Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Silent Night: Remembering the Christmas Truce of 1914

Christmas is often a time of memory and of retrospection, a moment replete with a certain reflective sense of achronicity and universality.

Perhaps, then, it is fitting to reflect on a Christmas celebration that occurred precisely one hundred years ago today during what was called, at its time, "The War to End All Wars." We call it World War I, of course.

The war was the final death knell of a long and dramatic European century since Napoleon's Waterloo, and it was the natal moment of the bloody and bellicose twentieth century in which many of us now alive were born. Admittedly, there is a certain romanticism inherent in the perspective that WWI was the end of an era...but then, I wholeheartedly like a bit of Romanticism. There's a beauty in the story we make of the past, and there's a real avenue by which supposed "romanticism" can actually call to mind the real good points of that past, and make a lost thing live again, perhaps even the more beautifully for its now existing slightly out of context and in the isolation of ideology, time, and space. Besides, Christmas is a time of miraculous and beautiful stories that contain a little more than the average round of this world's doings...

And it is in that spirit that I reflect this year upon the Christmas Eve truce of 1914.

My favorite account of the Christmas truce lies within one of my favorite books, Kate Seredy's The Singing Tree. Seredy penned this novel as a sequel to one of my best-beloved books on the planet, her work The Good Master. Both of these tales are loosely based on Seredy's own heritage, and both are rooted in the rural Hungarian plains of a bygone era. The Good Master himself is landowner Marton Nagy, the father and father-figure to the children on whom the stories center. During the First World War, Lieutenant Nagy of the Seventh Infantry is struck with a variety of amnesia or PTSD after his unit is destroyed, and he is sent home to recuperate and recover himself. I shall let Seredy continue...

Father (Nagy - the story is told from the children's perspective) had saved one story for Christmas Eve and told it while the candles were burning on the tree. The faint sound of village church-bells coming across the plains made his story of another Christmas Eve sound like a song of hope, hope that maybe kindness and love of peace would be strong enough to stop the war soon. For the first time, he spoke of things like offensive, march, trenches, shellfire, but the dark picture those words created was only a backdrop against which his story of human souls shown all the brighter. 

"Last Christmas Eve," he began, "we had received orders to be prepared for a surprise attack against the Russians. Our trenches had been under heavy fire for days; we had either to retreat or advance, and those who plan the moves of war decided on an advance.

"We had been waiting for hours, crouching against the walls of our trenches, when the word came: 'Go.'

"We crept out into the snow, countless silent dark shapes against the whiteness, and ran to the sunken road which lay between our lines and the mountainside where the Russian trenches were. Shells screamed overhead and burst behind us, drowning out all noise we might have made, and when we reached the road, whispered orders from the Captain scurried down the line like mice: 'Advance along the road. Don't dare make a sound or strike a light.'

"We tramped in knee-deep snow, skirting the friendly hillside that sheltered us from the fire, stealing toward the Russians. And then, just ahead of me I saw a boy kneel in the snow before a wayside crucifix and light a candle. It flickered in the still air, casting a feeble light on the image of Christ above it. 'O, Lord,' the man next to me sighed, reaching into his knapsack for a candle. Others had seen the glowing light, and as I looked around I saw that more and more candles were lighted all around. A whisper spread, like the order from the Captain from mouth to mouth, only this was not an order from the Captain. 'Light a candle for Christmas Eve,' men whispered and their very words seemed to turn into tiny stars as dozens and dozens, then hundreds of candles came forth from the knapsacks to be lighted and stuck in the snow. The hillside now was one glow of light and the crucifix was bright with an unearthly brightness. We were a target for the Russian guns, but we never gave it a thought. For a little while we were lost in prayer, until one of the men cried: 'They have stopped firing. Look!'

"Across the valley, on the hillside where the Russians were entrenched, a few small flames began to tremble, then more and more. Candles, hundreds of them, thousands, one for every gun that was now silent. Around me, men began to sing 'Holy Night, Silent Night,' and from across the valley the song came back to us a thousandfold. Behind the lines so facing each other, the guns had ceased to roar and no more shells were screaming between men and stars. Perhaps the Christ Child had walked between the lines and stayed the guns."

So closes Nagy's tale.

Although Seredy's work is fiction, it is an historical reality that, on December 24th, one hundred years ago, men of many nationalities saw fit to cease their fire and start to sing. Various reports exist, many in letters and other personal papers, and gradually the truce has entered European cultural mythology and memory. Many cases of spontaneous truce appeared along multiple frontlines, and almost all are said to have begun with the music of Christmas.

 "Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht" emerged from German trenches, and men of other countries caught on and joined the song: "Silent Night." The recent movie Joyeux Noel depicts the story of a German opera singer, sent to the frontlines to rally troops, singing "Adeste Fidelis," Latin for "O, Come All Ye Faithful," and being joined in this universal Western language by men of Scottish and French armies. (The movie itself is only a mediocre depiction of the truce in general, and it much distracts from its real story by including an anachronistic female character and a half-developed love story, but it does tell parts of what we know as real events.) At some point along the lines, a polyglot football (soccer) game is said to have developed. Men were later cited by their superiors for having "fraternized with the enemy," which seems to me like one of the most Christ-like things that could possibly be said of a body, that he had loved his enemies on Christmas Eve, of all days.

In our late century, one wonders if such a pause would occur. Do men have enough respect for religion, we wonder? For one another? Would anyone even recognize a Latin hymn?

But yet, the power of the Christmas Truce is not humanity on display, but rather the display of that Spirit which the best parts of humanity are made to mirror. Sacred music stopped death; the silent night was filled with singing. A century ago today, the familiar notes of Christmas carols brought truth to men, and peace reigned on Earth in the middle of a most brutal battle for earthly dominance - a vanity of vanities.

Christ, born, crucified, and risen, walked between the lines and turned men's eyes and hearts to Him. In all centuries, the Lamb brings life, and light, stills death and conquers hatred, fear, and vanity.

Let us never forget that that Spirit is with us always, unto the ends of the age to come...

Merry Christmas, Peace on Earth, and Goodwill towards all Men.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

A Short Walk in the Cemetery

It may sound odd to American ears, but my favorite place in Leicester to go take a walk is the Welford Road Cemetery. It lies directly across the street from campus, and my train runs by its opposite side.

In Texas, cemeteries are great open swathes of land, baking in the sun, with gravestones spread out in geometric rows on bald, blanched grass. They have main gates and wire fences, and no one ever goes there unless they have sad business. This seems to me a terrible way to inter the dead and to display the humanity of their past and the reality of their faith.

In the UK, cemeteries are old and half-overgrown, tumble-down gardens of green, with trees and vines and grand, black-shaded angels of stone peeping out from under weathered wings. A casual observer can wander in them at will, reading names and dates, imagining the vast history and impact of each human life, wondering endlessly how many souls around you are singing in heaven (or not, I suppose. But that is sad). In cemeteries, you can meet people named Hephzibah...which is a feat not to be accomplished anywhere else in the modern world (albeit, perhaps for good reason). You also meet a good many Charleses, Elizabeths, Jameses, Annes, and so forth. 

When I stopped on the way back from ballet last Saturday, there were snow drops growing all over the graveyard, looking so springy.
It was also very sunny and lovely in general - my first real taste of not-winter!!
Below, looking from the graveyard toward the tower in which I have all of my classes:

Some of the stones and monuments speak Christ's hope back to the living:
This one above reads, at the bottom, "I know that my Redeemer liveth," and I always hear it sung to me the way Handel set it.

Overtime, I have developed some favorite graves. There is a lady named Isaline, which is unconventional and lovely.

There is also another one which I walk past almost every time, though I refrain from posting a picture because it belongs to a modern and still-living family, not to the 1800's. It is a family grave, and just in the middle of the names is a little girl named Emma, who died at only 5 years old. Her grandmother's name follows after her own, which twists my heart every time. It sounds so sad, but the family has filled in the area in front of the headstone with bright silk flowers and toys. There are figurines and fairies, puppets and bunnies and kitties, pinwheels and peonies and pansies, and it looks like a child's fairy garden, only briefly paused in play, and soon to be resumed. Emma, were she alive, would be 26 today, but in an odd way, her beautiful kindergartener's playground in the peaceful green of Welford Road is almost completely happy.

And, lastly, I share two pictures of my all-time favorite grave in the cemetery. I rather look forward to meeting the members of this family one day, in the glorified bodies in which we both believe!
Read closer, now:
So sure, I spend time in a cemetery. But, I always leave singing Easter joy.

Friday, March 7, 2014

I'm Sick of Not Posting Things,

So, I'm posting something.

For all I was a 4.0 undergrad, I can be an extremely slow study in other areas of life.

My dad has been suggesting for years that perhaps I would post more on my blog if I didn't pressure myself to make every post into a massive essay with some deeply insightful revelation. But, being an overachiever with a heavy dose of mule blood, I so far haven't listened.

But, I'm trying new things at this stage of my life, so why not?

It has struck me this week in Leicester that my life here is BEAUTIFUL and it's really kind of cruel of me not to share it with so many of you who would love it. I have been brought to this epiphany primarily by the weather, which has suddenly warmed to an entire 59 degrees today, and to above 40 for most of this week's highs. As a frank warm-weather creature, I have suddenly crawled out of my annual blanketed lair of February misery and realized that I'm in England and my life is awesome!

Here are some things I've really enjoyed lately:
 - walks in the Welford Road Cemetery (picture post coming soon!)
 - my two dance classes, and the girls in them!
 - have spent some more time hanging out with people from my department lately
 - the Paternoster lift in the Attenborough tower was out for two weeks but is working again...I may need a blog post on that, too, because that thing is one-of-a-kind.
 - I've had some excellent reading for classes, lately. And I've even finished most of it on time!
 - one of my dear flatmates lent me her grocery bag-on-wheels (Br.: trolley) to use any time, and I have been able to bring home so much more food with so much less pain to my injured shoulders and cranky spine.

I even pushed my sleeves up above my elbows while taking said grocery cart to and from Morrisons (the "supermarket") today!

Also, I still just really like the train that goes by my window at all hours of the day and night. I love living next to a train...or, really, to a railroad track with many trains. Sure, I have to backtrack the sound at least three times in any movie I watch, but there's something comforting and fascinating about the sound of a train. They're so regular in their mechanical repetitions and their stop-watch time tables, but they're also so free in their intense motion - as they rush past you in a whirl of power and dust, they seem unhasped, as if they could go anywhere. When you see or hear one go past, it could be going to Birmingham or Glasgow, London or Cardiff, or off to the end of the world for all I know. Trains are adventuresome, yet disciplined.Trains are so ordinary, and yet so fantastical.

I wish I could take the train home with me when I go. But since I can't, I'll share it with you.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Birds in My Schedule: Redeeming the Time

The days are evil.

It's a fact. Actually, YouTube may be the most particular and specific evil in my days, but it can be Twitter, Reddit, ye-olde-blogosphere, or even (though it pains me to admit it) that beloved hub of all things, ranging from the humorous to the vapid, from the just plain annoying to the genuinely thoughtful, that great facilitator of mental interaction when time and circumstances refuse otherwise to comply, Facebook.

I used to make New Year's Resolutions as a child and a teenager. Made them in spades, and had the usual appalling track record in actually keeping any of them. Partially, of course, this is because I was attempting to craft in myself the "perfect" human girl, a blend of disparate elements fictional and real, Biblical and eminently self-centered, Victorian and modern. This venerably intentioned vow toward rigorous self-improvement never appeared to come to much fruition, as is often evident by how many of the resolutions were the same every year. "I shall continue to endeavor to..." Oh, yes. We all know what that meant about how much endeavoring had gone on before.

This led to me largely attempting to give up the habit of resolutions by the age of 19 or 20. But, I am also a child of my family, and at that a child of a predominantly Texas Aggie family, with a large helping of Scottish blood, and together this all means that tradition is holy law to every fibre of my being, so of course I didn't stop making resolutions at all, really. I just altered my mode of trying to improve my years by gradually attempting to aim at more concrete self-improvement.

This year, I am facing a number of challenges to myself, but they're different ones than I've ever done before.

Firstly, I worked largely with my parents and a couple of others to address what I should improve on this year. I've never before considered my resolutions or goals to be topics of discussion or debate. (Well, probably because for a good ten years I had a respectable internal sense that told me that all rational humanity excepting myself would find them all to be entirely ridiculous in every particular...this, I may say, was an utterly correct suspicion and may be proven by reference back about 5 volumes in my diary. But, moving on.)

Secondly, the so-called resolutions of this year actually aim at concrete goals which themselves theoretically progress toward real events in my life. Twelve-year-old me was interested in being a paragon of flawless femininity/a romantic heroine/queen. (Okay, I still want to be queen.)  But chiefly, young-twenties me is concerned with assembling the functional skills to hold and apply for a salaried job, be reasonably regular in my schedule, stay in meaningful contact with all my important people, and manage to feed myself by some method other than the pub next door. (I've memorized the table numbers. And the menus items. And prices. Desserts are £4.95, two-for-one.)

And, in a sense, it's beginning to dawn on me that a lot of these things come down to schedule.

I hate the word schedule. I couldn't even pronounce it properly as a child. Actually, even more bizarrely, I used to open my dad's briefcase every morning and claim that I was putting birds in his schedule. No one ever had the slightest idea why. But, I can tell you that my "normal" schedule is FULL of birds. They fly right and left, they chase their tails and start squabbles and block out the sky. I chase every last one of them off into the trackless blue without a second thought. 

In other words, I forget to eat reasonably often, and I am generally unaware what day of the week it actually is. I have to check my phone. Even it may have gotten birds...usually the I-forgot-to-write-that-down bird. I basically can't see my schedule for all the birds having a Bacchanal up in there.

And so I have been attempting to regularize things like bedtime. Getting-up time - with NO snooze button! Three meals a day at reasonably sane hours. Time each week to plan those meals. find and repurpose. This is the hardest.

I actually had never (probably deliberately never) thought about how many hours of my life are spent doing things like YouTube, Facebook, and aimless perusing of a couple of fashion blogs which I'm actually sick of reading. I find the days so short not only because it's January in England and it gets dark at 4pm, but because I make the days short. Because I dither, and chase mental birds, and have been known on occasion to walk around with half an outfit and half pajamas on for hours past noon while still mentally reflecting that I must have breakfast very soon, really.

Redeeming the time. That's the King James version. In the ESV, it says: 

"'Awake, O sleeper, 
and arise from the dead, 
and Christ will shine on you.'

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,
16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil."

I often hate to admit that this is true because it means that, frankly, my parents were right. (Parents, I love you. Please resist any urge to say you told me so.) I have inveterately hated words like "dawdling" and "hurry" all my life because me and this time-thing were just never on the same page. It was like the worst group project ever. Birds all over the place. Feathers, flying.

But this year, I suppose I'm finally old enough (or desperate enough) to take many years of kind upbraiding into consideration. And I have a problem with time.

Today, I deleted YouTube from my phone. A small step, I suppose, but it's not like I do the hairstyles that I watch all those videos on, anyway. I never have time.

But this new year, I have prayed and I have cried, and I will continue to pray and cry and strive, that somehow I will learn to make good my time. To get to the end of the day and not wonder where on earth it went and if there's anything to eat. My dad has been entering into awesome partnership with me over recounting what I've actually accomplished at the end of each day. (Which I haven't done in a couple of days. Sorry, Daddy!) My mom has been a great encouragement in providing kitchen encouragement and suggesting other sensible ways to arrange life and tasks. (Thanks, Mommy!) 

And sure, there will always be birds in the schedule, because I am not and never will be a storybook girl with a perfect life. Life has birds in its schedule. 

But, it never struck me before how powerful that verse is. The Lord says that we are to awake! To rise up and live wisely. That we can redeem the days! A powerful word, that redeem. To leave a product, a good deed done, a task completed, a thought fully articulated, or even just a day of rest fully enjoyed, is a beautiful and awesome thing that shares in our Creator God's work of redeeming his beloved Creation.

 That's worth leaving a bird or three unchased.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Happy 2014!

As it has been requested from many quarters, one of my goals this year is to keep this blog running in some semblance of order and frequency.

In order to do so, I felt like I would first share some of my anxieties about blogging regularly, and then this year, you can watch me work through them (and hopefully share input to help me!)

In no particular order, these have been some of my reasons for not blogging regularly:

 - uncertainty about what I want this blog to be (i.e., travel, personal, or a higgledy-piggledy mixture?)

 - uncertainty about how the internet will respond if I do write any personal opinions or posts of a more reflective nature (what? It's a zoo out there, and my skin is none too thick, sometimes)

 - complete inability and/or unwillingness to schedule posts (if I promise you a post once a week, then I'll struggle with the deadline. Then I won't know what to do once I've missed the deadline. So I don't make myself a deadline. But then I don't post. Because I don't have a deadline. See the deadly spiral? It's a trap that my lazy brain has laid for itself, at this point.)

 - fear that if I comment too frankly on my experiences as an expat in another country and culture, someone will sooner or later accuse me of insensitivity (it's mightily hard for me to air my frank and real opinions without sounding high-and-mighty, sometimes)

- consciousness that I don't have enough photos and formatting skills and technical know-how to make this blog an elegant, visually attractive corner of the internet (yeah, okay - this one is sheer personal and creative pride)

 - uncertainty of how much of my academic work should or should not become blog-fodder (too many issues to go into)

 - fear that I may run out of interesting things to blog about (I mean, having nothing to say never stopped me from talking, but we can all dream....)

These and other concerns have hampered me, and allowed me to talk myself out of writing, even though I know that some of y'all would deeply appreciate hearing from me reliably. (Thanks for every encouragement, by the way! They may fall on fearful or lazy ears, but they don't fall on totally deaf ones.)

My primary concern right now lies with whether or not I should put myself on a schedule. I would really appreciate commentary, here, so, dear readers:

If you have ever had a blog (or column! or similar), how did you approach it? Knowing that I am a procrastinator, and that tight schedules often kill my sense of creativity, flexibility, and fun, do any of you have any advice? Perhaps I could commit to a post or two a week, but not to any specific day or topic? I'm looking for a reasonably encouraging post structure that gives me room to play around and write as inspiration strikes, rather than saying, "nah, I'm bored. I don't have anything to say on Wednesday this week," and therefore refusing to write. I have graduate essays for the non-negotiable deadlines thing.

I've had a couple of ideas for series of posts as well. I could go back and detail my days in London as a tourist. I could do a loose summary of my experiences so far in Leicester. I could do photo-posts where I lead you on a little tour of somewhere I've been. I could talk about cookies/biscuits!

Or, I could depart from a solid travel/study-abroad format to sometimes just share opinion topics, and eventually perhaps craft ideas or other thoughts and experiences. I am a bit afraid of this, largely because I often object to the tone of excessive generalization and unassailable expertise at life often adopted by other twenty-somethings online who, face it, know nothing much about anything. But I could try it.

So, I'm asking. If you read my blog here at all, I'd love to see a comment, whether here, as a personal private message on Facebook, or sent to the email associated with this blog,

Please talk to me! And we'll try to see what I can set up for 2014.

Happy New Year!!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Life in Leicester


It has recently been pointed out to me that it has been over a month since I blogged, and the best thing I can say in response to this is that it seemed necessary to get on my feet in Leicester and to process more important things in my head first before getting around to sharing them with the world.

Now, however, I am finally starting to adopt a groove and a routine here, so I feel that now will be an opportune time to look back over what's been going on in the past few weeks and to try to give you the highlights, rather than a sprawling account of every inconsequential detail and every immoderate emotion that comes with moving to a totally new place for a year.

Please do forgive me for the delay!

Those of you who follow me on Facebook know that I have been doing a series of posts there called "Adventures in Biscuitry," in which I explore the vast and varied realm of the British cookie. Never have I come across a culture in which dessert is held in higher esteem as a necessity and a right of life, and frankly, this alone guarantees that the British and I are made to get along swimmingly! One of my goals as I go along is to transfer the Biscuitry posts here, and to add elaborations of other splendiferous desserts as I run across them. I'm thinking of setting up a day of the week for these - say, Sweet Tooth Thursdays, perhaps?

For today's post, however, I think I'd best give you all a run-down of where I'm staying, and my general class situation at "uni," the British slang for "university."

I was in Leicester for at least two weeks before anyone made any mention of class actually starting and my having to attend! There was International Welcome Week first, full of events - bus tours of the city, a ceili dance, a talent show night. Then there was Freshers' Week, "freshers" being the Freshman, and evidently British Freshers' Week is very unlike US freshman orientations. First of all, practically the whole school shows up and attends half the events, by way of free entertainment, free pizza, and give-away pens and USB sticks. No rolling into town on the Sunday before classes start here!

As far as I can tell, the main objective of Freshers' Week is to get everybody signed up for more clubs and societies than they can possibly participate in, and to talk about absolutely everything you can do at uni besides go to class or study. It was all terribly fascinating, and, between this and the cookies, and the postgraduate wine-and-cheese receptions for general postgrads, for our specific departments, for those of us with brown hair (kidding! but only on the last one), I was beginning to think that uni in England consisted solely of socializing, pub-going, being fed free wine by the faculty, joining clubs, going dancing, and occasionally eating Indian food (which it turns out I don't hate).

Eventually, in early October, a rather vague email instructed me that I had to attend an Induction for my course of study.  It turns out that the induction is an official day set aside for doing what US professors take care of in the first twenty minutes of class on that dreadful Monday after you've just rolled into town. Here's the syllabus, here's the course website, here's your advisor, now read the fool handout before you ask me about it, child! That kind of thing. Only rather more helpful and polite. This single day of induction counts as your course time for the first week, and, at the end of it, they tell you your first reading assignment and finally, finally someone sees fit to mention that you actually do have to attend class eventually, and that it actually does have an assigned room and timetable which you should probably know, come to think of it. This is, by this point, weirdly reassuring knowledge, as if to convince you that you have, after all, arrived at a school, rather than an extended social network of youngish people who like free wine and giveaway office supplies. (Though really, who doesn't like free wine and giveaway office supplies?)

And so my course schedule reads as follows - or, really, I should call it my "module" schedule or "timetable," to be all British about things. "Module" here refers to the entire course, rather than to a particular sub-unit or topic of the class, as you might otherwise expect. "Course" is not an individual class, but your entire course of study - in my case, my course is the MA in Victorian Studies. "Class" can be used as in the US, to refer either to the whole class over the course of a semester, or to each individual class session, e.g., "for that class I have Professor A," or, "class is cancelled today." So, my schedule is:

Wednesdays, 10-noon: EN 7001: Bibliography, Research Methods, and Writing Skills for Postgraduates.
Wednesdays, 2-4: HS 7499: Victorian Society
Every other Thursday, 10-noon: The Brontes

Or, in plain translation:
Every Wed: How to use the library (actually an extremely helpful class)
Every Wed: Long list of  terrifying Victorian statistics that somehow is totally fascinating anyway
Every-other-Thursday: Utter bliss, somehow accruing academic credit anyway.

Let me explain that last one a bit.

I have an entire course/module entirely on the Brontes. There are three students in it - all girls. We are such a small class that, when we were accidentally double-booked in our classroom, the professor didn't even bother to apply for a new room but just decided that from now on, we hold class in her office. Her office is on the thirteenth floor of the Attenborough tower on campus, which means that we have a fantastic view of all Leicester spread out below us. Quaint rows of cookie-cutter red brick houses, looking almost as if they were cut from paper and had sprung up like a children's pop-up book, extend until mounded green trees take over, and these run up the basin-shaped land, punctuated every so often by an old white smokestack from the true Victorian era, and then, at the edges of this bowl in which Leicester sits, there rise misty green hills-upon-hills, fading out into the sky, and suggesting that somewhere, perhaps, picturesque English countryside is rolling out for miles undisturbed. One almost couldn't ask for a view that looks more like it came from a BBC miniseries.

In this utterly apropos setting, we are asked to read one Bronte novel every two weeks, then to discuss amongst our four selves for two hours, while eating tea and cakes. (See? Sweets again. They're ubiquitous. Incorrigible. Omnipresent. Fantastic.) And, somewhere, somehow, some blessed soul not only calls this graduate school, but some other blessed soul pays for me to call this graduate school. I am in a certain species of earthly heaven, and truly grateful to God for this wonderful opportunity.

That said, it isn't flawless. I still struggle with missing people from back home quite a bit, and I still have my daily frustrations with a foreign culture - strange grocery stores, absurdly small kitchen space, and the most bewildering array of laundry soaps ever, none of which seem to have any definable link to ordinary US detergent.

On the whole, my flat is reasonably pleasant, though. I am in student accommodations, or, basically, the dorms, but they're a step above just the one-long-hallway dorms of which I have relatively unpleasant memories from freshman year. There are four individual hallways on each floor, and each individual hallway is one "flat" containing six rooms and a shared kitchen and bathroom. Four of my five flatmates are Chinese, and the remaining one is Vietnamese, so I don't always understand the animated conversations taking place in my kitchen, but they are all very nice girls, and we are getting to know each other a bit better.

My main frustration is the kitchen itself. We are provided with a refrigerator slightly shorter than I am, and perhaps two feet wide, to accommodate the food for all six people, and it is maddening to try to cram your groceries into any available nook or cranny. The stoves, also, are roughly large enough for use by an American Girl doll, and the kitchen cabinets and windows have all clearly been arranged in a way that will maximize the potential for banging heads and for rendering all other doors and windows temporarily either un-open-able or un-close-able. The hot tap turns out water so hot that it steams (the shower, on the other hand, persists in being a barely tolerable lukewarm), and none of the drains seem to have understood that it is their function in life to get rid of water, rather than to retain it indefinitely in the sink. Failing this, however, the tiny countertops, bizarrely placed outlets, and absurdly low ovens are all a perfect model of functionality and ease...

However, one must make the best of such things, and it could be said that at least I have a kitchen.

And so, there is your first real blog-taste of my experience in Leicester. More updates to come - the goal right now is once a week, but that may not happen immediately.

Love to you all!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

From Heathrow to My Temporary Room

To continue from my previous post:

After fetching my bags at the airport, I came out into a maze of taxi drivers, all standing there holding up signs with people's names written on them. I had pre-ordered a taxi and knew that one should be waiting for me, but I passed what seemed like a million signs, typed on iPads, handwritten on the backs of papers, neatly printed out, underneath a million bored faces and above a million blue uniform suits, and not one of the names was mine. Shoving my two towers of stacked baggage and looking lost, I turned around to review the entire maze again, and a small older lady in a bright yellow shirt nearly ran into me.

"Are you a student?" she said, almost immediately and with great enthusiasm.

"Y-yes," I stammered, wondering exactly how she knew (well, besides the utterly lost expression). I cleared my jet-fogged brain and read her shirt: "Meet and Greet!" In her hands was an orange paper, writ large with the words, "Student? Need help?"

It turns out she was part of a Christian ministry called Friends International, which organizes greeters for arriving international students. She handed me a little guidebook to life in the UK, complete with an email to contact the "Friends" in your area, and helped me figure out the process by which the taxi drivers line up. Since I was 15 minutes before the time for which I had ordered my taxi, she suggested that my driver probably wasn't there yet, and showed me the "Meeting Point," so labeled by a large sign on the airport ceiling. I thanked her profusely and stood where appointed.

My taxi driver met me there with ease, and helped me roll my luggage to the car. He cautioned me that what would ordinarily be a twenty minute drive into central London would instead take closer to an hour, and he was right. It wasn't bad, though. Being driven on the wrong side of the road was, of course, still quite odd, but not so terrifying as the first time when I was in the coach (bus) in Scotland. The very first time, you feel as if you are constantly headed into incoming traffic!

The drive in was green, sunny, and otherwise unremarkable. I do love the British (I say British because it applied in Scotland as well as in England) proclivity for lace curtains in windows, though. It makes even the shabbier cottages you pass look so charming and storybookish.

The driver dropped me off at the Fulbright Orientation accommodations, where I arrived earlier than most students, and went through quite an ordeal getting my internet connected, as both the Ethernet port and cable they had provided for me were broken.

While wandering the building, I met another early arrival student, Julia, and, finding confidence in numbers, we set off to find lunch in the area around our accommodation, and, having found cheap sandwiches, ate them in a peaceful little garden.

Especially on that lovely sunny day, the whole atmosphere was so quaint, so cute, so...entirely what one might expect of a quiet autumn afternoon in London. It really is surprising what illusions are happily fulfilled, sometimes, and found not to have been very illusionary at all.

The day ended with a pub meet-up for the scholars, at which point I was entirely too tired to learn anyone's name. By that point, I started desperately missing the people from home, too, and it made me rather unwilling to socialize. But I think that what I will do is narrate the first week's events for the next few days, then go back and track my mental-emotional state in a separate post, to keep the length manageable.

Love you all!

Next up will be probably a post combining the first two full days of orientation - today was by far the more interesting. I met titled minor nobility and an ambassador, today! Find out which ones and where and why by coming back next time.