the magazine of the columbia daily spectator
May 1 2013
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April 27 2013
Alternatives to Butler
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Red Bull and relaxation
April 17 2013
Back to the kitchen: A short journey through sexist pop culture
April 12 2013
Bikinis and big booties, y’all
April 8 2013
Azealia Banks Did What?
April 5 2013
More stories from Columbia’s military veterans
April 3 2013
Sing, O Muse, of some sappy story
April 1 2013
Missed the Cliterary Open Mic? Check out the highlights here
March 29 2013
Sex & Low Beach
I have been an Anglophile for as long as I can remember, so when the opportunity arose for me to study English at Oxford, I was fully committed to becoming an expatriate.
In comparison to New York, Oxford proved itself to be lovely aesthetically, but difficult culturally and even creatively. By the beginning of March, I was starting to feel mentally sick. Sick of Restoration literature, of the grey skies, of the bland diet, of the unnecessarily quaint and cluttered way people spoke my native language. I was sick of England.
Bologna, Italy seemed like the perfect escape, followed by a three-week trip to Valencia, Spain, to work on a farm. I booked my flights and arrived into the welcoming arms of my friend, Suzannah. I couldn’t stay in her room at the university in Bologna, so I rented out the guest bedroom of a young couple who lived 20 minutes from the city center. I chose the room based on a Gustav Klimt print in the photo online and the fact that the host, Claudio, looked like one of the Strokes.
The first few days were amazing. I drank espresso laden with sugar at least three times a day. I ate blood orange sorbet at the corner gelaterias and chocolate biscuits from the local supermercato. I drank bottles of Tuscan red wine. I loved the way the women dressed, and I toted my camera around with me everywhere, recording the sights and faces of Bologna at every piazza. Italy treats everyone well.
Unfortunately, the espresso and sorbet high ended after a few days. Things went down hill really fast. It was like sledding down an icy hill in Minnesota when I was five and hitting a picnic table. The first stay with the young couple turned out to be fine. The second location where I stayed, with four guys in an apartment I found on CouchSurfing.org, turned out to be questionable in both cleanliness and the number of “mushrooms” sitting on a window ledge. I took the wrong train to Venice during a day trip and ended up in Florence instead. Then my passport, camera, iPod, and debit card were stolen simultaneously at a bus station. With no identification or money on me, I sat down around midnight at a fountain in Bologna and finished off my packet of chocolate biscuits.
I was stuck in Italy. I would have to miss my nonrefundable flight to Spain. It was a Friday night, and the U.S. consulate in Florence wouldn’t be open until 9 a.m. on Monday morning to reissue my passport. Perhaps more painful than getting my passport stolen was the camera. I knew I could replace the passport with some hassle. The hundreds of photos I had taken, however, were lost for good.
But, like a bad breakup, losing your passport makes you realize how lovely your close friends are. I had a weekend of perfect weather ahead of me, my best friend in tow. In fact, walking around without my camera, I began to fully absorb the beauty around me: the way the new lilac blossoms glowed against a stucco wall, the way red bricks contrasted with the grey stones
of the street below. A woman walked past in the chicest outfit I had ever seen: skinny black pants, a huge black coat, cropped dark hair, ankle-length boots. I wanted to snap her picture but couldn’t, so I etched the outline of her image into my mind. Creativity returned to me just as I felt it had been sucked away in Oxford.
On Monday morning, I took the train into Florence, and everything went smoothly. My passport was reissued, a flight back to England booked. Spain was now out of the question—I couldn’t afford it. At this point, as far as I was concerned, I just needed funds to get back to England safely. To get back home.
Home. I had never thought of England as home before, and yet getting off the plane in London was one of the happiest moments of my life. The sun was shining in Newham, the old warehouses in the area getting cleaned up for the approaching Olympics. I began to notice in England the things I had noticed in Italy: the color of the buildings against the sky, the people who entered my eyes briefly and left in a flash at the next subway exit.
As I rode the train back to Oxford, names like Maidenhead, Reading, and Goring and Streatley flashed onto the screen in my car. The landscape was filled with sunlight, and the small brown-roofed white houses perched between green fields and sloping embankments. I had learned to accumulate memories without material things. None of this would go on Facebook or be sent to my grandmother. I didn’t need anything but my legs and my eyes
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