A Windy Thursday

Just returned from a windy run past Clifton Village over the Suspension Bridge through Ashton Court across the harbor up the steps & home again, and feeling so much better for it. Maria, my sister older by just under two years, arrives for a fifteen day visit on Monday, and between planning our itinerary (though Momo has done the brunt of it), wedding planning and preparing for my dissertation, today found me feeling a little overwhelmed. But none of these count for much in light of my worries over my beautiful nine month old niece, Sophia Isabel. Yesterday, at her nine month check up, the doctor expressed concern over Sophie’s lack of hitting key milestones–she won’t eat solid foods, doesn’t really crawl, and though she is a chubby baby, hasn’t grown much since her six month appointment. The doctors are running blood tests and, depending on those results, may need to do an MRI. So if you would, please pray for my baby niece today. I love her so much.

I’m home now in less than a month and, though I hate being so far from Minnesota in such times as worrying over little Sophie, I’m doing my best to enjoy these final weeks in Bristol. I love this city so much; the novelty of it all hasn’t yet worn off, but it does feel like home. I don’t get lost anymore. I can gauge distances. I don’t need to ask for directions. I know the nice café s and the ones merely so-so.  But I still come across new corners and views every day. Today on my run I saw:

-A herd of skinny sleeping does (no need for winter coats) in Ashton Court

-A circle of handsome ‘stags’ resting away from the does beneath a shady tree

-A sweet German Shepherd peering out a window

-A bay gelding who approached me and let me pet his velvet nose

-New flowers growing along old brick walls

-A couple old for a stroll with their baby girl

And the ‘usual sights:’ the Suspension Bridge, the colorful flats along the River Avon, rolling green hills surrounding Ashton Court, pretty stone coffee shops, the little Clifton shops decked out in Union Jacks for the Diamond Jubilee…moving back to Minneapolis might be a shock.

Back to A Laodicean (last Hardy novel left to read! Love him, but so fatalistic. Somebody I like always dies).

E.

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Two Minutes Before Midnight

It’s two minutes before midnight, and Maddy and I have just returned from The Clifton, a cosy pub just down the hill and around the corner from my flat. Molly, my Chinese flatmate whose dream is to marry an Australian and live on the Brisbane beach, joined us and over a few pints, we enjoyed the evening.

It’s probably only because I’m in a new country that my eyes notice people and details in ways I wouldn’t at home. Like the thin man sitting at the table opposite ours, reading the newspaper, sipping a pint of dark ale, and eating a bag of crisps as though it was eight am in the morning, the ale a coffee and the crisps a croissant. The noise of conversations and music filled the room, but he just sat quiet, reading the newspaper as though you could hear a pin drop.

I like the energy of Bristol. I like that from the moment I wake up and cross Queen’s on my way to the library to the moment I hit the pillow, something is happening. Cyclists are breezing down the street, girls in boots are busybusy with someplace to be, and lights are always on in the pubs. The other morning, Maddy and I went to Wetherspoon’s for a stack of pancakes and sausages (all for only £ 2.20), and men were crowded round the bar sipping pints as though it was eleven o’clock at night. Rule #1 about Bristol: it’s never too early or too late for a cider. Rule #2 about Bristol: Don’t order anything other than a cider.

Another thing about Bristol is that grocery stores, be it Tesco’s, Sainsbury’s, or Waitrose, are always busy. To the point of queues (lines!) being a normal feature. Dairy products, bread–almost everything–have fewer preservatives, and thus shorter expiration dates, but the more frequent trips to Sainsbury’s are worth it. The little 49p baguettes are almost always warm, and the milk and yogurt taste fresher. I certainly spend more time preparing meals here, and though I’ve always enjoyed cooking, I enjoy it especially here. When I’m not traveling, my days revolve around reading lists and finding necessary books, and sometimes deciding what to have for dinner feels more exciting than it should. A point of variety. And it’s rewarding, that no matter how many chapters I have left, I can at least do something from start to finish. That’s probably why baking and cooking have always been fun for me; every other detail of my life can be messy and incomplete, but in following a recipe you commit to completion. Otherwise you can’t have your cake. And I, at least, can’t enjoy my cake unless the mixing bowls and spoons are cleaned and put away. Hmmm. I have a feeling I might be baking quite a bit this term. Let’s just hope I’m not the only one eating everything…

To sleep!

Em

From Bristol to Fargo

“In order to lead a fascinating life–one brimming with art, music, intrigue, and romance–you must surround yourself with precisely those things.” –The Guide to Living Colorfully

Landed in Fargo, North Dakota just over a week ago and the familiarity of home feels comfortable and exciting all at once. I stumbled upon this quote earlier tonight and I like it because you don’t have to live in Paris or London to surround yourself with things you love. I think it’s very possible to cultivate a good life at home or across oceans.

Ah! Back to studying…

E.

Harrod’s and the Bristol Channel

My suitcase is haphazardly packed with chocolate and books and I’m ready for home in the fidgety/restless/don’t know what to do with myself sort of way.  This last week of term proved to be manic and the idea of  a few weeks at home is becoming more and more appealing. Tomorrow at this time I’ll nearly be home.

Most everyone from my program has left for home already and the city somehow seems quieter and less familiar without them. In short, I’m out of distractions and have no excuse not to be reading up on Aphra Behn and Hellenism, but of course, focusing on anything is quite futile at this time.

In other news, I finally saw the Bristol Channel this week. Nearly everyday on my walk to the library I passed a British woman out walking her two Jack Russels, Reg and Daisy, and a few weeks back we started chatting. She invited me out to the sea village of Clevedon,  just outside of Bristol, to visit the Poet’s Walk and take in the stunning views of the water.  It was an invitation I couldn’t pass up. Clevedon was a well known point of inspiration for famous writers such as Coleridge and Tennyson, and within moments of walking along the shoreline, I understood why. I decided that if I had a car it would be tempting to join the Clevedon Swimming group which meets nearly everyday (year round!) to swim in the Channel. That’s some dedication.

The British Channel

Thursday was our final lecture for the term, and as most everyone in our program was leaving for home, Ashley and I decided to spend the next day Christmas shopping in London. We left before dawn and arrived in London Town just as the shops were opening.  Today, we decided, we would not be tourists. We would simply shop. From Victoria Coach Station we headed straight to Harrod’s, the world’s most famous department store. If you need the best espresso this side of the Atlantic, head to Harrod’s. If you need an elephant, go to Harrod’s.  In Ashley’s words, “It has EVERYTHING.”

We spent most of our time admiring the floor filled with children’s toys.  The beautiful hand carved rocking horse and elaborate four-story dollhouse quickly became our favorites, and just as we started talking about the person who could spend £900 on a children’s toy,  a young woman carrying an Hermés bag  approached, glancing at the dollhouse.  She told the clerk “I’ll take it” as if it was an afterthought. Three dreamy hours later we finally decided to leave, but couldn’t quite get over the place.  Or the darling French bulldog puppy for sale on the fourth floor. If not for the £4,600 price tag he might have been mine.

Outside of Harrod's

Keeping this short and sleep (oh, that was an accident!) as I’ll be at the airport in a few short hours.

Until January,

Em

Today’s Hope

Isaiah 54:10

Bradford-on-Avon

The day before Thanksgiving Leah and I visited  Bradford-on-Avon, a little village a twenty minute train ride from Bristol. Bradford is  the last outpost of the Cotswolds in the western corner of Wiltshire. I could be happy indeed with a little cottage here.

The iconic red telephone booth on a little corner in Bradford.

One of England's best and oldest tea shoppes named by the prestigious UK Tea Guild as the ‘UK’s Top Tea Place.

I wasn't surprised to learn many period films have been made in Bradford.

A golden afternoon with my cousin, Leah, in our unintentionally matching coats.

“Not all who wander are not lost.”-J.R.R.Tolkien

 

‘Tis the Season to be Jolly

This morning feels like a holiday. Three days into December and the sun is shining, the grass is vivid green and the only snow I’ve seen was the soapy fuzz falling into the air from the snow machine at Chipping Sodbury’s Victorian Christmas Evening.

My window overlooking Cabot Tower is cracked open and a slight breeze is tickling my toes. I need to get out of my pajamas and meet the girls at College Green to do a bit of Christmas shopping (in celebration of finishing our essays), but this view and breeze is too wonderful. Most things about Bristol are.

A Christmas Booth in Cabot Circus

The Brits know how to celebrate Christmas and celebrations start early! More than a month ago the city dawned their Christmas lights and turned Cabot Circus, the main shopping area, into a Christmas wonderland, complete with a giant advent calendar, ice skating rink and a red and green Christmas market offering anything from nativity sets to mulled wines, mince pies, battered sausages, spiced cakes…! I’m quite convinced British six year olds believe ‘Father Christmas’ (as Santa’s called here) lives in the north of England.

Last night I had the pleasure of going with a few friends to Chipping Sodbury, a cosy market town in the Cotswolds. Every year on the first Friday in December, Sodbury hosts a Victorian Christmas Evening and on walking to the main road, I felt like I stepped into a Charles Dickens novel. Little stone shops lined the main road (famous for being the widest street in England) and the cobblestone streets were filled with carolers, all sorts of Christmas treats, a lovely old ferris wheel (which seemed a brilliant idea until I was mid air and the seat was moving with the wind), and Brits decked in period dress. The lightly falling snow (though pretend)  made the night a scene in a snow globe.  When the wind made our fingers cold, we slipped into The Royal Oak to warm up over pints of cider. Sometimes it’s so nice to simply listen to all the gorgeous British accents around me. And then I need to pinch myself.

I finally had a proper English breakfast yesterday. After turning in our Romantics essay, a few of us headed to Witherspoon’s for coffee  and a giant plate of greasy pub food. Nothing like chips, rashers and fried bread (and maybe sticky toffee pudding) to celebrate two thousand words!

A yummy English breakfast

Cheers,

Em

Essay Writing at Midnight

My fingers are still numb from a moonlit walk to Woodland 7 where, along with Sam Fry and Ashleigh, I handed in my Coleridge essay.  At no earlier than one o’clock in the morning. Is it crazy this was somehow a thrilling few minutes? I don’t know if it was the nip of the December cold, the dark night, or the satisfaction of turning in an explication I feel good about, but it was a rush comparable to reeling in that seven pound walleye at Strum’s those many odd years ago.

The deep sense of camaraderie among the English MA students has been the best part of Uni so far. After not arriving to the grad. school till almost eleven tonight, I was greeted by ‘everyone’ frenziedly typing away on their Macs, as though it’s perfectly normal to begin work in the middle of the night.  With plenty of  Freia Melkesjokolade (the best milk chocolate you’ll ever taste) and coffee to go ’round, the more the merrier.

I’m beginning to wonder how I might slow down the days and hours left in Bristol. Going home for Christmas in only seventeen days will be wonderful, but I enjoy life here so much. Three months have passed so deliciously fast, and it makes me nervous that spring and summer will zing right past too. I think I need to make a list of the dozens of coffee shops I’ve yet to try, the cities I still need to visit, the food I must taste, the shops I must explore…the list could be endless.

While there’s certainly been numerous distractions from studying, when I do pack a lunch, assemble my stacks of books and spend all day at the library or in Ashley’s cosy flat studying, I realize afresh how much Romanticism interests me. I get to spend hours and days reading Coleridge and Keats, and I can’t help but overflow with gratitude for being no where else but Bristol. And what makes me the happiest is that I don’t feel I’m idealizing this experience. It is sometimes lonesome, but every day has brought new blessings.

And now I’m going to SLEEP! Night.;)

Em

 

Collecting Flowers

“I want to think again of dangerous and noble things. I want to be light and frolicsome. I want to be improbable and beautiful and afraid of nothing as though I had wings.” — Mary Oliver”

Yesterday in lecture we discussed the creation of anthologies, and how terribly subjective their creation often is. Our tutor, a young man going prematurely grey, was a nervous genius. As he stuttered out his words and thoughts, their meaning struck me as relevant not just to literature, but life, unpredictable and sticky.

The Greek origin of the word “anthology” is anthologein, which means ‘to collect flowers.’ Anthologies of English poetry, for instance, are a collection of works individually distinct, but sometimes made more beautiful by their variety in comparison to other poems. Roses are lovely by themselves, but what about hydrangeas, lilies, asters, and honey-suckle? To me, the idea of creating anthology of life experience is more natural than the idea of writing a single life story.  I want to collect beauty wherever I go and create an arrangement of experience marked by color and depth. Under the metaphor of writing your own story, Bristol was the start of a new chapter, and for many reasons, it is. The idea of a book, though, suggests a central theme, but often, unity is fleeting and confusing.  My five weeks in Africa loving Ugandan babies feels as far removed from the clean lines and order of England as could be. My undergraduate years at Concordia, tucked comfortably in my hometown stands in vivid contrast to my first time abroad in the tiny ski-town of Lillehammer, Norway.  The common thread of new experience runs through them, but there is a stronger disconnect.

A purple hydrangea in November

But when flowers are cut, they wither and lose their beauty. The beauty of the most striking bouquet is temporary and fleeting. Maybe then, if we want tulips, we must go to Holland. If we admire east African lilies, why not go to Uganda? Maybe, like verses of an anthology, we must take ourselves of context to create meaning from chaos and beauty from ashes. Removed from our ordinary context, we use muscles not stretched since building tree forts and creating sand castles. With an anthology, life can take abrupt turns without ruining the plot. Characters can come and go without the story leaving with them. Mistakes are more easily forgiven. When I’m ninety-two and living with flowers and Scottish terriers, I’d rather read a collection of vibrant, divergent short stories than a novel weighed down by agreement.

-E.

Pretty Then and Now

I stumbled on this old poster the other day and wanted to share!

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