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When Life Gives You The Crazy

You just run with it.

I dined at High Table tonight, mostly because one of my friends wanted to dine at High Table with me, and it was a tiny crowd. There were just four of us at dinner, which was delicious, waiter-served by candlelight in the enormous dining hall, with Combination afterwards in the Green MacCurdy Room, which is one of the absolutely most Cambridge-y rooms I have ever been in. On the way home, we ended up talking about just how weird Cambridge can be, and how you just have to accept that the New Normal consists of a combination of normal academic work punctuated by these moments when something either completely batshit, massively Victorian, or both, happens, and everyone just acts like it's the most usual thing in the world.

I swear, an hour and a half after having this conversation, I heard explosions, and when I went to the door and looked outside, there was a Random Fireworks Display. The last time a Random Fireworks Display happened outside my house, it was May Week*, and the University was just throwing its usual over-the-top end-of-year party. But it's July now, and I can't think of any reason that . . . King's, maybe, or Clare, would be setting off fireworks. So, in grand Cantabridgian tradition, I just ran with it. It's the evening of July 3 over here, so I made my own musical accompaniment, and I sang "The Star-Spangled Banner," "My Country 'Tis Of Thee," "America The Beautiful," "Yankee Doodle," and the original lyrics to "Chester" while I watched fireworks.

See, and here I thought I was signing up for three years without fireworks in July! Cambridge thinks of everything!

*Which is in June, because . . . Cambridge.

A Very Happy Birthday

Happy birthday to fafojoy! Being me, we have to start the festivities with some music:

And then there is the matter of a suitable birthday present. For that, I defer to those with much greater knowledge of gifts than I (and you will see that they chose well in the end . . . )

Happy birthday, dahlink! May you live to 120 and one day, because no one should die suddenly.

Dining in College

dawtheminstrel asked me about what dining in college was like. It's such a wacky, weird, and wonderful experience that I figured it deserved its own post. So here it is.

Welcome to High TableCollapse )


My goodness, it's been a long time. Stuff just kept happening, and I ended up doing too much to just sit down and write about it.

The end of my first academic year at Cambridge is approaching, and it's been an amazing ride so far. I've met lots of wonderful, interesting people, joined a choir, found dance classes, and even found a shape-note group to sing with! (One Monday a month in Norwich. They actually meet every Monday, but it's kind of a schlep, and there are other things that want my attention on Mondays. Once a month, though, I tell them to go hang, and I go sing in Norwich. It does wonders for my outlook on life.)

I gave a talk at the Cambridge Forum for Jewish Studies that went really well, and I'm working that up into a journal article. On Monday, I'm going to a conference on Jewish liturgical music in Leeds, where I'll do the formal debut of my new project, and then spend some time visiting the Reform synagogue in Leeds. I'm actually really looking forward to this trip, since I've never been to Leeds before. It's even further north than Cambridge, so the days will be just a tad bit longer.

Which, I might add, has been a trip in and of itself. The sun rises at 4:30 in the morning these days -- can you believe it? And it doesn't really set until after 9 PM. After the dark of winter, this is a fine reward indeed.

Today, we had some big news for the Cambridge Jewish community. The Reform synagogue in Cambridge, Beth Shalom, has been working for many years on acquiring a building of its very own -- they'd been holding services around Cambridge for over thirty years, in people's houses, at local schools, and most recently, at a Baptist church hall. Well, they finally finished the new building!

On Thursday, I went down to help with the move, but I was assigned to the church end, loading stuff into the vans, so I didn't see the new synagogue until today. We had our very first Shabbat ever in the new building! It's utterly amazing. All new and fresh, with a big sanctuary that has good acoustics and a lovely ceiling and picture window, a big community room, a library, and a bunch of other smaller spaces that we'll figure out what to do with later. It was so new and fresh that you could still smell the building materials. They talk about new-car smell, but no one ever talks about new-synagogue smell. Funny, that. . . Anyway, everyone was thrilled and amazed. I don't think very many of us had ever actually been in a brand-spanking-new synagogue on its first day. Not something that happens very often. I certainly hadn't! We even got to start the service with a couple of special blessings for a new synagogue, and the service leader looked pretty pleased to be saying them.

Traveling On

Off to Ireland today! Tomorrow, I get to sing and hang out with dot_o_choillmor. The day after, I get to sing some more. My weekend is looking fine indeed!

Upcoming Holiday?

Apparently, tomorrow is something called Pancake Day.

It's actually Mardi Gras, except without the parades, nudity and plastic beads, but with pancakes. Maybe I should make some pancakes and then decorate them with plastic beads? Or just go get a snack from the crepe truck just off the market square, probably.


I did it! I threw caution to the winds, and I booked plane tickets to Cork for the Ireland Sacred Harp Convention! Excitement!

On account of a) lack of singings in Cambridge, and b) the expense and c) the lousy timing of the London singings relative to train trips to and from Cambridge, I haven't managed to get to a singing since August, and I've missed it terribly. Well, no more! I am going to Cork, and I am going to sing. Especially since this is a singing that I've been told about since it started, and I could never afford to travel from Chicago. Well, I can afford to travel from Cambridge. It's not exactly the cheapest thing I could do, but in the end, I can afford it, and I'd feel horrible if I didn't go, so I'm going.


The Big Sing

One of the things that I loved about living in the Midwest was that, every so often, there were these pickup choir events. I got to go to the singalong Messiah at the Lyric Opera once, and to KAMII's singalong Judas Maccabaeus the last year that they did it. lcohen and rhobike and I had many lovely June evenings in Oak Park tearing through their pickup choir offerings.

And it turns out that I can still sometimes do the same in England! One of the basses in the Jewish choir that I've joined told people about The Big Sing, which is a pickup choir for charity event. I think it's once every two years, so I'll get at least one more chance to do this before my fellowship is up. There's a core choir and orchestra that sponsors the event, and other people can just sort of show up and sing. You have to buy a ticket, because the whole event supports a cause, but it's totally worth it.

This year, the piece was Mozart's Requiem, which I last sang in the spring of 1998 as the big chorus/orchestra concert of junior year at The Fairest College. Seventeen years later, it all came right back to me. In fact, I'm a better singer now than I was at age twenty-one, I understand music better, and it was just pure fun to pick up my old score and sing through it.

The event was at Great St. Mary's Church, which is a big church right smack in the middle of downtown Cambridge. Altos and sopranos sat in the balcony, right opposite each other, tenors and basses in the main body of the church. There were four soloists, a small orchestra, and the conductor was the guy who usually conducts the host choir. We had an afternoon rehearsal, and then an hour's break where we flooded the local cafes for tea, and then we reconvened at Great St. Mary's and performed our pickup choir singing for an audience, which is a new twist on the type of pickup choir singing I did in Chicago.

I loved it! You always remember the fun of singing Requiem, with the "et lux perpetua" and the really neat double canon of the "Kyrie eleison" (fun fact: that canon is in the key of D. Not D major or d minor. Mozart never pins down which one it actually is, and it ends on an open fifth, without the third that tells you whether you've been hearing major or minor.), and the Dies Irae is really exciting. But I'd forgotten just how neat it is to sing Rex Tremendae because that bit has actual honest-to-God swagger. And I'd completely forgotten about a little canon part in the Domine Jesu, the part that begins at about 0:59 here, "ne absorbeat eas tartarus, ne cadant in obscurum." It's fun and tumble-y, and I guess it must have been a major pain in the butt to learn back in the day, but last night, it just felt like playing pinball, except with my voice.

Plus, I got to revisit my old score, which had all sorts of convenient notes and pronunciations already penciled in. And some more obscure markings as well. What is 209X? Who are Andrea and Isabel? What took place on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 7 - 10? Why is the name of a Yiddish film written on the cover? The answers are lost to history, but the singing remains.

Back In The Swing

Some people like to ease back into life after the holidays. Me, I just cannonball right in. Fieldwork, parties, book revisions . . . life certainly isn't boring at the moment!

I went to London yesterday for a singing workshop with a lady I'd met in DC back in June at a conference. It was a great workshop and it gave me some useful field information, but it was also just fun to do a quick in-and-out day trip to London. I love that I can do that now. Just . . . decide to go to London for the day. How cool is that?

I've also discovered absolutely the most appropriate mystery series to start reading. James Runcie's Grantchester Mysteries, featuring Canon Sidney Chambers, Church of England vicar and amateur sleuth. They're set in the mid-1950s, and weird murders and crimes happen, and Sidney gets drawn into detectoring because he's a priest and people like to talk to him, and his cop friend Inspector Geordie Keating takes that information and actually arrests the criminals.

The thing that makes these books so perfect is that they're set right in Cambridge and the surrounding towns. Sidney lives and works in Grantchester, a tiny village suburb of Cambridge a few miles down the road. I actually biked down there the day before I discovered the series, so I'd been past his church and I'd had a drink in the pub where everyone in the village goes for the wake after the funeral that opens the first story. But wait! It gets better. Sidney is also a Cambridge graduate, and he's a part-time academic, teaching theology, and he's based at . . . wait for it . . . Corpus Christi College! My college! And he meets Geordie at The Eagle, the pub right across the street from Corpus, and he bikes past St. Bene't Church, up Downing Street to the police station on St. Andrew's Street, and he also goes to London on the train, and his friend Hildegard lives on Eltisley Avenue, and and and.

This is so cool. I literally don't have to picture these stories in my head, because I can just go and trace Sidney's steps all around town. It's a little bit like the feeling I had watching The Theory of Everything and recognizing places where I've walked and biked. (Even better was catching a ride out to an event with the wife of the master of Stephen Hawking's college, who was telling me all about him and his reaction to the movie and how puzzled she was that the college seems to have refused the film-makers permission to film there and that they did this without even letting the master know that the request had been made in the first place. This is why St. John's College, where Hawking was a student, appears in the film, and Gonville and Caius, where he worked, does not.)

Bike Like The Wind!

I'm now very curious to see what Mom Pony is going to give Aunt Pony for Hanukkah this year. She e-mailed me about an hour ago asking me to go out and find some good tea in a pretty container, and mentioned that she has Little Sister Pony working on another part of the gift. I, of course, hopped on my bike Æthelred and biked like the wind straight into town to pick up a sampler of nice teas in pretty mini tins.

I am very curious Pony! (I am also Pony who is glad she has Æthelred, since the trip is just a quick errand on Æthelred, but a distinct pain in the butt without wheels.)


It turns out that pickup choirs are not an exclusively American thing. I was at choir practice tonight, and one of the choir members was selling tickets for a charity pickup choir performance of Mozart's Requiem in January! Naturally, I forked over my £10 right away. I haven't sung Mozart's Requiem since junior year at the Fairest College, but I remember really enjoying it. I still have my old score from way back in the day, containing not only my score notations, but also some mysterious notes that clearly meant something to me back in the day, but I've totally forgotten now. Who are Andrea and Isabel? What is the meaning of 209X? Why do I have the name of the Yiddish film Grine Felder written on my Mozart score? The world will never know.

But, hey, I get to sing the Requiem again!

End Of Term

It looks like Michaelmas term is wrapping up here in lovely Cambridge. I've been pretty busy this past week. Part of it is that I had a couple of friends over to visit, a colleague and his wife. They were in the process of moving, but something had gone wrong at their new place, and they couldn't move in until a week after schedule. Meanwhile, they had to be out of the temporary place where they were staying. Of course, you can't let friends be suddenly homeless in December (even if Cambridge isn't nearly as cold as Chicago), so I had them come and stay at my place, which turns out to be plenty big enough for three adults. I declare my first experiment in having houseguests in my Cambridge cottage a rousing success!

It was also mightily convenient, because Colleague and I are working on putting together a proposal to host a conference at Cambridge possibly next year, and we're at the stage where we have to brainstorm themes and go look at potential venues. It was nice to be able to plan these things out with someone who was in the next room rather than the next town over!

The Christmas Season is in full swing, as it apparently has been since early November (no Thanksgiving to slow people down!). The Christmas thing here seems to be mulled wine and mince pies, which have no meat in them. I've had at least three or four invitations to gatherings where this combination of food and drink is served. The next one is on Wednesday. There's also choirs singing carols everywhere you look, and big turkey dinners being advertised. I wouldn't have guessed that English people eat turkey at Christmas, but I guess you learn something new every day. Anyway, there's lots of music going on, so I am a happy Pony.

I also got to see a panto! I'd heard about them, and then it turned out that the graduate students of Corpus have a big Christmas turkey dinner and put on a panto, so I went. The turkey dinner wasn't really anything to write home about, at least not compared with the food that Corpus is capable of producing, but the panto was hilarious! It was a parody of Frozen, and I'm now really glad I watched that movie on the plane to SEM in Pittsburgh last month. My fellow . . . Fellows said that the graduate-student panto wasn't quite fully traditional, but it did include two performers getting dressed up in drag (including the Reverend who is the warden of the graduate campus), and everyone seemed to be having a fantastic time.

And then there was the Benefactors' Feast. I'll write more about that later. For now, all I'll say is that it was spectacle beyond spectacle. O.M.F.G.

Holidays For All!

Just a little holiday treat for everyone!

I went to see Mockingjay Part 1 today (very good movie, even if I'd forgotten just how long the commercials go on before movies in Europe). One of the trailers at the beginning was for Battle of the Five Armies, and you could tell right away what was going to go wrong from the fact that they actually had Richard Armitage sitting in a chair announcing that you were about to see this trailer. I do hope that little job paid him enough to cover his shame therapy.

So here's a trailer for a three-hour movie covering possibly about the last quarter of a not-very-long, not-very-complicated kids' book. The trailer promises filler, filler, and more filler, along with posturing, Captain Obvious-ing, Thranduil's moose (which will never not be hilarious), and idiotic battle tactics. PJ & Co. also appear to have kept the cast on a slimming diet consisting of nothing but scenery, since they all had to keep picking bits of it out of their teeth. Even Martin Freeman, which is saying something, because his basic shtik is very much not chewing the scenery, even when everyone around him is nibbling away.

I guess this is what happens when you take as the title of your climactic film an event that's pretty much missing from the book, since the protagonist is conveniently unconscious while it happens (way to drop the narrative ball there, Johnny R. R.!), but still. I presume that PJ actually read The Hobbit before trying to make it into the Three Epic Films of Epicness, and therefore I absolve him of no blame whatsoever. Probably the best course of action is just to watch the movie and pretend that it actually has nothing at all to do with Tolkien, but is an independent fantasy movie with a remarkable coincidence of character names. What say you to that?

In other news, I made tonight Pheasant Night! I roasted a pheasant (which you can just walk into a butcher shop and buy, just like that!) with an apple-onion-sage stuffing. Turned out tasty and flavorful, although next time I'm going to make only about a quarter of the stuffing, since I had way too much left over to cook in another pan. But, yeah. Pheasant turns out to cook up pretty much like chicken, except with more flavor, and it's a smaller bird, so there aren't as many meals on it. But I bet the carcass will make an interesting variation on egg-and-lemon soup . . .

At Long Last

Cambridge is a biking kind of town, and I wanted to be mobile. I was advised to get a secondhand bike, since the big crime in Cambridge is bike theft (which tells you a lot about the place, really), so I went to the recommended secondhand bike shop. They had a lovely fixer-upper, and they said they'd fix it up right quick for me.

"Right quick" turned out to be a solid month.

Today, at long last, the bike was ready, and I was able to bike home, carefully remembering to bike on the left. Wheels at last! I've named the bike, of course, and after that month of waiting and waiting and dropping by and waiting some more, there was really only one name that this bike could reasonably have. I have named it: Æthelred!

The great irony, of course, is that in about an hour, I'm taking off for the train station to go to London, after which I'm flying to Pittsburgh tomorrow for SEM. Ol' Æthelred will have to wait a week before we can really start traveling together.

The Movers Are Coming!

I just heard from the moving company, and it looks like my household goods have cleared Customs, and will arrive on Tuesday. All hail Tuesday, the day my house will stop looking like a crack house and start looking like a home!

Sing To Me

I have a fun evening planned!

Last Saturday, at shul, I was given an aliyah, since it was only my second time there. For those who don't know, an aliyah is the honor of reciting the blessings over the Torah, and a lot of shuls give visitors and newcomers an aliyah if they want one. At Beth Shalom in Cambridge, you can either read or chant the blessing, and, as none of you will be surprised to hear, I chanted.

Well, after the service, a guy came up to me and said that he was the secretary of the choir that is associated with the shul, Kol Echad, and he said that, after listening to me chant the Torah blessings, he wanted me in the choir! Not only does this sound like a lot of fun, not only will it give me a chance to sing, which I love doing, but it's a perfect fieldwork opportunity, rolled up and handed to me with a bow on top! They rehearse every other Tuesday.

First rehearsal is tonight, about two miles away, so a nice healthy walk, since the bike shop is still fixing up the second-hand bike I picked out. I don't mind, actually -- since I've never been to the place where the rehearsal is, it'll be good to be able to walk the route the first time, so I can check my map if I get lost.

And here's something else. The dance class I'd picked out meets on Tuesday nights, which conflicts half the time with choir rehearsal. But this is Cambridge, and not Chicago, and it turns out that there are so many Scottish dance classes that I could go to at least four or five a week if I wanted to. And people do hop between classes. I can pretty much work out my schedule such that I can dance at least one night a week somewhere in Cambridge, and be part of the Kol Echad choir! Life is good here.

Here I Am!

Hi everyone! Here I am in lovely Cambridge! It's taken a while for things to get set up, and they're not quite fully set up yet, but the new computer (named "Marlowe," since Christopher Marlowe was a Corpus alum) is here, and I've been setting it up.

So, here I am in my new apartment. It's really nice. It's actually not so much an apartment as it is a little cottage attached to the side of the larger Victorian brick house. It has its own private entrance, with a real front door that opens onto the front yard, not just an apartment door opening onto a hallway or a staircase. There are two bedrooms, of which one is the bedroom and the other is the study/guest room. Fancy fancy! There's also a combination living/dining room, a tiny but surprisingly functional kitchen, and (get this!) separate rooms for the toilet and the shower.

I've learned well the first and most important lesson of the house, which is this: do not turn on the hot water taps unless you really, really mean it! Apparently, this has to do with the way that plumbing in older British houses is designed, but every sink has a hot tap and a cold tap, and they do exactly what they say on the tin!

My shipped stuff hasn't arrived yet -- the shipping company's best guess is that the container ship is due to dock on Tuesday, and then my stuff has to get through Customs before being delivered -- so the place has that vaguely crack-house air that houses get when people live in them without much in the way of personalized things. But my books and clothes and decorations will arrive at some point, and then it'll be cute and charming and I could show you pictures.

More importantly, I have every reason to believe that the wire transfer of my money from my US bank to my shiny new UK bank account will be complete on Monday, which means that I'll finally have access to my funds. This is a great relief, since I've been living for the past couple of weeks off of the £500 that I made selling off my furniture and small appliances back in Chicago. Fortunately, the College and the Faculty of Music have helped out by inviting me to large welcome dinners. Discworld's Unseen University suddenly makes so much more sense!

There's plenty to tell, but that's enough for now. I'm here, I'm actually here! I'm in England, and so far, I like it a lot!

A Tad Bit Early

But better too early than not at all. I'm flying off to England tomorrow, and I'll land on Wednesday morning. Since I'll be basically pretty much incapacitated on the day itself:

Shana Tova, everyone! Have a happy, healthy, and sweet New Year! I'll be back once I'm more set up.


So this morning, timing worked out such that Dad Pony went out for his morning constitutional, I came downstairs, had breakfast, and had completely cleaned up from the meal by the time Dad Pony got back. The following conversation ensued:

Dad Pony: Have you eaten?
DP: What?
FP: I ate and cleaned up in total stealth. No trace of my breakfast remains beyond a mysteriously missing peach.
DP: Is that what the Ninja Turtles did? Did they clean up after themselves when they ate breakfast?

Ah, Dad Pony. Never letting us forget that he is the Baby Boomer parent of two daughters on the cusp between Gen X and Gen Y.

In other news, I've booked my flight to England! I'm leaving Boston on Tuesday the 23rd, landing in England on Wednesday the 24th, schlepping my sorry self straight to Cambridge, and flopping into the bed in the college guestroom. Fun fun fun!