cardinals and coins



First Day of School

Today I attended my first course. We don't have class, here, we take courses. Actually, I went to two different lectures. First, the Introduction to the Third-Year English Honours (note the ou). I learned that, at the University of Edinburgh, your English Honours degree is structured like this, assuming you aren't doing double honours, which would add another major-like set of courses:

First Year--English Literature 1 + 2 outside courses like French 1 or Celtic Civilization or even Chemistry. Anything you like. These students are known as "Freshers."

Second Year--English Literature 2 + 2 outside courses.

Third Year--Core Period course. First, something pre-1600. The following semester, a more recent period. Everyone must choose one. I think there are four or something.
Option course. These are seminars that meet once a week. They are more specialized. I am taking one, which is why I went to this lecture.
Process of something or other course. I stopped listening here. They all have to take the same one, it's presenting skills or I don't know. It sounded boring but probably useful in the long run.
Dissertation. They begin work on this in the third year and continue until the end of the fourth year.

Fourth Year--Identical to the third year only harder and more focused, I gather. I'm not sure exactly.

Really interesting thing I learned: in the UK, you get a more specialized degree. So when you graduate, you're super-qualified in that area. At this lecture, the careers services woman came to say that the only career for which an English degree is necessary is secondary school teaching. I had to leave before she explained what else you could use the degree for, but I left feeling good that in the US people care less what your degree was. However, there are tons of English majors so there must be tons of careers here for English majors. At any rate, I'm a fan of the liberal arts system, especially if I can take a year off from it.

Now, the only course I actually attended was Celtic Literature 2. I've been going back and forth about this course. In fact, this weekend, I decided to switch out of it into a class about Tolstoy's Russia. However, that's a history seminar and I'm more into lit. So I decided to go to the first day. The professors were so enthusiastic and the course was so small that I decided to stay put for this semester anyway. I figure I'll read War and Peace at some point, but if I don't study at one of the only Celtic Studies departments in the world, I'll never read medieval Irish and Welsh prose and poetry. I know nothing about it, but why not? Finding a good professor is often more important than what the course is about.

On Thursday, I will return to Celtic Lit. Then, I will attend French 2. I will not attend Celtic Revivals, my English seminar, unless it is rescheduled. It was supposed to be on Monday, but this Monday Edinburgh has a holiday. For no reason I can find out. It just was. To improve morale or something. Maybe to give us one more day to go outside while it's 60 and not 30 degrees (F, I haven't got the hang of Celcius yet).

I will keep you updated on the progress of my studies. In the meantime, I'm reading some Yeats and Joyce to get ahead of my syllabi. Because I am a geek.


My First Week

Alright, I have an hour, so here’s my summary of my first six days in Scotland:

I was welcomed to the city of Edinburgh by a team of lovely international students wearing bright red university sweatshirts. They helped me find a bus and a taxi and carry my luggage. But wait, before I move on to my new home, imagine this:

You’ve been on a plane all night and in an airport all morning. You get on another plane, where you are completely unable to stay awake, despite occupying the middle seat. You can only hope you didn’t drool on the women next to you. You wake up as the plane begins to descend into Edinburgh, because your ears are popping. The first thing you see when you open your eyes is a golden hill under a bright blue sky. In front of the hill, a crystal blue stretch of sea works its way inland. Below the plane, opposite the hill and south of the water, the prettiest little farms you’ve ever seen occupy the landscape. You catch your breath and think, “Oh, look at that! I live here!”

Then, you get on a bus, and the bus goes along through quaint little suburbs that look very British, until it turns a corner. What do you see when you look out your window? An enormous cliff topped by a beautiful castle. This is an up-close shot of Edinburgh castle taken later:

Those cliffs at under the castle there are crazy high.

Next, you get in a taxi where a lovely Scottish man welcomes you to your new country and tells you to be careful when crossing the street. He gets lost for a bit looking for your new flat, but you find it eventually. Guess what—it’s on a street paved with cobblestones. The first thing you see when you get out of the cab is a big hill/flat-topped mountain.

Thus, I arrived at Darroch Court, St. John’s Hill, just of the Pleasance, an important street in Edinburgh. I tried to drag my huge suitcase into the office to check in, when the site manager told me to leave it outside, it wouldn’t go anywhere. I thought, “We’re not in New York anymore, are we?” Anyway, it was pretty lonely that day, as most people had moved in on Saturday. Everyone was out doing things and shopping. It only took me a few minutes to unpack because I didn’t bring much stuff with me. This is my room as it looked that day. Aren’t the curtains terrible? Oh, well.

My flat is very nice and new and clean. We have 3 little tiny bathrooms and a kitchen/living area. This is the view from our living/dining room (that's the sea there in the distance):

I eventually met two of my flat mates, who came home while I was unpacking, Sarah and Clare. Then, I met up with Nina, from Columbia, who is also here for the year. I nearly cried when she picked up her phone. It took me forever to find a phone to call her, and it was so good to hear a familiar voice! We

I live with four lovely young women—Sarah, Clare, Annie and Marie. Sarah is Scottish, from Fife. She’s a first-year, but she’s starting later than most, at 24. She does English Language and Linguistics. Clare is 19; she’s from Portsmouth and a traditional student beginning her course in Maths. Annie is a visiting student like me, from Kansas University in Lawrence. She’s doing English Lit and Classics. Marie is a fourth-year student in Paris, visiting Edinburgh for a year to study History of Art, specifically a group of painters from Glasgow about whom, she says, her French teachers know nothing. And then there’s me, here for a year from New York. I can’t decide whether I should tell people I’m from New York or Minnesota. If they ask more questions, especially about my accent, I usually say I’m originally from Minnesota but live in New York, now. Anyway, I’m doing English Lit and French. We all spent this week doing things for Fresher’s Week and meeting with our Directors of Studies about our courses. A Director of Studies is a bit like an advisor in America, but they have more “advisees” and are really only concerned with putting you in courses as quickly as possible once a year.

My DoS is Dr. Lyn Collins, a lovely British man with white hair who is chair of something important. The School of Humanities and Social Sciences, maybe? Something like that, I don’t remember. Anyway, he helped me set up the following courses this week:

Fall Seminar—Celtic Revivals: Writing on the Periphery, 1890-1939. This course studies the nationalist movements in Ireland, Scotland and Wales in relation to the Modernist movement in literature. The names I recognize from the reading list are Yeats, Joyce and Dylan Thomas. Here is the course website:

Spring Seminar—Shakespeare: Modes and Genres. This course has an incredible reading list, and I’ll take any Shakespeare anyone can give me. Here is that course website:

French 2. This is a yearlong course taught first in English, then, in the spring, in French. We’ll read literature (not 20th century… ah! I’m nervous…) and meet for a lecture Mondays and Thursdays. I assume there is a tutorial as well, but I’ll write more when I understand Edinburgh Uni course structure better. It’s supposed to be a good course, according to students who’ve taken it, with lots of interaction and films, despite the huge lecture style.

Celtic Literature 2A and 2B. This is another yearlong course, designed for English, History and Celtic Studies students. I was told that I was only allowed to take one Honours course per semester, and my seminars took up that space. Being very interested in my seminars but not really interested in anything other than another English course, I discovered that my options included English Lit 2, Scottish Lit 2 and Celtic Lit 2. So I chose Celtic Lit. Why not, as long as I’m here?

Alright, I must go prepare for my auditions for the Edinburgh University Theater Company, now, so I will write more about the rest of my week when I get a chance…


Goodbye New York, Hello UK

I wrote this in Heathrow, waiting for my flight to Edinburgh, but didn't get to post it until today, when I finally got registered for their compicated "resnet." Anyway, this was Sunday, while most of the people who will read this were sleeping:

My very first memory in life is of being on an airplane with my mother. We were moving from Los Angeles to Minnesota, and I remember my excitement quite well. I remember the way the light looked coming through the little window, my fascination with the baby corn in the food we ate, the lights on the runway when we landed at night, and my mother’s wonderfully soft, warm skin. I can only hope I was better behaved than the monster child sitting behind me on the flight from JFK to Heathrow. Wait, I’ve gotten ahead of myself. First, a (probably boring) account of my time since I wrote last:

On Friday, I finished running some errands, packed some more, and ate meals with lovely people I won’t see for a long, long time. Elisabeth made my cry in front of Milbank, which was rather unfair if touching—Friday afternoon is too early to start crying if your flight doesn’t leave until Saturday night. Christina and I planned a going-away celebration for Friday night, and Blair was kind enough to offer to be our host. Our plans changed at the last minute, however, and we moved the party to the lovely Max Café on 122nd and Amsterdam to allow people to just drop in and say goodbye without having to trek up to Blair’s lovely but distant apartment. Christina, Ellen, Lily, Alice and I dined together and headed over to the café for desert and other refreshments around 9:30. About 20 people came to say farewell, and I had a lovely time. Here are photos:

Emily and Anne-Marie--

Me, Lily, Christina--

Ellen, Lily, Christina--

Sara Fay and me--

[A side note—the BMI employee behind me is speaking on the phone to someone in what sounds to me like Gaelic. She looks Irish to me. I need a moment for how cool that is.]

Saturday morning I breakfasted Le Monde style and had tea at the Hungarian Pastry Shop. There were many tearful and intense goodbyes, and Ellen made me cry even though she’s coming to visit for my birthday in just a few weeks.

I lived the American Dream on Saturday afternoon at the bank. Okay, I’m being dramatic. But I’m telling you, going to the bank and holding in my hands the money I saved this summer all by myself was an amazing moment for me. I nearly cried. But that was probably because Ellen had just made me cry a few minutes earlier. Anyway, I bought traveler’s checks and closed my savings account and all is well in my finances, so far. British money is prettier, by the way. It has this shiny seal on it. And the coins have two metals sometimes. I don’t fully understand how to use it yet. In fact, I haven’t used it yet. But I have it in my possession, and that’s exciting. I feel like an adult, paying my own bills and taking care of almost everything on my own.

Long story short, I left Christina and Sara Fay standing on the steps of 616 waving like proud parents. Julie was kind enough to accompany me to the airport via subway, because I have too much stuff to carry on my own. We made it to JFK with plenty of time to spare.

Everything about this flight was new and different because I flew Air India from JFK to Heathrow. As Lars said, “Why would fly Air India to London?” Because it was the cheapest flight. Plus, it was so much fun. The women who work for Air India are all extraordinarily beautiful and wearing saris. At the plane, I was greeted by one of these women with her hands folded, nodding and looking welcoming. This airplane had two floors and many, many seats. The seat next to me was empty because it was a pretty empty flight. I was happily settled and nodding off even before boarding ended when the little monster child I mentioned before sat down behind me. I love children. I am patient and kind and understanding. But this child nearly drove me to insanity until he fell asleep. He yelled at his mother and his father to look at everything he could point to. This was pretty cute the first time. In fact, I probably not have minded his loud and insistent voice if he hadn’t decided to KICK MY SEAT for HOURS. There is nothing more distracting when you are trying to sleep sitting up on a plane then little tiny feet kicking, kicking, kicking. I assure you, we had a friendly conversation about how it’s hard to sit still on airplanes, but could he please try not to kick me. It didn’t help. Finally, he went to sleep. Why they didn’t just put him in the middle seat where he could kick away without disturbing anyone, I do not know. Anyway, my flight was uneventful other than the kicking child. And in case you were wondering, the flight video at the beginning was in Hindi first and then English, Indian airplane food isn’t as bad as it sounds (although I didn’t have the courage to try the yogurt looking thing) and the movie was that remake of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner they did last year, followed by the TV show King of Queens, which was followed by an Indian sitcom. I was thoroughly amused by that combination of amenities.

I got off that plane, went through passport inspection, got my bags, went through customs, checked in for my BMI flight from London to Edinburgh and here I am, sitting at the gate. BMI employees wear funny little hats. I love them—they’re adorable. (The hats, I mean). For those of you who were part of my luggage saga, you will be happy to know that it’s all taken care of. Of course, both my pieces of luggage were overweight. However, a truly lovely BMI kindred spirit let it pass. I had to shift some stuff around and learned, in that process, that my hair products and cosmetics weigh about two kilos. Ah, vanity.

I will write again soon when I have something of Scotland to report. In the mean time, I’ll sign off from cold and rainy, but green and pretty England.

I have been waiting my whole live to be in England. And here I am. I can hardly believe it! I feel as if Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters are envying my travels and smiling down on me, Virginia Woolf is amusing herself at my expense and Robert Burns is wondering if perhaps true love awaits me in Edinburgh.

I feel so sure that this is the right decision, but only time can tell.


I had a very New York day today. I went to Bumble and Bumble (logo: Bb) to get my hair done, trendy-style. This is Bumble and Bumble, on 13th past 9 ave, way down in the meatpacking district (aka the edge of NOWHERE). W 13th St (Bb is behind the ADT van)...

Then I went to pick up something at Kids
Discover one last time, here I am with the adorable Emily and here is 5th Ave, where she works and I used to work:

Next, shopping with the fabulous Sara Fay:

The Cupcake Cafe! Everyone in NYC should go, it's attached to a children's book store and the cupcakes are so pretty. It will cheer you up any day. It's on W 18th, I think between 6th and 5th but maybe between 7th and 6th...
check. But it's beautiful.

Next, I had dinner with Alice at Kitchenette, my favorite restaurant in our neighborhood. You can't see how cute it is in this picture, but trust me, it's adorable.

Here is a better shot of my new haircut! I'm almost a hot hipster girl... almost. I'm told I have wavy hair. Who knew? I'm not supposed to brush it anymore. Being cool is hard, only my cousin Tess finds it effortless. She's the cool cousin. Anyway, here's my wavy hair and shorter bangs:

Here is a picture of Lars that I took yesterday:

The End
This entry brought to you by the letters NYC and the number 2 (days I have left in New York)


Holli's Wedding!

These are pictures of my sister's wedding. The wedding was last January but I just got these pictures yesterady. They have nothing to do with Scotland but they're so pretty. Me and my sister Holli:

Sophie (Holli's neice) and Anne-Marie:
Ellen, Anne-Marie and Holli dancing!


The New Year

The school year is starting without me here at Columbia; my friends begin classes on Tuesday. I’m glad I can participate in the “What are you taking?” conversations, but it’s strange to have to include an explanation of the British university system. By the way, I’m not sure exactly what I’m taking yet--I have to meet with my Director of Studies next week. At any rate, I was in a Barnes and Noble on 5th Avenue downtown recently when a song by Death Cab for Cutie came on my iPod. It was so appropriate I nearly cried right there in the bookstore. Instead of crying, I laughed at myself and my current state if a Death Cab song can make me tear up in a public place! This is the verse that made me cry, from a song called “The New Year”:

I wish the world was flat like the old days

Then I could travel just by folding a map
No more airplanes, or speedtrains, or freeways
There'd be no distance that can hold us back

There'd be no distance that could hold us back

So this is the new year

But if I could travel just by folding a map, then it wouldn't mean very much to go away, would it? I'm a different person since I had the courage to move to New York City (which was very scary--many of you remember times I said I wished I had gone to Grinnell in Iowa) so I must have faith that leaving everything familiar far behind is part of what makes travel such a great experience. A few days ago I was more afraid and sad than excited, but now I would say I'm more excited than sad.