Friday, April 22, 2005
I feel competent and insightful in my classes. IS THIS THE TWILIGHT ZONE?
I haven't decided yet if the film classes are just better here or if the difference is all in my mind since I turned everything else in my life upside down. I'm pleased, but also annoyed that it took me this long to be able to do this stuff. I'm meant to graduate this year, for god's sake, and I've never enjoyed a film class until now. This doesn't bode well for the Cinema Studies program at UW. Or am I only productive overseas?
Of course, as conducive as my classes have been this semester, the University of Aberdeen's true nature still manages to show itself. My Film & Literature professor threw a bitch-fit when I told him I wrote about one film instead of two, but in the word count he assigned there was no way to cover that kind of material with any sort of depth or profundity. It was hard enough to pare down what I had to say about one film, let alone bring up a whole other one. And they have this big warning on the list of prompts that says, "DON'T FORGET: A GOOD ESSAY ADDRESSES ALL ASPECTS OF THE QUESTION." Oh, make up your damn mind!
Something similar happened on another assignment I did for European Cinema. They called it an "exercise," not an essay, and we were meant to analyze a three-minute clip from Metropolis. Well, it being an "exercise," not an essay, I didn't write it in a formal essay structure. As in, no introduction or conclusion, just straight up analysis. Even that was a chore to fit into under 1,500 words. But I got massively graded down for not writing in a formal essay structure, and when this was brought up in class the professor was like, "Mmhmm, yes, we should have called it an essay, not an exercise. We can see how you might have misunderstood. WE'LL HAVE TO REMEMBER THAT FOR NEXT SEMESTER." (She didn't shout it like that, I just put it in capitals because it makes me feel like shouting.)
I hate the way they're so anal about word counts here. It's counter-productive to put such an arbitrary limit on someone's work when you have no idea what they have to say or how they're going to say it. And kicking me out of Film & Lit the way they did, the whole fiasco with my Celtic Civilizations class back in November... It all ties into this obsession with rules and procedure and formalities, a very stereotypically British thing which obviously isn't always true but I'm starting to see how it's more true here than at UW. But I suppose I can't speak for anywhere but these two universities, so maybe I'm just getting a skewed version of things.
Still, I'm happy because I know the work I've done is solid and I deserved better than it got. My Film & Lit professor wrote on my final essay, "This is a very enjoyable, well-constructed, insightful essay. Had it answered any one of the questions I set, it would have merited a first. [That means an 18, 19, or 20.] However, since you decided to write your own question, I have to give you a lower mark. Consider yourself lucky I didn't fail you." Eh, I can live with that.
Tuesday, April 19, 2005
1) My presentation on the classic Dadaist film Daisies is not tomorrow as I thought, but a week from tomorrow. This is good not only because it allows me to procrastinate some more, but also because in the state I'm in right now I would probably get up in front of class and be like, "This is what I see all the time now."
2) I finished my essay on Metropolis and turned it in on time. It amazes even me how close to the deadline my brain needs to push it before turning on and thinking of worthwhile things to say. I was watching Volcano with Rosie until like 1 AM. VOLCANO?
3) I found my tickets back to America. At some point while I was away in Germany, I realized I couldn't remember where I had stashed my plane tickets back home and the more I thought about it the more worried I got because when everything you own fits in a suitcase it's hard to lose track of stuff. Then I got home and turned my room upside down twice looking for the damn things and still couldn't find them. So I started to freak out properly, and made an appointment with STA Travel to investigate their policies on lost tickets and find out their thoughts on whether my parents would kill me if they had to buy new ones. But then it was okay because I found them. Whew!
4) Final exam schedules were finally released and it turns out I'm not going to be out of town for any crucial dates. I bought tickets to go to Amsterdam on the 8th of June, which is a few days before the end of the examination period, but considering previous experiences with this university I wouldn't exactly have been floored if my one exam had been scheduled for the very last day of a three-week-long exam period. But it turns out I'm all clear, so I can look forward to all the filthy pleasures Amsterdam has to offer without worry.
5) I picked up my final essay for Film & Literature and got away with a 14. (Scores here are out of 20.) I don't know if I mentioned it here, but for the only piece of graded work in the course we were meant to write a massive paper discussing two films and the books they were based on, and I only wrote on one because I didn't have enough room to cover a second. I emailed my professor explaining my slight topic modification before I handed it in, and after I handed it in I received a reply which can Britishly be described as "cross." But really, it was more like "outraged." I had no idea if he was going to give me a mark at all, but I managed to snag a 14 because it was so good for what it was. Yeah, you know. I'm just that awesome.
Now I have to go to bed.
Saturday, April 16, 2005
Dancing German people! Outside a department store. You just can't avoid culture in this country.
Perhaps the highlight of my entire life was when we visited the Schokolademuseum. There, Kristina and I toured a real chocolate factory and witnessed such wonders as a chocolate fountain and the creation of chocolate kitties.
In addition, it was there I first laid eyes on the woman I shall one day make my wife. We never exchanged names, but in my heart I am certain she is called Frau Süssigkeit.
As if that wasn't amazing enough, we also watched a short film on the possibility of combining foot fetishes with an affinity for that cocoa flavor.
On a deeper, more intellectual note, the museum also contained an area reserved for chocolate art. It was almost too deep and intellectual to put into words other than "deep" and "intellectual." This one is obviously so meaningful it transcends language itself ("Without Title").
Other artifacts of chocolate art included chocolate poetry, a chocolate Kölner Dom, a plain chocolate cylinder which is so fraught with relevance its implications clearly go way over my head, something involving chocolate and fetuses, and finally something relating chocolate and war. Ooh, very topical!
This is a piece entitled "Chocolate Humpty." Behold the making of "Chocolate Humpty" here. If you ask me, it's really wrong that that's not the name of a filthy new dance.
I mentioned the Schwebebahn in Wuppertal, and here's a picture of the overhead track. It's insanity, I tell you!
You can tell I didn't do much in Tübingen because I took hardly any pictures. The only ones I can offer you are this shot of somewhere in town and a clown-headed bin which terrified the shit out of me because it was facing away from me and when I looked again it was looking right at me.
Also, I may have understated earlier how pissed off Josh and I were that we traveled all the way to Hechingen and this is the closest we got to Schloss Hohenzollern.
Friday, April 15, 2005
First stop on Laura's and my list of things to see in London was Buckingham Palace. And by first stop on our list, I mean we got off the Tube at a random stop and it was the first attraction we saw.
Despite our lack of organization, we managed to catch the Changing of the Guard. They say the Guards aren't supposed to move or speak while they're on duty. Well, no wonder people are always getting inside the Palace.
On the River Thames, with Big Ben in the background! Seriously, being in London was just like being in London. If you know what I mean.
Here is a picture of me holding the London Eye. PLEASE DO NOT PANIC. This is a trick photograph. If you look carefully, you will see that I am in fact much closer to the camera than the London Eye and therefore appear much larger in proportion.
About to get on the London Eye. They do this thing where they keep referring to the ride as a "flight," because it's owned by British Airways and they would rather think of their creation as some sort of flying machine and not a giant ferris wheel.
My calm and collected exterior masks a crippling fear of heights. I pretty much spent the ride up huddled in the middle of the pod crying for Nun-Clown.
By the time we finished our ascent, I had gotten over my fear and begun to appreciate the amazing panorama surrounding me. The weather wasn't as nice as it could have been, but it wasn't anything I'm not used to. Here's Big Ben and Parliament as seen from the very top.
This is meant to be me holding Parliament like I was holding the London Eye before. (Trick photograph again, PLEASE DO NOT PANIC.)
You love it.
The squirrels in Hyde Park were scary little bastards. They get all up in your face and if you try to shoo them away they cut themselves and write "FEED ME" in their blood.
Eric has two Lauras!
Thursday, April 14, 2005
I love to übernachten
Here I am at the London-Stansted airport on my way home. From Josh’s house in Tübingen, I am en route to Aberdeen via Stuttgart, Heidelberg, Frankfurt, London, and Edinburgh. I was about to say, “Oh, the things I do for the sake of cheap travel,” but it’s amazing how much money I’m not saving thanks to the ridiculous cost of inter-city travel in Germany.
Oh well. I’m here, and it’s not so bad. The terminal is practically filled to capacity with others like me, many obviously more prepared than me with things like sleeping mats and blankets. In case you were wondering, and I understand why it might be unclear, the reason I keep doing this to myself is because the cheapest flights of the day are the freakishly early and late ones, and since there’s no way to get anywhere interesting from Aberdeen without a connection, the only way I can take advantage of things like £0.99 flights is to take the last flight of one day and the first of the next.
It’s strange that I’ve gotten so used to all of this. When Jen visited me back in December, and she told she had to spend the night in the Dublin airport on the way to Aberdeen, my mind was thoroughly boggled just thinking about it. But now I’m like, “Yeah, I spent 28 hours getting from Germany to Aberdeen. What the fuck do you want to say about it?” I mean, I’ll be able to say that after I get home.
I’ve been amusing myself by writing monologues for Under the Habit, my upcoming film project about Nun-Clown. It will be equal parts day-in-the-life and historical investigation, with several dramatizations added to help the audience visualize key concepts such as Nun-Clown wearing intestines as a necklace. I keep giggling to myself and trying as hard as I can to stifle it, but people are still waking up and giving me evils, so I have decided to blog instead.
On the very crowded train ride from Tübingen to Stuttgart, I fell asleep hard due to the fact that I’d barely slept the night before and to my horror when I woke up there was a puddle of drool the size of Lake Michigan on my sweater...and it was still connected to my mouth. It’s only comforting to a point that I wasn’t conscious to witness everyone pointing and laughing at me, though to be fair if I was awake the chances of it happening would have been significantly reduced if not eliminated.
There are a bunch of old people sitting in the row behind me. What the hell are they doing here? Do they like to travel cheap too? It’s hard to imagine this is worth it for them. I wonder if they missed their connecting flight and got stuck here for the night. They’re not sleeping either. It’s all very suspicious.
I just realized I haven’t even written anything about being in Tübingen for the last three days. Probably because I didn’t really do anything. Mostly, Josh and I just hung out and I got to take a break from the hardcore travel-y stuff. Yes, I’ve been taking a vacation from my vacation. Josh and I made an honest attempt to visit a castle in the nearby town of Hechingen, but when we arrived, we found out there was only one bus to the castle daily, and we missed it by an hour. So we turned around and went back to Tübingen.
There are so many people here, it’s really weird. Every single seat is filled, and the floor isn’t exactly empty either. Are they all doing what I’m doing? They can’t all have gotten stuck here. I swear, they engineer these seats with monster armrests so you can’t get too comfortable sleeping in them. I guess it makes sense. If you sleep too peacefully, you won’t wake up for your flight in the morning. I still think it’s still kind of sadistic.
I should really end this post. I have so much time to kill, I could just write and write and write and write for hours about nothing interesting at all. I think it’s time to write some more dating videos for Nun-Clown...
Sunday, April 10, 2005
Strangers in the night
I’m writing this from a small room at the Hauptbahnhof in a city called
The only reason I’m not being violated right now (apart from the fact that I didn’t pack my lipstick and fake breasts which I normally apply before wandering the streets late at night) is because of the kindness of a complete stranger, a man who works at the Hauptbahnhof and decided to let me stay here instead of kicking me out at 1 AM when the station closed.
Of course, the reason I’ve been saddled with worries like this at all is because the Deutsche Bahn is in on the conspiracy to ruin my life. When everyone in the world got together and made plans to make my life difficult, DB raised its hand and was like, “This sounds too good. I want in. How can I contribute?” (This was right after a 10-hour-presentation by representatives from the
The fun began shortly after I arrived in Göttingen. Kristina and I stopped by the Bahnhof to investigate how I could get to Tübingen for as little money as possible. I was given a choice between leaving right then and leaving early the next day, and I chose the former because I felt bad enough that Josh visited me for two weeks and I was only giving him two lousy days. So I figured, let’s try and make it three lousy days.
I’ll break it to you quickly: I got on the wrong train. Except there’s no way I got on the wrong train, if you know what I mean. We checked the schedule, double-checked the notice board in the station, triple-checked the notice board right next to the train, and boarded what could only have been the right train. Except an hour later we arrived at the Kassel Hauptbahnhof and it was the end of the line and my stop hadn’t come up and what the hell happened?
A girl sitting across the aisle from me must have seen my terrified expression, because she asked me if I was all right and if she could take a look at my itinerary. “Wrong train,” she said. “Scheisse.” That’s when I decided she was a bitch, but I was wrong because she offered to stick with me until I figured out how to get to Tübingen. She was backpacking too. And she spoke pretty good English, which was nice because when I get scared my German skills take a lunch break.
I figured out a new itinerary, which meant this girl and I were transferring to the same train headed for
This girl and I never even exchanged names, but she couldn’t have been nicer or more helpful while I was busy with an initial freak-out. She actually lived in
So I continued on to
When the security guard came up to me, my heart sank because I knew what he was going to say. Before that, I had kind of reached a mindset of acceptance that I would be wandering the streets aimlessly for four hours, and four hours wasn’t really that long when you thought about it, but when he approached me I was about ready to start crying in order to get him to let me stay inside. It may not have been warm, but at least it wasn’t Out There.
When he told me the station was closing, I did the next best thing: I pretended I didn’t know German. I know, I know, it’s totally evil that he was so nice to me based on a lie, but he probably would have helped me out anyway. I just needed him to know how helpless I was at that moment, and I really was. And I’m indoors right now instead of being stabbed by gang members, so I’m trying not to feel too guilty. I’m not a liar, I’m a survivor.
So I told this man what happened to me and he said he could give me a room. I sincerely doubt that lodging idiot travelers is part of his job description, but this utter and complete stranger decided to give me a room instead of sending me to my freezing cold death by gang beating (that’s what I imagine would have happened to me, anyway).
I don’t know. It’s kind of funny how it seems like shit is always happening to me, but it rights itself at the last minute. It’s kind of beautiful how people you don’t even know will go out of their way to help you out.
Thank you, girl and man who helped me tonight, whoever the hell you are!
Saturday, April 09, 2005
Feeling a bit out of the loop is pretty much a given when visiting a foreign country, but I really had the best time with Kristina and Anna because they had infinite patience in coaxing my German skills (YES, I HAVE THEM) out of their shell. Besides, Kristina’s English is AMAZING so I just substituted the English word and continued on with the sentence, or when times were really hard she acted as translator. Or Dolmetscher, as they say in Deutschland! Ja, bestimmt! I told you I fucking speak the German.
Actually, I was pretty startled at how much of my German stuck with me, considering it’s been two years since I’ve either been in Germany or taken a German class. If I had studied abroad in a foreign language country, this would have been it. I completely underestimated the effectiveness of learning a language through practice rather than theory. I’ve only been here a few days, and for the most part, I’m amazed at how easily the language is coming to me, even things that stumped me in high school and university German classes (i.e. articles, variable accusative/dative prepositions).
There are holes, of course. The flip side of the situation is the incredible frustration of not being able to express what you’re thinking, or kinda sorta getting it out but knowing that you sound like an absolute imbecile and there’s really no reason for the person you’re talking with to think otherwise, because when the tables are turned, most of us do the same thing.
The thing is, most of the time, I’m just missing a single damn word: either in the sentence I’m trying to say, or in a sentence someone I’m trying to understand someone else say. In the case of the former, all I can do is gesture wildly and grunt in frustration; in the case of the latter, the other person just assumes I didn’t understand anything they said and repeats it in English, which is totally counteractive. (That’s another thing: most people here speak at least a little bit of English, so when they hear that I suck they switch to English and I’m shafted out of German practice.)
Kristina and Anna thought it was fun practicing with me so they adopted a “no English with Eric” rule. That was helpful, although I spent more time with the gesturing and grunting. Whenever I get too pissed off at not being able to talk to people, I try and remember that I feel the same damn way all the time both in
When Greg graduated from UW last winter, instead of getting a job, he signed up to live in
All I know is, I love it here, and I love the language. The flip side of the flip side is how awesome it is when you realize you can fully express what you’re trying to say. Sometimes I’ll say a sentence without thinking and I’m not sure if it came out in English or German because I didn’t encounter any linguistic roadblocks.
And this is only after three days...
Thursday, April 07, 2005
I left my heart in Deutschland
Ich bin zurück in Deutschland! Oh, wie ich dieses Land vermisst habe! And since my last post, I’ve been reunited with Kristina and already separated once again. Schade... But let me start at the beginning.
Well, I flew in to Frankfurt-Hahn airport, which is actually nowhere near
I took the bus from
On the train, I actually had to use my German to extract information from another human being for the first time in two years. It didn’t really work. Mostly I just strung together some vocabulary words I knew and threw some “ccccchhhh” noises in there for good measure. Yeah. It didn’t really work. And I got off at the wrong stop, and it was pretty late at night, but Kristina came to my rescue and alles war gut.
Kristina and I spent today in Köln and tomorrow we’ll spend in
There’s a story in Wupptertal about an incident that occurred when the circus came to town sometime in the 1950s. They put an elephant named Tuffi on the Schwebebahn, but she got really upset and jumped out the window and landed in the river. Tuffi was pretty smart for catching on that the Schwebebahn is a death machine, though also kind of a dumb-ass to think leaping from it would be safer. But then again, Tuffi is an elephant. She has a brain the size of a pea, what do you expect?
Wednesday, April 06, 2005
Easy as G-A-Y
I just checked out of the hostel and I’m on my own for a few hours until I have to go to the airport and fly to
Laura and I got...pretty drunk last night. It’s not our fault, really, it’s the hostel’s: they give you these coupons for 2-for-1 drinks at the pub in the lobby when you check in, but they’re only good before . I think the idea is that’s just a little bit earlier than most people start drinking, so most people won’t redeem the coupons and the hostel won’t lose too much money, but since me and Laura are whores for a 2-for-1 deal of any kind, we just starting knocking them back early.
(Actually, I don’t know if it’s safe to assume most people don’t start drinking until after after some of the things I’ve seen in
The two of us went dancing at G-A-Y again last night. Ballal and the Lauras and I went there the night before as well, and it was a lot of fun in a way not totally separated from the fact that it was free. I have mixed feelings whenever I go to any gay club -- it’s always a combination of “Yay, these are my people!” and “Dear god, these are my people.” Because it’s so funny to see the same gay archetypes no matter what city on whatever side of the world you travel to. But it’s funny in a way that’s oddly comforting. (Sometimes.)
I like how it’s called G-A-Y. Not GAY, or G.A.Y. (perhaps a clever acronym of some sort). Before opening night, the owner of the club was like, “What can I name my gay club? Maybe calling it ‘GAY’ would be sufficiently gay. No, that’s not gay enough. Let’s spell out the word.”
Laura and I dropped the other Laura at the bus station in the afternoon. She’s spending the rest of the holidays with her family, and while she expressed envy that I was off to
Before British Laura had to go home, the three of us did a little more
I had to say goodbye to American Laura last night, which wasn’t much fun but we bought plane tickets together to meet up in
Monday, April 04, 2005
Return to London
7 months ago, I spent a day and night in London and had the worst time, which may or may not have had something to do with the fact that I had a year’s worth of luggage with me and didn’t know which way was up after an airline flight that lasted approximately a million years, and I was moving to Scotland for a year the very next day. Sarah and I ended up paying too much for dinner, sleeping at , and heading to the airport first thing in the morning. Yuck.
Now I’m back to erase those memories by having a great time with Ballal and a couple of Lauras I happen to know. Now that American Laura has moved to
British Laura and I took the bus into
Unfortunately, American Laura had class all day today, but British Laura and I did the tourist thing all day and had a great time. We saw
What can I say about
I could definitely see myself living in
The other thing I can say about
Saturday, April 02, 2005
They call me the Duchess of Devonshire
Both yesterday and today we visited Chatsworth, a famous house where the Duke of Devonshire lives. It’s called a house, but that’s really an understatement because it’s more like a palace. The duke still lives there, but it’s also a major tourist attraction and you can tour parts of the house where I assume he doesn’t conduct his daily business, although it would be neat if we could totally invade his privacy like some cross between Big Brother and a zoo.
At lunch, before we entered the house, I had to take a picture of this because before I left America everyone was like, “Whatever you do, don’t order iced tea! Ooh, faux pas central!” but finally here is some proof that “iced tea” in Britain is an ordinary drink and does not refer to some mysterious bodily fluid or racial slur. (Or maybe it is, and this product is unbelievably crass.)
Here we are, the Heeley kids (including honorary Heeleys) in descending order of age.
Whatever this sign means.
I know there is a Duke of Devonshire, so my next hope to sit on one of these thrones is to become the Duchess of Devonshire. Let’s hope daddy’s single and looking for some action.
Here are a couple of fancy rooms inside the house. Despite the fact that I can’t remember a single interesting fact about them individually, they were very memorable and pretty.
Before they invented cameras, the paparazzi just had to engrave really quickly.
We spent a lot of time in the statue room. I don’t know if the curators appreciated that very much. All I know is, I have natural talent for mimesis and I’m going all the way to Hollywood if that’s where it takes me.
The house itself is surrounded by miles and miles of gardens where we spent the rest of yesterday and most of today. Well, I don’t know if the grounds actually go on for miles, but it was longer than I cared to walk so you can just put that in your pipe and smoke it.
Most noticeable is the water staircase leading up the hill from the house. The view from the top is amazing, and I’m not referring to the airline stewardess comedy starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Mike Myers.
While we were still touring the house, Laura told me there was a tree on the grounds that squirted water from its branches. I thought she was making a stupid joke about weeping willows, but she wasn’t. There really is a water-spraying tree. I am speechless.
I think the best part of doing this pose everywhere I go is when other people join the fun.
I almost shat myself when I saw these fat bastard chickens. But they’re not really fat, they just have loads of feathers. On top of that, they’re not even chickens -- they’re roosters. But they don’t say “rooster” here, they say “cockerel.” And that’s the truth.
This fountain was called “Revelation” because the petals around the gold sphere in the middle would periodically open and close due to water and gravity working together somehow. I’m sure this is an explanation the designer would be proud of.
Finally, there was a neato hedge maze which I actually got lost in and had to cheat to find my way to the middle. Once I had reunited with Laura, I reenacted being lost so that all of you could see what it must have looked like.
Laura and her brother and I also threw the rugby ball around for a little while, until it landed in poop and none of us wanted to play anymore. It’s interesting that what began as a fixation simply on the erotic aspects of the sport has blossomed into an appreciation for throwing a ball back and forth with no discernible purpose.
Last, but not least: LAMBS!