Sargent

Or Sixty Years Since

Downtown Copenhagen

IMG_2862           When you’re in Copenhagen and life is making you lonely- you can always go Downtown. Petula Clark aside, I recently hopped over the channel for a short trip to Copenhagen. Now, I have several points I would like to make to any reader.

        First, plan a trip as far in advance as possible. I don’t mean to create an itinerary. I’m actually more of a fan of a “fly by the seat of your pants” approach. No, I’m talking about buying the tickets, making that leap. It is a little nerve-wracking to plan something months in advance, but not only will it be less expensive, it will ensure that you make as many little trips as you possibly can.

        Second, make sure you go for the package deals. All the cheaper travel websites have a flight and hotel option. This simpler option is designed for those college students, like me, who are on a budget. .

        Third, if you are traveling to Copenhagen, I recommend the Downtown Hostel.  

        I had never stayed in a hostel before; I was a little nervous for the experience, especially since it was a last minute decision to go to Copenhagen. While I’ve always wanted to visit Scandinavia and Danish IMG_2910people are supposed to be some of the happiest on earth, traveling can be quite intimidating. What is more, this marked the first time I was making a trip by myself, or at least by myself and not intending to meet up with anyone. I was coming in late at night, and I started to imagine the hostel as a decrepit old building falling into a marsh.

        I should add as a side note that even last-minute trips should be researched. When I chose this hostel, I read reviews and found the location in regards to the city center. My fears were more a product of travel anxiety and darkness than actual ignorance. They were also completely unfounded; when I arrived, there was a colorful eatery filled with chatting youngsters playing games, drinking, and eating. I actually lurked outside for a few minutes, convinced I had come to the wrong place.

        There was a strange Bohemian atmosphere. Everyone had their own journey, a story for how they got there. They were eager to share their stories and hear mine. Somehow bunking all together and sharing the status of a wanderer made everyone open and friendly. I had only just placed my bag away and introduced myself to the guy in the top bunk when we were joined by another roommate who invited us all out on the town.

        In the short two days I was there, I meet more than a dozen people, all of them wonderful. Since names were tricky and hard to remember, we referred to each other by nationality. Germany, Italy, India, France, Brazil, even Canada, all around the long table waiting for our free dinner. The big bowls full of potatoes and stew were passed down, as we all turned to the person next to us and discovered them. It was a very honest crowd. We had no reason to lie to each other, we were never going to see each other again.

        Within a few hours, I felt like I had known them all my life. We were cracking jokes and poking fun at each other, like old friends. We shared advice for where to go and what our plans were. I was the youngest of the group, making me the “baby,” while the elder Tim had to take care of us as we wandered the city.  

        In the end, I explored Copenhagen, went to the museum and saw the rune stones. I found a small antique fair and visited the palace. But what gives Copenhagen a warm and fuzzy place in my heart is the people who pulled me out of my lonely room and unassumingly took me in. Staying in this hostel placed me among people like me, who were just here to see the world. Their absolute lack of judgment or agenda left a purity to the memory that I will always cherish.
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Another Day in the Doldrums

 

Life has slowed down to a crawl here at the University of Edinburgh. After a scramble of papers and oral presentations, my semester ended. Suddenly, I am in the month of April with absolutely nothing to do. The most excitement I had to look forward to was picking up my graded assignments.

I should take this time to warn future abroad students about the complexities of the UK system. For each assignment I turned in, I had to generate a cover sheet and a barcoded anonymous page that prefaced my work. It varied from class to class, but most required two copies of my work. I had to lug the copies to a dropbox and also turn in an electronic copy online. Most courses provided a handbook; I would recommend looking it over because no one will explain the system to you. No one explained how many copies of each paper I had to hand in. No one explained where I had to go to hand in my papers or which papers needed to be anonymous. And no one explained that I would get my paper back from some random office clerk after the class had officially ended.

But, back to my current predicament: BOREDOM. Unlike Cornell, which is a nesting doll of pressure cookers where once you put a task in its place there is imgres-1a larger task to handle, Edinburgh functions more like a microwave. Most of the time you’re just an observer, and then suddenly things heat up.

Anyway, let’s leave the kitchen and move outside to experience the ups and downs of a Scottish spring. Much like Ithaca, Edinburgh can go from sunshine to snowfall in ten seconds flat. So walking around outside is not always the release from solitude that one might hope. I often go for coffee; one can never underestimate the positives of sitting in a cafe and writing, but one can’t do that for a month!

So what is the solution to the revision month blues?

For me it is catching up with Cornell work, freaking out about senior year, and trying to plan the summer. I also made some last-minute plans to travel around Europe.

So, my advice to you is plan ahead. This revision period snuck up on me. But I learned that I didn’t have to cram trips into weekends; I simply push them back in the semester. With the panic of trying to learn a new system, it might be imgres-2hard to plan too far in advance. There is also something alarming about putting a concrete event on the calendar. But it is better to have something to occupy your time, a reward after completing the semester. Also, if your flatmates are full-time students, it can be awful in the flat all by yourself. So take that leap! Don’t be afraid to travel by yourself or just make local day trips to explore the area.

The UK semester is so different compared to the American system, that you might overlook this time. Don’t! Start planning now so you can maximize your experience and not get caught in the doldrums.

CGI U and the New Age

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I feel like all of my blog posts, especially for the Daily Sun, focus on the negative. I tend to write about the doom and gloom of the world. Well, I’m not going to say it ends here, but I would like to implement a ray of sunshine in my otherwise cloudy day.

Recently, I attended the Clinton Global Initiative University at the University of California at Berkeley. Incidentally, I might have borrowed my ray of sunshine from Northern California, since goodness knows they have more than their fair share. Regardless, the initiative is run by the Clinton family for college students with a commitment to action. Bill Clinton explained that he had been to so many conferences where people just sat around and complained about the maxresdefaultworld’s problems. So he started a gathering where your entry fee, your ticket, was an idea to fix the world’s issues. That’s what brought together students from all over the world, setting a record in California with over a hundred countries represented, every student with a commitment to make the world a better place. We networked, heard from inspirational people, and attended panels that help address some of our project’s interest areas.

The main goal of the meeting, however, wasn’t to workshop our projects, but to inspire us on our path to completion. They had countless speakers there to share their stories of success and failure. They paraded a colorful array of people who refused to lay down and give up. Ben Silbermann, the entrepreneur who created Pinterest, talked about his many businesses that failed. Wael Ghonim, a main engineer of the Arab Spring, talked about watching his country go from liberation to destruction, but the hope he still harbored for the future. Maysoon Zayid, a Muslim female standup comedian with cerebral palsy, talked about how she faces the world and refuses to apologize for her body, because she isn’t ashamed.  

I sat in a chair, surrounded by hundreds of people, and cried as John Lewis talked about the power of love overcoming hate. From almost anyone else it may have seemed corny, but from a man who had walked alongside Martin Luther King Jr., rode on the Freedom Rides, and lived his life confronted with violent hatred, the words held the weight of truth. It is easy to say hatred is a burden no one can bear, but for these words to be spoken by a person who hugged the man who nearly beat him to death gives them power. Finally, Obiageli Ezekwesili, the woman who created, the Nigerian movement Bring Back Our Girls, which is fighting to return 200 girls taken by Boko Haram, seemed to look every one of us in the eye and challenge us to care more and do more.

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 That is my message of this post:do something. Besides everything that is happening in the news, the worst is the people who complain about the world, but do nothing. I am here to say that there are many people who are taking action. I just met a small fraction of them and they aren’t gods or demigods; they are normal people doing what they can to improve the world. My mom always says, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” If you are striving for perfection, an issue may seem insurmountable, but if you just want to make an improvement, then the issue is made into a manageable size and you’re more likely to succeed. This struck a certain cord this weekend, because a lot of my fellow millennials are paralyzed at the seemingly monolithic set of issues facing us today. However, a main theme of this meeting was that we aren’t superheroes, we aren’t trying to make the world perfect. Perfection wasn’t the goal, but that we all do our part to make the world better.

For instance, one of my personal favorites was a girl who was implementing goats on highway medians. Have you ever thought about how much diesel is burned by the mowers who have to be constantly mowing the medians of highways? I sure hadn’t, but she had, and it’s a lot. She was fighting air pollution in a new and innovative way, addressing an issue that I hadn’t even thought of yet. She is one example of the many who were there to share ideas and be inspired. No matter the color of our skin, or our religious or ethnic identity, we all shared a common mission. Doing good is usually a behind the scenes affair, because unlike hatred, it doesn’t require an audience. But, like the wind, you might not see it, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there; Instead, you feel the benefits and are the better for it.

I will leave you with the words of Martin Luther King Jr on Americans; “We all came in different ships, but we are all in the same boat now.”
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This Is Not Who We Are

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While bombs go off in Belgium and Pakistan, Scotland had its own tragedy this past week.

One week ago, Asad Shah, a 40-year old Muslim shopkeeper in Glasgow was stabbed to death after wishing his Christian customers a happy Easter on social media. Over the last few days, the picture of this victim has covered the newspapers and magazines. While seeing this man’s smiling face everywhere has been disturbing, what haunts me the most is the words left on his memorial, “this is not who we are.”

These six words crept up on me. When I first read them they didn’t have a drastic effect, but ever since I’ve been thinking about them: this is not who we are. This Muslim man was stabbed by a Muslim because of his religious tolerance. Mr. Shah, a champion of interfaith understanding, was a loss that was felt throughout the community. A late night vigil of 500 people and a fund for his family that raised around 32,000 pounds, showed how connected Mr. Shah was to the Glasgow community..

Then, one person of the many holding candles and laying flowers wrote down these six words.

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I realized that what really stuck with me was the word “we.” It is such a personal, yet specific word. I started wondering who the “we” was meant to address: Glaswegians, Scots, Muslims, Humans? I first assumed it meant Muslims; hypothesizing that another Muslim in the community laid down these words to make clear that acts of violence were not typical of the community. This bloody murder that left the man stabbed 30 times was not the act of a people, but a person.

However, when I thought about it more, the word “we” took on a different broader image. With the violence happening all over the world, from faraway Syria to our neighbors in Glasgow, the taste of violence is in all of our mouths and even a shot of whiskey won’t wash it down. As the news pours in about more attacks happening closer and closer to home, it is easy to imagine this violence and hate everywhere. When you start feeling unsafe in your own community, everyone becomes a murderer, everyone an enemy.

Then these six words tell us no, we aren’t killers nor are we defined by the actions of others. While the news will continue to focus on that one man who decided bloody murder was the correct path, the reaction of the community is much more telling of the people of Glasgow. They remembered this man for his religious tolerance and accepted his message of unity over his assailant’s ideals of brutality. In the long run, we are defined by how we react to violence, not necessarily the act itself. Hopefully, for Glasgow, this will mean the community uniting, regardless of religion and race.

For the rest of the world, I’m a little less optimistic, but not devoid of hope. The problem, of course, is that a leader has to think of the people, naturally putting the good of the few over the good of the many, in a national versus world schema. However, on an individual level,you find people like those who showed up in the hundreds to honor  Asad Shah. We hear about the humanitarian disaster that is taking place in Greece, as the country struggles with an influx of migrants. Yet, I visited Athens and met with several remarkable people who have rushed to help, establishing wonderful centers and systems to help people. It is incredible how much is needed- translators, caregivers, lawyers and transporters, and they work all as volunteers. Hundreds of people working for nothing in order to keep strangers safe.  

I guess I have wandered a little in this blog post. The death in Scotland has caused quite a stir, but it hasn’t defined Scotland or the Scottish people. It may seem like a small blip in the violence radar, when compared with the rest of the world, however, the coming together of the community regardless of ethnicity or religion stands as an example for the rest of the world.

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Most of the time slang is harmless, it is actually quite amusing. Since moving in to my small room in Sciennes, I have learned many new words: “Yah”- a posh English person, “hoora” – very, “Ken” – you know. Although, I still struggle to integrate them into my day to day speech, knowing them makes me feel like I am part of the present British culture. Specific slang words act as linguistic representations of a culture. Hearing a cab driver call me lassie reminds me where I am.

However, sometimes slang isn’t harmless. I have found there are some slang words in Britain, which are quite jarring to me. Words like “gay” and “retard” that are used in a way that I was not expecting. I think America, being constantly in the public eye, it extremely sensitive to possibly offensive terms. Some might even claim that we get carried away in our quest for absolute political correctness. Whether it is out of control or not, we do monitor our speech methodically.

Regardless, I remember the popular push-back against using gay to refer to stupid. In middle school, we were conditioned not to use this term- along with retarded, for slow, or even lame, for uncool. As a result, when gay is bandied about it makes me feel awkward. While my British friends make a clear distinction between their gay friends and their use of the word gay, it is still used in a negative context. When we are all sitting around the kitchen table, with friends from around Sciennes, they might say oh well that’s gay or doesn’t this look gay?

I am therefore confronted with a difficult choice. Do I attempt to alter the lexicon of my new friends or do I let it go- chalk it up as a byproduct of a foreign culture?

While we were all sitting drinking our tea, I was debating whether to speak up or stay silent. On one hand, I felt that words did have power and using a person’s sexual orientation, or mental disability, as a derogatory adjective is harmful. But on the other hand, I felt there was a certain amount of snobbery in asserting my convictions on everyone else. I didn’t want to start moralizing to the group as if I was the authority on oppressed peoples and how they should be treated.

The flippant use of the words did make me uncomfortable, but I am an outsider. When traveling to someplace so culturally similar to America, like Scotland, you underestimated the subtle differences. When confronted with this cultural nuances, it’s hard to know how to react.

I also kept forgetting that all of my Edinburgh University flat mates are first-year students. I don’t

article-2155524-13766042000005DC-161_468x331mean to infantilize them, I mean that I don’t want to appear like a censor, a mother figure who they have to monitor their behavior around. I am here to learn about their culture, while cultural mixing requires I share my own experiences, this isn’t in order to assert dominance, but blend. So, I should learn as much as I can, taking the positive and leaving the negative.

In the end, I realized that I can’t force my cultural expectations on them. While, I have certain beliefs, while in their world I shouldn’t take it upon myself to police their behavior and language. They don’t mean to offend, nor do they consider the words in the same light I do. I am bringing my distinct upbringing to a new setting and I have to adjust my expectations accordingly.

Café Hipsters

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Are you working on a manifesto against the institutionalized elite? Trying to finish that symphony? Or just actively seeking the road less traveled. Well have no fear, no matter what form of hipster you are, Edinburgh has the café destination for you. For as we all know, there are many different types of hipster and Edinburgh has them all. Right now, I am concerned with the two major breakdowns of Hipsters (there is some overlap, as a good friend once said- only Siths deal in absolutes.) So, here are two local places for counter-culture youths in search of a brew:

  1. Filament: If you distain the mainstream and are desperately seeking a shot of ginger or wheatgrass- then I have the place for you. Found along the lovely Clerk Street, Filament has everything an upscale political hipster could need. Each table has a cactus and the walls are adorned with racks of carrots and avocados. Flannel may be worn, but is buttoned all the way to the top. Hawaiian shirts are present and beanies (which are universal.)
    1. The Scene– To my right a guy is reading Descartes, to my left a novel on anti-capitalism. Descartes ordered a bagel and was offered a choice of sriracha or chili flakes. While Filament doesn’t have a huge selection of coffee, they take their craft very seriously. As a result, they may not have a broad set of clientele but many regulars who are treated like family. Overall, there is a disgruntled activist feel to the group. I wouldn’t be surprised to find a “closed for protest” sign hanging on the door.filament-coffee
  2. CULT: If that isn’t your speed, we have a place for the alternative hipsters. Those who lean more on the side of record machines and vintage outfits. If you have a mason jar glass you will find a home in CULT. Along the meadows, this underground cavern has open faced brick and a general sense of being too cool. All of the cups and saucers are mismatched in a meticulously careless way. While still a place of political debate and denunciations of capitalism, CULT is more cultural based. Here the flannel is worn to compliment beards and thick rimmed glasses. There is a long drinks list, but no drinks that include carrots.
    1. The Scene– When I first arrived the gentleman in front of me was juggling. He was explaining to the cashier how he was convinced, when he was younger, that juggling would help him “impress the ladies.” While they provide bendy straws for cold drinks, the guy sitting next to me brought his own from home. It’s safe to say that less than the polished political hipster scene this shop prescribes more to the mantra- “let your freak flag fly.”

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These are two more stops on my tour of Edinburgh Cafés. I personally prefer CULT, simply because I enjoy my coffee and get concerned by extreme political views, left or right. Plus, CULT has humorous signs about human sacrificing- what’s not to like? However, both have very distinct personalities that were very interesting to experience. So no matter what kind of hipster you are, I challenge you to try a shot of ginger at Filament and join a CULT.

 

Přijít Znovu

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This past week gave the students of Edinburgh a break from their studies. For most, these days off were a chance to travel; I was no exception. My friend Julia and I left our flat at 3 A.M. to start our adventure. The journey was unexpectedly lengthened when technical difficulties delayed our first flight to Brussels. As a result, we flew from Edinburgh to Brussels, from Brussels to Frankfurt, and finally from Frankfurt to Prague. However, by the time we had reached the hotel, all our struggles had already been transformed into anecdotes for our friends back home.

When we woke up the next morning, we found a blanket of snow covering Prague. I am used to a Maine winter and a “spring” semester in Ithaca, so the snow gave the city a familiar and magical quality. As soon as we stepped out the door, we were overcome by the bewitching charm of the Czech capital.

For all you planning to study abroad, I must recommend at least one trip outside of western Europe. While, France, Germany, or Spain have obvious attractions, getting outside of expectation can be fantastic. I had the added bonus of exploring an eastern European capital with a Polish national, who could act as a cultural translator. However, even on my own it would have been incredible to discover this great city. While discernibly Europe, it had a personality and a beauty I had never experienced. Clocks and sundials ornamented every other building; any structure might display an exquisite stained glass window. Something that was common to the Czech people, but utterly unfamiliar to me, was the amount of buildings had intricate paintings ranging from a floral design to an entire battle scene.

11700988_970340656336941_2644043750139361789_oI sampled my first trdelnik, which is a Czech pastry found every few feet in Prague. They are the reason why the air itself seems to smell of chocolate and sugar. To cook, the dessert dough is wrapped around a larger metal spit, which is slowly rotating over-heat. The dough is covered with cinnamon sugar and slowly browned. They are constructed in such a way that the dough uncoils, making it easy to munch on as you walk. On a cold night, it is the perfect relief for a wandering tourist. I am not ashamed to say I had one a day.

Our hotel was close to the old town, which was packed around the river with concert halls and theaters. It isn’t surprising to find small jazz combos on every other street corner, a stand-up bass and drums supporting a trumpet or clarinet. Music reverberates around the streets that once knew the footfalls of greats like Dvorak, Beethoven, and Mozart.

Julia and I ascended to the highest point of the city, which has museums, cathedrals, a royal palace and a street of tiny buildings that formerly housed Franz Kafka. We saw beautiful stained glass windows, which were made of tiny shards of glass that employed beautiful colored flecks of light to depict awe-inspiring visages.

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In short, Julia and I spent our time both wandering and pursuing serious plans. As a result, we experienced the rhythm and the distinctiveness of the city. For me, it was about discovering a foreign culture. I had goulash, dumplings, and a potato cake. We walked along the Vltava River and explored the tiny side-streets. By our second day the sun was out; the snow was melted. Our jackets were left at home. We got to see Prague by snow and sunlight.

   12711094_970342856336721_128285702747329535_o 12744548_970341473003526_8166848064832525957_nWhile Americans tend to focus on Paris, Berlin, Brussels, Amsterdam, Copenhagen (not slamming these capitals, they are spectacular) there is a whole side of Europe which is underrepresented in Western media and imagination. I would urge all international travelers to turn to Prague, Bucharest, Vienna, or Budapest. Eastern Europe is an exceptional face of the continent that deserves to be appreciated.

 

 

Break-Ups and Bubbles

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For those of you inside the UK, you may know that these are troubling times in the Kingdom. After Scotland’s flirtation with independence, there seems to be a collectively held breath on the island nation. Now, with the debate over whether to leave the EU, it all seems to be coming around again.

For those of you reading from the colonies, there is a referendum, set for June 23rd which will decide whether the UK will stay in the EU. Currently, the European Union is going through a rough patch, with economic struggles and an ongoing immigrant crisis. However, Britain’s main complaint is that the organization, meant to be a trading union, has taken to creating laws and regulations seemingly unrelated to trade. Brussels, the headquarter of the EU, is full of unelected officials gaining more and more power over the liberty of good honest Englishmen.

This is where it gets tricky. The sentiment stated above is found predominantly in England. A recent poll found that a majority of Scots would prefer to stay in the EU. The radical speculation is if the referendum in June goes against the EU, Scotland might hold a referendum of their own and choose to leave the UK.

I told you these were troubling times.

I’m not 100% clear on the particulars, but Scotland leans toward reforming the EU, rather than abandoning it altogether. Scotland also enjoys countering anything perceived to be hyper-English. The fact that such a big decision, like leaving the EU, could be made with limited Scottish input hasn’t exactly fostered positive feelings towards their southern neighbors.

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Being an intruder on this issue, all I can do is tell you the chatter from the streets. First, I must say there is an overwhelming English student population at the University of Edinburgh; we joke that it is practically London. As a result, the vibe on campus is mostly anti-EU. However, beneath this vibe there is general ignorance. There are many international students, people from all over, who have no stake in Britain’s politics. Most students I asked responded on a gut instinct.

For the continental Europeans, it seemed obvious that the UK should stay in the union. They used sentimental language about maintaining the sanctity of the union. Many associated the idea of separating with the EU with separating with Europe itself. On the other hand, English students tended to lean in the other direction. They used words like “independence” and “freedom.” They created a picture of a trapped nation. Shackled to a Union, which had strayed from its intended purpose.  

I’m not entirely sure where this is all going. I know that as an American, I can’t vote either way, but I wanted to show what an interesting time it is to be in the UK. It could all be nothing. Britain might vote to stay and Scotland’s discontent would fade back into whispers. Or, a break from the EU could cause a break within the UK. This is huge, yet most of the “youth” don’t know what is going on. They exist in their University bubble, much like the bubble that adorns Cornell.

This all has made me conjecture that University students go through a short, or extensive, period of withdrawal from the world. Most students are striking out on their own for the first time and are consumed by the overwhelming exhilaration and pressure of creating a new normal. As a result, we isolate ourselves within our routine and the world that directly affects our day to day.

I’m really not passing judgment on this syndrome, as long as it is short-lived. However, those who are living in the UK have a chance to experience a historic event, in real time. Speaking for myself, I wish I was still going to be in Scotland for the vote in June. Something tells me being in a Scottish pub when those results come out would have been quite the  memorable experience.

 

The Americans Are Coming

12742329_1001162806621317_2516213197319453218_nThis past weekend, my friend and I descended on the unsuspecting London. I reunited with Dara, another Cornellian, on her way back to America from a winter break program in India.

Our first day still doesn’t seem altogether real to me. We started off with the assumption that we would eat as much as possible. We wanted to see the changing of the guard, which started at 11:30. However, when the  morning arrived, we lazily arose and savored every bite of our corn flakes. By the time we had made it to the train and exchanged witty banter with Sam, the ticket booth operator, the dream of watching the changing of the guard was dead. We didn’t mourn it, however; instead we aimed our wandering feet at the British Museum.

But, before the museum, we had to stop for second breakfast. After all, we had made a solemn pledge to never stop eating, so we found a nice café for our rainy Friday. A café latte and salami sandwich later, and we were engaged in a heated debate about the necessity of dropping the H-bombs and the significance of the sinking of the Lusitania (after we invent a time machine, we are going to test out our conclusions, I’ll keep you posted). Once we had spent the correct amount of time discussing and watching the rain fill the world with whimsical fantasy, we continued on to the museum.

There are several wonderful things about the British Museum; for one thing, it’s free. For another, on a Friday afternoon, it is packed with the strangest assortment of rudderless people. As we joined the ambling herd learning about ancient Egypt and Greek pottery, it is equally rewarding to look at the person standing next to you. By doing this, Dara and I were able to save a family from years of therapy. There were scores of school children and one little girl had been separated from her group. We latched onto her emotional distress, probably recognizing a kindred spirit, and like heroes in disguise swooped in just as she was gearing up for a good cry. We decided to play the adults and help her back to her group. Spoilers: she found her way home, the monarchy still stands- have no fear.

Once Dara and I had our fill of the Elgin Marbles, we descended into the dark labyrinth of the London Tube and emerged completely lost. We did not despair, however, and our faith was rewarded by the Queen herself. For as we were walking, we stumbled across Buckingham Palace. When we saw the top of the gilded structure, I turned to Dara, deadly serious, “we need more food if we are going to do this.” Th12716395_1001162723287992_6463623277093108734_oat is how we came to be in front of Buckingham Palace at dusk eating the most glorious invention England has given the world:  jacket potatoes.

This was far from the end of our adventure. Arm in arm, we strolled past Westminster Abbey, the Parliament Building, and Big Ben. We went over the Thames in an attempt to find a theater, or at least the theater district. The ever outgoing Dara literally dragged me into the finest Marriott hotel that I had ever seen and employed a friendly concierge to point us in the right direction. He was from France and had more charm than two college girls could handle. Despite this, we tore ourselves from his side, and continued our search for the London stage. I had seen Miss Saigon when I was younger and was eager to see it again. But of course that would mean finding it, and as we were yet to find the National Gallery, clearly following directions was not our forte.

12734142_1001162773287987_1535968060063306990_nOn our way to the tube, we stumbled across an outdoor food festival. It had all types of cuisine sizzling on open stoves and saucepans. We did not have the willpower to pass that up. An incredibly long Kielbasa was in my future and Dara found some lovely gyro, for dessert we got almond, pistachio, and walnut baklava. It was perfection.

After asking several old English women, we found our tube line and were off with sticky Baklava-flavored fingers. Long story short, we burst into the Miss Saigon theater with five minutes to curtain. Since the show was about to start, we got incredible tickets for half price and before you could say, “Bob’s your uncle,” we were sitting in front of the curtain as the lights dimmed.

When it ended, Dara and I were both puddles of emotions. We made it across the road to a café to dissect the depiction of communism and what it truly means. Once our conversation had turned to the topic of the American Revolution (and then naturally Hamilton), we decided it was time to go home. Twenty minutes later, and we were home just in time to watch Cornell men’s hockey lose to Dartmouth 2-0. Even when I am studying abroad, there are some parts of Cornell I just cannot leave behind.

The point of this long-winded post is to show how following your feet can be just as fun as a concrete plan. We were determined to have a great day, partly to spite a friend, but mostly because we were in Europe together and wanted to make the most of it. As a result, we jumped on every opportunity that presented itself, every whim became a goal, and we ended up having the most incredible day.

 

I Only Came for the Biscuits

As long as you weren’t a homeless ragamuffin, every citizen of ancient Greece was bound by laws of hospitality, or Xenia . Xenia was a sacred concept that ensured that travelers were protected and given a place to stay when they were abroad. In any ancient Greek text- Odyssey, Iliad, really anything spread by an old blind man- the concept of Xenia is ever-present. Anyone on the social spectrum from peasants to kings would take in strangers without question and give them food and drink, even before asking their name. A stranger was treated with respect and was expected to return this honor by being a respectful guest and honoring others with hospitality in return. trojan-horseThis is no laughing matter; Zeus, as the protector of Xenia, allowed Troy to be razed to the ground, because Paris violated Xenia by stealing Helen. Clearly, Xenia is taken very seriously and, in its more watered-down form, (it no longer precipitates the destruction of cities), it survives today. In my flat, in Edinburgh, Scotland, I have found this ancient Greek custom in its British form.

Two of my flat mates, Winona and Julia, have been here all year and, as a result, are closer friends. They are both wonderful people who have been very friendly to me and Thao, another exchange student. We are both second semester abroad students and a little rudderless. Besides Julia and Winona already being friends, they also have a group who frequent the flat. I have recently been introduced to “the crew.”

What does this have to do with my drawn-out intro about Xenia? Well, I’m about to tell you- calm down. It happened the other week, when we were in the kitchen relaxing, talking about boys and the major issues facing the world today. We had been chatting for an hour or so when Winona, who is from England, sat up and exclaimed- “oh my god, I haven’t offered you tea or anything!”


imagesThis proclamation was followed by Winona turning to each person in succession and asking them if they would like a cup of tea. After everyone answered, she hopped over to the kettle to make the offering. Despite having a broken ankle, she set out the glasses and made everyone’s tea. While she was making it, she bemoaned not having any biscuits (cookies) or crackers to offer her friends. I was amused by how this culture seemed to be fueled by tea, but also the honest distress that she felt after not performing her perceived hostess duties.

At one point she turned to me and inquired whether we drank a lot of tea in America and, if not, what we offered when people came over. It genuinely concerned her and it genuinely puzzled me. I had never really thought about it; now that I have devoted too much time reflecting on it, I realize that at the very least, a guest is offered a glass of water or milk. No, we don’t shower them with gold and a lavish banquet, but something is always provided as an option to a visitor in America. In the moment, I responded that living in a dorm made it harder, since a kitchen wasn’t readily accessible. When all you had was stale cereal and two packets of ramen, it was harder to provide anything edible. Regardless, it was interesting how important it was  to Winona, not only that she offered tea to everyone, but that Americans also had something to offer a guest.

In conclusion, Xenia has been preserved and can be found in Scotland. Now, I don’t think we are hospitable because, like the ancient Greeks, we fear our friends might be Gods in disguise. However, the importance of hospitality has been maintained because there is still an unspoken set of rules for a visitor and a host. What is more interesting is the local flavoring that helps dictate these rules. For the English Winona, a cup of tea and hopefully biscuits are the accepted gifts to a weary traveler. I’m still not entirely sure what the American equivalent is, but I am going to pay more attention next time I’m invited around a friend’s apartment- and there better be biscuits or I’m honor bound to burn the flat down.

       

 

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