Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Cornelia, Emily, and Me

When I was much younger (but undoubtedly looked exactly the same as I do now) my grandmother bought me the book “Our Hearts were Young and Gay” by Cornelia Otis Skinner. The book, subtitled, “An Unforgettable Comic Chronicle of Innocents Abroad in the 1920s” is an account of the misadventures of the author and her accident prone friend Emily as they strike out alone to cross the Atlantic and discover Europe. Ever trying to prove their sophistication and experience they rather prove they are anything but sophisticated and experienced. However they unquestionably return with much better stories than any sophisticated traveller could ever possibly acquire.

My Grandma sensed that in Emily and Cornelia I would find kindred spirits, and she was quite right. Soon after reading the book I moved with my family to London, was bitten by the travel bug and have not stayed in the same place for any significant amount of time since. And with every trip, I unfailingly think of Cornelia and Emily as I stumble into absurd situations with my various partners in crime. The adventures in the book are timeless. Over sixty years after their epic trip I can still see myself doing any number of the things they did - whether they meant to or not. The setting and year may change but the adventures and the spirit behind them do not. To me, they were the original 'oblivious and abroad' and I am more than happy to wander aimlessly through Europe, knowing they wandered aimlessly before me.

While in Paris, one morning Cornelia wakes to find her lip has swollen quite fantastically the day she is to meet a gentleman. She and Emily rush to a pharmacy trying to fix the swelling while not owning up to the embarrassment of having bed bugs. I cannot do the episode justice so I won’t try but this episode has been particularly relevant to my life this week...

The Pest Control Debacle of ’10: Bed Bugs BITE.

Apparently I have bed bugs, which my cleaning woman is baffled by because my room is one of the cleaner ones she’s seen…just for the record. So after over a week of waking up covered in welts (“bites” does not do them justice), and sleeping on my floor, the school sent over a pest control man to see what was going on and if there was anything he could do. OK. I love Edinburgh, but as a general rule the school is crazy.

Bug Man looked around, and tried to bond by commenting on my running numbers. Apparently he has run one of the same races I have. Fantastic, we are now bffs. He looked at the bed, through the bed, under the bed…

“Good news!” he cried, “There are no bugs here!”
“OK but please look at my arms. There are bugs here. Can you please just spray so I can stop being scared of my bed?”
“Well if I can’t see bugs I’m not legally allowed to spray”
“OK, but I am COVERED in bites”
“But there aren’t any bugs”

He started packing up, inching his way towards the door. This was not good.

“So, can I see these bites?” I showed my quarter sized welts. “No I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do. There are no bugs”
Bug Man and I were NOT bff. I glared.

“Tell you what, if you see a bug, put it in a jar, call me up, and I’ll come back”
“I have upwards of ten bites and I haven’t seen one bug. Because I am ASLEEP when they bite me.”
“I didn’t see any bugs.”
“You can see my arms!”
“Yes well. Just find one. Put it in a j-….” I couldn’t hear the rest because he had already scurried down the hall and was yelling this back at me as he rounded the corner.

Again. I love Edinburgh. But this would definitely go in the “WTF Edinburgh?!” category. I basically told the housing office they will be getting me a new bed. The guard commented that if the bug man didn’t see any bugs….I thrust my arms at him. “THERE ARE BUGS.” This guard, by the way thinks I am insane, but luckily that would be endearingly (or at least tolerably) insane. So he said he’d look into it. I’ll consider that a win.

Cornelia and Emily would be so proud.

Friday, May 07, 2010

We're Back!

Well y’all it’s been awhile! March saw the beginning of the end for my essays meaning that if I was writing anything while at my computer it had to be long intelligent analyses of evolutionary principles and their implications – or else emails to my family to let them know I was alive and well and not going (too) crazy! Meaning that while I am still very much abroad, and ever oblivious I didn’t quite get the chance to write about it! But I’m back. Essays are in, and dissertation things are just getting started, but really no need to worry about that yet!

In fact I spent last week not worrying at all. Allie just finished her semester and so we decided that as a celebration we should go travelling. Somewhere with a beach and sunshine seemed the best option. Then my roommate Aheli informed us that under no circumstances were we going anywhere without her so with the Travelling Trifecta established we finally settled on a cruise starting in Venice and stopping in Croatia and the Greek Isles. Anyone who has known me for more than five minutes will be aware of my love of cruises and while I will be the first to admit that one day in every port is not nearly enough, they do offer a chance to see a lot of places in a short amount of time, and with only a spare week in between work, this was perfect.

Aheli and I flew into Venice where we met Allie and then boarded the Norwegian Gem, the biggest ship I have ever been on. It’s of the rock wall, waterslide, bowling alley, thirteen restaurant, private villas variety of big. Our room was right below the buffet, perfect for bonding with a large number of servers, and the perfect location for afternoon cookie runs. It did not take long at all for the three of us to achieve a sort of celeb status on board. Sure this could have been due to the fact that because it was between Spring break and Summer vacation that we were three of approximately 6 people on board below the age of 40, but who am I to complain when the entertainment staff is calling us the “Magic Girls from Near Boston”, the managers ALWAYS come to say hello at dinner, people stop us in the elevators asking what we’ll be singing or where we’ll be dancing next and the photography staff is volunteering to hide us in their cabins so we don’t have to get off the boat? OK that last one was a little creepy, but still.

Actually I think the crowning moment of the trip was when at the nightclub we moved onto the dance floor and were followed by the entire club. Then a song we did not love came on so we left and the dance floor cleared. This happened at least 3 times. Then there was the time we started a conga line and got the entire club to join. Or I guess the time we danced Cotton Eyed Joe on the pool deck and got a shout out from the band was pretty cool too…

This sounds like we just ran wild, 3 girls on spring break around Europe, but don’t be fooled. This is the magic of cruises. We had a place where we could just relax, dance, and eat while sitting in the sun, but then the boat would dock and we could explore the canals of Venice, ruins of Croatian Palaces, see sunset from the top of Santorini, and explore the labyrinth of streets in Mykonos, designed to confuse pirates, and now it seems tourists as well. This trip offered a mix of culture and pure relaxation with plenty of chances to act like absolute children, which for anyone who has followed our previous adventures or heard any of the stories from The Semester Abroad, is how we tend to operate.

Of course there is plenty more to say about the week, and now that I’ve got a little more time on my hands I’ll try to post some of the key stories soon, but for now, this is where we’ve been. And I would go back in a heartbeat.