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M-I-C-K-E- Why? Because Matt is absolutely wonderful. I love my stepdad!

Soul Satisfaction

So my wake-up call that is Nikki and Anna has failed me. Thankfully, my actual alarm clock hadn't. I set it wrong and it went off insanely early. Very annoying beeping sound. Got dressed -- white button up shirt, sleeves rolled up to elbow, black slacks, white socks, black Mary Janes, and my Alice Liddell portrait necklace.

Ran into Anna in the hallway outside our rooms and inquired why I didn't get a wake-up call. "Am I not to rely upon you two anymore?!"

"Oh," she said. "Well, Nikki went out for a run with some of the others, so it's just me, and I remember you saying you'd figured out your alarm clock, so... I thought that you didn't... need it..."

"Never assume, Anna. Never assume."

I harassed Nikki at breakfast about this as well. "Oh, you want me to wake you up when I get up?" she asked, knowing how horrified I'd be at the idea, getting up that early in the morning.

"No," I told her. "...I just don't want to be late to breakfast, okay?"

I tried to be somewhat productive after breakfast, taking more existential Alice notes and reading the materials posted up on the lounge area walls that we're supposed to write entries on. Other people played cards. The card-playing will never stop.

Before breakfast, Henry Speck stole our attention just long enough to announce that from now on, we'll have to sign up for a computer, and that will be our computer for the rest of the programme. During breakfast, there was some speculation as to why this new measure was being implemented. Ms. Noonan credited it to there being just enough computers for all of us, so why not? It helps keep better track of us. Mike's theory is that someone stole a mouse. Why someone would steal a mouse is beyond me. But Henry Speck was very testy about the temperamental printer (which Farah thankfully fixed the moment he left the room).

And then lecture time! Dr. Clerici again -- this time about Shakespeare. Not quite as fun as the Reduced Shakespeare Company, but trying to fit about as much information in the same amount of time.

Click to read my official Programme Notebook entry on this lectureCollapse )

Afterwards, before I even got my cup of coffee (this mattered warranted such immediacy), I went straight up to Dr. Clerici and asked her if I could ask... something of a silly question that I've always wanted to ask a Shakespeare scholar. She acquiesced to my request.

"So," I said. "Hamlet is, by far, one of my favourite plays ever but... Why Denmark? Is there historical relevance or-- what?"

She answered that Hamlet was, in fact, based on a Danish story, but then went on a fifteen-minute speech about Shakespeare's tendency of occasionally forgetting the political nuances of the countries from which he takes his stories ( i.e. Danish monarchy is elected, not inherited, etc.). That was cool.

Coffee, writing, another question to Dr. Clerici about how one separates emotional passion from academic passion when dealing with Shakespeare, and then it was time for the next lecture! A "what is art?" lecture. Oooh. I.e. another visit back to Theory of Knowledge class.

This lecture was in the seminar room, because we can actually get the lights to dim in that room. There were slides. I'm ashamed to say that I'd never before heard of Marcel Duchamp, but I know all about him now! I wanna go take a series of photographs of toilets and entitle it "Duchamp, Eat Your Heart Out". Though the real highlight of the lecture was the piece, Faulty Landscape, which Duchamp gave to his lover of the time. The paint was mixed with his own semen.

Click to read my official Programme Notebook entry on this lectureCollapse )

I hung behind after the lecture to ask him if he could give me a better definition of Dadaism, as I've never found a satisfactory one -- just referenced footnotes in texts about Existentialists or Absurdists. He was, in fact, able to give me a good definition, and I think I need to write a poem about the way the slides projected across his face -- the face with stubble that started at his jaw and climbed up across his head.

Then lunch! Lunch conversation was fun. It started off with Maira sitting across from me and noting, "I see that you're wearing Alice today." I nearly fell out of my chair. She knew who Alice Liddell was! Janine, who was sitting next to me, looked baffled. I explained that the picture in the bottle cap was a famous portrait of Alice Liddell, the girl for whom Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was written. Jennie had just thought that the picture was of me!

And then Maira had to ask the most awful question ever. "So do you think that Lewis Carroll was a paedophile?" My face just about fell into my mac'n'cheese.

"No-oo!" I wailed, and went on a fifteen-minute tirade about how I hated that theory. It was nice, though. To finally get to talk about my paper topic, because anything to do with Alice immediately leads to the question, "And so why are you doing this book for your paper? What's so special about it?" Unfortunately, the paedophile question usually comes up, too. Maira was the second person to ask. I can't remember who was the first, but I do know that Maira wasn't the first.

Then about four hours left to wait until my tutorial, and I took tremendous care to agonize every moment I could about it. Of course, this was perfectly silly, being as I'd already met Dr. Clerici, spoken to her on several occasions, and generally liked her very much. She's just that... old and pleasantly plump British lady-type with a little mumble-y accent, big glasses, and dyed hair. She writes poetry (which she gave me a URL to for, so I can read some of her work)! And she loves Shakespeare! I like this woman! ...But now she's not just that lovely British lady, she's a reader of my essays, and that is terrifying.

Janine, who had her tutorial before me, ushered me to Dr. Clerici's room, where the tutorial would take place. Janine was uncertain as to how her tutorial went; said that she couldn't tell if Dr. Clerici liked it or not. This was not encouraging for me, as I need constant reassurance of my own self-worth.

I sat there in that chair across from Dr. Clerici, and she actually laughed at how visibly nervous I was. I laughed a little too, but not a lot. I read my paper as best as I could, considering the fact that I was shaking (and I was smart enough to bring along a spare copy so that she could read along!).

She liked it. And when she asked me to talk more about my topic, she kept asking why I had stopped my paper where I did and why I hadn't kept going. "Well, I've got more papers still left to write." I think this is a good sign.

She's introduced me to the importance of Cartesian philosophy and helped me work out for myself how I can work it into my essay. The highlight of the hour was definitely Dr. Clerici acting out the juxtaposition of Descartes and Sartre with a bottle of cologne and a pen (Sartre was the pen, of course -- Descartes the cologne).

I'm excited to write my next papers. She's told me what books and ideas to seek out, and the wealth of possibilities are spread out endlessly in front of me. I've got to get to Blackwell's Book Store, and soon.

I walked outside and breathed in the fresh air as if it were my first breath. "How'd it go?" was chorused up at me.

"I survived!" I declared, and joined the group circled at the bottom of the stairs. Ms. Noonan was doing another crossword puzzle, which is a group activity. I got something along the lines of "Makes vision not so clear", eight letters, first two O-B. Obscures. Go me. Then dinner!

According to Madeleine, I am an eating machine. I think I should take offence at that. Not my fault if my school has taught me to eat a meal within five minutes. Jennie agrees on this point -- short lunch-periods train kids to adopt bad eating habits.

After dinner, I stopped by Maira at her table and asked if we were still on for seeing Mozart's Requiem. She said that we weren't. Woe! I told her that I was disappointed. She said that she was too.

I listened to my "Moonlight Sonata" in reverence to Mozart. Yes, it's actually Beethoven, but that's my soul music. Brings me to tears, just listening to a recording of it. ...And what a sight I make, crying with my iPod buds in my ears, curled up in the computer lab.

Nikki has a budding coffee addiction. She just had two cups at dinner and she is scary. She and a few of the others were planning for tonight's event: Farah, "the resident brown person," (as Farah has coined herself) is going to do traditional Indian henna for everyone! Brian & Ryan were looking for designs that they'd want done -- mostly mythological creatures. Ryan wanted a troll, declaring, "That is so beast!" He says that quite a bit, I've realized. Brian's quote of the day is "I refuse to be compared to a gargoyle! That's mean! You are a spiteful individual!" Listening to the inflection of Brian's voice, I'm beginning to wonder about his sexuality, but that's just me.

Tonight the Canadian tutor is giving the comedic improv lesson, but I'm declining to participate. I've had enough TheatreSports at school (gotta make sure to tell Mr. Rome about this, too...). But Ms. Noonan, the sweet woman that she is, came running to find me so I wouldn't miss it.

I think I'll decline on the henna, too. I need to take a shower, and I'm hoping that my parents will call tonight.

Anna finally made the PUSH sign for the door on our floor leading to the stairwell! It's the small things, y'know?

Starting Oxford Life

So last night was my first adventure with the dreaded showers of this building. But before that, as I was heading up to my room, I was pulled aside by Ms. Noonan and Brian in order to receive some help with their crossword puzzle. Not that I was able to give them any help at all. I'm rubbish at crossword puzzles. Like I know that an eight-letter word for "Big Trouble" is "HOTWATER". Ugh.

They were seated outside on the ledge of one of the raised flower gardens in the light of the fixtures on the side of the building, watching some of the other kids play... some sort of lovely game. Probably football-- oh, no, I'm sorry, I mean American football. We're mostly Americans anyway. I think soccer -- "football" -- is tomorrow night.

Then into the building and upstairs (four flights) to my room, and into my tiny bathroom. We've been warned over and over again about the shower, even with horror stories of flooding incidents. Apparently the drainage piping put into this building is approximately half the size it should be, and it is next to impossible to figure out the hot/cold water fixture. The shower itself is tiny, but then again, the bathroom itself is tiny. The shower takes up the left-half of the bathroom, with a flimsy little shower curtain separating the two sides. The floor of the shower is approximately a quarter-inch lower than the bathroom floor. That's it. Small piping? Impossible-to-work fixture? No wall to let the water pool? Perfect recipe for flood.

Before going into the bathroom, I made sure to read the instructions they'd given us on the first day -- like riding a motorcycle, flow on the left, temperature on the right, press the button on the top of the handle and turn. ...That did absolutely nothing to help. I have never before taken an honest-to-god "cold shower", but now I can honestly say that I have. My God, what a horrible experience.

I fiddled and played with that god-awful handle fixture, but nothing. Eventually, when I just couldn't stand the FREEZING COLD WATER ALL OVER MY BODY anymore, I leapt out of the shower, and washed my hair in the sink. At least there I could get some warm water.

Towel wrapped around my head, I made sure to set my alarm this time, and went to bed.

Was awoken this morning by the very annoying sound of my alarm clock. It beeps a few times, and if you don't turn it off or hit the snooze button within about thirty seconds, it beeps faster. ...So I turned it off. Thank God Anna came to wake me up. "Wake Up Service from the Girls Down the Hall...!" she chirped at me when I came to the door. Fine, then. I was up.

White sweater. Black skirt. White fold-down socks and black-and-white-and-tan Argyll slip-on shoes. Cat-eye glasses and the Scrabble-board and "I"-tile necklace given to me by the Spennebergs. I was set to go.

In line for breakfast, Madeleine remarked on my necklace and how she loved Scrabble. See? All Lit Kids love Scrabble. It's, like, a requirement. I'm going to have to find a Scrabble game somewhere in town and buy it and make people play with me... If we're going to have Monopoly and Risk, we're going to have Scrabble.

I decided that today would be the day that I made the list of Players -- the Who's Who of the programme (see previous entry). All I asked for was name, place of habitation, and area of study. Everything else was what I've gleaned from my... what, three days of interaction with them all? Everyone was a little baffled by the inquiries, but everyone else also found it odd that they knew everyone's name without knowing that they knew everyone's name, y'know? We've been here less than three days and it already feels like we've been here for ages. What is three weeks going to be like?

The only resistance I met to the questioning was from Dr. Speck! Something about not wanting to be disturbed during breakfast, I suppose... But Dr. Clerici said I could come over to her table and bother her during breakfast, which I did, and had a lovely time getting her academic history and life history. I really do think we're going to get along very well. I'm blessed to have her as my tutor.

After breakfast, I had everyone on my list. Satisfied, I headed toward the lecture area of the main floor room (the giant room is broken up into three areas: lecture area, lounge area, and dining area). Maira was already sitting in the front row. Damn,, I thought, I thought I'm supposed to be the front-row girl. I sat behind her. The rest of the group wandered in, and Dr. Henry Speck gave his lecture, "Introduction to the Course", which quickly became an International Baccalaureate Theory of Knowledge-type discussion about what "education" is. Mr. Karpicus? You'd have been proud.

It was a very philosophical discussion. I was proud to have been the first one to comment, and then was promptly shot down by Mr. Speck, even though I still believe the point I was trying to make (that learning how to think and interpret is more important than memorizing figures and data) was a good one, and perfectly valid to his argument.

We covered the Oxford ideas about learning and education, data and interpretation, the purpose of art versus the sciences and whether or not art (like literature) is a luxury (Speck wholeheartedly disagrees -- apparently he needs his Wagner to survive), though I'm not sure I agree. I agree with Maira in that literature gives us soul (just look at 1984), and allows us to communicate with time, but I don't believe that art is necessary to human survival. Enrichment, maybe, but not survival. Anyway.

Lots of stuff about questioning everything. And can an academic be religious? Can a religious person question their religion? (Jamie argued "Seek and you find the truth", which is Biblical.) Brian brought up a Fitzgerald This Side of Paradise argument about how you can only know yourself; I believe it's more that you can only know your own interpretation of yourself, but... wow, I'm talking a lot about this one lecture. It was intense, though!

We talked about disillusionment with the government, and why do we so disbelieve our governments, if they're supposed to be democratic governments? And are we to question metaphysics -- what we don't or can't know? (I say yes!)

What was very interesting, I thought, was Dr. Speck's point that opinions aren't yours -- they are not things that are capable of being possessed. Your opinion is not yours personally; it is not you. Therefore, you should not feel too personally offended when someone disagrees with you. I like that.

There was also a gratuitous Nietzsche quote. "Once you have a system, you stop thinking." Or something like that. And an Ockam quote (nothing about the razor), "Faith is a wonderful thing. Reason is a wonderful thing. Don't get them confused."

Talking more about God, I made a comment about how sometimes people just need God, because God does something for them, perhaps emotionally or psychologically, even if it doesn't add up. Dr. Speck immediately asked if I liked Sartre. I admitted, "...yes," but I don't know how he could have possibly known from that one comment. How is it that obvious? Is there something that I'm missing?

Speck also used the word "pedagogical," but I'm starting to wonder if he used it wrong.

We debated if questioning God is a Western issue, and then wrapped up the lecture-turned-discussion with "the result of education should not be the ability to detect when someone is talking rot, but when you yourself are talking rot." I must admit, Dr. Speck, that's a good conclusion.

Click to read my official Programme Notebook entry on this lectureCollapse )

And then there was tea and cookies! Actually, there was also coffee and soft drinks along with the tea and cookies. I had a cup of coffee, and a can of IRN-BRU (that Scottish soda that Mr. Rome likes so much; the group has concluded that it tastes like orange children's Tylenol, which I will be sure to inform Mr. Rome of in my next postcard). The conversation in the lounge area amongst the group between sipping coffees that ensued from that lecture was fascinating. I talked mostly to Farah and Andrea, who have both been raised a certain religion and have gotten to a place where they question it, the former being of the Muslim ilk, and the latter of the Catholic. Farah's stories about "religion hopping," as we coined it, was quite interesting. She, the born and raised Muslim, would go to a Catholic church one weekend, and a synagogue the other -- just to get a taste of what else is out there. I wish I had the courage to do that. I'd really like to.

Then, I asked what has been on my mind for a while now: What is it to pray? We debated for a while, especially with the selfish nature of some prayers ("Oh please let me get an 'A' on my math test!"), but I gave my opinion on what I think "prayer" is, at its core: "It's just a form of meditation, isn't it? It's time taken to be with oneself and one's spirituality or one's God. It's to be completely alone with that sense of your soul -- completely internalized and able to think." Farah and Andrea seemed to agree, and I've decided that I'm going to make an effort to pray from now on -- from kneeling in front of my tiny Buddha statue to just lying in bed -- I'm going to try to connect with myself and my spirituality.

After that, I went back to the lecture area, and Maira was already again seated in the front row, reading a book. I snuck up behind her, returning to my previous seat, and the following interaction ensued:

Maira: ...do you want something?

Hayley: Just reading over your shoulder. And wondering.

M: About what?

H: About you. Are you going to be That Girl?

M: What girl?

H: You know. That Girl. Always the first to every lecture, always reading, always heavily involved in every intellectual discussion... Is that going to be you?

M: ...well, maybe, but that's just... me.

H: I know. It's me, too.

The next lecture was given by Dr. Margaret Clerici, who happens to be my tutor. Her lecture was on the Oxford Tutorial method, the one-on-one hour-long meetings between student and professor in which the student reads his or her paper aloud, and a discussion ensues. This is the heart of an Oxford education.

Click to read my official Programme Notebook entry on this lectureCollapse )

Lunch, and then the afternoon was mine! A bunch of the girls decided to go into town, and being that I had some things I needed to get in town (I finished my shopping list last night), I decided to tag along. It was me, Nikki, Anna, Farah, Risa, and Maira. It took us about a half-hour to leave the building, but what else would you except from a pack of girls? ("It's kinda cold today, should I bring a sweater? No, actually it's pretty sunny, I better bring some sun-glasses. No! Wait! Look at those clouds! It's so going to rain, I need to bring an umbrella...! Should I bring a book in case we end up sitting in a cafe? Well, what book?" and so on.)

Maira led the way. She walks with a confidence and self-assurance that is charismatic. You follow her. Eventually, she got well ahead of the pack of babbling girls, and I rushed forward to walk alongside her. We started talking, and I didn't leave her side for the rest of the trip.

We talked about everything. Our essays, our academics, and our guilty pleasures we brought along with us, which led into a discussion about gay authors and poets (Wilde, Rimbaud, Verlaine, etc.) that lasted for about a half-hour. We talked about Shakespeare, about theatre, about music, about art. Half of the time I was working hard to sound smarter than I really am just to meet the fringes of this girl's intellect, but I am so fascinated by her.

The six of us walked and walked. We stopped at the little hardware store on North Parade because Farah needed an adaptor (couldn't stop to wait so I could get my thumb tacks, oh no...), and then we walked on and on until we reached Blackwell's Book Store. Some of the others got coffee while Maira and I perused the poetry. Next, the Blackwell's Art Shop, where we looked at prints and prints, and I delighted in recognizing a Chagall from across the room (my IB Theatre Research Commission wasn't for nothing!). Maira was interested in so much of the artwork; she knows so much... She's smart, and she's odd, but she's funny, once she opens up and talks.

She isn't stunning, but she has a sort of hidden beauty that seems just beneath the surface of her skin, like the possibility of great beauty if you just pulled away the veil. She's tall, she's thin, and she's lithe, but she has a vulnerable quality that makes her look, almost... scared. Perhaps it's that she's so thin, but she looks lost and hungry and scared. She mumbles, as if she's too nervous to speak up. This manner makes her less intimidating. ...And she's always worried about infringing upon other people, or being a bother, or getting in the way. Just like me.

I am in awe of this girl. We're so alike in some ways, but so vastly different in others. She isn't me; she's who I want to be.

We kept seeing posters on the street of local events -- theatre and concerts and the like -- and Maira really wanted to see the performance of Mozart's Requiem. She said it was her favourite piece of music. She asked me if I would want to go with her. I've seen the movie 'Amadeus', I think to myself in all my glorious ignorance and unworldly life. I like Mozart, right? "Sure! I'd love to go with you." I'd made a friend.

Next stop: ice cream shop. Coffee flavour for everyone but me and Nikki -- Nikki got pineapple sorbet, and I got blackcurrant sorbet. Maira stood outside looking out of place. We stood around, eating out ice cream, looking at the beautiful church across the street and the photographer with a baby sharing the bench with us. Dark clouds loomed. It looked like rain. We decided to forego the rest of our shopping plans and head back to school; Maira hesitated, but voiced no complaint. But Nikki sensed it. "Is there anything else you wanted to do, Maira?"

She wanted to visit the Ashmolean Museum, to see if the exhibit that would help with her paper would still be there. It was on our way back, so we made the detour, with Maira, of course, leading the way. The museum was unfortunately closed, so Maira led us home. On North Parade, the street parallel to Canterbury, it started to rain. We ran the rest of the way.

Once on the grounds, we scattered. Maira and I said, "Adieu!" and parted. Exhausted, I went to bed early. I have my first tutorial tomorrow. I needed sleep.

Oh. By the way. Happy Harry Potter's Birthday. (Apparently I am a Big Geek for even knowing this fact.)

Who's Who

The Players of St. Hugh's Summer Programme

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

Nikki (Nicole) -- a Bolivian from my very own Robinson Secondary who is studying child psychology. She's a swimmer (to the point that I don't think she breathes correctly unless in water), with beautiful brown skin and red-brown hair; she looks great in earth tone colours, and is really a seven-year-old parading as a seventeen-year-old. She's my co-President for the French Honour Society, and I love her.

Anna -- another of my very own from Robinson. Pronounced Ah-nah, "but spelled the same as Anna with the flat A". How it would be spelled differently, I know not. She's studying British Imperialism, likes opera and Frank Sinatra, and completes the Robinson Triumvirate of... Rowdy Tarts -- me, Nikki, and Anna. I just made that up.

Fred -- boy from Houston, Texas. Studying economics. Has poof-y, curly brown hair that sticks out at least two inches from his head. Mild countenance. Infinitely infantile. Plays a lot of card games. Likes Hearts, mostly because Nikki is bad at it, I think.

Brian & Ryan -- the two boys from Robinson. They are to be treated as a single unit. Brian's studying Amazonian Anthropology, and Ryan's studying computer science. Brian's Italian, Ryan's Uruguayan. They both enjoy torturing Risa about Japanese whatnot. Brian is charming and likes coffee the strength of jet-fuel, Ryan is amusing and likes to think that Colombia is the answer to everything.

Andrea -- the girl from Houston, Texas. Straight-up Mexican. Studying international water conflicts. Dark-haired and buxom. Loves MySpace. Considers herself Catholic, but wears a Star of David that was given to her by a Jewish friend. Cohabitates the same floor as Nikki, Anna, and me.

Maira -- girl from Ithaca, NY. Wishes that it was Greece. Name pronounced like the female horse plus an "a". Is studying medieval history and gargoyles, but apparently that is likely to change, according to her tutor. She is the NY version of myself. She is highly intellectual, always reading, always heavily involved in the academic discussions, always first to get a seat for the lectures, and has a serious, hard-working manner about her. The differences are that she's tall and lithe and has the potential of being dangerously pretty. Very fashionable -- she's made her own clothes before, and always has either great pieces of jewellery or fabulous sashes or scarves, and lots of black, because black is Beatnik Cool. I'm either going to end up loving this girl and will bond deeply with her, or I'll hate her for being a rival. Hoping for the former. She also likes to check weather forcasts on the internet.

Risa -- girl from Tokyo, pronounced "LEE-sah" (like Lisa). Studying UN politics. Quiet and gorgeous. Easily annoyed by Ryan & Brian's shenanigans about "so do you know karate? Can you, like, beat up a mugger with nun-chucks? Tell us a Japanese proverb that will lead us to Enlightenment." I suggested that from now on she say that she's from Torrance, California, that she doesn't speak Japanese, know anything about the culture, or even like rice.

Janine -- girl from Vancouver. Studying Shakespeare's Anthony and Cleopatra, so is a Lit Kid like me and is being tutored by Dr. Clerici. I spent the first day getting her a Maira mixed up because they look so much alike, but I've got it now. She went to a Catholic school and is a vegetarian.

Daniel -- who is also known as "Sam", because that's what Henry Speck mistakenly introduced him as, though Daniel really hates being called Sam for reasons unknown. He's from Hong Kong, and is studying law. He knows everything there is about this place, because he was here for the first session (the early July session), and just stayed for the second one. Said he didn't want to go home yet. Quiet and vaguely mysterious sometimes. Apparently he sings, but he does not like to dance.

Jennie (Jennifer) -- pretty girl from Toronto with a very nice smile. Studying international relations, specifically with the oil crisis. I remember her name by singing the "Poor Jenny, Bright as a Penny" song from Lady in the Dark. Very pleasant to be around, theorizing about things and complaining about the International Baccalaureate program. Very friendly. Half-and-half existentialist and fatalist, which I find to be a very strange combo, but she makes it make sense.

Farah -- Indian girl from Sacramento, studying physiology. She does traditional Indian dance, is Muslim by birth but explores other religions and questions her own. And she's absolutely gorgeous, which completely pardons her for the times that she's overslept. Great for talking about philosophy, theology, and the pains of International Baccalaureate. The "what is it to pray?" discussion was great. She is also brilliant at fixing printers (unlike Henry Speck).

Madeleine -- New York City girl. Half-mulatto, half-Chinese. Short, cafe-au-lait skin, glasses, and frizzy dark hair. The third of the Lit Kid triumvirate under Dr. Clerici's tutelage. She's studying Thomas Hardy and Taoism. She likes to play Scrabble.

Katie (Katherine) -- from Highland Park, New Jersey. Studying globalization's effect on poverty. Good discussions about education systems with her.

Jamie (Jamison) -- boy from L.A., and a Catholic all-boy school. Studying impressionist art (Monet, etc.). Wears a lot of trendy plaid.

Mike (Michael) -- Jamie's other half, also from the L.A. Catholic all-boy school. Studying neurophysiology. Armenian ethnicity. Very proud of the "hot girl teachers" at his school and showing off their pictures. Very creepy about hitting on Ms. Noonan, but a generally funny guy.

Ms. Eileen Noonan -- Robinson IB History teacher. Twenty-seven-years-old, and Irish. Is fun and cute (lots of freckles), and was apparently a quiet person until she went to UVA. None of us can imagine her as a quiet person. She's here at St. Hugh's to be along for the ride, and occasionally make sure a few of us haven't died (the official title is "Point Person"). She is absolutely addicted to Starbucks coffee, and likes to torment her brothers. She has in fact kissed the Blarney Stone.

Ms. Georgette Wallace -- English teacher from New York City who came here with Madeleine. She's my adult who occasionally make sure that I haven't died.

Dr. Margaret Clerici -- Italian Londoner, moved to Oxford at age eleven, so Oxford is home. Has a doctorate in Shakespeare, specifically in father-son relationships. Studied at Oriel College and teaches at St. Catherine.

Dr. Henry Speck -- Texas native, turned Oxford man. Founded this St. Hugh's Summer School Tutorial Programme. Rumoured to have multiple doctorates, but he refused to be bothered to talk about it during breakfast. He asked if I was writing an article or something (a subtle Oxford insult, as journalism is a four-letter word here, he told us yesterday), and I told him that I am not a journalist. ...I'm an archivist.

Vass -- the charming, white-haired head cook of origins unknown. He has three nameless 20-something girly helpers who actually serve the food; their name tags only stay "Staff", but we know that they are Polish. They are referred to as "Vass' Angels".

Fun and Games

Day two. Was awoken by furious rapping upon my chamber door, accompanied by the acrimonious cry of Nikki. That girl makes for a splendid alarm clock, especially when you forgot to set your travel alarm clock the night before... Nikki's my safety alarm.

Wonderful weather today. It's cool and breezy. Actually considered swapping my t-shirt for a sweater, since I brought so many of my Argyll sweaters and now I'm worried that I'll never wear them, with all this hot weather. ...But, oh, the weather was good today.

I'm horrified at how much walking I've been doing. Whole day of sightseeing, then walking all through Oxford, and now I'm discovering that it takes a lot of walking just getting where I need to go around campus -- not even for any sort of exercise purpose! The computer lab is in a whole separate building from the main building for our programme, and is a few minutes' walk. My room is on the top floor of our building, so that's four flights of stairs whenever I need to get to my room (they don't like us using the elevator). And we're always going here and there... I'm active and moving and outside. Like, a lot. There is clearly something wrong with this picture.

Have definitely had some good bonding time with the computer lab, typing up these entries, but don't think I'm not being social with the others or not participating in activities. Oh no. I'm social. I participate. I think today is the beginning of a lot of games throughout these three weeks. Today has been the day of card games. I've played Spoons today, Hearts, Heartbeat, and just walked out on a game of Capitalism (which apparently everyone has a different name for), and there's been talk of starting a long-term game of Monopoly or Risk that'll go through the three weeks. [sarcasm] ...Because we are so academically minded here. [/sarcasm]

I don't know what I'd do without Nikki and Anna here. Not only do they make sure I get out of bed when I need to, but they're just there when I need them there, when I need friends to be around for familiarity and comfort. Anna is just one of those people who can make you feel calmer, just by being around her. She's pleasant, she's mild, and she's calming. She likes opera and Frank Sinatra. Nikki is secretly a child. No, I stand corrected. She is overtly a child. She is not in touch with her inner child, but is her own inner child. It's wonderful being co-Presidents for the French Honour Society with her, because we're such polar opposites that we balance each other out. I'm seventeen going on about forty. She's seventeen going on about six. How we get along so well, I'll never know, but we do, and it works. Things are just funny that way.

So Nikki has determined what the weeks are going to be like. I don't know if there's a Monday plan yet, but Tuesdays will be girls' night (nail-polish and gossip). Nothing on Wednesday because Wednesdays are excursion days, but Thursday is poker night and Friday is Fight Night, in which there will be water balloon fights and the like. Nikki's already bought the balloons.

When did this go from a scholarly paper-writing tutorial summer school to a summer camp for kids? ...And why is the summer camp for kids part so much fun?

After lunch we had, I think, the third speech from Dr. Speck About The Programme, and then we went on a walking tour of the college. ...More walking. My thighs hate me. I walked along with Jennie, the girl from Toronto, and chatted nicely. The grounds really are beautiful -- the grand façade of the main building, especially. There's so much greenery all around it -- "And there's no where else in the world I've seen where there is not the same colour of green anywhere in sight," as Dr. Speck put it. He told us lots of little anecdotes about the history of the college, and walked us around.

First, we went to the chapel, which is lovely and gorgeous. (Henry Speck said it was Art Nouveau, but I don't agree.) It's open all the time, so I think I might visit it more often when I need a place to think or just a place to be alone and in the quiet. ...That's a truly amazing thing I've noticed about the school -- the quiet. There are so many places that are honestly quiet. Where you can hear the air move, because there's nothing else that's moving. Just air, just your own breathing.

The dining hall was closed (nothing like Christ Church's Great Hall, so we were told, which served as Hogwarts' Great Hall for the movies), so we went to the library next. Beautiful library. Great big wooden staircase with stone statues, and rows and rows of bookshelves. ...And again, so quiet. It felt sacred -- just like the chapel. I touched a volume of Keats, of the life of Milton, and a Balzac. They're not originals or first printings -- I could check them out myself, and yet the books felt sacred somehow, as if they were saints' relics and I was trying to feel their holiness.

Left through the side door of the library (the Rabbit Hole, they called it -- I squealed), saw the real front gate of the school, and left the way we came. The air was so odd, in the main building of the college. The air smells... old. It's old air. It's hard to describe. It has... dust in it, a musky, dusty smell. It's heavy air, heavy with scent that comes with age and having been used for a long time. ...I have to admit, it's not exactly a pleasant smell, but it's... meaningful. I could appreciate it for that.

Then we were free 'til dinner! Some people were going into town to do some shopping, and the group invited me along, but I declined. I need to go shopping for some essentials, but I haven't even made a list yet. I bonded some more with the computer lab, becoming thoroughly annoyed by the obnoxious boys who haven't even finished their first tutorial essay yet when we start work tomorrow, but all they can do is talk about condoms and girls... Ugh. I turned my iPod on high, but their presence is pervasive.

Left to go clean up my room, lock away some important things with the new itty bitty lock Matt bought me in town before he and Mom left, considered taking a shower before the formal dinner reception tonight, and decided not to risk it just yet, not with the dangers they've warned us with the showers. Later tonight, maybe. Eventually, I just picked out my clothes for dinner, laid them across a chair, and then laid down on my bed and took a nap (though not before leaving a note on Nikki and Anna's door to wake me up before dinner). Was awoken by Anna, this time. She and Nikki both make good alarm clocks.

Threw on my skirt, my knee-high tights, my sweater, some lipstick and my Mary-Janes and I was out the door. For good measure, I put on my Alice in Wonderland bottle-cap necklace that Mrs. Spenneberg made for me; it's pretty and makes for a good conversation piece.

Upon locking up my room, I heard "Lady and the Tramp" music in the hall, coming from Nikki and Anna's. I investigated. They had the speakers blaring Anna's iPod (Puccini was right after Disney), and they were still getting ready. No, I stand corrected. Anna was ready, just selecting some last-minute earrings. Nikki was still getting dressed, fussing with her hair, then her shoes, then debating about makeup and jewellery, and I was practically dragging her out of the door ("We are going to be late!") when she realized that she'd lost her key. The three of us spent the next couple minutes looking for it, and the keys were found in Nikki's towel, of all places. Girls' dorms are so much fun.

For the next half-hour or so, I was a fiend with a camera, taking pictures left and right of everyone dressed up in their fine feathers. Ms. Noonan and Ms. Wallace got some good group shots of us all together, and then we were ushered out onto our lawn where fruit mixes and h'orderves were waiting for us. Most of the tutors were there, including mine, Dr. Clerici, though I didn't get a chance to speak to her. At dinner, I sat between Nikki and Ms. Wallace, and across from some of the other girls. We talked mostly about education, which seems silly and nerdy for dinner conversation, but is what we really care about. This is a group of people passionate about education systems. We're academics.

Later on, Risa's tutor stood up and offered to give us a free lesson in improvisational theatre tomorrow night. My head smacked against the table. TheatreSports. Shoot me now. But I shouldn't have been surprised -- the guy was Canadian, and Canada is the birthplace of TheatreSports. I can't even escape it in England!

Salad, main course, dessert, and a cup of coffee later, a large portion of the group was settled back in the lounge area around a table, playing cards. Fred and Anna whooped Nikki and I at Hearts once again, and about eight or so of us joined in for a game of Heartbeat, which the New Yorker girl taught us. It's good to socialize, to have fun like this. ...But the work's gonna be starting, and soon.

Tomorrow morning, in fact. Rise and shine for our first lectures!

Programme, Day One

Today was the big day. Woke up, and, of course, regretted it. Longed to sleep forever and ever and not have to face the Big Scary Oxford Adventure in Academics, but I didn't have much of a choice with a mother kicking me out of bed to play with my hair. Gotta make a good impression, y'know.

So I donned my St. Hugh's College polo shirt (for $5000, it's the most expensive shirt ever -- and then it comes with this whole tutorial programme thing...), a pair of blue jeans. Said goodbye to the glorious air-conditioning, rolled my monstrous purple luggage out of the hotel and into a cab. (My luggage needs a name; it's monstrous and bright purple... What do you think? Barney? Not sure.)

Matt and Mom aren't leaving London just yet -- they're staying through Sunday. So they're just giving me the boot before they go off to play on their own dropping me off before getting some last-minute time to themselves.

From the cab to Paddington train station. Beautiful station. Got so many Harry Potter vibes (if only it'd been King's Cross...!). Wanted to look for Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, but we were on platform eight. Caught the 9:21am train to Oxford and we were off.

English trains are excellent; they're the smoothest trains I've ever been on. My nose so buried in my Stephanie Plum novel, I hadn't even realized we'd started moving until Matt nudged me to see that we were leaving the station and say goodbye to London.

Once out of London, the countryside was gorgeous. Except for the drought part. Pity for the people of agriculture who are suffering from this, because what is green really is gorgeous, and for it all to be green -- I can only imagine the view. But mostly, the view from the train was of green blur. Lots of hedges. To muffle the sound of the train, I imagine.

The train ride took less than an hour, and then we were in Oxford. I think it was around then that I started hyperventilating. From the train to a cab, and then a cab to the gates of the South Entrance of St. Hugh's College on Canterbury Road. I may or may have not started crying in the cab, but it may have just been from biting my lip so hard, trying not to cry.

I can't even explain why it was so scary. Everyone kept telling me that it was fine, it was all going to be fine, it was going to be a wonderful, amazing experience and I was going to love it, so what's there to be scared of? ...But I was scared, though I'm not sure what of. Scared of being in a foreign country? Of being without my parents? Of being in an environment that's completely out of my control? Of not being good enough for these people who have such high academic expectations of me? I don't know. I don't know. But I was so scared, I was practically in tears, standing at that wrought-iron gate.

We came around an hour and a half early, so I was the first student to arrive. In the middle directly to our front was the sign-in, and as soon as I gave the women my name, she declared, "Oh! We know each other! We've been corresponding. I'm Dr. Clerici."

And then Hayley had a heart-attack and died of shock. Well, that's one version of the story. The other version is that my eyes got very wide and I forgot to breathe for about a minute, only just managing a very surprised, "...oh."

She laughed. "Weren't expecting that, were you?"

"No, I wasn't."

She laughed some more and gave me all my basic introduction information sheets, and more importantly, the key to my room. My keys! The square key is to my room, the round key is to the front gate of St. Hugh's (which we don't use anyway), and the magnetic "fob" is for all the other locked doors, which is very cool. The doors make little beep sounds when you open them with the fob!

We dropped off my monstrous purple luggage in my room, which is on the top floor, on the south-east side of the building. Private room, wonderfully big, with a closet that's bigger than the bathroom. We dumped the luggage there for then, then went racing back down the street in search of food. My parents and I were starving.

We got breakfast at a local little sandwich shop called On the Hoof. We explored the tiny, narrow street, taking note of all the little cafes and shops, where I'll be able to buy supplies and snacks and everything. It's all right there, and it's all so... quaint. It's all so cute! And quiet! And British!

About an hour later, just as we were walking back up to the gates of the college, who should we run into but the Robinson crowd! Ms. Noonan, Brian & Ryan, and my beloved girls, Anna and Nikki. Nikki even abandoned her luggage in the middle of the street to come hug me. Anna rushed over too to greet me. It's reassuring to get a nice reception. I don't know what I'd be doing here without the two of them.

The rest of the day was all a blur of getting settled in and getting acquainted with everyone and everything. There was a lunch for everyone as students trickled in (delayed flights and so on), then I showed Nikki and Anna their rooms (they're sharing a suite right next to my room, so we can prop open our doors and talk and play music and all hear each other). We all had a great time of unpacking. Anna and Nikki even set up a little parlour in the tiny foyer of their suite. It's adorable.

Oh, to unpack. How wonderful it is to unpack, to find a place for everything and have it all be in my liveable space. I adore my room. I adore my bookshelf with all the books I brought. I adore my fan (which is marked as being taken from a conference room), and I adore the huge desk upon which it sits. I adore my giant closet, and I even, to a point, adore my tiny bathroom with the infamously dangerous shower. And I am in love with my bed -- my wonderful, squishy bed, and I love the body-length window that gives a beautiful view of the front gardens, which I can see from my beloved bed. Perhaps I should have brought my own pillow for extra comfort factor, but I'm not displeased with the one I have, either.

In the wretched heat of the un-air-conditioned indoors, I changed out of my polo shirt and jeans and shoes and socks, and into a black skirt, a white tank-top, and black sandals. Nikki came to inspect me and promptly deemed me unacceptable, going through my closet to pick a better outfit for me. Orange-and-pink Argyll short-sleeve sweater, and a different black skirt. I added a black Alice-type headband for good measure. Nikki was insistent on the importance of first impressions (though Anna severely regretted those high-heel sandals later).

We got the first of many speeches from Henry Speck-- I'm sorry, Dr. Henry Speck, the programme founder, about the programme, and then we went out to explore! He took us up to Broad Street and High Street, and then let us loose, saying only to return for dinner at 6:30pm. My parents (who were still hanging around through all of this, the saints that they are) and I branched off from the rest of the group then and continued down the street, all the way to Christ Church College in order to visit Alice's Shop across the street.

Much more claustrophobic, roasted, and a hundred pounds (financially) lighter, we left Alice's Shop, but very happy in our geeky pursuits. Mom and Matt's Alice obsession has finally rubbed off on me. I am a beginning Alice collector. I have a new Alice shirt (Alice and the Red Queen -- it takes all the running you can do to stay in the same place), an Alice pen (also Alice and the Red Queen, one of those float-y pens so that they run across the landscape), and an Alice button; I am so pleased.

Because of the day tourists, the street was horrifically crowded, and for a minute I was scared that I hadn't left London after all. But Dr. Clerici assured me that it's only like that because it's the weekend -- on the weekdays, it's so empty that you can ride your bike down the street. A half-hour walk later, we were back at the college, tired and spent after two days of much too much walking. I was briefly distracted by a pack of girls (Nikki and Anna included), claiming they were headed for the computer lab. COMPUTER LAB! My feet involuntarily followed them, but my mind eventually kicked in. My parents were leaving; they were leaving now.

Said a nice goodbye (without tears, thank you), and I watched them walk off through the gate until I couldn't see them anymore. I felt like such a sentimentalist. I even took a picture of their turned backs so I could look at it again and again -- the last I saw of them before they left me here to be an independent person.

By dinner I knew almost everyone's name. There are only seventeen of us, which is a big change compared to the eighty-something students that were here for the early July session. I'm so glad it's a small group -- I like that feeling better. You know everyone. Everyone knows you. All of the adults know you individually, instead of just being part of a herd of teenagers. I think this is going to be really good.

Dinner, exploration of the computer lab (huzzah!), another speech from Dr. Henry Speck about the programme. Mr. Speck is quite an interesting guy. He's a Texan by birth -- the programme's administrative address is even in Texas -- but he's an Oxford man, and a member of three of the colleges. He has an interesting mix of both a Texas accent (when he's speaking quickly), and an English accent (when he's slowed down, more to a lazy, thoughtful drawl). It's an odd combination, but it's charming somehow. He'd middle-aged, anecdotal, and charming. Perhaps there's a bit of elitism there too, that comes with his being both a Texan and an Oxford man. Fascinating, fascinating.

And then we met our Point Person, who is the adult who is responsible for us. I'm with Ms. Georgette Wallace. I believe she came with Maira from Ithaca, but I don't know for sure. I'll have to check.

And then I went straight to bed. Couldn't have been later than eight o'clock or so, and some of the others were outside playing capture the flag, but I had some serious bonding to do with my new bed.

I am not a good sightseer

Woke up, again, at an ungodly hour, but this time against my will. Today was our last day to see the sights of London, so we were going to see the sights of London, and get a good an early start. Put on walking shoes that I thought would save my feet, but how wrong I was. Changed my outfit at least twice to suit not only the weather but Mom's hopes for our next Christmas cards being "Us In England!"

Had breakfast at a little pastry shop down the street that served "Traditional English Breakfast". There were no kippers involved, I'm happy to say, but there were beans.

There was a station for Big Bus Tours right outside our hotel, so we boarded the big red double-decker bus (no roof on the top deck, for a better view), stuck in our headphones for the audio tour, and listened to a narrator that sounds vaguely like Christopher Guest as the six-fingered-man in The Princess Bride tell us about English history as it passed us by at sixty miles per hour. Hard to get good pictures. (Though I did get one of the church where Oscar Wilde got married!) Mine are mostly of architecture. And chimney pots. I love all the chimney pots on top of all the buildings... Y'see? That, to me, is London. If you keep looking up at the top of all the old buildings, you see London. If you look down at the street and all the people who don't even speak English and all the shops that are all over the world... That's not London. That's New York City. ...Then again, London was New York City before New York City was New York City. Still. Keep your eyes up.

Got off the bus for a walking tour to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guards ceremony. Lovely British guy named Simon was our guide. The ceremony was really something. All those furry hats! And today they had the band out with the guards. I got a picture of the royal euphonium players for Beach. We had to run to keep up with the guards and get good spots on the street to take photos. After that, I was about done with this whole sightseeing thing, because my feet were definitely starting to complain, but there was still so much more of London left...!

Back on the bus. More history at sixty miles an hour. Want to know more about 50 Barkley Square. Is it really supposed to be haunted? ...Yes, that's the piece of London history I'm actually interested in.

Went to Harrod's department store. Got reservations for tea, but had to wait a few hours. Wandered through the endless, endless departments. Feet definitely started to hurt. Mind kept wandering, thinking about leaving for Oxford tomorrow. ...I guess it was partly Tired Kid At Disneyland For Too Long syndrome, but I started crying, right there in the middle of the candy section. Bought some mango Gelato and felt somewhat better. Was much more restored by afternoon tea. Little sandwiches are love! It was all so wonderful. ...Except for the live piano player, who was stuck in the 80's. Seriously. Piano medleys of the best of the Police, Sting, and Madness is not proper afternoon tea mood music. Mom had a word with the management about it.

Back on the bus for our last stop: The London Eye (great big Ferris-wheel-type thing to get good views of London). Lots of queuing, and then trapped in a giant plastic pill, overlooking all of England. ...But to see Big Ben and the Parliament building. My god. That's really London, isn't it? That's when it finally hit me, I think.

Rode the Underground (the tube!) back to Bayswater Road. Saw a pair of monks (seriously, monks) while we were getting tickets, and I stalked them to get their picture. I have no shame.

The Tube is so much nicer than the DC Metro. Could use some more air-conditioning for this awful weather, though. Ugh. Hot.

After twelve solid hours of sightseeing, we returned to Kensington, and our pub -- the Black Lion. Mom and Matt shared a pitcher of Pimm's. I had a Diet Coke. Had to sit outside since it was after six o'clock and I'm underage. Fun, fun. Just one more year, right?

Our last stop before heading hack to the hotel was 100, Bayswater Road, which is right across the street from our hotel, and is the house where J.M. Barrie wrote Peter Pan. ...Not that you can see much of the house, with the giant brick wall built in front of it. You can just barely see the commemorative blue marker put up front. Oh well. We got a picture anyhow.

Back to the hotel. Slept. Rested my aching feet. Was woken up by Matt, armed with Chinese food and chocolate Gelato. Good man. Finished the second Stephanie Plum novel (I really am addicted now), and then realized that I needed to go to the internet café to check for more Oxford e-mails. Had to figure out travel stuff, after all. Yay for anxiety. Matt came with me, because there's no way I can go out to a scary youth hostel late at night on my own. Henry Speck, the programme founder, approved that my parents could accompany me for the introduction, sign-in, lunch, and tour. So that was that. I didn't have to say goodbye at the gates -- thank god.

Back to the hotel, again. Took another bath in the smallest bathtub in Europe, trying to relax, trying to not freak out about tomorrow. Then, I re-packed, trying to get all my stuff ready for tomorrow. Had to make sure I had everything, and that it all could still fit in my suitcases. (I decided against bringing the Little Black Dresses to Oxford with me, though -- those are going home with Matt and Mom.) At about two in the morning, Mom begged me to stop and go to bed. I threw all the last-minute things together, and, like a good daughter, went to bed.
Woke up at some ungodly hour of the morning with my head full of ideas for the drama department next year. I think I dreamt about Mr. Rome the night before -- I can't remember. Completely unable to get these completely unnecessary-right-now-thank-you-very-much ideas, I started writing a script outline for a one-act adaptation of The Dybbuk (cast of six, I think -- for the Virginia Theatre Association, maybe, if we don't do the Reduced Shakespeare, or perhaps for Short Plays), and a script of a series of Greek myths that I think I'm going to call Four Variations on the Story of Eros, but might just end up calling "MORPH, part II" (this one definitely for Short Plays, if The Dybbuk doesn't end up with that slot instead).

I think I fell back asleep at some point. Woke up after noon, got dressed in a t-shirt and skirt, and we went to the local pub, The Black Lion. Chatted with a family from Vancouver at the table next to ours, and got more information about the Chunnel to Paris, deciding that maybe we'll wait until next year for Paris, as cool as the Chunnel is. And then we ate pub food. Matt and Mom were adventurous enough to try Fish and Chips, but I stuck with my favorite -- Bangers and Mash. Yum. Mashed potato heaven. And Mom had English beer! Warm! And thick enough to be a meal on its own! Amazing.

Went out wandering with Matt to get postcards. Bought about twenty of them, returned to the pub to sit with Mom in a well air-conditioned corner, split the postcards, ten each. I will be writing a lot of postcards over the next few weeks, I can tell. Mom drank a pitcher of some lemonade-type alcohol called Pimm's, and I sucked down Diet Cokes. Matt went to explore the London office of the company he works for, Corbis (a Bill Gates company, yeah), and Mom and I wrote our postcards as I reminisced about how the Vancouver boy looked away every time I caught his eyes. I asked Mom about it ("Am I really that unattractive, or was I using some sort of feminine wiles?"), and Mom determined that it was wiles.

Seventeen postcards later (ten for me, seven for Mom), we returned to the hotel. I read some more Stephanie Plum #2 ("Two for the Dough"), and slept. Joy!

Woke up sometime after dark. Matt and Mom decided to be adventurous, and I was just along for the ride. Surrounded by all this ethnic food that Matt and Mom like (and I do not), we decided to go for Indian. ...But first, my needs needed to be tended to.

There was some little boutique having a major sale that I kept looking at every time we passed it. It was all teenage-ish teeny-bopper clothing that I would look hideous in... except for this one black dress in the window that I was slowly falling in love with. Passing it again on the way to Indian food, my heart could take no more. I needed that dress.

Dragged my parents into the shop and tried on what we guessed to be my size. Fit like a glove, and looked ready to kill when I stood up straight (thank god for good bras). It was fabulous. There was another dress like it with different sleeves and a different neckline, so we got that one too, just because, what the hell. Mom declared that I finally have an essential LBD -- Little Black Dress. This is like a womanly rite of passage. I have not one but two LBDs, and I got them in Europe (for only ten pounds each! Such a deal!). I need to go strutting into school in one of these dresses for the first day back. I am a woman now. Haha!

Went to a nice little Indian place called "Maharaja". It had a gorgeous façade. Nice lamps. I ate next to nothing, being that, well, I don't exactly go for curry, and I had the dresses to think about. Mom made me promise that I wouldn't obsess myself into an eating disorder over this, but, god, would I love to be thin and have good posture. So I practiced sitting up straight as I sipped at Diet Coke. Nibbled at some rice. Tried to channel skinny movie stars.

Was still in the glow of the Dresses when we left. Got a little cup of some great all-natural mango sherbet at a juice bar, and counted hookah bars as we walked back to the hotel. I think it was something like... eight. And I thought Fairfax had its fair share of hookah bars... My God! Fairfax has got nothing on London when it comes to hookah bars. And I'm old enough to smoke in England! Go figure! (A year away from drinking, but hey, if I wanted, I could smoke! ...Not that I'd ever want to. Ew.)

Also stopped at one of the little touristy shops. Bought a orange sash that I think is gorgeous, and spent way too much money on tourist junk, but I love it. I have knee-high socks with the Union Jack on them! And A VINYL TOTE BAG WITH THE UNDERGROUND MAP ON IT. I am in love.

Briefly visited the local internet café with Matt. It's in the lobby of what looks like a youth hostel. Vaguely creepy. Decided that I didn't want to spend too much time there, despite the overwhelming lure of the internet. And besides. Had lots of Oxford e-mails to deal with. E-mailing my tutorial professor about myself and my subject and e-mailing Henry Speck with questions and whatnot... It's Thursday. And I've only got until SATURDAY. ohgod.

London (or at least Kensington) is odd. Everything stops at around 11:00pm, unless it's a 24-hours place. Very different from Northern Virginia, where everything's dark by 9:00pm.

Returned to hotel. We've discovered that our hotel is sitting right on top of a gas station (petrol station?), and it has a 24-hour snack shop. Sodas and Jammy Dodgers! Yay! Better than room service. And cheaper.

Saw some chocolates called "Crawfords" and debated about sending some to my beloved Mr. Crawford, but determined that chocolate would probably not send overseas well. Oh well. Will have to do something else for him instead. And they have Strepsils in every flavour...! Such a trip, being in England. Where there is ENGLISH STUFF.

Only just realized how stupid that statement sounded until after I typed it out.

Read more Stephanie Plum goodness and slept. I love sleep.

And then there was sleeping

The room wasn't ready for us yet when we got to the Thistle Hotel. They said we'd have to wait until at least two o'clock in the afternoon. So we dropped off our luggage, and went wandering. There's lots of little shops and things all up and down the roads parallel to our hotel, sitting facing Kensington Gardens, and, wandering jet-lagged and exhausted, where do we stop? ...Starbucks. Needed something comforting and familiar in this strange and foreign place.

Muffins and juice. Yum. But what I couldn't believe was the heat. My God. It was so hot. John our cockney cabby had told us how there was a drought and hadn't had any proper rain for two years now, and England's just been boiling away these past three days or so, and it was the hottest that England has been ever, but these things don't really hit you until you're sweating buckets in your little corner Starbucks.

I took a picture of the gorgeous church across the street from the Starbucks, and we walked some more. When it really hit us, my parents and I, that we really didn't have the energy to go anywhere or do anything and we had all this time we just had to wait, we decided to go to Kensington Gardens. In vain, we looked for the Peter Pan statue, but we didn't look that hard. Too tired. We admired all the little Princess Diana memorials (they are everywhere in Kensington), and then went looking for a place we could park ourselves and languish in our jet-lagged misery.

We found a sea of little turquoise-and-white-stripped beach chairs, set up in neat little pairs overlooking the little lake in the garden. Swans and ducks and crows as big as small dogs cooled in the water. It was quite a view. The golden dead grass (drought, after all) looked so much like sand it was like being at the beach. Water, sand-substitute, beach chairs -- it was all there. So we pulled three chairs into the shade, sat down, and didn't move again for quite some time.

Mom and I shared my iPod (one ear-bud each) and listened to my play-list of favorite piano music. Mom really enjoyed it, just sitting there in the shade with this beautiful view and listening to this lovely music with me. She referred to it as a Moment, and then we went to sleep and slept a long, long time.

I only discovered after I woke up (about three or four hours later) that we were approached by a park worker and were charged a fee for sitting in the chairs. Seriously. 1.50 pounds for two hours in a chair. ...And frankly, it's the best deal we've found yet in London. We got a little receipt and everything.

Finally, around 1:30, we were granted access to our glorious air-conditioned hotel room. I stripped down to my skivvies to lie under the vent and slept some more.

Didn't wake up until after dark. We all decided that we were hungry, so went prowling the streets for a restaurant. Everything in Kensington is either Middle Eastern or South Asian, which are two types of food that I just... don't... eat. Took us ages to find an Italian place, a darling little place called Bella Italia with lit candles stuck in Chianti bottles and everything. Had a lovely pesto dish and we all wandered back to the hotel, quite sated, and slept some more. After my bath in the smallest bathtub in Europe, I'm sure. Had to wash the jet-lag off of me. Long flights leave this sort of... film of traveling grossness on you. Needs scrubbing to get it off. Scrubbing and soaking and boiling.

Wait, I think there was a stop for Gelato sometime during all of that. ...Mine was toffee. Yum.

Oh. And I finished the first Stephanie Plum novel. On to book number two!

Conspiracy of Cartographers

More queuing outside for a cabby (that's the right word, yes? They say TAXI on the top of the cars, but they're called cabbies, aren't they?). There were two businessmen standing behind us in the queue, and I so badly wanted to take a picture of them. Especially the older one with the walrus moustache who let the younger one do all of the talking, saying nothing but "yes" and "quite". They were both wearing dark suits and were smoking. I snuck a picture of the old one's cigarette, and then took an insane amount of pictures of the taxis/cabbies going by. And the buses! English double-decker buses! Can you believe it?! I couldn't believe it. What a rush. (I'm getting a rush from buses? ...Geez.)

Our taxi driver was amazing; he was the perfect introduction to England. I believe the proper term is "colourful working-class"-type of character. I was fascinated by the use of the letter "f" instead of "th" (to create "to fink about da fing"), and the phrase "y'know wot I mean?" becoming like punctuation for every sentence. It was wonderful. And this guy really talked. He went on and on, ranging from immigration issues to the weather to population/traffic congestion to that traffic accident the other day when a lorry (a truck, apparently) hit two Middle Eastern teenagers to how young Mick Jagger is looking these days.

When we reached our hotel (the Thistle Hotel in Kensington -- 104 Bayswater Road), I asked the driver for his name, and he said that it was John. And then he let me sit in the driver seat of his cab and get my picture taken. Such a nice guy.

It was so odd, sitting in that taxi, and seeing London. Seeing England. I just couldn't properly process that piece of information, that I was in London, I was in England. I kept looking at the road and the houses and the businesses and the cars and thought this is England, and it felt like it couldn't be right. How could England be a real place? So Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

Guildenstern: What a shambles! We're just not getting anywhere.

Rosencrantz: Not even England. I don't believe in it anyway.

Guildenstern: What?

Rosencrantz: England.

Guildenstern: Just a conspiracy of cartographers, you mean?


It's like I never really believed in England -- not as a real place, anyway. England was a romanticized idea in my head, where writers and composers and playwrights and Monty Python skits are bred, with rain and gardens and tea and churches that are all older than the country of my birth; it can't be a real place. ...I just couldn't process that England was real, a real place with streets and cars and crowds of people who can't speak English and graffiti on the walls and typical shopping and Starbucks. It's real. ...I'm not sure if I found that reality is disappointing or not. It was just... reality. And I wasn't expecting reality.

Lord. What's it going to be like when I go to France?