Archive for January, 2012

Chilling With Erasmus

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

Before you ask, no, I’m not in the library studying Dutch theologians, I’m currently spending this chilly Sunday afternoon writing my film paper with our college cat, Erasmus, who wandered into my room (and by ‘wandered’, I mean that I saw him in the hallway and shamelessly beckoned and bribed him).

Erasmus is Mansfield’s ‘mascot’ ; you can see him wandering around all parts of campus, generally being spoiled rotten by the students and guarding the porter’s lodge. Every Oxford college has it’s eccentricities, and I suppose that keeping a cat around is one of ours.

Currently he’s napping on my bed while I’m working on my latest film paper discussing Festen (The Celebration) , a disturbing but captivating Dutch film on the birthday of a aging Dutch patriarch in which his eldest son accuses him of sexual abuse during his birthday toast; the entire film is shot with handheld cameras without any added lighting or sound, so it has the feeling of a home-movie gone horribly wrong.

There are some excellent events going on at Mansfield this week; tomorrow there’s a Chinese Banquet for the Chinese New Year (I believe there are actually a few Chinese visiting students, so I guess it’s like our Thanksgiving Dinner for them) and then Burn’s Night on Wednesday! Burn’s Night is a Scottish commemoration of the poet Robert Burns, but at Mansfield this basically means we throw a big ceilidh in the chapel and attempt to do Scottish dances.

This…..isn’t the right room

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

One of my ‘new term resolutions’ this week was to make it to every lecture that sounded promising, especially since my work load wasn’t enormous and Macbeth rehearsals aren’t too long. The JYAs are free to attend any lecture that is relevant to our tutorials or just happens to interest us, but there are literally hundreds of lectures taking place every day, dozens in the English department alone. So far I’ve only attended History and English lectures, but since I’m taking a film tutorial this term I felt like branching out.

Yesterday I was swerving around Broad Street on my bike, wildly trying to figure out where the Taylorian Institute was (turns out it’s the enormous building connected to the Ashmolean museam, as a rather amused policeman told me) in order to am make it to my 10AM Euopean Cinema lecture. Of course, after tethering my bike to the nearest available square inch of bare railing, I managed to walk in and sit down in a Graduate seminar on German literature instead. I tried to stealthily leave the room, only to be asked something (IN GERMAN) by the slightly offended lecturer. Needless to say, I was a few minutes late for my European Cinema lecture and I will pay more attention to the room lists next time!

Today I was back in my home court (aka the English Faculty library) enjoying two back-to-back Shakespeare lectures (and only at Oxford can I find so many people who share my enthusiasm on this). The first was ‘Shakespeare’s Social network’, concerning the impact of certain playwrights and actors on his plays, and the second was a more thematic study on the Family in Shakespeare. I realize that I’m sending most of you to sleep right now, but both were great and made me nostalgic for my Shakespeare tutorial.


Friday, January 13th, 2012

This morning I had the novel experience of defrosting my bicycle, since we just  had our first frost last night (sorry New England, it’s much warmer here). I’ve defrosted a car plenty of times, but defrosting a bicycle most involved me scraping ice off  my seat and handlebars and grumbling under my breath.

Now that my tutorials and lectures are rapidly approaching next week, the other JYA’s and I are also ‘defrosting’ in the sense that we’re trying to warm up our ability to write 10-page papers after such a long break. Right now the other Oxford students are taking ‘Collections’, which are these enormous exams that count for about 1/7th of your degree that occur before term officially starts. For the freshers, this is literally the first permanent grade that they have received yet at Oxford.  Since I live with first years, my dorm was vaguely reminiscent of Wheeler during finals week- lots of panicking, study music and takeout. I’m glad that visiting students don’t have to take these exams- I much rather prefer to have all of my tutorials graded and spread out the stress over eight weeks!

Macbeth rehearsals are taking a quick pause for these exams, but so far I’ve mostly rehearsed my ‘witch’ scenes, which involves a lot of physical ‘blocking’ (or deciding when and how we move in the performance). I’m really excited about the opening scenes, which is going to be performed outside (yes, it’s a moving production of Macbeth) in the pitch black, though since it will be February I might be delivering the line “when shall we three meet again/In thunder, lighting, or in rain” while standing in all three . Apparently there’s no such thing as a ‘rain date’ in England.

Shakespeare….With Whips

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

In the last few days of  “0th Week,” the week before classes officially start, I took a day trip to Stratford-Upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare, to stroll around the landmarks and see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of ‘Measure for Measure,’ which had generated a lot of buzz over the last few months over their use of S&M in order to highlight the play’s sexual themes. I had actually studied ‘Measure for Measure’ in my last week of Michaelmas Term in my Shakespeare tutorial, so I was interested to see the theme from an academic point of view (as well as genuine curiosity).

Stratford-Upon-Avon Town Square (Shakespeare Memorial to the Left)

It was a gorgeous day, and Stratford is a wonderful town to walk around in- lots of little shops and pubs with Shakespeare-related names. There was a ‘Marlowe’s’ restaurant, a Chaucer bookstore, and a running tour named the “Falstaff Experience” which was unfortunately closed by the time we found it. We also visited the Holy Trinity church down on the Avon river, which houses the grave of Shakespeare.

Holy Trinity Church

We ate at a cozy pub officially titled ‘The Black Swan’ but nicknamed ‘The Dirty Duck’ by American GI’s who stayed in Stratford during World War II. It was right across the street from the RSC theater and the walls were covered with pictures of famous actors who had eaten there, from Derek Jacobi to Judi Dench.

The play was in the Swann Theatre, which was U-shaped and had three tiers encompassing the stage, which was a osrt of promontory into the audience. We were all the way at the top (yay student tickets) but we could actually see everything really well, albeit in a bird-eye view.  The play itself was fantastic- the critical response for the S&M elements has been varied, and I admit that certain costumes and decorations were incorporated more for popular appeal than for any real tie to the plot, but overall I thought the language of ‘Measure for Measure’ really supports the whips and risque costumes of S&M brothels (and it certainly kept the non-Shakespeare-obsessed-English-majors with me interested).

Boxes of Swan Theatre

Katie and Allegra in front of Shakespeare's Birthplace

Oxford, Back in Action!

Sunday, January 8th, 2012

Hello again from Oxford! After a wonderful vacation at home recuperating from mono (which put a slight kibosh on my Euro travel plans) I am back in Oxford and ready to begin my second term, called ‘Hillary’ Term at Oxford for some symbolic reason, which I’m going to google right now………….

…….According to Wikipedia it “runs from January to March and is so named because the feast day of St Hilary of Poitiers, 14 January, falls during this term.” So there you go.

I have a lot of new things happening this term- first, I’m going to be in the Mansfield production of ‘Macbeth’ , for which I’m frantically learning my lines now (I’m playing one of the witches, Ross, and ‘First Murderer’ which combined has a lot more speaking time that I assumed). Our rehearsals start on Wednesday, so I’ll post updates on my random foray into drama. My last role was way back in high school as a jury member in ‘Inherit the Wind’ in which I literally sat in a jury box and ‘watched the trial’ the entire play, so I’m clearly a seasoned veteran here.

I’m also moving my housing (even though I’ll still have fond feelings for my flat) to on the Mansfield campus, where I’ll be co-inhabiting with First Years, so that’s going to be really different! It’s already slightly surreal to walk from the Mansfield library only about fifty feet to my new room. I’ve heard a rumor that the college cat Erasmus sometimes wanders into on-campus rooms, he hasn’t come to mine yet even though I’ve left my door open.