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Coming "Home" to Esher

We spent the second half of Week Five in Esher, where we lived in homestays and spent a few days at Claremont Fan Court School, which is affiliated with Christian Science. My homestay family is connected to the school, although they are not Christian Scientists. My "mum" thoughtfully attended the testimony meeting at the Claygate and Esher church and then drove me home after it. Their house was built during the tudor period and has low ceilings and revealed beams. It was originally used as the servant's quarters (with horses in the backyard) when wealthy men traveled through the town and stayed at a nearby inn. The house was both cozy and historically rich, and the back garden was THE MOST BEAUTIFUL backyard that I've ever seen. I just GASPED when I opened the curtain on Thursday morning. It was something out of my daydreams. 
The back of the house from the yard

I cannot possibly articulate how wonderful it felt to be "welcomed home." I was working on a healing for the few days we were there, and my homestay family was so supportive. My homestay mum made me "hot orange" (squeeze an orange through a sieve into a mug, add two tablespoons of honey, add hot water, stir) which "works every time; and when it doesn't, it's still comforting." It was quite nice to have a cozy drink as I curled up in bed each night and enjoyed the first dependable internet I'd had in a few weeks.

SHOCKING NEWS TO FOLLOW: when my homestay family offered me some CHICKEN CURRY after church (my mum hadn't eaten yet), I SAID YES!!!!! And, people, I ABSOLUTELY LOVED IT! I was amazed. I ate almost an entire portion despite the fact that it was my second dinner. The naan bread was really good, too, of course. The curry had medium heat, so we had some plain yogurt on it. Anyway, that was a life-changing evening for me. It was also fantastic to sit on an actual couch with my socks on a carpeted floor, watching BBC with my British parents. Delightful.

On Thursday, we had some time to prepare an "Acting Shakespeare" workshop (using Midsummer Night's Dream) that we put on for the nine and ten year olds at the school on Friday. At the end of the school day, I went with my homestay brother Henry (15) on the school bus that dropped us at the train station. It was kind of surreal to be buckled up on this little bus, surrounded by kids of all ages (many boys and one little girl). They were all bantering to each other, and eyed me occasionally, as if to say "lady, you are clearly too old for a school bus!" We had a pleasant train ride, including one change, and walked a block back to our house. 

Henry to me on Friday morning: "I didn't know how many pancakes you wanted, so I made all of them." Six pancakes with a little lemon juice and sugar. Not a problem.  

Later that morning, we put on the Shakespeare workshops. The kids were adorable, and participated with enthusiasm and a surprising amount of talent. We were all cracking up at the lovers' confusion (the scene where the men are both under Puck's spell and are in love with Helena instead of Hermia) and the casting and performance of Pyramus and Thisby. We could not have had a better time with it, and I overheard a number of the kids exclaiming "That was AMAZING!" as they frolicked away. When we went into the lunchroom a little while later, the kids all burst into applause and waved to us. Ben Frederick was especially popular, as they had an easy time remembering him as "Big Ben!" (he's quite tall) and a few of the little boys came to say goodbye to him multiple times. (***THE VIDEO IS LOUD, SO YOU MIGHT WANT TO MUTE YOUR COMPUTER - It's the tail end of the kids' spontaneous lunchroom greeting.***)

At the end of the workshop, one little girl walked by me and said, "I saw you yesterday!" I smiled and said "Yes!" although I didn't recognize her. A few minutes later, I realized she had been the little girl sitting behind me on the bus on Thursday. That afternoon, I sat across the aisle from her on the bus and tried to get her talking about the workshop, but she was really shy. We sat in silence for about five minutes, when suddenly she said, "My mom runs a drama school!" I responded with enthusiasm, and she started chattering happily, allowing very little response from me, all the way to the train station. It was sad to say goodbye so quickly after she had opened up to me! 
With Henry (middle) and his friend on the train

Henry and I grabbed pasties at the train station midway through our journey. I got one with bacon, cheese, and potato in it, which was delicious. No, they don't have pumpkin pasties, but speaking of Harry Potter, there is a lot about the books/movies that makes more sense to me now that I've been to England. You know the spello-tape that Ron uses to "fix" his wand in the second book? Well, they have sellotape here (similar to our scotch tape/cellophane). Pasties. The goodie cart on the train. School uniforms. Treacle tart/fudge. Millennium bridge. The tube. You get the idea. Yay, HP!

Back to my homestay story. On Friday night, I was taking it easy, so I stayed home with my family, ate some more chicken curry (different flavour, still yummy), and watched QI. To explain, here is an excerpt from the show's website: "Quite Interesting - or 'QI' to its friends - could loosely be described as a comedy panel quiz. However, none of the stellar line-up of comedians is expected to be able to answer any questions... Points are awarded for being interesting or funny (and, very occasionally, right) but points are deducted for answers which merely repeat common misconceptions and urban myth." It was a little bit inappropriate, quite entertaining and surprisingly informative. Did you know that the brazil nut is actually the seed contained in a coconut-looking capsule on a brazil nut tree? Neither did I. Now that we know, my distaste for brazil nuts no longer counts against me on my quest to become one of you nutty nut-eaters, okay?

I was sorry to say goodbye to my homestay family on Saturday morning, but we both offered to host each other in the future! 


Weeks 4 & 5 - Going GLOBAL

There was a FULL rainbow before one play!
Week four and most of week five have been spent in Bankside (London) near Shakespeare's Globe, where we've been taking classes and attending performances. Every lecture and workshop is informative and engaging, and it’s pretty incredible to see “original practice” (made as they would have been made in Shakespeare’s time) costumes, instruments, etc. It’s also exciting to work with instructors who frequently work with the Globe actors as they prepare for a play. Some days at the Globe, I feel like I’m living someone else’s dream. Don’t get me wrong – I’m loving it! I just know how much it means to the actors in our group, and so I work hard to appreciate every moment as much as I can, despite my limited theatre experience and knowledge base. We put on a mini version of Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale on our final afternoon there. It was pretty good and I really enjoyed rehearsing for and performing in it!
With Jordan in "Hell" (under the Globe stage) during a tour

We saw three performances at the Globe: Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing (my favourite play ever), and Tony Harrison’s The Globe Mysteries. These performances were drastically different from one another, and we enjoyed each one for five pounds a ticket as ‘groundlings’ – people who stand on the ground in front of the stage. During Dr. Faustus, our first show in London, one of the characters was giving a monologue and, as he said something about love, raised his eyebrows a few times at me. I blushed and covered my face, and the audience (especially the Prin people) laughed. How embarrassingly wonderful! At Much Ado, when Beatrice was writing off men without beards (in addition to men with beards), she gestured to a fellow in our group and then mouthed a laughing apology a number of times. It was pretty funny. Free interaction with the groundlings characterizes a Globe performance, but it definitely took some getting used to!

With Ben at Hyde Park in London
On Sunday at church, I ran into a classmate from Prin, Ben, who was in my year and was doing a bit of traveling before starting an internship. I was so glad to see a familiar face and hang out for a bit, especially because we weren't close in college and I got to talk to him post-graduation. We spent a few hours wandering around Hyde park, where a concert was going on. Someone asked us a question, which is always a really good sign - it means you don't look like a tourist! We stopped by Speaker's Corner, where anyone can stand on a little step ladder and rant about his or her topic of choice. We saw one man arrive when we did and within fifteen minutes there were some twenty people around him. Many people were talking politics, conspiracy theory (it was Sept 11th), etc. and others were yelling about religion. One little Asian man was yelling "YOUU AARE ALLL LOOST SHEEEP!" and one guy responded, "No; I'm a lost cow!" Again, "WHEERE WILLL YOUU GO WHEN YOU DIEEE?" and, in response, a snickering chorus of "Hell!!" There were a surprising number of people in attendance whose main interest was to give the speakers a hard time. One group of guys in their twenties with beers in their hands yelled at a heavyset man, repeatedly calling him "FATTY!" The man replied, "Are you even listening? I'm on your side!" As these rowdy guys moved along, the adults said back and forth to each other, "those idiots are the future of our country?!?" It was fun to listen to everyone for a few minutes each, and the political discussions were far more interesting than the sweaty religious ranters. Obviously. 

Wednesday night on the Tube to and from church, my friends and I had a delightful time playing charades, silently acting out clues and mouthing our guesses.  It wasn’t quite in line with English public transportation behaviour, but it was slightly more respectful than giving in to the American instinct to chat and laugh at a normal volume. On the way back, I was trying to get them to say “Bambi,” and a nice fellow sitting near us asked one of my friends if I’d had too much to drink. When he found out what we were doing, he tried to help my friends guess. After he left, Heidi said to me, “A couple more stops and you would have gotten a phone number!”

I am enjoying listening for a number of fun words/phrases commonly used by the English. Here are a few patterns: ending sentences with “, really.” or with rhetorical questions like “isn’t it?” “didn’t I?”, chap, bloke, bit, lovely, fantastic, brilliant, a bit crap, cheers, etc.  I'm always a little shocked when they say "Where's the toilet?" I have handled this by asking for the ladies' instead. I messed up a few times, saying "pants" when I meant "trousers" and "chips" when I meant "crisps." Fail! I made quick recoveries, though, don't worry!

It’s time for a trying-new-foods update. Status: mediocre. I am pretty much thriving/surviving on sandwiches, croissants, cereal, Caesar salad, chicken, margarita pizza, Starbucks, fruit, and various forms of chocolate. Not bad. I surprised myself by enjoying some tomato and spinach on a turkey sandwich. SHOCKING! I ate a few pieces of either a mango or a peach – not sure I know the difference, which is embarrassing. I ate alone at restaurants for both lunch and dinner one day, which was a little brave of me. Another night I was overly brave with a burrito (chicken, rice, black beans, avocado, sour cream, mild salsa) and, after suffering through a few bites, ate the chicken out of it and gave the rest to a vegetarian friend. Lesson number one million for the abroad: whenever possible, try new foods by taking bites of other people’s food, not by purchasing the whole entree. I’ve also tried Turkish delight, real gingerbread, a mushroom-centered sandwich and chocolate covered cornflake clusters.  I know that last one doesn’t count, but it’s the only one I went on to purchase after sampling. Surprised? Didn’t think so.   


Week 3 - Library time in London

***WARNING: I reference a very bad word twice during this post. My apologies!***

London! Many of the Abroaders had been anxiously awaiting our time in London, but I hadn’t thought much of it until we arrived on Saturday, Sept 3rd. As we walked to the British Library, I felt an immediate repulsion to my surroundings, although not to London in particular – more to city life in general. After a day or two, I felt more acclimated, but I’m definitely not a city girl…

We got Oyster cards to use on buses and the tube (the underground) during our time in London, and we had fun getting comfortable navigating our way around. I had a slightly terrifying moment at the tube station one night this week. I was in a line of Prin people to swipe my Oyster card when I realized it wasn’t immediately accessible.  I moved to the end of the line so I could retrieve it without holding anyone up. I thought to myself, “It must be in here somewhere; this is a tiny purse… No?  Perhaps my fleece pockets… No… Rain jacket pockets?... Nope… Jean pockets… No… Purse again… pockets again…” and within thirty seconds I realized that the Prin group had marched out of sight, and I was suddenly alone at night in a London tube station without an Oyster card. I choked back my panic and searched my purse once more – why, of course, it was simply pushed to one narrow end of the tiny purse! Blasted thing. I swiped it and rushed down the stairs, grateful to see that the group was still waiting for the next train. I walked up to a friend and allowed myself three or four tears of relief before joyfully boarding the tube home. (Side note: earlier this week at a clothing store I saw some Oyster cardholders that said things like “Keep Calm and Carry On,” etc.; I laughed aloud at the one that said, “WHERE’S MY F***ING CARD?” – without the asterisks. Although I would NEVER purchase something like that, my experiences with the tube recalled that cardholder to mind more than once!)

Working at the British Library was a gorgeous experience.  Once you go through the intense process of applying for a yearlong membership card as an official “Reader,” you can order books to be retrieved at a particular “Reading Room” within 70 minutes or 48 hours, depending on where the book is stored.  The Rare Books and Music Reading Room where we worked had perhaps three hundred people working in near silence. Every day, you lock your stuff in a locker and enter the room with your computer, paper, and a pencil in a clear plastic bag.  After you pick a (numbered) desk, you wait in line to check out up to six books at a time (ten per day maximum), which are registered to your seat number.  The process was slightly nerve-racking the first day, but became quite routine by the end. 

Working with the texts was so rewarding, especially for an English literature major. Gently turning the pages of a four hundred year old book is quite thrilling. I spent the first day researching midwifery around Shakespeare’s time, as I will be a midwife in Pericles when we perform it in November. As you may know, the letter “s” used to be typed as a sort of “f” in most old texts, which was quite unfortunate in sentences like “Many children dye whilest they are sucking the breasts” and “They are commonly sucked by their own Mothers.”  I had to work hard not to cringe or laugh!

On my second day at the library, I realized I had been given a book that I hadn’t ordered.  When I took it back up to the desk, we discovered that it had been ordered by an “SA MOSER” rather than “H MOSER.”  I said something clever like, “Oh, I guess my relatives are in town!” and went back to my seat.  The next morning I had reached the front of the checkout line when I overheard a patron at the counter say, “Those aren’t my books.” Sure enough, they were mine! I indicated as much, and the woman turned excitedly to me and said “Oh, are you the other Moser?” “Yes I am! We actually pronounce it ‘Moser,’ although we’re probably wrong.” She laughed and told me she was an archeology professor at University of Southampton. We briefly discussed my abroad program, and she asked whether I’d ever been to Austria.  Apparently “our surname is EVERYWHERE there!”  She was going to buy a piece of Moser glass there but didn’t because “it was quite expensive and, frankly, quite boring!” Her books arrived, and she said, “Best of luck!” with as much loving enthusiasm as I would have given someone after a few days of joyful companionship. Definitely a highlight!

Most importantly, the library cafe had the most delicious chocolate banana cake and chicken Caesar salad sandwiches I've ever had. The British Library: Come for the books, stay for the food!


Week 2 - On to Oxford

We had a wonderful week at Wadham College in Oxford. Every morning, we had a hot breakfast in the Hogwarts-style dining hall. On Saturday night after Week One, we had a fancy dinner served in Wadham's old library. 'Fancy food' and 'scary food' are usually synonymous in my book, and the menu had all sorts of goat cheese and randomness, but it was pretty good. Dressing up and being waited on as a group was definitely a treat. We switched to only candlelight towards the end of the meal and sang the Doxology, which gave us goosebumps (our "goosie-pimples," as I've heard an English woman say). 

Hilary and Hillary at Wadham College
On Sunday, we were required to have lunch with someone we didn't know well yet. I had picnic-type lunch with Lila (Hilary). Lila and I have almost the same name (Hilary Morse and Hillary Moser), so we get each other's mail and emails at school, which has been fun. Sort of. We've laughingly bonded over that, anyway, and we've enjoyed finding other commonalities, including our purple Mac laptop cases, our Chicago suburb residencies, and our inability to tell when the other Hilary/Hillary is being sarcastic. 

We spent much of each day in Wadham discussing and analyzing Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus and Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. I especially enjoyed acting out a scene from Merchant with my classmates. Although we were pretty busy with homework and class, we took a few afternoons off to explore Oxford:

On Wednesday, we toured Blenheim Palace, where the 11th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough live. The tour was one of the most informative, interesting, and entertaining tours that I’ve been on – partly because English tour guides are adorable and hilarious, because EVERYTHING was as expensive and ornate as possible, and because so much of it connected to English history in fascinating ways.

After the palace tour, I wandered around the grounds for a while. I accidentally found the Secret Garden, which was mediocre and not worthy of its name, and then walked to the Rose Garden, which was gorgeous. I took plenty of photos at that garden and walked by the place where Winston Churchill proposed to his wife, which was pretty cool. There was a whole Churchill exhibit going on at the palace because he was born there and loved that property. Delightful.

On Thursday afternoon, an American-born Christian Scientist lady invited us to high tea. She owns a beautiful property where she and her employees make seventeenth century-style hand-painted pottery.  We had a movement class in her barn, toured her pottery workshop, and then had a lovely high tea. (High tea just means the tea is accompanied by all sorts of goodies such as scones, finger sandwiches, and scones.)  The hand-painted china was gorgeous and definitely added something special to our tea.

After high tea, a few of us attended Evensong (a sung service) at Christ Church, which is part of the college by the same name and is part of the University of Oxford.  It was quite beautiful.  Attending Evensong in York and Oxford (and hopefully at Westminster Abbey in London) has really helped me appreciate what church means to people of other Christian faiths.  It is filled with a sense of reverence, peace, humble petitioning, and harmony.  If I hadn’t been raised in Christian Science and had never heard of it, I think I would have been drawn to the atmosphere that is created in these churches.  As I am, I feel comfortable kneeling in these churches on occasion and, in silent prayer, gently affirming what I have learned in Science, even though it conflicts with what I am hearing prayed aloud. On a less religious note, attending Evensong is a nice way to see the inside of these beautiful churches without paying for a tour! 

On Friday, we went on a tour of the Bodleian Library, which is part of the University of Oxford. Two different rooms at the library were used to film the Infirmary and Restricted Section of the library in the Harry Potter movies. Pretty cool! When we were in one section of the stacks (standing quietly and calmly), an irritated female patron accosted our tour guide and loudly asked him to remind us that we aught not obstruct the aisle and that we should be quiet because there are people here actually using the library. Ignoring his polite reply, she emphatically repeated this admonishment, and then shuffled away.  He looked at our group, smiled apologetically, and murmured something like, “That must have been one of our library ghosts!”

Random side story: Perhaps that ghost lady had cause to be wary of me in particular. Have you ever googled yourself? Well, when you google my name without quotes, the second site that comes up is about a trial in which a woman with my name got in legal trouble for making a scene at a library in Hawaii when she was asked for her middle initial during the library card application process.  It was an “i,” by the way, which obviously excuses her indignation…