Saturday, 31 May 2008

Unknown Wisdom Epiphany

"Unknown Wisdom Epiphany" is actually the name of a charm in Exalted, the RPG that I'm tooling around with right now. While I went to Oxford over the weekend, I was exposed to the BBC miniseries adventures of Horatio Hornblower, and so I'm seeing if I can insert some of that naval-awesomeness into an Exalted character I was working on.

And Oxford, as it turns out, is beautiful. If it weren't for Kenyon-Exeter's amazing awesomeness just as a program, I would have every reason to feel bad about not having gone to Oxford on my year abroad. Being at Oxford made me realize how much more I could have learned this year. And I tried duck!

(Exeter, I guess, has that salt-of-the-earth, make-your-own-food and suffer-under-the-beaurocracy kind of experience going for it, I guess, though. So I learned something valuable.)

But the real point is:

On the train back from Oxford, there were a lot of Americans. I don't know why, but for some reason there were a lot of Americans. Like maybe 7, probably between the ages of 18 and 20. We sat down behind a bunch of them, Ken went to read his play ("Our Country's Good"), and I poured over my character sheet for this Horatio-Hornblower-slash-Hatori-Hanzo-swordsmith-pirate-Solar-Exalt character, adjusting dots and selecting flaws and all that other fun stuff you do. And the Americans behind us were just talking, and talking, and they'd make fun of the landscape as it went by ... the train we were on was a kind of local train, so it stopped at a lot of local stops in the countryside and eventually it was going to Reading and we'd change there to get to Exeter. And as we stopped at all these little stops, they'd make fun of the names. "Goring Streadle? What weird names!"

And I wanted to turn around to them and smack them. They were guests in this country, can't they appreciate it for the lovely little place that it is? Or, perhaps, as Mrs. Weasley would put it:


And it wasn't just England they were going after, it was the countryside. It's a plenty crazy place, I understand, and London can do things to people, but you mess with the countryside, the bastion of pastoral beauty, and I will personally take you down to Dawlish town and make scrumpy out of you.

But seriously, it's a crazy little place - England - and it's eccentric and dangerous and bitter and beautiful and cold and wet and green and it has that kind of sumblime power to melt you where you stand ... and you're making fun of the names of the train stops?


(They weren't really THAT bad, but it did stand out to me, and in standing out to me, taught me how much I had become accustomed to England in the first place. So maybe I have integrated after all...)

Sunday, 25 May 2008

League of Nations Attacked by Pirates

An alternate title might be "Jolly Rogers Go!"

On May 24th, I was privy to a rare European tradition - yes, not just English, but European. It is an international phenomenon that defines how these loose and ragtag countries, so often divided because of religious or ethnic differences, find a way to keep together towards a common goal.

And that phenomenon is: Eurovision.

There are many defintions of the Eurovision Song Contest - here's what wikipedia told me about the history:

Eurovision was started in the 50's as an attempt to get a war-torn Europe together again, when international broadcasting was still a huge feat. It was held in Switzerland, and countries submitted songs that competed for votes, whoever got the most, won. Switzerland won the first time around. As it became easier to broadcast, the phenomenon grew. Voting became more of an event, and while the votes were being tallied, there were interval acts, including the first ever performance of Riverdance.

But that's just history. I'll sum up the one I was given by my hosts, Michael Sykes and James McIntosh, as they hosted their Eurovision Party:

Eurovision is basically an American Idol for all of Europe. Each country submits a song, and each country votes via calling on who they want to win - but you CAN'T VOTE FOR YOUR OWN COUTNRY. Each country "tallies" their own votes, and awards seven countries between 1-7 points. Each country's top three get 8, 10, and 12 points, and these are the highly contested rankings, because after all the countries have submitted their scores, whoever has the most wins. It would be like each state in the US submitting a song to American Idol, and then voting on which song would win. The songs go through elimination rounds, and at the finals someone wins. Last year there was a big upset because Serbia won, and now the finals (which I saw) are held in Belgrade, which makes everything interesting because Kosovo is now a seperate country and all.

That said, it's the most political voting ever. Regions always vote for each other - the Balkans usually stick together, the Norse always vote for each other, and the former Soviet States always keep their points within the former Eastern Bloc. Voters use current events to determine their votes as well - the year the UK went into Iraq, nobody voted for it. Also, there're plenty of countries involved in Eurovision that aren't actually in Europe, many of which are seen as diplomatic moves. Azerbaijan submitted a song that made it to the last round. So did Israel.

And, on top of that, Germany, the UK, France and Spain, because they're the main financial backers, are gaurunteed slots in the final round. So, none of these countries take the contest seriously at all. And so, Spain, Germany, France and the UK never get any votes (except maybe the odd sympathy vote.) Also, there's an Irish commentator named Terry who is the only real reason to watch Eurovision, because he's been there for years and is so completely jaded by the whole thing.

However, for the rest of Europe, it is a serious occasion. Lots of countries put lots of money into making sure that their Eurovision song will win.

So, on May 24th, or whenever the finals are held, it is customary, at least in England, to get together with a bunch of friends, drink, and watch Eurovision. Internationally, there are entire clubs devoted to Eurovision - parties in the streets of nations' capitals. Last night, a serious drama unfolded before us. Here're some of the entires we saw:

Spain's Entry - "brikindans" is "breakdance," "crusaito" is like a box-step, "miqualyason" is Michael Jackson, and you can figure out the fourth part.

Russia's Entry - which features an Olympic figure skater.

Greece's Entry - keep an eye out for the lightning fast costume change, and also listen to the singer's accent. Sound familiar (she's actually American)?

Ukraine's Entry - "I'm gonna strike like thunder!"

Georgia's Entry
- Check out the costumes, and the SHEET!

Obviously there're a couple of rules to the genre of a Eurovision song. A costume change, a key change, a pop dance move, special effects, and so on. Coutnries like Denmark tried to break these rules, but it didn't end up really paying off for them.

For the votes, the show went to a broadcaster in each voting country (so lots), and they'd announce who got their 8, 10, and 12 points. Odd moves happened, like Serbia giving their 12 to Bosnia-Herzogovina, and vice versa - these people had just been ethnically clensing you for years, and you give them your 12? People I was watching with suggested it was probably part of the peace treaty. They'd also shout and bet to see who was going to give the UK points ("Come on Greece! We gave you Byron, you fuckers!"). The Eastern Bloc sucked up big time to old mother Russia, and Serbia in general got the odd 8 or 10 for hosting the contest. From Jerusalem, Israel's announcer gave the 12 to Russia - the Holy Land giving their 12 to what used to be the most violently secular of secular states. The only country that voted fairly, based on the quality of the songs, was Switzerland.

Ultimately Greece and Russia were neck and neck, but suddenly Russia pulled ahead, and Greece ended up in third. Is this the harbringer of a return of the Reds? I'm going to get out my list of known communists involved in Eurovision and make my way to the Senate...

There was, however, one unsung hero of the whole night. If you watch only one of the things on this entry, watch this. It is a song that should have won by any proper standard, but didn't, probably because of the freaking communists, was:


And you know the only people with true taste who gave them a 12? Ireland.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

you don't know how lovely you are


Come with me on a break in the timeline. Ireland, yes, is still in the writing - it takes forever for my camera to download pictures, and I don't have a laptop of my own. When I can borrow a laptop from the library, I often have other things to do with it. It will get done, but other things have happened that I need to write about.

Since Ireland, I've entered that final, wistful phase of the year, when summer is bright and beautiful, when the season or something compels you out into wonderful adventures - and yet you're acutely aware that the academic year is almost over. England's summer is blooming and greening everywhere, but as for me, these are my autumn days. In two months time I turn back into a pumpkin. A big, fat, American pumpkin.

I don't think I've done spring, or summer, in England justice in this blog. Everyone has the percecption that England rains all the time, and yes, it often does. But think of where the island is on the globe. It's that much more facing the sun during the summer. We had a thunderstorm last night as my friends and I bunkered down to watch Heat. We didn't finish it (it's really long).

My Dungeons and Dragon's character is going strong. I've been playing since the beginning of the second semester, probably, with friends of mine that I met in my Victorian London class last year. He's a dwarven warrior (like that hasn't been done before). A few weeks ago we spent a whole session, as characters, simply planning how to fortify a town from an impending zombie invasion. We've been living that invasion once weekly since. This week we killed something like 40 zombies between us, and a good portion of that lopping of the horrors of the underdeep was my doing.

I made gumbo, again. Probably two weeks ago. A side note, kind of a Three-Uses-Of-The-Knife kind of way of thinking, is that the only two times I've made gumbo, it's because I was inviting someone I was seeing over. To impress them. And both times our semi-formal "seeing each others" were called off. I'm making gumbo a third time, for the Kenyon-Exeter potluck. I think that's the right way to do it. (I'm not bitter.)

I've been recruited to play Hortensio and Sophocles in an MFA Shakespeare director's production of The Taming of the Tamer (Tamed), his own splicing of The Taming of the Shrew and it's sequel, written in the 18th century and not by Shakespeare, The Tamer Tamed. It's frightening, because three of the other actors are, like, REAL actors. I haven't acted in ages, and on top of that, I know I'm not the best actor in the world. And yet for some reason I'm acting for my thesis.

My thesis was approved: Copenhagen. Acting in Copenhagen, November 13th and 15th. I stopped to think whether I wrote those dates in the British sense or not.

My devised theater piece for Music and Theatre goes up a week from today. I'm trying to write a short scene for it that takes place in cyberspace. We'll see...

My piles of junk lay strewn around my room, a haunting reminder that I'll have to pack them. I brought so many books, for so many different reasons. I feel like a World War I general - I brought so much stuff I had that I thought would be useful, and it turned out some of it was, but for reasons I could never have anticipated. And the rest clutters No Man's Land.

I feel like I've become much more okay with saying "oh well" to things. I don't know if that's necessarily good. I've started doing things I consider "old," not like smoking a pipe or wearing sweaters everywhere, but looking at 18 year olds and wondering what they'll be like when they've matured just a little more - which might make them dateable. Or picking out and planning major events in my 20's, cause I'll never get to try them out agian. Looking at grad schools.

Have I mentioned the snails? I was coming home from the Vicar's house the Sunday after I got back from Ireland - he gave the few students who had gotten back and normally came to Church an informal eucharist in the evening, and invited us all back for potato-leek soup at his house. Walking back, it was dark, and I kept hearing these crunching noises. A tree must be dropping nuts, I thought. I reached the public footpath, which goes along the side of a hill covered in trees and underbrush, looking down on a small valley where cows graze. In the lamp light on this footpath, I could see a snail on the path. I feel bad for snails, particularly on roads, and so I knelt down, tapped the shell a few times so he curled up, and then transported him where it looked like he wanted to go (lightspeed!). I walked a few steps. And there was another one. As I bent down to repeat the process, I noticed that, in the lamplight, there were dozens of snails, I don't want to say "tons" or "hundreds," but maybe something like twenty something that I could see, dotted across the path, communing with the lamps, perhaps? The problem is, the public path isn't always well lit. So I took out my cell phone and walked along the white line in the center of the path. And I hoped I didn't hear anything go crunch.

At some point I'll post the postsecret I wrote for myself on a notecard at the beginning of the year, which, oddly enough, did significantly change my life.

I've played Mario Kart Wii. IT IS AMAZING.

I saw Iron Man. IT IS AMAZING.

I wrote a paper about Tom Stoppard and David Hare as political playwrights, and why they break the mold and establish a better political theater. It was really fun.


We went to a party tonight at Wendy's house in Topsham - the final party of the year. Contemporary British Drama finished up its final class with Far Away and Blue Heart by Carol Churchill (which, oddly enough, were both incredibly interesting. "Heart's Desire" is hysterical. Far Away is chilling and beautiful, to a point.). Read made shish-kabobs, among other tastey things. I had a bottle of London Pride - as you might remember, my nominally favorite beer: I picked it up one day at Sainsbury's in the fall because it had a griffin on its label - a glass of white wine, and a guiness. Although this may seem like just a laundry list of alcohol, it was pretty representative of my year. London, classy Exeter parties (one hopes), Ireland. Avery didn't want to see people go. Foss and I shared youtube videos, among which was Coldplay's new songs - they sound amazing. And I actually sat with Wendy and some students and just talked for a bit. Read was mostly cooking, but I did see him, and he was happy to see us. Words were bandied about like "thesis" and "Lentz" and "Wiggin Street" that put me off balance.

You see, I've been smelling the Hill Theater in Winter at odd moments in the day, just for a split second. And I've been reinvigorated to try to direct The Winter's Tale with Shakesperiment. I'm almost kind of longing for the stupid vent in the Black Box that you can never turn off, and thinking about the frozen pathways and slush on Brooklyn Street (is it Brooklyn? Those two that run on either side of Middle Path near the book store) honestly just made me take a breath. The Suicide Lights. I stayed up just reveling in the fact that I'd be out in the world and actually doing something the other night, instead of writing a paper. Some of you may have recieved gleeful postings about my thesis - that was that.

And there's so much of me that I just don't remember from this year, mainly those winter months. There're no... historical qualities to it yet, I can't say "this period in my life was marked by X qualities." But I am starting to look back on September - on Sin, on getting here, and on that horrible night when I was woken up at four in the morning by a fire alarm to go stand in the rain, the night after I had flown in to England with six suitcases - and I'm starting to remember those feelings and events like I remember the Hill Theater (which I almost just spelled with an "re").

The main thing that happened at the party, though, was that I thought about what it'll be like to see my family again for the first time. And I teared up a bit.

So if this is the Final Act, I'm totally ready for it. There's that story about the saint who's playing golf, and an angel comes to him and says "the Armegeddon is going to happen in 15 minutes! Prepare yourself!" And the saint says, "alright. I'll just finish my game." So, time to finish my game.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Another Tidbit

Hey all-

Again, sorry for the continued delay. I like to think I've just gotten so involved with things that making the trek to the library once a day to reflect on them is too much of a nuisance. Also, I've purchased a handy-dandy moleskine notebook, in which I can now easily jot down all my artistic reflections... so this blog has some competition.

But a moleskine can't do this: check out what Wendy has published in a newspaper about Kenyon-Exeter! She hits it pretty much on the mark in some ways...

I will write more later, though. I miss ranting to all you guys...