Tag Archives: art

Out & About in London – October 2016

My parents visited F and me in London for five days this month. Luckily, their visit coincided with both a chorus concert and Half Term, which meant no teaching duties for me and so the ability to take a few days off work. It was fun to be a bit of a tourist around London for a few days — I hadn’t done that in a while. Here’s what we got up to, including pictures.

Bletchley Park

A co-worker of mine recommended visiting Bletchley Park as a nice day trip outside of London. My parents wanted to get out of the city for a day, and it turned out that Bletchley Park was an easy train ride away from Euston Station. In case you don’t know, Bletchley Park is where the British Government Code and Cipher School (CG&CS) set up their codebreaking endeavors during World War II. CG&CS recruited bright young minds from Oxford and Cambridge to work machines, translate, and cipher/encipher/decipher enemy codes, the most famous of which being the Enigma code. Alan Turing, perhaps made better known recently by the movie The Imitation Game, led a team in developing the Bombe Machine to help crack the Enigma code.

Bletchley Park is centered around a mansion on lovely grounds surrounded by lots of “huts,” where various teams were set up to work on codebreaking projects. It was a lovely day when we went, which made for pleasant wandering in and out of huts and learning about what went on at Bletchley Park. There’s also a very detailed museum, which we didn’t spend much time in, having already become saturated by the information in the mansion and huts. It was a nice and informative day out and I’d recommend it.

Dinner at Ottolenghi Islington

Eating at Ottolenghi has been near the top of my “to eat in London” list for a while. We’ve got one of Ottolenghi’s cookbooks — Plenty, or Genussvoll vegetarisch in our German version — that I’ve enjoyed using at times. A few friends recommended the Islington restaurant, and my parents, who love trying new restaurants, were game!

Ottolenghi Islington has cold salads and desserts in the front window and operates a bustling (upscale) takeaway business. The restaurant consists of two long, communal tables and a handful of small two-person tables. The decor is more modern than I expected, but I quite liked the simplicity with splashes of color. The menu consists of small plates that are conducive to sharing — I love this kind of eating, because I get to try a few bites of a lot of dishes! We ordered eight dishes for the four of us, which was plenty and allowed us to save room for the delicious desserts. Dinner highlights for me were: the beetroot and cumin mash, the cauliflower, the braised artichoke and fennel, the pork belly, and the octopus. The almond financier cake for dessert was incredible.

National Portrait Gallery

Looking for something to do before afternoon tea (see below), I suggested to my parents that we pop into the National Portrait Gallery for an hour or so. I had never been there before, and to be honest was not sure I’d like it — how interesting can it be to look at a bunch of dead people’s painted portraits? Turns out, it’s fascinating! We stuck to the 19th and 20th century displays, and they did not disappoint. It was cool to see painted portraits of famous historical figures, from statesmen to the first woman admitted to the British Medical Association to authors like Dickens and Hardy. There was a small but powerful photograph of Virginia Woolf’s husband (or maybe father? I can’t remember) in the foreground with an out-of-focus but so obviously Virginia Woolf in the background. Wow.

My favorite part of the Portrait Gallery was a temporary exhibition, “Black Chronicles: Photographic Portraits 1862-1948.” It was incredibly moving to see such dignified, soulful photographs from the early-ish days of photography. There is something much deeper about photographic portraits from 100+ years ago: carefully composed poses and backdrops, and no cheesy smiles, as people had to hold poses for a long time for the exposure. It is a stunning exhibition and highly recommended.

Afternoon Tea at The Delaunay

My mom suggested that we go out for a proper afternoon tea, like we did a couple of years ago when my parents spent time in London. And who am I to refuse afternoon tea? I had The Delaunay on my list as a well-reviewed (but I can’t remember by whom!) and affordable afternoon tea spot. We each ordered the full Afternoon Tea — my dad and I with scones, and my mom with Gugelhupf (remember that from Bake Off last year?).

Two tea towers (what are they actually called?) arrived, chock full with sweets and savories. The tea also came with brilliant straining devices that had solid bottoms to catch drips when you put them back on the table. It’s the little things! I have a big sweet tooth, but surprisingly I ended up preferring the savories at The Delaunay. The smoked duck sandwich had a great blend of flavors, and I could have eaten five of the cheese puff/choux flatbread-like things sandwiched with cream cheese. The fruit scones were deliciously light and balanced. I found most of the cakes a bit too sweet, although the pistachio financier with poppy seeds and orange cream was really nice. The Delaunay’s afternoon tea selection was very generous, and the three of us agreed that next time we’d only get two full tea menus plus a couple of extra scones.

Wicked

In addition to afternoon tea and a day out of London, my parents wanted to see at least one theatre show. We settled on Wicked, the music of which I knew thanks to my Oberlin housemate Claire, who introduced me to the soundtrack in college. But I didn’t know the story that links the songs together (other than that it’s about the Wicked Witch of the West). 

Well, the musical was brilliant. Along with the hits like “Defying Gravity,” “No Good Deed,” and “For Good,” Wicked actually has a relatively complex plot with a good deal of character development and many messages about trust, friendship, love, and self-regard. The cast was great, with Suzie Mathers and Rachel Tucker more than living up to my expectations as Glinda and Elphaba, respectively. They had personality, depth, and great singing voices — I got chills more than a couple of times.


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Xeraco & Valencia, Spain

A few weeks ago F and I ventured to southeastern Spain for some R&R in the midst of an already-busy summer. We had been invited to S&I’s wedding — hence the location — so decided to make a proper vacation out of it. The vacationness was enhanced by the fact that we stayed in a beautiful flat on Xeraco (say “Sheráko”) Playa that overlooked the beach. Xeraco is a town about 60km south of Valencia; we spent most of our time on the flat’s terrace, reading and enjoying the sea breezes. We dipped in the water when it was hot (watch out for jellyfish — I got stung in the warm Mediterranean) and walked on the beach’s soft sand in the cooler evenings.

The day before the wedding, we took the train an hour into Valencia to explore the old city center. It is beautiful, with lots of Arabic/Gothic/Moorish architecture dating from the 15th century or so. It was really warm — 34C — the day we were there, so we strolled slowly around the city center, through the cute winding streets and into the beautiful cathedral and a couple of galleries. We particularly enjoyed walking through the huge indoor Mercado Central (central market) while gazing at the huge jamón hocks, colorful vegetables, and super fresh seafood.

The market made us hungry, so we found our way back to a cute little square and sat outside in the shade at Bar & Kitchen/Mercat de Tapineria. There we enjoyed a light lunch, with the highlight being a delicious beet and tofu gazpacho: cool, refreshing, and a little bit sweet-sour.

Well-fortified, we made our way across the center to the Valencia Fine Arts Museum (Museo de Bellas Artes de Valencia), which had free entry. It was nice to spend an hour or so inside during the hottest part of the day, and we discovered a remarkable artist whom neither of us had ever heard of: Joaquín Sorolla (1863-1923) was from Valencia but traveled a lot around Europe and won many art prizes for his portrait paintings. Upon his death, he bequeathed most of his works to the Fine Arts Museum in Valencia (which may explain why few have heard of him). His portraits, mostly of regular Spanish people, are remarkably realistic and impressionistic — just beautiful.

Sorolla’s “Academic study from life” (1887)

The museum pretty much concluded our Valencia visit. After resting in some gardens, we made our way back through the city center and took the train back to peaceful Xeraco. We spent another day relaxing until the 9pm-4am (!) Spanish wedding, which was beautiful and a lot of fun (congratulations, S&I!).

———

3 Days in Portugal: Lisbon & Sintra

Last week, I met my mom and grandma in Lisbon for a great three-generation vacation. We spent about two and a half days in and around Lisbon, which none of us had ever visited. In the few weeks before going to Lisbon, I got only positive reviews of the city from people I’d tell about my upcoming trip. The city lived up to the recommendations and the trip was really fun. Lisbon has a fascinating history — earthquake, monks, eggs, castles — that I won’t go into here; instead, I give you a brief summary of what we saw and did.

Note: if you’re planning to visit Lisbon, invest in a Lisboa Card — it’s totally worth it if only for the fact that it covers all public transport in the city (and also many of the museums). 

Sunday

Starting at Praça do Comércio, we walked away from the river and up hills and steps to Bairro Alto for great views of the city. Another hour and a half of wandering up and down Bairro Alto looking for a restaurant (we never found it) landed us at Ribadouro for a delicious late dinner of 1 kilo of shrimp, frites, and salad.

Monday

We took the train to Sintra, an easy 30 minute ride outside of Lisbon. The main event here was the Pena National Palace, which looks like a Disney castle. King Ferdinand II apparently couldn’t decide which style to build his palace in, so he chose to go Romanticist and mix together a bunch of different styles and colors. It was great fun to explore and photograph from all angles.

Walking downhill from the palace, we strolled through the Queen’s Fern Garden in Pena Park — a peaceful, green sanctuary that was a welcome respite from the sun and the bustling city. We kept walking back to Sintra, semi-accidentally down the path (much) less traveled. It was a bit of an adventure, but we all made it down safely and rewarded ourselves with a tasty fish dinner back in Lisbon at Solar dos Presuntos.

Tuesday

We took a tram to one of Lisbon’s highest points, near the castle. We opted not to go into the castle grounds and instead wended our way down narrow cobblestone streets and steps, through the Alfama neighborhood, eventually stumbling upon the old and beautiful Sé Cathedral. Once we made it back to the center of Lisbon, we enjoyed a lunch of coffee and pastries at Pastelaria Suiça. Try the pastel de nata, traditional Portuguese egg custard tarts that the monks invented because they had easy access to eggs and sugar.

Well-fortified, we visited the Coach Museum in Belém — amazingly ornate carriages and coaches from the 15th-19th centuries — and the Tile Museum, which displays the long and intricate history of traditional Portuguese tile making. We rounded off our three days in Lisbon with a big dinner followed by port tasting (when in Rome/Portugal…).

There was much more we could have done in Lisbon, but three days was a good length of time to get a feel for the city. I loved wandering the cobblestoned streets and mosaic-lain sidewalks, discovering beautiful tiled buildings and other gems of this unique city.

News Roundup: Running, the Arts, (Sex) Education, & Comic Relief

I can hardly believe it’s been more than two months since my last news roundup. High time for an update. This roundup includes a variety of articles and blurbs that caught my eye over the past couple of months. Topics range from running to language/linguistics to sex education to gun control, obesity, and more. As always, I’ve categorized the articles as best as possible so you can troll for what interests you the most. Click the links to read the full articles, and feel free to leave a comment or email me (whereveriamyouaretherealso@gmail.com) with your thoughts on any of these.

Running

  • I love running and do it willingly, but some days this is the only thing that gets me through: Runner’s World Motivational Poster #45.
  • Most runners, especially anyone who has ever run track, will appreciate this.
  • My Oberlin track coach preached (and still preaches) “PMA” to all his athletes. What’s PMA, you ask? That would be Positive Mental Attitude. In a nutshell, believe in yourself / be optimistic and good things will happen. I was skeptical for a time, but then started to mentally prepare myself for long marathon training runs by positive self-talking, telling myself the run would be fine, go well, I’d be strong and feel good. Guess what? It works! This Runner’s World article, “Train Your Brain to Run Your Best,” proves the point further and is worth a read for any athlete.

Language & Literature, Art & Music

    • Confession: I love opera. Okay, that’s not really a confession because I am not ashamed of it. True, my appreciation for opera didn’t come until college, but while at Oberlin I was able to see some amazing singers perform in a wide variety of operas and opera scenes. Oh, and I took a musicology class on Mozart’s last five operas. Yes, it was awesome. Anyway, if you are an opera lover or are just wondering what the heck all the fuss is about, check out this fun BuzzFeed article, “What Happened to Opera?” It’s fun and you can watch some videos of incredible singers.
    • Speaking of Oberlin, Amanda, a good friend of mine and fellow Obie, writes for Critics at Large and last month wrote a beautiful piece on Andy Warhol and her experiences of learning “from the artworks themselves” that began in the Allen Art Museum’s print room. Here’s an excerpt (though you should read the essay in its entirety, just to sink into Amanda’s outstanding prose):

“I learned quickly, but not from lectures or textbooks – I learned from the artworks themselves. Entire movements, periods and cultures – Japanese woodblock prints, the satiric eighteenth century engravings of Hogarth and Grandville, loose pages from medieval illuminated manuscripts – communicated themselves to me as archives without histories, until pulling prints became not unlike a daily descent into a dark, empty movie theater where all you could see were images, images, images flickering in the shadows and sublimely untethered from narrative.”

  • “Looking for Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin” is an interesting piece from the NY Times‘ Travel section; its timing was particularly good because I had just read Isherwood’s Berlin Stories, two fictional memoirs of sorts about the author / his protagonist’s years in Berlin in the early 1930s. (The second story is what Kander and Ebb based their musical Cabaret on.)
  • If you’re part of my generation, you probably speak with slashes, as in “I was thinking we could go to the movies slash do something else together this weekend.” “Slash: Not Just a Punctuation Mark Anymore” is a smartly-written piece from The Chronicle of Higher Education by a professor who asks her students to teach her two new slang words at the start of every class. She goes on to discuss the use of “slash” in spoken conversation. A fun piece worth the read.
  • Staying in linguistics territory, I read a great blog called The Inky Fool; this fool is Mark Forsyth, who has also written two books (The Etymologicon and The Horologicon), both of which I’ve read. This blog post, entitled “Plumbing with Aplomb,” is a particularly good example of Forsyth’s intelligent and witty discussions of linguistics.
  • This is just for fun: maps that show “the deepest linguistic conflicts in America.” The maps show how people in different regions of the States pronounce the same words, or the different words they use to mean the same thing. It’s pretty interesting; I (not surprisingly) found my hometown of Rochester, NY to be more midwest-leaning in some pronunciations and more New England-y in others. In terms of my own pronunciation, most of it matched that of other Rochesterians but some didn’t match how I speak. How do your pronunciation and vocabulary match up with your home region?

Children & Education 

  • NY Times “Sunday Dialogue” recently asked “What Makes a Good Teacher?” They present a letter to the editor to which readers are invited to respond. I even sent in a response for this one; though mine didn’t make it into print, it’s worth reading the original letter and its responses for all of the diverse ideas and thoughts people have about what makes a good teacher.
  • On a similar note, an opinion piece called “No Learning Without Feeling” argues against the US’s new Common Core State Standards and their (ridiculous) focus on standardized tests. The author makes a good point that this isn’t the way to get kids excited about learning and literature:

“The truth is that high-stakes standardized tests, in combination with the skills-based orientation of the Common Core State Standards, are de-emphasizing literature in the English classroom in favor of “agnostic texts” of the sort familiar from test preparation materials. These are neutral texts created to be “agnostic” with regard to student interest so that outside variables won’t interfere when teachers assess and analyze data related to verbal ability. In other words, they are texts no child would choose to read on her own.

  • NY Times op-ed columnist Charles Blow does an excellent job of providing his readers with shocking statistics about what is wrong with our (American) society. This piece, “The Kids Are (Not) All Right,” is no different, and props to Blow for alerting us so we can try to change them:

“…according to data released last month by the Children’s Defense Fund, each day in America:

2 mothers die in childbirth.

4 children are killed by abuse or neglect.

5 children or teens commit suicide.

7 children or teens are killed by firearms.

67 babies die before their first birthdays.

892 babies are born at low birth weight.

914 babies are born to teen mothers.

1,208 babies are born without health insurance.

1,825 children are confirmed as abused or neglected.

2,712 babies are born into poverty.

2,857 high school students drop out.”

  • The above piece is from April. Just last week, Blow wrote another op-ed, “These Children Are Our Future,” in which he gives us a “statistical portrait of the high school class of 2013” and what the class would look like if there were 100 students in it. It’s a really powerful set of statistics that everyone should be aware of. Blow notes that,

“We have not sufficiently prioritized some fundamental safety structures for children in this country — fighting child poverty; supporting all families (including single-parent ones) and their children through policies like paid family leave and early childhood education; insulating children from a culture soaked with violence; and educating children fully about sexuality and pregnancy, and allowing them open access to a full range of safe sex options (which would reduce our extraordinary rate of sexually transmitted disease, prevent more unintended pregnancies and reduce the number of abortions).”

Sex & Sex Education

  • Taking Blow’s last point above, about sex education, there have been a few well-written essays floating around about that. This NY Times “Room for Debate” collection asking, “At What Age Should Sex Education Begin?” is particularly worth reading. Many of the contributors made excellent arguments for why/how/when (at what ages) sex education should be taught, both at home and in schools. One such contributor wrote,

“Irrational fear – the cultural belief that teaching young people about sex will cause them to have sex – keeps administrators and educators from doing what they know is best: providing young people with developmentally appropriate, sequential and honest sex education. Never mind that 30 years of public health research clearly demonstrates that when young people receive such education, they are more likely to delay sexual initiation, and to use protection when they do eventually become sexually active, than those who receive no sex education or learn only about abstinence. Withholding information about sex and sexuality will not keep children safe; it will only keep them ignorant.”

  • There’s a new book out called What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire by journalist Daniel Bergner. Salon recently published an interview with Bergner about the book, which made me really want to read it. The piece is aptly called “The truth about female desire: It’s base, animalistic and ravenous,” and I recommend that every woman and man read the article. Here’s a short excerpt to pique your interest: “One of the scientists, who was really influential in calling attention to the size, put it this way: the reason we’ve ignored this is because we’ve managed to convince ourselves that one gender is all about reproduction and the other is all about sex. That is, women are all about reproduction and men are all about sex. Again, a complete distortion.”

Gender, Culture, & Machismo

  • Having lived in London for about six months now, I have already noticed plenty of linguistic, cultural, and social differences between Americans and Brits. This “Short Cuts” essay from the London Review of Books seeks to explain some of these differences in a humorous way. The essay is worth a read for any American or Brit who has spent time in the other country. Here’s a sneak peek excerpt about something I have found to be absolutely true:

“In the English manner, he apologised several times that night for joining my friends and me at our table. An Englishman will apologise to you twice in the course of inviting you to dinner when you are friendless and desperate and couldn’t feel more grateful for the prospect of company. ‘No doubt,’ Eagleton writes, ‘the British will soon be apologising for being stabbed in the street.’ Americans apologise only when they’re overwhelmed by guilt and want very much to be forgiven.”

  • Moving from cultural differences to gender differences, this Science Daily paper entitled “Men Are from Mars Earth, Women Are from Venus Earth” explains how “From empathy and sexuality to science inclination and extroversion, statistical analysis of 122 different characteristics involving 13,301 individuals shows that men and women, by and large, do not fall into different groups. In other words, no matter how strange and inscrutable your partner may seem, their gender is probably only a small part of the problem.” My dad has also done some research and teaching in the area of sex/gender differences, so he brought this to my attention.
  • And now onto differences in sexuality, with this op-ed on “How Latin Culture Got More Gay.” The essay can best be summed up with this quotation: “These developments not only undermine stereotypes about machismo, but also the assumption that the prominence of Catholicism makes progressive change impossible. Same-sex marriage is legal in Belgium, Portugal and Spain, and Ireland recognizes civil unions. As the United States Supreme Court debates same-sex marriage, perhaps it should consider the precedent set by other nations of the Western Hemisphere.” Seriously. Get with the program, USA.

Obesity & Food

  • “Research: Childhood obesity is a product of environment” looks at three new studies that point to environment over genetics as a greater cause of obesity. In their words, “Childhood obesity is a disease of the environment. It’s a natural consequence of normal kids with normal genes being raised in unhealthy, abnormal environments.” Worth reading the entire article.
  • Perhaps even more worthy of your precious reading minutes is the essay, “Fat City — What can stop obesity?”  by physician Karen Hitchcock. The piece is subtitled “Why obesity is not your doctor’s problem” and goes on to explore social constructs and thought patterns contributing to the obesity epidemic, serious health problems caused by obesity, and much more. It is an emotionally powerful, excellently written piece that I cannot adequately summarize here, so I beg you to go read it yourself.
  • On a food-related note, Michael Pollan has a new book out, that Mark Bittman (one of my favorite food writers) discusses and excerpts in his Opinionator piece, “Pollan Cooks!” Among other things, Bittman quotes Pollan as saying, “Cooking is probably the most important thing you can do to improve your diet. What matters most is not any particular nutrient, or even any particular food: it’s the act of cooking itself. People who cook eat a healthier diet without giving it a thought. It’s the collapse of home cooking that led directly to the obesity epidemic.” I completely agree.

Ukraine

  • I always keep an eye out for Ukraine-related news, since I feel a tie to the country after spending 2+ years there in the Peace Corps. So you can imagine how happy I was that Ukraine recently held the first gay rights rally in Kyiv. Brave people, those 50 demonstrators; clearly still a long way to go toward tolerance and acceptance.
  • Another big issue that, like homosexuality, is highly stigmatized in Ukraine, is HIV/AIDS. This Ukrainian girl, featured in a BBC article entitled “Ukraine’s youngest HIV campaigner,” is a heroine for speaking out about her experience living as HIV-positive in Ukraine. This also helps explain why Peace Corps Volunteers’ work with PEPFAR and HIV/AIDS education continues to matter in Ukraine.

Miscellaneous US-Related

  • Every American should read “10 Things Most Americans Don’t Know About America.” I hazard to guess that Americans who have traveled a bit won’t be surprised by most of the statements made in the article, but it’s important for the less-well-traveled to read and understand the astute points the author makes.
  • And now onto gun control…a touchy subject, yes, but read Todd May’s Opinionator piece, “Is American Nonviolence Possible?” and that’ll give you some perspective on why the US needs serious gun control. I’ll start you off with this set of statistics:

“Clearly, we are a violent country.  Our murder rate is three to five times that of most other industrialized countries.  […]  Moreover, and more telling, our response to violence is typically more violence.  We display our might — or what is left of it — abroad in order to address perceived injustices or a threat to our interests.  We still have not rid ourselves of the death penalty, a fact that fills those in other countries with disbelief.  Many of us, in response to the mindless gun violence around us, prescribe more guns as the solution, as the Republicans sought to do during the gun debate.  And we torture people.  It is as though, in thinking that the world responds only to violence, we reveal ourselves rather than the world.

  • With the above in mind, read this excellent op-ed by former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who herself was the target of gun violence a couple of years ago. In “A Senate in the Gun Lobby’s Grip,” Giffords states about the Senate gun control votes, “I know what a complicated issue is; I know what it feels like to take a tough vote. This was neither. These senators made their decision based on political fear and on cold calculations about the money of special interests like the National Rifle Association, which in the last election cycle spent around $25 million on contributions, lobbying and outside spending.” Shameful.

Whew! That ought to keep you busy for a while. What have you been reading lately?

Afternoon Tea at Saatchi Gallery Mess

It is probably cliche and silly, but ever since moving to London I’ve wanted to experience a proper British afternoon tea. Luckily, a visit from the parents (along with C from Brussels) was a good excuse to indulge. After scouring the TimeOut London afternoon tea reviews, I settled on The Gallery Mess for its reasonable prices, solid reviews, and location in the Saatchi Gallery, which would give us an opportunity to see some art as well as enjoy tea.

I’d been to the Saatchi Gallery last year with a friend and loved its simple, well-lit, open layout; I thought my parents would appreciate it, even if some of the contemporary art was a little weird. The Gallery is worth a visit, if only to become hypnotized by this installation piece:

Richard Wilson 20:50 installation (photo courtesy of my dad)

Richard Wilson’s 20:50 installation (photo courtesy of my dad)

After a spin through the Gallery, the five of us were promptly seated in The Gallery Mess for our three o’clock reservation. Since each of us wanted the standard Afternoon Tea, ordering happened fast and then the excitement set in. First, the waiter set out our plates with a napkin and knife carefully positioned on top:

IMG_4735Then, empty teacups (more like mugs — we liked their large size) and glasses with water appeared, again carefully positioned in relation to the plates and each other. The anticipation built…

IMG_4736

Next up: our tea, in pretty clear glass pots with removable inserts filled with each person’s choice of tea:

T had mint tea (foreground), D had jasmine (middle), C had wild berry (background). F and I shared the best Earl Grey tea I've ever had.

T had mint tea (foreground), D had jasmine (middle), C had wild berry (background). F and I shared a delicious, smooth Earl Grey.

Finally, the tea trays arrived! Since there were five of us, two pairs had ordered the tea for two and D got the tea for one (the difference? £1 saved by ordering the tea for two, but the one-person tea came with two scones — lucky D!). The food was beautifully presented in neat little pairs, with one of each offering for each person. Savory bites included classic cucumber sandwiches, mini bagels with cream cheese and smoked salmon, bread with some kind of mayonnaise spread and a quail egg. Sweet bites included pink macarons, chocolate-covered marshmallow-y things (by far the worst offering), currant scones with butter and jam, and squares of lemon cake with a delicate dollop of cream cheese:

IMG_4742

We polished off everything, satiated but not stuffed; there were just the right amount of nibbles for each person. I liked the combination of sweet and savory; F and I ate ours in reverse, because I like to finish with sweet and he prefers to get that taste out of the way first. My favorites were the lemon cake and the scone with tasty fresh butter.

all gone!

all gone!

I would definitely recommend The Gallery Mess’ afternoon tea. It was just £11.50 per person, which is way cheaper than most afternoon tea services around London. The tea was excellent and the food tasted fresh and delicious, though I found the sweet nibbles moister and tastier than the savory ones, which were a tad dry. And don’t forget to visit the Saatchi Gallery before or after tea!

Sent Off in Style

**Warning: long post ahead. But if you read it to the end I promise it’ll be worth your time**

My two years in Ukraine have come to an end. You’ve read the final letters my 11th-form pupils wrote to me. My last week in Sniatyn was filled with notes, gifts, and wonderful sendings-off from friends, colleagues, and pupils.

Last Friday, Iryna (my Ukrainian “mom-friend”; she’s in her mid-50s) told me she’d be going on vacation the next day and so she wanted to meet me to say goodbye. She picked me up in the evening and took me to a cafe, where we enjoyed a light meal of cheese, coffee, and apple tart along with nice conversation. It was really lovely and thoughtful of Iryna to do this for me, and she gave me with some leeks and apples from her garden along with this note (original grammar/syntax preserved):

Dear Tammela! Probably I’m not very good your student but I would say some important words in English. I hope our meeting in this big world was interesting and pleasure for both of us. It seems we are too different conserning our age, origin, place of living and I really wonder we are very close about our sight on moral and soul points of life. // And it’s very cool!!! // You became a piece of happy in my life. Thanks for these moments. Thanks you and U.S. for all good deals! // Sometime I’ll be glad receive little note from you. I’ll be waiting… Iryna

My 8A pupils have not come to English club all semester — it has been hard to find a time when the majority of them could come, so I’d resigned myself to just seeing them during lessons. But on Wednesday at school, some of the girls asked if we could have English club that afternoon. “What time?” I asked. They proposed 4pm, which was perfect, an hour before my adult/older pupils’ club. So I showed up and seven of my girls were there, armed with OJ, cookies, and M&Ms, which they professionally portioned out after they pushed two desks together with chairs around them so we could sit in a circle. “Let’s talk about Halloween!” Olha said. So we started with that and progressed into topics such as the practicality of UkrEnglish, pets, siblings, and more. It was a joyful, relaxing hour. Nastia, Nastia, Marta, Marta, Olha, Inna, and Roxolana are some of the pupils who have most brightened my work at school. Smart, intelligent, funny, creative young ladies with excellent English.

Some of my awesome 8A girls, from L: (me), Marta I., Nastia D., Inna, Marta O., Olha, Nastia P., Roxolana

After my 8th formers left, the adults and older kids came in for the last English club. This English club group has been one of the highlights of my time in Sniatyn. It has been wonderful to get to know some of my pupils better and in a different context than English lessons. Some of them have become more like friends than pupils — at least we have a slightly more relaxed relationship than I do with most of my other pupils. And it’s been great to have met such an interesting cross-section of the Sniatyn community in the adults who have attended my club: they said on Wednesday that they wouldn’t have met each other if it hadn’t been for English club. They are all different ages and professions: dentist, epidemiologist, history teacher, piano teacher, gas company worker…It’s so cool that English club brought us all together.

Anyway, we talked about Halloween for a bit and then as we wound down I asked them what some of their favorite memories were from English clubs and got a slew of answers: writing dialogues and stories, playing fun speaking games, competitions, music, films… Andriy astutely pointed out that the second year of English club was more interesting than the first; I agreed. At the beginning I didn’t have any idea of what to do, plus the group had a lot of people come and go. Once a consistent core group formed and I started to get my bearing as a teacher and get to know the attendees, things went more smoothly as I could tailor activities to the group members’ interests and abilities. At the end of English club, I thanked everyone and was then bombarded with gifts:

Gifts from English clubbers

The gifts included two nice notes from my 10th form pupil, Christina, and my 11th form pupil, Oleh. Here’s what they wrote:

Dear Ms. Tammela! Thank you for your being in Snyatyn. Thank’s for English clubs, Sport clubs, for lessons, for preparation for FLEX. Thank you for all! // It was so interesting to communicate with you. You studied me many different and important things. You gave me many beautiful lessons which I will never forget! // This book is about plants and animals in Snyatyn’s region. They all are belong to Red Book of World. // I wish you great health, happiness, many pleasant emotions and positive feelings! You are so beautiful person! Don’t forget me! Christina K. // P.S. I hope we will see in the future!

Dear Tammela // Thank you for your dedication, kindnes and skils // I enjoyed all time wich we spended together // Oleh S.

On the way out of school after English club, I spotted this “information bulletin” made by my 11A class:

My 11A class made a great Halloween-y poster/”information bulletin” that hangs in the entrance to school. You may notice that I’m on the poster, too…

…because they put a lovely “good luck” poem on the poster for me!

The goodbyes continued on Thursday when I had my last lesson with my 4b class — they have also been a favorite class of mine and it has been fun to co-teach them with my colleague, Natalia. I said “good morning” to the class and then Roman came up and opened the sides of the chalkboard, revealing an adorable message (in English!) saying goodbye to me and telling me to return. Then multiple kids came up to me with flowers and gifts and gave little speeches, wishing me well and telling me not to leave (or at least to come back and visit). I received a big doll in Ukrainian national dress and Alina told me (in Ukrainian), “when you come back to visit you must be wearing a costume like this!” A few of them gave me cards, two of which I quote here: 1) “We will Miss you at Miss Temella. Come more” — short and sweet! 2) “Miss Tem!!! Thank you for evereting you do for us. With you was very interesting. I wish you a good travel at home. Taras Beltsyk Form 4-B — I’m pretty sure Taras has a parent who knows at least a little English. If not, I’m even more impressed. Love them.

My awesome 4b pupils sending me off in style (check out the message on the board behind us)

I was prepared for something from the teachers during Friday’s morning faculty meeting. Our school director, Viktoria Liubomyrivna, presented me with flowers and a podyaka (thank-you certificate…Ukrainians love these) and I gave a little thank-you speech as well. Nadia Mykhailivna, widow of our late/former director, gave me a beautiful, real pysanka (painted egg) and rushnyk (embroidered towel) that she and Viktor Mykolaiovych had bought at last spring’s school yarmarok (market) — “na pam’yat’,” she said. “For the memory”).

Me and Nadia Mykhailivna, math/IT teacher and widow of our late school director

More gifts and a “podyaka” from the teachers

My last lesson on Friday was with Nadia Mykhailivna’s class, the 10th form, a hilarious and energetic group of kids. They also presented me with well-wishes and some nice gifts. Poor Katya almost broke down and had to restart her heartfelt word a few times, causing me to tear up as well!

Katya, 10th form, has become like a friend

Even more gifts! How will I get all of these home?

After school, the English teachers (minus two) and I went to the restaurant where we always celebrate after the First and Last Bell ceremonies: Vechirnyy Sniatyn. We shared a few hours of tasty food and conversation; as Diana Dmetrivna said, we have been not only colleagues but have also become friends. These are the people who have made my time in Sniatyn so worthwhile.

Colleagues, from L: Yulia (& sleeping Sophia), Natalia, me, Halyna Nestrivna, Halya, Diana Dmetrivna

We had short lessons on Saturday to make up for Monday’s day off after the Ukrainian parliamentary elections. My 11th form invited me to a concert they organized as a farewell for me! It deserved its own blog post so click here to see photos and videos of my talented pupils.

With school farewells finished, that left Sunday and Monday to say goodbye to Halya and her family as well as Natalia and co. at her shop. I spent a relaxed couple of hours at Halya’s place on Sunday evening, sharing a light meal and champagne with lemon (have you ever had that? It’s actually pretty tasty) with Halya, Oksana (her mom), Yuliana (her aunt/my landlady), Pavlo (Halya’s cousin), Sasha (Halya’s husband), and Mark (their 14-month-old son). Conversation is always interesting with them, and the food is always good. I’ll miss chatting with them in the back yard and celebrating holidays with them.

Yuliana, Mark, Oksana, Halya & me

“Good Bye, Temila”

Also, there was a nice article written about me in the newspaper Sniatyns’ka Vezha (“Sniatyn tower”) this weekend. Tanya, the Sniatyn journalist who wrote an article about me about a week after I arrived in Sniatyn, interviewed me again last week to compose a final piece; I tried to use it to say thank you and goodbye to all the people in Sniatyn who have touched my life. (There are a few wrong facts but overall it’s a nice article.)

Monday morning I got up early in order to have one last run on my favorite road. My early wake-up was rewarded by a gorgeous sunrise as I started my run — I took my camera along to get some final shots of Sniatyn:

Sunrise over the Sniatyn “ratusha” (clock tower). I’ll miss hearing the bells chime every quarter-hour

I love this town

After running (and showering), I headed to Natalia’s shop one last time to have coffee and conversation with Natalia, Ilona, Petro, and Nina. I gave them a bunch of extra things I didn’t need, and they liked the photo albums I’d made for them.

Petro, Ilona, me, Natalia, Nina (no we didn’t plan to stand in order of height)

So that’s it. Someone from Halya’s family will drive me to the train station in a few hours and tonight I’ll be on my way to Kyiv for three more days in Ukraine. If all goes as planned, on Friday I’ll become a Returned PCV (RPCV). Hard to believe and quite bittersweet — I couldn’t have asked for a better service.

N.B.: Click HERE to see more photos of the classes and teachers and English clubbers I’ve worked with for two years. And click HERE to see my “scenic Ukraine” album — the best photos I’ve taken of Ukrainian landscapes and more.

What I Believe

Inspired by this post.

I believe in sunshine and rain. I believe in love. I believe in coffee and the health benefits — and pure joy — of exercise. I believe in silliness and laughing uncontrollably until your abs hurt. I believe in honesty and straightforwardness over passive-aggressiveness. I believe in doing what you love. I believe in reading whatever you want, no matter how highbrow or lowbrow it is. I believe in The Golden Rule: treat others as you’d like to be treated. I believe in good manners and holding the door for others. I believe in music — I believe in Beethoven. I believe in art’s ability to express human feelings and desires of all kinds — I believe in art’s ability to teach. I believe in education for all human beings. I believe in equal rights and freedom of choice for all people, regardless of race, class, religion, or sexual orientation. I believe in adventures. I believe in snail mail. I believe in the importance of human connection. I believe in healthy and delicious food. I believe in learning languages. I believe that travel opens our eyes and hearts to the world.

And so much more.

Highlights of the Week: “One Year At Site” Edition

  • One year ago today I swore-in as a full-fledged Peace Corps Volunteer.
  • On Saturday, December 10th I will have been at my site, Sniatyn, for one year.
    • That means I have less than a year left in Ukraine.
  • One of my 10th-form pupils, Tanya, made it to the 3rd round of FLEX Testing. FLEX is a program that gives high-schoolers from Ukraine and other post-USSR countries a chance to study for a year in the US. Last year Tanya made it to the 2nd round but not the 3rd. I am so proud of and excited for her.
  • A girl (Nastia) from a nearby village who came to my FLEX Preparation sessions also made it to the 3rd round!
  • This week in English Club we made snowflakes (thanks to my mama for teaching me how to make them over Skype — ah, the wonders of technology).

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  • I leave you with a poem I wrote in English club this week. We did three minutes of word association beginning with the word “winter,” and then took five minutes to write a short story or poem, trying to use as many of our words as possible:

In winter violins play

As the snow falls outside.

Candles flicker with sacred light —

We celebrate light when the

Nights are long and dark.

Family gather around the fire and

Christmas tree —

Or menorah.

Tossing oranges back and forth —

Dogs catch snowflakes on their tongues.

Berlin

From L: me, Terry, Fabian, Dana, Dianne, Colette

I’ve just returned from Berlin, where I met my parents and brother for a week’s reunion after not seeing them for almost a year. Our European “extended family” also joined us for a weekend: Dianne’s Belgian exchange-student sister Colette, and our German friend Fabian. Where to begin? We did so many things throughout the week that I may revert to lists, but I hope they’ll give you an accurate picture of the trip.

→ We rented an apartment for the week in a fantastic location: a 2′ walk from the Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate), Tiergarten (400+ acre park with lots of paths and gardens and ponds), and Unter den Linden (central street of the city — wide, open avenue lined with shops, cafes, etc).

→ Berlin is a really flat city (the marathon there is one of the fastest courses in the world), so it’s easy to walk/run/bike around. And if you know my family, you can guess that we did our fair share of walking! We walked for a total of 2-4 hours every day, which was wonderful. One day we took a Fat Tire Bike Tour of the city, which was 5 hours of easy biking with plenty of informational stops. We had a great and hilarious guide, Francis from New Zealand who studied German history and so had lots to tell us.

→ Berlin has about 160 museums. We did not go to that many but did see some great collections: on Museumsinsel (a little island in between branches of the Spree River that holds five museums and the Berliner Dom, a gorgeous Protestant cathedral) we visited the Alte Nationalgalerie, which had 19th-century paintings, and the Pergamon Museum, which had an incredible collection of ancient Greek/Roman pillared gates, sculptures, friezes, and more. One could easily spend an entire day in the Pergamon, strolling through while listening to the excellent audio guide. Another favorite museum was the Sammlung Berggruen, in Charlottenburg, which was a small collection of great Picasso, Matisse, Klee, and Giacometti interspersed with black-and-white photographs of the artists and their workspaces. We visited the Museum für Fotografie, which had a strange Helmut Newton exhibit but also a great Abisag Tüllmann collection. We visited the Charlottenburg Schloss (palace, home of the Prussian royal family when they lived and ruled in Berlin) but didn’t go inside and opted instead to explore the gardens. My dad, brother, and I checked out the Erotik Museum on our last day — drawings and sculptures depicting sex (often in an exaggerated way) throughout the ages; lots from the 18th and 19th centuries with many from China and Japan. Checkpoint Charlie has an outdoor museum of sorts — panels lining the street (Friedrichstrasse) with photographs and descriptions of periods when the Berlin Wall was up. The Neue Nationalgalerie is a cool building across from the Berlin Philharmonic near Potsdamer Platz — the exhibit we saw was works from 1900-1945, including some fantastic Kirchner paintings and some interesting sculpture.

→ We ate well and diversely. Delicious breakfasts — some out, some in our apartment — of pastries, breads, cheeses, meats, coffee. I got my ethnic food fix that ought to hold me through winter in Ukraine: we ate Indian, Turkish (at Hasir), Moroccan (at Kasbah), Italian, German (at biergartens and cafes), and Vietnamese food. Coffee and tortes in Berlin are delicious. We enjoyed late dinners and strolls near Hackaescher Markt.

Architecturally, the city is an interesting mix of old and new. Berlin was 90% bombed during World War II, so most buildings are new-ish. Some survived the bombings or were reconstructed. And the newest parts of town were built up in the ’90s after the wall fell. It’s a diverse city with lots of little cultural pockets and historical tidbits to explore.

I’ll let the pictures say the rest. Click HERE to view my photos from the week (you don’t have to be a member of facebook to see them).

———

On Architecture & Nature

What I expected to be a quiet and productive Sunday at home ended up being a 12-hour excursion through my region of Ukraine. Iryna called on Saturday evening and invited me to go with her and her son 28-year-old Yura “to the forest” the next day. Having been told by multiple people never to refuse an invitation while living abroad, I immediately said yes. And was I in for a treat — it was a long day, but everything we did was new for me; I probably wouldn’t have had the chance to see so much in one day had they not invited me along. Below is an outline of our day; refer to the following map as needed.

Our route for the day. Stops are indicated by the points of the arrows.

First stop: Городенка (Horodenka), about a 40-minute drive north of Sniatyn through beautiful green fields and rolling hills. The goal here was to see an old cathedral designed by the same architect who designed the famous St. George’s (Yura’s) Cathedral in L’viv. This cathedral was built in 1760 and is a bit run-down but absolutely gorgeous. Greek Catholic services are still held here; Iryna and I sat and listened to part of the service while ogling the inside, which has been kept relatively — shockingly, for Ukraine — plain.

1760 cathedral in Horodenka, designed by the same architect who did St. George’s (Yura’s) Cathedral in L’viv (compare below)

St. George’s (Yura’s) Cathedral in L’viv, designed by the same architect as the Horodenka cathedral and built 1744-60

Horodenka cathedral: dilapidated but roughly beautiful. Back building is probably where monks/nuns used to live/work

Inside the Horodenka cathedral, sparsely decorated

Next stop: The village of Гвіздець (Hvizdets’), where Iryna lived from ages 3-7. She pointed out her old house and we walked around another beautiful old cathedral where she used to play in the yard. This cathedral was built in 1725. I love the unpainted walls, parts of which have chipped away to reveal the brickwork underneath. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves:

Hvizdets’ cathedral, left wild and untamed.

 

Note what used to be a door (lower right)

Hvizdets’ cathedral from behind

Up next: A quick stop in Коломия (Kolomiya), a small city (ca. 70,000 people) where two PCVs live. I’ve been here before but hadn’t been to the folk museum or big, brightly-painted church that Iryna, Yura and I went to. Nice to see some new things in a place I’ve already been.

Back on the road to: Княждвір (Knyazhdvir), a village not far from Kolomiya where the forest begins. First we stopped to visit Slava and her husband Volodya, who used to be Iryna’s neighbors in Sniatyn. They’re a vigorous couple in their 70s who live in a beautiful place. After a brief visit (during which we ate our picnic lunch), Volodya accompanied us up the road to the forest, where we stopped a couple times for short walks. This forest is known for trees called тис (tys), which I just looked up and realized are yew trees. In the forest they aren’t that big and are flat-topped. Also abundant in this forest are дуб (“doob,” or oak trees) and бук (“buk,” or beech trees). Two interesting tidbits: my clustermate Andy lives in a village called Дубівці, which roughly translates to “oak place.” Also the Chernivets’ka oblast (the oblast to the southeast of where I live) is known as Буковина, which roughly means “beech tree region,” because there are a lot of beeches in this area. I like how Ukrainians name things.

Yura and Iryna

Last stop: Iryna decided she wanted to take a more scenic route home and not go straight back through Kolomiya. So we set off for Косів (Kosiv, where another PCV lives) at 6:30pm. By this point I knew I wouldn’t make it home for my family skype date so decided to enjoy the company and scenery. We stopped in a village called Шешори (Sheshory) for a tasty dinner of бануш (“banush,” the polenta-type dish that I really love) and ice cream at a restaurant overlooking a clear river with a small waterfall. On a warmer day it would’ve been a lovely place to swim. By the time we left it was 9pm so we didn’t stop in Kosiv but had a beautiful drive home.

Little waterfall

Flowing water

Fiddler, bass player, tsymbalist, and bayan player performing traditional folk tunes

Overview: Ukrainian People, Religion & Geography


This will be a general overview of some country statistics. More on specifics of Ukrainian culture later!

  • 75% of Ukraine’s population is — surprise! — Ukrainian. However, more than 110 ethnic groups are represented in the country.
  • Ukrainian was declared the official language at independence in 1991. However, Russian is the primary language spoken in large cities, while Ukrainian is spoken in most of western Ukraine and in smaller towns/villages. (I think I will be learning Ukrainian, but it might depend on where in the country I will be placed for my two years of service.)
  • Folk arts are prevalent in Ukraine, including embroidery, weaving, pottery, pysanky (painted eggs), and woodcarving. There are folk traditions such as songs, dances and games. (More on this later!)
  • Most Ukrainians have little knowledge or understanding of non-Christian faith. In most communities there are Polish and Greek Catholic churches and Ukrainian Orthodox churches.
  • Ukraine has many natural resources, including about 70,000 species of flora and fauna. Almost 8,000 deposits of 94 commercially valuable minerals are extracted in Ukraine.
  • A small part of the country is mountainous (the Carpathian Mountains & Crimean Mountains).
  • Forests and steppe are scattered throughout the country. The Dnipro, Europe’s third-largest river, runs through the north part of the country.
  • Most of Ukraine’s southern border is Black and Azov sea coast.