30 September 2011

Books and Bays

I am incomprehensibly lazy.  It's fast approaching noon, and I am just finishing my first cup of coffee.  Well, that's what happens when you have a late night...reading.  It's as if I'm trying to make up for all those lost semesters where all I got to read was dissertations on the Puritans or Deconstruction.  First I tearfully finished The Far Pavilions, declaring it an epic to stand next to my top 5 books; then, The Ordinary Princess because I couldn't get enough M.M. Kaye; then, a book I bought on a whim because Amazonians (users of Amazon) reviewed it well - Kingkiller Chronicles is now my new favorite yet-unfinished series; and currently, I'm rereading one of my top 5, Jane Eyre.  I remember Jane Eyre keeping me up late at night last time I read it, but I'm marveling at the fact that I read it when I was 17 and thought I understood it.  Not just the intense vocabulary that makes me so grateful for Kindle's built-in dictionary feature, but the concepts, feelings, themes.  Even now I don't fully understand it, and I imagine it will take several rereads and many more years before I do.  I'm also surprised at the forwardness of Bronte's feminism - not the silly we-can-do-everything-men-can-and-better feminism, but her mental and emotional rebellion against the stifling social mores of an age that saw women as little more than parlor decor.  I think this is why I prefer Charlotte and Emily Bronte over Jane Austen, whose spirited heroines always achieve advantageous marital bliss after wittily navigating social machinations.  I do love Pride and Prejudice,  but in the end it's still 85% social machination.

As far as the move goes - I do a little bit of exploring every day.  Wales is experiencing a freak late summer (temps in the 60s and 70s Fahrenheit) and I only packed fall and winter clothes, so it's been bordering on uncomfortably warm.  If I had shorts, more t-shirts, sandals - it would be divine.  I went on a university-organized trip down the River Taff to Cardiff Bay, which we learned was once a pivotal industrial port, fallen into disrepair, and revitalized in the 1990s and early 2000s by massive community effort.  The result is a spotless, modern water-side area of shopping and arts with a 6-mile trail around the bay.  Remnants of the Industrial Revolution lay in the crannies and off to the side, while the new buildings feel like experiments in modern architecture.  My internet connection is abominably slow, so I'll share pictures later.  Public transportation is a bit pricey, so I still plan on getting a bike.  Soon I hope to explore the wide expanses of Bute Park, which is just a few blocks away.

23 September 2011

First days

Queen St, home of street musicians
I don’t have much of a grasp on what Wales or even Cardiff is like yet – it’s only my second full day.  What I have gotten, though, is that the city feels a bit quaint, which makes it less overwhelming.  People are friendlier than I’d expected, and fairly patient when they realize I’m not British.  I feel safe walking around by myself, which I did today.  I wandered down past the castle, and stumbled across a music shop – I should have known it wouldn’t take me long to find one.  Of course I had to go in, to smell the wonderful woody, amber smell that all good music shops have, and gaze at the instruments hanging from the ceiling.  Then I discovered a little Christian bookstore nestled in the corner of an old church, where the shopkeeper kindly told me in a thick brogue that I should come back in two weeks for a 20% student discount.  I didn’t tell him I doubted they’d carry the course books I’ll need; I’ll probably come back anyway.  There’s a huge shopping area near the castle, mostly the kind of stores you’d find in any big European city, but they also have a central market.  Maybe a hundred or so “shops” – they’re stalls, really – line the aisles in a giant two-story atrium.  You can get almost anything imaginable there, from pastries and fresh meat to pets and books and fabric.  It’s like a throwback to the way we used to shop.  You tell the shopkeeper, I want a lightbulb, and he says, What kind? and gets it for you.  You can even haggle, if you’re good at that sort of thing.  The produce is fresh and cheap; in fact, most everything seems cheaper than store value. 
Cardiff Market
I live in a student house with other international postgraduate students, most of whom are from China.  The house is old (and not in the cozy way) and smells like dorm, but I have the biggest room, I think, and a huge window I can open to let the fresh air in – and hear the seagulls!  I’ve never lived by the sea before.  When I arrived, a Welcome box from the school was on my desk, containing junk food and none other than RC Cola from Columbus, Georgia.  I didn’t think anybody outside Columbus actually drank RC Cola anymore!

I’m looking forward to when I’m settled in enough to start setting out, instead of just trying to figure my way around.  I haven’t gotten lost yet, which I credit to a thorough examination of the area using Google Earth, and a natural sense of direction I seem to be blessed to have.  My feet are tired, though, and I want a bike.  Everywhere I need to go is close enough to walk to, but a bike would mean farther adventures.

19 September 2011

Last Day

Once again, I'm blogging from the porch, and an early fall hints at campfires, apples, and variegated mountainsides - things I'll miss about good Southern autumns that last through November.  The last two weeks have been lovely, spending sweet time friends & family.  For my birthday we had fresh tomatoes, roasted vegetables, local barbecue, and shrimp & grits, followed by dessert of local peaches and muscadine wine (Blogger doesn't even recognize muscadine as a word).  The perfect late summer Southern dinner, eaten on the screened porch of course.  I spent a weekend in the mountains with an old friend, as previously mentioned, and another weekend in my other home, Birmingham, where everything's changing but my friends are still my family, and we did all my favorite Birmingham things, like bouldering and eating sushi.  I got to play in the worship band one more time, in an amazing service.  All of this, wonderful and perfect, makes me sadder to leave.  But while so much of me wants to stay, I don't feel like I need to, or should.  I still can't believe I'm leaving, let alone leaving tomorrow, but my visa came today and I guess that makes it real?
I can't express how much I'll miss people.  It's time for an adventure, though.

05 September 2011

On This Mountain

It's a rainy Labor Day morning, and I'm having my coffee on the screen porch, listening to the water hit the leaves and the whistle of a train a couple miles away.  Does anywhere outside the South love the screen porch like we do, I wonder?  Other regions might use outdoor living spaces more, but I've always thought of the screen porch as a characteristically Southern thing, where you drink your tea or your coffee and socialize and laugh at the skeeters that cain't get atcha.  We love our screen porches so much that we put ceiling fans in them, so when the mercury spikes we can still sit outside with a nice cold glass of sweet tea; forget the fact that there's A/C inside the house.
My granddad used to tell a story about when his parents repainted their farmhouse; his dad was always looking for a good deal on such frivolous things as house color, so he hired industrial painters to spray paint the house for cheap.  Lo and behold, they painted the whole house a shimmering silver, screen porch included.  My grandma would then add a little visual detail to the story, like she was wont to do, recalling that one of the things her father-in-law liked to do while he and Grandma Lily sat on the screen porch was to dip snuff.  He'd spit it off the porch, through the screen, and before long the silver screen turned a rainbow of colors from his snuff.
Our screen porch isn't silver or rainbow; it's cedar and black, but its best feature is that when you're on it you feel like you're in a tree house, because the house is built on a hill and it drops off at such an angle that you're eye level with the squirrel's nests in the trees.

Remember my ramble Hobbits, Koreans, and Courage, about unfamiliar situations and leaving home and going on adventure?  Well, it's happening, although the significance of leaving home is just now starting to sink in.  I've been very nonchalantly telling people of my upcoming move to Wales like it's just across the street, no big deal, but as the distance to my departure shrinks (two weeks and one day), a silent panic grows.  Yes, I am excited. SO excited.  But twelve months is a long time - twelve months without my family, without my friends, without my church home, without screen porches, without barbecue - it began to set in yesterday when I said see you later (later being several months, possibly twelve) to a friend I haven't gone more than a couple months without seeing in about 21 years.  The drive home was a long one, across the upper part of the state, where there are apple farms every few miles, with the low, with the rambling foothills of the Appalachians in view.  Driving near/in/around the mountains is just about my favorite place to drive  - really, the only place where I don't mind driving for more than five minutes.  The drive home somehow morphed into a metaphor for my last American experiences and all the goodbyes I have to make in the next couple weeks, and all the nonchalance I had felt toward moving to another country melted away, leaving a mixture of sadness and nervous anticipation.
But while I am sad, I'm also happy - so don't misunderstand.  I'm moving to Wales!