A modicum of sleep later, it was time to take a second bit of that oversized apple (I do hope it’s a Braeburn). My original intention had been to go to the Jewish Heritage Museum this morning, but still a bit emotionally drained from yesterday and knowing my propensity for pre-flight stress, I didn’t think I’d be in the right frame of mind to best appreciate a visit. Also, with all the hours of contained-plane sitting ahead, it seemed that the best thing to do would be to be outside in the world and noticing the sunshine on my face.

With that in mind, I took the 1 train down to a corner of Central Park. My great confusion at why one woman couldn’t hold onto the supporting pole in the train carriage (she was pushing on it only with the palms of her hands) was resolved when I realised that she’d just had her nails done! I’ve never seen that before – our movements and physical traits are completely defined by our actions, it’s incredible.

I sat on a bench and did some origami, to be at peace in a garden. There was something today about needing to be outside (very Roberta in The Railway Children, if you know that marvellous film). Lots of different groups were out playing baseball, which was nice and American to watch. Baseball has very distinctive noises associated with it. It also reminded me of being in Jane’s car in New Haven, seeing a father and son on the green and excitedly saying “oh look! They’re playing – er… mitt… catch…?” Yep, I’ve definitely got all the terminology down.

Running is a big thing in New York. It’s not just that there were so many runners in Central Park, but that there are so many dedicated running wear shops in the city. Everyone is kitted out with their running-specific gear.

Squirrel count was high, you’ll be happy to hear.

Brent the Amerihog decided to show Hedgehog his stomping ground and they had a high old time looking at the trees and lakes. And making several tourists/New Yorkers confused/perturbed by their presence.

CP is a very pleasant part of the city and round the edges there are quaint farmers markets and the such like. For lunch I returned to Shake Shack, the fast food joint with really good tasting beef burgers and obviously-potato-derived fries. Yummy!

After that, I was heading for Columbia University district to force Rachel to have a study break. Because the day was so nice, I did just walk up Broadway from 77th Street. It’s quite something just to wander the streets of NY, with all of their colours and screens and text and offers and different languages and everything else.

Walking up Broadway in a straight line counting up from 77 to 111, I managed not to get lost. 10 points to me. Someone said “Hey, Babygirl!” to a grown woman – 50 I-SPY America points (and on the last day!). Rachel and I went to our beloved Nussbaum & Wu for freshly made smoothies. I chose mine mainly based on my opportunity to then ask the following question: “Can I please have a large Columbia University I.Q.?”. Rachel was impressed by how energetic I seemed, but really the main work of today has been to remain awake (a genuine struggle). I am running on empty and this point and doing what I imagine is the laboratory rat’s final frenzied little dance before he pops his ratty clogs! I’ve danced in clogs before: it’s a very strange sensation.

With anything to do with anxiety, stress, or being a chronic pain in your own arse, you have to be incredibly pleased with any 0.05% improvement you manage to implement within yourself. So I’m pleased that I managed the ‘getting to the airport for a transatlantic flight’ scenario a fraction better than I did last time. I planned a route which didn’t involve a taxi and when on the subway tried not to stress and remember that I had allowed plenty of time to get there. I tried only to think about the current stage of the process (and not pre-empt Penn Station… it’s enough to be in Penn-Head when you’re there!). Knowing I had time to spare and that my arm was bad I let the crowd dissipate before trying to find the lift which – without the time and people pressure – I did. Navigated Penn well and got my ticket. When other people were running past me to the platform I said to myself “the platform is over there, the time is 4.00 the train departs at 4.07, cool your boots, Charlwood” and then sang daft little 10-second songs to myself with titles like Please Don’t Bash Into Me, and I Like Your Case, I Wonder Where You Bought It.

The NJ Transit train to the airport was quite nice really and not crowded. They made brilliant announcements about how Newark Penn was not the airport, and then when Newark International was next, the conductor came through to tell us individually. As he got to me, I saluted him and said “I’m on it!”.
“You’re on it? I knew it. You looked like someone who’d done this before.”
Funny conductor – I like him. When I got off onto the platform, he was leaning out from the other end of the carriage to check progress, so I gave him a jolly wave. Because he couldn’t stop me.

The Virgin Atlantic man was very nice but called me ‘sweetheart’ every single exchange. Clenched grin, clenched grin, I’m so happy that you’re calling me that you 30-something man… Awkward.

Right. Flying home. Here we go.

Pics: views of Central Park; Brent shows hedgehog a favourite haunt; boating lake; hedgehogs look across the lake to the NY skyline; sharing smoothies with Rachel.

20140406-171611.jpg

20140406-173024.jpg

20140406-173034.jpg

20140406-173042.jpg

20140406-173050.jpg

20140406-173059.jpg

20140406-173108.jpg

20140406-173112.jpg

20140406-173116.jpg

Last night I had my usual hating-Penn-Station experience as I got off the Amtrak. The queue for taxis was magnificently long and the weather was pretty biting. Still, I had some jollity with fellow wet waiting people. In fact, generally, people have been nice and talkative here in New York: i had a lovely chat with a man in Starbucks about being in NY and making the most of one’s time here, and at a dance performance the lady next to me was voluntarily interested in conversing with me. I do think that Americans are more easygoing about chatting to strangers than we are in England.

So my first goal, after last night’s experience, is never to get in another NY taxi for as long as I live (if I can help it). It’s not the expense (though considerable), or that they always ask you “where is that?” when you give the address – it’s just not worth the fear and panic I apparently go through in a NY taxi. Yes, the traffic was particularly dire last night, but it’s the constant fits and starts (or rather rev-zooms and whiplash brakings) that through my breathing entirely out of whack. If I was an animal with hackles, I’d’ve been busting through my own fur. The only way to calm down was to accept that I might die. No, yes, this is because I’m an anxious, catastrophising individual, but for the moment I can do less about that than I can about not getting into a taxi! (Also, the little TV screens with a round of 6 adverts are extremely annoying. How the hell is Jeopardy supposed to work?!).

Anyway, I got to my destination after about 40 mins of scaredom, and was grateful. I’m staying once again with my elderly relatives: my Grandma’s cousin and her husband. Marjorie and I really hit it off last summer so it’s great to be back. We have great discussions about life, death ad all that’s in-between.

“It’s difficult to keep the roaches away in New York City.” Now there’s a sentence I won’t forget.

No, today was not a good day to have messed up my pain medication, but then I’ve never been a master of timing. It is proof of the miraculously bizarre things the brain can do, though. I’ve had the same medication routine for a couple of years now, but when I’m very tired, I can risk falling asleep before I’ve thought to take the requisite pills. Thus, in the shower last night I repeated “Now do remember to take that pill, Catherine” to myself in my head. Now why I went for the singular anyway, is beyond me, but sure enough I did remember to do something – and took my MORNNG combination of pills instead of the EVENING ones. What am I like?! And how could my brain remind me to take things, but then mistake the right combo for the time of day?! Human beings, eh? Who’d have ‘em?

My favourite sentence that Marjorie has said to me is “If you’re a human being you’re already in a predicament”. True, and observant.

I was really good with the subway yesterday (this is an achievement for a claustrophobe and Class A transport idiot like myself). However, lady who was stood behind me at 72nd St when I was trying to top up my metro card – it is not helping to loudly “Oh my God” and complain about how “it does NOT take this long”, when I’m an out-of-towner literally punching a touch screen that is not responding!

After visiting the 9/11 Memorial (see separate post) I managed to get lost in NYC. Now to everyone who says “You can’t get lost in New York City! It’s a grid”, I answer yes you can, and here’s how. It’s very simple. First, you need to have no idea which subway station exit you’re using and thus which direction you’ve ended up facing. Then you need no wifi signal while you’re on the move so you can’t look up maps. You also need not to have a physical map. Not knowing how the grid system works (with the streets avenues thing) also helps. Then, you just need to look at an actual map and be convinced you’re walking in one direction… when actually you’re walking 180 degrees in the opposite direction. Ta-da! You are lost!

Also, at one point I couldn’t see the street signs because the avenue was closed off. I chanced upon some Scottish parade? No idea what it was, but there was tartan and bagpipes everywhere. Then I ended up accidentally on 5th Avenue and that’s how I knew I’d gone wrong. The reason this was a problem was that I had a ticket for a dance performance at 3pm. And it was 2.38pm. Cue rapidly trying to figure out how I could get to where I needed to be and then sprinting 6 blocks. Because that’s the state you want to be in when you settle back to appreciate art.

I had booked a ticket to see Ailey II, the Alvin Ailey Dance Company’s smaller, sister company. The theatre was in the basement of the Alvin Ailey Dance Center, a huge complex in which countless different studios etc. hold tons of classes not just for dance professoinals, but children, adults and members of the community. The AA’s commitment to education and outreach has always been impressive.

I saw the Alvin Ailey Company at Sadler’s Wells in London a few years ago and just loved it. I have long been watching AA clips on youtube anyway, so it was a natural progression. Ailey founded his company partly to show African-American cultural experiences through the medium of dance. In terms of American cultural memory, his work is of primary importance. When I think of the Alvin Ailey company I think of jaw-dropping flexibility and athleticism, a deep plie in second, and arms in a wide second with the elbows inverted. I wasn’t disappointed by Ailey II. The programme I saw was called ‘Returning Favorites’, with four separate works being performed.

The Ailey company is so obviously well-loved, from the audience turn-out and reaction. In fact, I was sat in front of some Ailey-connected people with comp tickets, one of whom was (rom comments he made) obviously a retired Ailey dancer himself. The appreciation and camaraderie was really wonderful. I’m glad I got to see a work choreographed by Ailey himself ‘Streams’, which really showed off the Ailey technique I’d so wanted to witness again. The music (Eight Inventions, by Miloslav Kabelac) reminded me of the score for Planet of the Apes, because of the rhythmic drive and use of xylophone. Don’t misread this as a slight: Planet has an ace score and was groundbreaking in its use of electronic effects.

‘We’, a pas de deux by Robert Battle had me in tears. Honest, understated, beautiful. After ‘Streams’, the lady next to me turned round and started up a conversation about how good it was. I like that, when sharing in the same performance temporarily forms you into a community. It is testament to the Ailey II dancers that I really enjoyed ‘Virtues’, even though the score was by Karl Jenkins. My Mum and sister would have loved it – and really like his music – but while it is very danceable, KJ does some very silly things in his compositions as far as I’m concerned. For me, the Alvin Ailey company has never been embarrassed about showing how enjoyable movement is. Their joy is infectious. The Henri Oguike company, based in England, has a similar effect. I’ve seen lots of the world’s best dance companies perform and I love many forms of dance, but the Alvin Ailey Company is the one which I most consistently recommend friends make an effort to see. With them, I am most confident that the audience will leave loving dance, but also wanting to rush home, stick on some music and just move.

On the way back home to change for dinner, I saw the Capezio store and had to go in. To a dancey person, it’s another form of tourist attraction!

I met up with my Ameribuddy Rachel for dinner, at a favourite Italian place called Pisticci’s. Wonderful food. I also tried the Morningside Martini, because I’m living in Morningside Gardens! Delicious. The waiter recited a full 5 minute (I kid you not) specials list with no prompt whatsoever. It felt wrong not to applaud at the end of such a feat. Then Rachel and I felt very guilty when neither of us ordered anything from said specials list… (He took it well, but we felt bad). When we got a shared starter with the mozzarella on the side and I ordered a main ‘without the ricotta’, the waiter said “you must be the no cheese girl”. As titles go, it’s pretty true and non-offensive, so I’ll take it. Friends back home will be amused by this branding: their brie parties were a distinctly non-brie affair for me!

Rachel and I had a great time: reminiscing about living together in Cambridge (UK), discussing the Yale Univ Art Gallery (Rachel is a Yalie) and playing my dramatic drinking game. The Dramatic Drinking Game goes like this (and is safe for all ages): you take your glass of water, swig a sip, react AS IF IT IS NEAT VODKA or some such spirit, slam your glass on the table, eyeball your friend and improvise a line that could legitimately be from a scene in an old movie. “Well I guess I shoulda seen that coming” would be an example, but it can get pretty creative. It’s hysterical good fun. People will, though, wonder just what you’re doing…

All in all it was a yummy and delightful evening (though as ever I want to pack Rachel and bring her to Britain). A very exhausting, but well-used day in NYC, methinks!

Pics: my weekend home!; 125th Street Station; Brent the Amerihog introduces Hedgehog to one of the most important figures of American dance; an iconic Ailey image – a still from ‘Revelations’; the Alvin Ailey Dance Center; the Capezio store; thirsty hedgehogs; delicious food; Morningside Martini anyone?

20140406-100834.jpg

20140406-100838.jpg

20140406-100845.jpg

20140406-100850.jpg

20140406-123119.jpg

20140406-123127.jpg

20140406-123131.jpg

20140406-123149.jpg

20140406-123724.jpg

20140406-123945.jpg

20140406-123957.jpg

I’m posting this separately, as I think it’s important that it stands alone from my other NYC-based activities. I booked a timed ticket to visit the 9/11 Memorial for 11am this morning. The Memorial is open to the public, but the much-awaited Museum opens in May of this year. I caught the subway down to the area, got completely lost and then found the crowds. Crowds swarm around the entrance, and there are two queues: one for those who have their advance tickets and those who need to be issued with tickets. Tickets are free, but advance purchase is strongly advised.

The first thing to note was the sheer number of people going through the snaking queue system. Then my attention was abruptly brought into contact with the number of people photographing not the memorial, but themselves. A group of young women bunched together to take a picture: dentist-advert-perfect smiles and poses to best suit their assets – this is a photo heading for Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram (whatever it is that that is). Then another visitor offered to take a photo of all of them together, so another of these shots was taken, this time with the former photographer crouched prettily in front. Already I was thinking that it would be difficult it you had come to the 9/11 Memorial to grieve. How would you take the merriment of those queuing? I began to worry that someone might ask me to take their photo – what would I say? I couldn’t do it, but what on earth would I say?

For those getting their tickets upon arrival, they were asked for a donation to the Memorial. Donations above $10 earned you a 9/11 Memorial charity bracelet. I saw this on the website, when I was sorting my advance ticket and it just doesn’t quite sit right. I know that charity bands have long existed, but it used to be that any donation meant you could have a band if you wanted (same as a one pound pin for Cancer Research or whatever). It felt a bit oddly like a marker of status than anything else.

Security is extremely tight at the Memorial and you will be asked to remove coats, hats, scarves, bags, belts etc., put them in plastic trays and walk through a scanner individually. It bears strong resemblance to airport security, but the line moves fairly fast. The site itself is policed by 9/11 Memorial staff, 9/11 Memorial Security and the NYPD. Your ticket is scanned, checked multiple times and marked.

For all of this seriousness, many visitors were still acting like it was any other tourist attraction. The phrase ‘memory tourism’ from conferences I’ve attended came back with a vengeance. I’m the kind of person who wore what my Mum calls ‘black school trousers’ today, because I didn’t want to go in jeans. I wasn’t happy about wearing trainers, but with all the walking it was necessary.

To get to the Memorial itself, you walk a scaffolded route across uneven ground, stepping up and down from curbs, always ushered in a particular direction. Security is everywhere.

I remember all of the debates that went into the creation of this memorial: who should be remembered, as well as whose design should be chosen. Michael Arad and Peter Walker’s design was chosen from 5,201 submissions from 63 countries. It’s a very understated memorial in many ways, which I think works. The base sites of the two towers have been transformed into two pools, into which cascades the water of 30-foot waterfalls, with the water draining into a central void. The noise of the water is one powerful part of the experience. It is constant, overwhelming, natural. Around these pools, the names of the victims are inscribed on interconnected panels.

I didn’t spend long at the South Tower: it is the first thing as you go in and everyone was crowded around every part of it. Pushing to the front (as some did) just didn’t seem like the way forward.

I also saw the ‘Survivor Tree’. The information leaflet notes that this was found by workers, ‘reduced to an eight-foot-tall stump, in the wreckage at Ground Zero’. Nursed to health, it has grown tall and flowers again.

I wasn’t expecting to be desperately moved by the Memorial, given my inauspicious start and seeing so many families taking super-grinny photos (with the pools in the background), girls popping their knees for the classic ‘group shot’ pose. Everyone drinking from their Starbucks cups while they wandered around. I don’t want to think that I’m militant when it comes to memory, but I do think there are certain ways to behave. I wouldn’t be best pleased if someone wandered past my relative’s grave swigging a Starbucks. That’s a personal feeling. I started to invent little rules: no coffee, please; go by yourself – or at least break from your group and try to find out what it is that YOU can take from/wished to take from this experience. Please don’t go with your ‘gal pals’ for a girly visit – it isn’t that kind of place.

I wasn’t expecting to be desperately moved – but I was. When I wandered over to the North Pool, it was largely deserted. Big signs advertised ‘Warning – Strong Crosswind’, which – when water is involved – means the possibility of being sprayed. I actually quite relished that, and it being more of a living memorial that quite literally touched me. Since other people were trying to escape the water, I got the solitude I was looking for. In fact, I decided to walk the entire perimeter of the pool, whatever the weather. Because there were no crowds, I could read the names semi-continuously, and said some aloud as I went. The variety of nationalities is strongly evident this way and it puts 9/11 into global perspective. Twice I saw names with ‘and her unborn child’ inscribed along with them. Of course that was upsetting – all of the potential for life therein.

We all have our personal memories of 9/11 and whether they are flashbulb memories (i.e. likely to be false) or not, they remain ours and important to us. I was 14 when 9/11 happened and came home from school to this incomprehensible news item on TV. A morning event for America, of course it wasn’t for Britain. I think I remember seeing the situation develop and the eventual falling of each tower. What I really remember is watching panic and fear, and not knowing what to do about it.

I did end up in tears at the 9/11 Memorial. I sat by myself and allowed myself to cry. I was glad I had a hedgehog to hold in my hand. I felt ridiculous about crying, because nobody else around me was. It is, in itself, an apt memorial. And it is worth going to attend. I choose that verb purposely: you attend it – to be present and bear witness, but also to deal with what it was and what it is.

Pics: The notice remind visitors why we’re here; security notices; social media for your expereinces; the South Pool; the waterfall; centre of the pool; some of the inscribed names; the survivor tree; names of the rescuers who perished; view from the North Pool.

20140405-132427.jpg

20140405-132432.jpg

20140405-132438.jpg

20140405-132444.jpg

20140405-132448.jpg

20140405-132453.jpg

20140405-132458.jpg

20140405-132507.jpg

20140405-132503.jpg

20140405-132529.jpg

So… about that ballad. Jane had a press conference she needed to attend last night and so took me along. I was at a very posh function, with well-dressed people, wearing the King of Boots… and a Dartmouth sweater. So it was already quite hilarious. The great and good of New Haven gathered for the launch of the International Arts & Ideas Festival. The line-up etc. was to be unveiled and tens poured into the room to hear about it. In an ace coincidence, I was here last summer for said festival and one of my best America memories is of dancing along to KC & the Sunshine Band on the green with the entire community joining in. This summer looks set to be amazing too: famous and up-and-coming music artists (from jazz violin to symphony orchestras), groundbreaking dance works, a lecture series… The list goes on.

Being very much a non-business bod, it was fascinating for me to see the machinations that go on in the corridors of city power, and how such events are run. An open bar and fancy finger food complimented the set-up (though I still don’t understand why serving something in a metal bucket makes it posh). For the first time ever, I enjoyed eating popcorn. A little too much popcorn, actually – another guest commented on it… But then said “no, it’s fine. It has like no calories in.” Not the thought that was foremost in my mind, but thanks? There are tensions in Camp New Haven, as certain people are appointed to things and others have their noses put out of joint. As both an outsider and a naive non-politician, I think ‘why can’t everyone work together to the same end of creating a brilliant festival for the community (and subsequent projects)?’ As a realist, I realise that no aspect of adult behaviour has ever followed such simple rules!

Anyway, I’m sure the festival is going to be both a hit and a hoot. I was really interested to see that there are International Festival Fellows: high school students who are helping to organise and publicise the event. Unfortunately, their role wasn’t really introduced during the event, so I went to the programme co-ordinator afterwards to ask how it works. An invitation to apply was sent out to high schools within the area that arts-interested students could be afforded this opportunity. They filled out a form, sent in a resume and wrote an essay as part of the application, and then the successful went on to an interview stage. It’s a great opportunity to experience the world of work (and particularly that of arts administration) for these youngsters, especially since the festival has such a great reputation and has been selected as one of CNN’s ’50 things to do in 50 states’. It’s such a cool experience – I just wish that either the co-ordinator, or indeed the students themselves, had been given the opportunity to explain it to the audience.

For her first attempt at making bread, Jane turned out a perfect Farmers Market-looking rustic artisan bread. Amazing. I’m pleased it worked out, given all of the worrying she did about it! There were also fresh scones for breakfast, so I was munching treat after treat.

Last night Jane and I were talking about cultural differences between Britain and the US, particularly in terms of confidence and approaching people you don’t know that well. Today we were talking about cultural differences across several countries: the world lives together in the Alston House, with guests from all kinds of places.

Er, yes – why wouldn’t I be back in Blue State? I needs my bean-filled mocha before I leave it again!

Etta James’ ‘At Last’. Tune.

Some good coffeeing and emailing later, I went to Chipotle for lunch. I promised myself I’d get to lunch here at least once while in the country. Yum yum. The speed of fast food places here, though, is still scary. Servers yell questions at you and you try to yell answers back. When there was an almighty CRASH from the kitchens, my face must’ve registered mega shock, because the server then said “sorry” to me. Whoops… I’d really like to go to America with my Dad one day, because I think it’d be really funny to see him cope with such interactions/imitate the American accent and for us to discuss the funny things that happened.

I went back to the Yale University Art Gallery this afternoon, because the last time I was there I barely did it viewing justice. There’s so much and so little time (and also so many different floors, elevator shafts and bathrooms – but only one exit – that it’s very easy to get lost). The temporary exhibition at the moment is of Japanese screens, decorated by brush and ink, often with calligraphy. It made me think that if I ever have a house, and one that could legitimately require room dividers, I’d like my Mum to do me a calligraphy screen; that would be beautiful.

I continued looking at the European galleries, because that’s mainly where my art interests lie. Like many of us, visual art gives me the uncomfortable feeling that I’m ‘doing it all wrong’, but I looked and had thoughts/ideas, and gained some aesthetic pleasure from the whole experience, and that’s what I was looking for.

I’m not going to bore you with my rambling thoughts on all the paintings I saw, but rather offer a few highlights that stuck out. I learned that the half-moon shaped panels (Italian Renaissance) were usually painted to be placed high up on an altarpiece and are called ‘lunettes’. Nice name. ‘The Temptation of Saint Anthony Abbot’ by Master of the Osservanza, tempera on panel was surprisingly effective. It almost looks three-dimensional, partly because it is so small and has three very colourful details in the foreground, one of which is a sort of fuchsia that doesn’t look like a Renaissance colour. I know that sounds ridiculous, but there it is. Those spectral gradations didn’t exist back then, or as finely as they did later on. It’s really striking (and I’m someone who has a dreadful habit of ignoring smaller paintings, especially if they’re hung near bigger paintings… I should basically be put to death by the artistic community…).

‘The Assumption of the Virgin’ by Luca di Tomme, displays figures textured with gold. It’s impressive how well it suggests rich patterned fabrics (like those of really expensive curtains). Also, there are two angels either side of Mary (intermingled with other, normal, rejoicing angels) with obviously folded arms and disgruntled expressions that Mary is getting all the attention. It strangely puts me in mind of Auden’s poem ‘Musee des Beaux Arts’, and showing the range of reactions to a given event: the pedestrian, the less sanguine, the ones that might be judged. One particular picture of the Virgin and Child appealed because the Christ child was depicted as an interested baby, reaching out to grasp a reed/quill? Young children are like that: interested, exploring through touch. I liked seeing this highly recognisable, yet little represented, angle on the matter. Jean-Francois Millet’s ‘Starry Night’ is really effective, with the stars as tiny pricklings of light across a nocturnal landscape. In a completely non-pejorative way, it’s pretty. And while very different, it also reminds you of Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’, which is never a bad thing.

Being me, I accidentally walked into every single class and tour group happening in the gallery at that time. It got to a point where I asked a guard “How am I doing this?” – and he looked confused, because we’d never met, and he didn’t know of my previous tour encounters. 5 Idiocy Points to me. One tour group was so large that I began to think I should never bother approaching the door, for I was destined never to pass. Eventually, a well-groomed tour guide ushered me through, which was kind. It highlighted one difference between Brits and Americans, though: a British steward would usher you through by shadowing you through the door with his/her hand, whereas an American will physically touch you. I don’t mind at all (well, I’m very protective of my bad arm, but that was out of the way), it’s just lightly shocking, because I am not from a tactile people!

Among the small yet ample Impressionist collection, Yale has a Degas sculpture. I have a bit of a Degas obsession anyway and have been entranced by one of his dancer sculptures before. This time, I was interested to read in the blurb, that Degas strengthened his sculptures with ‘clay and everyday objects like wire, broken paintbrushes, and wine corks.’ Thus they could be ‘endlessly modified and adjusted, allowing Degas to experiment with variations on different poses’. I never knew that. It disrupts our nice categorical idea of ‘sculpture by canonical artist as finished art product’. Jolt me out of my thinking, ED – you always were good at that.

I wandered into the America galleries upstairs, which I hadn’t seen before. It made me want to reread American Visions and made me once again grateful that my supervisor had me read it. Thomas Cole, Eakins – these are names that I recognise (which happens so rarely in art that I very much feel like a peacock that has temporarily fluffed its feathers. Fluff fluff!). Some of those landscapes; some of those new observations – just really appeal to me. Being a sucker for marble (because really HOW do you get that fluidity from stone? I mean, how?), I was very taken with Chauncey Bradley Ives’ ‘Undine rising from the waters’. For someone about to destroy her lover, her posture is remarkably serene, reposing almost within the water. I remember picking a favourite sculpture in San Pietro, Vatican City, because it depicted the folds and falls of material so well, and its the same idea here that captures me. Also, ‘Chauncey’ is a great name. It reminds me of Sir Vauncey Harpur-Crewe, a historical figure who figured largely in my childhood.

I met up with Jane again so that we could have some more time together ahead of catching my next Amtrak, and we went to the lovely bookshop that is Atticus. I had fun playing with a finger puppet book called Little Shark and also bought some greetings cards. Jane sneakily managed to buy me a (completely undeserved) present: I HAVE ANOTHER HEDGEHOG!! Hedgehog has a new friend!

We stumbled upon the grand opening of a new tea palace in New Haven, with countless varieties of loose leaf tea, rich decor and authentically dressed staff. They were providing free samples of different teas, so we had some incredible blueberry-infused white tea and marvelled at the many versions of the glass teapot.

I quite wanted to relive the fruit burst experience that is a Claire’s Cornercopia smoothie. Apple juice, fresh blueberries, fresh strawberries. Very refreshing. After the unveiling of new hedgehog, Jane and I spent time discussing the meanings of toys to different people’s lives and how their role changes as you grow up. This got us onto what you do and don’t need to save from the past (classic memory-object territory for me!), and how this varies person to person. I don’t consider myself a hoarder (ssh, Mum!) but I am a being shaped by, and actively shaping, a material world. Because I can interact with objects, those do inevitably take on certain meanings.

It’s all the thanks to Jane for having me to stay, providing me with yet more experiences (in essentially 24 hours!) and allowing me to continue the joy of my Fulbright experience. She thinks I’m a really fun and positive person, which is wonderful because that’s neither at all my perception of myself nor what I am known for. Truth is, Jane brings out the fun in me – she asks questions and inspires honesty, has an infectious enthusiasm and always wants to learn new things. Growing up, I was a timid (occasionally to the point of silence) little girl, who didn’t voluntarily spend time with new people and didn’t want to share things about herself. We’ve only known each other a brief time, but Jane’s impact on my life is huge – and her warmth continues to have be believe in the goodness (nay, general awesomeness!) of human beings. And because she fed my bunnies before we packed them.

I’m closing this post here, because although I haven’t arrived in New York yet, where I’m headed, there is no wifi. I’ll find a way of updating you with something tomorrow from a random location…

PS. Amtrak taps that you have to push up in order to get water: I will never understand why your aberrant form exists. But you have my attention.

Pics: Festival press conference; Festival fellows with the Mayor of New Haven; popcorn!; breakfast at The Alston House; Jane with the bunnies; the Alston bunny meets Tio & Bunnio; Chipotle burrito bowl; a little bit of Yale (near the Eng Fac); ‘Undine rising from the waters’ by Chauncey Bradley Ives; from the back; an example of a gallery (they are wonderfully lit and spacious); Jane with Eustace Kleinbaum; meeting new friends; sharing a smoothie; me and Jane with new hedgehog!

20140404-114410.jpg

20140404-114425.jpg

20140404-114430.jpg

20140404-114650.jpg

20140404-114654.jpg

20140404-114658.jpg

20140404-114704.jpg

20140404-162323.jpg

20140404-162346.jpg

20140404-162353.jpg

20140404-162400.jpg

20140404-162411.jpg

20140404-162419.jpg

20140404-162425.jpg

20140404-162441.jpg

20140404-162448.jpg

20140404-162454.jpg

20140404-162500.jpg

20140404-162506.jpg

I packed up most of my things last night and freaked out Brianne with my way of relaxing: watching exclusively the episodes of Baywatch that feature shark attacks. “That is so weird!” Yep, but also awesome. It’s good to know that Baywatch is still as hilarious as it ever was. It also has no sense of proportion (ha! I’m not making that joke, but see that it’s appropriate): they’ll do a montage to an entire track and edit nothing. Baywatch shark episodes are like mini bad shark flims – and there’s some pretty decent shark footage.

My taxi driver this morning was telling me hilarious tales of Vermont Mud Season: you lose your shoe, your leg disappears, you have to slide down a hill not walk it. And then we compared stories of broken shoes because of the weather. (At least I’m not the only one).

I’m reliving the last time I left VT, by having coffee and yums in Tuckerbox, an awesome cafe opposite the White River Junction Amtrak station. They make such great coffee. And I totally remembered both to say “for here” and to pronounce it “mow-ka”. 10 Sound Like I Know What I’m Doing points to me.

One thing I meant to mention yesterday but forgot was the clock at Dartmouth. The most anticlimactic sound you will ever hear is the clock striking one, after the terrifically musical carillon-like peal that happens before announcing the hour. Build up… DONG! And you’re done.

So a 5 hour ride on the Vermonter to New Haven. I did note the beautiful scenery as we were leaving Vermont, but exhaustion quickly kicked in and bar some administrative emailing, I kept falling asleep. Whoops! (Though I’m grateful now that I’m blogging later than I’ve been awake for weeks.) Those Amtrak rides are supposed to be the breeding ground for productive work and checking things off the To Do List… Also, I miss Brianne and Buster already: thanks for wild times in Wilder, guys!

Union Station, New Haven. I remembered it well. It is so strange to be a second-time visitor, having only ever done the terrified first-timer. Rather than the ‘Tintern effect’, I’m so grateful that I’m no longer drop dead scared of every single thing that happens. Instead, I was incredibly excited to be seeing JANE again! You will remember Jane as the lady I stayed with when in New Haven on my Fulbright. She is brilliant and we are buds. Pretty much the moment after I’d released her from a bear hug she said “so we’re going to Blue State, right?” What a charmer: my favourite New Haven coffee house – yes I think that is how we should start my time here. The worry was that Blue State only seemed that great because I made it my temporary caffeine-providing home last summer, but no – it really is that good. Oh bean! I taste you and I love you!

In catching up, I got to hear about all of the amazing projects Jane is going to be involved in in New Haven’s big plans for its future. Then we started talking about volunteering and the importance of bringing thinkers together. She was telling me about mentoring a boy at a school for children who’ve been rejected by mainstream education and I told her about my school visits in New England. It’s delightful to talk to somebody who is as enthusiastic about (and finds as fun!) educational and community involvement as you are.

Jane, of course, remembered hedgehog – and had fun photographing him (photogenic beast!). Also, my origami dinosaurs are still here on display at the Alston House by the breakfast table! In my continuing influence, I have apparently caused her grandson to become addicted to Pingu. I was talking about it in relation to language acquisition and how it is understood by (almost) all children. Since August, then, Jane has a Sunday routine with grandson Dylan where he gets into bed and wants to watch “the geese” (by which he means Pingu). I feel a little bit like my life’s work is complete. At dinner, we talked about how obsessed parents and carers are in terms of words, and learning words, as the key to language learning. Conversation, of course, depends on so many more cues than that: politeness strategies, turn taking, intonation, silence, dissent… All of which – believe it or not – Pingu is instrumental in teaching. You gotta love that little clay penguin.

I am super tired, so you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to hear The Ballad of Cathy and the New Haven Top Drawer, in which I go to a function as Jane’s guest and get to meet the Mayor of New Haven! I know! Good, isn’t it? For now, there’s just time to tell you that in returning home (and watching some ace youtube videos of children saying hilarious things) I met one of Jane’s current houseguests. It turned out that we have a common acquiantence: Judson Brewer MD, whom I met last summer. Lucky that I did, for he’s moved from the area to Massachusetts. We got to talking about meditation and all in all it was a reminder of both how interesting interested people are and how many amazing conversations happen in Jane’s kitchen. (Seriously, it’s the place to hang).

PS. In a funny I’m-being-sentimental-about-something-from-the-ditigal-age-that’s-supposed-to-destroy-human-memory way, I was rather touched that my iPad remembers Jane’s wifi code. It knows where I’ve been and is tracing it’s way back to my American haunts. A little trick of technology, maybe, but a moment of memory nonetheless.

Pics: parting shot of Buster; fantastic coffee and breakfast at Tuckerbox; brilliant chalk drawing of a dinosaur for Blue State’s charity board; delicious meal in Westville; needlessly nice writing and drawing on the bill that made me laugh a lot; bedding down with bunnies at The Alston House.

20140403-235810.jpg

20140403-235815.jpg

20140403-235819.jpg

20140403-235823.jpg

20140403-235829.jpg

20140403-235835.jpg

20140403-235840.jpg

And on my last research day, the temperature was high enough that I didn’t need to wear tights under my trousers. So that counts as progress.

As the snow melts, it warps the tarmac of the road, especially at the sides of the road where I walk. These are called ‘frost heaves’ and there are road signs warning drivers of ‘FROST HEAVES’. Someone pointed out the fantastically terrible joke about this perhaps being an unreleased collection of RF’s less good verse.

“Well, good seeing you! Get some more money and come back!”
“Come back in summer next time!”

I gave the staff of the Rauner a collective ‘Thank You’ card, but they’ve all done so much individually to make my time there amazing. I’ve been to a number of universities and frequented many a library – and never have I felt so happy in my little world of research. Library kinship should be a term, because it’s definitely a thing. Before I left, there was time to notice a stuffed baby penguin (horror! horror! – it was a trophy from an early Dartmouth men expedition) and be taught what a Jackalope is (google it. Really…).

When you get into such a daily routine in a place, it’s hard to believe you won’t continue it. And I don’t know if I’ll get back to Rauner: it depends hugely on funding. I once told a former boss (through floods of tears, obviously) that I was “bad at saying goodbye”, but really I’m bad at leaving things. I never want to let go of what I’ve enjoyed holding.

With that, I’m cutting this post short, because I have a case to pack and I’m very sad.

Pics: Frost heaves in action; Hedgie’s final bit of desk time – scaling the Big Green origami.

20140402-203650.jpg

20140402-203656.jpg

So tempted to stay in bed and have all the sleeps, but today is my last attempt to catch the early bus (I really need to be in Rauner from 8am because I’m leaving at 1.35pm on another school visit). I’ll miss the early morning bus crew, with their friendships and their routine. Apparently the lady who drives the early bus watches out for individuals at their usual stops and gets worried if they’re not there: “where’s my Russian lady? Where’s my little one?” It’s very sweet.

On the bus, the early morning bus crew were trying to pull April Fools on one another, which was pretty funny. As the snow is now melting at a fair rate, the graves in the churchyard appear to have doubled in size. It changes the whole look of the place.

“You wan’ a coffee, right hon?” – Lou’s has many a regular customer. This is my last Lou’s breakfast and I’ve opted for the waffle with fresh berries. The fresh strawberries are really juicy and a warm waffle of a cold morning does just the trick.

You know you’re a poetry student when: someone says “close reading” and you think they mean analysing a poem, when they actually they go on to say “but they don’t help with long distance.” Sigh.

As study breaks go, that one was a bit of a winner. Some middle-school students are at Rauner doing a ‘Shadow a worker for a day’ kind of thing. They are spending half an hour each with several different Rauner staff. Jay is bringing out the manuscript big guns for this and let me preview the material. Dickens’ complete David Copperfield in individually published books? Check. Each instalment has so many adverts at the front, including one for ‘female wafers’, which apparently help with hysteria. Complete three-volume set of Pride and Prejudice? Check. Complete Sense and Sensibility? Check. (The title page has ‘by A Lady’ in it – JA’s not hiding her gender, but her identity). Illustrated manuscripts from the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries? Yes, siree bob! The materials in that room are unbelievably cool. Lucky the children who get to gaze on that! (My favourite thing is the illustrated ‘M’ of Merlin. Merlin always deserves an illustrated letter.) Flashbacks to looking at a vellum manuscript in a Cambridge Medieval supervision and begging if I might be allowed to put down my coffee first!

So, current fear (and yes, I am well aware that this blog may as well be called ‘things that scare me’) is that Hardy is getting left by the wayside as I focus my attentions on RF. Now in one very obvious way, this was inevitable. However, it always worries me when I start to see how a chapter fits together from RF’s perspective… and I haven’t filled in the TH part of the puzzle yet. Realistically, I know that’s it’s because I’m currently saturating my mind with all things RF, but hmm… I would that I could always keep them both in play with some miraculous cognitive equilibrium. Ha! ‘Equilibrium’ and I don’t go together in any sense of the word!

With an ill-timed break, I managed to strand Misha (Prof. Gronas) in the Rauner… However, I hurried back and all was well. Together we went through what I call RF’s ‘Psychology Notebook’. It was great to be able to pace through RF’s enigmatic and often unconnected statements with someone much more well-versed in the cognitive than I. As well as memory, RF shows strong interests in attention. Then I borrowed Misha’s Russian-reading ability to flick back through the Russia files and see if I was missing anything crucial. Apparently not, but it was interesting to discuss the highly official overtones of the whole trip and ponder yet again why on earth you’d send elderly poet (and well-known mischief-maker) Robert Frost on a diplomatic visit to Russia amid political tensions?!

At 1.35pm, Steve picked me up to drive me to Crossroads Academy in Lyme, NH. This is a small (120-150 student) independent school, teaching grades K-8. In its beautiful woodland setting (it’s surrounded by snowy woods) it reminded me a bit of a Steiner school. Certainly there seems to be an emphasis on the natural world, which I’m only too pleased about.

I was invited to Crossroads to witness the 7th grade’s end-of-project presentations on Robert Frost. This was the class that organised the ‘You come too’ birthday event I went to last week. I was off to see their creative responses to RF’s poetry: they had freedom to express any aspect via the medium of their choice, so I was excited to see some variety.

As an interloper (and one who was only put in touch with the school by chance) I was incredibly gratified by how pleased the school staff were that I was visiting. I was greeted by and introduced to several of the Crossroads team and really felt part of the Academy, eve for such a brief visit.

I found myself generally impressed by the range of literature these kids get introduced to. The board was full of Romantic contexts for the 8th grade, and a series of printed images around the top of the room told the narrative of which books had been studied this year. Unimpressed by the distinct lack of female voices in the canon, Steve asked the children about why that might be and they went on to read Charlotte Perkins Gilman and some Woolf! These are young students – and already they are considering the intricacies of canonisation. Neat is the understated word.

It really was delightful to be present for the 7th graders’ presentations. One was largely inspired by Rauner’s photographic images of Frost, leading us through his family geneaology. Others used videos connecting the poetry to the landscape, or to dramatic representations of it. We saw original artwork accompanied by a reading, and some beautiful music was chosen to be in line with Frost’s lyrics. The different directions in which the students took the brief were fascinating: one girl (who had memorised RF’s ‘A Minor Bird’) showcased different bird calls and then introduced us to the ‘lyre bird’ of Africa which can imitate any sound (we heard it replicating – impressively! – construction vehicles). Two other boys had learned how to look at ice. This was RF’s effect in action, which I rarely see: students using him as a springboard to create their own individual memories.

The final presentation actually made my day by marrying two of my favourite things: Robert Frost and origami. the origami version of ‘Dust of Snow’ (a poem which I love) will stay with me forever. And while the multimedia presentations were amazing, it was really nice to end on an understated poetic note.

I got to tell the students a little bit about my PhD work on RF and how an interest in his work might extend beyond their project into years of study. One little boy said, “Just one question: which English football team do you support?”. I am a British let-down…
“Well, I don’t really support football… but I’m going to go with my home team: Leicester City Football Club. LCFC.”
“Ok!”

Before I left, Steve had me sign the back of the RF portrait and write down the poem I read. Crossroads intend to make the birthday readings a tradition. I was also given a copy of the chapbook the 7th grade made – signed by all of the children. I confess I am really touched by this and it’s a lovely memento to have of this trip. (Also, the opportunity to engage with French and Spanish translations of RF – and annoy Livvy, my literary translator friend, with them!).

On the drive back into Hanover, three deer ran across the road and then did terrific stag leaps over the fence and into the wood. Superb.

I’m trying very very very hard to be ok about my arm pain, given that there’s not that long to go anyway, but it’s a challenge. My skin objected to the heat patch plaster I wore today so now that all angry and red to boot. Sigh. Come on reserve stamina and resilience: it’s your moment.

There was enough sun today that I felt I might try out Morano Gelato (for a little bit of Italy). Good decision and excellent gelato. I also drank San Pellegrino for that ‘aranciata’ feel. How, though, am I in America and still being annoyed that I am subjected to football games (soccer as is said here) in a public space! I can’t believe I only have two nights left in Vermont and one more day in the Rauner – hedgehog is going to struggle to say goodbye to the staff. As will I, but that much should be obvious.

Pics: final breakfast at Lou’s; Littlun listening to some tunes; Crossroads classroom; me along with Steve; the RF portrait; the signed back; Morano gelato; signed copy of the Crossroads chapbook.

20140401-212822.jpg

20140401-212827.jpg

20140401-212832.jpg

20140401-212837.jpg

20140401-212841.jpg

20140401-212848.jpg

20140401-212857.jpg

20140401-212901.jpg

20140401-212906.jpg

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 512 other followers