Saturday, April 30, 2011

Please Hold For a Panic Attack

I'm not quite sure why I thought I would be immune to my regularly scheduled yearly panic attack while here in England, but I think it's coming over me right now. As my parents will tell you, I usually have some sort of mild mental episode at least once a year that causes me to go through much distress over my schoolwork and the acting stuff I may or may not have going on at that point in time, and I've just come to expect them now. Sometimes it's more dramatic than others (last year's was not so great), but this time, it's just... weird.

The panic has been coming over me slowly over the past few days. Don't worry, I'm not in a bad way or anything, but I am starting to think about a lot of things because I only realised yesterday:


I can't believe it. I only have a little over a month left in this country, which I fall in love with more and more each day. I think I realised this when I started getting excited that my family was coming over to see me soon. I can't wait for them to get here, but when their stay is over, so is mine, since we're going home together. I don't want to leave London. There are still so many things I haven't done. I love it too much here, and it's hard to think that when I go home, and even when I go back to school, I won't see a lot of the friends I have here, some because they live in Europe, others because they live in faraway states, and still others just because we don't have the same major.

There are other things, too, that all hit me today and are causing me to seek stress relief. I haven't gotten my last two academic papers back and I'm worried about those grades. And while I was in France, I missed my history revision class, which isn't a huge deal, but I really would have liked to attend. My teacher posted the list of reading material that will help us on the exam but I lost my i.d. card yesterday which means that besides the arduous process I have to go through to get a new one, I can't even get into the library, let alone take out books. I think I may ask one of my friends to let me check out books on their card so I can start my studying (or as they call it here, revision.) I'm really scared of this exam; I can B.S. essays until the cows come home, but taking my first and only exam in the British school system is kind of daunting. No, scratch the kind of. It's daunting.

I think another contributing factor to my weird state of mind is that a lot of my really good friends from Arcadia had their last opening night on Thursday and will be presenting their theses and graduating soon. This means about 80% of my close friends will be gone when I start school next year. Some of them may stay close by, but it will never be the same as it was, and I feel bad that I can't see their final projects and watch them graduate.

The long strip of paper you see in the picture above is about half of my novel broken into little bits of scene. I have realised how many problems there are in it and am taking it apart and using this paper to examine and fix it. There is much about my writing that I'm beating myself up over, but this is not a writing blog, so I won't go on about that here.

Thankfully, a source of stress that went away today is my final (non-exam) essay. I had a thousand words due today on my Adaptations performance. It was easy once I got started, but it was definitely freaking me out for awhile. (Of course, I found out after I turned it in that it's due two days after I thought it was. Bleh. Either way, though, it's turned in.)

I know that this entry was more brain vomit than an entry... if you got to this point, I love you. I think it's all going to be okay, but as usual with these things, I just have to figure that out slowly.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Royal Wedding

Today was the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Hooray! That's about as much enthusiasm as I can work up over this event. Don't get me wrong, I know it's important, but a) I've never known or cared much about the royals and b) I am living in the city in which the wedding is being held, which means that the only way I'm affected is by a few thousand extra people clogging up the tubes when I need to get somewhere.

A few of my friends went to go freeze outside the wedding this morning. I think they're insane. People back home, however, seem to think I'm the crazy one. To be honest, the Americans seem more interested in this ceremony than the British do, and people have been Facebooking me begging me to go to the wedding. But here's why I am here, warm in my room at 12:30 p.m:


I get that it's exciting to be nearer to the wedding, but if I stood outside, I'd miss the actual ceremony. I didn't see any television screens set up outside so people could watch it. As far as I can tell, they just saw the cars go by and then stared at the road for an hour until they came by again. No thanks (plus, I probably wouldn't be able to see anything. I'm short. Most likely I just would have been staring at someone's back.)

I am not anti-wedding. I'll admit to watching a documentary about William and Kate's relationship yesterday and they seem like lovely, nice people. I am very happy for them on their wedding day, and I've chosen to be happy from afar, as they don't care whether or not I'm there. I will say, though, that Kate's dress was beautiful!

I did watch the ceremony accompanied by Maureen Johnson's (creator of BEDA and one of my favorite authors) commentary, which was very funny, since she pretty much has the same mindset as I do about this event. She did a three and a half hour live show and here are some of the highlights:

"God, I'm so tired of these interviews. Just show me the freaking people in hats!"

"They've put her in a tent. It kinda looks like one of those tents they use when they find a dead body... and she's gonna pop out like a weasel."

"There's a strange bald man... what does he want?"

"Here comes the fake tan brigade!"

“I just closed my own face… never close your own face.”

“Welcome back to where there is still no wedding.”

“In this kind of coverage, they do make you desperate to see anything.”

“The wedding doesn’t start until eleven? I’m going to have a stroke! There’s another hour and fifteen minutes of this CRAP?!”

“Who are these people and why do they keep putting the camera on them, besides that they’re pretty?”

“There are the poors. They’re cheering. Cheer, poors, cheer!”

“Sorry, I was just having a mental episode.”

“You know what they should do to make this wedding more interesting? They should let loose a bunch of raccoons.”

“We’re all just sitting around watching two cars drive slowly. We are sheep.”

“He’s got a scar on his head like he’s had a lobotomy.”

“Is that a female religious person? How progressive!”

“This is the thing about weddings- just when you think all the boring crap is over, someone plays another song… no one likes these songs.”

“Harry’s gonna yak at any second…”

“Don’t try to tease me with shots of adorable children.”

“Where are the other two flower girls? Maybe they sacrificed them in the back room. Oh, well, someone’s gotta die.”

“Enjoy the footage you’ll be forced to watch for the rest of your lives.”

But now that's over and I am going to get on with my day. On campus. Away from the crazies.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Accents and Languages

100th POST! HOORAY! *steals paper blowy thing from wedding obsessor and celebrates with it*

And because I've hit this large number, I'm not going to talk about my day and how pointless it seemed to be, since I got almost nothing done due to an unforeseen problem. No! I will talk about something else!

The first- I mentioned in one of my France posts that I was surprised by all of the French speaking in France. Having lived in English-speaking places my whole life and not visiting many places before that didn't use English, it was really different, and I still can't imagine speaking another language and not translating it into English first to understand what people are saying. This is also why I was so amazed watching Megan throughout my visit.
Megan is very good at French. She always has been, in my eight or so years of knowing her, but seeing her in action in France- it was awesome, and I told her so. I can't fathom having an ease with other languages, as learning new ones has never come easily to me. It's fascinating.

The second- Adrienne mentioned that, in traveling around London with her dad and sister, she was told by several English people that they thought she was from the north of England. This is puzzling to me. Perhaps it's just because I talk to her pretty much every day, but she still sounds very American to me. I, too, was asked where I was from in England by my seatmate on the Eurostar, and I don't think my accent has changed, either. There are three explanations I can think of for these occurances:

1) There is an English accent that is similar to a standard American one. There very well could be- there seem to be a million dialects- but I'm not well-versed in the intricacies of English accents. According to Wikipedia (only the best resources here, folks), the areas of Lancashire, West Country, Corby area, Yorkshire, and Lincolnshire in England use rhotic Rs, as well as Ireland and Scotland. Perhaps these people think we are from these areas.

2) There has been a slight change to our speech. As much as I would love an English accent, I rather doubt this one- I've talked to people from home over Skype and I think they would have mentioned it.

3) There are enough Americans living in England/London for them to simply assume that we live in England despite our obviously foreign accents.

Whichever it is, it's very interesting.

Lastly for today- I have to admit defeat for my first Script Frenzy. I'm a bit disappointed in myself- this was probably the most free April I'll ever have, but I slacked off when I was traveling and it really took a toll. It also failed because the plot was weak. But it's okay- I failed m first National Novel Writing Month, too. It's all about figuring out how to approach it. I'll probably still finish the play, just not this month.

Now I must go and Skype!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

France Day Four

Note: I've posted all of my France entries on their respective days, so look below for those!

My final day in Lille was centered locally- Megan and I went to the local art museum, then to a bookstore, where it took everything in me not to buy some books. Not too much to say about those destinations- they were museumy and storey :p

When I got to the train station to catch the Eurostar back to London, Megan and I said goodbye when my platform was announced. She had told me that they were very strict about people coming back into England, but I wasn't worried. I got through the first check with no problem, filled out my immigration card, and took it to the window. The woman on the other side was nice at first, but the more she looked at my card, the sterner she grew. Suddenly, she started asking me rapid-fire questions: why was I in England for five months? Where was I studying? Did I have papers confirming this when I came in January? What was the date I arrived in January? How long was I in France? On what date did I get there? What date was I leaving England? Why that date?

This was when it started getting weird. After all of these questions were finished, she launched into an actual lecture, gazing at me coldly the whole way through. "I'm not going to give you too much trouble about this," she said. "But you need another visa." "Excuse me?" I stammered. I'd checked my visa a million times to make sure it was the right one. Getting a visa takes a really long time to do, and I couldn't believe I needed a new one. I pointed at the writing in my passport. "I have one, right there."
"That's a student visa," she snapped. "That only allows you to be in the country for less than six months. If you're leaving on the 11th of June, you're overstaying by a good number of days. You should leave on the third."
"So make sure you're out of the country by the eleventh."
"I will be, but isn't-"
"This is very serious, but I'm going to let it go right now."
At this point, under the counter I was adding up the number of months from January to June on my fingers. Each time, I came to five. But whenever I tried to tell the woman this, she just glared at me and wouldn't let me speak. Eventually, she said, a final stern, "All right?" and I said, "Yes. And, I'm sorry, but... isn't January to June only five months?:
She seemed to be holding herself back from rolling her eyes at me as she opened her own hand and started to count on her fingers, making sure I could see what she was doing. When she landed on the fourth April-to-May finger, her smirk vanished and she looked up at me, wide-eyed. "I'm so sorry," she said. "Maths isn't my best subject." I wanted to stick my tongue out at her and blow a raspberry, but instead I said, "It's all right. It's not mine either." After a few more profuse apologies, she let me go. There's nothing like the threat of deportation to make a day interesting :p

The rest of the journey back was considerably less dramatic. I sat next to an older British woman who was very nice and we chatted most of the ride to St. Pancras, during which time she asked me many questions and told me all about her potted plants that had been stolen and how she, too, was hiding from the wedding tourists tomorrow. I got back to my room around nine and now it's past 2:30 a.m. and I am going to bed!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

France Day Three


Megan and I rose at 5 a.m. to leave at 5:30 for our 6:30 train into Paris. We arrived at the Gare de Nord around 7:40 a.m. I couldn't believe I was in Paris, especially when Megan led me onto and off of the Metro and to this:

My first thought was "Wow, Disney really got it right," which is kind of stupid since I don't really remember what Notre Dame looks like in the Hunchback of Notre Dame, not having seen it since I wa very young. I tried to stop thinking stupid thoughts after that and instead enjoyed what I found inside (and outside):

It was really awesome, to the point where I had the feeling that I wasn't fully appreciating what I was seeing.
We hung around in the church for a bit because Megan wanted to get a rosary for her youngest brother, but the problem was that we were there too early for... well, everything. None of the stores or restaurants or even stands were open. This meant that Megan couldn't get her rosary and we also couldn't go up into the bell tower, since we had to get to our next location before heading to our tour. So cue to next sight that I didn't feel I was fully appreciating:

When I saw this, I squealed, "Look! It's all tall and Eiffel-y!" Basically, my mind shuts down when I see exciting things :p

The line to get up the tower was ridiculous. The tower opened at nine. We arrived at 9:40 and the line was a mile long... and I'm not sure I'm exagerrating. We waited for about an hour and a half, finally buying our tickets to get to the top of the tower.
Because the line was so long, it ate into our time to see other things. So after we went up to the third level and snapped pictures, we got crepes across the street from the tower.

It was pretty good, but I'm not sure if I liked it more than any other crepe I've had. They folded it over a lot before putting the chocolate in, so it was mostly the flavor of the dough-type stuff. But it was still good.
We headed over to the ticket office and picked up the actual tickets for our tour. We were early, so we crossed the street to the Jardin Tuleries, which, contrary to the picture in my head, did not have many flowers, though it did have lots of statues.

On either side of the garden were the Louvre, the obelisk, and the Arc du Triomph. All pretty awesome to see, even from a distance.

At 1:15, we went back to the tour company and got on the bus to head to Giverny, where Monet's house is. As it turns out, sitting down was a bad idea. I couldn't figure out why I was so tired until I realised that we had already been up for almost nine hours and been on our feet for seven of those hours. For most of the hour and a half ride to Giverny, I was trying hard not to fall asleep and so was Megan. By the time we got to Giverny, however, we were pretty much recovered, which was good because it was a pretty cool sight to see.

I'm not much of an art person, but I do know of Monet and his work, and the site was awesome.

We spent about two and a half hours there before we all had to be back on the bus to go to Paris again. When we got back, we had enough time to grab dinner before hopping on the Lille-bound train. We were in Lille by 10:15 and back at Megan's room by 11:00, exhausted, but in a good way.

Monday, April 25, 2011

France Day Two

My second day in France involved seeing a bit more of Lille. We didn't really have any specific places in mind, but we headed into the city's center after stopping off at Paul (a bakery chain that is also common in London) for a lapin chocolat (chocolate rabbit).

We ended up taking a path into a park, and when we got to the other side of it, we discovered that there was a carnival in full swing, with rides, games, and carnival food. We walked through and we both got barbe de papa (dad's beard, or cotton candy.)

As you can see, it was huge- and that was the smallest size! Megan said that she didn't know if she could finish all of it, and as we walked through the carnival eating our cotton candy, some teenage boys passed us and one snatched a handful of Megan's cotton candy! Be careful what you wish for, I guess :p

Megan led me toward the local zoo, which had free admission- that still blows my mind. It was a small zoo, but still a pretty good one. I was surprised that most of the cages/animal areas weren't enclosed. I was pretty sure if an animal wanted to jump out, it could- that's how low some of the walls were.

As I said, the zoo was small, so it didn't take us long to get through it. Megan then took me to the miliary base, but we couldn't go inside.

Something that is obvious but still surprised me was that people speak French. I know that sounds dumb, but I did just go to Italy, where people automatically switched into English when speaking to me. Being in France has been my first real, immersive experience when it comes to a different language. And while I've taken French since eighth grade with two great teachers, I have zero aptitude for the subject. I love it and think it's interesting and try hard, but I can still barely put a sentence together. Add to this the fact that first, they speak very fast, and second, they ask me things I never learned (due to my low level) and I was completely lost. By the third or fourth time, I actually felt the physical change as my eyes switched from normal to a glassy I-don't-understand-a-word-of-what-you-just-said stare. Thank God I had Megan there to help me. I was really irritated with myself for not being better, but it wasn't just lack of knowledge that held me back. I actually knew how to speak more French than I did while I was there, but I've always been so concerned about pronouncing something wrong or searching for words that I generally opt to be mute rather than risk making these mistakes. Therefore, most of the French things I said over the weekend were limited to "pardon," "merci," and "lapin chocolat, s'il vous plait." Disgraceful.

Tomorrow: Paris!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

France Day One

I headed for Lille, which is in the north of France, at 7:00 a.m. on Easter morning. Because so much of our time in London was spent sprinting to things (sometimes in a panic), Megan and I always joke that we are going to be cast in the next Jason Bourne movie. This wasn't so funny, though, when my day got off to a very Bourne-ish star.
I got to St. Pancras International, which is connected to King's Cross, around 7:45. My Eurostar train left at 8:58 and I had to get in line to check in at 8:30. Plenty of time, right? I thought so, too. I bought some Cadbury eggs for our unconventional Easter and headed over to the lines to join one. As it inched forward, I realised that everyone else had real tickets, not printed out itineraries like mine. But this was no problem (I thought); there were self-service machines in an alcove behind me. I stepped out of line, went over to one, and put in my info.

"We are unable to print this ticket as it has already been distributed," the machine informed me.

This wasn't good. The ticket hadn't already been printed- not by me, at least. At this point, it was about 8:20. I went over to a security guy by the wall and told him my problem. "It won't print?" he clarified. I confirmed this and told him that I really had to be in line already. When he found out my departure time, he looked concerned. "Run," he told me. "Run to the ticket office, cut in front of the line, and tell them what's going on."

And so the Bourne movie began as I sprinted through St. Pancras. When I got to the office, I went around the line and one of the employees saw me looking distressed. "What's wrong?" she asked. I explained my problem and handed her my itinerary. She looked at it and said, "Uh, you already missed your train."
The word "shriek" is only slightly too harsh to describe the volume of my voice when I cried, "No I didn't!" When I declared this, she glanced at the paper again and said, "Oh no, I guess you haven't." I recovered from my heart attack as she printed out my tickets. It turns out I wasn't the only one having the printing problem, and she moved on to a family of five while I dashed back to the departure area and got in line. After being moved to the front of several lines, I got through (after dropping one of my tickets and thinking I lost it) and made my way down to the train.

But my adventure wasn't over. It took me forever to find my seat because I got on on the wrong end of the train (the printing problem had robbed me of my time to check the guide to find out where to get on.) This meant I had to maneuver my way through the train with my bag and a rolled-up blanket. At one point, I reached a serving area that looked blocked off. "You can go through," one worker told me, but when I was halfway through, another worker yelled at me for passing that way.

By the time I finally found my seat, I was sweating and exhausted. But I did make it to France unscathed and Megan was there to meet me. We took the metro back to her building, I dropped off my stuff, and then we went to the market that goes up every Sunday.

Lille isn't a very big city, but it has more in it than it seemed when Megan was telling me about it. It has a theatre and an opera house, as well as a small mall. The market was cool, selling everything from cloth to knick-knacks to produce (a lot of produce.) It didn't take us long to walk through it and it had begun to rain, so we ducked into a bakery and bought a fresh, still-warm-from-the-oven baguette, which we took back to Megan's room and ate with cheese. It was delicious.
Because it was not only a Sunday but Easter, pretty much everything was closed; I was actually surprised that the market was running. We passed the time until dinner talking and watching an episode or two of Castle.
For dinner, Megan took me to one of her favorite eateries in Lille, Celine's, for kebabs. Kebabs were a surprise. To me, a kebab is a stick with things speared onto it. But the kebab I was served was actually a sandwich. As surprising as it was, it was also very tasty!
When we got back to the room, we watched-what else?- the Bourne Identity, to remind us of the things we might have to do during our trip. Tomorrow: more Lille exploration!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Bath, Lacock, and Stonehenge

(First of all, don't miss yesterday's post below this!)

Today was quite cool, except when I woke up to Katie asking, "Do you remember talking to me in the middle of the night last night?" It's so embarrassing to be sleep-talker, especially when you haven't even known the person for a day.

Anyway, after a delicious breakfast, we hopped into the van and were off by 8:30, heading for Bath. I haven't mentioned that the vehicle we took held the whole tour of sixteen people. That was a good number because it's much less people a) to walk around with and b) to wait for when you need to leave.

As you know, I've already been to Bath- I visited with Megan when she came to visit. The big part of this visit, just like mine and Megan's, was to see the Roman baths. While I know that they're impressive and historical... I'd already seen them and I was pretty sure they hadn't changed. However, I didn't want to waste my entry into them, so I spent about fifteen to twenty minutes listening to all of Bill Bryson's (who is an author I like- he's American but lives in England and is very famous here) commentary, and then got out of there. My goal being in Bath this time was to go to the Jane Austen Centre, which I did.

Me in front of the Regent's Crescent

I'm going to be honest- I've never finished an Austen novel. Not for lack of interest, I just... haven't (well, there may have been some lack of interest in Emma. I can't even get through the movie version.) However, I do like the stories, and I was in luck- this year is the 200th anniversary of my favorite Austen story, Sense and Sensibility! I was a little disappointed with it, to be honest. I didn't mind that it was small, but I didn't really learn anything I didn't already know. It was cool to see the call sheets and parts of the script from the filming of Persuasion (2007) and a hand-written letter from Emma Thompson (she's so wonderful), but I just wasn't incredibly impressed with the centre at all.

A new portrait of Jane Austen based on what her friends and family wrote about her appearance.

Emma Thompson's letter!

Most disappointing was the gift shop. I figured I could pick up some cool Jane Austen stuff as well as some S&S peraphernalia... but there wasn't really any. They're really into Pride and Prejudice there, and while I like that, my love for S&S is much, much greater. I thought perhaps I could get a book about the making of one of the movies, but they only had one, and I already have it at home. I ended getting a cool book about Austen heroines and a magnet with all of the books on it.

I walked down to the house where Jane, her mother, and her sister lived for a few months after her father died (it's now a dentist. Way to fail, Bath.) I also managed to snap a picture of her more long-term residence at number 4 Sidney Place.

#4 Sidney Place

Temporary residence/contemporary dentist fail

Off to Lacock (the "La" is pronounced "Lay") we went, which was a small village that was very picturesque, even if that doesn't really show up in pictures well. There's not a terrible lot to say about Lacock, but it was pretty.

After that was our last stop, Stonehenge. I've already been here, too, but the conditions were so much different than last time. You'll remember that my last visit involved rain, freezing temperatures, and all-around greyness. Today was bright, hot, and sunny, so my pictures are pretty different!

Must go pack for France tomorrow! I'm not bringing my computer, as I've said, so I probably won't update until I get back.

(Oh, and I also started and finished another Maggie O'Farrell book on the trip. She's a great author. Read her.)

(Also, I may have said this already, but I am SO glad that I'm not going to be in London for the next few days. The wedding- and don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about because even if you're less interested in it than I am, you can only be unaware of it if you live under a rock- isn't until Thursday but London is slowly being taken over by tourists. Tourists who are under the impression that they were invited to this event. Tourists who don't know how to use the tube. Or navigate the city. Or walk in general. As I am no longer a tourist, this is annoying to me. I do not wish to be around as their numbers swell. I plan on barricading myself in my room on the 28th.)

Oxford and the Cotswolds

I am reporting from the Holiday Inn in Bristol (which is not at all where I expected to be staying… I like it muchly.) The trip has been pretty cool so far, though I think tomorrow’s going to be even better.

Today we did Oxford and Cotswolds. Our bus driver/on the road tour guide is really awesome. They choose the absolute best people to do tours here- I’ve never had a bad one anywhere. Before the tour even started, I overheard a conversation between the other two Americans on the tour. They are sort of the stereotypical American girls- loud, Valley Girl-ish, a bit rude, and there was instant dislike between them and me. Unfortunately, because their names happened to be right after mine on the check in list and we’re the same age, I kept being lumped in with them. This was really not good, since they liked me about as much I liked them (they mocked me as much as they mocked our bus driver. I don’t know why.) We reconciled a bit over Harry Potter, but I am glad that I’m not rooming with them at the hotel. In fact, my roommate Katie, who is Australian, just asked me, “What do you think of the other Americans?” and when I told her what I’d observed, she said, “I KNOW!” (She also used to be an actor, so we’ve had a lot to talk about.)

I was really excited to go to Oxford, since I’ve never been there and it’s been host to some pretty accomplished people- Lewis Caroll, JRR Tolkein, C.S. Lewis, Iris Murdoch, Lynn Barber (a.k.a Jenny Mellor from An Education)… the list goes on and on. And then, of course, there’s the fact that Harry Potter is constantly filmed there.

It was everything I expected- a very cool-looking town with three hundred and eighty-five libraries and seventy-eight colleges under Oxford. We had a really great walking tour for an hour, and then had a little bit of time to explore the town ourselves. There's a bridge there fashioned after the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, and I felt pretty awesome when I was able to raise my hand when our tour guide aked, "Has anybody been there?" Unfortunately, a lot of the really interesting-looking shops were closed today because it’s Good Friday, but I did get a few cool souvenirs.

I never really understood why Cotswolds has an ‘s’ on the end of its name. It turns out that it’s because it’s called the Cotswolds, and it’s more than one place. We made about three or four different stops, and it was all beautiful country. (If anyone’s seen The Holiday, Iris lives in Cotswolds.) There’s not that much more to say about it- it’s pretty and country-y and I liked it :p

Now it's time to go to bed- off to Bath at 8:30 tomorrow!