Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Hamlet 1

My guidebook said that the best time to see Buckingham Palace is at 11:30 for the changing of the guard. I decided to go yesterday morning (December 23rd), and made that the first thing I did. I arrived at 10:45, which turned out to be a very good time to get there. A crowd of people that was spread around the gate was just then being organized behind barriers. I chose somewhere to stand arbitrarily, and as luck would have it, it was one of the best seats in the house (actually standing room outside the gates). Also, I found out that December 23rd was a good day to see the changing of the guard; in addition to being Festivus, it was the last changing of the guard before Christmas (and before I leave). I didn’t get bored during the 45 minute wait, because I was to intrigued by the police officer who had the unfortunate job of crowd control. He had to tell hundreds of people where they couldn’t walk, and where they couldn’t stop walking. Each one wanted to be the exception to the rule. He, thus, had to explain that if one person breaks the rule, then soon everyone will, and we’ll have a problem. I felt bad for him. I had done a similar job at the Film Festival, and always assumed that someone whose uniform says “police” instead of “volunteer” would get more respect. Apparently, the uniform was not enough. The best way to get a crowd’s respect is to be on horseback. They seemed to respect the horse’s authority. The changing of the guard was fun. It reminded me of the Palio of Siena. I started to think about the Buckingham Palace Guard and Swiss Guard. These are both jobs filled with tradition that tourists travel long distances to watch. I thought about whether anything like that exists in the US. As far as I know, no part of our military is a tourist attraction. I’ve never been to Fort Knox or the White House, but I don’t think that people go there to see the guards. The closest equivalent we have would be Disneyland.

After seeing the palace, I wandered around London for a few hours. I had already been to about 10 bookstores looking for a Peter Schiff book. I decided that it couldn’t hurt to try one more, and there I found The Little Book of Bull Moves in Bear Markets. I’m excited to read it. Peter Schiff will save our economy if we let him.

I walked by the Novello Theater, where The Royal Shakespeare Company was performing Hamlet 1: Prince of Denmark. On a whim, I walked inside, asked if they had any tickets left, and bought one. This was already my favorite Shakespeare play, and I had never seen it performed before. On top of that, it was an incredible production. It was by far the best Shakespeare performance I have ever seen. The queen was a bit of a Debby Downer, but other than that, everything about the show was amazing. Some of the lines didn’t sound like they were in the original script, but they worked very well:

“Polonius, make it so:
Madness in great ones must not unwatch'd go.”

“He kills your father and you fall back.
Your sister dies for him and you fall back. Not again.
The line must be drawn here! This far and no further!
You must make him pay for what he’s done!”

Over all, I loved the play. All of the actors were perfect, especially Patrick Stewart as Claudius. I can’t wait to see the sequel.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Darkest Evening of the Year

In 2006, I played secret Santa with my hallmates at school. Before the exchanging of gifts, we all wrote notes to each other and tried to guess who our secret Santas were. I wrote this poem for my recipient, who happened to be my roommate.

Whose room this is I think I know.
He's playing squash in Kenyon, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To tape this note upon his do'.

His roommate, Mo, must think it queer
For me to stop and tape this here
Between the quad and Sunset Lake
The halcyon times of freshman year.

He looks at me with double-take
To ask if there is some mistake.
I tell him not to make a peep.
It's all for Secret Santa's sake.

This room is festive, clean and deep,
But I have GPA to keep,
And papers to write before I sleep.
And papers to write before I sleep.

A year ago, today, I went to a sculpture I like called Return of the Sun, and took a picture of it (above) that can only be taken once a year. My tripod about a kadan longer than I would have preferred, but I'm still happy with how the picture came out.

Today, I went to Stonehenge. Apparently, the public transportation in London was not designed to get people to Stonehenge before sunrise, so I saw it at noon. I was impressed with the engineering. It was a long journey full of changing trains, spending money and walking, but I'm glad I went. It was a fun place to celebrate the days getting longer.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


I went out with some friends last night. They saw somebody they recognized, and immediately started walking away from her. They call this girl "Monodread." I didn't see her, but apparently, she has one dreadlock. Some of the girls insisted that she had hit on them and stared at them before and was very creepy about it. One girl complained, "She's never hit on me. It's probably because I'm not blonde. Blondes get so much more attention in this country." I was somewhat baffled by this sentiment. Perhaps I just don't understand girls, but it amazes me that they complain about creepy guys or lesbians hitting on them, and then go on to complain about creepy people not paying enough attention to them.

I told them about a similar conversation I had with Long Island. She has naturally brown hair, but had had highlights in it for about a year when we arrived in Italy. She told her hairdresser she was going to be spending the end of the summer hanging out on beaches in Italy, so her hairdresser gave her some toner to use in case her hair got too light. When autumn started and we stopped going to the beach, she put the toner in her hair. Much to her dismay, her hair turned darker than she had planned, and in fact is now her natural color. She cried about this for a while, but we explained that she looked much better with darker hair. She has somewhat gotten over it, but a few weeks later, we went to a club together, and as we were leaving she started to complain about how much more attention the blonde girls in the club were getting. I seemed to recall that when she was blonde, she complained about strange men groping her. I asked her if that still happened, and she informed me that it did not. I rarely get credit for how good a friend I am; as soon as she informed me of this, I grabbed her ass. It's nice to know that there are little things we can all do to make other people happy. How they express their gratitude is their problem.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Kazoo lessons

I was at a friend's birthday party last night, and I saw that she had a kazoo she had just bought in England. I started talking about how I took kazoo lessons for four years when I was younger. Suddenly, everybody wanted to hear me play the kazoo. I told them I don't like to play it anymore. I explained that I hadn't really played one since 8th grade, and was going to be very rusty. They started trying to get me drunk in an effort to get me to play. Finally, the birthday girl told me that it would mean a lot to her if I would play the kazoo for her on her birthday. I gave in, and played The Boxer by Simon and Garfunkel. Everyone was very impressed with my ability. One of them said that she could hear the difference in quality when I played. A few more times during the evening, they managed to convince me to play songs. They asked me all sorts of questions about what my lessons were like. As I was explaining, the girl next to me whispered to me, "You're lying, right?" I replied "of course," and went on telling them that I was in a group class with many instruments, and only a few of us played kazoo. The birthday girl asked me to teach her how to play it. I told her that it would be impossible to condense four years of lessons into five minutes, but I would do my best. I taught her how to separate notes with the tongue by saying "ta ta ta" instead of "ah ah ah" or "ma ma ma" (a technique I learned in trumpet and flute). I also told her that one must sit up straight and kazoo from the diaphragm instead of the chest or throat. She was a theater major, and had evidently taken singing lessons and heard this before, so she assumed I must know what I was talking about.

There were about fifteen people at that party, and by the end, only two of them had any idea that I was bullshitting. Fortunately, they were able to keep quiet about it. This morning, I saw that the birthday girl's facebook status was "learned how to play kazoo. For real this time."

I'm usually very bad at lying, but every so often, I make up ridiculous stories, not expecting anyone to believe them, and somehow, everyone does.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

I’d like to thank the docent

For looking around the room and then pushing aside the plastic curtain to hand me the statue.

I'd like to thank the girl in my film class who told me that the Fellini museum would be worth the 90-minute train ride to Rimini.

I'd like to thank everyone who supported me when I said I was going to Rimini (a beach town) despite the fact that it was pouring rain and 5 degrees Celsius.

I'd like to thank my brother for suggesting that I see if I could hold the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar for Otto e Mezzo.

I'd like to thank the founders of the Federico Fellini museum for making it consist of a single room with a single exhibit of little interest to most people, thus making my brother and me the only guests on the day we visited.

I'd like to thank the late Federico Fellini for making some incredible films. I've seen six and a half of them so far, and I plan to see many more.

It was the help of these and many other people that made this possible.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Reading Week Before Christmas, or Ode to the Double Red Bull

'Twas two weeks before Christmas, and the soon-to-be grads,
Spent long nights in Butler, all hopped-up on Adds,
With sour demeanors, their eyes bloodshot red,
As the finals and papers instilled in them dread.
The premeds made flash cards and memorized cancers,
While knocking back loads of performance enhancers.
And Scotty—the wanna-be music historian—
Who yearned once again to be valedictorian,
Had lain in his coffin-sized single in Wien,
When his heart went and failed him due to all the caffeine.
And those for whom studying seemed an awfully tall order
Got shrinks to sign off on their "learning disorder."
Amphetamines, stimulants, No-Doz and Coke®—
Stop reading! Start dosing! Your grades are no joke!
Two hours 'fore finals—you won't need study aids:
Drug use is the only guarantor of good grades.
And he who says "Learning's the thing" is a fool,
'Twas obsession with transcripts got us into this school!
And to think of the papers that I have been shirking,
(I was writing this poem when I should have been working),
Imparts to my soul such a terrible fright.
So, Good luck with your finals, and to all—sleepless nights!


Glossary for non-Columbians:

Butler: Humanities and history library; its reading rooms are open 24/7 and the place resembles a refugee camp during finals.
Wien Hall: Most maligned dorm at Columbia, home to roughly 300 juniors and sophomores, mainly consisting of singles that vaguely resemble prison cells (linoleum floors and sinks). An enduring campus myth states that the building housed inmates from the Bloomingdale Lunatic Asylum, which existed on the sight of present-day Columbia until the 1890s.
No-Doz: Name-brand caffeine pills available in most campus vending machines.