Woke up. Finished Sherlock. It is absolutely the best show I have ever watched.
Decided to try to see the fin whale again. The park was crowded, but the whale was completely on land. It was one of the most amazing things I have ever experienced. I honestly never expected in my life to be so close to a whale, and I’m so glad I got the chance.
Sad and beautiful go together like chocolate and peanut butter. People who otherwise would never think about whales got the chance to learn things they otherwise might never have. The children who saw and touched this whale will remember it for the rest of their lives and hopefully grow up trying to make the world a safer place for them.
Recently I, along with others from around the country, had to opportunity to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland with Lessons From Auschwitz for a day. The trip came in three parts: an orientation with survivor Zigi Shipper (whose story I recommend you read), the actual visit, and a follow-up seminar for discussion. It was an experience unlike any other I’ve had.
Zigi’s love and enthusiasm for life was striking; he was full of humour and genuine belief in us- the future. He has every reason to be filled with bitterness yet he chooses to spend his time sharing his story, in hopes of teaching the message that you should not hate, because you’ll carry on hating and hating and hating until all that is left is yourself and self-hatred. He believes that people are good. And I think that’s amazing.
So stand up, he told us, and question everything. Ask why why why until you are heard because you count.
This was a common theme throughout the visit; where do you draw the line between a ‘perpetrator’ and ‘bystander’? People are messy and can’t be put into boxes and need to be imagined complexly I guess. It’s easy to believe there were just Nazis and good people- the Nazis being the stronger force- but it is not honest.
It was strange seeing Oswiecim as it is now with Auschwitz surrounded by shops and houses and families and life carrying on. I don’t know what I really expected. In some ways it was nice to see life going on.
The visit was valuable; reading about history and then seeing its physical evidence, hearing a testimony from someone who lived through it- they’re two very different experiences. I’ve learnt that many contemporary lessons can be taken from Auschwitz-Birkenau, the most important of which in my opinion is that change starts from yourself. So stand up to discrimination even when inconvenient, even when it’s your friends, even when you think there’s no point because you won’t be heard because your voice matters.
A question in the LFA diary says ‘Visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau teaches us about history, but more importantly about humanity. What have you learnt about human beings from your visit to Poland?’ and this is all I have to say: it’s hard to believe that at their core, people are good. Visiting Auschwitz, seeing how easily it was orchestrated, seeing its brutality as a result of fear/genuine Nazi sentiment/ the need to conform/obeying orders only reinforces this. But then I remember Zigi and his faith in the future, how happy and grateful he is, and I change my mind.
“It was strange seeing Oswiecim as it is now with Auschwitz surrounded by shops and houses and families and life carrying on. I don’t know what I really expected. In some ways it was nice to see life going on.”
Your friendly neighbourhood moderator has been thinking about the subject of visitable history a lot lately, and if you’re at all interested, recommends Alan Bennett’s work, particularly The History Boys and People.
i had a lovely walk down to 9th avenue today. it’s still nippy, but the fresh air did me a lot of good.
the lady who checked me out at cvs was the sweetest, her name was sierra and she had on a nice shirt and natural hair that was pulled back tight and a lovely smile.
a very nice woman asked me if i knew where something was and i felt bad because i didn’t and she was obviously lost. i think i just have a face that makes me approchable. i don’t look threatening and that’s kind of nice to know.
i think the city was a bit like me today. overcast and a gloomy and a bit cold, but shouldering on, with all the cracks in the pavement and whizzing cars and buses that are never at your stop when they should be.
i can’t say i’m happier than i was when i got out of bed this morning, but having the city envelope you, as if to pat you on the shoulder and say ‘i understand’ can make getting out of bed a little more worth it.
also they had a sale on cvs brand cherry lip balm.
i’m on a roller coaster that only goes up.
Yesterday I was feeling sick and lonely and had the desperate desire to escape to a fantasy land and go exploring. So I went to a bookshop.
I came across some beautifully bound copies of books that I already own, and I was sorely tempted. Why not buy a nice, new copy of Looking for Alaska? I thought to myself, The one you have now is all tattered and starting to fall apart. Besides, this one is sooo pretty!
But then a thought occurred to me: Would these shiny new versions of the books I know and love really hold the same stories as the ones already residing on my bookshelf? Sure, the words on the page would be as they were in any other copy of the book, but there is more to it than that. It’s the memories from the real world that are marked on the well-worn pages of my old books.
My name was written on page 21 of Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone, so that I could take it to school and even if I lost it and the cover fell off, it could still be returned to me. It was the first book I fell in love with and I entrusted my heart and soul to its characters. My copy of The Goblet of Fire is warped and tanned - I took it to a dance concert to read backstage and my water bottle spilled in my bag. But it survived and dried out and has been read many times since.
When I look at these books I remember the times when my real life friends deserted me, but my fictional friends were always by my side. I remember waiting for the next in the series, much like waiting for a letter from a friend in the mail. I remember when the last book was released on the same weekend as drama rehearsal and everyone brought their copies into the performing arts room to read when they weren’t on stage, but NO ONE was allowed to talk about it until everyone had finished.
My Harry Potter books are scarred and mismatched, and as such they tell the story of my school years as well as Harry, Ron and Hermione’s.
The old library card that marks my place in Pride and Prejudice serves as a reminder not only of where I am at in the book, but also of when I took that particular book on a plane to Brisbane and the man who sat next to me noticed that the library was one near where he lived and started a conversation with me. He turned out to be an evangelical priest and spent the remainder of the 5(ish) hour journey trying to convert me when all I wanted to be doing was reading about how my dear friend Miss Elizabeth Bennet was doing.
When I see that library card poking out of the top of that book I am reminded that I am far too patient with people I don’t know, and who perhaps don’t deserve my patience. (I’m also reminded of just how many times people have decided to talk to me about God and I wonder if there is something in my general appearance that suggest I need to be Saved?)
I look at my bookshelf and see the stories I love, the ones that left me breathless, the ones that made me cry and the ones that I struggle to finish reading. I see the books I was told to put down so I could go outside because ‘it’s such a lovely day out there!’ (What do you mean a lovely day?! My favourite characters are hanging by a thread and you want me to leave them out there on their own?). I see the stories that changed my life, lead me to a new community of people, or brought me closer to the friends with whom I shared them.
Though a new copy of these books might adorn my bookshelf like works of art, they could never hold the same stories as those old books that have been with me the since the beginning.
Well, there it is. Two weeks to go (less than that if you want to be terribly accurate) and so much left to do. Six more days of internship time, two more essays, one “exam,” and two more full weekends. I have huge list (seriously, huge) of things I still have left that I want to do, but have decided on a smaller list that lets me interact with people, rather than just wandering around by myself. I like being by myself, but the last weeks of anything like studying abroad sort of feel like they should be enjoyed with companions, eh?
This is not the time or place to get all sentimental about reflecting on my time here, and I’m not going to do it. I think being here has calmed me down a bit, as a person, and spending day after day with English people has lead me to be more reserved in an attempt to fit in. What I will say is that though I did not originally want to come to London, though I panicked about being able to do this (let’s be real, you all knew I would), though this semester in terms of what it means to my home university has created academic organizational hell, I’m glad I’ve been here. Someone from home asked me yesterday how I was doing and I realized in my answer that I actually meant it when I said I was doing well. Nuances of my present institution which will not be discussed on the internet aside, I am quite happy with this city and this experience. I’ve learned a lot here, most particularly from other students, many from my own university, whom I never would have run into or met given the way my workload and schedule makes it very easy for me to restrict myself to one side of campus. This has been quite the adventure, to be honest. As as I still have an ocean to cross, it’s far from over.
Today, coincidentally, I did what my British Life and Culture professor calls “the most British thing you could ever do.” Meaning: I went out and ate Indian food. Our BLC class was fortunate enough to go to a fabulous Punjabi (everyone just calls all of these places Indian, often incorrectly) restaurant and order some amazing food which I will have you all know I ate unbelievable amounts of. Most of us had been looking forward to this class from the beginning of the year, mainly because our professor is a great guy (sort of like a cool, fun uncle-type personality) and because he kept going on about how it was the second-best Indian restaurant in London. No one, however, seems to know what the first is.
After that I celebrated Ben & Jerry’s Free Cone Day (twice over, might I add) in Leicester Square, where I coincidentally met an employee from the same town as me. He was dressed as a cow, and we took a photo together that’s going on the Ben & Jerry’s Facebook page. Free Cone Day is something of an institution in Vermont: we’re very proud of Ben and Jerry, and take every instance to turn out and celebrate their success.
That being said, it’s back to work tomorrow, and as I basically missed all but five hours of my internship last week due to illness, it should be an interesting day ahead. Hopefully there will be a lot of work for me to come back to. Sadly program-folding season is over. We all know how good I am at that.