I’ve heard a lot of unusual things in the sixth-floor conference room at the Johnson Museum.
During my very first year as an intern, I was recruited to help with a “deep listening” workshop with composer Pauline Oliveros (and, strangely enough, totally forgot about the experience until we studied Oliveros in my experimental music class and I wondered why her name sounded so familiar). Surrounded by Ithaca community members, some museum staff, and probably the entire Cornell Music faculty, I revelled in the “silence,” becoming incredibly aware of the weird melodies created by the Johnson’s notoriously volatile elevator.
I would later recreate a similar “silence” every time I found myself alone in the conference room (usually whilst performing the glamorous task of stocking the sinister metallic super-fridge with countless liters of soda for an upcoming event). Being by yourself up there is both eerie and meditative: the wide windows show off miles of blue lake, the wind wails out Meredith Monk-like vocalizations, and any lone intern/guard/staff member who dares enter will undoubtedly feel lost in a space outside of time, where all the activity of the lower 7+ floors is no longer relevant.
Where better, then, to stage a performance of John Cage’s Song Books?
I can safely say that this performance of some of Cage’s short vocal solos and moments of “theater” was unlike anything I had ever experienced before–and not because it reached a level of weirdness that I’m unused to seeing or hearing at a concert. In fact, what was most remarkable about New York ensemble ne(x)tworks was the contagious playfulness with which they approached their performance.
Although part of such lightheartedness was probably due to presence of a typewriter, playing cards and dominoes, glass, garage-sale price stickers, and performers who frequently fell asleep on the floor (when the score dictates, or so I’m told), the greatest energy came from the childlike creativity present in the manner that the ensemble interacted with the unique environment of the sixth floor. ne(x)tworks members dashed back and forth in the tight, enclosed space, sometimes disappearing into the sixth floor’s hidden side rooms: including the very kitchen into which I so frequently stumble with a cart full of Wegmans iced tea!
While I was rather enamoured of him at first, I would ultimately say that Cage and his music are not the coolest things I’ve encountered in my experimental music class this semester (that honor goes to Gavin Bryars’ “Sinking of the Titanic,” everything by Eliane Radigue, and Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells (which was only name-dropped in class once but still changed my life forever)). Still, experiencing an actual performance of the types of music we’ve been studying gave me a new understanding of its incredible complexity. Listening to last night’s concert without the visual/experiential component might have been interesting enough, but I would have missed so much of the piece’s theatricality and the spatial interactions between the performers.
Plus, there’s also nothing more delightful than watching the listeners at an experimental music performance. From the laid-back laughers who smile appreciatively at every clever motif to the Serious Listeners, who rest their heads on their fists and wrinkle their foreheads as though the entire experience was as mentally challenging as a Sunday crossword puzzle, there’s always something interesting to see amongst one’s fellow audience members.
(And which variety of listener am I? Well, if you ever happen to see me at some future experimental music event, be sure to let me know!)
Exactly a year ago, I was struggling to make a very difficult decision: would rose- or Smurf-flavored gelato be the better choice for my last dessert in Nice?
Warp ahead to 2014, however, and I’m spending the afternoon of April 12 serving Cornell Dairy ice cream to the masses attending a public event at the Johnson themed around the beyond earth art exhibition. (Such are the ever-surprising and strangely fulfilling duties of an education intern.)
It’s been more than a year since my semester abroad, and I still find myself looking to the past and comparing this spring to 2013. While my few months in Edinburgh were volatile, challenging, and marked by a distinct lack of tofu, living in the States again sometimes makes me yearn for the days when breakfast meant Tesco-brand Greek yogurt, sultana scones, and blackcurrant tea; the indescribably exhilarating landscape paintings at the National Gallery were always just fifteen minutes away; and a sunny afternoon necessitated a writing/hiking trip to Arthur’s Seat.
Naturally, this inescapable nostalgia ensures that my need for abroad-related activities is basically insatiable: ergo, I was absolutely delighted to hear that one of my Scotland pictures had been accepted into CU Abroad’s photography exhibition.
You’d normally never catch me traveling to Willard Straight in the afternoon. Ho Plaza is constantly aswarm with quarter-carders, and I prefer to walk without having tiny, wasteful scraps of paper thrown in my general direction by poor souls who probably have to publicize their concert/protest/auto-da-fe in order to stay on their clubs’ E-boards and keep that resume looking right fit.
But let’s save my anti-quarter-card rants for another post, shall we? In any case, I plotted a course designed to minimize potential Ho Plaza encounters and attempted to enjoy the rare and lovely sunshine on the trek over.
The exhibition is currently up in Willard Straight Art gallery, located on the far side of the building near the bathrooms that probably predate the Ishtar Gate.
Really, it’s just a conference room like any other, but I appreciate the attempt to legitimize its gallery status by including a sign (though they would do well to consider redesigning the lettering with Comic Neue).
Students were invited to submit photographs back in the fall: and since we sent in digital copies instead of mounted images or something, I wondered how they were going to display the photos. Surely just printing them out and sticking them on construction paper would be too simple?
The no-frills presentation was actually all right, though, because the pictures themselves were glorious. The photos were sorted into a number of travel-appropriate categories (e.g. Animals, Culture, Exceptionally Sketchy Hostels), and I was surprised to find my name in the Architecture section. The email from CU Abroad merely informed me (“Dear Student“) that “one of [my] photo(s)” had been selected for the exhibition, so I assumed they picked one of my brighter, happier landscapes. Or, you know, a shot of a Highland cow or something.
Still, it was this ominous Princes Street scene that finally made it in, and I do have to admit that even my least favorite castle looks pretty cool from this angle.
Ultimately, I was surprised to discover that looking at my peers’ photographs provided a surprisingly good cure for my nostalgia. Now, of course, I’m wishing that I could travel to Patagonia and the coasts of Ireland and Morocco instead of spending so much time dreaming about Edinburgh.
How much longer ’til graduation again?
(P.S. I usually don’t like unnecessarily explaining the references in my post titles, but if “Pictures at an exhibition” means nothing to you, give this a listen. If you prefer classical sounds, Mussorgsky’s original might be more your style, but I personally feel that the ELP version is genuinely life-changing.)
As I type this post, a pair of dragon candlesticks stand merely inches away from my Mac. Although I’ve since expanded my personal style from “trying-too-hard sorceress chic,” I can promise you that at least 70% of the clothes and jewelry I wore as a middle-schooler were decorated with some kind of mystical serpent. For preteen Keely (and, let’s be honest, present-day Keely too), dragons were the coolest because they embodied the strength of wisdom and the persistence of imagination.
(Plus they had wings and any number of desirable elemental powers.)
And yet even with such a proud history of obsessing over dragons, today marked the first–and, sadly, last–Dragon Day I’ve experienced during my four years at Cornell.
Since Dragon Day is typically held on the Friday before spring break begins, it’s easy to see how many people end up inadvertently skipping the event each year. As a freshman, I spent Dragon Day bussing to Canada for the CU Chorus’ spring tour; sophomore year found me hopping the Greyhound to New York City, and last year I was, well, kind of in London.
Consequently, this March was my final opportunity to catch a sight of an on-campus dragon: and my inner thirteen-year-old was going crazy trying to imagine what the creature could possibly look like.
Well, “something designed by Donald Judd (or any other Minimalist artist)” was not my first guess, and I would’ve preferred a dragon that wasn’t composed of metallic geometric shapes, but hey–it’s still better than Peter Jackson’s disappointingly bland interpretation of Smaug.
The beast began slouching towards its inevitable demise near Rand and Milstein. Unnerved by the costumed revellers (particularly those bearing large effigies of various controversial popular figures–wouldn’t you run away from the disembodied head of Paula Deen taped to a stick?), I perched on an adjacent hillside near the Physical Sciences Building to observe the proceedings from a manageable distance.
Traditional rivals to the dragon usually only include the Theatre, Film, & Dance knight and the engineers’ phoenix. This year’s festivities were also graced by the presence of an admirably purple and pinata-esque unicorn: the brainchild, I believe, of physics majors who decided to prove that the engineers and the architects aren’t the only folks on campus who know how to build things.
Though the vacant eyes of this My Enormous Pony were a bit uncanny, I did appreciate the flash of color competing with the dragon’s silvery skin (which looked a little too much like the many lost Mylar balloons of my childhood).
Although this picture makes the phoenix appear to fall into the “robot chicken” category, I can assure you that it was much more impressive in person–the eyes even glowed brighter than the bizarrely pink lights on the inside of a night-running TCAT bus.
I guess that means I’m Team Phoenix?
As much as minimalism is not my cup of tea, however, I should emphasize that I don’t mean to disparage the dragon’s design in any way. The abstract serpent won my representationalist heart when it boldly flapped its wings for the first time in front of Willard Straight.
In fact, by the time it reached its entirely symbolic funeral pyre on the Arts Quad (since the days of actual dragon-burning have been banned in this glorious modern era), I was almost a little sad to see the guy go. Still screaming nonsensical syllables occasionally punctuated with the cry of “DRAGON!,” the architects climbed their creation as though it were a particularly lengthy set of monkey bars and tore every last scrap of Mylar skin from its skeleton. After running about in a whirling, maddening, and completely inexplicable dance, the celebrants retreated back to Rand, leaving first-timers like me breathless and utterly confused by the somewhat Dada ceremony that had just taken place.
Inscrutable as the festivities were, however, Dragon Day exceeded my expectations immensely. I’d been told that the dragon-filled afternoon was a kind of “slightly less drunk Slope Day.” To my surprise, the crowd wasn’t that enormous and the clientele was (mostly) well-behaved. Families brought children (in costumes!), Real Non-College People came with their adorable dogs and big-lens cameras, and the entire experience had that kind of delightfully quaint esotericism usually found only in well-planned Renaissance fairs and vaguely ritualistic small-town festivals.
Now that I’ve enjoyed one essential Cornell tradition, of course, am I finally going to give Slope Day a try this year? Sorry, Matt & Kim and Ludacris–you’d need to have the Moody Blues, Colin Meloy, and a magically resurrected John Cage as your opening acts in order to get me on the Slope on that fatal day in May.
One of the most exciting aspects of Cornell is the way in which it’s constantly growing and changing (distinctly unlike the current season of Once Upon a Time). Forgive me if I’ve mentioned this before, but during my time here, I’ve seen the rise of Milstein Hall and the new Physical Sciences Building, a complete redevelopment of the Law School, and, of course, the addition of a spacious wing (with great acoustics and a beautiful Japanese garden!) to the Johnson Museum.
The flip side of this thrilling state of flux? Construction.
In case you’ve never been cursed with the misery of experiencing class in a room with boarded-up windows and the constant sound of machinery thumping about outside, the following figures from various pieces in the Western art historical canon (including the masterwork I’ve nicknamed “Simone Martini’s Cranky Pre-Teen Christ”) are here to help summarize my feelings on the subject.
Here’s the thing you have to understand about studying the humanities at this institution–it’s highly likely that almost all of your classes will be in Goldwin Smith Hall. Now, I’m certainly not complaining about that: GWS was designed to serve as a kind of “temple to knowledge,” and its gorgeous architecture and prominent display of pieces from Cornell’s plaster cast collection sure beats a more austere design.
This semester, however, my initial joy at having multiple classes in a row in Goldwin Smith has been replaced with a sort of quiet fury, and it’s all thanks to the Klarman Hall construction project.
In the abstract, I am undoubtedly in favor of the new humanities building (slated to open in 2015), and I’m glad Cornell is showing their commitment to more sustainable building initiatives by seeking to make Klarman LEED Platinum Certified. The sleek modern design is a little too 2001: A Space Odyssey for my old-fashioned tastes, but I’m confident that the completion of Klarman will vastly improve the academic environment for Arts & Sciences students.
If only I were going to be around to see it finished!
For the time being, though, the embryonic Klarman is manifest only in windowless GWS rooms and, on occasion inescapable pounding sounds drowning out any student or professor who dares to use class time as an opportunity to, you know, speak. (Can you tell that two of my classes are held in the single classroom that is perhaps closest to the construction of all the Goldwin Smith spaces, and that noise has been an issue for the past few days?)
On a more positive note, perhaps the inevitable sonic consequences of construction are offering a rare opportunity to apply what I’ve learned in my Experimental Music class to a real-world situation! Instead of groaning and plugging my ears the next time a hammer or whatnot drowns out my learning experience, perhaps I should break out my equipment and make a field recording…
I am absolutely convinced that there’s money to be made in “Mainland winter tours” catered to visitors from Hawai’i (or, honestly, anyone from a warmer clime with no seasons besides “warm and rainy” and “warm and dry”). I’m not even talking about skiing trips, or snowboarding, or any other traditional winter activity typically unknown to those of us from vaguely tropical areas. As much as I’d love to someday unlock the mysteries of cold-weather sports, I would be perfectly happy just to spend a brief holiday marvelling at the weird stuff that happens to the world when things get cold–and, of course, when everything starts to warm up in the spring.
A few months ago, I posted a photo-journey of my walk around campus during a fresh December snowfall: and I’m sure I documented the veritable Himalayas that grow in the RPPC parking lot as soon as Facilities clears the roads. Well, in case you’ve been anxiously awaiting an update on the Cornell Alps, here’s what happens to these fascinating mountains in meltier circumstances.
On this particular day, there was hardly a speck of snow to be found anywhere except on these manmade mountains. Even at 45 degrees, I could plant my flag on the top of this dude and secede from the United States and still have ample space to fortify my one-person nation.
(At least until we hit the 50s and 60s, naturally.)
This obligatory shot of the falls near Beebe Lake, on the other hand, demonstrates one aspect of spring that I despise: dirty snow.
See those hideous ashen streaks spoiling this frozen cascade? Dear Mainlanders, how and why does this happen? In any case, whenever I see masses of grey snow mottling the campus, I feel like I’m in Mordor instead of upstate New York.
Although Beebe Lake is often my favorite place for a meditative walk, it’s certainly not the only lake in Ithaca. Normally, I do literally remain “far above Cayuga’s waters,” but since visiting family provided me with access to a car last weekend (o wonder of wonders!), I was able to see frozen Cayuga Lake up close for the first time in my years at Cornell.
Standing on a dock overlooking a flat expanse of ice that stretches as far as the eye can see is an uncanny but somehow transcendental experience for someone as unfamiliar with winter as I am. Iced-over Cayuga Lake will never compare to the feeling of standing at the top ridge of Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh and catching a glimpse of the seemingly infinite Highland mountains that appear to be from another polar dimension: but I’ll take what I can get.
(Since I’ve had Antarctica on my mind a lot recently (what, haven’t you?), I’ve also found myself using “glacial” to describe the musical qualities of a couple of songs I’ve been listening to–so here’s one to play you off! Last week I had to complete a Wiki entry on electronic musician Eliane Radigue for my Experimental Music class, and I can’t think of anything that better epitomizes my newly invented genre of “polar music” than the haunting drones of her ARP 2500 synthesizer.)
Though I’m sure some of my fellow bloggers have expressed similar sentiments in the past, allow me to add my oft-squeaky voice to the chorus: there are few collegiate pick-me-ups that can beat a good care package. While homesick freshmen might seem the most apt candidates for a box of goodies from their families, I can promise you that we seniors are equally needy. Freshmen face the ups and downs of transitioning to uni life for the first time, but seniors–inevitably swamped with theses, job applications, the challenges of off-campus living, and possibly a bit of pre-grad melancholy–have to get ready to enter their independent lives for the first time.
I’d almost rather be seventeen again, dealing with my first winter and the perils of shared bathroom facilities.
I don’t know how many parents/siblings/relatives/significant others/mystical guardian figures of college seniors read my blog, but in the off-chance that any do, I’ve compiled a brief list of books that would be the perfect addition to any artsy 2014 graduate’s “You can handle senioritis!” care package.
And if you’re a senior yourself (but lack any mystical guardian figure to send you relevant books in the mail), I recommend tracking down one of these texts at Olin the next time you begin considering an ascetic’s life in the woods instead of grad school or a career. They’ll make you feel better, and the job apps, homework, and world of social media can wait a few hours. I promise.
Alena by Rachel Pastan
It amazed me that sitting in a darkened room looking at slides of Madonnas and Venuses and bowls of oranges counted as work….I loved the way you could trace the evolution of perspective, how it was perfected in southern Europe over centuries, and then stretched and tested and discarded over more centuries until it became a quaint anachronism, like a whalebone corset or a doublet and hose.
This one goes out to all the friends and relatives of art, archaeology, art history, and museum studies majors (or other students likely to turn the basement into an installation in the event that they move back in with their parents after college). I’m already a huge fan of “museum fiction”–it only takes a few lines about preparators or Peggy Guggenheim to get me hooked–and Alena embodies the joy and trials of entering the art world while spinning an eerie tale modelled on du Maurier’s Rebecca.
If your senior doesn’t know Marina Abramovic from Marina and the Diamonds, though, Pastan’s third novel is still worth a read. The narrator’s frustration with her first post-grad curatorial job and the string of weird encounters and coincidences that inexplicably lead her to the position of her dreams (nightmarish though it sometimes seems) will surely resonate with and comfort any frazzled future graduate.
Or, you know, make him/her start searching around for eccentric, haunted museum directors in search of the perfect inexperienced but talented curator to fill the shoes of a woman who disappeared under mysterious circumstances. One of the two!
John Cage: Writer, selected texts ed. by Richard Kostelanetz
One day he happened to say that to be an architect, one must devote oneself entirely to architecture, that is, give all one’s time to it. The next day I told him that I could not do that because there were many things I loved that were not architecture, and there were many things I did not even know, and I was still curious.”
When “A Composer’s Confessions” was assigned early on in my Experimental Music course, I quickly began a passionate (and inevitably one-sided) relationship with John Cage. Before reading the essay, I had already listened to some Cage and thought his music (especially the prepared piano pieces) was pretty much the best thing ever, but this look into his background convinced me that we must be kindred spirits of a sort.
Like me (and perhaps like your creative ’14 grad!), Cage was torn between a great number of artistic passions, and eventually left college after two years to explore Europe and take a hands-on approach to learning. I’m certainly not planning to drop out of school any time soon, but it’s helpful to realize that at least some of the artists, writers, and performers plagued with uncertainty about their future careers can indeed end up eventually achieving artistic success (and/or sticking random stuff on and under piano strings).
Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks by Ken Jennings
There are, in my mind, two possible consequences of reading this exceptionally witty book by Jeopardy! champion extraordinaire (and blatant maphead) Ken Jennings.
Sometimes the nightmarish process of consolidating passions into resume-ready categories like skills, experience, and professional goals makes it difficult to remember what truly loving a subject is like. If your creative-type soon-to-be postgrad has spent the past few months feeling nothing more than the dull apathy that inevitably sets in after tens of employers deign to even send back a confirmation email, Maphead might provide the rejuvenation s/he needs.
Yes, the esotericism of the map-collecting (and geocaching, and National Geographic Bee, etc) world might seem (more than) a little obsessive at times, but I found that reading about people who cared so passionately about something helped me recall that I do have a lot of interests (e.g. writing, environmentalism, vintage synthesizers) that I care about–and knowing my interests and passions makes it easier to set goals.
The second possible outcome? Well, your future Cornell alum might simply read this book and become a maphead him/herself.
Still, what cooler way to procrastinate sending off Job App #55 than by tracing the contours of that one random National Geographic poster map stuck between quarter cards and gas bills in your housemate’s messy desk?
In a 2012 statement about the changes to the academic calendar, Provost Kent Fuchs suggested that a brief February break (and the subsequent delay of spring break until the very end of March) had been added to the calendar to “help address university concerns about student stress.” Well, that inaugural February break has come and gone, and I, the quintessential stressed student, wish they’d just change things back and pretend this never happened.
What’s the point of two days off from school when professors still assign heaps of homework (and, dare I say, perhaps even more work than usual in an attempt to “make up” for the missed Monday and Tuesday of class time)? The change also makes it harder to coordinate spring breaks with other universities: were it not for the new schedule, my sister and I could have spent our break together with our far-away family.
Yet at least this glorified long weekend gave me a day or so of freedom, including a chance to catch my favorite play of all time at Ithaca’s Hangar Theater.
In the alternate universe where I inevitably fulfill my destiny and become an English teacher, I know exactly which play I’d use to get kids really excited about the Bard. When I was in high school, I was lucky enough to have a great teacher who assigned plays other than classic ninth-grade fare like Romeo and Juliet or A Midsummer Night’s Dream–and it was in one of his classes where I fell in love with my second- and third-favorite Shakespearean works, Macbeth and King Lear.
Look, I guess I can forgive you if Edmund’s “Why bastard? Wherefore base?” speech doesn’t move you or if the fact that Macduff seemingly beats Macbeth via a deus ex C-section seems a little ridiculous, but I can’t understand how anyone couldn’t fall in love with The Tempest: if only a little!
It starts with a shipwreck and takes place on an island; there are spirits, harpies, hell-hounds, and all sorts of random magic stuff going on; and the language–especially Ariel’s songs–is haunting. Whether you’re into political intrigue, physical comedy, drunk butlers, saccharine Disney-esque “Let’s get married after knowing each other for five seconds!” romance, or just want to know where that oft-misquoted “We are such stuff as dreams are made on” line comes from, I promise there’s something in The Tempest for you.
During my very first semester at Cornell, I had the opportunity to play Miranda in the Cornell Shakespeare Troupe’s winter production of this incredible show. Three years later, I was eager to see the Ithaca Shakespeare Company’s Tempest (which closes this weekend, incidentally) and travel back to the rocky shores of Prospero’s weird island.
I was surprised by how familiar the production seemed. The set was visibly similar to Risley’s, though a little more aesthetically striking, and I felt like the ISC’s Miranda used many of the inflections I did when performing the innocent heroine’s lines. There was one main point of difference, however, that simply blew me away and made me wish that I could get a ride up to the Hangar to see the show a few more times.
One of the most complex aspects of The Tempest is its questionable views on colonialism and imperialism. Since it was written around 1610, long after (deadly) interchange with the “New World” and the Atlantic Slave Trade began, I always found it hard to believe that Prospero’s island paradise didn’t ultimately represent some far-off place “exotic” to a seventeenth-century audience: like the Americas, Africa, or the so-called “West Indies.” After all, Prospero commands all the spirits of the island, and keeps its only human inhabitant (the “savage” Caliban) cruelly enslaved and tortured. Yet if Shakespeare were offering a critique of colonialism, why is Caliban portrayed as a genuine monster, and why is he punished in the end while Prospero remains triumphant?
The Ithaca Shakespeare Company solved this problem by openly identifying Caliban, to quote the program notes, as “an African who has been enslaved by Europeans [who] see him as a monster, a savage, and a ‘thing of darkness’ because he is of a different race from them.” This choice–combined with the fact that Caliban was played by perhaps the most phenomenal actor I have ever had the joy to watch–made the classic “comedy” scenes of Caliban begging two drunk [white] fools to be his gods take on an entirely different tone.
By the end of this production, the audience (or at least this audience member) doesn’t want to laugh at Caliban’s apparent ignorance or shrink from his ridiculous monstrosity, but cry with him and fight for him: and the ISC validated this sentiment by changing the ending so that Prospero, thanks to Ariel’s interference, acknowledges his mistreatment of Caliban and does not punish him along with his inebriated “gods,” Trinculo and Stephano. Consequently, Caliban doesn’t crawl offstage, dragged around on the ground like the monster most other productions (and Shakespeare himself) think he is. Instead, for the first time in the entire play, he walks tall, free of Prospero’s magical punishments and abuse.
Basically, I can’t imagine a more perfect interpretation of The Tempest.
(Except for The Tempest set in Atlantis, of course, which I’ve dreamed of directing since I was fifteen. Community theatre, here I come!)
Since I’m an English & Art History major, it’s no surprise that much of my homework consists of (lots and lots of) reading. And, hey–I wouldn’t have it any other way. I would much rather curl up with a textbook (or a million-page article printed out from Blackboard) and a cup of tea than spend my evening struggling through problem sets!
If you’re a potential Cornellian (or a nostalgic alum or one of those lovely spambots who keep leaving me linguistically fascinating nonsense-comments) interested in the humanities but curious about how much required reading goes on outside of the classroom, wonder no more! Here’s a weekly snapshot, class by class, of the literary life of a Cornell senior.
- MUSIC 2280: Experimental Music
Let’s start with the best, shall we? Experimental Music is my requisite “fun senior elective class,” and, as I suspected, it’s only making me further regret my decision not to major in music. Most of our homework consists of listening (to some of the most beautiful, moving, and bizarre pieces I have ever heard), but there’s usually an short essay on theory or history thrown in there too.
The best reading materials involved in this course, however, are the scores. I thought my musical background would give me an edge here, but decades of music theory won’t help you when scores look like this Christian Wolff piece…
To avoid the inevitable “learning about John Cage is the best thing that has ever happened to me” rant that inevitably begins as soon as I start talking about this class, though, I’ll stop here.
Page count: 23 (11 for Tuesday’s class, 12 for Thursday’s)
- ENGL 4330/FGSS 4330: Women, Real & Imaginary
I wasn’t sure about this course when I first registered during pre-enroll, but any class that requires me to purchase the Romantic volume of the Norton Anthology of English literature is all right in my book.
So far, the real and imaginary women have been sufficiently interesting: although since I prefer poetry and literature to essays, I’m excited for the time when we inevitably leave behind Mary Wollstonecraft and her contemporaries and move on to ballads, Coleridge, and Northanger Abbey.
Page count: 54 (which actually seems surprisingly low for an English class…)
- ARTH 4175: Visual Encounters in the Early Modern World
Since this class is currently competing with Experimental Music for the coveted title of “Keely’s favorite course for the semester (and possibly EVER),” it’s hard to even think of its readings as homework. I find the accounts of and scholarship on early encounters in the Americas so fascinating that I probably would read this kind of stuff even if it weren’t required.
Page count: ~46 (but it feels like nothing!)
- ARTH 4438/LING 4438/COGST 4438/[literally every department prefix] 4438: Language and Image
When a class is cross-listed under so many different titles, it makes sense that it might also feature a large amount of readings from various disciplines. In a shocking twist, Language and Image’s reading requirements for this week (and, let’s be honest, all the past weeks too) has managed to beat out both my English seminar and a graduate-level art history course. We’re currently working our way through The Semiotic Spectrum: a dissertation that I find strangely accessible, considering that my interest in formal linguistics is more of a hobby than anything else.
At least the only other assignment for this week is to complete a perspective drawing!
Page count: 86 pages of text, plus ~200 pages of Understanding Comics (but all 200 pages are comic strips!)
- ARTH 4999: Honors Work II
Hey, this is a class too! Even though it’s independent study and I don’t have set class time, I would say that researching for my thesis adds a lot on to my schedule. Less so this semester, since I’m (thankfully) in the editing and expanding stage–but there are still nights when I just have to re-watch Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl or another film to double-check its portrayals of Aztec art.
Page count: At least 80 minutes of Beverly Hills Chihuahua per month
FINAL TALLY: 209 pages of full-on scholarly text, 409 “pages” total
Well, considering that a mid-length novel usually numbers in the early 200s, that doesn’t sound bad at all–but if you factor in job applications, thesis reviewing, and the two papers and one mini-response I have to write too…
I guess I’d better get reading!
With another wave of chilling winds well on its way, how better to escape the doldrums of winter than with cannons and colonists?
(And some cannibalism too, unfortunately.)
When Ithaca seemed to transform into Antarctica last week, I was so swept up in my need to comment about the cold that I completely neglected to describe the most exciting (and museum-related) part of my winter break! During a quick trip to Virginia on my way back to Cornell, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit the Jamestown settlement: ultimately a near-transcendental experience that rivalled my adventures in Scotland (though Jamestown’s pretty young compared to most of those castles).
I’m also taking a really exciting art history seminar on images of “encounters” in the Americas during the early modern world this semester, so I hope I’ll eventually be able to reframe the works I saw at Jamestown in a more informed context.
Anyway, when I start using words like “context” and “reframe,” it’s probably time to turn off the vaguely meaningless scholar jargon and bring out some pictures!
I first read about “Historic Jamestowne,” as it’s called, during my endless senior year job hunt. Now that I’ve visited, I’m extremely disappointed that they’re not currently hiring educators or interpreters, because I think working at Historic Jamestowne would be extremely fulfilling and fun. The settlement consists mostly of reconstructed buildings, fences, and markers–the actual remains are kept beneath the earth, presumably so they won’t get damaged. (The cost, of course, is that nobody ever gets to see them.)
The best part of Historic Jamestowne, however, isn’t captured in any of my pictures. Out among the cannons and commemorative statues is the settlement’s not-so-hidden gem: the Archaerium. This miniature museum holds an impressive collection of objects excavated from the settlement, including a few human skeletons that have been eerily (yet amazingly) matched to potential faces thanks to forensic reconstruction software.
It was in the Archaerium, unfortunately, that I became incredibly disturbed by the suggestive description of cannibalism during the “starving time”–a grim little footnote of history that is particularly ironic when you consider that Europeans had been decrying cannibalism as one of the beastly traits of “savages” for ages.
If there’s one thing I miss in Ithaca after my Scotland adventures, it’s easy access to historically significant sites. I mean, I like the gorges and other natural features as much as anyone else, but living somewhere with a castle or a colonial settlement must be nice.
Should any of you fine readers know of a nearby landmark that I should visit before I graduate, leave me a comment and let me know–otherwise I’ll continue to dream of crumbling stone walls, tragically “restored” interiors, and buying pieces of history for $2.99 at little gift shops.
Where do you think this picture was taken, friends? Is this the frozen porthole from some research vessel on its way to Antarctica? Or perhaps the delicate work of newly-minted Disney queen Elsa?
In any case, it surely couldn’t be the inside of someone’s window, right?
Is it a rite of passage for East Coast kids to witness their first frozen condensation? After nearly four years wintering in Ithaca, I foolishly assumed I could qualify as an honorary Mainlander–but the notion that the air outside could be cold enough to freeze both sides of my window completely blew my mind this morning. As soon as Nature had shown me that ice could somehow exist even in my 70-degree apartment, I became convinced that I might actually see a polar bear lumbering down the recently-closed East Avenue.
When the meterological event the media erroneously christened the “polar vortex” first hit the Mainland in early January, I sent my best thoughts towards those unfortunate enough to suffer the worst effects of the cold–and then spent a few days collecting shells and swimming in the Pacific.
Imagine my horror when my daily obsessive checking of the National Weather Service last week produced evidence of another impending arctic blast: one seemingly more powerful than the first. And Ithaca was scheduled to weather the worst on the first day of classes.
This morning’s winds put temperatures at a balmy -22 degrees F when I left the house. Since I don’t think I’ve ever spent much time below zero–the two winters I’ve spent at Cornell really haven’t been that bad in comparison–I was genuinely terrified. When Cornell (unlike the Ithaca school district) neglected to cancel classes, I knew it was time to take drastic action to save myself from hypothermia (or being captured by armoured ursines a la His Dark Materials).
I polled lifelong Mainlanders and researched online until I became convinced that there are two main commandments of below-zero weather (both of which, honestly, I already knew):
- LAYER!! (preferably with several layers of natural fabrics that can easily wick moisture away from the body while keeping the torso warm)
- Limit skin exposure–and especially keep your head covered.
Consequently, I constructed an “inner core” that included a long-sleeved, easily-drying shirt layered under a sweater, corduroy pants over fleece-lined tights, THREE (!!) pairs of socks (including the obligatory wool layer), and, of course, my snood, a charmingly gauche scarf/hat combination I bought in Scotland. Trust me, when you can get frostbite in fifteen minutes, it’s nice to have something that leaves only your eyes exposed.
Although my ensemble was just warm enough, I admit I felt a little out of place lolloping about campus wearing my weight in clothes when so many of my peers were hat- and scarf-less. Did they not know how to dress properly, I wondered, or had they merely not checked the weather? (An alternative explanation–that they were some kind of snow demons in disguise–still remains a possibility.)
If these arctic blasts are to be the norm for this winter, wouldn’t it be nice if there were somehow a bucket of warm wrappings in Olin or Goldwin Smith to help out those who left their hats at home/lost their gloves in class/misjudged the temperature situation? I wish I had a hat and scarf for every cold soul I saw shivering across the quad today!
Free hats aside, however, here’s the bottom line: if you’re from a warm climate and are considering Cornell, don’t freak out too much about the polar temperatures we tend to feature in the winter. Okay, actually, that’s a lie–you should certainly “freak out” enough to take the deadliness of cold weather seriously, but if you layer properly and walk quickly, you can survive just as well as Iorek Byrnison.
(Although I wouldn’t recommend challenging rival armoured bears to single combat–the growls might disrupt classes even more than the construction at Goldwin Smith…)