Thursday, February 25, 2010

Have I become that crazy monkey girl?

So it’s been awhile since I’ve had time to write. Why you ask? Fabulous adventures? Wild nights out? Crazy experiences in the untamed North? Well sure, but there’s also this pesky thing called school. It is suddenly that time of the semester where I become locked away in my room reading for hours on end, hundreds (or at least tens) of sources to be analysed, written up, and graded to determine my future. I SO did not sign up for this. Oh wait, I did? Ah well, I suppose if I can manage only a few weeks of work at a time in grad school I can’t complain too much.

Except I’ve noticed something. Something distressing. As Allie pointed out in her last post, I am a complete literary dork. I spent five years of undergrad fully embracing my English major status and loving the fact that, as one of my professors once pointed out, I would never have to worry about running out of fun, but relatively useless, bits of trivia at dinner parties, or while watching Jeopardy. Eve notice how many Jeopardy contestants are writes or editors? Yeah. And of course this isn’t to knock my subject. I do truly love it and while not everyone might appreciate my literary obsession (See the Frankenstein incident of 07) at least as an English major my fun facts were somewhat cultured. Who doesn’t love a metaphysical digression once in awhile?

But here’s where the distressing part comes in. Destined as I am to study those areas that lead everyone to ask, “But really, what DO you do with that?” and me to shrug my shoulders pretend I see something shiny and wander off, I decided that I would give literature a break for a bit and study the more technical aspects of language. So doing my 13 years of plaid skirt wearing, Catholic education proud I decided to study Evolution. The Evolution of Language and Cognition to be specific. This involves studying the emergence of language, which given its six million year old history and a fossil record leading to all sorts of contrasting interpretations, is no easy task. Thus given the inability to go back and see exactly what happened, my course involves computational models and studies of other communication systems, from animals to children in order to try and figure out the path language evolution has taken.

Sounds exciting right? Ok humour me here I thought literature was exciting too. But anyway, you’d think that with such an extensive and interesting, not to mention controversial subject my new store of useless Jeopardy worthy facts would echo that. Except I fear that my new store of knowledge is a) not dinner party appropriate and b) does not really reflect well on me, or at least does not project an image of me I want circulated in the dinner party circuit. One of my classes, Animal Communication and Sociobiology with a side of Evolutionary Psychology (I’ll give Edinburgh this, the course names sound really impressive) has thus far involved a detailed look at…..animal mating. And the best part? This course is taught by a little, old, tweed wearing man who sports glasses that cover almost half his face. Adorable. And yet at 9am on Friday mornings, I am jolted awake by his saying things like “So when the subordinate monkeys cannot find mates, they utilize the ‘sneak and rape’ approach…” And yes, that is what it’s really called.

But we don’t just talk about monkeys. Oh no. Some recent gems, this time about humans, include:
-In regards to choosing a mate, the men with greater levels of testosterone are found to be more attractive in the short term and may have more evolutionarily desirable traits, but less testosterone indicates better long term mates. So the trick becomes how to get the better genetics with the better nurturing later. “Might be worth the illicit sex with that first person.”….Thanks Professor.
-In cases where females have more than one mate, the ideal number has been found to be three husbands, particularly in farming communities where you then have one to cultivate, one to herd, and one to trade. I’m pretty sure they meant trade the farm produced goods, not to be traded in case of a rough year but who really knows.
-There are different ways to determine the attractiveness of porn stars depending on whether they are on film or in a photographic pin up. In the pin up it’s all about the Hourglass Figure, whereas on film you want porn stars with an aesthetic BMI.

Gone are the days of Shakespeare. And dinner parties. But at least I’m a big hit with the pub crowd…

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Oh! The Places You'll Go

Life outside of London, Part I:

Ok so I’ve become a little obsessed with London. I mean who wouldn’t be when you have the V&A, natural museum of history, Kensington park and Hyde park right outside your door steps? Oh and food lots of food. For those who have never experienced Snog I pity you, you poor underfeed souls lost in the world without the magic of Snog. Oh right on to non-food topics.

So as any good traveling student would do I decided the time was right to break free of the city for other realms and other places! Where to first? Prague, Italy, Amsterdam, Greece? Well not yet, at least not till spring break rolls around (very soon actually). So instead I set my sights inside the UK to start with, actually inside England to be specific. (It also helped that this trip was already organized by those lovely people at FIE and FREE who could ask for more). So where is this surprise location? Wait for it…wait for it…STONEHENGE! And the absolutely awesome city of Bath after that, yay.

Well, 4 hours of busing it later as well as a few snacks (Colleen must be fed every 3-4 hours or else she gets cranky) we were out in the countryside admiring the rolling hills and quant villages. Our tour guide was actually pretty awesome for the ride. You know when you get those guides who sound like the teacher from Ferris Bullier? They just prattle on about “And so the Duke of Shirehill married his third wife…” blah blah blah. Ours was surprisingly refreshing and PACKED with information about everything, like literally everything. She was really funny too which when you’re stuck in a bus with someone at the mic for 4 hours at 8 am it a really important quality. Also, the most important part, she knew when to stop talking for an hour so everyone could take a nap. (Yes mom and dad I know you’re rolling your eyes but come on its college and were in a city of course we’ve been up all night!)

Ok so for starters, those are some REALLY REALLY BIG STONES. Like I mean absolutely massive! And they are just sitting in a field like someone just dropped them there and went “oh look lets make a pretty circle out of massive stones.” So we got the whole history of how they think the stones got there and what they were used for which was pretty cool. Apparently it took about 600 people to move the stone 2 cm in one day, yeah I’m so not surprised that it took forever to build this thing. So anyhow, sadly were weren’t able to touch the stones because people use to chip off bits of the rock to bring home and apparently that’s frowned upon, go figure. But I did find out that if you practice Druidism you can actually use the stones to worship on during the midsummer equinox, sorry Sister Ann Marie I think I’m changing religions… But it was really cool to be there and just experience the history behind the site as well as to get out in the fresh air.

Flat 16 plus a few ;)

So the group spent about an hour at Stonehenge just meandering around and taking lots of pics (see above). Then we jumped on the bus and headed to the city of Bath. Now bath is actually one of two cities in the world where the entire thing is a world heritage site, the other being Venice. This is because every building there is built in the Georgian style and all of the same stone which is like a yellow sandstone looking rock. It was cool to see in panorama because it was just like massive yellow throughout the entire city. Very pretty. Yeah, so we went to the Roman baths a la why Bath is called bath and no I don’t think they were being ironic. Oh for all you lit buffs ie: Steph, this is where Jane Austin lived for the majority of her life. Apparently she hated it and that’s why er books are all about the social season and women who hated it. Art imitates life huh.
Bath is also where the best hot chocolate in the world is. I am so not kidding. There is a little chocolate shop next to the church (made up of 60% stained glass, see culture ha) where if you are ever in Bath is a MUST to go and order the dark hot chocolate. Best. Thing. Ever. So good, so so good. I wish I could only drink that chocolate for the rest of my life, amazing. Ok so I guess enough about food….shopping! The city had some great little shops where I sadly didn’t buy anything, though there was a pair of heels calling my name sadly. Bussed back to London after that. Overall the city was so cute and pretty and full of fun things to do, see and buy. Great success!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Wait, who am I not allowed to marry?!

Last Sunday I went for my first bike ride around Edinburgh, and it was everything you would expect out of a ride through Scotland. The morning was overcast and misty, but not fully raining and the roads were relatively quiet. I bundled up and off I rode through country roads, past fields and into the mist, even passing a castle.

Melville Castle to be exact. Of course I had to look it up when I got back! According to the website (, while the grounds have been of importance since 1155, the current castle was built in 1786. Like all good castles, various royals have visited and ghosts still linger, but today after years of being vacant, it has been restored and is now a hotel. It seems the big draw is its use for special functions such as meeting and proms…and especially weddings. In fact, a good portion of the website is devoted to “Wow Weddings.”

I had a look about and discovered a page entitled “Getting married in Scotland” which outlines all the regulations and paperwork needed in order to come to Scotland and realize the little girl fantasy of getting married in a castle. Important information to be sure, although it seemed that most of it could have been sent to people who had already booked their wedding, not information the general public needed to see on a hotel website. Especially when I got to the section at the bottom labelled “Forbidden Marriages.” Oh yeah. This had to be good…

The section consists of six tables, three for men and three for women, outlining who they may not marry in categories of sanguinity, affinity, and adoption. Words can’t really do them justice so I've included them below, or alternately they can be found here: I especially enjoy the clauses at the end regarding age and gender change.
And ok, I get that this is crucial information when getting married. But again, is this necessary on a website for the general public, must of whom will just be looking to book a hotel room, or like me, figure out what castles are nearby? Also, to some degree shouldn’t this be common knowledge? Or is this a case of having to publish the rules up front because at one time someone didn’t follow them? I suppose that would be awkward to show up with your nephew, ready to commit only to find out that it is in fact illegal! So many questions…

So anyway, Melville Castle: A beautiful castle, in a beautiful area, with royals, and ghosts, and strict rules against incest. Another magical discovery in Scotland.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Return of the Kilt Man

Earlier this week I had to go to the bank and while waiting in line, I spotted, in the line next to me, the Kilt Man. Yes, that Kilt Man, the one I spotted on the street corner a few weeks ago exposing me (although thankfully not literally) to the benefit of wearing a kilt when nature calls. Being in a bank, his red kilt was hanging modestly where it should, but the fascinating part about his ensemble this time was really his hat.

Now, he was sporting the hat on our last encounter, but it was not the most noteworthy thing, given his activity at the time. This time however, with kilt firmly in place it did draw my attention. His hat is one of the fuzzy ones with earflaps, and it is darkly coloured giving the appearance, when the flaps are up, of the hats the Buckingham palace guards wear. Which is fun in itself, but attached at the front was a pair of crossed knitting needles. I really cannot think of anything else they could be, and having grown up with my mother and her arts and crafts, I feel pretty confident in my ability to identify a knitting needle when I see one! Why knitting needles? Who knows. But oh the possibilities…

Since he continues to make appearances here, I think my goal this year will be to eventually capture him on film. For now, Kilt Man continues to be as elusive as he is intriguing, only popping up when I don’t have a camera and/or when I can’t really take a picture (I feel that’s frowned upon in banks), but now that I’ve seen him twice I know he’s local. I’m closing in! Let’s just hope wind is minimal when I finally do…

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Thoughts on Cobblestones

As per Mommy's request...

Don’t get me wrong, I like cobblestones. I think they’re pretty and I love cities like London, Edinburgh, and even Boston that tend to have them. That said, they definitely make walking around an interesting experience.

We’ve all seen that girl: The one who insists on wearing heels in cobbled areas and inevitably ends up on the ground. Thankfully (knock on wood) I’ve never been the one who actually gets her heel stuck in between the stones and has to be pulled out, or walks out of her shoe and then has to run back to retrieve it…usually with oncoming traffic rapidly approaching. I have been that other girl however, the one who wears the heels but then has to stare intently at the ground trying to perfectly time her steps so as to land with heel and toe centred on separate stones, bridging the chasm in between. For those of you who have ridden the London Underground it gives a whole new meaning to “Mind the Gap.” Still, even this approach, while not as awkward as the former, does take something away from the purpose of wearing heels in the first place. The whole process of looking down and carefully planning each step tends to look rather more like a hunchbacked duck than a leggy supermodel.

In Edinburgh, I take comfort from the fact that cobblestones, while significantly harder on those in heels, are not exactly easy for anyone. Yesterday it snowed. Not really enough to be considered snow, and especially not by New England standards, but it was enough to lay a thin sheet of black ice on the already treacherous cobblestones. Now, any footwear short of hiking boots is no help on the many cobbled streets. People are sliding off individual cobbles, getting stuck in that ever present gap and tipping over, while I’m convinced someone must film, and show all the people in charge of road maintenance for a good laugh. I’m pretty sure they gather around, take bets, and eat biscuits, but I couldn’t swear to it. Still, despite the frequency with which I am that person clutching at lampposts, cars, and random passersby as I slide and wobble along, I embrace the fact that it’s entertaining. I may be on the ground now, but inevitably someone else will fall and the circle of cobblestone entertainment will continue.

One approach to the cobblestone problem: The Barefoot Cartwheel
Location: Top of the Royal Mile, in front of the Castle
Starring: My roommate (aka partner in crime), Aheli, and me