Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Farewell to England.

So classes are over, exams are finished, and my bags are more or less packed. It hasn't really hit me yet that I'm leaving for good, and I'm not sure it will until after my upcoming travels, when instead of making my way back to my little flat, I board a plane back to the US. I'm trying to prepare for what my study abroad handbook calls 'reverse culture-shock'; even being on a US military base over the holiday was a little weird, and it was still in Europe. I've been a little worried about this trip home because even though I really miss everyone, I'm still in Europe-mode. I came here expecting to be away for a year, and now I'll have a few weeks in the middle of feeling really conflicted about leaving again. As many times as I've moved, it's not the being away from home that bothers me. Home is wherever I happen to be at the time. The hard part is going back. I've never done that before, and I'm not sure how I'll feel. I mean, I really love Philadelphia and Charleston. Voluntarily leaving wasn't exactly easy. This is part of the reason I've decided against going back to Charleston during my time in the States (though the greater reason is lack of time). Maybe all this fretting will come to nothing, but I'm feeling dubious about it all the same.

I feel like I should do some reflecting on my time in England - really moving out for the first time, living in another country all on my own, going to a different school, travelling, etc. There's a lot I want to say eventually, but I don't think now is the time (as I already said, I haven't quite accepted that this part is over). I will say that I'm ridiculously excited about going to Tuebingen in a matter of weeks. As scary as it is to think about living my life in another language, it's something I've been looking forward to forever. I think I'll be more comfortable in Germany than I am here, even given the language. After all, I already have a friend there (one of my flatemates here, Susanne, goes to Tuebingen), so there will be a friendly face at the airport and someone I can go to when I have questions, not to mention an awesome friend with whom I get to spend five more months :). The school itself is supposed to be more like CofC than Uni. Nottingham, so I think it will suit me better than the massive university environment seems to to. And it will be getting warmer instead of colder, which is perhaps more important than I would have imagined it before the onset of winter here.

On a slightly different note, I should mention that for the next couple of weeks I'll be out and about, trying to see as much of the British Isles as I can. I'm meeting my dad in Edinburgh, Scotland on Thursday, after I leave Nottingham. We're spending a few days there, then doing a tour of Ireland. On the 30th I go to London to meet up with Kathleen before she goes to Spain. And finally, I get back to Philly on the 3rd of February.

I'll leave you with a couple of photos from my recent pilgrimmage to Stratford upon Avon (where Shakespeare was from).

The Birthplace.

Me and Shakespeare.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Here's something fun:

I need to get a move on if I want to get to the other 93%!

Monday, January 5, 2009

In other news...

I have a little less than three weeks before my time in Nottingham comes to an end. My exams are next week, but other than that I have nothing to do until then, so hopefully I can poke around the city a bit and maybe go on a couple of day trips. After that, my plan was to explore the British Isles for a few weeks before meeting my parents in Germany, and from there I would go on to Tuebingen, but recently that plan has changed. Now it looks like I'll be back in Philly for the bulk of February. I may leave Nottingham a couple of days early and do Scotland and Ireland in about a week and a half, then head down to London to meet Kathleen. From there I'll get a flight back to the US. These plans aren't totally set in stone just now, but I thought I'd throw them out there.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Italy (finally)

Since I've been back in the UK for a few days now, the time is ripe for an Italy-themed post.

I arrived in Rome on 17 Dec. and stayed there for a few days before continuing on to Sicily to spend Christmas with the Niemanns. The trip was relatively quiet; I was by myself in Rome, so while a did a lot of sightseeing, nothing particularly noteworthy happened (which is good, because noteworthy travel stories are usually bad!). I stayed in a great hostel a few blocks down from the Vatican, which meant that I was in walking distance to a lot really cool stuff. That was my favorite part, actually, just walking around. I do quite a lot of solitary walking at home, but here in England the weather has gotten too cold. It was nice to take up an old pastime again, especially in a place as beautiful and historic as Rome.
It's so easy to get lost (figuratively speaking) in everything that has happened there over countless centuries that it's almost overwhelming at times. I was particularly moved by the Palatine and the Forum for that reason. Even though it's in the center of the city, it's grassy and quiet, and so unlike the bustling hub of the known world that it once was. As cliche as it probably is, I found myself poking around the rubble ponder the fall of Rome, as well as human mortality. Comprehending individual death is one thing, but witnessing the hulking, broken monuments to gods and men we know longer remember brings home a greater kind of death, that of an entire world, really. As morbid as this may sound, my attitude was not so. After all, what is Rome today, what has she been for centuries, if not a new world, a new civilization? She was reborn from the rubble, if she ever died at all.
What is more, the city and the people live with their history shoulder to shoulder. The Colosseum was used a quarry but still stands, like a crown. Teetering apartment buildings lean up against even older teetering apartment buildings, lining streets that have been there for hundreds of years. Ancient pagan structures were converted into churches. The newest building were constructed by Mussolini in the thirties, and even these remain (and probably will for centuries). All of these things have been absorbed into the everyday, and while this may de-romaniticize the history somewhat, I feel like it's the way it should be. It's so very different from the way we treat history in the US. Anything remotely old is swept away and shut up behind glass or put on some registry and made off-limits. I think this reflects a very contradictory attitude toward history in the American consciousness; on one hand, it's something sacred and precious, while on the other, it becomes so because if it doesn't, it will be cleared away to make way for the new. There is no living with it and taking it into ourselves. I could go on, but I think I'll leave that here for now.

And now for some photos:
I got of at the wrong bus stop and this is what I found - Trajan's Forum.

The Spanish Steps.

Evening view of the Campo di Fiori.

Colosseum, as seen from the Victor Emmanuel Monument.

The paper chain!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Historical accuracy

So while I was in Italy, I started watching that Showtime series The Tudors (don't worry, I did a lot of other more exciting things too). I got the first season on DVD and was watching it today, so that's what I'll start with (though I promise I'll get to my trip).

Historical accuracy is a funny thing. Even though I study history and plan to make a career in that field, the lack thereof in popular histories (movies or Showtime series, for example) doesn't bother me too much. I love a good fanciful romp through the dusty pages of history more the average person, probably. Everyone loves the dramatic, and history is filled with it. Throw in some codpieces and heaving bosoms and you've got a recipe for success. The Tudors takes this equation to heart, following the exploits of King Henry VIII (the one with all the wives) and taking quite a bit of artistic license on the way. The show is entertaining in spite of the inaccuracies, and I actually have a lot of fun picking them out. Here's a good one:
They picked this guy...

...to play this guy.

Wtf? Of course, the plot itself commits greater historical accuracy sins than this -- I bought the DVDs so I could find out what happens next, though I'm very familiar with the real Tudors. Maybe Anne Boleyn will actually give birth to the son he's always wanted and they'll live happily ever after. The real Henry's treatment of Anne probably will make it into the next season (which is out, I just haven't watched it), but what I'm really interested in is how the show portrays his character. In this season he's a very positive figure. He is shown as being impulsive and quick to anger, but he's also portrayed as being younger than he was when the actual events took place, so it's easy to put those characteristics down to his youth. So what if he breaks alliances and spends more money than he has? And his treatment of his first wife is more understandable to the audience because of the "great love" between Henry and Anne, and it's not as though divorce is nearly as controversial today as it was then. Religious controversy comes into the episodes in passing, but the real impact of this divorce -- separation from the Catholic church and the creation of a Protestant state -- is unlikely to appear.

Henry VIII is infamous for this schism, as well as his horrible treatment of his many wives, spending the country into debt, and being slightly insane (it's thought that he may have had syphilis). Few of these things make for a very likable protagonist, but they definitely make a compelling story. I just hope the show depicts his story as a descent into said infamy, rather than a misunderstood (and really hottt) ruler. Whichever direction The Tudors takes, though, I can take comfort in the very accurate historical fact that, despite his maniacal quest to produce a male heir (which the show does address), Henry VIII's most important contribution - his real legacy - is his daughter, Elizabeth I, who not only cleaned up the mess left by her father, brother, and sister, but who defined an age.