Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Silent Blog Decides to Speak

So, this whole blog endeavor hasn't gone so well.
I figure maybe I should actually update. Let's see...since last we spoke pretty much the entire year has gone by. After a lovely time at home, I spent New Years in Belfast with two amazing people (Shannyn and Alex), mourning the death of my grandmother and exploring new places. I think that's how she would have wanted it. My travels brought me to Dublin where although I didn't get to see the actual Book of Kells, I did see some extremely good facsimiles along with other real illuminated manuscripts from the same era. This then reminded me of my Grandfather. Something that's been on my mind a lot this past semester is my heritage: as far back as Scottish warriors (or sheep herders?), and as close to home as my grandparents. I'm not sure how to explain it, but I like feeling connected. I like feeling as though my life is the continuation of someone else's dream. Of course my dreams are unique, but they are also tied into history both genetically and culturally. This summer I'm going back to Greece, and will be excavating in a vest that belonged to my grandmother - she got it for her first trip to Egypt. There is no way for me to explain how much that means to me.

So anyway. The trip with Shannyn and Alex was thoroughly amazing. From Belfast we went to the Giant's Causeway, which was one of the most beautiful landscapes I've seen, then to Dublin. From Dublin we went to A little town in Wales for a day, which was not nearly long enough. We saw horses and beautiful countryside. Then we headed to London, where I unfortunately forgot to take pictures. I do like London, though. We saw the Tate Britain, which was stunning. We took many trips to the British Museum, which although I have avid archaeological misgivings about and loyalties elsewhere, I can't help loving (in my defense I didn't donate, and I didn't go see the Parthenon marbles). The first time I went the the British Museum it was the Near Eastern wall reliefs and the ROSETTA STONE that stuck out, this time it was the Sutton Hoo helmet. We went to the British Library, which I absolutely loved. We saw, among other things, the Lindisfarne Gospels! We also went a bunch of other places that have now sort of blurred together. I really should have kept up this blog.

Second term and this term my traveling has been slim to nonexistent (dance, essays, exams), although I have been trying to see as much of Durham as possible. Seeing Durham has proved surprisingly difficult; I really hate how much I take things for granted. I still haven't seen the Durham archaeological museum. Perhaps that will be this week, to take a break from 'revising'. I have been to a few more pubs though... (mostly for delicious veggie burgers). There's a pub called the New Inn, which is right across from the science sight, so it's a delightful place to go for lunch after a morning of working on something like illustration. One day almost everyone in the Dawson building working on illustration (about 8 girls) went to lunch together. Very fun. Illustration was a great class - because you can talk while drawing I actually got to know the people in it. It gave me a lot of insight into the lives of third year students in the British University system. It's pretty impressive - the amount of pressure is insane. But I also love how all the archaeologists know each other and, for the most part, supported each other. Particularly at the end of a semester when everyone was going crazy the sense of camaraderie was very comforting.

The performance with In Step was very much fun, especially as I was dancing with one of my good friends. But I have to say, I miss DTG so much. It's just not the same. Also, though, I'm terrified for being president next year. I'm still not quite sure what it is I'm supposed to be doing. In fact, I'm pretty nervous for a lot of next year.

Back to Durham. I've been incredibly surprised (and pleased!) with the marks I've gotten back for my essays. Funnily enough, the only mark I haven't gotten back is for the essay that I know I didn't do well on. I know it's been handed back, but for some reason i just can't find what box it was put into. Oh well. I've liked most of my classes, and most of my professors. And I learned an awful lot from the one professor I really disliked, so that's ok.

All in all, I've learned an incredible amount, and perhaps unlike the traditional experience of a student abroad, the academics have been central to my year. That's not to say that I haven't loved living in England, of course. And after exams I'm heading to Iceland for a week, for which I am exceedingly excited. As soon as I get back from Iceland I meet up with my family and get to see parts of England and SCOTLAND that I haven't had the chance to yet. Again, very excited. I am especially excited to show my family Durham and probably even South Shields (where I went on my first excavation!). It will be a fun trip, and a great family experience.

Besides the academics, one of the rewarding things about this year has been simply living just a little bit more on my own. I had built up a support network of close friends at Dickinson, and leaving that felt very much like I was a freshman again. Except when I was a freshman I didn't have Alex - the closest friend I've ever had. It was/is very weird living so far away from the people I love the most - both friends and family, but also oddly liberating. I think it's been good for my relationships with other people as well as me individually. I have more confidence. I think I like myself a little bit better as well. I don't have my life figured out as I wanted to, but maybe that's ok. Perhaps next year I will whittle down my interests and choose a path - but right now there is so much happening in the present I am trying not to think too much about the future (although it is hard!).

On top of that, I have also made a few truly wonderful and genuine friends, and I trust we will continue to keep in touch.

Right now my main concern is exams. I've finally gotten to the point where I think I know how I can not fail - now I just need to go ahead and study. My first exam is on Prehistoric Europe at 9:30 AM Wednesday morning. NEANDERTHALS GO! Then I have Archaeological Artefacts and Materials, then Ancient Complex Societies in Action the 1st and 2nd respectively.

Hopefully I'll write again before the next 6 months roll around.

Monday, December 1, 2008


Earlier tonight I attended a cathedral tour with some other people from Chad's college. It was led by the Dean of the University, who is also some sort of important priest (I don't recall his exact title). This wasn't the first time I've been in the Cathedral, but it was the first time I've had an actual tour. The first time I walked into the Durham Cathedral, I was overwhelmed with the similarities to the Bryn Athyn Cathedral; when they say it was modeled after Romanesque architecture they aren't kidding. Right down to the little relief arches down the sides, the tall stained glass at the back, and the circular stained glass at the front. Most of the columns are the same style (if bigger and more varied in the Durham cathedral), and the stone is the exact color and texture. This all washed over me again, as I walked for the third time into the beautiful cathedral. But soon, what also became starkly apparent were the differences.

It fascinates me, how to be involved in religion you must know history. The Dean in particular, though, portrayed an intense sense of awe at the legacy embodied within this place of worship. Not all of this legacy is nice - one of the first things he said was that both the Cathedral and the Castle (right next to it) were a way of saying "Hey Saxons, we're here, get used to it" (I'm paraphrasing, obviously), and was accompanied with intense violence, particularly in this part of England. Personally, I would (and do!) have trouble ascribing to a faith that has been the tool of oppression - but I find it inspiring when I see people acknowledging the dark side of their faith's past (or even present), and still hold it apart, as something to be salvaged, changed, and cherished. At the west end of the cathedral there is a line in the floor made of a darker marble. This was the line separating where women could go, and the main part of the monastery. The Dean talked about how when the monastery was transformed into a place for public worship, a woman would have crossed that line for the first time - and whether or not she new its significance, he likes to think of that moment. When the Anglican church allowed women to be ordained as priests, he thought of it as crossing that line; when and if (he hopes they do) ordain women as bishops, it will be the final crossing, and finally women will be fully included into the church structure. Another neat tidbit is that the bit of darker marble has fossils in it - and when we talk about all the people and cultures commemorated in the building, the oldest is the organisms in that stone; a "reminder that God's plan spans eons, and is not confined to the duration of the human species".

Also, speaking of where women could go, there is a small chapel behind the line, where services that women could attend were held. That, my friends, is where the Venerable Bede is entombed. Yes, that's right, the Venerable Bede.

Anyway. Back to the differences between the Durham Cathedral (built in the early 11th century) and the Bryn Athyn Cathedral (built in the early 20th century). There is the continuity of history, yes. The Bryn Athyn Cathedral does not have the stark contrast of elaborate later woodwork or victorian metalwork against the solid stone; Bryn Athyn seems more whole, in a way - simpler, not as much of a conglomeration - clearly it is not shaped by nearly the same weight of time. But also, in a way, it's more complex. I think the differences, for me, come down to differences regarding the separation of the sacred and the profane (and how those things are defined). It's strange to me to have memorials to bishops and saints and real people right in the cathedral. It's strange, but it's also quite beautiful. There's this one memorial that was put up earlier in this century, to the people who lost their lives in the mines "and those those toil in danger today" (or something like that). Apparently, people from all over county Durham (really a very big place) would travel to Durham city to worship in the cathedral, and pay their respects to the monument; they would bring their "brass bands and miner's banners", and listen to important political speakers in the square. As the Dean said, it shows us just how integral the mining industry was to this part of Northern England - not just economically, but as a very central and lethal challenge to the lives of everyday people. It also shows that they saw the cathedral as a symbol of hope or peace or political action, or at least a fitting place for remembrance. This particular memorial is also striking in that it's in the same style as those to influential bishops or priests, but it's to the everyday people of the congregation. It lists all the names of the people who died in the mines, in a book next to it. And it's in a church, a place of worship.

Along the same lines, we ended our tour at the shrine of St. Cuthbert. Cuthbert was brought here in 995, before the cathedral was built. In fact, a group of monks took him from Lindisfarne (to escape the danger of the invading Vikings) and carried him around for many years, until they decided that he wanted to stop and rest. Where they stopped, they built a cathedral - this cathedral isn't remaining, but it was on the same spot as the standing one (this first cathedral is also the one that stole St. Bede - his body - from the neighboring monastery where he grew up and spent most of his life. "Sacred theft," it's called). Around this cathedral, grew the city of Durham. According to the Dean St. Cuthbert was a great man, who valued simplicity and kindness. Our guide told us he likes to end his tours there, because it brings him back to why he's here, the "heart of Christian values: simplicity, responsibility to help our neighbor, and to worship God". And it's true - the space demands a quiet contemplation in a way not a lot of places do (although admittedly I'm called to quiet contemplation in rooms of old stuff - especially if they're religious in nature - perhaps more than most).

Also interestingly, as pointed out, although a Norman structure it houses "two of the greatest Saxons" - Bede and St. Cuthbert, one on either side of the cathedral. Again, having to do with the incorporation and representations of actual people within the religious sphere, in a place where there used to be nine altars (so the monks could all have mass every day or something) the congregation is erecting new altars, to female saints of the area (some - like St. Margaret - also Saxons). There is also religious artwork from local artists - some on the walls, some standing.

This focus on real people leaves me unsure what to think. In one way, it highlights how the Church can be misused - the throne of Bishop Hatfield, for example. Although well intentioned, I'm sure, it definitely calls your attention to how the bishops (cathedral apparently means 'seat of the bishop') were not just religious figures - they could call up armies, instate taxes, and were a leader in the local community for good or for ill. But on the other hand, no matter how much we'd like to believe that religion is a purely spiritual matter, it's always going to have a social aspect - is it better to just have it out there? On yet another hand (I can have three, right?), the honoring of people who still inspire others today, like the Bede or the miners, people who were generally kind and giving examples of how to live or reminders of atrocious and still relevant hardships, that appeals to me somehow. It seems grounded in a way I'm not used to. Again, maybe it's just the history thing, but I really like thinking that 'normal' people (albeit usually elite)are seen as worthy of being incorporated in the thoughts of people when they are worshiping and thinking about their creator and world. Every time people enter the cathedral, they are not also drawn upward by the sturdy architecture to think about transcendence and a sort of cosmic comfort (at least that's how I feel when I enter cathedrals), they are also reminded - almost on the sides of consciousness - that these principles are embodied in real people.

It's also interesting to me to wonder about how the Bryn Athyn Cathedral reflects it's unique context. And I'm not even just talking about Swedenborgianism (although that clearly is a huge factor), but also when and where it was built. I'd like to look into it more, if I had nearly that amount of energy and motivation. Also, I think the simplification and the sort of focusing of the Bryn Athyn cathedral is very evident of the goals of the builders and the religion - in order to get away from the sort of secular role of the church and outside influences (such as money or power) and focus instead on an internal journey toward a personal God. In the Durham Cathedral, there is no one focus. In the Bryn Athyn one, there is a very definite focus on the altar holding the bible, surrounded by the seven lamp stands. Does this also perhaps have to do with re-visiting the different symbolic aspects of the tabernacle, and redefining those spaces of holiness in order to sharpen focus? Also, although there's significantly less large focuses going on in the Bryn Athyn Cathedral, it's also in a strange way more complex. Because it was conceived all at one time, and for the New Church, everything symbolizes something. These symbols are in the forms of numbers and colors and shapes and animals. In the Durham cathedral they would have had grotesques, along with statues of Jesus and Mary and saints and things, but they were almost all fairly understandable and anthropomorphic (at least that's the sense I got from our relatively general tour).

(also, I doubt the Bryn Athyn cathedral would serve fancy snacks and three choices of wine after a tour - which is, by the way, my official excuse for any atrocious grammar...but that's besides the point)

Ok, one last thing: the way the subsequent history shapes our impressions of a prior history. Pretty standard, but it still always gets me. It's the same thing as Roman and Greek stuff - none of this white marble, they would have been gaudily painted. The Durham Cathedral was originally painted - most (if not all) cathedrals were. I have such a hard time fathoming this, as so much of what I think of when I think of cathedrals is the color and texture of the stone. Interestingly, and not quite related, a lot of damage occurred during the reformation. The bishop at the time right before trouble really came to Durham saw what the king was doing, so took the statues behind the main altar and hid them. He must have hid them well, as they are still hidden. It is one of the great mysteries of Durham Cathedral. I will leave you with that.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Religious Life In Ancient Egypt.

So, despite my freaking out last weak about my inability to recognize anything remotely Egyptian (in particular my failure to remember that cows ears are associated with Hathor when put on the spot with an object depicting a woman's head with cows ears ... I thought she was just a cow.) , and despite my being completely unable to face the world at 9 this morning (I couldn't sleep until after 6 AM for some reason, woke up at 7:45 feeling awful, and it was hailing outside. I grumbled and went back to sleep.), I really enoy my Religious Life in Ancient Egypt class. In particular, I really like the professor, Penny Wilson. She's so obviously in love with the entire Egyptian mentality, it's marvelous.

Next week we have a 'tutorial', which this time means reading an article and presenting it debate-style. The sides:

Group 1: Akhenaten was a heretic and despot
Group 2: Akhenaten was an enlightened (and misunderstood) religious reformer

Hah! I don't know why I find this amusing, but I do.
(I was put in the enlightened misunderstood religious reformer group)

I'll write a real update soon, I will. But now I need to go read an make up for my lazy day of feeling grumpy.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

How I Know I'm in England

Some days are full of an extra-awareness that yes, I am in England.
One of those days was last Friday, when I decided to wander around Durham on the only sunny day of the week, instead of doing work.

Take the road directly outside my door to the Cathedral and "Palace Green"

Then, to explore the path around behind the cathedral, vaguely searching for the archaeological museum.

Only to find the museum distinctly inaccessible from this route (although the roof was very nice).

I still haven't seen the inside of the museum, but it was a wonderfully refreshing day which turned into a pretty relaxed weekend.

Now it's Tuesday, and I've been remarkably productive. I'm going to go carry on doing that.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

trips, returns, and documentation (pictures!)

This weekend I went to visit my wonderful friend Shannyn in Norwich.

There was silliness and weird shenanigans.

Shannyn is in a circus society, and I met her friends from there. I also went to a meeting and learned some poi! It's pretty awesome-fun.

Nicole is also up for the week. She is studying in France, but has a week off.

Norwich is a very cool city, and good times were had by all.

Apparently the UEA folks don't have much work. This made me feel better, as I am constantly concerned I'm not doing enough. Especially as I didn't do anything last week... However, this morning I was doing a review of class notes that professors put up on DUO (our version of blackboard), and found a practice test for Artefacts and Materials. The questions are so specific! I'm definitely meant to be doing much much much more studying than I am. Here's to a week of hermitism.

After a very long train ride, in which I was stuck behind a guy who smelled really truly awful (a mixture of stale chinese food and what was probably some sort of drug - it made me feel ill, anyway), I arrived in Durham and was surprised by how familiar it was. It astounds me how quickly we adapt. I was worried that it was taking me a long time - I'm not anymore. The amount of affection I have for this town is absurd. There's nothing like leaving and then returning to make you appreciate a place. Seriously, Durham is breathtaking.

And so, some pictures from yesterday afternoon:

Right outside the trainstation
View of city from above

Bridge leading into the center of town
& the Norman castle

view from the bridge
& Durham Cathedral

square in the center of the city

view from my window
rainbows when I return
appropriate, no?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Irritable Erica Complains and Reflects

  • I want a salad. There is no salad to be had. They call brown lettuce in sandwiches 'salad'.
  • I chose to buy a sandwich from the library cafe today. Little did I know my "farmhouse cheddar" sandwich would be slathered in butter. Ew, ew, ew.
  • My clothes don't fit properly. They never have. I suspect they never will. I am uncomfortable.
  • I spent an hour in the library, and found none of the books I was looking for.
  • The library should organize their journals better. Like, say, using the alphabet.
  • I spend most of my time walking around town.
  • I have a lot of work to do (but, see lack of books. Problem.)
  • I miss Alex & my family
  • I can't wait until this stupid election is over. I. Am. So. Sick. Of. It. (but apparently the student union is having an election party. That could be fun. Or eye-gougingly frustrating)
  • I want a salad
  • I want a salad
  • I want a salad

It's nice being part of a large department for a change. There are so many areas of study to choose from, and a variety of view points available. We have an illustrator, a photographer, and a zillion professors. And the facilities! We have a conservation lab, an oriental museum, and more. However, the thing about the British is that a lot of your course reading has to be done in the library (as the reading list is HUGE, and you can't possibly purchase that many books). At Dickinson, even when people in the same class are all using the same book in the library, because there are so few people to begin with you can be pretty sure that whatever book you want will be available. This is not so here. It's a problem (already in complaint section).

My Religious Life In Ancient Egypt is the best class ever.
Be jealous.
Today we learned about mortuary temples for an hour, and then priests and the priesthood for an hour.

Later today I have my Artefacts and Materials class, which is also excellent. I think Monday is my favorite day, actually, even though I have two classes, and one of them is at 9 in the morning (the other from 4:15-6:15 PM).

Also, I really really like Northern Mesopotamia. Maybe I'll read about that this afternoon if I can't find books relevant to my essays.

By the way, despite complaints and malnutrition, I'm doing really well. I like Durham, Chad's, my classmates, my housemates, and I love love love my classes. Oh, I also went to a swing dance meeting/lesson on Sunday! It's very fun, and I'm excited to keep it up.

Now I'm off to see if I can't find some books on Alpine Rock Art, and perhaps the Lindisfarne Gospels.


(I still promise pictures, but not today. Tomorrow, if there's time)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Random Social Stuff

So far I've talked about classes, and culture shock, but I haven't talked at all about the rest of life at "Uni," as these people call it. Basically, Chad's is welcoming, friendly, and I like pretty much everyone. I live in a small house down the street from Main College (the building where we eat, get mail, and a lot of freshers live), where pretty much everyone hangs out together. This is very strange to me, as for the past two years most of my friends have lived in different dorms. A dorm, my room, etc, is very much a place where I go when I'm done doing things. Now, I feel constantly antisocial for not being downstairs in the kitchen, by the stairs, or in someone's room chatting. To be honest, I feel a little out of place. The one time I hung out with them they talked about British things - mostly school, which is one of the more confusing British things (A levels? What?). Individually, I do like the people I live with a lot, but I don't do well in large groups.

There's a group of us international kids that are still pretty close. A list of names and things:

Hanano from Japan. She's studied in the UK before this (what we'd call high school, but who knows what it's called here. She's very sweet, and studying music. She's also one of my only friends who is also not doing sports. Awesome.

Jasmine from Singapore. She's studying Law, although is jealous of me studying archaeology (she wanted to study arch, but her mom wouldn't let her). She's sort of loud and is taking on way too much.

Anthony from Pennsylvania. No, we didn't know each other before this. No, different sides of the state. How far apart? About 7 or 8 hours. Yeah, America's big. (<--- typical conversation) He's studying English, and is another exchange student! His home college is Cornell.

Namali from Sri Lanka. Excellent person, studying Economics. Friendly, happy, lovely.

Anthony and I are the only two people of this group that aren't constantly freezing here.

As far as British people go, I've made a fair amount of friends. Mostly archaeology students, as we have something in common that I'm comfortable talking about. However, they certainly aren't all arch students. I won't go through them all, as there are a lot, but it's fun.

It's strange, though, because I've made all these archaeology friends but we will never ever have class together. I haven't had enough classes to really know the people in them yet, so it's a little weird. Also, the classes are very much lecture style so far - there's not a lot of interaction, and everyone already has their own group of friends (and knows everyone else anyway). It's not bad though. I love my classes so far.

I guess I don't really have that much to say. Last week there was an "alphabet bop", where you had to dress up as something starting with the first letter of your name. I went as emo. This week I've been fairly anti-social, although I did go to the bar last night and then ate chips with Zoe, and some other girls in her corridor.

I also drew a little last night, for the first time in a while. It was nice. I am going to make an effort to do that more often. Speaking of which, I have my first Fine Arts Society meeting tonight at 8. I'm excited! Apparently they get together and draw, as well as show each other their work. I'm not exactly sure how it will go, but it sounds cool. Also, they provide members with a studio space (maybe I will be able to get into woodburning after all!) and a way to get discounted art supplies.

Also, I decided not to join net ball or caving. I wanted to be able to keep my weekends free, for traveling and studying. Going along the same train of thought I also decided not to join InStep (the dance society) or the Swing Dancing Society, and instead just run or go to the gym. But, then, last night I was feeling gross and missed dancing a lot. I also realized that I would never be able to keep up a gym schedule - as I don't actually enjoy it all that much. So, now I am going to the second swing dance meeting tomorrow at 2, and have emailed InStep to see if it's too late to join. Ha. I'm excited, though. I was looking at the InStep schedule, and it looks like you can go to any class you want, as often as you want, so hopefully it's not actually all that much of a time restraint.

OH ALSO! Next weekend I'm visiting the Norwich kids, although that reminds me - I still need to look up train tickets/schedules and email around to see who has a free floor for me to crash on.

Anyway, I'm going to go do some sort of work (I may go to the library, or I may just read in my room). Sorry this was such a boring update. Pictures soon, I promise!