Friday, March 14, 2008

My Last Week in Cambridge, Part 2

The packing's done, and nearly everything fit into my suitcase! In amongst running errands and packing and other last things, I managed to take a few pictures around Jesus this afternoon. The weather cooperated nicely, although the college cat didn't make an appearance for the camera (though I did find out that there were once two, but that the mean one hasn't been seen for about a year; the nice one is a girl kitty named Raggy, if sieve-memory serves, who indeed does spend a good deal in one of the staircases in Chapel Court--the same doorway where Lauren and I saw her a week ago). I did have to work around a bevy of groundskeepers, though, as I took these photos.

The Chimney:

There's lots of modern sculpture around Jesus College:

The chapel:

Walking into Cloister Court:

And finally, I got around to trying one of Fitzbillies' famous Chelsea buns. I understand why they're famous now, and would certainly not turn one down again, although (as Celia from purple podded peas feared) the currants weren't exactly welcome. But even despite the currants, I could see getting a craving for the tasty contrast between the slightly crunchy bun and the syrup it's drenched in.

Now I'm off to get a few hours' sleep before I head off on the 5:10am bus to Heathrow tomorrow. A few days in Clare, and then I'm NYC-bound! It's time to see my own kitty, and of course, J.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

My Last Week in Cambridge, Part 1

In the middle of term, time seemed to pass like molasses dripping off a spoon in the dead of winter; now--well, I won't even try to speak in similes. Will I do everything I'd like to in this last week? Probably not, but so far I've had fun!

Monday, before Lauren left to go back to Dublin, we had a fun (if chilly) time walking around St. Johns and Trinity, feeling a little brash for avoiding the admission charges. Of course, I am a student and am technically allowed to go into any college, but even so, I can't help feeling "interpellated," to invoke Althusser, by the boards that ask visitors for entry fees: "This means YOU." This feeling comes from the same place, I think, as my ambivalence about the colleges: students, particularly undergrads, seem to put a great deal of effort into "belonging," and "belonging" seems to be an automatic privilege of attending the university, of being part of a college--and, ultimately, of being a graduate of the University of Cambridge. I say "seems," because I am very sure some students do not "belong"--but I haven't met anyone yet who does not "belong" on some very basic level. As a visiting student, I don't "belong" to my college or the university, despite the good time I've had and, I hope, the lasting connections I've made here.

Anyway, interpellation and belonging aside, I was excited to show Lauren St. John's, which, in my limited experience with Cambridge's colleges, has become my favorite. Partly because I've spent some happy and productive hours there at seminars with a group of (mostly) history grad students doing work on gender, but also because of the look of it. The colors and shapes of its architecture, the amazing library door, the way the old and new fit together (mostly!), and especially the Bridge of Sighs. Yeah, I'm not particularly original there--I'm sure every tourist gushes over it--but that doesn't make it any less magical.

I was proud of this photo of Lauren on the bridge: I managed to get the look of the light in it, and the doorway at the end.

Here's one of me, windswept and cold, with the Bridge of Sighs in the background:

--and another of a wonderful large door in St. John's:

All in all, a nice morning's walk, and we managed to do all this before the storm hit in earnest.

Yesterday, I woke with a migraine, but had too full a day to succumb completely, so I clobbered it with caffeine, in both coffee and Excedrin form. Talk about being high, though this time was different--I didn't get the rave experience, which was probably good, since I had a couple of meetings and a lecture to go to! Sarah, the other NYU student here on the gender studies scholarship, left in the wee hours of this morning, so I said goodbye to her last night. The house today has seemed rather quiet with her gone, but the last gender & history seminar was excellent, as was my meeting afterward.

But with one thing and another, I didn't have time to try to get a Chelsea bun again today! Oh, but Lauren and I did learn that Jesus College actually has two tuxedo cats, and apparently one is friendly and the other isn't. We must have encountered the friendly one on Friday, because he let me pet him.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Weekend Report

This afternoon, despite threatening rain and fairly chilly temperatures, Lauren (who is visiting for the weekend) and I went for a walk, first to look at the river from Magdalene College, then to Kettle's Yard to see the animation exhibit. Nice daffodils at Magdalene:

From Kettle's Yard, we paused briefly to look at St. Peter's Church next door--

--and then headed to Fitzbillies, where we intended to sample their famous Chelsea buns. But alas, they were out of them. I wasn't really surprised to hear that, but I was surprised and dismayed that they had also run out of scones (so no cream tea for us) AND that our waiter was unnecessarily snarky about it. At one point, thinking we were entering a Monty Python Cheese Shop sketch zone, I asked him what they did still have. Anyway, my chocolate cake was passable, but nothing spectacular. The snarky waiter was infuriating enough that it's possible I won't go out of my way to try the Chelsea buns--and in any case, I certainly won't bother sitting in the cafe to do so.

This negative food experience contrasts greatly with our wonderful luck yesterday in London. Upon arrival, we hit the markets at Camden Lock, and immediately found the outdoor food stalls. There, we were spoiled for choice, but both went for Venezuelan cornbread arepas, mine with roasted vegetables and Lauren's with chicken and avocado. Glorious street food! Then some warm caffeine was in order to make the drizzle more bearable. We stumbled upon a little tea house called Yumchaa. Delicious tea, and we split a to-die-for brownie. If I'd known it would be that good, I'd have gotten an extra to bring home!

After a great deal of wandering around the market, we headed across town for a completely different retail experience: Harrod's. Mainly, I just wanted to ogle the food and design in the food halls, but I also needed to pick up a few things to bring to my mother. By the time we'd dodged the crowds and done a fair amount of walking we were glad to hit Masala Zone, which Sarah (the other NYU student here) had recommended. A huge Indian vegetarian thali feed--not the absolute best Indian I've ever had, but still very good, with a few standout dishes: the paneer in tomato sauce was tasty and balanced, and the rice cake had extra flavor those don't usually have. The potato side dish was also delicious, though in general everything was a lot milder than I'd have liked. The restaurant obviously appeals to a cosmopolitan (if not desperately wealthy) set, and probably caters to somewhat less adventurous English and tourist palates, or perhaps we both just ordered milder dishes. In any case, it was good and I'll be attempting to go back for lunch before I leave.

Standout edible of the weekend: the brownie at Yumchaa

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Gerhard Richter

The other day, I took some time out from my research at the British Library and went down to the Tate Modern. I'd never been, but had been goaded by Jeanette Winterson's nonfiction to go check it out, although to my chagrin, I didn't take the time to really sit with any one work. The museum was surprisingly crowded for a Tuesday afternoon, and I knew I needed to get back up to the BL in time to put in a few hours there before getting the train back to Cambridge.

But even though I didn't hang out long, it was a great visit. I saw all kinds of stuff: a few paintings that made me extremely uncomfortable, but in a productive way (works by African painters--I can't remember their names, alas, which is uncomfortable in an unproductive way!); a set that made me laugh wryly (Ellen Gallagher's DeLuxe); some by-now strangely comforting works (Giacometti); one little painting that I found extraordinarily mysterious and quietly provoking (Vanessa Bell's abstract); and some stuff I just loved. Gerhard Richter fits into that final category.

(from the Tate Modern's website)

I had been very bummed out by the building, though: it seemed like a warehouse, artificial from top to bottom, and sort of dingy, though to be sure, it was a sort of dingy day outside as well. I was surprised, because although I do love various forms of old architecture, I also love more modern buildings. But just now, I read the blurb about the building, and although I still thought the interior space could have been better arranged to discourage 'seeing the art at a trot' (to paraphrase Winterson), I'm impressed that the museum building was once a power station. That they used an existing building makes up for a lot, even though at first visit I wasn't so impressed with how the redesign was done. Maybe future visits will change my mind--and at any rate, my lasting impression was the art, not its container.

Even Funnier than Garfield Minus Garfield

The other day, Rob posted what I thought would be the funniest thing of the week: the Garfield comic strip with the cat himself erased. It's brilliant--go have a look.

But then today, Qwags sent me this link to the Acephalous blog. I am still chortling. So, so true....

In other news, I've been cutting my work with rereading those volumes of Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series that the Jesus College light reading room offers...or perhaps I should say I have been cutting my novel-reading with a little work! I first discovered these books 22 years ago: at the time, they gave me a different and much-needed world to escape to in the overwhelming family-wide vortex of confusion, grief, and guilt that surrounded the death of my grandmother. Reading them now, I still adore the world of the dragonriders, but am struck at how conventional and limiting it could be for women. I guess the idea that a woman could be a harper or a gold dragon's rider was exciting to me at 12, but now I wonder why no women are Masterharpers or riders of bronzes.... (The easy answer is "Because Anne McCaffrey said so," and that is, of course, the answer I'll have to accept. But still. I do appreciate the way that she--even in the 60s when the first novels were published--wrote in gay men as a very normal part of Pernese life, though there's not a lesbian to be found in the novels so far as I can tell.)

The [academic] Book I'm Not Reading: Ernest Gellner's Nations and Nationalism.

Monday, March 3, 2008

More Asteroids

So the divine Ms. Foster has lots of company in the asteroid belt: the entire Monty Python crew, Enya, Freud, Pele, Gene Roddenberry, Xerxes, and a bunch of others all have big space rocks named after them, too. Too cool.