Friday, October 27, 2006

Just for fun

The lovely game of Arteroids. Play it with the sound on, at least at first. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The city of dreaming spires

It's official. I want to get my Master's at Oxford. I've always said that, but only because it has such an amazing academic reputation. Of course, that's still a major part of my reasoning. The real reason now, though, is that I just fell in love with the city when I visited last Saturday.

The trip got off to a bit of a rough start, but everything was made right once I stepped out of the train station. The weather was, of course, a bit grey, but the city was beautiful. I don't know how it's possible for such a busy place to feel like a village, but it did. I prefer it immensely to London. Oxford's called the city of dreaming spires for a reason; it seemed that there was a steeple in every lovely view. Those were just the views from the ground. The first place I visited was St. Mary's, which started out as the university, but became its church as the university outgrew the building. St. Mary's has (I believe) the highest tower in the city, which I just had to climb up. Wow. The view is undoubtedly the most breathtaking city landscape I have ever seen. I loved it. Oxford has so many old buildings that I caught a glimpse of history from every angle. I could have stayed up there for hours. (In fact, staying at the top might have been easier, because the stairs were wicked -- tiny stone spiral steps most of the way, barely wide enough for one person. Not for those who suffer from vertigo, let me tell you.) The church itself was beautiful, too, with giant stained glass windows and a plush chorister.

Afterwards I went on a tour of the colleges, which was obviously thrilling beyond belief for me. I'm not really prone to celebrity worship, but I was definitely starstruck as the tour went on. The tour guide just kept listing these amazing people who had attended or taught at the different colleges -- Tolkien, Phillip Pullman, Christopher Wren, the guy who invented the Internet (I should know his name, but I don't), and of course the list goes on for miles. She also told us that bits of Harry Potter were shot there, and that the first movie of the Dark Instrument series (Not released yet, I believe) was shot there as well. It was so cool. And the colleges themselves were spectacular. Some of them had been established in the 1300s, although most of the buildings were more recent than that, roughly 17th century, I think she said. My favorite part in regard to the architecture was when we passed under a little bridge inspired by the Venetian style. The tour guide just mentioned it in passing, and told us it was 90 years old. "So it's pretty new." I love that; you could never say that in the States. Unfortunately, we didn't get to go in very many of the colleges. Most days we would have been able to, but the day I went was matriculation day. I didn't mind too much. Seeing the students in full regalia made up for it. I was really glad that I got to see students, actually. I've already mentioned that I've wanted to go to Oxford for a while, and I always had this perception that students there are always serious. It's a stupid assumption, really, because why would people my age be so much calmer just because they're at a famous school? They definitely aren't. We passed a tavern, stuffed to the gills with students and their families celebrating. I saw one guy put a traffic cone on his head, put his cap on top of it, and pose for a picture. We passed a hall of residence, and a group of students were blasting Queen and greeted us by shouting, "Look, tourists!" It was great.

As much as I loved the city, I must admit I was disappointed by some aspects. I wouldn't have believed it possible, but I saw virtually nothing about Tolkien. I had to go to the Eagle and Child on my own, and even that pub, so central to the writing and life of Tolkien, had only a poster that was about 2 ft x 4 ft at the largest. I was dumbfounded. I know I'm not the only Tolkien fan; I visited his grave (yes, I know it's morbid), and just as I was leaving, someone else approached. But that was the only sign of his notoriety that I saw, unless you count someone at the Oxfam bookshop realizing where I was going when I asked for directions to the cemetery. That aspect of the trip was a complete letdown. I'd planned on buying people Tolkien or Lord of the Rings gifts while there, but I just couldn't find them. Maybe I didn't look hard enough. I didn't get to see half of the sites associated with Tolkien, or the few Oxford sites related to Tolkien. I didn't get to see Merton or Magdalen college, and I didn't get to see Lewis' grave, which I'm very sad about. Lewis is my favorite author ever. I guess this just means that I have to go back ... :)

Monday, October 09, 2006

London Adventure No. 2: A bliss of paper and ink

Saturday was nothing short of amazing. I arrived in central London intending to go to a market for book collectors, but wound up walking through a small but lovely garden instead. I took a few pictures, but soon headed toward my next destination: the British Library. To save a little money, I decided to walk through London instead of taking the tube or bus. (Although to be honest, I probably wouldn't have taken the bus anyway; I still haven't figured out how the bus system works.) I didn't bother trying to take in everything. I just walked, slightly aware of the stores and restaurants and people around me. I did stop once when I saw a store that had something about paper in the name. I've been looking for stationery (which is ridiculously hard to find for some reason), so I decided to go in. It was such a beautiful store. They didn't have stationery, but they did have lots of decorative paper. Gorgeous: handmade papers with fibre and flowers, the famous swirling peacock design, richly colored satin-like sheets filled with silver symbols. It also had materials for bookbinding, as well as guides on how to do it. I've never encountered that before, and I was enchanted. Now I have something else to add to my list of life goals. :) I did leave soon enough, though, because I wanted to have plenty of time to spend in the library.

When I arrived, I was just blown away. The British Library is not at all what I expected. It doesn't really look all that big or beautiful, but it was still impressive. It's a complex that rises into the sky, and you come at it from this flat courtyard that's actually quite pretty in a stark sort of way. But the real delight came when I went inside. Until Sunday, they had an exhibit about British newspapers, which is why I absolutely had to go on Saturday. As a journalism major (albeit not for long), it would be a terrible waste to miss that. The exhibit was wonderful; I sort of stood in awe of this incredible history in front of me. I picked up a free newspaper that contained all the headlines on display, so I have a souvenir to show anyone who cares. I was really disappointed that I wasn't allowed to take pictures. I did, however, have my picture taken for the newspaper page I "designed." I now have a front page with my byline and headshot above a story about the future of the Internet, published by the Independent. (I got to decide which paper I wanted to work for, and I decided on the Independent because they had the most interesting designs in the entire exhibit, in my opinion.) Once I made my way through the newspaper exhibit, I went to the room that houses the "Treasures of the British Library." I was absolutely dumbstruck. The most amazing experience ever. End of story. I just walked around with this incredibly stupid smile on my face as I looked at the books. Jane Austen's journal, and one of her writing desks. Charlotte Bronte's writing. Seamus Heaney. A copy of Beowulf from the 1500s. Bits of sheet music from Mozart and Beethoven and so many more. Handwritten lyrics to Beatles songs written on napkins, torn pieces of paper. Ancient copies of the Bible, on vellum and with ornate calligraphy. Sacred Hindu and Buddhist texts. The Magna Carta. Copies of pages from da Vinci's notebook. A letter written by Newton. A letter written by Darwin. A letter written by Thomas More. Nothing short of amazing. I don't think there's more to say, really. It leaves me speechless.

I followed the trip to the library with a trip to an antique market, which was a disappointment. Lots of pretty things, but nothing I could buy. I did, however, stop at a charity shop later and buy two books, just to fit in with the literary theme of my day. I'd never heard of either: one's about the history of tulips, and one's about the future of technology. I returned to my flat happy, satisfied in knowing that my literary explorations of London/England are just beginning, as I have a trip to Oxford planned for Saturday.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Landmarks/cool things I've seen or visited so far:

* The Peter Pan statue
* The Rosetta Stone
* A couple of Jackson Pollock paintings
* Waterlilies, by Monet
* Millennium Bridge
* A house Rudyard Kipling lived in
* Shakespeare's Globe Theatre exhibition (but not the theatre yet)
* A bit of Notting Hill
* Kensington Gardens/Palace

adopt your own virtual pet!