Someone recently asked me what I miss about living away from the United States.  I couldn’t come up with much besides being closer to family and friends and certain shops and food items.  (Imagine: no canned pumpkin, and therefore, no pumpkin pie, cookies, soups…  It’s the stuff autumn is made of!)  However, since that conversation I’ve reflected on what I really do love about being abroad, besides the new experiences and the medieval-y atmosphere.  The people I meet when I travel tend to bring out the best in me.

Even in college in Minnesota, the good friends I met there centered me and helped me to figure out what I wanted out of life.  I was less angry and frustrated, probably due to the fact I was no longer boxed into an environment without variety.  Here in Oklahoma (where I am currently spending my spring break), I went to school with mostly white, middle class, conservative, straight Christians.  I never really had to consider the LGBT community or the views of people from different religions and nations.  I was naive, most certainly.  College helped to change that, and the new, exciting people helped me to understand myself.  In addition, this inner revelation let the real me shine through.  I was happy, eager to learn, passionate about my study, more outgoing, and laughed more than I had ever done before.

In England, and even during the brief trips to Italy, the same is true.  Going abroad alone forces me to talk with people and to make “single-serving” friends*, and, as in England, probable lifetime friends.  The most interesting of these “single-serving” friends tend to be very different from me, as in the case of the much older Londoner and his Asian trophy wife or the Brazilian airline worker and American history teacher partner.  I sat next to each couple one night when I was in Florence and had amazing evenings.  When talking with people I know next-to-nothing about, I tend to reflect on my happiest memories, and that brings out the true me, and the best me.  At Durham, the friends I am closest to share my intellectual curiosity and are there for me when I’m homesick, upset, or going through some kind of drama.  I feel free to be me.

My advice to any travelers or potential travelers, whether it be to the next town or to another country, is to meet people and talk about what makes you you.  It’s done wonders for me, and I couldn’t be more thankful for the insight travel has given me.

* “Single-serving” friends are from the film Fight Club.  If you haven’t seen it, you should.  It’s mind-blowing in the best possible way.

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We’ve finally begun our Issues module lectures on the Renaissance.  As I read dense, boring, and often ill-written articles in preparation for Monday’s class, I was struck by the eloquence of Paula Findlen’s article, “Possessing the Past,” in which she discusses the material collection obsession of Renaissance patricians.  To illustrate her point about books and the preservation of knowledge, she included a quote from Petrarch:

And I perhaps own more of them than I ought; but just as in certain other things, so does it happen with books; success in earning money is a stimulus to greed.  There is indeed something peculiar about books.  Gold, silver, precious stones, beautiful clothing, marbled homes, cultivated fields, painted canvases, decorated horses and other similar things, possess silent and superficial pleasure.  Books please the core of one’s mind; they speak with us, advise us and unite us with a certain living and penetrating intimacy.

92, adapted from Petrarch, Rerum familiarium libri I-VIII, 157 (Fam. III, 18)

Petrarch believes to truly possess a book, one must read it, understand it, and contemplate it.  It has to feed one’s mind and soul and not just his or her pride and vanity.  It’s a lovely thought.

Works Cited: language.uoregon.edu

Maybe you’ve seen Shakespeare in the news recently, with the whole “refudiate” situation and Sarah Palin.  While I did hear about that, the most important reference to Shakespeare is my new class on post-1603 Shakespeare.  I’m terrifically excited, and am in love with my new Bevington collected works.  It’s huge, and takes up 75% of my messenger bag, but it’s beautiful.

We’re reading Othello (and seeing an outside performance August 1), Hamlet, Macbeth, and King Lear.  The professor’s area of interest is in gender and sexuality studies, and so the overarching theme will be *drumroll* gender roles and sexuality!  I find that extremely interesting, as I take every opportunity to explore women’s roles in antiquity and the Middle Ages and am a proud feminist myself thanks to Gustavus.  (No, I wasn’t indoctrinated, or anything, but I experienced how my female friends and classmates view the world as professionals, independent people, gay, straight, bisexual, Christian, atheist, etc.  Plus, the red “This is what a Gustavus feminist looks like” didn’t hurt either…  I still have fond memories of a male poli sci professor speaking to the senior class wearing one of these under his robes and flashing it like Clark Kent becoming Superman.)

Anyway, it will be a nice change from SQB and an uninformed, interruptive instructor.

I’ve begun to read the first play for Monday, Othello.  It’s so beautiful, and the marriage between Othello and Desdemona begins better than any marriage I’ve read about recently (The Miller’s Tale, The Franklin’s Tale, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Lanval, etc.).  Those marriages begin either with the man in total domination over the woman, the woman in complete control over the man, or a marriage of “equals” to the depressed extreme as in the marriage between Averagus and Dorigen.  Othello and Desdemona love each other in the Christian way and in Venus’ way.  It’s true love mixed with passion.  Of course, Iago comes to stir those flames of passion, creating doubt and destruction by the end, but the beginning is good, right?  The issues of the Moor’s bestial qualities corrupting the pure, white, Venetian virtue of Desdemona is interesting.  (“Even now, now, very now, an old black ram / Is topping your white ewe.”  Othello, 1. 1)  Disturbing, but interesting.  Language is carefully used to convey meaning, and I think my maturity since last reading any Shakespeare, my viewing of several plays last summer, and the Bevington’s notes all make me very aware of language.

Chasseriau's Othello and Desdemona in Venice, 1850

And that brings me to a nice stopping point before I go on another lecture about the importance of the text and construction of language…  To sum up, the text is important.  The author uses it carefully as a whole work and in pieces, ultimately creating a text larger than the sum of its parts.  You should appreciate the text.  Please?

Wherein I spake of most disastrous chances,
Of moving accidents by flood and field,
Of hair-breadth ‘scapes i’ the imminent deadly breach,
Of being taken by the insolent foe
And sold to slavery, of my redemption thence
And portance in my travels’ history.

But words are words; I never yet did hear
That the bruised heart was pierced through the ear.
Othello, 1. 3 (both)

I understand a fury in your words,
But not the words.
Othello, 4. 2

Movie note: The Kenneth Bragnagh Othello is breathtaking, with Laurence Fishburne as Othello and Bragnagh as Iago.  Stage Beauty with Billy Crudup and Clair Danes focuses on the staging of Othello just as women were being allowed on the stage.  For a true and good version of Othello, pick of Bragnagh.  For a commentary on the gender roles of Renaissance England and the evolution of staging, Stage Beauty is entertaining.

Colosseum at Sunset

I recently posted this quote on Facebook and got lots of “likes” and positive comments.

“Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.”

–Marcus Aurelius

I think it’s a wonderful message.  I have read Marcus Aurelius’ work, and he’s probably one of my favorite philosophers and Roman emperors.  Instead of focusing on how to be powerful (ahem, Livia and Tiberius or those belonging to “The Year of Four Emperors” in AD 69), he thinks about how to best live life and how to be a good person.  I hope that by reading him and keeping his advice in my mind, I am becoming a better person, as well.

Off to bed.  My parents are here for Christmas!  It’s so good to see them and take some of the cooking/decorating/cleaning burden off of their shoulders.  Goodnight!

Friends

I am thankful for so many things in my life.  After recently going through my Netflix queue and looking at my bookshelf, I see the lives of people who are not so fortunate in those films and those pages.  To commemorate Thanksgiving, I wanted to briefly state what I’m thankful for.  Not why or any other explanation, but just a mention on this blog to show appreciation.  In no particular order, except for perhaps the first several:

family

friends

life / health

education

Gustavus

rain

animals

films

music

flowers

kindness

travel

other cultures and religions

e-mail and Skype to connect with those far away

random jokes

laughter

coffee

tea

chocolate

fresh berries

Shakespeare

photographs

learning

a bright, shiny future (*crosses fingers*)

grass

trees

the GAC Shakespeare pit

Latin

mountains

snow

scarves

Kiehl’s

vanilla

candles

color

slippers

mittens

umbrellas

outside plays

picnics

architecture from antiquity to the Renaissance

democracy

love

morals

support

forgiveness

hugs

smiles

cheesecake

trains

Get over the idea that only children should spend their time in study.  Be a student so long as you still have something to learn, and this will mean all your life.  ~Henry L. Doherty

For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.  ~Epictetus

A gentleman need not know Latin, but he should at least have forgotten it.  ~Brander Matthews

A Loeb Series

If the Romans had been obliged to learn Latin, they would never have found time to conquer the world.  ~Heinrich Heine

Florence in sepia

Feeling restless, so here’s one of my favorite photos from Italy this summer.  The title is, to the best of my ability, in Italian for “Florence in Sepia.”

At the Fitzwilliam

Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge University

I am by no means a great blogger. In fact, I probably have about three out there that I gave up on because I didn’t like the username (or forgot it) or the whole setup thing was way to complicated. All I really know about computers is how to type, surf the web, and use my audio/visual applications. So, here goes another try.

I suppose I should first explain the logic behind the naming of this blog. While I was on vacation in Europe this summer, I read an absolutely amazing book by Salman Rushdie called The Enchantress of Florence. Appropriately, I was in Italy and went to Florence at the time. But that’s beside the point. One page had my scrawling all over it by the time I was done with the chapter, and the words which had moved me so much were these: “The past was a light that if properly directed could illumine the present more brightly than any contemporary lamp… The relaying of wisdom from one age to the next, this cycle of rebirths: this was wisdom. All else was barbarity.” Being a great believer in learning from those who went before us, I was glued to this passage probably for a good hour of the train ride from Venice to Florence. I thought of the reoccurring genocides in Rwanda and Darfur, of the use of Greek philosophy in the Bible, and of basic archetypes which appeared in the dawn of civilization and occur today. We need to use history to make the world a better place in terms of peace, equality, and intelligence.

I could go on and on about how we could better ourselves and the peoples and societies around us by using the knowledge from the past and passing on that knowledge (hey, I love literature and history, especially the ancient stuff, so I get rather worked up about the need to appreciate the ancients). But I won’t. Instead, I’ll finish up this post with a little bit about me.

I am a recent graduate from Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota with a major in honors classics and a minor in English. I am currently living back at home with my parents in Oklahoma City while I pack for my already-rented apartment in Bellevue, Washington. I will be taking the time from my move-in until Christmas to tinker with my thesis (on women and transformation in ancient epic) for a better grad school writing sample and to finish applications to grad schools in the UK (Durham, York, St Andrews) and in the US (Minnesota, Washington). The UK offers programs in medieval studies, so I would be able to study the time period in an interdisciplinary program. That’s part of what I love about classics: I can translate Ovid in Latin and be aware of the cultural and historical ramifications and reception of his poetry. I love looking at literature through history. The US universities can only offer literature programs, but oh, the money required to go back to England… If all goes according to plan, just the way I want, I’d get an MA in medieval studies, then an MA in ancient epic, then a PhD in literature “marrying” my interests in the ancient and medieval time periods. And it would be lovely to go to Durham because it has a lot of the features I love about Gustavus (on a hill, river, small-but-not-too-small town size, near a large city) and I would be able to get married, theoretically, in Durham Cathedral, the Britons’ favorite building. To an Englishman, of course… Yep. And after that fantasy bears fruit, I’d become a literature professor and help students learn composition, the importance of the Odyssey and Beowulf, and Latin.

I love books, travel, friends, family, cats, owls, art, classical and neoclassical architecture and sculpture, cathedrals and evensong, periwinkle, green, historical fiction, films, autumn in Minnesota, snow, coffee, tea, and music.

Just to do the basic introduction stuff (“Hi, I’m Sarah, and I’m a classicist”), here’s a list of what I’m currently up to and a few favorites. I hope whoever you are, you’re having a lovely day or night!

Currently Watching: Doctor Zhivago (2002). Well, not currently. But it was the last thing I watched in its entirety.

Favorite Film: LOTR trilogy. C’mon. It can only be taken as a whole. It’s so epic! Plus, I want those dresses of Arwen’s. Aragorn wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize, either.

Currently Reading: Anna Karenina and My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead. Bonus points if you can tell me which Roman author the second work is referring to…

Favorite Book: Harry Potter books. Same. All the books have favorite parts for me.

Currently Listening To: The Tudors Soundtrack. Rockin’ Renaissance.

Favorite Band: Coldplay. Just… I’m in awe.

Currently Drinking: mandarin green tea. It even smells good! I could totally make saches out of this stuff. But it’s too yummy.

Favorite Drink: coffee in any form. But a Bellini in Venice or tea in a tearoom in Cambridge can be the best thing in the world.

(picture of me in front of the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge University, where I studied history and medieval studies for a month in summer, 2009)