Sunday, December 18, 2011

L'esprit du temps des fêtes

Ah, décembre. Le mois synonyme avec neige, mauvais temps et magasinage de cadeaux à la dernière minute. (Et habituellement aussi stress des examens, mais Dieu merci j'en suis épargnée cette année!) Personnellement, je ne suis pas super fan du temps des fêtes: les décorations omniprésentes me tapent sur les nerfs depuis le mois de novembre et les magasins sont bondés comme pas possible. Cela étant dit, mon petit coeur sentimental se réchauffe quand même assez facilement lorsque confronté à d'authentiques moments d'esprit de Noël. Comme par exemple...

Une soirée "Carols on the Stairs" organisée par mon Collège, où ils ont servi du vin chaud et des mince pies (petites tartelettes sucrées -- et que j'ai toujours cru seraient plutôt salées...). Ceux-ci furent suivis d'un petit concert par la chorale du Collège, avec un mélange de chansons de Noël, des chants traditionnels que le public pouvait chanter en choeur (les paroles étaient fournies), de même que des lectures de poèmes. J'ai trouvé le tout extrêmement charmant et réconfortant.

Effectivement, les chants ont eu lieu juste à côté des escaliers..

Plusieurs musées dans la ville avaient aussi organisé quoi de spécial en vue du temps des fêtes. Le Pitt Rivers Museum, un musée anthropo-archéologique,  a monté un spectacle de lumière et une visite spéciale de ses collections à la lueur de lampe de poche, accompagnée de musiques du monde:

Jeux de lumière projetés sur la plafond du musée

Les collections du Pitt Rivers Museum.

Plus qu'une semaine avant le jour de Noël -- comme le temps a passé vite! Cette année sera la première fois que je ne célèbre pas les fêtes avec ma famille à Montréal. Plutôt, j'ai décidé de rester à Oxford, question de faire de la lecture et de rattraper 2,500 ans de philosophie (bon, cela en était mon très honorable intention, mais en réalité je suis plutôt apathique ces jours-ci...). Je passerai par contre une semaine à Stockholm, du 23 au 30 décembre, chez mon amie S et sa famille super accueillante. Mon premier Noël suédois et retrouvailles avec mes amours fika et gastronomie scandinave...hmm, j'ai hâte!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The ABC of Oddities: 'A' is for All Souls

(Hello hello! Remember how I said I might be an ABC of Oxfordian oddities? Well, here is the first entry from that series. One down, hopefully twenty-five more to come!)

All Souls College is famous for being: a) drop-dead gorgeous; b) the richest of the Oxford colleges; and c) not having a single student. That's right, not a single student! Instead, all of its members are fellows of the College (which admittedly includes some graduate students who are research fellows, but usually professors and lecturers).

The Rad Cam overlooking All Souls' main quad.

The North Wall of the main squad. This entire side houses the college's
(gorgeous, envy-inspiring, need-permission-from-a-Fellow) library.

I first wrote about All Souls when I went there for a Jurisprudence seminar in Week 1. Since then, I have been back...well, weekly for the duration of the Michaelmas Term, since I had my "Law and the State" seminar there every Friday from 5 to 7pm. Said seminars took place in the rather intimidating Wharton room (as if Jurisprudence classes by themselves weren't intimidating enough). With its green felt-covered wooden table, paintings, chandeliers and bookshelves, the room is more wartime-conference room than classroom:

The Wharton Room, All Souls College


Two Saturdays ago, a bunch of us attended the very last bop (ie. big old party) of the semester, organised by the same people who did HallowQueen, namely St-Anthony`s College. The theme of the evening? Soviet Santa. Yes, you read that right. Spread some holiday cheer...with a touch of hammer and sickle! Think Marx meets Santa Clause (it's the beard, I tell you), Rudolf meets Sputnik, or in our case...elves meet the proletariat:

Elves (plus one reindeer) on strike. Look at our angry faces and sign!

Okay, we can be nice as well. Something about asking nicely?

We met up before the party at K's place for an elvish potluck and a sign-making session. I am ridiculously proud  of our protest signs. You can click on the pictures above to see the bigger versions, but in case it isn't legible, let me regale you with some of the brilliance that we came up with that night:
"Stop Elf-Ploitation" 
"No Work 4 Candy Canes" 
"Stop the Sleigh-Driving"
"Santa = the 1%" (plus mandatory #occupynorthpole tag)
"Santa's Workshop = Santa's Sweatshop"
"End Elf-Trafficking" 

...and much much more. My comrades and I had a grand time making those signs. The fact that we looked like a big ol' family making crafts whilst waiting for Santa and turkey was an unexpected bonus:

Straight out of a Christmas special TV movie, no?

We ended the night dancing away to Rasputin and walking back from St-Anthony's singing carols and Disney songs. Not bad for a bunch of striking elves!

(Picture credit: Taken from K's delightful "Christmas, crafts and the proletariat" album on FB)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Masquerade Ball

(Catch-up time! I meant to post this before I left for Fuerteventura, but got sidetracked by errands. I've actually got quite a few posts lined up for the next days -- exciting!)

On a Thursday a few weeks ago, a few of my friends went to a Masquerade Ball that had been organized for American Thanksgiving. (A Canadian celebrating an American holiday in England with an Venetian-themed party? Pourquoi pas?) It was held in the beautiful church of St-Aldate's (where I had an International Student Welcome Dinner the first week), and I think that they did a great job of decorating the place: 

Dinners and balls and Church services...who knew that 800
year-old buildings could be this versatile!

The view from the other side. They even managed to get
a real gondola in there!

I will also mention that a few wardrobe crises were had right before this event. I had been warned to bring a lot of dresses to Oxford, but clearly I will still run out of formal wear before the end of the year! And also I could not believe the line that day at the costume shop for buying a mask...

My friend J and I. Yes, together we are Jay-Z.

Last-minute wardrobe crises notwithstanding, I think we all look pretty spiffy!

Since the event took place on the day following Guest Night, I was a bit tired and very grateful (haha) indeed for the delicious Thanksgiving meal that they served. Nothing like turkey and pecan pie to make one feel at home...even if it is served a month late by Canadian standards!

Quelle forte aventure!

I've been back -for a few days now- from my wonderful vacation to Fuerteventura, in the Canary Islands. My friend M (the same one who celebrated her birthday with a 20's theme) and I wanted a few days of sun, sea and Spanish food to get away from the Oxford stress and English weather. We got exactly what we wanted and couldn't have been happier. 

(A tip for future travelers though: Rent a car to get around, or else you'll walk around for hours in the dark looking for the hostel and be then left to the mercy of buses -- or guaguas, as they call them on the island!) 

We went, we breathed in the fresh ocean air and got slightly sunburned.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Bollywood Guest Night

Je réalise que mon blog donne peut-être la (très) erronnée impression que nous faisons rien que faire la fête et aller à des dinner parties, mais je vous jure que nous travaillons très très fort le reste du temps. Après tout, vous ne voulez quand même pas voir entrée après entrée sur les heures que j'ai passé à lire dans la bibliothèque, n'est-ce pas?

C'est ça. Il y a quelques jours, notre collège a eu son trimestriel Guest Night. Bref, c'est un peu comme un formal dinner, mais avec un thème et des invités hors-collège. Cette session, le thème fut: BOLLYWOOD. (En d'autres mots, le seul magasin indien du coin a fait fortune sur nous.) Certains de mes amis se sont procurés d'authentiques saris et tuniques. D'autres, comme moi-même, avons décidé d'être créatifs avec ce que nous avions déjà. Dans tous les cas, les résultats furent assez jolis, je trouve:

Nos habits/costumes super colorés.

J'ai aussi beaucoup aimé l'effort mis dans la décoration de la salle où nous avons eu nos second desserts (habituellement porto et fromage, mais cette fois-ci cocktails et desserts indiens):

C'est joli comme ambiance, non? 

Sur ce je vous laisse à propos du Guest Night. Je dois aller faire quelques courses pour mon voyage de demain (aux îles Canaries, ouaaaais!!!) et je voudrais aussi écrire une entrée sur le Bal Masqué qui a aussi eu lieu la semaine dernière. Pour les curieux, mon costume «Bollywood» consiste en une très grande écharpe rose, un collier sur mon front et 2394234 épingles à cheveux tenant le tout ensemble.

Photo credit: Tati, si estas leyendo eso, graciiaass!!

Friday, December 2, 2011

London Calling

Last Saturday, my friends S and L and I took a day trip to London. It was my first time in London proper, which is kind of shameful seeing how I've been living in the UK for 2 months now. (I had been physically in London before and taken the Tube many times to get to various train stations, but actually visited the city. I know I know.)

(Reminder:every picture posted can be clicked for a bigger version!)

Getting out of Oxford for the day was relaxing beyond imagination. I honestly had no idea that I was under so much stress! As we walked across Green Park I could feel the tension melting off my back....aaaaah.
Across Green Park lies...the Queen! Well, if she's in Buckingham Palace, that is. 

The highlight of our trip was an excursion to Borough Market, which is: a) huge; and b) FULL OF SO MANY DELICIOUS FOODS. (No pictures I'm afraid, I was too busy eating.) I also managed to run into a friend of mine who is studying in London and whom I hadn't told that I was coming to town. I figured, hey, it's a huge city, what are the odds of running into her? (Pretty damn good, actually. Her first words after spotting me? "You!! You didn't tell me you were coming to London!!!" Oops.)

Behold, a food mecca. I walked around with an insane grin for the rest of the day.

London had an interesting vibe. It screamed "big city!" and "international", yet there are barely any tall buildings and it's not very crowded. (That might just be the Asian-North American metropolis bias speaking, though.) And I think that it's a sign of having been at Oxford for too long when you start thinking that 300 year-old buildings look so new!

A few more of my favorite shots from that day under the cut:

Friday, November 25, 2011

"Oh, you're such a positivist!"

Also overheard in yesterday's Jurisprudence (JPT) seminar: "So far so Kant". Hmm, OR IS IT?

Some of the readings for JPT. No I haven't read them all....yet.

To be honest, I'm still pretty lost and confused in every JPT seminar I attend. (And I've attended quite a few of them...3 times a week, 7 weeks so far...yeah.) Everyone thinks so fast, everytime I catch up they've already moved onto the counter-counter-counter argument to the original proposition. My main problem is that I lack any kind of philosophical background, which by itself isn't fatal, but pretty awful when: a) you aren't used to rhetorical thinking, b) your critical thinking skill are rusty, and c) you have zero knowledge of philosophical methodology (naturalizing what, exactly?!) and philosophy of language (truth values, anyone??). Well that, and my reading skills are abysmal. Seriously, when did I become such a slow reader? This is true of most classes, but especially JPT where I have reread every sentence 5 times in order to understand it.

Sigh. One more term before final essays and evaluations. I have my work cut out for me. C'mon brain, learn faster!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

3 costumes and a belated post

[Health update: My cold is most tenacious, but I'm -- hopefully -- mostly recovered. No idea whether it had anything to do with last week's accidentally skipped Jurisprudence seminar...]

I meant to post about the Halloween shenanigans ages ago but somehow never quite got to it. Oh well, better late than never.

Halloween this year was an elaborate affair. I actually put on not one, nor two, but THREE costumes! It all started on Thursday the 27th, which was our friend M's birthday. As per our grand tradition of celebrating whatever occasion we can find, we had a party that evening but with a twist: a 20's theme! (Themed parties are going to be the thing for our group from now...can't wait for the next one!) Prohibition, gangsters and flapper were de rigueur. Well, except for the actual Prohibition part...let's pretend that we were in a speakeasy?

Look at all these flappers and gangsters. Roaring Twenties incarnate!

Flapper photobomb! Crashing the birthday girl's portrait.

Then, on Friday our college MCR held an outdoors Halloween party, to which we brought our most imaginative, elaborate and/or pun-tastic costumes...

Three guesses as to what I was. Let me give you a clue:
I was dressed like a French caricature and had pieces of
toast  stuck to me. (Yes this is beyond nerdy. Haha.)

Here I am with my friends Blackmail and the Cold War. Oh the puns we made.

And on Saturday St-Anthony's College had their annual Hallow-Queen bop, which means cross-dressing and lots and lots of funny people watching. (Seeing 6 feet-tall guys attempting in heels was a riot was something. And pronouns were a bit difficult that night. "Hey, did he...she...erm... just spill my beer?!")

Girls being boys (including Van Gogh and Doctor Who) was fun...

...but clearly the boys got the more fun end of the bargain! 

When Sunday, the actual 31st, finally rolled around, we were all too tired to do anything. Although, I did find out that night that our porch light is a security light which doesn't turn off. Consequently, kids kept ringing our doorbell and my flatmates and I, after I gave away my last three apples (the kids didn't seem too happy about them), hid and pretended to not be home...

(Photo credit: some are mine, most were taken from various friends' Facebooks.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Seasonal blues

Il fait froid et humide (toujours cette maudite humidité!), le ciel est éternellement gris et le soleil, lorsqu'il en a, se couche à 15h. En plus, malgré touts mes précautions (écharpes au pluriel, gants, tisanes au gingembre et citron), j'ai réussi à attraper un rhume. Mal de gorge, mal de tête, les yeux qui coulent...ouais, ça va super bien pour faire mes lectures.

Et dire qu'il faisait tellement beau et ensoleillé mes premières semaines ici. Quelle fausse publicité!

Oh Oxford, pouquoi tu ne peux pas ressembler à ça tout le temps?

Si seulement il faisait assez beau pour aller faire du punting...

Mon cercle d'amis non anglais (les Anglais sont fous pour adorer ce genre de climat) et moi-même sommes tous en trian de déprimer collectivement. Solution? Pourquoi pas organiser un séjour à Fuerteventura, dans les îles Canaries, à la fin du semestre? Les billets d'avions coûtent 48 livres (merci RyanAir) et il y fait 20 degrés au mois de décembre. 20 degrés!!! Et tout gros plein de soleil sub-tropical. Hmmm. HMMM.

J'ai très très très hâte. (Photo prise d'ici). 

Décompte officiel: 18 jours avant l'océan, les montagnes, la plage et, Dieu merci, DU SOLEIL!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

O is for Oddities

In many ways, Oxford is a bit of a world of its own (which world, forcibly, also includes the other place, ie. C--bridge). It has extremely well-defined and long-standing institutions and customs, a way of functioning that has its roots in the High Middle Ages and armies of students and ex-students to keep its traditions alive. But then again, I guess that any establishment of 800 years is bound to be slightly insular and different from the rest of the world.

Hence why the unofficial motto around here is "It made sense in the 1200s". See, whenever you run into something inexplicable (or alternatively, requiring a 15-minute long explanation full of medieval references), the short answer is just so say: "Hey, it made sense in the 1200s!". Confused about the college system? Well, it made sense in the 1200s. Wonder why the same street changes name three times within 2 kilometers? (I'm looking at you, Cornmarket!) Well, back in the 1200s...And let's not forget about sub fusc and Matriculation.

Of course, keeping traditions doesn't mean that we can't have flat screens in
an 800 year-old church. This is St-Aldates, where I attended an Intl Student
Welcome Dinner my first week here. Picture courtesy of friend-of-friend`s FB.

Sometimes, however, even things in Oxford aren't old enough to warrant the 1200s-explanation. Therefore, a popular variant is the "Around the 1800s..." justification. This is particularly true regarding my field and faculty. The English common law wasn't as much taught as learned on the job for the longest time.Señor Blackstone found that out the hard way in 1758. The entire system of the BCL (why a "Bachelor of Civil Law" as a master's degree?), the MJur (why different names for what is essentially the same degree?), along with the vocabulary of "writing a paper" (ie. taking a course) and final honour schools (final year all-inclusive exams for undergrads), all make sense once put into their rather complicated historical context. I mean, we probably could hypothetically modernize everything, but: a) that'd be losing centuries of reputation and b) what would be the fun in that?

Sir William Blackstone, of the infamous Commentaries
and the first Vinerian Professor of English Law.

Finally, there are some inexplicable things here which, no matter the time period reference, simply DO NOT MAKE SENSE. In that case, the default explanation is "Oh, those crazy English people...". Case in point: Separate taps for hot and cold water. Gosh, this drives me absolutely c-r-a-z-y. You get scalding hot water coming out of one tap, and freezing cold out of the other. Ugh. My dishes never feel quite clean (unless I want to have burnt hands), and neither does my face (I've resorted to washing it in the shower). I have never appreciated the possibility of having warm and even lukewarm water at will. Oh those crazy English people.

My sworn enemies, separate taps. GRRRRR. 

Speaking of oddities, I'm thinking of doing a whole series about things specific to Oxford and its people. It'd be under the form of an abecedary,  so I'd write about one oddity per day in alphabetical order. What do you think people? Yay or nay? I know you don't often comment, but I'd really love to get some feedback on this idea. So comment ahead...thanks!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Guy Fawkes Fireworks

Last Saturday was Guy Fawkes Night. It's definitively a strange holiday to non-English people, celebrating the failure of the Gunpowder Plot with a burning effigy of Señor Fawkes himself. Of course, Guy Fawkes has also mostly become for his mask, as prominently displayed in V for Vendetta. Anyhow, on a day-to-day basis, Guy Fawkes Night means fireworks, bonfire and overall fun.
Fireworks!! (Those things are darn difficult to photograph!)

The event this held was held in South Park, which is a huge swatch of green space not far from where I live. I am ashamed to say that I had never set foot there until last week-end. If I ever want to take up jogging...(hahahaha). It was a rather big production, with a fun fair and a huge crowd. The fireworks themselves were very impressive and the burning of the bonfire(s) --- there was an effigy and a wooden house on a pile of logs, which I assume was to represent the explosives beneath Parliament House --- let off some well-needed warmth among the cold crowd.

The fun fair!

People. Lots and lots and lots of them.

Bonfires. Those were some MASSIVE flames!

The food stalled were sadly mostly sold out by the time I got to them (I was dead set on getting a hot dog and fries, or chips as we say here, but the former was apparently incredibly popular and the latter had to be eaten with wishy-washy mustard and mayo. Hm.) We also skipped the rides afterwards, to my disappointment (carousel! airplanes! inflatable slides!!!), but to be fair, (a) they were mostly aimed at children; and (b) we went for Asian food at Red Star instead, so I can't really complain.

With my fellow Canadians S and K (and my chips, hah). Picture stolen from K's FB.

Yaki Soba at Red Star. Oh (Far) Asian food, how I have missed you!

I learned three important lessons from that evening: 1) wear warm socks when planning on being outside for a few hours; 2) bring your own snacks to events like this; and 3) don't think that you can just walk into a restaurant with a group of 10 people after Bonfire Night, especially when it falls on a Saturday. Make reservations, and that will save you the pain of walking around and waiting for an entire hour. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

L'heure du thé

Une tragédie d'envergure inestimable s'est produite récemment:

NONNN!!! PAS MA CAFETIÈRE (À PISTON, ie. French Press) !!! 

Horreur des horreurs, j'ai dû me contenter de vivre sans mon café matinal pour plusieurs journées. C'était assez insupportable Dieu merci (accros au café, qui moi?!), mais j'en ai profité pour élargir ma collection de thé. Et oui, je bois maintenant du thé maintenant. Matin, jour et soir! C'est un parfait compagnon d'étude et j'ose même parfois ajouter du lait. (Sauf dans mon thé vert et mes tisanes, bien sûr. Mes parents méprisent déjà assez mon obsession avec le Earl Grey...)

Twinings, je suis ouverte à négocier un salaire de porte-parole.

En sens horaire: thé vert au jasmin (pas très authentique, je l'avoue), chai, camomile, menthe poivrée et lady grey. Techniquement, la boîte de chai appartient à mon coloc A, mais nous mangeons souvent ensemble alors partageons officieusement une partie de nos épiceries. Et oui techniquement la camomile est une tisane, pas un thé. Mais bon.

Et de ce que j'ai pu percevoir, les Anglais sont effectivement profondément attachés au thé, en tant que boisson, et au thé, en tant qu'institution. Toutes les occasions et tous les moments sont bons pour une bonne cuppa. En effet, toutes les logements fournis par notre Collège venaient avec une bouilloire (habituellement entartée de calcaire, mais fonctionnelle toute de même). Par contre, pas tous les logements contenaient un micro-ondes. Hah. Aussi, j'ai eu l'occasion d'assister à un cream tea, expérience que j'ai trouvé très agréable et engraissante. J'espère la répéter bientôt.

Fin de l'histoire: tout est bien qui finit bien. Je me suis retrouvée à furtivement emprunter la cafetière de ma coloc K plusieurs matins d'affilé, lorsque, me sentant comme un radin et une voleuse, je me suis procurée une nouvelle cafetière. Malgré le fait que j'aimais bien le rouge vif de mon ancien appareil, j'ai préféré la qualité à l'esthétique cette fois-ci. Je suis donc devenue la fière propriétaire d'une Bodum, de couleur noire (ennuyeux!) mais qui paraît bien solide. En tant que crise, je mise du côté de la technologie scandinave-suisse, moi.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

La bicyclette bleue (et blanche et turquoise et rouillée)

Tout le monde me l’avait dit : à Oxford, tous les étudiants se déplacent à bicyclette. Bon, les rues sont plutôt étroites et les cyclistes doivent les partager avec voitures et autobus (des double deckers, en plus!), mais pour sauver du temps (et avoir l’air very British), on prend son vélo. « Tu verras, m’avait-on proclamé, ça te permet de traverser la ville en 10 minutes et si tu as un panier, plus besoin de traîner tes livres ou ton épicerie!».

Étant obstinée et paresseuse, je n’ai écouté personne et ne me suis pas procurée de bicyclette….jusqu’à maintenant.

Mon nouveau mode de transportation. (Guenille non incluse.)

Voici comment je me suis rendue là :

Monday, November 7, 2011

Resuming normal programming

Okay, so there was a brief and unplanned period of non-posting on this blog. Life was extra busy, readings started piling up on me and I went chasing high and low after my elusive sleep pattern. I'm happy (and relieved) to say that things are more back under control now and that we're back to regular spamming from yours truly! So expect a barrage of posts coming up in the next few days. (Hopefully this brings a smile -- and not a frown, to your face, oh dearest reader.)

I leave you with a recent picture of Cornmarket Street, a major pedestrian shopping street in central Oxford. You can see the Christmas decorations that have been put up (my favorite is the one of a bike pulling a sleigh!) and Christ Church's tower in the background.

On a rare day (almost) clear blue skies can be seen in England...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

So, about this fencing lark

As I mentioned in my last post, I have taken up fencing! But before you get any ideas of me coming back from England wielding a sword and spouting witty repartees, please bear in mind that this is me that we're talking about, wholly uncoordinated me who manages to hit her own head while learning how to serve in tennis. Please remember that.

What I wish I looked like VS. What I actually look like.

Now, I do a beginner's foil lesson with the Oxford University Fencing Club (founded in 1891!) once a week. Each session last about 90 minutes and I invariably walk out of the cricket grounds (don't ask) exhausted, sweaty and thinking "OMG THAT IS SO COOL". Have I mentioned the exhausted and sweaty part? Because, wow, all that padding and protection sure make for a LOT of sweating. Which ends up back on said padding and protection again. It's like a vicious, smelly circle of sweat. (I'm not convinced they wash the equipment all that often either.)

As for the exhaustion, well, I'm not the most in shape person to start with, so I really, really feel all those footwork drills. Case in point: as I write this it's Wednesday evening and my legs are still dying from Sunday's session. Going up and down stairs has been...entertaining. For others to watch, that is. It feels even stranger because in fencing, one only does steps and lunges on one side, according to the sword arm. The end result is that not only I have different sore muscles in each leg, but I've been hobbling around Oxford like a limp limping thing for the last three days. I'm seriously considering pretending that I'm left-handed for the next practice.

The Iffley Sports Center, where my weekly self-tortures take place.

So in short: fencing is difficult and sweaty but I'm having tremendous fun. I will try to keep at it for as long as I can, so do be en garde about a whole slew of fencing-related (bad) puns coming your away. After all, you wouldn't want to foil my plan of (badly) punning away all year, now would you?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Que faire de son temps libre à Oxford*

(*Hah, ceci est une question piège, car clairement, vous n'aurez JAMAIS de temps libre à Oxford!)

Comme toute bonne école, Oxford regorge d'activités para-, inter- et pseudo-scolaires. Mais Oxford étant Oxford, tout se trouve intensifié et multiplié par un facteur de 10. Pour quelle autre raison une même université aurait-elle 25 organisations bénévoles avec plus ou moins la même mission, 15 groupes musicaux d'instruments à cordes, 3 clubs de dégustations de vin et une équipe de hockey sous-marin? Et sans oublier les nombreuses publications étudiantes (affiliées avec l'Université, par faculté, par collège, par domaine et les indépendantes) et les équipes de sports (pour tous les niveaux, de débutants à champions olympiques. Non je ne blague pas.)

Bref, la variété, il y en a ici. Pour aider les pauvres nouveaux étudiants pommés que nous sommes à nous orienter, l'Université---en association avec ses clubs, sociétés, groupes, associations, etc., organise l'annuel Fresher's Fair. Pensez à une foire étudiante, multipliez le nombre de kiosques par 10, puis imaginez que l'événement dure 3 jours, envahit l'entièreté du très joli Exam Schools et comporte des files d'attente, des wristbands par plage horaire et des commanditaires commerciaux qui vous garrochent pizza, cartes postales et portes-clés. Toute une production!

Envahissement du Exam Schools, effectivement...

La file faisait le tour de la rue...on s'aurait cru à un concert!

Une fois (finalement!) rentrée dans l'édifice, vos problèmes ne font que commencer. Des armées d'étudiants enthousiastes, charmants et beaucoup trop convaincants vous suivent d'une salle à une autre, brandissant pamphlets et feuilles d'inscription. J'ai moi-même découvert deux traits importants de ma personnalité cette journée-là: a) je cède terriblement facilement sous la pression de mes pairs; et b) je suis constitutionnellement incapable de mentir sous pression alors je n'ai jamais pensé à leur donner de faux noms ou de faux courriels. Ceci explique sûrement pourquoi je reçois en moyenne 60 courriels par semaine, venant entre autres:

*  des équipes d'escrime, de tir à l'arc, de kendo, de spéléologie et de dancesport (pour votre information je ne pratique aucun de ces sports et ne connaissais même pas ce qu'est le kendo...);
* des Oxford Singers, malgré le fait que je ne chante pas;
* de deux associations d'étudiants chinois, dont les courriels sont entièrement en chinois c.-à-d. incompréhensibles à mes yeux;
* de 3 sociétés cinématographiques, de 2 clubs juridiques et de 2 sociétés de débats, tous dont j'ai énormément de misère à distinguer les unes des autres;
* le club des athéistes/humanistes, la jazz society, le Doctor Who club, la société des jeux questionnaires, la history society et la Student Union, qui est toute une institution par elle-même!

Ouf. À part de me forcer à rigoureusement trier boîte à lettre, l'avantage de ces assauts de courriels est que j'ai pu m'adonner à de nombreuses activités que je n'aurai jamais pensé à essayer autrement. (Et oui, je suis maintenant membre de l'équipe d'escrime, niveau très très débutant!) Le grand désavantage, c'est que, eh ben, une journée n'a que 24 heures et que je passe la grande moitié de celles-ci à dormir ou à manger!

Je continue de paufiner ma routine oxfordienne et de rechercher ce fameux équilibre études-lecture-nourriture (on m'assure qu'il existe, en tout cas), mais je suis assez certaine de m'impliquer plus au moins dans les activités suivantes au cours de l'année: escrime (en garde!), débat et la history society. Si tout va bien, j'aimerais aussi ajouter des cours de natation, de danse, d'Allemand débutant et les conférences de la Student Union, mais on verra si mes capacités de gestion du temps sont à l'épreuve.

Bon, je vous laisse, je dois aller faire des courses pour enfin finir d'organiser le fouillis qu'est ma chambre. Ah! Voilà une autre activité que j'aurai dû inclure dans ma liste de choses à faire: comment maximiser le 4.5 mètres carrés de ma chambre et réduire l'apparence de claustrophobie. Vous pensez que je pourrai commencer un club avec ça?

Friday, October 21, 2011

One formal, two formals...

Yesterday was St-Hilda's first Non-Freshers Formal Hall of the term.  It was specifically for graduates too, meaning that we get to sit by subject with our college tutor (who doesn't necessarily teach any of us...) and wear our (graduate) gowns with our formal wear. There are three levels of dress codes at Oxford: formal (smart business), black tie (cocktail dresses/dinner jackets) and white tie (full-length dresses/white ties & tails). Therefore "formal hall" usually means formal dress + gowns, although some colleges which do formal hall weekly require only for the gown to be worn.

Sartorial lesson of the day: gowns and the weather will
render useless any cute outfit you put on.

The dinner itself was quite pleasant. We got served some stout English food by what appears to be volunteer undergrads (though the dessert was a very French-inspired lemon tart) and conversed about...well, a whole lot of random things, actually. Hilda's is known for being not very formal and its people generally easy-going; so far I have definitively felt both. I'm really happy with my college overall, actually. 

Our table of lawyers.

Then tonight I attended Merton's Formal Hall, courtesy of the History Society (one of the 4000 clubs and societies I managed to sign up for --- more on this another time). Christopher Wickham was giving a talk about feudalism and its instrumental use in understanding medieval history, and there was the possibility of dining with him and a few members of the Society beforehand. Free food and the chance to eat in a 13th-Century college? Count me in! 

Portraits, long wooden tables and college-crested dishware?
Very different from St-Hilda's indeed!

The vibe was most different from Hilda's as well. Much MUCH more formal, we were served by white-gloved waiters (not undergrads, hah) and the conversation was more polite dining table-talk than anything. (Although, the last one is probably due to the fact that I don't actually know anyone at Merton...) It was also grand and impressive on a whole other level. My master plan this year includes attending formal hall in as many colleges as possible...we'll see how it goes! 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Une interlude parisienne

Monday night I snuck away to Paris for a quick overnight trip. Ostentatiously it was to retrieve the luggage I left there after last semester (coats, boots, books, etc.). Unofficially, of course, it was to indulge in some pseudo-Erasmus nostalgia and eat as much French food as humanly possible in less than 24 hours.

Paris la jolie. Ne change jamais!

From the moment I got off at Gare du Nord and stepped into the smelly rush hour metro, it all felt as if I never left. The people, the sights, the smells, the air...all was so dear and familiar to me. Elbowing commuters and rudeness and all.

But then again, I imagine that 800 year-old Gothic
cathedrals tend to not change very much over time...

The good parts of the trip: I got my luggage, saw my old neighbour C (who generously kept my luggage while I was gone), caught up with my friend C whom I hadn't seen in two years and was on exchange there (she also let me crash at her place for the night, yay!), had a proper (French) meal, had some real pains au chocolat, was wholly  nostalgic and duly appreciative of my wonderful time there.

The not-so-good parts: Parisians don`t help you with your luggage, even if you`re a small Asian girl trying to drag 25kg through the cursed escalator-less metro, and the trip back was a complete disaster (train was held back at the entrance of the Chunnel, had to brave London rush hour road and tube traffic, got lost trying to find my bus station near Baker Street, computer and cellphone ran out of battery).

I've missed meals like this! Steak tartare, charcuterie, fresh
 Parisian baguette and a 2 Euro glass of  Cote du Rhône. <3 

Anyway, it was overall a necessary and fruitful trip. My group of friends here and I are thinking of maybe organizing something in the springtime. (St-Hilda Hooligans take over Paris? Bring it on!) Also, the trip made me realize how easily I got un-used to traveling all the time. I guess last semester (6 months, 14 cities and 20-something train and plane rides) really was exceptional.

Another familiar sight: London St-Pancras Station.