Across the Pond: A Valediction

When I was graduating high school a lot of very well meaning adults said to me some variation on the following: “College will be the best four years of your life.”

It was with that expectation that I started at Columbia. I was skeptical, to be sure — is college really that different from everything that came before? — but I was ready to be convinced.

I was not.

Please don’t mistake me. There are a lot of things I liked, even loved, about Columbia. It provided the capstone to my years at Brearley, putting the polish on the rock-solid educational foundation I have been so privileged to receive. The Core Curriculum is a beautiful, beautiful thing — without it I might never have read Crime and Punishment or Plato’s Symposium, never studied the works of Mozart and Michelangelo, never immersed myself in the works that make up the underpinning of Western culture and society. And then there was my department, my wonderful fellow primates of EBHS, who became like my second family. I value equally our passionate debates on the humanity of Neandertals and your snarky comments on Bad Movie Night. I had wonderful experiences at Columbia, made wonderful friends. But the best years of my life? I disagreed. I still do.

But now — ah, now I understand what they meant when they said it, because this year at Cambridge has been the best year of my life.

It won’t stay that way. I look forward to many “better” years in my future; life is about growing and changing, and there’s no value in the stagnation required to believe your best is thirty years behind you. But I will always remember this year as special — it is, and always will be, a hugely pivotal moment in my life.

For that, I want to thank you, Cambridge. I want to thank your academics for their passion, your students for their drive, your buildings steeped in history for the way they evoke in me such a desire to know more.  And Pembroke, I will always remember your courts fondly, in particular the beautiful and badly insulated New Court.

But it’s the people who have truly made this year special: My fellow BioAnth MPhils, braving the wilds of a brilliant-but-scatterbrained department to produce exceptional works of academic achievement (I’m so proud); The greater Pembroke GP community, who welcomed me and the other freshers from the very first day — I shall miss you all terribly;  New Court United, the best staircase neighbors a girl could have.

And my friends.

From 8:10 breakfast to Mill Pond picnics to late nights playing Cards Against Humanity, you have lightened my days (and possibly corrupted my soul). Either way, I am forever changed by knowing you. Thank you for listening me prattle on about my writing, or indulging my love of cows; I’ll treasure that book forever, you know. Thank you, too, for the heavier stuff — turns out being twenty-three and far from home can be pretty tough sometimes. I appreciated the shoulders to cry on.

You’ve taught me so much, from the ridiculous (did you know that Edinburgh Castle is built on the basalt core of an extinct volcano?) to the profound — how to listen, how to be compassionate, how to be brilliant and fierce and confident even in the face of uncertainty. I know you will all go on to do amazing things.

It’s time for me to go home now. I don’t know exactly where the next years will take me, what new obstacles life will put in my way. I don’t know when I’ll see you (England, Cambridge, Pembroke, my dear friends) again. Honestly, that scares me a little.

But I know I’ll be okay — “’cause through it all, she offers me protection, a lot of love and affection, whether I’m right or wrong”. And wherever life does take me, I’ll remember this year at Pembroke with equal love and affection, and treasure it always.

 

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Cows of Cambridge

I’ve jokingly said, more than once, that what I most want to be remember for when I leave Cambridge is my love of cows. If, a year or two years from now, someone says “Hey, remember Faith?” and someone else says in response “Yeah, the girl who liked cows!” I would be pleased for that to be my legacy.

Yes, cows. I’ve long thought them cute — this dates from going to Vermont with my grandfather and bottle-feeding baby cows, who looked at me with their big, long-lashed eyes and wet pink noses and stole my heart.

I take a lot of photos of cows these days. A not insignificant percentage of my instagram and facebook photos are…well, of cows. And Cambridge has no shortage of potential subjects. I have my favorites (there’s one male with a particularly striking facial marking and no fear of cameras), but they’re all photogenic, to tell the truth.

Why cows? People have asked me, and I have different answers. They’re cute, as I’ve said. They’re novel, to a girl from the city where the wildlife isn’t much more than racoon-sized. But they’re something else, too, which is that they’re surprisingly expressive.

Even before the cows, a lot of my photos were of children and dogs. Not just because I find them cute — because young children and animals (dogs, cows, tigers at the zoo) share one quality in common, which is that they are entirely free of self-consciousness. They are genuine, engaged, and free of the adult demur that appears sometime around puberty. They don’t change their behavior when a camera appears; they continue being themselves.

It’s a quality I admire in them. Perhaps that’s why I like to capture it — to remind myself that there was a time when I was less shy, less reserved, less proud.

More like a cow.

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Review: The Fringe Festival

So one of the advantages to going to Edinburgh in August is that the city becomes host to the Fringe Festival. And I do mean the entire city — half the parks are transformed into theaters, every surface is covered with flyers, and it seems like every little bar becomes a venue.

I managed to catch quite a lot while I was there (most of the shows are short), so I’ll give some brief selected reviews below.

Continue reading

ATP: Edinburgh

I’ve done a fair bit of traveling recently. Not as much as I would have liked to, but while Ryanair is a boon to poor students everywhere, traveling is still kinda expensive and I’m on a budget.

That said, I’ve gotten to see some interesting places. Florence, Athens, Istanbul; Dublin, Belfast, and soon Paris. But as much as I enjoyed seeing all those beautiful cities, there’s no place like home. However unfair it may be, deep down, I measure all those places against New York and find them a little bit wanting.

There’s only one city that’s managed to capture my heart in quite the same way, and that’s Edinburgh. Continue reading

ATP: A Wildlife Guide to Pembroke & Environs

As a native New Yorker, “wildlife” to me means rats, pigeons, cockroaches, and maybe the occasional raccoon. One of the nice things about England has been getting to see some different animals…

Wood Pigeons

These delight me. I don’t know what it is about their enormous, chubby bodies that always makes me smile. They’re quire prettily feathered for a pigeon, too. All my friends here think it’s weird that I find them so interesting, but then again they don’t know what it’s like to grow up surrounded by city pigeons. (And when my dad came to visit, he agreed that they are really big).

Pheasants

I’ve only seen pheasants a handful of times — once out behind Queen’s College, once at the Botanical Garden, maybe once or twice more — but they’ve made a strong impression on me. I think it’s probably because of that Roald Dahl story, plus the association with game hunting, which I think of as quintessentially ye old English. Continue reading

ATP: In the Summertime…

Occasionally even England blesses a poor overworked graduate student with good weather. And when that season finally rolls around, there’s a whole host of new Cambridge traditions and British activities to explore…

Punting

One of the most Cambridge things to do in Cambridge is to go out on the river for a little punting. If you’re not familiar, it’s an activity which involves standing on the back of a little boat and pushing it down the river with a big pole. It’s lots of fun (though quite the ab workout), and a nice way to see the college backs if you’re a tourist. Just keep in mind that 90% of the stuff they tell you on the guided tour is made up. Continue reading

Across the Pond: I, Robot

In which elevators talk and self checkouts are the bane of my existence.

I remember the first time an English elevator spoke to me. I’d just gotten off the tube at King’s Cross, having made my way over from Paddington, and before that the express train from Heathrow. I had barely slept, and exhaustion was warring with adrenaline as I got closer to the one-and-only, the place I had been building up in my mind for weeks and weeks.

And then the elevator spoke.

“Doors opening. Doors closing. Going up. Doors opening.”

I think I made a surprised noise.

“Yes,” said my mother, “they do that here.” Continue reading