Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Oh hey, remember that one time we went to Amsterdam for the weekend?

Yeah, that happened.

Kitty, Matt, Kelly, and I went to Amsterdam this past weekend, we were literally there for 48 hours so we all committed to making the most of our trip. We flew into Amsterdam around 7:30 Friday night and had to go to and we got to our hostel successfully a couple hours later, hoorah! We wanted the trip to be affordable so we had decided to spend the night in a room with 10 people in order to pay the cheapest that we could for rooms. But much to our surprise, when we opened the door to our room, there were only 4 beds. Some how we got upgraded to a private room with our own bathroom! I didn't even know that hostels did room upgrades, but I'm happy they did.

We got these cards called the I-Amsterdam cards for 48 euros(which is a lot). We wanted to make the most of them, which covered the entrance to 25 museums and any sort of public transportation we used in the city. So our first night in the hostel was spent deciding how to pack a ton of stuff into the next 2 days and going to sleep early.

We awoke early on Saturday and had breakfast in the hostel. The breakfast was pretty standard: juice, bread, hardboiled eggs, cereal, krumpets and there was a cappuccino maker, so I was set for the day. After bundling up we began our first epic day.

We went to:
1. The Tulip Museum-people in Amsterdam LOVE tulips so it made sense that there would be a museum devoted entirely to the history of tulips. Did you know that...
a. tulips originated in Asia
b. that the turks loved tulips and the word "tulips" comes from tulipa which means muslin
c. the tulip trade was so profitable that poor people would become tulip growers and
merchants to get out of poverty

Note: There was almost a 2 hour time gap between the Tulip Museum and our next destination. Kitty and I forgot our I-Amsterdam booklets so we had to go back to the hostel. As we were trying to find out next destination, we realized how crappy our maps were because they were too zoomed out to be much use. So we ended up wandering around, getting lost, and consequently getting tired, annoyed, and hungry. None of us wanted our 48 euros to go to waste and we hadn't done much in the day and were continuing to waste time because we were lost. But eating lunch from a local grocery store next to a canal helped curb our crankiness. After our stomachs were filled, we were ready to yet again commit to our overly ambitious day.

2. FOAM-a museum of Richard Avedon's portraits. Don't know him? Check him out because he was an incredible photographer and took some very interesting portraits of famous people. The thing that I loved about his pictures was that he wasn't trying to necessarily make the person look good, instead he wanted to show a different angle of them.

3. Van Loon Museum-we got to walk around a wealthy person's house from the early 1900's and see what it was like to be rich. The interior designer was HUGE on symmetry in the rooms, so there were a lot of fake doors in the was silly.

On our walk to the southwest of Amsterdam we passed the majestic Rembrandt museum.

Behind the museum was an outdoor skating rink and one of the most ridiculous playgrounds I have ever seen. It was basically a bunch of logs put together in obscure ways. It was hardly safe for me climbing on the playgound let alone a toddler. There was a huge field that people were playing was so great to be able to walk on the grass because people in Oxford do not allow you to walk on the will be fined.

4. Van Gogh Museum-this was an exhibit of the life of Van Gogh. We got to learn about different periods in Van Gogh's life and see his paintings that corresponded with his artwork. I feel like we only see about 10 of his works on a regular basis but he used to be a dull still life painter and slowly moved to color and finging his own style and then became introduced to the Japanese style.

Note: We spent too long at the Van Gogh and had to spring to the Heinekin museum to get there before it closed. We go there just as they were closing. Looking silly and running actually pays off...that's all I'm saying.

5. Heineken Museum-Surprisingly one of the best parts of the trip.

I wish I could describe how flippin sweet this museum was. They had just finished doing a bunch of renovations and it showed. So the first hour was spent touring the facilities of a beer manufacturer(pretty standard) and going on the Brew U Ride.
What's the Brew U ride? Oh, let me tell you. You go into a room and stand 4 to a bleacher on 4 bleachers. You are facing a huge screen in the front of the room and are told that you are going to be made into beer. So you go through the process complete with a moving and shaking floor when you are being stirred or transported, heat and red light when you are being heated, and water sprays when you are dropped into a tub. Basically, it was awesome.

We also got to go to 2 bars along the tour and get complimentary Heinekens, sit in chairs and look at old Heineken commercials, go to a sports room and see the sports that Heineken sponsors, play fooseball, record videos and send them home, go to a lounge with huge TV screens and bottles covering the ceiling like icicles, and take pictures at the many Heineken provided photo ops.

6. Night Canal Cruise: We got to travel on the many canals of Amsterdam and see the city lit up at night. Also all the bridges were lit up too which was amazing! We also got to look into all the houses and house boats, and not going to lie, it was pretty great being able to spy on people's interior decorating. This was also a trip highlight.
After an incredibly full day, which included Matt getting stuck on the tram without the rest of us, we went to bed, utterly content.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Valumtimes Day Prom!

Let’s face it, people are usually unhappy about Valentines Day. Sure, there are those who are particularly stoked about V-Day because they are happily in love and are looking forward to showering/being showered by their loved one with the same commercialized gifts as everyone else in the world-chocolate, sickeningly romantic card, flowers, stuffed animals, balloons. (Unfortunately, I must admit that I am a sucker for these things but that’s beside the point)

Valentines Day was even worse here for many of us Americans at Oxford because not only were half the people lamenting not having a significant other on a holiday so devoted to love, the other half were sad that their loved one was across the sea, so far away on this day.

But we were able to rectify this situation with a Valumtimes Day Prom! (it was Kitty Mullet’s idea).
The Attire: Tacky Funky Fresh
The Goal: To look as ridiculous as possible
What Happened: Bright/Fluorescent colors

I have been recently put on the JCR committee along with Ashleigh, Alexia, and Kitty and basically we are in charge of organizing and arranging events in the common room. The committee is a lot more serious than I had anticipated, we have our meetings with the president of our college and we have £250 to spend for the term. I am the publicist and I get to promote the event to the 35 kids who live in one dorm…I’m pretty sure I got the easy job.

Anyway, we spent all week talking with people about the prom (like what they needed to make Valumtimes Day Prom a success), shopping for groceries, making food, creating music playlists, and pimping out the hideous common room (a combination of gray lockers, red velvet curtains, beige wallpaper with red velvet flowers, ridiculous tables and chairs, fluorescent lights, white heaters, and an array of knick knacks on shelves).

But against all odds, we transformed the common room into a place of Valumtimes Day joy! Some talented artists painted a canvas making a ridiculous pink backdrop for prom photos. We pushed the chairs to the side and hung balloons and streamers to make a festive dance floor. We had a ridiculous amount of alcohol: mixed drinks, sangria, hard cider, etc, etc. Don't worry, there was also food: chocolate chip cookies, cakes, chocolate fondue with fruit, pretzels, and cake.

Some people danced, others talked, and others sat in a circle and played a game of “steamy” dice that Marie’s mother sent her (but the game didn’t get steamier than some one kissing someone else’s leg). The prom was a success and took people’s minds off of the potential heartache that Valumtimes Day can bring.

Some highlights of the night:
Demimi and Andrew’s dance solos(not shown)
Kevin’s rented Tux ----->
Nora's gypsy shirt -------->
Pictures against the ridiculous backdrop -->

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Swanky Friday

This past Friday was by far the classiest and most sophisticated night we have had here so far. We actually mingled with the cultured social lites of Oxford.

We, at CMRS, decided that we needed to class it up for this night of sophistication. The girls all wore their fanciest dresses even thought the events of the night did not warrant this level of dressing up. But I just love dressing up! I brought a black cocktail dress with me, hoping to find some sort of classy occasion to whip it out and Friday was that night.

A bunch of us have been meaning to go to the Oxford Modern Art Museum, which is about two blocks away from us. Friday night the museum hosted an after-hours event, which was the perfect time for our museum debut. Even though we convinced ourselves this was some spectacular swanky event, it really only meant that the museum would open later, have tours of exhibits, and offer some sort of workshop. And…it was free!

We walked into the café part of the museum: the lights were turned down low, a DJ was playing some ballin music, and people were sitting at tables with friends drinking cocktails. It was a really relaxed, comfortable atmosphere. We had expected to be ridiculously dressed up for this occasion, because these wore our classiest outfits, but in reality what we consider fancy, most people consider standard attire. I browsed the artwork on the first floor pretending like I understood the deeper meaning of a piece of wood with cut-out circles and squares.

However, I was not prepared for the upstairs exhibit.

A Guatemalan woman had used movies as the medium for her expression of modern art. But the videos were not artsy or trippy in and of themselves; they were amateur productions and it looked like some one had taken a tiny camera and recorded these videos. The lights were dim and three videos were projected on different walls and people turned to watch different ones. The videos were fairly repetitive and lacked serious action or plot (so I’m not sure how exactly they were art...they seemed to be about making statements-but is that art? Bahhh the concept of modern art is so difficult for me to comprehend). But I’ll let you be the judge of their artistic qualities.

1st video- A woman, I think the artist, was in the middle of town, hanging by a cable 30ish feet above the street. She wore a huge white plastic bag and she resembled an angel(I’m not sure if that was intentional). She was reading from a book of poetry (I think) and when she finished reading a page, she threw it into the street. She attracted a lot of attention and by the end of the video a large crowd had formed around her and whenever she dropped a sheet of paper, people frantically tried to grab it like it was a piece of money. This whole charade went on for a good 30 minutes. It was literally just her dangling and throwing down paper.

2nd video- A slim naked woman (I’m pretty sure not the artist) was being assessed by a plastic surgeon in the middle of a park. He was drawing all the marks on her where he found fat or imperfections. By the end of the 30-minute long video this slim woman who I thought had a great body was covered in ink. I’m pretty certain that this was a commentary on the world’s perception of the perfect body and the ridiculousness of that pursuit…but is it art?

3rd video- A woman (I think the artist) was walking through town. She was carrying a bowl of red liquid, symbolizing blood (though it may have actually been blood, you never can tell with artists) and every couple steps she would stop to dip her feet in the red liquid. She created a trail of bloody footprints through the town as a protest of someone being elected to office who would cause hardship. But literally the entire video was her walking through town and every couple steps dipping her feet in the blood. It got repetitive real quick. She was making a statement and raising awareness in a pretty graphic way: bloody footprints. It was such a gripping and compelling image. But are all protests art forms?

Despite the lack of artistic quality in producing these films, I was mesmerized by them. I could not stop watching these repetitive videos. I began thinking about body image as I watched the plastic surgeon point out flaws I didn’t notice on this woman who might have worn a size 2. The idea of body image is something on which our culture is fixated; it is emotionally, physically, and mentally unhealthy. People are on a quest of having this perfect body, which is unattainable. If you are seeking some sort of lasting physical perfection, you will not find it because our bodies are constantly changing, evolving and ultimately decaying. But so many people enter into impossible, frustrating, and self-degrading pursuits where physical perfection becomes an addiction; it’s so sad because they are never entirely satisfied with themselves. We are inundated with images of the “perfect” bodies on TV, in magazines, on the internet, but I’m pretty sure that most people with these tremendous bodies are not satisfied…they don’t see themselves the way the rest of us do. They have the plastic surgeon’s eyes, focusing on every flaw. But then what’s the point of having a great body anyway if we can never be satisfied with it?

After the upstairs video exhibit, we went to the basement to watch a documentary on the history of skateboarding, which was a much lighter film than the previous ones. It was an American film-hoorah! It was a great documentary full of humor, old videos, and epic action scenes; it reminded me of the surfing documentary Endless Summer.

I looked around the packed room and realized that I was surrounded by the trendiest people I have ever seen in my life. Seriously think of the classiest, trendiest people you can imagine and that was who I got to share a room with. I felt so swanky, sitting in an art museum, watching a documentary, with artsy people. But I hardly see these people in regular-day life on the streets of Oxford, they only come out to gather at trendy events…obviously. Also I was really surprised that there were significantly more guys in the room than girls. I’m pretty sure that our 10 girls from CMRS comprised a third of the ladies in the room, no joke.

Basically ladies: If you are trying to scope out some trendy, good looking, artsy guys in their 20s then I would encourage you to hit up late nights at art museums. These kids of guys run rampant there.

We unfortunately had to leave the documentary early because we had another swanky engagement…a play about art. The back-to-back art-themed events were purely coincidence, I promise.

Interestingly enough the play was called Squirrels and written by an American playwright. It was a one-act play, in a small theater, maybe holding an audience of 40 and luckily, we got front row seats. And by that I mean we were practically on stage and had an extreme close-up view of the actors.

It was a humorous three-character play, lasting slightly under an hour and a half. It was about art and writing and how a couple writers are struggling to write a great novel. The acting was great and I really enjoyed it.

This was a certified swanky event because after the play let out, I found myself standing next to Susan from The Chronicles of Narnia. Yeah I mean no bigs, just my first celebrity sighting in Oxford. I’m planning on running into Harry Potter next.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Dear Oxford, What's the Deal?

Dear Oxford, what's the deal with snow?!

Snow is hitting England real hard these days.

On Monday we had a whopping one inch of snow. But apparently that nearly exhausted the Oxford supply of salt to de-thaw the roads.

They completely cleared
all the roads by noon and the buses were running just fine during the day. The citizens of Oxford assumed that this was their big snowfall for the year. They were wrong.

Snow hit hard again and unexpectedly Wednesday morning, with a couple of inches coating the streets and the rooftops in the morning. 200 schools had class canceled for the day. The buses were postponed half an hour, which apparently is real serious business. Like Monday, the streets and sidewalks were pretty clear by mid-day. Oxford yet again thought their winter woes were o

But Thursday morning, we found snow on the ground again! Whereas previous days it had stopped snowing by midday, the Thursday snowfall lasted till about was glorious! Matt Foerster and I were walking around Christ Church, throwing snowballs at each other and simply taking in all the glory that is snow. We went to a cafe, grabbed cappuccinos, read books and then walked to the secret village.

But along the way I noticed something silly...people in Oxford don't really seem to know what to do when they play in snow so they do one of 2 things: a)make snowmen (there were snowmen all over the place in all shapes and sizes) b) roll snow into giant balls...when I first saw these mounds, I thought they were rocks coated in snow, but alas just kids of all ages playing with snow and leaving their mark via snow mounds everywhere.

At St. Peter's college I saw some silly snow things:
1. Some people had carved a huge squirrel out of snow and had used pennies for was incredible.

2. Some one peed next to the library. How did I know? 2 words....yellow snow. Apparently this is the most snow that Oxford has had in 18 years and a snowfall like this isn't predicted to be seen for another 20 years! And I am experiencing it!

My Medieval Travel Writers professor and I talked about snow for the first 15 minutes of my tutorial. On Monday, London closed down the metro, the buses, and the trains. In regards to this unprecedented incident, ATJ (my tutor) said rather indignantly, "Well, they didn't once close down the public transportation in WWII, I don't understand why they are doing it because of a little snow".
People here just do not get snow. It's not a particularly enjoyable event for many people, just more of a hassle and a nuisance.

Oh,'s snowing again today.

Dear Oxford, whats the deal with MONEY?!

People in Oxford don't use credit cards.

There have been so many times when I have been in a restaurant or cafe and wanted to whip out a credit card but realize it's not socially acceptable. I've come from a country where plastic is the primary form of currency to a place that relies almost entirely on coins and bills.
Yes, that's right, I have to keep reminding myself that a pocket full of coins IS valuable.

I keep wanting to put all my change in a cup and not want to carry it around with me, because let's be honest, change is a pain. But you almost have to carry around and use change. The £5 bill is the lowest bill that the British have, which means everything under that is in change. So if I buy something for £2 and pay with a £5 bill, I will get change back.
The British though have realized how silly it would be to only have £1 coins under this system. So they have £1 coins AND £2 coins. They also have 50¢ coins. Oh and they have 1¢ AND 2¢ coins. My question is...why the heck would you even need a 2¢ coin? It's realllyyyy sillly. And makes for a lot more change to have to carry around and know what's what.

Dear Oxford, what's the deal with FASHION?!

So it's winter here but just about every girl here INSISTS on wearing shorts.

How do they pull this look off in the cold you may ask? Well with black tights of course. Seriously just about everyone here rocks short shorts, black tights, and cowboy boots. I left my cowboy boots at home particularly because I thought it would be too stereotypically American, but no, the plaid and cowboy boots look is in here.

One day Kitty Mullet and I were doing homework in Coffee Republic and as you can see, we had the perfect people-watching window. But we noticed that literally about 93% of the females that were walking by had spandex/black tights, really short shorts/short dress/miniskirt, and Ugg boots/cowboy boots/other miscellaneous boots.

Things I have learned about Oxfordian girls on the whole

1. They are really into the bleached blonde hair look that they tease to make it look real messy.

2. They wear tons of makeup, which I was not prepared for.
3. I always thought that Americans wore really short skirts, until I came here. I have seen more butt cheeks than I ever would have liked to.

Dear Oxford, what's the deal with YOUR WEEKLY TOP 40?

Why is your February weekly top 40 my summer playlist?

I was listening to the radio in the kitchen the other night and it so happened to be their current top 40 hits-list. The current number one song is
I'm Yours by Jason Mraz. Other songs on this list included One Step at a Time by Jordin Sparks and Shake It by Metro Station. These are literally the songs that I listened to at the end of summer and they are the most popular songs in Oxford. So all I have to say is what's the deal with being 6 months behind in music, Oxford?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Music on my mind

This is the music that has constantly been on my mind here in Oxford. These are the songs that seriously brighten my day whenever I sing them, dance to them, listen to them. I'll give you a brief summary of how these songs have been impacting my life over the past 3 and a half weeks.

Bicycle-Well, that's a given, it's both an inspiration and a challenge. Every time I listen to it, I long for my bike in the city. But then I remember why I don't have one-people drive on the other side of the road and it's a little terrifying.

Jai Ho-Have you seen Slumdog Millionaire?! If not, you wouldnt' get it. My friend Sean here got the soundtrack and it is incredible! At the end of the movie there is this sick dance scene and a bunch of us are trying to learn it. We play this song in the common room or the kitchen and do our best to whip out these fab dance moves. I mean really, how could you not want to know this dance?

Gotta Have You-I don't really get the band name...The Weepies. But really, I listen to this song on repeat when I write a paper and it makes me so happy! This is the ultimate put-me-in-a-good-mood song, really it just makes me smile.

My Girl-It's so classic, yet so timeless. This song is a habitual get-stuck-in-my-head song but here it's the ultimate sing a long song. Once one person starts singing it, we all chime in, and let's be serious, how can you not?

Hand Song-Can I just say that I love Nickel Creek! They are so talented and so calming at the same time. This song especially penetrates my soul and makes me happy. It's just great thinking music.