My sister’s next Halloween costume, from my closet: a teenage mutant ninja turtle. (Taken with Instagram)
Max takes a cat nap…on Dad. A daily occurrence. (Taken with Instagram)
Firenze, the city of flowers. Two years on, the writing continues.
Did we take the train to from Rome to Florence? We must’ve; I don’t quite remember anymore. What I do remember is going from six days of closely following Fiona’s Top 10 Sights guidebook, to six days of not so much as looking at a map in Tuscany. ”My memory is a trap,” Ellen often says, and since she’d spent six weeks in Florence in the summer before, she remembered most everything—except where Il Cernacchino is (delicious soups/meats in bread bowls). The staff at the Hotel Bellettini, her friends (or should I say familia italiana?); the art of the renaissance, her expertise. At first sight of the Duomo, she’s home, and with that, so am I.
I look through these pictures always knowing that I will not find my most precious memories here. There is no way to capture the moment we arrived at the Bellettini and opened the door to our beautiful room, right at the top. Already floored by how they’d clearly given us the best room in the establishment, we heard Elton shouting up from reception, “Ellen, open the windows!” We found the private balcony! (No small luxury, after our six-day hostel stay.) I would wrap up the evening we spent listening to Ella Fitzgerald on that very balcony if I could, to unfold on a rainy day. Sitting on the bridge, Ponte alla Carraia, gelati cones from the nearby Gelateria de Carraia in hand. Being stuffed beyond all reason during dinner at Gina’s house with her family, as she held out trays of homemade mini-pizza bites in front of my nose and commanded, “Su!” or “Up!” The sensation of Gina’s grappa burning down my insides, and Ermal laughing at me at the bus stop after, saying, “That grappa f—ed you up!” Seeing David at L’Academia, of course. The traces of gold glitter on our fingers, from feeling the ornately decorated cards at the hole-in-the-wall stationery shop. The ruckus of Gina’s birthday lunch at the Bellettini. There are no pictures for these.
Still, the pictures that I do have are wonderful. Our wanderings around the city, the golden doors of the Duomo, Michelangelo’s resting place, the view of the city from the Piazzale de Michelangelo, the ethereal golden light of an April evening in Italy, the clouds Elle thought only exist in paintings, the Tree of Life—my beloved chequered Vans that gave out on Firenze’s streets. These are here.
Bella città, tell me what your flowers are for your beauty is endless.
Something about this photograph breaks my heart, in a bittersweet way.
Thank you for everything we had.
Cheesy as it sounds, my relationship with Oxford - and perhaps England, or the British Isles (to include Ireland here) more generally - really is best characterized as a romance. Yes, I lived there in the flesh for a good nine months, “suffering” through the most work-intensive period of my life up till that point, so I should have no illusions of its idyllic-ness, should be acquainted with its flaws, should at minimum have come to know and accept that it is a real place with real-place-imperfections and challenges. But there is no denying the rosy tint that my mind’s eye sees it in, still, no denying the truth that even when I’m actually there, soaked to the skin in its erratic rain, feet soiled from trudging through its mud, tripping over its uneven ancient cobblestones, I am happy.
Before I arrived this time around, I did wonder if I would have a different response to it, did wonder if it was just a one-time experience, did wonder if I would find that the spell had dissipated, passed its one-year expiry date. On the flight(s) over, I felt so distant from it, felt like the year before was a complete other life that I’d stepped out of. I felt like I was fighting my way back to the UK, that I had all this crud from the past year that I needed to shed off, that I was shedding off, in flight. Like I was reuniting with someone that I’d fancied and had fancied me back in the past, and finding out if we would hit it off again, if we could work something out. All I can say now is meeting met, romance rekindled, there is nothing I can do about it, I don’t quite understand it myself, it completely defeats my no-nonsense-minimal-drama sensibilities, bring on the rain and British clouds, I am helplessly in love.
Even more telling: I am completely unable to give a satisfactory response to the simple question, “How was your trip/Oxford/the UK?” I just start gushing stupidly, entirely incomprehensible as I ramble on and on in stock phrases like “it was amazing/awesome,” that don’t actually help the listener to picture what Oxford is like at all, nor what my friends there are like.
So here’s my attempt to be somewhat coherent.
I’ll start with Port Meadow, one of my favorite places in the world. I don’t think I’ll soon forget picnicking there with Tom and Daisy on one of my last days in Oxford last year, watching the horses and cows and sheep and geese across the river from us. Walking there with Daisy and Tom again this time, after a good meal and catch-up at the Royal Oak, was such a blessing.
There was the garden play we caught, Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Ernest,” so typically Oxfordian in its setting and character. I remember sitting there and just marveling at the fact that we most definitely are back, watching a play in a courtyard just off the busy St. Giles road that’s magically quiet just by virtue of being within college walls, with the college Master sitting by his window, snapping photos. We also saw the improv group the Oxford Imps at the Wheatsheaf pub, and the press preview of the production that a bunch of our friends are involved with, Tamburlane - student performances, student-run, all incredibly professional. Always so much to see and do in Oxford.
There was the adventure to Churchill’s grave and Blenheim Palace that Sam spontaneously took us on, with music and a picnic feast in his boot! We sang Taverner’s “If Ye Love Me” to Churchill, jumped on the little train, conquered the second largest hedge maze in the world, visited the Palace’s state rooms, walked through the rose gardens - brilliant on all counts.
Of course, there was dear old Pembroke College. We attend and sang with the Chapel Choir for CU Chapel Service, we cheered for W1 in the Summer Eights rowing competition and watched them bump Wadham RIGHT IN FRONT OF US as we stood in the gut of the river, we chatted with the porters, we had formal hall in the newly renovated Forte Room, we ate ourselves silly with sandwiches and summer berries at the Garden Party - Pembroke pride, alive and well.
But most importantly, we hung out with these guys (and many others not pictured, of course!):
We talked, we watched youtube videos (or watched the boys play Tony Hawk’s…), we giggled and laughed till odd hours, our hosts had a barbecue and nearly all the Pembroke second years came out, we had lunch with Maria in Christ Church meadows (and then lay out in the sun on the grass for 3 hours), we sat for hours on a bench chatting with Ed in Lincoln, I had long meals and walks and talks with Singaporean buddies… It was magnificent. The kind of magnificent that leaves you in grateful disbelief, at the wonderful people you’ve gotten to know, at the strength and depth of your friendships. People whom you enjoy and trust, who feel the same towards you, and with whom it seems so easy to pick up again with, no matter the time you’ve spent apart or the different places you’ve been in.
So friends, and Oxford - again, I will see you later. How much later, I don’t know - might be a year or two, may be much, much more (especially given current finances) - but I don’t think I can stay away forever!
Goodbye, only for now.
The insert that goes around my travel mug, created by Claire (Mauksch)! It’s such a great collage of pictures from our time at Oxford - an artful and colourful mix of landscapes and people I adore. (: She gave me the travel mug for Christmas, which I spent with her family in Seattle (more on that adventure on this space, someday…).
I don’t know why I didn’t think of scanning it in and keeping a copy before it incurred the water damage, which are the weird splotches you see near the bottom. It’s still beautiful though, and I’m glad I’ve gotten round to it.
Thanks again, Claire! So happy that I’ll be able to keep this design on my travel mug for the rest of its life span. :D
This picture. Maybe not a thousand words, but definitely some salient ones!
Both my professors today addressed the forecast of snow on Wednesday, and the possibility of yet another snow-closure (both classes run on Monday-Wednesday schedules).
It’s so strange, coming from clockwork-Singapore, to have to deal with such severe weather-interruptions to school/work/movement - although I guess that really just signals that I was away during the recent floods of the past few years.
Photographic evidence of the Post-Blizzard-II Carnage - and then some fun things the people/artists of Somerville did with snow.
High Rockin’ around the Christmas tree. (I’m so funny, oh yes I am. Not.)
This year, over the weekend of 10th to 12th December, I sang with the choir in the High Rock Christmas Benefit Concert 2010. All proceeds went to the town of Arlington, where High Rock Church is situated, to go towards hiring and funding a social worker to help families in crisis navigate the web of federal, state and private resources to meet their needs - very similar to what I used to do as a volunteer with Lift-Somerville.
We sang for SIX shows, ate a gazillion buttery chocolate chip cookies, and went through our entire stores of formal black clothing. Doing six shows also meant getting six “choir + band pep talks,” which included Pastor Ryan’s self-composed hip-hop/rap song “Oh Baby (Jesus)” along with many bring-it-in rallying cries. As always, I was moved by the commitment that High Rock has to the local community of Arlington, and blown away by the sheer volume of talent that the High Rock pews hold: genius designers, rockin’ musicians, out-of-this-world vocalists, straight-to-the-heart readers, right-down-to-the-tummy chefs. It was an absolutely pleasure to get to meet some of these incredible people.
But the most striking, poignant part of the experience for me, I think, was watching Lei do her hula dance to Pastor Eugene singing “Strange Way to Save the World.” Six times, I watched it, and never failed to tear up.