd course, some kind of banana/toffee flan/parfait thing for dessert and port and cheese for the 4th course.  They have these dinners every two weeks for grad students so I suppose I will go, both for the gourmet food and the "networking."   

Friday, October 1, 2010

Clotted Cream

It has been one week since I left Utah but I feel like it has been much longer.  Our weekend was much longer than planned – we spent quite a long time on the tarmac at the airport waiting for things like weather and luggage.  Once we had our car we spent a long time driving lost but it gave us a good chance to see some of the countryside.  It is beautiful here.  It didn’t look as foreign as I expected.  I guess I am used to places like Israel and Egypt, which DO look foreign J  But the houses and buildings are old and look old.  I love that!  The western United States so lack the historic charm that permeates the British countryside and the town of Cambridge.  I haven’t had much time to snap some pictures, but I will add what I have below:







Hopefully I can take many more but it has been very rainy since I have been here.  The rain and wind have actually been uncharacteristic for Cambridge at this time of year, which has been unfortunate, but I am hopeful it will get better in the next couple of weeks.  No one is ready for winter to set in yet, even the Brits who are here with me! 

Three out of the four girls in my flat are American BYU grads.  Lucy is the only one who is British but we have all been grateful for her cultural insights and clarifications.  I am quickly learning about the British obsession with tea.   Due to the cold and wet weather outside I now understand why tea is so important here, but I think I will still only appropriate the scones with their clotted cream and jam, which are very good! 

Orientation week has been packed full of activities and I am relieved to have a week and weekend before classes start on the 11th.  However, I have so enjoyed the opportunity to meet and become well-acquainted with those in my program.  Everyone is arriving with such a vast array of differing experiences.  I was told before I came that everyone I would meet at Cambridge would be interesting and I have so far found that to be true.  When someone has invested or is investing so much time and energy in his area of specialty, he can make that study come alive – even if it does regard Danish manuscripts written in the 13th and 14th centuries.  I feel very comfortable around those in my program and appreciate the diversity, not just of interests, but also of backgrounds.  Ages range from early 20s to upper 50s and three of the ten have PhDs already.  Another has a law degree.  That puts pressure on me, of course, because it means that they already know how to write a dissertation, but I still have confidence in my ability to keep up and do meaningful work.  We will see if I continue to feel that way after I receive my first essay grade! 

I am grateful to be here and, though I miss my husband and family very much, am looking forward to the next two months of total academic emersion.  That statement is enough of a lie already though, as Courtney and I have a trip to Dublin planned later this month (one of the women in our program is from Dublin and has offered us a couple rooms in her home for a weekend) and we are probably going to go explore London and Bath fairly shortly J