Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sense & Sensibility (No time to come up with something creative!)

When I was pretty young - I would have been about 8 - my mom took me to see "Sense and Sensibility", with Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman and Kate Winslet. I think we went with Beth and Devin, another mother-daughter pair who were always and continue to be good friends.

I remember three things from that movie: Edward Ferrars helping Elinor Dashwood with her shawl in the beginning, the red military coats at the wedding at the end, and the ceiling tile that fell from the ceiling, somewhere in between.

Years later, when I graduated from high school, I read the book. It was perfect to take to work, because the short chapters each took just under ten minutes to read, so I read one chapter in each of my 10-minute breaks and three chapters on my half-hour lunch break.

It was an intense reading experience. I related some of the characters in the book to customers in the cafe. I was consumed by Elinor, who is all sense, and yet, even though she masks her feelings from the world, her pain permeates every page of the book. And poor Colonel Brandon - I sympathized with him. He was so sweet, and so far out of luck.

It was the perfect read for Portland in August, to escape into on breaks, and for the change I was experiencing - I had just graduated from high school, Torrefazione was about to close, and things would be different. Sense and Sensibility seemed to represent the possible pleasantries that could result from change.

I watched the film again and loved it. I watched it again, and again, and now I own it. (My favorite scene is definitely when Marianne is ill and Brandon says, "Give me an occupation, Miss Dashwood, or I shall run mad." Goosebumps. Every time.)

But now I'm watching the 2008 mini-series, and each episode lowers my opinion. I just finished the second episode and am very displeased with the Brandon-Willoughby relations. What is this, pitting them against each other from the beginning? Willoughby is NOT Wickham, people! Different character, different book! And why does Anne Steele have a lisp and act like a boy-crazy teenager from the 21st century? Oh, I hate it when people feel the need to over-dramatize the works of Jane Austen (don't get me started on the 2005 "Pride & Prejudice" - just thinking about it makes my blood pressure rise).

Thursday, April 16, 2009

French Flashback

View from the apartment in Nice

My French class is very strange this year. Strange, because it is unlike any language class I have ever taken. I have finally jumped all of the dull old grammar hurdles, and am now taking what is essentially French literature, with almost no focus on grammar.

Well, the teacher corrects any mistakes, and there was one short grammar test, but that's it.

Everything else is like the French classes I took when I was on exchange in Nice.

Oh, yeah, except that here we're high up in the tower of RA's Franklin Building, not in one of the basement rooms of the Cours Albert Camus. (Huh - interesting to think I've taken classes in both a medieval city hall and a former villa just off the Promenade des Anglais, complete with the original ceiling moldings.) And usually, there is rain beating against the windows, not hot Mediterranean sun.

But physical differences aside, I get flashbacks all the time in that class.

The first day, the teacher started lecturing on French history, and I was elated - I didn't care too much about the subject, but it was like being in Seconde again, trying to follow the teacher's dictations, and copying the notes of the girl next to me most of the time as I couldn't keep up (later, when I spoke French, I found that she was terrible at writing her own language so I have no idea what most of my early class notes are supposed to say).

My teacher here is always reminding us to pay attention to l'ortographe, which brings back memories of that fancy, complicated paper, with each line divided by four paler lines, to indicate how high the staff of a 'd' or 'l' should go ('d's, for your information, only go to the second line, while 'l's go to the third).

When we mention Baudelaire's "Le Spleen de Paris", I remember the formidable headmistress standing at the head of the 1er classroom, asking if anyone knew what a spleen was. Then I wish I had paid much more attention in my French classes, which I dismissed about as easily as I dismissed economics and history. Because - well, what about Baudelaire's "Spleen de Paris"?

The main difference, unfortunately, is that I am actually getting graded for my work in this French course.

This is a bit of a plus in the case of things like Baudelaire, because I actually have to pay attention.

More of a curse, though, when it comes to having to pay close attention to dictations and l'orthgraphe. Especially l'orthographe. Here I feel an inescapable American-ness: my hand-writing is terrible, and no one ever taught us any better in school. To be fair, we had italics books in 1st grade, but that stuff was ug-lee, and I never used that again. I learned it better when I lived in France, but the paper is thicker there, and it has those handy lines to guide you, while here the ink just sinks through to the other side and your 'd's and 'l's are all the same height.

Overall, I have mixed feelings about the class. The emphasis on neat handwriting does not apply to the rest of RA, and seems very out-of-place. The fact that it takes place in the language lab, way up in the Franklin Tower, gives it a fairy-tale aspect. Plus, we use a different language, so entering and exiting the room is a little like passing through to a different dimension.

More realistically though, it's just too much. We started with the 17th century and are going right through to the 20th. We read excerpts, excerpts, excerpts, and work on writing commentaires - highly stylized French analyses of texts. While we're supposed to read three books on our own, we don't all read and discuss any complete book, or even story, in class.

But I love the memories it revives for me.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Multi-Culti Party

It's a little redundant to say it again, but: Tonight was the multi-culti party.

I wasn't really feeling it at first, but after spending 7.50 on costume stuff (just jewelry that I can and will use again), I really didn't want to back out. Plus, in the back of my head, I kept thinking, "This is your last RA party..." Of course, there will be the Graduation Gala, and the end of semester party, but most people will be gone for those. It will just be the graduating class.

I went as a Native American. The evening started at a friend's house, where we all got dressed, and did over-the-top, night-put makeup, and listened to bad music, talked and joked. My friends went in much more authentic get-ups - the Kenyan Maasai tribe, Indian saris and children's clothes actually acquired in India, etc. I felt very un-PC.

The party took place at Schutterschof, which we lovingly (not) refer to as Schutters. This was the first RA party I had been to since August (excluding the Christmas Gala, which took place in Vlissingen), and I was surprised at how different it all was. Granted, the last party had a very different atmosphere. It was in the introduction week, before the semester had begun, with a theme of "Anything But Clothes". My sister was visiting, and we had spent the day shopping for costumes (we went with clothing hampers that looked like animals) and having coffee with my friends. It was summer, and warm, and somehow that really supports the party atmosphere.

Now it's April, there's barely a month left in the semester, and people are stressed. There were very few people from our year in attendance, and I soon found myself reminiscing about my first year, and my introduction week. The party was themed, "Pimp My Style". none of my new friends knew what that meant, or what we were supposed to wear, so I went with a sequin and velour black top and my favorite kitten heels. This was back when I was good friends with people like G and S and A, who has since left RA and now studies in Florida.

Very different times.

I turned around to order a beer and suddenly... there he was. A! Standing at the bar, with two other friends who used to be closer but I don't spend as much time with them anymore. He's good, and graduates in November, and it was very nice to see him again - although of course very different from the old days.

I met an exchange student from Iowa who was wearing a Red Sox hat. Our facebook friendship is now pending.

All in all, a great last party at RA.

Oh, the memories. These last months might just kill me.

Saturday, April 4, 2009


I am a huge fan of Betsy-Tacy books.

It's a series of books based on the true life (well, childhood and coming-of-age) of the author, Maud Hart Lovelace, growing up in small-town Minnesota at the turn of the century. The first book, Betsy-Tacy, begins when almost-5-year-old Betsy (based on Maud) becomes friends with actual 5-year-old Tacy (fictional counterpart of her friend Bick). In book 2, Betsy-Tacy and Tib, the close pair of friends become a trio. There are ten books in all, the last being Betsy's Wedding, which takes place about 20 years later.

I liked these books as a kid, and I rediscovered them when I was 15-16, living in Nice, France. I was very homesick, and one day I realized I had never read the 9th book - Betsy and the Great World. When I was a kid, I started it, but I stopped reading it because Betsy was traveling through Europe, but Tacy and Tib weren't with her.

It was like getting a Christmas or birthday present that someone had forgotten to give you. No, it was better than that. It was almost like when my friend Anne was looking through my CDs and found a Nat King Cole album that I had never opened, but put on the shelf and forgotten about. (I had bought it with two others, and in my excitement for the others, I had never even opened the Nat King Cole CD.) No, it was even better than that.

I know! It was like it would be if someone discovered a seventh complete novel by Jane Austen. That's how I felt.

Anyway, I decided to order it. What better time to read about a young woman living in Europe than when you, yourself, are a young woman living in Europe? While I was at it, I thought I might as well order the 4 high school books, which I probably hadn't read since I was 9 or so.

I waited and waited, and finally, my package came. Being the thorough person that I am, I started at the beginning, with Heaven to Betsy (the 5th book). And when I finished that one , I picked up Betsy in Spite of Herself, then Betsy Was a Junior, and then Betsy and Joe, and then, finally, Betsy and the Great World.

I read those books in a week. I read one each day. I remember, I tried to pace myself with the last one. Since I had never read it before, I managed to stretch out the reading of this particular book of juvenile fiction, appropriate for Ages 8 and up, over two days.

It must have been so hard to force myself to sleep that Friday night, and so exciting to wake up the next morning. I wonder if I reached for it the minute I opened my eyes, and stayed in my bed in the loft for however long it took to finish it. Or, maybe I stretched it out - got up, took a shower, ate breakfast... no, I probably didn't make it through breakfast!

I take Betsy and the Great World with me everywhere. I took it to the Dominican Republic, and it was the one book I couldn't, or wouldn't, leave behind for the school library. I have 6 Betsy-Tacy books here, and have read them all multiple times in the last 2.5 years.

I was thinking about them again this week because yesterday was my 22nd birthday, and I always remember the description of Betsy's 22nd birthday from The Great World:

"Since leaving Munich she had had her twenty-second birthday. A strange birthday with no cake or presents, just the wine of traveling alone... seeing strange places, meeting new people, struggling with a foreign language!" (Maud Hart Lovelace, pg. 218)

Well, my birthday wasn't alone, and I made myself a cake (yellow with chocolate frosting), and several of my friends gave me presents.

My parents gave me a present too - I got this card in the mail from the Betsy-Tacy Society.

"Dear Grace,
A gift of $100 was given in your honor by your mother. This gift will be used to pay the mortgage on Betsy's House."

There will be a plaque with my name on it in the house! It is the perfect present for someone in my situation - moving soon, far from being settled, and with little need or use for stuff. THANKS, MOM & DAD!

Oh, and if anybody else ever wants to get me a present...