Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Small Stuff

Oh there is blessing in this gentle breeze
That blows from the green fields, and from the clouds,
And from the sky:it beats upon my cheek,
And seems half-conscious of the joy it gives.
Oh welcome messenger, oh welcome friend!
'Tis a power
That does not come unrecognized, a storm
Which, breaking upon a long-continued frost,
Brings with it vernal promises, the hope
Of active days, of dignity and thought,
Of prowess in an honourable field
Pure passion, virtue, knowledge, and delight,
The holy life of virtue and of verse.
-William Wordsworth (From The Glad Preamble)
Sometimes all it takes is a gentle breeze to make us realize how blessed this life really is.

Like finding a little "inspiration"at your desk when you least expect it.

Or glancing out the window only to see the most glorious sunset.

I am learning to recognize these quiet revelations.

Bask in these moments of silent brilliance.

Peddle Faster!

There the noise of the waves and the movement of the water, taking hold of my senses and driving all other agitation from my soul, would plunge it into a delicious reverie in which night often stole upon me unawares. The ebb and flow of the water, its continuous yet undulating noise, kept lapping against my ears and my eyes, taking the place of all the inward movements which my reverie had calmed within me, and it was enough to make me pleasurably aware of my existence, without troubling myself with thought.
from "Fifth Walk" in Reveries of the Solitary Walker

I have wondered what it is to be pleasurably aware of ones existence, and I think we came close to this Rousseauian state last weekend in Hunstanton. After working hard all week, a few friends and I decided to ditch our books and bike to the coast in search of some leisure. Originally we planned to bike all the way there on friday, stay the night, and bike back on saturday or sunday, a grand total of 120 miles. In theory this sounded great, but, luckily for us, all the hostels were booked. Thus, we decided to take a Train to King's Lynn and then bike the 15 miles out to Hunstanton for the day. I say luckily for us because, although it would've been great to be all hard core, our behinds were killing us after a mere fraction of our intended mileage. Honestly, I didn't even want to get back on the bike after the 15 miles from the train station! Anyways, we ended up biking the most beautiful part of the journey through the country anyways and arrived at the coast with only a little worse for the wear.
 ready to go at the train station
Lavender Fields!

Hunstanton did not turn out to be the sandy, sunny, southern Californiaish beach that I expected, but I saw a place truly like none other that I have ever seen. Of course the first thing we did was replenish our energy with some fatty fried fish and chips. We then proceeded to collapse into a delightful food coma.

The rest of the day included rock jumping, cliff climbing, lighthouse searching, photo taking, and, of course, more eating. We escaped the rain for the most part, but the persistent gloom create a surreal, verging on sublime, ambiance. And there were a plethora of these weird, flat, green rocks.

Then the tide went out. And the sun began to set. 

Pure Magic.

 Walking on Water

We eventually made it back on the train to Cambridge (after a brief spell of thinking we were going to have be hobos and sleep on park benches). After a long day, we were all a bit out of it on the way home. Maybe me a bit more than the rest. I guess a picture is worth a thousand words.
They just wanted to see if I could fit in the luggage compartment. It's too bad we didn't capture the entirely graceful fall and the rousing applause from the other passenger when I fell out :)

In the end, it turned out to be just the leisurely saturday that we needed. As Rousseau so eloquently put it, we became pleasurably aware of our existence without troubling ourselves too much with thought. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

4th and Long...Let's Go Punting!

Ron: "The man punted Baxter." 

Brian: "Calm down. Breathe, Ron. Breathe." 
Ron: "The man who loved the motorcycle." 
Brian: "What'd the bad man do, Ron?" 
Ron: "The motorcycle on the bridge. I hit him with a burrito." 
Brian: "Ron!" 
Ron: "And he took him with his foot and he kicked him! That's what he did." 
Brian: "Someone punted him?" 

Unfortunately...or fortunately....punting here in Cambridge does not refer to dismal 4th downs like in American football or punting dogs like in Anchorman. Punting here is a phenomenon like none I have ever seen before. From the moment you arrive in Cambridge, fairly good looking boys with fancy signs accost you with the opportunity of a lifetime, punting tours on the Cam. Or at least that's what they tell you. I can't count the number of times I have been asked "Would you like to go punting today" or "Have you already had your punting tour". My window looks out on the Cam and I listen all day as the river guides draw attention to Bodley's Court, Kings College accommodations (my housing) and proceed to spout off some ridiculous story that they probably made up on the spot. Excellent entertainment because it is different every time. The tourists in the boats even take pictures of me when I lean out my window! I guess now would be a good time to explain what exactly punting is. If you have ever seen pictures of the gondolas in Venice, you can get a pretty good picture; basically, it involves a boat full of friends and one lucky "driver", who gets to use the giant pole to push (and, if not too intoxicated, steer) the boat down the river. I waited until my mom came to visit and finally gave in to the incessant punting advertisers, and I must say, if you can get past the cooky river guides or rent a boat yourself, I think it is all it is cracked up to be!

  I decided to try my hand at it...and promptly ran us into a wall :)

Quintessential Cambridge: punting in the rain.

What Exactly is an Evensong?

God sent his Singers upon earth
With songs of sadness and of mirth,
That they might touch the hearts of men,
And bring them back to heaven again.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

That music in itself, whose sounds are song,
The poetry of speech.
~Lord Byron

Music is a funny thing. Having read so much poetry lately, my definition seems to encompass a much wider variety of contexts these days. As per the title of my blog, I recently discovered the wonders of the Anglican choral Evensong (evening prayer). Though very different from my normal form of worship, listening to Evensong in King's Cathedral and Great Saint Mary's is truly an ethereal  experience. The tremendous acoustics and incredible architecture create an indescribable aura. The world renowned King's Choir, which consists of both men's and boy's voices, gave their last performances before leaving on tour the week that we arrived in Cambridge. Tremendously talented, they are particularly known for their rendition of Handel's "Messiah". 

Listen especially for the VERY high register of the young boys. Incredible, huh?

It might be a stretch to refer to my musings as my own evensong, but I am just liberally interpreting Byron's use of poetry as song :)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Enlightened and Romanticized

We look before and after,
And pine for what is not;
Our sincerest Laughter
With some pain is fraught--
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.
Teach me half the gladness
That thy brain must know,
Such harmonious madness
From my lips would flow
The world should listen then, as I am listening now.
-P.B. Shelley (from To A Skylark)

My college career has never known such forlornness at the close of a class as it does at the termination of  "The Enlightenment and Romanticism: The Writing of Pleasure" with Rowan Boyson. My mind has truly been opened and my intellect enlarged. The above excerpt is but the smallest fraction of a sampling from our poetry readings, but it represents the most amazing seminar we had all month. Somehow, while dissecting Shelley's "To A Skylark", our class experienced a unanimous "ah-ha" moment. Chalk it up to luck or inspiration, but we all just REALLY got it. We left class, not feeling the usual sluggishness and drudgery from sitting for over an hour, but invigorated and excited! 

Throughout the course we explored many different views on the essence and implications of true pleasure. From Aristotle to Wordsworth, Johnson to DeQuincey, the theories ranged over an expansive spectrum. After a final essay synthesizing Bentham, Rousseau, and Goldsmith in analysis of the role of the individual and community in relation to pleasure and a final exam with two essays, one comparing texts and another VERY close reading, I can pretty confidently say that I have barely skimmed the surface of this subject. I look forward to the imminent publishing of Dr. Boyson's book (probably entitled "Common Pleasure")...look for it soon through Cambridge University Press :) Speaking of Dr. Boyson, let me just say how wonderful she is! Her passion for her research is contagious, and her classes were delightful. I will miss her.

Here's to hoping that I can find at least some of the same enthusiasm for my next class, Development Economics!

London Calling

London calling, yes, I was there, too
An' you know what they said? Well, some of it was true!
London calling at the top of the dial
After all this, won't you give me a smile?
London calling
-The Clash

I think it is only appropriate to quote a little classic rock in reference to my weekend in London. After all, we do owe a lot to the home of The Who, Queen, Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, The Spice Girls, and name a few. (The Beatles are actually from Liverpool for those of you that are wondering why I didn't mention them.)

I spent a lovely weekend with some old friends who live in London and my mom who came to visit me this past week. Since we had all already seen the main tourist sites, we didn't stress about hitting everything, but spent our time as leisurely as possible amongst the throngs of tourists. 

We have always loved Westminster Abbey. I remain astounded at the sheer number of really famous dead people all in one place. Naturally, we listened to a little bit of "The Messiah" next to Handel's tomb. I also found that, this time around, I had read many more of the poets in poet's corner. Just in the past month in my first PKP class I had read Johnson, Byron,  Blake, Burns, Coleridge, Goldsmith, Shelley, Keats, and Wordsworth. 

 Big Ben        
In the afternoon, we perused the stalls at Camden Market. These mediterranean lamps really caught my attention, mesmerizing! Carrying on this Ethnic spirit, we hit just about every world food this weekend. That might be an exaggeration, but we tried Indian, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Thai, Chinese, and, let's not forget, Fish and Chips.

 Reuniting with the Tanner ladies.

The sun finally decided to make an appearance, and we took full advantage of its magnanimous rays, visiting as many of London's parks as we could. Between the rose garden in Hyde Park, a nap in Regent's Park, a stroll through Green Park, and an impromptu concert in St. James Park, I think we discovered the most relaxing and beautiful places in London.

Sunset on the Thames.

 From the London Eye, that was a first!

We found a wedding!

And of course, who can leave without their classic phone booth picture :)

Cheers form London!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Old Vicarage, Grantchester

Just now the lilac is in bloom,
All before my little room:
And in my flower-beds, I think,
Smile the carnation and the pink;
And down the borders, well I know,
The poppy and the pansy blow.....
Oh! There the chestnuts, summer through,
Beside the river make for you
A tunnel of green gloom, and sleep
Deeply above; and green and deep
The stream mysterious glides beneath,
Green as a dream and deep as death.
-Oh damn! I know it! And I know
How the may fields all golden show,
And when the day is young and sweet,
Gild gloriously the bare feet
That run to bath......

Some, it may be, can get in touch
With nature there, Or Earth, or such.
And clever modern men have seen
A faun a-peeping through the green,
And felt the Classics were not dead,
To glimpse a Naiad's reedy head,
Or hear the Goat-foot piping low:...
But these are things I do not know.
I only know that you may lie
Day-long and watch the Cambridge sky,
And, flower-lulled in sleepy grass,
Hear the cool lapse of hours pass,
Until the centuries blend and blur
In Grantchester, in Grantchester...
-Rupert Brooke (from The Old Vicarage, Grantchester)

I don't just love these lines because their poet has my name:) I myself have been lost in the centuries at Grantchester, where time begins to blur. The whole experience of having tea and scones, or lunch perhaps, in The Orchard at Grantchester seems a bit surreal. It retains its distinct character from the days when E.M. Forster, Rupert Brooke, Virginia Woolf, Bertrand Russel, and Maynard Keynes used to grace its grounds, and, in lawn chairs beneath the trees, patrons can transport back to simpler, more serene times. 

One piece of advice: make sure you know where you are going if you plan to walk to The Orchard! Mom and I might have got a little lost, for which I take all the blame since I am the one who actually lives here. 

A lovely place to study!

 Thoroughly enjoying our scones.