30 June 2008

Departing Thoughts

Tomorrow night is my last night here, but I don't think I'll have much time to write, so I thought I'd take a little while tonight.  As I've said before, when I leave here it will be for a full year, so I decided to use this entry to write about some things I'll miss.  I know it doesn't seem as if I very much like the place I leave, and I think part of the reason why I'm so tense about leaving is that I'm going from somewhere I don't much care for to somewhere where I don't have anything, and that's nerve-wracking.  But there are some things about the town I live in that I like very much.

First of all, I love my university.  I can't express how good it has been to me, and how good a university it is.  I love my students, almost all of whom I've found to be lively, mentally alive, and interested in what I teach.  I like my colleagues, none of whom is unkind, or sulky, or spiteful (which is pretty impressive for an English department).  I like the people.  I find it a little odd that they're all so chatty, but I like the fact that they're friendly, and that no one is rude, they way they were in Boston, where I lived before.  I love being able to walk to my job from my house, and I love my office with its comfy futon.

I love my house.  In fact, when I think of something I'll miss intensely, it's the house.  When I first moved in my landlady and I painted it so it would look just the way I wanted, and because it has wood floors and broad rooms it always seems airy and welcoming to me.  The truth is that it's a bit too big (I say this because I had a look at the apartment on the other side of the house a few days ago, and I found it if possible even nicer than this one, in part because it's smaller), but it's the first place I've lived that I've painted and furnished and decorated exactly to my liking. 

I also love the fabulous bakery down the road, which makes the best icing I've ever tasted.  Not the best cupcakes (which is what the icing tops), but the best icing.  Oooo, I can't even explain why it's so delicious, but it is.  Every week I go in and buy two cupcakes, one for me and one for my graduate student, and every week they are delicious.  I love England, but one thing they just don't do very well if you have an American palate is cake:  it always seems too dry, and the icing is not creamy but rather rolled.  So this icing, which is fluffy and sugary and succulent, will be sorely missed.  

On the other hand, you can't get an almond croissant here for love nor money.  What you lose in the swings you gain in the roundabouts, as my friend Peter used to say.

I will also miss my cat.  Someone has agreed to watch her for the year I'm gone, and I'm about to deliver her to them.  This is in fact the only thing that makes me feel pangs of sorrow (as opposed to fear, or a kind of self-centered depression) about this situation.  I know I love my cat, and I knew I loved her before today, but I'm a little surprised to find how attached I am to her.  I guess I shouldn't be - I knew rationally that she means an enormous amount to me, that we have a relationship (which is probably one-sided, but I've made reciprocal in my imagination), that she has many cute ways that enter into the casual fabric of my life:  so that, for example, I pet her soft paws without even thinking about the happiness that gives me.  But because I never left her for a year, I never could know what my emotional response to that leaving would be, and hence what my response to disattachment to her would be.  I'm going to miss her a very great deal indeed.

I'm sure there are many other things I'll miss, but I can't know what they are until I'm over there and miss them.  One thing I'm quite intrigued to see is the kind of difference the internet will make.  When I last lived in England, communication was only phone and letter.  And in some ways I am a fan of putting past lives behind you, of fully living where you live and making your community where you're...er...communitized.  But even though I am a fan of that, I don't believe it's mentally healthy - and even when it was just phone and mail, I always kept in active touch with my friends in America.  So I'll be very interested to see what kind of blending the internet produces.  Perhaps none (since many people say they'll write, but then don't after a bit), but perhaps enough to make me feel that I'm not losing frienships or understandings, but rather just accumulating more.

Now that is a positive note to go out on.  As is the mention that Spain won the European Cup final.  Apparently Germany played terribly, but in any case I always root for the underdog, so I'm pleased (albeit rather more abstractly than I was with the results of Germany's earlier matches).  Die Jungs made it to the final, so they can't complain, but a country that hadn't won for 44 years won, and it's hard to argue with the heart-warming sensation of that.  Huzzah, Espana!
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26 June 2008

Will Germany Do It?

Good heavens, I never thought they'd get this far!  By all accounts the match against Turkey should have gone Turkey's way, as I can well believe.  The BBC website said, "once again they have reached a major final despite being unconvincing," and I confess to feeling a warm sense of vindication that a major news outlet has agreed with my analysis.  Hey, BBC, maybe you should hire me, because I said that last week!  And can I just say at this juncture that I love the expression "denied by the woodwork" as a way of saying a shot hit the top of the goal (or the goal posts, I suppose)?  It's much better and more evocative than just saying, "the shot hit the top of the goal."

Actually, it's been a night of useful expressions, because whilst watching None but the Lonely Heart tonight I heard Cary Grant say, "I'm so broke, I'm two halves."  That one I'm definitely going to use.  I'm not sure I could ever say, "denied by the woodwork" without feeling pretentious, though.  

Lovely that Klose made one of the goals -- the slyest of the three -- but Lahm's shot at the end was a joy to behold.  And I must give snaps to Schweinsteiger, who seems to simply be able to make straight swift cannonball shots no matter what the circumstances.  Although I do think bleaching his hair was a mistake.

There are only five days before I leave Fayetteville, and 11 before I leave the US.  I think it's just starting to hit me, in the sense that I'm realizing that I can't envision what it will be like to be there.  I won't be coming home after three weeks, or even three months, and I simply can't imagine that.  After three years here, where it's baking hot in the summer and fall, I also can't imagine what it will be like to be somewhere where it's rainy and cold in the fall, and cooler, and often rainy, in the summer.

Writing that, I'm reminded of how much I love rainy autumn nights in London.  Nearly eight years ago now, I happened to be there in the fall because of a funeral.  And I remember walking down Shaftesbury Avenue at perhaps seven or eight at night.  It was dark, and it wasn't raining
but it had quite recently.  It seemed as if every shop had incandescent rather than fluorescent lighting, and the 
light from the windows made the wet sidewalks glisten black - it sounds like a book, but it was real.  There's a Starbucks on Shaftesbury Avenue, quite near where it intersects with Tottenham Court Road; it's a big Starbucks, and during the day it looks as boring and unnecessary as any American Starbucks.  But as I walked toward it its window was all golden, and because it was damp and just slightly chilly outside (the kind of chilly where you thrust your hands in your pockets, but you don't need to hide your chin in your collar), it looked as warm and inviting as any teashop must have looked in the 1930s.  And the air was so different from any American air, in a way I've tried to articulate to myself countless times and never been able to.  A delight, for the second and a half that the scene existed outside me and I observed it and myself in it.

And that reminds me of when I went there last Thanksgiving.  On my first day I got out of the
hotel relatively late - around ten, maybe - and as I walked to the British Library the sky was a classic watery grey with streaks of sunshine:  an utterly London sky.  And when I came out of the British Library around three, it was essentially twilight.  I absolutely did not remember that there was that little daylight (I said to my best friend afterward, "How did I miss the whole day in five hours?").  That, too, is vastly different from here, or from America at all.  I'm looking forward to that, as well.

England does damp, faintly chilly, post-rain weather very well.  I like that.  I look forward to many nights of hand-thrusting (oh, Matron!).
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25 June 2008

Good Fortune

First of all, Huzzah! (as my friend Jennifer would say) to Spain.  Fancy beating Italy:  that must make you feel terrific.

Second of all, my new slippers ended up giving me a shin splint, so I threw them out.  I'll just have to make do with the old ones for a week more.

Now, today I went into my office for a minute.  While I was there, for quite a bit longer than a minute in the end, I ran into a student who, although not my student, has become a fracquaintance (a fraicquantance is someone who is more than an acquaintance but not really a friend.  Once they become more a friend than an acquaintance they are a frientance).   It turns out she is separated.  I sort of expected this, because I knew she and her husband were having terrible problems.  What I did not know, however, was the extent of her husband's mistreatment of her.  The marriage was made hastily, before she really knew him, and because he is quite religious it is very difficult for her to get a divorce; he won't consent, and she's afraid he'll try to take away the children if she moves on her own.  But, my God, the things she told me  leave me flabbergasted that she stayed with him for more than one minute.  He hit her.  He hit her!  And he cheated on her, repeatedly.  And he is offering no support of any kind to her, and now that he's moved out he's taken up again with his ex-wife.  

Of course, I know such terrible people exist, and I know their victims exist, but sitting on the couch with this girl, looking at her in her beautiful outfit and at her elegant face with the great purple shadows beneath her eyes, I was profoundly aware how lucky and privileged I am.  No man has ever hit me as a grown woman, and no man ever would.  Given my selfhood and personality, it's inconceivable. And if that inconceivable thing happened, I would ring up my parents and they would fly the 1100 miles down here and come get me.  No one has ever cheated on me (although there have been tawdry flirtatious strayings).  The worst that's ever happened to me is that someone treated me poorly by jerking me around.  Yes, I had my heart semi-broken, or maybe even broken, not so long ago, but that's nothing compared to what has happened to this woman - and happened to her over and over again.  I have no idea, most of the time, of my own good fortune, my own lucky lot in life.  It's a salutary experience to be reminded of this every now and again.
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22 June 2008

Sweet Victory

Screw you, Netherlands!  (and I am not somebody who says screw you)

Hmm...Russia v. Italy?  Russia v. Spain?  My money's on Italy, but my heart is with Spain, the underdog in this next match.

I say nothing about how spitters never prosper, or about how it's nice to see that spitters don't prosper.  Instead, I just put a picture of some happy post-victory Russians.

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21 June 2008

What a Relief! and yet, Oh, Dear!

So Croatia was undone by Turkey at the last moment (literally).  On the one hand, this is good news, as it means I'm free to root for Germany on Wednesday.  On the other hand, I see on the web that Turkey are supposed to be real bastards; apparently they rank up there with the Netherlands and Portugal in terms of on-field behavior (and they did get four yellows in this match just gone, which bodes ill).  Yet the general sense is that they are a worthy opponent for Germany.  Well, I'll be very interested to see how it all goes.

I cannot say the same for tomorrow's Russia v. Netherlands.  I think we can all imagine how I'm hoping that will go.

Here's a picture of Croatia's Luka Modric, whose scoring skills are prodigious, and who does a nice front walkover, as well.

In closing, I'd just like to switch the topic for a moment and say that I find it enormously distressing that Robert Mugabe is allowed to go his merry way in Zimbabwe.  The BBC has it as their top headline this evening that Morgan Tsvangirai may pull out of the election because of the violent fallout foreseen if he participates.  If that's not essentially blackmail I don't know what is.  I don't think anyone is surprised that there won't naturally be a "free and fair election" under Mugabe, but I find it terrible that nothing is being done to produce such an election, or even a version of such an election, by pressure.  No one is boycotting; no one is even lodging any kind of complaint, as far as I can tell.  I can understand a hands-off policy on dictators that one can't be sure are dictators, or dictators whose people seem to like the supplied dictatorship, but political naive that I am I cannot understand tolerating with quiet observation a dictator who is clearly a dictator, and whose people largely seem to hate him. Although, of course, it has ever been thus. Pinochet, anyone?

And you thought I was just a self-centered, soccer-obsessed bubblehead.
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20 June 2008

Argue Who Dares

Oh, Germany, Germany, with all your faults I love you still, because you beat Portugal!  Oh, Portugal, Portugal, it turns out that scuzzy tactics do not always pay off and sometimes things do go as they should.  Ha!

Not only that, but they beat them with two of the sweetest goals I've ever seen (I managed to track down the video highlights on the Internet).  What a beautiful clean shot from Schweinsteiger to start things off!  Just a joy to see:  straight, fast -- dead on.  But I confess I liked the second one, from Klose, more, and not just because it was Klose.  What a pleasure to see it bounce off the hand of the Portuguese goalkeeper.  I don't mean that nastily.  I just mean that it's nice to see that sometimes there appears to be a bit of cosmic justice:  if you are a team that plays mean, you don't just get beaten with three sleek goals; one of those goals is humiliatingly close to being a save.

Although what's up with Joachim Loew? (that's him over there looking oh so Euromale.) I gather that he argued with the ref at the last match, but it's not clear to me how long his ban is.  Also, and more distressingly, there's a 50/50 chance that Germany will go up against Croatia in the next match.  Who will I root for then? Ooooo....I think it will be Croatia.  Or maybe I could root for both?
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18 June 2008

Yet More Euro

So the vile spitting Dutch squashed Romania, and Italy embarrassed France (well, that second was a bit of a foregone conclusion).  Urgh.  I can scarcely bear to read about it all from now on.  Well, the Dutch might play Sweden, and even though realistically I can't see it going Sweden's way, I'll press my thumbs (suiting the gesture to the nation I'm scorning).  Come on, you...er...Yellows!
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17 June 2008

The Sad Saga of the Slippery Slippers

On Saturday my then-current pair of ballet slippers finally reached the stage where they could no longer be worn.  The lining has ripped away from the bottom, and I keep catching my toe on it. So tonight in class I wore a new pair.  I have a whole black swan kind of deal going on in ballet wear, although because I'll never be good enough to dance an actual black swan (that's one there on the right), that really just means I wear black slippers -- well, tonight I wore all black (even more black swan!).  And I wear canvas slippers, because I like the way they conform more and more to the foot, progressively, whereas leather gets looser and looser (mine are split sole, which these on the left are not. Split sole allows for greater conformity to the foot).

At this point I imagine you're saying, "Is this all going somewhere?"  And the answer is, yes, it is; it's going here:  my new slippers were considerably less pleasant to wear than my old slippers.  For one thing, there was some kind of weird ripple in the heel, so I didn't balance flat on the back bottom of my foot, but rather wobbled slightly.  That was irritating.  For another thing, the right one pressed a little against my right big toe. That was uncomfortable.  And the bottoms are suede, so they were super slippery.  I tried to pirouette, just to test them, and I had no grip at all.  So I had to put rosin on them, which I really hate, and then they squeaked and still were slippery.

This is not a grouchy complaint about my new slippers.  It is, rather, a pondering of one of the great mysteries of my life:  Why does it always take time for new stuff to become comfortable? The only exception to this that I can think of is bras, because bras are never as good at holding after the first couple of washes.  They're good and all, but they're never quite as stabilizing and curve-giving after you wear them four or five times.  But things like knickers, and ballet slippers, are never right - or as right as they will be - when you first put them on.  They're itchy (knickers), or too stiff (cotton skirts), or insufficiently conformative (ballet slippers).  The stiffness has to do with the sizing they put in new clothes, I know, and the itchiness with the fact that new fibers are not yet smooth.  And I know that in six months, when this pair of slippers needs to be replaced, I'll be mourning the loss of my slippers that fit my feet so perfectly and make them look so tiny and elegant ('cause I do have quite small feet, and I'm vain of the size), but for the first couple of weeks they will be a
grouchy-making menace.  I just wish there were a way to make certain kinds of new stuff come to you already broken in.  Except pointe shoes, which are never comfy when you first get them but never as beautiful once broken in.  So there ought to be a way to make them broken in on the inside when you get them, but permanently pristine on the outside no matter how long you have them.

I think this might be my silliest post ever, so I'll just try to regain some face by saying that I know Germany beat Austria today, and I'm pleased about that.  I have a prejudice against Austria as a country, I'm sorry to say.  They embraced Nazism with an ardor that beat even that of the Germans, alas, and that makes me dislike the nation (I don't like myself for this).  In football terms, the victory means Germany will play Portugal.  So I guess I am rooting for Germany after all, although I predict Portugal will win -- largely because they play so dirty. Although they lost in 2006.  So, fingers crossed.
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14 June 2008

Croatia - What's It All About?

Yesterday Croatia beat Germany.  I didn't see the game (as usual), but reading the descriptions made me feel vindicated, since it sounded as if Germany's problem was essentially that they played a defensive game.  Maybe I should coach the German team -- although I don't know how to say, "For God's sake, get up on the other end of the pitch!" in German.

I've have a sneaking fondness for Croatia.  I think this is because when I was in London last November they were playing a game there against England, and the tube was crowded with supporters of both teams heading to and from the match.  I really hate London fans of England. They all seem loutish, and they all seem drunk.  I mean, generally speaking I find people who root engagedly for any sports team off-putting, but the England fans in London conform so exactly to the stereotype of an England fan that I dislike them particularly.  So, essentially, I became fond of Croatia because they beat England in that match.  All the England fans going to the match were singing their obnoxious repetitive songs, and I thought, Wankers!  Then somehow I ended up in the tube again when the match was over (what was I doing, for heaven's sake?  I spent most of that trip in places, not travelling to them), and all the England fans looked really disconsolate, and I was so happy that they'd had to eat their songs:  Ha!  Thus did I come to like Croatia.

Yet somehow this Euro cup I'm rooting for Germany, in so far as I'm rooting for anyone.  I don't quite understand how this happened.  I guess I'm not rooting for them so much as I'm following them because I know them.  Still, it's odd.  In every World Cup, including the last, I rooted for England until they were out of contention.  But the difficulty with England is, they're always swiftly out of contention, and it's almost always as a result of their own 
foolishness.  Remember when Beckham kicked that guy in 1998? Or when Rooney ground his heel into that man's balls in 2006? What is the deal with that?  (Actually, I think I know the answer to that question.  The ex-boyfriend who trained to be a soccer player told me once that professional soccer players [like all professional athletes, I guess, and like rock stars] are permanent adolescents.  They get drafted into the professional game when they're about 17, and from that moment on they're both completely immersed in the sport for most of their time and surrounded by people whose job it is to keep them (a) focussed on football, and (b) happy.  So they just never grow up from 17.) Once England is out, then, I usually switch to France or Denmark.  This time (which I know 
is not a World Cup), however, England didn't even make it to the competition (thanks to Croatia), and France don't seem to be doing anything interesting except getting trounced by the Dutch (whom I LOATHE.  I saw them against Portugal in 2006, and the result was (a) to shock me that football could be that hateful, and (b) leave me with contempt for both teams:  pigs. Plus, the ex-boyfriend told me that the Dutch spit on other players.  They spit!  And I hate spitters).  And the Danes didn't qualify, either.  So perhaps I'll root for Croatia. Or Italy.  Although God knows Italy have enough people rooting for them; they don't need me.  Okay, then:  Come on you Croats!

You know, when I was in England in January I had a chance to watch one day's daily football round-up on Sky.  And when they say "round-up," they mean round-up:  they worked their way from the top all the way to the bottom, so that I got to see highlights of matches in stadia and matches that were played in front of the players' friends, family, and...not really anybody else. These latter games were so delightful, and so much more enjoyable to watch than the big ones. So one thing I'm hoping to be able to see when I'm there is some local football. 
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09 June 2008

Warum, Jungs, Warum?

Okay, I'm not in London.  But I am following Euro 2008, and today when I was at the gym I was able to see a bit of Germany v. Poland (I don't have ESPN2 at home, so I just read about the matches on BBC News).  

Now, two years ago I was in Germany during the World Cup, and I got to see all the Germany matches.  I watched them with my then-boyfriend, who had himself trained to be a professional soccer player, but given it up.  We were mystified by Germany's strategy, or really lack of strategy:  they would invariably cluster down by their own goal, attacking whomever came close but almost never as a team pushing up the pitch toward the other team's goal. Instead, one member of the team would get hold of the ball, and he would dribble up the field, or pass it to Odonkor (I think - it's been two years).  In either case, Odonkor would bicycle up the field at amazing speed, all by his lonesome.  Whenever Germany made a goal, it always seemed to be either an accident or immense good luck, like Miroslav Klose's in the quarter final.  Yesterday when I was reading up on the ongoing competition, I paid special attention to an article in which it said that Joachim Loew had worked on Germany's strategy, encouraging them to play a more offense-orientated game.  So I was naturally very interested to see today's match, and to see that...they all clustered down by their own goal, attacking whomever came close but not pushing up toward the other team's goal.  I was slightly surprised to see that Lukas Podolski scored both goals - not that he's not a great player - but my surprise was somewhat mitigated by the discovery that Klose had passed to him for one of them.

Germany, what are you doing?  Don't get me wrong:  I loved Jurgen Klinsmann, who seemed a charming fellow.  But it seems to me that the result of his World Cup strategy was that "die Jungs" (as he delightfully called them) were fine until they hit the really big time, i.e., the
semis, and then they couldn't count on luck, or Odonkor, any more.

That Miroslav Klose, though, eh?  Well, I would, wouldn't I?  Although I have to say I liked him better before he got those preposterous blond streaks in his hair.  Still, he can somersault in my bedroom after he makes a goal any day!  And I love milk too, so, you know, we've got a lot in common.
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05 June 2008

Ushering in the Next Decade

On Monday I turned 40.  I can say without fear of contradiction (after all, who would contradict me except myself?) that it was the worst birthday I've had.  

What an intro, eh?

First of all, I wanted to stay up all night to see in the day, and I did.  Unfortunately, the actuality did not match the vision.  I invited a bunch of people over for dinner on Sunday, starting at 10pm, but for various reasons they were all unable to stay until sunrise.  It was a Sunday, which is hardly an auspicious day to invite people to stay up all night with you, but still...the result was that they all went home by 2:30 am and I ended up sitting by myself in my living room watching the sun come up at 6 am.  Not the vision I conjured up when I first said to myself, I want to stay up all night!

So the day started off badly.  And I think it could never pull itself up from that 
beginning.  I went to bed shortly after sunrise, and when I woke up I found myself filled with depression.  I lay there thinking, Who will want me now?  Who will ever take a second look 
at me?  My body will now start to deteriorate, and at my age now the only men I'll have to choose from will be bald, or have children, or be settled and boring.  What 31-year-old will want a 40-year-old? In any case any man who would be interested in me will be unable to have sex twice a day, EVER, so I'll end up alone for the rest of my life and/or sexually unsatisfied.  As you can see from these thoughts, I was not entirely rational.  But I was rational enough in one part of myself to recognize that I was being irrational, and the rational part of myself suggested that I get up and have a look at myself naked in the mirror, because I look quite good naked these days.  I thought to myself that I could get up and look at myself, and then I'd see that many avenues were still open to me (as it were).  But I knew, even with the rational part of myself, that if I did that I'd just stand there, look at myself, and think, How long can this possibly last?

I admit that I was, and am, distressed to find how thoroughly and unknowingly I've absorbed the messages of women's magazines - messages I've always consciously recognized as nonsensical and pernicious.  But obviously a part of me has come to believe that it's all over once you're out of your thirties, and also that I should now be moving on to wearing turtlenecks and pearls and "tasteful" scarves, rather than listening to Super Furry Animals and trying to see if I can get tickets to see Reverend and the Makers while I'm in England.  And this part of me worries that I am somehow desperately trying to hold on to my youth, that because I still like to discover new bands and want to see Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay I must be a saddo loser who can't bear to grow up.

So I am all at sea with myself these past three days.  And I know I wouldn't have had this reaction if there weren't other factors:  I live somewhere I hate, and it's boiling hot all the time, and I am uncertain about my whole future, including a relationship I don't know how to resolve, and I lost a relationship I still miss, and I am alone (really, most of the time; metaphorically, all the time), and my life seems to be inching by, with every inch jam-packed with tedium and hatefulness.  So of course the rational part of me is aware that most of what I felt on the morning of my birthday, and continue to feel to a lesser degree now, is silly and irrelevant.  But there's still a part of me that's sad, if only because - whether I'm 40 or 30 or 72 - I hate the life I currently have.

What a way to start a new decade, huh?  On the bright side, it really almost only can go up from here.

Next post more cheerful, I promise.  When next I write, it will be from London, so all will be different.
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