That sentence, even two weeks later, just doesn’t make sense. There are so many things that I’m seeing, feeling, hearing, failing to understand, muddling through, and enjoying against all else; however, in this city everything swirls. Nothing is constant, nothing habitual. I feel as if I completely untethered from everything I know, and yet I float on the sea of dreams.
Stepping off the night train from Berlin, I arrived on arguably the bleakest possible day I’ve ever seen in Paris: blanketed with an obfuscating fog that somehow put me at ease. After all these months of travel I’ve become most at home in la foule – the mass, unyielding, unrepentant. I am what am, and of what this is I care not.
Paris is, well to put it bluntly I have no idea what Paris is.
I can tell you what it is not. It is not the snobby bastion of anti-Americanism that both the French and Americans both elevate and decry it as. It is not cheap. It is not what the guidebooks tell you. It is not hard, and it is never easy. It is not as static as I once thought. And more than anything else it is not hard to love.
I don’t know what changed this time over the other four times that I’ve been to Paris, but what had once been for me the epitome of bland modern France, mired in its past and unable to face its future, seems so much modern, so much more dynamic today. I guess as someone who has spent so much time studying France its facade lost its luster for me long ago. Hence, when I came to Paris as a tourist I found its veneer gaudy and stifling. The whole city just reeked of decadence.
Yet, this lens has switched to a much rosier one. Now I see Paris as a weird but fascinating hybrid of modern and ancient. It remains a bastion of privilege but living with a middle class French family and exploring the more quotidien facets of Parisian life has opened up the city to me in unexpected ways. For one I’ve finally found good food in a capital notorious for its sad culinary inequality (between three star michelin restaurants and tourist-trap brasseries). More than anything my host mother and the cousin staying with them, Valentine, have opened my eyes to Paris. We speak constantly (in French) about life, the city, and those daily conversations that are deliciously trivial.
For now I’m soaking it all in. I bought teal pants at Zara, partied on a boat in the Seine, returned to Normandie to celebrate my old host sister’s 20th birthday and went clubbing in the middle of nowhere France, saw what only the French (and residents) can see: the President’s Palace and National Assembly, and meandered everywhere I could.
I still feel like I’m squandering an opportunity, that I should do more. But at the same time I’m trying to be less American and accept things as they come. For example, after countless wasted hours on Grindr here I’ve abandoned any pretensions about finding a boyfriend. I know I’ll make some French gay friends and maybe more, but nothing will ever become serious.
I came to France to seize this golden opportunity to understand the culture I’ve waited so long to live amongst and I won’t waste it on some dalliance. The time for that is passed, and in the future. The present, that’s mine.
I guess it was inevitable. At some point Blanchard and I would have a fight. I guess it’s a testament to how well we mesh that we only had one major conflict on our 18 day trip together.
The day started normal enough with us taking the U-Bahn (U2) from our terrible Schonhauser Allee apartment to Alexanderplatz then transferring onto the S-Bahn (S7) bound for Berlin Hauptbahnhof. We grabbed a snack, a rather plain and expensive ham and cheese sandwich for myself, and made our way down to the platform. We were boarding the Hamburg-Budapest Express for a “brisk” five hour leg of its 14 hour total journey (8am to 10pm). On the platform I saw the cutest little lady. She couldn’t have been over 5’ 4” but she had a subtle spunk and spirit to her that I loved. She confirmed this when she flashed a broad smile to me as our train arrived and she hopped on board.
Once on the train it really hit me that we were in the former Soviet satellite natons. The car looked to be a relic of some bygone Soviet Express from the 1960s complete with the frayed drapes, weathered orange seats, and decaying brown paneling. It made for a great background for the journey down to Prague.
After two hours we got off at Dresden for a two hour stop to see the city. I didn’t have Czech Republic on my RailPass so I had to buy a ticket from Dresden to Prague (cheaper than Berlin to Prague). As a result we had two hours until the train I booked arrived. And then things started to boil.
I had lost my voice a few days earlier and as a result I didn’t really want to speak unless absolutely necessary as it was still rather painful to talk. So I suggested to Blanchard, “We could take turns, one hour each, going into the city while the other watches the luggage.” I had a large amount of luggage compared to him and I didn’t want to drag it around the city, but he saw this as me trying to unload my burden on him. Unfortunately, mostly from a long past of being ignored in group settings, I tend to say these things rather presumptuously and it grated on Blanchard. When he disagreed I got angry and we split up for the entire time in Dresden with me saying just meet back here at 3, which was another miscommunication of mine since I met the platform for the train but Blanchard thought I meant the area in front of the station in which we had the fight.
Irritated, I blustered off into Dresden. It is a remarkable and gorgeous. I guess it’s because of the restoration efforts since Germany reunified, but I hadn’t expected it to be so seemingly intact. The old quarter still had gorgeous gothic and baroque architecture, most notably the three churches, Saxon Palace, and opera house. I got a mediocre bratwurst and marveled at the gothic carvings and murals lining the old quarter, especially the history of the Saxon dynasty. Of course the most beautiful part of Dresden is from the bridge over the Elbe. It gives one the distance with which to see the entire old quarter with a radiant azul river running alongside its banks. I quite liked Dresden. I don’t know how much more there really was to see, and after experiencing so much German culture, food, and history in Berlin I don’t see a point in ever going back to Dresden. However, I’m glad I was able to see it as it is surely one of Germany’s most stunning provincial cities.
Now back at the train station I waited for Blanchard. And waited. And waited. To the point that the train had 5 minutes until it departed, and unlike him I didn’t have a global rail pass so I couldn’t miss this train. I put my luggage in the doorway and stood at the door desperately searching for him. Luckily he popped up the stairs at 15:04, 4 minutes before departure, and we got on board. We didn’t speak much and hastened into a compartment that was regrettably occupied by a very smelly Czech man (so far the Czechs are the first people in Europe that, en masse, do not bathe regularly). Luckily he got off at the next stop and the smell lifted.
But then things boiled over. Blanchard said that we needed to talk, I said about what, honestly clueless. He then layed into me, and I don’t blame him. Had he done the things that he perceived that I had done to him then I probably would have been just as angry with him. He said that I was dismissive of his ideas, that I didn’t help clean the apartments before we left and just assumed he would do it, that I made this noise that seemed to emit both disgust and haughtiness, and that I didn’t respect him. I tried my best to explain, he grew angrier and said I was making bullshit excuses. Though I truly wasn’t. I stayed calm and did not get angry and tried to make him understand. First, I would never be such good friends with someone that I thought was stupid or beneath me, and I would never want him to think that I thought that of him. Second, I have acquired both of my parents’ worst traits: my father’s quick temper and my mother’s defensive, a terrible combination. So, especially because I take loyalty so personally due to a lot of formative experiences in middle and high school, when someone close to me disagrees with me I get flustered and irritated. It’s probably my worst personality trait and something I really do need to work on. Moreover, and I didn’t realize I did this, in the moments when this happens I make some sort of noise that sounds like it must be extremely offensive. I instinctively make it when I am flustered and don’t know what to do about a situation, but Blanchard thought it was a personal attack. And once again I cannot blame him. I need to stop making it, though it is so inadvertent that I don’t really know how to condition it out of me. We kept talking for a little bit longer and everything just kind of worked out. I didn’t escalate it, I didn’t try to turn it back on him, and I didn’t deny it. I think it might have been the best conflict resolution I’ve ever done, especially since I didn’t get a temper or defensive.
And then we arrived in Prague, after ALL of that.
Honestly, there really isn’t much to say about Prague. It is the quintessential Central European city. Absolutely radiant in the sunshine and somber in overcast clouds that so plague this region, Prague is a gem of a city. However, there isn’t really much to do. I’ve never read Kafka so the Kafka Museum seemed rather pointless. Prague Castle wasn’t a castle, more of a compound. The Charles Bridge is gorgeous but in the end all you can do with it is take pictures and walk across it. The Old Square was the most disappointing. After seeing Brussel’s old square this one just doesn’t compare. I may hate Brussels, but its Grand Place is truly a wonder of the world.
My favorite thing about Prague was how it merried so many architectural styles into one beautiful Habsburg mosaic. The Italian influences were palpable in almost every building, but one still felt the echos of Vienna and the shadows of Budapest as far as the eye could see. The best thing about Prague is Prague. It is just a wonder to behold and walk about. Otherwise all there really is to do is eat and drink. And this we did a lot of.
To backtrack a bit we stayed at Yana’s wonderful apartment in Praha 5, across the Vltava River from the old city (Praha 1), so we had quite a long tram ride/walk whenever we wanted to get home. Of course since the best part about Prague is walking it I never complained. Plus the apartment was just great. Very cheap at $60/day, $30 per person, and with a great shower (if tiny water heater), helpful fridge, great couch, and decent beds. It was so Eastern European that if you cut the walls they would probably bleed Soviet Red paint. This only added to the charm and I quite liked our time there. With some of the old 70s-style trams, remnants of Russian writing on the walls, bright red street signs in the Soviet style, rundown train stations with their original early 1900s paint, and demolished Stalin monuments Prague was truly a step back into time. Not too far back, it felt like the 1980s I’d say, but still, it was a cool experience.
Now I mentioned that we ate and drank a lot. The drinking unfortunately had to be curtailed because I was pretty sick for most of Berlin and Prague, but I still tried some true Cesky drinks such as Czech Budweiser (not related to the American mega-brewer headquartered twenty minutes from my childhood home). I also have a Duff Beer that we bought at Czech Tesco that I can’t wait to drink in Paris.
The food though, that I dived into headfirst. One important thing about Prague that any American visitor must understand before they come is that this place is crazy cheap. Like 3 course meal with wine for $15 cheap. You can easily get a full entrée for $6 at a good casual dining restaurant. Hence Blanchard and I LOVED Czech Republic (never “the” Czech Republic, always just “Czech Republic”). For the first time during the trip we could actually eat like normal human beings (remember, in the other cities we subsisted on groceries, sandwiches, and kebap/other cheap middle eastern foods that are like the McDonald’s of Europe). Our first meal was at JetSet, this restaurant/bar that was a 5 minute walk from our apartment. I had a delicious carrot puree with lentils and then roasted angus beef medallions (rather small, definitely not real angus because they were kind of tough) with divine roasted vegetables. I haven’t had vegetables like those in ages. They were a welcome respite from the starch/fried food diet that I had been subsisting on for the last two weeks. Other notable dishes that I had over the next two days: spinach gnocchi with chicken in a garlic cream sauce, weiner schnitzel (so good!), spinach and garlic stuffed chicken (absolutely delectable, also accompanied by great veges), goulash (fatty, low-grade meat in a stew, not very good unfortunately…), dumplings (nothing like Asian or Polish dumplings, basically like American stuffing but without all the spices… bland). We ate very well.
I talked to a few cute guys on Grindr, just like in Berlin, but honestly I just didn’t really care so they all fizzled out. Blanchard, poor guy, got very ill on the second day but luckily cleared up by the next day, so we didn’t really do anything on the third day, which was kind of nice. The fourth day we split up and I had a lovely lunch in downtown Prague while reading my absolute favorite history book In Europe by Geert Mak (Go amazon that shit right now!). I then explored the city and Prague Castle. Afterwards I meandered back to the apartment, and Blanchard and I spent our last night of the trip together. It was great fun and I’m glad I had the opportunity to share it with him. It would have gotten quite lonely and dreary otherwise.
Prague was great because it helped me relax and refocus on Paris. I’m on the train to Berlin then Paris now and I must say I feel extremely ready. In part it is because I am sick of traveling and extremely desirous of a routine life again. However, I’m also ready to seize this opportunity and I feel prepared to really dive head first into Paris, French, and La Culture Francaise.
To close my Eurotrip travelogue I must recount my final morning… Oh lord what a morning it was. I woke up at 9am, 2 hours before my 10:56am train. I showered, shaved, and packed all of those last minute things that one must leave unpacked until the last minute. Gazing out the window of our apartment for the last time I chatted with Blanchard about that nothing, in that wonderful early morning kind of way. At 9:50am I headed out the door, happy with the trip and ready to get to Paris.
And then everything fell apart.
The first bad sign was that I arrived at Bertramka (our tram stop) only to watch the #9 pullaway. Literally 10 seconds too late… Whatever, I still have plenty of time. Bored at the stop I pull out my phone to check the timetable I had sent to Nic the night before. 10:29. My train leaves at 10:29. It was then 10:03. Fuck. I started praying, to whatever Eastern European gods may have heard me, to please let the next tram come quickly. Apparently they were off that day because the next one didn’t slug in until 10:07, a full 8 minutes after the last one had left. They are supposed to run every 4 minutes… Normally this wouldn’t matter but… Then on the way to the train station a tow truck dislodging an illegally parked interloper from his perch blocked our path for 4 minutes… We arrived at the station at 10:26… I sprinted, 110lbs of baggage and all, into the station, checked the board, glanced about quickly and then dashed to platform three. Nothing. 10:30 and the train wasn’t even in sight. Not only had it left on time, but it had probably had even left ahead of schedule. Now I had two hours on my hands…
Luckily I found wifi and messaged Nic, a friend from Duke that I failed to rendez-vous with in Berlin, saying that I had missed my train. I also told Blanchard my harrowing tale of unfortunate events. I just really wasn’t meant to make that train… After talking with them I ate the cheap sandwich I had snagged from Tesco the day before, some odd combination of ham, salami, tasteless white cheese, and cream cheese with chives in it. Yep, I was in Eastern Europe.
Dying to leave I looked up at the boards around 11:40 and guess what? My 12:29 train was 15 minutes late. Yeah… The first train had been perfectly on time but my back-up train was now a full 2 hours and 15 minutes later… At that point I just wanted to walk to Berlin.
And so here I am. On the train to Berlin sitting with some nerdy dude in a chequered shirt with 1970s glasses and block phone that only someone from 1997 would envy.
For those of you that know me well you know that I almost never talk about Missouri. I might make passing references to my sisters or my mom, occasionally my high school, but otherwise I have totally moved on.
Or so I thought. These transient four months have subtly changed everything: I’m rethinking what kind of a boyfriend I want, I want to see more of the US, I’m more resolute on business over the Navy, I see my flaws much more clearly but also believe in my abilities more than ever, and more than anything I am homesick for the first time in my life. I feel like I’m at precipice, a crossroads for everything.
Yes I have missed home before, but I’ve never had this feeling in my gut pulling me home, like a magnet towards my true north. Of course I know that as soon as I touch down at Lambert and return to Oakville it will all be the same: the same close-mindedness, the same lack of opportunities, the same feeling of insignificance. But at the same time, and maybe this is just nostalgia for simpler times, I miss it. I miss the farm. I miss the eclectic group of friends I formed senior year. I miss the simple pleasures: picking apples and hayriding at Eckert’s, family birthdays, fresh rain on a Barracks trail, nights on Washington Avenue, lunch in the Central West End, Bellacino’s, the endless parade of proms, and more than anything else I miss the routine of the habitual. And fall. and football games with hot chocolate and blankets. and the smell of freshly cut firewood crackling in the fire.
Since my last final on May 4 I have spent:
6 days in Durham, NC crashing on couches waiting for training;
17 days in Jacksonville, FL at Naval Station Mayport;
15 days home with Mom in Austin, TX;
22 days taking Multivariable Calculus at Rice in Houston, TX;
43 days in Oxford, UK studying Modern British History with 8 of those days in London, 4 in Barcelona, 1 in Bath, 1 in Cambridge, and 1 in Stratford-upon-Avon;
4 days in Scotland staying with my old friend Alyssa;
18 days Eurotripping with Blanchard in Brussels, Bruges, Amsterdam, Berlin, Potsdam, Dresden, and Prague;
and now I’m preparing to arrive in Paris.
After all of these weeks scattered about the world I face even more uncertainty in these coming months. But I am ready. France is not foreign to me, and I have a good number of close friends to enjoy it with. I have been waiting a lifetime for this opportunity and I will relish it.
However, I think of Missouri and my family now more than I ever have since I left almost exactly 2 years ago. It’s strange. I should be back in St. Louis next summer for a week or two, and I could try to get an internship in Chicago so I could go to St. Louis on the weekends. Who knows.
I really do not know where to begin. Oxford was an absolutely surreal experience. Until the last week I hadn’t fallen in love with the city; however that last week was magical: I met three amazing guys, wrote one of my best essays, explored the city, and had an incredible shit show mess of a night with my best friends.
I feel that I’ve failed to blog the experience well, and I don’t want to go back and nitpick what I’ve already written. So instead I’ve decided to write a catchall. Yes all 6 weeks in one post (though I absolutely must have a separate post on Barcelona, the greatest city in the world).
To begin let’s understand the cast of characters that made Oxford so unforgettable:
Hannah: honestly I think Hannah is one of the people that understands me on the most fundamental level, the number of people that I know like this can be counted on one hand. She is absolutely charming, beautiful in my favorite way, ghettolicious and fabulous, endlessly witty and intelligent, and quite honestly perfection. Oxford could never have been so much fun without Hannah.
Kelsey: Just like Hannah, Kelsey is just too good to be true. She seems quiet and nice, unassuming, but the Kelsey I got to know is a firecracker (literally, what a pyro) who is also one of the most empathetic and relatable people that I’ve ever met. I could talk to Kelsey forever.
Kelsey and Hannah were my diehard twosome, always there to catch me when I fell. And as you’ve already read I fell quite a few times.
Next comes quite honestly the most beautiful person I know,
Morgan: it’s funny because when I met Morgan my first thought was “no way we’ll be friends, she’s too pretty and popular.” How wrong I would be. Morgan is brilliant, articulate, hilarious (big girl big glass), and so open to everyone that you can’t help but love her. I feel blessed to have met her and I can’t wait to see her when I get back to Duke.
Lindsey: The only one I knew from before Duke-in-Oxford, Lindsey is a character. She is definitely the clumsiest gal I know, but she makes up for it with her heart of gold and thirst for knowledge. Lindsey and I have had so many great conversations; she always has something to talk about. I’m glad I was able to help her in Barcelona and she definitely contributed significantly to my fun in Oxford.
Now of course every great cast has its supporting characters. At Oxford these men and women rounded things out, gave life a balance that study abroads often lack.
Matt & Noah, must be considered together. The greatest bromance in history is fails to describe the deepest bro-bond that unites these two. Endlessly hilarious and always affable, these two were the guys I most liked within the Duke group.
Sammie, this sophomore is just peaches and cream. She’s wonderfully witty and sarcastic. Chill to the core, Sammie is always great company. We also had quite a few great conversations, and she only reinforced my love of Kappa.
Shelby is absolutely wonderful. One of the first people I befriended at Oxford, she also was in “The Making of Modern Britain” and was my go-to when it came to talking about that class. She’s effortlessly charming and funny in that sly-and-I-know-it kinda way.
Kaitlin was by far my favorite “alternative friend,” the friend outside of my core group. Almost everyday I would seek out this Tae-Kwon-Do blackbelt & Robertson Scholar fro some delightful conversation. Kaitlin and I met during Leadership Roundtable freshman year and ever since we’ve remained friends. She’s just that delicious blend of spunk, playfulness, and radiant happiness. I’ve never seen her without a smile, and the things she does always amaze me. Her two-month internship with an NGO in Sri Lanka before she came to Oxford was a constant source of fascinating stories, and with every conversation I peeled back one more layer of this most-proud Rhode Islander.
Swain may be President of the Duke Student Body, but she’s President of my heart first and foremost (so cheesy, so true). One of the most genuine people that I have ever met, Swain is a dollop of Carolina sunshine. Behind her genteel disposition and warmth beats the heart of a highly intelligent and ambitious young woman, and I feel honored to have gotten to know her while at Oxford. Swaino always complimented me and lent an ear when I needed one. It will be a great loss for Duke when she graduates.
Matt, “Douchey Matt” as we so lovingly called him, was our Oxonian liason. He was in charge of basic administration of our program and herded us around as his own little flock of American sheep. Which was rather odd given that he only just turned 21. He’s in Med School and is contracted to the Royal Navy once he graduates. We had a playfully bitter relationship with greetings such as “Hey fuckface” and “Sup Dosey” as common as English rain. He was always fun to joke around with and could be helpful at times. A solid British friend.
And who could forget the romantic plot lines? Cue Taylor, Ashley, Greg, and Andrew.
Now I’ve explained Taylor (USAF asshole in Cambridge) quite a bit and at this point my only feeling towards him is pity. I defriended all of them on facebook so that chapter of my life is most certainly shut. However the other three I have not mentioned before, mostly because I haven’t written much due to the craziness of these last two months.
Ashley is the least consequential. We chatted online for awhile and he seemed to be (and was) a very cool guy. His mother is from Guyana and he studies theatre though I’d never guess that he was gay on meeting him. We watched the Olympics and Batman begins and hooked up. Pure, simple fun. I doubt I’ll ever see him again but I wouldn’t be opposed. We clicked nicely and he was a great guy.
Andrew is an Australian post-doc working at Oxford. He taught at the Australian Defence Academy (imagine West Point, Annapolis, and the Air Force Academy rolled into one) before coming to England and has a wonderful demeanor. We went on three dates, and while I liked him more as a friend, but he liked me in other ways so we hooked up before I left. Wasn’t really an enjoyable experience, but he’s a really nice guy that has an interesting take on things. I will definitely keep in touch with him.
Greg was my hands-down favorite. We also went on three dates and also hooked up on the last date. Definitely the best hookup I had in England. He rows crew and is a giant at 6’ 4”. We met for a beer at the King’s Arms and lunch at Quod. For our last date he took me to this gorgeous park that overlooks all of Oxford’s spired skyline, and afterwards we had (regrettably lackluster) tapas. Afterwards we had a great hookup in my room and shower. He has an incredible, everything. Greg is the only true Oxonian (someone who goes/went to Oxford) and was that classic British mix of good-natured humor and reserve.
And now Greg and Andrew are dating each other!
Also don’t forget the flaky and forgettable Army doctor Damian.
Though, with the exception of Taylor, almost of this happened in the last two weeks so it was all rather compressed. However I got to meet some great guys that showed me parts of Oxford I would not have otherwise seen, and my faith in gays was slightly restored.
Now for this part, please bear with me. It is now 12 days since the end of Oxford and 55 since it began, therefore my memories have amalgamated into a giant impression that I must dissect and relive in order to retrieve them for you.
I had a quite painless travel experience to Oxford, with two fascinating seat partners (the nurse and the Scot) and an easy bus ride to Gloucester Green in Oxford. The first night we had our first high table which was an amazing experience full of debauchery and fun. We had our main photo taken and I fell in love with Kelsey, Hannah, and Morgan. My first class was rather less good than I had expected, yet we were the only class that did not have a paper the first week so things proceeded apace nicely. We also had two Exeter College lecturers that week. The first was on Social Media and the Arab Spring and didn’t have any insights that The Economist or Foreign Affairs hadn’t already printed. The second lecture was an absolutely mind numbing survey of free market capitalism. So broad and generic as to actually make me doze off. So far Oxford’s illustrious academic pedigree seemed a false façade. Otherwise though things were incredible, in the first week we had a tour of Oxford that gave us a good, if brief, overview of the city and its history, and the food seemed wonderful: lamb, potatoes, salads, tens of desserts. We also went to an incredible performance of A Midsummer’s Night Dream, by far my favorite Shakespeare play. I do love fairies after all. Unfortunately England’s endless rain spoiled the second half and the play was ended early. At the end of the first week Oxford was a great place to be. Though I also had a nagging sense of “Is this it?” For one the university is not contiguous and as a result there really is no “Oxford spirit” so to speak. Instead your college (New College for us) defines your experience in Oxfordshire. I hadn’t planned on going anywhere the first weekend, but upon an invitation from my friend Kelly at University College London (UCL) I took a 7am bus, god that was rough, to London. I got to Langton Close, her dorm, at 10am and within 20 minutes we were on our way to “World Pride” which while fun was quite chilly and very political. Feistiness rather than frivolity was in the air. We had the honor of marching in the parade at the end, and were able to quite a swathe of LGBT life-most interestingly the loud and proud asexuals. Yet, despite the slight let-down of the parade the people that I went with were incredible. The Duke-in-Londoners were a riot, and I had so much fun hanging out with them. It was unfortunate that I was never able to see them again (for the most part).
That night we had planned to go to Fabric, and I wish we had, but on the way we went into this 80s club dominated by 30 year olds to go to the bathroom. However, since we got in without paying a cover we decided just to stay. I wasn’t a huge fan, especially since the one cute I saw, and made 5 second eye contact with, left when his friends left 20 minutes into us being there… We had walked passed St. Paul’s to get to the club and the way out we saw its looming dooms obscured by a pounding London rain. It was torrential. We ran to the night bus stand, sketchy I know, and managed to get back to UCL in one piece. The next day I went down to Soho, one of London’s two gay districts (I never went to Vauxhall, the other), and met up with about 8 other gay US military guys. They were fun, but in the end meeting them was definitely the greatest mistake I made while in Britain. I met Taylor almost instantly, he was refreshingly American and cute. He was exhausted but we had a decent exchange. The other guy at the table, his name escapes me, was nice, but rather portly and overly sarcastic. Marcos, another gorgeous American, had lost his voice and wasn’t much of a conversationalist as a result. Chris was fun, and would be my hero the next weekend with Taylor, but we didn’t speak much. Otherwise Jake is the only other person of note. I didn’t talk to him much, but he’s also in the Navy and will be stationed in San Diego when I am so he’s the only one that I’ve remained facebook friends with.
During week 2 the true amount of academic work I would need to do at Oxford hit me. Every week we had book after book to read, and the subjects were so generic that they required mountains of background reading before you could crystallize your specific subject. My first paper that week was on British decline in the post-war era. I read about 400 pages that week. I also settled into my room more, especially once I figured out how to turn my Macbook into a wifi terminal for my iPhone (aka enabling Grindr in my room). I had planned to read a lot at Oxford, but honestly between the weekend travelling and the workload most of my time in my room was just relaxing. I honestly don’t even know what I did. Aside from 2 episodes of How I Met Your Mother & 8 episodes of True Blood I watched almost no television while in Oxford. During the second week we another Wednesday night high table. Now since we got 4-8 free drinks depending upon how aggressive one was during champagne cocktail hour Wednesday became the main going out night… except for me. My weekly papers were due Thursday afternoons, and since I would actually try to be diligent about my studies I took forever to research and write them. As a result I never finished before Wednesday night. I wish I had been able to go out more, but unlike almost everyone else on the program Oxford was only the beginning of my 2012 European adventure so I didn’t feel the party imperative that I think they did. Quite simply I just wanted to enjoy Oxford and do well in my class. For me Oxford wasn’t a study abroad, it was more like summer school. Though that doesn’t mean that I didn’t travel and live it up, I just took things a little slower than some of the others. Week 2 also saw us go on our first Duke-in-Oxford sponsored trip. Early Friday morning we journied up to Stratford-upon-Avon to see Shakespeare’s, now terribly tacky, hometown and a performance of The Tempest by the Royal Shakespeare Company. It was a nice little town, but so touristy that my only enjoyment stemmed from the company of my chicas and when we had our first afternoon tea at “Anne Hatheway’s.” Those scones were mind-blowing. Imagine the best, flakiest, butteriest southern biscuit that you’ve ever tasted then douse it in jam and cream. Yeah. It was heaven. We returned to Oxford then took an early morning Saturday bus to London, this time to stay at LSE.
This second time in London was completely different. First, unlike the quaint, picturesque London that I encountered on my walk from Marble Arch to Langton Close, this London was rainy, gloomy and overcrowded. The trek from Victoria Coach Station to LSE was tiring and uninteresting. We dropped our things off and proceeded back outside to do London tourist-style (almost as fun as Thai-style ;). With Steven, Hannah, and Kelsey plus a gaggle of other Dukies we headed down to Parliament, Big Ben, the Tower of London, and the HMS Belfast. We ended up dividing into two groups as us “Tour people” (Hannah & Kelsey) went to the Tower of London and had one of the best tours that I’ve been a part of. The Beefeater tour of the Tower of London is a must-see. It was hilarious, interesting, and well paced. We saw the gallows, locations of royal intrigue, especially those of Henry VIII, the Crown Jewels, and everything else under the royal sun. Afterwards we went to Parliament and just barely caught the last tour, and even then we were destined to take the French tour had it not been for the miraculous intervention of a kindly woman who smuggled us into the last English tour. Parliament was stunning. The House of Lords had more pomp and circumstance contained in its chambers than I had ever imagined possible, whereas the austere House of Commons seemed hardly enough to contain the seat of modern British political power. The galleries of Henry VIII and other Tudors were resplendent along with the Queen’s antechamber and royal throne. The wood paneling and carvings were breathtaking throughout Westminster and seeing the statues of Churchill, Lloyd George, Attlee, and Asquith took my breath away. I was standing inside the legislative chambers that had had debated “the American problem,” the future of India, how to contain German expansion, and what to do about Napoleon. This was where it all happened.
That night I tried to meet up with gay Spanish-Brit guy that I had met when I met the other gay military guys the week before; however Ollie didn’t show up at our meeting point and I left, let down by another gay. The silver lining was how much fun the rest of the night was. After downing way too many bottles of wine we started singing and dancing to pop hits, and recording it… I don’t have them on here yet but once I do they will be some of my most prized possessions. Aside from Ollie, that night was impossibly hilarious. I truly love London, and after two weekends with two very different sets of friends in two very different parts of town I knew that this city was something special.
Then Sunday we went around some more… missed going into Harrod’s and the Churchill War Rooms by minutes… but we did see Buckingham Palace. It was nice end to our weekend trip to London.
That night we headed out, Kelsey and Hannah back to Oxford, me to Cambridge…. I’ve explained that quite enough earlier so I’m just going to skip over the most regrettable series of events.
Week 3 had a much more interesting topic: the end of the British Empire and its decolonization. However, Dr. Coggins and I disagreed on quite a bit and tutorial that week sucked, which was only compiled by another pointless “lecture.” My class met twice a week for an hour, once on Tuesday at 2pm for “Lecture” in which we discussed the topic of the week… aka we just regurgitated what the books told us and he sat back and offered slightly critiques. I found lecture quite futile. On Thursdays Jack and I had Tutorial at 2pm. Our class’ tutorial was set up so that we had to present and defend our final paper to our tutor each week. This proved extremely frustrating since we didn’t learn much lecture and then when we suffered withering criticism in Tutorial we had no recourse, no ability to correct our papers. Dr. Coggins was exceptionally combative with me, even Jack remarked about it once. I don’t know if he was trying to push me more than the others because I had already have such an extensive historical background or if just didn’t like my ideas, but either way, I strongly disliked Tutorial. Otherwise Week 3 was the week when the weather FINALLY relented. In June and the first part of July England had experienced the worst rain on record. Yes folks, the rainiest summer ever in one of the most perpetually wet places in the world. In fact the rain was a large part of why I didn’t much care for Oxford initially. It rained constantly: on the way to dinner, on the way to class, on the way to the library (we couldn’t check out books so I had to go to Social Sciences everyday to read in their stacks… huge pain), on the way to high table, on the way to… everything. It was always grey. Grey and wet.
After the Taylor disaster I kind of retreated inward in the third week. I watched all of True Blood Season 4, which was incredible, and recomposed myself. I also did not go anywhere that weekend. Week 3, as best as I can remember, was my least eventful week.
Though it did have one exceptionally bright spot, our trip to Avebury and Bath. Avebury is a set of man-placed stones older than Stonehenge encircling a village in the middle of Southeast England. The stones were rather uninteresting, but the pastoral life was glorious. The sheep roamed everywhere, with most mounting the verdant hills that dominate the landscape in that part of England. It was beautiful in its simplicity, its pastoral perfection.
After Avebury we set out for Bath, the only natural hot springs in Britain. Full of Roman and royal history Bath is a wonderful little English city. We toured the old Roman Baths and strolled into the pumping room (where the English started drinking the spa waters in the 18th century rather than bathing in them; Bath was the original Jersey Shore, with the young, old, trashy, and dead all floating about in its increasingly unsanitary waters). However, the best part of Bath was that we went to the modern spa. I had never been to a spa before, but of all the places to lose your spa-ginity Bath is the place to do it. For a reasonable 26 pounds we got 2 hours of access to all of the levels of the spa. Of course massages were not included, but the warm waters and pristine city views allowed us to see Bath from the vantage point of its original purpose. And oh was that purpose cozy. I really didn’t want to leave.
We hopped on a bus back to New College and I passed a wonderfully lazy weekend back in Oxford.
I’ll leave you to reflect on this post and I’ll finish the second half of Oxford once I get to Paris.
I promise that I’m trying to update this as much as possible, but my life here, and my computer access, is unpredictable at best.
Today I want to talk about something that I think 1) Has gotten blown out of proportion 2) Illustrates the problems of modern political debate 3) Is really fucked up.
Chick-Fil-A *they groan*
I know, I know. Practically everyone in the States has weighed in on this issue, but most of it is a bunch of charged rhetoric with little substance. I completely support his right to say it and anyone who demands that he be censored clearly misunderstands how the world, and our Constitution, works.
Nevertheless, while I support his right to say it, I also support my right to say “Ah… yes sir, but I do believe it will be you going to hell not I.”
Romans 13:8Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
1 John 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.
oh dayum and even
Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. [my favorite verse from scripture]
I hate to break it to those who were unaware, but the New Testament, you know that thing that separates us from Judaism? the entire basis of Christianity that marks the shift from a wrathful Abrahamic God to a peaceful, forgiving God who gave his only begotten son? yeah that one, is all about one thing: love.
Everything else falls in line from there.
But we, as always have ruined God’s words. *cue fire and brimstones*
Instead man, weak and terrible man, has descended into the pits of dissension and hate, self-loathing and repugnance. *cue Dan Cathy and his ilk*
Chick-Fil-A has done nothing wrong in believing that gay marriage is not ok. No, Chick-Fil-A has done wrong by announcing it to the world, by institutionalizing hatred. Imagine if the CEO of Arby’s came out tomorrow saying that he thought Mexicans shouldn’t have the right to immigrate to the US, that they were a dirty and useless race? Oh he’d be universally denounced! “EUGENICS V2!” they would cry. He would receive universal censure, he would be hated, he would be ostracized, and he would reverse his opinion.
Yet somehow that is not what the Chick-Fil-A debate has brought. Instead it has shown what a weak and easily divided nation we are. Gays are not safe. Gays are not equals. Yes, laugh at that cheeky comment by your hair dresser, admire Tim Gunn’s panache, and say “all the good ones are gay,” but where does that leave us gays? As toys for straight amusement? Lovable pets that you abandon as soon as the going gets rough.
For most Americans the answer is yes. We are literally seen as extensions of Will and Grace, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and Project Runway.
And to that I say, wake up to the reality you’ve created America. Gays did not come about overnight. We have always existed. And honestly over 1/3 of you have had gay thoughts. While only between 3-5% of Americans are high enough on the Kinsey scale to choose a gay lifestyle over a straight one, that does not mean that “gay” and “straight” are real categories. To put it bluntly, the categories don’t exist. Over 40% of Americans have reported having same sex fantasies.
So, while we may seem some sort of insignificant minority that you can toss about, in reality we are not.
Dan Cathy can say whatever he likes, but so can I.
What follows are other things I have written and read that might help you understand why this is such a big deal that a Fortune 500 company has come out so strongly against gays. *For the record I have never paid a dime to Chick-Fil-A precisely for this reason, and I do think less of those who do. There are other places to eat my friends and given that those sandwiches go to fund the suffering, torment, and hatred against “my people” I cannot accept it. This isn’t political, this is my life.
“They may just be a chicken sandwich franchise, but this also just may just be my entire right to exist that they want to inviolate.
If I came up to you and called you a filthy Catholic, a scourge in the eyes of guys that disgusted me to no end, how would you feel?
If I spit in your face. If I beat you. If I denied you the same rights I give to Protestants. If I killed you for what you believe.
Except even then you wouldn’t understand because you choose your religion, I don’t choose my sexuality.
So the next time you think it’s just chicken and it’s just “free speech” remember that free speech is not empty words in a vacuum. This is my life, and I had no say in the matter. Why should Dan Cathy?”
in response to this asshole (who I defriended immediately)
[I thought about removing his name because I know that some of you will know him, but honestly I don’t care. He doesn’t get the right to his hide his enlightened bigotry. Just because you think it’s trivial, that we’ve moved on and “liberals” need to stop griping, does not make it true. Hate crimes and persecution are real. Over 50,000 people are murdered each year because of [supposed] Homosexuality]
Chick-fil-a makes a great chicken sandwich. Get over yourselves.
Weston Fleming Yeah I actually don’t think there’s any debate over the quality of their chicken sandwich.
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Bob Hrncir Chic-fil-a-hole spent $25,000 lobbying congress NOT to condemn Uganda its kill the gays bill– can’t get over that.
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Colin Rog obviously their chicken sandwiches are not the center of my attention. gay marriage. cool. there are millions of starving people all over the world, military men and women dying and separated from their families and loved ones. the standard of living in the us has significantly decreased; we are no longer a world leader in any category except in military expenditure. it takes upwards of 60 hrs/week of minimum wage labor to make rent in some of our large cities, research and development budgets are cut, our education is total shit, and this is what you want to argue about? gay marriage? honestly? perhaps chick-fil-a does some things that may go against your beliefs and opinions. hell, they do things that go against my beliefs and opinions, too. but everyone is entitled to their opinion. they are entitled to believe things and have hope that those beliefs will matter somehow. just because someone does not believe what you believe does not give you the right to harass them constantly…tell them they are stupid…tell them they are primitive, barbaric, idiotic. it makes you look like the moron. they aren’t open on sundays…what did you expect them to stand for? standing up for civil rights is fine. standing up for yourself is the right thing to do. but don’t try to push that onto other people. if they agree with you, they will join your cause just like every other minority movement in history. you don’t need to convince me that gay people should get married. im already fine with that. look at the symbol from the 1986 olympics. heads DOWN. humble. a man who just won a gold medal is looking AT THE GROUND. that’s how you get what you want. not by telling other people how stupid and wrong they are. not by judging or criticizing people for not believing what you do. and focusing on such a small issue compared to some serious problems our nation and the world have.
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Weston Fleming Yeah, sure are a lot of problems in the world. Good thing Chic-fil-a is dumping millions of dollars into anti-gay organizations…
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Michael Farruggia Colin. YOU ARE MY HERO
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Weston Fleming And Colin, I agree we shouldn’t “push our beliefs” onto other people. But giving money to send gay kids to “get cured of gayness” camp is kinda like severe belief-pushing, you know?
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Michael Farruggia He has the right to do whatever the fuck he wants with his money homie. If you disagree with him, send some of your money to anti-gay-curing-camp initiatives
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Chick-fil-A Bowl Charitable Giving www.chick-fil-abowl.com
Chick-fil-A Bowl Charitable Giving
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Colin Rog notice the millions of dollars going towards scholarships and homes for underprivileged children
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Weston Fleming Sadly, Michael, despite what my enrollment at your Duke University may lead you to believe, I come from a relatively poor family and do not quite have the funds to combat Chic-fil-a’s CEO. Homie. Also, I’ve lived in the south long enough to know that there isn’t much I can do aside from hold my head and hope that a few generations from now, we will accept homosexuality. Because God knows we are not an empathetic people.
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Colin Rog i just googled “chick-fil-a” charity and clicked on the first thing that came up, didn’t really look too hard to find this. chick-fil-a has always been known for sponsoring community events and volunteerism all over the nation. i remember when i did some work for kaboom, a program that sponsors building playgrounds in bad neighborhoods, chick-fil-a donated lunch for like 500 people.
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Weston Fleming That’s great Colin. $5 million to a College Football HoF building (that will surely not be advertising Chic-fil-a anywhere….), and $1.24m to scholarships & charity. Cool. Could’ve been $3.24m if they weren’t intent on sending kids to “get cured of gayness” camp. Ah well!
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Ricky Mouser i like their sandwiches too
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Michael Farruggia Weston, I’m poor too bro. Anyway, your inability to combat CFA’s CEO is your problem. All you can do is hope that more people think like you. I’m not going to stop eating at CFA because their CEO is anti-gay marriage, I’m going to eat there because they provide a great product and their employees need the dough to keep this economy running. What one dude does with his money is no concern of mine.
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Colin Rog Chick-fil-a is a company. It’s not the government. They are not obligated to spend their money in any way except how they damn well please. If they want to support something they believe in, then I’m all for that. It’s capitalism, the American way. As a scholarship recipient myself (both in high school and college), I’m just thankful that this company even cares enough to put money towards education. Something that our own government won’t even do…
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Weston Fleming Man, please believe I appreciate people who give back to education as much as anybody. It makes my school possible, literally. I’m not going to pretend like this is the world’s gravest ill (though, hate is at the root, and that’s about as ill as can be). I’m also not going to pretend that other companies aren’t doing terrible, terrible things under the table. Yeah, at the end of the day, you have your freedom of choice, speech, all of that. But some things should be intuitive, eh? Like tolerance? Acceptance?
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John Broadbent If I may interject for a second: Being a humble northerner who is not as familiar with Chik-fil-A as y’all southern folks are, I’d like to point out the irony in the fact that you, Weston, are literally pushing your beliefs on others that people shouldn’t be pushing their beliefs on others.
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Colin Rog also from their website, just went on and it was a few clicks away. clearly this company is committed to helping out. instead of taking their profits they are sharing them.
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Weston Fleming Yeah John, please point out where I’m pushing any beliefs. More of a plea for consideration, if anything. Ok, bye John!
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John Broadbent Well, man, I wouldn’t say you’ve exactly been paying millions for an anti-pushing-beliefs campaign, but the sheer number of Facebook comments that have you spewing the same stuff pretty much has the same effect.
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Weston Fleming Ok John. I’m sorry my 7 comments on this ~28 comment thread has offended you. Also flattered that you find them as weighty as a few million dollars of poorly-allocated CFA cash moneyy
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Weston Fleming Anyway, at the end of the day, it comes down to this: You’re either comfortable with some of your chicken sandwich money going to send kids to “get cured of gayness” camp, or you’re not. Do what you will. I’m out.
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Colin Rog and i tolerate gay people. i tolerate gay marriage. i listen to them when they yell at me to vote for their amendment and when they call me stupid because i dont want to. i dont want to vote for their amendment because im not a citizen of north carolina! not because im intolerant. i think gay people should get married within the state, and im totally for that. when they put it to a vote in a state i am a resident of, i will be the first one in line. im not arguing about that. im arguing simply about they way this movement is going. the way they are going about it. you know whats intolerant? someone called me an idiot because i dont want to vote in a state im not a resident of. want to talk about tolerance and acceptance? how about homosexuals accept and tolerate the fact that some people do not agree with them?”
He also needs to learn a lesson about the black power movement. It was not silent and respectful.
Sometimes the world forgets that when you take away the “gay” from “gay people” you just get “people.” Savor your chicken all you want, but remember that for some this isn’t some game, some abstract political argument, this is life and death, freedom and oppression.
Honestly there isn’t much going on here so I haven’t had much drive to blog, but I must say that Oxford is truly wonderful. I was texting someone the other day, and they couldn’t get over how beautiful the weather was in Oxford that particular morn. As we were talking about the resplendent sunshine, verdant meadows, and babbling brooks it suddenly hit me, that day was one of those times when you look out your window and have a visceral lust for life. You want to eat it. I can’t describe it any other way. You want to grab it and shove it deep down inside you, saving it forever.
Unfortunately you can’t double-fist happiness.
Yet this blog is titled “Life on the Ephemeral Plane.” There are millions (well ok, maybe tens or hundreds in all honesty…) of ways to interpret it, but for me, beyond just the fact that I live more in an ever-changing plane of locations rather than one set place (I now have miles with 8 airlines’ frequent flyer programs), it refers to my state of mind.
I’ve dealt with depression many times over the course of my life, and while I’ve been buoyed over the last year by my amazing friends and the opportunities that I’ve been blessed with, there is something missing.
I don’t know exactly what it is. Who it may be.
My desire for a relationship stemmed in large part from my feeling of incompleteness, of being some kind of fractured being. Since I’ve never been in a relationship I cannot say whether that is true or not; however, what I do know is that searching for a boyfriend is about as useful as trying to win the lottery. To put it bluntly, I only have so much say in the matter and trying to force merely exacerbates my feelings of inadequacy and fragility. It puts you always on edge, always on the lookout. Every conversation, every glance has the potential to make or break your perceived future happiness. If you mess up a date or a chat it feels like you’ve just let your prince toad hop down the drain, lost forever.
After all this time, and ESPECIALLY after Taylor, I’ve finally come to the conclusion that I’m fucking awesome. And fucking horrible. And fucking complex. There is no way that one person could ever be my sole provider of happiness. I have too many facets, too many passions to ever be destined for just one person. Obviously I’m not saying that I’m eschewing monogamous long-term relationships, but what I am saying is that I live my life, no one else’s. If the right man walks through the door then I will gladly escort him inside, but instead of eagerly waiting at the window like a desperate sixteen year-old girl before junior prom I will now calmly read in the parlor. If someone should ring the bell I will answer it, but until then…
I’m rediscovering my visceral lust for life.
My destiny is mine and I plan to seize it, whether alone or holding my love’s hand.
I’ve never cried in public. I’ve never punched someone. I never thought those limits would be tested this weekend. What follows is the worst night of my adult life.
To preface this post I have to give you some backstory, though I’ll be brief. The Sunday before last I met some gay US military guys at a bar in SoHo after gay pride. Afterwards I messaged one of them, Taylor, and we started chatting. He was endearing, cute, interested, and fun. He texted me more than I ever texted him and seemed like a great distraction after my Hollen confusion.
Hence, after a stressful touristy weekend in London I was so excited to settle down in Cambridge and get to know Taylor better.
I arrived for free by train (gotta love a BritRail pass that you leave blank 😉 and Taylor picked me up at the station. We went to this karaoke bar in Cambridge where we talked, though rather sparsely, and in general had a great time. When we got home we watched some TV, though on separate couches, which seemed odd to me. After a rather uneventful night we crawled into bed and suddenly he was terribly interested in me. And I made the gravest mistake of my young adult life. After deciding to wait to have sex again until I had a boyfriend, I broke my vow to myself after four months. It wasn’t worth it in the least. I liked Taylor, but though that beast may have had two backs, one was incredibly bored.
Afterwards he said he didn’t cuddle as soon as we finished… it was an awkward way to end things. The next day he slept until almost one, made us breakfast, and barely spoke. I assumed he was tired, and I had a mound of decolonization documents to sift through, so I was glad to have some peace to work. However, the day continued in a boring, monotonous kind of way. We watched Burlesque, which was awesome, but he fell asleep… once again on a separate couch…
Chris (another gay US mil guy, very friendly and conversational) came by around 6 and I finally had someone to talk to. Around 7:30 we left for dinner at this Italian-American restaurant called Frank and Benny’s. Chris and Taylor knew everyone there so I kind of felt like an outsider, but overall it was fun. However, twice I leaned my leg onto Taylor only for him to pull it away within a minute or two…
I didn’t want to go out… at all… but Chris did, and Taylor was on the fence. I thought maybe if I played along he’d stop ignoring me. Maybe if we went to the club I’d discover this pessimism had all been in my head, that we did have a connection of some sort, especially given that I had sex with him the night before… the second time I’d ever even had sex…
We went to a bar before we went out clubbing in Cambridge, and unlike the night before Taylor was not paying for anything of mine (dinner, drinks, covers, etc.) which would be fine if… we hadn’t just had sex…
To fast forward through the evolution of the night, which consisted of random pairs and triplettes of gay brits meet up with us at the bar before we headed to Ballare, picture a smoky club with a long glass countertop, neon lights enveloping it, and an generally sketchy, sexual atmosphere. Oh, and absolutely devoid of people… well at first. I noticed that Taylor had been talking to this random short pimply white kid a fair bit, and that they had exchanged phone numbers, obviously making me jealous, but I didn’t want to give into such petty emotions. The night continued with Taylor ignoring me except for the occasional exchange of cordial phrases… nothing profound…
After finally getting fed up with this I left for Fez, the club Chris and some of the others had already headed to. With Chris, it was so nice to finally be able vent to someone. I had almost started crying on my way between the two clubs. Sex just makes emotions so much more painful, so much more real.
Chris told me about how Taylor’s “Cool Guy” personality made him treat men poorly, which, coupled with what Taylor had told me about his past, makes me think that he has led a very lonely, broken life. He’s become so calloused to the world that, especially in terms of romantic interests, he will not risk being vulnerable.
I had fun at Fez, but I was ready to go so I texted Taylor, grabbed Chris, and went back to Ballare about an hour after I had left. It was about 2:45am at this point and I was ready to go. I wanted wifi so I stayed outside and received a text from Taylor saying “I’m bring Dylan home!” meaning that as his guest of two days I would be sleeping on the couch my second night as my bootycall replacement got it on with Taylor in the room next to me. Fuck that.
I demanded in all caps that he come outside. I was furious. WHY THE HELL WAS I IN CAMBRIDGE!? What explanation could there be for such a narcissistic, selfish act? He asked what I wanted to talk about. I responded, “YOU.” He refused to come outside saying he couldn’t leave his friends. I texted Chris saying he needed to come immediately, I wanted someone there to break up a fight if it broke out.
Chris and I waited for a few minutes, but the douche never came out. After a few more minutes we headed back in the club as it was shutting down and, after taking drunk Taylor’s keys, we headed outside to a food truck and a taxi. On the way to the truck Chris grabbed Dylan and the other member of our late night crew, Chase, and let Taylor and I go ahead. For that I am forever grateful. I needed to express my hurt, my frustration and without that opportunity I don’t know how it would have manifested.
“Taylor, we need to fucking talk.”
“Why the hell am I here!? Am I not good enough for you after one screw? Do you not have the common decency to hold off on having sex with another guy until I leave TOMORROW MORNING?”
“We were just having fun last night, I don’t see why you’re getting so upset.”
“Are you kidding me??? Do you think I came up to Cambridge, left my amazing friends in Oxford, and wasted a ton of pounds just to see you fool around with some dude as I’m stuck on the couch? You were the one that wanted me here!!!?”
“I’m sorry, I’m not feeling it, I can’t control how I feel. This is life, get used to disappointment.”
“I don’t give a shit how you feel, I’ve never been so disgusted by anyone in my life as I am right now. You are a vile sack of lies. and shit. What happened to ‘You’re just different from the others Dan, you seem like such a great guy, I can’t wait to hang out and show you the smaller parts of England’!? And shut the fuck up about ‘this is life.’ Life is not a series of events that just happen, you decide its course, you define it. You really have no idea where I’m coming from do you?”
“I just don’t like guys smarter than me”
“You’ve got to be joking… I could have told you I’m smart [almost said smarter] from the beginning [and here I almost set myself up for a punch in the face, but I recovered it], and that you are… not someone who is intellectual. My entire identity is predicated on my love of the world, of learning its secrets and pushing myself academically and intellectually. You clearly do not have a similar desire. I’m not here for a boyfriend, or even dates Taylor. I just wanted to have a fun weekend with you and I don’t see why you cannot have the decency to respect that.”
[he says some half-assed remark that doesn’t matter… none of his replies really did… he always tried to shirk the blame and push it off of himself]
“We’ll sleep at Marc’s, you’ll sober up, and you will drive me back to Oxford tomorrow morning.”
“Can’t you just take a bus or something.”
“We had an agreement you asshole. You were going to freaking stay with me at Oxford for a few days, and now I’m invisible to you. You even talked about coming to visit me at Duke! Do you even know what the truth is?”
“You will drive me back to Oxford tomorrow.”
“Well Dan, since we’re staying at Marc’s Dylan isn’t coming so this is all pointless.”
“Yes, This is all pointless.” I turned and walk away, back to Chris, Dylan, and Chase, before Taylor could respond.
The rest of the night I rode higher, completely ignored Taylor, and tried to have a good time.
In the morning, after three hours of sleep on my part, I woke everyone up with a succession of 12 ringtones. I could give a shit about their sleep deprivation (well Taylor’s, I quite like Chase and Chris). I threw up on the way to get Taylor’s car. I can’t explain it, but sex just made my emotions so much heightened, so much less controllable or explicable.
We drove back to Taylor’s place. I said a heartfelt goodbye to Chris and continued my complete silence towards Taylor. After he ran to fill up his gas tank for the 2 hour drive to Oxford we finally left for Oxford. I’ve never been so excited to get back a shabby dorm room. We blared the music the entire time and I didn’t say a word except in the final 20 minutes I quickly asked if he was “clean,” and if my aloofness on Sunday-day had been the reason for his withdraw. He responded that he had no STDs and that I hadn’t done anything.
Then it hit me, when the switch had flipped. On the very first night, on the way to Karaoke bar I had talked about MSA and my math class this summer/genius math friends from MSA, and probably other things about Duke/my academics. I’m not going to hide who I am, what I’ve done, and what I love. However, that’s when he got intimidated, that’s when he decided we didn’t click because he couldn’t dominate me. At that point he just wanted a bootycall, and from there everything makes sense.
I hate him, but that will pass. Mostly I pity him. I pity that he can’t enjoy the company of someone that enjoys both his platonic and romantic sides. From the way he interacted with his friends and the things he said it seems like everything revolves around sex or friendship, in clear delineated terms. Of course I don’t know him, I’m just piecing things that I observed and his friends told me together.
He is the most clear-cut stereotypical Velvet Rage gay that I’ve met. He desperately seeks validation, then spurns whoever gave it once he’s secured it.
I finally exited the House of Lies when we pulled up to New College. I grabbed my things as he was slowing down, unlocked my door when he hit sub-5mph and opened it as he rolled to a stop.
He said, “Take it easy.” I bolted out of the car, tersely responding, “Yeah… you too.”
I defriended him when I got back to my computer, and sent him a message with a link to the Velvet Rage and “cya”
Walking to my dorm room I actually cried out, “WOOOO!!! Home!”
I guess some quick personal lessons that this painful trial taught me:
1. Never trust a gay man clearly interested in sex above all
2. Never have sex outside of a relationship
3. Many gay men, even the young ones, are calloused. Stay skeptical, but never let your heart harden.
4. In the end only I can stand up for myself, only I can live my life. Always assert myself.
I apologize for my absence. It has been quite a week.
Last Friday I received an impromptu email from my friend at the University of College London inviting me to World Pride. Given that I’ve never been to any pride parade I figured what the hell and, most painfully, took a 7am bus to London Saturday morning. I met Kelly at a Costa and we grabbed breakfast tea and coffee then headed over to her dormitories. In England you never say dorm.
After smuggling my suitcase passed the front desk we changed and headed out in the rain for “the world’s greatest pride parade,” which turned out to be a gross overstatement. While I had an incredible time with the 8 other Dukies, the parade was lacklustre. It was more of a political march, a solidarity showcase if you will, than a celebration of LGBT culture like it is in the states.
Nevertheless I adore London. It is cleaner, more architecturally diverse, and nicer than Paris, and less chaotic than New York. Quaint, modern, and wildly varied, London is one of the greatest cities I’ve ever been to.
Over the course of pride I got a shit ton-O-stickers, most awkwardly when a dude stuck one, rather forcefully, on my crotch.
After pride we headed back to UCL. Kelly crashed for a few hours while I messed around on the Internet. For dinner we got some classic fish and chips at this shoddy little dive that was remarkably expensive given its decayed facade. I’ve had so many damn chips here that I do believe I may transform at any moment into a golden fried potato.
That night we all pre-gamed in the dormitory then took the lift down to the entrance and headed out for Fabric, an illustrious London megaclub.
Except that we had to pee… Real bad.
So we detoured to this 80s club called Reflex to use the lou. Since we got in for free we figured what the hell and stayed for the rest of the night, most notably for a drunken Flashdance-style dance-off between two opposing bachelorette parties.
When we finally resolved to leave we staggered around central London trying to ride the night buses, with St. Paul looming over us everywhere we went – that thing’s massive. Luckily we figured them out and made it home in the pouring rain. In England it is always raining. I never leave home without an umbrella, especially this year, which has seen the wettest June and July in the entire history of the British Meteorological Society.
Once home we collapsed. I would not rise for 12 hours.
When I did awake Sunday afternoon I got a text from a friend in the British Army to meet him down in Soho, the gay district, for drinks with a bunch of other gay servicemen. After a gorgeous hour-long walk across London I met up with the guys. Brad, the guy who invited me, was rather annoying, but the US guys were great: open, masculine, hilarious, playful. That afternoon in the pub was truly awesome, especially because I met Taylor.
The US has a pretty significant amount of airbases in the United Kingdom and Taylor works in intelligence at one of them. He’s humble, confident, and hot.
He was exhausted post-pride but we talked more over the next few days and now I’m heading up to Cambridge Sunday to hang out with him. I’m ready for a change and he’s a great guy.
All in all my weekend in London was incredible. I’ll come back and edit this with more stories, pictures and music later, but I’m doing all of this on my phone so I’m rather limited.
As for the rest of my week I wrote my paper on British Economic decline Wednesday, had my first tutorial Thursday, went to Shakespeare’s hometown (Stratford-upon-Avon) and saw the Tempest.
Now I’m on a bus to London to see all the touristy stuff: tower of London,
Parliament, Buckingham palace, tower bridge, war bunkers, Harrod’s etc
Since I’m busier than I expected I’ll try my best to update this frequently but I cannot promise it. I recommend that you follow the blog so you can update when I do make a new post.
*note* All of these pictures were taken by me. Please pilfer them. */end note*
Desperately I clung to my bag, but she wouldn’t relent. “Come on,” I cried out as she demanded I place it on the ground, “If this get’s lost I’m dead.” “We haven’t had a fatality in over 8 years” was her unsettling reply, and with that my bag was forcibly… checked.
After a harrowing three hour multivariable exam my mother drove me to Houston International for my first flight to Philadelphia. Fearful of any sort of delay or disruption that could prevent my arrival in London, I arrived three hours early. Security took 20 minutes. I busied myself with redistributing my things post-invasiveness, and then called friends and family before I departed. The flight to Philadelphia was on a smaller plane, Embraer not Boeing, instant red flag as to the size of the plane, so I couldn’t gate check my supposedly “oversized” carry-on [which I have put into Embraer overheads tens of times]. Instead the wretched shrew, with the gaudiest candy apple red lipstick, absconded with my luggage. I vowed that I would move any mountain to get back at her if my luggage was lost. My entire life for the next 6 months was/is packed into that carry-on suitcase. *spoiler alert* Luckily my suitcase survived. *You can rest easy now.*
On the plane I sat next to a Michigan State Professor of Turf Field Management. Yeah… apparently that’s a degree. Who knew. I read The Making of Modern Britain for most of the flight. It was delightfully uneventful.
Upon touchdown in Philly I raced to my gate, chilled for thirty minutes, then met the other two Duke students on my flight: Matt and Kelsey. These two rock. I already knew Matt, but Kelsey was a wonderful surprise. Unfortunately she actually wasn’t on our flight. She was on the British Airways flight leaving at the same time one gate down from us at the same time. When she went to board our US Airways flight the attendant gave her the most hilarious, “Mmmmm yeah ma’am this is the wrong airline. You’re gonna have to mosey on down to A16.”
The flight to London was actually great. I watched the Iron Lady (solid BBC production, absolutely riveting biopic of Thatcher) and the Ides of March (well constructed political drama, not particularly memorable but certainly an interesting take on modern politics). Our meal was unremarkable, but my company was not. Gregory was a 42-year old Vice-President of an energy firm in Aberdeen, Scotland. We chatted for a few hours about Scotland, UK Politics, the global economy, and our respective lives. He was a character. To my left sat Rachel, a mild-mannered flaming ginge from San Francisco that had just graduated from nursing school at one of the Cal States. She was doing a two week tour of London, Paris, and Rome with her sister, and had never been across the Atlantic.
The flight was a quick seven hours and we touched down in Heathrow at 10:00am. Matt and I scurried through the terminal to the next bus to Oxford, which, at a rather steep 27 pounds ($40), took us to a bus station in downtown Oxford.
Now I could tell you about some of the random people from the bus, or about how the countryside is almost exactly the same as Northern France, but instead let’s get to the unusual, less pedantic aspects of my travelogue.
To begin, Oxford isn’t actually a beautiful university. It is a beautiful city that happens to contain 38 “Colleges” (think super dorms, dorms that have their own faculties, rooms, dining, chapels, sports teams, etc.) and various faculties (Medicine, History, Literature, etc.). There is absolutely no campus to speak of outside of your college, and for that I was rather dismayed. The city of Oxford is quaint, but not particularly fascinating thus far. I’m sure once we dig into the famous old pubs that literary giants once graced and tour more of the colleges, I’ve seen around 10 so far, I’ll start to feel more of an Oxford vibe, but for now I feel like I’m taking a random Duke class in a small English city.
Fun fact, Oxford has the densest concentration of Harry Potter filming locations outside of the dedicated studios. Meaning that when you go on tours they point out all kinds of hilarious HP tidbits. For instance, today I sat in the Restricted Section of Hogwart’s library today… aka Duke Humphrey’s Library. The cloister by my room is where Moody turns Malfoy into a ferret in the fourth movie. The statue in our chapel was the model for Nearly Headless Nick. Basically, I’m living at Hogwarts.
Except I’m not. I live next to Hogwarts. No, instead I live in a rundown version of the Burrow. Yes, I live in the equivalent of the Weasley’s sprawling, yet dilapidated abode. I have a large room complete with a bed, desk, sink, two small closets, a chair, nightstand, and end table. “Oh heavens how wonderful!” you think to yourself. Au contraire my friend, these objects come with the wonderful functional decor that made the late 70s and early 80s so anathema to college students everywhere. Moreover, it’s not even well maintained. Despite the fact that I live in a dorm built in 1981, a full 200 years younger than the main dormitories of New College directly next to it, it is in complete disrepair. My paint is chipped, my table is warped, and, most intriguingly, my wall has a hole in it directly above my bed. Oh yeah baby, this room has character.
The food thus far is quite good, though the vegetables and fruit are lacking. They give us a nice variety of entrees, but green beans and salad sans dressing can only be appetizing for so long. On Wednesdays, and the opening and closing nights, we have High Table, which is when all of the Professors sit at a table raised above us (yes exactly like Dumbledore et co. in Harry Potter) while we eat on one long row table flanked by parallel row tables on either side. It truly is the Great Hall, yes, it’s even called the Great Hall. Wednesday’s are a wonderful night to go out because after a cocktail hour and many glasses of wine at dinner you only need a few shots and you have a drunken gaggle of Dukies on your hands. After the first High Table on Saturday we had our Oxford guide (Matt, 23, Med Student) take us out for drinks at a pub. We all got a shot of vodka, followed by pitchers of Blue Lagoon, this delicious mixed drink of immense size that we shared as a group. Well… we shared 4 of them to be precise… Plus I got a pint of Guinness… Come on, it’s the UK after all.
However the night took a nasty turn when, after drinking so much so quickly, the bartender suddenly shut some of the other guys off, despite the fact that we were not being rowdy in the least. A few minutes later, after we migrated to a table in the back, the manager of the bar came over and promptly told Matt and Noah that they had to leave. We were shocked. This couldn’t be happening. Kicked out of the pub on the first night? With no warning? No explanation? They resisted at first, but then bowed to the inevitable and departed. Soon after two other guys in our party were asked to leave and we decided to start an exodus immediately rather than get picked off in pairs.
Afterwards we headed to a lame nightclub called Thirst, which we pointlessly paid 3.5 pounds only to then leave 5 minutes later. I was rather peeved at our early departure. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t that bad. Luckily the next club was indeed great. The first floor was ehhh, too much 80s music and the crowd was older, but I led the group upstairs to the second floor where smoke, house music, and a younger crowd made the night significantly more enjoyable. We raged until about 2 then headed home, drunk and jet-lagged.
Sunday through today we recuperated. As I explained in my earlier post gay Oxford blows, though I’ve chatted with an American getting his PhD in history here that seems cool, and an Aussie post-doc. Plus, there’s an adorable Major in the British Army who is also a doctor that teaches at Oxford. He’s about to deploy to Afghanistan in 5 weeks, but I’d like to meet him before he goes. However, I’m pretty indifferent to all this business. With communication only available when I have wifi, compounded by my mixed emotions about the last month, I’m not exactly chomping at the bit to get out there. Instead I’ll see what happens, but nothing would be as fine as something. I have no expectations.
Otherwise, my tutorial seems interesting. I like my books and my tutor (personal professor in a way, he’s a lecturer at Oriel College, mid 30s, the equivalent of an Associate Professor in the US), though the reading load is rather ridiculous at roughly 25 full books… I want to learn as much as possible, but I don’t know if that much reading will be possible in only 6 weeks. I have a one hour lecture on Tuesdays, and then I meet, along with another student (my tutorial partner) on Thursdays for an hour to defend our finished papers in front of Dr. Coggins. We have 5 papers due over the course of 6 weeks and they’re only 7 pages long.
As a taste of the course, here are some of our essay questions (the book titles are rather obvious, things like Social History of the UK, Econ History of the UK, Women & Culture, the Post-War Consensus, Decline of the Empire, etc.)
-Did the growth of the British Economy in the 1950s and 1960s conceal long-term decline?
-Why did the end of the Empire cause so little domestic controversy?
-Why did Labour lose the 2010 General Election?
The questions are fair, far from dense or complex, and allow us to present rational nuanced arguments based on the tomes of books we’re reading for this course.
However, despite all of this, and I do believe I’ve told you just about everything, there’s just something missing. I feel like I’m just kind of floating through all this. I’m not tethered by anything. However, I have some wonderful angels that might bring me earthbound. By far the best part of this trip is the circle of friends I’m lucky enough to be a part of, and I cannot imagine Oxford without them. I knew Lindsey from before, but Hannah, Kelsey and Morgan were all complete strangers. We laugh constantly, have a serious of seemingly never-ending inside jokes, and most importantly they provide the company that I’ve missed this summer. The guys of the group, Jack, Noah, Matt, and Phil, are all great as well, though, as always, I just click better with girls so we only hang out with them sometimes (generally when we’re going out). I’ll try to write a grand post about some of the funny moments of the trip so far (dosey, sloots, AB kids obnoxiousness summed up in “What is happiness?” conversation in the JCR, Barcelona, Tesco meal deal, the first High Table, Walking Tour esp Noah and Matt, Shakespeare in the Rain), but for now I do believe you have a taste of my life here.
I hope that things settle and I feel more connected to life. I think that’s become my biggest struggle over the last two years, making everything feel real, caring about the present.