The Natatorium

An emporium of oddities from around the world, complete with somewhat informative plaques that almost never match the item they are meant to be describing.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Running Out of Time.. ::sniff::

I'm starting to panic a little bit about leaving London. I want to soak up every minute of living here, though my workload this past weekend has not really permitted me to do so. I've been holed up in my room most of the weekend writing papers and stuff, and that's what I'm doing again tonight. Hopefully after tonight, though, I'll be done with all of that and can just enjoy the rest of my time here.

Last week I went to the Natural History museum, where I saw dinosaur skeletons and a life-size model of a blue whale and a giant earth model and a volcano simulator and tiny tiny rodents and weird sea creatures. The pictures are on Flickr, as always. I really liked it there and I plan to go back before I return to the States.

On Saturday I escaped my mountain of work for the day and went shopping. I went to Oxford Street first because I was looking for a cheap knee-length skirt, and of course the place was completely packed. I didn't even find anything I liked at all, so I gave up and went to Notting Hill, where I promptly found a cute boutique having a sale and got two skirts for ten pounds each. I needed the new skirts because I've been wearing the same turquoise skirt to swing dancing for the past 3 weeks or so and they're going to start thinking that I live in a box on the street.

Anyway. After my purchases I was running a little late because I was trying to get to Euston Train Station by 4:00 so I could get to Watford by 5:00. I grabbed a huge slice of pizza from a little Italian Deli in Notting Hill and hurried to catch a bus to Euston. Unfortunately, I stupidly didn't realize that the bus would be spending a good deal of time going down Oxford Street, and, as Oxford was a madhouse, it took FOREVER to get to Euston and I ended up being late. Watford is the suburb on the outskirts of London where Jalal and his friends live, and I had told him I wanted to visit his neighborhood and see what it was like. Neither he nor his friends could understand why I wanted to go there, and tried to talk me out of it, but I insisted that it would be interesting to me. They talk about Watford the way my friends at home talk about Springfield, and actually, the place really did remind me of Springfield, except that it was more European because it was more compact and village-y feeling, and had much fewer cars and narrower roads. I thought it was quite cute, but of course Jalal and the Dread Pirate Roberts thought I was crazy.

There was a "fun fair" going on in one of the parks there, so we hopped the fence and walked around it a bit. It was pretty much like fairs in the States, only much smaller and no stinky animals, just rides and games. AND NO CORN DOGS. Imagine my disappointment. I was quite distraught that there were no corn dogs to be found anywhere. According to Jalal and the Dread Pirate Roberts, they don't exist in England. How very sad. No corn dogs and no Mexican Food. These are good reasons for me to come home, but to compensate England has Cadbury stuff year round and Ribenas (like a British Hi-C... a juice box, basically, but in British flavours like Blackcurrant and Strawberry. We never get Strawberry juice in the States.)

We sat around in the field next to the fair a bit and then went back into "town." Like Springfield, they have a little downtown area full of bars and restaurants and nightclubs. We went to Nando's, which is this chain place that I'm in love with. They serve spicy chicken things, like chicken sandwiches and chicken pitas and whole roast chickens and basically just chicken anything. But it's one of the few places here where you can get spicy food. You order what degree of spiciness you want, and I always get medium (on a chicken pita with cheese and pineapple) but they have bottles of sauce that you can add to dip your fries in or something. So I got the Garlic spicy sauce, which is really spicy, and poured some on my plate. Jalal, who had ordered something mild and the Dread Pirate Roberts, who had ordered nothing, asked me what it tasted like. So I offered them each a fry dripping with the stuff. Judging from the look in their eyes as they tried to continue chewing and choke down what I'd given them, you'd think I had just shot them both through the heart, or stepped on one of their DVDs. It was incredibly funny. Jalal just looked incredibly wounded and asked, "Why do you do these things to me?"

After torturing my British friends with spicy food, we went outside and hung out on the street for a while, talking about politics and culture. So, pretty much exactly what I've done hundreds of times in Springfield. Only it was better, because they have accents. I left around midnight on the last train back to London and made it back to my dorm, exhausted after a long day. Sunday I spent locked up in my room again, finishing one of my papers.

And now I shall go eat dinner, and lock myself in my room again. I only have two weeks left here, and when this stuff is done I'm going to make them count.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

On Standing at the Edge of a Great Expanse

Last weekend I went "Pony Trekking" in Wales. It was a school-organized trip, which is good for me because it does wonders for my stress level when everything has already been taken care of and I go with a group. We took a train from Paddington to Swansea on Friday, which was a 3.5 hour ride. A little long, even as much as I love train rides. I will take the train over flying any day. The good thing about the train ride (as with all trains rides) is that I got to see a lot of countryside, a few interesting sights, including the crazy looking Newport City Footbridge. We finally arrived at an old country house outside Swansea, where a kind old Welsh lady served us a delicious dinner. We rested from our journey and I wrote in my journal in a charming sitting room with a warm fire until it was time for bed. The next day we met our Ponies. I was assigned to William, and was immediately informed that I was lucky by one of our guides, because, as she told me, "This horse is the love of my life." She said he was the sweetest pony and loved affection. William was definitely sweet and well-tempered, but he was also enormous, and it took a lot of strength to communicate a clear message to him in the reins, which meant my hands grew quite sore from keeping up the tension all day long, but other than that he was perfect.

We rode our Ponies first through a bit of forest and across a field down to the local "heritage center," which was like a very small-scale Silver Dollar City. We ate lunch there and then set off to see the ocean. We rode up the hill between hedgerows that demarcated fields of sheep, climbing upwards over the land until we could see rolling Welsh hills spread out to the North as we approached the ocean. We arrived at the ridge overlooking Three Cliffs Bay and rode down the hill a bit, getting a great view of the beach, the bay, and the sea. We could see far out to the horizon in the distance where the sea and sky seemed to melt together in a blurry boundary line between the earth and the ether.

We didn't ride all the way down to the beach, so after we returned the ponies to the paddock by the house and removed the tack, a few other girls and I went back to the beach and went all the way down to the sand. The results are posted on flickr. It was so amazingly exhilarating to run across that vast expanse of sand, towards the outstretched ocean. Because of the structure of the bay, the sea flowed in gradually in such a way that the sand and the water just barely seemed to shift into one another on a level plane, and there was no obvious barrier of waves crashing against the shore, just a gentle in-and-out shallow flow of water across the sand flats. The effect was such that it looked like I could just keep on running forever, out onto the water and away to the vast horizon, into the bright, fading-white rays of the late afternoon sun. There was a strong wind on the beach, but I was too thrilled to be cold, and it only served to heighten the feeling of freedom as it whipped my hair around. The wind felt like an tangible manifestation of some great and wonderful force present in the waves, the horizon, the cliffs, the expanse of sand, and the pure-white sunbeams that pierced the hazy, swirling, white-gray clouds.

I liked it.

The second day we rode over hills again, up onto another ridge, this one overlooking Oxwich Bay far below. Oxwich Bay is even bigger than Three Cliffs, a huge half-moon shape with an even larger stretch of flat sand reaching inland. The wind was high up on the ridge, but again didn't mind. I could feel the rhythmic sway of William beneath me, anchoring me, his massive bulk shifting with each step and I shifting with him. Dear William. He was quite a sensitive Pony, and on this particular weekend had troubles of his own. His long-time girlfriend, Polly, was stolen by a young hot shot on the first day of riding, and poor William was heartbroken. For the rest of the weekend she went back and forth between the two of them, and William's moods fluctuated by the hour. It was like the OC with Ponies.

Altogether a wonderful weekend. I loved the riding, I loved Dear William, I loved, perhaps most of all, the sea. I never realize how much I crave the feeling of endless space until I find it again, but standing on a high point, or on the edge of the ocean, with the whole world seemingly stretched out before you, is definitely among my top-ten feelings of all time. I highly recommend it.