24 January, 2009

A week later...

I've often found that my intentions to be a loyal writer have failed me. All of this week, for instance, I kept telling myself: you should update your blog. You should update your blog. You should update your blog. So the saga of my life since my last post:

Sunday I came to the realization that my zipper on my coat was broken, this being a euphemism for the reality--i.e., that I, in an effort to unzip my jacket, effectively broke my coat. All right, I said to myself (I'm an optimist), I'll just go to a tailor on Clerk Street tomorrow, hand it in, wear a sweatshirt all week. How bad can it be?

I wake up Monday and head off in search of the tailor. It started to rain very lightly when I walked outside, but I just put up the hood on my (dad's) American University sweatshirt. It rains frequently in Edinburgh, so I didn't think much of it. Until it began to snow.

Here I am, trapped on Nicholson Street, in a blizzard. In my sweatshirt, my now-drenched broken coat on my arm. When I arrived at the tailor's, I could barely speak. My pants were soaked through, my sweatshirt was soaked through. I handed them the coat and ran to the library, where I tried to warm up.

I didn't get my coat back until last night. In the meantime I tried to keep myself warm by layering up, which can be pretty torturous.

Tuesday was, of course, Inauguration Day. I skipped a Classical Literature lecture to stand in the corner of the Teviot Union's crowded Sports Bar to watch it on a big screen TV (b/c it was five o'clock here!). It was, in all likelihood, one of the most momentous experiences of my life. And heartbreaking that I wasn't there to see it in person.

Today we went to Glasgow, a beautiful city that is significantly bigger than Edinburgh as well as considerably more industrial. There was a museum (pictures on Facebook are pending) of art and native wildlife, as well as a Science Centre, and Glasgow Cathedral, which had the shrine of St. Mungo. I don't know who that was, but his tomb was pretty impressive. The whole place was positively gorgeous, and the necropolis...I don't think I've ever seen anything quite as beautiful as that cemetery. The moment we walked through the black, wrought-iron gates, I felt tears fill my eyes. The hills here are so green, and the tombstones looked so solemn, and behind the hill of the necropolis, the setting sun threw orange light against them like a blaze of fire. From the top, you could see all of Glasgow spread out below us.

I've been working a lot on writing. I'm still writing the FWIW prequel, but until I can determine what I'm willing to relinquish in order to make it a coherent and well-moving play, it's going to be stuck where it is. Any suggestions would be appreciated. I'm also thinking of adapting King Lear by turning it into a modern drama with limited moral culpability.

18 January, 2009

Ten weeks left to go! Wooh!

Despite the pessimism of my entry title I really am very excited to be here. While I'm still getting used to the city and the life and everything, I've started to find my footing and I am already starting to love Edinburgh fiercely. I'm hoping that will make it harder to be homesick, but as I've only been here a little over a week I'm not surprised that the homesickness hasn't started to sink in. One of my flatmates said that just now it feels like camp, and she's right. Everything's new and exciting and beautiful but once it starts to sink in that I can't go home until the end of March (and I'm going home @ spring break; most of the kids here are staying through May) I'll probably go insane.

I cleaned my room today, in a marginal effort to make myself feel better, and bought a blanket, because I haven't been able to sleep without the quilt that I left back in the States. Last night I went on a "terror tour" of Edinburgh's High Street; I got to see where the Tolbooth used to be (as well as hear some pretty gruesome descriptions of how the Scots tortured and subsequently burned witches), saw a torture chamber which for some obvious reasons included a chastity belt, and got to see the very haunted Vaults beneath South Bridge. Apparently the Vaults is one of the most haunted places in the city, and I can see why. It's cramped and claustrophobic and apparently during a city wide fire the people who fled down into the vaults were literally roasted to death by the hot stone.

Yesterday I also saw The Elephant House, a cafe that was apparently the birthplace of Harry Potter, and I've realized, somewhat belatedly (i.e., I was here five years ago and never noticed this) that the city of Edinburgh shares a lot in common with the world JK Rowling created. It's all cobblestone and old stone buildings and narrow, crowded streets; you walk around Old Town and the sensation is one of something phenomenally ancient and magical. I'm starting to see why this city inspired so many writers. It's like it gets into your head.

I'll write more when I have a better opportunity to do so, but I should probably be working on some homework right now. Hopefully by the time I write my next entry I'll actually understand some of the issues of the various Jacobite rebellions.

14 January, 2009

Rain and Cold

I feel like the title of this post is part of the story of my life here in Edinburgh. I've been informed by my Scottish flatmates that it does in fact get better, that spring actually exists here in Scotland, but I have my doubts. I'm comforted to know that it's actually supposed to be colder in DC, though--and it doesn't surprise me. It isn't that Edinburgh's cold, per se. Today was the first day in like four that I could actually see my breath. It's just that the wind cuts through you and it's rained three or four times since I got here, so that's what? Three or four out of six days? Not that I mind rain; I like rain, and it makes the cobblestone gleam, but I'm tired of being cold.

I went in search of a Chinese take-away today, found one that was closed for Chinese New Year (which doesn't make much sense because New Year's next week, isn't it?) and went to Tesco's. It's the closest thing I've found to an American supermarket here, but the queue was astronomically long. I mentally slept through my class today--I think the only thing I remember about it was my teacher trashing Mel Gibson's portrayal of William Wallace in Braveheart. And being asked if I'd ever read Chaucer. The lecturer had this lilt and was pretty soft-spoken; it kind of set my mind wandering.

I'm reading the Oresteia trilogy for class tomorrow. It's really, exquisitely beautiful--I'm not sure I've ever read anything like it before. Greek theatre is so...visceral, and heartrending, and--dramatic. I can't think of any other way to describe it. If you ever get a chance, Robert Fagles' translation of Aeschylus is positively brilliant. I just wish I had that kind of talent.

13 January, 2009

Second Day of Classes

So I didn't get a chance to update in the past few days because I've been excruciatingly busy. Sunday was orientation; I met a lot of nice people both there and at the pizza party the night before. And yesterday was my first day of class. So I guess I should start with the pizza party.

There wasn't actually much pizza. Or rather, there was, but I did not benefit from it. The slices were like a quarter the size of a regular slice, and covered in big pieces of cheese and tomato. Maybe it's the New Yorker in me but I require more artistry in my Italian cuisine. An attempt to blend the sauce and cheese so that it turns a healthy shade of orange would be appreciated. The party was in the Loft Bar in Teviot Row House, which is the student union on campus (on FB I have a picture of it that makes it look a bit like Hogwarts), and my dad apparently sat downstairs in the Library Bar (there's like four bars in the building) for an hour. Then we walked back to the hotel, and I made myself pasta.

In the morning, my dad and I took a bus to the city centre (well, no, we went a little past it and wound up down South Bridge, so like three blocks past my flat) and then, after I'd dropped my stuff off, I walked him back to the main road where he caught a cab immediately and said goodbye. Then I went to orientation at Appleton Tower, which was five hours long and included a tour of campus and being talked at for a long time. I did get a little bit of lunch, though, so it was all right. When I got back to the flat that night I was really melancholy but I amused myself by staying up and rewriting what I'm hoping is going to be the definitive prologue for 'Fortunate Son.' And yes, I know it's a terrible joke but I think it works on three levels: we're talking about Jack, who (well, until he died) always considered himself fortunate for having met someone to come home to, Gabe, who is the only Donovan son and has always, until he decides to go away, been lucky in life, and Ben, who has been clearly favored by his socioeconomic status. So I'm okay with the title.

My flatmates are all really, really nice. Sarah and Aoife (I hope I spelled that right, it's pronounced like 'Eva' but with an f sound instead of a v sound) are Scottish, and Sam and Tasha are American. I promised them I would start baking soon, although I left my krumkake iron at home so it'll probably just be cookies or hamantaschen.

Yesterday morning I had this all planned out to wake up early but wound up waking up at ten thirty, ran to the registry, got my matric card (my picture's hideous but better than my learner's permit) and then went to class. My first class, Scottish Literature, was okay--I'm not really ecstatic about it yet but as I'm in a UNESCO Literature World Heritage City I think I'll have ample opportunity to get enthusiastic. After that, I went and got a little bit of lunch (a packet of potato chips, an apple and an orange) and then went to my history tutorial, where I surprised myself in how much actual Scottish history I've gleaned from reading historical fiction like Margaret George's 'Mary, Queen of Scotland and the Isles' and the Outlander series my Uncle Chris got me for Christmas. Outside the seminar room on Buccleuch Place was this wooden stand selling food, and, honest to God, the side of the thing had 'Torchwood Industries' painted on it. I took two pictures to prove that I'm not mad. I'll post them later, but the kicker is that underneath it it said 'time travel alien technology'. I really almost had a heart attack.

My third class of the day proved to be the most interesting for me if only because it's an Ancient Drama class and therefore tied in to what I want to do with my life. I've always thought that writing in some form would be the best way for me to do some good in this world, if only by entertaining people, but I think it's fascinating that to the Greeks theatre was entirely non-secular. It truly was a religious occupation; they were making tribute to the gods. And while I'm not going to start forcing my actors to chant the V'ahavta onstage I feel that there's something to be said there for the importance of theatre and its influence on people. We get the opportunity to connect with an audience on a scale that person-to-person communication doesn't really cover. And I feel that's really encouraging--it reminds me of that line from Henry V: 'O, for a muse of fire that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention! A kingdom for a stage, princes to act and monarchs to behold the swelling scene!' The world as theatre, and vice versa.

I have three hours to go before classes so I think I'm going to go get some food shopping and library-going done. It gets dark so early here, like four o'clock, so that by the time I'm out of class at 5 I don't want to be walking home laden with eight million bags of groceries. I'll post pictures and things once I get my Internet genuinely set up.

10 January, 2009

Tomorrow is another day.

I moved my things into my flat today. I didn't actually see any of my flatmates; I kind of just dropped my bags off in my room, made my bed, and ran back outside. The lift is broken, apparently, which means that you have however many people lugging big bags up several flights of stairs. I'm only on the second floor (which would be the third floor in America) so now I have no excuse not to take the stairs--i.e., like in Hughes when every time the elevator doors opened Jess and I took it as a sign from God that He didn't want us to take the steps.

It's not that small, but the hallway is pretty narrow. My bedroom is slightly bigger than the one at Nebraska, and the kitchen's bigger, but the living room's a bit smaller. There's also five people living in this space, myself included. Two bathrooms, which, in my opinion, is wonderful--people who take showers are no longer inconveniencing the rest of the flatmates.

I go outside, up a flight of steps and down the road and I'm on South Bridge, or Chambers Street, or one of the other main roads. There are literally five supermarkets within a few feet of each other, but none of them had plasticwear. I did find this place called Pound-Saver that sold solid steel cutlery for like 3 pounds, but I'm going to wait and see if I can live off of plastic for a while. I haven't found a Chinese take-away nearby, though there is one by the hotel, I suspect I'll have to ask the local residents.

Moving in, I met three American (not from AU, but from the country) girls, one of whom lives on my floor. I get the feeling that there are a lot of international students in Kincaid's Court, but I could be wrong.

My dad's leaving tomorrow, and I'm a little overwhelmed. But I'm thinking of taking some sort of day trip next weekend (to Melrose Abbey, maybe), and going food shopping tomorrow night, so I'll be all ready when I come back from classes on Monday.

I passed a comic book store today selling a Dalek action figure, the Dr Who sonic screwdriver, a Toclafane, and the Master's laser screwdriver. Needless to say, I was heartily comforted by these familiar objects. I may also buy a few to send home to my fellow Whovians back at American University.

Tomorrow's orientation day. Four and a half hours of wandering round the U of E campus. Tonight there's an informal pizza party in the Student Union building (if you look at my photo album on my FB, it's the building that looks a bit like Hogwarts) but I think I'm only going to stay for an hour. I don't drink so the bar portion doesn't attract me, and I'm awful at forced social events. Also, Scotland + Pizza=?

08 January, 2009

Here at last.

It's been an UNBELIEVABLY exhausting day, which in essence began yesterday. I've had maybe three hours of sleep in the past twenty-four hours, but I'm forcing myself to stay awake so I'll actually get adjusted to GMT more quickly, given that I have to get up early on Monday to go register.

You would not BELIEVE how cold it is here; my only comfort is in knowing that a certain person who chose to go to Michigan is probably even more cold than I am, huddled in my dad's American University sweatshirt, sweatpants, and my red snuggle socks. The hotel/apartment suite my dad and I are staying in until he goes back to the States on Sunday is pretty chilly, but really spacious. It has a living room and a kitchen. My dad is apparently watching TV at the moment, but I can't tell from here whether or not he's fallen asleep.

Yesterday (at some point, I think around 9-ish) we boarded a British Airways Boeing 777 set for London Heathrow. It arrived at eight o'clock GMT this morning, at which point we stumbled, bleary-eyed, off the plane in search of our connecting flight to Edinburgh. It took a long time to go through customs/security, but I was both surprised and relieved when the officer glanced at my passport, stamped it, and listed me as a six-month student visitor--without even looking at any of my paperwork. I was half-awake, of course, but my poor dad was lugging my hundred-pound backpack because I just couldn't carry it anymore. It has my computer and my prayerbook in it, you understand, so of course it weighs a ton.

Our flight to Edinburgh was delayed, but I was suitably distracted by the Duty-Free Shop, which had like three rows devoted to Cadbury's chocolate. I normally hate chocolate, but for some reason that particular brand has a special place in my heart. So let that be a lesson to you all--Cadbury's chocolate can win over even the most adamant of chocophobes.

I didn't even have the energy to be afraid of the take-off on the plane to Edinburgh. I just pulled my sleeping mask over my eyes and tried to ignore everything, if only because the Airbus A2330 was pretty cramped and I had the bad luck to get the middle seat, which I loathe. We landed around 12:30, and found my luggage all right, but my dad's one bag was stranded somewhere at Heathrow. He's been yelling at British Airways on and off for hours, because they still haven't managed to send it the 300 miles north to Scotland.

Still, my dad's pretty calm. We went for an agonizingly long walk today, something like three miles uphill on cobblestone to the Royal Mile, and then we walked back in the dark. It's such a beautiful city; I'm taking lots of pictures tomorrow to post here and on Facebook--I've never seen a place at once so old and so splendidly contemporary. I'm entranced by everything here: the dialect, the stores, the stone. I know that at some point pretty soon my homesickness is going to kick in and I'll be crying but for now I'm just trying to appreciate what a great opportunity I've been given.

06 January, 2009

Last full day in Washington for a while.

I probably won't have internet access for a few days (at least until I move into my apartment) so I figured I should probably write another entry now. I have a webcam and Skype so if anyone wants to IM me, Skype me, or anything, just go for it. I had ages of fun today waving at Jessica on a little screen.

It's strange to think that I won't be back here for three months. When I first moved to DC, I absolutely hated it. I mean, of course, I had been torn from my home, from Brooklyn, and brought to this place where everyone was unfamiliar, unkind, strange and the city was so clean and filled with white marble. And yet, now that the time comes to leave, at least for a little bit, I'm not entirely happy to be gone. I've built up a circle of friends here, friendships that will (one would certainly hope) sustain a three-month absence. And it isn't just that. I'm attached to the place itself, and I think that more than anything will be hard to shake.

I would also like to know what people would like me to bring back for them. I already promised Jessica shortbread (and possibly an Earl.)

Just a few days to go.

So it's less than forty-eight hours from now that I'll be hovering somewhere over the Atlantic, and let's face it, I'm kind of scared. I haven't been very good with planes since I was about ten years old--about the time I started to realize what they actually were, and also around the time that Swissair Flight 111 crashed off the coast of Nova Scotia with my mother's friend Ingrid on board. I know that was over a decade ago, but it still gives me chills.

I guess I'm using my fear of flying as a kind of distraction from my real fear, which is the fact that I'm going to a totally foreign country (despite my avid Anglophilia) where I know exactly one person. Never mind the fact that Scotland is exquisite and that I can't wait to go and that I know that I'm doing this for myself, for my own personal growth--I'll be completely on my own and for some reason, after three years of college and some relative independence, that fact terrifies me.

I think I've built up a comfort zone stemming from the fact that I know Washington, D.C. like the back of my hand, having lived here for more than ten years, and that my parents are, at most, ten or fifteen Metro stops away. Three thousand miles (give or take) is a little different. And I'm leaving behind all of the friends I've made at AU and at home, I'm forcing myself to be myself and not fall into this trap of becoming complacent with my own socializing, and while I know that it's a good thing I still can't get over my abject terror at the thought of having to...introduce myself, to talk to people, to get out and
be someone.

So why am I starting a blog? I always meant to start one, and I thought that study abroad would be a good opportunity, especially since certain people are waiting for certain drafts of certain scripts that are still running around in my head somewhere. I'm going to use this weblog to document my experiences, my thoughts, my feelings, and hopefully it will lend itself to ground me both in Edinburgh and back home, become a link between my life in Scotland and my life at AU.

So...University of Edinburgh, here I come!